Winter tools for the mountains tend to last for many years. I’ve had my old ice axe for twenty years now, and my crampons a similar length of time, and to be honest, they’ve got years of life left in them still.
However, when I landed the job as Fell Top Assessor on Helvellyn, which means climbing the mountain every day, seven days on, then seven days off throughout the winter, I thought it about time I looked at upgrading my winter hardware.
The Summit Evo axe from Petzl looked a stunning piece of kit when it arrived. It’s nicely balanced, not too heavy, and crucially, not too light either, despite the fact that the low weight is one of Petzl’s selling points for this axe (450g for the longest one in the range at 66cm). The Summit Evo is clearly very well made, and I can see it becoming my standard tool of choice for all winter hillwalking, instructing, low grade gully climbs, and mixed buttresses too.
I was slightly disappointed to see that I’d actually been sent the 59cm length axe to review, as I’d asked for a 52cm one. Ice axe length is one of my pet quibbles to be honest, as longer axes seem to get used mainly for leaning on like a walking stick, and are just a bit too unwieldy to use properly to cut steps. They also make it hard to get into the correct position to arrest a fall – uphill hand on the head, other hand on the spike, both elbows tucked in. My old axe was 45cm, and was absolutely spot on for using in the way they are intended, as a tool for safe winter mountain adventures, and not as a walking stick. That said, for Alpine routes I can certainly see that a slightly longer axe has the edge.
But, that aside, I really like this axe. I’ve used it extensively on mixed routes up to Grade III, and it feels good even just on walking terrain. The slight curve to the shaft makes it a better choice for those wanting a technical axe for low grade climbs, rather just on walking terrain, although I did find I needed to play around with it a little to find the balance point for clove-hitching a sling to when burying it for a belay anchor.
The head of the axe benefits from really solid anchoring placements in hard snow, ice, and frozen turf, and the shaft gives a good grip whatever you’re wearing on your hands.
For step cutting the adze is a good size, and again the balance and weight of the axe made for easier work when cutting both uphill and downhill steps than would a lighter axe.
I think Petzl are on to a real winner here with this axe. Retailing at around £120, it puts itself squarely in the same league as a handful of other good all-round winter walking axes, but I think the build quality, the feel of the axe in the hand, and the fact that it really is a very good tool indeed will set it apart from many others of a similar price.
So, have I gone back to using my trusty old friend now that the review period for the Summit Evo is over? Not a chance!