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Self-arrest on technical mountaineering axes

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Self-arrest on technical mountaineering axes

Postby kheegster » Wed Jan 06, 2010 8:12 pm

My collection of sharp objects is steadily growing, and now I'm thinking of acquiring an ice axe that is suitable for alpine ice climbing, yet can be used for self-arrest on glacier travel. Models I'm looking at include the Petzl Sum'Tec, Grivel Air Tech Evo and BD Venom.

Do these axes require different picks in order to perform well for ice climbing vs self-arrest?
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Postby rhyang » Wed Jan 06, 2010 8:25 pm

I've had a Grivel Air Tech Evo since 2004 and found that it self-arrests very well, but it does have an alpine shaped pick -- not reversed-curved. The picks on these are not replaceable either, unlike the BD venoms.
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Postby kevin trieu » Wed Jan 06, 2010 8:31 pm

I'd think that any pick is good enough for self arrest.
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Postby climbxclimb » Wed Jan 06, 2010 8:45 pm

If you are going on an alpine technical route requiring ice climbing above WI3 for several pitches, you may carry two short technical tools (your preference here) or if you prefer one technical ice tool and the short version of the Grivel Air tech (if you are able to lead technical ice with one effective tool and one no so effective tool...)
This said, I have self arrested myself with a Petzl Quark, and with practice you can self arrest with any ice climbing tool.
On the other hand if you looking for an axe for general mountaineering (i.e. long snow climbs with a slope between 35 and 55 degrees) you may want to consider the Grivel Air Tech 65cm or what works best for your height (go to a store and measure it). I have this axe and I like it a lot although I rarely use it since I do not do much general mountaineering.
It very light and in occasion can work well to climb vertical ice thanks also to the slider pinky rest ( I got myself out of a crevasse swinging this axe and chimney climbing with my back)
By the way shoot me a pm if you want to know about the Lactate Threshold test I took at the Center for Special Surgery in Manhattan...
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Postby rhyang » Wed Jan 06, 2010 8:49 pm

You can use a sharp rock or a nut tool for self-arrest if you really need to :)

My first experience with self-arrest was with a trekking pole (a buddy taught me this) -- remove the basket and hold it so that if you start sliding you dig in the tip. Sketchy, but it can work .. if the pole doesn't break first :shock:
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Postby Brad Marshall » Wed Jan 06, 2010 10:44 pm

I purchased Grivel Alp Wings for this purpose. These tools worked for me in my situation. If you want to know if they will arrest your fall maybe borrow some different models if you can and try it for yourself.
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Postby kheegster » Wed Jan 06, 2010 10:48 pm

I too have self-arrested with a 50cm ice tool, but that was on a pretty moderate slope (20 degrees) where I slipped while not paying attention.

I'm doubtful that it would work as well when self-arresting to stop crevasse fall by a ropemate with a heavy pack. I'm planning some Cascade alpine climbs (Baker NR, Kautz on Rainier) with belayed or at least simulclimbing pitches of AI2-3 that would require glacier crossings at some point.
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Postby jrc » Thu Jan 07, 2010 1:57 am

On the Kautz we used one regular style mountaineering axe (steel head, none of that aluminum mumbo jumbo) and one technical ice tool each. This is common on Lib Ridge as well. We simul climbed the steep part and all felt very good on the setup. As a general gear closet strategy, I've found that owning one general axe and a pair of tech tools has worked for everything. One of those hybrid type tools you speak of would be nice but I haven't found it to be necessary. That said, it is nice if the tools you do have can plunge (no/removable huge pinky rest).
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Postby kevin trieu » Thu Jan 07, 2010 3:11 am

kheegster wrote:I too have self-arrested with a 50cm ice tool, but that was on a pretty moderate slope (20 degrees) where I slipped while not paying attention.

