A little blast from the past. What better excuse than a hot summer day to talk about ice climbing history? With nearly any sport, gear often drives or at least supports the progression of achievement. Ski touring: bindings have been the huge agent of change, for the most part the tech system invented by Fritz Barthel, for years enabled by Dynafit, now copied in concept hundreds of times.. Rock climbing: cam anchors. Ice climbing: “drop” or “droop” pick tools for vertical terrain and eventually technical mixed climbing.
From about 1969 on, Hamish MacInnes and Derek Gamble of the Peck U.K climbing gear company, as well as other tool companies such as Chouinard and Grivel, turned their attention to making droop pick ice climbing versions of the venerable ice ax, with the pick angle being steep enough for purchase on vertical ice (too little angle results in the tool easily coming out backwards when you’re attempting to hang on it). The resulting implement, which Peck called the “Terrordactyl” in my opinion revolutionized ice tool design. Nothing as radical existed when the Terror’ was released into retail, dedicated to the steeps, intended as a hand tool with a stubby hand shaft. While the Terro was reasonably well made, the pick bent easily and the overall balance and weight were slightly off the ideal. More, the straight shaft would tend to drive your knuckles into the ice when you swung in for a pick plant. The results were reminiscent of bare knuckle prize fighting.
Colorado in those days was a hotbed of vertical waterfall ice climbing. Jeff Lowe, Duncan Ferguson, Pete Athens and others of their Front Range gang were constantly grabbing new routes. Myself, Steve Shea, Michael Kennedy, Larry Bruce and others from the Western Slope were doing the same.
An Aspen based engineer, Peter Hutter, ice climbed with the our Aspen crew. He climbed with the Terrordactyl, immediately realizing it could be improved: stronger, slightly heavier, better balanced, and with knuckle protection. Using his engineering chops, Hutter set about designing a tool he called the Rooster Head. The “Roo” began retail in 1972. It was similar to the “Terror” in appearance, but the twinning stopped there. As soon as any ice climber swung a Rooster Head, they enjoyed a significant reduction in knuckle bashing due to the “Roo” possessing a forward facing steel tab at the base of the shaft, intended to encounter the ice before your bone structure impacted (as well as stabilizing the tool from rotation). Along with that, the Rooster simply felt more solid — more like a “tool.” Among our Central Colorado crowd, it became the vertical ice weapon of choice. You’d feel invincible, standing in your crampons at the base of a frozen waterfall, a Rooster in each hand, gladiator at the ready. Our mantra was “Two Roo’ and I can climb anything.”
Terrordactyls and Rooster Heads would travel worldwide, helping make new routes, changing ice climbing forever.
The angled and dropped pick concept of continued to revolutionize alpinism. Ice tools eventually evolved to aesthetically swooping pick angles that “hooked” ice and tiny holds on dry rock with equal aplomb, e.g., “mixed” climbing. Both the Terrordactyl and Rooster Head had big parts in that. Gear driving sport, or at the least doing a good job of helping fight gravity.