Equipment and Maintenance
With mountainous terrain encompassing a large portion of the world's land mass, the proper use of mountaineering equipment will enhance a unit's combat capability and provide a combat multiplier. The equipment described in this chapter is produced by many different manufacturers; however, each item is produced and tested to extremely high standards to ensure safety when being used correctly. The weak link in the safety chain is the user. Great care in performing preventative maintenance checks and services and proper training in the use of the equipment is paramount to ensuring safe operations. The manufacturers of each and every piece of equipment provide recommendations on how to use and care for its product. It is imperative to follow these instructions explicitly.
Currently, CTA 50-900 provides adequate footwear for most operations in mountainous terrain. In temperate climates a combination of footwear is most appropriate to accomplish all tasks.
a. The hot weather boot provides an excellent all-round platform for movement and climbing techniques and should be the boot of choice when the weather permits. The intermediate cold weather boot provides an acceptable platform for operations when the weather is less than ideal. These two types of boots issued together will provide the unit with the footwear necessary to accomplish the majority of basic mountain missions.
b. Mountain operations are encumbered by extreme cold, and the extreme cold weather boot (with vapor barrier) provides an adequate platform for many basic mountain missions. However, plastic mountaineering boots should be incorporated into training as soon as possible. These boots provide a more versatile platform for any condition that would be encountered in the mountains, while keeping the foot dryer and warmer.
c. Level 2 and level 3 mountaineers will need mission-specific footwear that is not currently available in the military supply system. The two types of footwear they will need are climbing shoes and plastic mountaineering boots.
(1) Climbing shoes are made specifically for climbing vertical or near vertical rock faces. These shoes are made with a soft leather upper, a lace-up configuration, and a smooth "sticky rubber" sole (Figure 3-1). The smooth "sticky rubber" sole is the key to the climbing shoe, providing greater friction on the surface of the rock, allowing the climber access to more difficult terrain.
(2) The plastic mountaineering boot is a double boot system (Figure 3-1). The inner boot provides support, as well as insulation against the cold. The inner boot may or may not come with a breathable membrane. The outer boot is a molded plastic (usually with a lace-up configuration) with a lug sole. The welt of the boot is molded in such a way that crampons, ski bindings, and snowshoes are easily attached and detached.
Note: Maintenance of all types of footwear must closely follow the manufacturers' recommendations.
Figure 3-1. Climbing shoes and plastic mountaineering boots.
Clothing is perhaps the most underestimated and misunderstood equipment in the military inventory. The clothing system refers to every piece of clothing placed against the skin, the insulation layers, and the outer most garments, which protect the soldier from the elements. When clothing is worn properly, the soldier is better able to accomplish his tasks. When worn improperly, he is, at best, uncomfortable and, at worst, develops hypothermia or frostbite.
a. Socks. Socks are one of the most under-appreciated part of the entire clothing system. Socks are extremely valuable in many respects, if worn correctly. As a system, socks provide cushioning for the foot, remove excess moisture, and provide insulation from cold temperatures. Improper wear and excess moisture are the biggest causes of hot spots and blisters. Regardless of climatic conditions, socks should always be worn in layers.
(1) The first layer should be a hydrophobic material that moves moisture from the foot surface to the outer sock.
(2) The outer sock should also be made of hydrophobic materials, but should be complimented with materials that provide cushioning and abrasion resistance.
(3) A third layer can be added depending upon the climatic conditions.
(a) In severe wet conditions, a waterproof type sock can be added to reduce the amount of water that would saturate the foot. This layer would be worn over the first two layers if conditions were extremely wet.
(b) In extremely cold conditions a vapor barrier sock can be worn either over both of the original pairs of socks or between the hydrophobic layer and the insulating layer. If the user is wearing VB boots, the vapor barrier sock is not recommended.
b. Underwear. Underwear should also be made of materials that move moisture from the body. Many civilian companies manufacture this type of underwear. The primary material in this product is polyester, which moves moisture from the body to the outer layers keeping the user drier and more comfortable in all climatic conditions. In colder environments, several pairs of long underwear of different thickness should be made available. A lightweight set coupled with a heavyweight set will provide a multitude of layering combinations.
c. Insulating Layers. Insulating layers are those layers that are worn over the underwear and under the outer layers of clothing. Insulating layers provide additional warmth when the weather turns bad. For the most part, today's insulating layers will provide for easy moisture movement as well as trap air to increase the insulating factor. The insulating layers that are presently available are referred to as pile or fleece. The ECWCS (Figure 3-2) also incorporates the field jacket and field pants liner as additional insulating layers. However, these two components do not move moisture as effectively as the pile or fleece.
Figure 3-2. Extreme cold weather clothing system.
d. Outer Layers. The ECWCS provides a jacket and pants made of a durable waterproof fabric. Both are constructed with a nylon shell with a laminated breathable membrane attached. This membrane allows the garment to release moisture to the environment while the nylon shell provides a degree of water resistance during rain and snow. The nylon also acts as a barrier to wind, which helps the garment retain the warm air trapped by the insulating layers. Leaders at all levels must understand the importance of wearing the ECWCS correctly.
