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The dangers of alpine climbing
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adeptus


Nov 9, 2005, 9:42 AM
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The dangers of alpine climbing
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Iím amazed that I still climb considering the risky situations Iíve been in within just a few years of alpine climbing. I honestly canít argue reasonably for why Iím doing it. I just do it because it feels right and it gives a feeling of real achievement. So here are my closest calls:

1. Abseiling on the same rope that my climbing partner had just fallen off from. The route was overhanging and I couldnít see what had happened, so I just went down the rope and found myself hanging in the middle of a blank wall. I was really tired and trying to continue down on my own was pretty dangerous, because I was also pretty shaken by the fact that my climbing partner was lying a few hundred meters below me in the talus.

2. Another abseil that could have ended in a bad way. Very long route, my partner was so tired that he anchored himself to a loose flake in the middle of a steep wall, when he could have picked a nice ledge. I got down to the ledge wondering where he was. Then I saw him 20 meters to my side and a few meters down on that flake. I had to pendulum over to him on a pair of 8.2 mm ropes that I knew was running over an edge 50 meters above me and I was looking down at the glacier 400 meters below. The rope could only just reach the flake because of the elongation from my body weight. So when I shifted my weight to the anchor the ropes almost bounced away from us. I got one end and wasnít even sure it was the right rope to pull. When we finally got down to the glacier I was just about to puke from the whole experience.

3. Stone fall at the beginning of a long route. I was at a difficult section, when I suddenly heard what I though was thunder. Fridge size blocks were coming down just a few meters behind my back and I could hear the whistle pass. My free climbing ethics went to hell and to pulled on a piton and pressed myself a tightly to the wall a possible. The mortar-like rain of debris almost hit a few guys down on the glacier. Every impact on the glacier looked like a bomb going of with ice thrown several meters up in the air around the craters.

4. Long route. Had a feeling all morning that I just wasnít up to the task that day. Got on the route anyway. 500 meters up we got off route and were getting in some real mess. We saw some old cord hanging and though that it must be an anchor on the route. Big mistake! It was old abseil cord and there was no route going up that way. I was on a lead and could simply not find protection, because of the flaring cracks. I was pinching my way up when I got to a point where I just started to get really pumped. I desperately tried to get a piece in a flare, but it wouldnít go in. I couldnít reverse the moves. I was pumped so much that I had to alternate the hands to try to get a piece in. Finally I got a nut to stick sideways, but because of the flare I wasnít even sure it could hold body weight. I was completely exhausted, so I sat down and just prayed that it would hold. It did, and tried ever piece on our rack in every flare I arms reach. Got a couple of pieces in a got lower down to my belayer. I was completely burned out mentally and was shaking from exhaustion. My partner had to lead the last 5 pitches to the summit. That evening I did all the cooking.

5. Triggered a slab avalanche just below the top of a snow route. Managed to hook a piece of rock to the side with one tool and watched the snow slope go down the route I just came up. Good thing that I didnít have a partner on that climb!

6. Start of route. A lot of snow had fallen, so we chose a ridge climb, but had to get up past a bergschrund to gain the ridge. Roped in, just about to go up the slightly overhanging ice section, when the entire slope above us came down. We both jump in a small crevasse below the lip of the schrund and the avalanche passed over our heads. No harm done, so we continued.

7. Soloing an easy high altitude snow climb. Snow bridge collapsed and I just managed to get an axe on the other side, but was buried in snow to the armpits and my feet were swinging in the air some 20 meters above the crevasse floor.

So the dangers of my alpine climbs have been: Abseils, stone fall, going past climbing ability, avalanches and crevasses. So in short, every classic danger of alpinism.

What are the most dangerous situations you have experienced while alpine climbing?


Partner brent_e


Nov 9, 2005, 11:37 AM
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Sorry to hear that you lost your partner. What route was it on?
What does your family think about all this???

Personally, no alpine experience. Can't comment in that respect but holy crap, man, sounds like you have enough for a couple people.

Brent


agrauch


Nov 9, 2005, 11:45 AM
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In reply to:
Abseiling on the same rope that my climbing partner had just fallen off from. The route was overhanging and I couldnít see what had happened, so I just went down the rope and found myself hanging in the middle of a blank wall. I was really tired and trying to continue down on my own was pretty dangerous, because I was also pretty shaken by the fact that my climbing partner was lying a few hundred meters below me in the talus.

Wow dude, that sucks. What happened to your partner?

Most dangerous situations this year have been:
1. One of two stoppers in a rap anchor failed when I was about 8 feet below the anchor. I climbed back up and replaced it as well a put in another piece. I think it popped again when I was about half way down the rap. Strange thing was, my partner rapped off the same anchor before me with no problems.

2. Nearly got stuck overnight on a glacier at 18K without bivy gear and very little food and water. We found our way down the glacier block by large crevasses and spent a few hours looking for a way through. When we realized that it was going to get dark soon and that our current course of action was futile, we climbed back up the glacier and committed to a downward traverse of the glacier. Somehow we managed to feel our way down by starlight.

