Part A Terrain

1. General. Operations in the mountains require you to be physically fit and experienced in mountain operations. Problems arise in moving men and transporting loads up and down steep and varied terrain in order to accomplish the mission. Acclimatization, conditioning, and training are important factors in successful military mountaineering. Terrain affects the rate at which units can move men and equipment. Mountainous terrain poses an obstacle to those units not trained for mountain operations. The terrain must be analyzed in the context of: mountains, roads, and trails, cross-country movement, mountain hazards, cover and concealment, observation, and fields of fire. Each of these will be discussed separately.

2. Mountains. Mountains are defined as landforms that rise more than 500 meters above the surrounding plain and are characterized by steep slopes. Mountains may consist of an isolated peak, single ridges, glaciers, snowfields, compartments, or complex ranges, extending for long distances and obstructing movement. Mountains usually favor the defense, however, attacks can succeed by using detailed planning, rehearsals, surprise, and well-led troops.

3. Roads and Trails. There are usually few roads in the mountains. Most are easily defended, since they follow the easiest avenues of travel in the valleys and through passes. However, trails seldom support vehicular traffic and are observable. Success depends on a force's ability to control these routes and the peaks surrounding them. Detailed maps show roads and many of the trails. You may obtain additional information from terrain analysis, photographic interpretation, and local residents.

4. Cross-Country Movement. You must know the terrain to determine feasible routes for cross-country movement when there are no roads or trails. The following guidelines are necessary when you are planning mountain operations.

• As part of a preparations intelligence effort, you should include topographic and photographic map coverage as well as detailed weather data for the area of operations. When planning mountain operations, it may be necessary to obtain additional information on size, location, and characteristics of landforms and drainage, types of rock and soil, and the density and distribution of vegetation. You must decentralize control to lower levels because of varied terrain, erratic weather, and communication problems inherent to mountainous regions.

• Movement is often restricted due to terrain and weather. Because of erratic weather, you must be prepared for wide variations in temperature, and types and amounts of precipitation. You must be self-sufficient to cope with normal weather changes using materials from your rucksack. Movement during a storm is difficult due to poor visibility and bad footing on steep terrain. The dampness of rain and snow, and the penetration of wind may cause you to chill quickly.

• When the tactical situation requires continued movement during a storm, you should take the following precautions.

Maintain visual contact.

Keep warm. You should maintain energy and body heat by eating and drinking often; you must carry food that can be eaten quickly and while on the move.

Keep dry. You should wear wet-weather clothing when appropriate, but do not overdress, which can cause excessive perspiration and dampen clothing. As soon as the objective is reached and shelter secured, you may put on dry clothing.

Do not rush. Hasty movement during storms leads to breaks in contact and accidents.

If you are lost, stay warm, dry, and calm.

Do not use ravines as routes of approach during a storm as they often fill with water and are prone to flash floods.

You should avoid high pinnacles and ridge lines during electrical storms. You should avoid areas of potential avalanche or rockfall danger.

5. Mountain Hazard.

Hazards can be termed natural (caused by natural occurrence), man-made (caused by an individual's lack of preparation, carelessness, improper diet, equipment misuse), or combination (human trigger). The seven types of hazards that you should be familiar with are: rockfall; icefall; avalanches; combination of rockfall, icefall, and avalanche; factors affecting the snowpack; lightning; and crevasses Each of these hazards will be discussed separately.

• Rockfall. This is the most common hazard encountered by the military mountaineer. Your understanding of its causes, and measures used to lessen its impact, is essential. You should become familiar with the structure and composition of a rock area. Rock that has been subjected to severe weathering is more prone to rockfall Beware of "soft" and stratified rocks; these rocks are prone to rockfall, and can be loose and unstable. As a military mountaineer, you should do everything possible to avoid danger. Avoid areas where rockfall is likely to occur, and if necessary, enter those areas at the most suitable time of day, avoiding gullies in favor of ridges.

Indicators of rockfall must be learned and observed in the field. Fresh debris at the bottom of the cliff or scree at the bottom of gullies are indicators of rockfall. It is also important to know at what times rockfall is most likely to occur. Rockfall usually occurs early in the day on east and south mountain faces as the sun first warms them, and it in late afternoon on west and north faces. There is, however, no absolute rule to be followed.

