Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Self-arrest techniques

Cautionary note:
This article is not intended to provide instruction on how to perform a successful self-arrest. Its scope is merely descriptive in nature. Do not expect to be successful performing a self-arrest just by following the description in this article. Self-arrest should be learned from a qualified instructor and requires repeated actual practice in order to become proficient at it.

With an ice axe:
The most important part of the maneuver is to get into self-arrest position. In this position the climber is face down with feet oriented towards the valley, arms tucked in, one of the hands on top of the ice axe the other down the shaft. The top of the axe is against the shoulder or its vicinity and the pick of the ice axe in contact with the slope. Once in this position the climber arcs his body, so that it contacts the slope mainly in three points, the pick and his feet or knees, in order to bring as much of his weight to bear on the pick as possible.
This is easier when the climber falls face down and is sliding feet first towards the valley. If he falls in any other position, face up, feet toward the slope, etc., he must first orient his body in the optimal position by twisting his body and using the pick of the ice axe as a pivot point. In these cases the maneuver may be much more difficult to perform.

Without an ice axe:
Without recourse to an ice axe, the climber should try to orient the body face-down, feet towards the valley, and to put, by arcing the body, as much pressure as possible in the hands and feet, or knees.

While wearing crampons:
In both cases a climber wearing crampons should put the feet up and use the knees instead. Putting weight on the feet while wearing crampons will cause their points to snag in the ice or snow, causing injury to the climber's ankles and sending him/her tumbling down the slope without control.

Self-arrest grip:
To be able to perform the self-arrest maneuver the pick of the ice axe should stick outwards when the hand on top of it is brought to the shoulder. To guarantee that this is accomplished as fast as possible, climbers often adopt the so-called self-arrest grip. In this grip the axe is held in the hand with the pick looking backwards, adze looking towards the direction of travel. If the axe is being held pick forward, it needs to be reversed in the hand to bring it to bear against the slope. This makes the maneuver slower and can cause the climber to lose control of his ice axe.