Ice Axe Self Arrest Field Practice - Thoughts and Observations

Perry

Formerly Cuberant
.
Joined
Aug 8, 2016
Messages
2,072
My brother and I have plans to continue our quest of hiking the entire length of the Highline Trail in the Uintas on the last week of July. This being earlier than would be ideal, coupled with the extreme show fall we got this year, we expect to be crossing snow fields on some of the high passes. In preparation I recently purchased an ice axe for the purpose of self arrest.

I have watched several Youtube videos to learn just how to do self arrest. My favorite one is...


This last Saturday I spent several hours practicing the technique and made a short video. As I didn't have anyone to help record the "action" this video is just my thoughts and observations about the experience. I would appreciate any advice you might be able to offer to help supplement my limited experience with the technique.

 
Hey Cuberant,

I'm no expert at it so take everything I say with a grain of salt!

That being said, the one thing I'd do different from Cleverhiker is looking down towards your feet while arresting. By doing this, it also helps you drive the pick into the snow. From the video, Cleverhiker seems to be staring at the adze several times. If it's icy, that sucker can end up going into his face.
See 4:02

The other thing i'd advise is using beat-up clothes! Practicing self-arresting can cause some rippage on your nice shells!
 
Last edited:
I see what you are saying about where you are looking. Good tip!

Watching this guy I noticed something that I had struggled with. He doesn't get the pick into the snow until he has the axe well up under his chest where I started to get it into the snow before. This is probably why I had a difficult time getting the axe under me due to the pull. My instinct was to get the pick in the snow as quickly as possible and perhaps that is not the best approach. Rather be "patient" (if that's possible in a critical moment) and get the axe in position before engaging the pick.

Thanks for the great info!
 
Cool vids. One thing I think often doesn't get emphasized enough is self-belay: walking in step with the axe and only moving a foot when the axe is planted, so that a slip can be arrested immediately just by holding onto the planted axe. I've never had to do a real self arrest in practice largely because every time a step unexpectedly kicked out I already had the axe in the snow. A self arrest should be regarded as the last thing that might save you when all else has failed.

I liked to see (in that first vid) that they weren't tethered to the axe. I was taught that doing this is likely to make you reluctant to switch hands when you need to, and also to increase the likelihood of serious puncture wounds during a tumble. So rather, you just make sure to not drop the axe, and only use a tether when losing the axe is almost certainly fatal in itself, or when swinging the axe overhead to climb a snow/ice wall.
 
I was taught (and believe) that getting the pick into the snow ASAP is the #1 priority -- a ugly, fast arrest is infinitely preferable to building up speed while maintaining good form. But also if you get the pick into the snow while the axe is up above your head, it's almost certainly going to get ripped out of your hands, so it has to be under the chest.
 
I was taught (and believe) that getting the pick into the snow ASAP is the #1 priority -- a ugly, fast arrest is infinitely preferable to building up speed while maintaining good form. But also if you get the pick into the snow while the axe is up above your head, it's almost certainly going to get ripped out of your hands, so it has to be under the chest.

It was definitely instinctual to get the pick in asap and many times I came to a stop before I could get the axe under my chest.

This was my biggest surprise... just how much force is being exerted when the axe engaged the snow. Definitely caught me by surprise on my first try.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
Last edited:
I can echo what @regehr says having taken formal classes on mountaineering including ice axe belay and self-arrest. The ice axe has many uses, primarily it should be a self-belay tool. Then a climbing aid and lastly, a self-arrest tool.
#1. Don't fall
May sound dumb to say, but it's true. Proper ice axe self belay is most important! Use the ice axe as a cane but don't lean on it unless you need to, (sometimes over-relying on it can compromise your balance) use it as a balance aid. Your footing is more important. Climb in balance. Take time to kick steps or chop steps if that helps.
#2. If you do fall, self-arrest as quickly as possible.

Nothing beats real world practice and experience, but Freedom of the Hills is the book to get if you don't have it.

Take a class from a qualified instructor, I'd recommend it.
 
I can echo what @regehr says having taken formal classes on mountaineering including ice axe belay and self-arrest. The ice axe has many uses, primarily it should be a self-belay tool. Then a climbing aid and lastly, a self-arrest tool.
#1. Don't fall
May sound dumb to say, but it's true. Proper ice axe self belay is most important! Use the ice axe as a cane but don't lean on it unless you need to, (sometimes over-relying on it can compromise your balance) use it as a balance aid. Your footing is more important. Climb in balance. Take time to kick steps or chop steps if that helps.
#2. If you do fall, self-arrest as quickly as possible.

Nothing beats real world practice and experience, but Freedom of the Hills is the book to get if you don't have it.

Take a class from a qualified instructor, I'd recommend it.

It's funny... when I first started up the hill with axe in hand and slipped a couple of times #1 quickly came to mind.

Thanks for the book reference... I'll definitely look it up.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
Back
Top