May 16, 2006 at 10:24 pm #1218606
Here’s a question for owners of the ULA Helix ice axe with carbon fiber shaft:
How do you protect the delicate shaft while backpacking?
Carbon fiber tubing is notoriously sensitive to thumps and bumps. In fact there are several reports on rec.climbing of carbon shafts on technical axes shattering when the shaft hits a bulge in the waterfall ice.
I usually strap my metal axe to the loops on the outside of the pack. The axe sustains quite a bit of abuse; it bumps into rocks and trees as I walk, and it receives an(ultralight) thump each time I lazily drop the pack on the ground.
Carrying the axe inside the pack seems impractical, but I can’t think of any other way to protect it. Any suggestions?May 17, 2006 at 6:20 am #1356508
@ryanfLocale: Mid atlantic, No. Cal
First of all, I hope you understand that it is not a technical ice axe, also I would not rely on its ability to arrest you in a fall, It is more of a backup, or if you dont expect to fall, or if the slope is not too steep, and not too much stress is put on the shaft if you fall and arrest yourself
with that said, you could probably wrap the shaft in a foam pad or something to protect it somewhat
or you could just bring a spare, they are light enoughMay 23, 2006 at 10:40 pm #1356869
Ryan, wrapping the shaft inside a foam sleeping pad (or a piece of an old foam pad) seems like it should do the trick. Thankyou for the idea! BenJun 21, 2006 at 12:56 am #1358294
I thought part of ultralight was not compromising safety.
That axe does not have a CE B rating which is why it is not marketed as a mountaineering axe.
I wouldn’t rely on that axe for self arrest or a quick belay.
It’s a toy for when you are taking an axe that your seriously doubt you’ll use at all but want it just in case… or a backup.Jun 30, 2006 at 9:51 am #1358765
You can use pipe insulation to make a nice protector:Jun 30, 2006 at 10:23 pm #1358798
Summit CO wrote:
>I wouldn’t rely on that axe for self arrest or a quick belay
Peter: I saw your ‘test’ message with the photo using it as a tarp pole. Are you using yours as an actual ice axe? How sturdy and reliable do you think it is?
I’m still considering the Helix. I’d like to carry a 5oz axe instead of a 20oz axe, but if it isn’t sturdy enough for self-arrest or belay then I wouldn’t carry it just to chop steps.Jul 1, 2006 at 7:43 am #1358815
@halfturboLocale: Northernish California
The pipe insulation looks like a great answer for protection against bumps and scrapes! I can also imagine wrapping the shaft with fabric tape, such as adhesive tape or even handlebar tape.
I’m curious as to why folks think the Helix wouldn’t be appropriate for self-arrest? That’s the reason I’d carry one (other than potty trowel, of course). I can appreciate that the shaft’s probably not appropriate for service as a belay or rappel anchor, but my sense–perhaps naive–is that the forces generated during self-arrest are both lesser and different. It would seem to me that as long as the shaft and head are properly connected, and the pick design is a good one, the Helix should be up to the task.
The fact that it’s a fraction of the weight of my current axe definitely feeds my curiosity :-)Jul 1, 2006 at 12:46 pm #1358824
I am using it as an ice axe, so far for icy morning slopes and “piolet panne” (photo) on short steep slopes where my running shoes are slipping a little. I intend to use it for “piolet manche” self belay as well on steeper climbs once the upper elevations here have opened up a bit more.
The sturdiness and reliability are good questions. I was inspired by our good Dr. Jordan’s use of them in mountaineering. I have great respect for his technical judgement and his weight/risk tradeoffs. As he has written, “…there is little room for error. Going superultralight requires that you pay careful attention to every detail and evaluate the consequences of each choice you make…” Climbing, even more than hiking, entails the continuous evaluation of risks, such as the distance between pro, the quality of placements, the rockfall potential of a route, etc. Since the manufacturer has not endorsed the use of the Helix as a full mountaineering axe, perhaps because of liability concerns, we must each evaluate the risk of using it.
The way I have evaluated the risk so far is to consider the probability of serious injury or death as a product of probabilities within a set. I have only had to use a self arrest once to save my butt, and that was in an ice climb, so I consider the chances that I will need to arrest at all as being small. (I’m not counting arrests during glissades and rescue situations, which I will avoid with the Helix.) Other possibilities to add to the failure tree are bad runouts, the chance of injury with such a runout, and finally the risk of the axe failing. If the axe has a 10% chance of failing, I still consider the total risk reasonable. The weight savings is so significant that I’ve been willing to take the additional risk so far.
