An ice axe is a multi-purpose hiking and climbing tool used by mountaineers in both the ascent and descent of routes that involve snow, ice, or frozen conditions. Its use depends on the terrain: in its simplest role it is used like a walking stick, with the mountaineer holding the head in the center of their uphill hand. On steep terrain it is swung by its handle and embedded in snow or ice for security and an aid to traction. It can also be buried pick down, the rope tied around the shaft to form a secure anchor on which to bring up a second climber, or buried vertically to form a stomp belay. The adze is used to cut footholds, as well as scoop out compacted snow to bury the axe as a belay anchor.
The ice axe of today has its roots in the long-handled alpenstock that came before it. Not only is an ice axe used as a climbing aid, but also as a means of self-arrest in the event of a slip downhill.[ citation needed ]
Most ice axes meet design and manufacturing standards of organizations such as the Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme (UIAA) or European Committee for Standardization (CEN). There are two classifications of ice axe, Basic (B/Type 1) and Technical (T/Type 2).
For ski mountaineering and racing, where weight is of paramount concern, manufacturers have produced short (~45 cm (18 in)) and light (200–300 g (7–11 oz)) ice axes. Some of these have aluminum alloy heads/picks which are unlikely to be as effective or robust as steel heads/picks.
An ice axe consists of at least five components:
Ice axe accessories include:
Ice-axe spike-to-head lengths used to generally range from 60–90 cm (24–35 in). This is just too short to be used as a walking stick on level ground (the way its forebearer, the 150-centimetre-long (5 ft) 19th century alpenstock, was), but is ergonomic when ascending steep slopes. For flatter ground, where consequences of a slip are not large, walking poles are more appropriate.
The old method to approximate the correct length of an ice axe was for the climber to hold the axe (spike facing the ground) at his/her side while standing relaxed. The spike of the ice axe should barely touch the ground when the climber stands fully upright holding the axe in this manner.This may still be appropriate where the ice axe is to be used for travelling over relatively flat ground, perhaps, in the main, for glacier travel.
Modern mountaineers often carry shorter ice axes, 45–60 cm (18–24 in), for general use with any thing over 60 cm (24 in) being generally regarded as too large and unwieldy for chopping steps or climbing steep snow. A walking pole (providing a third point of contact), although stabilising and making a slip less likely, is unlikely to stop a fall.
The antecedent of the ice axe was the alpenstock, a long wooden pole with an iron spike tip, used by shepherds for travel on snowfields and glaciers in the Alps since the Middle Ages. On 8 August 1786, Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard made the first ascent of Mont Blanc. Balmat, a chamois hunter and crystal collector, had experience with high mountain travel, and Paccard had made previous attempts to climb the peak. Illustrations show Balmat carrying two separate tools that would later be merged into the ice axe – an alpenstock (or baton) and a small axe that could be used to chop steps on icy slopes.
According to the earliest manufacturer of ice axes, Grivel, these two tools were merged to create the first true ice axe around 1840. Early ice axes had a vertical adze, with the cutting edge aligned with the direction of the shaft, as in a conventional axe. This design lasted until at least 1860, but eventually the adze was rotated to the current position, perpendicular to the direction of the shaft. The Italian Alpine Club published a book in 1889 entitled Fiorio e Ratti – The dangers of mountaineering and rules to avoid them, which recommended ice axes as among "the inseparable companions of the mountaineer".
In the late 19th century, the typical ice axe shaft measured 120–130 cm (47–51 in) in length. British climber Oscar Eckenstein started the trend toward shorter ice axes with a lighter model measuring 85–86 cm (33–34 in). Initially, this innovation was criticized by well-known climbers of the era, including Martin Conway, a prominent member of the Alpine Club, who was the leader of an early expedition to the Baltoro region near K2 in 1892 of which Eckenstein was a member.
