Two Roo’ and I Can Climb Anything

Post by blogger | July 23, 2018      

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.

Peter Hutter's fine product.

Peter Hutter’s fine Rooster Head ice climbing tool, introduced 1972.

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.”

The Peck tool that Peter based the Rooster Head on.

The Peck tool that Peter based the Rooster Head on. While the Rooster was similar in appearance, it was noticeably different in performance. Myself, Shea and Kennedy all used both brands at one time or another and easily favored the Roo’, so this was not mere theory. I recently asked Hutter if there were any issues with the Rooster being similar in appearance to the Terror. He said there were never any problems, due to the concept of the droop pick having become somewhat common by 1972.

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.

Hutter made an adz model of the Rooster as well.

Hutter made an adz model of the Rooster as well. This was a beautiful tool, more useful for firmer snow climates than Colorado, but I occasionally wished I’d had one. Normally, I preferred two hammer models.

Climbing Magazine March-April 1977. Your friendly blogger on the cover. At the time, _Climbing_ was beginning to break out of being overly regional, but us local boys definitly got attention since we all climbed with the editor, Michael Kennedy. This is a shot Kennedy got on Hidden Falls in Glenwood Canyon, both of us swinging two Roo'

Climbing Magazine March-April 1977. Your friendly blogger on the cover. At the time, _Climbing_ was beginning to break out of being overly regional (this issue has a Peter Habeler article, for example), but us local boys got attention since we all climbed with the editor, Michael Kennedy. No problem, the magazine coverage had a lot to do with my six figure ice climbing sponsorship (smile). This is a 1976 shot Kennedy got on Hidden Falls in Glenwood Canyon, both of us choking two Roosters. I’m not sure what’s with all the rope, I think we had someone else coming up and left some pro in for them, along with me bringing their rope up.


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11 Responses to “Two Roo’ and I Can Climb Anything”

  1. Halsted Morris July 23rd, 2018 7:50 am

    I still have my Roosterhead hammer. I wish I had a second one. I carry it as my third tool now.

  2. Lou Dawson 2 July 23rd, 2018 6:56 pm

    Hutter also made a really nice one with an adz. I’ll eventually publish another photo. Lou

  3. Kyle July 24th, 2018 2:43 am

    Why haven´t you published anything on K2 ski decent!?

  4. Lou Dawson 2 July 24th, 2018 4:49 am

    Because a person name Kyle did’t leave a variety of good news links (smile).

    Actually, we are on the road doing OR show so have not been on the case with news items. Looks like a good descent, anyone who has informative links please leave them. K2 has taken a lot of lives, including guys who tried to ski, good to see someone come back, and to have climbed it without oxygen before skiing! That’s a bit superhuman, time for some medical studies on the guy! It’ll be interesting to learn what exact route he used, and how continuous the skiing was. Each 8,000 meter peak is different as to what comprises a legit ski descent, first thing is to climb to the summit and ski off it, looks like that was taken care of in good style.

    A little more information here:

    Always a chuckle looking at the expedition photos, especially the photos of guys taking photos (smile).

  5. Paul Simon July 24th, 2018 8:35 pm

    I had planned K2 ski descent for May 2020 – and I am still trying to fullfill this dream. Great accomplishment by Andrzej!

  6. Pablo July 25th, 2018 3:05 am

    Lou have u check the skis and bindings used by Andrzej?
    On the last pic of your third link, we can see a combination of Salomon MTN toe with Dynafit TLT Expedition Heel (the one without lateral release)
    For the planks on the pics we see an Atomic Backland UL (78 or 85?) with it caracteristic Horizon Tech Tip but customized with Salomon (Andrzej sponsor) graphics.

    For the boots it seems a Ginoux model but I supposse it’s adapted to the cold temps of a mountain that high.

    Ah! and the helmet! Salomon MTN recently reviewed here.

  7. Lou Dawson 2 July 25th, 2018 6:08 am

    Pablo, indeed, I was beginning to get curious about that setup. The combo of Atomic toe and Expedition Heel would be excellent for extreme skiing, of course with upward release locked out somehow as well. Not sure how that would be done with Expedition heel, perhaps just use a spring so stiff you couldn’t pop out. Ever since the early French extreme skiers in Cham, the use of various non release super-light setups has been common for “real” extreme skiing, some were quite lightweight even in the old days. I remember one setup that just used a toe wire for the boot toe, and some sort of minimalist over center heel clamp, incredibly simple and light, totally no release. Smart.

    I’m not sure why one would go to the trouble of wearing a helmet while skiing K2, which is kind of like wearing gardening knee pads for motoX racing, but glad to see one we like getting used.


  8. Andy Carey July 25th, 2018 7:31 am

    @Lou: helmets are necessary to prevent the hair loss that is inevitable when one Gorilla glues a GoPro to one’s head; much nicer to just apply the mount to the helmet.

  9. Pablo July 25th, 2018 8:42 am

    Lou I think it’s no so strange to wear a Helmet while climbing an 8000m mountain.

    Here for example Sergi Mingote an Spanish climber wears one on the Broad Peak Summit (seven days later he has summited also K2):

  10. Paul Simon July 25th, 2018 12:35 pm

    When climbing 50+° slopes one should wear a helmet. I used to climb without one, but it’s painful when you get hit by a chunk of ice that your climbing partner inevitably will drop on you. A lightweight (sub 250g) helmet remedies this efficiently.

  11. Halsted Morris July 25th, 2018 11:12 pm

    Mugs Stump had a Roosterhead hammer with him on the 1st ascent of the East face of the Mooses Tooth.

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