How to Use an Adze

How to Use an AdzeThe adze of an ice ax or ice tool is a blade set at a right angle to the handle of the tool, unlike an ax blade, which is in line with the handle. An adze has many uses, including cutting steps, clearing a platform in the ice for a belay anchor, clearing a platform in the ice for a tent anchor, cleaning parts of a route when ice climbing and resting your hand when using it as a walking aid.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • ice ax with adze
Step 1
Rest your hand on the adze of an ice ax when using the ax in a self-belay position. For this your palm rests on the flat part of the adze as you jam the shaft of the ax deep enough into the snow so it will take your full weight. Then take a step or two while using the firmly planted ax for balance. Move the ax a few feet further and repeat.
Step 2
Chop steps into a steep ice slope by swinging the adze into the ice while holding the shaft. Pick and adze will be upside down. Though today this technique is mixed with the use of crampons, believe it or not, the first mountaineers used to ascend steep ice slopes by cutting little ice steps and that's all. Today this can still be of help in some situations. Chip away at the ice with the adze and make sure that you are swinging in a manner that will not harm you or anyone around you if you should lose control of the ax.
Step 3
Clear a platform for the ice screws you will need to insert in the ice for a belay anchor by using the adze. Hold the shaft (with pick and adze upside down) and swing the adze to chop away at the ice much in the same way you would chop steps, but here you will be making an entire platform. This will take longer and can be hard on the back so remember to keep knees bent as you work to create a flat area big enough to drill your ice screws in.
Step 4
Swing the adze like a hammer to clear away debris on a vertical ice route. You may need to swing it to test an area for an anchor or to clear away rotten ice and snow. A word of caution about adzes, though: Be careful they do not pop back and get you in the face when swinging them like a hammer on a vertical wall. Goggles or glasses are good to have, and keeping your head out of the way of swing is even better.
Step 5
Perform a boot-ax belay by jamming the shaft of the ax into the snow by your foot. The pick should be parallel to your boot and facing forward. Loop the rope around the head of the ax, under the adze around the top of the shaft and under the pick. This is used to give a dynamic belay to a person on the rope team that may be crossing a questionable crevasse or snow bridge.

Article Written By Naomi Judd

Naomi M. Judd is a naturalist, artist and writer. Her work has been published in various literary journals, newspapers and websites. Judd holds a self-designed Bachelor of Arts in adventure writing from Plymouth State University and is earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.