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Timcb

Keeping the rope taught on glacier travel

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I was just reading the Accident on Hood posts and a couple people emphasized the importance of keeping the rope taught between teammates while traveling on steep snow and glaciers.

 

I've definitely heard this before, but have also wondered if it wasn't better to carry 5 or more feet of rope in your hand so that, should a fall occur, you will have about 5 or more feet of time to set a good self belay or get into self arrest mode before the yank hits your harness. Of course, this leads to a bigger yank, but perhaps you won't be caught off guard.

 

I kind of thought that the added time would be worth the harder yank, but maybe this isn't the case. what do you think?

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I'd say the best way to learn is to do it. Serioulsy, Go to a safe area (steep snow not a glacier, something with a safe run out) and experiment. Two people or three people on a rope. Try it with a little slack, no slack, and a lot of slack and see what happens. Ensure that the run out is safe, with good soft snow conditions so you don't kill yourself. Then report your findings.

Edited by Rodchester

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On a route like they were on or something steeper, I would not want a bunch of slack in my hand, within 5 feet a fallen climber could pick up some real speed and would most like just rip you out of what ever good belay you thought you had.

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IMHO slack is never good.

The amount of time it gives you is 'compensated' with greater force you'll have to hold.

Also, I can not imagine how would you keep that slack? Hold the coils with one of your hands? If you do this you are not climbing steep terrain cause otherwise you'll need both hands.

If glacier is not steep lack of slack let's you pull the victim before he falls too far...

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Taut or not, the key thing is you have to judge your rope tension by the conditions. And, you have to be prepared so that means knowing what it feels like for someone to fall into a crevasse....i.e. practice. Usually, when there's not a lot of obvious crevasse hazard, I don't really mind having the rope drag on the ground a bit.In more obvoius terrain, everyone's a bit more conscious of rope slack and you try to ameliorate it. Besides, you aren't going to stop a falling body with a yank of your hand. Only getting down and digging in will do that. So, you need to be keeping an eye on your partner, not the ground.

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"On a route like they were on or something steeper, I would not want a bunch of slack in my hand, within 5 feet a fallen climber could pick up some real speed and would most like just rip you out of what ever good belay you thought you had."

--------------------------

but when it's this steep, the sudden and unexpected yank down onto the slope could immediately prohibit the possibility of team arrest. which perhaps brings us back to the issue of unprotected, roped travel on dicey terrain...

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Dope! just realized misspelling of "taut." oh well.

 

"Besides, you aren't going to stop a falling body with a yank of your hand. Only getting down and digging in will do that."

--of course I'm not proposing that a pull of the hand could stop the fall, I'm just picturing leading across a thin knife edge snow ridge or walking across a 30* glacier. If my follower should slip without warning I could well feel the sudden tug when I'm mid-step and not as stable as I'd like to be. It would then be too easy for me to get pulled from my stance.

 

However, if I have that extra second (still unable to watch my partner since I'm in front), I might be able to "get down and dig in" effectively once I feel the coils of rope in my free hand pulling through my fingers.

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I know what your saying but one thing your falling parnter should be doing, as well, is rupturing your ear drum by yelling "Falling!!!!!"...especially if you are in the lead. Rope getting ripped out of your hand shouldn't be the first clue to drop and dig in, ya know?

I'd have to vote that slack is bad. Having a coil in hand is just more distance the falling person can get injured. More so in crevasse fall. The 5ft of pure slack plus a stretching rope is plenty to jack your legs up if you catch crampon points on the walls. If you have any doubts about that then put on a loaded pack, plastics, and climb to the top of a 4ft step ladder and jump and you'll get a painful reminder how quickly you generate allot of speed and force.

Edited by griz

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Timcb,

 

I'll save you the time of trying this yourself, as I and my mountain rescue unit have already done this to teach prospective members/newbies how important this aspect of mountaineering can be while in crevasse territory. Mind you, I had a secondary (redundant) belay on me by one of my unit members in case the "student" messed up the belay being tested. Student was approximately 25 feet back from the crevasse lip.

