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Alex_Mineev

Alpine start on unfamiliar routes

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Just summited the Hill thru Emmons for the first time and all the way back was thinking about adequacy of alpine start if there were no beaten trail up the summit and no other teams around. I mean how can one navigate thru crevasses on the route he has never been before in complete dark seeing only few dozen feet around in the light of headlamp? I definitly would not enter Emmons glacier at 1am if I my team was alone and there was no trail. Then why and in which situations is it useful?

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Alex_Mineev said:

I mean how can one navigate thru crevasses on the route he has never been before in complete dark seeing only few dozen feet around in the light of headlamp?

 

You have to check out the route ahead of time and memorize it by daylight. Realistically, you can go around a crevasse either way, its just a question of which is faster, and which path is straightest.

 

Then why and in which situations is it useful?

 

cause you get nice frozen snow instead of slop by climbing all night and you see sunrise from the summit

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Alex_Mineev said:

Then why and in which situations is it useful?

cause when you get high early in the morning you stay high all day. wake and bake.

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Route finding is a skill you learn just like moving quickly over mid fifth choss, jamming cracks, protecting traverses and figure 4's.

 

It helps a lot to study photos and route descriptions as well as talk to folks who may have the current conditions.

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Typically an alpine start is most useful when there is a need to avoid dangerous conditions that develop on your route as the day progresses...normally due to the route being warmed by the sun. This can mean, among other things, increase danger to rockfall and icefall and avalanche. When your route is exposed to these hazards, starting well before dawn allows you to climb a significant distance before the sun rises and warms the route which tends to increase danger due to these hazards. On a route such as the Emmons Gl. an alpine start may not be as essential as other routes with more objective hazards.

-Ross fruit.gif

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Yes, snow conditions, extra time and sunrise are good arguments, but I doubt that one can memorise useful amount of crevasses and I doubt one can see snowbridges and the route from the base camp. Given that you can not see the route most likely you'll do some mistakes and spend more time on routefinding until sun rises. That means you are not far away from the camp and already tired. What if the route has hidden crevasses and you have to check surface throughly before making each step? I agree though that a.s. is useful on an obvious route were you just push the mountain and want to save time.

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i see the moon and the moon sees me. the moon lights the path so quit yur whining. rolleyes.gif

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Bronco said:

Route finding is a skill you learn just like moving quickly over mid fifth choss, jamming cracks, protecting traverses and figure 4's

 

Route Finding is an acquired skill. Seeing in the dark isn't.

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Alex -

Even on the darkest of nights, you should be able to see accross a glacier pretty well so a headlamp isn't essential for routefinding on a macro-scale but for negotiating crevasses and snowbridges, or for bushwacking, one thing that would help solve your problem is to have at least one person in your party carry a headlamp that actually puts out some light. Most of the super light headlamps people carry around these days are good for reading a map or looking for something around the campsite, and they are adequate to follow a trail or a cross country route if you already knokw the way, but they are inadequate for routefinding, in my view.

 

In general, it is not as bad as you think. I have wandered about in the bush and in the crevasse fields in the dark many times, and almost never have I gotten lost or gone the wrong way because of the darkness on an alpine start. I've stumbled down of many climbs and cursed the darkness when I didn't bring a headlamp, though.

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Alex_Mineev said:

I doubt that one can memorise useful amount of crevasses and I doubt one can see snowbridges and the route from the base camp. I agree though that a.s. is useful on an obvious route wHere you just push the mountain and want to save time.

 

it worked for me many tim,es but i have a good memory. i have never climbed rainier though. just on stuff like plinth and silvertip. it was more a case of memorizing which couloir to take and which rockband to avoid trhan which crevasses to walk around. although in new zealand it was a case of avoiding crevasses at least there the route was steep enough you could see most of them from the hut

 

if the crevasses are hidden it doesnt matter how much liught you have,but snowbridges may be more supportive in the cold night than the warm day. so you actually have to probe more on your return than on your way up.

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As an example, we climbed the Fuhrer Finger near the end of June this year. That route is continuously exposed to rockfall from near the high camp through most of it's length to where it meets the top of the Wilson Headwall. I wouldn't even think of climbing that route without an alpine start. Just too much exposure to rockfall for too long a time. So we left camp early and had passed through most of the areas of exposure before the sun had a chance to do its dirty work on the ice and snow holding the rocks together. As far as routefinding, we crossed the Wilson Glacier in the dark to access the route and had no problems negotiating crevasses.

Really it all has to due with what you feel is best for your route and your climbing partners. It's all part of the experience of climbing in the mountains and the decisions that you deem to be most beneficial to the success of your climb.

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Ask the party that got zapped on the Grand Teton last week if they think an alpine start might have been a good idea.

 

On many routes, climbing conditions are significantly better/safer in the morning than in the afternoon. Especially in the Chosscades when the mountains rain boulders on you when it warms up. An alpine start allows you to get up and back down before conditions turn sour.

 

As far as I'm concerned, the only downside of climbing before sunrise is that you don't get to enjoy the views. But, I always love watching the sun come up from 10,000 feet rather than from the inside of my tent.

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Alex_Mineev said:

Moon is useful, but not a thing one would account on.

i don't know about that, there are these things called almanacs that tell you when there will be moon and when there won't. you could even get one of those nifty watches that have a happy moon face that rotates around showing the phases. some calendars also have this information. it is also possible to guess how much moon you will have by looking at the skyeach night and seeing if the moon is getting bigger or smaller.

 

but since you are trolling by playing dense, i'll bet you already knew that.

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Another reason for alpine starts is to minimize sun exposure on glaciers/snowfields. This can be a huge deal on multi-day glacier trips.

 

Sunburns suck.

 

I wonder if icefalls are really any more likely during the heat of the day than they are at night. I suspect that it really doesn't make that much difference. I don't think the sun really warms up the ice appreciably. Snow and rockfall is definately more common when it is warm in my experience.

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I have never needed a headlamp on a glacier in the early morning - always turn it off when leaving the moraine and when getting on the glacier. The other benefit of an alpine start is that if you are really fast you can summit and be in the pub drinking beer & eating poutine by noon. bigdrink.gif

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On glaciers or snow fields at night a head light is a two edged sword. You can see your feet better and the 10 feet in front of you but the light destroys your night vision. Especially the bluish LED lights. Many times if you just give your eyes a few minutes you can see better without the light on and you can better route find because you will be able to see distances.

 

One trick I have used is to have a dim red light. This way you can see your footing but still have un-compromised distance vision. I have only seen one other mountaineer use this technique, but it works great when route finding is an issue.

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Hopping onto an unknown monster like the Emmons in the dark with no boot track. Part of the appeal of climbing! It will go, you just have to have faith! smirk.gif

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Last time I climbed the Gib chute I had an alpine start, at the time I thought this was pretty smart.

To make it more interesting next time i'll do it in the middle of the day so I can see all the crap thats gonna hit me.

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3 days ago when I did Gib Ledges at about 5.30 I did not see or hear anything falling. Although I did see a lot of killer stuff that was ready to fall like big icicles hanging right above the trail...

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