Note: Cotton layers must not be included in any layer during operations in a cold environment.
e. Gaiters. Gaiters are used to protect the lower leg from snow and ice, as well as mud, twigs, and stones. The use of waterproof fabrics or other breathable materials laminated to the nylon makes the gaiter an integral component of the cold weather clothing system. Gaiters are not presently fielded in the standard ECWCS and, in most cases, will need to be locally purchased. Gaiters are available in three styles (Figure 3-3).
Figure 3-3. Three types of gaiters.
(1) The most common style of gaiter is the open-toed variety, which is a nylon shell that may or may not have a breathable material laminated to it. The open front allows the boot to slip easily into it and is closed with a combination of zipper, hook-pile tape, and snaps. It will have an adjustable neoprene strap that goes under the boot to keep it snug to the boot. The length should reach to just below the knee and will be kept snug with a drawstring and cord lock.
(2) The second type of gaiter is referred to as a full or randed gaiter. This gaiter completely covers the boot down to the welt. It can be laminated with a breathable material and can also be insulated if necessary. This gaiter is used with plastic mountaineering boots and should be glued in place and not removed.
(3) The third type of gaiter is specific to high-altitude mountaineering or extremely cold temperatures and is referred to as an overboot. It is worn completely over the boot and must be worn with crampons because it has no traction sole.
f. Hand Wear. During operations in mountainous terrain the use of hand wear is extremely important. Even during the best climatic conditions, temperatures in the mountains will dip below the freezing point. While mittens are always warmer than gloves, the finger dexterity needed to do most tasks makes gloves the primary cold weather hand wear (Figure 3-4).
Figure 3-4. Hand wear.
(1) The principals that apply to clothing also apply to gloves and mittens. They should provide moisture transfer from the skin to the outer layers—the insulating layer must insulate the hand from the cold and move moisture to the outer layer. The outer layer must be weather resistant and breathable. Both gloves and mittens should be required for all soldiers during mountain operations, as well as replacement liners for both. This will provide enough flexibility to accomplish all tasks and keep the users' hands warm and dry.
(2) Just as the clothing system is worn in layers, gloves and mittens work best using the same principle. Retention cords that loop over the wrist work extremely well when the wearer needs to remove the outer layer to accomplish a task that requires fine finger dexterity. Leaving the glove or mitten dangling from the wrist ensures the wearer knows where it is at all times.
g. Headwear. A large majority of heat loss (25 percent) occurs through the head and neck area. The most effective way to counter heat loss is to wear a hat. The best hat available to the individual soldier through the military supply system is the black watch cap. Natural fibers, predominately wool, are acceptable but can be bulky and difficult to fit under a helmet. As with clothes and hand wear, man-made fibers are preferred. For colder climates a neck gaiter can be added. The neck gaiter is a tube of man-made material that fits around the neck and can reach up over the ears and nose (Figure 3-5). For extreme cold, a balaclava can be added. This covers the head, neck, and face leaving only a slot for the eyes (Figure 3-5). Worn together the combination is warm and provides for moisture movement, keeping the wearer drier and warmer.
Figure 3-5. Neck gaiter and balaclava.
h. Helmets. The Kevlar ballistic helmet can be used for most basic mountaineering tasks. It must be fitted with parachute retention straps and the foam impact pad (Figure 3-6). The level 2 and 3 mountaineer will need a lighter weight helmet for specific climbing scenerios. Several civilian manufacturers produce an effective helmet. Whichever helmet is selected, it should be designed specifically for mountaineering and adjustable so the user can add a hat under it when needed.
Figure 3-6. Helmets.
i. Eyewear. The military supply system does not currently provide adequate eyewear for mountaineering. Eyewear is divided into two catagories: glacier glasses and goggles (Figure 3-7). Glacier glasses are sunglasses that cover the entire eye socket. Many operations in the mountains occur above the tree line or on ice and snow surfaces where the harmful UV rays of the sun can bombard the eyes from every angle increasing the likelihood of snowblindness. Goggles for mountain operations should be antifogging. Double or triple lenses work best. UV rays penetrate clouds so the goggles should be UV protected. Both glacier glasses and goggles are required equipment in the mountains. The lack of either one can lead to severe eye injury or blindness.
Figure 3-7. Glacier glasses and goggles.
j. Maintenance of Clothing. Clothing and equipment manufacturers provide specific instructions for proper care. Following these instructions is necessary to ensure the equipment works as intended.
Climbing software refers to rope, cord, webbing, and harnesses. All mountaineering specific equipment, to include hardware (see paragraph 3-4), should only be used if it has the UIAA certificate of safety. UIAA is the organization that oversees the testing of mountaineering equipment. It is based in Paris, France, and comprises several commissions. The safety commission has established standards for mountaineering and climbing equipment that have become well recognized throughout the world. Their work continues as new equipment develops and is brought into common use. Community Europe (CE) recognizes UIAA testing standards and, as the broader-based testing facility for the combined European economy, meets or exceeds the UIAA standards for all climbing and mountaineering equipment produced in Europe. European norm (EN) and CE have been combined to make combined European norm (CEN). While the United States has no specific standards, American manufacturers have their equipment tested by UIAA to ensure safe operating tolerances.
a. Ropes and Cord. Ropes and cords are the most important pieces of mountaineering equipment and proper selection deserves careful thought. These items are your lifeline in the mountains, so selecting the right type and size is of the utmost importance. All ropes and cord used in mountaineering and climbing today are constructed with the same basic configuration. The construction technique is referred to as Kernmantle, which is, essentially, a core of nylon fibers protected by a woven sheath, similar to parachute or 550 cord (Figure 3-8).
