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Author Topic: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale  (Read 40233 times)
KenR
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #25 on: 05/27/08, 07:19 AM »

European perspective . . .

I've been skiing in France + Switzerland a lot in recent years, not much in the Cascades. When I did more spring skiing in the Cascades I did some unroped skiing on glaciers, with happy results.

In Europe I do lots of springtime skiing on glaciers, and this is what I see:
* Nobody ever ropes up for skiing down.
* Almost nobody ropes for skiing up.
* Some people solo on glaciers (including me sometimes)

Examples:
* last year around Zermatt, Switzerland in late April -- giant glaciers with giant crevasses [ photos ]: Skiing from the Monte Rosa hut up to the Dufourspitz and Nordend (two highest peaks in Switzerland) -- zero parties roped. Two days later skiing up to the Zumsteinspitze + Signalkuppe (different Monte Rosa summits reached by a completely different glacier): I saw zero parties from the Swiss side roped, 2 out of say 30 parties from the Italy side roped climbing up.

* this May on Toedi in the Glarner Alps, Switzerland [ photos ]. At least a hundred skiers climbed on a sunny Saturday -- on the upper glacier (with some crevasses visible), I saw zero roped.

Qualifications:
* in both situations, it was a big snow year for that region - (that's why my partners and I chose to go there).

* in both situations, it had been at least 3 days since the last snowfall, including at least one full day of bright sunshine, and it was springtime and not real cold.

* not much wind in the last snowfall.

* lotsa people ski the good tours in Europe, so if I'm patient and give up on untracked snow, I can allow lots of other skiers to "test" the crevasse zones before I climb up or ski down them.

While it's true that I could possibly fall thru a crevasse in any situation, I think the probabilities are much lower if I'm taking advantage of those four qualifications, and much higher for skiers who are not.

Carrying lots of extra safety equipment can be a good idea, but I think the first line of defense is to get the probabities working in my favor of not punching into a crevasse at all.

For some more Euro perspective, see the crevasse death articles in March + April 2008 on www.pistehors.com - (the forums on pistehors.com are sort of Turns-All-Year for France).

Ken
« Last Edit: 05/27/08, 07:22 AM by KenR » Logged
KenR
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #26 on: 05/28/08, 05:38 AM »

Then there's this fundamental "strangeness" about roping for climbing up on lots of ski tours:

* the forces on the snow surface tend to be stronger when skiing down.

* the crevasse bridges tend to be weaker at the time of day skiing down.

* navigation tends to be less careful while skiing down.

* sometimes a separate descent route has more crevasses than the up-route (because we chose not to climb up it because of risk of serac fall).

But we usually ski down un-roped.

So the "strangeness" is that if we really think the crevasse-bridge danger is significant enough to make us want to rope for climbing up on skis, then why are we out skiing this tour on this day at all?

Europe observations refined:

* guided ski parties more often rope for climbing up. (but not for skiing down, and two of the crevasse-bridge deaths in France this year were clients of guides).

* rando racers in Europe more often compete as teams, and I think rules for some spring races require doing certain sections roped, so they need to train for good coordinations climbing on skis roped together.

* I sometimes roped up for climbing on skis even when other parties did not, like earlier this month thru the Buuch icefall of the Piz Bernina.

Ken
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Big Steve
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #27 on: 05/28/08, 01:27 PM »

Lauds to all the experienced contributors to this thread. 

I am compelled to contribute the following:

Team arrest while on skis is very difficult, even impossible in some circumstances, especially when equipped with only ski poles or a Whippet.  If you don't believe me, try it.  I am persuaded that, in the rare event that a roped skier falls in a crevasse, there is a substantial risk of a team member being pulled into the same crevasse.  Thus, I have surmised that, if a rope is going to be used by a team of skiers during glacier travel, the better method is for each skier to wear a harness (and carry prusiks, slings, rescue gear) and have at least two members of the team carry a short rope, keeping those members apart from each other.  sb's recommendation of 20m ropes for each party member achieves this, of course.  There is at least one other rationale for this method: ski edges have caused rope failures, and keeping ropes away from ski edges is trickier than avoiding stepping on a rope with crampons.

Also, a skier's fall on the Coleman was reported on TAY last year: http://www.turns-all-year.com/skiing_snowboarding/trip_reports/index.php?topic=7348.0
That one hit close to home for me because I have dangled for a few frightening seconds over a crevasse by my arm pits on the Coleman (no skis).
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Stugie
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #28 on: 05/28/08, 03:20 PM »

We were one of the groups behind the said "crevasse fall" group that day on baker.  We were roped up, but had debated.  We always rope up for the ascent, if on glaciated terrain, and that event helped to solidify that mentality.  Even with skis, you can still manuever fairly easily with an axe in hand.  On the down, no rope.  Not unless you're belaying for a highly prone avy area or rappelling to a line.  Although team arresting on skis is more difficult than without, I prefer the option of my fall possibly being arrested as to the alternative...just my opinion. 

