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The Petzl Sum'Tec: Hard Working Mutha'

Posted on: February 6, 2015


The Sum'Tec works well on low-angle ice and on steeper terrain. [Photo] Kel Rossiter

MSRP: $195

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My Southern mother used to drawl, "You can't please all the people all the time." And though one of my proudest summits was getting to the top of Mt. Hood with mom, she isn't an alpinist. And alpinists know that a tool capable of performing well in a variety of mediums and serving a variety of tasks is, indeed, quite pleasing. All the time. The Petzl Sum'Tec tools go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.

The Sum'Tec is offered with either an adze or a hammer, with various shaft lengths: 52 cm for the hammer version and 52 or 59 cm for the adze version. Each features a 3.5 mm "B"-rated pick connected to a "T"-rated, slightly curved aluminum shaft. A quick click of the Trigrest allows it to slide from technical tool positioning up the shaft to the head, such that the spike can be used as an effective balance point in piolet-canne position. The spike also features an ample hole that easily accepts tethers. I prefer pairing the 52 cm hammer with the 59 cm adze to tackle technical-but-lower-angle alpine ice objectives like the icy prow of Mt. Baker's North Ridge and mixed terrain on the Aiguille du Chardonnet in the French Alps.

Such wide-ranging performance is perhaps epitomized on a climb like the Hanging Glacier on Mount Shuksan, "America's Matterhorn," in Washington State. The entry moves on the lateral snout of the glacier involved a bit of rock movement on the rather-downsloping stone. As I pounded in a pin, I appreciated the tool's ample hammer and the fact that, despite a tool weight of 495 grams (nearly 150 grams lighter than a similar technical tool), it could put the meat in the matter, with the majority of its heft found in the hammer rather than the shaft. And, despite the curved shaft, it also has a workable swing in hammer mode. Pins firmly pounded, we moved toward the byzantine ice jumble above.

The ample adze quickly creates comfortable belay stances and footholds. [Photo] Kel Rossiter

The higher we moved up the glacier, the more dauntingly tilted the ice blocks became until, soon, we reached one tipped distinctly beyond vertical. Had I brought other "aggressive axes" that are generally marketed in the same category, we might have turned around. This was no place for the awkward swings and shaky pick placements of a more typical light-in-the-head-and-lacking-heft alpine ax. The balanced swing of the Sum'Tec, coupled with an effectively weighted head and the adjustable "Trigrest" hand rest to cup the pinky, truly boosts it into the category of an "ice tool." After we dispatched the initial steep ice, the block became increasingly sn'icey—we'd need to do some route prep to pull the lip. The ample adze and slightly-heavier-than-an-ax head weight swiftly created the footholds we needed to move onto a welcome flat stretch above.

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The last bit before the Hanging Glacier intersects the Upper Curtis is a calf-burning stretch of low-angle ice. In these situations, I particularly enjoy the enhanced grip and security the Trigrest provides when I slide it slightly down the shaft for use in the "high dagger" position. The Trigrest allows me to vigorously pull down on the tool and, in the event of an unexpected slip, be less likely to lose control of it.

With one hand in high-dagger mode on the adze and one in low-dagger mode on the hammer, we quickly dispatched the ice field and cruised toward the summit. As we stepped onto rock sections, I racked both the 52 cm and 59 cm tools cleanly to my pack; they are short enough to minimize rope friggage if using Kiwi coils or engaging in belay-stance hijinks. It wasn't long until we topped out.

Using the adjustable Trigrest adds security when in the high-dagger position. [Photo] Kel Rossiter

Ultimately my mom was right. Anyone or anything that tries to do it all will always come up a bit short in some arenas. An easy critique of the Sum'Tec would be that it doesn't always do all things excellently. Put me on steep ice and I'd default to a set of Nomics. And if an endless glacial slog lay before me with nothing but the Sum'Tec, I'd be let down. Still, the Sum'Tec does a proud job of addressing the spectrum of demands in the alpine world. If I had to offer one critique of this able alpine tool, I'd say that it reflects Petzl's seemingly ongoing challenges with chrome plating: after a year of use the pick area began to flake and rust in spots. Chrome plating aside, the Petzl Sum'Tec is one hard-workin'-mutha'.

The 900-foot Northeast Couloir on North Peak (12,242') in the Sierras. [Photo] Zeb Blais

Pros:

* Combining an adze and hammer allows for supreme versatility in the alpine realm.

* Well-balanced swings for technical terrain.

* A lightweight option for moderate alpine ice climbing.

* Petzl's "Trigrest" works well for transforming a glacial-travel ax into a ice climbing tool.

* Two lengths available for the adze (52cm/59cm) allows for customization to the climber's needs.

Cons:

* Chrome plating on the head of the tool isn't very durable.

* Some attention is necessary to make sure the hole in the spike doesn't hook your crampons when clearing them of snow.

* "B"-rated pick won't handle tool-torquing in mixed terrain.

Petzl.com

Rating:

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