Glacier crossing Archives – Alpine Dragons

What crevasse rescue equipment?

By | Crevasse rescue, Mountaineering Equipment | No Comments

Best to avoid crevasses especially big ones

When going on a tour that involves a glacier crossing or for that matter any tour that covers ground that you might encounter holes in the snow it is essential you have the right kit.  One of the questions we often get on the courses we provide is what equipment for which tour.

So here we go!

Firstly I would assess the tour, tour buddies, and the type of glacier I would be crossing.  The questions I would ask is how well do I know this glacier, is it snow covered (wet) or bare (dry) as in ice, will there be snow bridges, how much snow. For example a glacier in Norway in summer might be blue ice (dry) with little or no snow bridges, however, early in the season it might be snow covered and again in Spring I might ski across it and not bother to take any rescue kit as all the crevasses are deeply buried (or buried enough).  Moving on to my buddies I ask the question how experience are they in actual buddy rescue?  I have buddies that very experience but have no idea about buddy rescue.  Once we have made the assessment we can select the gear as appropriate.

Tour 1 – Alpine tour:

This is a lightweight tour, with an equally experienced buddy who is of similar weight.  We are moving light and fast. The glacier crossing is transport to the route, we don’t expect to fall in, however, we are ready! The glacier could be snow covered or ice, or both.


1) Mountaineering ice axe (preferable T rated)

2) 120 cm sling with screw carabiner

3) 60cm sling with 2 x open carabiners

4) 2 x prusiks on an open carabiner

5) 2 x ice screws (I prefer a 20cm and 16cm)


Simple basic kit which will almost certainly be a part of an alpine climbing rack.  Really the only additional pieces of kit are the ice axe and ice screws

Crevasse rescue with deadman belay. It would better if the participant was pulling in the same direction as the anchor and not at an angle. No gadgets just rope and carabiners.

My reasoning is quite simple your on a lightweight tour, you don’t want the faff of additional equipment, you’re knowledgeable about the route, what to expect and this kit is just in case everything goes crazy.   You can use the axe as the snow belay and the ice screws as the ice belay. It’s as simple as that.

Note:  This system will form a classic 3:1 pulley, it works but is hard work and there is loads of friction.  If you have tried this method then boy you’re going to have to work really hard to drag your buddy out of the crevasse. Don’t kid yourself if you’re a bit pasty in the body and your mate is a bit on the chubby side your going to need a bit more help.

You can get this help with a few additional pieces of kit:

You probably have this on your rack already:

1 x extra 120cm sling or a length of cord (probably your abseil cord)

This can be built into your 3:1 system to form a help as in a 3:2:1

It makes a big difference to the pulley.



Tour 2 – Glacier / Mountaineering tour:

This is a general mountaineering tour that crossing or a glacier.  The glacier is generally snow-covered, with varying size of crevasses.  The group has a mix of experience and more importantly interest in crevasse rescue. On this type of tour I would expect some members of the group to be able to instigate a rescue, however, some will get confused or its been so long since the last course they have forgotten.  In this situation, there are more than 3 people and therefore more pulling power! That’s going to make the job 100% easier from the very start.  We might even not need to set anything up, and if we are quick and have good rope discipline we might if the person slips through the snow, reverse the rope team and drag them out 🙂




Kit: As before but with additions

1) Mountaineering ice axe (preferable T rated)

2) 120 cm sling with screw carabiner

3) 60cm sling with 2 x open carabiners

4) 2 x prusiks on an open carabiner

5) 1 x ice screws (I prefer a 20cm)

6) Snow anchor (or sometimes referred to as a Deadman)

Each member in the group would have the standard kit as described in the list 1 to 5 above and in this case only 1 x ice screw and a snow belays.  If you’re an experienced group you might say we will just use our axes for the belay and drop the snow anchor. There isn’t much point carrying a snow anchor if you don’t know how to use it.

On this type of tour, I am thinking snow-covered glacier where the danger of falling through the snow is a real possibility.

Some people might use a snow picket rather than a deadman. Either way, you need to know how to place them correctly and understand their limitations.

Tour 3 – Glacier crossing with heavy lumps or inexperienced people.

On this type of tour, the group is made up of some heavy lumps and/or people that have little experience or little interest in all things ropey and knotty. They are going on tour and knots are just a bewildering spiders web of little or no interest.

If I am crossing a glacier with the above-mentioned group I will always take the extra kit to help. I might be able to get my buddies to help with the pulling but setting up will be up to me and me alone.

At top of the picture is a Petzel pulley set up made for crevasse rescue. It includes:

Micro Traxion: which has the function of being a free rolling pulley or it can be locked to form a directional pulley and rope grab.

A free running pulley to reduce friction (The biggest problem faced with any pulley system)

A tibloc: A metal device to grip the rope like your prusiks.

This system reduces the friction of a pure rope and carabiner pulley system significantly.  If I was crossing a glacier, a really nasty glacier where the chances of falling in crevasses repeatedly are real then I would certainly think about taking this kit.  If you have ever rescued your mate with a 3:1 pulley made from rope and carabiners you will understand where I am coming from.

Rescue me by Mammut. 9:1 lift / easy to hop over hindering knots

Alternatively, you can buy a fancy 9:1 pulley system which is dedicated to crevasse rescue. This system is easy to use, making light work of hauling your oversized buddy out of a hole. I have to admit I dismissed this system at first then a participant brought one on a course and I was sold.  If I was running a course, for example skiing across a glacier in spring and we had no intention of climbing after the crossing I would definitely take this kit. This kit also has the nifty ability to jump over hindering knots (often alpine butterflies), which would be challenging with other sets ups.

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