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Safety in the Alps


#1

Alain F6ENO asked about the security on the mountains. I think this is a vast subject. G4YSS has already released Safety notes for the activators. I will postpone my comments on this subject to a later time.

73, Jaakko OH7BF/F5VGL


#2

In reply to F5VGL:

Many of the objective dangers that can be experienced in the Alps can also be experienced in the Scottish mountains in winter, since due to their position the Scottish mountains experience a sub-arctic climate. The effects of high altitude are not a problem in Scotland, and stonefall is less common than in the Alps, but otherwise what goes for the Alps goes for Scotland. The same can be said for the highest mountains elsewhere in the UK in a hard winter, so this topic should not be seen as applying only to the Alpine ranges.

Anyone want to kick-off?

73

Brian G8ADD


#3

In reply to G8ADD:
The following post from Gerd, DF9TS, appeared three times, I attempted to remove the duplicates and the original disappeared too, probably I had finger trouble, sorry Gerd!

"In reply to G8ADD:

In addition to G4YSS’ notes may I suggest (if you know German) the following reading:
Pit Schubert: Sicherheit und Risiko in Fels und Eis, Bergverlag Rother (25€)

This book, written by the person in charge in the German Alpine Mountain Club (DAV) summarizes/analyzes accidents of the last 25 years and what could have been done about it.
As Brian pointed out rightly this info applies also to non-alpine but exposed high areas.

I am sure similar literature exists in other languages / countries.

Regards,

Gerd."

73

Brian G8ADD


#4

In reply to F5VGL:

G4YSS has already released Safety notes for the activators.

I was looking for John’s safety notes and found it on SOTA website. Thanks Jaakko.

Alps or Scottish mountains, I think we need to carry some basic safety equipment, not only for high mountains and for winter.

73 Alain


#5

In reply to F6ENO:

Even on an easy hill I carry map, whistle, compass, headtorch, a cagoule, emergency food supply and bivouac bag, they are always in the rucsac (except for the map) so I don’t need to remember to pack them. Other equipment is packed according to the severity of the climb and expected conditions. I also make sure that someone knows my expected route and expected time of return.

A question for the experienced: is it better to use walking poles or a walking axe on the easier hills in snow conditions - I’ve only begun to use poles in the last couple of years and haven’t tried them in snow yet.

73

Brian G8ADD


#6

In reply to G8ADD:

I’ve been up 102 hills in the last 21 months or so. I guess that makes me an experienced newbie. I work with some guys who are experienced walkers and climbers. (Experience over 4000m in the Alps, twin ice-axe winter climbing, rock climbing, 2x completion of Munros, multiple traversals Cuillin Ridge etc.) They’ve been coaching me on what I should and should not attempt especially with regards to winter snow and ice. It’s like having an enormous reference library of interactive routes and guidebooks sat next to me. I’m now at the point that I’m likely to invest in a basic walking axe for the coming season. I don’t like going out in snowy conditions now without the walking poles as you can use them for poking the ground to see how deep the snow is etc. The thing you learn very early on is that whilst poles help you maintain balance on icy surfaces, the haven’t got the strength or mass to be able to hold you on real ice. They certainly are flimsy, even expensive Leki quality items. Attempting to break the ice with them on big puddles is a guaranteed fail if the ice is 2cm thick or more. Whereas a good clout with an axe would see that ice break. Likewise poles will bend easily if you try to use them to stop a slide.

So whilst walking poles are a help they are not a replacement for an axe. I know that when I’ve punted I’ll be eager to try out my toy. My work colleagues are insistent that I go out with them and learn how to use it properly to arrest a slide etc. before I get myself into a position where I have the right equipment but don’t have the knowledge on how to use it correctly.

Andy
MM0FMF


#7

In reply to MM0FMF:

I started using a Grivel Mount Blanc axe and crampons last year for the first time and the best piece of advice I can give is learn to use them from experienced winter walkers/climbers before venturing out with them alone.

Glyn


#8

In reply to G8ADD:

A question for the experienced: is it better to use walking poles or a
walking axe on the easier hills in snow conditions - I’ve only begun
to use poles in the last couple of years and haven’t tried them in
snow yet.

Hi Brian,

You must use an axe only if you have to walk on ice or hard snow. Your two walking pole are OK for fresh snow; one of mine can support my camera.

I only use my axe and crampons when I climb a glacier.

Alain


#9

In reply to F6ENO:

This is what I suspected, Alain. It may just be possible to do a self-arrest with a walking pole, but I wouldn’t like to have to depend on it! I always practise self-arrest with my axe on the first hard snow I meet in winter, next time I’ll have a go and see if my ideas on how to do it with a pole work.

That’s good advice, the first decent bit of snow that you encounter each winter, a shortish slope with a runout onto the flat below it, should be used for practise. Self-arrest, step cutting, and if its suitable and you have them, climbing in crampons. Crampons are the biggest single justification for wearing gaiters, people have died from catching their crampons in their trousers!

73

Brian G8ADD


#10

In reply to G8ADD:
I always practise self-arrest with my axe on the first hard

snow I meet in winter, next time I’ll have a go and see if my ideas on
how to do it with a pole work.

