UKC

/ What's the point of aluminium "ice" axes?

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humptydumpty - on 18 May 2018

Following on from https://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/gear/climbing_technology_agile_shovel-685087 and the comment

> I would never want to be in a position where I'd need it to stop on anything steeper than 30 degrees again! Definitely time for steel at that point...

It seems common that people say aluminium axes aren't very useful on steep gradients, or anything much harder than compacted snow.  On the other hand, they're mostly recommended for ski touring.

This makes me wonder - if you're on thirty degree snow when ski touring, I'd have thought you'd be quite happy on your skins and ski poles.  So is carrying a super-lightweight "ice" axe just an exercise in box-ticking?

MarkJH - on 18 May 2018
In reply to humptydumpty:

 

> This makes me wonder - if you're on thirty degree snow when ski touring, I'd have thought you'd be quite happy on your skins and ski poles.  So is carrying a super-lightweight "ice" axe just an exercise in box-ticking?

 

Depends on the snow.  Skinning a 30 degree slope on soft snow may well be fine, but on hard neve I would  certainly be off the skis and using crampons and axe. 

The  primary purpose of an ice axe is to make progress on snow and ice. An aluminium axe is fine for progress on neve or compact snow.  A secondary purpose is to stop yourself before you fall. Again, an aluminium axe is fine for this.  Finally, an axe can be used to stop a slip. A steel axe is likely to be much better at this, but even then I wouldn't rely on it.  I would say it is a specialist tool, but there are certainly situations it would be useful.

Pete Houghton - on 18 May 2018
In reply to humptydumpty:

The aluminium axe is great as a single axe for some December, January, February ski tours when you are only going to be dealing with cold powder and you're 99% sure that you won't encounter any -really- transformed snow or actual ice, and you won't need anything beefier. I use the CT Agile 45 in the Aiguilles Rouges a lot, for booting up the Pointe Alphonse Favre or traversing the Cols du Belvedere or Beaugeant, or even routes like the Col du Passon. In the spring, it's great as a quick afternoon tour axe, or as a second axe behind something heavier.

The particular slide from your quote above was during an episode of alpine jogging, not ski touring, whilst traversing the Crochues-Berard in trainers in mid-May, with around 1900m of total ascent spread over 25km, floppy aluminium crampons to help with the boot of 150m or so up to the Col des Crochues, and no desire to carry an extra 300g of weight for a proper ice axe that flops around too much when attached to a flimsy running vest.

There's always a trade-off between decent kit and the ability to travel quickly, and if you expect to be able to overcome any difficulties you might find with a floppy little noodle like the Agile 45, then it's a great axe. If you expect to find conditions where it might be insufficient... well, you should probably bring a bigger, heavier axe.

top cat on 18 May 2018
In reply to humptydumpty:

In any situation where you actually need to use an axe, alloy will be found wanting.

Carry one is indeed a tick box exercise.

I either don't carry an axe at all, or take one that will work when I need it to work.

6
humptydumpty - on 18 May 2018
In reply to top cat:

It makes me wonder how the Corsa Nanotech or Petzl Ride would compare to the aluminium-headed axes.  Still short and presumably feel lightweight, so would the steel head make much difference in practice?

vscott - on 18 May 2018
In reply to humptydumpty:

Based on brief uses the nanotech doesn't add much beyond not blunting as easily, Ride (and other similar lightweight steel picked designs) add a lot of confidence - much better bite into old neve and ice, ok for a mixed move or three - for very little extra weight over full alloy.

humptydumpty - on 18 May 2018
In reply to vscott:

Interesting!  According to manufacturers' websites, the Ride is lighter than the Nanotech:

https://www.petzl.com/GB/en/Sport/Ice-axes/RIDE

http://www.camp.it/prodotti3.aspx?CAT=33&CDV=01&B=&ART=~9

Pete Houghton - on 19 May 2018
In reply to top cat:

> In any situation where you actually need to use an axe, alloy will be found wanting.

> Carry one is indeed a tick box exercise.

> I either don't carry an axe at all, or take one that will work when I need it to work.


Yeah, that's bollocks though. Let's take crampons... sometimes you need something heavy and pointy for nails steep routes, sometimes you need something light and floppy for running around on a glacier with some skinny skimo skis, sometimes you'll get away with a set of granny spikes tucked in the pocket of your running waterproof. The idea of taking a kilogram-plus-change of steel out jogging when you, at worst, expect to find a few KM of polished hard-pack trail is, obviously, ridiculous, and massively overkill. So why would you take a 500g, 750g, 900g ice axe out with you when you are reasonably certain that a 200g, 250g will do the job just fine, or even better?

top cat on 20 May 2018

So why would you take a 500g, 750g, 900g ice axe out with you when you are reasonably certain that a 200g, 250g will do the job just fine, or even better

 

because if you really Need , as in need, an ice axe alloy won't cut it.  Nice to carry, crap to use.  

??????also, light axes tend to have plain metal shafts, and no strap.  Good luck using that when you need it in freezing rime conditions ????.

I don't use a strap, but have an effective grip.  55cm and comfortably under 500g

?????Personal choice as always.

One thing that does piss me off though is folk skimping on probes and shovels.  They are for my safety, not their convenience!

 

6
Pete Houghton - on 20 May 2018
In reply to top cat:

I'm not entirely sure you absorbed the point I was trying to make. Never mind.


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