For some time now, ice axes have been produced with different designs, so that they excel on a specific kind of terrain. However, in most cases their performance is reduced when used in other situations. Here are some of the reasons why this occurs:
- To penetrate sufficiently in firm snow, a shaft shouldn't have a handrest as this makes it difficult or even impossible to push into the snow. Yet it is an essential accessory for climbing.
- A classic pick doesn't perform well on very steep terrain as the long radius and low curvature make it difficult to plunge into snow or ice. On the other hand, a reverse curve gives the wrong angle for self-arrest on moderate slopes.
- A modular ice axe tends to be heavy or weak. Although new materials have made modular axes lighter and more efficient, these tend to sacrifice durability.
The X-LIGHT is the first ice axe on the market to respond to these drawbacks successfully. It's long, lightweight and fairly straight, so it performs well for general mountaineering and ski touring. It is also ideal for lightweight and technical mountaineering. Its incomparable modularity means it can also be used for hard ice climbing. This is an ice axe that fulfils apparently contradictory criteria: it is extremely light, highly technical and versatile.
Let's take a look at these three features separately:
- LIGHTWEIGHT: weighing in at a mere 465 grams, with just the pick, not the adze or hammer, this is the lightest modular axe available.
- TECHNICAL: the standard version is the most technical for lightweight mountaineering, high altitude climbing, north face climbs and couloirs and here is where it really comes into its own. Both pick and shaft are T (technical) rated, which will be highly appreciated by professional climbers and mountaineers.
- VERSATILE: The wide range of accessories, especially the grips and interchangeable spikes, allow it to be used for a wide range of mountaineering disciplines, from ski touring to ice and mixed, leashless climbing.
So, at last, thereâ€™s an ice axe that allows you to do everything with the same tool and at an affordable price.
Pick, Adze and Hammer
The T-blade has a banana curve and sharp front and top for alpine climbing. The pick has no teeth near the shaft to allow a more comfortable and effective grip. It excels on all-round mountaineering activities and is also valid for vertical ice and mixed climbs. The other end of the head is just as surprising with its three configuration options: pick and adze, pick and hammer, or just the pick.
Made of chromoly steel, the head is lightweight, sleek and ergonomic. With just the pick, it gives a comfortable grip for use as a cane. This is the same head as that used on the ultra-technical X-Dream ice axe, with just one high quality (10.9) Allen bolt for attaching the modular components firmly and with millimetric precision. The head has a large hole to facilitate clipping a carabiner from any position and for leash attachment.
Shaft, Grip and Spike
The shaft, also T-rated, has a slight curve for optimum use in the Dagger Position on long, steep slopes with hard snow. A sliding pommel on the shaft is easily adjustable without tools. This modular ice axe is compatible with different spikes and grips. Swapping them is easy, thanks to the grooved shaft end that helps slide the grip into place before tightening the single bolt. This means you can choose the optimum grip for couloirs and other alpine activities. The grip with two ledges and a minimal spike is perfect for hard mountaineering and use on ice, while the same grip with a low-profile spike prevents injury on leashless ice/mixed climbs. This modular grip system is new to the C.A.M.P X-series and the only one of its kind on the market.
After putting the X-LIGHT to test, we found that the sharpness and light weight of the pick are appreciable, but the strike didnâ€™t give such a good bite on ice, unless sharpened. On the other hand, the teeth, and first tooth in particular, are excellent and compensate a bit for the bite. The toothed pick excels when hooking on rock holds; more so than any other pick of its kind and even several ice-climbing specific ice axes. For general mountaineering, the grip and features are extraordinary.
The standard shaft offers an excellent grip and we didnâ€™t miss the double-ledge grip until we moved onto more vertical terrain. The sliding pommel works well until the shaft gets covered in ice, which is not uncommon, and then either cleaning is required or leaving the pommel in the same position.
After multiple use of the X-LIGHT, we can verify its low weight and high performance on mixed terrain. Although it seemed a bit long to start with, this length proved ideal on mixed terrain and for frequently changing position.
In conclusion, there is a wide variety of modular ice axes available with similar features, such as the conventional or inverted blade, hammer, slightly curved shaft and sliding hand rest. However, although some have a better strike than the X-LIGHT, none are able to reach its level of versatility, lightness and technical features for use from classic mountaineering to ice and mixed climbing.
Text and Test: Daniel Vega FernandezÂ
Photos: Daniel VegaÂ
Check out the range of ice axes at Barrabes Online:
CLASSIC ICE AXES
LIGHTWEIGHT ICE AXES
TECHNICAL ICE AXES