How to Use an Ice Axe in the Mountains

An Ice Axe is an essential tool for mountaineers and backcountry ski tourers as well as hikers on steep, icy snow-covered peaks. It can be used in a wide range climbing and trekking techniques. This includes traversing a snow-slathered mountain ridge, biting into an ice wall, creating a shelter from the elements, or stopping a fall down a steep slope.

It’s important to learn about an Ice Axe vs Crampons properly before embarking on any adventure that could involve a dangerous slip and fall in the mountains. A good ice axe should come with basic instruction and training, but if you are new to the mountains, it’s also a good idea to practice with someone else until you feel confident using the tool.

Mountaineers must master the skill of self-arrest

Every mountaineer should know how to self-arrest using an ice axe. However, not everyone is proficient in this skill. If you do, it can stop your fall and keep you on the hill for longer if needed.

To stop your fall, you can place the pick from your iceaxe into the snow. The process is different depending on what position you are in when you fall, but the overall goal is the same: drive the pick into the snow and use your body to slow down your momentum so that you can stop sliding.

Use an Adze for Step Cutting

If you are climbing a steep section of bare glacier without crampons and don’t have crampons, it is possible to save energy by making a small cut in the snow using your ice-axe. The adze – a broad, shovel-like device that is most commonly used on mountaineering-axes – is useful for cutting steps in a more efficient way.

Holding the axe at one end of the shaft with both your one- or two-handed hand can be used to cut a step. Then, driving the pick of the axe hard into the snow, chop away at the step with your axe in a smooth, angled motion. Once you have cleared enough snow, you can pull out the adze and clear the step’s base.

Spike: It is a good idea to always have a spike in your ice axe. It’s useful for pushing the spike into the snow while you walk uphill.

The adze is usually made from metal, but many ice tools also have a wood handle. This is especially useful for those who plan to hike often and not spend too much time climbing uphill.

Carabiner Hole. This is a hole in the top of the ice-axe/tool that allows you to attach it to a harness carabiner for safe keeping. The hole should be large enough to allow you to store your ice axe while still being able to grasp it.

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