I pulled up the hood on my parka and reached for my next ice screw with the bulky gloves I reserve for days when the temperature really drops. I glanced down at my belayer wrapped in a down jacket, sheltered next to a tree. He was stomping around in an attempt to stay warm in the 10-degree Fahrenheit day. I placed the screw, clipped the rope into a quickdraw and resumed swinging into the ice with my DMM Apex ice tools.
I had the opportunity to test the DMM Apex tools over several weeks. Although I have extensive experience climbing with other brands, I hadn’t tried these before. The Apex looked like burly tools built for modern-day ice and mixed climbing, yet they also felt capable of handling serious alpine terrain. The overall heft and feel initially reminded me of a steel pipe that would last for years. The dual-riveted headpieces looked as though they would add durability for use in hard ice and mixed terrain, whereas other ice tools I’ve owned have become loose and wobbly over time.
Since the Northeast winter this past year was a finicky one, I was able to climb with these tools in a variety of conditions. They performed best on the coldest of days and hardest of ice. On the warmer days, I found to my surprise that I had to make a couple more swings than I usually do in soft ice to plant the pick securely. The original pick design also displaced more ice than several competitors’ did. However, some aftermarket, personal minor pick reshaping with a hand file to increase the angle from the tip to the first tooth solved this problem. The picks proved surprisingly resilient after bouncing off rock and scratching around on mixed terrain. While other picks would quickly get blunt or develop a “dolphin nose” with such treatment, the DMM ice picks kept their sharpness well over time, with minimal re-sharpening needed–perhaps in part because of their large taper of 3.3mm at the tip back to 4mm toward the head (measurement from Dave Noddings of DMM). When the picks do wear out, replacements can be purchased for $44.95, a slightly cheaper price than that of other brands.
At 685 grams (with pick weights and hammer) these tools aren’t the lightest. DMM designed this tool with multiple configurations. When you remove the pick weights and pommels, the weight can drop to 610 grams (measurement from Dave Noddings of DMM), and it becomes a great tool for snow slopes and more general mountaineering endeavors. The spike in the bottom has serious bite. I was impressed with the mini-adze and its ability to shred ice with a couple of swift swings.
After I spent several weeks climbing and guiding on them, their swing felt natural with little need of refinement. The weight is distributed throughout the whole tool as opposed to mostly in the head, and I found that removing the pick weights didn’t drastically adjust the weight of the swing. Having heavier pick weights for these tools could prove to be a big benefit for hard alpine or glacier ice.
One of the things I’ve liked the most about these tools is their ability to accommodate multiple sizes of gloves or mitts without the need to adjust the grip size. The watertight molding of the handle remains comfortable and tacky in most conditions. The shaft itself has cut-outs under the rubber molding to save weight, and the rubber grips have been injected through these holes to prevent any shifting of the grip over time.
Overall, I will be reaching for these tools for both guiding and personal climbing on moderate ice and mixed terrain. For upcoming alpine trips in bigger ranges, these will also be in my kit since they are more than capable of withstanding battering. For really steep ice and harder mixed terrain, I’ll still reach for my Petzl Nomics, though, as the wrist-to-tool-head angle is more anatomically inline in overhanging terrain and causes me less strain.
Comfortable and user-friendly handle with various glove configurations
Spike able to accommodate tethers, full-strength clip-in points
Different pick configurations–ice/mixed, hammer/adze
Shaft great for clearing bulges
Minor pick modification needed for better performance on pure ice
Pick weights not drastically noticeable when removed
Difficult purchasing replacement picks in shops, easier found online
Heavier than other similarly designed tools
Tim Farr is a Rock and Ice Climbing Guide and Instructor for Petra Cliffs Climbing Center based in Burlington, Vermont. He is an Assistant Rock and Ice Guide and Certified Single Pitch Instructor through the American Mountain Guides Association. Farr also organizes Vermont’s Annual Ice Climbing Festival, the Smugglers’ Notch Ice Bash.