It would be really nice to know how it actually performs in arrests. I haven’t tested it yet, because I suspect that repeated arrests may increase the chance of failure due to fatigue. Has anyone out there done serious arrests with it?Jul 1, 2006 at 5:08 pm #1358831
@al_t-tudeLocale: High Sierra and CA Central Coast
Although not rated as full strength axes, the following products are probably much stronger and abuse resistant than the helix and are substantially lighter than your 20oz axe. Though we have not given them the full acid test with boot axe belays and agressive arrests, my buddy and I have used these for general mountaineering with no problems. Keep in mind that once an aluminum head starts contacting rock, it will dull quickly.
Grivel Nepal Light, 58cm, 11oz, $110, <backcountry.com>
CAMP XLA 210, 60cm, 9oz, $100, <backcountry.com>
Be the first on your block with a 7075 aluminum technical potty trowel!Jul 1, 2006 at 6:50 pm #1358835
>It would be really nice to know how it actually performs in arrests.
I don’t own a Helix, but I’m tempted to buy one to try!
I suspect the Helix would do OK in a self-arrest since the head is hardened aluminum. If there’s a potential weakness it would be at or near the head/shaft attachment.
Consider how you do a self arrest in snow. As you start to slide you fall to the snow while burying the pick to your side with one hand and holding the shaft underneath and across your body with the other.
As gravity pulls you downslope most of the forces are applied laterally against the head as it plows through the snow.
The shaft lies on top of the snow along with your body. The shaft’s purpose, aside from providing a convenient hold, is to translate the correct pick angle to the head and with your body’s weight to keep the pick buried in the snow. There’s a force against the length of the shaft from your body weight, tension along the shaft as you and the shaft try to run out against the drag of the head, and shear at the head/shaft attachment from the downward force of your weight against the sideways drag of the head. But most of the force is applied directly against the head from drag against the snow. Of more concern with the carbon shaft would be sharp forces concentrated near the top of the shaft if the pick hit a solid object.
(I suppose in theory you could self-arrest while holding just the axe head sans shaft. You’d suffer reduced drag from covering the head with two hands instead of one and the difficulty of maintaining correct pick angle. But there’d be no need to worry about shaft composition!)
On a practical note, I own a Cassin Ghost which is certified and weighs about half a pound in the 50 cm length. One might even chop the shaft shorter if the axe weren’t used for belays.Jul 1, 2006 at 11:15 pm #1358843
In late May I posted the following query in the “Helix” thread in the gspot forum. It didn’t generate any constructive replies, but I think it’s an important safety question for anyone considering using the Helix, so I’ll repost it here.
Earlier in this thread R Jordan described his testing of the Helix axe for self-arrest.
Based on those results, I think I’d be comfortable using the Helix for cutting steps, and also for SELF-ARREST with the following provisos:
-axe undamaged (mainly an issue for the shaft).
-chances of needing to self-arrest very low.
-no rope carried on the trip (no crevasse rescue, no use of the axe as a rope anchor).
-slope angle low to moderate.
-no hard ice (aluminum head unsuitable)
-not many rocks in the snow (could shatter the shaft).
-combined weight of person plus backpack not too large.
Self-arrest is (hopefully) a rare event. A much more frequent use is self-belay, where the spike is plunged as far as possible into the snow and one grabs the shaft or head of the axe. Self-belay is frequently employed to gain stability when traversing or ascending a steep slope, and it is also used to arrest a slip, hopefully obviating the need for self-arrest.
I’m not sure whether the Helix would be suitable for self-belay:
– Is the shaft strong enough? Self-belay stresses the carbon-fiber shaft, in contrast to self-arrest where all the stress passes through the aluminum head.
– Is the shaft wide enough? The buried shaft of the Helix will provide less resistance than a regular axe because the Helix’s shaft has a narrower cross-section. The amount of resistance is crucial to self-belay.
