As Seen In: USA Today, Discovery Channel, US News & World Report


Glissading is the intentional, controlled, rapid descent, or slide of a mountaineer down a steep slope covered with snow (Figure 10-15). Glissading is similar to skiing, except skis are not used. The same balance and control are necessary, but instead of skis the soles of the feet or the buttocks are used. The only piece of equipment required is the standard ice ax, which serves as the rudder, brake, and guide for the glissade. The two basic methods of glissading are:

a. Squatting Glissade. The squatting glissade is accomplished by placing the body in a semi-crouched position with both knees bent and the body weight directly over the feet. The ice ax is grasped with one hand on the head, pick, and adze outboard (away from the body), and the other hand on the shaft. The hand on the shaft grips it firmly in a position that allows control as well as the application of downward pressure on the spike of the ax.

b. Sitting Glissade. Using this method the glissader sits on the snow with the legs flat, and the heels and feet raised and pointed downslope. The ice ax is firmly grasped in the same manner as the squatting glissade, with the exception that the hand on the shaft must be locked against the hip for control. The sitting glissade is slower but easier to control than the squatting glissade.

c. Safety. A glissade should never be attempted on a slope where the bottom cannot be seen, since drop-offs may exist out of view. Also, a sitting glissade should not be used if the snow cover is thin, as painful injury could result.

Figure 10-15. Glissading techniques.

Figure 10-15. Glissading techniques.

Snow And Ice Anchors

Ice and snow anchors consist of snow pickets, flukes, deadman-type anchors, ice screws, and ice pitons. Deadman anchors can be constructed from snowshoes, skis, backpacks, sleds, or any large items.

a. Ice Pitons. The ice piton is used to establish anchor points. The ice piton is not seen in modern ice climbing but may still be available to the military. The standard ice piton is made of tubular steel and is 10 inches in length. Ice pitons installed in pairs are a bombproof anchor; however, ice pitons have no threads for friction to hold them in the ice once placed and are removed easily. Safe use of ice pitons requires placement in pairs. Used singularly, ice pitons are a strong anchor but are easily removed, decreasing the perceived security of the anchor. Follow the instructions below for placing ice pitons in pairs.

(1) Cut a horizontal recess into the ice, and also create a vertical surface (two clean surfaces at right angles to each other).

(2) Drive one piton into the horizontal surface and another into the vertical surface so that the two pitons intersect at the necessary point (Figure 10-16).

(3) Connect the two rings with a single carabiner, ensuring the carabiner is not cross-loaded. Webbing or rope can be used if the rings are turned to the inside of the intersection.

(4) Test the piton pair to ensure it is secure. If it pulls out or appears weak, move to another spot and replace it. The pair of pitons, when placed correctly, are multidirectional.

Figure 10-16. Ice piton pair.

Figure 10-16. Ice piton pair.

(5) The effective time and or strength for an ice piton placement is limited. The piton will heat from solar radiation, or the ice may crack or soften. Solar radiation can be nearly eliminated by covering the pitons with ice chips once they have been placed. If repeated use is necessary for one installation, such as top roping, the pitons should be inspected frequently and relocated when necessary. When an ice piton is removed, the ice that has accumulated in the tube must be removed before it freezes in position, making further use difficult.

c. Ice Screws. The ice screw is the most common type of ice protection and has replaced the ice piton for the most part (Figure 10-17). Some screws have longer "hangers" or handles, which allow them to be easily twisted into position by hand. Place ice screws as follows:

(1) Clear away all rotten ice from the surface and make a small hole with the ax pick to start the ice screw in.

(2) Force the ice screw in until the threads catch.

Figure 10-17. Placement of ice screw using the pick.

Figure 10-17. Placement of ice screw using the pick.

(3) Turn the screw until the eye or the hanger of the ice screw is flush with the ice and pointing down. The screw should be placed at an angle 90 to 100 degrees from the lower surface. Use either your hand or the pick of the ice ax to screw it in. If you have a short ax (70 centimeters or less), you may be able to use the spike in the eye or hanger to ease the turning. (Remember that you may only have use of one hand at this point depending on your stance and the angle of the terrain.)

