Modern axes now enable even a mediocre climber like me, to peck their way up climbs considered impossible back in the 1950s without a ton of kit ,and the Dagenham Girls Pipe Band bringing up the rear to boost moral?!They are now an accepted and essential part of every mountain soloists toolbox.
This is my selection made by the (now sadly extinct)Mountain-Technology company of Scotland.By modern standards they are not the lightest of axes but they have 3mm thick surgical-steel pics that are nearly indestructable.And when i do replace the blades it only costs me £15 a set,courtesy of a toolmaker mate on the Newhaven Industrial Estate.The other radical looking set below are my new Grivel-Monsters(modified by me not Grivel!)that i bought last year.
I have great fun scareing myself to death on sussex-chalk with these,and cant wait to use them in Switzerland this summer.I built up the collection some years ago by buying them one at a time from Joe Browns in Capel Curig over separate visits,after the Technology company closed down.Finally,all they had left was a couple of odd ones that were tough to shift?So i did a great deal and snucked them away while the young dudes were drooling over the super-dooper Petzyl and Black Diamond ramrod-GT rock ravishers!
I hardly ever use Wrist-Leashes as i so rarely do anything that warants them.But i am "never"without either stretch Grivel Lanyards on easier routes.And i allways use Prusik adjustable 6mil-Cord on the more difficult routes.Notice allso the alloy-Maillons,that dont spring open when you wallop them on rock that are separated from the axe handles by cord-loops?
Thats to stop the horrible bloody racket that Krabs make,when clipped straight to the axe!(gives the handle movement more flexibilty too!)
USE LANYARDS!!-Its a soloist no-brainer realy? Drop an axe and you loose a climb or maybe your life?The Prusiks allow me to shorten the lanyards-(a)So they dont hook up on stuff(b)Because sometimes an axe makes great "protection",like a giant Birdbeak or Bulldog-Hook!And finally because i love rigging multi-purpose inovations that out perform an original function!
The one thing that curved tools are "not" good for is hammering in Pitons and other protection.So depending on the route i may take one curved axe and one straight hammer-axe?You get some realy odd looks off other climbers over this "but it works folks!",and climbers usually see the light when they see them in action.More often though,i take one of my old faithful"Hammer-Pics" (see above),and my pair of curved-axes minus their hammer/adze heads to save a little weight.Most of my chosen routes are "Normal" routes on alpine mixed-climbs,and even if it looks a bit powdery i can still take my improvised Deadman-Shovel.
I rigged this with a marine-U,Bolt and Wingnuts to fix round the handles of my axes,to dig my way out of trouble?But to be honest,ive never encountered a snow situation that couldnt be shifted by a terrified Thornton,with a fast scooping helmet?! When its "brown-trouser time" this old dude burrows like a raped Marmmot!!
For glacier yomps,easy snow-slog summits and everything else?I have my M/technology 68cm Alpine Axe and one of my straight Techs that i can switch blades on,if i need a shorter tool.The smaller one is 52cm and a great little piece of kit.Again with these,i allways use a lanyard clipped to my belay-loop on the harness,so i can change hands freely on route.
Some dudes worry about getting spiked by axes in the event of a fall? I allways figure its more likely you will be killed when you fall because you dropped the bloody axe?
And i am sure it will be a great comfort to you as your hurteling into space,and feelling like a prize dickhead for being too hard core to wear a lanyard!!