Canadian Snow Conditions/Ice Axe Protocols/Crevasses

12 Jun 2017 20:55 - 12 Jun 2017 21:09 #71727 by intrepid
Great to see how discussions spark off. We are touching on several major topics, all deserving of their own threads.

On the topic of glacier travel and crevasse rescue, certainly you should get professional instruction in it. Naturally the availability of this in South Africa is limited, but generally this kind of thing is available as stand-alone day courses, or as part of a general mountaineering course. It can also be done as a club activity and as part of mountaineering camps. But this is not all there is to it. It takes personal study time in the form of reading and watching videos, it has to be rehearsed, and it has be discussed and talked through with your team. Rescue scenarios should even be reviewed and practiced annually. Practice can literally be done in your garden at home - you can haul a heavy object across the lawn, but it shouldn't be the only form of practice. You can practice on any rocky outcrop or cliff that simulates on side of a crevasse. I did a one day course on crevasse rescue and instead of trying to get out to a real crevasse we just did it in the snow by a small cliff on the road side. It shouldn't be too hard to simulate this in the Berg when there has been snow, all you need is something like the Makhaza ice climbing area.

I find that the exact protocols for glacial travel and rescue differs according to region, and the amount of material available on the web can make it confusing and even overwhelming because of all the different opinions. The 3:1 Z-haul is commonly taught. However it quickly has limitations. In the 2-man knotted rope configuration Stijn mentioned, this haul cannot be used, for starters, because of the knots. Also, depending on the snow conditions, the loaded rope gets entrenched - it cuts into the snow and may become too stuck for hauling. The 3:1 Z haul may also not have sufficient mechanical advantage depending on the manpower and gadgets available. Provided the is sufficient extra rope ("rescue coils") available, a drop loop has to then be created, and the loaded rope is essentially locked out of the active haul system. This assumes the drop loop can be clipped to the victim in the crevasse. From the drop-loop you can easily create a 2:1 or a 6:1 haul system, the former being very quick and simple, requiring minimal gear. It does require manpower however. In the mountains along the West Coast of Canada this method is very important because of the considerable quantities of snow involved. Sometimes this system is even referred to as the "Canadian Drop Loop".

As for the gadgets that can be used for haul system, I believe its best to be competent in setting up a system with and without equipment such as the Petzl Micro Traxion and the Tibloc. A Garda hitch, which creates a progress-capture using 2 identical biners, is very good to be familiar with.

I have attached an excerpt from the excellent book "Mountaineering - The Freedom of the Hills". Note that this is more the American way of doing it, and it is from an older version of the book. It just happens to be a good quality copy of that chapter which I found on the web and the diagrams are very helpful in illustrating key concepts.

For interest, here is the Alpine Club of Canada - Vancouver Island Section protocol:
accvi.ca/index.php/crevasse-rescue
The YouTuve videos are not good quality but they do illustrate the drop loop system nicely and how to do it without the fancy gadgets.

As for anchors, this is definitely a topic all in itself and it depends on the snow conditions at the time. Here the T-slot, using either a picket or an axe, is the anchor of choice, and because the snow is so deep, heavy and dense here, even just one of these tends to be bomber. If they built properly and the snow conditions are right it takes several people pulling on the rope to blow them. Placing pickets as pickets or as deadmans definitely can only be done in the right kind of snow. They easily blow. I did manage to pull and bounce on a single picket placed as a picket recently without it blowing, but its still scary and I'd like to practice this many more times before I really have to rely on it. Ice screws are great if you have proper ice to get them into.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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Last edit: 12 Jun 2017 21:09 by intrepid. Reason: Added downsized attachment
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12 Jun 2017 21:19 #71728 by ghaznavid
Very interesting - will need to read through the protocol in detail as well.

