Roped Climbing Techniques

Climbers usually rope up on ice. The principal exception comes when they decide that overall team safety is served best by climbing unroped. Late on a stormy day, for example, or while ascending a couloir threatened by rockfall, the greater speed of unroped travel might offer relatively more safety than continuing on the rope. It is also sensible to unrope through a section so difficult to protect that a fall by one roped climber would sweep them both away.

Ice climbers can get a measure of protection that is somewhere between climbing on belay and climbing unroped by setting up a running belay. It's another way for a team to move faster when storms or avalanches threaten and, more than ever, speed is safety. It can also be useful on gentle to moderate terrain where danger of falling is minimal and actual belays would be too time-consuming.

A running belay on ice is created very much the same as a running belay on rock (described in Chapter 10) or snow (described and illustrated in Chapter 12). Team members move simultaneously. The leader places protection as they climb and clips the rope through it; the follower removes the protection. The idea is to keep at least two points of protection between them at all times to hold the rope in case of a fall. Because this technique sacrifices much of the safety of true belaying, the decision to use it takes fine judg ment, based on extensive experience.

Full belaying on ice requires a belayer, belay anchor, and intermediate points of protection, just as it does on snow or rock. A belay anchor is set up and the leader climbs the pitch on belay, sets up another anchor, and then belays the follower up the route. The climbers can either swing leads or have a single climber continue as the leader.

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