 

Last year on the Nisqually, I "guinea pigged" myself as the unlucky pilot for some crevasse air-time. Results follow:

 

1) Me standing at edge, belayer in arrest position (prone and dug in): My stepping "into thin air" caused a fall of ~8 feet into the crevasse. This is with little to no slack in the rope at time of departure. It includes the length of "rope bury" into the crevasse lip and a drag of student of ~3 feet. Things got a lot more interesting after that...

 

2) Me standing at edge, belayer standing in ready position (standing, axe at the ready), little to no slack in the rope: After landing, I was ~15 below the lip, and I had dragged the student off his feet and about 10 feet closer to the lip. He did manage to stop me before the back-up belay went into full-on mode.

 

3) Me walking toward the edge, belayer walking at same pace about 25 feet behind me, 5-6 feet of slack in rope (rope was intentionally dragging on ground), axe in piolet position (just like you'd be doing walking around on a glacier, except the distance between climbers was closer): At engine shut-down, I was suspended about 20 feet below the lip, and had pulled the then-terrified student to within a few scant feet of the edge, and the back-up belayer was totally involved in the final braking maneuver. We had introduced a second back-up belayer attached to the student as well for this test, and that second belayer was also employed to make the stop of the student. Testing ceased after this third demonstration (as planned).

 

Conclusion: You'll zip a lot faster than you ever would imagine, and 5 feet of slack isn't going to give you any time at all to think about what to do. Review Case #2 above. The student knew that I was going in, and exactly when that would happen. There was little to no slack in the rope, and I still ended up about 15 feet below the lip.

 

Now Review Case #3, which is the case that you would be reenacting whilst glacier traveling, i.e. carrying a small coil in your hand or slack rope dragging on the ground. Had there not been a redundant belay system employed, it is very likely that I would have pulled this guy in with me. Granted that the distance between us for this test was much less than is customary while roped up for glacier travel, he very likely would have stopped me if we were 50 feet or so apart on a rope. Still, the point was made to all attendees regarding the attentiveness that is encumbent while negotitating crevasse terrain.

 

One last thought: I was not wearing a pack during these exercises. Draw your own conclusions of what could happen to you if you are wearing an additional 25 to 40 pounds on your back and you punch through...

 

"Thus endeth the lesson." Sean Connery, The Untouchables

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What this testing says to me is that 1) having a sufficient length of rope between partners is very important and 2) having a team of three on the rope provides additional redundancy to the system.

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I know what your saying but one thing your falling parnter should be doing, as well, is rupturing your ear drum by yelling "Falling!!!!!"...especially if you are in the lead. Rope getting ripped out of your hand shouldn't be the first clue to drop and dig in, ya know?

I'd have to vote that slack is bad.

 

That does not make sense.

 

If you do not have ANY slack you will yank your partner immediately and it will not matter if you yell falling becuase your partner will be falling too with you simultaneously.

 

I think it is important to have some slack when you are going on the uphill side. WHY? When you fall, you immediately yell "FALLING", thereby allowing your partner to react and getting into a self arrest position BEFORE he is yanked by you.

 

IF YOU HAVE NO SLACK AND YOU FALL YOU WILL YANK YOUR PARTNER BEFORE THEY GET INTO SELF ARREST.

 

On the glacier and it is relatively flat, then definitely no slack. The rope cutting into the crevasse lip will more than likely stop a fall.

 

On the downhill side, no slack. The back people will see what is happening and should react even faster than somebody yelling "Falling". However, if the back person falls, then that person should yell, "Falling" and that will be ample time for everyone to go into self arrest and get crampons in the face.

 

But rule #1: Don't fall.

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Thanks Sobo- That's some good data. Though I'm curious- the student who was trying to catch your fall was not able to benefit at all from the extra seconds of warning derived from a slack rope? Stefan continues to make the same logical points I'm concerned with.

 

I think I may still have to try and test this out.. the key question is just how fast the leader (blind to the troubles that might be occuring behind him) can get down into self arrest if given a half second of warning. or, just how difficult is it for the leader to recover into self arrest mode when he's suddenly dragged down the slope by his harness (quite possibly headfirst upside down).

 

Thanks to those who've responded.

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When you fall, you immediately yell "FALLING", thereby allowing your partner to react and getting into a self arrest position BEFORE he is yanked by you.

