The Ice Axe Self Arrest

Author: M Wilkinson and MountaineeringCouncilofScotland

Ice Climbing Ice Axe Self Arrest picture close upThe Self arrest is probably the most important climbing technique you can learn before you start to ice and snow climb.

This series of braking moves has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of climbers since its development and is a must to know. A slip on snow and ice can rapidly turn into a dangerous fall and this technique will tech you the skills to stop a slip and ensure your safety.

The principles behind the self arrest are quite simple, mainly using the pick of your axe slow and stop your decent. Sounds straight forward but it's not. First of all practice, practice, practice, this move needs to be instinctive and only repetition can achieve that, though remove your crampons first please as they can cause you to flip over and hurt yourself if your new to the self arrest. Find a safe hill with a reasonable incline that you can slide down to practice on, I used the hill in my local park that is used for sledging in winter.

To begin the self arrest process firstly drive the pick of your axe into the snow and ice underneath you, position yourself, front down (onto your chest and belly) with your shoulders higher than the axe, and raise your legs up at the knee, this is to prevent your crampons from digging into the snow and flipping you over. Hand position is key with the self arrest, though it doesn't matter if left or right hand placements are different. Your top hand is the one grabbing the pick of the axe and this will control the force applied to help the pick bite, your other hand, the lower hand, should be placed at the bottom of the axe shaft, covering the spike if possible and helping keep the axe straight and stable.

If on a slight incline this alone may be enough to stop your decent, if not however you now need to apply more pressure to the axe by pushing your body weight on the top of the axe. Shift your weight onto your chest and shoulder areas and this should help the pick bite into the snow and ice. resist the temptation to lower your legs as the front points of your crampons will bite into the ground and flip you over onto your back, on a slight incline that may not seem so bad but think about the implications of that if you're on close to vertical wall of ice.

You may be saying this is all well and good if, when I slip, I fall onto my front. But what if you fall onto your back or, very unfortunately upside down? well the excellent video from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland below will show you the techniques of how to right yourself, back into the basic self arrest position. Remember, be safe as climbing is dangerous and please, practice this skill over and over again when possible before climbing, I still practice years after my first winter climb.



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