The job of the pick is to penetrate the ice, hold against a pull along the shaft, and release easily when its grip is no longer needed. The holding and releasing characteristics of a pick are determined by its weight and shape and by its teeth.
A tool with a relatively heavy head cuts and penetrates most readily, but may be difficult to extract because of its greater penetration. Removable weights can be added to the head to help balance your swing and give better ice penetration.
The steeper the droop of a pick and the sharper, deeper, and more frequent the teeth, the better the pick will hold; but the smoother the pick, the easier it is to remove. The teeth should be shaped to bite into the ice as you pull on the end of the shaft. Although thin, sharp edges penetrate and hold best, they are especially vulnerable to damage when they hit rock. A thin pick may place well, but is more prone to break from the twisting that often occurs when a climber tries to extract the tool. A thick-bladed pick, on the other hand, requires more force to place and is more likely to chip out plates
of ice, but is less prone to break as you work to remove it.
With the conflicting demands on an ice tool, it's no wonder there is wide variation in pick design (fig. 14-4). Many tools are available with interchangeable picks, so you can choose the right one for a particular climb and replace a broken pick instead of discarding the tool. Talk to experienced ice climbers for help in choosing pick designs suitable for you. Here are the principal pick designs you will encounter.
Technically curved: The pick on a standard ice axe used in snow climbing curves slightly downward. But many of the shorter axes used in ice climbing feature a pick that curves down more sharply and holds better in ice. This technically curved pick is most often used on alpine and glacial ice. A good choice is an ice tool with a pick whose curvature matches your natural swing. The angle at the very end of the pick (which determines whether it has negative or positive clearance) is not a major consideration. The main thing is to keep the pick sharp.
Reverse curved: The ease of removal of a drooped pick that has some reverse curve (an upward curve) makes it a frequent choice for waterfall and other steep ice routes.
Straight drooped: An ice tool with a straight but sharply down-angled pick penetrates well in soft to hard ice.
Tubular: Tubular-nosed picks—thin and sharp—are popular for hard water ice because the tube shatters the ice less than a conventional pick.
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