Sustainability Equipment

This paragraph describes all additional equipment not directly involved with climbing. This equipment is used for safety (avalanche equipment, wands), bivouacs, movement, and carrying gear. While not all of it will need to be carried on all missions, having the equipment available and knowing how to use it correctly will enhance the unit's capability in mountainous terrain.

a. Snow Saw. The snow saw is used to cut into ice and snow. It can be used in step cutting, in shelter construction, for removing frozen obstacles, and for cutting snow stability test pits. The special tooth design of the snow saw easily cuts into frozen snow and ice. The blade is a rigid aluminum alloy of high strength about 3 millimeters thick and 38 centimeters long with a pointed end to facilitate entry on the forward stroke. The handle is either wooden or plastic and is riveted to the blade for a length of about 50 centimeters. The blade should be inspected for rust, cracks, warping, burrs, and missing or dull teeth. A file can repair most defects, and steel wool can be rubbed on rusted areas. The handle should be inspected for cracks, bends, and stability. On folding models, the hinge and nuts should be secure. If the saw is beyond repair, it should not be used.

b. Snow Shovel. The snow shovel is used to cut and remove ice and snow. It can be used for avalanche rescue, shelter construction, step cutting, and removing obstacles. The snow shovel is made of a special, lightweight aluminum alloy. The handle should be telescopic, folding, or removable to be compact when not in use. The shovel should have a flat or rounded bottom and be of strong construction. The shovel should be inspected for cracks, bends, rust, and burrs. A file and steel wool can remove rust and put an edge on the blade of the shovel. The handle should be inspected for cracks, bends, and stability. If the shovel is beyond repair, it should be turned in.

c. Wands. Wands are used to identify routes, crevasses, snow-bridges, caches, and turns on snow and glaciers. Spacing of wands depends on the number of turns, number of hazards identified, weather conditions (and visibility), and number of teams in the climbing party. Carry too many wands is better than not having enough if they become lost. Wands are 1 to 1.25 meters long and made of lightweight bamboo or plastic shafts pointed on one end with a plastic or nylon flag (bright enough in color to see at a distance) attached to the other end. The shafts should be inspected for cracks, bends, and deformities. The flag should be inspected for tears, frays, security to the shaft, fading, and discoloration. If any defects are discovered, the wands should be replaced.

d. Avalanche rescue equipment. Avalanche rescue equipment (Figure 3-29) includes the following:

(1) Avalanche Probe. Although ski poles may be used as an emergency probe when searching for a victim in an avalanche, commercially manufactured probes are better for a thorough search. They are 9-millimeter thick shafts made of an aluminum alloy, which can be joined to probe up to 360 centimeters. The shafts must be strong enough to probe through avalanche debris. Some manufacturers of ski poles design poles that are telescopic and mate with other poles to create an avalanche probe.

(2) Avalanche Transceivers. These are small, compact radios used to identify avalanche burial sites. They transmit electromagnetic signals that are picked up by another transceiver on the receive mode.

e. Packs. Many types and brands of packs are used for mountaineering. The two most common types are internal and external framed packs.

(1) Internal framed packs have a rigid frame within the pack that help it maintain its shape and hug the back. This assists the climber in keeping their balance as they climb or ski. The weight in an internal framed pack is carried low on the body assisting with balance. The body-hugging nature of this type pack also makes it uncomfortable in warm weather.

Figure 3-29. Avalanche rescue equipment.

(2) External framed packs suspend the load away from the back with a ladder-like frame. The frame helps transfer the weight to the hips and shoulders easier, but can be cumbersome when balance is needed for climbing and skiing.

(3) Packs come in many sizes and should be sized appropriately for the individual according to manufacturer's specifications. Packs often come with many unneeded features. A good rule of thumb is: The simpler the pack, the better it will be.

f. Stoves. When selecting a stove one must define its purpose—will the stove be used for heating, cooking or both? Stoves or heaters for large elements can be large and cumbersome. Stoves for smaller elements might just be used for cooking and making water, and are simple and lightweight. Stoves are a necessity in mountaineering for cooking and making water from snow and ice. When choosing a stove, factors that should be considered are weight, altitude and temperature where it will be used, fuel availability, and its reliability.

(1) There are many choices in stove design and in fuel types. White gas, kerosene, and butane are the common fuels used. All stoves require a means of pressurization to force the fuel to the burner. Stoves that burn white gas or kerosene have a hand pump to generate the pressurization and butane stoves have pressurized cartridges. All stoves need to vaporize the liquid fuel before it is burned. This can be accomplished by burning a small amount of fuel in the burner cup assembly, which will vaporize the fuel in the fuel line.

