View Full Version : Ice axe where?

12-14-2009, 14:53
I know that there's no way to say for sure where a self-arrest tool will be needed or wanted until you're actually in the situation, but let's talking in generalities.

Where are the trouble spots that might require such equipment?

I've heard Fuller Ridge (maybe), San Jacinto (also maybe), and most of the Sierra (probably). Are there other places as well?

12-14-2009, 15:24
I guess Packwood Glacier in the Goat Rocks Wilderness in WA, but that's a short crossing and I did it on a warm late summer day and the snow was soft and easy to walk on safely. Remote maybe.

Add Mt Baden-Powell just outside of Wrightwood to the list, too, as a remote maybe.

All depends on the snow pack, time of day you're there, weather when you're there, your confidence on snow, etc.

12-14-2009, 16:48
For a NOBO hike, few people carry an Ice Axe outside of the Sierra Neveda on a PCT hike. If its a big snow year in SoCal or you are early, then carrying one for Fuller Ridge and possibly the Desert Divide(both are in the San Jacintos, it isn't a seperate place) might be nice. I knew someone who slide down the Packwood Glacier this year, but it didn't kill them (just scrapes) and I wouldn't carry an Ice Axe in the Goat Rocks for such a short place; it was already one of my hardest days of hiking in Washington without carrying the extra weight.

12-14-2009, 16:54
Agree with Garlic. Main place is indeed the Sierras and that depends a lot on the particular year and also on your particular preferences and experience. In 2008 most of us mailed ours home when we were able, I think I took it off my back once (coming off of Forester Pass), but didn't really need it and in fact preferred having my poles.

I've been over the Packwood Glacier a couple of times (two different years) and in neither case would it have even occured to me to use an ice axe. Yes, there's the potential for a steep fall, but it's not that long a stretch and even when it isn't soft snow you can likely find frozen-in footsteps to use or something --- just take it a bit slow perhaps. In fact, both times I kept wondering to myself when I was going to get to the Packwood Glacier --- surely the relatively short amount of snow I went through wasn't it!

Baden-Powell didn't have a lot of snow when I went through but a week later a big storm dumped a lot; maybe there are times when it would be a good idea there, but I personally wouldn't bother with an ice axe until the Sierras if you're on a standard NOBO schedule, just be careful where warranted. Fuller Ridge was slow going for me due to snow, but didn't feel particularly dangerous; the folks at the forest service station in Wrightwood (who hadn't been up themselves that year yet) were apparantly telling people it was 5 miles of knife-edge ice. Some leap-frog SOBO's said differently (and of course they were right).

In 2008 Oregon melted out late, so there was significant snow in the Jefferson Wilderness. Before getting into that I saw a sign in a trail town store to the effect of "there's a ton of snow there, bring an ice axe, if you go through there you might die". It wasn't a big deal (I didn't have an ice axe, no thru's did at that point, saw a couple section hikers with them). Similarly there was a sign at the base of Baden Powell saying that ice axes were needed, and I just flat disagreed --- based on the conditions on the day I went up anyway.

So YMMV on this stuff a lot, not only based on the particular year and even week, but on your experience and comfort level with exposure.

12-14-2009, 17:37
I should probably explain why I asked…

I'm planning on using a self-arrest pole rather than an ice axe, since it will be able to double as a tarp pole, a self-arrest tool, and something to help keep my balance later on during stream crossings.

I know that I'll look like a giant dork, but I'm considering just keeping it with me, against my instincts and despite the weight, from the beginning (Campo). Is this plan stupid?

Just so you know, if it is stupid, and you give me bad info here just for laughs I will get even by pranking you somehow at the KO! :)

12-14-2009, 19:13
I personally don't like the self-arrest ski pole. It's a specific tool for a specific need--skiing a steep icy couloir, steeper than anything on the PCT (if you stay on route). In my experience, the main value of an ice axe on the PCT is not self-arrest, rather belaying. It's sometimes nice to have a sturdy anchor rammed into the snow on some of the slopes. If you do this right, you will not need to self-arrest. The pole isn't the same. I don't think I'd want the serrated edge with me the whole time, like when getting in and out of cars on hitches. I don't think I'd want to glissade with it, either.

12-14-2009, 21:15
Just for the sake of tossing around ideas, let me take the opposite argument on this one. I think that if you take your self-arrest pole out and practice self-arrests with it (with a fairly full pack on) and get confident that it can actually stop you, then there's a big advantage in that approach: you'll always have it with you. As a trekking pole user I find that switching to/from an ice axe can be a bit of a conundrum. Am I safer with the axe in hand or the poles? With the axe, I have a chance at stopping a dangerous, potentially fatal fall, but I'm more stable with the poles, perhaps then less likely to have such a fall in the first place!

The serrated edge thing, though, I'm with Garlic on that one --- a new way to potentially injure yourself or someone else. My personal experience in the Sierras in June didn't include any need to have a study anchor rammed into the snow, and in fact the ultralight axe I carried (ULA) wouldn't have been a good tool to use in that way anyhow. I'm sure that sierra conditions can occur where you want to do exactly that, however, anchor, heck, maybe even chop steps.

12-15-2009, 20:18
I'm definitely going to spend some time practicing with it, whether "it" ends up being the axe or the whippet.

I don't understand why I couldn't use the pole to belay as described. I'd have to go without the snow basket on the whippet, but that comes on/off pretty easily. Having never had to do it, I'm assuming I'm missing something?

I think you guys are right about the serrated edge, but that can't be too hard to cover it, rendering it harmless.

Thanks for letting me bounce my questions off you guys, I really appreciate it!

12-16-2009, 15:36
I know some people who recommend the Whippet for the Spring conditions in the Sierras including a guy who teaches snow skills and winter camping. Also some S&R people like using them out here in California. So if thats what you want to use, it should be fine (though I don't actually own one).

However, we did tease a guy in SoCal who carried one from the Mexican border and warned him that he might want to cover the top when trying for a hitch. Otherwise, the driver might think he really was an axe murderer.

12-16-2009, 16:49
I carried a iceaxe this past thur hike and only used it to dig a cathole...don't get me worng , just becuse i didn't use it this pass hike ,i will still carry one this coming thur hike .you never know up there. Also if you don't have a spot get one.....It will save your ass...

01-30-2010, 17:32
Carried an ice axe from KM and would do so again. (though would have been useful around Fuller Ridge area too) Used it for cutting steps on Forester and also as Garlic posted, for belay support along the way. It's also useful as someone mentioned for digging a cathole when needed.
Mailed it off from Echo Lake.
Think I'd rather carry one for the Sierra and not need it than to get caught out.

01-30-2010, 23:17
Not intending to pick on you Guy, but this question is asked at least a dozen times immediately preceding the PCT thru-hiker season and answered 100's of times until it's beaten to a fine powder. Search for these threads and you can gorge on as many opinions as you like.

You can also head over to the PCT-L site and peruse even a greater number of ice axe opinions.