We’ve used the Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe on classic alpine routes, ski tours and approaches. So what did we think?
Black Diamond say: “Built with a streamlined design and lightweight materials, the Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe is ideal for ski mountaineering missions, descending off alpine rock climbs or those just-in-case situations that involve short sections of glacier travel. The unique, integrated angled spike plunges easily in snowy couloirs, and the investment-cast, polished stainless steel head and pick provide secure bite in moderate ice.”
I have used the Raven Ultra mainly for ski touring and ski mountaineering and it’s lightweight simplicity, makes it perfect for this. It has a stainless steel head and pick which actually work on proper ice, unlike some of the lightweight aluminium axes I have used. The shaft of the axe is aluminium, has no rubberised grip or handle and can feel a bit slippery when you actually need to pull on it on steeper ground but you could add some self amalgamating plumbers tape for extra stickiness if you found this to be an issue. On terrain that was AD+ or harder, I’d usually carry a proper ice tool anyway.
The Raven Ultra has a stainless steel spike integrated into the bottom of the aluminium shaft and whilst this is definitely more effective than some other lightweight models I’ve seen without this feature, offering greater durability and security when plunging it into snow and ice, it is definitely not as effective as a proper spike. However the Raven Ultra is all about compromise. It is a fantastic lightweight axe with a stainless steel pick that actually works in ice, and an adze that is very effective in chopping steps. The holes in the middle of the head and adze give lots of options for creating snow belays too.
As I said earlier the lightweight simplicity of the Raven Ultra make it perfect for skiing where weight is usually an issue. However I’ve also used mine on plenty of classic alpine routes up to AD and found it to work really well. I mentioned earlier that the shaft can feel slippy to hold, but holding the head feels pretty comfortable and secure and whilst it’s not the most comfortable I’ve used, it’s also not far off.
Due to it’s light weight and compact size (I tested the 50 cm version but 55cm and 60cm are also available) I have found the Raven Ultra invaluable when approaching alpine rock climbs such as on the South Face of the Aiguille Du Midi or when crossing short sections of glacier. It fits inside my 25 litre pack and doesn’t feel bulky or heavy to carry.
Whilst the Raven Ultra has some failings you have to remember the context of the review and the purpose that the ice axe is designed for. It is a lightweight, minimalist axe designed for easy climbs, ski mountaineering and short sections of approach and descent where using an axe may not form the main part of the day. But when you do need it the Raven Ultra works, and works well!
- RRP: £85 (available in 3 lengths – 50/55/60cm)
- Find out more at the Black Diamond website.