 

......

 

then that person should yell, "Falling" and that will be ample time for everyone to go into self arrest and get crampons in the face.

 

I think people are overestimating the value of yelling "Falling" in a crevasse fall. I see crevasse falls as more or less two types (obviously an oversimplification).

 

One type is when you fall into a crevasse that you see, or off a bridge, or a bridge collapses, etc. In other words, a situation where you know you are somewhat vulnerable and can let your partner know that ahead of time. When my partner is in a situation like that, and as my own position allows, I temporarily get both hands on my axe in self arrest grip, drop any slack loop I might be carrying, and try to look at them as they negotiate the tricky section. Again, as my own position allows. I always let my partner know when I'm crossing anything questionable, whether I am leading or following. I treat it very much like yelling "Watch Me" when rock climbing.

 

The other type is when you plunge into a crevasse that you don't see. I've done this twice in a few decades of climbing. Both times I was INSTANTLY down. There was no way that yelling anything could have alerted my partner before the rope jolt hit him (fortunately conditions in both cases made for easy stops for my partner). I'm not saying not to yell. By all means yell. I will yell, too! But I feel pretty strongly that, in most such cases, my partner will be down in the snow by the time I get a sound out.

 

As far as carrying slack, I feel that slack only allows more time for the falling climber to accelerate. The only time I tend to ever hold a loop of slack is off and on as a buffer when I'm following someone who is having to switchback, or weave through crevasses, or follow some path that tends to make the rope alternate between too taut and too slack. Even then, I make sure I never have more than a few feet and drop it as soon as it makes sense.

 

My 2 cents.

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Thanks Sobo- That's some good data. Though I'm curious- the student who was trying to catch your fall was not able to benefit at all from the extra seconds of warning derived from a slack rope? Stefan continues to make the same logical points I'm concerned with.

 

I think I may still have to try and test this out.. the key question is just how fast the leader (blind to the troubles that might be occuring behind him) can get down into self arrest if given a half second of warning. or, just how difficult is it for the leader to recover into self arrest mode when he's suddenly dragged down the slope by his harness (quite possibly headfirst upside down).

 

Thanks to those who've responded.

 

I'll refer you once again to my earlier post describing the testing we did, and reiterate my statement that you will have no time at all to make any (conscious) decision about getting into arrest mode. You will be jolted to the ground immediately, especially if you are "blind to the troubles that might be occurring behind you."

 

And I agree with Redoubt regarding his comment about folks overestimating the value of yelling "falling". There just isn't enough time to do anything with that information.

 

FWIW, I never yell "falling", in any situation, be it rock, ice, alpine, or volcano slogging. To me personally, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy to yell "falling". IMHO, if you have the presence of mind to summon the words, then you have already taken the peeler in your mind. Instead, prior to committing to a sketchy move or snow bridge, I simply turn to my belayer and say, "Watch me." Then I go about my business and leave it up to him/her to take care of all things falling-related from there. I prefer to focus all my energy and concentration on completing the move, not about falling. YMMV.

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That does not make sense.

 

If you do not have ANY slack you will yank your partner immediately and it will not matter if you yell falling becuase your partner will be falling too with you simultaneously.

 

I think it is important to have some slack when you are going on the uphill side. WHY? When you fall, you immediately yell "FALLING", thereby allowing your partner to react and getting into a self arrest position BEFORE he is yanked by you.

 

IF YOU HAVE NO SLACK AND YOU FALL YOU WILL YANK YOUR PARTNER BEFORE THEY GET INTO SELF ARREST.

 

Really, if you are ascending even a moderately steep slope and your downhill partner falls into a crevasse, you are going to get pulled off your feet, no matter what is going on with the rope. The question is, how violently do you get yanked? If you have slack in the rope, even a little bit, your partner will accelerate and you'll get a huge initial pull on you. If you don't have slack in the rope (standard glacier interval, not taught like a guitar string!), the pull will be a lot more moderate. In both cases, you'll probably fall down. But in the case of the moderate pull, I think you won't accelerate as much, and you will likely be able to self-arrest faster. It is simple physics-- the smaller the initial force, the less the initial acceleration. The less rapidly you accelerate, the better your chances of self-arresting.

