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jerseyscum

Self Arrest Vs Self Bely grasp

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So far, Kurt Hicks and Jason M have provided spot-on explanations.

 

I've never heard of any evidence showing that self arrest grip is any "safer".

 

The upper end mountaineering schools in the PNW (Both AAI's, M-Madness, and several others...) have been teaching students to distinguish between the self arrest grip (pick pointed backward) and self belay grip (piolet canne/pick forward) for up to several decades.

 

There are pros and cons with each of course, and we as instructors have found that the self belay grip suits most climbers most of the time. The canne position (adze under palm) is found to be a little more comfortable when driving an axe shaft in for a 10 hour day, and it is also more appropriate for dagger positions. We have our clients practice going from self belay grip to self arrest grip to full-blown self arrest while sliding down steep slopes in all positions. After 30-60 min of practice, it is surprising how proficient the students become. However, I will also tell my clients that if they feel that some sort of fall may be imminent (usually someone else on their team looking shaky or about to pop thru a weak bridge), they may hold their axe in the more conservative self arrest grip - then switch it back to self belay when out of harms way. We remind them that it is critical to remember how one is holding their axe when going into self arrest - don't want to stab yourself in the neck.

 

I think the fear that drives many to hold their axes in self arrest position in order to more quickly prepare for self arrest is generally unfounded. The falls that seem to surprise people on snow seem to be slips related to steep, wet and/or sloppy snow. In those cases, the snow is often soft enough to plunge the axe shaft in anyway, and self arrest is a slow and sloppy affair. Stop the slip before it becomes a "fall"! It is fairly uncommon to see someone "slip" or "fall" on good, hard, steep snow - especially with crampons being worn. It is even more rare to see people fall on good snow when they are using their axes properly - which usually means piolet canne or apui! The climbers I have seen fall on steep snow have been ones that lacked good foot technique, and usually didn't know how to use their axe properly. I think the moral is - if the fall has high consequences (Just below Denali Pass comes to mind...), then don't depend on a "well executed self arrest" to get yourself out of trouble! Climb steep snow carefully and efficiently, take a belay if you need it, and use good technique to not fall! Use self arrest to mitigate other peoples' slips and falls!

 

Ultimately, each climber should use whichever technique is more comfortable to them - but gain comfort through thorough practice of all methods, not through complacency!

 

Thanks for raising that question, Jerseyscum. It is a good one. BTW. I went back to triumph this year - finally.

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This is one of those things where the way a question is posed seems to demand a black and white answer, when in reality, the answer is "it depends".

 

The times I a most likely to use the self - arrest grip is when I am on easy terrain and NOT actively using the axe for self-belay. I am moving fast, just using the axe for balance, if I slip it is easy to self arrest. Comfort of the grip isn't an issue as you aren't driving the shaft into snow.

 

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I believe you contradicted yourself. First you say

 

I've never heard of any evidence showing that self arrest grip is any "safer".

 

Then you say

 

However, I will also tell my clients that if they feel that some sort of fall may be imminent (usually someone else on their team looking shaky or about to pop thru a weak bridge), they may hold their axe in the more conservative self arrest grip - then switch it back to self belay when out of harms way. We remind them that it is critical to remember how one is holding their axe when going into self arrest - don't want to stab yourself in the neck.

 

This second quote suggests that you think the self arrest grip is safer.

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I think catbirdseat's most recent post is useful advice:

The times I a most likely to use the self - arrest grip is when I am on easy terrain and NOT actively using the axe for self-belay. I am moving fast, just using the axe for balance, if I slip it is easy to self arrest.

 

I would add to it that when travelling on low-angled glacier, where the most likely fall would involve arresting a ropemates fall into a crevasse, would be a good place to use self-arrest grip.

 

On steep snow slopes where one may be using the axe to help move their weight against gravity, the piolet canne position makes more sense.

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Phil - Interesting point. Although I don't see a contradiction, I will attempt to clarify:

 

Some could relate "Safety" to statistics. To others, it may relate to "appropriately managed risks".

 

How many accidents have happened with one axe position vs another? Could any of those accidents have been mitigated by a different axe position? I don't know. It seems like once a person falls in a steep, high consequences environment, the likelihood of that person avoiding injury is less than if they would have avoided falling in the first place.

