/ Ice axe arrest
However there has been many occasions where I have been crossing slopes that should a slip or trip have occurred I would have been toast and glad of an axe to at least give me a chance to arrest.
I've seen it used in anger when someone slipped when descending the goat track and took out 3 people. All successfully self arrested.
My girl got blown off a ridge at 2600m onto the face and stopped herself before oblivion. Phew! Was right beside her on the ridge hanging on too.
I think there is no doubt that it is a life saving skill and that if you don't practice it you won't be able to use it when the moment comes. As an ice breaker that gets people confident and moving well bare booted on slippy slopes self arrest practice with groups is fun.
The range of situations in which it can be successfully applied are limited however and the emphasis should be on self belay as the first line of defence.
I don't know cos I wasn't there but the poor chap who slid the length of Parsley Fern Gully who is doing the rounds of the web at the moment didn't have a hope of self arresting as you can see if you watch the vid, but might have avoided the slip altogether if he had self belayed rather than trying to bat the falling ice away with his hand?
Yes I've always seen an arrest as being a tool to counter an unexpected idiots moment slip or trip on relatively shallow terrain when conditions allow, and luck on your side. Doesn't mean you can't improve your luck with a bit of practice.
In no way to be relied upon for a proper fall on steeper terrain, ensuing chaotic tumble and bouncing. If there is a risk of a fall, the possibility of arrest does not figure in my risk assessment. As soon as I think there may be a higher probability of fall I will think seriously about other options. It is not magic get out of jail card.
Reponses to this thread will be self selcting, only those that have been successful will be writing.......
Walking around with high-tech leshless tools these days is all wrong. You haven't got the same instant access to all those mountaineering skills developed over the years with standard axe. Grip rests mean you can't even smack your axe shaft into firm snow with your hammer and clip like you otherwise would to secure yourself on any slope. It's all a bit worrying and am yet to work out my own systems when using those kinds of tools.
Good point. Even my Dmm Flies don't plunge as well as all that, these modern tools are hopeless for basic safe movement when walking.
I sound like such an old lady!
I've often wondered about using a modern axe to stop a slide, it seems to me it would just get pulled out of your hands - anyone actually done this with a modern axe?
Before I had a Macinnes axe which would have worked but as I never actually need to do this in earnest the problem hasn't worried me too much - best to avoid slipping, knocking snow off crampons, etc. than rely to much on a axe arrest IMO.
Concerning leashless axes I wouldn't fancy one for general approach climbing, you need at least a spike on the end and a sling to prevent you losing it if you did slip, lost on the mountains with no axe is not good news.
I like to climb on good solid neve, and I am sure most other winter climbers do as well, and those that do pretty much know the merits of self arrest on neve is pretty much non a non starter so I think it is a bit mad to have all these people starting out by looking out soft snow to practise self arrest on and then maybe being in the mistaken belief once they get onto neve that they will be fine in a fall.
I still like to use an old fashioned model for how I think about keeping myself safe walking on snow and teaching it to others:
STEP. Walking isn't too technical a skill to learn and the good news is that I can practise it every time I'm out. Perfect practise makes for perfect performance so by focusing on always walking well my technique gets better and I'm less likely to slip.
SLIP. If I do slip then immediately stopping myself by driving my weight down onto my axe so that the shaft is driven in (that's why its important to carry the axe vertically and not to far away from my side) / if using a more technical tool or with very hard snow I'll be looking to get my pick in in the basic self arrest position. This also requires a relatively low skill and can be practised quite easily at little cost of time (subject to picking a good venue etc.). If I blow this then I'm sliding.
SLIDE. Self arrest for me is an essential but complex skill. For even the basic position there is a lot to remember. Heels up, hips up, knees wide, look down the shaft, cover the spike, adze into the right place on the shoulder, don't drive the pick in to fast or you might lose it in firm snow. Then you have to get there first. Even on a clean fall are you feet first facing in? Feet first facing out? Head first in? Head first out? And all that assumes that a heavy rucksack isn't holding you on your side or you aren't tumbling out of control. On 'easy' snow you will get away with a scruffy arrest. On harder stuff if you don't get everything right and get your weight over an axe whilst gradually applying pressure you are unlikely to stop. On a steep slope of the bone hard stuff around recently- good luck, you will need it. And you need to look at what to do if you drop our axe/lose control of it at the end of a leash.
STOP. This is what its all about. Prevention is better than cure but the reality of an unexpected slide on hard snow means its going to be very difficult/impossible if you get any momentum up.
