The reality of most serious snow climbs is that success calls for a combination of protection techniques. It's not likely a party will take on an entire climb unroped. It's just as unlikely that the party will use fixed belays all the way.
In deciding when to rope up, a climbing team is actually asking itself a series of questions. The team always ropes up on glaciers. But on snow or mixed terrain, the team asks:
1. Is each member of the party able to use self-belay or self-arrest to save himself or herself in case of a fall? If the answer is yes, the party can continue unroped. If the answer is no, the team asks:
2. Can we stop all falls by roping up and depending on team arrest? If so, rope up and continue climbing, unbelayed. If not, then ask:
3. Is it feasible to use some form of belay (a running belay or a fixed belay) and will this belay provide adequate protection? If so, begin belaying. If it's not feasible, because of poor terrain or lack of time, then the party must ask itself:
4. Shall we turn around, or shall we proceed unroped and assume the risks?
In practice, long snow routes are climbed roped and mostly unbelayed, with belays of some kind on steeper, harder snow or when climbers are tired or hurt. Most of the reliance is on team arrest or running protection, though some sections may lend themselves to unroped travel.
The option of turning around is always worth considering. If things aren't going well, select a new route, another destination, or just head home.
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