Chouinard Alpine hammer and Piolet questions?


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Late Night Greg

Ice climber
Rancho Cordova, Ca
Feb 26, 2009 - 02:40pm PT
Thanks for the info on the Roosters and the Big Bird, Dane.

I picked up the Rooster hammer around 10 years ago at a local shop that sells a lot of stuff on consignment. I had no idea what it was, but thought it looked pretty wild - especially the spike. Whoever owned it had covered the entire shaft with rubber that looked like could have been inner tube material glued to the shaft. It was actually a pretty clean job and gave the handle a feel like the original BD X15s or Black Prophets. I wish I would have left it as it was because after all who knows who used it and where it had been, but I was too curious to see how it was constructed, not knowing what it was, I thought perhaps it was homemade until I got the rubber off of it and could see it was not home-made.

I didn't find out what it was until I found the adze on eBay advertised as a Rooster and I think that is where I saw the Russell Rainey reference. It appears to have never been used. Was Russell Rainey the designer/maker? I don't know anything of about you?

As for using them, I tried the hammer once on some really smooth and dense vertical water ice and the purchase was terrible. I imagine they worked pretty well on less than vertical stuff. What kind of terrain did you typically use yours on?

As for the knuckle protector spike; it looks like it would have been good for just that; keeping the knuckles off of the ice, but would have been a snagging/stabbing hazard when not in hand. Looks like holstering them would be a hassle too.

I enjoy collecting this old stuff and like trying them out just to see how well they worked. I tried the short rubber-handled Hummingbird with the solid pick and was very impressed with how well it worked on vertical ice, it felt very solid and stuck very nicely. I'll try the tube pick Hummingbird this weekend, that is if there is any ice left - itís been warm the last week and a half.

The later bent handle Hummingbird has such a steep angle on the pick and such limited pick-to-shaft clearance they require a very unnatural swing; requiring a downward motion mid-swing and have absolutely no clearance for bulges. But they hook well and look cool - I like the tubular adze/bollard cutter attachment for the hammer.
Ain't no flatlander

Feb 26, 2009 - 04:43pm PT
"Was Russell Rainey the designer/maker?"

Unlikely. Russel created the SuperLoop telemark binding in Jackson Hole. That latter evolved into the Hammerhead, which is still on the market though he sold the company a few years back. AFAIK he wasn't into ice climbing.

BTW be careful with that tube pick...they snap easily.

Trad climber
Iss WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 26, 2009 - 05:43pm PT
"As for using them, I tried the hammer once on some really smooth and dense vertical water ice and the purchase was terrible. I imagine they worked pretty well on less than vertical stuff. What kind of terrain did you typically use yours on?"

Most of the guys who I knew that climbed on them and from pictures in CLIMBING they were vertical ice tools. I used them there and alpine climbing. Lots of steep ice where Mugs took his.

There are guys here like Jello or Mike Kennnedy among others that will know the history for all these tools.
Late Night Greg

Ice climber
Rancho Cordova, Ca
Feb 27, 2009 - 02:24am PT
Thanks Dane - I should have said "compared to a modern pick" like a BD Stinger or the like.

BTW be careful with that tube pick...they snap easily

Thanks for the warning - I'll be trying it on a top-rope.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Feb 27, 2009 - 12:09pm PT
A classic account of an ascent of the Black Ice Couloir has the leader encountering a good sized blood smear with a telltale snapped off tube just above it! Those dainty little tubes were easy to produce but hard to trust. Once the design changed from the cross screw to the end screw, the tubes became beefy and reliable. I carry a Hummingbird hammer with the beefy tube as a third tool. Nice for starting screws and the odd blob of ice that might not withstand a chisel tip pick.

Trad climber
Iss WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 27, 2009 - 12:38pm PT
" I should have said "compared to a modern pick" like a BD Stinger or the like."

Even the stinger is old technology these days. Newest BD stuff, Laser or even the Titan mixed pick tuned up a bit can be better on pure ice. The Petzel stuff excellent as well. Their mixed picks are high tech (thank Jello for that) and work equally well on water ice. Their Cascade pick is amazing on pure ice. Hot forged, you'll seldom see either of them bend let alone break. Bent handles and better pick technology have negated any of the older tools for serious climbing. Screws these days don't need anything to start them, even in the very worst conditions, past a tiy bit of hand pressure. They are stronger, will hold more and are much, much faster to place even in the worse ice.

So really there is no comparison when you talk old to new. (tools, picks and screws and add in clothes boots and crampons as well) All that is one of the main reasons much harder stuff (ice and mixed) is being climbed now by even the more moderate climbers than just a few years ago.
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Feb 27, 2009 - 12:54pm PT
A classic account of an ascent of the Black Ice Couloir has the leader encountering a good sized blood smear with a telltale snapped off tube just above it! Those dainty little tubes were easy to produce but hard to trust.