So if I'm teaching i think of it as a pyramid. At the base of it I put most emphasis on the skill we are able to practise most and get really good at- walking well as much as possible, staying aware of terrain underfoot and choosing a good line. The next tier I put lots of emphasis on as we can practise it a lot easily and its not too complex- self belay to prevent a slide. At the top of the tiers is the hardest skill to master well and the one that we probably get least practise at- self arrest.
N.B. I'd never ignore self arrest when trying to help people become independent winter hillgoers. Its a vital skill to be aware of and its saved my bacon 3 times. But in terms of emphasis I prefer to spend more time ensuring we are walking well, choosing a good route and staying aware of the 'what ifs'. "What if I slipped here? How would I stop myself (self belay)". I go out early in the season and practise every year but am reluctant to rely on a complex skill I get limited practise with even though I spend time teaching it every winter. Its about emphasis not either/or.
I always teach step cutting too. Even with crampons on a few steps can allow a rest or increase security on a slope (as well being useful for crossing short snow sections without crampons/helping someone with a broken/dropped crampon).
Just my humble opinion.
Technical tools are another matter. I try to make a decision about whether I'm on walking ground (standing upright and using 1 axe as a walking stick, it has to have a spike for me- other one under a shoulder strap) in which case my self belay may well be getting straight into self arrest position before sliding at all OR I'm in climbing mode in which case I've often got 2 tools in hand and I'm daggering and security is reliant on climbing movement and having 1 or both tools in.
It's just one tool of the many in a mountaineers armoury but I for one can say it has saved my life.
After a night out drinking in the Woodshed me and a mate did Fiachaill ridge really hungover and I had to self arrest twice. First was as I stumbled just at the top of the grade II ground after the difficulties but still with the big drop on the left. Second was scarier and happened on our descent on the goat track. Lost my footing and shot past two other descending climbers before I arrested myself. Good craic all round! Glad I learned the technique.
That darn Goat Track! Hate it, I've seen a few slides there over the years and one nasty one that resulted in head injuries and a chopper evac.
You shouldnt have stumpled the first time or lose your footing the second? No excuse ever for shoddy footwork. Self arrest is not an excuse for the other stuff.
A bullet proof vest is only useful if you are in the position where some one is shooting at you, and doesn't stop someone shooting you anywhere other than the chest.
I've arrested on an icey slope when teaching step cutting and the step collapsed.
I arrested after stepping through a cornice 2 days after buying my first ice axe aged 17.
It doesn't have to be 'always do this' or 'never do that' because you can always get caught out. I too emphasise good footwork but self arrest has saved me and many friends from injury (less than good walking/self belay but it only has to work once to be significant).
I've practiced ice axe arrest - in all the variations that Glenmore Lodge get you to try ie feet first/head first, facing in/facing out - with a DMM Xeno. It worked fine so I'd imagine most other curved-shaft axes would be OK too. The main bit that's different on more modern axes is the handle, and that should be tucked away to the side near the bottom of your ribcage if you're doing it right. (Arguably, modern axes with grip rests/funky handles are less likely to be pulled from you grip.)
Agree with you about the lack of spike. If you use a spring lanyard then you can clip/larksfoot that in to the top of the axe (a hole helps for clipping but isn't essential for a larksfoot) for gentle slopes.
You'd usually have two axes with you, of course...but that doesn't mean you couldn't contrive to lose both if you were supremely incompetent!
And as I said up there: my girl was blown off the ridge onto the face. Prior to that she was doing everything right - except getting the forecast right! Or getting down in time. You can't control or engineer everything (or even as much as you like to think!).
Yes at least twice
Once was blown off my crampons by a very strong gust of wind somewhere on steep neve on Helvellyn and ended up sliding on my back before arresting. Potential fall could have been hyndreds of feet, arrested in about 20 wearing ventile so slower acceleration as more frictio than synthetics)
Again above a drop of about 800 - 1000 feet on Liathach, moving too fast at the end of day as light time was short and tripped on crampons head over heels on the edge of a long steep slope. Fell headfirst but had helmet and was holding axe already in arrest position. Even though head over heels arrested within 10 feet due to having axe ready.
Have done it twice, and yes worked both times. Once was on a winter training excercise on micro navigation just before the instructor abandoned the group on the hill having got cheesed off when he made an error in the micro navigation excercise ending up in a gully he did not want to be in. On the unexpected descent route both a friend and I slipped but successfully stopped ourselves, but that was the breaking point for the instructor who shouted to get our own way down, and promptly left six of us on that slope. We met him 1.5 hrs later near the cars.
The other time I had just cut a belay stance to belay a friend up and it broke away.
Both times were not life or death positions, but certainly did prevent any injuries.
