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Thread: ice axe technique

  1. #16
    Banned Kevin Rooney's Avatar
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    Whoa, guys. Before we get to the point of choosing pistols and assistants ... let's recognize some of us have closely-held techniques and methods that we won't/can't change, and that's as it should be. We each know what works for us, and on some things don't even care to discuss. One of the things for me is the use of water bladders in winter hiking - I simply won't tolerate them in any group I hike with, and have NO interest in discussing it at the trailhead!

    So, whether we use a leash or not, whether a leash should be attached to the wrist or the body, whether the shaft should be taped, etc - little will be gained (save creating animosity) by sniping at other's technique. If you truly have a problem with someone's technique, simply make a point not to climb with them.

  2. #17
    Senior Member AOC-1's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=deadpoint].
    if your have a leash on your axe i don't recommend using it unless you have no other choice, and when you do leash it to yourself never attach it at your wrist. if you have an out of control fall you have a dagger with 3 points attached to you just waiting to stab! if you must attach it then attach it to the belay loop on your climbing harness via a locking carabiner. you ALWAYS want to keep the axe on the slope side and as you're moving the slope side is going to change so you need to pass the axe from hand to hand. if the axe is attached to your wrist you can't easily do this.
    QUOTE]

    I have always used a wrist leash when the consequences of a fall would be severe. With a little practice you can switch hands easily. In out-of-control falls, where self-arrest is mandatory, your odds are better with a "dagger waiting to stab" than with a boulder likely to impale, or a cliff certain to kill. Plus, in the rare case where it would be safer to jettison an axe, you stand a better chance of doing so if it's attached to your wrist than to a locking biner on your belay loop.

    As folks have said, proper technique depends on conditions and circumstances, not hard-and-fast rules.

  3. #18
    Moderator bikehikeskifish's Avatar
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    Genuine newbie question:

    IF I have a mountaineering axe (straight handle, not for technical ice climbing), AND it has an adze and a pick, THEN there must be some good reason for those two tools, besides making a handle into a giant heat sink which draws warmth away from my hand, adds weight and has protruding, sharp implements.

    I have read that self-arrest involves driving the pick into the snow, with the adze against your upper chest. Clearly there is more to it then this, I mean if the sole purpose were self-arrest, you would have a much more chest-friendly surface opposing the pick, right?

    I have also read that the adze is used for fashioning stairs / steps.


    So, the question I have could best be phrased thusly (and I, along with others I bet, would appreciate multiple responses):

    How do you use each of the three pointy parts of the mountaineering axe in the northeast, and in what proportions?

    Put another way, rank the usefulness of each point, I guess.

    Tim
    p.s. I'm not interested enough to go read an entire book on the technique just yet, but if there is some disagreement over style and usefulness "in front of the children" then the children would like an explanation
    Bike, Hike, Ski, Sleep. Eat, Fish, Repeat.

  4. #19
    Senior Member AOC-1's Avatar
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    Tim, the spike is plunged into the snow and is used for balance while climbing steeper snow slopes. In general moutaineering axes, its utility rating would be number 1. The pick is used, as you mentioned, for self-arrest, and occasionally for purchase in steeper snow or ice. It's number 2. The adze is used least, and is helpful for chopping level stances in hard snow or ice (example, you're on a slope and need to switch to crampons, or adjust them, or just take a break). They do make general moutaineering axes with hammers instead of adzes. A hammer is primarily used for driving pitons, and has no real place in non-technical climbing.

    Then again, a lot of technical ice climbers use 2 hammers instead of a hammer and an adze because they don't like the thought of getting hit in the face with an adze.

  5. #20
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    The adze works well for making ice cubes for your drink of choice

  6. #21
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikehikeskifish
    Genuine newbie question:

    IF I have a mountaineering axe (straight handle, not for technical ice climbing), AND it has an adze and a pick, THEN there must be some good reason for those two tools, besides making a handle into a giant heat sink which draws warmth away from my hand, adds weight and has protruding, sharp implements.
    There are also technical axes with straight handles. (All of my axes, technical, mountaineering, and hiking have straight handles.) (Like skis, all axe designs are a compromise between competing uses.) And yes, you are correct--all points have useful purposes.

