Walk Softly and Carry a Big Pick

Danger Above and Below
By Francis P. Zera
  |  Gorp.com

Many of a glacier's dangers are hidden, and it's often difficult to determine the thickness of the snow you're standing on.

"If there are open crevasses, it's pretty obvious," explains Palmer, "but not if you're on a snowfield. I don't know too many people who have gone totally in, but it happens." He's never fallen completely into a crevasse, but he did fall in up to his waist once: "That was enough for me."

What saved Palmer was being roped to his companions—another necessity for glacier travel.

One of his climbing partners, who had been skiing across a glacier, nearly met a similar fate. "He stopped to put in a picket (a type of snow anchor), tapped it down into the snow, and it just disappeared." Palmer grins, "Well, he just kind of inched away from there." The skier had been standing over a crevasse that was bridged by a thin crust of snow. His skis distributed his weight over a relatively large area, which saved him from falling into the crevasse.

Many glacier-related injuries are not caused by crevasses, though. "I think more people get hurt by falling seracs or cornices and snow bridges that collapse in the summer," says Palmer. Being aware of your surroundings is important in glacier country.

Another real concern is avalanches. "There's still avalanche danger in the summer. One of the high times for avalanches is in June or July when you get lots of hot weather," Palmer says. So add avalanche assessment skills to the list of necessary training.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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