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Crossing Glaciers
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John Mowery
(Mow) - F

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Crossing Glaciers on 10/16/2007 14:48:40 MDT Print View

I am currently researching trips for next August. I'd like to hike the Wind River's in Wyoming. One proposed route takes me over Indian Pass and across a half mile long glacier.

I've never crossed a backcountry glacier. I have limited experience skiing on glaciers like Mt. Hood and St. Mary's (Colorado). My hiking partner has no experience with glaciers and is a novice backpacker. I'll definitely be leading the trip.

My question is, with book study and the appropriate gear, is crossing a backcountry glacier too dangerous based on the above information? Must one have formal training to safely traverse a glacier? Is it possible to learn the appropriate techniques from a book? If so, do you have a book recommendation?

Thanks for the help.

Edited by Mow on 10/16/2007 14:53:41 MDT.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Crossing Glaciers on 10/17/2007 07:06:52 MDT Print View


I'm hesitant in saying that studying from a book is experience enough for a safe and proper glacier crossing but it is certainly a good place to start. Freedom of the Hills is considered one of the industry standards in educational manuals for wilderness and primarily alpine wilderness travel. I've read it cover to cover and it does an excellent job of describing glacier travel.

- Sam

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Crossing Glaciers on 10/17/2007 07:34:42 MDT Print View

That's the book for sure but I'm in full agreement that book knowledge isn't enough here. Now some glaciers are pretty mild but by definitions it's a moving mass of ice and therefore will have some crevasses.

If you're crossing a crevasse field and one of you goes in, you will need the experiece with an ice axe to make a spontaneous self arrest (not always easy) and then the know-how to set up a one-person rescue. A one-person rescue is the most difficult and involved of all rescues.

So I'd approach that cautiously. I was on a two-person climb in the Cascades when a friend broke through a snow bridge. I was very happy to have my background and experience. I set up an anchor and he was able to prussik out of the crevasse. Next time, it might not be so easy...

But then again, we were intentionally moving through open crevasse fields in early fall when they were their worst. The decision may depend on when and where you will be travelling.

John Mowery
(Mow) - F

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Crossing Glaciers on 10/17/2007 08:04:03 MDT Print View

Thanks for the insight, that is what I suspected. I'm going to purchase the book for reference. I'll find a different route for my trip next summer.

So, I guess the next question is where/how did you gain your experience? NOLS?

Robert Mohid
(mohid) - F
Crevasse rescue on 10/17/2007 11:00:10 MDT Print View

Only an expert with significant crevasse rescue experience should attempt glacier self-rescue with a two-man team.

A team of three or four GREATLY increases your safety margin.

As far as book learning goes, FOTH is good, but 90% of the book is unrelated to crevasse rescue.

I've read a few, and my favorite, by far, is "Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide to Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue" by Andy Tyson illustrated by the master himself, Mike Clelland(!). For complicated systems like 7-1 raising systems, by mind works better with illustrations and that book has the clearest ones, by a long shot.

But for god's sake, get professional instruction by a registered mountain guide on an actual glacier FIRST.

Edited by mohid on 10/17/2007 11:27:30 MDT.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Re: Crossing Glaciers on 10/17/2007 14:48:14 MDT Print View

John -

One possibility would be to consider, as Robert suggested the use of a professional guide. Not only would you have the element of safety in having a guided first traverse of a glacier you would also walk away from the experience with some basic training. I'm sure there are more than just two but I've done a small amount of research into Jackson Hole Mountain Guides and the Exum Guides both of whom will operate in the Wind River areas.

- Sam

John Mowery
(Mow) - F

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Crossing Glaciers on 10/17/2007 15:34:21 MDT Print View

I'll definitely hire a guide if we decide to travel over Indian Pass. I'd like to acquire the skill of glacier travel, and having someone along with tons of experience seems to be the only way I'll get it.

I really appreciate all the input and sound advice.

Paul Tree
(Paul_Tree) - F

Locale: Wowwww
August conditions on 10/20/2007 11:56:30 MDT Print View

you might call and ask a local if the glacier is relatively static and crevasses (if there are any??) obvious in August conditions. Most of our glaciers are in retreat except St. Helens. Sharp crampons. Looks pretty mellow.

Eric Parsons
(EricP) - F

Locale: Alaska
go for it on 11/13/2007 16:37:31 MST Print View

think this through a bit..
August in Wyoming.. I'm just throwing this out there - everyone's recommendations on training etc are all good but...
there will likely be no snow on the glacier and any cravasses will be exposed. Leaving the glacier "Dry". Its highly likely that the glacier is a dying remnant glaicer which is usually scree covered ice without any big cracks. So if that is the case just go ahead and cross the thing.

Training is only needed if your brain cant capture the concepts and that you practice... go to your local park, rope up and practice pulley systems

But just keep in mind there is a difference between neededing to rope up on a big snow covered glacier, and just going unroped across a chunk of old ice in the summer with trail runners. Current USGS maps dont account for global warming and it could be much smaller than it appears.

Edited by EricP on 11/13/2007 16:41:14 MST.

Paul Tree
(Paul_Tree) - F

Locale: Wowwww
Re: go for it on 11/14/2007 12:40:54 MST Print View

Here's satellite imagery from 2007:
Indian Pass. Knife Point Glacier to the east, Fremont Glacier a bit north.

Looks avoidable between the two, but puts you on the moraine.

Edited by Paul_Tree on 11/14/2007 12:41:35 MST.