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All You Need to Know About an Ice Axe

Geethanjali Jujjavarapu

Last updated: 04-06-2023

If you are familiar with mountaineering lingo or have been on an expedition yourself, you would have heard of the ice axe. It is a common and essential mountaineering tool with a long handle and a metal head, often used by a climber to fix into snow or ice. In this article, we delve deeper into the parts of this tool, its uses and also provide a few tips on maintenance, which will prove to be useful for those of you who are unfamiliar with the tool or in case you are just curious about ice axes! 


Technical vs. Basic Ice Axe

Ice Axes come with two different ratings, B (Basic) and T (Technical). Basic ice axes are designed for use in snow conditions for support and self-arrest. They are adequate for general mountaineering with moderate snow conditions. Technical ice axes are stronger and allow hard usage on rock and ice. These are also used for belays.


All You Need to Know About an Ice Axe

All You Need to Know About an Ice Axe


Parts of an Ice Axe


All You Need to Know About an Ice Axe


The following are the basic components of an ice axe:

Head: This is the top part of an ice axe and consists of the pick and adze. It is made from a steel alloy that is strong in order to fix into ice or snow easily.

Shaft: There are two kinds of shafts, straight and curved. Straight shafts prove to be useful in general mountaineering as they allow the axe to be used for support in low-angle terrain. They also fix cleanly into the snow if you need to use the axe as an anchor or during self-belay. Curved shafts help you keep your hands away from the snow while you place your pick in the snow with a slight bend that offers clearance. This kind of shaft is ideal for steep terrain.

All shafts are predominantly made from aluminium lending to its strength and lightweight.

Pick: This refers to the sharp pointed end that can be seen on the head of an ice axe. Its main function is to aid swinging and hooking into snow or ice. Most picks usually come with a classic curve. Reverse curve picks are generally used for better ice-wall penetration in ice-climbing.

Adze: This is the blunt end of the head and is primarily used to cut seats or steps into snow. In ice axes used for ice-climbing, the adze is replaced by a hammer. 

Shaft Grip: Offers a stronger grip on the shaft swinging and cutting into snow or ice.

Carabiner Hole: A small hole in the head of an ice axe to fix a leash or clip a carabiner.

Spike: A sharp bottom point of the shaft that penetrates into snow or ice. This creates a secure support while walking and can also be useful during a belay or rescue.

Leash: An adjustable loop made of nylon webbing to secure the ice axe on your hand so as to avoid dropping it during a climb or in the event of a fall.

Basic ice axes have a straight or slightly angled shaft. They have lighter and weaker picks with less aggressive teeth. Technical ice axes have curved shafts with stronger and heavier picks. They also have more aggressive teeth for use on rock and ice.


Functions of an Ice Axe

Support and Balance: While hiking or climbing through snow or ice, ice axes provide the much needed support and balance, similar to a hiking pole. 

Cut Steps in Hard Snow or Ice: In situations where the snow is too hard and your boots are insufficient to create steps to move up the slope, an ice axe comes handy and helps you cut steps that are broad enough for you to stand on.

Climbing Up a Steep Slope: At times, the incline may be too high to be able to walk and you will need to climb with the help of your hands and feet. The ice axe acts as a secure anchor point, thus helping you make your way up through snow or ice.

Self-Rescue/Self-Arrest: In the event of a slip or fall, which is likely on snow, it is crucial to stop the fall as soon as possible. An ice axe aids in arresting the speed at which you are falling and finally creates an anchor for you to hold onto without slipping away any further. 

T-Slot Anchor in Belaying: For new climbers who are not fully confident on steep slopes, belaying comes in handy. Ice Axes are used to create a T-Slot anchor and are pressed firmly into the snow, with the belay sling attached to the shaft of the ice axe. 


How to Maintain an Ice Axe

Cleaning Your Ice Axe

  • After every use, whilst still outdoors, give the ice axe a good rinse with fresh water if possible and wipe it with a dry cloth.
  • At the end of the expedition, wash the ice axe in lukewarm water. Add some soap to it and use a brush to remove any dirt or mud on the ice axe. Ensure that the soap used is not too harsh.
  • After removing all the dirt, rinse the ice axe in freshwater.
  • Wipe with a clean cloth and ensure it is fully dry before storing it.


Avoid Rusting 

  • Small traces of rust could possibly appear on the ice axe after use. These can be scrubbed using a rough surface sponge.
  • To avoid heavy rust, dry the ice axe and wipe it clean after each use. At the time of storage, the ice axe can be coated with a thin layer of oil. 
  • Store the ice axe in a dry place and avoid exposure to direct sunlight.


Carrying an Ice Axe


All You Need to Know About an Ice Axe


  • Almost all backpacks come with two loops at the bottom on both sides. The pick should be turned towards the centre of the backpack in order to avoid protrusion.


All You Need to Know About an Ice Axe


  • Slide the ice axe into one of the loops with the pick facing the centre of the backpack.


All You Need to Know About an Ice Axe


  • Now rotate the ice axe in such a way that the shaft/spike faces upwards.


All You Need to Know About an Ice Axe


  • Secure the ice axe to the backpack using the straps.


We hope that this article offers a better technical understanding of the ice axe and also answers any doubts you might have had about its maintenance. Should you have any further questions or wish to know more, our team is available to help you out!

Geethanjali Jujjavarapu

Lawyer by education, Geethanjali loves travelling and documenting her travels through photographs an Read more

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