Mixed climbing is a climbing discipline used on routes that do have not enough ice to be pure ice climbs, but are also not dry enough to be pure rock climbs. To ascend the route, the mixed climber uses ice climbing tools (e.g. double ice tools and crampons), but to protect the route, they use traditional (e.g. nuts) or sport (e.g. bolts) rock climbing tools. Mixed climbing can vary from routes with sections of thick layers of ice and sections of bare rock to routes that are mainly bare rock but which is “iced-up” (i.e. covered in a thin layer of ice and/or snow).

While alpine climbing has used mixed climbing techniques for decades (most north-facing alpine routes are iced or snow-covered), the sport came to prominence with Jeff Lowe's ascent of the partially bolted Octopussy (WI6, M8 R) in 1994. Mixed climbing led to the sport of dry-tooling, which is mixed climbing on routes that are completely free of all ice or snow. At times, mixed climbing equipment has come under scrutiny from concerns that it was aid climbing (e.g. the lengths of tools used, and the use of heel spurs and of ice axe leashes).

Mixed climbing routes are graded for difficulty on an M-grade system, and the development of specialized mixed climbing techniques (e.g. stein pulls and figure-four moves), and equipment (e.g. fruit boots, heel spurs, and advanced ergo ice axes), led to dramatic increases in mixed climbing grade milestones, particularly from 1994 to 2003, and have been credited with pushing standards in the wider field of alpine climbing. Many modern mixed routes are bolted like sport climbing routes, but some routes require traditional climbing-type protection.


Mixed climbing involves using ice climbing equipment (e.g. double ice axes and crampons) on routes that are not sufficiently covered in ice to be pure ice climbs and have a WI-grade. Mixed climbing routes have significant elements that are pure rock, which in some cases may be completely dry (e.g. as found on some North American mixed climbing routes), but in many cases is covered in a thin layer of ice and snow (e.g. as found in Scottish mixed climbing), thus making pure rock or ice climbing techniques impossible.[1]

The mixed climber uses their ice axe and crampons to advance up the route by inserting them into small cracks and edges on the iced-up rock. They use the equipment of a traditional climbing rock climber for climbing protection, as there will be limited possibilities to use ice screws to protect the route. It has also become common to find single-pitch mixed climbs that are fully bolted in the manner of sport climbing routes.[2] Mixed climbing can also be done as free solo climbing, which is an even risker undertaking.[3]

Mixed climbing is closely related to alpine climbing, as many alpine climbing routes have large sections of iced and snow-covered rock that can neither be rock climbed (i.e. too slippery) nor climbed as a pure ice climb (i.e. not enough ice). Mixed climbing is also closely related to the sport of dry-tooling, which was developed by mixed climbers doing routes with no snow or ice, but still using the tools and techniques of mixed climbing; mixed climbs that have no ice are sometimes given a "D" prefix instead of an "M" prefix in their grade.[4]

There has been debate as to whether mixed climbing is akin to aid climbing (i.e. use of mechanical tools on rock), which has led to increased oversight on allowable tools (e.g. use of heel spurs, length of axes, and use of leashes for resting, etc.); and most ice climbing competitions no longer allow leashes and regulate the use of heel spurs (e.g. if allowed at all, they cannot be used for resting).[5]

Types of routes

Types of mixed climbing routes
Silent Memories (WI6, M9), Italy.
French Reality (WI6+, M7-), Canada.
North West Passage (M11), Montana.
Banana Wall (XII/12), Scotland.

Mixed climbing routes can cover a broad range of types. Some mixed climbing routes are combinations of full ice climbing routes (i.e. a large frozen icicle, frozen alpine couloirs, or frozen water cascade) and full dry-tooling routes (i.e. a rock overhang, gully, or roof to get to or from the frozen ice part); these routes have both a full mixed climbing grade (M-grade) and a full ice climbing grade (WI-grade). Examples are the American route, Octopussy (WI6, M8), Silent Memories (WI6, M9) in Italy, or French Reality (M7-, WI6+) in Canada.[4]

Other types of mixed climbing routes have no material ice climbing sections (and thus have no substantive WI-grade), and are really rock routes but where the rock is covered in a layer of ice and snow that makes normal rock climbing impossible. Examples include many Scottish winter climbs,[2] such as Wailing Wall (Scottish mixed climbing grade XI, 9) or Banana Wall (Scottish mixed climbing grade XII, 12),[6] or North West Passage (M11) in Montana.


