The Black Diamond Reactor: a classic modern leashless axe
Throughout the last year I've used the Black Diamond Reactors for most aspects of winter climbing. I've given them a fair bit of hammering and am yet to break them. Below is a brief overview of how the axes performed in different aspects of winter climbing.
These axes were designed for waterfall ice, but I found that this wasn't where the tools perform best. The shaft isn't radically curved enough to provide enough clearance in steep or heavily featured ice. Clearance is further reduced by the top of handle sticking out, which has the annoying habit of catching on bulges. You can climb steep ice with these axes, but on more featured terrain it is easier with a radically curved axe like the BD Viper or Petzl Nomi.
Testing the Reactors on waterfall ice. (Copyright Tom Ripley, 2008)
Scottish style mixed climbing is where these tools excel. The dual grip is excellent, with the upper handle great for matching, changeovers and moves where you require that extra r-e-a-c-h. The clever geometry of the Reactor keeps the pick at the same angle, reducing the chances of the axe popping as weight is transferred from one handle to the other. The steel headset is narrow enough to slot into cracks, whilst the hammer is still big enough to weld in pegs and bulldogs. I've mixed climbed with both the B rated Laser picks and T rated fusion picks. Although I'm yet to bend a Laser, for mixed I'd plum for the more burly fusion.
On Scottish ice these tools are brilliant. Once an adze has been added, they are near perfect. Scottish ice isn't typically as hard or brittle as water ice, so the gently curved shaft does not hinder their performance on this medium. On big long routes like Astral Highway and Hadrian's Wall they have climbed superbly. Whilst full leashless is brilliant for leading, attach a Grivel Spring Leash to your axes when seconding. From experience you are much more likely to drop an axe faffing to remove gear in awkward places than when focused on the sharp end.
These axes are overkill for sustained neve slopes like the Shroud and Swiss Route, but they climb well nonetheless. It is worth attaching an adze for alpine climbing, it is the most secure method for climbing scary soft cornices. Don't forget your spring leash too.
My first impressions when I received the Reactor Axes were of a solid and well made tool. Perhaps not as good looking as others on the market, but indestructible nonetheless. As with all BD technical tools the picks are attached by a small locknut nut, which makes removing the picks a doddle. The bolt can either be undone with a little spanner, or by a spare pick, or even your other axe. All in all, they are a brilliant pair of solid axes that perform on all aspects of winter climbing. Whilst not ideal for water ice, they excel for Scottish winter climbing and perform adequately on less technical climbs the Alps. They are perhaps the ideal axes for the leashless Scottish winter climber, who dabbles in waterfall and alpine climbing.
The Reactors are also fantastic value for money at £129.99 each.
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