/ ice axe length
After lots of reading online (and swinging a few axes in shops) I've settled on the Grivel Air Tech Evolution.
I was planning to try out a few axes on the hills this winter to work out what length was best for me.
But the possibility of snow in mid wales over Christmas means I'm now going to buy one this weekend.
I'm 6ft tall and torn between the 58cm and 53cm - which length should I go for and why..
Thanks in advance for any advice
Won't really matter, either would be fine.
I'd suggest either, but not longer. Ice axe length has fairly little relevance to your height, a shorter axe is more manageable, lighter and is easier to ice axe arrest without catching the spike.
I went for the 66cm evo tech and I'm also 6ft tall with a small positive ape index.
I already own a pair of 50cm quarks, so I didn't see the point in getting a 50cm alpine axe as the quarks will do for most uses of an axe this length, sure the ice axe brakeing isn't quite as good on quarks, but there are many snow conditions where either braking isn't necessary (soft snow) or it won't work (hard neve / ice), the best plan is not to rely on ice axe breaking IMO and try not to fall over in the first place - in nearly a decade of winter / ice climbing I've never needed to ice axe brake!
For technical climbs I will always take a pair of quarks / tech axes so I am only going to use the alpine axe on easier terain, for this sort of terain swinging the axe is not that common and precision is even less important so having a longer handle doesn't matter for the climbing. Also its fairly unlikely I'll ever take 3 axes on to a route, so the normal case on approaching technical climbs would be that I will have to be profficient and safe enough walking in with my quarks.
On easier angled terrain 50 cm axe is too short to use as a walking pole (ie holding the axe by the top and ferrule to the snow), 58 cm is starting to get more usefull but it will be too short on slopes around 30 degrees or less and useless going down hill. I found the 66cm is usefull on most slopes you'd want to use an axe in this way, it was even long enough to add security to the descent from Augille du midi (a very narrow and quite steep snow arete you have to desend facing forwards), a shorter axe would not have been and my friend who is shorter than me was not a happy bunny using his 50cm tech axes!
So all in if you think you will end up buying tech axes in the future I would tend towards a longer alpine axe as it gives more utility on easier ground. If you think you may well use the alpine axe regularly above grade II/III paired with another (probably more technical) axe then you may want to choose a shorter alpine axe.
PS I'm sure just about everyone has a different opinion on this stuff but this in my 2p worth.
"but not longer."
I'm the same height as the OP and have no regrets at all about getting the 66cm length of the same axe (ie longer than the lengths he was looking at)
"Ice axe length has fairly little relevance to your height"
I think with tech axes you are right, but for walking / alpine axes where typically the axe is used more in Cane position than anything else (and where having a longer axe is less of a problem as the climbing is easy) then the correct length of axe does have relevance to the users height.
Which axes do you own and how long have you owned them (out of interest)?
Pair of flys and a cirque 60cm (would get a 55cm next time), both for around 5 years.
As you say personal preference, just find for cutting steps, digging around in the snow a short axe is much easier to use and doesn't get in the way on scrambles.
I will probably end up buying a pair of technical axes eventually, but not for a couple of years.
Bearing in mind CurlyStevo's comment I'm leaning towards the 58cm - or even longer.
I'd go with a shorter axe as it will be much easier to manage on scrambles and will still be able to arrest a fall on steeper walking ground. For less steep ground, where you may be using the axe as a cane, then I just use walking poles.
As above though, you'll get lots of different advice. Buy something cheap and popular (like the Grivel) and you'll have no problems selling it in the future if you decide to go for a different approach. Until you try it yourself though you won't really know.
Also worth getting out with an experienced friend or instructor and seeing what works for them/try their kit.
Fair enough. I think as mentioned pretty much everyone has a different opinion on this.
Its very very rare I cut steps in the snow so I wouldn't factor this in to my decision. I didn't find an extra 11cm of handle made much difference on scrambley ground my self and would gladly trade any slight encumbrence here against a more usefull length for walking/trudgeing which is likely to be a bigger part of the day IMO.
"will still be able to arrest a fall on steeper walking ground"
I'm confident the extra 11cm of handle is unlikely to make much difference when self arresting. Also ice axe arrest is a last resort, that in hard snow / ice conditions on fairly steep ground is unlikely to work anyway whatever axe / length of axe you have.
"For less steep ground, where you may be using the axe as a cane, then I just use walking poles."