I was reading about descent off a big icy peak - and they suggested abseiling off 2 equalised pickets. Aside from the fact that this 450m abseil would require 18 pickets at roughly R400 each and something like 200g each, that doesn't seem particularly safe to me, unless the pickets are really bomber. Surely it would be safest to reverse lead such a downclimb, with the belayer in an snow bucket backed up by picket/burried axe/screws and the downclimber placing a picket with a draw every, say, 10m. They then reach the end of the 50m rope, carve a bucket and belay the other climber down, who collects the pickets along the way, and continues past the belayer, placing the pickets they collected higher up, thus meaning you each cover 100m per stretch.

Just for clarity - the peak mentioned above does not feature in any immediate plans, before someone assumes I am about to get myself killed on a peak that is really difficult. Fortunately there is no shortage of easy glaciated peaks around to start with.

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13 Jun 2017 08:58 - 13 Jun 2017 09:03 #71732 by Deanvdm
As the responses indicate glacier and alpine travel is a "dense" topic and the technique varies according to weather, terrain but also the style. For example it is considered better “style” to go leashless but it carries more risk (in the same way that leading trad upthe rock is a better "style" than topriping). The original question assumed things are one dimensional and I think the responses indicate that like any other discipline of mountaineering that there are lots of depth and technical detail to discuss and learn. Take note that setting up and rigging is often not the most time consuming part of self-rescue but the hauling up can be very difficult as there are practical issues like the rope cutting into the glacier/snow and getting over the edge which can in some cases be just about impossible on your own if your climbing buddy cannot assist from below or you do not have enough rope (extreme example: think about the Touching the Void incident where Simon Yates could not get Joe Simpson up to the stance after lowering him over a cliff edge).

In SA we have so few places and opportunities to learn the craft that your only real practice will be to go abroad (Peru being my favorite due to the accessibility and relative affordability).

If you want to do some reading here are some recommended reading with “Glacier Mountaineering” being an excellent book with detailed drawings by Mike Celland who is arguably one of the most gifted mountain technique illustrators out there.


Obligatory alpine travel photo (Alpamayo in Peru in the background)

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Last edit: 13 Jun 2017 09:03 by Deanvdm.
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13 Jun 2017 09:07 #71733 by ghaznavid
I don't think one can really appreciate the complexities of a sport they haven't done before - so my questions will be more logical once I have actually hit some glaciers! In the interim, just need to work on preparation, which will include asking a lot of stupid questions!

Nice shot, by the way - I didn't need a caption to know what mountain that was! Voted the most beautiful mountain on Earth back in the 50's. My favourite shot of it (stolen from SummitPost)

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11 Jul 2017 11:47 #71850 by ghaznavid
They haven't found the bodies, but the evidence is overwhelming that the team that went missing on the Mazeno Ridge on Nanaga Parbat is dead.

Full report at altitudepakistan.blogspot.co.za/2017/07/alberto-zerain-and-mariano-galvan.html

I found this photo reasonably sobering - notice the tracks of the team walking into the zone, and the avalanche in the zone they walked through. It is easy to question why they didn't follow the top of the ridge, but I think anyone who has done a long day on a mountain will appreciate how a team feels at the end of a big day, and it would be more so at 6000+m.

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25 Jul 2017 18:55 #71928 by intrepid
This thread has become quite a collage.

Some pics of summer mountaineering in Canada:

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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26 Jul 2017 08:24 #71930 by ghaznavid

intrepid wrote: This thread has become quite a collage.


I'm sure that's no one's fault :whistle: :whistle: :whistle: :whistle: :whistle:

Enjoying the Canada photos - please keep posting! Some more info on the peaks would be nice as well.
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06 Sep 2017 08:18 #72093 by ghaznavid
What footwear you guys using?

I am trying to find where the line between needing hiking boots and double plastic boots is. If I understand correctly, the double boots are related to warmth, so it is more to do with the temperature than anything else. Presumably any peak that requires glacier crossing or trudging through snow requires double boots?