 

Timcb, listen to Sobo. No slack. And if you are a two-man rope team, be very very careful.

Edited by Stephen_Ramsey

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Some more un-scientific anecdotal evidence to pollute the discussion:

 

Descending the Bosses Ridge on the relatively crevasse-free summit block of Mont Blanc, I was the downhill member of a 2-climber rope team. My partner and I had about 10 feet of rope between us, he had a couple coils of slack in one hand locked down with a dead coil or whatever you call that tight, final coil in this technique.

 

I caught a crampon on a gaiter and launched myself headfirst into Italy, but because of the tension in the rope my partner was able to react so quickly that I never hit the snow. He literally stopped my fall with one hand. I had such little time to generate momentum that he hauled my tubby ass in with no difficulty.

 

My partner had learned this technique from some Chamonix guides. Apparently this is a widely-used method in the Alps to travel on uncrevassed, steep snow. It relies on a high degree of competence by the uphill climber, but its effectiveness became clear to me. The very next day two American climbers fell in exactly the same spot and tumbled 700m to their deaths in Italy. They were separated by much more rope.

 

Sample size of 1 does not constitute compelling evidence, but I thought it was worth sharing.

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Fromage, there is a big difference between shortroping and roping up for glacier travel. From what you described, it sounds more like shortroping (although 10 feet is a little far to be shortroping someone). Chamonix guides shortrope their clients all over the place. The terrain there is often perfect for it.

But the point here is glacier travel mode, not shortroping. I second what Sobo and Stephen R described. Slack is bad! Generally, you want to have the rope droop enough between climbers so that it skims the snow for about a third of the distance between the climbers. So if you are say, 45 feet apart, the rope skims the snow for 15 to 20 feet in the middle. Thats sort of an oversimplified rule of thumb. Also, you have to think about how much rope you want in the system. For two people, in the cascades, early season when things are hidden, 40-45 feet ought to do it. (distance varies depending on conditions, size of the average crevasse, your skill, etc...) Maybe a little less later in the season, or a little more if you will be crossing sketchy bridges. For teams of three or more people, you can shrink the distance a little bit. For ski mountaineering, I think self arrest can be tough, so I want more rope between me and my partner. In Alaska, with on partner, with enormous gapers hiding beneath the snow, that distance can be 60-80 feet or more.

 

Another guides trick for glacier travel: tie butterfly knots in your rope at a 2-3 meter interval between you and your partner (for 2-man teams). The knots can catch in the lip of the crevasse if someone takes a dive, and they can save your ass if you botch your self arrest. I tested these in the Ruth Gorge two years ago, and I was amazed at how well it works. On the downside, you will have some knots to pass during the Z-pulley rescue. But its not that hard to deal with it.

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Sobo, very informative posts and thanks. I do however disagree with the idea of never yelling out "falling!". Falls often come out of the blue and the person didn't have an clue it was going to happen, ya know? i feel it snaps the team into sharp focus into what they should be doing in that situation and that there is a situation. It may not always be useful but I've been in enough situations where it is helpful.

One example: I was coming back down on Rainier with a climbing buddy and a friend of his who sucked as a climber(not a newbie,BTW, just a crappy climber). I had not climbed with Suck Climber before this outing. Suck Climber was in the middle of the rope and caught a point in his gaiters and went sliding off and down abit . Suck Climber never said a thing, my buddy dropped and caught him when he saw it from above. Being out in front, I didn't drop until my friend finally yelled out "Falling!" from his arrest position FOR his buddy. Until then I had just thought the slight tension pulling me back was Suck Climber just draggin ass again or stopping for another break... until I heard "falling!". Had my friend been yanked from him his arrest position and not yelled "falling!" then I would have had two climbers sliding off to the side and gaining speed .It probably would have yanked me to my death or injury because nobody clued me in that there was a serious problem brewing behind me.

Anyway, my only point is that it can be useful.

