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Mountaineering Tips and Techniques

Mountaineering in the remote wilderness requires almost complete self-reliance. There is no backup plan. Everything a mountaineer does will have a direct and dramatic impact on comfort, success, and the end result: whether they get home safely or not. Subjecting oneself to the harshest environments, for whatever the reason, breeds the same types of techniques and strategies. Mountaineering has long been considered one of the toughest and most demanding outdoor “sports;” because of that, much can be learned from the basic techniques, which can be used in normal outdoor survival situations.

Much of the “coursework” of mountaineering involves understanding, studying, and learning about the environment of the mountains. Mountaineering is as much a science as it is an art, and the risks involved, while they can never be completely mitigated, can be tamed significantly. Mountaineering requires situational awareness, an appropriate practice in most off-the-grid and emergency/survival situations.

There are risks, both objective and subjective in mountaineering, including:

Glacier travel is an important part to high-altitude mountaineering; it’s important to understand how to move across/through glaciers and crevasses. Specifically, it’s important to understand how to navigate these ice flows in case a rescue is necessary.

Glaciers are flows of ice which are fed by the snow melt from the accumulation of snow at the head of the glacier.  The buildup of snow and ice causes an incredible amount of pressure to be exerted on the lower ice, which eventually begins “flowing.” Glaciers try to move ice from top to bottom and are constantly moving.

Ice at its surface does not have a lot of pressure exerted upon it, so it tends to be brittle and crack as the underlying glacial flow moves. These cracks are called crevasses and extend as far as the top brittle surface of ice, which can be around 200 to 275 feet. It is because of these crevasses that glacier travel is so difficult and risky. New snow can cover and hide crevasses, essentially making them large and deadly booby traps. Crevasses are the reason why mountaineers tie off to each other and anchor their ropes while traveling over glaciers. A good mountaineer or outdoorsman looking to travel in glacier country will understand the ice flows and the nature of the area as well as use prudent measures and travel in groups which are capable of sustaining safety and fall prevention in glacial travel. Safety and technical equipment will be paramount.

“Ice fall,” an extensive interwoven and interconnected jumble of crevasses, can create a scenario where glacier travel must be done underneath or within the crevasses rather than on the surface of the glacier.

At the foot of the glacier, the ice spreads out into the valleys and the compression from the sides is reduced; the tension that results causes “longitudinal crevasses.” At the head, massive transverse crevasses, called “Bergschrunds,” form at the place where the ice flow moves away from the mountain rock. The crevasse that is furthest up represents the start of the glacier flow. Where it is concave, like in valleys or areas of slow glacial flow, crevasses are forced closed.  These areas will be easier and safer to travel upon.

Finding an appropriate and safe route is a combination of understanding the tension areas and knowing where to expect the crevasses that come along with them. As a general rule, convex areas represent tension and concave areas on the glacier indicate compression. You will want to find routes that follow concave areas and avoid bulges, ridges, high points and other convex areas if possible.  It is very important that a traveler equates any linear feature on the mountain, including depressions, shadows, or color changes, to dangerous crevasses.

While this text is a simple precursory exploration of mountaineering and some of the ties between it and the basic survival experience, the lessons learned in the predictive sciences of mountaineering and the experience gained can be of major importance to those seeking comprehensive survival information. Should you ever find yourself within walking distance of the glacier and in a survival situation, hopefully some of this information will be of use. The real underlying hope, however, is that this information piques an interest within you that will help you in your research to determine more proficient and effective ways to carry out your normal routines and help sustain your growth as a survivalist. After all, experience, techniques, and information forged in the most unforgiving places on earth, such as mountaineers experience on a regular basis, are as good as any in the survival genre.

©2012 Off the Grid News