6 Of The Best: Ice Axes

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Gear reviews, Ice Axes,

In the market for a new ice axe, or pair of technical tools? Will Harris chooses size models for six different mountain activities – here are his picks…

For ski touring…
The joy of ski touring is in efficiently travelling through the winter environment, reaching a summit or col to then enjoy the descent that follows. It is no surprise then to hear that there is nothing new about ski tourers looking for super light gear, making the uphills easier and the descent less incumbered. Some ice axes designed for touring have sacrificed function in exchange for weight, but with the Ride, Petzl have found that sweet spot of a tool that is both lightweight and very functional, with a steel pick that has the necessary piercing power to be of real use. At 45cm in length, it’s also comfortably short enough to fit inside many skiing rucksacks. For those who want to progress to steeper ski mountaineering objectives, Petzl also make a very similar ice axe with a beefier head and a trigger rest, the Gully.
More info at: www.petzl.com

For Scottish mixed:
Scottish-style mixed climbing makes great demands on ice axes. Any part of the tool from the pick, adze, hammer and shaft can and will be hooked, twisted and jammed into iced-up rock to aid upward progress, and in such an environment all but the burliest models will come unstuck. With the Switch, DMM have created a tool that shares a similar geometry with well-established axes such as the Petzl Nomics, but built it to withstand the very worst. As is always the case, there’s a compromise involved in making something super durable, and with the Switch this is in the weight, and these super-burly tools do weigh significantly more than other models on the market. We think that their ability to stand up to the abuse that winter climbing involves, combined with the reassuringly solid feel that they give when climbing, make this extra weight worth it.
More info at: www.dmmclimbing.com

For steep ice:
When Petzl released the Nomic in the mid-noughties they revolutionised ice climbing, hitting on a geometry of leashless tool that climbed beautifully. As competing companies raced to catch up, the best features of the Nomic were combined with innovations of their own, creating even better tools for climbing steep ice. The Nomics are still great tools, but with the Fuels, BD have built on this shape to develop a tool that performs exceptionally well. It is the most ‘mountain ready’ of the second-handled leashless tools, with a spike at the end of its shaft that is effective in giving purchase when approaching routes, and they have proved their durability too. Perhaps most importantly, the Fuels have a nice, balanced feel when used on steep ice, with an intuitively-weighted swing that makes them a pleasure to climb with.
More info at: www.black diamondequipment.com

For alpinism:
The original version of the Petzl Quark was one of the first dedicated leashless tools designed to be used in the big mountains, and since the refined second version was released in 2011, they have become standard issue for many alpinists, used everywhere from short trade routes to some of the world’s biggest, hardest climbs. This popularity is due to the fact that the Quarks simply work. They have a natural swing that works well on pure ice, have an aggressive spike at the base of their shaft for plunging into snow, and have a shape that is just curved enough to protect knuckles without being so curved to make them difficult to use on less steep terrain. For the light and fast super-alpinist, the Quarks are also one of the lightest technical tools available, with a stripped-down weight of just 460g.
More info at: www.petzl.com

For mountaineering:
On classic mountaineering ascents, be that alpine PDs or those Scottish ridges and gullies that blur the line between walking and climbing, a single axe is needed which offers security when walking on steep ground, and that can also be swung into snow or ice on steeper steps. The Bluebird Evo from Blue Ice performs well in both of these scenarios, having a fairly straight shaft with a good point at its end, along with a strong, sharp head that swings into ice well. At 450g, it is towards the lighter end of the weight spectrum when compared to other classic mountaineering axes on the market, but doesn’t sacrifice function in order to keep the grams off. Whether setting off for the summit of Mont Blanc, heading up the CMD Arête on Ben Nevis or tackling grade II gullies in the Cairngorms, this would be our axe of choice.
More info at: www.blueice.com

For all-round use:
A tool like the Petzl Quark works well on steep, technical ice and mixed terrain, but with its handle preventing the shaft from being plunged into snow, and its more curved shaft, it compromises in some of the areas that are required for general mountaineering. When it comes to climbing Scottish winter routes in the lower grades or tackling long alpine ridges, a straighter-handled shaft and a functional adze are of more use than a technical tool, and it is for this all-round mountaineering that the Grivel Light Machines excel. They’re light yet bombproof, have a very useful spike at the base of their shaft, and have big, functional adzes and hammers that are very usable. Perhaps their best feature is the sliding trigger rest which allows them to be used leashless, whilst also allowing the whole shaft to be easily plunged into hard snow. They climb well too!
More info at: www.grivelgb.co.uk

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