Figure 3-8. Kernmantle construction.
(1) Ropes come in two types: static and dynamic. This refers to their ability to stretch under tension. A static rope has very little stretch, perhaps as little as one to two percent, and is best used in rope installations. A dynamic rope is most useful for climbing and general mountaineering. Its ability to stretch up to 1/3 of its overall length makes it the right choice any time the user might take a fall. Dynamic and static ropes come in various diameters and lengths. For most military applications, a standard 10.5- or 11-millimeter by 50-meter dynamic rope and 11-millimeter by 45-meter static rope will be sufficient.
(2) When choosing dynamic rope, factors affecting rope selection include intended use, impact force, abrasion resistance, and elongation. Regardless of the rope chosen, it should be UIAA certified.
(3) Cord or small diameter rope is indispensable to the mountaineer. Its many uses make it a valuable piece of equipment. All cord is static and constructed in the same manner as larger rope. If used for Prusik knots, the cord's diameter should be 5 to 7 millimeters when used on an 11-mm rope.
b. Webbing and Slings. Loops of tubular webbing or cord, called slings or runners, are the simplest pieces of equipment and some of the most useful. The uses for these simple pieces are endless, and they are a critical link between the climber, the rope, carabiners, and anchors. Runners are predominately made from either 9/16-inch or 1-inch tubular webbing and are either tied or sewn by a manufacturer (Figure 3-9). Runners can also be made from a high-performance fiber known as spectra, which is stronger, more durable, and less susceptible to ultraviolet deterioration. Runners should be retired regularly following the same considerations used to retire a rope. For most military applications, a combination of different lengths of runners is adequate.
(1) Tied runners have certain advantages over sewn runners—they are inexpensive to make, can be untied and threaded around natural anchors, and can be untied and retied to other pieces of webbing to create extra long runners.
(2) Sewn runners have their own advantages—they tend to be stronger, are usually lighter, and have less bulk than the tied version. They also eliminate a major concern with the homemade knotted runner—the possibility of the knot untying. Sewn runners come in four standard lengths: 2 inches, 4 inches, 12 inches, and 24 inches. They also come in three standard widths: 9/16 inch, 11/16 inch, and 1 inch.
Figure 3-9. Tied or sewn runners.
c. Harnesses. Years ago climbers secured themselves to the rope by wrapping the rope around their bodies and tying a bowline-on-a-coil. While this technique is still a viable way of attaching to a rope, the practice is no longer encouraged because of the increased possibility of injury from a fall. The bowline-on-a-coil is best left for low-angle climbing or an emergency situation where harness material is unavailable. Climbers today can select from a wide range of manufactured harnesses. Fitted properly, the harness should ride high on the hips and have snug leg loops to better distribute the force of a fall to the entire pelvis. This type of harness, referred to as a seat harness, provides a comfortable seat for rappelling (Figure 3-10).
(1) Any harness selected should have one very important feature—a double-passed buckle. This is a saety standard that requires the waist belt to be passed over and back through the main buckle a second time. At least 2 inches of the strap should remain after double-passing the buckle.
(2) Another desirable feature on a harness is adjustable leg loops, which allows a snug fit regardless of the number of layers of clothing worn. Adjustable leg loops allow the soldier to make a latrine call without removing the harness or untying the rope.
(3) Equipment loops are desirable for carrying pieces of climbing equipment. For safety purposes always follow the manufacturer's directions for tying-in.
(4) A field-expedient version of the seat harness can be constructed by using 22 feet of either 1-inch or 2-inch (preferred) tubular webbing (Figure 3-10). Two double-overhand knots form the leg loops, leaving 4 to 5 feet of webbing coming from one of the leg loops. The leg loops should just fit over the clothing. Wrap the remaining webbing around the waist ensuring the first wrap is routed through the 6- to 10-inch long strap between the double-overhand knots. Finish the waist wrap with a water knot tied as tightly as possible. With the remaining webbing, tie a square knot without safeties over the water knot ensuring a minimum of 4 inches remains from each strand of webbing.
(5) The full body harness incorporates a chest harness with a seat harness (Figure 3-10). This type of harness has a higher tie-in point and greatly reduces the chance of flipping backward during a fall. This is the only type of harness that is approved by the UIAA. While these harnesses are safer, they do present several disadvantages—they are more expensive, are more restrictive, and increase the difficulty of adding or removing clothing. Most mountaineers prefer to incorporate a separate chest harness with their seat harness when warranted.
(6) A separate chest harness can be purchased from a manufacturer, or a field-expedient version can be made from either two runners or a long piece of webbing. Either chest harness is then attached to the seat harness with a carabiner and a length of webbing or cord.
Figure 3-10. Seat harness, field-expedient harness, and full body harness.
