So this week we set the Wayback Machine back another notch, and with a big “Kathunk” out popped Scott Backes. We’re proud to have worked with Scott here at PEMBA for a number of years, and he’s gone on to take on the Petzl Work & Rescue business here in our territory. We still work with him a bit in this capacity. And, as you can see, he continues to climb, also. Enjoy…
The Ergos arrived mid-October and I have to admit, upon seeing them, I gave up all the misgivings that I had harbored after seeing them at the Outdoor Retail Show six months ago. My thoughts at the time: Too much curve, too much pick-shift, useless upper grip, too radical of a droop in the head were common discussions at the Hate Factory. What arrived however was different than what I had seen.
The finish was much better than the display/proto-types I saw then. I was hooked! The curved shaft was indeed radical, and the pick shift was greater than the Nomic’s when I first tested them by hanging from the holes I’d drilled in the rafters in my basement. But that angle – that angle, it was a thing of beauty – is much more pull-up bar than ice tool shaft. So it was off to my friend Matt’s garage, for a test-drive.
Matt Giambrone has a small climbing gym in the loft of his garage that is a sort of a co-op, where Brian Hall, Matt, and I train for dry-tooling. We call it the Hate Factory. Two forty- five degree walls about 12 feet wide and 8 feet high are separated by a two foot wide ceiling. The walls are dotted with small rounded foot chips and sketchy to bomber holds for the tools. Several I-bolts in the ceiling at times hold chain or PVC tubing w/drilled holes. There is no beauty or aesthetic value to the place, but if you’re looking for a beat down there are few places better.
I was shocked how poorly I was climbing that first evening. Popping off holds, breaking holds, unable to do the dynamic moves because the Ergo’s aim differently, it was all in all pretty discouraging for me. Brian had a much better first go with the Ergos than I. He was able to utilize the pull-up bar hand position right away and was much more accurate with his aim. No real surprise there, Brian’s a much better athlete and has all the hallmarks of an “early adopter.” That went on for three more sessions: Brian liking them more and more and me being like a week or two behind in learning how to thrive with them. I started to get my aim on, and worked to take advantage of the grip angle but the Ergos for me stayed at the “yeah, these aren’t bad, but…” until Willow.
We took the Ergos out to a very steep crag (Willow River) we dry-tool at in the fall to help us build the endurance the Hate Factory cannot provide. It finally hit on the last lap where – after finishing at the chains – I rethreaded and then for some strange reason decided to down-climb the route. I got on the grips the right way, used the radical curve to my advantage, loaded the tool slightly differently for top grip and arrived at the ground feeling like it was easy. I was finally getting the tools.
The next two times we climbed at Matt’s I climbed as well as I ever have there, doing all our four to five move Power problems with a weight vest and ankle weights. It was quite a change from that first night. And no wonder, as I’ve extensively used Nomic’s for five seasons now, (the longest I’ve ever used one tool in the thirty years of climbing ice) and they have become part of my DNA – extensions of my arms, really. So it’s a pretty big deal for me to like these Ergos as much as I do. Last weekend I was at long last able to take them out to our amazing little quarry and actually climb ice. Matt and I had a great day climbing some very thin and tenuous ice veneers.
Here’s some thoughts on what I like about the Ergos and what I think makes the Ergos tick. The curve in the shaft feels like cheating when placed on the top of ice bulges or above overhangs. Also, there is some type of magic physics at work with that shaft shape, because there is a way that it focuses power onto the rock or ice, “locking” it in place, making it feel very secure on some miniscule features. The angle of the grip makes it easier to relax your hand and is less painful on the pinkie on severely overhanging terrain. When doing figure 4’s, heel hooks, and so forth the curve of the shaft actually makes it easier to invert to get yourself in position. If you keep the underside teeth sharp you minimize the harm of the pick-shift. Also it may help weaker folks to ice climb by focusing the power on poor placements and making them more secure. We haven’t had any beginners try these tools but it would be worth seeing if my hypothesis is correct. All in all, the Ergo is an amazing tool for the steeps and even the “mere” vertical.
Would I give up my Nomics? No, they are still to me the most versatile ice and mixed tool available. The only things missing from making the Nomic’ perfect were not having a spike for topping out and climbing snow between pitches and the lack of a hammerhead to place pins – and these things have been completely remedied for this year.
Last thoughts: The grip is about ¼” longer than before which doesn’t sound like much, but for those of us who climb where its really cold (-5f and below) that extra length gives us the ability to use much warmer hand-ware, which I promise is a big, big deal. Somehow The French have done it again!
Scott Backes has lived his whole life in Minnesota. Since his first time climbing in 1975 he has pursued all forms of climbing, from bouldering to big wall climbing; from ice cragging to the biggest Alpine faces with passion and commitment. He is best known for his alpine ascents, but loves all forms of climbing.
In 1980 he went to the Canadian Rockies for the first time, his ascents of the North face of Mt. Temple and the North Face of Mt. Kitchner pushed him into the world of difficult alpine ascents. 1983 found him in Patagonia, where he did the 10th ascent of Mt. Fitz Roy. In 1990 Bill Bancroft and he did the fifth ascent of the often-tried North Face of Mt. Alberta. Ascents of new routes such as Deprivation on Mt Hunter, M16 on Howse Peak, and his sixty hour “continuous push” ascent of the Slovak route – the hardest route on Mt. McKinley – have led Climbing and Rock and Ice Magazines to label him an “Elite Alpinist”, an “Alpine legend” and hail him as “one of the leaders of pushing the limits of human endurance.”
What has always been the most important part of climbing for Scott is the Love and Trust of the partners he climbs with. He considers himself lucky to have found people who share his love of the mountains and the spirit of adventure that have kept his fire burning for the last 35 years.