From wood to carbon fiber, straight shafts to bent, alpine picks to reverse droop, positive clearance to negative clearance, ice axes have improved significantly over the past twenty five years.  The first of the real innovators was Yvonn Chouinard.  Once he started the revolution there was no stopping it.


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     The above axes are all Chouinard-Frost tools.  Notice the long metal spike on the shaft of the axe on the left.  The right set of tools are set up with the slings of the day.  A wrist leash on the hammer and foot loops on both.

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     These Chouinard "Zero's" are classics among classics.  When these were the Mac Daddy of all ice climbing tools you had to be a hard man to be an ice climber.  Although they were leaps and bounds better than anything before it was still hard work to swing these puppies all day.


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     The mjollnir hammers were distributed by Forrest Equipment and were state of the art at the time.  Their short shafts made them real knuckle busters.  The tools on the left are equipped with a rock pick and an alpine pick.  The tool on the right is sporting a tube pick.

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     Both of these photos show an old Chouinard Northwall X 50cm hammer.  This was the first really good axe I owned.  Its first mate was the Cassin "Ice fall"  in the photo on the left.  The thin pick and strange balance of this tool caused me to  replace it with the Mountain tools axe in the photo on the right.  

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     On the left are one of my most used set of tools.  These 45cm Lowe Hummingbirds have probably climbed more ice than the majority of folks that call themselves ice climbers.  They were the mainstay of my ice climbing for a full decade.  The B-D Black Prophets in the center are my current set of tools.  Although I really like the newer Cobras, the Prophets climb so well it seems like too much to spring the change needed to buy a set of the newer axes.  The Prophets are the best ice tools I have ever owned.   I have done enough climbing with the Cobras on the right to know their strengths and weaknesses.  The shape of the upper shaft is possibly the best on the market, they clear small bulges as well as handle steep ice beautifully.  The leash system is comfortable for most climbing but makes choking up on the shaft or mantling on top of the heads almost impossible.   The upper part of the shaft is also very slick and should be covered with the same rubber as the grips.  Don't take these negative statements as a bad review. Even with the few problems I found they are still some of the best swinging tools I have ever held.  Sticky rubber shafts and a better leash attachment system would make these almost perfect.


ice climbing by state