INTERVIEW: Angelika Rainer, the first woman to drytool D15

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 04/12/2017
Angelika climbing in the dry tooling cave of Tomorrows World. Photo: Michael Maili
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Angelika Rainer has just become the first woman to climb a D15 drytooling route: A line above the Sky, in the Tomorrow's World cave, Italian Dolomites; a route first climbed by British climber Tom Ballard. The north Italian climber talks about why she loves ice climbing and drytooling, how to get into it, and women in these sports. Does she plan to sample some Scottish Winter?

Note for the unitiated: M grades are for mixed climbing – climbing with ice axes on both rock and ice. WI (water ice) grades are for pure ice climbing, while D means total drytooling, climbing with your tools only on rock.

My start into ice and drytooling was quite a coincidence. In 2005 I decided to participate in the first ever Drytooling Italian Cup that took place close to my home town. I had only tried ice climbing once before but really had fun at the competition, thanks to some friends who explained the basic technique of handling the ice axes! From this first comp I went on with drytooling outdoors, ice climbing and after only one year I participated at my first Ice climbing World Cup.

Angelika competing at her home World Cup event in Rabenstein, Italy. Photo: Patrick Schwienbacher

For three years I have been a professional athlete, collaborating with my sponsors and making a living out of that. Before that, I studied Agricultural Economics and worked in a Research Centre for some years.

I am from Merano in South Tyrol, a German speaking region in Northern Italy. My hometown is only 1.5 hours from the Dolomites and 1.5 hours from the famous rock climbing area Arco at Lake Garda. My boyfriend lives in Bergamo, so I spend a lot of time climbing in those places! There are some good indoor walls too, and in my boyfriend's village we have a climbing wall where I can train for drytooling as well.

The route A line above the Sky was bolted by the British climber Tom Ballard in 2015 and he did the first ascent of all of his routes. We competed together in the Ice climbing World Cup that winter, and he invited me to come and try his routes, which I was happy to do.

Angelika climbing in the dry tooling cave of Tomorrows World. Photo: Michael Maili

I climbed at Tomorrow's World about 14 times, but not always working on A line above the Sky. After having been at Tomorrow's World for the first time in February 2016, I knew I wanted to do the route but a free ascent seemed quite far away. Some moves are very very long for me and at my first tries I barely was able to do those single moves. So I decided to try some of the easier routes in the meantime, that are all variants as they have a common start or ancor and then cross each other in the roof.

In this way I worked on the moves of the D15, but beeing able to vary a bit and to have some success by climbing the easier routes. I was able to add the second last piece of the puzzle in the end of October, when I climbed ‘Je Ne Sais Quoi’, graded D14+. I was very happy about this early season send, which I did not expect. Now I knew, that only the ‘big route’ was missing.

There is no real crux, but some moves are very, very long for me and at my first tries I barely was able to do those single moves. These hard moves are distributed into a 40 metre long roof where you can never rest well – it makes up for a hard power endurance climb!

I was very, very happy to reach the top! Dry tooling has been one of my main activities over the past years and I put much energy into getting better. Being able to be now the first women to climb D15 makes me absolutely happy!

Angelika ice climbing in Abisko, Sweden. Photo: Jensen Walker 

From the beginning, I was fascinated by the technique of climbing with ice axes and crampons. The tools become extensions of your arms. You have to get a very good feeling with them as you actually don’t feel the hold with your fingers as you do in rock climbing – you have to understand how good the placement of the tool is. This was sometimes scary when I thought that the tool might slip and hit me in the face, which happened twice and ended in a black eye! But overcoming this fear and getting more and more sensibility with the tools motivated me.

I really like that every season my climbing, my training and my projects change. In spring I train indoors, sport climbing and go climbing on our nice crags around Northern Italy, but also travel to some warmer places as Spain and Greece. In summer I climb in the Dolomites, in autumn I go drytooling and in winter I travel to some great mixed and ice climbing places and participate in the Ice Climbing World Cup. There is no time to get bored!

Women are a minority in ice and drytooling; usually they don’t like the cold that much and are also afraid of climbing with crampons and ice axes. Ice climbing requires some basic power in the arms to swing your tools into the ice, which might be hard if you are a beginner to climbing.

I think the women's climbing scene is definitely growing, generally. The many indoor walls around the world provide an easier approach than going immediately climbing outdoors. More little girls start climbing, and as they get older they start outdoor climbing and are able to push the limits. I myself started climbing at a wall when I was 12.

This girl certainly can. Photo: Zach Mahone

To any women thinking of trying dry tooling or climbing: just try. It’s a wonderful sport. Climbing in general both involves your body and your mind. While climbing you are completely focused, you have no time to think about what has been worrying during the day. You meet amazing people, get to travel as you can climb all over the world and spend time outdoors.

When I started climbing I was inspired by Lynn Hill, the first person to free the Nose. Climbing something that men had tried without success was very impressive to me. This year there have been very strong accomplishments by other women who all motivate me to push harder myself.

I don’t think ice climbing is much more dangerous than trad climbing. You protect yourself through mobile protection just as in trad climbing by using ice screws. The only thing that varies is the icefall, which can potentially break down.

It is very important to always look at how temperatures have been going over the past days. If there are big differences in the temperatures then the ice gets cracks and can break down. If it is exposed to direct sun it can start melting if temperatures are not very very cold. If temperatures are too cold, the ice gets fragile and big pieces break and fall down easily, which can hurt you. Perfect temperatures for ice climbing would be about -5 degrees Celsius.

Ouray Mixed Climbing Masters in Ouray, Colorado. Angelika won in 2015 and placed 2nd in 2016. Photo: Rhys Roberts

I haven't tried Scottish winter climbing but I would like to! This winter I plan to fly to Colorado for some ice climbing and to participate in the Ouray Ice Climbing Festival and mixed climbing competition. Then I am planning a climbing trip to Iran in Spring and want to do lots of rock climbing over the rest of the spring and summer, travelling to some nice areas.

A taste of other hard drytooling routes Angelika has climbed:

Clash of the Titans, WI 10+ Helmcken Falls, Canada
Steel Koan, M13+ Cineplex Cave, Canada
The Mustang, M14- Vail Amphitheater, Colorado, USA
French Connection, D15- Tomorrows World, Italian Dolomites
Next Level, D13 Usine, France, flash ascent

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