## / Safely descending snow slopes

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So a theoretical discussion

Your descending a steep snow slope which has a number of pitches on a rope of two, assuming that slope is to steep to descend facing forward and snow pack is consolidated enough for a decent axe anchor but there is no ice for abalakovs. Also assume that you don't have any deadmen.

1) What is the most efficient and safe way to descend
2) What is the right way ( assuming you are stating at the top of the slope) to assess avalanche conditions.

2) What is the right way ( assuming you are stating at the top of the slope) to assess avalanche conditions.

Shout "Sledging" and give your mate a shove. If he makes it to the bottom in one piece then tuck your feet into your pack and follow him.

I would use (and have used to get over a bergschrund) a snow bollard. The conditions you describe should allow for a solid anchor to be built.

in terms of avalanche conditions, you generally start from the bottom of a mountain, so you should have a good idea from the days climbing as to the snow pack, and you should know what the wind direction is/was for the past couple of days and whether that has lead to the snowpack being wind deposited on the aspect you are about to descend.

Also you state the snowpack is already in a suitable condition to descend ;)

Bumb slide.

If in doubt, don't.
> 2) What is the right way ( assuming you are stating at the top of the slope) to assess avalanche conditions.
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> Shout "Sledging" and give your mate a shove. If he makes it to the bottom in one piece then tuck your feet into your pack and follow him.

Brilliant ;-)

I suppose my question is at what angle does using a snow bollard stop becoming effective Im assuming slope is 45-65 degrees
In reply to kingjam: down climb unroped?
Quite a big difference between 45 and 65 degrees. 65 will feel plenty steep enough for a bollard.
A bollard would be an appropriate way to assess the stability of the top of a slope or inspect a cornice in av conds, but if you suspect that the slope isn't stable, then take another route. There usually is one just might be a longer day.

So is it fair to say that in this example there is no way to protect the descent and therefore you either find another way or solo down .

Was wondering if people would use short pitches with ice axes belays and also what the chances are of arresting a fall from above with a ice axe belay
> So a theoretical discussion
>
> Your descending a steep snow slope which has a number of pitches on a rope of two, assuming that slope is to steep to descend facing forward and snow pack is consolidated enough for a decent axe anchor but there is no ice for abalakovs. Also assume that you don't have any deadmen.
>
> 1) What is the most efficient and safe way to descend
> 2) What is the right way ( assuming you are stating at the top of the slope) to assess avalanche conditions.
>

Is this hypothetical or a real scenario you encountered?

I have a confusion here in that if it is just a open snow slope and is soft enough to take an axe anchor then it is likely soft enough that facing forwards shouldnt be too much of a problem (heel plunging) and it isnt likely to be as steep as you suggest. If you are in a gully you would likely encounter steeper snow and a gully would usually offer protection at the sides.

Last winter when coming down Broad Gully in SCNL a young lad was short roping a girl down the gully. But he was going first while she was nervously coming behind him. The fact there was slack between didnt even matter as he was going first and she would be the one likely to slip anyway. Don't do that.

Ok to make it clearer and lets use your example of broad gully , a rope of 2 and the 2nd climber doesn't feel confident heel plunging down a long relatively steep slope. Short roping isn't an option as you said so if you are to down climb can it be pitched safely , assuming just snow based protection ?
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> Was wondering if people would use short pitches with ice axes belays and also what the chances are of arresting a fall from above with a ice axe belay

Would stand a good chance of working belaying from above I would think. Not so sure about the seconder belaying the leader (who is coming down second) from below.

"So is it fair to say that in this example there is no way to protect the descent and therefore you either find another way or solo down ."

No if i understand what you're asking correctly its relatively easy to protect (all be it with a bit of construction and digging). Build a bollard, rope round bollard, abseil 1 rope length, build new bollard (this can be done by the leader while he is still attached to the rope before the second comes down), abseil again. This can be repeated until you reach easy ground where you can walk...