• Icefall. This common hazard may be triggered by natural, man-made, or combination factors. It is a common hazard when conducting operations in snow, ice, or glaciated terrain. The parameters of rockfall apply to ice as well.

• Avalanches: Terrain, climate and weather are the basic elements for the avalanche phenomenon. The two main causes of avalanches are: the weight of large amounts of accumulated snow, and steep slopes that exceed the cohesive forces within the snowpack or between the snowpack and ground. There are two types of snow, and they are classified as powder snow (loose, snow) and compact snow (slab). The effects of an avalanche can be disastrous to the military mountaineer. Chances for you to survive after burial by an avalanche are about 50 percent after 30 minutes. After two hours, chances for survival are remote.

• Combination factors (rockfall, icefall, and avalanche). This type of hazard consists of the previously mentioned factors.

• Lightning. The danger from lightning is greater on rock than on snow or ice. Lightning can be expected when static electricity is great enough to cause tickling of the scalp, the hair to stand up, and a slight crackling and appearance of a blue light (St. Elmo's fire) on metal objects. During a thunderstorm, the following guidelines can help you reduce injuries due to lightning.

Avoid summits and ridges.

Stay away from prominent objects, mainly metal objects.

Avoid gullies filled with water.

Avoid overhangs and recesses.

Avoid cracks in wet rock; lightning ground currents follow them.

Take up a squatting position on dry ground or a rucksack with knees drawn up.

Keep the hands and upper torso insulated from the ground. Avoid metallic objects extending from the upper body to the ground.

• Crevasses. Crevasses are formed when a glacier flows over a slope and makes a bend, or when a glacier separates from the rock walls that enclose it. A slope of only 2 to 3 degrees is enough to form a crevasse. As a glacier makes a bend, it is likely that crevasses will form at the outside of the bend. Therefore, the safest route on a glacier would be to the inside of bends, and away from steep slopes and icefalls. Exercise extreme care when moving off of or onto the glacier because of the moat that is likely to be present.

6. Cover and Concealment. When moving in the mountains, cover can be provided by outcroppings, boulders, heavy vegetation, and intermediate terrain features that mask maneuver. Fighting and temporary fortification positions are often difficult to dig because of thin or stony soil, and selection of these positions requires detailed planning. One easily excavated rock type is volcanic tuff. In other areas you may find boulders and other loose rocks that can be used for building hasty fortifications. In alpine environments, snow and ice blocks may be cut and stacked to supplement dug-in positions. As in all operations, positions and routes must be camouflaged to blend in with the surrounding terrain and prevent aerial detection.

7. Observation. Because of weather and ground cover, observation in the mountains varies. The dominating height of mountainous terrain permits excellent long-range observation. However, rapidly changing weather with frequent periods of high wind, rain, snow, sleet, hail, and fog can limit visibility. The rugged nature of the terrain often produces dead space at midranges.

Due to low cloud cover at higher elevations, observation posts (OPs) established on peaks or mountain tops may be ineffective. On higher elevations, high wind speeds often mask the noises of troop movement. In order to provide visual coverage of the battle area, OPs may need to be established laterally, in depth, and at varying altitudes.

In order to obtain concealment from observation, you may consider the nature of the terrain (previously mentioned dead space). When the sun is low and in relatively clear skies, mountainous regions are subject to intense shadowing. The contrast from lighted to shaded areas is such that visual acuity in the shaded regions is considerably reduced. Those shadowed areas can provide increased concealment when combined with other camouflaging disciplines and should be considered in maneuver plans.

When operating in mountainous regions, you should be well trained in the use of night observation devices (NODs). If you are knowledgeable in the use of night vision goggles, periods of darkness will provide excellent opportunities for unobserved movement. These NODs can be used in static or moving applications in both offensive and defensive operations.

8. Fields of Fire. Fields of fire, like observation, are excellent at long ranges. However, dead space is a problem at short ranges. When forces cannot be positioned to cover dead space with direct fire, mines and obstacles, or indirect fire must be used. Range determination is deceptive in mountainous terrain. You must routinely train in range estimation in mountainous regions to maintain your proficiency.

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