The typical Grivel ice tool is heavy and has an aggressive shaft made of steel. One of their newer additions, The North Machine, is an exception. Named for the harshest side of mountains to climb (in the northern hemisphere) the North Machine is the lightest technical ice tool on the market thanks to its carbon fiber shaft and barebones design. These features set it apart from Grivel’s other technical ice tools. The North Machine seems to be Grivel’s foray into an all around tool that can be used on both alpine terrain and technical ice. This puts it in stiff competition against the Black Diamond Vipers, Petzl Quark, and the Camp X-Light .
The North Machine is a rugged tool with no moving parts to break or wear out over time. Its pick is hot forged, typical for Grivel tools. With the switch of the pick you can change the configuration between having a hammer, adze, or nothing on the reverse of the pick. The hammer and adze both seem to be a functional size, with the shape of the shaft allowing for an easy swing with the tool flipped around. A mixed blade with a more aggressive angle is also available. With most of its weight in the head of the tool, the blade can be easily driven into the ice.
The shaft is chromoly steel wrapped in carbon fiber. This combination makes the shaft extremely light. Another selling point about the carbon fiber is that the shaft of the tool does not get as cold to the touch as metal shaft tools do. The shape of the shaft is a good medium between alpine and technical. It is straight enough to cane with but curved enough to help you climb over an ice bulge. The rubberized handles allows for a very positive grip on the tools even while wearing gloves.
The pommel is effective enough to keep your hand in place on vertical ice, yet not so large that it gets caught up while caning. The spike under the handle looks and functions like a trekking pole tip, which does well on rocks and ice.
At just 450g for the version with no hammer or adze, it is noticeably lighter than most tools meant specifically for vertical ice. The closest competitor in weight is the Camp X-Light, whose hammer version weighs 525g. For long approaches and climbs, shedding every bit of weight can mean preventing a lot of pain at the end of the day.
Although this tool seemed to be a blend between alpine and technical tools, there is a major pitfall for the North Machine in both of these rolls.
Alpine climbing can lead to very long and difficult ascents with a variety of different terrain and obstacles. It is likely that you would have to use your ice tools in the cane position just to get to the base of your climb. The spikes on the top of the blade make using the North Machine in the cane position very uncomfortable. Even when wearing heavy gloves, putting any of one’s body weight on the tool in that position will cause pain over time. The likelihood that the average climber would need those spikes is very low compared to the likelihood that they use their tool as a cane for an approach or descent. This negates how great the trekking pole spike works. None of its main competitors have this problem. The picture below compares the rugged top of the North Machine to the smooth top of the Black Diamond Vipers
For technical climbing, one of the best selling points of the North Machine is also one of its biggest drawbacks. It is too simple. There is nowhere to get good grip higher up on the tool. In cases where the climber would need to switch which hand he is using to grip the tool, they would have to grab the tool above the rubber on the carbon fiber shaft where there is no upper pommel to prevent their hand from sliding down. Adding some grip tape would help the grip but not enough. All of the direct competitor ice tools previously mentioned not only have an upper pommel, but their upper pommels are all adjustable to support the hand in the dagger position as well. It would not have been complicated or added much weight to have incorporated an upper pommel into the design of the North Machine.
The Grivel North Machine had all the elements to shake up Grivel’s ice tool lineup and pull ahead of any other ice tool marketed as an all around versatile tool for long alpine ascents and steep technical climbs. It’s unique design features, light weight, and awesome ascetics set it apart from every other ice tool on the market. Unfortunately, how painful it is to cane with and the lack of versatility in the grip makes it difficult to choose over the similar ice tools previously mentioned.
See my thoughts on the Black Diamond Vipers here:
Thanks for this very helpful review. I am wondering if you could simply file the spikes on the top of the blade to adapt the axe to a more alpine use. If I understand it right, the reason it has spikes there in the first place is because the North Machine shares the blade with the more technical Tech Machine.
Filing it by hand would take a while. Using a grinder might mess with the temperament of the steel so I wouldn’t recommend that either. Grivel is now selling the north machine with their “cascade plus” picks. I have not used them yet so I don’t know how aggressive those spikes still are.