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An ice axe is a multi-purpose hiking and climbing tool used by mountaineers both in the ascent and descent of routes that involve frozen conditions with snow and/or ice. An ice axe can be held and employed in a number of different ways, depending on the terrain encountered. In its simplest role, the ice axe is used like a walking stick in the uphill hand, the mountaineer holding the head in the center, with the pick pointing to the rear. It can also be buried pick down, the rope tied around the shaft to form a secure anchor on which to bring up a second climber, or buried vertically to form a stomp belay. The adze is used to cut footsteps (sometimes known as pigeon holes), as well as scoop seats in the hillside and trenches to bury an ice axe belay. The long-handled alpenstock was a predecessor to the modern ice axe. The ice axe bears similarity in design to a medieval war hammer.
An ice axe is not only used as an aid to climbing, but also as a means of self-arrest in the event of a downhill slip.
Most ice axes meet design and manufacturing standards of organizations such as the Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme (UIAA) or European Committee for Standardization. There are two classifications of ice axe, Basic and Technical. Basic ice axes are designed for use in snow conditions for general mountaineering, and are adequate for basic support and self-arrest. Technical ice axes, which may have curved shafts, are strong enough to be used for steep or vertical ice climbing and belaying.