I do this too sometimes, especially when walking in in soft deep snow. This is extra weight to carry though and ofcourse self arresting with poles in the general case won't work (specialist poles can be bought though) and if you are prepared to self arrest you will need both hands free / only carrying a single ice axe.
Agree, hence why I said you'd still be able to do it with a shorter axe.
Seems we agree :)
I'm 5 foot 5 and my walking axe is 60cm.
I was told you hold the axe how you'd carry it and the end needs to touch your ankle bone.
The length works really well for me on steep ground when using for support.
I have smaller axes for climbing.
I have the Grivel Evo Axe can't fault it
Great for walking can be teamed up with a hammer
To save money if you move up to easy climbing.
I'm 5/12 and find the 58cm ideal
what height is 5/12? The best I can make of it is 6 ft.
thanks guys, I think I'll go for the 58 cm with a view to buying a technical pair at a later date
Haha Typo 5/11! Silly Me!
Standing upright hold the axe in hand by head & the tip of the point should be no longer than the ankle bone, this is the longest size to get.
The shortest size to get is when the point of the axe is half way between your ankle & your knee.
Then hold the axe across your chest in the ice axe arrest position, does it feel comfortable? or do your hands feel too close together as if you are squeezing your chest?? If the later then go longer.
Go shorter if intending to do more "steep" walking!
If you want stability do not get an axe to lean on as a pole! Get a pole instead! Swap from pole to ice axe on hill when the chance of a slip would result in a dangerous situation!
Personally I'd go for a DMM Cirque because it is T rated & has a nice bent top shaft (like the Grivel) (can still shaft plunge ok)! I use these for general mountaineering & grade I climbs!! So it weighs a bit more but looks really nice (new version) & it's made in Wales!!
"If you want stability do not get an axe to lean on as a pole! Get a pole instead! Swap from pole to ice axe on hill when the chance of a slip would result in a dangerous situation!"
Have you ever heard of piolet canne ?
In my experience its incredibly common to use ice axes in this way (and I own and use poles more than most).
Personally I think the grivel evo tech is a superior axe to the Cirque, its lighter and its much more comfortable to use in piolet canne position as the top of the shaft ends at the top of the axe pick, the pick on the cirque is uncomfortable when used in this position for a reasonable length of time as the top of the pick is narrow.
Yep, I have heard of Piolet Canne, & as you say it is a common way to use an ice axe.
I agree about what you say re the DMM cirque having the shaft finishing below the head, & the Grivel has the shaft going through the head to provide a thicker top.
I have tried both & personally I preferred the thinned top section of the DMM as it fits my hands & gloves better. Try before you buy as they say!
You can use various indicators as to how long the axe 'should' be. Like stand up straight with the head of axe in your hand with the shaft down the side of your leg and it should be around the cuff of your boot.
But it also depends on the use. Most of the time when out on a single axe day you will be using simply for balance on a slope. If you intend to spend the time mainly walking and knocking of winter tops then you would be better with a longer axe if though you fancy steeper ground where you might be using it a little more of the pick then a shorter one would be better and easier to swing about.
The main thing is that you dont want to ever have to use it for an arrest as this means things have gone very wrong. Best thing is to know what you will mainly use it for a cater round that.
Personally I'd forget intentions of using the ice axe as a walking aid and all that. I made that mistake when I bought my first axe and it was too long (I ended up cutting nearly 6 inches off it).
The primary and most important use of an ice axe on easy ground (ie. grade II and below) is to self arrest. Self arrest is easier with a shorter axe so I'd go for the 53cm. My main 'general' axe (half of my pair of Charlet Moser Pulsars) is around 50cm and I am 6'4".
If you want a walking aid then buy a set of walking poles with snow baskets on. They are much better suited to that task and are usually adjustable in length to suit the terrain.
What you've said conflicts with its self - if the main point of an axe is to self arrest but when walking is best done with walking poles then how are you going to self arrest walking up fairly steep slopes (say 25 -> 50 degrees) - unless you have those fancy poles with axe attachments in the head.
"The primary and most important use of an ice axe on easy ground (ie. grade II and below) is to self arrest"
Funny you say that as I have used all my axes as walking aids most days I've been out and never self arrested :)
The problem(s) with poles is:
- they are quite heavy to lug in to remote climbs
- once on route they stay in the bag
- you can't self arrest reliably holding a pole let alone two (unless it has an ice axe attachment and then you'd really need to be holding only one pole). Personally I'd say using poles is a pretty dangerous thing to do when ascending bullet hard neve and unless the ground is steeper than about 50 degrees a 50cm axe on a 6 ft bloke is not going to reach the ground and make things easier for you.
