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[pct-l] Length of Ice ax

The length of ice ax is a highly individual thing.  I am a 5' 3" person and
use a much longer ice ax than most taller people, unless I am going to be
on steep ice and/or continuously steep snow.  I also have always used my ax
for balance and for "trekking".  I got into this habit when everything that
I did was cross country in very steep rugged terrain of the North Cascades.

It has become fashionable to have a short ice ax and carry it on your pack.
 It saves a small amount of weight to have a shorter ax if you are going to
carry it. It also is more convenient to have a shorter ax on your
pack(doesn't get tangled in brush, etc.). Consequently, if you use a "long"
ax , it may automatically put you into the geeck or geeser category
depending on you age. 

The length of the ax should depends on where and how you are going to use
it and less on how much it weights on your pack.  My ice ax is pushing on
my palm with my arm straight when it is vertical from a flat floor. This
offers me support on flat but unstable terrain, and also on a downhill.  In
soft snow the ice ax will be quite a ways in the snow and I can use it both
above and BELOW my body.  I also enmploy the highly useful, but not out of
fashion, cross body technique and do not change my ice ax from hand to
hand.(The cross body position is just holding the ax is what is basically
the self arrest position.  I use this when the high end of the slope is on
my left side, the ax is across my body and the spike of the ax is stuck
into the snow on the left for balance.).  I am capable of arresting with
the ax on either side. In steep snow I use both hands on the ax and the ax
plunged into the snow as far as it will go; I modify this position when the
snow is harder: one hand is on the top of the ax, the other is on the shaft
at the juncture of the snow. However you hold the ax, there must be one
hand at the top of the ax in what will be an arrest position at all times
(pick forward, hand at the juncture of the handle and the pick-adxe axis,
thumb wrapped around the base of the adze)

Much of what I do is class 3 climbing (unroped), and some glacier travel.  
I have used a 80 cm. ax for all my class 3 and 4 climbing(roped climbing),
and a few pitches of ice climbing.  I do not set out to do ice climbing for
the most part, so I do not need a short ax.

It is very difficult(read impossible) to cut footsteps in steep hard snow
going downhill with a short ice ax.  If you are on the PCT going North, it
is the downhill, north faces of passes that will be the steepest and
hardest and which will get the sun the latest.  In my quest for 57 summits
this year I also noticed that people with short ice axes could not do
standing glissades (one exception), were more fearful and insecure on
descending steep slopes and in plunge stepping, and had a much harder time
in sun cups (You can use a longer ax for balance in these situations, a
short ax is minimally useful).

Most people that carry short axes have never been on a 45 degree snow
slope. Most people do not understand why they have choosen a particular
length of ax; they have not really stopped to consider what they will use
it for, and were told my some one else what length would be appropriate for

It is highly likely that until you use an ice ax, and until you have been
climbing for a while, you will not know what kind of ax you will want in
the end; what kind of terrain and activities you will stick with.  I would
suggest that you rent two axes, one long and one short, and go do some ice
ax arrest practice and also walk around on slopes of various steepness (
you must choose an area where if you fall you will not hit anything and
will just tobagan down the slope until it flattens and you stop - no rocks,
no trees, no steeper slopes below, no rivers or lakes, no cracks or
crevasses, etc.)

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