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Snow travel gear dilema

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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Aug 03, 2017 11:26 am

The ice axe jammed into the snow works on really steep snow, less so on lower angles. It provides a "handhold", so you have three points of contact while standing, and two points of contact while moving. I guess I never considered in self belay. You do have to take it out of the snow momentarily in order to move. If you fall when it is out of the snow, you theoretically could self-arrest.

Trekking poles provide four points of contact, leaving three when you move. This works well on lower angle snow, particularly if you hare wearing crampons.

The problem I have with the ice-axe "plant" is that it is a technique primarily done on steep harder snow. I have used this a lot climbing with day pack. It is much harder to self-arrest with a fully loaded backpack. I am not sure I would attempt a slope that steep while backpacking, regardless of having an ice axe or not. Plus self-arrest with crampons is very tricky.

If you use these higher level techniques, you need to practice a lot, and refresh every year to the point where your recation in a fall is immediate and instinctual. This is not something most backpacker would do. Therefore, I am of the opinion that most backpackers should forget the ice axe as it may just give them a false sense of security.

The most dangerous snow climbing and the zone where most accidents happen, is at that point where you transition from unroped to roped climbing. Deciding when a rope and belay is needed is a matter of experience and the ability to "read" the snow. Personlly, I do not play around in that zone anymore.



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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Postby Shawn » Thu Aug 03, 2017 6:31 pm

There are some good points made in this article (many of which reflect what WD has said). I think the strongest point is the pie chart showing "causes of snow travel accidents".

http://publications.americanalpineclub. ... w-Climbing

Last week I used the "self belay" technique expecting it to be secure given my circumstances (55 degree angle or so), but in the warm sun the axe would pull out horizontally. Hence. I think the best advice as it relates to using the axe to self arrest, is to not fall to begin with. Once you fall, all bets are off.
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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Aug 04, 2017 6:43 am

Good information Shawn. My only concern with that article is that it is specific to climbing (all photos show climbers with small day packs). Backpacking is another matter. If you are going to haul a pack up stuff as steep as they show in that article, you need to specifically practice those techniques WITH a pack on your back. To me the most important piece of information is that crampons are for very specific conditions, otherwise can be more dangerous than not using them.

My personal dilema this year is that I am so totally dependent on my trekking poles to get across high flowing streams, so I cannot just delete the trekking poles to take an ice axe. Ice axe, trekking poles and crampons add up to a lot of extra weight on a long trip where the ice axe would only be needed occassionally. I guess I could just stay home and float on my tube in the pool sipping beer until the snow melts!
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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Postby longri » Fri Aug 04, 2017 8:59 am

Climbers often have large packs too. The techniques are the same, regardless of load. It's just harder and potentially more dangerous with a big pack.

Daisy, your earlier point about backpackers being less likely to be properly trained and/or practiced at using an ice axe effectively is a different issue. Climbing or backpacking, a person should know what they're doing when there is a possibility of injury or death. The pie chart in that article doesn't go into that dimension. Why did those people slip/fall/fail to arrest? In each case it's likely due to some combination of inexperience and poor judgement.

Self-belay, as that article pointed out, is the first line of defense, along with effective footwork. It isn't a 100% safeguard of course. The security depends on snow conditions and the amount of time/effort the climber decides is worth expending setting the axe each movement. And you have to remove the axe to place it again, leaving an opening for a slip. But it's still usually more secure than no self-belay.

I wouldn't trust just ski poles in a situation with very serious fall potential. I trust them when the risk of injury is less significant, usually on more moderate slopes where leaning over to plant an axe would be awkward and where a pole self-arrest has a better chance of working.
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Re: Snow travel gear dilema

Postby simonov » Fri Aug 04, 2017 10:09 am

I noticed that on summit day on Rainier I was carrying a full pack, except I left my sleeping bag and most of my food back at the shelter at Camp Muir. Otherwise, it was everything I brought up from Paradise.

Almost all the stuff carried by climbers (including the ropes and harness, etc) is gear you hope you will never need, but you don't dare leave behind.

I was also trained that if crampons are necessary, then so is an ice axe. I know that isn't always true but it's a good rule of thumb that I have always followed.
Nunc est bibendum.
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