Ice Axes

5th June 1989

Newsgroups: misc.misc
Subject: Re: ice axes (was re: none)
Summary: It's on account of all the cheese in the atmosphere
Reply-To: (Mike Taylor)

In article <3194@titan> (Chris Cracknell) writes:

What is the exact technical reason for the increased performance of banana (or reverse curved) ice-axe picks, over the conventional curved pick (ie. curving downwards towards tip of pick.) on hard/brittle ice.

The reason that these curiously-designed ice-picks work so well becomes quite clear when you understand the fundamental low-level physics of ice-climbing. In fact, the usual explanations for ice-climbing eventualities such as the pick "gripping" the ice, the ice "crumbling", and the climber "plummetting" to his doom on the rocks many hundreds of feet below, his body to be discovered weeks later by the disconsolate rescue party, [end of subclause], which are given in terms of "gravity", "viscosity" and suchlike, are in fact gross generalisations of the true reasons, explained in these familiar terms so as not to confuse the novice ice-climber.

In fact, ice-climbing operates under a completely different set of physical principles from every other sport. This is due to the presence of high concentration of threeons near ice, which attracts these highly mysterious, newly-discovered sub-atomic particles. Threeons are, of course, the fundamental unit of the number three, and the force-carrying particle in the recently discovered complement to the traditional four fundamental forces, "Three-force" (op cit) [Note 1]

When a human being approaches large quantities of ice, vast numbers of these mysterious threeons vibrate backwards and forwards between the ice and the climber, carrying minute quantities of the number three, and these bind the climber to the ice, in much the same way that gravity would, were its effects not obscured by the presence of the threeons, which are MUCH weirder than gravitons, and are thus able to deflect these poor hypothetical particles out of the path of the climber.

The so-called "banana" ice-axe, with its characteristically nasty pointy bitey bit at the end, acts as a concentrations point for the threeons, which tend naturally to accumulate towards the end of the blade, except on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, and thus on days other than these, the added three-force binds the climber extra-tightly to the ice-face, giving the impression the naive climber that the axe is holding more firmly in the ice. This is why, if you go climbing late on Monday night, it is vitally important to ensure that you get past the difficult bits by midnight.

The effect only works, of course, on "hard or brittle" ice, as the original poster pointed out. This is for the elegantly sufficient reason that there is no other kind. I mean, c'mon, be serious, whoever heard of squidgy ice? Squidgy milk-shake, maybe, but it's not really the same thing, is it?

I have been banging my head against this ...

Um, not really a good idea, you can hurt yourself pretty badly banging your head against ice-axes. Can you say "Trotsky"? [Note 2] I'd like to take this opportunity to warn any children watching this, that banging your head against ice-axes is HIGHLY DANGEROUS and should be done only by TRAINED PROFESSIONALS.

I know that the benefits of such axes are real for hard technical ice, and seem to apply to both placement and security. Why? I don't know.

Nah, me neither actually. I've been making it all up. Except for the bit about Trotsky, which I'm pretty sure is true.

Please reply by email, or to uk.followup.

Aaaaargh! Too late!


  1. I'm not sure what "op cit" means, but I've seen it round here once or twice and it looks kinda relevant.
  2. NB. I reserve the right to have named the wrong early Russian revolutionary -- my grasp of history isn't too hot.
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