As we all know that mountaineering is the dangerous sports in this world. There are numerous reasons for mountains being dangerous and one of them is avalanche risk. Avalanche Risk can be deadly dangerous for all the mountain climbers out there. So, in order to make you all aware of the Avalanche Risk we have decided to write an article for it.
Avalanches are a serious risk while ice climbing and recently we have noticed that , both the ACMG and AMGA , highly reputable guiding organizations, have started recommending that the mountain climbers should carry avalanche gear with them while ice climbing.
Surprisingly, right after skiing and snowmobiling, climbing is the third most common activity for avalanche occurrences and despite of this danger, it is not yet commonplace within the sport to carry avalanche gear with you when you go ice climbing, because of the concerns about weight and the viability of such gear but, most of the leading guides now recommend that you bring a full avalanche rescue kit with you when you are in terrain that is exposed to avalanche danger.
Avalanches While Ice Climbing
Avalanche risk while ice climbing comes from the danger that a slope above you will give way and send tons of snow down the route that you are climbing on. The natural phenomenon of formation of ice climbs makes this more likely and therefore they are more deadly as water, which turns into ice, naturally flows towards the lowest point, which means that waterfalls and rivers often form in canyons or valleys.
Snow is also subjected to the same laws of physics as a waterfall therefore when avalanches occur, the snow flow down the same valleys and canyons which means that, when you are on an ice climb, you are most likely to be hit by an avalanche from above.
So, lets have a look ata video which states how much dangerous can avalanches be:
The danger gets further highlighted by the fact that most avalanches that you will encounter would not be caused by your party and instead, they will be triggered or pushed by something above you, be it another group of mountaineers or simply a weakening of the snowpack.
For this reason, you can’t really mitigate the chance of this happening so all you can do is prepare for it and try to avoid any climbs that may be exposed to such avalanche danger.
You need to consider four main areas when discussing ice climbing and avalanche risks:
- Alpine Climbing
Cragging is when you go to a certain location that has several ice climbs, many of which are single-pitch or shorter in nature and it also allows you to climb multiple routes in a day, get exposure to different difficulty levels, but you need not to worry about hauling all your gear up a multi-pitch climb.
Cragging usually has low avalanche risk, but don’t take it too lightly as this might vary depending on where you go. And we think that most of the crags are located in such a way that avalanche risk is not a major concern.
It would be best to pick up a crag guidebook, consult a ranger, or simply read trip reports online to find out about your local crags.
Alpine climbing is the type of climbing where many of the ice climbing avalanche accidents occur therefore here you need to be especially careful to take into consideration the terrain above you.
The danger with these climbs is that the risk will come from above, and it can sometimes even occur out of sight like one second you are just climbing, and the very next moment there would be a loud roaring sound and snow is coming rushing down towards you.
Only for this reason, you actually do not have much of an opportunity to see the conditions above you first-hand and judge the avalanche risk and this lack of knowledge makes your decision-making power harder.
Approaches and Descents
An often-overlooked area of avalanche risk in ice climbing is the approaches and descents, which means getting to the route and getting off of it.
Veteran backcountry skiers who wouldn’t think twice about going without the proper gear just as readily walk across the backcountry without lifting a finger, completely exposed to avalanche risk and without carrying any equipment.
In fact, these can be some of the most dangerous areas like while you are traveling across this terrain, you are often exposed to long stretches of avalanche-prone slopes that could drop at any given moment, so in such cases carrying the proper gear here is essential, even if you don’t think you will need it on the ice climb or mountain climb!
Do We Have To Carry Avalanche Gear?
Now this is the most common question to all of us that do we need to carry an avalanche Gear or not. The answer to this question is either yes or sometimes , even some other people will answer no, those people are completely unreliable .
Here are some possibility of risks under certain rules which will tell that whether you should carry an avalanche gear with you or not:
- Both the approach and the ice climb are exposed to avalanche risk: Carry your avalanche gear with you from the moment you leave the car to the moment you return.
