Safety on Ice

Posted by Tim Emmett
Monday 21st December 2009

It has been a tough few weeks with the loss of two complete climbing legends, Thomaz Humar and now Guy Lacelle. My condolences to both their families and close friends.

Last year whilst ice climbing with Nick Bullock we narrowly escaped with our lives after repeating ‘Le Lyre’ 600M, WI 7 .The afternoon sun hit the top of the crag melting huge ice daggers which then dropped into freefall for 1000ft before exploding on ledges near where we had been climbing. The next day two people were killed on a climb near by and a few days later two other climbers also lost their lives on Le Lyre –All from falling ice.


Guy to was knocked of an ice climb by a small avalanche triggered by climbers in the gully hundreds of feet above him.

I climbed with Guy Lacelle in Pont Rouge (Quebec) 8 years ago, it was a great privilege. His climbing style was a beauty to watch, effortless but thorough, confident and free. It came with no surprise when I heard afterwards about his solo of Terminator, Replicant and Sea Of Vapours on Mount Rundle, (Banff) all in the same day, each 600ft in height and harder than any ice climb in the UK.


Also last winter a team of 3 were knocked off an ice route in Triente near Chamonix. The avalanche was trigger by wind-loaded slopes one thousand meters above the climb. Few people considered this route to have avalanche hazard, seeing as it was close to the road and down in the bottom of the valley.


If you are heading out onto the ice this winter, do some research before setting off on your chosen climb. Find out what the snow conditions are like, which way the wind has been blowing over the last few days, so you can assess wind loading of the snow above your climb. If you can, look into the history of the snow pack over the whole winter, to see if there is a particularly unstable layer likely to be triggered, local guides will have knowledge on this. Also think about temperature fluctuations throughout the day and whether ice above you will be exposed to the sun while you are climbing down below.


The BMC has a DVD about avalanche awareness and safety –it comes highly recommended.


Sharpen up your tools and enjoy the winter, there are some amazing adventure to be had.







(AKA the “Turbo Bumbly” ref Johnny Dawes in the new DVD “Welsh Connection”)

Read more blog entries by Tim Emmett

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