At present there is almost no data available on the strength of the carbon fiber shaft under the forces that arise during self-belay. That’s in stark contrast to trekking poles, where Luxury Lite, Titanium Goat, Bozeman Mountain Works and Gossamer Gear all provide detailed information about the strengths and weaknesses of their poles, including data from destructive testing. That data indicates that the Luxury Lite and Ti Goat poles are the strongest, while the Gossamer Gear poles are the lightest. Is the strength of the Helix shaft comparable to a Gossamer Gear shaft, a Luxury Lite shaft, or stronger than all of the above? Surely it is more important to provide data for an ice axe than for trekking poles!Jul 2, 2006 at 8:59 am #1358855
@wandering_bobLocale: Oregon, USA
CAVEAT: Unless you have repeatedly demonstrated proficiency in ice axe self arrest before you need it for real, this entire discussion is moot.
Granted, the risk of a fall may be low, and understandably no one wants to carry unnecessary weight for miles on end, but think about this…..
If the worst happens, which would you rather have in your hands – a certified or an uncertified axe?
Why do we carry first aid, repair, and/or fire starter kits with us when the odds of their actually being needed are so minute?
You only get one life……Jul 2, 2006 at 9:05 pm #1358868
Bob, while I agree that UIAA certification is desirable, I believe that a surprising number of axes do not meet UIAA standards . For example, to the best of my knowledge the Grivel Monster has not been certified, and some of the best picks for technical-ice-climbing axes only meet the ‘B’ (basic) standard rather than the higher ‘T’ (technical) standard.
The ice-climbing picks fail the ‘T’ standard because reducing the thickness of the pick improves ice penetration at the expense of weakening the pick.
In the case of the Monster, Grivel has published an article explaining why the axe has not been certified. In short, it is not designed to be used as a normal ice axe, so the normal tests are inappropriate. ULA has made a similar claim for the Helix. The Helix is not designed for ‘technical’ applications such as a buried-axe belay, so some of the UIAA tests are inappropriate.
The thing I find lamentable about the Helix is that no data pertaining to the strength of the axe has been published. This makes it impossible for a potential buyer to make an informed decision. I suspect that the Helix is unique in this regard.
Some have argued that publishing stength data would expose ULA to too much liability. I am not qualified to comment on this argument, but I do feel that if ULA chooses to sell the axe then they are under a moral obligation to provide pertinent strength data. I would be interested to hear whether others agree.Jul 2, 2006 at 9:30 pm #1358870
>The thing I find lamentable about the Helix is that no data pertaining to the strength of the axe has been published.
I, too, wish that there were published stats on things like bend-to-break, use weakening the shaft, etc.
> …I do feel that if ULA chooses to sell the axe then they are under a moral obligation to provide pertinent strength data. I would be interested to hear whether others agree.
Sorry, I disagree. The incredible threat that senseless liability lawsuits pose to companies overrides any moral obligation they might have to provide information that might be used against them. Until a corresponding moral obligation to take responsibility for their own decisions is recognized by all customers (and their lawyers), we will just have to live with a lack of info. I don’t blame ULA one bit for describing this as a potty trowel and not providing any technical failure info. They’d be nuts to do otherwise.
It’s a bummer for us, but I don’t blame ULA.Jul 2, 2006 at 9:50 pm #1358871
@wandering_bobLocale: Oregon, USA
And IMO, that is probably why ULA doesn’t try to market it as an ice axe. Instead, it is sold as the Helix Potty Trowel.
from the ULA site:
No international testing standards exist for Potty Trowel Certification.
Use at your own risk!”
It is not ULA’s fault if I foolishly try to use my Helix Potty Trowel as a full-on ice axe when it is very clearly sold as something else. Just because it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, does NOT make it a duck.Jul 3, 2006 at 11:42 am #1358894
Sorry, Ben, for not searching and referencing your earlier query; thanks for the re-post. I hadn’t remembered the thread details, and the source of some of Ryan’s comments. Your provisions are excellent, and good questions on the self-belay.
Ryan’s self arrest tests might provide some implication that it might be strong enough, since an arrest puts both torque on the shaft (as Bill notes above), and some beam loading on the shaft (especially in the feet first/back down orientation). If I can get another axe I’ll do some self-belay testing and try to break it.
