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Norman_Clyde

unroped on a glacier?

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I'm curious how the crowd feels about the principle of always roping up on a glacier. I suspect that most of us stay roped, and express dismay at idiots who don't, except for those times when we break our own rule. So: if you travel unroped on a glacier, how do you justify it from a safety standpoint? Do you think that this risk is reasonable to assume under some circumstances?

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In Washington, in the spring, with hard ice or corn, you can get away without using a rope. Some people think the rope will take the place of route finding and skill. Many group leaders (like the mountaineers) disagree. I think that is because they have huge inexperienced groups of climbers. I would never rope up with someone I just met that day. Also, if I had to climb back down rather than ski, I would rope up. You take your own risks in the Winter.

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i rope up when necessary, probably about 75% of the time on glaciers. in spring/early summer it really isnt necessary. i descended the whole fisher chimneys route from summit in july once without roping up. following a beaten trail with no punch throughs. tongue.gif" border="0

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I strongly feel that a rope can, and often is, a very dangerous security blanket. There is absolutly no substitute for awareness (inward and outward awareness of the type talked about in "The Book of Five Rings") on a glacier. The absolute reliance on a rope can be fatal. If you don't know for sure that your partner(s) can stop your fall and get you out if you fall, in then the rope should only be considered like a manky, rattlie piece of pro. It does little harm being there but can't be counted on. That being said a rope is clearly appropriate for a true belay ( solidly anchored) to cross a suspect bridge. On safe terrain or open cravasses a rope will slow down a party no matter how well balanced they are as a team.

A rope is no substitute for spending the time to read the snow surface, probe or go around suspect areas. I will not ever rope up with people without an anchor or a complete confidence in their ability when I am playing for keeps.

I have punched in soloing a couple of times and realized that my mistake was not in the lack of a rope but in my failure to read the snow surface and terrain. I solo a fair amount and to be safe I am sometimes forced to go slow and careful or avoid areas alltogether. I often bring a short rope to self belay across a suspect bridge.

Practice being aware and diligent at all times on a glacier roped or not and you will learn to see the signs and be a safer climber. I have heard of way more serious accidents happening from inexperienced climbers using and falsely relying on a rope than of accidents caused by not having a rope.

Infact, several years ago I helped pull a dieing climber out of a cravasse in the Himalayas in a spot that nobody should have been. It was the perfect place to have serious hidden cravasses, there was an easy alternate route, and the depression in the snow was obvious to even a casual observation. His 3 man team had a rope and all the gear to quickly get him out but had been unable to stop his fall or extricate him. They clearly thought that because they had shiny new gear they didn't have to worry. If we had not been in the area his stupidity and inexperience would have been fatal.

All of the above also applies to knowing how to self arrest with your axe. If don't know that you can stop yourself in 25ft from an inverted back down slide on 45° hard pack... get out and practice.

My 2 cents.

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I would suggest the following rules of thumb:

Ablation zone of the glacier? rope not needed.

All other situiations. Rope needed. Of course a rope does not substitute for knowing what the fuck you are doing with it, but that can be said about any aspect of roped climbing

Examples: corn snow? rope neededno visible crevasses? rope neededspring/early summer in the cascades on a glacier? rope needed

Have I followed this rule of thumb always? No. But I was gambling with my life. Will I always follow this rule of thumb? I am prone to following it alot more since I got a stern talking-to by a climbing partner who I respect greatly, after saying something like "its corn snow, no visible crevasses, blah, blah, blah" The truth is YOU NEVER KNOW unless you are on ablation zone.

Do you REALLY want to be known as the idiot who died unroped on Sulphide Glacier?

Alex

[ 02-15-2002: Message edited by: Alex ]

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quote:

Originally posted by Alex:
I would suggest the following rules of thumb:

Ablation zone of the glacier? rope not needed.