Yes, I've used it many times when glissading and once in anger.
It was late in the season, lots of bare heather and ribbons of hard neve over the streams. We were traversing under one of the fannichs (I forget which) so crossing these ribbons of neve. I came to one of these and started kicking steps across it, I should have been cutting steps, and after a few meters the inevitable happened. My boot bounced off a chunk of harder snow, putting me off balance, and my other boot slipped out of the rather inadequate step. I successfully arrested on the first attempt about 6-8 meters downslope.
It's worth remembering that the ML is aimed at winter walking, not climbing. That means (i) gentler slopes and (ii) walking axes, both of these make it much easier to arrest. There's a world of difference between that and trying to dig a Nomic into 50 degree neve.
I agree that it won't work all the time. I teach ice axe arrest to new members of my uni mountaineering club, and it's not easy finding suitable snow conditions. Often the snow is too soft, but in that case arresting isn't needed - just scrabble about and you'll stop. On what I consider walking terrain it would be very rare indeed for the snow to be too hard.
I also agree absolutely that self-belay is better than an arrest, and not falling is better then either. A true walking axe is much better than a technical tool for this IMO.
Thankfully no. I am not saying self arrest doesn't have its place. I still keep a single axe in my uphill hand as a very last resort - all am I saying is it should not be a magic bullet. While I know how to do it I hope to never need to do it.
I think I prefer the idea of teaching glissading and recognising when the ground is suitable for this as this is a skill you can use frequently and an ability to control and arrest is thus used often and does not go rusty.
Standing glissades are great when possible!
I have just been keeping my uphill axe unleashed as the caribiner through the top hole on my new apex axes gets in the way of holding it. Gona stick some cord through the holes.
A friend of my mine nearly toasted himself glissading coming down coire na tulaich. It was spring sugar snow and he had it under control but gained speed quickly and failed to break, axe went flying out his hand, and he cheese grated himself on scree and came to a stop just above a nasty drop. Took a lot of skin of himself. You know what sugar snow is like. eek
> Thankfully no.
What about people sliding in to you?
Yeah thanks for that mate
Yes. Once descending the Pelerins Couloir, I thought I'd try a slow bum slide, but quickly hit ice and slid into a runnel where many must have bum slid before, so was like the Cresta Run. Going terrifyingly fast and heading for boulders, I was breaking with my trusty Chouinard bamboo shafted Interalp Camp axe. For a long time no effect, but I think it stopped me accelarating faster, then eventaully, the slower I went, the more it bit and I stopped after about 800 feet of descent. It wouldn't have worked with a modern tool.
Many years ago, I was practicing an ice-axe arrest, starting with throwing myself headfirst on my back down a slope. Turned round OK, turned over OK, the same axe brought me to a halt, but the adze had banged me in my throat, which hurt. And there was a pungent sulphurous smell, which was frightening, I actually thought it might be a the semsory effect of a serious injury to my throat, but eventually I found the box of of matches in an inside pocket, wherein all the matches had ignited through heat from the friction.
I still use the Chouinard axe in the Alps, I have no need for technical tools, and have done dozens of ice and mixed routes. I may consider them if I was attempting anything Scottish V or above. But for everything else, walking, glacier work, mixed, the old axe is far more useful.
As ever UKC takes a subtle argument and runs all for and against. To deal with the latter group it's saved mine and many other people I know and the lack of the skill has led to several uneccesarily serious accidents that I know. It's a must have. However it's amongst other must haves and the level of emphasis can be an issue.
Really my concern these days is that proportionally more folk just don't bother getting winter trained... they just trust themselves or unqualified friends. I think this is usually silly unless you are completely broke (when winter climbing is maybe an extravagence anyway) as cost wise you will gain more from being taught well and knowing what to do and where to go to get a good day when without this you often end up with nothing and facing greatly increased risks to boot. Another bonus is the guides I used (or my club used) remain friends for life.
> I've often wondered about using a modern axe to stop a slide, it seems to me it would just get pulled out of your hands - anyone actually done this
I've stopped myself from quite a decent speed with a Vertige. Is perfectly workable if your technique is right and you get the adze tucked will up into your shoulder before burying the pick. Just don't expect to have much skin left on your knuckles :-(
> I like to climb on good solid neve, and I am sure most other winter climbers do as well, and those that do pretty much know the merits of self arrest on neve is pretty much non a non starter so I think it is a bit mad to have all these people starting out by looking out soft snow to practise self arrest on and then maybe being in the mistaken belief once they get onto neve that they will be fine in a fall.
