The Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection
MacInnes Massey ice axe
MacInnes Massey ice axe. Metal shaft with black plastic tape wound round. One hole at top of pick with pink braided nylon leash attached through it. Adze, serrated pick. Pointed spike on ferrule .
Shaft & ferrule 67.5(l) x 9.5(cir)cms. Head 28(l) cms. Adze 6.5 (w)cms.
Inscription stamped on head reads "MACINNES MASSEY MADE IN GT. BRITAIN BRITISH & FOREIGN PATENTS" Also "1970 ? 120-984"
The MacInnes Massey All Metal Ice Axe was a major milestone in the history of mountaineering. The following is an extract from a magazine article written by Mick Tighe back in the 1980's, which will hopefully 'set the scene'
"April 9th - P.Knap (29), Birmingham, A.Beanland (31,__ Bradford, and M.Morgan (26), Oldbury, left Glen Nevis Camp to climb on Ben and failed to return that night. Rescuers did not know where to look. H.MacInnes was out searching next night. Bodies found at 1pm on 11th April, roped together at foot of Zero Gully".
This stark and rather chilling account is extracted from the official Scottish Mountain Rescue Accident Reports for 1959, and unusually has a foot-note. "Leader fell from 3rd pitch and dragged others down. Both their axes snapped off and stumps were still embedded in the snow". For Hamish MacInnes, who had been involved in the rescue, this accident had a fairly profound effect. It was customary at that time to belay by driving the axe into the snow and taking turns around it with the rope. The deaths on Zero Gully proved this method to be woefully inadequate, as the then universal wooden shafted axes simply broke. A metal/alloy shafted axe was the answer so Hamish went to work.
Benjamin and Steven Massey of Openshaw near Manchester drop forged the heads, and Hamish set up the assembly line in his old Glencoe shed. Bugs McKeith and Kenny Spence used the prototype on an ascent of the Eiger's North Pillar, and Britain's first non wood axe, the MacInnes Massey, was born.
One soon fell into the hands of the legendary Glasgow based Creag Dubh Mountaineering Club, who quickly dubbed the rather heavy hammer version 'the Message' as it battered the commonly used soft steel pitons of the era so badly, that in Glasgow parlance "they got the message".
The metal shafted axe was a major step forward in axe-evolution. Early Alpinistes had little more than long poles with metal tips for grip, and to probe crevasses; as the conquests got steeper an adze was incorporated for cutting steps and later on came the pick. Refinements such as teeth to hold the axe in the steep ice came much later, and as late as 1950 Geoffrey Winthrop Young tells us "Notches on the underside of the head of the axe, often seen in shop axes, are very objectionable." _
Spectrum : UK Museum documentation standard, V.3.1 2007