This past winter season, what with all the Covid restrictions, has definitely been a strange one and I feel quite fortunate to have been able to access and enjoy what has been without doubt, the best cascade ice season I can remember in the Alps, for about 10 years.
That coupled with a distinct lack of clients for my guiding work, meant that I could go and do a lot of ice climbing (although I do tend to guide ice a lot in winter anyway)and visit some areas and climbs I may not have necessarily been able to go to in a normal season.
Most of this winter season I climbed with Black Diamond Fuel Hammers. These super burly tools have an indestructible feel, particularly mixed climbing and dry tooling and whilst they’re great on steep ice, they’re not fully optimised for this, being a little heavy for my liking and not swinging quite as naturally, particularly when getting sticks on less steep ground.
Cutting to the chase, towards the end of the season I received a pair of the Black Diamond Reactor tools to test. I’d heard they were good and parallels had already been drawn between them and the Camp-Cassin X-Dream, a tool which is widely regarded as THE tool for cascade climbing. I’ve not used a pair personally (hopefully we are going to test these next season), but if they’re anywhere near as good as my first impressions of climbing with the Reactors, then they’re gonna be great.
This is a short preliminary run-down of the Reactors based on the few days I used them towards the end of the season and I’ll post a full in depth review after a few more days next winter.
Black Diamond say:
With its open pick angle and leashless design, the Reactor is optimized for pure ice climbing. The tool features a steel head with an aluminum side plate. The tool’s extruded aluminum shaft is combined with a dual density grip that is adjustable to fit all sizes of hands. The Reactor comes ready with the BD Natural Ice Pick, so get stoked … because winter is coming.
- Open pick angle to make climbing ice a breeze
- Steel head with aluminum side plate
- Extruded aluminum shaft
- Innovative adjustable grip to fit all hand sizes
- Comes with BD Natural Ice Pick
Ok, so day 1 for the Reactors was something of a baptism of fire. Crack Baby a WI6 mega classic on the Breitwangflue wall of Kandersteg, Switzerland. A couple of long entry pitches of 3+ and I could instantly feel that the Reactors swing like a dream. No awkward flick to seat them in less steep ice, nice and light but with enough weight in the head to allow effortless sticks.
The grip felt comfortable and secure and I didn’t feel like it needed to be adjusted from the factory standard. I generally wear something like a size Medium BD Punisher glove for an idea of size reference.
A steeper pitch of grade 5 and 2 pitches of extremely featured and sometimes overhanging, grade 6 ice and the Reactors were running on cruise control. Clearing awkward bulges and hooking cauliflower ice felt super secure and I never noticed the weight of the tools making them feel unwieldy whilst swinging at flat faces. The final pitches of 5+ including some unrelenting flat sections of steep wall that weren’t particularly hooked or stepped and on this kind of ground its imperative you try and get first time sticks in order to save energy. The sureness of the grip, natural feel and beautiful weighting of the swing coupled with the perfect penetration of the BD Natural Ice Pick, inspired confidence the whole way and helped to keep the pump at bay.
I think it says a lot, that by the time I’d climbed 4 or 5 pitches of my first route with the Reactors, I didn’t feel like I ever wanted to climb ice with anything else! If you’re looking for an out and out water ice tool – go get some! I’ve not used them on mixed yet (it seems like sacrilege!) but I will I’m sure.
I will post a full and in depth review of the Reactors after a few more routes next winter season, but hopefully this gives you a flavour of my initial thoughts.
Find out more and buy at the Black Diamond website.
RRP: €260 or £240 each.
- Grip Co – molded rubber
- Head Stainless Steel
- Pick Chromoly Steel
- Shaft Aluminum
- Display Weight 610 g (1 lb 5 oz)
- Length 50 cm
Disclaimer – CGR reviewers are never paid to provide a review and the website does not take advertising or link to affiliate sales. We are a bunch of keen climbers and travellers that accept sample products and offer an honest and independent review of the item. The reviewer will often keep the sample after reviewing it for both hygiene and safety reasons and more often it’s in no fit state to return!
Kevin Avery is an IFMGA Mountain Guide based in the Alps. He is available for climbing and ski guiding in the Alps, UK and further afield. Contact him via the website: www.truenorthalpine.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org