Monday, June 11, 2012

Short On Information On Short-Roping

I rarely short-rope in the mountains and never short-rope on glaciers. I find the technique most useful on moderate alpine routes where there are good stances - behind boulders, over ridge-lines, etc. - or horns, fins, boulders, etc. to quickly sling for added protection. In other circumstances, such as climbing steep snow slopes, I find the idea of tying myself to another person without any reliable protection in place (deadmen, snow pickets, etc.) tantamount to playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun. One person slips and doesn't immediately self arrest, and we are all sliding down the mountain. A quick, remarkably efficient way to turn one injury or fatality into a massacre.

Some research conducted in New Zealand after a high profile accident where a guide and both clients were killed after one client slipped on easy terrain, led to some research on holding power and holding forces. The results were not encouraging. The average recreational climber might, if they happened to be carrying a "guide-loop" which most recreationalists do not, be able to hold a short fall on soft snow up to 40 degrees, on harder/firmer snow and with no guide-loop the chance of holding a fall diminished rapidly. Sobering data. Further tests in Europe confirmed these findings.

Yet, you still see people short-roping glaciers and/or snow slopes. Short-roping on a glacier has to be reserved for the truly witless, as, not only will you/your party have no chance of holding a fall if someone slips, but, if one person happens to punch through a snow bridge and fall in a crevasse, the rest of the party is likely to follow the leader in. In other words, you've compounded your risk by short-roping - you have no protection against crevasse falls and no protection against another member of your party falling and pulling you off. Dumb meet dumber.

Roping up on snow slopes, unless you are going to place bomber protection is also fool-hardy, but most climbers seem to recognize this and don't do it. Short-roping on glaciers, however, seems to persist. If the glacier is so steep that a fall is possible, the only thing you can do to increase your safety is to choose your partners wisely. Do what I do and don't tie onto the rope with anyone who does not have a solid self-belay or self-arrest and can't demonstrate solid snow climbing skills. Generally, these folk are pretty obvious. But, be careful, the incompetent snow climber could be you.

Easy snow climbing, pointless to tie everyone together

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