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Thread: Ice Axe Length

  1. #1
    Senior Member marty's Avatar
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    Ice Axe Length

    Hi all -

    My recent internet research has unveiled some debate between longer and shorter lengths for ice axes. Am wondering what length ice axe you would recommend for non-technical (at least hopefully) winter trail hiking. I am 6'1''.

    Thanks,
    marty
    So when you reach the bottom line
    The only thing to do is climb
    Pick yourself up off the floor
    Anything ya want is yours


    Song: Bottom Line
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    Album: This is Big Audio Dynamite
    Year: 1985

  2. #2
    Banned Kevin Rooney's Avatar
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    It all depends upon the length of your arm and the distance to the ground.

    Hold the head of the axe loosely in your hand, and let it dangle. The tip should be an 1" or two above the ground.

    Like anything, the length is a compromise. When slabbing along a steep slope and using it for a probe, you'll wish for a shorter one. When using it as a walking stick, you'll wish for a longer one ...

  3. #3
    Senior Member ColdRiverRun's Avatar
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    Well Marty, ya gotta keep in mind some men are longer than others.
    Cory D
    “I don’t know if momma was right or if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny… or if we're all floating around accidental like.. on a breeze. But, I think… maybe it’s both… maybe both are happening at the same time.” –Forrest Gump.

  4. #4
    Senior Member sapblatt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marty
    Hi all -

    My recent internet research has unveiled some debate between longer and shorter lengths for ice axes. Am wondering what length ice axe you would recommend for non-technical (at least hopefully) winter trail hiking. I am 6'1''.

    Thanks,
    marty
    Marty -
    I think there is a correlation between Stabilicer/snowshoe size and ice axe length!
    - Mike

    How bad can it be?
    Bobby

  5. #5
    Senior Member sierra's Avatar
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    you should use at least a 70cm, 75cm would be better. Many people make the mistake of using a too short axe for general mountaineering.Most stores seem to stock alot of 60cm axes for general use, I promise you for your hieght that will be useless on anything but steep terrain.

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    Even Longer?

    For the Whites and most of the Cascades, I like an even longer axe: 80 cm for a guy that is 6'-0". I have been told that it is too long but it works well for me. 90% of the time, it is mainly used as a walking stick.
    'Whatever wisdom I would find, I know, grows out of the land. I trust that, and that it would reveal itself in the presence of well-chosen companions.'
    B. Lopez

  7. #7
    Senior Member sardog1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jasper
    For the Whites and most of the Cascades, I like an even longer axe: 80 cm for a guy that is 6'-0". I have been told that it is too long but it works well for me. 90% of the time, it is mainly used as a walking stick.
    Yup, what he said (right down to the particular numbers in this instance.)

    YMMV, but I bet you'll regret carrying a shorter axe in relation to your height -- every time you wonder why you're carrying it and not using it.
    sardog1

    "Å! kjære Bymann gakk ei stjur og stiv,
    men kom her up og kjenn eit annat Liv!
    kom hit, kom hit, og ver ei daud og lat!
    kom kjenn, hot d'er, som heiter Svevn og Mat,
    og Drykk og Tørste og det heile, som
    er Liv og Helse i ein Hovedsum."

    -- Aasmund O. Vinje, "Til Fjells!"

  8. #8
    Senior Member nartreb's Avatar
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    It depends where and how you use it. I bought an axe that's a little short for my height in an effort to shave ounces, and in New England it just wasn't useful - too short to use as a walking stick, not really designed for vertical ice. But I recently walked up Baldy Bowl with it and it was perfect for 45-degree snow. With that kind of slope, any longer would have been too long.

    You also don't want an axe that's so long or so short that you can't easily do a proper self-arrest (using both hands), but people of most heights can manage with most axe lengths. I self-arrested the other day with an ice tool, which is even shorter than my regular axe (I didn't feel like carrying both).

