5 Ice Axe Safety Tips to Consider 5 Ice Axe Safety Tips to Consider

There are many different types and styles of ice axe. A professional mountaineering store can outfit for the specific circumstances of a climb or hike that meets your needs. Here are five general safety tips to consider when purchasing or using an ice axe.

1. Carrying

Always carry an ice axe carefully, making observation of the points in relation to yourself and partners.  Place the axe through the ice axe loop in a pack, making sure the pick points toward the center of pack. Swivel the shaft vertically towards the top of the pack and secure with a strap through the daisy chain.  Be aware, the adze and pointed ends are sharp and should only barely clear the climbers body.

2. Head, Spike, Adze

The head, spike, and adze portions of the ice axe should have rubber covers to protect you from the sharp and dangerous edges when the axe is not in use. Be sure to orient your hands when holding the axe in either the self arrest grasp or self belay grasp. Self arrest grasp means the axe will be ready to use instantly and should only be used in perilous conditions. The hold puts more pressure from the narrow top edge onto the palm, becoming painful over time and minimizing the effectiveness of planting. The self belay grasp requires learning to shift the axe into self arrest position when needed, but can be held for significantly longer.

3. Self Arrested Roll

One of the major jobs of an ice axe is stopping a person from falling or sliding down a slope, called self arresting. When performing a self arrest it is critical that the climber is not impaled with the ice axe or have the axe wrenched from their hands. Self arrest is one of the most important techniques to practice prior to climbing. Most importantly, if the head of the axe is on the right, roll to the right. Likewise, if the head of the axe is on the left, roll to the left. To roll the other way puts the climber in mortal danger or can jam the spike into the snow before the pick, causing the axe to be wrenched from the climber's hands.

4. Don't Cut the Rope

While top roping during a vertical ascent, make certain the top rope is not clipped or cut by careless swings of the axe. If the rope is damaged, the safety of the rope is impaired, causing the climber mortal danger. The same is true if glacier walking and the ice axe is being used as a walking stick or self arrest. By stabbing the rope it becomes structurally weakened, causing safety to be a direct concern.

5. Durability vs. Weight

Ice axes are certified by the UIAA and/or the CE, though some ultra weight models do not meet the requirements for certification. Depending on the terrain a balance needs to be struck between how durable the axe needs to be and how much it weighs. Consider the estimated amount of use, need for self arrest versus use as a walking stick, and glassading when considering the ratings of an axe.

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