/ Glaciers for beginners

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Ramblin dave - on 14 Sep 2017
Hi! Something that I've wondered about a few times, but which might become relevant next week...

I've done a reasonable amount of Scottish winter walking, and know which end of a rope is which, but I've never been further afield and done anything involving glaciers.

What's the general skill set that you need to safely cross a glacier on, say, an easy Alpine snow plod? (Or, in case anyone's been paying attention to my other thread, the normal descent off Vignemale). People seem to go for varying levels of caution, from fully roped up with axes and crampons to just casually bumsliding down - how do you make that call? And what's a reasonable level of time and effort to put into acquiring the relevant skills and judgement before heading off without adult supervision? Is it a case of "here's what to do, now go and do it" or more something that requires a long apprenticeship with people with more of a clue?

Sorry if this is all a bit muddled and open ended, but I don't really know what I don't know, so I'm not even really sure how to ask for advice...

Thanks!
daWalt on 14 Sep 2017
In reply to Ramblin dave:

not sure if there's a correct answer, I don't want to sound glib but-
know what to do, practice the method (ropework etc.), then do it.

bit more detail:
understand glaciers and where / how crevasses are likely to form,
understand your glacier; check it out beforehand, research, speak to others (some glaciers have known crevasses / danger areas),
know your ropes,
practice your ropework,
practice your ropework again properly,
practice your ropework a 3rd time just to be sure,
then tie on between two fat blokes,
and you're off
Cheese Monkey - on 14 Sep 2017
In reply to Ramblin dave:

Glaciers can vary from nice friendly places where you can cover a lot of ground safely to utter nightmares in less than a rope length.

I've had far too much of the latter this season

Go out on a properly dry glacier or a properly wet glacier, the inbetween grey area is not ideal as a beginner I would say
Trangia on 14 Sep 2017
In reply to Ramblin dave:

The two biggest dangers on glaciers are seracs and crevasses.

You can see the former and make a reasoned decision as to whether or not to pass under them. Making this sort of judgement can only come with experience, and even experienced people can get caught out. Probably best as a beginner to avoid glaciers with seracs.

Crevasses are likely to be present on most glaciers. Where you can see them, known as a "dry" glacier, you can avoid falling into them, and bar making a slip, the risk is relatively low.

The real danger lies where you can't see them because they are covered by snow. This is a "wet" glacier, and much more dangerous. You should always cross a wet glacier roped, with prusik loops ready on the rope and ideally in a party of three or more. Two is better than being unroped, but it is very difficult for just one person to rescue another in the event of one breaking through into a crevasse, and being injured or unable to self assist with prusiks.

There are places where crevasses are more like to occur than other, and that is where the the ice is under tension as in a convex slope, less likely when in compression as in a concave slope, but they can occur anywhere and are potentially dangerous because you can't see them.

Sometimes you will see a big crevasse semi open on a wet glacier which is part bridged by snow. Crossing a snow bridge can be potentially dangerous, and should be done one at a time with the others belaying you and braced, and if it's a big one, anchored to their axes.

There is a lot to learn about glacier crossing and assessment of the risk and I would strongly advise you to go on an Alpine introductory course which covers crevasse rescue.
Jasonic on 14 Sep 2017
In reply to Ramblin dave: I have done the PV- V traverse which was great, fairly straightforward with a number of pitons to clip- the descent onto the glacier was short but chossy. No-one was roping up as the glacier was a straightforward snow slope- obviously in all this you need to make your own decisions! For the climbing bit you need to move together otherwise will take a long time!
daWalt on 15 Sep 2017
In reply to Ramblin dave:

on popular routes in the alps you'll see all kinds of folk with all kinds of an approach to glaciers:
short rope, long rope, no rope and most other things in between - do not blindly copy the approach of the next person.

for me there has been several occasions of crossing glaciers without roping up, considered acceptable for various reasons; glacier condition, snow (or lack thereof), terrain, etc. (it's a bit too much to go into here, and potentially dodgy, to describe the why and what of these).
but if there is doubt go roped.

if a rope isn't needed for the rest of the day then I'v got a super skinny short rope that's enough for glacier crossing (use this in ski touring also) - you don't want to be lugging around excess rope that you don't need.
Howard J - on 15 Sep 2017
In reply to Trangia:

> Sometimes you will see a big crevasse semi open on a wet glacier which is part bridged by snow. Crossing a snow bridge can be potentially dangerous, and should be done one at a time with the others belaying you and braced, and if it's a big one, anchored to their axes.

