Aug 13, 2020 at 12:52 pm #3670622
Climbing Matterhorn Peak (Sierra Nevada) with my brother next week, and I was thinking about a 80′ wide x 300-400′ long steep, snowy/icy slope with sharp rocks and boulders at the bottom that we have to cross on the climb up to the pass below the peak. It felt very dicey when he and I crossed it with a couple of other hikers four years ago and again when I did it alone last year.
So I was looking on Amazon at some cheap & light crampons and ice axes and came across these self arrest tools for $11. Was going to order them but they can’t get here until October!
Then it occurred to me to try and use something I’m taking along anyway, like my tent stakes. I have some leftover foam fishing pole grips that I mistakenly ordered with the wrong 1/2″ inside diameter for the 5/8″ trekking polls I made for the trip. So I cut off two 4-inch pieces for handles (1.8 oz for the pair) and they fit perfectly on the stakes.
I figured we’ll take one set with 50-100’ of line attached so one person can go across, then the spikes can be pulled back for the next person.
I’m going to put on longer cords so they’ll go around our wrists.Aug 13, 2020 at 1:15 pm #3670627Kevin BabioneBPL Member
They look good, but I sincerely hope you don’t have to use them untested. I’ve never had to self-arrest or been trained to do it, but I thought one of the reasons for the ice ax is that you can put your body weight on it to help it dig in. I’m not sure how you’d do that with those or to get them dug in enough to help slow your fall – especially if it’s ice and not compacted snow.Aug 13, 2020 at 1:34 pm #3670630
Calling these “self-arrest” tools may be misleading. I sincerely doubt they would do you much good once you have accelerated down the slope to any significant speed. You need to prevent accelerating after a slip first and foremost. If you establish 4 points of contact (face the slope and kick footsteps while stabbing the snow with your hand stakes) and only move one point at a time, these may help you balance and offer some purchase. I’d want to practice on a representative slope which did not have any consequences at the bottom first though.
Going head-first down a slope on your back and getting yourself reoriented into a self-arrest position is an interesting experience.Aug 13, 2020 at 1:52 pm #3670634
@kbabione: I’ve been trained for self arrests with both ice axes and ski poles. The core concept is to get the spike/blade/pick/tip pulled down to the center of your chest and then put all of your weight on it. I think it will be even easier to do that with these because there is no shaft or pole to get in the way.
I considered using my trekking poles The ski pole self arrest only gets the tip into the snow about 2-3″ up to the basket, and it’s a small, round tip. I’m certain these will work better than the ski poles because these which have about 4.5″ below the handles, are wider, and have a “Y” shape.
Ice axes have a much longer pick and will penetrate through more soft snow to get down to any ice that might be below, and they’re really the only tool that would work on hard ice. But they cost $70-$200 and weigh more than a pound. For serious technical climbing and winter trips where the ice axe will be used frequently for multiple snow and ice conditions I would absolutely go with an ice axe, but for limited summer use these are great option.
@philip-ak: Once going down a hard slope fast all bets are off, even with an ice axe, although an ice axe would be best. The best scenario with any tool is to arrest as quickly as possible. We will be crossing in the four point manner, kicking our boots in and punching our hands in as far as they will go, and practicing on similar slopes with no downhill consequences before we get to the crux move.
I’ve done a number of head-first on my back slides and it is terrifying, not being able to see where I’m going or if I’m about to run into or over the top of something. This is where practice comes in, to get rolled over and a pick deep into the snow under my chest as quickly as possible.Aug 13, 2020 at 1:52 pm #3670635PedestrianBPL Member
I’d be extremely wary of using these so-called “self-arrest” tools.
The good news is that this is a low snow year and most snow seems to have melted off on much of those slopes.
Please take a moment to check the satellite imagery on Caltopo (under “Daily Satellite” check the Weekly High Res layer for current images) – might need a subscription.
I plan to to head that way myself but not for at least another three weeks; would appreciate any beta you can offer when you do return from your trip.
Have a great trip and please leave your cool home brew tools at home.Aug 13, 2020 at 2:28 pm #3670641
@pedestrian: Why wary? We’ve crossed this spot three times with nothing, and these tools are surely better than that.
