Ice axe / crampons for early July JMT
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Jesse Engelberg
(jaebpl) - F
Ice axe / crampons for early July JMT on 05/24/2010 17:56:47 MDT Print View

I'm going to try to keep this organized, because I have a few separate questions.

I'm planning to hike the JMT this year in early July, and based on the snow reports it looks like there will definitely be snow/ice on the high passes (Mather, Glen, Forrester, etc.).

I'm considering buying an ice axe/crampons, but have the following questions:

1. without training, is the axe still useful for crossing icy traverses?
2. how long/expensive is the training for proper use?
3. once I took a class or learned from a qualified instructor, could I teach someone else to use the axe? The issue is that my traveling companion won't have time to take any training courses.
4. we have the flexibility to wait until 9 or 10 to cross the high passes, but will this be enough or are there north-facing portions that simply won't soften up?
5. how much better are MYOG pan-head screw crampons than just trail runners?
6. if I do buy an ice axe, is there a minimum length to make it useful?
7. if not, what's the lightest/cheapest ice axe that will still be reliable for traversing and self-arrest?
8. for summer snow travel, will lightweight trail runners and light wool sock be enough to keep my feet warm while hiking?

Thank you so much for your help!

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Ice axe / crampons for early July JMT on 05/24/2010 18:09:10 MDT Print View

#1 No
#2 depends. Most of the courses are during the winter. Do you have training. Then you guys could practice on the hike.
#3 Yes
#4 9-10am? No, you want later in the day when the snow softens
#5 Dunno
#6 Yes, you need to be fitted. Important!
#7 Dunno, don't get something to light or flimsy. Your life depends on it.
#8 No.....But you will dry quickly. Once you get off the snow it is a matter of time. You can pack an extra pair of socks if need be

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Ice axe / crampons for early July JMT on 05/24/2010 19:13:54 MDT Print View

#6. For high angle climbing, a shorter ice axe is useful. However, for moderate angle walking, a standard length is right. Standing upright with your hands hanging down, measure the distance from the center of your palm to the ground, and then add a couple of centimeters. That is the standard length.

For the first time that I did a significant climb, I had an ice axe and purely intellectual knowledge of what a self-arrest meant. I'm lucky that I didn't break my neck. Basically, I taught myself how to use it on the way down. Not recommended.

At an absolute minimum, find somebody to show you what you are doing.

Oh, and get some gaiters to go on over the shoes and socks.

--B.G.--

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Ice axe / crampons for early July JMT on 05/24/2010 19:20:57 MDT Print View

First, don't use regular crampons without a lot of training. There's a good chance you can make a minor slip or fall cause a very serious injury. Sure, it may help you slip less often, but I'd much rather slip and self arrest than to cut my leg open.

1. without training, is the axe still useful for crossing icy traverses?




No, not if you don't get any training at all. Read up and watch some Youtube videos. It's best if you get someone to help you train several of the falls, but I self arrested dozens of times this Spring without formal training.

2. how long/expensive is the training for proper use?



There are free courses. I know of one on South Lake Tahoe that's either 1 or 3 days.

3. once I took a class or learned from a qualified instructor, could I teach someone else to use the axe? The issue is that my traveling companion won't have time to take any training courses.


It's not like you get a certification when you take a class, and it's not like that'd mean anything anyway, so yeah, you could train your partner. I also advise the both of you learning how to self arrest with your trekking poles.


6. if I do buy an ice axe, is there a minimum length to make it useful?


There's a minimum length, but I haven't seen a commercial axe that'd be too short for me. I'm 5'9" and use a 55 cm axe. It's worked quite well for me.

7. if not, what's the lightest/cheapest ice axe that will still be reliable for traversing and self-arrest?


My ice axe weighs about 4.5 ounces. I've never wished it was heavier, although I certainly wouldn't have minded if it cost less.

8. for summer snow travel, will lightweight trail runners and light wool sock be enough to keep my feet warm while hiking?


If you keep moving quickly, yes.

Edited by leaftye on 05/24/2010 19:22:00 MDT.

Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: Ice axe / crampons for early July JMT on 05/24/2010 21:01:13 MDT Print View

Training -- Yes, you need basic self-arrest training. Self-training can work, but it can also train in bad habits than can be hazardous to your health.

Once you are comfortable with your ability to self-arrest, practice is helpful. One fun thing is to try some self-arrest races with your friends. How it works is:

*) Find a nice steep snowfield with a good runout -- one where you won't get hurt even if you don't self arrest. Establish a finish line at the bottom of the steep part.

*) Wearing your slipperiest clothing, climb up to the starting line. On starting, assume the agreed position and start sliding. (Do it several times, with different starting positions / attitudes -- head first, feet first, on your stomach, on your back, left-handed, right-handed, ...). Try all the positions you can think of, so that if you slip and find yourself in an unusual attitude, you are good at recovering.

*) See how fast you can get going -- the race is to be the first across the finish line.

*) Once across the finish line, self arrest. See how quickly you can safely get yourself stopped.

Minimum length -- Bob G's length description is pretty standard. If you are comfortable not using it as a walking cane until the terrain gets quite steep, you can use a shorter one.

Back in wood-handle days, I broke an ice axe. I used what was left of the handle (the spike end) and re-handled it -- epoxy bedded, 18.5" overall length. It was my favorite summer ice axe for years. (I got a new long handled one for soft snow and winter). The short axe was lighter, stayed within the dimensions of my pack when carried (and so did not hang up on things when carried) and was still long enough to self arrest with (just had to be careful to keep the spike up out of the snow). It is true that I could no longer use it as a cane while hiking, as many liked to do, but I did not like doing that anyway. The only real drawback I discovered was that I could not use it as a third point for stream crossings.

Length for you -- that depends on what you are going to do with it. Is it just for self-arrest if needed, or will you use it as a cane while hiking or the third leg of a tripod for stream crossings? Given your (lack of) experience, if I were you, I would probably get a standard length one, or at least not much shorter than that. Time enough later to get a shorter one once you are comfortable with your ice axe and know what you like to use it for.

--M--

Edited by blean on 05/24/2010 21:14:12 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Ice axe / crampons for early July JMT on 05/24/2010 21:40:30 MDT Print View

"Back in wood-handle days, I broke an ice axe."

WHAT? You mean that there is something newer than my wood-shafted ice axes? I'm shocked!

It's amazing. One of these pieces of carpentry is 33 years old now. At the end of each winter season, I would spray it down with oil and hang it up in the garage until the following year. So, the wood is still pristine.

Actually, I have one modern one in aluminum.

--B.G.--

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: Re: Ice axe / crampons for early July JMT on 05/24/2010 22:10:47 MDT Print View

Eugene, what is your "My ice axe weighs about 4.5 ounces. ", mfgr and model, and length? thanks

ROBERT TANGEN
(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
4.5 oz ice axe on 05/24/2010 23:34:45 MDT Print View

I don't believe there is a workable axe that light. I own a "potty trowel" that looks like an ice axe, with a carbon fiber shaft and a titanium pick / adze, and it is better than a stick, but I wouldn't reccommend it to a beginner.

Jeff Jeff
(TwoFortyJeff) - F
Re: Ice axe / crampons for early July JMT on 05/25/2010 10:54:18 MDT Print View

1. If you don't pratice using it, it's just a prop for your photos
2. Easy as watching a youtube video and spending an hour practicing. Don't do it on the JMT though, since you might skewer yourself. Practice in the 4 main positions and then repeat with a backpack.
3. Sure
4. You'll be fine
5. Dunno
6. Mine is sized for comfort when mountaineering, but for just a few stretched of trail, you could get by with much shorter than recommended. You'll just have to place it way uphil when using as a self belay/cane.
7. Probably the BD Raven Ultra or one of the Camp ones.
8. That's what I did. I had no problems.

I wouldn't take an ice axe and defintely wouldn't take crampons. An ice axe might be nice on a few glissades. A few minutes on Forrester Pass migh pucker you up, but trakking poles will keep you from falling in the first place. And believe me, there will be steps to follow.

