/ Ice Axe Arrest isn't on the BMC Alpine Essentials DVD
I thought this may be because you'd naturally progress from doing some UK winter walking before heading out to the Alps and hence have probably done a winter course in the UK. This is what I did.
Just curious to know if anyone has noticed this!
Ice Axe arrest is over rated anyway. Many people who carry an axe don't know how to do one and many who do probably wouldn't be able to carry it out effectively in a real incident in a fast enough time anyway. (in my opinion).
No it isn't, it is an essential skill.
I have done them for real on several occasions, including in quite hard ice. Very easy to get wrong and loose your axe or for it to fail, so practice is important.
I am fine with that but with iskander I would rather put more work into making sure I don't fall in the first place (Not that I am saying it wont happen). If all that failed I would like to think I would be able to perform an arrest but I have never tested that water out yet and don't plan to I hope.
Is that correct and why is that?
I've seen my partner successfully arrest (thank goodness) after being blown off a ridge, whereupon no amount of technique of not falling could have stopped her prior.
> No it isn't, it is an essential skill.
Possibly, but it certainly isn't the panacea it is sometimes presented as. The range of gradients and snow consistencies on which it works is pretty limited. Too shallow or soft and it is unnecessary. Too steep or hard and it is useless.
Having said that, I have used the technique once and it was on flat ground. It was quite windy...
I used one in anger a couple of hours after I had learned how to do one. I'm glad I knew how.
No single technique is a panacea, but it is an important weapon to have in the tool box. On a great many alpine (or Scottish Winter) snow slopes, it can be very valuable when things suddenly go mammaries to the sky.
Not so, as I say, I have used it on hard ice (but it does require quick reactions and a good technique)
Likewise. It is surprising how often it is useful to wear cramons on flat but icy ground, when the wind is fierce. But then people sometimes make the mistake of asking "can I get by without putting crampons on?" rather than asking the correct question "would crampons make things better or worse, bearing in mind the effort to stop and put them on?"
> Ice Axe arrest is over rated anyway.
Saved my life in the alps, which was nice.
> Saved my life in the alps, which was nice.
didn't save my life but it saved a long slog back up a slope in the alps! its really not very difficult to do or practice so why not learn it?
> Ice Axe arrest is over rated anyway. Many people who carry an axe don't know how to do one and many who do probably
I think you'd be a fool to not practise it before venturing out on more serious stuff.
The harder the climbing the less likely you will need or be able to use it anyway as other objective dangers will be your concern.
Ice Axe self belay is the main reason I have an axe out. For example French technique with the axe in the uphill hand and three points of contact. To arrest a slide is the remote chance that I hope would not happen but it is not the main reason why I use a single axe.
Don't take me wrong. I am not saying it is not useful. I am just saying it is the least useful. Being a master at self arrest on an easy slope is pointless if you crampon and move across the snow without care. I think the knowledge of being able to self arrest can be a reason for complacency.
I think the knowledge of being able to self arrest can be a reason for complacency.
That's the biut that baffles me. No-one wants to fall, everyone takes care: of course it can make people confident, but that's very different from complacency. Are you suggesting we shoiuld nopt teach people ice axe arrest in case it makes them complacent?
Of course not. I should maybe rephrase that I think that ice axe arrest skills alone make people complacent. It is just that many people think an ice axe arrest will always stop them in all circumstances and that can be dangerous. The added problem with is that surely if someone is fatigued enough to misplace a foot and slip then it is likely they are going to be too fatigued to be able to react to arrest quick enough. Many times I see people ascending and descending with the axe just lazily waving at their when using an ascending or descending technique using the axe as that third point of contact. I get scared easily and I always want that third point of contact for reassurance rather than whether I can brake a fall.
That sounds a lot like
"Better to concentrate on not falling in the first place" than know how to place gear.
You are glossing over what I said though Richard. I am just saying ice axe self belay and cramponing skills are more important, and that is my honest opinion. I said ice axe arrest is important to know just that it is not the magic bullet that many people believe it to be all the time.
To use your analogy:
Ice Axe self belay and crampon skills are placing bomber gear.
Ice Axe arrest is placing a microwire.
You place your bomber gear and move confidently but hope you never need to fall on that single IMP1 nut; It may just save your bacon but it should not be relied on.
I have never once ever needed to self arrest. Not in my relatively short I admit winter climbing experience but neither in my longer winter walking experience either.
Having seen it used does not excuse the reason for the slip in the first place. If you see a microwire save someone you don't start teaching beginners about the importance of microwire placements before everything else. Using your analogy again but it is true.
Ice Axe Self Belay is the technique of having the axe in the uphill hand either descending or ascending and plunging the axe in as you move giving you a third point of contact (which you already do). This is taught in all the books as more important than self arrest. You are much less likely to slip doing it.
This is "french technique" of ice axe self belay.
Missed this. This is wrong. Crampon and axe belay skills are indeed taught both by scottish winter instructors and also alpine instructors. I have lost count of the amount of times I have seen instructors showing clients how to move using french technique or hybrid technique.
That's the thing I am still putting across. In my opinion it is not important. Important imlplies an order of precedence. Ice Axe self arrest is in that list, it is just not at the top - so hence not important.
