Ice axe carry while snowboarding
This is an update to an earlier post about ice axe carrying. Here are some basic things to know before selecting an ice axe that will be suitable for snowboard mountaineering. First off, the difference between an Ice Axe and an Ice Tool. Generally mountaineers use an ice axe which measures between 50-75cm in length. Typically a good fit for an ice can be determined by holding the axe upside down by your side (adze & pick to the ground), the axe should barely touch the ground. But again it depends on it’s intended purpose.
Longer axes are used for non-technical approaches or caning up steep couloirs. For this reason axes with straight shafts are preferred. Axes in this category fall in to the non-technical rating which is denoted by a “B” rating stamped somewhere on the head of the axe.
Shorter axe lengths are for more technical terrain plunging in to snow on steep areas. The shorter length also makes self-arrest more difficult. Alternatively one could carry a Whippet.
Curved shaft axes, or ice tools make swinging in to vertical areas easier, and provide clearance for hands. Typically ice tools are “T” rated for ‘Technical’ and are designed to carry weight, which in turn also makes them heavier. They are usually 50cm in length with a curved shaft. Ice tools are generally kept in sets, while an ice axe is [generally] used solo.
The ice axe is comprised of the shaft and the head. The head is comprised of the pick and the adze, while the end of the shaft has a spike and ferrule. It is important to always keep in mind your three sharp points (pick, adze, and spike).
Ice axe carry
About 90% of the time I carry my axe. It becomes pretty imperative to carry one, and likely even more so on a board. If you are not familiar with the fundamentals of using an axe, I might suggest taking a mountaineering class or get direction on how to properly use it. Improper use of an ice axe can be extremely dangerous, especially if you fall on one while riding.
I carry the BD Raven 70 – which is just about the right size. I opted out of the static leash, and now use a shock-cord style bungee leash (Black Diamond Slinger Leash). I generally do not loop it for the same reason I do not loop trekking poles. If traveling steeper couloirs or caning (known as cane position for a third point of balance or staff) I will wear a harness, and clip the lead.
When traveling or ascending in the cane position, I hold the axe in the ‘Trekking Grip’, which is palm over the top of the head, adze facing to the rear, pick forward, finger wrapped underneath. To be in the best position for a self-arrest, turn the axe 180 degrees with the adze forward, thumb underneath the adze, and fingers wrapped over the head. The reason for this is should you need to bring the axe up to the shoulder for self arrest, the pick is now forward, whereas when in trekking mode the adze would be forward.
My use of an axe is mostly on steep or icy descents, and caning on ascents. With the shell materials that are now used, a fall on a steep descent can put you out of control pretty fast. Although there are different techniques for holding an axe on a descent, I will usually hold mine in the self-arrest grip with the thumb gripped around the adze side of the axe. Again, I never attach the leash. I would rather climb back up for a dropped axe than have a dislocated shoulder.
It goes without saying precautions should be taken if you have an axe on a descent in avalanche terrain. The idea of being tumbled in a slide with three sharp points isn’t a recipe for an awesome day. Be sure to set up your ice axe carry in a way that conforms to your pack. While this may not be a concern if your axe loop(s) are centered; if your axe holders are located more to the side, be sure the spike and / or adze has adequate clearance from your ribs.
By holding the axe by the head it is essentially halfway to the ‘controlled position’ of self-arrest. In the controlled position; the adze should be over one shoulder with one hand, while the other hand is by the opposite hip. There are many ways to fall, but the important thing is that you stop.
Special precaution should be taken to glacier-carry the axe on the pack in a way that the head is facing down and the spike is clear from you neck. I keep protectors on mine if not in use just as a double precaution when it is stowed. The day would be real short if I landed on my axe in a fall.
I recently started using a Black Diamond Slinger leash. Instead of using the clip at the axe (caribiner hole), I locked a slip-loop at the hole and use the clip at the lead. Some alpine and avy packs have an ice tool loop or holder on the belt. As mentioned, on steeper ascents I will wear a harness and just clip this end to the harness. I unclip the axe on descents when riding. I prefer the Slinger Leash over the static slider leash, but either setup will work, in comes down to personal preference.
Below is the way I carry the axe on my Deuter Freerider Pro pack. Most packs have loops at the base, and some are even designed with specific carriers for ice tools / ice axes along the axis side of the pack (such as many of the Deuter packs).
Attaching the axe to pack
- 1. Loop on base of pack.
- 2. Slide axe shaft straight down through the loop.
- 3. Twist axe 180 degrees which will form a cradle around the head of the axe.
- 4. Rotate axe straight up so that spike is now at the top.
- 5. Attach shaft to side of pack, the Deuter pack shown has a clip designed for this.
Again, different packs will vary depending on where [if] the lower loop location. The most important thing is to be sure that in a fall, from any direction, that the three sharp points (spike, pick, adze) cannot penetrate your body. While protectors typically do not come with axes, they are a good habit. Shown left is earlier pack I had with the same method.
Note: I moved the comments from the previous post to this updated post.