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Tools For Climbing Steep & Unconsolidated Snow / Cornices


Original Post
Karl Henize · · Boulder, CO · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 643

I am looking for recommended tools for climbing steep, unconsolidated snow and tunneling through overhanging cornices.  Admittedly, the need for such tools is rare. 

After a brief internet search, I haven't been able to find any current commercially available tools specifically built for this purpose.  Traditional ice axes simply don't have the surface area required to get secure purchase in steep (e.g., > 60deg) unsupportive snow (e.g., facets).  This trip report nicely illustrates a situation, where ice axes are not sufficient.  Not my trip report, but I climbed the same route a few days later.  Ice axe blades would rip through the snow when trying to climb over the cornice.  It took over two hours to tunnel through the cornice and haul packs, using a conventional avi shovel.  

Most avi shovels with a hoe mode do not appear to be designed for holding body weight.  A shovel blade attachment to an ice axe head, like what is shown in this patent, would likely be ideal for my use.  

*****

Best commercially available options I have identified thus far:

- BCA Dozer Hoe Shovel 

Looks ideal from a function standpoint, since it has a hoe mode and pinky rest.  Not clear if it would eventually fail from being repeated near-body-weight loading.  Relatively heavy and bulky for an seldomly used tool.  There are probably lighter/smaller avi hoes that could be made to work by adding grip tape to the shaft, in lieu of a pinky rest.  With two of these, one could probably climb vertical snow.  

- Grivel Steel Blade Shovel 

A bit lighter, but doesn't appear to be attachable to an ice axe head.  Looks like it would work well for climb soft snow that is less than vertical, when weight can be transferred to feet.  Also looks like it might be a better option for tunneling through cornices than an a traditional avi shovel.  

Matt Zia · · Bozeman, MT · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 142

Sounds like you're looking for a pair of ice axe wings. Usually what folks use for climbing Patagonian rime ice. Basically a pair of aluminum angles that bolt onto the head of your ice axe to increase surface area. Not sure if anyone makes one commercially, but they're easy enough to make yourself with a drill and basic mechanical sense.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNSkUy9joht/?taken-by=peter_graham_climbing

Karl Henize · · Boulder, CO · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 643
Matt Zia wrote:

Sounds like you're looking for a pair of ice axe wings. Usually what folks use for climbing Patagonian rime ice. Basically a pair of aluminum angles that bolt onto the head of your ice axe to increase surface area. Not sure if anyone makes one commercially, but they're easy enough to make yourself with a drill and basic mechanical sense.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNSkUy9joht/?taken-by=peter_graham_climbing

Looks like a good solution!

Shepido · · CO · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 50

When I first read your post the only historical example that came to mind was the FA of hummingbird ridge on Mount Logan in 1965, which involved a section dubbed the "shovel traverse" where the FA team literally tunneled through all the cornices in that section of the ridge with this lightened shovel.

 

I don't know if beyond the ice ax wings you are going to see any other real ideas. I think you basically have it with a shovel - maybe lighten it up by drilling through it. 

Jacon · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 200


Karl Henize · · Boulder, CO · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 643
Jacon wrote:


Those look nearly perfect!  How much would you sell a version that fits a BD Fuel for?.  

Jacon · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 200

Sorry, not for sale. Just for inspiration.  

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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