|Ice axes for mountaineering are a vital tool that cannot be overlooked. They are used for self-arrests, as walking sticks, and also as probes when looking for crevaces. Choosing the right one is important and some questions you must think about are: |
If you're climbing steep terrain, a shorter axe will work better because it is easier to plunge it into the snow/ice if you are on steep angles. A longer axe is more suited for use as a walking stick when crossing glaciers. For sporadic use, such as ski mountaineering (where you may only need to bring out your axe for short periods), you may want to look at lighter weight axes since you will be carrying it on your backpack often.
- How steep is the terrain I am going to be on?
- Will I be using it often or only sporadically?
- How strong does it need to be?
What is an Ice Axe
Ice axes must not be confused with ice tools. Ice tools
are used for climbing steep vertical ice and usually have curved shafts with a more aggressive pick design. Ice axes, on the other hand, are used for mountaineering and glacial travel.
They have a multitude of uses that include belaying,
self arrests, and even being used as a walking stick.
Components of an Ice Axe
The five major components to an ice axe include: the pick, head, adze, shaft, and spike (or ferrule).
- The pick is curved with an smooth finish on the top and on the bottom has teeth designed to penetrate into ice and snow.
- The adze of an ice axe is a flat wide section on the opposite side of the pick that is used for any chopping, such as cutting steps into hard snow.
- The head of the ice axe is what the user will grip when walking with the axe. The head is composed of the adze and the pick and attaches these to the shaft. The head has a hole that can be used for attaching a leash to or clipping a carabiner through.
- The shaft is a long section of material that is usually flat on two sides and rounded on the same sides as where the pick and adze are. The materials of the shaft in the past were generally wood, but now they are made from aluminum, titanium or other composite materials (and they are given different strength ratings).
- The shaft may also have a rubber grip on the lower section, which will help the climber's hand stay warmer, but makes it more difficult to be able to plunge the shaft into the snow while climbing.
- The last part of the axe is the spike or ferrule located at the base. The spike allows the climber to easily plunge the axe into the snow.
Ice Axe Strength Rating
The rating system on ice axes is determined by two groups that are shown on the axe as UIAA and/or CE certification. The two types of ratings that are given include the 'basic' rating, which is shown on the axe with a capital B
inside of a circle. This rating denotes that the ice axe has passed the basic tests for strength and durability, when used as a buried snow anchor or for self-arrest. The other rating is the 'technical' rating and it is more stringent than the basic test. The technical rating is shown with a capital T
inside a circle as well.
Choosing the Right Length
Your Ice Axe length is going to be determined mainly on how steep the climbing is going to be, as well as your own height. If you are going to be on more technical terrain your will be better suited with a shorter axe, if you will be on more moderate terrain you may wish to have a longer axe as you will use it more as a walking stick. For your first axe you may wish to use the general rule of the thumb, for this you hold the axe by its head as your would when walking and it should come to about your ankle or just above it. This is not going to give you the perfect axe for all purposes but will be a good starting point. If you know you are going to only be using this axe on more technical routes you may with to with a short axe right away.
There are some axes on the market that are specialty axes. This can include telescoping poles, which can be extended to allow the ice axe to be used as a walking stick without having to have such a long axe to begin with.