Moving off the Trails – A Guide to Glacier Trekking

Various years in the past I used to be fortunate sufficient to be concerned within the movie ‘Touching the Void’, performing stunts and setting up the protection rigging. Throughout this movie I used to be required to abseil, fall into and climb again out of a lot of crevasses. Crevasses are spectacular ravines of ice, shaped in glaciers when the ice is below pressure or compression. For these not initiated, venturing onto glaciers for the primary time is a frightening prospect. The worry of falling into crevasses Touching the Void-style (free fall arms flailing into the black abyss!) is what the vast majority of my shoppers initially suppose occurs. In 23 years of alpine climbing I’ve solely ever fallen right into a crevasse like this while re-enacting occasions for the movie. If you happen to take the right precautions and do your homework the worst that often occurs is you place one or each legs right into a gap.

On Mountain Tracks programs we get a lot of eager hill walkers from the UK enterprise our glacier treks throughout the Alps. The health ranges wanted for these journeys are much like that of lengthy alpine path walks however with the upper altitude to think about. Your rucksack is likely to be barely heavier with the addition of mountaineering gear (though you’ll be truly carrying it on the glacier) and a few hotter layers.

Within the Alps there are many accessible glaciers to observe your abilities on, just like the Mer Du Glace, Le Tour Glacier in Chamonix, the Montet in Zinal, or the Ferpecle in Arolla. Glacier treks are primarily path strolling on ice with everybody linked with a rope. Along with your regular hill strolling abilities you’ll need to be competent in some primary rope work and know get somebody out of a crevasse in the event that they do fall in. Basically, the larger the group the safer you might be on a glacier as you have got extra folks to tug somebody out. If there are solely two of you then that is once you want some information of snow belays and pulley methods to get the stranded occasion out. There are many good books to indicate you undertake glacier journey safely equivalent to ‘Alpine Mountaineering’ by Bruce Goodlad and a terrific video from the BMC referred to as ‘Alpine Essentials’. If this all sounds an excessive amount of then come on one of many Mountain Tracks guided holidays the place IFMGA guides lead the trek.

The important thing factors to grasp as a ‘DIY glacier trekker’ is the lengthy roping system on a moist glacier (glacier coated in snow). All members of the group put on a climbing harness and are tied to a rope about 7 meters aside. This rope must be stored tight when crossing the glacier in order that if somebody steps in a crevasse the rope prevents them from falling any additional. It’s due to this fact crucial that there isn’t a slack within the system and everyone seems to be spaced out. I steadily get requested ‘what’s the appropriate distance between folks’ and once more there isn’t a exhausting or quick rule, however the much less folks on the rope the better the space, so 2 folks would possibly need 25m house, 3 folks 15m, 4 folks, 7m and so on. Some frequent unhealthy practices that I see recurrently are folks tied too shut collectively (2m between every particular person), folks carrying coils of their arms (very unhealthy thought as there will probably be a shock load within the occasion of a fall and also you’ll get pulled off your toes), and folks wandering together with no rope…and due to this fact no hope in the event that they fall in a crevasse!

Glaciers will be extremely popular locations so be sure to have a solar hat, robust (class 3 or 4) sun shades, and respectable solar cream recurrently utilized. If the climate is poor, venturing onto a glacier is a nasty thought except you might be with an IFMGA information. The essential level right here is that crevasses aren’t marked on the map. In poor visibility it’s simple to wander into one as every thing seems to be the identical…the panorama seems fully white! Most Guides are specialists at navigating in these circumstances utilizing a map, compass, altimeter and GPS, even then they might suppose twice about leaving the hut. Different risks are ice cliffs or seracs that may overhang on steep glaciers. They often collapse and fall onto the glacier smashing every thing in its approach, so all the time maintain your eyes peeled up slope when crossing below these and don’t dangle round for a picnic. On the edges of glaciers you all the time get tottering piles of glacial rubble with boulders the dimensions of vehicles; so once more pay attention to these and don’t stand below them or within the firing line while placing your crampons on able to enterprise onto the ice. It’s value noting that on flat dry glaciers (i.e. these with no snow mendacity on them) you possibly can stroll unroped and with out crampons because the crevasses are simply seen and gravel on the glacier gives good grip underfoot.

Your path strolling gear is mostly superb for glacier trekking, although you would possibly must get some stiffer boots so crampons will match. Additional recommendation on boots, crampons, axes and harnesses will be present in my weblog on Summer Mountaineering Equipment.