BTW I do take poles out in winter but its good to know the limitations, I generally only do this if the walk in is going to be quite long on and on unconsolidated snow, or if the walkin will involve a lot of boulder hopping, for example the lochnagar approach often factors either or both of these.
I fully agree with what you've said.
For me the ballance is that I will be able to use an axe of 50 -> 65 cm pretty much as effectively on all ground less than or equal to scottish grade II, so I may as well also make the walking easier / safer and buy one that will reach the ground when walking up hill when its steeper than about 25 degrees (without needing to stoop).
If I'm climbing Scottish grade III or up I'll be taking technical climbing axes and leaving my Alpine axe at home because around this grade having shorter more curved shafts and drooped picks makes the climbing noticeably easier and at this point I'll sacrifice that against making the walking harder.
I agree that poles are an extra load to carry around and only used for certain sections of quite flat snow. I never use them but many people I know do, including a few very experienced mountain guides.
And yes ice axes are almost never used for self arrest as one hopes to never slip (I have only once had to self arrest in anger). But I'd take a lack of functionality as a walking aid over trying to arrest that once in a lifetime slip and you either can't arrest properly before your speed picks up too much or the spike catches on the snow ripping the axe out your hand.
I guess I didn't articulate my point that well.
I personally think that one should be able to walk up or down a slope of up to say 40 degrees (which are usually done with a zigzag) without the aid of a 'walking stick'. If you struggle to balance on that terrain then you have bigger problems to address. Anything over 40 degrees and I have had no issue plunging my 50cm axe to be honest. (6'4")
Of course this is just my opinion :)
"I never use them but many people I know do"
So you feel its ok to give out advise on how to use kit that you never use?
". If you struggle to balance on that terrain then you have bigger problems to address"
Again you seem a little confused, one minute poles are usefull walking up hill the next only people that can't ballance would need a walking aid on ground under 40 dgrees. IMO if you are on sustained icey / neve ground 40 degrees and above with poles out you are asking for trouble.
"Of course this is just my opinion :) "
Sure and you are entitled to it, but with a little more experience you may find that changes (if your ukc profile is up to date)
I am passing on the opinions of people more experienced than me so yes I feel it is ok to give that advice. Just because I personally don't like walking poles doesn't mean I don't see how they can be beneficial.
Poles are useful for walking on hilly ground because they result in less effort expenditure (for your legs at least), particularly in power snow, and can allow you to move faster. And I would never advocate the use of poles on 40 degree ground and I haven't said that.
Yes I appreciate that given your profile you are far more experienced than I. But I don't think our opinions are that different as to the best uses for an axe and poles. Your conversation extract below I think is similar to what I am saying.
"> "For less steep ground, where you may be using the axe as a cane, then I just use walking poles."
Seems we agree :)"
I think Martin and Snowdave also made the point I was trying to make (but more successfully it seems! lol)... both below respectively.
>I'd go with a shorter axe as it will be much easier to manage on scrambles and will still be able to arrest a fall on steeper walking ground. For less steep ground, where you may be using the axe as a cane, then I just use walking poles.
>If you want stability do not get an axe to lean on as a pole! Get a pole instead! Swap from pole to ice axe on hill when the chance of a slip would result in a dangerous situation!
No we don't agree. I think I have consistently argued that for me poles have a use but that doesn't replace having an alpine / walking axe long enough to use as a walking aid in many situations / snow conditions. I'm not going to explain my reasoning again as I have clearly done that already on this thread.
As with most kit the pros and cons are somewhat subjective so there isn't really a right and wrong answer to these type of things. My opinion is based on experience and is therefore my view, however your view is based on kit you don't own/use atall/much and from speaking to people more experienced than your self (each of which may also have differing opinions). I think my axes when held in cane mode goes to a few inches above my ankle bone, others may well prefer a longer axe especially if they will not be attempting to climb anything much harder than walking!
We'll have to agree to disagree on that one then mate. Perhaps we just have different styles of winter climbing. I am sure there are a few approaches that work well.
