My ice axe, along with my crampons, are my 2 most important tools for snow and ice travel.
The ice axe helps me balance and prevent a fall. If I do fall (and I have), it can stop my fall. This is called a "self-arrest", which I practice every time I get back into the mountains.
The other thing an ice axe can do (it's very versatile!), it can be used as part of an anchor when rescuing somebody.
An ice axe consists of at least five components:
- Head - usually made of steel and featuring a pick and adze. A hole in the center is provided for attaching a wrist leash or karabiner.
- Pick - the toothed pointed end of the head, typically slightly curved. Used for ice-climbing and self-arresting.
- Adze - the flat, wide end of the head used for chopping steps in hard snow and ice.
- Shaft - straight or slightly angled. Mine's slightly angled at the top, so I don't knock my knuckles when front pointing (ice climbing).
- Spike, or ferrule - a steel point at the base of the shaft, used for balance and safety when the axe is held by its head in walking stick fashion. (Also good for making that hole to pour the contents of the pee bottle down!!)
A leash attaches the ice axe to my wrist.
Oh, in case you're wondering, my ice axe is a little under 60cm!