This past winter, many of my trip reports featured an ace axe. The one you’ve seen me carry is the Black Diamond Raven Pro. It is a regular mountaineering axe (to be distinguished from dedicated ice tools).
Such an ice axe is typically used in several ways. The main way is what you see in the picture above, which is the hold it by the head and plunge the shaft into the snow. This gives you stability as well as an anchoring point in case of a fall. The ice axe can also be used to cut steps into ice, and to self arrest by sticking the pick into the snow and leaning on the shaft if you are sliding down a mountain…all things beyond the scope of this post.
Another way you can use the axe, and for which the modification I am about to discuss applies, is to use it for climbing steep terrain by swinging the axe to stick the pick into the ace, and then pulling yourself up by holding the shaft.
Well, I had some issues with this technique, which admittedly is not the ideal use of such an ice axe. The problem is that when you are holding the shaft, and trying to pull yourself up, your hand slides down and loses grip very easily. I found it practically impossible to pull myself up a slope using that technique. I just couldn’t get a good enough grip.
So, last year I spent some time talking to some of the teachers at my local EMS climbing school, and several option emerged. The first, is the traditional way, which is the use a leash. A leach is attached to the head, and around your wrist. If it is short enough (no longer that the shaft), then when pulling down the leash will keep your hand from sliding off. I am not a fan of leashes because I like to change the hand in which I hold the axe often, so that solution was out for me.
Another approach was to use grip tape, which one of the instructor uses. He insists that it works well for him, but I found that when plunging the shaft into the snow, the tape loosens.
The final solution was to attach some form of a finger rest onto the shaft of the ace axe. It is a feature you see on virtually all ice climbing tools, allowing you to hang from the shaft without your hand sliding down. The problem was that Black Diamond does not make any type of finger rest for this type of axe. The solution was to take and modify a Petzl Nomic ice tool finger rest (Trigrest).
Once attached, the finger rest can be set in place by pulling down the lever in the front. Then, when not in use, you can release it by pulling the lever back up, and reset it further up the shaft so that it is out of the way when plunging the shaft into snow.
The Petzl Trigrest went on quite easily. It was the perfect dimensions from side to side. The only problem was that it was a bit too long from front to back. The gap created was large enough to prevent the finger rest from locking down securely. It’s an easily solvable problem. I simply put a bit of grip tape on the inside back portion, and wrapped it in wire so it stays in place securely. Any other type of filler material will work.
This simple modification, in turn allows the modification for the axe, when then allows for it to be used as a climbing aid by offering a secure hold when trying to pull yourself up.
I’ve been very happy with the result, and have been waiting since last winter to share it with you. Now that the snow is back, I figured it would be a good time. If you have been dealing with the same issue, there is an alternate solution, and that is to get an ice axe like the Petzl Sum’Tec, which incorporates some features from ice climbing tools such as the finger rest, and an angled shaft. The reason why I decided not to go that route is because of the added weight of those axes. They are however a good alternative.