General Mountaineering Situations and Avoidable Mistakes
A reminder of some things not to do while climbing in the mountains or traveling on glaciers.
by Roger J Fleming & MNGS Staff
- Sustaining a head injury during a fall or being hit by falling rocks or ice. Grey matters – Wear a helmet.
- Being on a glacier unroped – it’s injudicious and dangerous, now more than ever. Hidden crevasses and snow bridges exist everywhere and no one knows where they all are. Additionally, as weather has changed dramatically over the past few seasons, crevasses are opening up and snow bridges are failing where they never did before. Don’t be the one who discovers the newest hole while traveling unroped.
- Being roped too close together on a glacier and being pulled into a crevasse by another team member. Even if not pulled in, you may not have enough rope between you and the crevasse to establish a reliable anchor or mechanical advantage system if needed. This is the most common glacier mistake.
- Falling into a crevasse yourself (or having a new climber go into a crevasse) and getting stuck because you can’t use basic mountaineering equipment or tie basic knots. Be certain you and your rope team members can tie and correctly use/ascend on friction knots before you go up high or onto a glacier.
- Not carrying all the necessary gear for mountain travel/self-rescue and knowing how to use it properly. Never depend upon others for your safety or rescue! If you don’t have the gear and experience to use it appropriately, you should be with a guide. Don’t be a liability for others – act responsibly !
- Not knowing how to establish strong, reliable snow anchors and escape your tie-in point on the rope when another team member falls into a crevasse.
- Not knowing how to rig an assisted and unassisted hoist. You should be able to assist a partner in a crevasse if they are injured or need your help and cannot ascend the rope.
- Flipping upside down during a crevasse fall and not knowing how to right yourself (or a partner hanging in a crevasse). An unconscious climber, hanging solely from a waist harness, can suffocate in a short period of time even when in perfect health, due to abdominal muscle fatigue.
- Increasing your fall distance into a crevasse and increasing the extrication work for yourself (or your partner) by allowing excess rope to build up between rope team members. Avoid unnecessary slack.
- Shocking or overloading your snow anchor when hoisting a climber from a crevasse, due to the use of mechanical advantage systems. Hoisting systems greatly increase the force load transmitted to an anchor, so assure that anchors are constructed with multiple anchor points, redundant and equalized with a cordelette and suited to the load.
- Building an anchor or snow/ice belay with placements all in one plane or glacial feature. If such a feature fails, the result could be total anchor failure. Be sure that one placement failure cannot affect others.
- Using gear inappropriately. Double up on critical safety pieces, belays, anchors, and use locking carabiners (or doubled reversed carabiners) where needed.
- Failing to agree upon communications techniques with your climbing partner. Be sure that you and rope team members understand how to communicate non-verbally before communication becomes difficult or impossible. A person in a crevasse cannot hear anyone on the glacier above and visa-versa. Wind can also greatly reduce or eliminate all hearing.
- Dropping your rappelling/belaying gear or ascension device and not knowing how to rig alternatives. Learn and practice friction knots, the carabiner-brake rappel and Munter Hitch.
- Getting hair or loose clothing caught in an abseil device. Tie hair back and tuck clothing in.
- Failing to have self-check systems and using them. Avoid chatting or being otherwise sidetracked while conducting/constructing them. (Harness buckle doubled back, helmet on, belay device properly rigged, etc). Visually check your partner’s tie-in knots, harness buckle, safety and belay setups also.
- Getting benighted, or exposing yourself to unnecessary risk because you left the headlamp in your pack or at home. A headlamp and batteries are basic equipment even on single day outings.
- Dropping gear or equipment because pack pockets are left unzipped or open. Avoidable/unforgivable.
- Dressing inappropriately on glaciers (t-shirts, shorts, etc). Dress as if you could go into a crevasse at any time.
- Climbing under/behind other parties on loose routes. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way by being under dangerous parties or natural phenomena (rocks, avalanche slopes, seracs) when it is avoidable.
- Not knowing your climbing partner. Don’t accept what you are told as necessarily being gospel. Critically evaluate your circumstances and apply your own common sense. Be aware of your climbing partners’ limitations and climb accordingly.
- Assuming inexperienced partners will do the right thing. Explain first and get them to demonstrate techniques as confirmation of effective communication, prior to the system being relied upon.
- Many mountain travelers do not have the experience or knowledge to protect themselves or their partners, or to rectify problematic situations. Don’t be one of them: Get trained or hire a guide.
- Following the tracks of others and reading books will not teach you how to pick safe routes, extricate you or your partner from a crevasse, build reliable snow anchors or hoist an injured partner out of a glacier. Don’t be fooled by thinking you can accomplish these things because you understand drawings in books or have practiced indoors (or without gloves and a pack in freezing conditions).
- Mountain accidents are unforgiving and almost always occur in unfriendly, unexpected situations. Get professional training and practice the techniques on which the life of you or your partner depend.
NOTE: This article is the property of MatterhornNepal-GuideSource Treks & Expeditions (P) Ltd. and is copyrighted. No part of this article or information may be used without full attribution and prior written consent of MNGS.