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Rope Travel

Crevasses can be difficult to detect and are frequently invisible under thin bridges of blown snow. Many of these bridges may be only a few inches thick and will not support the weight of a person or a vehicle. Roped travel is a necessity in any glaciated area which has not been previously inspected and deemed safe. However, do not assume that a previously traveled and marked route is safe. Glaciers are moving by their very definition and new crevasses can open up at any time. Known routes should be periodically inspected.

Practicing proper rope travel techniques can decrease, but never eliminate, the chances of an injury or loss of equipment in the event of a fall. The best advice for traveling in crevassed areas is to be careful and avoid falls in the first place. It’s easier to stay out of a crevasse than to extract someone out of one.

Roping Up

Proper roped travel technique achieves the following three goals:

  1. Slack rope in the system is kept to an absolute minimum in order to shorten the length of a potential fall.
  2. Only one member of a rope team will be on the same snow bridge at the same time.
  3. There will always be enough excess rope available in the system to reach a fallen victim should he or she need assistance while suspended in a crevasse.

The standard method of tying in to the rope uses a 150- foot or 165-foot climbing rope divided up into various lengths depending upon how many people will be on the rope. In most circumstances, 40-to 45-feet is the optimum distance between members of a rope team. This distance will be long enough to allow a team to cross most crevasses without having more than one member on a bridge at the same time, but short enough to facilitate communicating within the team in poor weather or when negotiating complicated terrain.

All team members should place their prussiks on the rope or have their mechanical ascenders and slings accessible whenever they rope up. If using prussiks, place the longer leg prussik on the rope closer to you and place the shorter waist prussik further away and clipped into the locking carabiner on your harness. Tuck the extra slack of the leg prussik away in a pocket or wrap it around the coil in such a way as to keep it accessible but also out of the way (to prevent tripping on it or having it get caught up in other equipment).

For all teams operating in areas with consistently larger crevasses, the distance between people on the rope has to be extended. The first person must carry extra rope to allow for the increased distances between people. The last person on the rope must carry a second rope, so that there is enough rope to perform a rescue. In any case, rescuers will always need to have 5- to 10-feet more of rope available for a rescue than the length of the safety rope connecting the rescuer to their partner, as the falling climber’s rope will dig into the lip of the crevasse more than the rescuer’s rope.

Victim’s rope digs into lip of crevasse

For rope teams with two members, each person ties a Figure 8-knot 20-feet to either side of the center of the rope, and clips into the loop with two locking carabiners on their harness. The locking carabiners should be rotated so that their gates oppose each other. Carry the remaining rope in coils around your body or stuffed into your pack. Coils are preferable because they allow you to take off your pack more easily. In this scenario, the farthest away your partner could be is 40-to 45-feet. Each person has 55- feet of available spare rope to use in a rescue.

Rope configuration for a two member team

For rope teams with three members, use the same 40-to 45-foot distance between people, with the middle person positioned at the middle of the rope. The people at either end must still carry extra rope to allow for a rescue.

Rope configuration for a three member team

For rope teams of four or five people, the group should be evenly spaced along the full length of the rope. Instead of clipping into Figure-8 loops on the rope, the two end people should tie directly into their harnesses using a Figure-8 follow through, thus avoiding having to use carabiners. If only one member falls in a crevasse, the team will always have enough extra rope available between people on the surface to reach the victim in the hole.

Rope configuration for a four member team

Rope teams of more than five people are not recommended. Large rope teams of four or five people are slow and cumbersome. Unless the team is very inexperienced, it’s usually better to break the group into two smaller teams. Besides the added convenience and flexibility, this also provides the benefit of having an extra rope available for a rescue or the ability to send a team for help.

Rope configuration for a five member team

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