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Glacier Travel: Rope on uphill or downhill hip?

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Glacier Travel: Rope on uphill or downhill hip?

Postby jstluise » Mon May 23, 2016 8:20 pm

I've always put the rope on the downhill hip, but recently I've seen a couple references recommend putting the rope on the uphill hip. The reason being that if someone behind you falls, it will spin you into the slope which is where you want to be for arresting. The downside is more chances to step on the rope and get tangled up while climbing especially if any slack gets in the rope.

Maybe it just comes down to personal preference, but I wanted to see what other people think.
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Re: Glacier Travel: Rope on uphill or downhill hip?

Postby rgg » Tue May 24, 2016 1:18 am

My choice? Always downhill on the glacier.

Perhaps I misunderstand it, but I'm confused by the argument you give for putting the rope on the uphill hip.

To get a clear picture, let's assume we're traversing a slope with the downhill side on my left. Now, if the person behind me falls while I've got the rope downhill and I don't drop down instantly into a self arrest position, I'll turn 90 degrees to the left, either voluntarily or because the falling climber pulls me in that direction (and unless the climber already self arrested, I'll probably fall too). Alternatively, with the rope uphill and I don't attempt an instantaneous self arrest, I'll turn 270 degrees to the right. I reckon that that's much more likely to send me flying down the slope before I know what's happening.

As for stepping on a rope to stop a fall? The only situation where I imagine that will work is if the slope is hardly dangerous to begin with. If the slope is even moderately steep and there isn't enough soft snow to slow down a falling climber, picking up spead happens real fast, and consequently the sudden pull on the rope when it gets taut is much too big to stop by simply standing on the rope. You'll be swept off your feet.

Mind you, if it's a steep slope without much soft snow, a falling climber that fails to self arrest quickly is more than likely to send the whole rope team downhill. Once that's happening, chances of stopping are not good. When a rope team is falling, self arrest is unlikely to work unless most of those on the rope manage to stop at pretty much the same time. If not, the ones still speeding down the slope will simply pull down the ones that had managed to stop. In a situation where a fall would be really dangerous, there are two serious alternatives: pitching out or going unroped. I've done both. Pitching out is the safer option, but takes (a lot) longer and running out of time has it's own dangers. Therefore I regularly opt for going unroped. Provided that the conditions are such that self arrest is possible in the first place, it's much easier to stop a fall as a single climber, and in the unfortunate event that I fail at it, it's just me in trouble and not the whole team.
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Re: Glacier Travel: Rope on uphill or downhill hip?

Postby jstluise » Tue May 24, 2016 4:05 am

Here's an illustration from Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide To Glacier Travel And Crevasse Rescue:

Image

I think the argument is that if the direction of pull is coming from behind you, then having the rope on the uphill hip helps you from spinning all the way around. But if the person fall in a way that the direction of pull comes from the downhill side then I understand your point.

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that stepping on the rope will stop a fall. I meant that if you travel with the rope on your uphill hip that you'll have a tendency to accidentally step on the rope when walking, since gravity will push it into your feet if any slack develops.

I'll probably keep with the downhill hip, but just wanted to see everyone else's take on it.
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Re: Glacier Travel: Rope on uphill or downhill hip?

Postby rgg » Tue May 24, 2016 5:55 am

jstluise wrote:Here's an illustration from Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide To Glacier Travel And Crevasse Rescue:

Image

I think the argument is that if the direction of pull is coming from behind you, then having the rope on the uphill hip helps you from spinning all the way around.


Ah, those pictures clarify the idea. Not that I agree with it, but at least now I understand. I think that two different scenarios are relevant here: either the falling climber pulls the rest of the group without any warning, or the group somehow gets alerted before the rope is taut. In the second scenario the argument isn't relevant, because the rest of the group can act before getting spun. So far, that's the only scenario I've experienced personally. I've seen the other one happen. First time was when a big group came sliding down a steep slope, fortunately not on a dangerous place. They tried to stop but failed completely, until the slope flattened out a bit further down. No harm done, but a good lesson.

Without warning, I can see how the uphill hip might have its merits, though I'm unconvinced. I suppose that testing would be required to find out one way or another. That said, I can't see a valid test for it. I mean, knowing that we're testing that the climber behind me is going to fall, how can I behave as if I'm unexpectedly getting pulled off my feet? With advance knowledge I may be able to react fast enough to get into a self arrest position, and it's worthwhile in itself to test that. However, if I'm pulled off my feet unexpectedly in a real setting, I seriously doubt that I'll react fast enough. I think the unexpectedness combined with the momentum of getting pulled off my feet will quickly get me past the point, and I can't predict in what position I'll be tumbling down the mountain. Fortunately I've practiced self arrest from whatever position I'm tumbling. Unfortunately that won't help me much if the whole group is tumbling - which is why I mentioned that sometimes I prefer going unroped.

Image
We are traversing a steep, snow covered slope. It's no glacier, the snow is old but soft because it's warm, and we're not roped up. We don't expect to fall, but in the unfortunate event, it's either a real quick recovery or a pretty long drop. I remember this traverse vividly: mere minutes from this moment, she lost her footing. It all happened in an instant. She tried to arrest her fall and at the same time I grabbed her. A reflex action, by both of us, but it worked and she stopped almost immediately. I like to believe that she did it on her own and that my grabbing her wasn't really necessary. But to this day I'm not 100% sure about that.


jstluise wrote:Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that stepping on the rope will stop a fall. I meant that if you travel with the rope on your uphill hip that you'll have a tendency to accidentally step on the rope when walking, since gravity will push it into your feet if any slack develops.


My mistake, I misunderstood that. And I agree that accidentally stepping on the rope is a potential risk associated with having it on the uphill side, so that's another argument for having it downhill instead.
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Re: Glacier Travel: Rope on uphill or downhill hip?

Postby clmbr » Wed May 25, 2016 5:54 pm

My main mountaineering policy is "No Fall". In other words, focus on your techniques and make no mistakes.

There is "self arrest" and there is "team self arrest". Every person in a team is supposed to practice both in various scenarios. No one can completely guarantee safety in the mountains but if one and a whole team is properly prepared, the risk of an unfavorable incident or recovery from it can be minimized.

Although I’ve climbed mostly solo (so forget the rope), I personally prefer rope down the slope to make the rope management easier. Stepping accidentally on the rope on a steep slope can trig a fall by itself. Safety should never be compromised with comfort. But sometimes being more comfortable may increase safety.

Nowadays people invent and argue about various climbing techniques and styles for whatever the reason. For me, if I and everyone from my team can get back from the mountains intact, I’m satisfied. And counting on luck in the mountains is not part of my mountaineering strategy. On the contrary and, therefore, I practice and require every team member to do so.

Chose whatever works best for you in terms of successful execution and overall safety.

Many people climb the mountains but not many are mountaineers.
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