Two person glacier travel

Info on gear, conditioning, and preparation for hiking/climbing.
Forum rules
Please do not use this forum to advertise, sell photos or other products or promote a commercial website. For more details, please see the Terms of Use you agreed to when joining the forum.
User avatar
Posts: 1367
Joined: 5/4/2006
14ers: List not added
Trip Reports (10)

Re: Two person glacier travel

Post by kaiman » Sun Nov 19, 2017 11:19 am

AndrewLyonsGeibel wrote:My partner and I did practice which is why I posted. I feel like I’m relatively strong but there is no way that I could arrest a fall with a person and close to 100 lbs of gear. We are both pretty confident about setting up a haul system but both nervous about stopping the fall and building an anchor.
Yep, as I mentioned in my previous post, stopping the fall is only half the battle and then you have to build an anchor and get your teammate out of the hole, by yourself, without being able to communicate directly with them (at least most of the time). Maybe your partner will get lucky and just punch through the surface but not fall into the crevasse and can just pull themselves out without much help, but maybe they’ll take a 40 foot whipper, injure themselves, and pull you to the edge of the crevasse leaving you with little to work with, you never know.

While the climber in the hole can certainly do some things to help their teammate(s), such as tieing off to the side of the crevasse to relieve tension on the rope, or work on setting up a prusik/ascender system, being able to quickly and easily set up a pulley system to haul is the fastest and most efficient way to get someone out of a crevasse. At least with a three-four person team, one to two people can set up a haul system, check on/communicate with the climber, etc. while the other(s) hold the fall. This makes for a much easier and faster rescue than if you have to do it alone.

Monster5 has provided some good advice on the precautions to take when traveling on glaciers as a pair (leaving significant distance and tying knots in the rope between climbers, belaying across snow bridges, setting up anchors when necessary, etc.), but also has significant glacier experience in Alaska, the Andes, and elsewhere. So if you’re new to this (as it sounds like you are), I would suggest starting with a bigger team until you are comfortable with you and your partner’s abilities to glacier travel, then look at going as a pair. Statistically speaking crevasse falls are rare, but like anything else in mountaineering it’s often best to expect the best but prepare for the worst.

My two cents,

"I want to keep the mountains clean of racism, religion and politics. In the mountains this should play no role."

- Joe Stettner

"I haven't climbed Everest, skied to the poles, or sailed single-handed around the world. The goals I set out to accomplish aren't easily measured or quantified by world records or "firsts." The reasons I climb, and the climbs I do, are about more than distance or altitude, they are about breaking barriers within myself."

- Andy Kirkpatrick
Posts: 100
Joined: 10/20/2012
14ers:summits25 ski1 winter15 
13ers:summits19 winter5 
Trip Reports (3)

Re: Two person glacier travel

Post by dereferenced » Sun Nov 19, 2017 1:45 pm

I've done this a lot but can't guarantee its safety, I've never actually had to arrest a fall.

I've stepped through at least 10 crevasses myself, usually one leg goes through, sometimes both legs go through but I catch the fall with my upper body. One partner fell through almost completely, he caught himself wedged in with one arm out.

I put in pro when slightly concerned and belay for any obviously sketchy crossing.

Make sure you have your system down and practice it. You need a coil of rope to do the hauling with. I can haul another person on a 3:1 but it's hard. A 9:1 is easier but slower. It works better to use a microtraxion than a prussik for your ratchet, so you lose less capture distance every time you adjust the lower end of the pulley.

Putting knots in the rope supposedly helps catch the fall, but you can't easily haul or jug past them, and I've heard that when the knots actually catch a fall, they may get caught so deep in the snow that you have to cut the rope. When I'm using half ropes, I'll put knots in one and pre-rig prussiks on the other. With a single rope, I've always just left the knots out of the rope.
User avatar
I Man
Posts: 984
Joined: 7/18/2011
14ers:summits58 winter49 
13ers:summits73 winter12 
Trip Reports (30)

Re: Two person glacier travel

Post by I Man » Mon Nov 20, 2017 8:59 am

Lots of good info here. I will echo what the others have said.

2 man glacier travel is the norm in the world of serious climbing for many reasons. Yes it is difficult and not entirely safe, however by the time you are doing 2 person rope teams, you should have enough experience to not need to ask.

For your first several trips, and especially on any non-standard/non-high traffic routes, you should have 3 or more.

Denali and Rainier by their standard routes should be ok with only 2, but that is up to your personal risk tolerance/ confidence.
You can touch the void, just don't fall into it.

I fly a starship across the universe divide....and when I reach the other side...I'll find a place to rest my spirit if I can. Perhaps I may become a Mountain Man again.
User avatar
Posts: 323
Joined: 4/12/2013
14ers:summits21 ski3 winter1 
13ers:summits59 ski12 winter5 
Trip Reports (6)

Re: Two person glacier travel

Post by Jorts » Mon Nov 20, 2017 10:35 am

A mammut rescyou makes uphaul (and self rescue for that matter) a bit easier for two on a line. And it sits on your harness in a cute little package.

Traveling light is the only way to fly.
IG: @summityinzer
Strava: Brent Herring
User avatar
Posts: 99
Joined: 10/14/2012
14ers:summits43 ski2 winter4 
13ers:summits15 ski3 winter4 
Trip Reports (2)

Re: Two person glacier travel

Post by Buckie06 » Mon Nov 20, 2017 2:14 pm

A very well done and interesting video on putting knots in your rope:

I took an Advanced Crevasse Rescue class where we had the victim jump off a cornice and we had to arrest the fall (team of three on a rope). Even with a three man team anticipating the fall most times we were not able to actually arrest. It was definitely an eye opener as I've always just practiced it on a slope with the victim running backwards. Personally I think it is extremely unlikely to catch a fall if someone's whole body falls through.

