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Ice Tool and Ice Axe

An ice tool evolved from the ice axe, however it is more specialized for use in ice climbing. It is sometimes referred to as a technical axe to distinguish it from a mountaineering ice axe. For ice climbing,  The climber ascends an ice fall wearing crampons attached to ice climbing boots, with two ice tools, one in each hand. The ice climber keeps his weight balanced over the point where the crampons touch the ice. Each tool is then positioned, one over the other as he ascends the ice. The ice tool penetrates the ice and provides a grip for balance.The weight of an ice tool is important. The heavier tool will penetrate ice an packed snow easier. However, heavier is not necessarily better. The weight of an ice tool must be balanced by the ability of the climber to carry and swing it for hours at a time. Large climbers may choose a larger heavier tool, while a smaller climber may pick an ice tool that is somewhat smaller.

Ice Axe compared to an Ice Tool

An ice axe is used during alpine and mountaineering, or while traveling across ice, glacier or snowfields. An ice axe is often referred to as a mountaineering axe to separate and distinguish it from an ice tool. An ice axe is used to assist with the assent, to grab rock edges, cracks, and ledges. It is an invaluable device for stopping a slide or fall.

Ice Tool Size and Shape

The different types of ice climbing require a different tool design. For waterfall ice climbing the most popular length is 50 centimeters. Larger climbers may be able to use a slightly larger ice tool, around 55 centimeters. Smaller climbers may use a 45 centimeter tool. Waterfall and mixed ice climbing tool should have a modular design. The modular design allows you to change the pick, hammer, and adzes when they wear out. Some tools give you the option to use either a hammer or adze attachment. For alpine climbing, the tool has a straight shaft with a leash attached to the head. The purpose of a straight shaft is to allow the tool to be pounded down into snow as a secondary anchor. Never use an ice tool as the only anchor source.

Sections of an Ice Tool

  • Pick. The pick section of the ice tool is usually flat and bent slightly in a downward direction and has serrated teeth on the bottom edge.
  • Adze. The adze is for chopping steps in hard snow and ice. It is flat and wide in shape. An adze can be a separate tool, but for ice climbing it is usually the other end of the pick. It is useful to plant deep into snow for grip, where if the pick side were used it would slice too deep or not provide the same traction.
  • Grip. The grip of an ice tool may have texture and have a molded shape. Most shafts are made of  metal, therefore the grip also provides some insulation against the shaft.
  • Shaft. The shaft of an ice tool varies depending on the use or type of climbing. Straight shafts are for alpine climbing since they are also used as temporary anchors. Bent shafts make the tool easier to swing and hold. Bent shafts work well on steep technical ice. The bent handle is more comfortable but some ice climbers may find the shape more difficult for dry tooling.
  • Spike. The spike is on the handle end of the ice tool. The purpose of the spike is to give the climber a tool used for stability. To use the spike the climber grips the head of the too, and extends to shaft out to some ice formation. The spike on the handle end of the shaft contacts the ice surface and sticks. In some situations it can be very helpful for stability. Be cautious of the spike, it can cut or shred flesh and clothing in a fall.
  • Leash. The leash locks onto your wrist so the ice tool cannot fall. It should be made of strong material. It is helpful to have an adjustable leash to accommodate varying glove sizes, and be long enough that you can grip the head of the axe in order to use the spike.
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