The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
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Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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C.A.M.P. Corsa Ice Axe: Too Light for a Real Challenge
Posted on: September 25, 2008
Weight: 205 grams
I have this four-years-running competition with my longtime friend and fellow North Cascades Mountain Guide, Jeff Ward, over whose pack will check in lighter at our pre-trip weigh-ins. Sometimes he wins, other times I win. It's always a toss up.
This past spring, we partnered together on our eighth expedition—a month-long ski mountaineering trip in the Alps—and I packed a secret weapon: C.A.M.P. USA's ultralight Corsa Ice Axe. It's reputed to be the world's lightest CE B-rated aluminum ax and, at just 205 grams, it weighs less than most chocolate bars.
Aluminum ice axes often check in at half the weight of their steel counterparts. They're ideal for pursuits like ski mountaineering where every ounce affects your balance and thus, your overall experience. When the ax lives primarily on your pack, aluminum is often the best bet.
Jeff packed a steel ice ax and I won the bet—by half a pound. But my smugness was quickly replaced with trepidation as I shortroped several of my clients up a steep couloir—complete with a firm snowpack and a dangerous runout—on Italy's Punta Giacomo as part of North Cascades Mountain Guides' Ortler Tour.
Though the Corsa is forged from ultralight 7075-series aluminum alloy and is designed for fast-and-light, nontechnical ski-mountaineering trips, I figured the Italian Alps would be a great place to test its limits. I quickly realized my mistake. I craved the solid and secure heft of a true steel mountain ax and felt foolish for believing that I could make the Corsa work in a diverse range of terrain and expeditions. The adze was too small and narrow to offer a secure grip in Piolet Canne, the typical ice ax position. I found it difficult to chop out a snow stance and to carve a skin track in the firm snow. Here, in these conditions, the incredibly lightweight Corsa felt like an inferior tool. C.A.M.P. just cut too much off of it.
Later, I took it on a solo ski-touring trip, and began to re-appreciate its value as a fast-and-light tool. I ditched my rope, hooked my Corsa onto my pack, and barely felt it as I skinned up the mountain. Here, this simply designed ax performed solidly and provided more than enough security.
The ax has several features that I did appreciate on the mountain. The shaft's six grooves rest just above the base, which allows for a better grip while in self-arrest grip or Piolet traction. The hollow shaft's tapered point forms a light and effective spike and comes with a nylon plug to keep snow from entering the bottom.
The Corsa could have benefited from a more traditionally shaped adze with a defined and squared-off rear edge. The pick was fairly standard and worked adequately in the low-dagger position as long as the snow wasn't too firm—and while I appreciate its value in fast-and-light trips, I thought it was too limited and inadequate for more technical climbs.
The Corsa is ideal for low-angle glacier travel, moderate ski mountaineering and adventure racing but, if there's a chance you might find yourself in more serious terrain, you'll wish you packed something more hefty.
Pros: Lightweight; nice grip on shaft.
Cons: Feels like a toy; ineffective adze.