Ice Axes and Tools for Alpine Climbing

Mikepowers Small

by Michael Powers, IFMGA
AAI Senior Guide & Director for Staff Development


From the December 2005 edition of AAI's E-newsletter

On a technically oriented alpine climb involving a good amount of snow and ice climbing, do you bring two technical ice axes or just one technical axe and one long mountaineers axe? Can you self arrest just as well with an ice climbing axe with a reverse curve? And can you recommend an ice axe that will perform well on water ice as well as in an alpine situation? Thanks for your input. I'm buying new axes for this season that will be used mostly for waterfall ice, but I want a versatile tool and there are many to choose from.

- Gary Buontempo (Franklin Square, NY)


Dear Gary,

That is a great age-old question.

If there is a significant amount of steepish ice (say 200 feet or more) of something over 50 degrees then I'll often bring two short technical tools. These tools are too short for glacier travel so I'll use a ski pole for the moderate glacier travel and keep a technical tool handy for crevasse rescue.

If there is only a moderate amount of steep ice, or if the ice is neve (and not brittle) then I'll use one technical tool and a longer ice axe. It is more difficult to self-arrest with a technical tool. I think the Grivel Air Tech Evolution performs great as a light ice axe and can still climb some alpine ice. It's my favorite tool.

- Mike Powers

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