All other situiations. Rope needed. Of course a rope does not substitute for knowing what the fuck you are doing with it, but that can be said about any aspect of roped climbing

Examples: corn snow? rope neededno visible crevasses? rope neededspring/early summer in the cascades on a glacier? rope needed

Have I followed this rule of thumb always? No. But I was gambling with my life. Will I always follow this rule of thumb? I am prone to following it alot more since I got a stern talking-to by a climbing partner who I respect greatly, after saying something like "its corn snow, no visible crevasses, blah, blah, blah" The truth is YOU NEVER KNOW unless you are on ablation zone.

Do you REALLY want to be known as the idiot who died unroped on Sulphide Glacier?

Alex

[ 02-15-2002: Message edited by: Alex ]

John Clarke spent 30m years doing month-long solo traverses through the Coast Range, mostly on glaciers and ridges... he only ever punched through one crevasse and that was while setting up his tent shocked.gif" border="0 like TG says, knowing how to read the snow is the biggie.

soloing on a glacier is like soloing on easy rock, in terms of failure consequences. it may be dangerous but it sure is fun and lots of people do it...my advice to anyone wanting to try, is, 1) get some experience travelling with a rope on2) make up your own mind

not dissing anyone for always roping up and hopefully no disrespect for my choice not to.

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"Its alot of fun and alot of people do it"

So is Crystal Meth, but I would not recommend that in a Newbie forum!

Everyone makes these choices all the time, in the interest of speedy travel over alot of ground, or being able to go alone. But people need to realize that travelling non-ablation zone glacier is a very dangerous thing, despite how many people dont think much of it simply because they've never had the good fortune of popping through something, breaking an ankle, and dying on the mountain.

I think John Clarke and Freb Beckey should get into the BATTLE CAGE!!!! We could call it,

Battle Cage: Pacific Northwest Legends!

I bet Beckey would win.

[ 02-15-2002: Message edited by: Alex ]

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quote:

Originally posted by Alex:
I think John Clarke and Freb Beckey should get into the BATTLE CAGE!!!! We could call it,

[qb] Battle Cage: Pacific Northwest Legends!

I bet Beckey would win.

[ 02-15-2002: Message edited by: Alex ][/QB]

it is like apples and oranges or clams and oranges... Clarke only ever roped up about 3X in his life but he climbed like 200 first ascents every year... all "John Clarke 3rd class", namely 5.4-5.6... dude can outwrestle a grizzly bear and dig like a wolverine...and he smells like a goat...

one time David Hughes (the old CAJ editor)even gave him some fancy shiny lycra 'cuase he was sick of always seeing some pictures of him in the same white polypro with holes in it. grin.gif" border="0

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I swear, every BC climber I have ever known worhips John Clarke

all "John Clarke 3rd class", namely 5.4-5.6...

whoh dude! hard core! sounds very much like "Beckey fourth class" rolleyes.gif" border="0

dude can outwrestle a grizzly bear and dig like a wolverine...

[sleep]

and he smells like a goat...

So does the Sale chick, but now they are giving her a Gold Medal? must be a Canada thing... rolleyes.gif" border="0

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Clearly Clarke outclasses this guy named "Freb".

What kind of a poser changes his name to Freb anyway. I checked; "b" and "d" aren't very close on the keyboard.

Sorry, Alex, I didn't mean to start a typo spray precedent...but I couldn't resist. rolleyes.gif" border="0

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Beckey and Clarke arent even in the same category, Beckey is a climber and Clarke is a small-m mountaineer.

the dude is so cool though. you got to meet him. a super freak of freaks. he called the route he did with peter croft, "the mule and the acrobat". then after he went back to camp peter soloed 3 more routes on the same 1000' tower that afternoon.

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It always mistifies me when I walk past roped groups on glaciers in the middle of summer where all of the crevases are open, and one of them has to say "where is your rope, You are on a Glacier you know" Alex, do you think it is really impossible to garantee safety by climbing something like the sitkum glacier without a rope in the summer? Are you a mountaineer? Or just a member of one of those groups that I pass everytime I ever get on a Glacier in the summer.

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"where all of the crevases are open,"

how do you know?