Climbing hardware refers to all the parts and pieces that allow the trained mountain soldier to accomplish many tasks in the mountains. The importance of this gear to the mountaineer is no less than that of the rifle to the infantryman.
a. Carabiners. One of the most versatile pieces of equipment available to the mountaineer is the carabiner. This simple piece of gear is the critical connection between the climber, his rope, and the protection attaching him to the mountain. Carabiners must be strong enough to hold hard falls, yet light enough for the climber to easily carry a quantity of them. Today's high tech metal alloys allow carabiners to meet both of these requirements. Steel is still widely used, but is not preferred for general mountaineering, given other options. Basic carabiner construction affords the user several different shapes. The oval, the D-shaped, and the pear-shaped carabiner are just some of the types currently available. Most models can be made with or without a locking mechanism for the gate opening (Figure 3-11). If the carabiner does have a locking mechanism, it is usually referred to as a locking carabiner. When using a carabiner, great care should be taken to avoid loading the carabiner on its minor axis and to avoid three-way loading (Figure 3-12).
Note: Great care should be used to ensure all carabiner gates are closed and locked during use.
Figure 3-11. Nonlocking and locking carabiners.
Figure 3-12. Major and minor axes and three-way loading.
(1) The major difference between the oval and the D-shaped carabiner is strength. Because of the design of the D-shaped carabiner, the load is angled onto the spine of the carabiner thus keeping it off the gate. The down side is that racking any gear or protection on the D-shaped carabiner is difficult because the angle of the carabiner forces all the gear together making it impossible to separate quickly.
(2) The pear-shaped carabiner, specifically the locking version, is excellent for clipping a descender or belay device to the harness. They work well with the munter hitch belaying knot.
(3) Regardless of the type chosen, all carabiners should be UIAA tested. This testing is extensive and tests the carabiner in three ways—along its major axis, along its minor axis, and with the gate open.
b. Pitons. A piton is a metal pin that is hammered into a crack in the rock. They are described by their thickness, design, and length (Figure 3-13). Pitons provide a secure anchor for a rope attached by a carabiner. The many different kinds of pitons include: vertical, horizontal, wafer, and angle. They are made of malleable steel, hardened steel, or other alloys. The strength of the piton is determined by its placement rather than its rated tensile strength. The two most common types of pitons are: blades, which hold when wedged into tight-fitting cracks, and angles, which hold blade compression when wedged into a crack.
Figure 3-13. Various pitons.
(1) Vertical Pitons. On vertical pitons, the blade and eye are aligned. These pitons are used in flush, vertical cracks.
(2) Horizontal Pitons. On horizontal pitons, the eye of the piton is at right angles to the blade. These pitons are used in flush, horizontal cracks and in offset or open-book type vertical or horizontal cracks. They are recommended for use in vertical cracks instead of vertical pitons because the torque on the eye tends to wedge the piton into place. This provides more holding power than the vertical piton under the same circumstances.
(3) Wafer Pitons. These pitons are used in shallow, flush cracks. They have little holding power and their weakest points are in the rings provided for the carabiner.
(4) Knife Blade Pitons. These are used in direct-aid climbing. They are small and fit into thin, shallow cracks. They have a tapered blade that is optimum for both strength and holding power.
(5) Realized Ultimate Reality Pitons. Realized ultimate reality pitons (RURPs) are hatchet-shaped pitons about 1-inch square. They are designed to bite into thin, shallow cracks.
(6) Angle Pitons. These are used in wide cracks that are flush or offset. Maximum strength is attained only when the legs of the piton are in contact with the opposite sides of the crack.
(7) Bong Pitons. These are angle pitons that are more than 3.8 centimeters wide. Bongs are commonly made of steel or aluminum alloy and usually contain holes to reduce weight and accommodate carabiners. They have a high holding power and require less hammering than other pitons.
(8) Skyhook (Cliffhangers). These are small hooks that cling to tiny rock protrusions, ledges, or flakes. Skyhooks require constant tension and are used in a downward pull direction. The curved end will not straighten under body weight. The base is designed to prevent rotation and aid stability.
c. Piton Hammers. A piton hammer has a flat metal head; a handle made of wood, metal, or fiberglass; and a blunt pick on the opposite side of the hammer (Figure 3-14). A safety lanyard of nylon cord, webbing, or leather is used to attach it to the climber The lanyard should be long enough to allow for full range of motion. Most hammers are approximately 25.5 centimeters long and weigh 12 to 25 ounces. The primary use for a piton hammer is to drive pitons, to be used as anchors, into the rock. The piton hammer can also be used to assist in removing pitons, and in cleaning cracks and rock surfaces to prepare for inserting the piton. The type selected should suit individual preference and the intended use.
Figure 3-14. Piton hammer.
d. Chocks. "Chocks" is a generic term used to describe the various types of artificial protection other than bolts or pitons. Chocks are essentially a tapered metal wedge constructed in various sizes to fit different sized openings in the rock (Figure 3-15). The design of a chock will determine whether it fits into one of two categories—wedges or cams. A wedge holds by wedging into a constricting crack in the rock. A cam holds by slightly rotating in a crack, creating a camming action that lodges the chock in the crack or pocket. Some chocks are manufactured to perform either in the wedging mode or the camming mode. One of the chocks that falls into the category of both a wedge and cam is the hexagonal-shaped or "hex" chock. This type of chock is versatile and comes with either a cable loop or is tied with cord or webbing. All chocks come in different sizes to fit varying widths of cracks. Most chocks come with a wired loop that is stronger than cord and allows for easier placement. Bigger chocks can be threaded with cord or webbing if the user ties the chock himself. Care should be taken to place tubing in the chock before threading the cord. The cord used with chocks is designed to be stiffer and stronger than regular cord and is typically made of Kevlar. The advantage of using a chock rather than a piton is that a climber can carry many different sizes and use them repeatedly.
