Ice Screws 101
Ever wondered how Ice Screws work?
If you have been on a Helicopter trip, Ice Climbing trek or Advanced Trek with MICA Guides you might have noticed that the guides carry around giant screws with a bolt on the end. These are ice screws and are used to create a V-thread in the ice which becomes the anchor for the climb or rope system.
These hollow, threaded screws are usually 7-9 inches in length and come in a variety of diameters. They have changed drastically since the 1960s when they started becoming popular among ice climbers. Today they are quite light and many come with a crank to make it easy to penetrate the ice. You can read more about the history and physics behind ice screws here!
Our guides spend countless hours learning and practicing how to use ice screws to quickly make strong and safe anchors to use during each trek. We recommend learning directly from a professional, as improper use can be perilous.
Building an anchor:
The first step to building an anchor is deciding where to build it and clearing the way. It’s important to clear off the sun-crusted ice to get to the dense ice underneath and go from there. You’ll notice your guide uses an ice axe for this part.
If you watch closely while your guide is screwing the ice screw into the ice you will see a tube of slushy ice appear out the other end – this is because the screw is hollow and this is the core of the ice that is being drilled through.
One thing you might also notice that the screws are immediately removed after they finish drilling them. Since ice screws are used to make anchors we take them out right away leaving a deep tunnel in the ice that the rope is threaded through (hence why it is called a V-thread)
When drilling into the ice with the ice screw it is important to go at an angle because the goal is to create to drills that meet up in the middle. This takes quite a bit of practice because guides cannot see into the ice very well to see where the screw is. It’s crucial to get the angle right because it affects the strength of the anchor – the goal is always 60°.
The reason V-threads are so useful is because you can build super strong anchors with minimal gear that last all-day, even though the ice is constantly melting and changing.
If you’re curious and have more questions, ask your guide about ice screws and V-threads on your next trip with MICA Guides! They seriously spend hours working on perfecting these skills and they’ll be thrilled to talk your ear off about it!