Pieter Kaufman
(Pieter) - F
Re: 4.5 oz ice axe on 05/25/2010 11:05:09 MDT Print View

I would strongly advise any untrained user of an ice axe who's striving to stay UL to avoid letting weight be the primary function of your ice axe choice (same with crampons actually).

You must make sure that at minimum, it's 'B' rated. Most of the common aluminum/steel axes on sale today are B rated, so this isn't a hard thing to do. 'T' rated are less common, stronger, and unnecessary for general ice axe use.

If you want to make this easy, go to your preferred retailer, order a Black Diamond Raven in 70cm length, pay about $80 (or if you've got an REI 20% off coupon, buy it there and bring the cost down to $64), don't pay extra for a leash, make a simple one out of some webbing or cord; don't pay extra for an adze cover, just wrap a whole boatload of duct tape around it, and you're set.

And get some training, please. And I don't know about the screws through trainers thing. That sounds really dodgy. CAMP and most of the other reputable manufacturers make lightweight ten point (or maybe even eight point?) crampons out of aluminum. If you're staying on trail, they'll be fine.

Edit following Jeff's comments:

All of the above is of course only if you decide you want the axe and crampons. You may just as well decide to forego them as well. But yeah...pucker. Could happen. Be alert!

Edited by Pieter on 05/25/2010 11:08:02 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Ice axe / crampons for early July JMT on 05/25/2010 12:53:29 MDT Print View

There might be a high pucker factor on the south side of Glen Pass.

--B.G.--

Jesse Engelberg
(jaebpl) - F
Thank you for the feedback! on 05/28/2010 11:25:05 MDT Print View

I really appreciate the feedback. After reading those comments I'm definitely going to do the best I can to get some sort of training, though I won't be up in the high country until mid-June at the earliest.

I read some posts on postholer.com and it seems like getting some BD whippets (one for each of us) might not be a bad way to go. While the cost and weight difference is about the same (+6 oz heavier than my poles versus 7 oz for a CAMP Corsa) they'll always be in hand and are slightly safer because of the lack of an adze.

I'm still on the fence about whether to bring some basic instep crampons in case we find ourselves on an icy slope, but we'll see.

Do any of you think I'd have trouble reselling the whippets on the BPL gearswap after the hike?

Thanks!

Graeme Finley
(gfinley001) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Thank you for the feedback! on 05/28/2010 12:35:07 MDT Print View

Another option instead of full blown crampons that are often used by PCT hikers (especially this year) are Kahtoola Microspikes. They're lighter than crampons, less likely to cut you open in a fall, but obviously don't give you the same level of traction. If all you're looking for though is a bit more security on a hard packed snow slope then they could be a good compromise.

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F - M

Locale: SoCAL
Lightweight IceAxe on 05/28/2010 13:38:49 MDT Print View

"Eugene, what is your "My ice axe weighs about 4.5 ounces. ", mfgr and model, and length? thanks"

Its likely the ULA Potty Trowel with a shaft made from carbon fiber. As its produced in very small numbers it never made financial sense for ULA to submit it for certification testing, hence its called a potty trowel rather then an ice axe. That said, for light use where self arresting is all you want, most users feel its durable enough for that purpose. However, Its very lightweightness makes it a poor choice for cutting steps as a heavier iceaxe does a far better job.

Jeff Jeff
(TwoFortyJeff) - F
Re: Thank you for the feedback! on 05/28/2010 14:06:56 MDT Print View

Crampons are just going to get you into trouble if you don't have a proper B rated ice axe. You don't want to be on an icy slope with whippets. If you do slip, your best bet is to avoid a full on fall by doing a self belay. Can't do that with a whippet and I wouldn't want to with a carbon fiber ice axe either.

Jesse Engelberg
(jaebpl) - F
Re: Re: Thank you for the feedback! on 05/28/2010 14:13:58 MDT Print View

Good point. It seems like having an axe is better if you use it at the right time, but if you have whippets you'll be using them at all times. Food for thought.