Figure 3-15. Chocks.
e. Three-Point Camming Device. The three-point camming device's unique design allows it to be used both as a camming piece and a wedging piece (Figure 3-16). Because of this design it is extremely versatile and, when used in the camming mode, will fit a wide range of cracks. The three-point camming device comes in several different sizes with the smaller sizes working in pockets that no other piece of gear would fit in.
Figure 3-16. Three-point camming device.
f. Spring-Loaded Camming Devices. Spring-loaded camming devices (SLCDs) (Figure 3-17) provide convenient, reliable placement in cracks where standard chocks are not practical (parallel or flaring cracks or cracks under roofs). SLCDs have three or four cams rotating around a single or double axis with a rigid or semi-rigid point of attachment. These are placed quickly and easily, saving time and effort. SLCDs are available in many sizes to accommodate different size cracks. Each fits a wide range of crack widths due to the rotating cam heads. The shafts may be rigid metal or semi-rigid cable loops. The flexible cable reduces the risk of stem breakage over an edge in horizontal placements.
Figure 3-17. Spring-loaded camming devices.
g. Chock Picks. Chock picks are primarily used to extract chocks from rock when the they become severely wedged (Figure 3-18). They are also handy to clean cracks with. Made from thin metal, they can be purchased or homemade. When using a chock pick to extract a chock be sure no force is applied directly to the cable juncture. One end of the chock pick should have a hook to use on jammed SLCDs.
Figure 3-18. Chock picks.
h. Bolts. Bolts are screw-like shafts made from metal that are drilled into rock to provide protection (Figure 3-19). The two types are contraction bolts and expansion bolts. Contraction bolts are squeezed together when driven into a rock. Expansion bolts press around a surrounding sleeve to form a snug fit into a rock. Bolts require drilling a hole into a rock, which is time-consuming, exhausting, and extremely noisy. Once emplaced, bolts are the most secure protection for a multidirectional pull. Bolts should be used only when chocks and pitons cannot be emplaced. A bolt is hammered only when it is the nail or self-driving type.
(1) A hanger (for carabiner attachment) and nut are placed on the bolt. The bolt is then inserted and driven into the hole. Because of this requirement, a hand drill must be carried in addition to a piton hammer. Hand drills (also called star drills) are available in different sizes, brands, and weights. A hand drill should have a lanyard to prevent loss.
(2) Self-driving bolts are quicker and easier to emplace. These require a hammer, bolt driver, and drilling anchor, which is driven into the rock. A bolt and carrier are then secured to the emplaced drilling anchor. All metal surfaces should be smooth and free of rust, corrosion, dirt, and moisture. Burrs, chips, and rough spots should be filed smooth and wire-brushed or rubbed clean with steel wool. Items that are cracked or warped indicate excessive wear and should be discarded.
Figure 3-19. Bolts and hangers.
i. Belay Devices. Belay devices range from the least equipment intensive (the body belay) to high-tech metal alloy pieces of equipment. Regardless of the belay device choosen, the basic principal remains the same—friction around or through the belay device controls the ropes' movement. Belay devices are divided into three categories: the slot, the tuber, and the mechanical camming device (Figure 3-20).
(1) The slot is a piece of equipment that attaches to a locking carabiner in the harness; a bight of rope slides through the slot and into the carabiner for the belay. The most common slot type belay device is the Sticht plate.
(2) The tuber is used exactly like the slot but its shape is more like a cone or tube.
(3) The mechanical camming device is a manufactured piece of equipment that attaches to the harness with a locking carabiner. The rope is routed through this device so that when force is applied the rope is cammed into a highly frictioned position.
Figure 3-20. Slot, tuber, mechanical camming device.
j. Descenders. One piece of equipment used for generations as a descender is the carabiner. A figure-eight is another useful piece of equipment and can be used in conjunction with the carabiner for descending (Figure 3-21).
Note: All belay devices can also be used as descending devices.
Figure 3-21. Figure-eights.
k. Ascenders. Ascenders may be used in other applications such as a personal safety or hauling line cam. All modern ascenders work on the principle of using a cam-like device to allow movement in one direction. Ascenders are primarily made of metal alloys and come in a variety of sizes (Figure 3-22). For difficult vertical terrain, two ascenders work best. For lower angle movement, one ascender is sufficient. Most manufacturers make ascenders as a right and left-handed pair.
Figure 3-22. Ascenders.
l. Pulleys. Pulleys are used to change direction in rope systems and to create mechanical advantage in hauling systems. A pulley should be small, lightweight, and strong. They should accommodate the largest diameter of rope being used. Pulleys are made with several bearings, different-sized sheaves (wheel), and metal alloy sideplates (Figure 3-23). Plastic pulleys should always be avoided. The sideplate should rotate on the pulley axle to allow the pulley to be attached at any point along the rope. For best results, the sheave diameter must be at least four times larger than the rope's diameter to maintain high rope strength.