Stiff strolling boots or mild alpine boots are superb. Boots which are too comfortable and light-weight would possibly permit the crampons to flex off when strolling. On chilly days you might also get nippy toes. Some suggestions are: Scarpa Cristallo GTX, Meindl Vakuum GTX, Scarpa Manta.

Crampons are spikes that clip or strap to your boots permitting grip on the ice. Most strap-on crampons will match on a stiff strolling boot, however earlier than shopping for you need to ensure that your boots and crampons are appropriate. Assume forward in the event you intend performing some simple alpine peaks and on this case get 12-point metal crampons, however in the event you simply need to trek then go for some 10-point metal crampons. It’s important they’ve anti balling plates to cease snow sticking to the bottom. Some suggestions: Grivel G12, Grivel G10, North Ridge Crampon Bag.

Climbing harnesses are available in all sizes and styles. Any will do, however it’s preferable to have adjustable leg loops and, as with something alpine, mild is correct! Some good selections are: Black Diamond Alpine Bod, Edelrid Apex, Wild Country Eclipse.

A mountaineering ice axe is crucial for glacial journey if you need to regular your self on steeper floor or use it as an anchor if somebody slides right into a crevasse. Most individuals stroll with two trekking poles and an ice axe caught by way of their shoulder strap for emergencies. I stroll with an axe that’s about 55cm lengthy (I’m 170cm tall); usually the taller you’re the longer the axe, however axes over 70cm are slightly unwieldy. Go for a metal head and ‘alpine’ slightly than ‘technical’ fashion picks. I desire the next fashions: North Ridge Pinnacle, Black Diamond Raven, Grivel G1.

Leather-based palmed skinny gloves are glorious for dealing with ropes and trekking on glaciers. I all the time put on them on glaciers to stop shredding my arms in the event you take a tumble on the ice. Fleece gloves do work, however they put on fairly shortly. Decisions embody: Berghaus Windygripper, Rab Powerstretch Grip.

Two locking carabiners to be used on the rope are useful because it saves tying on. Good examples are: North Ridge Alpha, Camp Orbit.

If you happen to undertake the DIY method then you’ll need a 30m rope and crevasse rescue package and a few ice screws for every particular person. Once more, in the event you go down this route you need to do a little analysis on precisely what you want.

Most basic glacier treks are six days lengthy and cross quite a lot of terrain, from excessive glaciers and straightforward snow peaks, to flower-filled alpine valleys. Alpine huts are used as staging posts for every night. Most are like a primary resort on the mountain, some have showers and working water. The meals and atmosphere is all the time nice! Traditional glacier treks embody:

Classic Haute Route
The summer season Haute Route path is likely one of the world’s nice multi-day treks and is featured in Nationwide Geographic’s prime ten worldwide treks. The Haute Route path gives a number of the most interesting views within the Alps, stretching from Mont Blanc to the Grand Paradiso.

The Eiger Trek
The Eiger Trek will take you thru gorgeous surroundings and go straight beneath the celebrated north face of the Eiger. Beginning in Interlaken within the Bernese Oberland, this excessive alpine week combines excessive altitude trekking with some exhilarating by way of ferrata.

Bernese Oberland Trek
The Bernese Oberland is likely one of the Alps most spectacular ranges. This trek traverses the Bernese Oberland vary from east to west on an exquisite high-alpine path throughout glaciated terrain; you can be roped up and carrying crampons for lengthy sections of the journey.

Italian High Level Route
This excellent glacier trek – a.ok.a the Spaghetti Tour! – gives a excessive (principally above 3000m) circumnavigation of the Monte Rosa Massif. It crosses a number of the most spectacular glaciated surroundings on the Swiss-Italian border. The route additionally takes in technically easy peaks, some above 4000m.

Grand Paradiso Summits
An excellent trekking journey within the Italian Alps. The spotlight of the week is the ascent of Gran Paradiso, the best mountain fully inside Italy. The journey is 6 days of high-level trekking and straightforward climbing in probably the most stunning nationwide parks within the Alps, freed from vacationer growth and residential to wildlife equivalent to ibex, chamois and marmots.

If you wish to ‘do it your self’ then it could possibly be value finishing an Alpine Skills Course. This provides you with the talents to be impartial in your glacier trek or in tackling introductory alpine peaks.

Glacier trekking is a good way for walkers to entry some fairly superb alpine surroundings with out having to be a mountaineer or climber per se. In subsequent month’s article I will probably be delving into the world of Through Ferrata or ‘Iron Methods’ for adventurous trekkers with a head for heights.

Olly Allen






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