    Some technical axes replace the adz with a hammer head. These are generally called north wall hammers.

    Technical axes/hammers tend to be short--typically 55cm or shorter, moutaineering axes about 70 cm, and hiking axes a bit longer--typically the spike should be about an inch above the floor when held hanging in one's hand. (There are variations, styles, and preferences. Axes used to be up to 200cm when step cutting was the dominant technique for ice climbing.)

    I have read that self-arrest involves driving the pick into the snow, with the adze against your upper chest. Clearly there is more to it then this, I mean if the sole purpose were self-arrest, you would have a much more chest-friendly surface opposing the pick, right?
    Self arrest is a basic skill for steep snow (eg Lions Head). Classic position: Adz (or adze) above your shoulder (close to your ear), shaft diagonally across your shoulder and chest, spike alongside your hip. Pick pressed into the snow. Upper hand across top of axe head, lower hand down by spike.

    There is a lot more to self-arrest than the above--read up on it or get instruction and practice before you really need it. Also a quick sloppy arrest can often be more effective than a slow elegant one that includes a long slide.

    You don't want to be pressing flesh against any of the points...

    I have also read that the adze is used for fashioning stairs / steps.
    The pick is often better for cutting steps (hard ice). The adz can be used for cutting or scooping. Depends on snow/ice conditions, angle, where you are cutting a step, etc.

    So, the question I have could best be phrased thusly (and I, along with others I bet, would appreciate multiple responses):

    How do you use each of the three pointy parts of the mountaineering axe in the northeast, and in what proportions?
    Chouinard lists 9 axe positions (he likes the French names...):
    ** For snow **
    * Piolet canne: use as a cane (held by head and adze). Used on low angle terrain.
    * Piolet manche: hold vertically in front of body, one hand on pick and one hand on adz, spike and shaft down in snow. Used on medium steepness snow. (This puts the broad face of the shaft down the fall line to give more support.)
    * Piolet panne: pick in snow, hand on adz, shaft lying on surface of snow (pointed downward). Used on steep snow. Can be done with 2 axes, one in each hand.

    ** For ascending steep ice **
    * Piolet ramasse: axe held diagonally with head in front of body, pick away from body, spike in snow/ice off to side. One hand on adz, other by spike. Your body is turned to the side in a rising traverse. Used on moderate ice.
    * Piolet ancre: Pick in ice, spike down parallel to surface. One hand across head, one on spike. You can walk your hands up the axe as you climb. Used on steep ice.
    * Piolet poignard: hold hand across head, stab pick into soft ice or hard snow. Used on steep soft ice or steep hard snow.
    * Piolet traction: Hold axe by shaft next to spike, place pick in ice with a hammer-like swing. Axe is above your head and you may hang from it. Used on steep ice. Usually done with two tools.

    ** For descending **
    * Piolet appui: Place hand on middle of shaft, place spike (pointed down) against the ice and pick in the ice. A balance hold used when descending steep ice or snow. A bit like a portable railing...
    * Piolet rampe: Hold axe like a hammer and swing into the ice below you. Lean out on shaft and walk your feet (and hand) down. Used for descending steep ice or snow.

    Some of the above axe positions are hard to understand from a verbal description and they are used in conjunction with certain crampon techniques. The pics in the book are much better. Even if you do not understand my descriptions, it should be obvious that the axe can be used in a wide variety of ways.

