Friday, September 6, 2019

Climbing as a Party of Three on Technical Glaciated Climbs

Climbing as a party of two is common but there are several advantages to climbing as a party of three. One more person to lead, more assistance in the event of an accident, dispersing group gear weight, better sourcing of belay comedy, etc. One key disadvantage is that systems can get more complicated with one more person, and in turn slow down the speed of the party's climbing. Let's look at a few basics for making a party of three successful on glaciated alpine climbs that are more technical- like the North Ridge of Baker. None of these techniques should be tried for the first time on a climb, practice beforehand, and if in doubt seek qualified instruction/guidance- this blogpost should not be your sole source of information on these techniques and should be treated as a "tech tip" rather than an exhaustive how-to.

Glacier Travel
One great plus: three people traveling on a crevassed glacier is better than two! Some will opt to set up the rope so that each end person has extra rope to effect crevasse rescue depending on the situation and techniques practiced.

Climbers travel on the Easton Glacier, Mt. Baker

For smaller, isolated sections of technical climbing it can be efficient to caterpillar: one person leads, the first follower attaches in the middle of the rope-climbs to the anchor, the second follower ties into the end of the rope and follows after the first follower has completed the pitch. This can potentially save the need for bringing a second rope if the technical sections of a climb are short (<30 meters).

Climbing in caterpillar style on the icy crux step of the North Ridge, Mt. Baker. The leftmost climber is still attached to the previous anchor and will not climb until they are on belay (after the middle climber is done with the pitch).

For moderate snow climbing that is too steep to self-arrest on, and isn't quite steep enough to merit caterpillar or parallel, consider end-roping. This is a common technique used for guiding but can be applicable in recreational climbing as well. The leader climbs- potentially placing gear depending on terrain and comfort, and builds a belay (utilizing their body and/or snow/rock/ice protection), and belays the two climbers on the far end of the rope. For the two climbers on the end: one ties into the end of the rope, the second climber is on a bight knot (an overhand with a cow's tail is common) 6+ feet from the end. It is important that both climbers on the end of the rope work together with their pacing so that slack isn't developed and the distance between them is adjusted as needed (don't want to kick somebody with crampons!).

Tow followers in end-rope formation. On homogenous "smooth" snow/neve terrain, letting the extra rope simply slip downhill is fine and can speed up systems.


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