While alpine climbers and Scottish winter climbers have used mixed climbing techniques for decades, mixed climbing as a standalone sport came to prominence in 1994 when American climber Jeff Lowe climbed the roof of Octopussy (WI6, M8) in Vail, Colorado, creating the world's first M8-graded mixed climb.[7][8] In 2014, Rock & Ice credited Lowe's 1994 ascent with effectively inventing the sport of mixed climbing.[9][10]

Lowe's ascent led to an increase in interest in mixed climbing,[7] and from 1994 to 2003 levels of difficulty rose sharply from M8 to M13, driven by mixed-climbing pioneers such as Stevie Haston in Europe (particularly in Val di Cogne), and Will Gadd in North America (particularly in the Fang Amphitheater in Vail, and in the Cineplex Cave in Alberta).[7][5] In 2003, Italian climber Mauro Bole [de] finding he was too short for the crux on The Game (M13) in Cineplex Cave, lengthened his tools and completed it.[5] This led to implications that mixed-climbing was akin to aid climbing.[5] A similar debate had been boiling over on heel spurs, which Gadd had decided to stop using (calling it "barebacking"), and writing a manifesto titled "Spurs are for Horses, and Tools Are For Your Hands", which stated "A route climbed by sitting on your tool, hooking a tool with your knees or spurs or even using spurs is an aid climb".[5]

Competition ice climbing also began to regulate the use of tools, including heel spurs, tool length, and tool leashes (which can be used for resting).[5] In 2012, mixed-climber Ryan Nelson wrote an article in Rock & Ice titled "Is mixed climbing still legitimate?".[5] Scottish mixed-climber Dave MacLeod told Nelson, "Modern-mixed is definitely approaching stagnation", and "Ditching heel spurs will no doubt give it another gasp of life, but it only puts it off a year or two. The reason is, of course, that [climbing] a full ropelength of horizontal roof on tiny hooks is relatively easy".[5]

While the evolution of grade milestones in mixed climbing has tapered since 2003, leading mixed climbers such as Raphel Slawinski have highlighted the positive effect of mixed climbing on overall standards in alpine climbing.[7] Other alpine climbers such as Steve House have cautioned that the reliance on fully bolted sport climbing routes for the highest M-grades, has not yet led to a discernable impact on general standards in alpine climbing.[11]


Using a stein pull
Using a figure-four move and wearing fruit boots

As well as using standard techniques of ice climbing (e.g. front pointing) and of rock climbing (e.g. crack climbing, but with ice axes), mixed climbers have developed a range of techniques that are largely unique to their sport (and the derived sport of dry-tooling). These include:[1]

In addition, mixed climbers try to keep their elbows near their sides (i.e. to avoid draining energy in torque and stein pulls),[1] and are very careful in extracting wedged blades (i.e. which can ricochet back into the climber's face), and of gently balancing the front points of their crampons on thin holds.[1]


Climber wearing fruit boots while performing a figure-four move in the 2016 Ice Climbing World Cup
Advanced ergo ice axe.[13]

Mixed climbing started by using existing ice climbing equipment for upward momentum (e.g. double ice axes and crampons), and existing traditional rock climbing equipment (e.g. nuts, hexcentrics and cams) or sport climbing equipment (e.g. bolts and quickdraws) for climber protection.[4]

As the sport of developed, specialized equipment was created including:[1]



Graded mixed climbs
Kristoffer Szilas on Fly in the Wind (M10+), Italy
Gordon McArthur on Roman Candle (M8+), Montana
Ueli Steck on North Couloir Direct (VI, Al6+, M8), Les Drus
Aaron Mulkey on Devil's Doorbell (M9), Cody.

