By Gary Ryan, who grew up climbing in the UK, but has made Colorado his home for the past 25 years. He has worked in the Outdoor Industry for 2 decades as an AMGA Rock and Ice Guide and the owner of the Guide Garage in Ouray, Colorado. He has been a World Cup rock climbing competitor and a Winter X-Games ice medalist, and he has worked as a technical adviser for Black Diamond Equipment and SCARPA North America.
Ice Climbing Wisdom:
The 1st rule of Ice Climbing… there is no falling.
The 2nd rule of Ice Climbing… there is NO FALLING!!
The 3rd rule of Ice Climbing… if you are going to fall, don’t hit the ground.
Fast, efficient, and ideal ice screw placement is perhaps the crux of leading any given pure ice pitch. You have to protect yourself, so get screwin’:
The Laser Speed Light Ice Screw from PETZL is unique in that it is mostly aluminum (shaft and hanger). And although it’s not the 1st aluminum ice screw, (LOWE had one spinning around in the 80’s), it is the lightest (E-CLIMB has one currently but it has a heavier steel hanger). The Laser Speed Light reserves the steel for the driving end of the business: one very aggressive bit!
Tested: Green 21cm-110g, Blue 17cm -100g, Yellow 13cm- 91g
Weight savings are very significant over a whole rack and average out around 40-50% less than a conventional steel rack of screws. Multiply this by alpine mileage or high mountain use, and you can see the importance of this key protection element. Over recent years ropes have gone from 11mm singles to 8.7mm… and with the arrival of the Laser Speed Light, ice screws feel like they just made that same leap!
Sure, weight savings usually have a down side, often durability, and sometimes strength. However, Petzl claims that the holding force from the more rounded, less pronounced threads along the aluminum shaft are equal to those of the bigger, sharper threads of steel screws. Also, the rounding is less sensitive to general abuse and dings, which should translate to less future placement interference. I like the sound of all that, but at this point it’s early in the game and only time and more pitches will tell.
The speed of screw placement is defined by the cutting edge or ‘drill’ bit that starts and bores the hole. Here Petzl has stuck with steel. The approximately 1cm long steel tip is optimized in both tooth angle (making it more aggressive) and increased tooth length, resulting in a super catchy initial bite. They have also incorporated a reservoir at the base of each cutting tooth that aids both ice clearance in the hole and eases future sharpening. All together it’s a pretty potent tip and ‘catches’ ice as fast and furious as anything I have had the pleasure to twist into ice.
I’d love to see some hard data on real world ice pull tests, concerning possible bending and pull out thread strengths… as hard evidence is most reassuring when I’m all run out.
But for now the only downside I can see is the price, which ups the anti by about $15 per screw relative to steel screws.
I have heard of some instances of the aluminum shaft binding a little or becoming hard to turn in warmer, alpine ice. This could be due to aluminum conducting temperatures more easily than steel. I had a minimal experience of this on the warmest and sun-struck pitch of the season, but was able to spin the screw through all the same.
HUGE weight savings.
Uber aggressive bit, gets it going in quick!
Light aluminum hanger is large eyed, will accept multiple biners, but is still small in outer circumference and so eases constricted placements.
Tight and tidy color-coded fold away crank arms.
Clean and easy racking.
Bottom Line: Compact, quick, and very light… what’s not to love?