I seem to recall that the tube bent over, but, did not break? Was a huge leader fall of over 100 feet?

Can't recall who. Anyone?

Biggest thing for me with modern v old ice gear is the pro. As in, you get gear on steep ice now where before it was easier to just run it out to a stance. Crampons haven't really improved a ton since the footfang (ridged platform, vertically oriented points). Tools are nicer, and, I totally take advantage of their improved geometry, but, I think its still more user than hand tool. Which is why hard routes got done with Terrors and classic picks and straight shafts. Wasn't a huge leap from there to modern tools, methinks. At least not logrithmic.

Does allow more weekend warrior types to get on the steeper stuff easier, though, to be sure (me included).

Fun stuff!

-Brian in SLC

Trad climber
Iss WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 27, 2009 - 03:31pm PT
We climbed these back in the early '80s

with these tools:

Now I am climbing stuff like this

with these

Which gives one a pretty good perspective on just how much new gear (crampons/screws and tools) have really changed the sport :)

Classic example.

With Terros, Footfangs or SMC rigids, pro from BITD and Koflachs or Haderers this would be solid WI6+ R. Today with modern gear, a simple WI5 and actually reasonably safe and pretty fun.


right here, right now
Feb 27, 2009 - 03:41pm PT

What is it about leashless tools that relieves one of the need for leashes?

I'm not asking about the advantages of not being leashed in, rather I'm curious how the ergonomics of those grips and the small catches render leashes obsolete as weight-bearing function.

With my arm problems for instance, and what little ice climbing I do, and not withstanding weight distribution on the front points, I'm completely dangling from my leashes at certain points, due to fatigue. (I swing a pair of first generation mildly curved Carbon Fiber Black Diamond Cobra)

I can imagine that the improved and altered ergonomic grips relieve hand/forearm strain (via perhaps straighter, more natural wrist articulation); but how much?

Trad climber
Iss WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 27, 2009 - 04:16pm PT
Roy you hit on the biggest advantages. Your wrist movements are no longer restricted. Way more like rock climbing around your tool shaft now. And probably a few dozen or more ways to use that shaft as a hand hold. No cold hands with the ability to use much, much lighter gloves because of the better circulation and the ability to drop your arms and hands and shake at every opportunity. Just the lighter gloves alone offer a better, less tiring grip.

Not that easy to change over for us "old guys" but once done you'll never, ever, go back. I am climbing harder stuff now than I ever did on leashes and all the while, no where close to being in shape.

Making leashes obsolete? That is a tougher question. For me loosing them has, because of all the advantages I can glean from climbing leashless over leashed. I still get fatigued but it takes a lot longer and recovery time is faster.

Guess the best way to describe it is make a comparison to how you get pumped climbing cracks. The crack pump is differenet than what I have always experienced climbing ice on leashes. Now leashless I do get pumped but more like I would crack climbing and I have all the normal remedies to drop back to, to get unpumped or avoid the pump altogether.

Sounds pretty flakely and slightly unbelievable to be honest but there is a huge difference for me between leashless and leashed climbing. Leashless being just that much easier, no matter the terrain or difficulty.

On my Nomics shown here for example there are four basic grips I use. full hand low, index finger over the first "latch" with 3 fingers low, full hand high with the "latch" as a rest under it and finally a full hand on any part of the rubber covered surface unsupported. But the last still gets some support just by using the radical curve of the shaft. I might use one of those or all four or more with each placement.

Now think of a solid enough placement that you climb on only one tool with both hands so you avoid unneeded placements...a lot of them. Or you pick hook using your second tool hooked over your first placed pick and yard up side ways on that one. Not moves I'd ever done or even thought about leashed.

Take a look on here...some pretty good ice climbing with modern tools.


for some awesome video and a better explanation at what people are doing leashless. Eye opener for me!

Ice climber
Feb 27, 2009 - 08:21pm PT
What Dane said.

Leashless is just a more natural way to climb because it encourages the climber to move in cadence with his own rhythm instead of against it as in leashed climbing.

I've gone unleashed now for so long that it feels unnatural to climb otherwise.

I stay warmer, get less pumped and therefore am more relaxed getting in and back out of trouble on routes.

Dane, when are we going up north for a trip?

Mountain climber
Feb 27, 2009 - 09:26pm PT
I recently saw a guy take a "short" fall from his leashless tools. With rope stretch he ended up 6 feet below his two tools. ha, looked funny as hell, but he had no choice but to lower down, get a second set and start pitch over. har har. Those tools looked so forlorned hanging up there 100 feet all by themselves.

Trad climber
Iss WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 28, 2009 - 03:02am PT
Jack, sounds like you have been busy! Just sent ya an email.

The smart ones figure out early on that anywhere past 1/2 a rope length off the ground, you add umbilicals.

