Definition of dry tooling

Seb Laurent

Sébastien Laurent is a versatile french mountain guide: he’s exploring activities (ski, ice and rock climbing) with curiosity on their evolution…

Here is his point of view on the dry tooling’s world: humour and foresight.

‘Dry tooling’ is a modern term used to describe an activity that actually has a fairly long history, at least according to Manu Ibarra and Jérôme Blanc-Gras’ book, The Art of Ice Climbing.

Let’s start out with a little bit of that history, taken from the book. Without realising it, our English friends were already dry tooling on the chalk cliffs of Dover as early as the 19th century.

Chalk climbing in Dover ©Manu Ibarra

Certain climbers would readily make use of an ice axe to negotiate a crux on the cliffs of Wales and the Lake District. For them, the activity was an end in itself and not just a way to train for mountaineering. Incidentally, the same goes for sport climbing, which they invented in 1870, along with the profession of mountain guiding, amateur alpine climbing, and who knows what else… It makes my head hurt to think about it! Luckily for fans, England also produced Jonny Wilkinson, who led the Toulon rugby team to a historic French Cup and European cup double win. But I’m getting a little off track, terribly sorry!

Personally, my experience of pure dry tooling is rather limited.

I’ve climbed my fair share of mixed routes with hard pitches, but they were more psychologically challenging than physically strenuous. Pinocchio and Beyond Good and Evil, for example, remain great memories for me.

Dry tooling in mountain: the obvious solution ©Roch Malnuit

Dry tooling is often the obvious solution for sections of climbing in the mountains that are easier to negotiate with crampons and ice tools than without them! Armand Charlet proved that very point in Fontainebleau on a boulder problem that he was unable to climb using his bare hands, and also when he made the first ascent of the Aiguilles du Diable.

The last couple of years have seen an explosion of European cliffs equipped specifically for dry tooling. These crags are a product of the hard mixed routes that became popular in the early 2000s with the advent of ice climbing competitions. Some areas are completely natural, while others are equipped with logs (to add a little swing to the mix), or even entirely chipped.

You can learn more about dry tooling areas in France by googling DTS Tour.

DTS tour in France ©Gaétan Raymond

Personally, I find that one of the best places to try out multi-pitch dry tooling is at the Col de la Bataille, above Valence. ‘Grass tooling’ would actually be a more appropriate way to describe the climbing here, but I’m being a bit harsh! The English talk about ‘turfing’ when the climbing involves sections of grass and frozen turf. That said, the Col de la Bataille also has nice sections of rock! The best conditions are in November and December, before the biggest snowfalls. From then on, the snow insulates the turf, preventing it from freezing properly.

Scottish climbing in France – Col de la Bataille © Manu Ibarra

This magnificent spot was developed by Manu Ibarra (him again!) and friends. It allows experienced trad climbers (who are used to alpine climbing) to test their adaptability and their nerves on terrain that includes, rock, ice, rime, and grass.

It’s an unusual experience! Either you hate it or you’re hooked!

A Toulon climber, S. Laurent


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