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[pct-l] What to look for in an ice axe

There are three things to look for in an ice axe: the pick, the adze, and
the spike. OK, just kidding. Preferably, look for the correct length and a
UIAA approval.

Length: for me, with the spike touching the ground I can just about hold
the axe without stooping. When I grasp it, it's an inch or two off the
ground (5'7", 70cm axe).

Weight is a big consideration for hiking. You'll use the axe for
occasional use only, not for major climbs. So go for the light weight. It
should be plenty strong for hiking use. In fact, I hike with the non-UIAA
approved "Camp" aluminum axe (www.mec.ca has 'em for ~$45 US). It's about
a pound. There are lighter axes that have a one-piece head and are
approved but about 2 to 3 times the price. The Camp has aluminum spike
which is not terribly sharp. But if you are crossing glacial ice in
sneakers on your PCT trip, you are already in big trouble. This particular
axe has a shorter pick than my steel all-purpose climbing axe. Perhaps
this is a compromise for arresting. But I've arrested successfully with
the shorter pick.

The most important thing is to get competent training in using the axe.
Find someone who has taken a climbing course to help you, or take a class.
The axe can be dangerous in the wrong hands, or ineffective. Last year I
was involved in a rescue of a boy who was unsuccessful at self-arrest. He
slid down a semi-steep slope, then down a rocky waterfall, and ended up
under the snow, in the creek, unconcious. We arrived on the scene a half
hour later... 9 hours after that he was finally airlifted to the trauma
center... a week after that he regained conciousness. But enough scare

Some hikers use a shorter shaft to save weight but it's negligible. Get an
axe the correct length. And make sure you have a good place to put it on
your pack. I carried mine for a couple hundred miles and it gets old after
a while (pack was ok, but had a sore back and it seemed to help).

Axes are also good for other uses. (Every piece of equipment on a thruhike
should have multiple use!!) You can dig a cathole when nature calls. You
can lean on it crossing streams. You can play air guitar on it during a
boring section of the trail. You can conduct your fellow thruhikers in a
rousing rendition of the PCT hike song. You can push away wet brush to
help keep your legs drier. You can use it as a pointer when there is a
good view (my most common use of the axe). Anyone else have good uses for
an ice axe? Oh, BTW when glissading it's ok to drag your axe... heh heh...
well you had to axe.

* From the PCT-L |  Need help? http://www.backcountry.net/faq.html  *