Figure 3-23. Pulley.
Snow and Ice Climbing Hardware
Snow and ice climbing hardware is the equipment that is particular to operations in some mountainous terrain. Specific training on this type of equipment is essential for safe use. Terrain that would otherwise be inaccessible-snowfields, glaciers, frozen waterfalls-can now be considered avenues of approach using the snow and ice climbing gear listed in this paragraph.
a. Ice Ax. The ice ax is one of the most important tools for the mountaineer operating on snow or ice. The climber must become proficient in its use and handling. The versatility of the ax lends itself to balance, step cutting, probing, self-arrest, belays, anchors, direct-aid climbing, and ascending and descending snow and ice covered routes.
(1) Several specific parts comprise an ice ax: the shaft, head (pick and adze), and spike (Figure 3-24).
(a) The shaft (handle) of the ax comes in varying lengths (the primary length of the standard mountaineering ax is 70 centimeters). It can be made of fiberglass, hollow aluminum, or wood; the first two are stronger, therefore safer for mountaineering.
(b) The head of the ax, which combines the pick and the adze, can have different configurations. The pick should be curved slightly and have teeth at least one-fourth of its length. The adze, used for chopping, is perpendicular to the shaft. It can be flat or curved along its length and straight or rounded from side to side. The head can be of one-piece construction or have replaceable picks and adzes. The head should have a hole directly above the shaft to allow for a leash to be attached.
(c) The spike at the bottom of the ax is made of the same material as the head and comes in a variety of shapes.
(2) As climbing becomes more technical, a shorter ax is much more appropriate, and adding a second tool is a must when the terrain becomes vertical. The shorter ax has all the attributes of the longer ax, but it is anywhere from 40 to 55 centimeters long and can have a straight or bent shaft depending on the preference of the user.
b. Ice Hammer. The ice hammer is as short or shorter than the technical ax (Figure 3-24). It is used for pounding protection into the ice or pitons into the rock. The only difference between the ice ax and the ice hammer is the ice hammer has a hammerhead instead of an adze. Most of the shorter ice tools have a hole in the shaft to which a leash is secured, which provides a more secure purchase in the ice.
Figure 3-24. Ice ax and ice hammers.
c. Crampons. Crampons are used when the footing becomes treacherous. They have multiple spikes on the bottom and spikes protruding from the front (Figure 3-25). Two types of crampons are available: flexible and rigid. Regardless of the type of crampon chosen, fit is the most important factor associated with crampon wear. The crampon should fit snugly on the boot with a minimum of 1 inch of front point protruding. Straps should fit snugly around the foot and any long, loose ends should be trimmed. Both flexible and rigid crampons come in pairs, and any tools needed for adjustment will be provided by the manufacturer.
Figure 3-25. Crampons.
(1) The hinged or flexible crampon is best used when no technical ice climbing will be done. It is designed to be used with soft, flexible boots, but can be attached to plastic mountaineering boots. The flexible crampon gets its name from the flexible hinge on the crampon itself. All flexible crampons are adjustable for length while some allow for width adjustment. Most flexible crampons will attach to the boot by means of a strap system. The flexible crampon can be worn with a variety of boot types.
(2) The rigid crampon, as its name implies, is rigid and does not flex. This type of crampon is designed for technical ice climbing, but can be used on less vertical terrain. The rigid crampon can only be worn with plastic mountaineering boots. Rigid crampons will have a toe and heel bail attachment with a strap that wraps around the ankle.
d. Ice Screws. Ice screws provide artificial protection for climbers and equipment for operations in icy terrain. They are screwed into ice formations. Ice screws are made of chrome-molybdenum steel and vary in lengths from 11 centimeters to 40 centimeters (Figure 3-26). The eye is permanently affixed to the top of the ice screw. The tip consists of milled or hand-ground teeth, which create sharp points to grab the ice when being emplaced. The ice screw has right-hand threads to penetrate the ice when turned clockwise.
Figure 3-26. Ice screws.
(1) When selecting ice screws, choose a screw with a large thread count and large hollow opening. The close threads will allow for ease in turning and better strength. The large hollow opening will allow snow and ice to slide through when turning.
- Type I is 17 centimeters in length with a hollow inner tube.
- Type II is 22 centimeters in length with a hollow inner tube.
- Other variations are hollow alloy screws that have a tapered shank with external threads, which are driven into ice and removed by rotation.
(2) Ice screws should be inspected for cracks, bends, and other deformities that may impair strength or function. If any cracks or bends are noticed, the screw should be turned in. A file may be used to sharpen the ice screw points. Steel wool should be rubbed on rusted surfaces and a thin coat of oil applied when storing steel ice screws.
Note: Ice screws should always be kept clean and dry. The threads and teeth should be protected and kept sharp for ease of application.
e. Ice Pitons. Ice pitons are used to establish anchor points for climbers and equipment when conducting operations on ice. They are made of steel or steel alloys (chrome-molybdenum), and are available in various lengths and diameters (Figure 3-27). They are tubular with a hollow core and are hammered into ice with an ice hammer. The eye is permanently fixed to the top of the ice piton. The tip may be beveled to help grab the ice to facilitate insertion. Ice pitons are extremely strong when placed properly in hard ice. They can, however, pull out easily on warm days and require a considerable amount of effort to extract in cold temperatures.
