The reports have just come in of five skiers dying in an avalanche in Austria. This is just the latest news on this front from what looks like another bad season. The incident took place in the Wattental valley, Tirol, and reports indicate that those involved had ignored warnings. The Guardian paper reported that: The experienced […]
Climbers with a real sense of nostalgia often look back on classic wooden-shafted mountaineering ice axes with a real sense of loss. Many of these were works of art. And there is something to be said about holding wood in your hand. You can feel that it is a living material, rather than just a hunk of cold metal. Over the past few decades ice axes made from wood have become collectors’ pieces rather than working tools. Although a solid shaft from dense slow-growth wood is incredibly strong for its weight (weight for weight wood can be stronger than steel, but not aluminium or fancy alloys) no companies wanted to take on the problems associated with wood. The truth is that when working with a living material you get cracks and tiny imperfections and it just was not possibly to make ice axes that could reliably pass inspection and get safety certification. More than that, what company wanted to risk a lawsuit if an ice axe failed and someone was killed. So it was far easier for all concerned to simply abandon wood and move onto simple materials such as steel or aluminium.
Fortunately there is one company out there that has gone out of its way to reinvent the traditional wooden ice axe for modern times. The Grivel Monte Bianco has a shaft made of CarbonWood composite, a mix of wood and modern materials that allows it to be consistently strong. This is a B-rated ice axe that has a shaft rated to withstand a force of 280kg. By comparison T-rated ice axes made by Grivel (such as the Air Tech Racing Ice Axe ) can withstand a force of 400kg on the shaft, which makes them more suitable for belaying. (You can read more about safety standards at the website of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation here)
It is also not the lightest ice axe out there. At 600g it weighs as much as 200g-300g more than modern ultralight weight b-rated alpine axes and it weighs about 100g more than similarly sized T-rated ones. That said, it has a lovely heft and the feel of wood is something quite special. Plus it will look really good in the car park or hanging over your fireplace. If looking wizened and seasoned is your thing, or you like the feel of wood then this is definitely your axe. Most people, however, will probably stick with metal.