One other thing I think is interesting is I read a lot of "Nobody ever..." or "Almost nobody...".  A wise mountaineer once told me, "Just because the bootpack is well traveled and visible doesn't mean it's the best route."  I know I won't jump off the allegorical bridge.  Despite the hindrances, I still feel the odds are much more in my favor to rope up on the up.
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korup
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #29 on: 05/28/08, 03:45 PM »

Some discussion of the same topic here-

http://cascadeclimbers.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/ubb/showflat/Number/796283#Post796283
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #30 on: 05/28/08, 04:38 PM »

Also, a skier's fall on the Coleman was reported on TAY last year: http://www.turns-all-year.com/skiing_snowboarding/trip_reports/index.php?topic=7348.0
That one hit close to home for me because I have dangled for a few frightening seconds over a crevasse by my arm pits on the Coleman (no skis).

I don't think that was a skier's fall. I think the person who fell in was walking.

I am persuaded that, in the rare event that a roped skier falls in a crevasse, there is a substantial risk of a team member being pulled into the same crevasse.  Thus, I have surmised that, if a rope is going to be used by a team of skiers during glacier travel, the better method is for each skier to wear a harness (and carry prusiks, slings, rescue gear) and have at least two members of the team carry a short rope, keeping those members apart from each other.

If you are roped up on the ascent (which is what most people have suggested) and you are following the leader's track, the person with the greatest risk of falling into a crevasse is the leader, since he/she is the first to cross the bridge. Since you're ascending, the leader is generally above the rest of the party. If the leader falls into a crevasse, the pull on the rest of the rope team is going to be uphill. I think the risk of being dragged into the crevasse is significantly smaller in this case. Of course there are other scenarios that could happen, but my feeling is that, when ascending a slope, I would rather fall into a crevasse while roped to my ski companions then while unroped.
« Last Edit: 05/28/08, 04:42 PM by Lowell_Skoog » Logged
Big Steve
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #31 on: 05/28/08, 05:28 PM »

I don't think that was a skier's fall. I think the person who fell in was walking.

Lowell, my interpretation of the account was that she was wearing skis when she fell.  I recall some reference to skin tracks leading to the hole she created when she punched through.

If you are roped up on the ascent (which is what most people have suggested) and you are following the leader's track, the person with the greatest risk of falling into a crevasse is the leader, since he/she is the first to cross the bridge. Since you're ascending, the leader is generally above the rest of the party. If the leader falls into a crevasse, the pull on the rest of the rope team is going to be uphill. I think the risk of being dragged into the crevasse is significantly smaller in this case. Of course there are other scenarios that could happen, but my feeling is that, when ascending a slope, I would rather fall into a crevasse while roped to my ski companions then while unroped.

That's a good point, and one we considered when altering our method of glacier travel while on skis after our experience with the team arrest practice.  One of the group shared your view and thus decided to carry ropes on flat or low angle terrain, and rope up on the steeper slopes.

But, as you observed on a prior post, glacier ascents sometimes occur while traversing, and thus the leader is sometime no so far above the other team members, even on a substantial slope.

My principal points are that: (a) the difficulty of team arrest while on skis is a factor that should be considered when deciding on roping strategy; and (b) even very experienced ski mountaineers may not realize just how difficult it is to team arrest, having never tried to do so.  How to apply factor (a) is situational.
« Last Edit: 05/28/08, 05:33 PM by Big Steve » Logged
Lowell_Skoog
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #32 on: 05/28/08, 05:43 PM »

My principal points are that: (a) the difficulty of team arrest while on skis is a factor that should be considered when deciding on roping strategy; and (b) even very experienced ski mountaineers may not realize just how difficult it is to team arrest, having never tried to do so.  How to apply factor (a) is situational.

Excellent points.
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Ken M
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #33 on: 05/28/08, 07:04 PM »

The difficulty of team arrest is a point that I've considered with regards to this scenario. While there was some softish wind-drifted snow over the glacier that day, it was quite firm to icy under that. I am a graduate of the Mountaineers Glacier Travel/Crevasse Rescue class, during which we practiced arresting crevasse type falls. It seemed reasonable to arrest in such a situation, but our practice was conducted in soft, spring like snow conditions. Ski edges seem like a prime tool to arrest crevasse falls, but during our practice sessions, it was not uncommon to be ejected from releasable bindings. If we had been roped up at the time of the incident, I'm not sure we all would have been focused on having an ice axe in hand. While I was not necessarily happy to free-fall into the crevasse, I was quite glad that my partners had the rope, radio, and main anchors. I was also glad I was the only one to go in- as I mentioned before, gravity works fast, and once the second person is over the lip, the standard 3 person rope team would have a hard time stopping, let alone extracting, the fallen.
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Kyle Miller
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #34 on: 05/28/08, 07:13 PM »

