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Thread: Self Arrest theory ve practice

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    Senior Member Chip's Avatar
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    Self Arrest theory ve practice

    The death on Shasta was a tragedy. A discussion has begun in that thread about self-arrest. It might be more appropriate to discuss that here.

    Winter hiking/mountaineering/climbing requires some skills that a) some people have no idea about b) some people understand/have read about what they're supposed to do but have never, or only briefly, practiced and c) some people understand completely and practice regularly. I'd guess the winter hiking community might break down into these categories like a)40% b)50% and c)10%. If you solo you need to know how to self arrest, but if you travel in a rope team YOU'D BETTER BE PRETTY DAMN GOOD at it.

    Most people should have at least done the otter slide down the hill with the controlled roll onto the axe. That's a bare-bones minimum. I doubt many have practiced head first and backwards while being dragged by your buddy into a crevasse or over a ledge. Or how to manage crampons in a slide.

    I'm no expert, not pretending to be, but I've done enough to realize this is one of those "taken for granted" skills that few who carry an axe may actually possess. This might be a good time of year to organize some outings where some of these skills can be practiced.
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    Moderator bikehikeskifish's Avatar
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    I refuse to even purchase an ice axe until I know how to actually use it for self arrest. At some point I'd like the opportunity to practice with experienced people. I can't currently "afford" to take a weekend-long mountaineering class.

    Tim
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    Senior Member nartreb's Avatar
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    Chip makes excellent points. Proper axe technique takes practice.

    Question: where in New England are the best spots to practice?
    Looking for steep, long snowfields with relatively benign landings [type 1], or that can easily be securely belayed from solid (idiot-proof) anchors [type 2].

    Tuckerman bowl [type 1], where else? Any ski areas that don't mind having their slopes torn up, maybe just before a scheduled resurfacing?
    Last edited by nartreb; 12-03-2008 at 10:12 AM. Reason: m

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    Senior Member cbcbd's Avatar
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    Self arresting is great and all and should be known, but here are some opinions I have on self-arresting that I think get lost or forgotten in the romantic view of the ice axe and it's legendary ability to save lives with the arrest of a pick - meaning, it's not just about the self-arrest:

    -If the snow is soft enough for plunging, the entire team or unroped individual should make an effort to make good plunges every time possible- if you or a member slips you won't need to self-arrest because you have already have a good belay.

    -If the snow is good for cramponing but not plunging (shallow layer of softer or styrofoam-like snow), your plunges won't work and you might be able to stop someone else's fall with a quick arrest. But still, with styrofoam snow, the cramponing should be "easier" and "safer", so you should have plenty of grip on your feet.

    -If the snow is too hard for plunging or just ice then you better not slip because if you do you will start going fast very quickly and make arresting very hard. If you're unroped you might be able to stop yourself. If you are in a rope team, everyone will probably be going for a ride (ie. Hood '02) with the right slope angle.

    - if you are deliberate in your footwork and don't slip or trip, you won't have to worry about yourself falling. If you do your best at self-belaying then you just have to trust and hope that your partners won't trip or fall.


    You should still know how to self-arrest as a last measure but I think practicing good footwork with crampons and overall good use of the axe to avoid trips and slides is more important than just focusing on self-arresting. IMO, if you're self-arresting then you or someone else already made a mistake.
    Last edited by cbcbd; 12-04-2008 at 01:48 PM.
    Doug

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    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nartreb View Post
    Chip makes excellent points. Proper axe technique takes practice.

    Question: where in New England are the best spots to practice?
    Looking for steep, long snowfields with relatively benign landings [type 1], or that can easily be securely belayed from solid (idiot-proof) anchors [type 2].

    Tuckerman bowl [type 1], where else? Any ski areas that don't mind having their slopes torn up, maybe just before a scheduled resurfacing?
    Huntington can be another good place. Obviously one needs good snow conditions (crusty is best). A good runout is also important--if you don't have one, you should belay the student. (Good time to practice a boot-axe belay while you are at it...)

    Both of the above areas have avy risk, so only go when the avy risk is posted as low.


    Tim: ice axes have other uses than self-arrest. But they also have 3 sharp points and keeping those points away from your (and others') flesh is also important.