That simple addition can let you avoid all (and there is a lot) of the silly sh#t happening in these two pictures.

Wee Jock

Feb 28, 2009 - 07:28am PT
Dane, old bean, if both your leashless tools rip out of/through the crappy ice and you fall 20 meters aren't you a bit likely to be murdered by your tools thrashing around and tied to you by umbilical bits of string - if you let go of them, that is?? "Hoist on your own petard" as the old bard might have said.

Trad climber
Iss WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 28, 2009 - 11:05am PT
Don't know Wee jock....I try to make a point of not falling off ;) But easy to understand your concerns.

Umbilicals or leashes? Once you take to the air all bets are off. Getting skewered by the leader's tools is an obvious added hazard without something tieing them on. Loosing one or both makes continuing problematic at best.

I do remember early on once taking a couple hundred pound dinner plate in the face while on leashes. Split me lip and cold cocked me like a side of beef. Woke up to my partner on the stance below yellling at me and the pillar turn a nice crimsom red beneath my feet. And I'd suddenly gained a lisp. Even unconscious I stayed in my wrist loops pinned to the wall instead of taking what would have been a good size fall but no 20m. Also popped a crampon off once, which was rather unpleasant to get sorted out at the time. Both places that umbilicals would have kept me tied to the hill.

Hey Gordon, sent you a private email as well.

Ice climber
Feb 28, 2009 - 11:58am PT
I'm going to throw this out to you guys but isn't part of the "style" of going leashless mean doing it without tethers? If the point of leashless is that is is more free and committing because you aren't connected to your axes and therefore have more to lose when you fall isn't climbing with tethers a contradiction?

I specifically don't use them because I haven't worked out a good system whereby I don't get confused and tangled up but it's my opinion that going leashless means just that. No wrist loops and no tethers. Anything else is being leashed.

Trad climber
Iss WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 28, 2009 - 12:36pm PT
Style is good Jack and I really admire it.

The old Canadian "umbilical aid" arguement put the topic in a bad light from the very beginning. I (admittedly one of the very few) just never saw it that way.

Leashes or umbilicals, either way you are tied to your tool which hopefully makes it more secure/safer.

I see ice climbing as so contrived and all of it "aid climbing".

Thinking about your and Tackle's climb on Kennedy. No crampons and you aren't really climbing in that enviroment. But it took more than stle to finish that climb. No tools may make it a ways but not far. Crampons and dagers were good enough for le Droites. Hob nails and a axe good enough for most all the big north walls.

Look at the Alps. Couple of years ago you'd get scoffed at for having leashes. Then umbilicals were almost forbidden. Now just a few years later with tools lost all over the alps..and places like the Emperor face on Robson, umbilicals are offered commercially and seen everywhere. Sported now by some good climbers but only outside the ice park.

I have used umbilicals almost since day one on terros back in the '70s. Not for aid (too scary for me) but as a fall back system to save my ass if I ripped the other tool and fell off.

That has happened two or three times that I destinctly remember.

For those that don't know Bldrjac, Jack Roberts, is one of the best alpinists in several generations and still hard at it. He's forgotten more about this kind of stuff than I know.

Style does matter, as Twight would say, and Jack's new routes over several decades clearly attest to that.

So I'll easily bow to the acknowledgement that climbing totally leashless is better style. But having a partner chuck his brand new bamboo piolet off 1/2 way up a 3 day climb, years ago, made an indelible impression on me and lowered my personal expectations on style.

Here are a couple guys obviously tougher than we were.
Loosing a tool must have made it a more a interesting day out.

Leashless as committing? I find leashless less committing because I can climb using less energy. I find that leashless offers way more freedom and opportunities to climb more effeciently as well. But after the first day I didn't find it any more committing than leashes. Umbilicals obviously lower the level of committment either way.

If the difference is me falling off like John did above and going 20 feet or me falling on to my umbilical and going a foot or so I can easily hang my head and live with the style infraction.

But you make a good point. Some go leashless to be bolder and to up the committment level. I went leashless just because it was easier. Interesting to me we really can have it both ways.

Trad climber
Nov 27, 2009 - 01:49pm PT
here's my Chouinard hammer with synthetic handle

chouinard hammer with synthetic handle and exchangeable tip
chouinard hammer with synthetic handle and exchangeable tip
Credit: _cy_
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Nov 27, 2009 - 05:12pm PT
The Inspector Gadget model! LOL
karabin museum

Trad climber
phoenix, az
Nov 28, 2009 - 02:18pm PT
I believe there are 34 different hammers created.
That is Yosemite hammers, Alpine Hammers, and 3 Climaxes.
Someday I will get my updated list to yous! Here are 18 different hammers.
Rock on! Marty
Chouinard / BD hammers
Chouinard / BD hammers
Credit: karabin museum
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