Add to my long list of personal defects: lazy and picky about gear.
Good thing the obsessive Italians at Cassin have delivered the X-Lite, a supremely versatile, lightweight, durable tool suited for skimo, glacier routes, and sending in the mountains.
The X-Lite’s superlative weight (adze model, $200, approx 505g, 17.6 oz, home verified, but I had trouble balancing it on my scale) satisfies lazy alpinists like me–these things are svelte, light, and once you climb on ’em you realize the Cassin gang has engineered a bunch of performance into an anorexic tool.
They’re also Italian-made and earn a “T” rating, so they’re quality, they’re durable, and the folks who crafted it get healthcare and a living wage. Good job, Cassin. The pickiest of us can rest easy, knowing these come down the hill from Premana, where all the Cassin goodness happens.
I also own CAMP’s Corsa Nanotech ax (half the weight of the X-Lite, all aluminum save for the Sandvik stainless-steel pick) and the Cassin X-All Mountain, a much more aggressive tool for waterfall ice, alpine missions, and mixed terrain. The X-Lite employs an aluminum shaft to strike the perfect balance between a lightweight tool like the Corsa Nanotech and the All-Mountain. You get a steel spike, pick, and adze on the X-Lite–great for chopping white ice and manufacturing a platform for a skier, or tackling a shorter pitch of water ice–without the weight of a fully tech tool like the All Mountain or a BD Viper. In short, it’s an insurance policy in case you encounter terrain where an aluminum-headed ax won’t get it done.
I carried the X-Lite adze version on several 5K-plus ski-tours on Rogers Pass recently. They’re having a weird winter in Revelstoke (rain, rain, bunch of snow up high, too much sun), so we encountered bulletproof skin tracks and saw blobs of water ice where I’ve never seen it over three other trips up there. The X-Lite offered the mass required to chop out a frozen (and I mean frozen, as in closer to blue ice than snow!) skintrack, where an aluminum ax would simply bounce off. It also hedged bets in case we hit steep terrain with a wicked rain crust on it or a patch of water ice.
While we didn’t get into any ice pitches in Canada, thinking about routes like The Flying Dutchman in RMNP, you need the capability to climb a pitch of WI 3/4 with skis on your back. The nice thing about the X-Lite is you can swap traditional piolet-style grip to the Cassin “X-Dry,” which gives you the same handle as the X-All Mountain–two good pinky rests. The X-Lite gets way, way more capable of climbing vertical ice with just a few minutes of tinkering with an allen wrench. Set one up as a tool for steeper ice, and make do with the other in “traditional” fashion. Now you’ve got one for snow and the other to hang on to–great combo.
Set up traditionally, though, the X-Lite comes with an “X Trigger Fast” adjustable pinky rest–so for a short pitch of steeper ground, you might get by with it. With a couple quick twists (no tools!), you can slide the rest up or down, anywhere on the tool. I kept it high (as pictured left) so I could plunge the tool and I noticed it made a nice addition when holding the tool in high or low dagger. Great when booting couloirs.
Just for kicks I also took the X-Lites to the ice park in Ouray. I lowered in just above the upper bridge and climbed a couple pitches of dead-vertical ice. I didn’t have the X-Dry grip on, so was getting by with the piolet-style shaft. Two pitches and I certainly felt the pump, but totally doable, especially if you match occasionally and shake out using the adjustable pinky rest.
All told, I think the X-Lites are totally dialed for skimo in serious terrain and then long, varied routes like Mount Baker’s North Ridge or the Trois Sommets on Mont Blanc. They climb a tremendous amount of different stuff…and they climb it well. Only thing I’d like to see is a shorter (the X-Lites are available only in a 50cm length) version, something on par with the 43cm Petzl Sumtec–not to replace the 50cm version, but just another option. Might be the ticket for skimo, more than glacier climbing…but it’d be an interesting complement to the existing model.
I’m psyched on my set (hammer version avail) and will be using ’em this spring in couloirs and hopefully this summer in Europe. Check out the X-Lite next time you need a versatile, lightweight tool.
Rob Coppolillo is a UIAGM/IFMGA mountain guide based in Boulder, Colorado. He’s co-founder of Vetta Mountain Guides.