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Cobra ice axe
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Contact: Black Diamond Equipment
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Black Diamond Equipment

It's been over 10 years since Black Diamond brought out the original Cobra ice tool. Although I have used and liked a number of other ice tools in the time since, my affection for my original Cobras (for which I paid FULL LIST PRICE) hasn't wavered. In my opinion it is the best all around ice tool ever made. It climbs steep waterfall ice very well and it excels in the mountains - where it is at home in neve, ice, snow travel or whatever you can throw at it. Needless to say I was excited when I heard that there was a leashless version of this classic tool in the works.

For the past several years I got into leashless climbing, trying a variety of tools and settling on a pair of Petzl Ergo's. While I liked the way they swung on steep ice, they really weren't all that useful in the mountains. I always thought that all the Cobra needed was a fang-style grip like the one on the Viper. Over the past couple of years I have seen a few Cobras modified thusly, but it wasn't something that I wanted to do with my tools. I've heard rumors of a new Cobra since last fall, but hadn't actually see one until a few months ago, and what I saw made me really drool. An elegant carbon fiber shaft that sports even more clearance and looks more like a high priced road bike frame than a ice tool, the lower Fang grip, the upper Strike secondary grip, a slightly smaller lower shaft, spike at the bottom of the shaft, and the original modular pick mount. The Cobra nouveau is significantly lighter than the original Cobra, while still retaining the balance of the original - the majority of the tools weight is in the head. The weren't generally available in January so I got on the horn to BD to see where I could get a pair to try.

I got a single Cobra in late January followed by a second tool in the first week in February. In the week after I got the first tool I guided many of the climbs at Frankenstein, using my prototype Viper in the other hand. The Cobra was significantly lighter than the Viper and had more clearance. Its swing was different enough that I had to concentrate a bit at first to get the sticks that I was used to with my previous steep ice tool, a pair of Petzl Ergo's. While the Ergo was a flick + stab tool, the new Cobra, like the original, worked best with a bit of a shoulder swing and final flick.

Once I got the second tool at the end of the first week in February, everything changed. The day the second tool arrived I ran down to the North End of Cathedral for a few hours. I cruised up the snow-covered Slab as a starter. It was very nice to be able to switch between swinging the tool and caneing. The Cobra had no problem plunging into the packed snow. There were a number of folks on the pillars when I walked around so I walked back around and did Thresher, one of my favorite little practice climbs. By the time I was at the top the sticks were almost second nature. Waking around again I noticed that the folks on the pillars were only climbing in the middle so I hooked my way up the far right side. Following that I climbed the steep curtain on the far left. No matter what I did the Cobras felt very comfortable and delivered solid sticks on brittle as well as plastic ice. A couple of days later I went out with my boss at the IMCS climbing school and led Black Pudding Gully on Humphrey's Ledge. It was in pretty typical conditions - overhanging candles at the start followed by very steep smooth ice to the top. The Cobras were great on the delicate hooking at the start and awesome when it came time to swing for sticks on the steep column. About a week later I did the Pegasus rock finish and loved the way they torqued in the crack. Although the shaft did flex, it was minor.

Although it is obviously designed to be used leashless, you can attach an optional Android leash ($39.95) and you can also remove the Fang and Strike. The pick is easily replaced using the included wrench. The Cobra is available in adz or hammer versions for the same price.

So I obviously really like the tool, were there any problems? Well I do think that some rubber on the upper section of the shaft would be nice when you want to slide your hand up a bit beyond the Strike. The carbon fiber is pretty slick stuff. I had put some hockey tape on the upper shaft on my Ergo's and found it really useful and I suppose I can do the same on the Cobras, tho it would be a shame to obscure the beauty of the carbon fiber shaft. The other issue revolves around the standard Laser Pick that all of the BD tools come with. I don't find that this pick holds up very well, compared with the optional Titan pick. Just a touch on rock and it's dulled. While the Titan is thicker, and supposedly displaces less ice, I have never noticed much of a difference other than its longevity. Since they are the same price, just get the Titans when it comes time to replace the original picks!

Conclusion:  This is a great all around ice tool. It is at home on steep waterfall ice, mixed terrain and in the mountains. While expensive at $299.95 list, you get what you pay for. You can't do much better than this tool.

Details: carbon fiber shaft, Fang and Strike handles included, choice of adze or hammer, leash not included

Al Hospers
February 2008

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