Ski mountaineering today? Long, moderate, alpine ice tomorrow? A steep snow route the next? The Blue Ice Akila ice axe, available in a hammer or adze version, is an excellent choice for these adventures. There was a time where the ice axe options were twofold–either a long-shafted heavy mountaineering ice axe, or a shorter straight-shafted technical ice tool. Now, axes are designed for every particular type of climbing in order to maximize the quality of experience by lightening the load and specializing the usage.
First off, axes versus tools: basically, ice axes are for mountaineering and ice tools are for ice climbing, both of which have different strength and use classifications given by the UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme). The UIAA does many things, but important to our discussion here, they create the quality standards for climbing equipment. The UIAA has two types of ice axe classifications: Type 1 or Basic, and Type 2 or Technical. Generally speaking, mountaineering axes fall into the Basic category and ice tools in the Technical. Looking online, there are a variety of definitions that distinguish these two types of axes, but the current primary distinction seems to be that the Type 2 tools are strong enough and can withstand the torque incurred when using ice tools on rock, i.e. technical mixed climbing. This information can also be found on the little paper packet that comes with the Akilas.
The Blue Ice Akila ice axes are rated Type 1 (Basic) and certified with the CE stamp of approval. Being hybrid axes, they bridge general mountaineering with technical ice climbing. A standard straight-shafted mountaineering ice axe used for walking up snowy and glaciated terrain such as the volcanoes of the Cascade Range, are typically 55 to 75cm in length and have an average weight somewhere around 17oz (486g). Curved-shafted ice tools with aggressively angled picks specific for ice and mixed climbing weigh around 20oz (570g) and have a standard length of around 55cm. The Akila axe with the hammer weighs 12.2oz (345g), the adze version is 11.6oz (330g), and both are 49cm long, so significantly lighter and shorter than these other common axes and tools.
Within the world of hybrid tools, I notice three types of design combinations: 1) extremely light, primarily aluminum tools with mountaineering picks (less sharp and more flat) made for ski and non-technical mountaineering such as the Camp Corsa (50-70cm options, 7.1oz/202g, Type 1); 2) super light steel and aluminum Type 1 rated axes with aggressive, sharp and curved picks used for technical ski-mountaineering, easy ice climbing and easy to moderate technical mountaineering on snow and ice (usually 45-50cm, 10-14oz/280-400g); and 3) super light steel and aluminum Type 2 rated axes used for everything mentioned above in number 2 plus dry tooling (50+cm, 17oz/470g). The Akilas are in the second category, yet they come pretty close to the third with their higher weight (more strength) and traditional pointed spike (the pointed part at the bottom of the shaft).
Whoa! That’s a lot. Check it: the Akilas kick butt for skiing and light-and-fast technical mountaineering because they are light, have technical picks and curved shafts (so your knuckles don’t slam into ice when you’re ice climbing), and are short and can fit either on the back of a small pack, or even in it. Whip them off the pack for some low-angled ice or even a steep bulge, and then plunge them in 50-degree snow to top out a major mountaineering objective. An effortlessly slidable plastic pinky rest makes for easy gripping on technical ice, yet can be moved out of the way, farther up the shaft or completely off the axe, when sinking into deep snow. A subtle yet grippy texture encases the shaft, making technical climbing safer and less pumpy.
The hammer version of the Akila would make a perfect second tool for guides and mountaineers who want that extra security for crevasse rescue and the ease of hammering pickets into hard snow (because most mountaineering axes have an adze). The short shaft is typically too short for general snow and glacial mountaineering when a longer shafted axe doubles as a cane. However, if you go the route I often take, which is to have a ski pole in one hand (for stability and efficiency of energy output) and an axe in the other, then a shorter axe is really not a problem.
Some examples of ideal uses for the Blue Ice Akila axes would be the Kautz Glacier on Mt. Rainier (Tahoma) in Washington State, the Polish Glacier Direct on Aconcagua (Ackon Cahuak) in Argentina, Pinnacle Gully on Mt. Washington (Agiocochook) in New Hampshire, and a spring ascent and ski descent of Longs Peak (Neniisotoyou’u) in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. On some trips, rather than carrying the entire arsenal of ideal equipment options, we are looking for those certain pieces that can cover the range of activities, such as a two-week trip to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, where moderate alpine ice and long glacial slogs are plentiful, with occasional side ventures onto the seracs and crevasses for some steep glacial ice climbing. Throw in a steep ski descent of Mont Blanc du Tacul, and the Akilas may just be the perfect choice. Now, should your trip include some mixed climbing beyond light-duty M2 edging, an upgrade to a Type 2 hybrid, such as the Petzl Sum’Tec may be in order. They are slightly heavier (17oz/470g), slightly longer (55cm), and noticeably more expensive ($199.95), but they are rated to handle the angled torqueing that comes with yarding on ice picks stuck sideways in granite cracks.
As far as negatives, I can’t really find any, which is an uncommon experience for me with my practiced critical mind. I could say that one downside is that the Akilas have fixed picks and can’t be replaced should the picks become dull. But doing laps in the Ouray Ice Park are not what these axes are made for, nor should they be grinding on rock very often because of their Type 1 rating. Used as designed, the picks should last decades. So yeah, I’m at a loss. Blue Ice has created a quality set of alpine axes with the Akila Hammer and Adze. As spring comes, I am looking forward to some fun ski mountaineering ventures here in the Colorado backcountry. I won’t hesitate to reach for the Akilas over the other options in my closet.
Mike Lewis, M.A., is an IFMGA/AMGA mountain guide living in Berthoud, Colorado. Mike has been guiding and instructing rock, ice, alpine, and skiing since 1993 throughout the US and internationally.
Lightweight (12.2oz/345g or 11.6oz/330g depending on hammer/adze)
Short in length (49cm)
Swings well into ice
Adjustable pinkie rest
Pick, adze, spike protectors included
Fixed pick can’t be replaced