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Haute route Solo

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 ZP 27 Jun 2024

Hey everyone. I ofcourse expect there to be varying degrees of helpful comments while also comments of caution and stupidity. Regardless, its a goal i have set and a goal i intend to actualise. I would like to undertake the Haute route from Zermatt to Chamonix, solo and without using huts, around April 2025. I have a splitboard and all accompanying equipment required for moving through snow and the high alpine. I'm familiar with snow camping/bivouacing in the high alpine as i spent 14 days at 2800m in Verbier from December 21st until Januray 4th, living in a snowcave i built, again solo. 

The Haute route expedition would be very different as i'd be moving every day which also means i'm carrying whatever i'm taking, i'm going to encounter and have to cross glaciers and navigate. The one thing im most concerned about and have been doing my fair bit of research on is glacial crossings. I am an individual with a relatively high risk threshold whilst also always trying to mitigate any unnecessary risks. I have people that care for me and want me to come back alive, while i also have alot more in life i want to do before dying cold and alone with a severed spinal column at the bottom of a cravasse. 

The way that i see it, glacial crossings are always risky, especially alone. After alot of careful consideration, i think that the best way forward would be slowly progressing while probing the snow ahead of me and setting a retreivable snow anchor utilising my ice axes as a t-anchor, like such (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVi7MYU_DSY&t=2s&ab_channel=ShortGu...). I've seen this acouple of times and i think it may be the best way forward for me as i can move forward on my path across the glacier while attached to my rope which is secured to the anchor. Once i reach the final meters of my rope and i confirm the snow below me is solid, i retrieve the ice axes and reset the anchor. While i proceed forward i would hold the rope so i can lock it off if i fall into a cravasse, where then i would use an already placed prusik to ascend the rope. Rinse and repeat until i'm off the glacier.

The main issues i see with this is if i fall into a cravasse and the anchor fails (apart from the obvious), my ice axes are following me down at velocity and if i for any reason become detached from the rope, my ice axes are in the snow above me. 

What are your thoughts, advice, insights?

(note: if all youre going to do is bash me im sure there are better uses for your time)


4
 Martin Hore 27 Jun 2024
In reply to ZP:

Are you referring to the "mountaineers" haute route, or the "skiers/walkers" haute route (both Chamonix-Zermatt)?

I did the former many (50+) years ago, and I would certainly not recommend doing it solo. Long days almost entirely on glaciers. 

But if it's the latter, please ignore that comment. I've no knowledge to contribute.

Martin

In reply to ZP:

The big issues with splitting on tours like the Haute Route is traversing and efficiency. Nothing would get me off my splitboard, but the reality is, it’s not as efficient as skiing. Particularly over undulating and icy terrain, like you’ll encounter.

As for solo glacier crossing (and indeed generally being in the backcountry). It’s all down to your own skill and risk appetite. Might also be worth considering how you’d summon help if your anchor holds and you do end up dangling in a crevasse, particularly if seriously injured.

If you do decide to progress this plan, like you say, take a long avalanche probe and use that to test for any obvious voids. Clearly this depends on the depth of the snowpack and isn’t a 100% guarantee.

Stay safe wherever you end up doing!

Post edited at 21:44
 DaveHK 27 Jun 2024
In reply to ZP:

>  i think that the best way forward would be slowly progressing while probing the snow ahead of me and setting a retreivable snow anchor utilising my ice axes as a t-anchor, like such (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVi7MYU_DSY&t=2s&ab_channel=ShortGu...). I've seen this acouple of times and i think it may be the best way forward for me as i can move forward on my path across the glacier while attached to my rope which is secured to the anchor. 

Sounds tedious. How much of the HR do you think you'd do in that way? If it's 10s of metres a day it might work, if it's hundreds or thousands, forget it. 

Post edited at 22:32
1
In reply to ZP:

So you acknowledge the unusual nature of your solo plan and the extreme risks inherent in it. What do you think people's thoughts are?!

5
 Tim Bevan 29 Jun 2024
In reply to ZP:

Sounds like you'd need about a month using the method you describe - would you not be better to get fit, wait for it to be very well filled in and bash it out in one or two days, being careful around crevasses? Two is very achievable, particularly if you learn to ski - certain parts of the "normal" HR would be piss poor on a split board. 

Or just, you know, do it with a good friend and not have to worry about freezing to death in a crevasse quite so much?

Post edited at 09:25
1
 OwenM 29 Jun 2024
In reply to ZP:

There are several variations of the Haute Route, which one are you think of doing?

 Juan S 29 Jun 2024
In reply to ZP:

As others have said the whole plan seems bonkers (but then again so does living in snow caves). Traveling through a glacier building snow anchors every rope length sounds like a particularly painful way to spend your time.

If going solo is a must and you're comfortable with the much higher risk of solo travel in avalanche and glacier terrain, surely you'd decrease the risk by going fast, rather than spend days on end on glacier terrain, with the increased avalanche risk that would entail? Maybe save the anchor building plan for any short sections of high risk crevassed terrain. And, if building anchors, build ones that you trust won't blow (i.e. do it properly or not at all. Otherwise you're just burning time placing psychological protection?)

