Walk like a duck

I remember my first crampons. Purple Stubai’s, ten points with about ten feet of straps which always came undone and trailed about me until I tripped on them and tried to hide them inside my gaiters.
My first axe was a Stubai as well, a metallic blue thing with a welded-on adze and no teeth on the pick.
I felt like I was a mountaineer.
My instruction in their use was very much the application of a trial and error technique followed by looking at “action” line drawings of men in breeches in an old book when I got home. But learning what doesn’t work is as important as what does, like self arresting with a 70cm axe. I bought a 55cm Mountain Technology the following Sunday afternoon.
I’ve stuck with 55cm or 60cm since. 57.5cm would be perfect, but you can’t have it all.
Winter kit has so many memories tied to it.

37 thoughts on “Walk like a duck

  1. Something purple… obviously! ;O)

    My first crampons, bought in ’82, were by CAMP, must’ve weighed well over a kilo, needed a spanner and screwdriver to adjust, and also had a yard of straps – I fitted them with some French-style neoprene straps (bought from F&T, when it was the king of outdoor mail-order) and also felt like a mountaineer :))

    My first axe was a very light thing from CAMP too, but I replaced it within a year with a 70cm 1kg brute from Mountain Technology – I’ve still got it! I started reducing the length in order to cut the weight when I realised it got carried far more than used. Now my various axes range from 47cm to 53cm. Funny how received wisdom changes though, I never had any trouble arresting with the 70cm one (phew! :)

  2. My current winter kit is my favourite (Kahtoola crampons and Black Diamond Raven Ultra ice axe) but my old kit was the best winter kit out there at the time (Grivel G12 crampons, Mountain Technology Alpine Axe).
    Footwear, budget and where you’re heading all make a difference here.
    You can easily blow £200 in winter hardwear and discover that using it is not for you, but cheap axes are heavy, and no fun to swing all day.

    I’m not helping am I?

  3. Talking across you there Matt!
    I’ve got an old set of Cassins that needed spanners to adjust, bright silver 12 pointers, brilliant.
    I would sometimes catch the spike on 70cm axe and cartwheel off it, mind you I think I was more worried by the fact I looked like a lightning conductor when it was strapped to my pack :o)

    Good point about F&T, their mail order catalogue was required reading back in the day. Seems awfy far away now.

  4. 57.5cm : How tall are you, Pete?

    I’m 6’3″, and Santa should be bringing my first axe for winter walking (no climbing, as I’m a wuss). Probably a DMM Cirque (cheap, T rated, etc.), but I’m unsure about length: it seems to be a religious argument with some folk…

    I think a 60cm or 65cm feels right in the shop, but most shops are notoriously flat and ice-free…

  5. It is an endless debate this, and it’s ultimately down to opinion rather than fact because whatever shaft length you chose, it’ll be perfect at times and useless at others.
    Like matt my axes have gotten shorte over the years, I’m a whisper under six feet and the axe you can see in the photies above is 60cm.
    For me it’s perfect for most stuff, on steeper slopes it’s usually short enough to plunge into the snow shaft-first, it’s easy to swing for step-cutting and just right for self-arrest. A 55cm does all the above, but on less steep slopes it can be harder to get the shaft into the snow on ascent without leaning forward, on steeper slopes it’s perfect, and on scrambly section where you might be using the pick to pull up some frozen rock it’s ideal.

    For me 65cm feels too long now, a bit unwieldy, but at 6’3″ you might find it’s perfect. I think Grivel do odd sizes like 58 and 63, so you’ll be able to fine tune.
    Don’t believe the “hold the axe in your hand by your side and if it touches your ankle bone it’s right..” thing, a better one is to hold the axe diagonally across your chest from collar bone to hip bone. This is the self-arrest position, and with the adzejust at your shoulder, the spike on the shaft should stick out alittle by your hip bone. This is still awfy ball-park, but I think it’s much better than the ankle bone thing.

    Whatever you get, you’ll use it, and through time you’ll find if it’s right or not. All the formulas and opinions are just a rough guide, it comes down to comfort and confidence.

  6. Aye, ptc*, axes strappd to packs – a 70cm one would like as not have your mate’s eye out at some point in the day! ;O)
    Another plus point for shorter axes.

    roddyp, fwiw, I’m 6′, and my 53cm axe probably feels most comfortable in use. The 48 and 50cm ones were slight compromises for weight and packed size which meant I’d personally rather go down than up. I can use them ok, no problem for self arrest, but the 53 feels most comfortable overall. It is a personal thing but with your extra height 60cm sounds good to me and 65 should still be fine.