    Other uses of the axe:
    * Step cutting (adz, pick)
    * Self arrest (pick)
    * Glissade control (spike)
    * Digging snow caves (if you don't have a shovel) (adz)
    * Digging platforms in ice (adz and pick)
    * Anchoring tents (spike)
    * Probing for crevasses on glaciers. (spike)
    * Boot-axe and hip-axe belays (whole axe, but primarily spike and shaft)
    * hooking trees (pick)
    * clearing ice from the mouth of a water bottle (pick)
    * prodding slow partners (spike or flat of head, depending...)

    p.s. I'm not interested enough to go read an entire book on the technique just yet, but if there is some disagreement over style and usefulness "in front of the children" then the children would like an explanation
    Freedom of the Hills has a short section on the topic, but Chouinard is much better. Many will find the book to be an interesting read, even if they never go ice climbing. And even when hiking, an occasional technical move can be very useful.

    Doug
    Last edited by DougPaul; 12-13-2006 at 04:00 PM.

  7. #22
    Moderator bikehikeskifish's Avatar
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    From this: http://www.hightrek.co.uk/climbing/how2/axe1.htm

    I read this:

    2. Self Arrest Position: Bring the hand holding the axe up toward the shoulder, letting the head of the axe swivel in your closed fist. The adze should stick into the fleshy part of the shoulder below the collar bone. (snip)
    Which is where I saw the part about the adze in contact with the upper chest (it didn't seem too intuitive to me that you would put the adze against flesh, but perhaps weighed against the alternative of free-sliding, and given layers of clothes likely to warrant the axe in the first place...)

    I've also read that an axe is not really required in the Whites except for a few routes... Whites are in the northeast, but they are not the entire northeast... It seems like taking one along without real experience could easily become a liability...?

    Tim

    p.s. Some day I would like to learn to do all of this and give it a try. Some day won't be this winter, however... but all of this stuff is fascinating to me anyway.
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  8. #23
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikehikeskifish
    From this: http://www.hightrek.co.uk/climbing/how2/axe1.htm

    I read this:
    2. Self Arrest Position: Bring the hand holding the axe up toward the shoulder, letting the head of the axe swivel in your closed fist. The adze should stick into the fleshy part of the shoulder below the collar bone. (snip)
    Sounds to me like a good way to end up in the hospital.

    You want to be able to focus as much weight as possible onto the pick to force it into the snow. This would likely result in shoulder injury if you are pressing on the sharp edge of the adz. (Remember you may also be sliding over bumps and rocks...) Keep the adz above your shoulder and press on the shaft. (You will probably find if you simply hold an axe in self-arrest position, the adz natrually fits in right above your shoulder.) Your clothing, you, and your doctor will be much happier...

    BTW, you may also have to worry about the spike. If you are using a short axe it will be right alongside your gut. With a typical mountaineering-length axe (~70cm), the spike is more likely to be alongside your hip--a much safer position.

    All of the points of your axe should be sharp. It makes them more dangerous, but also more useful when you need them.

    I've also read that an axe is not really required in the Whites except for a few routes... Whites are in the northeast, but they are not the entire northeast... It seems like taking one along without real experience could easily become a liability...?
    On most hikes ski poles are more useful. But anywhere that you can slide any distance is a place where an axe can save your life and/or limb. Also the steeper the terrain, the more useful the axe becomes relative to ski poles. Besides, ever try hooking a tree with a ski pole?

    Yes axes have sharp points and can cause injury. They are a tool with risks and benefits. You have to learn how to use them and how to use them safely. Just like a knife or a saw.

    Doug
    Last edited by DougPaul; 12-13-2006 at 04:04 PM.

  9. #24
    Senior Member TCD's Avatar
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    DougPaul,

    Thanks for posting the comprehensive summary of the tetchniques from "Climbing Ice." It should be helpful to any here who have not read or trained no that material.


    Bikehikeskifish,

    Great questions. Again, I recommend reading Chouinard's book. I also highly recommend taking a good course frmo a qualified school. I had already been leading vertical ice for several years when I finally read "Climbing Ice" and learned about all the marvelous uses of the mountaineering axe. After that, in 1990, I went to the Cascades and took AAI's Advanced Ice Climbing course (6 day course), where I really learned how to use all those many techniques. There is no substitute for "on snow and ice" training from experts. It would be a real mistake to read a book and then think you are ready to self arrest in an emergency situation. You need to learn how, and then practice to stay fresh.