(4) As with ice pitons, melting of the ice around a screw over a period of time must be considered. The effective time and or strength of an ice screw placement is limited. The screw will heat from solar radiation, or the ice may crack or soften. Solar radiation can be nearly eliminated by covering the screw with ice chips once it has been emplaced. If repeated use is necessary for one installation, such as top roping, the screws should be inspected frequently and relocated when necessary. When an ice screw is removed, the ice that has accumulated in the tube, must be removed before further use.

d. Horseshoe or Bollard Anchor. This is an artificial anchor shaped generally like a horseshoe (Figure 10-18). It is formed from either ice or snow and constructed by either cutting with the ice ax or stamping with the boots. When constructed of snow, the width should not be less than 10 feet. In ice, this width may be narrowed to 2 feet, depending on the strength of the ice. The length of the bollard should be at least twice the width. The trench around the horseshoe should be stamped as deeply as possible in the snow and should be cut not less than 6 inches into the ice after all rotten ice is removed. The backside of the anchor must always be undercut to prevent the rope from sliding off and over the anchor.

(1) This type of anchor is usually available and may be used for fixed ropes or rappels. It must be inspected frequently to ensure that the rope is not cutting through the snow or ice more than one-third the length of the anchor; if it is, a new anchor must be constructed in a different location.

(2) A horseshoe anchor constructed in snow is always precarious, its strength depending upon the prevailing texture of the snow. For dry or wind-packed snow, the reliability of the anchor should always be suspect. The backside of the bollard can be reinforced with ice axes, pickets, or other equipment for added strength.

Figure 10-18. Horshoe or bollard anchor.

Figure 10-18. Horshoe of bollard anchor.

e. Pickets and Ice Axes. Pickets and ice axes may be used as snow anchors as follows.

(1) The picket should be driven into the snow at 5 to 15 degrees off perpendicular from the lower surface. If the picket cannot be driven in all the way to the top hole, the carabiner should be placed in the hole closest to the snow surface to reduce leverage. The picket may also be tied off with a short loop of webbing or rope as in tying off pitons.

(2) An ice ax can be used in place of a picket. When using an ice ax as a snow anchor, it should be inserted with the widest portion of the ax shaft facing the direction of pull. The simplest connection to the ax is to use a sling or rope directly around the shaft just under the head. If using the leash ensure it is not worn, frayed, or cut from general use; is strong enough; and does not twist the ax when loaded. A carabiner can be clipped through the hole in the head, also.

(3) Whenever the strength of the snow anchor is suspect, especially when a picket or ax cannot be driven in all the way, the anchor may be buried in the snow and used as a "dead man" anchor. Other items suitable for dead man anchor construction are backpacks, skis, snowshoes, ski poles, or any other item large enough or shaped correctly to achieve the design. A similar anchor, sometimes referred to as a "dead guy," can be made with a large sack either stuffed with noncompressible items or filled with snow and buried. Ensure the attaching point is accessible before burying. The direction of pull on long items, such as a picket or ax, should be at a right angle to its length. The construction is identical to that of the dead man anchor used in earth.

f. Equalized Anchors. Snow and ice anchors must be constantly checked due to melting and changing snow or ice conditions.

(1) Whenever possible, two or more anchors should be used. While this is not always practical for intermediate anchor points on lead climbs or fixed ropes, it should be mandatory for main anchors at all belay positions, rappel points, or other fixed rope installations. (Figure 10-19 shows an example of three snow pickets configured to an equalized anchor.)

(2) As with multipoint anchors on rock, two or more snow or ice anchors can be joined together with a sling rope or webbing to construct one solid, equalized anchor. A bowline on a bight tied into the climbing rope can also be used instead of sling ropes or webbing.

Figure 10-19. Equalized anchor using pickets.

Figure 10-19. Equalized anchor using pickets.

Back to Movement Over Snow And Ice

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