Since picking up ice climbing while working at Climbing Magazine 12 years ago, I've been hooked on the ephemeral world of frozen waterfalls, steep gullies and vertical sheets of white.
As with any sport, the name of the progression-game is lighter, faster, stronger. When it comes to ice climbing, this means a few things: Footwear has transformed from clunky mountaineering boots to slick leather and hybrid models. Once archaic crampons are now pointy machines like something out of Terminator movies. Ice screws have gotten lighter too, and easier to place, making the sport safer. And once-popular wrist-strangling ice-axe leashes have fallen out of vogue, replaced with ergonomic handles. Gripping ice tools now feels like holding onto an incut jug at the climbing gym.
All these advancements mean it's easier than ever to dance up the ice.
One thing that hadn't significantly changed, until now, is Petzl's ice tool line. As of this year, several of their tools are now easier to grip and swing, are more durable, and weigh less.
I got a chance to check out the new line in mid-January while on a trip to the world-class ice climbing area of Ouray, Colorado. I've been using Petzl tools since the beginning of my ice-climbing career, and what I found on some 50 pitches (pitches in the park average 100 feet) of climbing over four days was that all three new tools swing into the ice with ease — noticeably better than before.
Petzl updated three tools in their line for 2018: Quark, Nomic, and Ergo (now called the Ergonomic). The Sum'Tec and Gully mountaineering tools remain unchanged.
Since ice climbing is a niche sport, allow me to clarify the line: The Quark is the entry-level ice tool, also made for technical mountaineers and lightweight alpinists; the Nomic is for vertical waterfalls and hooking steep rock; the Ergonomic works best on radically overhanging rock and ice. All three tools now have hydroformed shafts and insulted molded grips. The molded grips also cut weight, as there's no longer the need to wrap the tools with heavy hockey tape.
All three models now have a nylon insert in the head, where the pick and hammer connect to the top of the shaft, which keeps the pick from rattling loose in extremely cold conditions.
This is the third time these tools have been changed since debuting in 2010, and each time they've gotten lighter (now 550 grams with accessories). They have an improved spike at the bottom, plus a button-activated folding, adjustable grip (Griprest); an updated sliding trigger-grip (Trigrest) that's now easier to use for technical mountaineering when planting in couloirs; and the grip handle is now wrapped in high-friction rubber.
These tools are still featherweight, but at twenty grams lighter, now even easier to swing, making them more desirable for demanding alpine routes where every ounce counts.
I climbed for many hours with the Quark on the toughest pure-ice routes I could find and was psyched. The price for the Quark is $260 each, ships with Ice pick.
The Nomic, which debuted in 2006 and was updated in 2010, was my first technical ice tool — and I've since sampled Black Diamond's Fuel and Cobra tools, plus a pair of prototype Trango Mantis tools – and they remain my go-to for hard ice and mixed. I also use these for dry tooling, where I wedge, pry and hook the picks on rock edges and cracks.
I used these the most during my time I was at Ouray. The hollow, offset double handle grip is now easier to hold, and also lanyard compatible. And the Nomic has a serrated stainless-steel endpoint for use in cane mode. The head also has a built-in hammer – which is great because my old ones are bashed up from smashing pitons in the rock – yet with all these improvements the tool is lighter (585g). The price for the Nomic is $300 each, ships with Pur’Ice picks. Hammer now included.
This is Petzl's ultra-specialized, high-end tool, which debuted in 2008. I chose these when climbing routes that required hooking vertical and overhanging rock more often than swinging into ice. When it came to vertical ice, they were very aggressive, too much so for my taste; I'm used to the gentler curves found on the Nomics. But I'm also not an expert or competitive mixed climber; if I were, these would be my tools of choice.
Like the Nomics, the Ergonomics have a double grip, but these are even more "ergonomic" to grab (thicker and flatter) making them easier on the forearms when clasped. Unlike the Nomics, the grip is not hollowed out, so that the tools are more durable for use on extreme routes. These are (635g) workhorses, designed for climbing the steeps – including roofs – so they're reinforced for torque strength and competition settings. The price for the Ergonomic is $360 each, and they ship with Pur’Dry picks.
Petzl now offers two new picks at $60 each. The tapered 3mm Pur'Ice swings into ice easier than ever. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Pur'Dry picks are so thick (4mm, no taper) that they're designed to be used exclusively on rock, not ice.
All of these tools and new picks will be available to the public in Summer 2018, just in time for warm dry tool season.
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