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Can I teach myself to Self-Arrest?
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By HW4
May 20, 2013

I have been climbing for a decent amount of time, and enjoy the challenge of bigger mountains. I have encountered snow conditions on my trips several times and usually just avoid the snow to be totally safe. This is wasting time, however, and I want to learn how to self-arrest so I'll feel more comfortable traversing snow fields in the mountains. I've used an ice axe on a climb once, but didn't have much instruction on what to do if I fell. I don't feel like I'm completely new to the sport, and I am comfortable in the mountains, but is it reasonable for me to teach myself to self-arrest? Or am I taking unnecessary risks by not learning it from someone in person?


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By The Stoned Master
Administrator
From Pennsylvania
May 20, 2013
Day Lily.

Getting hands on experience with an experienced person is of course ideal HOWEVER something like self-arresting can totally be practiced/gained by yourself.

Books of course are out there but what I found was YouTube videos were super helpful when learning and free.

Take a course if you have time/money but self arresting can totally be gained safely by yourself.

Enjoy!


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By Jaren Watson
From Rexburg, Idaho
May 20, 2013

I agree with The Stoned Master. Personal instruction is best, but it's not a terribly complex skill to acquire. Find a slope that's sleep enough for you to self-arrest but also has no consequences if you can't stop yourself.
Practice falling in every direction you can think of, head first, feet first, sideways, on your stomach, on your back, etc.


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By FrankPS
From Atascadero, CA
May 20, 2013

I think having an experienced partner to teach you, observe your mistakes and provide feedback on your practice is the best way, but you could learn on your own.

Just don't try to invent your own methods - read about how to properly self-arrest in all four basic body positions. And be sure to practice on a slope with a safe runout.

Also practice self-arrest with your ax in both your left hand or your right hand.


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By Dustin Drake
May 20, 2013

Go to youtube and start learning.


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By HW4
May 20, 2013

Thanks everyone! I really appreciate the feedback and help. I'll get after it.


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By bevans
May 20, 2013

HW4, short answer is yes. Self arrest is not, in itself, a difficult or a highly technical skill.

However, shift your perspective on how to stay safe on snowy terrain. Self arrest is NOT the skill that ensures your safety. It is the stop-gap, last chance "Hail Mary" if something goes wrong, or if you screw up in some way. The reality is that you may often find yourself on terrain where self-arrest is unlikely if not impossible.

To put it another way, if you absolutely master "self arrest" and yet are still unable to move through snowy terrain competently, you are asking for trouble. Self arrest is not your "ticket" into that kind of terrain.

Work more on how to stay safe and never need self arrest. Terrain assessment, balance, coordination, ice axe usage, crampon technique. All of those will do more to ensure your safety than self arrest.

Have fun be safe and all that stuff.


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By HW4
May 20, 2013

Thanks bevans, I appreciate the new perspective. I will focus on learning as much about snow travel as possible! Not just self-arresting.


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By Ben Beckerich
From saint helens, oregon
May 20, 2013
About half way up the East Arete on Illumination Rock

French technique.. Especially if you're going to be using the crappy crampons I see most non- ice-climbing alpine rock climbers using


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By trundlebum
From Las Vegas NV
Sep 5, 2013
Somewhere in Tuolumne, sometime early 80's

Good info already ;)
Yes the self arrest is the 'Hail Mary' as said previous !

But self teaching
Ultimately it's the ONLY way !
You can talk talk talk, or...

Think think think...

You can set up a belay that will cause you more risk than save you.
(unless your stupid enough to practise above a large cliff)

The whole deal is just finding the right practice spot.
That being steep enough for the speed of the surface to actually slide on. Hopefully so you slide and slowly increase speed.
Yet ~ listen up !
With a good run out. Not one where if you sail you fly into the woods, off a cliff or into a boulder.

That's all there is to it ! Period!
It aint rockett science.

However ~ Now this is tricky...
You are doing your self a disservice if you do not practice
(unitl totally wired with muscle memory...)
The two different styles:

Crampons on ` NEVER, NEVER let your toes come down to the slope surface.
Crampons off Dig in with everything you got including boot toes.

