[Photo] Kel Rossiter
MSRP: $59.95 (Laser Speed)
MSRP: $74.95 (Laser Speed Light)
A climber’s relationship with his ice screw rack is a personal thing. Find the right match and life will be good. Play the field, using whatever happens to clip to your harness and you may regret it later.
For the past decade, Black Diamond’s Turbo Express ice screws were my ice rack of choice. When I first saw the Petzl Laser Speed and Speed Light while climbing Alexander’s Chimney (WI4 M4) on Long’s Peak two years ago I was skeptical of their single-holed hanger, odd corncob knob and their use of aluminum. That day, at first, I wished I had brought my beloved BD screws but, now, two seasons later, I’ve grown to appreciate them.
I like the way that the softly rounded ridges on the Laser Speed and Speed Light bite into the ice, and how the folding crank allows for 5 3/4 inches of quick torque to drive the screws into ice. The 3 1/3-inch hanger crank also works well with gloves. The different colored cob handles make visual identification of screw length easy.
Both types of screws are better than Petzl’s previous generation of ice screws, the Laser and Sonic. The Laser had no crank and the Sonic combined a clip-in point with an easy-to-fumble rotating handle. The new Laser Speed and Speed Light screwed into ice much smoother than either of those two. The big difference between the Speed and the Speed Light, is that the Laser Speed has an aluminum hanger and steel tube, while the Laser Speed Light has an aluminum hanger and aluminum tube, and just the tip of the tube has steel teeth.
What I really wanted to know was how well the Speed and Speed Light fared against the BD Turbo Expresses. Would they bite into ice and drive anywhere as well as the BDs? Would the Laser Speed Light, with an aluminum tube construction, stand up to the rigors of alpine and ice climbing as well as the Expresses? Over a summer of alpine climbing in the North Cascades and ice and mixed climbing in a New England winter, I’ve had a chance to find out.
Both new Speed designs have several things going for them. First, there is the plastic cob. After a few months of wear and tear it gets hard to tell the BD crank colors apart because the colors fade, but Petzl’s colored cobs have remained fluorescent. Most other designs use steel cranks, increasing the amount of weight hanging at the end of the tube but both Speeds have aluminum cranks. Unwilling to cut the hanger off a Speed simply to weigh it, I spoke with Petzl’s Technical Director, Rick Vance, who said that the Speed’s 1.5oz aluminum hanger is about half an ounce lighter than the BD Express.
[Photo] Kel Rossiter
Petzl’s literature says the shape of the screw is optimized with longer teeth to increase bite. While other ice screws typically have a sharp, acute-angled thread pattern, Petzl shunned this convention by using rounded threads on their screws, a design that’s intended to increase the reliability of the placement. Vance said that the rounded threads make the screws more durable than those designed with acute-angled steel threads, and after months of use, I have noticed that the threads have held up surprisingly well to abuse.
Another thing I like about the Laser Speed and Speed Light is the ample crank clearing. During warm conditions on Lake Willoughby’s Glass Menagerie (WI5), after the sun melted scoops into the ice, the folding crank’s decreased 3 1/3″ turning radius allowed me to sink the screws in placements that didn’t work as well with screws that offered less crank clearance. The clearance on the Laser Speed and Speed Light is almost an inch less than the 4 3/16″ radius of the BD Express. This design is also useful when placing screws in candled and chandeliered ice. So far this season, I can remember two times where I needed to actually clear ice away to accommodate hanger spin.
The Speeds have one clip-in hole which accommodates up to three locking carabiners in its one-inch opening, which although handy, isn’t necessary. Nor is it a drawback; I just can’t imagine a situation where I’ll need to clip three carabiners in at once. That’s like clipping three carabiners to a single bolt hanger–sure, you can, but why would you want to? One thing I don’t like about the Speed and Speed Light is their short, fat hangers, which makes racking them on ice clippers problematic because they don’t stack as well as other screws on the market. To put it in perspective, the hangers are almost four times fatter than the BD Express ice screws.
After several months of packing the screws in a stuff sack with only the plastic caps to protect the tips, and gently knocking ice out of them by banging the tube top against my tool’s hammer, the screws show minimal wear.
The Laser Speeds are not the easiest screws to rack since they are thick in the hanger, and carabiners in the clip hole are tough to remove when weighted. But these criticisms overlook the primary role of a screw, which is to handle, set and drive with ease.
[Photo] Kel Rossiter
Pros: Light aluminum hanger reduces leverage on the screw during placement. Tooth profile provides quick insertion. Tube threading gives a quick drive. Laser Speed Light is 30% lighter than comparable steel screws.
Bright plastic coloring on the cranks makes length identification easy.
Cons: One-holed hanger makes it hard to remove carabiners when weighted. Plating on tube of the Laser Speed wears quickly.
Kel Rossiter is the owner/lead guide for Adventure Spirit Rock+Ice+Alpine, and guides in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Alaska and beyond. He is a certified AMGA Alpine and Rock Guide and holds a doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of Vermont.