Field test and review
It goes without saying that the milder weather is a lot more conducive to hiking. It is not always easy, when you are sitting indoors during the winter months, watching the wind howling outside, to consider gearing up, throwing on your pack and getting outdoors for a hike. You may have heard the saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only poor gear selection. I have always found this to be somewhat true and quite enjoy hitting the trail during the cooler months. For one, there are a lot less people on the trail and this certainly makes for a more isolated and one-on-one with nature experience.
There seems to be growing popularity among the hiking community to venture into the alpine regions during winter. Personally, I have always found it exciting to be on an overnight hike in the alps only to wake to a dusting of snow over my tent, campsite and surrounding mountains. It is quite exhilarating to be crunching through freshly laid snow and seeing the landscape be transformed into a white ‘wonderland’.
But what if you want to take things more seriously and head out on the depths of winter for a pure snow hike and camp? Then you will need to gear up accordingly. If you are new to this, like me, you probably aren’t quite ready to start gearing up with mountaineering and ice climbing tools but what you will need are, at the very least, a pair of crampons and an ice axe.
When I started researching what to buy I was astounded at the vast range of ice tools available. There were simply too many to choose from and they all seemed to come in a range of shapes, sizes and shafts. So, I headed down to Bogong Equipment in Melbourne’s CBD to ask the experts for a bit more clarity.
Following an extremely informative, one hour, introduction to the various ice tools and the pros and cons of each I was advised to select a tool that would take me to the limits of what I planned to do. As I have no intention of climbing ice falls at this stage I chose to equip myself with the Grivel G1. I also grabbed a pair of Grivel crampons but I will talk about them in another review.
So why did I choose the Grivel G1? This axe is best for general mountaineering applications and is suitable for early season hiking, backpacking or ski mountaineering. This is exactly what I intended to do so this axe suited my needs perfectly. The G1 has adequate steep snow climbing ability for more difficult routes but if you plan to climb extremely steep snow and ice routes more regularly I would recommend the Grivel Air Tech Evolution or go talk to the guys at Bogong for more qualified advice.
An ice axe is an essential safety tool for winter hiking. With proper instruction, it is easy to learn the basics and serves as a foundation for all subsequent winter hiking and mountaineering skills.
If you’re new to winter hiking, the first thing you need to understand is the difference between a regular, or basic ice axe, and a technical ice axe. Technical ice axes are used almost exclusively for climbing high angle ice. They’re much shorter than a regular ice axe, tend to have picks that are oriented at a much more acute angle, and are almost always used with leashes.
A basic ice axe is designed to be used as a balance and safety tool when hiking up or descending steep slopes, as a self-arrest tool for stopping an expected fall and down slope slide, a brake when glissading (sliding downhill on your butt), as a tool for creating steps, and as a retrievable snow anchor when you need to rappel down a pitch but don’t have a good natural feature to tie onto. They differ from technical ice axes in the following ways: they are longer, may or may not be used with leashes, and have a much less acute angle between the pick and the axe handle.
Carrying the Grivel G1
Have you ever wondered what those looped straps are hanging from the bottom of your pack? They are axe loops. The G1 secured neatly to the outside of my pack using these loops to secure the head of the ice axe with elastic loops, higher on the pack, to secure the shaft. Sitting neatly on my back I didn’t even notice the additional 440 grams of weight. When I reached the snowline, it was time for the ice axe to come out for additional balance. The G1 has an ergonomically designed head to allow your hand to sit naturally and comfortably when you’re traversing miles of snow or glacial terrain. It is well worth testing your carrying technique before you make your purchase as all axe heads are forged differently and will offer different levels of comfort in your hand.
When using the axe for cutting steps into snow or when held in the self-arrest position the rubber grip on the shaft provided increased handling as well as adding an additional layer of protection between my hands and the coldness of the shaft. Believe me, the metal can get cold in sub-zero temperature.
Creating Steps with Grivel G1
The G1 features a well-designed hot forged adze that effortlessly chipped away firm and icy snow. It also performed well when hacking out icy steps to improve my footing on the trail. I haven’t yet tested its capabilities for digging out tent platforms and anchors but I will be sure to update this review when I have had that opportunity. From what I have heard the G1 meets all expectations in these areas too.
Steep Ice and Snow Climbing
My first adventure with the G1 was to summit Mount Buller in the Victorian Alps. The approach was steep and icy in places and I was thankful I had my crampons and Grivel G1 along for the ride. The G1 was well suited to a steep snow traverse and left me feeling confident ascending or descending any slope.
I also spent an hour or so practicing self-arrest techniques off the summit and felt really at ease sliding head first, on my back, down an icy slope; knowing that the G1’s would arrest my fall. The G1’s pick isn’t super aggressive (one reason it self-arrests so well) but was aggressive enough for moderate snow and ice routes. The G1’s hot forged pick bit into firm snow extremely well in addition to displaying very good soft snow performance. As a comparison, I tested out a curve shaft axe (the Grivel Air Tech Evolution) and felt that it self-arrested every-so-slightly better than the straight shaft G1. The performance difference was only marginal and certainly not enough for the intended purpose of this axe.
An Improvised Anchor
The Grivel G1 is a CEN “B” rated ice axe meaning it is suited to general mountaineering. It may be used as a dead-man anchor or in a “T-slot” type of situation for moderate loads. This means it’s use should be restricted to situations where the snow is not too steep. This would be typical of many Australian type situations but it should be emphasised that for steep ice requiring front pointing and the like a “B” rated shaft is not recommended. While I have not tested the axe to this extent (purely due to my lack of experience in these conditions) I have been informed by more qualified colleagues that the G1 features a well-designed pick that would facilitate the axe to be driven into the snow for self-anchoring or as a backup while belaying on snow. I will let you know once I have gained the expertise to try this.
The Bottom Line
I can say without hesitation that my first ‘real experience’ in snow hiking was a huge success, Thanks to Bogong and their Grivel gear. I spent hours and hours of comfortable hiking/climbing using the G1 ice axe – the classical neutral pick with ergonomic designs is natural in your hand. Although very light in weight for classical alpinism, with the G1 you get all the characteristics that people love about Grivel; hot forged and has a one-piece head which provides maximum strength and no screws to mess with. The Grivel G1 Ice Axe features a traditional design to give you everything you need in a hiking/mountaineering axe without compromising strength or performance.
I will definitely be back for more ‘snow play’ and I will be sure to have my G1 with me.
If you are keen to brave the cold head on down to Bogong and ask them to fit you out with the right gear for you.
Buy direct from Bogong Equipment for $159.95
The Grivel G1 is a very light ice axe for classical alpinism that still has all the characteristics of a Grivel ice axe: hot forged, one-piece head that provides maximum strength and minimal weight.
- Classical neutral pick with ergonomic design that remains comfortable after hours and hours of climbing.
- A natural rubber grip covers the Ergal 7075 shaft of G1Plus
- Sizes: 58-66-74 cm
- Rubber grip
- Carbon steel
- Hot forged
Field Tested by
Darren Edwards > www.trailhiking.com.au