I'm doubtful that it would work as well when self-arresting to stop crevasse fall by a ropemate with a heavy pack.


why not? the length of the shaft is not what you use to self arrest as I understand it. when bracing yourself, assuming the self arrest position, you are on top of your ice axe/tool with the pick digging in and the shaft running diagonally across your body, right?
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Postby climbxclimb » Thu Jan 07, 2010 3:17 am

why not? the length of the shaft is not what you use to self arrest as I understand it. when bracing yourself, assuming the self arrest position, you are on top of your ice axe/tool with the pick digging in and the shaft running diagonally across your body, right?


this is the way self arrest work, shaft length is not important that much, well said and more importantly it depends on quality of the snow....
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self arrest

Postby Snowy » Thu Jan 07, 2010 4:46 am

Beware of self arresting on very hard snow/snice with a technical pick. On one practice day I had one ripped out of my hands because the pick bit harder than I could hold on. I like the 1 axe, 1 tool route for up to low WI.
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Postby bird » Thu Jan 07, 2010 12:35 pm

kevin trieu wrote:
kheegster wrote:I too have self-arrested with a 50cm ice tool, but that was on a pretty moderate slope (20 degrees) where I slipped while not paying attention.

I'm doubtful that it would work as well when self-arresting to stop crevasse fall by a ropemate with a heavy pack.


why not? the length of the shaft is not what you use to self arrest as I understand it. when bracing yourself, assuming the self arrest position, you are on top of your ice axe/tool with the pick digging in and the shaft running diagonally across your body, right?

Assuming the pick is in your left hand, your right hand will be pulling UP on the shaft to increase the downward force on the pick. A shorter shaft will result in less leverage on the upward pull, resulting in less downward pressure on the pick. Shorter shaft = weaker arrest. Of course this is a matter of degrees and open for debate. That being said, I have an air tech evo which I like a lot for glaciers and snow climbing, but I've found it extremely poor for any water ice.
If there's a only a "chance" of water ice, and a lot of glacier travel, I'd bring the Evo + Aztar. If there is less glacier travel and a better than 50/50 chance of water ice, I'd bring two aztars or the equivalent.
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Postby mconnell » Thu Jan 07, 2010 3:43 pm

The first day I was learning self arrest, I used a Quark for part of the day. Technical tools definitely don't work as well as mountaineering tools for SA, but it will work. As Bird pointed out, you have less leverage and it's harder to keep the tool in proper position. It takes more strength to hold on when your lower hand has to be up under your chest. Also, the picks cut through snow a lot easier than the thicker ones on an axe. On ice, a technical pick will dig in (as was already mentioned) and can pull the tool out of your hands or tear up your shoulder.
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Postby Alpinisto » Thu Jan 07, 2010 3:50 pm

kheegster wrote:I'm doubtful that it would work as well when self-arresting to stop crevasse fall by a ropemate with a heavy pack. I'm planning some Cascade alpine climbs (Baker NR, Kautz on Rainier) with belayed or at least simulclimbing pitches of AI2-3 that would require glacier crossings at some point.


My partner and I are doing the Kautz (guided) in June and are planning to bring a mountaineering axe and one ice tool each -- splitting up my pair of Grivel Light Wings that I picked up from our SP pal Snowy recently. (Thanks, dude!)

For those who have gone the 1 axe/1 tool route previously, I'm assuming you bring the tool with the hammer, for pounding in pickets and tent stakes and the like, since the axe will already have the adze, correct?
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Postby rhyang » Thu Jan 07, 2010 3:53 pm

kheegster wrote:I'm planning some Cascade alpine climbs (Baker NR, Kautz on Rainier) with belayed or at least simulclimbing pitches of AI2-3 that would require glacier crossings at some point.


Now I see where you are coming from -- did the Kautz in July 2006. We each brought one regular length ice axe and one 50cm ice tool.

There is ~9000' of glacier slogging so the ice axe definitely comes in handy in cane position for walking in balance, rest-stepping, etc. There are only two technical pitches, and when we went the first one was just hard snow (40-ish degrees), and the second was ice. It wasn't water ice either, basically just exposed glacier ice, highly featured. Maybe 50-ish degrees max.

We soloed the first pitch and I led the second pitch with a 66cm air tech evo in one hand and a petzl aztar in the other. It was fine. There were other parties who probably did it with one ice axe each, but hey, we brought the stuff up, we might as well use it :)

I'd had some previous experience with the air tech evo on alpine ice, and it was ok. The head is better on that stuff than say, a BD raven pro, but I would imagine you could get by with one of those too if you already have one. I don't think I even used the aztar the whole trip except for that one pitch.
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