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Ice Axes

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Re: Ice Axes

Postby MoapaPk » Tue Mar 06, 2012 10:56 pm

The OP asked about ADK peaks. I did a lot of the ADK peaks in winter (including Gothics) with one ski pole and old bearpaw snowshoes, occasionally crampons with no front points. Depends on conditions, YMMV.

One bad thing about poles: you can't self-belay with any confidence. I use a whippet (ice axe head on a ski pole); I take off the basket to attempt self-belay, and there are still times when it hangs up at the first joint. I've bent the damn thing several times.

If he wants to ice climb at Chapel Pond or Cascade, that's a whole different animal. Get separate mondo ice climbing tools. That's not my bag, but I never saw people up there with mountain axes.
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby asmrz » Wed Mar 07, 2012 12:31 am

Re self belay, when the snow gets firm enough to start worrying about self-belay, but the terrain is not very steep, put on crampons and continue with ski poles. Most people who did not learn how to walk on steep snow slopes generally worry about self arrest because they don't feel balanced over their feet.

In other words, Snow Climbing Sense, or Snow School 101 of walking up steep snowed hills, is one of the basics of mountaineering. It is not something that can be learned on a city street, someone who knows, needs to show and teach us in the field. Once we have that covered, the limitations of ski poles/axes are removed. Trust me on this, please.

And if you are about to laugh because the subject is walking steeply uphill on snow, go with someone who knows this art, you'll not believe what can be done once you have the steps/balance/sequences covered. A little knowledge here can do wonders for our confidence.
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby MoapaPk » Wed Mar 07, 2012 1:05 am

Alois, you might get some debate on that!
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby jrisku » Thu Mar 15, 2012 2:04 pm

Didn't specify if it's mountaineering or waterfall ice you're looking after. Out of these two options, i.e. Petzl vs. BD I would probably end up with Petzl Nomic (and that's for waterfall ice obviously). However, I would seriously consider also Grivel axes, or most likely go with something like Grivel Avatar or Quantum Tech. DMM has pretty neat new axe as well called Switch (hot and red).

In regards of mountaineering, I'm much less certain about my opinion. In case of a new axe, I would probably be looking at something light from Grivel range...

In case you're interested of taking a closer look at the variation there is, we've compiled a community edited database of ice axe specifications. Star ratings should give a rough picture of where to look at. Here's couple of links to it:

1. Mountaineering axes: http://www.tribevine.com/quicksearch?op ... |Classical
2. Technical ice axes: http://www.tribevine.com/quicksearch?op ... |Technical
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby LuminousAphid » Mon Mar 19, 2012 2:59 pm

asmrz wrote:Re self belay, when the snow gets firm enough to start worrying about self-belay, but the terrain is not very steep, put on crampons and continue with ski poles. Most people who did not learn how to walk on steep snow slopes generally worry about self arrest because they don't feel balanced over their feet.

In other words, Snow Climbing Sense, or Snow School 101 of walking up steep snowed hills, is one of the basics of mountaineering. It is not something that can be learned on a city street, someone who knows, needs to show and teach us in the field. Once we have that covered, the limitations of ski poles/axes are removed. Trust me on this, please.

And if you are about to laugh because the subject is walking steeply uphill on snow, go with someone who knows this art, you'll not believe what can be done once you have the steps/balance/sequences covered. A little knowledge here can do wonders for our confidence.


Someone's gonna get in a lot of trouble when they follow your advice. No matter how "good" you are at walking uphill in snow, you still may fall at some point. Everybody makes mistakes. Then you'll be tumbling down the hill in a mess of crampons and ski poles and likely be severely injured. Have fun with that!
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby MoapaPk » Mon Mar 19, 2012 4:17 pm

My right foot is now partly paralyzed (doesn't propriocept), so I have much less feel for snow than I had at one time.

I can agree that if you do fall, poles can be a serious liability, especially if you fall head-first. If your hands are through the straps and the snow baskets are on, it is virtually impossible to get the poles into any useful position for self-arrest; in fact they will inhibit attempts to arrest by digging in your elbows or hands.

Once I stopped to switch over from poles to axe, and at that very moment, slipped and fell head first. After a quick 400' vertical descent, what saved me was that one pole came apart (the drag on the snow basket pulled out the lower section), allowing me to stab the snow with the short remnant.

Admittedly, my "incident" was on 40 degree section of bad snow, not the typical terrain you are likely to encounter in NY. But there are times when even parts of the Daks will get like that, especially the slides. Most winter "mountain climbing" in the Daks will just need poles. But it's an odd place; while the winter summits rarely require an axe, the ice climbing is very serious, and a totally different animal. If you want to do both, get separate tools for the two different environments.

There are self-arrest poles of two types (whippets, with metal quasi-ice-axe heads; and ramer claws with hard plastic), but again, they are hard to use for self-belay. It is almost impossible to get the baskets off ramer-claw poles in the field, so they are effectively useless for self-belay.
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby asmrz » Mon Mar 19, 2012 4:27 pm

To LuminousAphid

Following my advice will get people better trained for technical ground.

I say upward movement on steep snow is not just walking. It can be series of movements, which if tought correctly, can result in a huge margin of safety.

Well trained alpinist can ascent increasingly steep terrain with just ski poles, ice axe and crampons, no rope or other gear is needed. You and others can take from my statements whatever you choose, but the fact remains, steep uphill movement on snow, even very firm snow, self belayed and without rope or other gear does not need to be anything out of the ordinary. Learn the moves or have someone who knows show you, discuss and practice the concept with you. The results will help you in your safe enjoyment of mountain terrain.