It is way easier to relax and dig toes after muscle memory training to lift and never drop your cramponed feet.
So whether your wearing crampons or not, practise your self arrest, religeously never allowing your boots to come any where near the slope.

Remember, the self arrest technique is not going to get employed for real unless it is spontaneous, so....

Have fun with it.
Launch your self down a gentle slope (with a safe run out) all possible ways. Head first. Tumbling, etc etc
Practise both hands on head (both directions of travel across the slope) when falling and initiating the self arrest. ie: it's silly to even think you have a handle on it if your skill(s) are not developed 100% ambedextrous!

Just learn to not drop those feet (even though as a beginneron a slow slope you won't have crampons on)
before you move on doing the toe digs.
As a matter of fact you don't even ever have to practise toe digs. If your in a situation (no crampons) you'll react with out thinking about it and dig your toes if your not wearing crampons.
But if you don't practise and get wired lifting the feet...
When the time comes to actually use the technique in a real life situation, and you have crampons... if you digger yer feet, your fucked !
Either:
A: sprained to shattered ankle
B: You launch yourself and by the time you land self arrest will be near impossible !
C: Both above ^

Oh yeah another thing regarding hand/tool positioning...
It's all about the hand on the head. Don't let that get away from you.
You hand on the shaft is like the 'guide hand' in belaying. It does no work other than to guide/fair lead, the gig.
Stay stalwart about the top hand. the one on the head of the tool.
Because... if it gets away from you (especially if you have a landyard/wrist loop on) it can rip your shoulder up/apart pretty good in a real situation if you get sloppy and let things get away from you.

Have fun practicing, because as long as you take your time and carefully pick your practice pad, it is total fun to learn.
But be warned and remember, what is a great slope today at 'X' time may not be in just a few hrs from then. On snow and ice, conditions are everything and they can change very rapidly !


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By Mike Barter
From Banff, AB
Oct 31, 2013

Most of what needs to be said has been said. It's not rocket science. Rehearsing in you your head the what if scenario will get you into action that much faster. Shouldn't be slipping with crampons on after all the are made to prevent that sort of thing.

Anyway here is a video of what you are asking I shot a couple years ago.


youtu.be/IehAdl40lJE


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By Stich
From Colorado Springs, Colorado
Oct 31, 2013
Coffee after freezing our asses off near James Peak.

It is possible to injure yourself pretty severely with a mountain axe should it plant itself suddenly and impale you, so take care when you practice and do it with another person. I remember seeing a story about a guy that managed to have his axe be driven completely into his leg up to the axe head. Gah! That was pretty nasty. I've accidentally planted my axe while glissading and it ripped the leash off my hand. For the life of me I can't remember what I was tying to do, but the spike wasn't slowing me down enough on Cristo Couloir so I tried to trail the spike or something like that and ended up planting it instead. I don't do a ton of glissading or snow travel. Practicing with your axe is obviously worthwhile so that its use becomes second nature.


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By Rick Blair
From Denver
Nov 1, 2013
This is a novel auto blocking belay device.  I think it works quite well, depending on rope thickness and sheath quality, it belays very smooth.  Great to lower with.  You gotta love over engineering.  $3 at a gear swap!

Uhhhhh......... Yes. Be careful but I doubt you will impale yourself. Not exactly rocket science or even anchor building.


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By fx101
Nov 4, 2013

Stich wrote:
It is possible to injure yourself pretty severely with a mountain axe should it plant itself suddenly and impale you, so take care when you practice and do it with another person. I remember seeing a story about a guy that managed to have his axe be driven completely into his leg up to the axe head. Gah! That was pretty nasty. I've accidentally planted my axe while glissading and it ripped the leash off my hand. For the life of me I can't remember what I was tying to do, but the spike wasn't slowing me down enough on Cristo Couloir so I tried to trail the spike or something like that and ended up planting it instead. I don't do a ton of glissading or snow travel. Practicing with your axe is obviously worthwhile so that its use becomes second nature.


It's *really* hard to impale yourself. Most mountaineering axes aren't even sharp. That said, it's nice to practice with a thick shell since the adze hurts.

Crampons, on the other hand... they can hurt you or cause you to tumble if you don't know what you're doing. Best to leave those off the boots when practicing.


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