Axe Leashes

February 10, 2011

Reading Time: 388 minutes.

Hi Andy,
Great info as usual!  I’ve just started leading multi-pitch ice and have loved going leashless.  Having some sort of lanyard is a great option, but I’d like to avoid more gear hooked or tied to the front of my harness.  What is your opinion of just carrying a spare tool?  What style of tool would you pick (I’ve talked to some that cut down a lightweight mountaineering axe)?  And finally, what would be an optimum way to carry it off the back without getting in the way? 
Thanks for any light you can shed on this.
As above, any opinions or further ideas would be great.  Even if its “quit your crying and just go with lanyards”.
Thanks again,


If you think going leashless with lanyards seems like a pain, then I guarantee to carry the third tool is will feel like even more of a pain in the arse.

People used to carry a 3rd tool primarily in case a pick broke; which was a more common occurrence in the old days (just as the whole head snapping off or the shaft breaking!), plus it was an insurance against a dropped tool ( I expect just as many tools were dropped back than as have been dropped without leashes).  I’ve used a 3rd tool a few times when soloing - just in case - plus they can come in handy when used as a giant ice hook.  In fact, I think DMM or someone should come up with a short light hammer with a blade, that could be used for hammering pro (most techy tools are poor at this) and as an ice hook (HB made one a short time before they went bust).

Anyway if you’re carrying a 3rd tool it has to be on your harness (if it’s clipped on your pack then it may as well be in the boot of your car if you drop a tool mix crux).  Attaching a tool via an ice clipper adds more weight and it’s something else to tangle and stab yourself with.  Basically, it’s something you’ll ditch very quickly.

As usual, my advice is to get a set of lanyards (spray with WD40 to stop them freezing) and just get used to them.  I promise every problem and drawback they have is nothing compared to a dropped tool, plus the more you use them the more you iron out those problems, and every time you drop a tool and fish it back again, you’ll know I was right.