1957 – Ice axes breaking and Hamish McInnes working on an new metal ice axe.

1957 Rum letter asking for assistance in a rescue.


We are so lucky today as our equipment is so good and subject to testing and quality control. In the past mountaineering equipment was very basic yet great things were done with simple kit. Most of the gear was ex military and after the war there was plenty of ex military mountaineering equipment available. Ice axes were simple made mainly of wood and storage and care of them not really understood. There were various cases of axes breaking when used as belays at times with fatal results. After an attempt on Zero Gully in winter 1958 that resulted in an accident was noted by Hamish McInnes. He noted that the ice axes shafts were broken in belay positions below the crux.

Advert for Hamish's axe

Advert for Hamish’s axe


This accident happened on 9 April 1958 and was a key point in the work that made Hamish work on an  all metal ice axe. The rest is history.

Poem about Hamish's ice axe.

Poem about Hamish’s ice axe.

We are so lucky in these days as many run up classic ice routes decrying many of them with the new gear all tested and safe as you can be. How these brave people in the past  pushed the boundaries with such basic gear and equipment and there were a few tragic accidents. We owe so much to those who came before. It is maybe time to have a look at your crampons and axes before the winter and check them to ensure all is as it should be. It does not take long but may help keep you safe. Worth remembering?

McInnes Massey - photo Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection.

McInnes Massey – photo Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection. This was the ice axe I was issued with in 1971 it was nearly as heavy as me. We cut them down and made them smaller but still very heavy!

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Enviroment, Friends, History, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to 1957 – Ice axes breaking and Hamish McInnes working on an new metal ice axe.

  1. Sunshine says:

    There was an inexhaustible supply of wooden Ice axes in the stores at that time. A crude test of the axe was to place it across a kerb and step on it hard. If it didn’t brake it was serviceable. Needless to say broke a tremendous amount but stores never ran out of axes.


  2. mick greenshields says:

    Nice one


  3. Martin Bennett says:

    Hi. Thanks for this – needed the info for a bit of research. I had a McInnes Massey axe in the sixties (and would still, had it not been stolen, as I never throw owt away) – very heavy but also very reassuring. I’m trying to find out when it first became commercially available, but without success. I’ve checked my photos and I had it with me on Mont Blanc in 1966 so I guess it was around 1965 (the year I started climbing) when it first got into Lake District shops?

    By the way, it’s nit-picking but I feel I must point out that the excellent (and clever) poem you’ve included refers to a later McInnes invention, yet more revolutionary, the McInnes Terrordactyl axe and hammer. (about 1970?). Now that I do still have!

    Thanks again for the article.
    All the best.

    Liked by 1 person

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