If one of the pair is stronger than the other and doesn't need the rope to safely descend the stronger partner can lower the weaker one a whole rope length at a time and then walk down after him. hope this makes sense!!!! there loads of info in book out there on how to construct snow anchors and use them safely

That's just outrageous, a steady look followed by a fearless glissade is the way to go... using your partner as a test is unethical.
> Ok to make it clearer and lets use your example of broad gully , a rope of 2 and the 2nd climber doesn't feel confident heel plunging down a long relatively steep slope. Short roping isn't an option as you said so if you are to down climb can it be pitched safely , assuming just snow based protection ?

In this situation you might have a confident leader and a nervous second. If the leader is confident and knows what they are doing the second can be short roped down. The leader being heavier would be a massive advantage and the nervous or weak climber should be descending first on a tight rope with the stronger leader coming behind preventing a slip.

The usual caveats being that like any other method you need to know what you are doing and there needs to be little no no chance of the leader taking a fall. I would hapilly rope someone down broad gully in such a way in soft snow conditions. If it was bulletproof neve or somewhere with a longer or more dangerous runout I wouldn't.

I would be equally as happy stamping a platform and giving them a waist belay with a tight rope and then telling them to stamp out a platform till I joined them again.

If the ground is serious enough to warrant the leader being concerned or nervous then it certainly wouldnt be the place to be improvising if there was another way down (which there usually is).

I have never needed to use one in anger but you could use a boot axe belay which works better in harder snow and if you can get an axe driven in spike first (going to be difficult or impossible with some more technical axes of course). Which you can do without digging out bucket seats and big holes and if the second fell it would act to drive the axe in deeper. You would need to have the axe in at the sort of optimal angle that you would place say a deadman. Again, never actually needed to use one in a real situation myself.
Get "mountaineering - freedom of the hills" You need to put up with the American terminology but it is a great book and has lots of useful stuff.

Hi so that makes sense and also comments from SW.
I think the thing I struggle with here is the idea that the standard thing ( albeit for an experienced climber) to do is just descend using heel plunges.Any mistake will be almost impossible to arrest and that angle even for an experienced climber. One specific example is heel plunging through snow and then hitting ice or rock.

Appreciate that this is the quickest way ( which in some scenarios would be the safest) but the chance of surviving a mishap are small, its basically soloing .

I have that book , talks about going up slopes not really about going down .
> Any mistake will be almost impossible to arrest and that angle even for an experienced climber. One specific example is heel plunging through snow and then hitting ice or rock.

If snow conditions dictate that you will not be able to stop yourself then that is when you look at other option if not confident.

In the Broad Gully example when it is soft many times it is easy to stop yourself and when bum sliding it is actually hard work to actually get yourself to pick up speed for a good slide because you just keep sinking into the snow. When the snow is like that I just throw myself down it. But other occasions it has been boilerplate and very scary, and going off round the ridge would be quicker and safer than daggering down backwards.

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> I have that book , talks about going up slopes not really about going down .

Same principals in many ways. If going up then the leader will be going unprotected until he can make another snow belay. If going down the leader will be unprotected until he can reach the second at the belay.
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> 1) What is the most efficient and safe way to descend

If facing out is too scary, then facing in is really the only option short of abseiling. Facing in can be very quick after a bit of practice and feels secure until it gets really steep or icy. Don't push your picks in too far or getting them out slows you down.

I find keeping going in the right direction can be tricky as you are looking down through your legs all the time. Pick a rock/feature and keep it in sight, get to it and repeat.

Many thanks all

If too steep for glissading than facing in is far safer than facing out. Keep your crampons on (sorry if this is obvious) and let the weakest climber go down first as he can be belayed from a well prepared sitting belay in the snow backed up by an ice axe belay. When at the end of the rope the first down will make the same sort of belay but it is pretty unlikely to hold if the second down falls as this could amount to a fall of double the rope length. So best not to fall, which should be possible with care and kicking well into the slope. Doing this for several rope lengths is probably one of the more worrying things to do in the mountains but it seems to happen often enough.

