Black Diamond Ice Screws
Black Diamond Ice screws have been around for years and were the first to develop the ‘Express’ system of screwing the ice screw into the ice. The lever which opens up from the hanger to allow you to spin the screw in quickly looks simple enough, but was a real game changer when wanting to place an ice screw in steep ice quickly and using minimal effort.
It’s a great design as the lever doesn’t take up any extra space on the hanger and when opened up for use, doesn’t mean that you need clear and clean a large are of ice to drill the ice screw in.
Some screws require you to clear a much larger area as the lever opens out and extends much further beyond the end of the hanger needing a larger circumference of ice to be smooth and cleaned.
I also really like the fact that with the heal of your hand, you can knock the hanger round, forcing the hanger to sit flush on the ice. If the hanger is just rounded then you can’t do this as you don’t get any leverage. It’s so important to be able to do knock the hanger round with the heal of your hand when the ice is hard or the surface of the ice your drilling the screw into isn’t quite flat. The ‘Express’ lever alone doesn’t always work when it’s super cold and the ice is hard.
At the end of the screw there are four teeth that bite into the ice. These teeth have a steep angle so that they bite quickly and efficiently making a one handed placement easy and safe from dropping it.
With this in mind they’ve also reduced the weight of the hanger so that even with the screw drilled in by half a turn when you let go of it to continue the placement with one hand it’s less likely to lever and fall out.
The screws need to be looked after, cared for and kept sharp, so that they’re efficient and bit into the hardest of cold ice. Use the supplied plastic end caps and sleeves to help protect the teeth and threads when traveling or stowing into a back pack.
Tip – If you do use the plastic end caps to protect the teeth then drill a small hole in the middle of the cap to allow moisture to escape and the screw to dry out more easily.
I’d recommend using ice screw bags/holders which are a great way of stowing ice screws without the need for sleeves or caps that you’ll lose anyway! The BD holders carry six screws each and are a great way for a team of two to share the hardware. The bags are open ended so allow the screws to drain and dry out whilst giving protecting the teeth and thread keeping them sharp.
Interestingly, all the threads on the ice screws are the same length and offer the same security, but the overall screw length is designed for different thicknesses and quality of ice. You don’t want a long 21cm ice screw drilled only half way into thin ice as clipped at the hanger it’s a weak placement and will level out and break. A short screw drilled up to the hanger in the same thickness of ice is a solid placement. The longer ice screws are key in aerated ice where maybe you need to drill the ice screw through into better quality ice that’s away from the surface.
Ice Screw Clippers
There are a number of ways to efficiently rack ice screws onto your harness, but the key thing is to have a racking system on either side for ease of access, whether you’re making or taking out a placement with your left or right hand.
Black Diamond make an ‘Ice Clipper’ for this purpose. It’s an oversized plastic karabiner which can be secured in place on most modern harnesses. Arc’teryx AR 395A has small stitched in loops for this purpose keeping the ‘Ice Clipper’ tight so that you can clip and unclip an ice screw with one hand.
I personally have always preferred the Simond Rack as it’s more rigid and will accommodate more screws and also my quickdraws on shorter pitches.
Either way, some sort of one-handed clipping system is essential climbing any steep ice face, couloir of icefall pitch.