Alex, do you think it is really impossible to garantee safety by climbing something like the sitkum glacier without a rope in the summer?

yes, I think it is IMPOSSIBLE to guarantee safety on any glacier when you are not on the ablation zone. It may be IMPROBABLE that you will fall into something on the Sitkum. Do you understand the difference? If you did you would understand my argument and fucking wake up. Have I soloed the Sitkum? Sure. Would I solo it again? Sure. Can I guarantee my safety and those of the others soling the route with me? Absolutely not.

Are you a mountaineer? Or just a member of one of those groups that I pass everytime I ever get on a Glacier in the summer.

rolleyes.gif" border="0

Wow, dude, you are hard core. You must be so fast to pass all those people! By implying that I might be a Mountaineer...oh, my heart condition! Someone save me! Aldesair, save me from my slow pace and my ignorance!

[sleep]

Alex

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More flamage! More Flamage!

[big Drink] I am going to get some more guiness and come back for the festivities!

Alex is my new hero because he finally flames someone. Hurray for Alex!

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I figured this thread would be good for some differing opinions. My 2 cents: any unroped glacier travel poses a risk of crevasse falls, but there's a huge range of risk, and sometimes it's reasonable to travel unroped on certain glaciers at certain times of year. I descended the Sitkum solo after a laborious roundabout ascent of Glacier, 3 hours of slide alder purgatory up Baekos Creek, because I decided it was better to descend a glacier in the presence of other climbers than to proceed solo back the long, complicated way I had come up. All the crevasses were so wide open, no soft snow anywhere (it was August), that the chance of a crevasse being hidden seemed small enough.

On the other end of the scale, speaking of Fisher Chimneys: I met a party last year that had just ascended the North Face of Shuksan unroped. One of them had punched through to shoulder depth on the way. They thought this was very amusing. I watched them descend our trail on the upper Sulphide, where I had seen several barely hidden deep crevasses. They never paused. Any of them could easily have been the one remembered for dying on the Sulphide because they were unroped.

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I tend to agree that unroped glacier travel poses a risk of crevasse falls and that there is a huge range of risk.

Sometimes it's very reasonable to travel unroped.

Many glaciers in Wyoming's Wind River Range are very large, but vey slow moving and flat resulting in few crevases and generally appearing in very predictable areas.

Also many smaller glaciers in the Cascades are receeding and almost remants making the crevasses very predictable.

Sure sometimes, in fact often, it is just stupid. But then again who cares. Your life, your risk.

2 cents

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Dear Norman Clyde,

I typically don’t post that much on this site, but felt compelled to do so in this situation due to much of information provided to your original question.

Obviously you should be proficient in navigating glaciated terrain and know how to perform self and team rescue scenarios.

With that said the AMGA/UIAGM recommends the following guidelines (not verbatim just a summary):

1. Rope up on all wet glaciers. Meaning glaciers that contain seasonal snow on them. Regardless of snow cover, temperature, and your skill level, you might still find yourself punching through. I have punched into crevasses in mid winter, and also in mid summer. The snow thickness that covers or fills crevasses is predictable to some extent but is not 100%2. Travel un-roped on dry glaciers. Dry glaciers are glaciers on which all/most of the seasonal snow has melted off of and the “dry” glacier ice is exposed. You can see the danger, and you can avoid it by careful route finding and good cramponing technique. It is also wise to be un-roped in these situations because the likelihood that your rope team can affect a full arrest of a fallen climber on solid glacier ice is unlikely (the accident on the Coleman Glacier last September may have been a result of this). You can still use a rope for sections of dry glacier that are steep in a belay type situation. (e.g., climbing the Entiat Ice Fall, or Ice Cliff Glacier in late season or other similar steep glacier/ice fall route).

The guidelines I have summarized above are the ones you will find being taught by most (if not all) reputable guide services, and are generally excepted around the world and by the UIAGM.

If you have any additional specific questions, please feel free to email me.

