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I'll be doing a guided tour which includes going up a steep slope on a glacier, therefore I need an ice axe. I could rent one for a couple of bucks from the tour organizers, but I was wondering if there is any reason not just to use my dad's 30-year-old ice axe (if the length is ok).

I can't see any rust, but perhaps the design or materials are significantly better today?

Here's some pictures for reference. DIN A4 (210mm x 297mm) sheet for scale:

ice axe

Extra detail part 1 - Extra detail part 2

  • You could check whether it needs sharpening: backcountry.com/explore/how-to-sharpen-your-ice-tools – Ben Crowell Aug 23 '15 at 13:48
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    I'd bring it, but probably remove/replace the webbing first. But, you must also wear the matching clothes: sueddeutsche.de/reise/… – requiem Aug 23 '15 at 17:23
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    The Hot Network Questions list put a line break after "ice", and my brain filled in "cream". And I was thinking that using 30-year old ice cream sounded like a really bad idea. – Nate Eldredge Aug 24 '15 at 16:07
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    If you need to sharp any tool like crampons and ice axes, DO NOT use any power tool but a file, by hand. The reason is that using a grinder the high temperatures could damage the metal. I would contact the producers of the item in any case: camp.it – Dakatine Aug 24 '15 at 17:26
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For a guided glacier tour: No reason - go ahead and use it.

I would not worry about resharpening, as from your description there are no steep ice sections on the route. If there are and you like using your own hands, start filing. The quick option is to keep the geometry and just sharpen everything. The longer one is to reshape the tip so it looks more like a modern ice tool. Just follow the steps described here (will need some imagination as yours looks quite different to begin with).

The major difference to recent axes is that it's not normed. This means it is not tested for use as a T-anchor. I used B-rated and non-rated for T-anchors in crevasse rescue trainings and they did all hold up. So as long as you don't do anchors to belay someone on a slope, I would not even worry about using it as a T-anchor. As you are guided you will anyway not come into the situation where you need to set up a T-anchor.

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    Having used (and abused) Camp axes from that era, I would not be worrying about it not being "normed". This gem was built before the days they came with bit of toilet paper generated by an industry that fears being sued by some idiot doing something really stupid and deserving of a Darwin Award 1st Class. – user5330 Aug 24 '15 at 5:14
  • Yeah sure I totally agree, much of that old gear is stable to the point of indestructibility. Yet I do not know the one in particular, so I am hesitant to write such advice on the internet. – imsodin Aug 24 '15 at 7:13
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From a safety perspective, there's no reason why you couldn't use that axe. But if it was mine, I'd probably have it hung up on the wall as an heirloom, or in a display case with photos of my Dad carrying it. Stuff like that carries huge sentimental value. The only other reason I can think of why you wouldn't want to carry it, is because it's going to be a lot heavier than anyone else's axe.

As far as design and materials go, most glacier travel axes these days are made out of some sort of light-weight alloy, your axe there looks like it's made out of stainless steel, which is much stronger, you could cut stone with that axe, and that spike looks absolutely deadly, it might sink a bit further than you'd like when you lean on it for support.

If you want to bring it to save a couple of buck then go ahead, but don't modify it in any way, you'll probably do more damage than good.

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    The shaft could be fiberglass/aluminum. The head is likely forged carbon steel, and even the current ultralight models tend to use steel for the pointy bits. Still, it probably contains more mass than modern designs. I think only BD has been daring enough to switch to stainless in recent years. The angle and curvature of the pick remains largely unchanged over the years. My guess would be early 80s, possibly late 70s. – requiem Aug 23 '15 at 18:08
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I use an axe far older than that as my primary axe. In my opinion, modern ice axes are made too short. Besides, I can get a grip on wood better than the modern materials.

One thing of key note, test the self-arrest. On my axe I found self-arrest does not work on any slope steep enough to warrant it, and the only viable self-arrest mode is ramming the shaft of the axe into the snow.

For belay, you must use an old technique suitable to the axe. I did this by ramming the axe into the snow all the way up to the head and clipping a climber's belay to the shaft of the axe. (The third man would rig a backup belay on a short line to the primary belay for leader moves).

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    You use an ice ax that you know you can't self-arrest with!?!? – Ben Crowell Aug 23 '15 at 22:08
  • Nobody was going to be able to self-arrest on the main slope anyway. – Joshua Aug 23 '15 at 22:12

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