I don't think that was a skier's fall. I think the person who fell in was walking.
As stugie had stated before we were up there that day and talked with the group for a few minutes. They were bootpacking up to the low saddle when she fell into the crevasse and there were no skis at there camp.
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #35 on: 05/28/08, 09:16 PM »

A little historical perspective. I interviewed Walt Little in March 2001 and asked him about the ski mountaineering course he started for The Mountaineers before WWII. Walt was the grandfather of ski mountaineering instruction in the Northwest. Here are some notes from our conversation. Walt was recalling events 60 years earlier, but he was a sharp guy, so I presume that his memory was mostly accurate:

Quote
Ski mountaineering course, 1941-42

Walt and others became interested in longer tours to higher summits. He skied Mt St Helens four years in a row before World War II. He recalled that May 25 was the magic date and they had great skiing every time they went. Around 1940, Walt collaborated with other members of the Mountaineers to create a course for ski tourers who wanted to ski mountains, not just go cross-country. They wanted the course to be complete, to cover winter camping and appropriate mountaineering techniques. This became the Mountaineers ski mountaineering course. About a dozen people were involved organizing the course.

They consulted European books about skiing on glaciers, but concluded that the books hadn't got it right. One book showed skiers carrying big coils of rope, but that was no good. There should be no slack in the rope, to minimize the length of a fall. The books also recommended ropes that were too short. Walt's group found that 200 feet of rope was desirable, with at least three people on a rope. 100 feet was not enough. The longer rope gave more friction to stop a fall. They spent a few weekends experimenting at Paradise. They would send a skier over the cornice in Edith Creek Basin and practice stopping the fall and performing a crevasse rescue.

They ran the course for two years until it was stopped by World War II. They created a course syllabus, but Walt didn't keep any of the materials (see msc-1941). After the war, Walt lost interest in the course and John Hansen took it over. I asked whether other clubs had comparable programs at the time. Walt didn't know, but he thought the Sierra Club might have.

I thought Walt's observations about rope length were especially interesting.
« Last Edit: 05/28/08, 09:21 PM by Lowell_Skoog » Logged
Stugie
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #36 on: 05/28/08, 09:51 PM »

Thanks for sharing!  Lowell, you've met with some really neat people and groups to do some great things in the PNW.  As for the Mountianeers and how the fundamentals have changed in the mountains, I find the observations about rope length really interesting too...I think now (at least according to the latest Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills edition) they recommend 3 people on a 120 ft. rope, also aknowledging "where truly humongous crevasses exist - the Himalayas or Alaska - greater spacing may be necessary." (pg. 340 in 6th ed. - 7th says the same, I just can't find it right now...lol)

Any guesses as to why the figures changed?  Differences in rope material?  Larger crevasses in the PNW back in the 40's?  I wonder if the static rope of that time in longer increments created more friction actually reducing the fall than lengthening it as one might think the extra length would do?
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"The mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals; the houses where I practice my religion." - Anatoli Boukreev
Paul_Russell
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #37 on: 05/28/08, 10:52 PM »

KenR, thanks for your observations from the European perspective.  I spent my first time there on glaciers this April.   My impression was that the standard approach to rescue was to call for help and get hauled out of a crevasse by helicopter (I think they fund rescue support differently).  So much for the z-pulley.  I was told that there had been 40 crevasse rescues this season (as of mid-April) and 3 deaths.  The glaciers and crevasse hazards were on a much greater scale compared with what I have experienced here, with access much easier and by far more skiers (sometimes directly from or in lift areas).  As you noted, almost no one ropes up on ascent or descent from what I observed.   We didn't.  On the Vallee Blanche and Vallee Noire glaciers, there were ski tracks everywhere crossing through heavily crevassed areas.  

From a personal perspective, I was far more conservative as a climber on glaciers to rope up (almost always).  In my years of skiing, roping up as become increasingly infrequent.   On the Rainier circumnav last July, I think we roped up on maybe 4 of the 20 glaciers we crossed.  On the one descent which we roped up, the risk of pulling a partner off balance or skiing over the rope seemed to outweigh the benefit of stopping a fall.  

I will note, however, that my two close calls while skiing on glaciers have involved descents, not ascents.  Once in April, a snow covered crevasse on the Quien Sabe collapsed as I skied over it.  Fortunately my forward momentum carrying me over the crevasse as I fell forward after hitting the downhill lip with my skis.  If I had been turning differently, I may have fallen in rather than over the hole.   Many years before, I skied over the edge of a large open crevasse that was not visible from a roll above.  Looking back and seeing your tracks over an open crevasse gives one pause.  From my experience, I would not minimize the risks of descending glaciers on skis.
« Last Edit: 05/28/08, 11:03 PM by Paul_Russell » Logged
David_Coleman
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #38 on: 05/29/08, 12:25 AM »

Although I'd agree that the leader has the most risk of falling, Amar was behind the leader on his partial crevasse fall last month on the White Salmon.  From what I recall him saying, he saw a small dark hole created where Jeff broke trail, so there was some evidence that something was there.
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KenR
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #39 on: 05/29/08, 07:04 AM »

Despite the hindrances, I still feel the odds are much more in my favor to rope up on the up.
If there's any significant risk of crevasse-bridge failure, you usually are safer.
On the ascent.

