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Woodcutter

How to simul with 3 climbers: 45 deg+ snow/ ice

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3 of us climbed N Couloir of Buckner last oct, perfect conditions but we had to pitch it rather than simul because I don't know how, or even if it's possible to safely simul with 3 climbers on snow/ ice.

 

Do you do it?

How do you do it?

 

Any thoughts most appreciated.

Jake

 

 

 

 

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I'd just have someone tie into the middle and reclip any pro to the line leading to the third.

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Sounds good.

 

I'm worried about one fall taking all 3 climbers off and the snow/ ice protection being too weak to hold 3 climbers. I don't have a lot of faith in pickets unless you T them in (which takes time), and good ice screws are rare on those mellow angle routes.

 

Would you require the leader to sink more pro?? I reckon this is the way to go, but it means the leader has to carry & place more gear which slows the whole show down.

 

Thanks for the reply.

Jake

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Sounds good.

 

I'm worried about one fall taking all 3 climbers off and the snow/ ice protection being too weak to hold 3 climbers. I don't have a lot of faith in pickets unless you T them in (which takes time), and good ice screws are rare on those mellow angle routes.

 

Would you require the leader to sink more pro?? I reckon this is the way to go, but it means the leader has to carry & place more gear which slows the whole show down.

 

Thanks for the reply.

Jake

 

I'd try to keep at least one piece of pro between each climber. But the nature of steep snow climbing is that it can be hard to protect. If there was no good pro at all I would prefer to climb unroped so one climber doesn't pull the others off. As Ivan said - just don't fall!

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Yup, that's the thing, Don't fall.

The rope helps for peace of mind when you're a few 1000' up feeling exposed.

 

So my formula would be a 60 or 70m rope with a guy at each end and one in the middle. If there is a piece between each guy, that means one picket/ screw/ fluke every 100'.

 

So 6 pickets will get you up 600' before the leader needs them back, and you'd want a belay to bring the other 2 guys up to to gather the gear back. Assume you make the belay from axes, the leader has to carry 6 pickets.

 

Personally I'd solo it, but the rope is nice to have.

Thanks Jake

 

 

Edited by Woodcutter

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I'd try to keep at least one piece of pro between each climber. But the nature of steep snow climbing is that it can be hard to protect. If there was no good pro at all I would prefer to climb unroped so one climber doesn't pull the others off. As Ivan said - just don't fall!

 

Ditto, the above is SOP for many, my self included. Of course it does help if the last person lets you know when they have taken the last piece out. Otherwise just solo.

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The difference between 'security' and 'false security' can be pretty hazy. Seems like it would depend on the precise conditions -- if you're ascending exposed ice, then ice screws might actually help; if it's marginally hard snow then a picket might help but might not, but you wouldn't know until it was too late.

 

Is it better for one to fall and two to be able to rescue them, or risk one fall taking all three down? If the lead climber slipped, there isn't a cascade hardman out there who could hold him after he'd fallen 150' or so of 45-degress slope, picking up speed. Then, God help the third!

 

If the guy in the rear slipped and fell, and there was a few feet of slack, he would likely yank the middle guy off his feet before HE could have a chance to get an arrest position...

 

My personal feeling is, if there's no crevasse hazard, you're safer not being roped.

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catching someone who is falling on 45 degree snow is not as hard as one might think. Between the usually thinner dynamic rope, some friction and the assumption that the falling person is trying to stop, the forces are much lower than a rock climbing situation. Two people should be able to catch one person falling. Unlikely that one person can catch two people falling.

 

would I want to catch a fall? no way. but the forces involved are not enough to warrant a choice to solo the face.

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In 2008, at Alpental a friend and I did some on-snow picket testing with skis.

 

All the tests were done with a 24" MSR Coyote (no cable, just runners), a 10.5mm rope, and the rope was (unrealistically) tied directly to the anchor. Snow conditions were 3-4" of wet corn/slush, and then more consolidated snow below that, on a slope (Sessel) of 15-20 degrees. Speed at impact with anchor felt like ~25 mph(?).

 

Test 1: Vertical placement, top clip, hammered straight into the snow. Skied 30m of rope. Slight tug on harness, followed by explosive anchor failure, with picket landing ~10 feet from where I stopped downslope, pulling the entire coiled rope with it. FAIL.

 

Test 2: Vertical placement, top clip, ~15 degrees back from horizontal, placed below slush level. Skied 15m of rope, with the same results as above. FAIL.

 

Test 3: Vertical placement, middle ("Sierra" style) clip, ~15 degrees from horizontal, below slush level. A slot for the runner was excavated, and then snow was replaced and compacted. Skied 15m of rope. FAIL.

 

Test 4: Horizontal "deadman" placement, ~2' down, with a trench for runner. 15m of rope skied. Anchor INTACT.

 

I don't have any way to easily estimate the forces involved, but the forces were all directed down, and should have pulled the anchor deeper in the snowpack, but they simply ripped straight out through the slope.

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@korup: Tests like you did don't really tell us much given that snow conditions vary so much. If you were on skis at Alpental I'm guessing it was during ski season - which would produce very different results than tests on October snow.

 

 

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a wise man once said that your first and best piece of protection in climbing is your own ability.

 

Fumbling with ropes and protection on easy terrain can often times lead to a fall. Light and fast on easy terrain.

