How to size an ice ax?

4:24 p.m. on August 15, 2002 (EDT)
(Guest)

This would be for general mountaineering so a standard ice ax (not an ice tool) is what I'm looking to get. I'm 6'2" tall. I understand the rule of thumb for the bottom to be at ankle level but do people prefer a longer or shorter ax?

Thanks for the advice?

5:59 p.m. on August 15, 2002 (EDT)
0 reviewer rep
408 forum posts

Quote:

This would be for general mountaineering so a standard ice ax (not an ice tool) is what I'm looking to get. I'm 6'2" tall. I understand the rule of thumb for the bottom to be at ankle level but do people prefer a longer or shorter ax?

I think the rule of thumb is to set the spike on the floor and with your arm extended fully at your side, the top side of the axe should hit you in your palm (as if you're mantelling of the head of the ice axe).

I find this length too long for me personally. The longest axe that I'd use is 60cm, but, mostly 53cm or 50cm. Otherwise, I use a whippet ski pole. But, I prefer to use the axe on steeper ground and find a longer length just gets in my way. YMMV!

Brian in SLC

1:35 p.m. on August 16, 2002 (EDT)
(Guest)

It is all a matter of preference, and you may not find out what yours is until youve tried a couple of different sizes.
I have seen guys with two 55cm tools, hunched over swinging axes on a 35 degree slope. Ive also seen guys climbing 75 degree ice with one 75cm tool. I am 6'3" and for general mountaineering I use a 70cm axe. If I am climbing ice greater than 40 degrees Ill bring an ice tool as well, and when it gets real steep I ditch the axe and bring two ice tools. But I find a longer axe helps out in a lot of situations (T-slots, boot axe belays, plunging nice and deep for self belay in deep snow conditions).

Quote:

This would be for general mountaineering so a standard ice ax (not an ice tool) is what I'm looking to get. I'm 6'2" tall. I understand the rule of thumb for the bottom to be at ankle level but do people prefer a longer or shorter ax?

Thanks for the advice?

4:17 p.m. on August 16, 2002 (EDT)
(Guest)

efficiency

I like to recomend an axe that saves energy.

The nice light axes with steel heads are good. Very heavy ones waste energy (of course). But while the aluminum headed ultra light ones may save energy when you don't need them, but must be to be over agressive to get them to work when you need them on anything but gentle conditions, which wastes energy and creates stress.

The at or just a little above ankle while dangleing the axed by your side method of sizing, works for me. And I think is a good length for most slopes encountered in general glacier travel. A low center of gravity is good for keeping balance. If you are lifting your hand much above your waist while moving your axe uphill, you are both wasteing energy by pulling your arm up, and throwing yourself off balance by moving your center of gravity high, makeing you work harder to maintain balance. So don't get an axe too long. An axe that is too short will force you to stoop too much to plant on lower angle and while probing for crevassas.

While decending steeper snow it is a good idea to crouch forward a little and keep you knees bent. A short axe would force you to use cross body position or plant up hill which could leave you leaning up hill enough to slip (a too long axe may encourage you to lean to far up hill on descent as well). If you slip, and need to self arrest, a short axe is too hard to get control of, a long axe can get in the way.

The right length is the one that is the most comfortable and practical at the same time.
Try this:
Stairs are usually about the angle of your average starting to get a little steep 30 to 40 degrees snowfield. Practice walking up and down stairs with various lenggth axes. If you are planting the axe on the stair above with your hand about waist high - that is about right. If the axe is too long you have to lift it above your waist; this wastes tons of energy, and puts you off balance. If
your axe is to short it will be worse for going down hill. Slightly stooped and knees a little bent should be a comfortable postion to reach the step below the one you are standing on.

Brian mentioned useing a ski pole with a whippet (ice axe pick attached). I don't have one of those, but quite often I like to travel with a ski pole in one hand and an ice axe in the other. With this method you can get by with a shorter axe (which is better if you plan on a steep route). I think it's easy enough to drop the pole if you need to self arrest.


Off topic:

I thought I'd add my opinion about how to carry your axe, hand on adze, or self arrest position (thumb under adze).

Many people use one or the other with out much thought.

I think a good rule is to travel with the pick pointing toward the slope all the time. This translates basically to hand on the adze (poilet canne) for going up hill, and self arrest for downhill. You can almost always self belay, or stop a slip by merely leaning the pick into the snow. I think the self arrest position works best for traversing as well.

The self arrrest position should be used 100% of the time while traveling on a rope team because someone else could fall at any time.

Hope you find a great axe that you like!
-Steve

 

Quote:

This would be for general mountaineering so a standard ice ax (not an ice tool) is what I'm looking to get. I'm 6'2" tall. I understand the rule of thumb for the bottom to be at ankle level but do people prefer a longer or shorter ax?

Thanks for the advice?

10:42 p.m. on November 19, 2002 (EST)
42 reviewer rep
10 forum posts

Matt-
Following is an piece I wrote for www.TraditionalMountaineering.org

What is the correct length of the traditional mountaineering ice axe?

The length of the traditional mountaineering ice axe is about the number of centimeters from the climbers fingertips to the floor when he or she is standing on a level surface. I am 6'2' tall with long legs and my axe is 80cm.

Some one will advise, "You should have a modern shorter axe!"

Here is what Lene Gammelgaard said on page 171 of her 1999 book "Climbing High". about her Into Thin Air - Everest experience: "Lousy axe for climbing. What was Scott thinking of when he recommended it - has he forgotten what it's like up here? I would have felt much better with a long handled classical axe. Well next time I have to trust my own experience more."

Often, the advisor is picturing a very steep snow or ice wall for sport climbing when showing a short handled tool. Some self appointed advisors have never had Self Belay or Self Arrest training on the steep snow slopes. On steep water ice, technical ice climbers opt for two technical short expensive hand tools. These technical tools are nearly useless for mountaineering functions like balanced walking, probing, belaying, or self-arresting.

Snow travel, steep snow climbing and glacier travel all require use of the long traditional mountaineering ice axe as a point of connection to the snow.

Walking on easy snow, the axe is used in the cane position in the up hill hand, using the belay grip, palm over the adze, pick forward. Modern ice axes are usually stamped from steel and have sharp edges that can bruise hands and fingers even through thick gloves. The palm of the hand on the adze enables the climber to push the axe more easily into the snow. However, in order to arrest with the axe (its secondary safety function) the grip must be changed to the arrest hand position. This requires time and two hands to accomplish.

When the going gets more dicey in the perception of the individual climber, the axe is normally changed to the arrest grip, with the thumb under the adze and the palm over the center point of the axe head. A perceptive leader will note when this change-over occurs among his team members.

The first imperative is Don

September 16, 2014
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