I would tie knots if traveling in a two person team. It has pros/cons of course, but overall seems safer. open to discussion of course :wink:
User avatar
Posts: 425
Joined: 8/30/2016
14ers: List not added

Re: Two person glacier travel

Post by ker0uac » Tue Jan 26, 2021 4:05 pm

Who's so bored to the point of creating bots to revive years old threads?
Those who travel to mountain-tops are half in love with themselves and half in love with oblivion
Posts: 291
Joined: 5/22/2019
14ers:summits40 ski2 winter2 

Re: Two person glacier travel

Post by ltlFish99 » Tue Jan 26, 2021 5:30 pm

kaiman wrote:
Sat Nov 18, 2017 5:06 pm
The short answer: Glacier travel is best done with three or more people.

Two person glacier travel is best used in moderation and only in certain circumstances such as on short glacier crossings/approaches (North Cascades, Bugaboos, Olympics, etc), or where the crevasse danger is clearly evident and the risk of hidden crevasses is low to none, or if you simply can't find a third or fourth partner. While it is done sometimes, climbing heavily glaciated mountains like Denali, Mount Rainier, or Mount Baker (even the trade routes) is ill-advised as the risk of hidden crevasses on those mountains is fairly high.

I have been on two person rope teams 3-4 times in the Cascades on short or obvious glaciers and had no incidents, but was with a highly trained partner and we were both very careful to search for the safest routes and always be aware of our surroundings.

As pkbaldwin points out, the theory is that one person can arrest the other climbers fall and prevent both climbers from going into the crevasse together. However, this can be difficult if not impossible depending on the strength/skill of the partner arresting the fall, the difference in the two climber's weights, slope angle, snow conditions, etc.

In addition to being able to arrest the fall of a second climber, the next challenge that presents itself to two person rope teams is the rescue itself, as the person who is not in the crevasse has to hold the weight of the other climber and set up some sort of pulley system to get the other climber out of the hole, without moving from the arrest position. I have tried this in simulated scenarios during crevasse rescue classes and can tell you first hand that I wouldn't want to do this if I didn't have too. In short falls, the climber in the crevasse may be able to pull themselves out, but if the climber is wedged, in a deeper fall, or into an overhanging crevasse self rescue becomes very difficult.

So I guess my advice to you is to avoid two person rope teams if you can.

Just my two cents,

I agree with the above statement. My glacier travel experience is limited. To prepare for it, I took a crevasse rescue course with the CMC.
I was the guy holding the fallen climber and setting up the pulley system. I was thrilled that if I screwed up, the consequences would have not been serious.
I would not want to test this out on Rainier, etc. So we used 2, 3 person teams.
Posts: 1401
Joined: 9/29/2006
14ers: List not added
Trip Reports (8)

Re: Two person glacier travel

Post by pvnisher » Tue Jan 26, 2021 10:18 pm

I've been on a 2 person rope team, more simul snow climbing than crevasses on Mont Blanc du Tacul, and I think we both felt like it was probably a little more "death pacty" than actual security if either of us had fallen.

After practicing crevasse falls and rescues, I think an actual fall (dangling, overhanging, or off a ladder) would be pretty freaking hard, even with a team of 3. Arresting the fall, holding the fall, rigging the rescue, then actually making the rescue... it's hard.

Lots of people say they've been on 2 person teams and it was fine, but without any falls, that means nothing. It's like saying you never wear a seatbelt and you've never crashed, so you don't need a seatbelt.
User avatar
Posts: 1658
Joined: 8/7/2009
14ers:summits58 winter30 
13ers:summits284 winter51 
Trip Reports (27)

Re: Two person glacier travel

Post by Monster5 » Wed Jan 27, 2021 6:00 am

It may be hard to arrest a full blown dangling fall, but it's pretty easy to keep a slip from becoming a fall.
That's where good rope management comes into play. Keep the slack out. Set a belay and carefully watch major crevasse crossings. Full blown dangling falls are extremely rare.
Despite it being a crucial skill, I dislike most technical climbing involving three people. The risks associated with a three person crew on slopes >35 degrees often outweigh the glacier fall risks on a two person crew.
"The road to alpine climbing is pocked and poorly marked, ending at an unexpectedly closed gate 5 miles from the trailhead." - MP user Beckerich
User avatar
Posts: 425
Joined: 8/30/2016
14ers: List not added

Re: Two person glacier travel

Post by ker0uac » Wed Jan 27, 2021 10:53 am

I like that you allude to the cost-benefit which I think was missing from this discussion. Roped traveling is not a death pact, so it makes sense only if the team can arrest a fall. For ex, in very steep slopes, roping up becomes a death pact, specially if crampons aren't biting easily. I have had that be the case in Mt Baker near summit cone. Another consideration is the weight ratio between the climbers. Would I rope up with my girlfriend? Sure. Would I rope up with someone 2x my weight? Nope. Another consideration is that if the whole team falls into the crevasse, then there won't be anyone to call for help. Putting yourself at risk while trying to rescue someone else is dumb if you are their only chance of survival. Lastly, and this may sound obvious, but common sense is not always common - if you are not carrying enough rope, and anchors and hardware needed to build a pulley system, roped travel will indeed be just a death pact. Watch "Touching the Void" for an illustration of the consequences of such death pacts.

So, I find that there is not one universal right answer, but rather one right answer for every climb/route.
Those who travel to mountain-tops are half in love with themselves and half in love with oblivion
Post Reply