(by Conor Doherty, from the IMC Newsletter, winter 2005)
Reviews by IMC members who attended the Argentière Ice Festival.
For anyone taking a trip to the increasingly popular ice-climbing locations on the continent and further afield, the selection of gear on offer is often confusing (and financially painful). To offer some help, here are a few reviews compiled from the observations of IMC members who recently attended the ice festival in Argentière.
Petzl Charlet Quark
A proven design that has been around for a few years now and has established a reputation as one of the best performing steep-ice tools available. Expensive it may appear at first, but in relative terms the Quark represents quite good value. The price includes the clip-leash and the hand rest, both very useful features indeed. The leash allows you to clip out of a placed tool without removing your hand from the leash, while the hand rest protects the fingers and provides additional support. These features are available on the Black Diamond Viper, but separately. With the Viper, you have to pay about E40 for each leash and E20 for each rest, pushing the price to E60 more per tool than the Quark. The Quark is a slightly lighter tool, so may well suit a smaller climber or those who prefer a fast swing. It is also more steeply curved than many, giving great clearance. While designed as a waterfall tool, many climbers seem to use these on hard alpine routes quite happily, so don’t dismiss them as too specialized.
Black Diamond Viper
The Viper is a bit heavier than the other tools, with the weight towards the head, giving good purchase. It is very solidly constructed and should last for many years. This is probably one of the most practical tools, having good clearance but not so much bend thanks to the unusual shaft. The grip is very good. With the optional hand-rest and Clipper leash (a bit better than the Petzl equivalent), this is hard to beat.
The Nomic is a leashless tool. It is quite light, having no hammer.The lack of a hammer might rule these out if you are planning on having only one set of tools. A threaded hole in the head allows you to attach weights. The handle is designed with several grip positions, though some people found it a bit too small. And, of course, you won’t be able to plant that in the snow, so it’s a specialized tool. Those trying leashless for the first time were divided – while some liked these, others found the whole thing awkward. Without the leashes you may feel a continual paranoia over dropped tools and skewered seconds, tending to overgrip and get pumped. On the other hand, some people took to them. Perhaps the new tools from DMM might be the best option. The new Anarchist is a
leashless design with an adjustable handle, but the shaft incorporates a wire-clip for a leash, so you have both options. It also has a hammer. These are only just hitting the shops with the new Rebel tool. Both tools have a one piece head and shaft combination which looks extremely strong.
Overall results showed that personal preferences came into play, so the opportunity to test these would be the best way to choose. If you can get yourself to a shop with an indoor wall or borrow/rent some tools you may be able to find one that suits you best. Nonetheless, these are all great tools.
Black Diamond and Petzl
The views on crampons were fairly straightforward. The main models used were the Black Diamond Sabretooth and Bionic and some from the Petzl range. There is some debate about whether to choose horizontal or vertical front points. Will Gadd, the Canadian ice climber, gives his view: “I challenge any climber currently on vertical frontpoints to climb five pitches on a good horizontal frontpoint crampon and feel the difference” (Ice and Mixed Climbing:Modern Technique.
The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, 2003). So there you have it. You will be better off with a good 12-point horizontal if you are only buying one set of crampons. The BD’s performed well, being tough and simple to use. Exactly what you want, no fuss. Unfortunately the Petzl range forced itself continually upon the consciousness of the climber, thanks to the Spirlock binding. This took an eternity to put on. Having spent an inordinate length of time getting it attached to the boot, one climber found that it promptly detached itself halfway up the climb. A half hour struggling on a hanging belay restored the crampon, only to have it fall off again a few minutes later. Needless to say, a very ‘used and abused’ crampon was returned to Petzl. Petzl recognise that some people have had a problem with this system and offer all their crampons in more traditional bindings as well.
It was also noted that a bit of negotiation netted good bargains. Intersport in Argentiere were willing to give good discounts on a few items, so it is worth your while having a word before you buy anything.
Thanks to the club members who tested the gear and supplied this information, especially Gerry Galligan.