Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Ice Bollard

Steep snow or ice can be descended two ways. A climber could downclimb the terrain or he could rappel. Rappelling is always a dangerous option as a lot can go wrong...but in the mountains, sometimes the speed of rappelling is safer than downclimbing.

AAI Guide Kevin Hogan Rappels Off of an Ice Bollard

In hard frozen snow or on ice, one option is to create a bollard. A bollard is essentially a tear-drop shaped pillar that is cut into a frozen surface with an ice axe adze. The rope is then wrapped around the bollard for the rappel. Once the rappel is completed, the climber can simply pull the rope.

Bollards are not the strongest anchors available, but they are quick and effective. If you choose to use a bollard, it is important to do two things. Back them up and reset the rope after each rappel.

An Ice Bollard loosely Backed-Up by an Ice Screw

To back-up a bollard, create the bollard and then preset the rope. Place a piece of snow protection (e.g. a picket buried as a deadman) and then loosely clip a sling to both the piece and to the rope. Once this is set-up, the heaviest person with the heaviest pack should rappel first. The theory is that if the heaviest person with the heaviest pack doesn't blow out the bollard, then a lighter person should be able to remove the back-up piece and safely rappel.

To reset the rope after each rappel, simply treat the rope like dental floss. Pull on each end of the rope once your down. Resetting the rope like this will ensure that it doesn't freeze into place and get permanately stuck.

An Ice Bollard backed-up by an Ice Screw

Snow and ice bollards are a quick and effective style of anchoring that avoids leaving trash -- or expensive gear -- behind. Practice with this style of rappel anchor will lead to a solid and safe understanding as to how one should employ them effectively...

--Jason D. Martin


  1. Great tip!( I think this is the first tip I read on this blog).Any tips for beginners?

  2. Paul,

    Cruise our previous months. There are tons and tons of tips for beginner, intermediate and advanced level climbers on this blog.


  3. Why would you back it up with an ice screw that wasnt under tension or at least nearly under tension? Surely if your bollard blows, the screw is going to massively shock loaded with the amount of slack you have in the system shown in those pictures?

  4. Good question.

    The main reason is because you don't want to leave the screw. The idea is to test the bollard with a back-up, and then to take the screw out so that you don't have to leave it behind.

    If you equalize the screw into the system, then you will have to leave it with the system. This could get expensive as ice screws cost between $40 and $80.



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