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skuzie

How do people choose glaciers for unroped travel?

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Hey all,

I'm a newbie to glacier travel. I've taken the AAI/Institute AMTL1 course where we spent a week learning glacier travel and crevasse rescue. After our summit bid, I spent a couple hours with a guide doing a glacier tour where I was instructed on identifying snow bridges and crevasses. We were out early May, so a lot of the features were subtle. 

Last week I summitted Sahale Peak via the Sahale Glacier with a four person team so we could rope up for the glacier. The boot pack crossed two obvious snow bridges and one smaller one. In May, one of our guides fell into a crevasse up to his waist on the Easton Glacier when a snow bridge collapsed. From the top, that collapsing snow bridge didn't look much different from those on Sahale. On this website and in person I see a lot of people mentioning that they do that route without any rope. I'm wondering, how do you evaluate the conditions effectively to make that decision? There were definite and obvious snow bridges to cross, so why is unroped travel so common? What terrain features or other markers do teams use to determine that a glacier is safe to cross unroped?

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Experience and complacency. I didn’t rope up once on Denali, despite the obvious dangers. I told myself it was fine because I was on skis, and moving behind/through parties on snowshoes. It was fine, but I’d think twice about doing it again. 

 

There’s not really any hard and fast rule. I’ve run below seracs unroped but with a line pre rigged, so that when one of us punched through to the waist they could throw the line to the other as they ran past. Again, not really the best technique, worked out fine, allowed us to move really fast through the worst spot, but I wouldn’t really recommend it as an actual method. 

 

Get out out in the mountains, be cautious, and really think about what you’re doing as you gain more confidence. Certainly not every glacier travel scenario requires a rope, but where that line is drawn can change for everyone.

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Time of day matters.  A hour of sunlight can make all the difference in bridge strength.

if anyone has any confidence in ski unroped on a glacier, watch the first episode first season of “the horn”

https://www.netflix.com/title/80233842

 

in the episode, real life rescue of skier who falls in a crevasse in alps.   Really fucked up.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

I think I'm more conservative than most and generally stay away from un-roped travel on glaciers with two exceptions:

1) In late season, if all of last winter/spring snow is gone, the temperatures are back into freezing conditions, and no substantial new snow has fallen, I generally assume that the remaining ice and neve is solid. Crevasses are open and obvious, any snow bridges that are going to collapse have done so, and glacier travel then becomes a route finding problem. With a little experience you’ll be able to easily spot any patches of snow that are from the current season and whether what lies beneath it is suspect or not.

2) If I’m already familiar with a glacier, having previously explored it in the above conditions and feel confident I know where crevasses usually form on that particular glacier, AND I’m not traveling in an obvious location while crevasses are likely to form (i.e. convex flow), then I will sometimes travel un-roped across those regions. This is when you crank your crevasse radar up to high and use your spidey sense to look intently for those subtle hints (slightly sagging snow, etc.) that something might lie below. Obviously you are now assuming more risk than in instance #1 above. If I feel I have to probe to go forward, then I generally back off. That’s more risk than I’m willing to take.

Edited by pcg

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On 8/4/2018 at 8:22 AM, skuzie said:

On this website and in person I see a lot of people mentioning that they do that route without any rope. I'm wondering, how do you evaluate the conditions effectively to make that decision? There were definite and obvious snow bridges to cross, so why is unroped travel so common? What terrain features or other markers do teams use to determine that a glacier is safe to cross unroped?

If you can't answer this question, rope up until you can.

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Learn as much as you can about glaciers. They're fascinating, but they command respect. Do your homework, try to objectively evaluate conditions, discuss both with your partners, come to your own decisions and don't worry too much about what other people think. They weren't there.

Most importantly, don't let what other people do or don't do drive your decisions in the mountains. If you climb for any length of time you'll meet people with higher risk tolerance than you and others with lower risk tolerance. This is an important thing to discuss with potential partners. Just because some people got away with something doesn't mean you will, or that they will next time. That said, in the mountains speed is often closely linked to safety, so there are non-trivial trade-offs to make. If you rope up for everything you'll never get far. 

 

 

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