An Ice Axe is a piece of equipment used in mountaineering. There are two breeds of ice axe, the walking axe and the climbing axe. For some photographs look at .

Originally evolved from spiked sticks to aid tourists over glaciers at the turn of the century the ice axe is now a very sophisticated tool.

It is about 0.5 - 0.75 of a meter in length with a head which has a very pointy end with nasty teeth and an end with either a scoop or hammerhead.

The pointy toothy end is driven into the ice/snow. You need to do this if you are climbing or if you are falling off the side of the mountain.

In the latter case the technique is referred to as ice axe breaking and is usually performed on a slope of moderate inclination. The slope will usually have a thick ice layer and so using the ice axe is the only way to arrest oneself.

When climbing two axes are used. A loop of material it threaded through the head of the ice axe and it is long enough to reach down around your wrist as you clench the handle of the ice axe.

You drive the pointy end of the axe into the frozen waterfall/gully/deidre or whatever you happen to be climbing. This is usually quite steep (and given the appropriate conditions can even be overhanging!) Your weight is taken through these ice axe loops.

The hammer head part is used to hit bits of ice that are in your way or to hammer pegs into the ice (not that that helps much). The scoop part of the head used to be used to cut footsteps into the ice but that was superseded by front-pointing.

A major advance in the ice axe came in the 1960's when Hamish McGinnis in Scotland pointed the head of the axe down at an angle instead of having it perpendicular to the shaft. When climbing this allows the user to bring the head down into the ice with much greater force.

I used to think that Leon Trotsky was killed by an ice axe, but apparently that was an ice pick. If you carry an ice axe with you on public transport no one will give you any shit, except maybe the transit police.

Dual ice axes are rarely used in typical mountaineering, being usually reserved for near vertical ice such as waterfalls, crevasses, couliers and the like. In this case, the user frequently has 3 axes, two short hand axes, rigid crampons, with the longer axe strapped on.

Front pointing has not entirely replaced cutting steps, in places like Nepal, where typically up to 100 persons need to be at one of several bases camps (see the Pyramid Supply System), steps are cut to add whatever measure of safety is possible to a rather hazardous medium. (see icefall).

All the cool technical ice climbing axes seem to now have replaceable adze and/or heads and spikes. Different kinds of ice, differnt type of heads, from ones with a very steep attack (the degree the adze curves in, or curves at all), to specal attachments that not only serve as heads, but also have holes for screwing in ice screws, or prying them out. See Charlot Moser, Black Diamond, Climb High, REI etc.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.