  7. I reckon the ‘by your ankle bone’ thing comes from the days when an axe was also used as a walking stick to help you across icy, flat ground – I know I used my 70cm one that way, at a stoop! But that was in the days long before trekking poles, which are far more effective for that task – on the flat! The trick comes in knowing when to safely swap from poles to axe or back…

    And of course crampons or microspikes reduce the need for ‘stick’ support on the flat.

  8. Absolutely Matt, it’s just stuck, gets passed onto shop staff and is never questioned.
    It’s one of the things that makes me grit my teeth in shops, like “buy a size up so you can wear two pairs of socks”.
    MMMMffffffff!!!!!

  9. Thanks guys, I’m tending towards 65cm, primarily because I know my movement skills and balance are far from world-beating, and most of the terrain I walk on is not cripplingly steep: Being able to plant the shaft without stooping on ascents should mean that I’m less likely to need the axe for arrests…

    (And, if it doesn’t work for me, there’s always eBay)

  10. I detect the description of Camp K2’s… My first crampons too. They had the alarming property of occasionally shedding points from the mid section… Mine are still in a cupboard along with a pair of G12’s and G14’s. I still use the the 12’s in the Alps.

    Axe wise, I started with a 70cm straight picked horror (mail order – F&T), Camp Randoneer IIRC (just checked my files – £17.45!). On the occasions I used the pick in anger it used to pop out as I got level with the head. Note to self, don’t use a walking axe on technical ground…

    I now use a pair of 45cm technical axes for everything. Heavy and a bit short for walking but perfect for when you get ‘off route’ :-)

  11. Of course you can always argue that most accidents are when descending, and you are facing away from the mountain, so a 70cm axe offers distinct advantages especially for those of us not vertically challenged. Some good reading on this in this book

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mountaineering-Handbook-Modern-Tools-Techniques/dp/0071430105

    Problem is most people buy one axe and expect a do it all tool, I have several axes and choose based on route planned, technical routes short tools and preferably a pair. But for the ‘average’ UK hill walker a long axe offers distinct advantages especially coming home down the hill, when energy is going and the hill is ‘bagged’.

    It’s the same as crampons, I’ve got Kahtoolas and their micro spikes, Grivel G10 and G12, crampon choice again is route dependent.

  12. You’ve got me all misty eyed talking about Stubai (and F&T in the ‘old days’)!

    For what its worth I went from a 70cm Stubia to a 60cm Cirque and haven’t looked back. The Stubia is now with a friend and still looks in good nick. My original 12 point crampons are still going strong with the same friend on his B0 boots so there you go.

  13. I was away looking at my axes there, and I’ve still got from 65 to 55. My shorter technical axes went on ebay a couple of years ago, too old, too fat for that stuff now, hell, too scared as well probably.

    It really is an answerless question this I think. One thing I did at one point was to was carry a long and a short axe. The theory was good, but then a single trekking pole without and a shortish axe replaced that and worked as well.
    These days poles anda niddle-size axe is fine. But never perfect all day.

    Maybe the ankle bone thing is still popular as the reality is just too complex to try and get across to customers and readers?

  14. Sorry if I confused the issue. I wasn’t suggesting anybody go out and buy 45cm axes for waddling about with. If I were buying from scratch for UK winter hillwalking, I’d probably go for something like a 55cm axe and a stick. I’m about 6′. If I were a giant I’d go for a 70 or a midget; 45 :-)

    Not sure how well the Broons annual would stand up to wet snow/ice but the choccies would go down a treat :-)

  15. I used to have a Stubai trekking pole with a screw-in axe-head attachment. I took it on a few Pyrenees trips for easy snow-fields, but it seems like a nice idea for ‘walking’ terrain – even while you use the pole you have some self-arrest capability, and then shorten the pole once it gets steeper. Obviously not strong enough for anything technical, mind.

    Grivel make the nearest equivalent now, a top section for ‘Leki’-type poles with a knuckle guard and fold-away axe pick – aimed mostly at ski-tourers, but I reckon quite handy for walkers in those ‘is it wintry enough to lug the axe up the hill’ conditions. Shame I don’t use Leki-type poles :(

  16. My crampons were/are Salewa Hard Ice Classics in a strange bronze finish, they need pliers to adjust (to remove a 5mm long split pin of all things) Bought from F&T like most of my other kit back when they were etc etc. and many an hour was spent browsing the catalogue compling imaginary kit lists of stuff I couldn’t afford. Still have some F&T catalogues from about 88 to mid 90’s on account of the fact that I hoard everything.

    First and only walking Ice Axe, a Cassin with a gold shaft bought in Nevisport Edinburgh (walking Axes last a long time in N.I.) other than that only a pair of Vertige’s bought for a course with Martin Moran (that never happened) Climbing axes last even longer than walking axes in N.I.

