I've done it once, unpracticed. It worked, and was a natural reaction (rather than rehearsed), but as you say, if I'd gotten much speed up I think it would have been a different story.
I just grabbed the bottom of the pole with the opposite hand and stab it into the ground (rolling onto it as it digs in). Seemed the natural thing to do and it worked. Doubt it would have worked if I'd fallen face first though.
I remember seeing somewhere an account of an ascent by, I think, a female group using poles with some sort of claw attached to the pole grips, made possibly by Grivel. Not sure I would like to rely on them, but again like others I would not want to rely self arrest anyway.
In reply to drunken monkey: I noticed a lot of extreme skiers in couloirs using them with the axe head. To be honest it can be come really bad and dangerous practise on steep ground. I use an axe and pole when its getting a bit steep ie if a slip cud occur and I need to brake.
I've used a walking pole to control a bum slide down Pen y Ghent. If it had been any steeper though I think I might have been in trouble. This was before I had any sort of a clue and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
I believe that some alpine guides use poles instead of an most of the ground they cover . If you don't have an axe in your hand on a steep slope , then falling over is simply not an option ( even though it may be a possibility ) .
That said , for years I wandered around the fells in winter with walking poles and fabric 3 season boots and didn't die . I wouldn't advise it , but being woefully lacking in equipment is not always a recipe for a ride in a sea king rescue chopper .
I've done it a number of times while skiing in icy (on-piste) conditions. Just grab the pole just above the basket and dig it in, using the other hand higher up the pole to brace it. You end up more on your side than when you arrest using a traditional axe. Works just fine on moderate terrain.
The comment that "falling isn't an option" when using walking poles reminds me of the days when I first started leading rock climbs when protection was minimal, just a few slings around rock spikes if you could find them.
It was drummed into us then that, for a leader, falling wasn't an option.
I got blown over backwards once when walking with poles on a snow slope. I stopped only a few feet from going over a large cliff. Taught me a serious lesson and used up one of my lives. Personal opinion; if you have an axe, don't get distracted thinking you can stop with poles.
I saw a climbing partner need to self-arrest for the first time this year and am convinced that anyone who believes the 'you'll never be able to stop yourself anyway' anti-axe argument is mistaken. He slipped on low angled icy ground on a plateau rim above the 45 degree-ish gradient snow slope we'd just plodded up (without crampons). He picked up speed surprisingly quickly, but was able to stop himself with reasonably ease. Without his axe, I doubt he'd have stopped himself, although the powdery ground below wasn't particularly dangerous.
I definitely get an axe out earlier than most, for comfort as much as anything.
In reply to DannyC: I've self arrested at least 3 times in anger over the last 20 years, once was the result of high winds, another at the end of a long day over a huge drop on Liathach. I know it works, and the best way to practice it is to enjoy glissading whenever it is available and stop the glissade with an arrest. That way you enjoy a glissade when possible and don't leave using arrest to save your life in the far future when you've forgotten it all.
Pretending it can't save you is about as useful as a view I heard in Applecross in the 80s when some fishermen were discussing why they never learned to swim - it wouldn't save you!!!
I seem to remember they were ex merchant marine as well, several sons of old Applecross families had done that early in their careers.
I tried it skiing (on piste) after a fall turned into a slide towards and then into the trees. Ended up with a very broken arm after finding out that it's an almost impossible feat on very hard snow and ice and that trees are very hard.
> I personally walk with poles but I tend to have an axe to hand (in between my rucksack and back)
Do you think you would have time to re-act and get the axe out?
I've only once had to use an ice axe arrest in deadly seriousness. We were going up a grade ll gully solo when the guy above me slipped and cannoned into me knocking me off my feet. I started tumbling and it took time to get myself straight and start using the axe by which time I had built up quite a momentum. I was very difficult to roll over and use the axe and applying gentle braking all the time without it being snatched from my grasp. It all happened so fast that I certain I wouldn't have been able to do what you suggest.
In reply to Trangia: Seems to be quite a lot of theoretical discussion going on here...
I'm a big fan of practicing ice axe arrests, I try to make sure I do a session every year. It's easy enough to find an area of steep neve with a safe run-out below. I have also tried arresting with a pole, and with no tools at all. I have found:
- With no tool (i.e. fists and toes), it is only possible to stop in fairly soft snow, though relatively steep angles are possible.
- If a foot doesn't penetrate at least a couple of cm into the snow, this technique is completely ineffective, even at very low slope angles.
- A pole can be useful in arresting the very early stages of a slip, the best way is to press the tip into the snow as you fall, and grip the shaft low down. This is preventing a slip becoming a slide, rather than arresting.
- Using a pole to arrest is awkward, especially if wrist straps are worn. If anyone does fancy experimenting, I would strongly advise removing wrist straps to prevent arm and shoulder injuries if you roll over the pole.
- On soft/medium snow, the pole tip gives better purchase than the no-tool case, and can make an arrest possible where it wouldn't be otherwise.
- The gap where a pole makes an arrest possible but a no-tools arrest isn't possible is really quite narrow.
- An ice axe, used sloppily, is far far better than a pole.
- An ice axe, used well, is far better than one used sloppily. Technique matters more on harder snow types. It also matters more with a climbing pick; walking picks are more forgiving.
- On hard neve, even if only 20 degrees, speed builds up very fast. An arrest is easiest and quickest if started immediately.
- An arrest with an axe and good technique will ultimately be successful on most snow types up to about 40 degrees, and on some snow types up to much steeper. It may take some distance though, further reinforcing the need to
start immediately and get it right first time.
I use poles almost all the time, for my sore knees, but I change over to my ice axe anywhere that I don't think I could do a no-tools arrest. I do store my axe between my pack and back, but I cannot draw it fast enough to satisfy me that it would be any use in an arrest, especially if sliding over lumpy ground or head first. I do think that a longer axe (~65cm) reduces the risk of a slip, without impairing my ability to arrest, and I use one whenever I don't need a shorter pair for climbing.
> I was very difficult to roll over and use the axe and applying gentle braking all the time without it being snatched from my grasp. It all happened so fast that I certain I wouldn't have been able to do what you suggest.
I would agree in the circumstances you describe I wouldn't be able to get the axe off my back, but going up a gully I would have the axe out, so it's a bit of a moot point.