Bob- great caveat, and good point. I carry an axe for the same reason as the kits you mention, as backup in case an unexpected problem occurs. Looking at various lists and discussions on this site, though, shows a wide variation in the amount and kind of first aid, repair and firestarting supplies which people consider necessary. Through the process of trying to drastically reduce my pack weight I’ve constantly been considering and adjusting how much weight to carry for backups. These discussions and debates have been helpful in the personal decisions of how much to cut and where.
Another point is that the light weight of the Helix has let me justify taking it when I wouldn’t have taken the Ushba; having a weak axe feels a lot better than having none. (First rule for an ice axe fight: bring an ice axe.)Jul 3, 2006 at 10:59 pm #1358924
“I agree that UIAA certification is desirable … some of the best picks for technical-ice-climbing axes only meet the ‘B’ (basic) standard rather than the higher ‘T’ (technical) standard.
The ice-climbing picks fail the ‘T’ standard because reducing the thickness of the pick improves ice penetration at the expense of weakening the pick.
… The Helix is not designed for ‘technical’ applications such as a buried-axe belay, so some of the UIAA tests are inappropriate.” -Ben
A minor issue with your argument…
Those B rated T picks end up with a B because they sacrificed technical strength for technical performance.
The Helix did not sacrifice technical strength for performance. It sacrificed basic performance and basic strength for weight.
The worry is not that the Helix is unsuitable as a T technical ice axe; there is no doubt of that. The worry is whether it is suitable for basic mountaineering axe activies (and which ones) when it doesnt even have a B rating and, as you pointed out, no data is available to make our own judgements. We need to know: How will it stand up to self arrest forces? Is this an expensive one nick/arrest then throwaway item? How much will a minor nick weaken the shaft? How easy is that to do? How much repeated stress (selfbelay) will fatigue the axe? etc etc etc
To determine the suitability of the Helix for basic mountaineering use, ALL WE HAVE IS SPECULATION AND ANECDOTES. I would not stake my life on anecdotes and speculation in the name of saving <4oz.
If the terrain is mellow enough and the risks are so low for self arrest and belay that I’d consider a Helix with what we know, then I probably don’t need an mountaineering axe anyway.
“The first rule of an ice axe fight: bring an ice axe.” -Peter
The first rule of using an axe fight if your life is on the line: bring a suitable axe.
“…no data pertaining to the strength of the axe has been published. This makes it impossible for a potential buyer to make an informed decision. I suspect that the Helix is unique in this regard. … if ULA chooses to sell the axe then they are under a moral obligation to provide pertinent strength data.” -Ben
You hit the nail on the head. I could not have said it better!
I’d encourage ULA to release more information with all the disclaimers they want, even click through disclaimer agreements to download pdf data. With such data we could make some judgements and risk assesments based upon FACTS!Aug 9, 2006 at 9:38 pm #1360819
As I understand it these axes are out of stock (except for 74mm) for the time being anyway. When carbon fiber racecars crash, reference is always made to the ‘razor sharp shards’. While I go back and forth on wanting this axe, frankly my CF trekking poles make me nervous enough.
On the flip side, “some is better than none”. Superlight may insure it’s always carried.Oct 17, 2006 at 9:42 pm #1365047
@romandialLocale: packrafting NZ
That ULA axe looked pretty good on-line so I bought one to add to a collection of lightweight axes.
There seem to be two philosophies to lightweight travel: the leave it out and make do with what you have and the find a techno-soultion to replace something. The ULA axe falls in the second category.
For several decades I have found that the occasional snowpatch crossing or even climb can be accomplished using properly sized stones as self-arrest tools. I especially like these for glissading.
The ULA axe appears more suitable for glissading and general mountaieering (off glaciers/no belays) than trekking poles, which are quite popular, no?
Most of us go to the mountains at our own risk anyway. I find the ULA axe to be more functional than either rocks or trekking poles for glissading and firn climbing, while substantially lighter than the UIAA approved axes and well worth the price.Oct 17, 2006 at 9:44 pm #1365048
@romandialLocale: packrafting NZ
PS the longer length is better as a walking staff than the short ones.Oct 18, 2006 at 3:23 am #1365061
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
> “…no data pertaining to the strength of the axe has been published. <snip> … if ULA chooses to sell the axe then they are under a moral obligation to provide pertinent strength data.”
> You hit the nail on the head. I could not have said it better!
