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

Traveling on Snow

The military mountaineer must be equally adept on both snow and ice due to route necessity and rapidly changing conditions. On steep slopes in deep snow, the climber may climb straight up facing the slope. The ice ax shaft, driven directly into the snow, provides a quick and effective self-belay in case of a slip—the deeper the shaft penetrates the snow, the better the anchor (Figure 10-1). It is usually best, however, to climb snow-covered slopes in a traversing fashion in order to conserve energy, unless there is significant avalanche danger.

Figure 10-1. Self-belay on snow.

Figure 10-1. Self-belay on snow.

a.The progression from walking on flat terrain to moving on steep terrain is the same as for moving over snow-free terrain. If the snow is packed the sole of the boot will generally hold by kicking steps, even on steep slopes. Where it is difficult to make an effective step with the boot, a cut made with the adze of the ice ax creates an effective step. In these situations crampons should be used for faster and easier movement.

b. When descending on snow, one can usually come straight downhill, even on steep terrain. Movement downhill should be slow and deliberate with the climber using an even pace. The heels should be kicked vigorously into the snow. The body may be kept erect with the aid of an ice ax, which may be jammed into the snow at each step for additional safety. Here again, crampons or step cutting may be necessary. A technique known as glissading may also be used as an easy method of descent and is covered in detail later in this chapter.

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