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Gear Review: C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe

10.20.18

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Gear Review: C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe

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  • The Alpina next to my day pack.- Gear Review: C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe
  • The Alpina attached to my day pack.- Gear Review: C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe
  • Tightening up the shoes before beginning the ascent.- Gear Review: C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe
  • Starting our ascent.- Gear Review: C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe
  • Veering right to the steeper section.- Gear Review: C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe
  • Working up the steep section.- Gear Review: C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe
  • Almost to the top!- Gear Review: C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe
  • Taking in the views!- Gear Review: C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe
  • Post holing toward James Peak (13er).- Gear Review: C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe
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C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe specs:

  • Rugged T-rated pick and shaft (CE-UIAA Type 2)
  • Forged chromoly steel head
  • Ergonomic head design for a comfortable grip
  • Asymmetric steel spike plunges smoothly
  • Equipped with the technical Alpina leash
  • Carabiner holes at the head and spike for easy clipping
  • Colors (the photo nerd in me LOVES this).
  • Weight: 16.6 oz

Where to get it

The Bottom Line: A solidly built, well priced, lightweight ice axe for general mountaineering use.

Climbing with the Alpina Ice Axe. Photo by Jason Leach.

Educational note: There are two different grips for holding an ice axe, and general consensus in the climbing world is that the pick side of the axe should be facing toward the body. This makes it easier to get into "self-arrest position" particularly by a climber surprised by a slip. In the photos, the axe is being held in what is known as "self-belay grip," which in the event of a fall would require the user to change the head around in order to self-arrest. Self-belay is its own technique (where you drive the shaft of the axe into the snow to stop from sliding at all), which we were doing because the snow was soft; while we practiced self-arrests, we did not slide to far or fast. 

Back in May of 2017, a group of us made an attempt at Grays and Torreys peaks. About 2 miles in the route, hikers start ascending via switchbacks to the summit. The trail becomes narrow, and in the spring and summer it is easy to navigate. Since we were there in a shoulder season, however, it was covered entirely by snow and had a narrow ski track smoothly woven into it. The track had become hard packed and slippery due to the heating and cooling cycle that the valley can get. We had one ice axe and two sets of microspikes between the five of us, and while the weather was looking great, we opted to turn around about 500 feet up the slope (seen below in the photo). Most of our group was feeling uncomfortable, and that would not make for a good or safe continuation to the day. 

Following the trip, my fiancée, Rachael, and I talked more and more about safety in the mountains. On that trip we saw plenty of folks in sneakers continuing on with even less protection than our group had. Our talks reminded me of a time when I was new to winter hiking and watched a buddy of mine slide down an icy slope on Mount Washington moments after he was describing to me what a microspike was and that we might want to at least split the pair he had so that we each had at least one secure foot.

Hiking is inherently dangerous with shoulder seasons, and winter adds even more complexities. Gear can also be cost prohibitive at times. But in this case, the C.A.M.P. Alpina Ice Axe ticks enough boxes at a solid price point that we have found few excuses not to carry them with us when we head out to the mountains in shoulder seasons. Ours act as $100 insurance policies that are way cheaper than a rescue. 

I share all that to say that another important piece of owning an ice axe is to practice with it. Following that day on Grays and Torreys, Rachael ordered a set of crampons (also C.A.M.P.) and her own Alpina and set out to start practicing with them on a more regular basis. Luckily for those of us that live in the Colorado Front Range area, we have access to a great place called St. Mary's Glacier

The first thing to mention is the weight of the Alpina. Weighing in at slightly over 1 pound (16.6 ounces), the Alpina lands in the middle to upper end of the weight range (the Petzel Glacier Literide weighs in at 11.2 ounces for comparison), but I am happy to sacrifice a few ounces for something that feels solid in my hands and is will protect my life. Lightweight is great, but this thing feels like it can take a beating and keep stopping my slides. 

The shaft is made of T-rated aluminum, and the head is made of T-rated chromoly steel. A T-rating (Type 2) boils down to being a stronger and more durable tool according to UIAA and EN. At the bottom of the shaft is a nice piece of grip tape; this is very helpful since the shaft itself is smooth aluminum that can slide a bit when it gets wet. There is a slight curve to the shaft that makes chopping a bit easier, and the Alpina comes equipped with a hand leash (something other ice axe manufacturers make you purchase separately). In writing this review I learned that the inclusion of this is part of the UIAA Type 2 standards that are more rigorous than the EN standards alone. Did I mention how bomber this thing is?

The chromoly head includes a narrow adze (shovel) at the back. According to C.A.M.P. this has been optimized for cutting performance to make life easier. I have done some cutting with this in practice, and while it certainly is no snow shovel, it works. Cutting with an ice axe is a workout, so I recommend practicing this while you can and perhaps hitting the gym with some medicine ball slams and cross-body movements to strengthen those muscles. 

The head is covered with a plastic cap, which helps to make carrying the axe more comfortable. As noted, there are two ways you can carry an ice axe, but both ways involve keeping your palm on the head of the axe, so having a plastic piece there adds a degree of comfort and warmth since you are not resting entirely on the narrow metal head. 

In practicing self-arrests, the axe behaves as expected, and the same goes for self-belays. In this category, if you get a well-fitted axe, they all should perform the same. The real variable here is the user and how much he or she has practiced self-belaying and self-arresting movements with their axe.

Lastly, the most minor note is the color scheme. This should be the last reason to buy a particular ice axe, but ticking the weight, price, and performances boxes already, it was a nice bonus to have a good looking ice axe. The neon green on top of the black with a white leash holds a nice pop in photos and on the mountains. Vanity is a thing, it's okay to embrace it sometimes, particularly in this case when it means you are being safe.

For a reasonable price you get a well built, ready-to-go ice axe that you can take from the store and to the mountain in the same day (assuming you have practiced or are going to practice).

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