Something like Mercedario (6720m) via the Inca Route or Aconcagua Normal Route seems to be technically doable in trail shoes with some light spikes (like what I'd carry in the Berg if there was a lot of ice around), seeing as you only occasionally cross a bit of snow/ice. However, a peak of that height that is that far south will be really cold, so I'm guessing that double boots might still be necessary.

Those double boots look really heavy (both on the pack and the wallet), but frostbite is no joke.

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08 Sep 2017 15:57 #72103 by Stijn
I've only got alpine experience in the Swiss Alps in summer and for all the glacier-trekking, snow-plodding and mountaineering we did there, my La Sportiva Tibets did just fine with C0 crampons. My main concern in those mild temperatures (a few degrees below zero) would be to have a waterproof boot (wet feet get cold very quickly) and something with at least a little rigidity for use with crampons on steeper icy sections. Insulated/plastic boots would only become essential for much colder temperatures and/or technical ice routes where C2/C3 crampon compatibility is important.
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13 Sep 2017 00:01 - 13 Sep 2017 00:03 #72123 by Deanvdm

ghaznavid wrote: What footwear you guys using?

Like everything else there is no one size fits all when it comes to footwear in the mountains and a significant part of the choice comes down to how your own body can handle cold / rough terrain and long distances with a heavy pack – you’ll have to lock in your vote before you get close enough to know what the real situation re snow and temperature will be. Good luck – some got away with shoe choices and others have come to rue them.

The obvious bit is the temp at the time you will be using the boots. When spending a couple of hours below say -5 in your shoes in snow during say an early night start or so you should start thinking of double boots). At the -10 level spending any significant time above the snow line in single boots is looking for trouble (but many have done that). Remember: you are not in control of the environment and what may happen – weather may turn bad for a long time and trap you, there might be a delay or some issue. The last thing you want to do is spend R30-40 000 on a trip and then on the summit day of your main objective worry about cold toes or even worse have to turn around (however the second last thing you want to do is spend 95% of an expedition during acclimatization and easy peaks in uncomfortable shoes hiking tens or even hundreds of Kms).

Apart from temperature a key consideration is how much time you are spending above the snow line. In the snow your boots get wet from the outside and inside (sweating) and there is little opportunity to dry them while walking or at night (unless you stay in a European style alpine hut with a drying room) so they freeze at night and become a liability or even worse unusable – even in relatively “warm” temperatures around freezing. Double boots don't freeze up and even if the (cheaper) liners get wet / damp you can take them out and dry them in the tent/sleeping bag which is not possible with "single" boots.

My experience: If you are buying new or have the choice go directly for high-altitude liners that absorbs no moisture - it just makes managing moisture so much easier (and when having to cross glacial rivers you can do it in your plastics – trust me barefoot glacial lake crossing is not pleasant and you cannot afford to get your single boots wet like that). When buying older boots make sure they do not have a flat sole design but rather a "rocking sole" that is easier to walk with and a lacing system that allow you to tighten the bottom of the boot around your foot whilst keeping the higher ankle support loose. This independently tightening / loosening the top and bottom parts allow some measure of adjusting for a more comfortable walk when wearing them on an approach. I have done about 100km in plastics in one trip so it is definitely possible do hike quite far in them if you size them properly and adjust as required.

After deciding to take plastics the difficult decision is whether you take approach shoes + plastics or mountaineering boots + plastics as weight and space often don’t allow for taking a whole shoe cupboard worth of shoes. If you have a porter / pack animal I’’ always put in something very light weight and comfortable (crocks?) that you can wear at camp (even just base camp) – going out for a night ablution trip trying to put on big boots is just painful.

BTW Ropes and other gear have the same moisture issues so do consider that in your gear selection too.

obPhoto to add to the collage: bare foot glacial river crossing in Kyrgyzstan (the river is on a glacier; so the river bed here is nice solid ice). The continuous flow of icy water over your feet robs your feet of warmth in no time – type 2 fun in my opinion.

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Last edit: 13 Sep 2017 00:03 by Deanvdm.
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