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alpine tom,

i read that story too - i think the italian was renatto casaratto. and according to that story, that crevasse had been crossed by unroped climbers hundreds of times that season - but the lip broke on renatto.

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This advice all strikes me as perfectly accurate, but not very practical. The problem with all these recommendations -- wet vs. dry, accumulation zones vs. ablation zones, “reading the snow," is that they're of little use to a "newbie." The dotted line that so clearly separates the ablation and accumulation zones in the illustrations in “Freedom of the Hills” is often less visible on the actual glacier. Being able to read the snow is exactly what a newbie is NOT going to be good at.

In my personal experience, which includes several solo glacier crossings, the only time I’ve seen a crevasse fall was on the Interglacier, in September, close to the rocks, when it looked perfectly reasonable to travel unroped (The leader, who went in, had the rope safely tucked in his pack! We’ve still never told his wife about the incident.)

From my days of reading about the exploits of the Himalayan masters, I read about how Messner fell into a crevasse at the outset of his solo ascent of Everest, and (that Italian who’s name escapes me) fell into a crevasse and died after his solo sprint up K2 in 1986, in sight of the base camps. So, experience isn’t entirely protection.

I think the reality is that most people, roped or unroped, don’t experience crevasses falls. Those that do usually experience small enough crevasses that they don’t actually go in. So it’s a combination of statistics being in your favor, and some luck. And, occasionally, disaster. If you go up normal routes on Sulphide Glacier or Inspiration Glacier, or following the boot-track on DC, you’ll likely be pretty safe. If yours are the only footprints on the Challenger Glacier, you’re probably taking a fair risk, no matter how well you can read the snow.

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I chose to travel over the "last part" of a glacier on my way down from Baker once. It wasn't really justifiable from a safety standpoint as you put it; I just didn't want to be roped up anymore. Two of us opted out of being roped up; two of us didn't. I don't think the risk was all that reasonable, but then again there are many of us who do risky things every day ... driving without a seatbelt on, having a few too many drinks, etc.

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I don't know what gets more posting; roping up on a glacier or TR's for Leuthold Couloir? Anyway, it doesn't matter Leuthold's a great route (which I still haven't done....dammit) and ropes and glaciers go together like peanut butter and jelly, or beer and pretzels if you prefer.

 

Let's face it, climbing IS dangerous, but it's also fun. So why not help take out some (some, not all) of the potential danger and rope up. No matter how many crevasses you see, even if there appears to no more room for another one, there still could be one hidden....and that's all it takes.

 

Just throwing in my two cents. [smile]

 

Craig

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Alpine Ascents guide falls into a crevasse. I've never been to Alaska; maybe someone who has been to this particular area and knows of the crevasse danger has some comments.

 

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/134448806_rescue05m.html

 

Further up this thread, some folks have mentioned climbing without a rope when they could see the "obvious" crevasses. Here, Mr. McCullough states "This one that got me, there was no evidence of it at all." Article states that he fell 50 feet into the crevasse. Had a bunch of slack in the rope? Maybe Alpine Ascents will post some notes on their site out the accident.

 

Seems to me that roping up on a glacier is prudent, considering people who are years of experience in certain geographies can still fall victim.

 

Anyway, FYI on the accident.

 

-Allen

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Mattp and I were talking this weekend about how this subject was due to pop back up. Its the right season for it.

 

[laf]

 

BTW Conditions on Alaskan glaciers are very different from the Cascades. For one thing everything is much bigger.

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Didn't Mugs Stump fall in a hole? If a guy like that can guess incorrectly, so can I. I'll be wearing a rope, thank you very much.

 

[ 05-06-2002, 07:51 AM: Message edited by: pope ]

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quote:

Originally posted by pope:

Didn't Mugs Stump fall in a whole [sic]? If a guy like that can guess incorrectly, so can I. I'll be wearing a rope, thank you very much.

he got crushed by a falling serac.

roped up, or not, it's all fun and games until somebody pokes their eye out. Best advice I ever got was that if I got hurt, or killed, climbing, I would "look like an asshole." In short, don't be an asshole.

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