    Edited to emphasize: an axe of any length is useless without proper self-arrest technique. It takes practice!

    Re-edit with proper reference to the original question:
    what length ice axe you would recommend for non-technical ... winter trail hiking.
    If by "non-technical" you mean "not subjecting you to significant exposure", my answer is:
    None. Poles are lighter.
    Last edited by nartreb; 03-13-2008 at 08:57 PM.

  9. #9
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Depends on what you want to use the axe for.
    * Old style step cutting (circa 1800s): up to 2 meters
    * Walking axe: cane length--should reach the ground plus an inch or two.
    * General mountaineering axe--should reach the ground minus an inch or two. (Typically ~70 cm for average height climbers.)
    * high angle ice climbing axe: ~50 cm.

    The theory behind the general mountaineering axe is that an axe that will reach the ground is too long to use effectively on steep ground and you shouldn't need an axe on the level. A 70 cm axe also balances well for snow and ice climbing up to ~70 degrees.

    Ski/trekking poles are often a better choice for easy ground. Sometimes I carry both adjustable poles (which can be stowed on my pack) and a general mountaineering axe.

    Doug

  10. #10
    Senior Member cbcbd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DougPaul
    Ski/trekking poles are often a better choice for easy ground. Sometimes I carry both adjustable poles (which can be stowed on my pack) and a general mountaineering axe.
    This is also what I do and agree. Trekking poles work better for balance on lower angle.
    If you're walking on glaciers a lot then I could see having a walking axe length.
    At 6'1" I'd say go with a 70cm and no longer than a 75cm.

    edit:
    Quote Originally Posted by nartreb
    If by "non-technical" you mean "not subjecting you to significant exposure", my answer is:
    None. Poles are lighter.
    Also agree
    Last edited by cbcbd; 03-14-2008 at 09:32 AM.
    Doug

  11. #11
    Senior Member JoeCedar's Avatar
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    Shorter is better

    I bought a short axe, 53 cm I think, because it spends 99.99% of its lifetime on my pack. I hiked behind a short guy who had a long axe and observed how it was endlessly catching on tree branches (certain snow bombs for both of us) and low hanging limbs. He needed a chiropractor to recover from the whiplash . He was frequently having to crawl under blowdowns because it would snag because it was higher than his head.

    Obviously it was not good for walking, but as Doug suggests, just use poles. It does serve well, however, on steep slopes or for having a secure anchor for pulling myself up or stepping down steep icy spots.

    Be

  12. #12
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    I should also add that ~70cm is a good length for self arrest. When the axe is held in self-arrest position, it is best if the spike is just past the hip. Much shorter and you have to be careful that you don't stab yourself in the gut with the spike. Much longer and the spike is likely to catch in the snow and rip the axe out of your hands.

    ~70 cm is also a reasonable length of step cutting.

    Doug
    Last edited by DougPaul; 03-13-2008 at 10:20 PM.

  13. #13
    Senior Member marty's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the advice (and a couple of laughs)

    Regards,
    Marty
    So when you reach the bottom line
    The only thing to do is climb
    Pick yourself up off the floor
    Anything ya want is yours


    Song: Bottom Line
    Artist: Big Audio Dynamite
    Album: This is Big Audio Dynamite
    Year: 1985

  14. #14
    Banned Kevin Rooney's Avatar
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    I'll add one more point.

    On a truly long glissade, like those of a mile or more which are common in the west but rare in the east, an ice axe is used as a brake. It's very important to hold the top of the axe firmly, or else you're likely to whack your face/head with it (been there, done that). If the axe is too long, your arm will be rather high and will tire more quickly, which can lead to loss of control.

  15. #15
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Yet another thought--probing glaciers for crevasses is a little easier on one's back if one's axe is a little on the long side. I've read suggestions that a ski pole (with the basket removed) or a probe pole make good alternatives.

    Not really much of an issue here in the NE...

    Doug

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