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Andy Kirkpatrick
Snow Anchors

Descent 

Snow Anchors

08 December 2008

Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).

Snow can be the most difficult medium to retreat from, requiring combined and unconventional tactics. Generally snow can be simply down climbed, providing good solid buckets steps. Unfortunately you can find yourself committed above an overhanging bergshrund or serac with nothing solid except for the snow beneath your feet. Snow anchors are generally the most suspect and great care should be taken whenever forced in using any of the techniques below. All snow anchors, no matter how good they look, should be treated with extreme caution, with shock loading and load being kept to its minimum.

Snow bollard

The classic snow anchor and one worth practicing before you find you need to use it in anger so that you fully understand its holding power. The snow bollard should be treated as a suspect anchor, with shock and load being kept to the minimum. The anchor can be backed up by having a person below it sitting in a bucket seat and ready to hold the ropes if they start to pull through. Once the leader is down it can be assumed that the bollard is up to the job.

Dead bag

If forced to abseil off very bad snow then one option is to fill a large stuff sack with snow and use this as the anchor, burying it as deep as possible like you would a t-axe belay. The drawback with this anchor is that you’re leaving a mess behind, although this may not be such a big deal if it will eventually find itself into the begshrund anyway.

 

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