Walk Softly and Carry a Big Pick

Skills for Staying Safe
By Francis P. Zera
  |  Gorp.com
Page 4 of 5   |  

Several Northwest climbing groups, such as the Seattle-based Mountaineers, the Everett Mountaineers, and similar organizations, offer classes including alpine travel, glacier travel, avalanche danger assessment and rescue, crevasse-rescue skills, and technical climbing.

These classes are all relatively inexpensive and very thorough, says Palmer, and the necessary skills are relatively easy to learn. Climbing shops and professional mountain-guide services also offer individual lessons, although they are often more expensive than the clubs.

A glacier-travel course will teach you where glaciers are most likely to form and which types of landforms create crevasses when a glacier passed over them.

"They tend to split open over convex surfaces, so you can avoid them by learning where they have a tendency to form," Palmer says.

Glacier-travel classes also teach such cryptic-sounding skills as individual ice-ax arrest, team arrest, and several different systems for getting people out of glaciers—including the single pulley and the z-pulley methods. Self-rescue skills are essential in case your rope mates are unable to pull you out.

"If you do fall, you've got to start rescuing yourself, because you don't know if anyone saw you go in," Palmer says. "You need the right equipment and skills, then you'll be in pretty good shape." Self-sufficiency is a cardinal rule in wilderness travel.

According to Palmer, the ideal number of people for safe glacier travel is two roped teams of three. With six people, should one fall into a crevasse, the roped-together partners might be able to haul him or her out without the use of more complicated techniques. The z-pulley system, Palmer says, is necessary for groups with only one team of three.

For climbers, a necessarily heavy backpack further complicates things.

"If you go in, the first thing you've got to do is bail your pack, but you can't lose it. It's got your tools in it. You've got to be able to peel it off and hang onto it," Palmer explains.

Necessary Tools
Essential tools for glacier travel include proper clothing, the ten essentials, a climbing rope, harness, snow anchors such as deadman anchors, pickets, ice screws, carabiners, stout boots with crampons, at least one ice ax, and ski poles. Brightly colored, lightweight wands can be used to mark a trail in the event of a whiteout. And that's just the minimum.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 9 Jun 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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