How to cross a questionable slope

Nobody likes it, but sometimes there's no way to avoid questionable avalanche terrain. The problem then is to make the passage with the least danger of disturbing the slope, and to minimize the consequences if the climbers set off an avalanche or one sweeps down from above.

Before heading out onto a questionable slope, check that your electronic avalanche rescue beacon is switched to the transmit position. Everyone in

the party should carry one of the small battery-powered devices. If one climber is carried away by an avalanche, the others switch their devices to receive and then use the signal from the buried beacon to find the victim.

After you've checked your avalanche beacon, put on mittens and warm clothing. Get set to jettison your gear so it can't drag you down in the event of an avalanche. Loosen the shoulder straps and undo the waist and chest bands on your pack.

When the route lies up a slope, head straight up the fall line instead of switchbacking, which undercuts the snow. Only one person moves at a time, and everyone else watches from safe places, ready to shout if a slide starts. If the climber is on belay, don't tie the rope directly to the belayer, who would risk being pulled in if it proved impossible to stop a climber hit by a wet, heavy avalanche.

On a traverse, it's usually best to take it as high up the slope as possible, above most of the dangerous snow. Again, only one person moves at a time. Cross gingerly, with long, smooth strides, being careful not to cut a trench across the slope. Each climber follows in turn, stepping in the leader's footprints. Everyone listens and watches for an avalanche.

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