My Bad Crampons

We assemble outside the mess tent at High Camp. Uraz wants to have a look at our ice gear before dinner.

So far on Ağrı Dağı, the challenge (apart from my perverse need for more air!) has been to stay upright while scampering up steep slopes of broken scree. The gravel is thick and ubiquitous. At times, even the sturdiest trailmaster can (for reasons that I cannot yet predict) spontaneously break into a furious dance: he runs in place, feet at times on the mountain, at times in the sky. Gravel sprays in all directions. It is cartoonesque. Such displays are always entertaining when others do it; less so, of course, when it happens to me.

Keith on the ground, but always chipper.

Keith is particularly adept at this dance. I admire the raw elegance of his thrashing. His eyes and mouth widen. Poles, legs, arms, and even his own head seem to come unhinged; it is hard to believe that they belong to the same body. His nickname, “Crash,” is hard earned and worn like a scout badge. Of course, Keith is not the only one to gain these merits. The “scree scramble” is familiar to all of us. It is captured either by the phrase, “three steps forward, two steps back,” or by the phrase, “poetry in motion,” only without the poetry.

By tomorrow morning, however, this entertainment should come to an end. We will be on ice. Hence the need for crampons.

Tan’s crampons equipped with homemade anti-balling plates (ingeniously engineered from an old plastic zip-tie canister. As you can see, I went ahead and used the last of the zip-ties too. Clever, eh?)

The mountaineering crampon is an ingenious device, assuming you can fix it tightly to the bottom of your foot. When properly attached, metal points, or spikes, bristle in all directions and offer traction to the wearer. This is helpful when you are walking on an icy surface or aerating the lawn (which seems to me to be a clever way to practice).

Photo 3: Sharp crampons help keep your feet on the ground.

My problem is that I bought two pairs of crampons on ebay before leaving the US. The first pair is a “step in” design. They were expensive, almost new, and work quite well.

“Whoever wears these will stick to the face of the mountain like Spider-man,” I thought.

My wife insisted that I give them to my son.

The second pair are European antiques; they are of a tried and true design. The advantage of these, so the seller advertised, is that they will strap on any boot (they were also cheap). The disadvantage of this purchase is that they no longer have a strap and buckle system (rotted out, I suspect). I had to design my own, a welcome challenge. I studied many Internet photographs of daring mountaineers performing great feats at dizzying heights. I zoomed in on their feet; there they were, strap-on crampons fiercely gripping the ice. I gritted my teeth in approval before heading out to the back yard. There I tested designs, pranced about the grass, and killed worms by the hundreds.

Eventually I landed upon a system that secured the crampons. It used two nylon straps in a wrapping tactic that laced the whole affair to my boot-bottoms and culminated with a cinching and sliding metal buckle. This was the pièce de résistance. I was proud of this design and bragged as much to my wife. I told her how well it worked and how much money I saved by buying “vintage.” She believed me, I think, which is why she insisted that I not let our son wear them.

Uraz and the fellas in front of the tent, testing the fit of their crampons.

Now, outside the mess tent on the mountain, I am eager to demonstrate my thrift and engineering prowess to the fellas. While the others deftly step-in to their expensive crampons and secure them, I set myself quietly to the task of validating the glory of antique “know how.” Unfortunately, when the guys (including my son) hobble to their feet and begin testing their new grips, I am still trying to remember the strapping pattern. Did this strap go over or under that one? I manage to configure one foot (but it still doesn’t quite look right) when Uraz looks at me and smiles, “You OK?”

“Yes.  Almost there,” I respond bravely.

I fumble with the hinge pin of my design, the metal buckle, first turning it one way and then other. I decide it should go the other way and am about to slide it on the strap when it slips from my fingers. I freeze. I hear it bounce with a metallic “ting!” among the fist sized gravel.

Gently, without moving, I begin feeling around the cracks. No buckle. I twist and look some more. No buckle. I stand up to survey the area under my seat, trying not to kick any more gravel. No buckle.

My mind races for a solution. Duct tape?

The guys practice their new feet, working the bank like sturdy mountain goats. I watch them from the front of the mess tent with one crampon on my foot and one crampon in my hand. The buckleless strap is blowing behind me in the wind.

Uraz senses my plight. He comes over and examines the pointy metal in my hand.

“Where did you get these?” he asks.

“I have no idea.” I answer.