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Really, if you are ascending even a moderately steep slope and your downhill partner falls into a crevasse, you are going to get pulled off your feet, no matter what is going on with the rope. The question is, how violently do you get yanked? If you have slack in the rope, even a little bit, your partner will accelerate and you'll get a huge initial pull on you. If you don't have slack in the rope (standard glacier interval, not taught like a guitar string!), the pull will be a lot more moderate. In both cases, you'll probably fall down. But in the case of the moderate pull, I think you won't accelerate as much, and you will likely be able to self-arrest faster. It is simple physics-- the smaller the initial force, the less the initial acceleration. The less rapidly you accelerate, the better your chances of self-arresting.

 

Timcb, listen to Sobo. No slack. And if you are a two-man rope team, be very very careful.

 

I agree you are going to get wacked being the lead dude from the partner who falls below you. But, would you rather SURPRISE the lead partner with being yanked off his feet OR would you want your lead partner to have some ample warning (by the yelling) so he can TRY to get into self arrest BEFORE he is yanked?

 

When I am in the lead, I want a 1/2 second BEFORE being surprised by total yank behind me becuase if a yank comes from behind me, my body will more than likely be yanked onto its back. If I get a 1/2 second from someone yellling "falling" then I will be facing into the slope which is much easier to self arrest.

 

I would rather take my chances at potentially stopping a team fall than being part of the fall. You will definitely be part of the fall if your rope is taught, whereas you will have a chance of not having a team slide IF there is some slack AND the person falling yells "falling" loud enough to be heard.

 

Downhill = always taught

Flat glacier = always taught

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Stefan,

 

But, would you rather SURPRISE the lead partner with being yanked off his feet OR would you want your lead partner to have some ample warning (by the yelling) so he can TRY to get into self arrest BEFORE he is yanked?

It's a tough call. I suspect it's a "glass half empty/full" kind of thing. I figure the odds are very good that if my downhill partner plunges into a crevasse, I'm going to get pulled onto my back either way, so my best chance is if my partner accelerates as little as possible, so I have the best chance of self-arresting for the two of us. I don't have much faith in the idea that I could instantly brace and stop (without needing to do a sliding arrest) a forceful downhill fall into a crevasse. Being surprised would really suck, but I fear the buildup of kinetic energy (which increases linearly with the distance my partner falls) much, much more. But I do see your point, keeping the rope taught is basically giving up the chance to try and brace before the pull.

 

I don't know, maybe Lummox has the most important point of all.

Edited by Stephen_Ramsey

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When I am in the lead, I want a 1/2 second BEFORE being surprised by total yank behind me becuase if a yank comes from behind me, my body will more than likely be yanked onto its back. If I get a 1/2 second from someone yellling "falling" then I will be facing into the slope which is much easier to self arrest.

 

I would rather take my chances at potentially stopping a team fall than being part of the fall. You will definitely be part of the fall if your rope is taught, whereas you will have a chance of not having a team slide IF there is some slack AND the person falling yells "falling" loud enough to be heard.

 

Downhill = always taught

Flat glacier = always taught

 

So, Stefan- just to be clear, your strategy now varies with the steepness of the slope and ascent or descent of the team? your complete summary would then include:

Team ascending moderate glacier or snow = leader carries some slack, followers keep rope taut?

 

I think I would agree with this combo of keeping the rope taut or with a little slack.

 

On glaciers though, I definitely agree with the majority of posters about the importance of a taut rope. Especially on early to mid season glaciers, when punching through hidden crevasses is possible, the sudden shock of a free falling climber with slack rope is a bit scary.

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So, Stefan- just to be clear, your strategy now varies with the steepness of the slope and ascent or descent of the team? your complete summary would then include:

Team ascending moderate glacier or snow = leader carries some slack, followers keep rope taut?

 

Pretty much. If I think somebody is going to fall on a slope behind me then I carry the slack to anticipate the fall. If I think somebody might fall in a crevasse, no matter what the angle whether up or down, then no slack.

 

The question then becomes why would I be on a slope without a picket between me and my partner? There are places where there are crevasses or no crevasses but you still have the rope between you and your partner(s) such as the upper parts of Rainier.

 

One area you might be all familiar with is the DC proper section on the standard route of Rainier. I am on a rope there, there are no crevasses, I don't use pickets in that area, but the fall potential is there.

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