My question is:
Now that we made it up the ascent without any crevasse bridges failing, why do we then feel confident to unrope for skiing down?

For me it's a bit like avalanche risk. We dig a pit, snowpack looks not too unstable. Does that mean it's safe for us to ski the slope?
Maybe not.
That's why people started promoting approaches like the "Munter method", which didn't rely on digging and analyzing pits.  And lots of very intelligent experienced skiers I know don't dig pits very often.

It's usually clear what to conclude and decide when the results of testing the snow are scary. The problem is what to do when the results are not scary . . . We "tested" the crevasse bridges in specific places by walking gently on them with skis when it was cold early in the morning, and got to the top without punching through. But in the Cascades, that's what happens climbing on skis 99.99% of the time.
So how much have we really learned about whether it's now safe to unrope for the descent?

my two close calls while skiing on glaciers have involved descents, not ascents.
From my experience, I would not minimize the risks of descending glaciers on skis.
And I think the 3 crevasse-bridge deaths on France this year were on descents.
When I said, "Nobody ever ropes up for descents", my point was not that that's a smart practice -- only that my observation in lots of places is that that's how skiers actually do it.

That's why I raised the question about the "strangeness" of roping up.
I'm thinking it can be dangerous to have a practice of climbing roped -- if it makes a party of skiers feel that practice makes it OK to go out in a questionable place on a questionable day -- and then after the climbing up works, then it's OK to descend unroped (which is surely what they will conclude and then do).

It's dangerous if relying on the rope for climbing up is a substitute for sober analysis of crevasse risks. (Just like it's dangerous if relying on beacons + shovels is a substitute for sober analysis of avalanche risks.)

Ken
« Last Edit: 05/29/08, 07:08 AM by KenR » Logged
Stugie
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #40 on: 05/29/08, 11:28 AM »

My question is:
Now that we made it up the ascent without any crevasse bridges failing, why do we then feel confident to unrope for skiing down?

Confident isn't quite the word I would use, but instead I would say it would be 'less hazardous'.  I think the reson behind not roping for a descent is based on simple physics.  On a descent (unless rappelling or belaying for avy safety as I stated previous), the likelihood of being pulled into a crevasse is much greater due to the angle of the slope and the skier's orientation to the hazard (uphill) and the angle of pull (pulling downhill).  Obviously, the danger of falling through a snow bridge is ever-present, no matter if it's up or down.  However, taking a skier/snowboarders speed, weight distribution, and the ease of being pulled downslope as opposed to upslope, it seems to me that traveling roped uphill (or when traversing as has been discussed as well), the benefits of roping up outweigh the cons.  On the downhill, I feel the possible hazards of roping up outweigh the pros.  Hope that explains where I'm at on the issue...but it's just my 2 cents...interested to hear what others have to say... Smiley
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Big Steve
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #41 on: 05/29/08, 11:35 AM »

I thought Walt's observations about rope length were especially interesting.

Very interesting indeed.  I assume that a rope in 1941-42 was significantly less dynamic than today's modern ropes, and thus the force on the arresting skier would have been greater back then, thus in theory corresponding to longer time/distance to team arrest.  Although I often use a short (3 on a 30m) rope for glacier travel, I must acknowledge that I feel safer with 3 or 4 on a  60m (c. 197') or 50m (164') rope (longer, less impact force, more time to team arrest, more rope for rescue).

Re fallen climber on the Coleman, I stand corrected.  Apparently, the skin tracks referrenced in the account were created by someone else.  
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Big Steve
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #42 on: 05/29/08, 11:49 AM »

My question is:
Now that we made it up the ascent without any crevasse bridges failing, why do we then feel confident to unrope for skiing down?

I can only speak for me, of course.  IME, descending while roped presents an additional set of hazards, including: (a) increasing the likelihood of a second or third skier being pulled into a crevasse (see previous discussion re team arrest while on skis); (b) damaging the rope with a ski edge; and (c) getting tangled up in the rope while skiing.  Thus, for me, descending unroped usually seems the better option.  YMMV.  Again, roping strategy is situational, and equally competent and experienced alpinists may select different strategies in the same conditions.

Like others who have commented here, my team has roped up when others in the area are unroped (and often have no rope available).  Sometimes the youngsters give me a "what a fuddy duddy old goat that guy must be" look, but that sort of leer no longer affects me because, after all, I am a fuddy duddy old goat.
« Last Edit: 05/29/08, 11:59 AM by Big Steve » Logged
Lowell_Skoog
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #43 on: 05/29/08, 12:18 PM »

Wow, lots of good discussion in this thread!