    Ah the good old days ;-)

  17. I’ve heard good words about those Grivel things. I suppose like most things that are a little left field it just takes an open mind and a little adjustment.

    It’s funny that we’re taking about Cassin, they’re supposed to be making a comeback now they’re properly merged with CAMP. There was some nice Cassin techy clothing ages back as well.

    Was it CAMP that had the lime green and pink crampons? I miss the old days.

    Had a pair of Vertiges. Still got an adze somewhere if someone needs one!

  18. 5ft 10in but long legs and short arms meant I bought a 63cm Grivel… and that doesn’t get anywhere near my ankle bone. We’ll see on the winter skills if I can ice arrest with it.

  19. I’ve got a 63cm Grivel Munro here (which is brand new, has been kicking around for a while, and I have no idea where it came from?!), it’s a nice length in the hand, and it’s a good weight too.
    Which makes me think that maybe feel in your hand and weight are a factor for how axes “fit” us?

  20. Was it Simond that made the Chacal/Barracuda, are they still around?

    I have a Cassin catalogue from way back, around the time bent shafts were coming in, Cassin seemed to be very tech and definately ahead of the game but Nevisport was the only place I ever saw them.

    Lime Green and Pink crampons, CAMP sounds right, I must have a look in the old catalogues.

  21. My rehearsal studio’s gone tits up so I’m home early!

    Cassin are doing all the top-end tech stuff and CAMP are doing the standard and bottom end now. It’s a good split, I wish I had the 2010 kit on disc so I could post some of it!

  22. I had a 2nd hand Grivel Munro for my first winter skills course; for the second, I flogged that on to another participant and bought the DMM Cirque – not sure what length – but I really like the slight bend in it – it felt better when self-arresting, though that may also have been because it was definitely shorter than the Munro.
    Alas the bright yellow Grivel crampon straps clash with my gloriously bright orange winter boots :-(

  23. I revolves around snatching and wrist position.

    It may be that curve and length are inextricably linked like a table tennis bat and a rubber ball on a string in the toybox of pointless debate however.

  24. Home early from the studio! oh no the Christmas album will suffer. The merchandising ideas coming along nicely since album sales will decrease due to the digital age.

    Oh Aye, I had a swatch at the new Broons book. A story about them all sitting round the dinner table texting on mobiles! Wait til your hear this.. funny…

    They’re all texting and going on about how handy mobiles are then The Broon bairn says “Me’s no allowed a phone in case the radiator fae it mak’s ma hair go curly” and she’s greetin’ ha ha. I laughed out loud in the shop when I read it. Cannae beat The Broons.

    And is it just me or does anybody else only eat Terry’s Chocolate Oranges at Christmas?

    (Sorry I’ve gone right off topic!) :o)

  25. “Winter kit has so many memories tied to it.”

    My winter kit is all new and my first so I’m still forming memories to attach to it.

    Grivel Airtechs to fit to my Manta’s for more technical stuff

    Steel Kahtoolas for bendy footwear

    Microspikes for trail runners

    Camp Corsa nanotech 60cm, my only axe and works well when practising braking, haven’t had to do it for real yet.

  26. Oh aye, I have to have that Broons book, Family, are you reading this?
    Chocolate Oranges are made for Christmas, but they have been know to make an appearance in times of crisis throughout the year.
    The middle bit is my favourite bit. It’s the “prize”.

    You’re starting off with top-notch kit BBF, you have no issues with that lot.
    I like the Airtech’s, they’re kinda half way between Kahtoolas and Grivel G12’s. Long enough spikes for steeper stuff, but still usable on patchy ground without breaking an ankle.
    All light enough to with your camping gear too :o)

  27. Talking of curves – that 63 Grivel is actually a Mont Blanc SA… short for self arrest! Feels a lot better to me than the Munro, the curve is not so great but it is there.
    Was quite happy till my mate bought some Petzl thing for 100 notes or so. That is gorgeous! I wouldn’t be able to get that thing dirty however.

  28. I’ve got an old burgundy coloured Monte Bianco, 58cm I think, it’s a cracking axe. The heads got a lovely finish, still looks good too. Grivel make some lovely kit.

    I think some of this kit will have to come out this winter!

  29. Well, this will be my first winter – too far south to be out all the time, so here’s to hoping for lots of snow when I do the OM skills at the end of Feb. Hard to know how cold I will get etc and what kit I will need, the ice axe and crampon bit is perhaps the easiest decision – clothing I have but how much do you wear? A bit learning curve is looming!

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