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Ask the Master: Late Summer Glacier Travel

What is the best way to build an anchor in late summer glacier conditions?

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What is the best way to build an anchor in late summer glacier conditions? In old, hard late summer snow? When I bring a picket, the snow is too hard to hammer it in. If I bring screws, they are sort of useless as when there is exposed ice I can see crevasses anyway. I’m usually on a two-person team, so a dead man is too tricky while arresting.

 —Arran

Martin Volken, owner of Pro Guiding Service and Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend, WA, is a certified IFMGA Swiss Mountain Guide and guides in North America and Europe. He has been a member of the AMGA examiner team since 2000.
Martin Volken, owner of Pro Guiding Service and Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend, WA, is a certified IFMGA Swiss Mountain Guide and guides in North America and Europe. He has been a member of the AMGA examiner team since 2000.

Good preparedness for summer glacier travel can be a bit tricky. I deal with this very often, since the North Cascades hold precisely the snow you are talking about. Too soft for an ice screw and almost too hard for
a Picket in the late summer. What to do?

Well, you mentioned it. A dead man anchor while holding the fallen person is most likely what might have to happen. There is nothing elegant about arresting
a fall and then building an anchor. It is the often glanced over, but totally crucial component of a successful crevasse rescue mission.

[Also Read Master Class: How to Rappel With a Core-Shot Rope]

Very often though a set of equalized Pickets will work, and if nothing else you might be able to pound in an intermittent Picket and clip it to your “Prussik
sling type,” while you are digging the dead man. It might just take the needed amount of weight off your harness during that time. I generally still
bring one or two ice screws, just in case. They might also come in handy in case of needed self rescue if you have to have to anchor yourself to the
wall momentarily. Most importantly you have to practice this with a real load on you. There is not substitute.

—Martin Volken


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