Why not to take two axes: 2+ pounds up and down 12,000′ over 15+ miles to use on 80′ of trail.
Wasn’t able to figure out how to access the Caltopo satellite maps, but Zoom Earth worked well. That one particular spot might actually be snow-free this year. I’ll post about the snow conditions up there when I get back.Aug 13, 2020 at 3:14 pm #3670647
Zoom Earth is pretty low res. If you check out Sentinel Hub you can get some reasonably detailed recent images. Here is Matterhorn from August 9Aug 13, 2020 at 3:40 pm #3670651
@philip-ak: Thanks for the tip. FWIW Zoom Earth was higher res in this instance.Aug 13, 2020 at 3:48 pm #3670652
Zoom Earth switches to a generic high-res image after a certain zoom-in level. Note the date of that image is “historical satellite images”. Zoom out until the selectable date menu appears in that upper left panel. I find this to be a highly misleading ‘feature’ of Zoom Earth. Sentinel Hub will almost always give a considerably higher res [actual] recent image.Aug 13, 2020 at 4:52 pm #3670659Edward John MBPL Member
Before you attempt to use those I would advise seeing if the aluminium tent peg will actually penetrate ice.
No experience with lake or river ice but those “Ice picks” in the first picture are for getting purchase if you fall though ice over deep water.
I do however have some experience in ice and hard snow. If you do need to self arrest you need both hands on the single tool, a Black Diamond Whippet might be better than nothing there.Aug 13, 2020 at 5:51 pm #3670666
Little bits of aluminium tent peg on ice?
I’ll send flowers.
CheersAug 13, 2020 at 6:06 pm #3670670David ThomasBPL Member
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
I’ve known four people who’ve died on high-angle snow/ice (Shasta, Everest, K-2, and K-2). The one time I REALLY wanted to self arrest, I did, barely, with a ski pole. Anything is better than nothing. And there are locations and conditions in which nothing is sufficient (and so, perhaps, one shouldn’t be there?).
My biggest suggestion for short snowfields in California, is to pick the time of day carefully. The same slope that is exceedingly dangerous one early morning with ice axe and crampons (and maybe should be done roped-up), can be perfectly safe that afternoon, when it’s softened up so much you can’t get a good slide on it if you tried.
So, like flying small planes in Alaska, you should let the conditions dictate your schedule and NOT let your schedule color your interpretation of the conditions.
Ideally, find a similar slope (vertical slope and sun exposure) but with a safe run-out and test how slick it is and how well your tools work if you have any speed. As an old guy, I certainly have more body weight but not as much arm strength as I did when I was 1/3 my age.Aug 13, 2020 at 6:19 pm #3670673Jon FongBPL Member
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
Well, someone needs to verify that this will work! Take good notes David and make sure that you replicate your experiment ;-)Aug 13, 2020 at 6:32 pm #3670678
make sure that you replicate your experiment
How do you replicate a failure, I wonder?
CheersAug 13, 2020 at 6:57 pm #3670687
NO NO NO
“only gets the tip into the snow about 2-3 [inches]”
“Ice axes…[f]or serious technical climbing and winter trips where the ice axe will be used frequently for multiple snow and ice conditions”
“We will be crossing in the four point manner, kicking our boots in and punching our hands in as far as they will go…”
What we will be crossing is snow, with maybe a 1/4″ icy crust that you can easily put a pinkie through.
Of course I’m not talking about using aluminum on “ice” per se. Obviously didn’t make that clear enough.
We will absolutely find a similar slope with similar snow and a safe run out, and practice, practice, practice. We’ll also practice trekking pole self arrests and go with whatever works best at that time, in that place, in those conditions.
I have a pair of Whippets and other similar top-of-ski-pole picks. The only time I’ve ever had a fall that I wasn’t able to arrest was telemarking down the Dana Couloir using that type of device, about 5 seconds after this picture was taken:
The problem was that even after years of training and experience with ice axes it was very difficult to get that long ski pole out from under me. As a result the pole tip and basket kept kept catching and sending me tumbling over the high side, and I wasn’t able to use the pole like an axe handle to pull up and lever the pick into the surface. I was head first on my back several times, whipping by rocks that I could literally reach out and touch. Much more interesting than I care to ever repeat.Aug 13, 2020 at 8:02 pm #3670697
Darn. I wish it was possible to edit when you really need to. I had edited that last post down to:
We will be crossing snow, with maybe a 1/4″ icy crust that you can easily put a boot and a fist through. Sorry I didn’t make that clear.
