Black Diamond Viper| $239.95 bdel.com ★★★★★
It’s easy in this new world order of knobby-handled, leashless mixed tools to lose sight of reality. While we all might fantasize about sending M11 or kicking that little (OK, he’s big) Russian’s behind in the Ouray mixed finals, the cold hard fact is that we need tools that will actually climb ice, and usually need leashes.
Enter the Black Diamond Viper, a high-tech all-terrain tool. Available with either hammer or adze, this fully modular unit is as functional and reliable as your longtime partner, perhaps more so. Weighing 1 pound 5 ounces (for the hammer), the Viper is light and well balanced. It swings in a natural arc, and, when fitted with the stock Laser pick, knifes cleanly even into brittle, sub-zero ice. The pick is tough, too. I torqued the bejeezus out of it numerous times and it didn’t break. If you intend to use the tool more for rock than ice, simply outfit it with the thicker and toothier Fusion pick ($36.95), which can stand up to more sharpenings and works better for stein-pulling.
The Viper has been out a few seasons and I can’t say that I ever used the original design. The new design, however, rocks. The aluminum shaft has been sculpted using a crazy hydroforming process (they use water to shape metal!) that gives the shaft a unique triangular shape, much like that of a viper! The shape gives the shaft a smidge more clearance and stiffness than a round shaft. Stiffness equals less vibration for a better feel and better stickage in ice.
On the grip end are two pinky shelves, one above the spike for swinging, and a higher, removable shelf for choking up and matching. (Hang from the upper shelf while you advance your other tool and you will reduce the number of tool placements by about 20 percent.) Neither shelf is super aggro, but they support your hand well enough to minimize fatigue and don’t really get in the way. Conventional ice-tool loops work with this design. At the other end of the tool you get a spike with, rare for a technical tool of this sort, a carabiner hole. Often, after solidly placing a tool, I clipped the rope to the spike as added peace of mind while placing an ice screw. On dry-tooling stretches with just-out-of-reach bolts, I used the Viper cheat-stick style, hooking the bolt hanger with the tool’s pick and clipping a draw to the spike.
Available with either hammer or adze, this fully modular unit is as functional and reliable as your longtime partner, perhaps more so.
I used both the micro hammer and adze and dug the serrated, pointed adze for camming into cracks and hacking out snowy rot. The hammer is small, making it light, but is so small and light it’s tough to drive a pin. If you are going to be hammering on a regular basis, I suggest switching one tool to the optional full-size hammer head (add 2.6 ounces).
For mixed climbing I used the tool leashless, but for sustained pillar ice, add the Android Leash ($39.95). This nifty job connects directly to the tool’s shaft, and disconnects with the simple press of a lever, enabling you to go leash on or leashless on the same pitch. Whoa! A cinchable harness cradles your wrist to minimize pump and maximize confidence.