Eagle Lake Ice Meets the BD Sabretooth Crampon

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | May 20, 2010      

By Joe Brannan

Buy Black Diamond crampons here.

Editor’s note: There is an ongoing debate within the Denali crew about the usefulness of the Sabretooth’s toe bail strap anchor. A few have removed it, opting to secure the heel strap around the boot cuff instead. Much like the former Sabertooth design. There has also been some discussion about the durability of the heel clip. While we haven’t experienced any failures to date, the plastic is certainly less beefy than the former version. Evaluation of this will be ongoing. Meanwhile, Joe has really given the Sabretooths a good eval. Check it out.

As the four WildSnow drivers haul our 1,400 pounds of gear ever closer to Talkeetna, we thought we’d give them a break from blogging and file a few reports from those of us who will be flying up to Anchorage. Last winter I did a number of training trips that included pig haulage as well as stabbing ice with our Black Diamond Sabertooth spikes.

Ice climbing

Heading up some moderate ice with the skis in anticipation of spring pow turns.

As the only Rront ranger on the Wildsnow Denali team, I have enlisted fellow flatlanders to join me on training trips into Wild Basin of Rocky Mountain National Park. As a weekend warrior, I take what I can get. It seemed to set the hook when I mention I will be dragging all the camping gear in Lou’s black beast (an old Mountainsmith pulk he lent me). Getting three days in a row with the pig, on back-to-back weekends, is a big step toward getting my legs where they need to be to chase Jordan up the Kahiltna.

Hauling the pig.

Near Thunder Falls in Wild Basin, RMNP

These trips have definitely been stress tests for the sled rig as well. Navigating tight stands while bushwhacking in isotherm snow probably won’t be encountered up on The Great One, but regardless I have managed to blow apart both shock absorbers on separate occasions. Perhaps we should have some extra hose along up in AK, eh guys?

Broken sled connection.

Easy to fix this on the fly if the tube has some extra length built into it, but we should probably have some spare tubing in the fix-it-kit. Another option to consider is steel braid reinforced tubing.

The first weekend my best man and I set our sights on Lion Lakes and a scope out of the impressive east face of Mount Alice. Long story short, we ended up coming up a bit shy of our goal, but found a really unique area of giant pillowed boulders surrounded by old growth ponderosa pine. No one gets back here in the winter or even in early spring. It felt like a spiritual place. More conducive to the story line was our spotting of some inviting icefalls cross valley by Eagle Lake. My curiosity bone and new found affinity to climb ice conspired to set the next weekend’s schedule.

After another long week of work in the burbs, my sea level adapted South-Indian desert dweller turned mountain man, Prakash Manley, and I hauled camp seven miles up into North Saint Vrain Creek Valley. The following morning we went exploring for the falls. The climbing and skiing up here didn’t disappoint.

Sabretooth crampon review

Nothing beats the feeling and color of beautiful blue water ice.

Backcountry skiing.

Skiing back to camp after a great day in the park.

If you’re interested in checking out Eagle Lake Ice, I added the area and some routes to Mountain Project.

I love gearing up at the base with these babies:

Ice tools in the backcountry.

Black Diamond’s Sabretooth Pro Crampons and Cobra Ice Tools

Now I haven’t been an ice monkey for long, one season now, but I have had the chance to demo a number of crampon and tool combos. I can say the most memorable was the Sabretooth Pro with some old dull straight shafts on a WI5 pillar.

Anyway, the coupling of any tools with the Sabretooth Pro ‘pons has come through for me. Initially I was fooled into thinking I needed vertical oriented front points on ice, but now I know that is certainly not the case. In fact, for moderate ice I prefer the added stability and surface area you get with a pair of horizontal points, especially when they use a horizontal bevel for sharpening. As these have the horizontal points, you get the snow climbing package as well.

Climbing in the backcountry.

Virgin WI4 beyond some pesky snow, lower Eagle Lake Ice, RMNP.

So with one set of spikes I get the best of both worlds, a preferred performance on pure ice and a snow crampon with the most well integrated anti-balling plates I have seen. When you’re out in the alpine you’re going to want solid performance for both situations as you always seem to find at least short snow slogs between ice pitches. If that’s not enough, remember the stainless steel requires less material for a given strength than carbon steel, stays sharper longer and doesn’t rust. The heel height adjustment is really easy to use and the toe bail has a nice long extension for the strap ring which makes use with ski boots that much easier. As with the old Sabretooth, you can choose from two locations to mount the front bail.


Hard to tell here, but the front points are sharpened with a horizontal bevel, very useful for penetrating ice without the dreaded shattering effect. Notice also the length of the front strap ring extension, very nice for rigging up to ski boots. The design in general is very sleek yet solid.

Backcountry ice climbing and skiing.

The Black Diamond Sabretooth Pro is this mountaineer’s choice crampon and they will be going to Denali.

Buy Black Diamond crampons here.



10 Responses to “Eagle Lake Ice Meets the BD Sabretooth Crampon”

  1. Tyler May 20th, 2010 3:35 pm

    Way to get after it Joe. Nice review. I’m loving my sabertooth’s too. It was good climbing that WI5 with you…..that will be a day to remember.

  2. Nick May 20th, 2010 4:14 pm

    Awesome shots of ice climbing with skis on your pack Joe. That’s wild.

  3. Jordan May 20th, 2010 4:36 pm

    Amen to that Ty. First ice climb…he sends us up a WI5. And then the angry hippy dude shows up…

  4. Dave May 20th, 2010 5:55 pm

    So were you climbing with skis on your pack for practice or was it required to access an upper basin with good skiing? LOL regarding the angry hippy dude! Maybe he was the same guy who gave me grief for using chalk at Turkey Rocks 15 years ago!

  5. ian May 20th, 2010 7:24 pm

    nice review…thanks! will be interested to hear your feedback on the toe strap. i don’t really see the benefit, but that being said i haven’t removed mine yet either. i climbed mount aspiring in these crampons last year about 1200m of mostly 50-60deg ice/hard snow with no issues at all and i agree the horizontal points are much better for a non-technical climb like that. would you use those cobra axes for non-technical ski mountaineering? I got the venom’s because it just seems easier to plunge the shaft in for an anchor or for sell-arrest.

  6. Mark W May 20th, 2010 10:05 pm

    I dare say you’re right that no one gets as far as Lion Lakes area in winter. I have been eying a lot of stuff deep in Wild Basin, but in winter it is all mostly too far in for quick day trips. Nice review. Might have to get some of the Sabertooths for myself. By the way, I didn’t know anyone from the Front Range was going on the trip. I’m from Fort Collins (and spend lots of time in RMNP). Good luck on Denali.

  7. Joe May 21st, 2010 2:34 pm

    Dave, both practice and fun. I could have climbed the snow to the left, but why? I was there to climb ice. We skied from above the ice.

    Ian, the cobras are definitely more of a cragging tool and would not be my go-to tool for ski mountaineering. Their poor plunge performane is rather annoying at times. I find a whippet is good enough in Colorado 95% of the time anyway.

  8. Tim M. May 21st, 2010 10:20 pm

    Nice pants.

  9. Brittany May 22nd, 2010 2:01 pm

    Hmmmm. Ice ice baby! Can’t wait to get out for some ice climbing next fall/winter. So fun!

  10. Brittany May 24th, 2010 12:00 pm

    Well, I’m laughing at myself now, because Frank and I found ourselves climbing some vertical water ice just yesterday!

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