The man who invented Dry Tooling
Few people can boast about having invented a sport. Patrick De Gayardon is one of them, though he’s a rare bird. Pretty much all the variations of mountaineering and climbing gradually evolved with time, slowly creating a life of their own, independent of mountaineering itself. Paul Preuss can be considered the forerunner of sport climbing and John Gill may well be seen as the inventor of bouldering, bringing about the use of chalk, a rating scale and the idea of training for its own sake, not necessarily aiming at using technical skills on big walls. At any rate, climbing on big rocks was already taking place at the end of 1800 on the limestone boulders in Fontainebleau, as a preparation for bigger climbs in the Alps.
It would be fair to say that Jeff Lowe invented dry-tooling. In 1994, instead of climbing The Fang in Vail, Colorado, the ice waterfall at the centre of an overhanging amphitheatre which is a sport route in the summer, as he had done hundred of times and like hundreds of climbers before him, he decided to climb the rocky overhangs using an ice-axe and crampons. He finished his ascent on an overhanging ice strip into the void, but only at the very end and for a short section. Various ascents of the Octopussy ice waterfall (M8) had already taken place, but that was the first time somebody climbed on the rock with ice-climbing gear, giving the dry section as much importance and value as the ice one. That’s how dry tooling began.
Jeff Lowe was a creative person with a prolific mind. Together with the invention of modern mixed climbing, his genius crafted step-in boots, anti-balling systems for crampons, interchangeable points and even soft-shell jackets. Jeff developed and devised the Nepal Top boots for La Sportiva, together with the crampons which sported the revolutionary quick step-in lacing: this helped raising the bar beyond known achievements on vertical and overhanging ice.