The grading of mixed routes approximates the ice climbing WI-system up to grade M6, but they then diverge as mixed routes become very overhanging and eventually turn into roofs (ice is not normally overhanging).[14][15] M-grades do not take into account the "danger" of the route (i.e. how good is the protection in the event of a fall), but focus on the technical and physical challenge of the route, and is thus more akin to the French and US sport climbing grades, although as with the US system, the "R/X" suffix is used for danger.[14][15]

Some M-graded climbs are given an alternative D-grade prefix where there is no ice on the route, and it is effectively dry-tooling (e.g. the Swiss climb Iron Man is quoted as being M14+ but also D14+).[14][15][16]

The following M-grades and descriptions are provided by the American Alpine Club (republished in 2013) who note: "These [mixed climbing] routes require considerable dry tooling (modern ice tools used on bare rock) and are climbed in crampons; actual ice is optional but some ice is usually involved":[17][18]

In his 1996 book, Ice World, Jeff Lowe ranked his new M-grades to the level of physical exertion needed on a free rock climb; Lowe estimated that M8 was equivalent to 5.12 (American YDS).[19] Other authors have tried to align M-grades with rock climbing grades,[20] and now equate M8 to 5.10/5.11, however, there is some variation and no consensus that such comparisons are valid.[19]

Scottish winter grades

Jeff Mercier [fr] on The Secret (Grade VIII, 9), Scotland

Mixed climbing in Scotland is known as Scottish winter climbing and uses a dual-grading system with a Roman numeral to denote the overall difficulty of the route (e.g. technical challenge, length, and the level of boldness, physicality, and stamina required).[15] A second Arabic number clarifies the technical difficulty of the hardest move on the route.[15] A climb graded VI, 6 means the technical difficulty of the hardest move is standard for the overall grade, whereas a climb graded VI, 8 denotes the hardest move is above the overall grade.[15]

This dual-grade is used as Scottish winter climbs use traditional climbing protection, placing greater strains on the climber.[15] British mixed-climber Ian Parnell wrote in his guide to Scottish winter climbing that Scottish grades are almost two levels above M-grades, and thus a Scottish VIII, 8 is similar to an M6; but that an onsight of a Scottish VIII, 8 using traditional climbing protection, is similar in difficulty to a bolted sport climbing M8.[15]

The American Alpine Club (republished in 2013) listed the following description of Scottish winter grades:[17][18]

Evolution of grade milestones

See also: Dry-tooling § Evolution of grade milestones, and List of grade milestones in rock climbing

The following mixed climbs are particularly notable in the evolution of mixed climbing grade milestones and mixed climbing standards.[21][7]

Anna Torretta [it] on completing X-Files (background), 2021

Female grade milestones

Many leading female mixed climbers are competition ice climbers from the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup tour, however, despite their smaller grouping, on occasions, female mixed climbers have set grade milestones that closely matched the highest male grades at the time:[30]

Free solo

A number of mixed climbers have set new grade milestones in a free solo climbing style (i.e. no protection such as ice screws or bolts):

