Glaciers are intricate things which should be appreciated and in many ways feared. Throughout the course of modern mountaineering many lives have been lost while trying to traverse glaciers which are often found at the bases of mountains. One noteable example is the death of Jacques Batkin who died after a creavesse fall on Denali's Kahiltna Glacier while attempting the first winter ascent of Denali.

A glacier is a large body of slowly moving ice. When a glacier moves around a bend the outside ice will travel farther than the inside of ice. This causes the ice to fracture apart, creating a crevasse. Creavasses can be a few to hundreds of feet deep.

Some creavesses are apparent. They can be spotted and a new route can be established around them. More often, though, a snow bridge will span over the creavesse making it unapparent to a person on the glacier. Many deaths and injuries occur when individuals step through a snow bridge and plunge hundreds of feet to the bottom of the creavesse.

To combat the risk of falling teams of mountaineers will travel roped together (this is called roped travel). Each member wears a harness and ties themselve into the rope with a figure eight knot. Spacings of 10 to 30 meters are primarly used. When choosing a rope for glacier travel it should be dry treated so that it resists soaking up water, getting heavier, and freezing. Also, the gram per length of the rope is often a big consideration on expeditions, therefore a 8.6 or 9mm rope is often used.

If a member of the roped team falls through a snow bridge into a creavesse the other members of the team must fall down to a prone position and try to self arrest with their ice axes. It is hoped that the remaining members will be able to arrest the fall of member(s) in the creavesse before they are pulled in themselves.

After the fall is arrested trained techinque must take over. This is a vital time, and for this purpose people are strongly advised to take creavesse rescue courses before venturing out on a glacier.

Sometimes a fallen member might be just dagling and can jumar himself up to the creavesse lip. But, often, the fall taken into the creavesse can create injuries. This requires the other members of the team to be versed in rope rescue technique.

Occasionally (some say insane) people choose to go solo across a glacier. Some have been known to attach large aluminum X's to their body so that if they fall in a creavesse the X will hold them from falling through completely. A well written description of this can be found in Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. He says that after he had pulled himself out of the creavesse he had fallen into with the X apparatus he collapsed mid over and started dry heaving because his body was in shock by how close he had came to dying.

You can attempt to self belay on a glacier with a deadman, but it's overly hard and best saved until you've already summited Everest a few times without oxygen and you need something more dangerous to get thrills. Like most other things in mountaineering and climbing, if you value living tommarow don't solo -- it's just not worth the risks.

On well traveled mountains such as Denali creavesses might be marked with wands, allowing for pilots to land, and people to generally scurry around. However, if you are in doubt you should always rope up and have your ice axe ready for a self arrest.

If you approach a glacier from below be carefull venturing into the ice caves which are sometimes formed. With the deep blues and breathtaking ice shades one can easily be twisted around and confused.

Associated with ice caves, are waterflows which run under the glacier. Much like a snow bridge it is possible to fall through the fragile covering of such a waterflow and be sucked into rapidly moving water. This water is of course cold, and your chances of survival are minimal. The waterflow might seperate into a multitude of different chutes, all of which are not big enough for your body and you will be drowned. Puncture wounds often happen in waterflows. Your best bet if you fall in such a waterflow is to try to keep your feet downflow, and protect your head as much as possible. If you are roped you can attempt to do a hand jumar back to your entry point if the current is calm enough and you have not lost motor abilties from the cold water.

Another problem which arises from glaciers is ice fall. Probably one of the most noteable ice falls is the Khumbu Ice Fall on Everest. This is believed to be the most dangerous areas to traverse if you are approaching Everest from the West. The Khumbu Ice Fall occurs because the glacier above falls almost a vertical half mile into the Khumbu Valley below. One must traverse the ice fall consisting of dangerous seracs with aluminum latters and bridges. Throughout, other large seracs overhang the route and threaten to fall on you. Generally a guide company is elected to place a series of latters and bridges through the ice fall.

So, remember, a glacier is more than just a piece of ice. It's a dangerous piece of ice, and that's what makes it worth traveling on.

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