After posting the notes from my conversation with Walt Little, I pulled out my photocopy of the ski mountaineering handbook that Walt wrote for the Mountaineers' first ski mountaineering course in 1941-42. I have two editions of this handbook, one from the 1941-42 course (143 pages) and one from the 1942-43 course (71 pages). I photocopied them both from U.W. Special Collections, Accession 3272. I have not looked carefully at the differences between these two editions.

I found the section on glacier skiing in the 2nd edition and transcribed a chunk of it. I've inserted it below for your interest. Roy Snider, an old-timer (now deceased) who helped Walt Little with the original Mountaineers course, told me that Walt "wrote a book" for the course and that he loved to teach. Roy's comment suggests that Walt was the primary author of this material. I think republishing it is a nice way to honor Walt Little, who passed away in 2002 at age 92.

Walt's handbook is remarkable for how much thought he and his collaborators put into the question of glacier skiing. I can't recall seeing such a thorough discussion in any modern book. The thing he seems to emphasize most is the importance of keeping a tight rope. I suspect that the early Mountaineers understood well the difficulties of stopping a fall on skis and this was a key lesson for them.

Quote
GLACIER SKIING

From "Ski Mountaineering," a handbook for The Mountaineers ski mountaineering course prepared for the 2nd year of the course beginning in autumn 1942 (p.  63).  Lead author: Walter B.  Little.

Reasons For Glacier Skiing

Glaciers present opportunities for skiing later in the season than would otherwise be the case.

Glaciers must sometimes be crossed enroute to the desired terminus.

Frequently glaciers present best approaches to the summits of peaks.

Glacier skiing highly enjoyable to some, requiring more varied, skillful skiing, and avoidance of obstacles.

A ski-mountaineer should be able to safely ski on glaciers in case of an emergency.

Characteristics Of Glaciers

Glacier is formed of ice in various stages of transformation from snow to ice.  Glaciers form at high elevations from large snowfall and low temperatures, slowly move downward by the pressure of their weight and melt away at lower end.  At about 8,000 feet in early spring, cross section of glacier from top to bottom shows: new snow, old snow, solid neve from previous year, grainy ice, solid ice.  Higher up there will be relatively more snow and neve; lower down there will be relatively more ice.

Downward movement of ice over and around irregularities in its bed causes crevasses; cracks don't usually form in ice fields where there is no movement.  The junction of 2 glaciers is generally well-crevassed.

Types and locations of Typical Crevasses:

1.  Bergschrund forms at the top of glacier where moving ice pulls away from ice and snow attached to the rock walls of the glacier cirque; usually large and deep.

2.  Marginal crevasses are formed at edge of glacier because ice in center moves faster than ice on sides.  Normally these are not large and run diagonally upstream from edge of glacier. Crevasses form at right angles to glacier movement.

3.  Longitudinal crevasses run up and down glacier; usually found on top of longitudinal ridges in the glacier; infrequent occurrence.

4.  Transverse crevasses run crossways of glacier; usually found on top of humps or ridges of glacier; frequent occurrence and sometimes very large; probably the most dangerous type.

5.  Seracs are ice pinnacles formed by intersection of lateral and longitudinal crevasses.  Usually found in ice falls.

6.  When glacier passes over a steep drop in its bed, an ice fall is formed with all types of crevasses.

7.  When glacier goes around a curve in its bed, numerous crevasses of many kinds may be expected.

8.  Ice wells and ice caves sometimes found at lower terminus, caused by melting.

Remember that the glacier doesn't know that there are any rules about crevasses and will crack wherever a mechanical stretching action occurs.  Safest rule: expect any kind of a crevasse anywhere; use close observation to select your path.  Crevasses are bridged with snow during the winter, because of wind action forming cornices on the crevasse edges.  Bridge is weak at first when snow is powdery, stronger after it becomes thicker, and stronger still after much thawing and freezing in the spring have converted the powder snow to crust, then progressively weaker toward the summer as it becomes thinner and finally collapses from thawing.  Slope of a glacier may be as much as 45 degrees above the bergschrund and over ice falls; may be as flat as 1 degree.  Skiing not practical when slopes exceed 35 degrees.

Moraines are accumulations of rock debris on the edges (lateral moraines and terminal moraine) and possibly the center of the glacier (medial moraine).  Crevasses are nearly as frequent on medial moraines as on glacier.  Lateral moraines are safer.

Sources Of Danger To Skiers On A Glacier

Fall into a concealed crevasse (relatively frequent occurrence).

Fall into a crevasse whose presence is known by reason of the collapse of weak snow bridge (relatively rare occurrence).

Fall into crevasse because of snow collapsing when skier stands too close to edge (rare).

Uncontrolled slide down steep slope into crevasse.

Caught in avalanche from steep slopes above, or one started by yourself.

Caught by fall of serac (very rare).

Caught by bad weather - get lost and freeze.

