/ Using BD Vipers as an alpine walking axe

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Tom F Harding on 09 Jun 2014
Off to the Alps this summer and have been wondering about ice axes. Last time I was out there I borrowed a walking axe but wont be able to this time. What do people think about using one of my Vipers with the 'rests' removed? Don't really want to folk out for another axe if I can avoid it. Especially one I will only use for 2 or 3 weeks a year.
Simon4 - on 09 Jun 2014
In reply to Tom F Harding:

It may sound like an obvious question, but will you be carrying walking poles as well?

Much of the time poles are as much or more use than an axe, sometimes using one pole and one axe and swapping the axe to the uphill side when you change direction on a zig-zag. If so, I would suggest these axes you have will be fine, especially if you take the technical gizmos off for the period.

It does of course depend on what sort of route you are going to do, if a full on technical ice route, things are a bit different.
Dave Searle - on 09 Jun 2014
In reply to Tom F Harding:

It wont be as good for walking but it will be ok... depends what routes you'll be doing the most. Walking should rely more on good crampon technique and the axe is a last resort should you fall.
Tom F Harding on 09 Jun 2014
In reply to Simon4:

Yes I will have poles with me. I found last time I didn't use my walking axe that much, just for the occasional bit of stability. I can self arrest with my vipers pretty well so it should work out fine. If we do any steeper ice faces I would carry the pair anyway.

Cheers for the advice.
StuDoig - on 09 Jun 2014
In reply to Tom F Harding:

Less efficient for arresting, and harder to keep hold off in hard packed snow / neve when arresting than a walking axe, but still perfectly useable. I climb with vipers, and therefore end up using them as a walking axe for approaches / descents and can't say I've ever had a problem, esp if you have anti-balling plates to reduce the frequency that you need to clear your crampons (in theory anyway......).

Cheers,

Stuart
Simon4 - on 09 Jun 2014
In reply to StuDoig:

It is quite extraordinary to me that someone would NOT have anti-ball plates, especially in the Alps but also in Scotland or anywhere else you use crampons.

One experience of bad-balling up and just how dangerous and frightening it is is normally enough to convince people of the virtues of anti-ball plates. I have never quite got this idea that technical axes were worse than walking axes at self arrest.
StuDoig - on 09 Jun 2014
In reply to Simon4:

Not a huge difference with Vipers as they aren't extreme in the bend angle, but they do snatch a lot more violently in hard packed snow when they first penetrate. Slightly more awkward to handle for the arrest I normally find, but still perfectly good for it - esp as you should be looking to arrest well before you've built up significant momentum!

I agree re: anti-balling plates, esp since they seem to be included with most crampons now - though I do still see a fair number of people without, or with Duct tape DIY versions.

Simon4 - on 09 Jun 2014
In reply to StuDoig:

> I do still see a fair number of people without, or with Duct tape DIY versions.

Peccavi, I have sinned (Sindh), but only on my technical steep ice crampons, because the cobbled together front bit is held on with duct tape. But that is because there was no manufacturer's customised plate for these crampons.
Post edited at 17:19
Bruce Hooker - on 09 Jun 2014
In reply to Tom F Harding:

Do you really need a walking axe? On level ground you don't and as it gets steeper you can manage with a short axe. You can still knock your crampons to stop the snow balling up, unless you have a particularly extreme morphology anyway :-)
Tom F Harding on 10 Jun 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

Thanks again everyone. As I said Bruce

> I found last time I didn't use my walking axe that much, just for the occasional bit of stability. (on steeper slopes)

That's 70 saved for other shiny gear then..
dek - on 10 Jun 2014
In reply to Tom F Harding:

Depends what your going to be doing, 'General mountaineering'? I found a borrowed 60cm axe Much more useful than a short tool on things like the Midi Plan traverse, the Frendo Spur, poking around on glaciers, couloirs Etc.
Tim Chappell - on 10 Jun 2014
In reply to Tom F Harding:
I would be cautious using an ice-tool to try and do ice-axe brakes. It can be done, with most of them, but as others have said it's not what they're designed for. The angle of the pick isn't right.

Watch out too for those modern ice-tools that have no spike on the end of the shaft. I have a Black Diamond that just has a rubber handle. When you try and stick the butt end of it into the ice as you're walking up to the climb, it just slithers sideways. It's potentially quite dangerous, that.
Post edited at 10:49
alasdair19 on 12 Jun 2014
In reply to Tim Chappell:

I'd agree about the lack of spike issue. If I was trying to build a belay on a slushy glacier after my friend disappeared down a hole I would uh prefer a mountaineering axe.
Bruce Hooker - on 13 Jun 2014
In reply to alasdair19:

If you are mountaineering you need a spike on your axe, more than an adze unless you are aiming at bivvying on snow and and anticipate some digging. I found the best for average sort of rock routes with a bit of glacier crossing was using the hammer from a modern pair of ice gadgets, mine has a sort of spike and the hammer means I don't need to take a peg hammer. I doubt it would be much good at ice axe arrest but then I don't plan to do that. The curve on the handle doesn't seem to be much of a problem.
Tom F Harding on 13 Jun 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

Thanks Bruce

http://67.199.85.159/gear/images/Viper.jpg

They have a good metal spike at the bottom (the plastic hand rests can be removed) so should be about right. Interesting that you think the hammer will be more useful then the adze - aren't you more likely to dig some form of anchor (Bollard, 'axe slot', clean ice screw placement etc.) then bash in a piton?
Bruce Hooker - on 13 Jun 2014
In reply to Tom F Harding:

> aren't you more likely to dig some form of anchor (Bollard, 'axe slot', clean ice screw placement etc.) then bash in a piton?

Depends what route you were doing :-) I was thinking of moderate rock routes where the axe was just for the glacier and the snow leading up to the rock. If it was involving ice screws, bollards (something I've never done BTW) and more either mixed or ice I think I'd take both.
jon on 13 Jun 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

> I was thinking of moderate rock routes where the axe was just for the glacier and the snow leading up to the rock.

In that case, Bruce, I'd go for the adze. I really can't remember the last time I placed a peg anywhere, let alone the alps... probably in winter in Scotland? But on a glacier, cutting a slot for an axe belay or just improving steps in snow are what the axe is for and you really can't do that with a hammer. One thing for sure though, all that gubbins on the end AND the cord leash attached to the spike needs taking off. The most important part of using a 'walking' axe in the alps is the ability to plunge the shaft unhindered into the snow.
Bruce Hooker - on 13 Jun 2014
In reply to jon:

I never do axe belays, nor cut steps, and I feel naked without a blunt instrument to bash things with... but it may not be rational. It's all down to preference though, and the sort of routes being done.
jon on 13 Jun 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:
Well he was asking about walking axes. I can't really think of circumstances where I'd be walking or indeed doing general alpinism where a peg hammer would be more useful than an axe. You might not do axe belays but what would you do with a hammer if you HAD to create a solid belay in the snow? For pulling someone out of a hole, for instance. And when you think about it, you can always hammer a peg in with an adze. If you had a peg...
Post edited at 19:08

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