The Most Influential Gear of All Time: Hummingbird Modular Ice Axe


An early prototype of the Hummingbird

An early prototype of the Hummingbird     Photo: Courtesy of Lowe Alpine

In the world of ice climbing, brothers Jeff and Greg Lowe were visionaries. After a two-year stint in the special forces, Greg returned home to Ogden, Colorado, in the early 1970s to nurse his fledgling manufacturing company, Lowe Alpine Systems. Though Yvon Chouinard and others had already produced a curved pick ice tool—a modified mountaineering axe, and an improvement on the 90-degree-angled alpine axes previously in use—ice axes were still in their infancy.

In the winter of 1971-72, Greg Lowe let his backyard swimming pool freeze and he used it as his lab to redesign ice equipment. Among his many innovations was the Hummingbird, the first ice tool to feature interchangeable picks and a true curve that could reach around bulges and sink in. By the late 1970s the Lowe brothers were working with Italian manufacturer CAMP to produce the axes commercially, and Greg’s innovations were being put to use on cutting-edge ice climbs in the Canadian Rockies, Utah, and Colorado.

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