Got an email the other day from Needle Sports (one of the best climbing shops in the UK) asking two questions about ice axes for their website. They were trying to tie down a definitive answer to the age-old question people ask when buying a new axe. I’m not sure I helped.
a) What you consider the best all-around ice axe for a beginner for Scottish conditions is, one that’ll also cope with the odd trip abroad to steeper watery ice stuff?
First off you need to get an axe with the following features for UK climbing: has to be able to be used fully leashless (don’t even start using a leash, you’ll climb safer and better without one), meaning a hand hook at the bottom of the grip, and a comfortable ergonomic grip. It needs a solid large adze (for digging through crud and jamming in cracks and torquing), a hammer and a T rated pick (stronger for bashing around on rock and mud!). Unless you’re a walker don’t be tempted into buying a classic beginner’s basic alpine/walking axe, as this will limit the speed at which you gain confidence on the steep stuff, and will need to be replaced very quickly if your climbing takes off (don’t listen to old climbers telling you they started with the crap stuff, as it took them twenty years to climb Point 5, whereas you could be doing it in your first season with good tools). So the answer would be Petzl Quark, DMM Rebel, Grivel Quantum Tech, BD Viper. Which of these is best? They all, so make a list, place each name in a hat and pick one. This will be the best tool for you guaranteed!
b) What your particular favourite axe is and why (and this one doesn’t have to relate to Scotland or anything else at all, just your very own personal favourite - no qualifications needed, if you just like the colour that’s good enough)
In my humble opinion, the high watermark of axe design as of winter 09 is the Petzl Nomic*, a step above the BD and DMM options at the moment, climbing fantastically well on rock and ice and mixed. The only downside being that it doesn’t feature a hammer - which is a bummer (you have to carry a spare big wall hammer to placing pegs).
* I work for Petzl on and off, but if they made crap tools I’d tell you so.