How to Use an Ice Axe

As a new mountain climber looking at prospective climbs you will no doubt want to learn everything you need to use climbing equipment, such as the ice axe. This tool will possibly the most important of the various types of equipment you will buy and use in your climbing. If you are planning your first climb and are looking for information about ice axes and how to use them, consider the information below.

Step 1 – Getting Information about Ice Axe Types

In learning to use an ice axe you'll need to know which axe you'll be using, since each type of axe will be used for different applications, conditions and terrains. If you are a novice, you will most likely find good information about the various ice axes by talking with experienced climbers, by searching the Internet, or by visiting a sporting goods store that sells climbing equipment.

Step 2 - Planning Your Climb

As you plan your climb you should plan to take several types of ice aces with you on your actual climb, depending on the terrain you'll be climbing. To avoid serious accidents it is imperative that you know the terrain you plan to climb. Never begin a climb until you know something about the conditions you'll be facing and about the type of axes, pins, and ropes you'll need.

Step 3 - Using T-Rated Axes

On a vertical face of ice where you need to hang momentarily and will need your axe to hold your weight, use a stronger, T-rated axe  and drive its sharp end into the ice or into cracks in the face of the cliff. If you need something to hang from, locate a solid crack in the rock of the cliff, then drive your axe point into this crack, rather than using an ice surface to support your weight. Use the curved end of the T-rated axe to stop yourself from sliding down a slope. As you begin sliding, stop the slide by driving the tip of your T-rated axe into the ice, compacted snow, or a crack in a cliff that is within your reach.

Step 4 - Using an Axe Leash

Before beginning your climb be sure all axes you take with you onto the mountain have a leash attached to their handles. In attaching the leash to the axe, make a loop on the free end of the axe leash, big enough to slip over your gloved hand, but small enough that it is less likely to slip off your wrist. Make your leash about 14 inches to 16 inches in length, including the loop that fits over your wrist.

Step 5 - Using Your Axe Handle

The axe handle can also be a useful tool if you choose the right type of handle. In terrain where you will depend upon stability, install your axe head on a longer handle. Or, buy the axe that has a handle at least 3 feet long. Then, as you make your way along a snowy or icy horizontal surface, use your axe with the long handle as a walking stick to help you maintain your balance.