Petzl Gully Review
Cons: Self-arresting, versatility, adze option is on the small side
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Petzl Gully is a unique model that blurs the lines between an ultralight ice axe and an ice tool. What this model might lack in versatility, it certainly makes up in its very focused design. The Gully is an alpine steep snow and moderate ice specialist that works well as a pair, as a second tool coupled with a traditional mountain axe, or a single for challenging ski mountaineering routes or steep snow-covered approaches to alpine rock climbs.
The Gully's pick and overall design is geared towards steeper ice and snow climbing and isn't nearly as smooth to self-arrest as some of the top performers. You can self-arrest with it, but it isn't top-notch; the reason is this model's slightly reversed curved pick, which self-arrests okay when conditions are softer but is unquestionably choppy when conditions are firmer. This is a fundamental difference of this model versus the Ride, which features an identical shaft. This model has more steep climbing in mind, whereas the Petzl Ride is geared toward self-arresting.
Digging & Step Chopping
The Gully is available with a hammer or a small adze. During our testing, our review staff pounded several snow pickets, and over a dozen pitons; this revealed zero signs of wear, but it is not as burly of an axe as some. We will keep you in the loop as we continue to test this model, but at this point, we have only broken two Black Diamond Raven adzes over years of testing.
Like most other ultralight models, its adze is undersized and isn't something you'd want to use to dig out an icy tent platform. While it's far better than nothing, and is bigger, better shaped, and more aggressive than some models, its small size just means it will take longer to achieve most of these tasks. Compared to its closest competitors, it will certainly perform better than the CAMP Corsa or CAMP Corsa Nanotech, which is identical to the Petzl Ride but won't perform as well as the much heavier Black Diamond Venom or Petzl Sum'tec.
Use As An Improvised Anchor
The Gully, despite its very technical appearance, is a CEN-B rated tool with both its pick and its shaft being UIAA type 1 rated. This means it is appropriate to use as an improvised anchor for crevasse rescue or to belay a climber ascending steep snow. It doesn't plunge well into snow vertically both because of its plugged shaft instead of a true spike as well as the curved shape of the shaft itself. While small, we did find it essential to move the pommel up towards the shaft when attempting to plunge the Gully in vertically. The holes on the head of this model nicely facilitate both carabiners or slings to incorporate it into a snow anchor as a backup or a secondary piece.
Steep Ice and Snow
The Gully is built for steep snow routes and moderate water ice. It might make some sacrifices as a general mountaineering axe, but it doesn't cut any corners when it comes to its steep climbing performance. The Gully's pick tapers down to 3mm, the same width as Petzl's ice climbing picks and it shows with outstanding overall performance.
The only difference between the Gully's pick and Petzl's more traditional ice tool's picks is the Gully's pick isn't quite as aggressive, which helps it perform better on more moderate snow and ice routes (which it's designed for) but not quite as good for more difficult ones.
The shaft of the Gully is identical to that of the Petzl Ride and offers enough but not exceptional clearance. The curved shaft and aggressive pick allowed most climbers to ascend WI3 pretty easily. WI4 is okay (where the clearance started to become an issue), and WI5 was possible if you're a very confident ice climber. All the weight is focused in the head of the axe, giving the Gully a little more heft, and helping it penetrate firmer conditions better than its sub-10-ounce weight might lead you to believe.
All of our testers loved this model's adjustable slider pommel (which Petzl calls their Trigrest) that can be set anywhere along the shaft based on the required task at hand. When swinging overhead like a traditional ice tool (piolet traxion) with the slider pommel set at the bottom of the shaft, it provided nearly as much support as most modern ice tool's fixed handles. A pleasant surprise noted by several of our testers was how much they liked the pommel when positioned just below the pick, for use in mid-dagger/piolet appui position while ascending long sections of snow or ice from 40-55 degrees.
Comfort to Carry
Like many more aggressive tools, particularly European-designed and manufactured ones, the Gully is more comfortable to carry in the self-belay/Piolet Canne position (pick forward). In this position, the whole head is tapered toward the pick for a more ergonomic and comfortable shape when the palm is over the adze or hammer and the index finger and thumb around the pick. There also aren't any teeth on the pick; just smooth metal where you thumb and index finger come around.
This model also isn't bad in self-arrest position and on the more comfortable side of more aggressive models to be carried in the pick backward position. Petzl didn't put any teeth for the first two inches of the pick from where it leaves the shaft; this leaves enough clearance for at least three fingers to wrap around with the user's index finger and thumb sitting in a nice depression below the adze or hammer. This model is still more comfortable in the pick-forward position and was more comfortable to carry than the CAMP Corsa Nanotech.
At 9.8 oz/280g, the Gully is among the lightest models in our review, and by far the lightest one we'd consider taking on a route with any sustained steep climbing. It climbs as well as the Black Diamond Venom, which at 18 oz/514g, is nearly double the weight. For a lot of steep snow and moderate alpine ice routes, the Gully provides more than enough performance, and for a lot of folks is, in reality, a better option.
The biggest thing going against the Gully - and a big consideration for most people - is its lack of versatility, as the Venom offers a fair amount more versatility; however, the Gully is better for specific types of routes and is tough to beat.
The Gully is a technical tool with a low weight and a short shaft. At 45cm, it's shorter than most traditional ice tools, but there isn't much of a performance compromise for the types of routes and applications it's designed for. Its lightweight hammer and smaller than average adze are still functional enough, though maybe aren't quite as durable in the long haul. If you know you're going to be pounding TONS or pickets into firm snow, we'd suggest looking elsewhere.
The Gully is awesome for what Petzl designed it for but is hardly a quiver-of-one type design. This means the Gully won't be the only ice axe you own; instead, it will perform well as a second tool and should be coupled with a more traditional ice axe for moderately steep snow climbs or as a pair for steeper routes. They aren't cheap and fall on the most expensive side of the spectrum.
With that said, it presents a decent value because it performs exceptionally well for its intended purpose. Compared to its most direct competition (which is challenging because it doesn't have any true direct competition), like the Camp Corsa Nanotech, the weights are not too far off from each other, and the Gully is more versatile and climbs steep snow and ice routes better.
While specialized, the Petzl Gully is a rad option for the right types of routes; it's tough to beat for the types of applications that it's designed for. While specialized, it does perform well for WI4 and can disappear inside your pack on an alpine rock climb with a tricky approach or help assist on your descent on techy ski mountaineering endeavors. The Gully is ideal for steep snow or moderate ice routes where weight is of great concern; don't cast aside that this model is super light, as it can still perform well on alpine ice climbs.
In reality, the Gully is perfect for most summertime alpine ice routes like the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak in the North Cascades, the U-Notch Couloir in the Palisades, or even moderately difficult routes like the Chèré Couloir on the Mont Blanc du Tacul. On many of these routes, the Gully is a more ideal option (than a more traditional water ice tool), as its compact and super light design excel here. We recommend the Gully for early season alpine rock climbs or ski mountaineering, where its low weight and compact size are a huge benefit, and its steep snow climbing prowess will let you get through more technical terrain than most typical superlight axes.
— Ian Nicholson