    Doug

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    Senior Member Paradox's Avatar
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    All good points well taken. I would like to add that in my limited experience a good set of abdominal muscles, that are in shape, will go a long way toward making any learning/practice session beneficial and enjoyable. I recommend at least two good months of crunches and pilates type excercises before attempting the range of skills needed for self arrest.
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    Senior Member Orsonab's Avatar
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    The NH chapter of the AMC runs an excellent Glacier Travel workshop at Gunstock ski area every April. Amongst the many skills that are taught are self-arrest (head first, feet first, on your back, etc). It's a great workshop and excellent value for money ($25?). Look for details on their website or in the AMC Outdoors magazine.
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    Senior Member adktyler's Avatar
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    Another point I'd like to make is the difference between practice and real life experience. I think many people practice a little until then can do self arrests, and then go on their merry way. Yet when it comes to an actual accident, the skills have not been formed to a "instant reaction" stage of development. This is what I find most scary for myself, knowing that I can self arrest at the drop of a hat when I'm prepared, but not knowing for sure what will happen if I'm totally caught off guard. Now add terrain conditions to that (small trees, ice ledges), and it becomes even more complicated.

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    Senior Member wardsgirl's Avatar
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    I successfully self-arrested on Flume Slide before. I remember it well because I was three months pregnant!
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    Banned Kevin Rooney's Avatar
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    Another good practice slope is the Right Gully area of Tuckerman's. Wait until spring though, after the snow is well-consolidated. This is rarely skied, so no one is likely to look at you cross-eyed for practicing arrest, roped travel, or plunge stepping.

    And cbcbd's post is spot on.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Craig's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nartreb View Post
    Chip makes excellent points. Proper axe technique takes practice.

    Question: where in New England are the best spots to practice?
    Looking for steep, long snowfields with relatively benign landings [type 1], or that can easily be securely belayed from solid (idiot-proof) anchors [type 2].

    Tuckerman bowl [type 1], where else? Any ski areas that don't mind having their slopes torn up, maybe just before a scheduled resurfacing?
    Gulf of Slides is a great spot.

    When booting it up there, stay on the side of the trail so as not to trample on the ski tracks, lest you upset the many for the pleasures of the few.
    Enjoy your best

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    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ADK88 View Post
    Another point I'd like to make is the difference between practice and real life experience. I think many people practice a little until then can do self arrests, and then go on their merry way. Yet when it comes to an actual accident, the skills have not been formed to a "instant reaction" stage of development. This is what I find most scary for myself, knowing that I can self arrest at the drop of a hat when I'm prepared, but not knowing for sure what will happen if I'm totally caught off guard. Now add terrain conditions to that (small trees, ice ledges), and it becomes even more complicated.
    In real life, a quick and sloppy arrest can be more effective than a slow arrest with perfect form. Once you build up speed, there is little hope for a successful arrest.

    This is one reason for practice--so you can act on fast reflexes rather than having to think about it.

    Doug

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    Senior Member MichaelJ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Rooney View Post
    Another good practice slope is the Right Gully area of Tuckerman's.
    Back in 2002 I took the AMC's "Winter Mountaineering Skills II" course, and we went into the lower bowl on that side and trained on the four variations (head/feet first, prone/supine) of ice axe self arrest. An excellent experience. Definitely, anyone winter hiking in areas where they think they may need axe should get training or at least practice like this.
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    Senior Member sardog1's Avatar
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    Remember also that "in practice" means with a winter-weight pack on your back. Good idea to train that way, for all types of falls, once you've mastered it pack-less.

    The New England Lost Ski Areas Project might help you locate disused slopes that are close enough for some serious practice. And you might even find some of those trees to dodge.
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    Another option is the whippet attachment for Black Diamond poles. It is like having an axe pick on the handle of your poles. Grivel makes a version too. Many ski mountaineers swear by their whippets and don't carry axes. The reasoning is that the poles are always in your hands, as soon as you slip just plunge them into the snow before a slide picks up speed. Also, as poles are always in your hands they are always ready to be deployed unlike the axe that may be still strapped to a pack.

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