Figure 3-27. Ice piton.
f. Wired Snow Anchors. The wired snow anchor (or fluke) provides security for climbers and equipment in operations involving steep ascents by burying the snow anchor into deep snow (Figure 3-28). The fluted anchor portion of the snow anchor is made of aluminum. The wired portion is made of either galvanized steel or stainless steel. Fluke anchors are available in various sizes—their holding ability generally increases with size. They are available with bent faces, flanged sides, and fixed cables. Common types are:
- Type I is 22 by 14 centimeters. Minimum breaking strength of the swaged wire loop is 600 kilograms.
- Type II is 25 by 20 centimeters. Minimum breaking strength of the swaged wire loop is 1,000 kilograms.
The wired snow anchor should be inspected for cracks, broken wire strands, and slippage of the wire through the swage. If any cracks, broken wire strands, or slippage is noticed, the snow anchor should be turned in.
g. Snow Picket. The snow picket is used in constructing anchors in snow and ice (Figure 3-28). The snow picket is made of a strong aluminum alloy 3 millimeters thick by 4 centimeters wide, and 45 to 90 centimeters long. They can be angled or T-section stakes. The picket should be inspected for bends, chips, cracks, mushrooming ends, and other deformities. The ends should be filed smooth. If bent or cracked, the picket should be turned in for replacement.
Figure 3-28. Snow anchors, flukes, and pickets.
This paragraph describes all additional equipment not directly involved with climbing. This equipment is used for safety (avalanche equipment, wands), bivouacs, movement, and carrying gear. While not all of it will need to be carried on all missions, having the equipment available and knowing how to use it correctly will enhance the unit's capability in mountainous terrain.
a. Snow Saw. The snow saw is used to cut into ice and snow. It can be used in step cutting, in shelter construction, for removing frozen obstacles, and for cutting snow stability test pits. The special tooth design of the snow saw easily cuts into frozen snow and ice. The blade is a rigid aluminum alloy of high strength about 3 millimeters thick and 38 centimeters long with a pointed end to facilitate entry on the forward stroke. The handle is either wooden or plastic and is riveted to the blade for a length of about 50 centimeters. The blade should be inspected for rust, cracks, warping, burrs, and missing or dull teeth. A file can repair most defects, and steel wool can be rubbed on rusted areas. The handle should be inspected for cracks, bends, and stability. On folding models, the hinge and nuts should be secure. If the saw is beyond repair, it should not be used.
b. Snow Shovel. The snow shovel is used to cut and remove ice and snow. It can be used for avalanche rescue, shelter construction, step cutting, and removing obstacles. The snow shovel is made of a special, lightweight aluminum alloy. The handle should be telescopic, folding, or removable to be compact when not in use. The shovel should have a flat or rounded bottom and be of strong construction. The shovel should be inspected for cracks, bends, rust, and burrs. A file and steel wool can remove rust and put an edge on the blade of the shovel. The handle should be inspected for cracks, bends, and stability. If the shovel is beyond repair, it should be turned in.
c. Wands. Wands are used to identify routes, crevasses, snow-bridges, caches, and turns on snow and glaciers. Spacing of wands depends on the number of turns, number of hazards identified, weather conditions (and visibility), and number of teams in the climbing party. Carry too many wands is better than not having enough if they become lost. Wands are 1 to 1.25 meters long and made of lightweight bamboo or plastic shafts pointed on one end with a plastic or nylon flag (bright enough in color to see at a distance) attached to the other end. The shafts should be inspected for cracks, bends, and deformities. The flag should be inspected for tears, frays, security to the shaft, fading, and discoloration. If any defects are discovered, the wands should be replaced.
d. Avalanche rescue equipment. Avalanche rescue equipment (Figure 3-29) includes the following:
Figure 3-29. Avalanche rescue equipment.
(1) Avalanche Probe. Although ski poles may be used as an emergency probe when searching for a victim in an avalanche, commercially manufactured probes are better for a thorough search. They are 9-millimeter thick shafts made of an aluminum alloy, which can be joined to probe up to 360 centimeters. The shafts must be strong enough to probe through avalanche debris. Some manufacturers of ski poles design poles that are telescopic and mate with other poles to create an avalanche probe.
(2) Avalanche Transceivers. These are small, compact radios used to identify avalanche burial sites. They transmit electromagnetic signals that are picked up by another transceiver on the receive mode.
e. Packs. Many types and brands of packs are used for mountaineering. The two most common types are internal and external framed packs.
(1) Internal framed packs have a rigid frame within the pack that help it maintain its shape and hug the back. This assists the climber in keeping their balance as they climb or ski. The weight in an internal framed pack is carried low on the body assisting with balance. The body-hugging nature of this type pack also makes it uncomfortable in warm weather.
(2) External framed packs suspend the load away from the back with a ladder-like frame. The frame helps transfer the weight to the hips and shoulders easier, but can be cumbersome when balance is needed for climbing and skiing.
