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Using Axes And Crampons On Your Ice Hiking Adventure

Aug 17, 2007
Having the right equipment on an ice climbing trip can literally be the difference between life and death. Before you get on the ice, make sure you have an ax and crampons in tow.

Choice of the varying weights and lengths of ice axes will be determined by the purpose for which the ax is intended. For those who expect to use the ax primarily as a cane - its most frequent and prolonged use - cane length is preferable; that is, about half a person's height. A ski mountaineer or rock-climber may prefer a much shorter length if he intends, most of the time, to carry the ax in his pack. In any event the shaft should be of good hickory and fit the hand well.

The pick should bevermont ski vacation-8 inches long, with teeth on the underside, and the adz and pick of the head should curve so as to coincide with an arc that could be drawn by the ax held at arm's length. The steel should be tough enough to hold an edge well, but not so hard as to crystallize easily.

Professional guides scorn a wrist loop, but they, and particularly amateurs, run great risk of losing an ax where they need it most. The loop is secured to a ring that slides on the shaft, being stopped above the point by a round-headed screw or a ring on the ferrule. A satisfactory substitute that will not interfere with probing and is readily adjustable is a loop of rawhide tied to the shaft with a Prusik knot. Most rapid wear will be of the point against rock when the ax is used as a cane.

The point should protrude far enough from the ferrule to permit several resharpenings. A one-piece point does not have the resiliency of a point and ferrule. Metal parts should be protected by a thin coat of oil after each use, the stock by frequent thin coats of a good wood preservative. A leather sheath for the head will keep the point out of undesirable places when the ax is carried, but is not necessary.

Fitted well and tied securely to the boots, crampons, properly used with an ice ax, will hold on exceedingly steep ice slopes (80 degrees is claimed!) without requiring that steps be cut. It follows that crampons will increase safety in steps on less severe angles.

A crampon should be rugged, and the ski mountaineer should beware of rejected army crampons that may be on the market for some time, and that have received the well-deserved nickname of "folding crampons" for their utter lack of necessary sturdiness. Single articulation of the crampon is adequate. The points should be 1 - 1 1/2inches long to permit resharpening - frequently needed if the climber wears them often on rock islands in the ice. The number of points varies from 2 to 19.

The 12-point model, which has two points protruding at an angle in front of the foot, is most versatile. A 4-point crampon may serve for the skier who wishes only to wear something on his ski boots for short and infrequent pitches of ice that are not difficult. The binding when wet will tighten if of webbing and stretch if of leather, but leather is easy to tighten again and can be more easily worked at subfreezing temperatures.
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