Jason Griffith

Picks for Ice Climbing Tools

The ice climbing tool pick is your interface with the ice, and should be your next concern after the swing. There are two CE ratings for picks out there, B type and T type. The difference is determined by a strength test, but generally speaking, B types are thinner (~3 mm) and more suited for ice, and T types are thicker (~4 mm) and are better suited for rock and rougher treatment. Of course a thin B type pick can be used (and may be better for) a hard mixed route or an abusive mountain route, but will likely wear faster than a T-type pick. Likewise, some people will climb pure ice with 4mm T type picks (e.g. Grivel X-Monster). The main difference between these picks while climbing ice is that a thicker pick will be more inclined to shatter the ice, which makes it more difficult to create a secure placement.

Milled & Forged

Picks are made by two methods: milling and forging. The resulting metal in a forged pick is generally firmer, while a milled pick is softer. Some have claimed that the softness of a milled pick is advantageous for rock work. This advantage is accompanied by the disadvantage that milled picks need sharpening more often than their forged cousins. Because you are really at the mercy of the manufacturer in terms of materials, don’t worry about it too much.

Super Alloys

In the early 1990’s Black Diamond began producing picks out of the super alloy Aermet. These picks were significantly more durable than their milled cousins, so much so that they are still being used 20 years later. Unfortunately super alloy steel is an expensive material that puts a large wear on milling equipment. For these reasons Aermet picks have not been commercially available since the late 90s. However, super alloy picks for Black Diamond tools (and perhaps others) are now being produced by a custom maker at http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/.

Various Picks


Petzl Cascade (B) Black Diamond Laser (B) Grivel Cascade (B) Black Diamond Fusion (T)

Sharpening
You want to keep your picks sharp for both ice and rock. In ice, they will penetrate easier and shatter less. When sharpening a pick, hold the tool firmly. File in one direction only, towards the back of the tool, while maintaining the original angles. Work both sides evenly such that they come together in a reasonably sharp edge.

No need to get razor sharp here, as a razor sharp edge will dull more easily. If there is any metal “hooking” down on the bottom of the pick, flatten that off. You should now have a sharp tip and leading edge. Now take your file and gently sharpen the top of the pick for the first few inches. This edge bites into the ice when you lift the tool for removal. A nice edge here (not razor sharp) will make removal easier. After much filing, you will reach the first tooth with your leading edge. At this point you’ll need to either file the tooth off or buy a new pick. Do not ever use a grinder or sharpener that produces heat to sharpen your tools, as this can ruin the temper of the metal and make the pick very weak.

Sharpening a Pick


A dull pick A sharp pick
Sharpening the front Filing the top

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