Early ice axes had picks and adzes of about equal lengths. By the beginning of the 20th century, the pick lengthened to about twice the length of the adze. Improvements in crampon design (pioneered by Eckenstein in 1908) and ice climbing technique led to use of shorter, lighter ice axes appropriate to steeper ice climbs in the period between the world wars.
A famous rescue involving an ice axe took place during the Third American Karakoram Expedition to K2 in 1953. One of the climbers, Art Gilkey, was incapacitated by thrombophlebitis.The other climbers attempted to rescue him by lowering him down the mountain by rope, wrapped in a sleeping bag. While crossing a steep ice sheet, a slip caused Gilkey and five other climbers to begin falling down a steep slope. Climber Pete Schoening wedged his ice axe alongside a boulder, and managed to belay the roped climbers, saving their lives. (Gilkey, however, later in the same descent was swept away by an avalanche. Remains of his lost corpse were discovered in 1993. ) Schoening's ice axe is now on display at the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum in Golden, Colorado.
In 1966, Yvon Chouinard led a significant redesign of ice axes, working with initially reluctant manufacturer Charlet to develop a 55-centimetre-long (22 in) ice axe with a dramatically curved pick. Chouinard believed that "a curve compatible with the arc of the axe's swing would allow the pick to stay put better in the ice. I had noticed that a standard pick would often pop out when I placed my weight on it." Chouinard's idea worked and began a period of innovation in ice axe design.
In 1978, the Safety Commission of the Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme (UIAA) established formal standards for ice axe safety and performance. This led to the replacement of the traditional wooden shaft by metal alloy shafts. Ergonomically curved handles became widespread in 1986. 205 g (7.2 oz) with a 50-centimetre-long (20 in) shaft. One expert rated this lightweight ice axe as "ideal for low angle glacier travel" but said he "craved the solid and secure heft of a true steel mountain ax" in more demanding steep alpine conditions.Use of modern aluminum alloys have led to a dramatic reduction in the weight of some ice axes. One model now on the market, the C.A.M.P. Corsa, weighs only
When not in use an ice axe is stored on the outside of a pack (rucksack). Many models come with a nylon webbing loop sewn on its rear base (off to one side to allow the pick to stay behind the hiker), together with a means to restrain its shaft. Rucksacks with attachment points for two ice axes are also available, popular in ice climbing where two tools are used.
Climbing is the activity of using one's hands, feet, or any other part of the body to ascend a steep topographical object. It is done for locomotion, recreation and competition, and within trades that rely on ascension; such as emergency rescue and military operations. It is done indoors and out, on natural and man-made structures.
Mountaineering or alpinism, is a set of outdoor activities that involves ascending tall mountains. Mountaineering-related activities include traditional outdoor climbing, skiing, and traversing via ferratas. Indoor climbing, sport climbing, and bouldering are also considered variants of mountaineering by some.
In rock climbing, mountaineering, and other climbing disciplines, climbers give a grade to a climbing route or boulder problem, intended to describe concisely the difficulty and danger of climbing it. Different types of climbing each have their own grading systems, and many nationalities developed their own, distinctive grading systems.
Climbing protection is any of a variety of devices employed to reduce risk and protect others while climbing rock and ice. It includes such items as nylon webbing and metal nuts, cams, bolts, and pitons.
A crampon is a traction device that is attached to footwear to improve mobility on snow and ice during ice climbing. Besides ice climbing, crampons are also used for secure travel on snow and ice, such as crossing glaciers, snowfields and icefields, ascending snow slopes, and scaling ice-covered rock.
This glossary of climbing terms is a list of definitions of terms and jargon related to rock climbing and mountaineering. The specific terms used can vary considerably between different English-speaking countries; many of the phrases described here are particular to the United States and the United Kingdom.
Ice climbing is the activity of ascending inclined ice formations. Usually, ice climbing refers to roped and protected climbing of features such as icefalls, frozen waterfalls, and cliffs and rock slabs covered with ice refrozen from flows of water.