All part of the fun.


adeptus


Nov 9, 2005, 12:03 PM
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My climbing partner abseiled off the end of the rope. We were both tired and just wanted to get down as fast as possible. I always remember to tie a knot at the end of the rope now, no matter how short the supposed abseil is. It happened on some obscure route in Chamonix. My family don't hear about these stories, except for the one were I came home alone. They would be scared every time I went on a trip, so there's no point in doing so.


jeldship


Nov 11, 2005, 4:55 PM
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Hi adeptus, I noticed that your list of routes climbed includes the Pilier Cordier in the Mont Blanc du Massif, it's quite a beautiful route--I was wondering how did you find that one? Any problems?


builttospill


Nov 11, 2005, 9:36 PM
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Adeptus, your stories are interesting. As others have said, I'm sorry to hear about your partner.

I've never done particularly dangerous routes, and I've only done local stuff in Utah. I've only known one person who came close to dying as a result of alpine climbing, and I didn't know him when it happened.

Not sure how I'll handle it if and when it eventually happens that someone near me dies. But this is a good topic. I'd like to hear other people's experiences.


unclebob


Nov 11, 2005, 10:53 PM
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To be honest, I'b rather not dig up every time I almost bought it due to circumstances not fully under my control.

It just seems to reinforce the notion that alpinism is an affliction, not a hobby, and that I really should give it up...

I just thank god that I wasn't killed, or worse, that one of my partners were killed on my watch.


adeptus


Nov 12, 2005, 1:15 AM
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In reply to:
Hi adeptus, I noticed that your list of routes climbed includes the Pilier Cordier in the Mont Blanc du Massif, it's quite a beautiful route--I was wondering how did you find that one? Any problems?

It was a very nice route, except that this was the route I mentioned with the stone fall and where I had to pendulum on the descent.
Just start early and you won't have problems with the stone fall. As always, keep your head clear when abseiling down again. (I really hate abseils!)
A part this the route it self is very beautiful, with good crack climbing all the way. Don't skip the last part of the climb as it has some of the most interesting pitches (roof crack etc.). The summit is a thin granite fin, with a panoramic view of the Mont Blanc Massif. Probably the finest summit I've been on.


jeldship


Nov 13, 2005, 6:06 AM
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nice picture of a great climb,
i agree approaching the route and getting there early in the cold shadows of the morning will manage the rock fall risk better--(then again the rock will be so cold..)-a few years ago, we had no rock fall on the climb itself (july) i remember it was mostly with pitches somewhat exposed. we made good time up to the summit and many rappels down, but in the return across the glacier des Nantillons there was a couloir nearby the climb that was dripping with rock fall rather steadily so it was decided by my very experienced leading prof. to run very hard across this fairly wide section of glacier. i couldn't understand it but shortly afterwards realized that one of the big dangers in alpine mountaineering is the silent and SEEMINGLY distant natural events of rock/ice/snow fall which can arrive at your door quite suddenly and your reactions will be too late.
also one thing i thought about in my own rappel experience is making a conscious point of checking your own belay AND your partners belay and the set up for descent at each belay station -- do it with simple short verbal exchanges-it almost is like a chant to check the gear and if it is the same each time it becomes second nature and a kind of back up under the stresses of climbing which are always there no matter how much experience you have --i think the risk in many raps down is that if you are doing it efficiently it can almost become automatic and that is when of course the system may fail.
tiredness is always a big danger and your wise advice that climbers should chose the right climbs to do within their skill AND fitness level for the altitude is so important especially when it seems like peer pressures may make getting out there and leading a monster climb so tempting to try.

The Rebuffat " les 100 plus belles courses -Le Massif du Mont Blanc" has one of the best ever short but very complete pieces of "advice" on becoming an alpinist and includes a section on choosing a climb --

so it will be interesting to hear about other experiences of close calls--if you DON'T learn from past mistakes then, well, mountaineering becomes sort of a crazy thing to do. it certainly sounds like you have learned a lot.,


adnix


Nov 13, 2005, 10:25 AM
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The rope could only just reach the flake because of the elongation from my body weight. So when I shifted my weight to the anchor the ropes almost bounced away from us. I got one end and wasnít even sure it was the right rope to pull.
Been there, done that. Both me and my partner have abseiled off the ropes plenty of times on purpose. We did that on the Midi South Face, too, but at that itme it wasn't too much fun. I had to solo down few meters barefoot on not-so-easy ground.

In reply to:
Stone fall at the beginning of a long route. I was at a difficult section, when I suddenly heard what I though was thunder. Fridge size blocks were coming down just a few meters behind my back and I could hear the whistle pass.
I don't count rockfall. Never seen anything lager than ten kilos falling at me, though.

In reply to:
I was pinching my way up when I got to a point where I just started to get really pumped.
I've done some loose 6b climbing but never really had the pump thing. I always climb stuff easier than my limit. Nevertheless, slabs are a pain in the ass. You'll always end up in bad situations when climbing slabs.

In reply to:
Soloing an easy high altitude snow climb. Snow bridge collapsed and I just managed to get an axe on the other side, but was buried in snow to the armpits and my feet were swinging in the air some 20 meters above the crevasse floor.
Never had a big bridge collapsing under me. Fallen through some smaller ones quite frequently, though.

Other than mentioned above, I've been abseiling in a hail storm and climbed down on very loose ground. I hate nothing more than detached rocks. I've "almost pulled down" big ones enough to know it's not fun.


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