Objects Database

Ice dagger

Accession Number


Object Name

Ice dagger




Hermione Cooper

Accession Date


Brief Description

Home made ice dagger with four grooves for fingers. Hole in bottom with red nylon rope attached. Pick has one flat edge and the rest is rounded.




21(l) x 4(w) x 2(d) cms

Number Of Objects





A real gem this, and totally unique. We aren't 100% sure that it belonged to John Cunningham and would be delighted to hear from anyone who could enlighten us. Jane O'Donovan gave it to us - her husband, Roger, had been an instructor at the National Mountain Training Centre - Glenmore Lodge and we think he inherited the 'dagger' from John.
Ice daggers enjoyed a very brief spell of stardom round about 1969/70 when the leading ice climbers of the day were struggling with the change from step cutting to front pointing whilst attempting to ascend ever steeper ice.
John Cunningham and Bill March were two of the leading exponents of front pointing in the late 60's, but the tools in their hands were still embryonic. They both worked as instructors at Glenmore Lodge at the time and visiting Mountain Photographer, John Cleare, well remembers the scene; " when nights in the staff wing were made hideous by mysterious comings and goings and the sound of hammering into the wee small hours. It was a time when everyone's favourite axe underwent a metamorphosis, first a softening by heat, then some bending and shaping to the required angle - followed by some tempering."
We think our dagger comes from this era and we know that Cunningham used daggers on a climb in the Cairngorms called the Chancer, in January 1970, but as one of them pulled on 'dinner plating' ice they were not satisfactory. The drooped pick era was about to be born with the arrival of inventors like Chouinard and McInnes in the early 70's, and the brief life of the ice dagger was over.

Acquisition Method

Donated by Jane O'Donovan

Acquisition Date



John Cunningham was one of Scotland's leading rock and ice climbers and has left his mark with many first ascents on the cliffs of Scotland. He died in a tragic accident on the sea cliffs of Angelsey in January 1980. The book 'Creag Dhu Climber' by Jeff Connor is a celebration of his life.

Condition Check Date


Normal Location


Current Location



Spectrum : UK Museum documentation standard, V.3.1 2007



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