Monday, April 30, 2012

Snow Pickets: Protection or Peril

I am constantly amazed at how many trip reports I see where folks are placing snow pickets vertically (or slightly off vertical) in winter snowpacks. A snow picket placed vertically in anything other than well settled neve snow is basically useless, unless you think that getting brained on the head by the thing as it flies by with great velocity upon inevitable failure is useful.

About the only thing I can see that saves these folks from inescapable calamity is that they are climbing moderate snow routes in snow that takes good steps. Conditions under which only the truly incompetent could fall or, upon falling, go far.

If that vertically placed picket takes anything less than 10 to 15 over the shoulder strikes with a hammer to place, it is not a piece of protection, it's a potential hazard.

What's most bizarre about this practice is that pickets come with this information printed in big black letters on the side, making these folks both incompetent and illiterate.

Need hard data to accept this premise, take a glance at any of these test results:
  • The original NZ paper here;
  • Scary low force high velocity failures here;
  • These guys didn't even test vertical pickets knowing how useless they are. 
Years ago, on a ski-mountaineering trip in the Waddington Range, a friend of ours swore up and down that his pickets were bomber.  We challenging him to build his best anchor, then proceeded to demolish it, with the characteristic vigor of abrupt picket failure, by taking a simple sliding fall on a 30 degree snow slope.  A bomb maybe, bomber no.

"Blah, blah, blah, vertical pickets are worthless"

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