Frequency Of Fatal Accidents To Glacier Skiers

Arnold Lunn states the following figures for twenty-five years of Glacier Skiing in the Alps:

Total killed by falls in crevasses - 9; on the ascent, unroped - 4; on the ascent, roped - 2; on the descent, unroped - 2; cause unstated - 1.  Apparent that had rope been properly used, crevasse accidents would have been limited to 3 at the most, out of probably several thousand glacier skiers.

Methods Of Avoiding Dangers On A Glacier

Avalanches must be avoided by means discussed elsewhere.

Fall of seracs is uncertain and infrequent; beware in hot weather, and watch for poor foundations, or tottery condition.

Concealed crevasses can frequently be recognized by slight depressions of the snow over the crevasss, by slight discolorations, or inferred extensions of visible crevasses under the snow.  Test for concealed crevasses by plumbing with ice axe or reversed ski pole; detour around them, unless you are anxious to make the "falling body" test for the strength of snow bridges.

Falls into crevasses, visible or concealed must be limited to short, harmless drops by proper use of rope.

Uncontrolled slides down steep slopes can be limited by use of rope and belay from partner, ice axe or ski-tail anchors, and arrest of slide by use of ice axe pick.

Never bunch the party.

Never allow more than one on a snow bridge at a time.

Don't attempt to ski on ice - use crampons.

If weather turns foggy take compass bearings and mark route.

Turn back if weather gets worse.  Avoid being caught on glacier in storm.

How To Tie On The Rope

Use 7/16" or 1/2" Manila Climbing Rope.

For downhill skiing, skiers spaced 60' to 100' apart,  Only two on rope.

For uphill skiing, skiers spaced 40' to 100' apart.

Tie single loop around waist with bowline, or double loop around waist with bowline-on-bight.  One loop over shoulder not recommended.  Waist loop as loose as possible, but must not slip over hips or shoulders.

Tie half hitch or two for safety in front of the bowline.

Using Prusik knots, tie two rope slings to the rope in front of waist loop knot; for use in crevasse rescue, anchors, and belays.  Pass the loose ends of slings down through your waist loop, tie loosely around waist or stick them through belt, or in pocket.  Keep one sling in hip pocket (extra).

Fundamentals Of Roped Glacier Skiing

Always keep the slack out of the rope in order:

1.  To limit possible falls to 3 or 4 feet.

2.  To prevent "Falling Body" from gaining speed, causing severe jerk on rope which may break rope or the victim's ribs.

3.  To aid in preventing rope entanglement with ski tips. 

Do not carry a coil of the climbing rope in your hand.

Party must travel so that there is no danger that two members may fall in same crevasse; this means that rope should be at right angles to line of crevasses.

Do not use an old, worn rope.

Always expect a break through - then you won't be surprised.

Remember, when you put on the rope, it's for safety.  Don't nullify the safety angle by skiing at high speed.

Go slow - if the leader of your rope falls in, you will have a better chance to stop the rope.

Always ski in control.

Roped Skiing - Uphill - Easy Terrain

Walk uphill as in ordinary skiing, all following leader's pace. Only difficulty comes in turns.  Skiers following in same track will cause slack in rope after the first man kick turns and starts new traverse.  To prevent this, all skiers stop together at same time, and kick turn in order, top man first, then each starts out on new track.  In certain cases this is impossible and special attention must be given to avoid slack in rope.  Two on rope is easiest, and safe enough in easy terrain.

Roped Skiing - Downhill - Easy Terrain

Two on the rope is the most practical, three on rope is safer.

Man in front should be the poorest skier of the party, last man the best.

The last man on the rope is the leader, and gives orders when to turn, stop, slow down, etc.

The party proceeds slowly, under complete control, all turning at once, where possible.  If skiers do not turn at same time, slack will form in rope with resultant jerking.

Some jerklng on the rope is inevitable, and frequently leads to bad tempers - be careful of yours.

After a jerk, the first man should speed up a trifle, last man slow down a trifle, otherwise slack will form in the rope again, leading to another jerk.  The rope may be parallel to the fall line, be horizontal or diagonal, depending on the lay of the crevasses.

First man skis normally, pole in each hand, follows leader's instructions as to pace, route, etc.

Second and last man put both poles in one hand, use the other to flip rope away from ski tips.

Party moves much more slowly than on practice hill of same slope - for safety's sake.

Roped Skiing On Dangerous Terrain - Both Uphill And Downhill

Should be three on rope for safety, or better yet, 2 ropes of 2 staying close together.

All skiers ski with ice axe in one hand, one or both ski poles in the other. Some prefer to put ski poles in pack, use axe only.

Only one man moves at a time, slowly and steadily, ready at all times to arrest a slip with his ice axe. First man across a slope should make a good track.

Other members on rope anchor themselves, one or two giving a belay to the moving man.

Several types of anchors and belays, as follows:

1. Fasten sling or rope loop to ice axe, thrust axe in snow up to head, give shoulder belay to moving partner.

2. Sit on slope, thrust tails of skis in snow up to foot, give hip belay to partner. Rope to partner passes between skis.