    TCD

  10. #25
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TCD
    There is no substitute for "on snow and ice" training from experts. It would be a real mistake to read a book and then think you are ready to self arrest in an emergency situation. You need to learn how, and then practice to stay fresh.
    100% agreed. You need to learn how to do these techniques properly and then, particularly for self-arrest, practice to build the reflexes to do them quickly and properly when the need arises.

    The descriptions in my previous post are inadequate in themselves--the techniques will be much clearer from reading Chouinard or a book of similar caliber, and even clearer from a live knowledgeable instructor who can demonstrate techniques and correct errors.

    Doug
    Last edited by DougPaul; 12-13-2006 at 04:39 PM.

  11. #26
    Moderator bikehikeskifish's Avatar
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    I have no intention of going out on what I have read alone. Some topics interest me more then others, and I ask lots of questions about them I'm sure I am not the only one who has those questions. I have planted the bug in Mrs. Santa's ear about mountaineering school... except she won't want me away from the house doing dangerous things (any more so then I currently do ) so I'm not likely to receive any such gift this year or next. She keeps telling me (referencing Everest: Beyond the Limits) that "You're NOT going to Everest" (which of course I couldn't conceive of even in my wildest dreams.)

    I AM HAPPY that we've cleared up what might be considered dangerous advice (on self arresting) found elsewhere...

    Thanks again, Doug!

    Tim

    p.s. Sorry Paradox -- your thread has been hijacked We now return you to your regularly scheduled discussion on axe grippage.
    p.p.s. Feel free to send any cycling equipment, technique, maintenance, etc., questions my way so I can answer more questions then I ask
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  12. #27
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikehikeskifish
    I have planted the bug in Mrs. Santa's ear about mountaineering school... except she won't want me away from the house doing dangerous things (any more so then I currently do ) so I'm not likely to receive any such gift this year or next.
    I dunno... biking seems dangerous to me with all those cars careening around wildly without regard to any nearby bikers. I wear a bright yellow jersey, use very bright lights at night, and still have to dodge them every now and then...

    Doug

  13. #28
    Senior Member AOC-1's Avatar
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    Yvon Chouinard's Climbing Ice

    Unfortunately, Chouinard's classic, Climbing Ice, was published 30 years ago and is out-of-print. You might get lucky and find it in an old bookstore, and there are used copies on Amazon. But I guess it is considered a collector's item because the cheapest listing is $50. It's a terrific book, with lively writing and great photos. It is the definitive text on French ice climbing technique. But it is out-of-date in its discussion of steep ice equipment and techniques.

  14. #29
    Senior Member Paradox's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikehikeskifish
    p.s. Sorry Paradox -- your thread has been hijacked We now return you to your regularly scheduled discussion on axe grippage.
    No apology needed. I'm a happy hiker following this thread, collecting references, and considering things to practice. I am considering which shoulder I should eviscerate first: right? .... left?? .... hmmmm.
    Last edited by Paradox; 12-13-2006 at 08:51 PM.
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  15. #30
    Senior Member kmorgan's Avatar
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    Talking

    Quote Originally Posted by AOC-1
    Unfortunately, Chouinard's classic, Climbing Ice, was published 30 years ago and is out-of-print. You might get lucky and find it in an old bookstore, and there are used copies on Amazon. But I guess it is considered a collector's item because the cheapest listing is $50. It's a terrific book, with lively writing and great photos. It is the definitive text on French ice climbing technique. But it is out-of-date in its discussion of steep ice equipment and techniques.
    I lucked out, myself. I've been looking for this book for about a year and it came up 2 weeks ago like new for $19.99. Great condition. Can't wait to start reading it....
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