We might as well address the elephant in the room: Black Diamond tools have a bad rep. Their picks are — reputedly — prone to breaking for no reason at all. And while I have friends that have broken BD picks, or seen their partners break them, I’ve never seen one break. And damn if the Cobras aren’t one of the better swinging tools around. I’ve got a few friends that love them, and having tried their tools, I was suitably impressed to get a pair and try it out this ice season and see for myself.
Though I’ve yet to make the personal sacrifice and cut up a tool out of my own curiosity, I’m told by BD that the Cobra’s shaft is pure carbon fibre. The layup and alternating fibre orientation create a strong yet vibration-damping shaft that is mated to a cast steel head and rubber grip. The result is a relatively lightweight tool (598 grams with stock micro-hammer) that is beautifully balanced and sublimely dampened. The stock micro-hammer can be exchanged for an adze, or a bigger, wider hammer head more suited to regular pin pounding.
Look at the Cobras — really look at them — and the high level of fit and finish becomes readily apparent. The carbon fibre layup is flawless, the head mated perfectly to the shaft and the rubber grip precisely trimmed. Being an all-around alpine tool, the Cobras have a non-removable spike, as well as clip-in holes on the head and in the spike that will accommodate large carabiners.
The Cobras’ swing is sublime. The carbon shaft dampens vibrations wonderfully, so much so that even punching through thin ice into rock doesn’t send a shudder up your arm. The tools seem to stick best from a shoulder-driven forearm flick that drives the pick deep into the ice, which despite appearances cleans quite easily. I’ve found them to work best on less-than-vertical, and generally featureless, ice, though obviously much more talented climbers use them to good effect on pretty much anything you can imagine. Due to the somewhat laid-back angles, as compared to more aggressive tools such as the Nomic or Fusion, the Cobras do not hook as well, nor do they feel as secure in such placements.
The tapered shaft ends in a slim handle, allowing the use of thicker gloves without getting pumped as quickly. The generous pinky-guard doesn’t get in the way of thick gloves, and the upper ‘pommel’ allows for easy matching. The generous clip-in hole easily takes a ‘biner and allows for simple, secure attachment of various leash/tether systems.
Add to all this the interchangeable mini-hammer, full-size hammer and adze, and you have a great all-around alpine tool. So far, I’m very impressed, but we’ll see how they hold up to repeated use throughout a Rockies winter!