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Buhay, Corey (8 February 2017). "Why (and How) You Should Learn to Mixed Climb". REI. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  2. ^ a b McCewan, George (2 October 2019). "Scottish Winter Mixed Climbing". Climbr. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  3. ^ Leuven, Chris (20 December 2019). "Conrad Anker Explains the Art of Free Solo Mixed Climbing". Men's Journal. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  4. ^ a b c Gadd, Will; Chayer, Roger (November 2003). Ice & Mixed Climbing: Modern Technique (First ed.). Mountaineers Books. ISBN 0-89886-769-X.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Nelson, Ryan (27 February 2012). "Is Mixed Climbing Legitimate?". Rock & Ice. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  6. ^ "First repeat of mixed-climbing route Wailing Wall (IX, 9) by Robertson and Russell". Climbr. 22 July 2022. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Slawinski, Raphael (2002). "Degrees of Freedom: From dry tooling to figure fours, M-climbing in the mountains is redefining the vision of what's a climbable line". American Alpine Journal. 44 (76): 72–85. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  8. ^ Hansman, Heather (9 March 2016). "Why You Should Know the Women of Mixed Climbing". Outside. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  9. ^ a b Takeda, Pete (14 January 2014). "TNB: Jeff Lowe Invented the Sport". Rock & Ice. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  10. ^ a b Clarke, Owen (25 February 2022). "Jeff Lowe, Ice And Mixed Climbing Pioneer". Climbing. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  11. ^ Dornian, David (2004). "Mixed Messages: Is hard M-sport climbing influencing high standard alpinism?". American Alpine Journal. 46 (78): 116–127. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  12. ^ Issac, Sean (2 February 2004). "Mixed Climbing Skills: The Stein Pull". Climbing. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  13. ^ a b "The Best Ice and Mixed Climbing Tools for 2023". Gripped Magazine. 8 December 2022. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  14. ^ a b c Gadd, Will (2003). Ice & Mixed Climbing: Modern Technique (1st ed.). Mountaineers Books. pp. 84–86. ISBN 978-0898867695. Ice Grades
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h Gresham, Neil; Parnell, Ian (January 2009). "Mixed grades". Winter CLIMBING+. Rockfax. pp. 180–181. ISBN 978-1873341964.
  16. ^ a b Geldard, Jack (22 February 2012). "Robert Jasper on Iron Man (M14+)". UKClimbing. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  17. ^ a b c d "International Grade Comparison Chart". Alpinist. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  18. ^ a b c d "International Grade Comparison Chart". American Alpine Journal. 2013. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  19. ^ a b Paulin, Ari (2023). "Ice climbing grades". Ari'sBaseCamp. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  20. ^ "Mixed Climbing Grades: Everything You Need to Know". Ascentionism. 2023. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Gresham, Neil; Parnell, Ian (January 2009). "Evolution of sport mixed climbing". Winter CLIMBING+. Rockfax. p. 176. ISBN 978-1873341964.
  22. ^ "First Ascent Friday: Will Gadd Sends Amphibian in 1990s". Gripped Magazine. 29 April 2017. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  23. ^ a b Svab, Erik (22 February 2000). "The Empire strikes back, M11 repeated by Mauro Bubu Bole". PlanetMountain. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  24. ^ "Mauro Bubu Bole climbs Mission impossible at Valsavaranche". PlanetMountain. 27 March 2001. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  25. ^ "Jasper climbs Vertical limits M12 E2". PlanetMountain. 8 January 2003. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  26. ^ "The Game M13 in the Rockies Turns 14". Gripped Magazine. 9 December 2017. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  27. ^ "The Game Reloaded". Desnivel. 10 January 2005. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  28. ^ "Angelika Rainer, from Steel Koan M13+ to Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival victory". PlanetMountain. 19 December 2013. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  29. ^ "Around the world of extreme drytooling by Young-Hye Kwon". Desnivel. 12 March 2015. Retrieved 1 May 2023. The flight dropped him off directly in Switzerland, where he wasted no time heading to the Eptingen area to see with his own eyes what is considered to be the toughest route in world mixed sports, Ironman D/M14+, opened by Robert Jasper, in 2012.
  30. ^ Hansman, Heather (9 March 2016). "Why You Should Know the Women of Mixed Climbing". Outside. Retrieved 3 May 2023.
  31. ^ "Ines Papert imposes Law and Order M13". PlanetMountain. 22 February 2007. Retrieved 3 May 2023.
  32. ^ Lambert, Erik (17 March 2007). "First woman to send M13". Alpinist. Retrieved 3 May 2023.
  33. ^ Geldhard, Jack (19 February 2013). "Female Ascent of M14 Mixed Route for Lucie Hrozova". UKClimbing.
  34. ^ "Lucie Hrozová becomes first woman to climb M14 with Ironman". PlanetMountain. 10 February 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2023.
  35. ^ "Lucie Hrozová slays Saphira M15- at Vail in Colorado". PlanetMountain. 8 January 2016. Retrieved 3 May 2023.
  36. ^ Czyz, Jacek (18 February 2016). "Lucie Hrozová Establishes Hardest Mixed Climb in U.S." Rock & Ice. Retrieved 3 May 2023. Saphira, according to Lucie, is more difficult than Ironman and all other routes that she has climbed. It is likely the hardest mixed route climbed by a woman—for sure the hardest mixed route established by a woman—and one of the hardest in the world.
  37. ^ Gray, Will (9 July 2021). "These are the 10 hardest climbs in the world". Red Bull. Retrieved 3 May 2023. Number 7: Saphira (mixed climbing)
  38. ^ Coldiron, Scott (29 February 2020). "Matt Cornell free solos Hyalite Canyon testpiece, Nutcracker (M9 WI5+, 450')". Alpinist. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  39. ^ "Matt Cornell's Solo Climb of the Nutcracker Is a Testament to His Mental Fortitude". Outside. 3 March 2022. Retrieved 10 May 2023.

Further reading