You could decrease crevasse risk by going when there is high snow cover (e.g. this season has been very good at covering crevasses), only moving over glaciers when it's cold (good night freeze, finishing mid morning etc) and talking to experienced people. It might be worth hiring a guide who knows the route very well for a day to talk through any bits you need to be particularly careful with crevasse-wise.

If you ever do this, do update us on how you get on.

 kaiser 29 Jun 2024

Haute Troll

 OwenM 30 Jun 2024
In reply to kaiser:

> Haute Troll

Not come back on for  quite a while so I guess you're right.

 DaveHK 30 Jun 2024
In reply to OwenM:

> Not come back on for  quite a while so I guess you're right.

Odd thing to troll about, it's not exactly going to generate much comment other than that it sounds like a daft idea.

Post edited at 12:31
1
 pec 02 Jul 2024
In reply to DaveHK:

> Odd thing to troll about, it's not exactly going to generate much comment other than that it sounds like a daft idea.

Daft Idea? It's insane!

Seriously, he's going to do the Haute Route and on all the glacier sections he'll self belay to a retrievable anchor system probing ahead as he goes. Let's assume he's got a 60m rope, that means doing it in 30m pitches, how long is that going to take?

If he sets off from Chamonix when the first snows of winter fall he might just get to Zermatt by the end of spring.

He says he has a high risk threshold, let's hope he has a high boredom threshold too. It's the skiing equivalent of this https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-e&q=monty+python+ascent+...

1
 65 02 Jul 2024
In reply to ZP:

Jon Krakauer wrote a good article where he used a pair of long curtain rods under his armpits for solo glacier travel along with a large supply of weed to keep his sanity at bay. 

 John Kelly 03 Jul 2024
In reply to ZP:

Really long rope?

 John Cuthbert 03 Jul 2024
In reply to ZP:

I've ski toured all the Haute Route day sections (and some variations) save the Bertol to Zermatt section solo (sometimes without using the huts). 

Many others have also done this, indeed there's a near one day record solo push for the whole damn thing. 

In all cases I had ski toured the areas with partners before hand in previous seasons or beforehand in the same season especially when I've been concerned about conditions. Some of the sections I've skied 10- 20 or so times.

If you're solo, there's no way of fully mitigating crevasse or avalanche risk, especially when the weather turns to shit. Your anchor system isn't going to count for anything. If you're going to trust to anything whilst solo, then both an intimate knowledge of the terrain and the snow conditions are essential (I was religious in my study of them), but speed and light weight are your best friends. But you're never going to be able to completely mitigate the risk.

It is, of course, normal to ski the heavily crevassed sections unroped (so risk is ever present even skiing in a group), and rope up on the ascent, whilst there should be a good trail in April and plenty of folk about. The descents you can generally blast if conditions are good and you feel on top of things. 

That said, I have refused to do the Zermatt descent solo once given crevasse conditions and have turned back on others sections given crevasse risk and/or bad weather, even with partners.

As far as skiing into a crevasse (I've done this sadly), or being involved in crevasse rescue (I've also had to do this 3 times), it's a bloody nightmare. Rescue and self-rescue is hard to pull off ..

The other major constraints that you will face will be sac weight and the cold.

To save weight I skimped on kit, and as a result bivvying out was often brutally cold (-20C+, though mostly I did my days out in March). The skin ascents after an exhausting long night were brutal and will be worse on a splitboard. (My ski set up was much lighter.) I never did more than two nights out (and only twice) and that was my limit. That said, the limit was often reached after one night out and I headed home or to a hut! I often found it very difficult to keep my technique and judgement together when I was strung out, and this really raised the risks even in good conditions.

I gave up the bivvying (but not the solo day skiing) after these experiences..

For me, it doesn't make sense to risk it without the requisite base of knowledge, but even with this knowledge, undertaking he whole thing in one 7 day push doesn't really stack up. Risks aside, it will be an utter suffer fest. In truth, i didn't really enjoy any of these experiences, bar the day tours when i wasn't knackered. The fatigue generally affected my skiing ability (and I'm at a very high standard), and undermined the whole point of doing it..

If you're dead set on the solo experience, it's fairly straightforward to explore day or day/overnight sections from Chamonix , Verbier, or around the Dix hut, picking sections where many of the glacier ascents have lower crevasse risk.  You'll learn a lot doing it like that...

John C

 OP ZP 06 Jul 2024
In reply to ZP:

Okay so ive been thinking that my post must have gotten lost in the plethora of posts on this amazing site as i didnt get any email notifications of replies, but ive just logged in and seen that quite afew people have replied so im going to start combing through and extracting what i can from everyones replies! Very eager to read everything, whatever it may be.

 Jeff Ingman 07 Jul 2024
In reply to ZP:

In the same vein as the Krakauer article and curtain poles: I once encountered a solo Korean climber on the argentiere glacier in snowy conditions with a tubular aluminium "cross" on the top of his pack, and on his shoulders.  It was clipped tightly to his harness. It stuck out a couple of feet on each direction and was meant to catch him if he fell into a hole. 

Not for me, but may work for you. You could then save your rope and anchor system for obvious tricky bits. Good luck


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