Obviously if belays can be found on rock outcrops then it's well worth a diversion to find them, and having a dead man would make things a lot safer - if only one is available then the second down can slide it down the rope each time to allow the lower one to use it. All very nerve racking and slow... a bit like doing the same on ice when you only have one ice screw.

Some maintain that in such conditions it's better to climb down unroped as that way if one slips at least he won't pull the other off but personally I think you gain more with a rope - I've had both examples happen to friends, in one case the second pulled them both off but the rope then caught on some rocks and saved them, in another case they were both found dead at the bottom still roped together, so you pays yer money and takes yer choice.

Too many weather, snow, location and climber's experience variables to give a definitive answer, but you may wish to use bollards or buckets. If this doesn't make sense you might wish to consider going on a winter skills or winter mountaineering course! See http://talisman-activities.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/blizzards-snow-belays-and-windslab.html

> a steady look followed by a fearless glissade is the way to go

Always bearing in mind the famous definition of glissade :

"There are 3 forms of glissade - the standing, the sitting and the involuntary - and they follow in that order!"

> ... using your partner as a test is unethical.

Unless they are a Guardian reader, in which case no-one would miss them. Alternatively, carry a sack of potatoes at all times.

Amongst the humour and the good tips there is some very scary advice being handed out here. My suggestion is that you have a look in a book at some anchors, try them for yourself in a safe situation, discuss their uses with an MIC or someone who is really experienced and preferably in a working training role (not an internet forum) and consider getting some formal training for yourself.

Thanks for all the comments and the take away for me is aneed to do what you are most conformable with from a risk perspective which should be based on competence , confidence and consequence .

To be honest I have been winter and alpine climbing for about 7 years having done winter mountaineering and alpine courses previous to that and slowly built up experience, also read all the usual books. But this subject isn't that well covered (including winter skills/ mountaineering not sure how many students practice going down steep slopes )and based on a number of references a common place where people become unstuck.

The crux i was trying to get to and think i have to a certain extent is descending presents a number of very unique risks as opposed to ascendeding, and I think its easier to protect going up than going down. The answer to that isn't heel plunging although accept that this is common principle for people happy with the risk and also understand that being roped up has its own consequences. Standard snow belays may not work given the force and difficulty in placing intermittent at runners.
In reply to mkean: We really need a like button on here ;-) haha
> (In reply to Bruce Hooker)
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> Unless they are a Guardian reader, in which case no-one would miss them.

No good - Guardian readers give misleading reuslts because they tend to veer to the left
In reply to kingjam: if you do a good course and state your aims and objectives then all these things should be covered, and practiced. Books are a good way to remind yourself about a skill learned, but not a good way to learn a practical skill like these.

Hughesmountaineering
In reply to kingjam: If it is that sketch then go down somewhere else. If that isn't possible make a snow bollard (not a nice thought though) and if that doesn't work down climb. Bum sliding is best done without crampons and unless you know you won't need them or can put them on easily again then it is probably best avoided.

If is isn't desperately steep some french technique may well work

You should know the avalanche conditions prior to climbing the mountain and if it is too steep to face out then unrope and solo it facing in.
In reply to kingjam: Potentially a snow-bollard (1st pitch), set him up for the abseil first(with prusik) then ab down yourself (before him) cut out a bucket seat with buried axe. get him to ab down then rope him down get him to prepare a bucket seat with axe belay once safe you descend, then repeat. If too steep for you to confidently descend solo then you shouldn't be descending it anyway so find another way down. Without being condescending, this is part of your route planning before hand when you do your beta for the (expected) avalanche and climbing conditions etc.

> I have never needed to use one in anger but you could use a boot axe belay which works better in harder snow <

I thought boot axe belays were out of fashion these days.
In reply to OwenM: They are a very good way of getting your rope tangled in your axe and round you ankle while waiting for your partner to catch up.