I still have an alpine/walking Grivel G1 axe but frankly it only ever gets used for lending to people or as an emergency 'just in case there is snow' axe as it's very light. Even on grade I ground I take one of my Pulsars now. But then I was initially taught by an experienced MTA guide who only ever used a similar style 50cm axe to mine even on grade I stuff, so I probably picked up a lot of my winter climbing style from him.
EDIT: missed the second half of your edited post when I responded. Yes kit is subjective. Though the only opinion I gave that was not about a piece of kit I use regularly was about the poles. And I have tried using them a few times, I just didn't feel they were useful enough for me to spend the money/carry the weight as I am fairly minimalist.
To be honest I rarely climb anything in the UK easier than Scottish III so I don't take my Alpine axe out much outside the Alps and my advice for newbie winter climbers is to go straight for a pair of leashless tech axes if they are pretty sure they are going to winter climb regularly. Personally I would only buy an Alpine axe for the Alps or if I intended to do a lot of winter walking (and in the later case a longer walking axe has obvious advantages whilst for the Alps I think its some what of a preference thing)
I have yet to hit the Alpine scene - only Scottish mainly with some very limited Americas stuff. I was planning on doing the Tois Mont Blancs (and a few other bits) this spring as a friend invited me but not sure I'll have time before I start my job. Though working in Holland, no doubt I'll be in the Alps a lot in the years to come.
Long axes make you look like a chummer ;)
I'm 6'3" so a walking axe would be quite long to use as a walking pole.
I have a couple of walking axes that never get used.
I always pick up my tech axes and walking poles.
If I think I might need to arrest a fall then it's pole in one hand axe in other, assuming I want something to lean on.
This is all just what I choose to do, at the end of the day 5cm won't make feck all difference.
"If I think I might need to arrest a fall then it's pole in one hand axe in other, assuming I want something to lean on."
I don't think self arrest on neve will be as reliably quick to engage and therefore as effective (as once speed has been reached braking may be impossible or take a lot longer) if you have a pole in one hand.
"This is all just what I choose to do, at the end of the day 5cm won't make feck all difference."
No but 15 cm does make a difference to walking up and down hill (my axe easily touches the ground when a bit stooped whilst descending the very narrow ridge from auguille d midi for example however my shorter friend could not do this with his 50cm axe nearly as effectively), I agree it makes very little difference to climbing on easy ground you'd use the axe for (as opposed to using the axe as a cane). Didn't seem to make much difference to self arresting to me either, but then I'm fairly tall.
Personally, I disagree with all of that.
Pole in lower hand, not strapped in, takes less than a second to drop, no difference to arrest.
Coming out of the Midi, you don't need an axe to support you, it's a walk.
As said, just my opinion.
Out of interest, have you ever had to arrest in anger with a pole in the other hand? I am curious as to how easy it is to avoid the natural 'grip when you slip' reaction with the pole hand.
"Pole in lower hand, not strapped in, takes less than a second to drop, no difference to arrest."
IMO a second (or less) can make all the difference to stopping a slip turning in to a slide, plus you are an experienced instructor and probably more likely to do the right thing. People that are actually looking at this thread because they are not sure which length alpine axe to buy, are likely to be a lot less experienced and carrying a pole and an axe is much more likely to cause issues when the shit hits the fan and a fast self arrest must be made.
"Coming out of the Midi, you don't need an axe to support you, it's a walk."
IMO the snow on the ridge varies a lot, last time we were there it was very narrow trough only just wide enough for both feet with hardly any lip in places (but just enough to get an axes pommel in to) and sharp drops either side on polystyrene neve. That said I would have been fine descending it with a 50cm axe, but it was definitely more secure with my 66cm axe. I would say most people were roping up for it so describing it as a walk is somewhat misleading although I confess I was walking! (although I roped up as my two companions were very keen not to do it unroped)
If you slip on easy ground where your using 1 pole 1 axe it is easy to arrest if you practise the skill. If you fall on ground above 45deg (or even less if icy) you don't have a hope in hell of self arresting anyway.
Stop all the backbiting and just learn to bloody walk and not fall over!
Why would you want to walk stooped over off the midi? I'm not sure iv ever carried an axe walking down there- if you for some reason fall to the left what good do you think an axe is gonna do?! If you fall to the right on the initial section you'll stop somewhere on the Valle Blanche, if you fall after that your a chump.
No I haven't, I find I can stay upright if I really concentrate ;)
Semi seriously, it's not hard to drop a pole.