You can stop yourself on solid nerve if you're quick to react and your technique is good. It needs to be instinctive. All the more reason for including it IMO.
never had to use it in anger exactly but have had a couple of bumslides where i lost control. once i had wrist through lanyard and lost the axe after sticking the pick in.nearly popped my arm out but i did stop and i suppose thats the idea.
i walk with a 70cm walking axe which i am told is too long but i feel happier i can plant the shaft in and get a good solid ppint of contact. scares the shit out of me to see people crossing steep ground with a short axe dangling in mid air but each to their own.
i also find arrest harder with the short axe as it doesnt create enough of a lever.i dont have the textbook elbow tucked in with the long axe but i find it more effective. had a debate on a winter skills course with the instructor about this and he insisted modern thinking was to use a short axe altho the only reason he could give was that it is better for arrest.
> i also find arrest harder with the short axe as it doesnt create enough of a lever.i dont have the textbook elbow tucked in with the long axe but i find it more effective. had a debate on a winter skills course with the instructor about this and he insisted modern thinking was to use a short axe altho the only reason he could give was that it is better for arrest.
Its pros and cons again. A short axe is found by many to be easier to get into an efficient arrest position and comes into its own on steeper slopes where the spike is in contact with the surface of the snow. A longer axe gives more support on moderate angles and may make a fall less likely. But it may come down to what you have learnt with. FWIW I've found that a light student whose ski touring axe wasn't stopping them found it much easier to arrest on firm snow with both my heavy Charlet Guide and a longer Mountain Tech walking axe.
My boyfriedn slipped on some ice in the alps on a descent, not too serious terrain but enough to be scary, he managed to stop himself using ice axe arrest before the rope pulled me over.
I do think though that spending 1/2 a day or something on a winter skills course doing ice axe arrests is a bit of a waste of time as it can be taught much quicker and the time be spent doing something else worthwhile. I think often it seems like a fun activity which is easy for an instructor rather than a beneficial activity in terms of winter mountainerring.
> My boyfriedn slipped on some ice in the alps on a descent, not too serious terrain but enough to be scary, he managed to stop himself using ice axe arrest before the rope pulled me over.
Yes, used in anger on steepish hard neve, probably saved my life when I was knocked off a grade I gully. Still fell a long way since it took ages to bite and slow me down, and had a cut on my collarbone where I rammed the adze in in desperation. Actually conditions were not dissimilar to the BMC vid, except more snow/ice, less rock (wasn't in the UK). People have said to me that on hard neve or ice, self arrest won't work. I know I was lucky, but for me it DID work.
My first and only ice axe arrest was for real when I slipped and went a fair way down Little Hell Gate on Great Gable. About 45 degrees for 100(?) metres on softish snow with a walking axe and had to arch my back to get the axe to bite. Injuries were one cheese-gratered back of hand.
Wow. Good effort. Glad to hear it.
Another one here that was not loving the old goat track. Coming down there making every step count. Axe at the ready.
Never used one in anger myself but do use them to control bum slibes etc.
The only time I have ever seen an arrest in anger was from my mate on Helvellyn. He tripped/slipped on sheet ice/hard snow/ice and sped off down towards the Thirlmere Road. The practice of arresting from various types of falls, head first, on your back, rolling definitely helped him recover from it..... BUT....if he had tripped above Brown Cove Crags, or the Eastern Face I doubt an axe would have been of any use the speed he took off at was wild even on a relatively tame slope angle.
it did not agree with his clothing though, which suffered badly , he would double check he had his crampons after that.
> it did not agree with his clothing though, which suffered badly , he would double check he had his crampons after that.
It has to be instant.. if its not.. you build up speed and you're in the shit... too many people think you can slide fast then get the axe then stop.. on rock hard steep neve if you don't do it within a few M you're off..
Self-arrested once in anger years ago, having tripped over myself on my way back down one of the gullies above red tarn after a morning soloing routes on Helvellyn.
First attempt at self-arrest was half hearted and didn't work. The subsequent acceleration was startling, brought me to my senses, so my second attempt at arrest was much more aggresive and fortunately it worked before I hit anything. I got back to my feet slightly shaken, felt like a complete tit and I've been much more careful ever since.
Perhaps more emphasis should be placed on avoiding the need to self-arrest in the first place, but I do think time spent on practice is time well spent.
Without self-arrest techniques you've got no hope if the worst happens. With them you do at least have a chance of surviving unscathed and learning a valuable lesson the hard way.
Wouldn´t be around to post without (slipping in soft snow due to high temps on the way down from Finsteraarhorn).
For general mountaneering I use a 65cm Grivel axe with a long BD leash.
