I use a Black Diamond Raven Ice axe in winter when I’m climbing mountains. I don’t always bring it, but there have been times when I didn’t expect to need it and it’s come in handy as a walking stick and self-arrest tool when ascending or descending steep snow or ice covered slopes.
The Raven is not a fancy ice axe, but it gets the job done and it’s saved my butt, if not my life, on several occasions. It’s got three points:
- An adze for chopping steps (which hardly anyone does anymore after the invention of crampons)
- A pick which is used primarily for self-arrest and in the low dagger position, where you push the head into steep snow and front point using crampons
- A spike on the bottom which is thrust into snow or ice when using the axe as a walking stick on a steep slope. The spike is also used as a brake for glissading, which is like sledding on your butt. It’s a great way to get down a mountain quickly but requires a good runout to avoid serious injury.
The length of my axe is 65 cm. The length you select will depend on your height and the angle of mountains you climb. Getting a 70 cm axe is usually safe unless you’re short. If you’re taller than 6 ft, buy a longer one. If you don’t know what length to get, ask your instructor. Seriously, you need to be trained to use an ice axe, so don’t buy one until you have been taught using borrowed or rented gear.
Black Diamond also makes a lighter weight version of this axe called the Raven Pro that weighs 1.5 to 3 oz less depending on length. I prefer the slightly heavier Raven because it has more heft, but otherwise the two axes are virtually identical.
Finally, this is not the kind of ice axe that you need if you want to climb frozen waterfalls. For that, you need what is called a “technical” axe. These have shorter curved handles and a more acutely angled pick. They also cost a lot more, and you need to buy a pair of them.
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