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Petzl Quark ice tools: An alpinist's dream tool that handles it all
Posted on: June 17, 2020
MSRP: $259.95 (per tool)
It's been nearly two decades since the original Quark became one of THE all around alpine ice tools on the market, setting a standard that all other alpine tools have since evolved to match. The newest iteration of the tried and true Petzl Quark proves to be even savvier and sendy-er then the last... But is it worth the upgrade?
Ever since the leash-less revolution we've seen marked improvements in the ergonomics of ice tools and their ability to excel and perform on ever-steeper and more challenging terrain. The general trend in high-performance gear is moving toward specialization: one piece of equipment for each medium, style or discipline. The new Petzl Quark bucks the system in an effort to blend performance with practicality, making it a great tool for variable conditions or terrain.
Tad McCrea storms the ice cream factory with the new Petzl Quark ice tools on Super Domo (WI5 M5/6, 500m), Cerro Domo Blanco, Patagonia. [Photo] Jon Griffin
This past year, I took the Quark with me just about everywhere my crampons would take me. I climbed steep and technical ice in Patagonia, unstable snow in Alaska, firm ribbons of Styrofoam (alpine ice) in the Lower 48, and sublimating trickery on 6000-meter peaks in the Indian Himalaya. On all accounts, the new Petzl Quark proved itself in alpine terrain, making it the dream tool for expedition alpinists.
For the last several years, the previous model of the Quark was the go-to tool in my quiver for all-around "alpine style" climbing, and to be honest I was excited to see what Petzl thought they could do to improve the design, which was already solid. Although the new Quarks might not feature any immediate paradigm-shifting technologies, I found the improvements of this model to be valuable and forward thinking.
McCrea compares one of the new Petzl Quark tools to the previous model on Mt. Humphreys in the Sierra Nevada Range. [Photo] Ian McElleny
Weighing in at only 550 grams, the Quark has good balance and feel. The Quarks come equipped with the ICE picks but can be set up with several different picks, which range from their DRY picks that are a little beefier for cranking and abusing on mixed terrain, to their precise and supple ICE pick that tapers to a knife edge 3.3 millimeters for the most fragile ice.
The adze is tailored to chopping steps and has good surface area for mushroom snow and rime. This past autumn, while climbing out of the Spiti Valley of northern India, I found that even without the adze, my DRY-pick-equipped Quark excelled at chopping out the perfect bivy platform for our two-man tent. The angle of the tool was much more efficient than that of my partner's more aggressive Nomics.
While pounding pins, I find it far easier and much quicker to use the standard hammer on one tool and a mini hammer on my other tool in lieu of headweights. The low-profile mini works in a pinch but makes for tedious removal of pins. This style leads to a weight discrepancy between tools, but you can experiment with the headweights if this bothers you.
Sinker sticks in sweet summer Styrofoam (alpine ice). The Quarks are the perfect companion for icy, snicey couloirs. McCrea is pictured here in the Dress for Less Couloir, Mt. Tom Ross, Sierra Nevada Range. [Photo] Richard Shore
The Petzl Quarks excelled at chopping ice, an essential task for creating platforms and gathering ice to melt for water. Joel Kauffman is pictured here manning the stove on a well-chopped ledge on the route Youth In Asia on the southeast face of Chau Chau Kang Nilda (6303m), Himachal Pradesh, India. [Photo] Tad McCrea
The first notable difference between the new Quark and the old is the more contoured and ergonomic shaft. Petzl decided to move away from a rounded, elliptical design and worked to flatten the handle like a hockey stick so that it would help to promote more lateral control and make for a more relaxed and efficient grip. The bi-material handle is over-molded to provide insulation and texture.
The hydroformed shaft is an upgrade in comfort, especially mid-tool. This became quite noticeable while daggering up Californian couloirs or swinging from the second grip in variable snice on the north face of Borah Peak in the Lost River Range of Idaho. This model holds on to the adjustable (no tools necessary) TRIGREST second-tool position, allowing for even more comfort and efficiency while choking up on the tool.
The pommel, or GRIPREST, has been mechanically improved so that it can be stored and engaged effortlessly while on the move. If you are looking for a spike and pommel that accommodate steep snow climbing as well as more technical ice, this is your tool. This past spring in Alaska's Kichatna Range my partners and I had to make a long and technical ski traverse over several passes to reach our objective. The snow was quite unconsolidated, and the storable GRIPREST proved to be easy and efficient to adjust on the move during instances where a more streamlined spike and shaft offered security in the piolet canne (cane) position.
With the GRIPREST stored up and out of the way, the Quark ice tool easily plunges into snow. McCrea is pictured here on the Upper Monolith Glacier, Kichatna Range, Alaska. [Photo] Zach Lovell
I noticed at times that the locking mechanism for the GRIPREST was prone to icing up after significant periods of plunging. In a couple cases I was unable to lock the GRIPREST back into its climbing position without taking several minutes to warm and clean the mechanism. Not a huge problem, but something to take into consideration nonetheless.
Though the tool is straight enough to plunge, it maintains enough of an aggressive angle to comfortably excel on steeper, more technical terrain. While climbing steeper water ice this past winter in Ouray, I decided to remove the orange adjustable TRIGREST and opted instead to fasten the second grip firmly to the shaft with an Allen wrench. This allowed me too keep the second grip on the tool and eliminated instances where I would accidentally bash my trigger finger on a nodule of ice because of the TRIGRESTS profile. I thought the TRIGREST was comfortable and efficient in general, but I found that it wasn't uncommon for it to get in the way and bash up my knuckles.
4.5 stars: When all is said and done I think the new Petzl Quark is a great example of what we have come to expect from Petzl—lightweight, practical, adjustable, durable, innovative and dependable. If you are looking to climb predominantly steep and technical terrain, the Nomic is possibly a better fit for you. If you already have a set of the last Quarks, maybe you don't need to jump to an upgrade just yet, but if you want a set of axes that handle it all, and are in the market for an alpinist's dream tool, look no further.
As an all-around ice tool, the Petzl Quarks are just as comfy and secure on steep and technical terrain as they are on easier slopes. McCrea on Super Domo. [Photo] Jon Griffin
Tad McCrea is an explorer, guide, photographer and longtime Alpinist contributor. He recently completed a short video of a 2016 ascent of Fitz Roy's California Route in Patagonia with Clint Helander that can be found here.
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