→ Against the grain

There’s a great comparison of two very different kinds of ice axes over on outdoorflow.

Bhend ice axes are made in a small metal shop in the town of Grindelwald, Switzerland. The Bhend family has made ice axes the same way for over one hundred and thirty years. Bhend ice axes accompanied climbers on the first ascents of the Eiger, in 1938, and Everest, in 1953, as well as numerous other peaks, from the Himalaya to the Americas. When you hold a Bhend ice axe in your hands, you hold a piece of climbing history. Ruedi Bhend, nearly seventy years old, still makes ice axes every winter. His son, Urs, may continue the tradition in the future.

A Bhend ice axe begins as a rough steel blank. The blank is heated in a forge, beaten into shape with an anvil and hammer, and finished with grinding and polishing. The shafts are hewn from ash, and aged for a suitable period. Finally, the heads and shafts are joined with rivets, and sanded so that the seams are barely discernible. The spike is fashioned the same way.

The final product is elegant and refined, like a sculpture, with smooth curves that recall the hull of a boat or the body of a violin. The shafts are blond, and the heads are bright silver, like mercury. They are the ideal iteration of the classic ice axe, the perfect ice axe, a platonic form.

Bhend – and his legendary ice axes – feature in my novel The Only Genuine Jones. It’s remarkable that they’re still being made in the traditional way in the shadow of the Eigerwand.

Read the full article here.

By Alex Roddie

Award-winning outdoor and nature writer, editor, author, and photographer.

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