Ice axes – The MacInnes Peck/ Terror and the Classic Chouinard Zero axe and hammer.

This was my first ice axe actually it’s a North Wall hammer made by Hamish MacInnes for the military as I said in the last blog and was a beast, heavy and indestructible.. At least Hamish made his money out of it making over 5000 for NATO.

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. In the RAF Mountain Rescue many ice axes were modified cut down into Gully axes and the picks heated by workshops and bent sometimes making the metal brittle and picks broke. Some carried 3 axes/ hammers one as a spare at times due to possible breakages! I did for many years in Canada and the exes /hammers got stronger more dependable even I did not carry a spare

The team got lighter axes I think they were called the scorpion and were a good hill axe all metal but the pick if I remember was very light and bounced of the ice but it was robust.

My first axe that I bought was a Chouinard Zero that I climbed with for years it was superb and along with hammer made a great pair. We loved them on the ice on our first trip to Canada in 1984 and Pete Kay  and Malcolm did an early one day ascent of Polar Circus one of the great ice routes at the time.

The incredible top pitches of Polar Circus, ice after ice after ice.

There were few climbers amount and on our 5 weeks we met many of the greats of ice climbing in this wonderful place

I will never forget that reassuring “thud” as you put them in the ice we did so many great routes in that trips. What a tool!

The classic Zero ice axe and hammer.

Chouinard axe and Hammer

Using first a hickory, then bamboo and later a steel shaft, US climbing legend Yvonne Chouinard used this tool to climb classics like the Triolet Face with just one axe. Allegedly, and unsurprisingly the nicest to use was the bamboo shaft. The steel one was “awful”. Considered by some to be the “Rolls Royce” of axes the older ones can still command quite a high price. Here is an excerpt from the Great Pacific Pacific Iron Works and the catalogue from 1978:

“Northwall Hammer and Model Zero ice axe

The Model Zero Axe and the North Wall Hammer are designed for complementary use in vertical ice climbing on waterfalls, in Eastern or Canadian water ice, or for solo or super fast ascents of alpine gullies. These are specialist’s tools and are not meant to replace the standard Chouinard Piolet for general Alpine climbing. The main difference in design is in the pick, which has more curve and teeth all the way along its length for better anchorage in piolet traction, but not so much curve that an unnatural swing is required. Both models also have shorter spikes to avoid self-inflicted wounds while swinging in awkward or confined circumstances. Length: 55 cm laminated bamboo shafts. Weight: 1 Ib. 12 oz. Price: $65.0


You may wish to soak or rub the shaft with a 50/50 mixture of linseed oil and turpentine to prevent water absorption. For winter climb¬ing use pine tar to seal the wood and give a good base for rubbing on X-country wax. A violet wax on a cold day will give superb grip for iced-over mittens. Paint on the tar and carefully heat the handle with a torch until the tar begins to bubble, then wipe off the excess. The carabiner hole is solely a convenience for carrying the axe. It is not to be used for belaying; a shaft-boot belay is better.”

Sadly I sold them to an Italian Mountaineering Museum a few years ago. I miss them but at least they have a good home and are prized by collectors.

MacInnes-Peck ice tools New ice-axes and Terrordactyls A new all-metal ice-axe has been developed by Hamish MacInnes which uses the same well tried Hiduminium shaft of the earlier models which have proved almost indestructible.
The new head design of the axe uses pressing techniques, which allow a light metal steel (as used on spacecraft) to be used. The pick is dropped at an angle of 78° which has been found to be the optimum angle for cutting and holding and the adze is made from the same material giving a uniform thickness throughout. Both the pick and the adze have very high cutting power.

The weight of the new axe is lighter than most light wooden models at present on the market. A special tapered ferrule also has a hole in it for belaying etc.
The Terrordactyl Together with the new ice-axes these have been exhaustively tested during last winter and during the summer in various parts of the world. The general impression of the hammer and adze Terrordactyl is that it is the greatest aid to ice climbing since the crampon.
With the deep section blade of only 16 in approx. thick they can be driven into the ice or snow in a down-pulling motion and in firm snow, white ice, frozen turf etc. their holding power is amazing. Etriers can be used through the ferrule hole for artificial techniques on ice.

The advantage of the Terrordactyl is not necessarily on the extreme routes, but for moving fast and safely on any steep climb. These new tools should allow a new standard of ice climbing to emerge. The Terrordactyl got its name from the late Ian Clough as the head of the prototype (used on the new Scots route on the Eiger, 1970) looked like that prehistoric monster.”

Our Terrordactyls were purchased by the RAF. The hammer is shown with a homemade wrist leash configured to pull directly from the base of the pick. The addition of the blue wrap on the handle both insulates the climbers hand from the metal shaft and keeps the wrist leash close to the shaft.

Photo the Terror and a cut down ice axe ! There was even a medical term called “Terror knuckle” as those like me who battered the pick in to the ice regularly got battered knuckles and bruising!

The MacInnes Massey, all metal, ice axe first appeared on the market in 1963, brainchild of legendary Scottish mountaineer, Hamish MacInnes. Using the English engineering company, Massey, to forge the heads ( upper part of the axe) from high quality EN16 steel, the axes were a great success and became pretty universal with Scottish mountaineers, though it has to be said that many still favoured their trusty, wooden shafted, Stubai axes.

Ice climbing in Scotland was changing rapidly in the 1960’s with the art of step cutting up steep ice fast becoming a thing of the past – crampons with front points and better axes for steep ice were the order of the day.

MacInnes moved with the times and continued with development of his axe, teaming up with fellow climber, Trevor Peck, who took over the manufacturing side of things. The MacInnes Peck axe was also a big success and in the 1970’s the Terrordactyl came along – a quantum leap in ice climbing technology.

The “big Terror” on display at the Fort William Mountain Festival a few years ago.

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  they 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 in 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?

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Equipment, Ice climbing Canada, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.