- The approach is exposed to avalanche risk, but the ice climb isn’t: You can carry your avalanche gear on the approach and then leave it at the base
- Neither the approach nor climb is exposed to avalanche risk: You should not bother for an avalanche gear.
The main advantage of these rules are that it can save you weight as ice climbing is difficult, and falls have serious consequences so being able to shed certain weight makes it quiet easier to climb, which can increase your level of safety.
As we have already said in the introduction, that ice climbing is still in the stage where it is not commonplace to carry avalanche gear and to the best of my knowledge, this is because of two main objections that mountain climbers have:
- The gear will be heavy and pull the climber down
- There is no need of gear because if avalanches hits he/she is dead
To defend my first point I would say that yes gear might be a bit heavy but if compared with your life risk it is completely nothing. If you can take risks to carry heavy shopping bags for bring your favourite snacks home, then carrying an avalanche gear for your own safety can’t be an excuse.
To defend the second point we would say that yes there can be high chances of death but every time you wont be dead at the very first instance. It might happen that you might get injured and buried but if the snow can be removed within the given time then you can be alive and continue on your ice climbing journey.
How to Mitigate the Danger
Hopefully, we could make up your mind to carry your avalanche gear for your own safety but this gear is only a last-resort option. The first course of action is to always try to avoid getting hit by an avalanche in the first place as we already said earlier that it can take away your life.
To avoid the dangers of avalanches you should always be aware of the following:
- The avalanche risk of the route you are climbing on
- The general conditions prevailing in that mountain climbing route
Reading trip reports, either in a guidebook or online or even calling someone to get first-hand experience is an excellent way to learn how much avalanche danger you will be exposed to while on-route of climbing.
With the information, you will be able to judge whether you should carry your gear or not. You will also get to know how much risk you will be exposed to on the climb.
Reading reports is very much important because you cannot always judge avalanche danger from the base of the climb and remember one thing, avalanches occur from overhead, and the terrain may be out of sight.
In addition to the trip reports, you also need to have a really good idea about how much avalanche danger there currently is in that climbing route and condition reports for your region can only give you this and will let you know how likely an avalanche is.
You need to use these in conjunction with the trip report to make your decision for going to mountain climbing an if the route you are on is already exposed to avalanche danger, and conditions are making it so that avalanches are likely to occur then you have to stay home.
What Gear Do You Need?
Last but not the least let’s talk about what gear you want to bring and a standard three-piece avalanche kit is what that we would recommend:
- An emergency beacon so you and your partner can find each other if one of you gets buried
- Under the snow, a probe to find each other
- You will need a shovel to dig each other out.
These three pieces weigh 1.2 kilograms, and they are designed to be compact and packable for your mountaineering expedition.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
What should be there in an Avalanche Gear?
An Avalanche Gear should consists of the following:
An emergency beacon so you and your partner can find each other if one of you gets buried
Under the snow, a probe to find each other
You will need a shovel to dig each other out.
What are the risk factors for Ice Climbing?
Some of the risk factors for ice climbing are the cold temperatures, risk of falling ice, and physical injuries that occur during lead falls .
What is a Beacon device?
Beacons are wireless transmitters that use low-energy Bluetooth technology to send signals to other smart devices nearby they connect and transmit information to smart devices making location-based searching and interaction easier and more accurate.
Do avalanches kill people?
Each year avalanches kill more than 150 people worldwide and it is observed that in90% of avalanche accidents, the victim or someone in the victim’s party causes the snow slide and as the human body is 3 times denser than avalanche debris so they will sink quickly.
Which is the most avalanche prone mountain?
Annapurna is perhaps the most dangerous mountain in the world and it is located in Nepal, close to Mount Everest. The avalanches on Annapurna comes down without any warning, contributing to the fatality rate of 33% on its slopes.