Unfortunately, both of you got it completely wrong. ULA are NOT selling an Ice Axe; they are selling a Potty Trowel. Read the published company description.
OK, you might want to call it something else (like an ice axe), but this does NOT mean the company has to accept your definition. They don’t. They sell it a as Potty Trowel.
Now you might say I am being pedantic. You would be right. But the (outrageous) Tort Laws in America are also pedantic. You are free to use the Potty Trowel (or any other item) for any other activity not covered by the company description you want, but it is at YOUR responsibility.
If they started publishing ANY ice-axe-specific strength details they could be accused of trying to evade liability. So they don’t (and can’t) publish anything.Jan 24, 2007 at 3:49 pm #1375598
If you cant (or are affraid) of using the helix for so many reasons, or on marginal trips where you likely wount need an axe why even bother? how about a BD Whippit (Steel head)Mar 22, 2007 at 7:25 am #1383169
For a lot less dough, you can get the B-rated CAMP XLA 210 ice axe (7.4 oz). Less than 3 oz more in weight, and you're getting a tool from a company that's been providing mountaineering tools since the 19th century. There are times when counting ounces seems like an unhealthy obsession.Mar 26, 2007 at 9:27 pm #1383655
I have seriously self arrested with my Grivel Nepal Light (aluminum) a number of times. I love that thing. Though nothing compares to cutting steps with the HEFT of a standard steel axe, but isn't this backpackingLIGHT, right?
Not all CarbonFiber is the same. Previous poster noted that Carbon Fiber breakage causes sharp slivers. I have broken C.F. shafts and have experienced a clean break, no splinters or slivers.
An Ice Axe, whether of "Approved" design or not, will provide you, the solo climber/trekker with the necessary security should conditions warrant it's use, I'm just saying that it is more than a self-arrest tool. The issue becomes more questionable should you need the axe for partner belays or rescue.
Rule # 19: Everything is a Compromise.
theThriftstoreMountaineerApr 18, 2007 at 11:12 am #1386493
@brianleLocale: Pacific NW
I recently bought the shortest ULA Helix, the 55 cm. I took it up to a fairly steep-yet-safe slope and threw myself down the slope a couple of times to test my ability to self-arrest.
Due to the snow conditions, even on a steep slope I wasn't able to build up a lot of speed/momentum, but I satisfied myself that it would stop me just fine. I'm used to a 75 cm axe that's a pound heavier, but I'm convinced that the 55 cm Helix will dig in fine.
I'm a little less confident about plunging the carbon fiber shaft spike into the snow to help when carrying this in my uphill hand. I think I'll do it when snow conditions are not too soft to make this less useful and not so hard as to risk the c.f. spike. A short axe like this definitely isn't a "walking stick" for me, but that's not what I bought it for.
It cut steps just fine for me too, at least when traversing uphill; downhill is more of a challenge with a shorter axe.
The lightness of the head means I change my technique somewhat to cut steps, it's a little slower process, but it worked fine.
I'm sold on this. I appreciate the previous posters idea of pipe insulation to protect the shaft, I'll have to try that.
Similarly, it might be nice to have a U.L. way to protect my delicate pack and other U.L. materials from the pick and adze …
I've not tried this yet, but a friend suggested making a custom light rubberized cover using plastic dip, something like: http://www.plastidip.com/consumer/index.html
It says you can “apply as many coats as needed”, so I figured I might try applying a lot of them to end up with a sufficiently thick piece covering just the sharp bits, maybe one for adze and one for pick. I'm guessing that a good strategy could be to coat the metal with oil and then something like wax paper or something and dip that, to have some hope of getting the result to come off.
Once I have custom pieces that I can get on and off, poke little holes and attach fishing wire or something to hold them together, or maybe something thin and stretchy. Clever guy, my friend, or at least if this turns out to work.
Alternatively, what about just a simple piece of vinyl tubing about 3" long? I would think if you bought the right tubing you could jam it on the pick and keep a spare or two in case of loss. Slice another tube open longitudinally and maybe it would stay on the adze … ?
If anyone has any experience to share in a lightweight way to cover the pointy bits of a helix axe, I'd appreciate hearing about it. To include, perhaps, "Brian, stop being paranoid, the pick and adze are unlikely to cut your delicate U.L. gear" !
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