This is the story of how Agustin Zulueta designed the ice axe Kilian used for the record on McKinley, told in his own words.
Agustin Zulueta is an industrial engineer and a specialist in high competition sailing.
First contact and the origin of a dream
A year ago I was on Aiguille du Midi when mountaineer, guide and friend of Kilian, Jordi Corominas, saw the carbon ice axe I was carrying and asked me where I had got hold of it. I told him I had made it myself and then he asked me if I knew about the project Summits of My Life. “Of course”, I replied and added that the project was an icon and that I would be more than happy to contribute to it as much as I possibly could.
Three months later, I got a call from Kilian asking me if it was my job to make ice axes. I told him it wasn’t but I knew how to make them, and also that I felt highly motivated by his project. After chatting for a while we had a challenge in the making:
TO MAKE AN ULTRA LIGHT, RELIABLE, UNIQUE AND MODERN ICE AXE.
As a professional, the first thing I did was to plan a schedule, which included the design of a first prototype, testing, etc., so that he could get to Mount Mckinley with up to four ice axes.
The first prototype: 263gr carbon
Curiously enough, Kilian finally used the worst axe, which weighed 30 grams less than the others: 263 grams of carbon, 140 of which were blade! Surely there are axes of similar weight in the market, but they are very fragile and used for other route types and requirements.
The first prototype travelled from the Pyrenees to the Alps, but seeing that it was difficult to count on Kilian, Nacho Morales, mountain skier and a mutual friend, stepped in to do the tests. We started by testing the axe’s traction, geometry and grip. It was then we realized we had done a good job, but a lot still needed to be done! Not only did we have to make something good, but it should also be a specific axe for a particular route on Mckinley.
Second prototype with new enhancements
Then we started on the second prototype, which included new geometry, a new grip and, most importantly, a modified lamination scheme. So, the only thing we maintained from the first prototype was the tip, which was “awesome”, according to the experts.
At this stage, a third man joined the action: Guillermo Poncinibio, an expert in carbon fibre, who helped us to improve the quality of the final product a lot.
At that point, we wondered whether or not a mould should be built. This would entail investing more money and design time, since, once the mould was built it would be difficult to vary either geometry or lamination. But, just like the Summits of My Life project, we were also ambitious, so we decided to go ahead! There were only two months to go, so we had to run like Kilian!
Second part coming soon…
For the moment, have you seen the McKinley stories?