Ask the Master: Waterfall Ice – To Adze, or Not to Adze

By Jeff Ward (AMGA/IFMGA Mountain Guide) | February 8th, 2017

Ice climber with an adze on the left tool and a hammer on the right tool. Photo: AlexSava / Getty Images.

I might be stirring the pot a bit with this question, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. It seems like every time I witness a novice ice leader stumbling their way up a WI 3/4 that they have no business leading, the leader-in-question always has an adze on one of their high-end, aggressive ice tools. I’ve seen this whether I’m at an ice fest or just down at the local crag. A quick YouTube search of “ice climbing falls” also confirms this theory [Weekend Whipper: Ice Fall Wrecking Ball].

Is having an adze on your technical ice tool the mountaineering equivalent of showing up to a bouldering gym with your harness on (a.k.a. the sign of a novice)? Or is there a legitimate reason for equipping an aggressive tool with an adze?

—RANDYTHEMUSCLEMANSAVAGE, via Ask the Master forum



I agree with you that having two hammers (or nothing at all) makes more sense for most pure waterfall ice situations. You can usually take care of all your chopping needs with your pick. Now, if you are talking more of an alpine setting where you may need an adze for bigger projects, like chopping a bivy ledge or building a snow anchor, then having an adze on your tool might make more sense.

I remember long ago (20+ years) taking an adze to the head while climbing a long route in the Canadian Rockies. I was a bloody mess by the time that cut finally froze shut. I’m pretty sure a hammer to the head is much cleaner than an adze to the head, but both are probably worth avoiding.

As for the “disturbing trend” you mentioned of novice ice leaders using an adze, I don’t know. Maybe that’s what the gear shops are selling to new ice climbers.


—Jeff Ward


Got a question about climbing? Submit your question in the Ask the Master forum and either Jeff Ward (AMGA/IFMGA Mountain Guide) or Martin Volken (IFMGA Mountain Guide) will supply the answer.

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