Yes. Just finished climbing curved ridge. Walking up the final snow slopes, my lower footstep collapsed, throwing onto my back and I started sliding head first down the slope to the edge. Did what I'd practised, first applying axe to swivel myself to face up the slope, turn onto my front, then reapply axe to stop.
A friend also had to ice axe arrest in the Italian Alps, 3 years ago.
Some slides in slush may need the handle driven home to fully arrest and this really needs a bent shaft...once again from experience. Oh, and avoid slush, I do now.
The commonest ice axe fault I see when out and about is having the pick held facing the wrong way...if anybody doesn't know what I mean, find out or get someone to show you - it might save you from a punctured lung +/- a nasty fall.
Yes, the basic ice axe arrest has probably saved my life a few times, though 95% of the time plunging the axe stops the slip, becoming a slide.
I particularly remember slipping in Glencoe as I descended from a climb with my two leashed tech axes. I caught my crampons on a long sling dangling from my harness. It was long head-first slide with plenty of time to think! I had to release one of the ice tools from my wrists before managing to spin round and ice axe arrest on the edge of a very big drop!
It taught me a good few lessons and I'll always use just the one axe on the easier approaches and descents and make sure my slings and gear don't dangle!
As Jamie said, basic balance, foot and crampon work are even more important, but slips do happen and most often can easily be stopped immediately by plunging the axe. I will often carry a less technical mountaineering axe when instruction on easier climbs up to Grade 3, just for the plunging ability on easier terrain and for the corniced exits the descents.
IMO the more radical handled technical tools and highly technical crampons, often without anti-balling plates are a real liability, on easier routes and on corniced exits. They can contribute to serious falls that could easily have been avoided with less specialised ice climbing equipment, with axes that can be plunged into the snow.
On most basic Winter Skills courses, assuming the snow isn't too hard and icy, once the basic ice axe arrest has been covered, the rest of the course concentrates on footwork and balance, step-cutting and then crampons on a variety of terrain.
For the ice axe arrest to be effective it needs to be practised regularly in a variety of terrain and snow conditions to get a proper understanding of how effective it is or isn't, given the snow conditions and angle of slope.
In short, a useful technique which like seat belts in cars, can save your life. However being a good driver or not slipping in the first place is even more important...
Also self arrested after tripping while descending from a route on Sneachda.
Because it saves time crossing short section of hard snow rather than fitting and then removing crampons. Essential if you forget, lose or break your crampons too. You can also cut resting steps when climbing with crampons on or help you and others climb an auckward step. I'm sure folk can think of even more reasons for step cutting....
>How many people have actually used a full arrest in anger, and did it work?
I was out with a group on Aonach Mor about 4 weeks ago.
across the group there were varying degrees of experience and equipment.
As it was the first time out in winter conditions we did go over snow structures, digging bollards, buried axe, Tee axe belays cutting steps, ice axe arrest and finally walking with crampons.
one of the group wasn't as confident and use to crampons. As a result he fell over and had to do an ice axe arrest for real.
He did manage to stop himself safely.
So personally I haven't needed to use an ice axe arrest, but I have been in a party that needed to do one and it did work ok
And so would you advise that person to continue practising ice axe arrest so that the next time it happens he'd be sure of stopping himself, or would you advise him to focus more on walking safely in crampons?
Personally I think its a technique which is very good to know but you should aim never to be in that situation... I would argue it's a bit like having seatbelts and airbags in a car- You want them to be there but very much a last resort!
Personally I have done them lots of times in the past whilst sliding down slopes and messing around. Me and a friend even went and videoed "textbook" highly successful demonstrations on very steep ground. I thought I had the technique pretty well mastered.
Until I felt the need to use it when i lost my footing on a steep icy slope above rocks in the cairngorms. In answer to your question- Yes it worked. I stopped sliding. I also ripped my shoulder out of its socket (apparently i have hyper-extensive joints and inbalanced mussels which give me a predisposition to such things, who knew eh?). Even after much practice I may have got the position wrong in anger, or maybe i was just unlucky, I don't know. It was probably better then the consequences of not arresting. But I wouldn't recommend it!
Twice. On Bidean Nam Bian and also on Beinn Damh. Certainly I would died on Beinn Damh and maybe got away with broken bones on Bidean but would then have had to make it off the hill which would have been hard. Both times I was on my own.
I would advise both.
you can fall over crossing the street without hard snow or ice, therefore I would recommend that people remind themselves how to use an ice axe so if you do fall over you can stop yourself.
Agree it is important to have experience of using crampons.
But both sets of experience are both important.
If you read the thread above there are a few people who know how to walk with crampons have saved themselves doing an ice axe aresst
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