An ice axe is a specialized pick axe used in mountain climbing when the conditions are icy or snowy. It has a strong metal head, with a sharp, angled pick and a shorter adze, which is often flat and squared off. The handle of a modern ice axe is made of light, tough material such as aluminum or Kevlar®, and often includes a wrist strap. The end of the handle comes to a sharp, metal point, which can server a number of purposes.
The head of an ice axe is usually made of a steel alloy, making it very hard and resistant to breaking, and allowing it to be sharpened to a fine point. The pick of the axe angles down fairly sharply, so that it more easily bites into the ice when a climber swings it. The angle of the pick also causes it to more effectively dig into the snow in the event of a fall, when a climber would use the ice axe as an anchor to save herself. Opposite the pick, the head generally flattens out into the adze, a shorter, flatter blade which can be used to cut hand and footholds into the ice or snow.
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The handle of an ice axe varies in length depending on its intended purpose. Climbers scaling sheer, ice covered walls, or even frozen waterfalls, often prefer a shorter handle, just over one foot in length. The short handle allows easy maneuvering and swinging, and provides for a lighter axe. Climbers who will do more hiking and will spend more time upright often prefer an ice axe up to three feet in length. The longer version can be used as a hiking stick, and the shaft can be used to probe the snow for unseen dangers. The end of the handle comes to a sharp, metal point, allowing it to be used as an anchor, or a tool for cutting into the ice and snow.
The more extreme the conditions people find themselves exploring, the more specialized the tools they need. An ice axe allows climbers to scale sheer, icy ledges, climb snowy peaks, and save themselves from sliding off the side of a slick mountain. Of course, it takes an expert climber to attempt these dangerous feats, but without their trusty ice axe, they wouldn't get nearly as far.