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Fumbling with ropes and protection on easy terrain can often times lead to a fall. Light and fast on easy terrain.

If you follow this logic then why bother learning how to climb with a rope and gear in any terrain? And what is easy? Lots of people might consider 5.4 rock to be easy but will think 45 degree snow is spooky.

 

Learning how to simul-climb and protect moderately snow or ice is as fundamental to alpine climbing as equalizing anchors or rigging a v-thread. If you're climbing in a 3 person team have roughly 50' of rope between climbers. (Be aware that a full 100' between climbers would produce too much impact on gear in the event of a fall.) At all times there should be at least 1 piece of pro - be it a picket hammered in or buried (depending on conditions), a screw or (best yet) rock pro. The middle climber unclips the gear and then clips it below his/her knot (this can be done without every removing the biner from the rope) and when the lower climber reaches the piece he/she communicates to the leader that gear needs to be placed. This is the same method used for ascending / descending crevassed or corniced ridges and it can be done relatively safely if you take the time to do it right.

 

Here are some pix for you of people simulclimbing snow roped up. Lots of people might be fine soloing most of the terrain pictured below... but that's not always an option (for example in the 3rd picture that's my nephew & brother on their first ever snow climb). Learn to place gear for all conditions and it can be done safely.

 

3 people on 1 rope. Pickets used for pro:

IMG_3195.jpg

 

4 people 1 rope. Rock gear used for pro:

wfinley_ruth_2009-05-05_33.jpg

 

3 people / 1 rope. Note the picket:

IMGP0121.jpg

 

3 people / 1 rope. Note the pickets. Two have been placed here due to this spot being famous for having collasping cornices:

IMGP2224.jpg

 

 

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in my noob inexperience, there's absolutely no reason nor excuse for roping up on steep snow/ice without bomber protection. solo those parts, or use GOOD protection and belay. if the slope isn't steep enough to blast pro (falls not necessarily causing immediate terminal velocity down the slope) then snow pickets seem reasonable for minor OOPSY!s, but otherwise- if you can climb it, you can solo it.

 

it's not like rock where you have nothing but gravity keeping you attached to your holds- your 'pons and axes give you the ability to be STUCK to the wall with a minimum of 3 points at any given moment, if you're really scared.. it doesn't get much better than that, and i'd really rather not have somebody else yank me off of that.

 

i love my teammates, but no so much i care to follow them into the bergshrung/fumerol/into the void.

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Honestly, Unless the slope is tough neve, ice, or insainly crevassed I will almost always go unroped. It's a personal choice, but I find I can focus and move with more precision and speed when I'm not trying to organize and push clanking, dangling pickets out of my crotch. If you can get good steps than a rope isn't really needed. If the snow is unconsolidated than no amount of pro is going to help. I understand that other people operate differently. Just my two cents.

Edited by jordansahls

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FYI, it was March, with heavy, compacted Cascade muck.

 

The important point is that the fast-and-easy placements all failed, even in dense, wet snow. The only one worth a damn took too long to be useful for simulclimbing.

 

Your results will vary, but after that I decided hammering in pickets = psychological pro.

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march is a bad time of year for snow protection. I have pulled out deadmaned pickets in march but had good success with pulling tests in july through august with vertical placed pickets. It has been strong enough that 4 guys pulling hard could not pull it out. Even a dynamic pull with 4 guys. One time, I even deadmaned a 2 inch rock and could not pull it out.

 

It is all about the snow pack and time of year.

-If the snow is strong, then chances are the steps are hard to make and the need to simu is there. A fall here will get fast quick and self arrest is undoable. (classic example of this is denali pass about high camp)

- If the snow is weak, the steps are big, deep and easy and the need to simu is not there. A fall here will stop with very little effort due to friction.

 

to discount vertical placements is not look at the year round picture.

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"march is a bad time of year for snow protection."

 

Agreed, and I don't want to start a pissing match, but this was a slope that had been skied, compacted and refrozen (Hyak is the lowest ski area in the state) all season. I stand by my statement. If it is soft enough to drive a vertical picket into, I don't trust it.

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As mentioned above if there is minimal/no crevasse hazard just solo. Unless there is good rock pro along the sides of a couloir or ice for placing screws I feel much more comfortable soloing rather than having the false security of a rope on marginal pro.

 

This can lead to some sticky situations, e.g. after soloing through an area with no/very little pro if one climber is injured and unable to solo back down through that area self rescue can be made more difficult as your party is forced to rely on janky pro for a belayed downlclimb/lower or fail upwards.

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"march is a bad time of year for snow protection."

 

Agreed, and I don't want to start a pissing match, but this was a slope that had been skied, compacted and refrozen (Hyak is the lowest ski area in the state) all season. I stand by my statement. If it is soft enough to drive a vertical picket into, I don't trust it.

 

I agree but with slight modification. If a picket can be placed vertically by hand, I don't trust it. If it takes many whacks with a hammer or top of the axe, I trust it.

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Simulclimbing is first a time saving technique (avoids untying between technical pitches) that should only be used when one has a high degree of confidence in one's partners. If there is no part of the climb that demands pitching it out, it's probably better to not tie in. The upshot is that less experienced climbers have to practice more to become confident on steep snow or belay everything.

 

Here is a sobering analysis of short roping that discusses the probabilities of arresting a fall on snow/ice: http://amga.com/images/misc_PDFs/news/short_roping_3_09.pdf

 

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