3. Sit astride lower lip of crevasse or ice ridge, give hip belay to partner.

4. Belay rope around serac or ice pinnacle.

5. Belay rope around ice axe thrust in snow, with knee helping keep axe down. Not recommended if snow is powdery or soft.

When giving a belay, brace yourself against the direction from which the strain will come.

Don't rely on ice axe anchor or ski tail anchor unless snow is firm.

If there are only "x" feet between the belay and the danger spot, the moving skier must not advance more than "x" feet from his belay, then anchor and bring his partner forward.

Special Problems In Roped Skiing

1. Going downhill cross narrow bridge thus: No. 1 anchors and gives a strong belay to No. 2, who approaches in line of bridge with strong stem; when he gets to bridge, pulls skis together, runs bridge straight without braking, makes controlled fall or quick stop turn on lower side. On gentle slopes no belay needed, both skiers keeping on the move. Once across, best belay No. 1 can give to No. 2 is to proceed downslope, keeping slack out of rope, while No. 2 runs bridge. Going uphill cross bridge thus: No. 1 crosses bridge with sidestep or herringbone, being careful not to stamp skis hard for fear of breaking bridge, while No. 2 remains on lower side, giving strong belay. Once across No. 1 anchors, gives belay while No. 2 crosses, or proceeds slowly upslope if terrain easy, keeping taut rope on No. 2.

2. Narrow bridge over one crevasses with open crevasse just downslope and parallel to first. Going downhill proceed as in (1), except that No. 1 stops at lower end of bridge (across crevasse), anchors and belays partner across. Going uphill, proceed exactly as in (1).

3.  Zig-zag path through interfingering ends of crevasses - going downhill danger lies in fact that skiers can't turn together.  Resultant slacking and jerking of rope handled badly may jerk skiers into crevasse.  Party reduces speed, gives careful attention to rope so that under no conditions will the rope tend to pull No.  2 into one of the crevasses.  Last man should travel as close to the lower lips of crevasses as possible.  If conditions are bad enough, skiers move one at a time with belays.  Going uphill, skiers carefully keep slack out of rope, using anchors and belays when necessary. 

Later subsections include:

Strength of Snow Bridges
Crevasse Rescue
Use of Ice Axe in Glacier Skiing
Required Preparation for Glacier Skiing
Additional Equipment for Glacier Skiing
Route Finding on Glacier
Glacier Skiing Questions

I haven't transcribed these because they are less interesting and this post is long enough already. The following subsection, on the other hand, is interesting in light of this discussion thread:

Quote
When To Put On The Rope

Always use the rope when on a glacier, unless it is absolutely certain that no crevasses exist. Some recommend taking chances on unroped skiing in order to get more fun. Chances of breaking through in April and May are slim, but only an expert who knows what he is doing should accept even a small risk.
« Last Edit: 05/30/08, 07:51 AM by Lowell_Skoog » Logged
KenR
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #44 on: 05/29/08, 05:04 PM »

I had thought the reason the Cascades had a long history of few skier crevasse problems because of the maritime snowpack -- when really it was because so many took Walt's course.

I like the logic of his approach: He believes that skiing on a glacier is significantly risky -- therefore ski downhill roped, and learn to get good at it.

Ken
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Jason_H.
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #45 on: 05/29/08, 06:44 PM »

The history was interesting Lowell. Good stuff.

KenR,

I believe if everyone roped up on descents down glaciers, there would be more issues because of that. To me, for the amount of people that ski on glaciers, the risk is minimal when going downhill. Your comparrison to avalanches doesn't hold for me. People die in avalanches all the time. Crevasse falls for people skiing down a glacier, such as mentioned in Lowell's piece are likely from people skiing into them, rather than bridge collapses. A safety measure then would be to watch where one is skiing rather than having a rope. I could only imagine a 100 people skiing down the CD route on Baker (saw that many last time I was there), all with ropes. This would be more of a danger than a safety measure in my opinion. I think of rope clusters on Hood and can only imagine the stupidity that would ensue with noobs skiing roped up, among the few who could maybe make it passable for skiing. How many people have died ski mountaineering in washington??? I can think of a few, sadly one in the past month. But take out avi, there are very few who have fallen, taken a crevasse fall and died, or other such dangers. All I'm saying is that skiing roped would cause more troubles that gains, and I think that would be the case no matter how good you are at it. 

All this being said, there are glaciers I've been on that would be wise to rope up on, even on the descent, but better I wasn't in those places at all. Kind of like going and skiing an avi prone slope. You take your own risks then.

