Self-arrest requires the ax pick to gradually dig in to slow the descent. Self-arrest is difficult on steep ice because the ice ax pick instantly "bites" into the ice, possibly resulting in either arm or shoulder injury, or the ax is deflected immediately upon contact.

Figure 10-14. Self-arrest technique.
Figure 10-14. Self-arrest technique (continued).

(1) A climber who has fallen may roll or spin; if this happens, the climber must first gain control of his body, whether it is with his ice ax or simply by brute force. Once the roll or spin has been controlled, the climber will find himself in one of four positions.

• Head upslope, stomach on the slope, and feet pointed downslope.

• Head upslope, back to the slope, and feet pointed downslope.

• Head downslope, stomach on the slope, and feet pointed upslope.

• Head downslope, back to the slope, and feet pointed upslope.

(2) To place the body in position to arrest from the four basic fall positions the following must be accomplished.

(a) In the first position, the body is in proper relation to the slope for an arrest.

(b) In the second position, the body must first be rotated from face up to face down on the slope. This is accomplished by rolling the body toward the head of the ax.

(c) In the third position, the pick of the ice ax is placed upslope and used as a pivot to bring the body into proper position.

(d) In the fourth position, the head of the ax must be driven into the snow to the climber's side. This will cause the body to rotate into a head up, stomach down position.

(3) The final position when the arrest of the fall is completed should be with the head upslope, stomach on the slope, with the feet pointed downslope. If crampons are not worn, the toe of the boots may be dug into the slope to help arrest the fall. The ax is held diagonally across the chest, with the head of the ax by one shoulder and the spike near the opposite hip. One hand grasps the head of the ax, with the pick pointed into the slope, while the other hand is on the shaft near the spike, lifting up on it to prevent the spike from digging into the slope.

Note: If crampons are worn, the feet must be raised to prevent the crampons from digging into the snow or ice too quickly. This could cause the climber to tumble and also, could severely injure his ankles and legs.

(4) When a fall occurs, the climber should immediately grasp the ax with both hands and hold it firmly as described above. Once sufficient control of the body is attained, the climber drives the pick of the ice ax into the slope, increasing the pressure until the fall is arrested. Raising the spike end of the shaft increases the biting action of the pick. It is critical that control of the ice ax be maintained at all times.

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