(2) Stoves should be tested and maintained prior to a mountaineering mission. They should be easy to clean and repair during an operation. The reliability of the stove has a huge impact on the success of the mission and the morale of personnel.

g. Tents. When selecting a tent, the mission must be defined to determine the number of people the tent will accommodate. The climate the tents will be used in is also of concern. A tent used for warmer temperatures will greatly differ from tents used in a colder, more harsh environment. Manufacturers of tents offer many designs of different sizes, weights, and materials.

(1) Mountaineering tents are made out of a breathable or weatherproof material. A single-wall tent allows for moisture inside the tent to escape through the tent's material. A double-wall tent has a second layer of material (referred to as a fly) that covers the tent. The fly protects against rain and snow and the space between the fly and tent helps moisture to escape from inside. Before using a new tent, the seams should be treated with seam sealer to prevent moisture from entering through the stitching.

(2) The frame of a tent is usually made of an aluminum or carbon fiber pole. The poles are connected with an elastic cord that allows them to extend, connect, and become long and rigid. When the tent poles are secured into the tent body, they create the shape of the tent.

(3) Tents are rated by a "relative strength factor," the speed of wind a tent can withstand before the frame deforms. Temperature and expected weather for the mission should be determined before choosing the tent.

h. Skis. Mountaineering skis are wide and short. They have a binding that pivots at the toe and allows for the heel to be free for uphill travel or locked for downhill. Synthetic skins with fibers on the bottom can be attached to the bottom of the ski and allow the ski to travel forward and prevent slipping backward. The skins aid in traveling uphill and slow down the rate of descents. Wax can be applied to the ski to aid in ascents instead of skins. Skis can decrease the time needed to reach an objective depending on the ability of the user. Skis can make crossing crevasses easier because of the load distribution, and they can become a makeshift stretcher for casualties. Ski techniques can be complicated and require thorough training for adequate proficiency.

i. Snowshoes. Snowshoes are the traditional aid to snow travel that attach to most footwear and have been updated into small, lightweight designs that are more efficient than older models. Snowshoes offer a large displacement area on top of soft snow preventing tiresome post-holing. Some snowshoes come equipped with a crampon like binding that helps in ascending steep snow and ice. Snowshoes are slower than skis, but are better suited for mixed terrain, especially if personnel are not experienced with the art of skiing. When carrying heavy packs, snowshoes can be easier to use than skis.

j. Ski poles. Ski poles were traditionally designed to assist in balance during skiing. They have become an important tool in mountaineering for aid in balance while hiking, snowshoeing, and carrying heavy packs. They can take some of the weight off of the lower body when carrying a heavy pack. Some ski poles are collapsible for ease of packing when not needed (Figure 3-30). The basket at the bottom prevents the pole from plunging deep into the snow and, on some models, can be detached so the pole becomes an avalanche or crevasse probe. Some ski poles come with a self-arrest grip, but should not be the only means of protection on technical terrain.

Figure 3-30. Collapsible ski poles.

k. Sleds. Sleds vary greatly in size, from the squad-size Ahkio, a component of the 10-man arctic tent system, to the one-person skow. Regardless of the size, sleds are an invaluable asset during mountainous operations when snow and ice is the primary surface on which to travel. Whichever sled is chosen, it must be attachable to the person or people that will be pulling it. Most sleds are constructed using fiberglass bottoms with or without exterior runners. Runners will aid the sleds ability to maintain a true track in the snow. The sled should also come with a cover of some sort—whether nylon or canvas, a cover is essential for keeping the components in the sled dry. Great care should be taken when packing the sled, especially when hauling fuel. Heavier items should be carried towards the rear of the sled and lighter items towards the front.

l. Headlamps. A headlamp is a small item that is not appreciated until it is needed. It is common to need a light source and the use of both hands during limited light conditions in mountaineering operations. A flashlight can provide light, but can be cumbersome when both hands are needed. Most headlamps attach to helmets by means of elastic bands.

(1) When choosing a headlamp, ensure it is waterproof and the battery apparatus is small. All components should be reliable in extreme weather conditions. When the light is being packed, care should be taken that the switch doesn't accidentally activate and use precious battery life.

(2) The battery source should compliment the resupply available. Most lights will accept alkaline, nickel-cadmium, or lithium batteries. Alkaline battery life diminishes quickly in cold temperatures, nickel-cadmium batteries last longer in cold but require a recharging unit, and lithium batteries have twice the voltage so modifications are required.

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