In early February UKC joined the Black Diamond product team and pro atheletes in Pitztal, Austria, for a preview of the new Reactor ice tool and Ultralight Ice Screw. Black Diamond category director, Kolin Powick, explained to us how these new tools and screws compare to other BD products. Better still we also got a change to test them alongside Black Diamond atheletes Innes Papert, Jon Bracey, Klemen Premrl and Korra Pesce.
The Reactor is an all-new take on the previous, very successful, axe of the same name. For the new version, Black Diamond has made a number of big design tweaks. The Reactor is a tool designed primarily for hard ice, while also maintaining enough of a pick angle to climb mixed to a high standard too.
The Ultralight Ice Screw is a completely new product that has evolved from the iconic Turbo Express Ice Screw. This new model is approximatley 45% lighter, has a larger diameter and will be the perfect screw for glacier travel, off-piste skiing and ice climbing in situations where every gram counts.
Reactor Ice Axe - First impressions
Compared to the current Fuel axe, which we've been getting to know well, the slightly more open pick angle on the new Reactor is instantly noticeable. This is also the first of the Black Diamond axes to feature an offset lower handle, something many other manufacturers are now also adopting. The lower grip rest is slightly wider - a nice touch - and the moulded rubber around the lower and upper grip eliminates the need to tape up your axes.
Unlike the hydroformed shaft of the Fuel, the Reactor's shaft has a trapezoidal cross section without the bulge in the upper portion of the shaft. The pick attachment and excellent modular hammer/adze options will be familiar to many long term BD axe users - don't fix what isn't broken!
It's lighter than the Fuel, although not as light as the Cobra, the pure ice tool, and the swing feels satisfyingly natural and powerful.
Category Director at Black Diamond, Kolin is passionate about producing climbing hardware that he and other climbers would want to use.
We asked Kolin what the goal was in creating the Reactor:
"We wanted to create a great ICE climbing tool with a natural swing and a more modern and ergonomic dual position offset grip. Notice how I have ICE in capitals. The goal was ice performance, while still allowing it to Mixed climb at a high level - as opposed to creating a mixed, or comp tool, that oftentimes can sacrifice pure ice performance because of the excessively steep pick angle. We had to find the proper balance of pick angle, head clearance and grip position to allow for a natural swing into pure ice, of all grades, and still maintain excellent mixed climbing performance.
To get the proper tool balance we opted for a steel head, which gives more head weight than an aluminum head - foregoes the need for pick weights, and ultimately is more durable. We opted to use BD's tried and true pick attachment system which affords the opportunity to use any BD pick on the Reactor. As well, with the steel head, we designed the head such that our Alpine hammer and Alpine Adze can be used to make the tool that much more versatile for mountain use.
The Reactor has a more natural swing akin to the Cobra for pure ice climbing because of the similar pick angle. The pick angle on the Fuel is steeper which makes it climb mixed terrain better, but requires a bit more of a wrist flick action while climbing ice."
Klemen Premrl is a Slovenian ice climber and is probably best known for his many hard new routes and repeats at Helmcken Falls, BC, Canada.
We asked Klemen what he thought of the new Reactor, and when he would likely use it:
"For me the new Reactor works really well in most of the situations that winter climbers find themselves in. If I was to choose only one tool, this would be my first choice. The do it all ice tool!
I'm super glad that Black Diamond produced a modern ice tool with an aggressive shape, primarily designed for steep ice climbing. I'm impressed by how good it climbs ice; often one swing is enough to get a secure placement, and that's a big thing when it comes to ice climbing.
The very first climb that I did with new Reactors involved some delicate moves on a free hanging icicle, a perfect example of a situation where you don't wanna use brute force and battle your way up; instead you want to be gentle and climb with finesse. Well, I was happy that I was climbing with these new babies! The aggressive shaft provided ergonomic holding position, which prevents you getting pumped too soon. The open pick angle allowed a gentle tap that was enough to get a secure placement on the first go, and the new pick design caused minimal ice displacement, which is great a great boost to one's confidence. I'm a big fan of modern aggressive shaped design when it comes to ice tools. So I'm stoked for the new Reactor which can handle moderate to super hard ice and mixed ground with ease.
I'm gonna use new Reactors for all conventional alpine, ice and mixed climbing… Furthermore, the new Reactor will be my weapon of choice next time I'm in Helmcken Falls! The only thing for which I wouldn't recommend the new Reactor would be super steep (roof) kind of mixed climbing with marginal pick placements. For that, a steeper and more aggressive pick angle is preferred. Attaching the mixed pick on the Reactor can help to a certain degree, but I believe that climbing beyond M hard is more Fusion and Fuel territory anyway."
Ultralight Ice Screws - First Impressions
If you're already a fan of BD's Express Ice Screws - and most winter climbers we know certainly seem to be - then you'll probably get on well with the Ultralight too. At a whopping 45% lighter with a slightly larger diameter, the Ultralight Ice Screw makes its weight saving from the materials used. It's an aluminium tube, for lightness, coupled with a steel tipped head. The wire express handle also further reduces weight.
The bite and turning action on ice feel as good as, or perhaps even better than, normal Express screws. Apparently some aluminium screws can suffer from freezing into the screw hole, although we didn't notice any difference in this instance.
If you're going fast and light, their low weight and smooth easy handling will be a big benefit. But perhaps save them for 'best'. With the lightest kit there is almost always a tradeoff with durability, and the Ultralight Ice Screw is no exception. These babies need to be handled with a bit of love. Don't just chuck them in your bag without any sort of protection!
Jon Bracey is one of Britain's foremost alpinists having climbed many hard mixed routes in the Alps and established several new routes in Alaska, Greenland and the Himalayas.
We asked Jon about his involvement testing the new Ultralight Icescrew:
"I have been involved with the later part of the development and testing of the new Ultralight ice screw. My main job was to test for longevity. In basic terms, go out and try to break it!
Although it might sound like a glamorous role, it initially involved heading out onto a dry glacier to place and take out a prototype screw over 100 times. Believe me, it was pretty tedious. My prototypes also got to do a fun couple of climbs like the second ascent of Corcrazian on Mont Gruetta with Ally Swinton, and a guided ascent of the Eiger north face. Unfortunately one of my prototypes fell to an early death on the Eiger after my client dropped it. I forgave him though, as he was 69 years old!
I'm sure the new screws will be appreciated by all, especially ski tourers, but particularly by alpine climbers. Consider the weight saving if you've got a rack of 6 to 8 screws- it's massive."
Both the Reactor and Ultralight Ice Screw will be availabe in October 2018. UKC will be running in-depth reviews of both for the winter 2018/19 season - watch this space!