We recently ran an article on the stomper belay, a snow climbing belay technique. In the vein of continuing to explore snow climbing belay techniques, we decided that we should spend some time on the butt-axe technique.
No. Not the buttocks technique...the butt-axe technique. So wipe that smirk off your face!
Seriously, the butt-axe technique is a good secure snow belay for steep terrain. This is an excellent technique for forty to fifty-degree steep snow. Part of the reason that it is so good, is that it is extremely fast.
The reason that this is referred to as a butt-axe belay is because after the axe is placed vertically in the snow, and a bite of rope is clipped to the axe, the climber must sit down on the head of the tool. After he sits, he will kick his heels in to create a better snow seat on top of the axe.
The climber is generally tied in directly to the end of the rope. He measures one to two feet of rope out from his harness and then clips it into the head of the axe. Once he's done this, he can sit down on it. A loop of rope is created coming from his harness to the axe. This loop becomes a new belay loop.
In the following picture you can see the loop coming out from the climber's knot to a carabiner with a munter-hitch on it. The rope then contours back underneath him to the axe.
In the preceding picture, the climber is using a munter-hitch to belay. It would also be possible to belay from the loop with a device.
The butt-axe belay is super fast, super simple, and super effective. But like the other techniques described here, it's best to experiment with this belay on low-angle terrain with minimal consequences before employing it in a real setting. You will want to know exactly how well this works in different kinds of snow prior to putting it to the test in the field.
Snow is one of the most variable mediums that we climb. It constantly changes, providing us with many different experiences throughout the season. The more techniques you have in your quiver, the more effective a snow climber you'll be!
--Jason D. Martin