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Is an ice axe truely necessary

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Is an ice axe truely necessary

Postby Micko » Sat Aug 12, 2017 10:51 pm

Most gear lists are showing hikers sending an ice axe and micro spikes ahead to Kennedy Meadows for the Sierra - fair enough. What I want to know is why? Well obviously for self arresting but who has actually had used an ice axe for self arrest through the Sierra's. Also, why don't people think a walking pole can do the same job for self arrest? I done this many times, grabbing the pole low, bringing it close into the chest and driving the tip into ice/snow. Everyone's always trying to cut weight down and an ice axe seems like an optional item to me but I would stand to be corrected. Thanks.
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Re: Is an ice axe truely necessary

Postby Miner » Sun Aug 13, 2017 2:37 pm

I think you should clarify where you were able to self arrest with just a pole. How steep was the slope? I've slide on more gentle slopes where that would likely work. But I have strong doubts it would work on some of the steep slopes in the high sierra where you will pick up a lot of speed really quick. Remember, the danger isn't sliding, its the rocks and trees you might hit at high speed.
I do know a few PCT hikers who had to self arrest in the High Sierra. On a sudden slide where you gain a lot of speed in a short period of time, trying to bring a long pole under control and being able to grab it down low (opposite side of where you hands are) without loosing it would seem to be difficult. I remember one PCT hiker without an ice axe telling me how his poles were lost when he slid; fortunately the snow wasn't hard and he could dig his feet and hands in enough to slow him down near the botom; and there weren't any rocks in his path. A big advantage of an ice axe is you throw you weight onto it to dig it in, even in harder snow. Just using your arm strength isn't going to get the same bite.

Ned at mountaineducation.org (former PCT hiker, ranger, and mountaineer) could probably give you a complete list of reasons why. Though he advocates using a Black Diamond Whippet (trekking pole with an ice axe pick at the top) for PCT hikers. It has the advantage that you can still throw your weight on it like a normal axe. As most PCT hikers will wait til the snow softens some so they don't need the adze to cut steps in ice covered snow and many tend to try to save weight in the wrong way and buy ice axes that are too short and thus can't use them as an alternative to a trekking pole and often have the axe on their pack inaccessible when they really need it. The whippet at least is in their hand at all times, though a compromised design, its far better than nothing or just a normal trekking pole.
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