Die Another Day: Learning to drytool and competing at Smuggs Ice Bash 2016

That Friday started, as most of our climbing trips do, with a long car ride.

I was on my way to Burlington, VT to compete at the Smuggs Ice Bash Drytooling Competition and Kickoff party at Petra Cliffs.

6th Annual Comp Poster_zpsgyldkize

Here’s the thing: I am not really a competition person and definitely would not call myself a competent drytooler.  Actually, I used to be pretty outspoken on how I would never drytool, ever. Then the 2015 “winter” season happened. Or, more accurately, didn’t happen…

December GTA weather

This is winter?

My ice picks first touched rock (on purpose) this November when I realized drytooling was probably the only way I was going to use my ice tools that month. My friend Peter, who seems to love doing all things terrifying, took me to a local drytooling area and tried to show me the ropes (haha). I would love to say I was a natural and fell in love with it, but in all honesty halfway through my first climb I pretty much freaked out, made Peter lower me and refused to drytool ever again.

first day drytool

Photo (pre or post freakout?) by Matt S.

Unfortunately, the spring-like weather continued into December and I was faced with choice of either sucking it up and learning how to drytool or packing away my tools.  I soon found myself back at the area with Peter working on keeping my picks “999ed,” (I picked this nugget up from Will Gadd’s blog by googling “tips for dry tooling and not dying”) and trying unsuccessfully to get my leg up onto my arm to do this “Figure 4” thing all the cool kids were talking about.

My friend, also bored from no ice, built a training structure in his backyard and after lots of finger-crushing practice, I was able not only to get my leg up, but also move off of it!

drytool training

Booyah! Photo by Peter Hoang

I don’t remember when Peter first suggested I should sign up for the drytool competition. We had both attended the event last year—Peter to compete and me to drink and cheer him on—and we had both had an awesome time! Pete even made the podium!

peter on the podium at smuggsAnna drinking at smuggs

   2014 Peter on the podium!                                                  2014 Me cheering Peter on

I told Pete No Way—to compete, I had to lead a drytool route set inside on plastic holds, and at that point I had a) only dry tooled on toprope and b) only climbed outside on our local sandstone routes. Plus, competing meant climbing in front of a big group of strangers with a giant spotlight on you and that wasn’t really my kind of thing.

Over the next couple of weeks though more of my friends started in on me about competing—“Come on, it’s just for fun Anna, nobody cares if you come in last!”—and when a couple of them said they would sign up too I eventually agreed.

No gyms in the GTA allow ice tools, so I was back to the bridge to practice leading…

Anna clipping bolt

My first ever drytool lead! Photo by Matt S.

One of my proudest moments was when I finally was able to do a figure 4 for real on lead….I clipped off of it and was able to move to the next hold …and figure 4 again! (the Figure 9 still eludes me but Im trying lol)

drytool lead 2

Who knew it actually works?! Photo by Matt S.

So fast forward to THE NIGHT OF THE COMP.  I thought I was going to play it cool but by the time we pulled in to Petra Cliffs, I was full on stressing. I was convinced not only would I fall off the first hold and embarrass myself, but somehow I would manage to impale my body and/or stab the belayer with my tools on the way down…

Once I got inside the isolation area though the friendly atmosphere calmed me right down. The other girls competing were totally supportive—they were showing each other techniques in the practice area and even giving beta during the route viewing!

route viewing sam simon imaging

Route viewing. Photo by Sam Simon Imaging

In iso I found out I was scheduled to go first. I thought this was good– I got to cheer on my friends Peter and Steve and watch the rest of the girls climb the route!  But the viewing had brought my nerves back in full force– I had no idea how to use the first few holds on the route! I had trained on roofs….I was a Figure 4 master!!!….but shoot, I may not even GET to the roof! And I was first. FIRST.   Oh geez.

After tying in, I warned the belayer to watch out for my tools. He was very kind and reassured me that he would get out of the way. Thanks Matt 🙂

tying in

Pretty sure this is me warning Matt that Im dangerous. Photo by Matt S.

The first move was a stein pull. It was weird doing it on a climbing hold but felt more comfortable than the crumbling sandstone I was used too. I was very nervous.

steinpull sam simon imaging

Photo by Sam Simon Imaging

Then came the holds I had no idea how to use….I asked myself, “What Would Will Gadd do?”


909090 sam simon imaging

90-90-90! Photo by Sam Simon Imaging

sam simon imaging

Photo by Sam Simon Imaging


Photo by Matt S.

I was so tired from being nervous and figuring out the starting holds that I was gassing out by the time I reached the roof. I decided to move down to a hold with a better stance to shake off the creeping pump. I put a tool in my mouth to free up a hand but was breathing so heavily I had difficulty getting air in and out around the tool! My other hand was too tired to hold it so I put the tool on my shoulder….and shook it off while I was shaking out. FML. Honestly, I was so tired at that point I probably only had one or two more moves left in me, but I really wanted to go out doing something cool—like taking a big whip, or you, know…a figure 4!

fallen tool sam simon imaging

One tool too short. Photo by Sam Simon Imaging

I was really grateful for the support of the MC and the crowd–It was awesome to have a whole room cheering you on! And after I climbed total strangers came up to me to tell me how brave I was and that I did a good job. That was priceless.   Someone even gave me a beer 🙂

Peter ended up coming in first and Steve came in third! Peter won a rope from Sterling…which anyone who climbs with Peter and his sketchy ropes is thankful for… and Steve won $50 US (which is like $200 CDN right now lol). Our group also won some awesome prizes from the raffle, including sweet Julbo sunglasses, Darn Tough socks, Mammut hat  and a rope!

Pete and Steve and the booty

WInner winner chicken dinner

Overall the Smuggs Kick Off Party was a blast and I am super happy I competed. I encourage everyone out there to sign up and give it a try, or if that isn’t your thing just come out for the party and cheer the climbers on! There are flashy lights and a DJ, an AMAZING raffle, super friendly people, tasty beer, lots of giveaways and demos of sweet products. Overall an awesome way to spend a Friday night 😉

smuggs competitors

The Smuggs Ice Bash–we like it.





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