The Buried Axe Winter Climbing Belay

Author: M Wilkinson and Outdoor Reaserch

Ice Climbing Ice Axe Anchor pictureSo continuing on the theme of winter protection techniques I want to talk about the buried ice axe (t- slot) belay technique.

This can be used on assents and descents, and is normally only used in situations where the prospects for other types protection are close to nil.


To set up the buried ice axe belay, you cut a horizontal slot into the snow about a meter or two above where you will sit and belay from.

Try and dig the slot for the axe to at least 40cm in depth when available. Once this slot is cut, dig another, beginning in the center of the first at a 90 degree angle running vertically down the hill, thus creating the first T shape. (using the adze of your axe is a great way to speed up the digging process) This vertical slot will be the channel for the sling used to attached the rope too.

Now attach your sling to the shaft of the ice axe using a clove hitch knot, then place the axe, with the pick driven down first, in to the horizontal trench at the top of the t shape. The clove hitch on the sling should sit roughly three quarters of the way up axe shaft, slightly closer to the head of the axe as this helps to balance the load when weighting the anchor. Feed the sling down the vertical trench until the end lays out onto the top of the slope, then attach a carabiner to the end of the sling.

Once you are comfortable the axe is sitting firmly in the snow and that you are ready to belay of it, bury the axe into the top trench and press down on top to compact the snow around the axe. This helps the axe sit more securely in place. Now simply set up your belay using the caribener at the end of the sling as normal and you are ready to belay, Simple! Please be aware of the limitations of this technique and where ever possible try and back this anchor up with a dead man or some form of ice screw or rock anchor placement. please see the video below for a visual aid to building the anchor.

 


 

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