I'd agree that a primary concern would be to walk without the aid of a walking axe and this is my ethos.
But I totally refute that if you slip on ground above 45 degrees you'd have no hope of stopping.
The one and only slip I ever had was descending a 60 degree slope and the snow gave way a little and I slipped (admittedly facing into the slope) and without thinking I had arrested within 2m. Ok the technique wasn't perfect (head of the axe was head rather that chest height) but it stopped me. And I am likely to be comparatively crap given my experience is less than many others.
for what it's worth I bought the 58cm, so you can stop arguing if you want :)
There is no way you self arreseted on a 60 degree slope, perhaps you mean self belayed? (when you plunge the shaft into the snow and fall ontop of it) Slopes are never as steep as they seem.
you must be quite something to desend from the midi with no axe as support. Seen many climbers desend the ridge and they all were using axe in cane mode and the majority were roped. Even some of my instructor friends call it scary ridge.
Anyone ever used a Black Diamond Whippet, or similar? They've been suggested to me in the past as a ski-touring tool, though I find the thought of skiing whilst gripping a slicey death blade slightly alarming. Seems like they might be a reasonable alternative for a walking pole/small axe combination or long piolet canne type thing.
So your take on it is for a 6ft man a 70 cm walking / Alpine axe is about right?
I guess though as mentioned on this thread it does depend on what your use for. The more climbing and the less walking the shorter the better (to a min of around 50cm), that said I would be taking my technical ice tools on anything at all tricksy. So I don't really see a Walking / Alpine axe's primary function as technical climbing.
Given that at the end of the video the guy demonstrates ice axe arrest where he says to dig the feet in (risk of flipping you if you're at speed) and his placement of body weight on the axe is poor, I'd be inclined not to believe anything he says! In fact that was one of the examples of what NOT to do when I was taught by Mike Arkley.
(I didn't watch the whole video, just quickly breezed through and noticed that at the end).
I guess your hero Mike Arkley should get a brush up on how to do a self arrest. I'll do a two for one if you ever make it to the Rockies.
Over here we generally teach self arrest with the ice axe head under the shoulder as this helps penetrate harder snow and helps prevent the ice axe being ripped from your hands. I must admit I was a little suprised at your demonstration of it but perhaps its a cultral difference?
Read your profile BTW, are you serious about being homeless? How comes you can't guide anymore?
Digging in the feet is generally considered fine as long as you are not wearing crampons in fact palms down toes in is the standard self arrest with only gloves and boots. I must admit I was suprised Mike didn't highlight this. Digging your feet in with crampons on can cause you do be flipped over.
He's a respected mountain guide with nearly 40 years experience and many worldwide peaks (including some 6000m firsts in the Himalayas) so I'll stick with his advise unless you can provide a reasoned argument why. I was taught (and it makes good sense to me) that digging your feet/crampons in can result in a flip (ok if you dropped the axe its better to risk than nothing). Also that for the axe pick to dig in well enough (especially on neve) you need to weight it well... and that is done by having your body weight over it. If the axe head it above your head how can you put as much pressure on?
As above digging in your feet is only regarded as dangerous with crampons on and is standard self arrest practice with no poons or axes. Plus it looks like he is only using them down at the very end of the arrest. Still I take your point that a bit more explanation here would have been good.
Yeah he did. I was talking about while wearing crampons though... probably should have made that point better! Sorry. I always just assume that in most cases for any slope slip-able, crampons are worn. My bad!
But I still wouldn't dig feet in if I had an axe and no crampons... not the time to think 'am I wearing them?' while you're sliding as it's all split second. I prefer to keep it as simple as possible; with an axe is feet up and with nothing is palms and feet down.
Yeah he wasn't wearing crampons and only put his feet down at the very end of the self arrest.
Should have noticed the guy in the vid wasn't wearing crampons! My mistake.
If your doing more walking buy one of those ultralight Black Diamond poles. 50cm tools tend to be technical ice tools not ice axes. Course my name ain't Mike Arkey slayer of 6000m peaks creator of new routes with 40 years of experience and well respected somewhere in the UK.
I'm just telling you guys what I tell everybody else. These other guys have I right to be wrong I suppose. Oh yeh I diddn't go into some big explanation on how to self arrest cause it was only a demo of what a can be used foe. There is a bit more detail on self arrest here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IehAdl40lJE
What are you guys like the UK version of rockclimbing.com?
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