As I carefully skin up the icy couloir, I cock my head over my shoulder and downhill to study the morning’s progress. My partner and I have climbed 1000’ into our 2000’ ascent, tied together by a gossamer-thin glacier rope.
In my left hand is Grivel’s Condor pole, its pick gawking out in front, poised to chomp down on the ice should I fall. Unlike the competition, the Condor’s pick is retractable, folding into a knuckle-guard handle.
I used the Condor on a 6-day ski mountaineering trip this past April and have the following insights.
The Gear: Grivel Condor
Available: Available now
Where to test It: Sketchy backcountry chutes and non-technical glacier trekking
Who’s It For: Ski Mountaineers who need to self-arrest falls
History: Back in the day, ski mountaineer and Black Diamond designer Andrew McLean developed a ski pole with an integrated ice pick. Dubbed the Whippet ($100), the purpose was to help aggressive backcountry skiers arrest small falls before cartwheeling into big falls.
Black Diamond owned the market on this backcountry aid for years. But a few years ago, Grivel entered the market with the Condor and its retractable ice pick.
Specs: The pole can extend from 84-135 cm and weighs 16oz.
Locking the pole: The condor is a three section pole that locks into position with a twist lock.
Basket Case: Grivel’s proprietary “Saturn basket” swivels around the pole’s base, titling to match the angle of the underlying terrain. This seemed novel and worked, but we also found that snow can impact in the mechanism, making it harder to pivot.
Get a Grip: The most noticeable part of the pole is its large, almost jumar-like handle. Unlike the Whippet, the Condor has a knuckle guard extending off the front.
Inside the knuckle guard sits the retractable pick. To engage the pick, you unscrew the nut on the handle proper, pull the pick out, then twist the nut tight to lock the blade into place.
The handle provides three hand positions: a traditional pole grip, cane grip (on top) and a surprisingly ergonomic “speed grip” on the knuckle guard, that keeps the pole stabbing behind you as you briskly walk forward.
An adjustable leash wraps around the wrist.
Made in: Italy
The Good: While we haven’t ever heard of anyone getting disemboweled from a whippet, there was a lot of comfort knowing that the Condor lowered our risk of impalement by 50% (or at least any time the pick is retracted).
The knuckle guard was appreciated while down climbing steep snow, keeping the hands from bashing into the snow.
Flaw: After five days of hard use, the twist lock began to loosen its grip and the pole began to automatically collapse. I simply twisted it tighter and continued on. But I imagine it has a lifespan like most other twist lock poles — good but not great. Time will tell.
The leash sits on the bottom of the grip, making it too low to be ergonomic for all hand positions.
First impressions: I descended a 1500′ ice wall with the Condor in one hand and a traditional ice axe in the other. The pick inspired confidence and bit into the snow just as solid as the axe. And I loved how the knuckle guard protected my hands as I repeatedly plunged the pick into the snow. And being able to change the hand position throughout the day was a plus. Looking back at Rainier, the Condor was one of the most important tools I brought for the job.
Who Should Buy It: Backcountry ski mountaineers who earn their steep turns and need extra insurance and mountain travelers who might need an occasional alpenstock on snowy mountain hikes but more often than not, reach for the trekking poles.
Contact Brand/More Beta: Grivel
—Steve Graepel is a contributor. Our “First Look” column highlights new gear arrivals at GearJunkie.com. Photos © Monopoint Media LLC