Ice Axe Basics – How to Use an Ice Axe
A good ice axe is an essential tool for all mountaineers, regardless of their experience. You can’t go skiing in the backcountry or walking on a glacier without one. Hikers have the opportunity to explore a whole new wintery world by properly using an iceaxe.
The ice-axe is a multi-faceted tool with many parts. Here are some basics:
Head – The broad, double-headed portion of an Ice Axe Maintenance. It is usually made from steel alloy and has an adze on one end and a pick the other. This is the most important part and is used to grip snow and ice for climbing.
Shaft – this is a long “handle” for the iceaxe. It can either be straight or slightly curved to increase stability. The shaft can either be lightweight or tough and is made of aluminum or steel.
Spike is the metal tip at bottom of shaft, which is used to balance the ice-axe and provide safety.
Leash/wrist loop – Many axes include a leash or wrist strap. It connects to the wrist or your hand and helps you avoid losing the axe in case it is dropped. However, the leash/wrist loop will make it more difficult for you to change your direction while using the axe. They are not necessary.
Self-arrest Position & Technique
First, stop falling. You’ll need to adjust the position depending on where you are, but generally speaking, you want to be able to hold the ice axe near the shaft and your pick so that you face backwards.
Next, drive your pick through the snow with the ice axe. Then, bring the shaft of the axe close to your torso. This will allow the pick to be buried as deep as possible. This will prevent your feet from sliding down the slope. It also allows you to perform an ice-axe arrest, if needed.
This will require you to do it a few times before it becomes a habit.
Curved Shaft. If you plan on climbing steep, ice-covered cliffs, you might consider a slightly curved shaft. These will help you stay upright in the face if falling ice. They can also increase the force you exert when climbing, making them useful in technical ice climbing as well as mixed climbs that include both rock and ice.
There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing the right ice axe for you, so it’s best to take your skill level and region of origin into account before making a purchase decision. For example, hybrid mountaineering or technical ice instruments have curved shafts which are better suited for steeper mountains.