Petzl Quark: Alpine Transformer

Posted on: September 17, 2012


MSRP: $259

Weight: roughly 550 grams, depending on modular options

The leashless revolution took hold a few years back, and it's had lasting effects on axe design. We've largely lost the do-it-all mountain tools—good for plunging, hammering and technical ice/rock—in exchange for axes that excel on very specific terrain, often steep ice. Walk into any gear shop today and this still holds true. With few exceptions, it's either the straight piolet for snow or something wildly aggressive that will perform better on M12 than WI3. For a guy who likes a little bit of it all, from snow climbs and glissading to ice cragging and alpine adventures, I truly believe that there was a better line-up of mountain tools five years ago than there is today.

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Petzl revamped their entire line of technical axes two seasons ago. They tweaked the Nomic for steep ice. They re-imagined the Ergo for hard mixed climbing. And I am happy to report that they did not bastardize the Quark. Indeed, they made countless improvements to this all-round alpine tool.

The new Quarks are awesome. I got to try them out for over a year on all sorts of climbs across Colorado, in the Tetons, and on Rainier. They led the way on glacier travel, 60-degree snow, ice from WI2 to WI5+ and some puckering and exposed verglas-encrusted ridges. Not once did they let me down.

What makes these tools so great in so many conditions? First off, they're crazy light (100 grams lighter per tool than the old Quarks). The swing feels natural, the new modular components are fun and versatile and, overall, these tools simply get the job done on every kind of ground.

The shaft curvature is really the only major ingredient that stays true from old model to new. This maintains the Quark's classic swing—more an elegant flick from the elbow and wrist than a powerful assault from the shoulder. That saves energy, always a plus.

The Quarks sink into water ice with confidence. Even in hard and brittle ice, sticks are solid, never ending with the all-too-common reverberation in the grip. This absorption also saves energy and makes every swing all the more satisfying.

But it's the modular components that really make the new Quarks stand out: I'll start at the spike. If climbing more snow than ice, simply use a hex wrench (provided) to remove the bottom grip rest. This allows for a great plunging experience from a technical tool. That said, a little bit of the grip still protrudes, sometimes catching when pulling out of a plunge. Also, while I found the grip rest adequate for technical climbing, it did not always provide protection for my knuckles on knobby or low-angle ice.

Above, there's a trigger finger connected to a second grip rest. The trigger swings up and down, allowing you to easily change the grip size. This was great for my small hands and when trading off with partners. The trigger itself is an unusual quirk. I enjoyed having the trigger down (others disliked it). The trigger also allows you to slide the high grip rest to the top of the shaft, great for plunging. It takes just a second to convert. The high grip rest is one of my favorite new features. Matching on ice or while drytooling was easy and comfortable. I matched frequently enough that I will be adding some grip tape along the mid-shaft.

The picks have been upgraded from B-rated to T-rated, and the profile is a few degrees more aggressive. No complaints here. Except that in streamlining the axe head, Petzl shaved weight from the one place you want it most. The Quarks are lighter in the head than most technical axes. This didn't help put weight behind the hammer or adze either. For those who want a heavier swing, the new picks do have a place to bolt on pick weights (masselottes), but I did not have a chance to test these.

I was most disappointed with the streamlined axe head, which is lighter, slicker and accepts a new set of "back end" components. Both the factory hammer and adze are too small to serve their functions well. I tended to bang the outside of the curved axe into the ice more frequently than the hammer or adze. This form over function is a real disappointment for what Petzl hails as its finest technical alpine tool. I cannot imagine bashing a piton with the elegant little hammer, less than an inch square. And I could barely clear ice for screw placements with the adze, let alone chop out a ledge. While the climbing capabilities of the Quarks blew me away, these components felt more like toys than tools.

All in all, the new modular Quark is a great do-it-all technical transformer. With a few turns of the wrench you have a full-on ice climbing tool—or a stripped-down alpine tool. If you love getting into the mountains and are looking for one set of tools that can do everything well, I highly recommend the Quark. Poke around for more functional after-market components and you could make the few drawbacks here disappear.

Pros: Excels on every kind of technical terrain; modular components add versatility; lightweight; solid.

Cons: Axe head is very lightweight; avoid the puny factory hammer and adze; grip rest could improve.

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