And if someone just wants to walk in the snow, my contribution to this post was not really for them. It is for someone who aspire to technical alpine terrain and who understands that without proper technique their safety might/will be compromised.
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby MoapaPk » Mon Mar 19, 2012 5:23 pm

I was once given this advice for using an ice axe in self-arrest: "Don't fall." So I can see Alois' point of view. I would guess that only about half of falls are successfully arrested by ice axe. Often the person lucks into softer or gentler snow.
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby asmrz » Tue Mar 20, 2012 1:11 am

I used to teach self arrest class for a local club, where we would find an extremely steep (and a very firm snow) hill with a long runout. After showing people the basics and arresting some small slides, we would proceed to push (and throw) people off the top of the hill, facing backwards, facing downhill, falling face down without the use of feet, falling backwards with crampons on and other interesting positions. At the end of a long day, and for years after, people would tell me how much these CRAZY "5th class" ice axe arrest classes helped their confidence in the mountains. Knowing what to do in the worst situation imaginable will indeed give us confidence and knowledge.
Unfortunately, I see so many people in the mountains these days, who do not feel it was essential to learn much. Most of them just want to go...
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby LuminousAphid » Tue Mar 20, 2012 5:49 pm

asmrz wrote:I used to teach self arrest class for a local club, where we would find an extremely steep (and a very firm snow) hill with a long runout. After showing people the basics and arresting some small slides, we would proceed to push (and throw) people off the top of the hill, facing backwards, facing downhill, falling face down without the use of feet, falling backwards with crampons on and other interesting positions. At the end of a long day, and for years after, people would tell me how much these CRAZY "5th class" ice axe arrest classes helped their confidence in the mountains. Knowing what to do in the worst situation imaginable will indeed give us confidence and knowledge.
Unfortunately, I see so many people in the mountains these days, who do not feel it was essential to learn much. Most of them just want to go...


Either I misunderstood your original post, or you are completely backtracking on what you originally said... I suppose it was my assumption that "Once we have that covered, the limitations of ski poles/axes are removed" meant that you advocate not using an ice axe. I personally think that having "crampons and ski poles" on for a slope with a potential need for self-arrest, which you seemed to be referring to, is a very bad idea. If you do start sliding, your crampon points may catch (injuries due to glissading with crampons on was one of the top accident categories in the 2009 Accidents in North American Mountaineering volume- bit of trivia for you) while trying to use a pole to arrest, you may just get going too fast to stop with a ski pole, etc.

I think you are trying to make the point that "if you are trained well, you won't need to use an axe because you won't fall," but having it ready "just in case" is always a good idea. I agree that it's better not to fall, but your first post made it seem like you suggested not even learning or using it in favor of just being better prepared.
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby asmrz » Tue Mar 20, 2012 8:18 pm

You either missunderstood, did not read my posts completely or my ESL style of writing confuses things for you and others. I will say this, when we learn how to use the techniques and tools available to us everything in the mountains becomes easier.
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby Vitaliy M. » Tue Mar 20, 2012 8:43 pm

And if you are about to laugh because the subject is walking steeply uphill on snow, go with someone who knows this art, you'll not believe what can be done once you have the steps/balance/sequences covered. A little knowledge here can do wonders for our confidence.


When I was starting out I was really surprised when some other people walked up with ease on terrain I was nervous on with my ice axe in self belay position every step.
Practice does help a lot, to be more confident. For example during summer it is not uncommon to use a rock and no crampons to cross a slope, or get down a short section when it is relatively safe.

I would say repetition is the best way to get more confident. Self arrest should be practiced ever year, and more often if possible.
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby drpw » Wed Mar 21, 2012 7:40 am

LuminousAphid wrote:I think you are trying to make the point that "if you are trained well, you won't need to use an axe because you won't fall," but having it ready "just in case" is always a good idea. I agree that it's better not to fall, but your first post made it seem like you suggested not even learning or using it in favor of just being better prepared.


I think the point trying to be made is that the traditional piolet canne is no longer a necessary piece of equipment.
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Re: Ice Axes

Postby MoapaPk » Wed Mar 21, 2012 3:47 pm

There are people who advocate giving up the standard ice axe in lieu of ski poles -- e.g. Craig Connally*. But it is worthwhile to look at his pictures (p200 in "the mountaineering handbook"). His poles are both ramer claws, so if he falls with hands through the loops, he can still get some measure of traditional ice axe function. But more important is what he does NOT do in his illustrations -- namely, he doesn't keep his hands through the loops when attempting to emulate an axe. Most people will want to keep their hands through the pole loops; and if one falls in such a position, good luck.

I know this doesn't bear that much on the cane position, but is does bear on the OP's original question, and the implicit "Can I use poles instead of an axe?"

I used to believe that the best self-arrest device was the metal edge of a ski; I had extremely good natural balance. Then I was humbled by brain damage. What I soon realized, was that even with my damaged cerebellum, I still had better balance than average. But I'll never have the confidence to do things that I used to do, and I shouldn't do those things. The main point: we should realize that there are a lot of good mountaineers out there with my current degree of cerebellar control, naturally; and if they are safer with self-belay, they should do it. Years ago, I couldn't understand why they had so much trouble on slopes; now I get it. (Cerebellar control also decays with age, naturally; a person is at his/her height around age 25.)


*Yes, I know about the bad force diagrams; not the issue here.
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