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Tips and techniques for glacier travel on skis

During the summer of 2015, the weather was extremely dry and warm in the Alps, creating a situation where the glaciers were riddled with wide open crevasses. With winter approaching, Vivian Bruchez, Team Petzl member, high-mountain guide, and steep skier, recommends that everyone remain extremely cautious at the beginning of the season. This article will explain the key tips, techniques, and knowledge required for glacier travel and crevasse rescue haul systems, as well as list the essential gear to carry.

December 1 2015

Mountaineering

Vivian Bruchez, high-mountain guide and steep skier mixes mountaineering and off-piste skiing

© Vivian Bruchez

"I climbed the Aiguille du Tour at the end of September with Agathe, a longtime client. My summer guiding season was coming to a close. The mountains were calm, the full moon and the early autumn snows provided me with a sense of inner peace.
After walking on the glacier for an hour, I realized that fresh snow had covered several crevasses and that the beauty of the mountains on that particular day was only 'skin deep'. The snow bridges were still extremely weak and the very dry summer had clearly made its mark. Patience this fall has been more than a virtue, and traveling on any glacier in the Alps will continue to require remaining very alert and aware."

--Vivian Bruchez

 

Always heading into the mountains well prepared…

© PETZL / Marc Daviet

Falling into a crevasse represents one of the major risks involved in glacier travel. As a safety measure, always carry the proper gear for crevasse rescue and know the ins and outs of hauling systems and techniques. 

Essential gear for crevasse rescue

  • RAD SYSTEM: 3 locking carabiners, 1 progress capture pulley, 1 TIBLOC
  • 2 non-locking carabiners
  • 2 ice screws
  • 1 double-length sling (120cm)
  • 1 loop of accessory cord for an auto-blocking friction knot
  • 8m of 6mm accessory cord

Gear for glacier travel

  • harness
  • helmet
  • straight-shaft ice axe
  • a 30 to 50m single rope, the length depends on the number of climbers
  • properly adjusted crampons with anti-balling plates
  • headlamp

 

Reviewing glacier travel techniques

Glacier travel as a two-person rope team

If your partner falls into a crevasse, you first need to stop the fall without being pulled in yourself. As a two-person team, one partner serves as the counterweight. It is important to stack the cards in your favor by always traveling with the rope as tight as possible between you and your partner…

Approche glacière encordée à deux - conseil technique © PETZL / Marc Daviet

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Glacier travel with a partner and arresting a crevasse fall using the RAD SYSTEM

To stop a crevasse fall when traveling on a glacier, always making sure to keep the rope as tight as possible, people most often use a small-diameter dynamic rope. Several tests in the field prove that a lightweight static rope can also be used.

Progression simultanée et arrêt de chute en crevasse avec le RAD SYSTEM © PETZL / Marc Daviet

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Hauling techniques for crevasse rescue

Crevasse rescue technique no.1: transferring the weight of the victim to an anchor

Once the fall is arrested, the person on the surface serves as a counterweight to retain the victim. Quickly set an anchor to transfer the weight of the victim, and then set up the haul rescue system.

Secours crevasse n° 1 : transfert du poids de la victime sur un ancrage © PETZL / Boris Dufour

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Crevasse rescue technique no. 2: reaching the lip of the crevasse to assess the situation

Safe access to the lip of the crevasse will allow you to evaluate the victim's current state before starting to haul. The person on the surface should remain connected to the rope to protect against falling into the crevasse themselves.

Secours crevasse n° 2 : accès au bord de la crevasse pour évaluer la situation © PETZL / Marc Daviet

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Crevasse rescue technique no. 3: haul systems for crevasse rescue

Several types of haul systems exist, each with its strengths for handling a given situation.
As with all rescues, training and a thorough understanding beforehand of the proper techniques to apply are the best ways to ensure safety and success.

Secours crevasse n° 3 : mouflages pour le secours en crevasse © PETZL / Alexandre Buisse

View the three classic haul systems that you can set up on your own with minimal gear >

Handbook on crevasse rescue techniques

Handbook on crevasse rescue techniques - Petzl

Download and print the handbook [pdf]

 

View all of our mountaineering tech tips

On each activity page, the tech tips are organized by chapter: basics, belaying, gear…

Mountaineering tech tips on petzl.com

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