Got an ice axe. Should I get a leash? | High Sierra Topix  

Got an ice axe. Should I get a leash?

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Re: Got an ice axe. Should I get a leash?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Apr 03, 2017 9:22 am

Losing your ice axe (without a leash) and getting stabbed by your axe (falling) both must be considered. For me, the more likely would be that I simply drop the stupid thing. I like the leash because it frees my mind to concentrate on the snow, not worry about dropping my ice axe. I am also a very conservative climber - I have only had to actually use my ice axe to arrest a fall a few times in over 45 years. I use the ice axe a lot as a climbing tool where it could more likely slip out of my hands.

I only use crampons, simply because they are what I have. I have both serious front-point snow climbing crampons that have to be used with mountaineering boots, and light weight flexible ones that I use with low-cut hiking shoes. Microspikes would only save a few ounces so I really cannot justify the cost. In many cases, just wearing real mountaineering boots elimnates the need for any traction devices. With the popularity of light hikers and trail runners, the microspikes have become popular because they can easily be attached to these shoes and are easier to carry when not using. Hobbes is entirely right - microspikes are NOT intended for steep snow slopes. They keep you from slipping on very low angle icy snow or on steps that have already been kicked in snow.

Case in point. Years ago a friend and I went into Sky Blue Lake and climbed the sourrounding peaks early season. She is a fabulous rock climber (way above my ability) but not that experienced on snow, so she chose to use crampons. I grew up on snow climbing in the Pacific Northwest and then spend all my climbing in the WInd RIvers without using crampons, so am very comfortable on a 1-inch kicked step in steep snow, so did not use my crampons. We both were doing what resulted in the most comfort and least worry. By the way, we each are leash proponents.

Not previously mentioned, ice axes come in many different lengths. The length you choose is based on your height AND the intended use. The steeper the slopes and the more technical the climbing, usually, the shorter you want the axe. If on lower angles and if to be used primarily as a balance point, then longer lengths are used. You also can choose between a straight pick or curved. To self arrest, minimally, you need to be able to hang on the the top and bottom of the shaft when in the self arrest position. If you are going to take self arrest lessons, you may prefer to go to the class and use several axes they provide before purchasing your own.

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Re: Got an ice axe. Should I get a leash?

Postby alpinemike » Tue Apr 18, 2017 11:46 am

I fully support the use of a leash on an ice axe. Like Wandering Daisy points out I would always worry about dropping the darn thing while hiking up or going down. And that's the last thing I want to drop on a steep slope. As everyone has mentioned practice is key in knowing how not to stab yourself with it. Also... just as a personal note, whenever I expect snow of any sort I bring the ice axe. Why? Because the ice axe is what will save my life if I happen to fall. The crampons and microspikes will help me get up a steep slope but they do absolutely nothing for me if I happen to fall and can't stop myself. I would much rather cut some foot holds and kick some steps in with my boots and have my ice axe with me then have crampons and worry about falling the entire time. I have been in positions where I used my ice axe to descend a snow slope by glissading since it was safer than side-hilling or going straight up the face of something.

Personally, given the cross country terrain and climbing peaks that Rogue and I do I'm bringing the crampons this year. But if you're on a well established trail through the snow then microspikes will work just fine as most have pointed out. It's all about the terrain you are planning on going through.
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