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#55591 - 06/30/19 09:48 AM Ice ax leash - yes or no?
Hobbes Offline

Registered: 03/28/14
Posts: 144
Loc: The OC
Bensta wrote on another thread:

As it relates to the glissade and ice axes, your story highlights an important note for future hikers on Whitney and other mountains: An ice axe leash is nearly an essential on these climbs. If you lose it on the way up you may not be able to continue. If you lose on the way down you may be severely injured or someone else may be injured below you. I made my own leash so as to have a little extra length and flexibility and I strap to my belt instead of my wrist. As someone who works in the field of risk management, as I think about climbing, I am always thinking about situations that would cost me the summit or safe descent. Losing the ice axe is one of the top on the list.

I was going to reply on the trip report thread, but thought it might be better in the general forum since everyone seems to loves discussing this classic issue. For those unfamiliar with the basic arguments, they are:

1. Use leash - See Bensta's excellent explanation above

2. No leash - In a nutshell, the no leash side thinks losing an ice ax is preferable to having one whipping wildly around & out of control. Those suckers are extremely dangerous - essentially, a medieval weapon of war. The question comes down to: would you prefer to maybe break a leg on an out of control slide, or have the ax penetrate your head and/or abdomen under force?

I learned how to use an ax awhile ago from an experienced guide. The topic came up back then, as it still does today. He was a no-leash person; I have followed his logic & advice. One thing that doesn't seem to be mentioned is just how tightly you might grip an ax in a fall. Over the years, I've had to use my ax two times in semi-out of control self arrests. Never once did I think I was going to lose the ax, I was holding it that tight in a veritable death grip.

As you can see, there isn't any right or wrong answer - it's really just personal preference as to where/what you believe poses the greatest risk.

PS It seems people are losing their axes on glissade since they're attempting to use it in self arrest mode ie pick acting as rudder, holding it to one side while sitting up. You're actually supposed to use the ax like a canoe rudder (across your body), with the shaft acting as the brake. You hold the head in your strong side in the self arrest position with your weak side on the shaft. If you get going you can simply roll over to your stomach and go into self arrest mode, ie pick side down, adze side up (against chest).

This is also why a general mountaineering ice ax shaft is supposed to be long(er) than one used for ice climbing. Whether as a self belay point (ie shaft inserted into snow/ice on uphill side), or as a rudder in downhill glissade, more length means more power & control.

#55592 - 06/30/19 01:39 PM Re: Ice ax leash - yes or no? [Re: Hobbes]
Anton Offline

Registered: 08/02/17
Posts: 38
Loc: San Diego
Technical difficulty of a climb is an important factor. On anything harder and longer than recreational slopes, a fall could mean certain death regardless of whether you have a leash, whereas loosing an axe (or ice tool) substantially lowers chances of surviving the descent.

Besides, the argument that having a leash makes it inconvenient to switch hands is weak since it can always be removed (or wrapped around the shaft) when ascending easy snow.

#55648 - 07/06/19 12:14 AM Re: Ice ax leash - yes or no? [Re: Hobbes]
Caleb Offline

Registered: 06/26/19
Posts: 6
Loc: Texas USA
Ah, that was my trip report that Bensta commented on!

Though I have very little experience and thus entitled to only an ill-informed opinion, I'm pro ax leash. As Anton pointed out, even if you have a leash you don't always have to use it, but in some situations it can be useful. While my party was definitely novices at using ice axes, our problem was the axes getting stuck in hard ice when glissading and the handle slipping through the hands (and that happened to one guy sitting up and one guy in self-arrest position). In that scenario having a leash would mean you just get your wrist yanked and either stop with the ice ax or jerk the ax free so you keep sliding, so definitely potentially useful and probably not too dangerous there.

On the uphill climb I'm not sure how the pros/cons of a leash would play out - in the morning slush when we went it was pretty snowy outside the groove everyone was glissading down and probably not super difficult to stop oneself or slide all the way down uninjured even if you lost your ice ax, assuming your crampons didn't catch and send you into a tumbling ball of injury.

Probably getting pretty moot for this season though as conditions seem to be melting enough that you can just take the switchbacks up and down now.