A Compact but Functional Glacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue Kit
Glaciers are variable in complexity and in a constant state of flux. The size and number of crevasses they hide are constantly changing as is the condition of the surface. Therefore, the risk of breaking through a snowbridge can range from negligible to almost certain. And of course, the more hazardous a given glacier the more prepared you’ll want to be before venturing onto it.
That being said, there are some key pieces of equipment that I use to build a glacier travel and crevasse rescue kit that works well for the majority of glaciers outside of the bigger ranges. So long as I’m in a group of 3 or more (if you only have 2 people you’ll need a bit more kit), it has everything needed to travel on the glacier, undertake a crevasse rescue or, if I fall in, climb out.
My Go-To Glacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue Kit:
- 2 x Non-Locking Carabiners
- 4 x Locking Carabiners
- MicroTraxion or SPOC
- Ice screw
- 120cm Sling
- Personal Prusik
A somewhat obvious item to include in glacier travel and crevasse rescue kit but still worth some discussion. If I’m out alpine climbing I’ll have my regular climbing harness with me and will wear that. However, if I’m skiing or mountaineering I like to bring a light-weight harness that I can put on when wearing crampons or skis. A personal favorite is the Petzl Altitude. It’s lightweight, very packable and wears/walks well. Another great option is the Mammut Zephyr Altitude it’s a bit heavier but more functional and comfortable.
2 x Non-Locking Carabiners:
These non-locking carabiners are really just used to rack my crevasse rescue kit. You need some way to attach all your goodies to your harness right! And it sucks to use up all the lockers just to store gear and then not have them available when you need them!
I prefer fairly light and inexpensive carabiners so long as they’re not too small. A personal favourite are the CAMP Nano 22’s, they work great and are light and inexpensive.
4 x Locking Carabiners:
- 1 x triple action locker with a captive eye: clipping into the rope when traveling on a glacier.
- 2 x large pear shaped or HMS ‘biners for racking & rescue. I really like the new CAMP Nitro though the Petzl Attache also work great.
- 1 x D shaped locker ‘cause they’re light and you always need one more carabiner!
My fav for clipping into a glacier travel rope is the Grivel Clepsydra S. Though it’s not technically a triple action, it meets the objective as it can’t cross-load, unscrew or come unlocked with movement or vibration. It’s also quite compact, easy to use with gloves on and doesn’t freeze up. Don’t get a BD Magnetron for glacier travel, they’re quite prone to freezing.
Think lightweight but long! While they’re a bit more pricey than other options my personal favorite is either the 16cm (blue handle) or 19cm (grey handle) Ultralight Ice Screw from Black Diamond. They don’t weigh much and are long enough to really get down into some good glacier ice. Of course Petzl’s aluminum screws are just a good if you have one of them.
Absolutely invaluable in both a companion crevasse rescue scenario or for climbing out of a crevasse. I almost always keep one of these high-efficiency progress capture pulleys with me. The SPOC is a little bit lighter and less expensive but the Micro-Tracion is often easier to find in-store.
If you’re budget is a little tight you can get a good prusik minding pulley (PMP) instead. Something with a metal sheave or pulley wheel. The cheap plastic ones just don’t work when you apply a real load to them. So get a good PMP like the Petzl Mini or bust.
It’s called a lightweight ascender but I think of it more as a mechanical prusik. The Tibloc is light and exceptionally quick to put into use. I keep mine in a small kit with a Micro-Traxion and sling for quickly ascending a rope just in case I fall in a slot.
More info on how the new Tibloc and how it compares to the old version can be found here: Tibloc Review.
I still carry a personal (short) prusik when wandering around on glaciers even though I have a Tibloc. If I’m on a complicated glacier I’ll have it pre-rigged on the rope so I can make small changes in rope length or tension when probing around crevasses without making everyone move. It’s also works great as a self-belay during a crevasse rescue and for transferring the weight of a victim over to an anchor. Here’s an article I wrote a few years back on how to pick a good prusik cord: Prusik Cord Options.
I carry at least 1 x 120cm Dyneema sling in my crevasse rescue kit. They are great for building an anchor during a rescue, extending an anchor, as a foot loop when ascending a rope out of a hole, and more. They’re lighter and more compact than a nylon sling and so definitely worth the extra cost.
There are a ton of options out there when it comes to a rope depending on what you’re doing. If you’re crossing a glacier to get to a rock climb then you can use your climbing rope. However, if you’re out skiing on a glacier or mountaineering and don’t need a climbing rope then something a bit more specialized might just be the ticket. The 6mm diameter Mammut Glacier Rope is my personal fav. It’s light and compact so you won’t mind packing it around. The rope is hyperstatic which makes arresting a crevasse fall a bit easier. However, it’s also about as expensive as ropes get! A good alternative is a dry treated half rope.
For length, I like to use a 30m rope if I’m in a group of 3, or 2 x 30m ropes if there’s more than 3 peeps. This allows the rope to be split up into two different packs so one person (usually me) doesn’t have to carry the entire rope when we’re not on the glacier. Of course a 60m rope works just as well.
If you’re looking for more information on how pick the right rope here’s a great article to get you going: Climb-On Squamish Rope Guide
Here’s a quick summary of a solid lightweight and compact kit:
- Petzl Altitude Harness
- 2 x Camp Nano 22 Carabiners
- 1 Grivel Clepsydra S Carabiner
- 2 Camp Nitro HMS Carabiners
- 1 Edelrid Pure Screw Carabiner
- 16cm BD Ulralight Ice Screw
- Edelrid SPOC
- Petzl Tibloc
- 1 x 120cm Dyneema Sling
- 30m mammut 6.0mm Glacier Cord
Of course all this gear is only useful if you know how to use it! Before you head out I’d recommend a course on Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue with a Guide certified by your country’s Mountain Guide Association. Here in Canada it’s the ACMG, but most mountainous counties will have a certifying body. It’s also good to practice so you’re quick and efficient should anything go wrong.