We did this on my very first alpine trip, taking quite a time to nervously belay ourselves over a snow bridge. No sooner had we done so than a large group of middle-aged Frenchmen, all roped closely together a couple of metres apart, simply tramped across it without even breaking step. We assumed, perhaps wrongly, that they knew what they doing and we'd been overcautious, but now I'm more experienced I'd still take a belay.
Trangia on 15 Sep 2017
In reply to Howard J:
> We did this on my very first alpine trip, taking quite a time to nervously belay ourselves over a snow bridge. No sooner had we done so than a large group of middle-aged Frenchmen, all roped closely together a couple of metres apart, simply tramped across it without even breaking step. We assumed, perhaps wrongly, that they knew what they doing and we'd been overcautious, but now I'm more experienced I'd still take a belay.

Something I've learned about a lot of Continental climbers is never assume that because they live close to the Alps they are more experienced, they often aren't. They might have all the designer gear and walk about as though they know what they are doing - they don't always, and their ropework can be atrocious. Walking bunched up over a snow bridge as you describe is a prime example.

I'll bet they were carrying loose coils of rope too!?
Post edited at 13:46
Ramblin dave - on 15 Sep 2017
In reply to Ramblin dave:

Sorry, I've been busy today and will be away as from this evening, but thanks for all the replies.
Rob Exile Ward on 16 Sep 2017
In reply to Ramblin dave:

My personal tip: on a 'wet' glacier i.e. one where the crevasses are likely to be covered in snow, tie figure of 8 loops in the rope between you and your mate every 1.5m. That way if your mate goes in the knots will dig in and, in the words of Peter Cliff, 'make the fall pleasantly easy to hold' - thankfully I can't testify to that, but I am happy to take his word for it. It also means that the victim can use the knots to climb out using slings clipped to the knots rather than prusik up a cold, wet and icy rope.

2 people roped together on glacier never made much sense to me until I started using that technique.
Roberttaylor - on 16 Sep 2017
In reply to Rob Exile Ward:

Second this. Or use alpine butterflies, probably doesn't make much difference.

Learn how to make an anchor in snow/ice/snice using the equipment you will have with you (or base the equipment you take on what you expect to encounter). Practice setting up a haul system, there are a few videos on youtube/handy instructional guides in print that can give you an idea of how to do this. Make sure you have the minimum equipment (some prussik loops, slings, revolver krabs, possibly even tibloc/ropeman/minitraxion). Keep all this kit fairly far forward on your harness, not round the back where it might be hard to get at

Wear a helmet, with a headtorch attached to it. It'll be a lot easier climbing out if you aren't unconscious and can see what you're doing.

Have a puffy jacket and gloves clipped to your harness; not in your rucksack. That way if you do find yourself dangling in a scary freezer you will at least be warm as you try and get out.

When I was less experienced/knowledgeable I wandered solo across glaciers riddled with crevasses on a couple of occasions. I won't be doing that again. I wonder what I do at the moment that, in three years, I'll look back and say the same thing about?

Travel when it's cold, don't risk glaciers when it's roasting hot in the afternoon (worst I've ever seen was the south side of the Mieje, we wallowed up to our waists with every step). It's not just dangerous; it's slow and unpleasant and water gets into your boots.

Have a great time. And put on SPF50 lip balm. On your lips and on the underside of your nose. And wear Category 3 or 4 sunglasses.

R
Stefan Jacobsen - on 20 Sep 2017
In reply to Roberttaylor:

... remember to exercise the hauling with knots on the rope and full body weight. It can be hard work!
99ster - on 09:41 Thu

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