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.





Why the Climbing World Needs Wesley Summers


  • Rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad
  • That branch of philosophy dealing with vales relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.

When I first started climbing, I knew nothing of “climbing ethics”.   I had been taken out to a cliff one day by friends and friendly strangers and taught the basics of how to rock climb and not to die. One of these friendly strangers, a French climbing guide, thought I should be learning to lead right away. Soon I was clipping bolts on 5.6’s, toproping 5.9s and life was easy and good (and I didn’t die).

Then I moved to a different province. I wanted to climb but didn’t know any climbers or where the crags were. Eventually, I ended up at the doorstep of the local climbing gym. During my orientation tour of the facility, the lead wall was pointed out to me and I was told that, one day, I would learn how to clip bolts. First, however, I had to be able to climb 5.10s comfortably without falling.


I thought maybe the gym’s lead routes only started at 5.10, but no, they had bolted 5.7s, 8s and 9s…
I came to learn that lead climbing was seen as something of a status at the gym, something to be earned, to graduate too. “Newbs” toproped, experienced climbers lead climbed. I passed my lead climbing test and shrugged it off as silliness.

The thing is, as my climbing career progressed, these “rules” and attitudes kept popping up. Just climbing a climb was not enough– a climb also had to be done in good style. Toproping a climb to figure out beta was frowned upon (unless it was a very difficult climb or had bad falls..or did it have to have both? I don’t remember). Actually, top roping at ALL was generally frowned upon.

“Suck it up and lead it!” They would say…

Correct language became very important as well: Sending a climb with pre-placed draws was a pink point, NOT a red point. Sending a climb after a friend climbed it first was a flash and NOT an onsight.

Somewhere along the way it all seeped in and I found myself noticing and internally criticizing those who were doing it wrong: She used the tree and that was out. He clipped the bolt when he could have placed gear. He pulled on the draw. She was hangdogging. They ticked all the good holds.

I also became aware that some types of climbing were apparently “better” than other types of climbing:
outdoor climbing vs indoor climbing,
bouldering vs. sport climbing,
sport climbing vs. trad climbing,
sewing it up vs running it out.

Three examples of the above come to mind:

While climbing at the local crag, I tried to be friendly and start up a conversation by asking the guy beside me what gym he climbed at.
“I don’t climb inside,” he replied. “I only climb outside.”
“Oh,” I replied, “You rock climb outside in the winter?”
“No, I climb at (name of indoor climbing gym).”

Then there was this time a friend was working on a really impressive 5.12+ roof crack and he posted this photo on Facebook:

monumentThe first comment on the photo wasn’t “good job!” or “way to go man!” but a fellow climber pointing out the pre-placed cam.  They noted it made the climb easier and attached a link to a post on Mountain Project saying he should “knock at least a letter grade off if you do this”.

Finally, at my local crag last year, permission was given to some of the crags developers to install anchor bolts at the top of the cliff.  Until then, all of the routes at the crag had been lead climb only–the new anchors would allow some of the routes to be accessed and climbed by toprope.  Within days of the new anchors being installed, they were chopped.
The local climbing internet forum exploded: there were debates not only about the bolt chopping, but also about who can give permission to add anchors and bolts, what the right way was to install anchors and bolts and what the best kind was to use.
(There were even debates about the “right” way to chop bolts!  Apparently the chopper didn’t use good style)

“ Does it really matter if a particular climb is done in any particular “style?” Is there one “true code of ethics” that is admirably suited to all climbers?”

– Warren Harding, ASCENT 1981

I was getting kinda bummed out about it all, when I stumbled over a blog called Rock Climbing Life, written by rock climbing enthusiast and “guide” Wesley Summers. In his posts, Wesley gives the finger to the idea of “climbing ethics”: he bolts trad routes, projects climbs on top rope, “onsights” and “flashes” climbs he has tried several times and “free solos” boulder problems. He mocks famous climbers and climbing elitism, even dedicating a post to why we should discourage new climbers from trying the sport. His popular response to those who attack him is, “Do you even climb?”

While his posts are brilliant, the angry replies Wesley receives are somehow even better, mostly because they expose some of the attitudes he is poking fun of:


Other actual replies to his posts:

 “Just stay home, there are enough chodes coming to the gorge already, we’d be fine without another.”

“Get off the TR nipple”

“So bolt the snot out of routes so your self important retro-Patagonia clad rigid stem cam toting gym rat can hang dog on it?”

“Go top rope in a gym.”

“Is not an onsite ascent the highest form of style? Or do we dumb things down and make climbing “safe” for the masses?”

“Wes, go home and play with your barbie dolls. The crag is a place for men to climb, not you!”

So… I would just like to  say Thank You, Wesley Summers.
Thank you for making me laugh and reminding me to not take climbing so seriously.
The climbing world needs you.
I look forward to more posts and hope one day Chris Kalous has you back on the Enormocast!

Your fan,
Anna O

 “I have often been asked why I seldom, if ever, write my views on all this ethics business. In thinking about it, I realize I don’t give a damn.”

– Warren Harding, ASCENT 1981

15 Ways to Make a Road Trip Awkward

Roadtrips are super fun, but do you find you are always the driver?
When making plans you are automatically volunteered to chauffeur?

Here are a few ways to make a roadtrip so awkward your friends may think twice about voting you into the drivers seat.

  1. Continually refer to the car ride as a date.
  2. Honk the horn along to your favourite songs.
  3. Put on an audio book starting from chapter 20. Turn it up loud enough that passengers cannot make conversation.
  4. Play the game: “How close can we drive to the car in front.”
  5. Play the game: “How long can I drive with my eyes closed.”
  6. Announce at the start of the trip that, because you are trying to beat your last driving time, you will not be stopping for pee breaks. Hand out bottles “just in case”.
  7. Blast heat. Take off shirt.
  8. Bring up the “theory” of global warming.
  9. If driving late at night: wait until passengers are all sleeping then see how often you can hit the rumble strip.
  10. Fart. A lot.
  11. Make sure the trunk is so full of your stuff that passengers have to hold their gear on their laps. Bonus points if the stuff in the trunk is obviously completely unrelated to the trip. (Example: Bag of dog food but you didn’t bring your dog, full size vacuum, cases of empties, etc.)
  12. Regularly pull over and threaten to turn the car around if your passengers don’t settle down!
  13. “Veto” conversation topics.
  14. Every time a car changes lanes in front of you, swear loudly about being cut off. Ask passenger to roll down window and give them the finger.
  15. Don’t share the bottle of whiskey.