Peanut butter and jam, Harry and Sally, glaciers and crevasses. Inseparable and perfection, one without the other would just be boring. At the start of our trip to the West coast we met up with Canadian Rockies Alpine Guides to bump our number of interactions with glaciers from 0 to 1 before heading into one of the premier alpine climbing destinations in the world.
The course was held on the Icefields Parkway and in the surrounding mountains. Our general climbing and multipitch knowledge made it easier to understand the concepts and helped me in particular retain the knowledge because I understood WHY we each step was important. It was a fantastic course with a solid guide. Jay comes highly recommended by the JTA.
Day 1: Crevasse Rescue
We began with simple skills to get the group up to speed. Figure-8, clove hitch, 8 on a bite, nothing too fancy. Using an ATC in guide mode … we got this. We all racked up with the most efficient (minimal) amount of gear needed to perform a crevasse rescue (2 x lockers, 3 x non-lockers, a prusik, a cordallette, and an ATC w belay beaner). After a short drive and a hike up to a steep drop we dropped our packs and learned the deadman’s anchor and a T-slot. We were both blown away with how bomber this snow anchor was. I would have bungee jumped off of it. Girth hitch a sling with a carabiner to your axe and pound it in (pick down) then cover with snow. Boom. Anchor.
Here are the next steps to safely raise someone from a crevasse:
- Prusik on the climber side of rope (if not pre rigged) and then clip directly to anchor. Back this up with a clove hitch directly to anchor.
- Build a figure 8 on a bite (or alpine butterfly) on the back side of the clove hitch about a foot away.
- If there is enough rope drop a loop with a locker to your partner to clip into (from the figure 8 on a bite).
- If the person is unconscious or there isn’t enough rope attach this loop to the climbers side of the rope using a prusik knot.
- ATC in guide mode attached to knot from step 2, clip the drop rope into ATC with climbers side on top.
- Add a prusik to the climbers side (from ATC) of the drop loop and clip the tail (from ATC) to this prusik).
- Haul this end until the prusik is close to the ATC, reset the prusik and repeat.
If this is difficult to imagine – go take a course from an instructor, totally worth it.
After this day of frolicking around in the faux-crevasse scenarios we headed back to camp to learn how to ascend a rope properly, something I thought I knew how to do but apparently didn’t. Jay taught us a much more efficient system than my re-imagined spider nest. Applicable if there isn’t a proper anchor or it is not possible to build a haul system.
- Prusik + single length slight directly to harness
- Cordelette (prusiked) w knot at height at high foot position placed below the first prusik.
- Stand up in cordelette, raise harness prusik, sit back in harness, raise foot cordelette.
- Repeat (clip figure 8 in a bite directly to harness every so often as a backup)
End of Day 1
Day 2: Glacier Travel
This was such a cool day. Our first day roped up on a glacier. As we moved into the terrain I became much more intimidated. There was clearly rockfall areas small avalanche paths, and crevasses all over. Getting this instruction was crucial to our confidence and competency over the next two weeks.
We strapped on our crampons and learned how to rope up for glacier travel:
- Put an eight in a bite in the center of the rope and two more a measured 3 arm lengths on either side of the center (6 between you). There are different lengths for more than two party members but I’ll keep it simple here.
- Each partner clips into the far knots with either two opposite and opposed locking biners or one magnet / swivel locking biner (A regular locking biner can come undone from bouncing around all day which I experienced later in the trip).
- Pre-rig a prusik on your line leading to your partner in the event that you have to perform a rescue.
- Butterfly coil up the remained of the rope starting from the tail towards your harness and stow in backpack (mountaineers coil is more for show than anything).
Here are the steps to navigating crevasse terrain:
- Identify crevasses and avoid them.
In reality there is a ton of knowledge and experience that is required to identify high probability areas (convex area over a ridge, drop in the snow, etc.) but the idea is to “Not fall in a crevasse”. All of the ice surrounding a snowbridge is actually bomber so it can be trusted (one of my first questions), it helps to probe a potential snow bridge to see if it is shallower than an axe length.
We did not review self-arrest as our guide described it as mostly a useless thing to practice. A) you practice it in safe terrain that is low angle enough that you could likely stop just by digging your arms in B) if you practice in dangerous terrain i.e. steep enough that you cannot stop by flailing, well you’re in a dangerous scenario where the self arrest may not work. Lesson learnt. Don’t fall.
I had the opportunity at the end of the day to lead the whole group through the last section of glacier terrain and off to the trail down a ridge line. I have never been so amazed and exhilarated and worried all about walking at a slow pace.
It would be in poor form if I didn’t make the note that this is all just a sharing of our experience and you should read lots of books (Like Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, 8th Edition or Glacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue: Reading Glaciers, Team Travel, Crevasse Rescue Techniques, Routefinding, Expedition Skills 2nd Edition) and get real instruction before listening to anything I’ve written here.