I think that a pole is too flexible for self-arrest, but it depends how hard is the snow.

Alain


#11

In reply to F6ENO:

I was thinking of sliding my grip down to above the spike and gripping just above the spike with the other hand before pressing the spike into the snow, but it would have to be done very rapidly before my speed became too great to halt. It would need the poles to be held without the wrist loop. Definately one to try out on safe ground!

73

Brian G8ADD


#12

In reply to G8ADD:

The Scottish mountains might even be more difficult than the Alps below 2500 m in normal outing conditions. My understanding from your posts is that you have often temperatures around freezing with high humidity and high risk of icy slopes. In such conditions you do not normally walk up in the Alps. Rock and ice climbing is then a different story.

Safety material has its pros and cons. It should be simple and easy to use. And light weight. I would take the standard safety equipment for the same type of outing that the people do anyway. Then the next question is: Can I carry also some radioamateur equipment to the summit? Like it is said in the G4YSS notes, it is better to leave out the extra radio material to reduce the weight if necessary. I think the radioamateurs should seek for simplification and reduction of weight in their radio equipment. This is a similar process that has been going on in the other mountain sports past hundred years. To phrase it - less can be more.

73, Jaakko OH7BF/F5VGL


#13

In reply to MM0FMF:
Hi all

Have just been reading all the posts on this subject.
My advice. I am an experienced mountaineer and SOTA activator. I have climbed extensively in Scotland summer and winter and in the Alps and Pyrenees in the summer. Two axes, steep ice, 4,000 meter peaks ect. Walking poles should NOT be relied upon for self arrest on snow. If you fall this will probably be because of hard snow / ice. You would have the wrist loop on and you need to react quickly to prevent speed build up. You need a reliable tool that can be quickly applied, only an ice axe can do this. A pole will be useless on hard snow or a thin layer of snow on hard ice. If you don’t stop quickly you may die… Anyone going on the Scottish hills in winter when the snow is down should take an ice axe and know how to use it. Practice and an experienced teacher are essential. Crampons are excellent on steep snow / ice but you must practice… It is easy to catch trousers or gaiters with them leading to a fall. The best rule is if in doubt turn back, there will be another day.
Ice axe essential, crampons very useful.

In Scotland in the winter it is important to carry a spare warm jacket and some form of survival bag. The weather turns very quickly from fine to blizzard conditions. In my experience the weather in the Alps is more stable ie
you can see things are on the change but have time to descend before it gets too bad also you only go into the high mountains when the weather forcast is good. In big mountains you need to go as light weight as possible to avoid the need for emergency bivis. I have bivied out in the Alps many times intentionally, uncomfortable and cold (light weight gear!)! I have managed to avoid emergency bivis. If you pack lots of warm gear for a comfortable bivi guess what? You will go slow then need emergency bivis. So fast and light is the way to go,so light weight radio gear is essential! I haven’t activated any 4,000 meter mountains yet. Maybe next year. Would be a hard 10 points compared to Ben Nevis! Takes two days on the hill.

73
Adrian

MM0DHY


#14

In reply to MM0DHY:

All this is true, Adrian, I too am experienced, leading in the middle grades on Scottish ice (up to grade IV) and would always have an axe. However, I am curious about whether a self-arrest is possible with a pole and will experiment the first chance I get. This is a different thing to depending on it!

73

Brian G8ADD


#15

In reply to MM0DHY:
Hi Adrian

I haven’t activated any
4,000 meter mountains yet. Maybe next year. Would be a hard 10 points
compared to Ben Nevis! Takes two days on the hill.

Here, we often go fist day to a hut, and sleep there comfortably ( well, not realy…) and then go climbing the second day, waking up at abt 03h in the morning.
Hope to hear you next year from a high french summit

73 Alain


#16

In reply to G8ADD:

I am curious about whether a self-arrest is possible with a
pole and will experiment the first chance I get.

It is certainly possible to do a self-arrest with a walking pole. I was forced to demonstrate this while doing an activation in Austria. However, it is a poor substitute for an ice axe for several reasons:

  • poles are too long to be easy to use for an arrest

  • the tip of many poles are held on a plastic insert. This bends during an arrest, reducing its efficiency

  • the control and pressure that you can exert in a standard ice-axe arrest is not available with a pole because you cant bring your weight to bear on it - unlike the head of an ice axe.

  • when falling, the second pole gets in the way (possibly dangerously).

I very much doubt that a pole could be used effectively in anything other than the mildest and simplest of situations. I was lucky and came away with nothing more than a badly grazed arm and being rather shaken. Next time I will not rely on a pole and will have my ice axe instead.

73

Richard
G3CWI


#17

In reply to G8ADD:

Some references:

Club Alpin Francais: Manuel de la montagne - there is a chapter on the safety. In the Alps a lot of emphasis is put on the stability of snow conditions, in search and rescue of avalanche victims. The search is also commonly practised in ski clubs.

http://www.ffme.fr/secours/

http://www.skirando.net/ has nice handbook of security.

http://www.camptocamp.org/ tells the difficulties in the standard outings. A lot of discussion going on in here.

73, Jaakko OH7BF/F5VGL