Rappelling in snow

Rappelling in snow requires extreme caution. You can check any anchor point built in snow to see whether it will bear the weight of a climber. As with any belaying in the snow, it applies that if you can build your anchoring in rock even a little bit, you should always give the rock priority. If, however, you have no other option but snow, then certainly hard, thick, or firn snow is understandably more firm and better for setting up a rappelling station. If the snow is hard, firn snow, you can create an ice bollard. This is an artificial horn created in hard snow or ice. It can be built by digging away at the snow in such a way that a wide hump is formed, which can then be encircled with rope. The base of the hump can be spherically shaped with a point in the direction of rappelling (a pear shape).

Ice bollard in hard firn snow.

Ice bollard in hard firn snow.

In moderately hard snow the rappelling station can be created by folding two ice axes connected with a prusik and slings. After rappelling, a pull on one strand of rope uses the threaded prusiking hitches to pull the vertical ice axe upward, by which the entire rappelling station will come apart and you can pull it down easily with the rope. The connecting sling must be a bit longer so as not to prevent the vertical ice axe from sliding upward. The vertical ice axe must be the one in back, the horizontally placed ice axe serves to prevent the shaft of the vertical ice axe from cutting through the snow. This method needs to be well practiced, as it is not entirely simple.

Crosswise placement of ice axes for easy dismantling.

Crosswise placement of ice axes for easy dismantling.

Other rappelling options include rappelling from any snow anchor, however this will then remain in the terrain, which is not altogether environmentally conscious, nor is it a pleasant option financially. Nevertheless, if the snow anchor is well placed, this is by far the safest option.

Video: A crosswise placement of ice axes for rappelling in hard snow for easy dismantling. Note how the appearance of the ice axes is less clear in comparison to the idealized illustration above. The loops of the ice axes do not make the arrangement clear, and for this reason a person must be careful when constructing this rappelling anchor. At the beginning of the video, there is a brief example of the strength of this anchor, which can withstand even a sudden hang in the rope. There follows the dismantling manoeuvre accomplished by retracting the rope, and the automatic dismantling of the anchor point.

This content is preview from e-book.

Title Part 5Mountaineering Methodology – Part 5 – Snow and Ice

ISBN 978-80-87715-11-6

MMPublishing, 2013

Available for download from Apple iTunes (in the Books section).

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Title Part 5 GPMountaineering Methodology – Part 5 – Snow and Ice

ISBN 978-80-87715-16-1

MMPublishing, 2014

Available for download from Google Play