Abseiling, also known as rappelling, is the controlled descent of a steep slope, such as a rock face, by moving down a rope. When abseiling the person descending controls their own movement down the rope, in contrast to lowering off in which the rope attached to the person descending is paid out by their belayer.
Ski mountaineering is a skiing discipline that involves climbing mountains either on skis or carrying them, depending on the steepness of the ascent, and then descending on skis. There are two major categories of equipment used, free-heel Telemark skis and skis based on Alpine skis, where the heel is free for ascents, but is fixed during descent. The discipline may be practiced recreationally or as a competitive sport.
Mount Moran is a mountain in Grand Teton National Park of western Wyoming, USA. The mountain is named for Thomas Moran, an American western frontier landscape artist. Mount Moran dominates the northern section of the Teton Range rising 6,000 feet (1,800 m) above Jackson Lake. Several active glaciers exist on the mountain with Skillet Glacier plainly visible on the monolithic east face. Like the Middle Teton in the same range, Mount Moran's face is marked by a distinctive basalt intrusion known as the Black Dike.
An ascender is a device used for directly ascending a rope, or for facilitating protection with a fixed rope when climbing on very steep mountain terrain.
Self-arrest is a technique employed in mountaineering in which a climber who has fallen and is sliding down a snow or ice-covered slope arrests the slide by themselves without recourse to a rope or other belay system. Self-arrest can be performed by using ice axe and a combination of a climber's boots, hands, feet, knees and elbows. Use of an ice axe greatly increases the probability of effectively stopping a fall down a snow field, ice field, or glacier.
Self-belay is the use of belaying equipment by a single person while rock climbing or mountaineering. Typically, belaying involves a two-person team: a climber ascends, while a belayer takes in their rope slack, ready to catch and arrest their fall; when self-belaying, the climber plays both roles.
Oscar Johannes Ludwig Eckenstein was an English rock climber and mountaineer, and a pioneer in the sport of bouldering. Inventor of the modern crampon, he was an innovator in climbing technique and mountaineering equipment, and the leader of the first serious expedition to attempt to climb K2.
In rock climbing, an anchor can be any device or method for attaching a climber, a rope, or a load above or onto a climbing surface—typically rock, ice, steep dirt, or a building—either permanently or temporarily. The intention of an anchor is case-specific but is usually for fall protection, primarily fall arrest and fall restraint. Climbing anchors are also used for hoisting, holding static loads, or redirecting a rope.
Peter Kittilsby Schoening was an American mountaineer. Schoening and Andrew Kauffman was two Americans to first successfully climb the Pakistani peak Gasherbrum I in 1958, and was one of the first to summit Mount Vinson in Antarctica in 1966.
An ice screw is a threaded tubular screw used as a running belay or anchor by climbers on steep ice surface such as steep waterfall ice or alpine ice during ice climbing or crevasse rescue, to hold the climber in the event of a fall, and at belays as anchor points.
An ice tool is a specialized elaboration of the modern ice axe, used in ice climbing, mostly for the more difficult configurations. Ice tools are used two to a person for the duration of a pitch, and thus in some circumstances such as top-rope-anchored climbs, a pair may be shared among two or more people, where only one of them at a time is climbing. In contrast a classical "ice axe" is used one to a person for the hours or days a party is traveling across snow or glacier. In communities where it is common to refer to an "ice tool" simply as an "ice axe", classic "ice axes" are often referred to as "traveling axes", "walking axes", or "general mountaineering axes" to distinguish them from "tools".
A hex is an item of rock-climbing equipment used to protect climbers from falls. They are intended to be wedged into a crack or other opening in the rock, and do not require a hammer to place. They were developed as an alternative to pitons, which are hammered into cracks, damaging the rock. Most commonly, a carabiner will be used to join the hex to the climbing rope by means of a loop of webbing, cord or a cable which is part of the hex.
An alpenstock is a long wooden pole with an iron spike tip, used by shepherds for travel on snowfields and glaciers in the Alps since the Middle Ages. It is the antecedent of the modern ice axe.