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Mike's Mail #14; Which Ice Tool?


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This year as I see the ice forming, I want to get into the world of ice climbing. When I started looking into the gear though, I get lost. There's Petzl tools and BD tools and Grivel and and and. Beyond the brands they all have their own tools, in similar styles at least, but how do you sort through what's right for a person. Today I want to start ice climbing so a reasonably priced tool, doesn't need to be fancy much like the Quark. But what about later when I want to try some dry tooling or Andromeda Strain, moving to a Nomic style tool. Does a person really need a whole string of different tools depending on the day and climb or are they more versatile than the companies make them out to be? What do you use and why? Do you have different tools depending on what you're climbing that day? Youtube wasn't really helpful except to find endorsements by pros that I don't climb like anyways, hoping you could shed some light and maybe even turn into some inspiration for Climbing Tools.




Ice climbing sounds strange and waterfall ice climbing sounds just plain stupid. Yet it is so Canadian it fits right in between hockey and dog sledding. Your question of tools which one and why I could see being a confusing one. Petzl, Black Diamond, and Grivel are the big players in the game at least here in North America. Not looking at mountaineering axes each of the big three have a couple high end ice tools. 

First lets define the type of tool Climber4Him is talking about. We are not looking at the standard mountaineering axe 70cm or so in length. Straight shaft adze on one side of the head and a pick on the other. No we are talking about the more technical waterfall ice tools and their close relatives. We should note right now that even the worst waterfall tool on the market is heaps better then any tool we had 20 years ago. 

I can go into a big long rant about the evolution of the ice tool but will spare you that because I have already done that. Check out this blog post “ Why would somebody prefer not to use leash less tools “ 


“ Any tool will work for you as long as you believe in it”

Guy Lacelle

There are good all round tools but that is very much like saying there are 4 season tires. Meaning that you can make them work and if your careful you won’t crash in our case that means hitting the ground. The two models that come to mind is the Black Diamond Carbon Fiber Cobra. The Petzl Quark also makes it in the all terrain vehicle status. C4H is asking for a reasonably priced tool. Dude we are talking waterfall ice climbing. Symbolically it represents everything that is wrong with the western world. Rack of screws = $780 Draws and slings = $150 Crampons = $200 Pack= $300 Boots = $600 High-tech layers =$2500+  Gas to typical climb $40 Coffee and donuts and lunch and thermos $15 Gear wears out so there is a cycle of equipment that has to be replaced  constantly. Then at the end of the day I wash the whole experience down with $25 worth of beer at some sleazy climbers hangout. All this to climb a waterfall. Turn that around and how many water wells could I have drilled in some village in a poor part of Africa or India. How many lives could I have saved. So when you talk affordable or reasonable I guess I just think about it differently. Like the guy that goes shopping for a sailboat, if yeh have to ask, yeh can't afford it. For you however there are a few work arounds if your willing to buy second hand equipment. MEC has a resale website and switching gear in Canmore carries ice gear from time to time. Also check kajijiji


Black Diamond Carbon Fiber Cobra'sCarbon Fiber Black Diamond Cobra: These are beautifully crafted tools. The combination of carbon fiber and metal looks like something that the Apple design team dreamed up while under the watchful eye of Steve Jobs. The elegant curve is for more then just show it gives plenty of clearance allowing to place the well back into pockets and behind or between icicles. Locations that are more receptive to the violence of an invasive ice pick. On the head you have the option to place an adze or a hammer. If your using these as a alpine tool then I suggest getting a adze and hammer. Who uses a adze you may be wondering. Well alpine climbers. In the pure water and dry tooling arenas a adze has no real value. Shovel your way through a cornice and need that purchasing power because your pick just keeps ripping through the the hard pack snow. Flip your tool upside down and dig in with the wide blade of the adze. This is an  extremely common situation in the technical mountaineering world. These tool have great balance and weight. They are fairly light weighing in at 617gm with the adze. This is light enough that you would consider it for high altitude technical mountaineering. The spike at the end is effectual enough that walking with the head in hand there is little worry of the spike slipping out from under you in anything but the most bullet proof of ice conditions. There are screws on the backside in case you want to set up a pair of Android leashes. Leashes still have a place out there in the real world.

If your guessing that I like these tools you’d be guessing right. 


Petzl QuarkPetzl Quark: This is another favourite tool of the technical alpinist is this Petzl Quark. It doesn’t have the brilliant design finish of the Cobra but is rugged and and has excellent balance. I am surprised at how many ice climbers are hanging onto these things for dear life. Its like they are holding onto a cherished memory and if they let go that memory will fade. This tool is pretty much the same tool as the BD Cobra just without the carbon fiber. 

The thing is that 5 or 6 companies build a tool of this sort and really it is just a matter of personal preference. My guess is that there may be a fair number of this generation of tool for sale for the next few years at least. 

The latest model of ice tool to hit the shelf are the 100% leash-less ice climbing, dry tooling vertical ascent monsters. The difference between these tools and one generation prior is very much like the difference between the 220cm ski of the 1980’s and the 190cm fat boys of today. Its hard to believe they were created in the same universe. In pure ice performance they are far ahead. There are two reasons for this.

 Petzl NomicFirst is the radically steep curve. If a little is good (Cobra) then a lot must be great. Not always but in this case it’s true. The clearance on the Petzl Nomic or BD Fusion is allowing one to reach way back and sinking in places with more support then we have ever had before and it was pretty good before. One observation that I have had and holds true whenever there is a change in shaft design and that change is readily adopted. Climbers begin placing their picks into places your pre-generation tool just can’t get to. What this means is that your going to have a hard time drafting on previous climbers pick placements. This may not sound like a big deal but it really is when your up there creating your own and as a result assaulting your belayer while raining down chunks of ice. I would like to add that the new tools did not dumb things down to the point that you don’t need good technique. The modern tool does not suffer a fools swing. 

Secondly the shaft design departed from the tube structure with a rubber handle to something with a massive indentations and your gloved hand fits securely into this indentation. As if that wasn’t a rad enough concept one hand height from the bottom is a horn/tab allowing a perfectly secure handhold an additional six inches higher. That once again does not sound like much but trust me it makes a real difference. Imagine if you will your with two of the most beautiful women on the planet visiting a topless beach in Maui and you just cashed in your 22 million dollar lottery ticket. Since that’s not going to happen lets get back to the reality of ice climbing. Being able to bump that hand up allows you to travel a further distance on a lot less tool placements. Also you can maximize a secure tool placement maintaining positive downward pull while bringingBlack Diamond Fusion your crampons up and bypassing a section of airy/questionable ice. I seem to do this at least once on every hard pitch. Getting your head around switching hands on tools is something that comes a lot easier to those who have never worn a leash. Getting my head around this opened up a great combination of new possibilities. 

Ok lets bring this to a close. All the companies make their own version of steep and extreme ( for lack of a better word description) ice tool. The steep ( cobra or similar model) would definitely be my first choice for big alpine routes. Andromeda Strain, North Face of Athabasca, etc.. The extreme (Nomics) is a no brainer for hard waterfalls and mixed climbing. It may be that the Nomic/Fusion style make the transition better as a all rounder but I can’t say that for certain. I personally keep a couple older model Carbon Fiber in case for some reason I decided I wanted to scare myself in the alpine arena. I exclusively use the newer model Nomic/Fusion style for hard personal ice climbing and on courses I don’t really care as any tool is fine for that environment. 

So Yes you do need a quiver of tools and no you don’t need a quiver of tools.

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