You say ice axe belay is "more important" than self-arrest? Surely that is contextual? It may be more important when you are on your feet, but when you are sliding down a slope towards an uncertain fate i think self-arrest becomes slightly more important, no? Its all just part of the essential skills toolbox that people have already mentioned.
Ice axe techniques, crampon techniques, belaying techniques etc are all part of the mountaineering trade. Saying that one skill is more important than another skill makes no sense.
You are right. It has been interesting to discuss but time to bring it to an end as it will only turn into opinion bashing now. :)
You will only get one shot at using the ice axe arrest
I agree with you on this one, a greatly over-rated technique, and a highly dangerous one, there must be more people injured practicing ice axe arrest than any other technique! I remember our first club outing on snow to Glencoe. All the group dutifully clambered up the hill side and launched themselves off on the first snow patch.. several ended up in the scree and one was so badly injured that the mountain rescue had to be called out.
Personally I didn't join the lemmingesque rush, and ever since I've never had to use the technique in anger. Infinitely better to learn to not slip than rely on what is at best a pretty dubious method.
All IMO, I wouldn't like to deny anyone the pleasure of breaking their leg if they feel the overwhelming need.
That sounds more like a bad place to be teaching the technique than anything else. Is it more dangerous than not knowing how to do it and needing to be able to while sliding down a hill to an unknown fate?
I only really understand the technique in a Scottish context, but over the years having witnessed lots of teaching and real-life deployment two things strike me:
Some novice groups definitely do treat it a magic bullet. I've seen more than one group do a cursory practice session then move onto a slope where the run-out is catastrophic - the Goat Track in Sneachda being one classic example. I've also heard supposedly more experienced peers saying "it's OK, we've all practised self-arrest" while doing the above.
I;m often badgered by clients to practice self-arrest when there is an arguably greater need to develop footwork, nav skills, avalanche awareness, etc. This becomes harder to reconcile when slopes are like concrete and there is very little likelihood of arrest being successful.
When I have been on Alpine climbing courses the general rule is don't fall in the first place.
The ground is normally too steep and the ice too hard so you will just go skidding off, lose your axe or cause injury to yourself attempting it.
> That sounds a lot like
> "Better to concentrate on not falling in the first place" than know how to place gear.
Yes I'd agree with that
While this will not add anything to the debate (which has in any case become fairly stale, largely an exchange of assertions), the following story may amuse. As a health warning, it comes originally from the pen of John Barry, so its relationship to the truth may be tangential at best.
The instruction in this technique was being given in this case to a bunch of squaddies by a sergeant from one of the more robust parts of Glasgow, who combined a liking for blunt language with a mischevious humour. The location selected for instruction was carefully chosen so that in the event of complete failure to axe-break, the climber would gently come to a complete standstill, while it also provided dead ground from the start point so that the result was invisible from the group of aspirant victims.
Sergeant takes first victim and instructs him to throw himself down the slope, but on no account to start the axe-break until instructed, or one of the more unpleasant of the many military punishments would be coming his way in short order. He then turns back to the rest of the group of novices and proceeds to make observations about mountain weather, snow conditions, their own general inaddequacey and worthlessness at everything in life.
Despite being a group of disciplined men trained to kill for queen and country with their bare hands, the squaddies start to get a bit restive. Eventually one of them plucks up the courage to say :
"Sarge, what about XXX?"
Sergeant turns in a flash then shouts out, in broad Glaswegian tones, "break, break, for Christ's sake break!" followed shortly afterwards by
There is a moment of stunned silence from the group, then the sergeant shrugs and says : "OK, next"
this may be because people progressing to the alps have generally done some form of british winter stuff, it may be because the consequences of falling are much greater in the alps and therefore the emphasis is staying upright in the first place, it may just be a difference in methodology.
bear in mind moving together roped up is the norm in the alps, often in large groups, whereas in british winter it is considered much more safe to solo easy stuff than be roped up, as at least only 1 person is injured in a fall...
im not saying an ice axe arrest is a vital skill in the uk but not the alps, i am merely highlighting the different approaches used in the differing environments.
personally i have self arrested safely in the uk, and am glad i know how should the situation arrise when in the alps this summer.
Ice axe arrest saved my life in the Alps.
Thanks for all the responses. I know topics like this on UKC forums can be quite subjective. It sounds a little strange but I think all the responses may be right, it just depends on the situation.
I know some of you said it is included in the extras on the DVD but I haven't had a chance to check. I also contacted the BMC and the reponse seems to suggest it isn't on there. But see the reason they gave below:
"when Alpine Climbing people tend to move together roped up when on steep snow slopes and so ice axe breaking is not used as self-arresting technique in that situation. Itís not a common emergency alpine technique in the way that it is in winter."
I know there were a lot of comments about using it when not roped up. Which I'd agree it's a useful skill to have in such a situation. I also noticed some comments about clients getting hung up on learning it and it becoming a more weighted skill rather than a an addition to crampon technique etc. as well as not being taught in a safe manner which are all points that I also worry about.
Thanks for the responses and I just wanted to let you know what the BMC said in case it helps pad the knowledge out.
Just had a look - It's on mine. You have to click on 'More Chapters' on the Main Menu, and there it is.
In my experience climbing with French & UK mountaineers the emphasis placed on the ice axe in the UK is replaced by emphasis on the rope in the alps.
Its not like alpine climbers don't carry an axe though! Its just a different approach.
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