Mostly I wanted to clarify my thoughts Ken and maybe understand your thoughts a bit more. Not to confuse either traveling up on glaciers. This is where I agree with you somewhat.  I think roping up on glaciers in early winter and early spring is often important. Even though I often don't, it isn't a decision I take lightly, ever. I know and understand the consequence. Many times I turn around on climbs because of dangers such as glaciers, etc. Risk management is part of any activity I do in the outdoors. As ski mountaineers we must become excellent risk managers. I weight them out in consideration to everything that can befall me, not by the mere possibility that an activity may or may not save me, such as using a rope. Time, weather, snow, rockfall, icefall. All of these concern me. I try to limit all of them where it makes sense.

BTW, Ken M...glad you are safe.
« Last Edit: 05/29/08, 07:52 PM by Jason_H. » Logged

korup
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #46 on: 05/30/08, 09:05 AM »

Lowell, thanks for digging up all that historical context. Strange how a 1940's text has far more to say about it than anything around today! Does Martin Volken's guide have a section?
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Stugie
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #47 on: 05/30/08, 09:27 AM »

Lowell, nice history lesson!  Thanks Jason too, great perspective on this topic and well worded.  Very interesting how they emphasized the "command" aspect of the last skier and the teamwork with rope movement and overall team travel.  I like the emphasis as sometimes I feel people forget there is a team aspect to mountaineering as well as the individual challenge.  Good points.  As we're getting into this a bit, does anyone know what kinds of glacier (ski) techniques were used before the 40's?  I'm impressed with the cohones of the early pioneers of our sport...and DEFINITELY happy about the advancement in rope technology (dynamic, 9mm, dry)!

(I love "working" on this website...lol)
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"The mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals; the houses where I practice my religion." - Anatoli Boukreev
Lowell_Skoog
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #48 on: 05/30/08, 09:45 AM »

Lowell, thanks for digging up all that historical context. Strange how a 1940's text has far more to say about it than anything around today! Does Martin Volken's guide have a section?

Martin's handbook has a lot of information about glacier travel and roping, but it is broken up into several places throughout the book--for example transitions, roped uphill travel, and belayed skiing. I don't think there is a discussion of roped downhill skiing on glaciers. (The section on belayed downhill skiing is oriented toward steeps, not crevasse hazard.) The key paragraphs that address the issues raised in this thread seem to be on p. 188, "Transitions from Unroped to Roped Travel in Glaciated Terrain":

Quote
Going from unroped to roped travel is another tricky topic, and the proper execution of this judgment call is completely situational.

Though it can be highly inefficient and unnecessary to rope up on glaciers while touring uphill, it is not wrong to do so. It can be tough to choose the right technique, expecially if there is crevasse-fall hazard in steep and potentially frozen terrain. For a complete discussion of roping up, see "Roped Travel" in chapter 6.

If you're transitioning from unroped to roped travel in a downhill skiing situation, be prepared to reduce your speed downhill. Roped skiing technique has to be impeccable, flawlessly coordinated, and you must be aware of the limited holding power you have in the event of a fall (expecially in hard-snow conditions)--gravity will be working against you. Navigating crevasse-fall hazard in downhill mode can be very tricky. Skiing downhill while roped is most often done with each person snowplowing or sideslipping. Also see "Advanced Skiing Techniques: Skiing on Belay" in chapter 7.

For what it's worth, here are some notes on the first complete ski descent of Mt Rainier in 1948. Chuck Welsh, the leader of that trip, was a graduate of Walt Little's second ski mountaineering course in 1942-43. The techniques described in his trip report are right out of Walt's textbook:

Quote
Cliff Schmidtke, Dave Roberts, Kermit Bengtson and the author left the cabin in Glacier Basin at 1 am and climbed to Camp Curtis. Conditions were good for climbing on skis over the next 3000 feet, but higher hard snow prompted all but Dave Roberts to switch to crampons. Roberts continued on skis all the way to the crater rim. They dropped skis and crossed to the summit register by 2 pm. On the descent they skied two to a rope, each man carrying a ski pole in one hand and an ice axe in the other. Down the first 2,000 feet of icy snow, they frequently moved one at a time, the stationary man giving a running ice-axe pick belay. Lower, the snow softened and they entered clouds before rejoining their support party at Camp Curtis.

I should clarify that I'm not arguing that one or the other approach is right or wrong here. I just think it's interesting to understand how we got to where we are today, and what some of the options are.
« Last Edit: 05/30/08, 12:53 PM by Lowell_Skoog » Logged
Keith_Henson
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Re: May 4, 2008- The Cautionary Whale
« Reply #49 on: 05/30/08, 10:17 AM »

As I read this I keep remembering the trip report (though I can't remember the peak) where Sky K (Sj), (Cascade bad ass hardman deluxe), is on roped belay as he starts down the slope.

While on glaciers, skiing or otherwise, I am always conscious of avoiding the natural convivial tendency to form a group (herd) when stopped. If you are over a hidden crevasse, 6 people standing on top of it is spooky. Keep your distance!

I would assume this might be a bigger issue for snowboarders who, at least at the resorts, herd up like walruses...!
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Keith A Henson, Puyallup
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"Let's go! That powder's not going to ski itself."
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