(3) Packs come in many sizes and should be sized appropriately for the individual according to manufacturer's specifications. Packs often come with many unneeded features. A good rule of thumb is: The simpler the pack, the better it will be.
f. Stoves. When selecting a stove one must define its purpose—will the stove be used for heating, cooking or both? Stoves or heaters for large elements can be large and cumbersome. Stoves for smaller elements might just be used for cooking and making water, and are simple and lightweight. Stoves are a necessity in mountaineering for cooking and making water from snow and ice. When choosing a stove, factors that should be considered are weight, altitude and temperature where it will be used, fuel availability, and its reliability.
(1) There are many choices in stove design and in fuel types. White gas, kerosene, and butane are the common fuels used. All stoves require a means of pressurization to force the fuel to the burner. Stoves that burn white gas or kerosene have a hand pump to generate the pressurization and butane stoves have pressurized cartridges. All stoves need to vaporize the liquid fuel before it is burned. This can be accomplished by burning a small amount of fuel in the burner cup assembly, which will vaporize the fuel in the fuel line.
(2) Stoves should be tested and maintained prior to a mountaineering mission. They should be easy to clean and repair during an operation. The reliability of the stove has a huge impact on the success of the mission and the morale of personnel.
g. Tents. When selecting a tent, the mission must be defined to determine the number of people the tent will accommodate. The climate the tents will be used in is also of concern. A tent used for warmer temperatures will greatly differ from tents used in a colder, more harsh environment. Manufacturers of tents offer many designs of different sizes, weights, and materials.
(1) Mountaineering tents are made out of a breathable or weatherproof material. A single-wall tent allows for moisture inside the tent to escape through the tent's material. A double-wall tent has a second layer of material (referred to as a fly) that covers the tent. The fly protects against rain and snow and the space between the fly and tent helps moisture to escape from inside. Before using a new tent, the seams should be treated with seam sealer to prevent moisture from entering through the stitching.
(2) The frame of a tent is usually made of an aluminum or carbon fiber pole. The poles are connected with an elastic cord that allows them to extend, connect, and become long and rigid. When the tent poles are secured into the tent body, they create the shape of the tent.
(3) Tents are rated by a "relative strength factor," the speed of wind a tent can withstand before the frame deforms. Temperature and expected weather for the mission should be determined before choosing the tent.
h. Skis. Mountaineering skis are wide and short. They have a binding that pivots at the toe and allows for the heel to be free for uphill travel or locked for downhill. Synthetic skins with fibers on the bottom can be attached to the bottom of the ski and allow the ski to travel forward and prevent slipping backward. The skins aid in traveling uphill and slow down the rate of descents. Wax can be applied to the ski to aid in ascents instead of skins. Skis can decrease the time needed to reach an objective depending on the ability of the user. Skis can make crossing crevasses easier because of the load distribution, and they can become a makeshift stretcher for casualties. Ski techniques can be complicated and require thorough training for adequate proficiency.
i. Snowshoes. Snowshoes are the traditional aid to snow travel that attach to most footwear and have been updated into small, lightweight designs that are more efficient than older models. Snowshoes offer a large displacement area on top of soft snow preventing tiresome post-holing. Some snowshoes come equipped with a crampon like binding that helps in ascending steep snow and ice. Snowshoes are slower than skis, but are better suited for mixed terrain, especially if personnel are not experienced with the art of skiing. When carrying heavy packs, snowshoes can be easier to use than skis.
j. Ski poles. Ski poles were traditionally designed to assist in balance during skiing. They have become an important tool in mountaineering for aid in balance while hiking, snowshoeing, and carrying heavy packs. They can take some of the weight off of the lower body when carrying a heavy pack. Some ski poles are collapsible for ease of packing when not needed (Figure 3-30). The basket at the bottom prevents the pole from plunging deep into the snow and, on some models, can be detached so the pole becomes an avalanche or crevasse probe. Some ski poles come with a self-arrest grip, but should not be the only means of protection on technical terrain.
Figure 3-30. Collapsible ski poles.
k. Sleds. Sleds vary greatly in size, from the squad-size Ahkio, a component of the 10-man arctic tent system, to the one-person skow. Regardless of the size, sleds are an invaluable asset during mountainous operations when snow and ice is the primary surface on which to travel. Whichever sled is chosen, it must be attachable to the person or people that will be pulling it. Most sleds are constructed using fiberglass bottoms with or without exterior runners. Runners will aid the sleds ability to maintain a true track in the snow. The sled should also come with a cover of some sort—whether nylon or canvas, a cover is essential for keeping the components in the sled dry. Great care should be taken when packing the sled, especially when hauling fuel. Heavier items should be carried towards the rear of the sled and lighter items towards the front.
l. Headlamps. A headlamp is a small item that is not appreciated until it is needed. It is common to need a light source and the use of both hands during limited light conditions in mountaineering operations. A flashlight can provide light, but can be cumbersome when both hands are needed. Most headlamps attach to helmets by means of elastic bands.
(1) When choosing a headlamp, ensure it is waterproof and the battery apparatus is small. All components should be reliable in extreme weather conditions. When the light is being packed, care should be taken that the switch doesn't accidentally activate and use precious battery life.
(2) The battery source should compliment the resupply available. Most lights will accept alkaline, nickel-cadmium, or lithium batteries. Alkaline battery life diminishes quickly in cold temperatures, nickel-cadmium batteries last longer in cold but require a recharging unit, and lithium batteries have twice the voltage so modifications are required.
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