I’m headed up to Denali this May (!!!!) and I heard that climbers insulate their ice axes? Interesting… What’s the rationale and how do I do it? Thanks in advance and see you in Talkeetna!
Seeking Toasty Mitts
Hi Toast Mitts,
Thanks for reaching out and stoked you’re headed up to the Last Frontier. Ice axe insulation— it’s a question as old as time. Many climbers find it helpful to insulate the top of their ice axe, particularly on the upper mountain of Denali. It’s a great defense against conduction (heat transfer) in very cold conditions. On long, high mountain routes, moderate terrain often necessitates that you grip the head of your ice axe for prolonged periods of time. The metal mass of the head and blade can quickly absorb lots of heat from your hands, even through the warmest of gloves.
To kick this heat exchange to the curb, cut a four-inch square of closed-cell foam — a foam sleeping pad works well — and drape it over the top of your ice axe. Use athletic tape, duct tape, or hockey stick tape to wrap and fix the foam in place. If cut and wrapped properly the foam will not obstruct the axe’s normal functionality.
After your axe is wrapped, practice using it with your big gloves and mitts on. Since you already have your gloves and mitts on….you might as well practice manipulating your ascender and opening and closing carabiners as well. The more dexterity you have with your mittens on, the more efficient you will be on Denali.
Have a great expedition and, most importantly, don’t let your guides talk you into ringing the bell at the Fairview Inn.
See You in the Mountains,