 

I do not mean to imply that the self arrest grip is "safer" at all (as referenced in my second quote in your post). I think that would be like saying that wearing a parachute when flying in a plane is safer than not wearing one. I merely wanted to point out some examples where it is an appropriate technique when others on your rope team are at risk of a fall. In reading my post again I don't think I did a good job of emphasizing that "when a fall may be imminent" means a fall by another member of your party - not a fall by you. Self arrest grip certainly has its place in a few isolated circumstances. I simply tried to point out a few of those circumstances; my example relates to a person who is using self arrest grip to mitigate the consequences of someone else falling. Right technique, right place, right time.

 

I think for many people this topic can be quite mundane, but I am always surprised at how vigorously debated it is in many mountaineering courses, and i think that it can be fun to debate these nuances.

-Dylan

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Another idle post.:

 

Grasping axe with hand over adz is reasonably believed to result in a more secure placement of spike.

 

Apparently Yvone Chouinard started this debate in his (very seminal) 1978 book "Climbing Ice," in which he unequivocally advocated "self-bely" grasp, suggesting it's quicker & therefore safer and more efffective, to stop a slip with spike of axe (self-belay) rather than falling into self arrest position, at which point one has accelerated.

 

Subesequent edition of "Freedom" included this view, but made no strong endorsement and suggested either grasp was valid. Am unsure of current edition's viewpoint.

 

Teaching rank beginners a technique preferred by (some?) experts may or may not be appropriate.

 

In late 70s NW, I was, of course, taught self-arrest grasp, but in 1990 class with AAI (Bellingham) I was re-educated to use "self-belay" grasp.

 

On a 2002 (AAI) guided climb of Mt Triumph with the remarkably talented alpinist, guide and actually nice guy, Dylan Taylor (who may still hold speed record on Sleese's Buttress route), I used this technique to quickly stop an embarrassing slip on moderate slushy snow upslope from a crevass (though I imagine that perhaps Herr Taylor might have easily saved me/us).

 

Practice during glissading with attendant, repeated & relatively high-speed falls on moderate slopes further boosted my confidence that shifting one hand to self-arrest isn't difficult, and hence I'm sold on self-belay.

(Take care, Dylan)

 

--John Seward

AKA "Jersey Scum"

--------

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Phil - Interesting point. Although I don't see a contradiction, I will attempt to clarify:

 

Some could relate "Safety" to statistics. To others, it may relate to "appropriately managed risks".

 

How many accidents have happened with one axe position vs another? Could any of those accidents have been mitigated by a different axe position? I don't know. It seems like once a person falls in a steep, high consequences environment, the likelihood of that person avoiding injury is less than if they would have avoided falling in the first place.

 

I do know of one death that was associated with the self-belay grip. Peter Morse fell on Kendall Peak in 1999. He tried to arrest using the adze. In the fall he suffered a puncture wound. Bad weather prevented an immediate helecopter rescue and he succumbed before he could be evacuated. I knew Peter, having met him in the gym a few times at the Sabey Building. He worked for the PI.

 

It is possible that, had he used the self-arrest grip, the outcome might have been the same.

 

http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-64108277.html

Edited by catbirdseat

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Get a copy of "Climbing Ice" by Yvon Chouinard and give it a thurough read through. Try these pages for self-belay: pp. 53, 44-45, 47, 51-53, 128, 129, 155, 187; and for self-arrest: pp. 47-49. Or you could always have a look in the index.

 

Since whatever decision will make will be based on snow conditions get out and play, and those crappy warm and wet days are great [pub] practice days. Learn why techniques work and fail so you can use them unconsciously up there. Have fun flailing.

 

As Obi-wan says "this tool is your life".

 

 

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Over last weekend while descending a steep, slushy coulior with some friends new to the game this forum thread popped into mind. While using the self-belay grip it was possible to use the weight of my pectoral girdle via the heel portion of the palm to press on the adze and sink the shaft. This set up a boot/axe belay in a easy fluid motion when one of the folks below skidded out.

 

Food for thought.

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Have any of you seen Gaston Rebuffats' book, "On Snow and Rock"? It has a lot of cool pictures and some of ice axe grip, and gives a fun look at the lineage of our sport.

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I have generally used the self-arrest grip, but I have evperimented with self-belay. You can do self-belay with both grips just fine. The self-belay grip might make it a little easier to self-belay, but I haven't really noticed much of a difference. Sounds like there isn't much of a consensus in the climbing community anyways.

 

Depending on snow conditions, It may actually be easier to self-arrest than to try to get the shaft into hard snow.

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