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Thread: Ice Axe Hell

  1. #1
    Widdler Mark Davies's Avatar
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    I know you guys have heard it all before but I am truly in Ice Axe hell. I am venturing out on the hills in the winter more and more these days and am having bucketloads of conflicting advice about appropriate axes. Some say longer shaft, others short. Some say steeper pick, others shallow. Ssome say "Oh, you will get into Ice climbing, walking axes are pants, get an Alien or something." I am about 6'1", and am out in UK winter hill conditions, walking and occasionally scrambling. I am a climber, but as yet have not lost enough grip on reality to wish to attempt ice climbing. Help me you wise old elves!

  2. #2
    Super Moderator Jon Doran's Avatar
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    I'd get something like a Mountain Technology Technical axe - or similar - in around 50 or 55 cm length, depends a bit on how long your arms are.

    The pick is alpine rather than flat walking which means that if you do want it for the occasional move or venture onto graded climbs, it'll stay put when you place it, but it's not so steep that it's impossible to use for self arrest. Walking axes have flat picks that are ideal for self arrest, but useless if you try and place them and then pull on them at all - that's why Chouinard invented the curved pick and Hamis Macinnes came up with the Terra'.

    I've always used a shorter axe - I'm around 5' 9" and use a 50cm one for general mountaineering - on the basis that you need it mainly on steep ground in the UK when the axe is in your uphill hand planted above you. Any longer and it's simply too long. This is basically what Glemore Lodge teach (or used to). On flat ground or ridges this will mean it's a little short, but if you want something to use as a walking stick, why not use a walking stick...

    You also need to be able to tap the sole of your boot occasionally to remove balled up snow from your crampons in some conditions. With your arm by your side, the axe should just about reach your ankle I reckon.

    Something this spec will be fine for walking and general winter mountaineering plus climbs up to, say, Scottish IV. If you really get into winter ice you'll probably want something more savage with a reverse pick anyway, but banana picks are much harder to use for self-arrest and therefore problematic for general walking use.

    Ultimately there's no right or wrong answer. Some people prefer a longer axe because they feel they're more useful on ridges, but whatever length you prefer, a curved alpine pick makes sense to me - MT Technical Axe, DMM Alpine Raptor etc.

    Hope that's some help.

  3. #3
    Super Moderator Jon Doran's Avatar
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    'Ice climbers - few or no functioning brain cells...' - source that quote...

  4. #4
    Super Moderator Jon Doran's Avatar
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    Oh, if you do go for a Raptor, you can always change the pick - it comes with either an alpine or banana (reversed curve) item - if you feel you want a banana pick when / if you get into climbing. I actually use and old Vertige with an alpine pic for general use sometimes - it's only around 45cm though, which is often too short except on very steep ground.

  5. #5
    Widdler Mark Davies's Avatar
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    Great, thx for the info Jon

  6. #6
    Initiate Dave Moseley's Avatar
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    and there happens to be a mountain tech- technical axe in the classifieds at the moment!!!

  7. #7
    Widdler Mark Davies's Avatar
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    I see your technical axe Dave, I'm just wondering if it will be too short at 50cm?

  8. #8
    ‹bermensch John Corteen's Avatar
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    I'm 6' and I use a 50cm DMM Raptor, As Jon says it's all a comprimise and only time 50cm is too short is on the flat. I bought the Raptor because you can change the picks as needed.

  9. #9
    ‹bermensch Ben Hedley's Avatar
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    Im 6'3 n use a 55cm raptor! bought it cos it will do more than 1 job! as jon says, it you want a support on the flat, use a pole!

  10. #10
    Widdler Mark Davies's Avatar
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    Thanks again guys. I'll just have to choose between the 2nd hand technical, or new raptor. I knew I could rely on the wise elves at OM!

  11. #11
    Ultra King Ninja Marmot's Avatar
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    I'm not 6'3"...but maybe inside leg measurement is a better indicator rather than height...29"...
    I use a 60cm axe and it suits me fine as it is more useful when walking - which is mostly what I do.

    Personally I wouldn't use a trekking pole to steady myself when traversing a snowy ridge as it wouldn't be any cop if I tried to use it to self-arrest! The curve of the walking axe pick arrests an out-of-control person quite nicely.

    There is never one correct answer to this question and it is a matter of choice.

  12. #12
    ‹bermensch
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    I'm 5'8" and find a 60cm axe very comfortable to use when walking. Many people advocate using a shorter axe as they can be easier to handle during an 'arrest' but surely the best thing is to try to avoid going @r$e over elbow in the first place?

    For loads of views on this subject look at:
    http://www.mountaineering-scotland.o...n/iceaxes.html

    Would definately agree with Jeannie regarding poles.

    Glyn.


  13. #13
    Ultra King Orange Alex Ford's Avatar
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    I read somewhere where there was info how to use a trekking pole for self arrest. Can't remember where though.

    I have a 60cm axe (and I'm 5'10" tall) works for me nice and fine.

  14. #14
    ‹bermensch John Corteen's Avatar
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    I think that whatever axe length you get you will adapt to it's characteristics and it won't be a problem for you. There's no right or wrong answer to this one!

  15. #15
    Ultra King Orange Alex Ford's Avatar
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    So very true.

    My local shop doesn't stock Basic Axe's in any size less than 55cm.

  16. #16
    Super Moderator Jon Doran's Avatar
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    As far as I'm aware, the only half credible way of self-arresting with a trekking pole is by fitting some sort of purpose-built spikey handle - Black Diamond produce one - even then it's going to be messy with a trekking pole length protruding from your lower hand. Not so bad if the pole is folded down though.

    As far as axe length goes, it's one of those things that will run and run. I prefer shorter for self arrest (the ferule doesn't stick out of your lower hand) but primarily because I find anything longer than 50cm too unwieldy either when placing the shaft uphill on steeper snow slopes which, after all, is when you actually need an axe for security, or when placing the pick above you.

    To some extent it depends on what you're planning on doing. The steeper the ground, the more unwieldy a long axe, then again plenty of people seem happy enough to use longer axes on steep ground. Depends what you're happiest with.

  17. #17
    ‹bermensch Si's Avatar
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    Another vote for the Raptor here.

    I'm 5ft 8 and use a 55cm axe. Theres no point carrying it if you don't know how to use it though!

    Si(C)

  18. #18
    Ultra King Ninja Marmot's Avatar
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    The last sentence of Si's is perhaps the most pertinent.

  19. #19
    Widdler george w. bedingfield's Avatar
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    There's an excellent Chris Townsend article on choosing an axe in this month's TGO. He makes several specific suggestions, and recommends my own choice, the Grivel Air Tech Racing, as the best, so he clearly knows what he's talking about

  20. #20
    Mini Goon Daniel Sells's Avatar
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    I've got a 55cm dmm raptor, and at 6ft 2, it suits me fine.

    If you decide to take up climbing though, it should be noted that I've heard that Dmm are going to stop making the technical picks for the raptors.

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