True that. Never use aluminum on “ice” per se.
We’ll find a similar slope with similar snow and a safe run out, and practice, practice, practice. We’ll also practice trekking pole self arrests and go with whatever works best at that time, in that place, in those conditions.Aug 13, 2020 at 9:01 pm #3670703
CheersAug 23, 2020 at 8:13 am #3672494Daryl and DarylBPL Member
@lyrad1Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
I use my ice axe in a way that gives me additonal protection over a shorter device. I carry a longer ice axe than most. When I cross a slope like you describe I push it into the snow on the upside and use it like a railing to prevent falls. With 50 years of use I’ve only self arrested in practice. I’ve never fallen. The long handled ice axe temporary railing has prevented many potential falls.
I’ve done this without thinking. Then I bought a much shorter ice axe (to save weight) and realized it was only good for self arrest….not preventing the need for self arrest.Aug 23, 2020 at 9:28 am #3672513ManfredBPL Member
I crossed Horse Creek Pass three weeks ago when finishing the Sierra High Route. Here are some photos from Horse Creek Pass in addition to the ones in the trip report, They will hopefully give you a good impression of the snow conditions three weeks ago.
Enjoy your trip and stay safe!
1) Top of Horse Creek Pass
2) First snowfield when going down towards Twin Lakes
3) Second snowfield when going down towards Twin LakesAug 23, 2020 at 10:00 pm #3672632
Thanks for the report and photos. Just returned from my trip to that area. Looks like there has been significant melting in just three weeks! When you were there was it soft enough to glissade down those snowfields?
We went up the right/north side of the canyon to the pass into Yosemite and found a route about 50 feet further up the slope from the problematic traverse mentioned in my OP, so I never needed to try the arrest tools. Happily. But I’ll take along the 1.8 oz. foam grips the next time I might need them.Aug 23, 2020 at 10:07 pm #3672635ManfredBPL Member
Good to hear that you had no issues. We were on the last day of our Sierra High Route trek and crossed Horse Creek Pass in the afternoon in very warm temperatures. The snow was soft and easy to walk on. Glissading didn’t work as there were too many sun cups.
ManfredAug 24, 2020 at 8:49 am #3672653Bob .BPL Member
@bcbobLocale: Vancouver Island
2.5 oz ultralight ice axe on kickstarter.Aug 24, 2020 at 12:00 pm #3672702
@bcbob: Interesting. I like the weight and size, but…aluminum, and the pick is blunt. It would be awesome if it had an option to bolt on a steel or Ti tip for the pick.
Probably fine for the problematic traverse mentioned in my OP, but I doubt it will work on real ice. Better than nothing for sure, but not sure it’s any better than aluminum Ground Hogs with grips.Aug 24, 2020 at 3:22 pm #3672749
Cast 7075 Al is very strong. For vertical ice climbing it would be folly, as much for the size as for the metal. I don’t think the maker means it for that. You could not get any ‘swing’ with it either.
For very occasional use crossing a snow field it might offer some security, but the ultra-short handle makes it extremely difficult to use while walking imho. Steve Evans used carbon fibre tubing with a Ti head, and the result was reasonably useful. That one has been reviewed here at
Thia aluminium one looks like an extremely specialised bit of gear with a very limited range of applications. If you like it, fair enough.
CheersAug 26, 2020 at 4:17 pm #3673201Geoff CaplanBPL Member
@geoffcaplanLocale: Lake District, Cumbria
The Kickstarter guy noticeably glossed over his experience with using the mini-axe for self-arrest. And he didn’t demonstrate it in use either.
The handle is so short it’s hard to see how it would work.
Kinda suspicious – I think he may have forked out for a prototype then realised it’s a bit of a dud.
A somewhat longer handle would make it easier to use a conventional self-arrest technique for little extra weight or inconvenience.
I’m not convinced he’s got the design right – there’s light, and then there’s stupid-light…
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