Intermediate Alpine Ice 2 Field Trip

Field trip: Intermediate Climbing Course

Intermediate Alpine Ice 2 Field Trip - Mount Baker/Coleman Glacier

This is the Ice II Field Trip to be completed after successful completion of Intermediate Ice I Field Trip and attendance of the Intermediate Ice Lecture.

COVID-19: Learn about our most up-to-date guidance for participants and leaders on our COVID-19 Response page. All participants and leaders must agree to the COVID-19 Code of Conduct before participating in this Mountaineers activity.
  • Sat, Sep 20, 2014
  • Seattle Climbing
  • Climbing
  • Basic Alpine
  • Adults
  • Technical 3, Strenuous 3, Basic Glacier Climb
  • Moderate
  • Mileage: 11.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 8,100 ft

The group should plan on meeting at the Heliotrope Trailhead at 7 am.  Carpooling will be arranged closer to the FT date.  Directions and hike (to glacier) description as follows:

Please note that we will be hiking to the seracs only which is at Heliotrope Ridge (the end of the hike, about 3 miles in from the trailhead).  

There are two chapters to read for this FT:  Freedom of the Hills, 8th Edition, Chapters 18 &19

The Ice II is intended to provide climbing experience essentially identical to that found on beginning level Intermediate Alpine Ice climbs. However, the changing character of ice makes this difficult to achieve. Conditions lower down on a glacier, where easier access makes a field trip feasible, are often quite different from ice conditions higher up. The practice, however, is invaluable. You will alternate leads and begin to develop the rhythm necessary to be a competent ice climber. We will seek moderate-angle ice and generous belay locations. 

The following topics will be reviewed during Ice I; therefore Ice II will be an evaluation of your ability to do the following:


No Crampons, with and without the axe

Like rock, ice is not a uniform medium. The surface is studded with bumps and other features which provide better footing than an adjacent smooth surface. Care in foot placement, a necessity when climbing without crampons is a valuable skill to cultivate even when climbing with crampons. Try following seams and runnels, which can aid in climbing. Seek depressions in ice for hand and footholds. Climb in balance, and stay over your feet.

Cut Steps

As the slop steepens, natural features may be inadequate for sure footing. Steps cut by the climber pick up where nature leaves off. The size of the steps can be as small or as large as necessary to get the job done. Small steps are obviously the least energy consumptive, but efficient technique makes a difference as well. Use the weight of the axe to provide some of the momentum; don’t just swing with the wrist or forearm. Cut steps from heel to toe, cutting away from you. It is important to realize the importance of cutting steps in case of no crampons, broken crampons, short mixed sections, etc.

Low angle slopes with crampons but no ice axe

Climbing ice is a continuum of techniques. As the slope and terrain changes, so should the techniques used, blending them into a smooth efficient movement over ice.  On flat or gently sloping terrain, pied marche, simply walking with feet pointed forward will do. The entire foot should be parallel with the surface. As the slope steepens, the ankle alone cannot bend sufficiently to keep the entire foot in contact with the ice. Splaying the foot out allows the knee to aid accommodation to the slope. With flexible knees, this duck walk pied en canard may serve to 30°.  At steeper slopes yet, turn the body sideways and ascend diagonally. The feet point sideways or even slightly down hill. The foot remains flat to the slope and the crampon points perpendicular to the slope in the pied a plat position. Because of upper boot stiffness climbers with plastic boots will probably make the transition to cross or down slope feet sooner than those with leather boots. As with cramponless climbing, look for surface textures which will aid your ascent. For example, the crest of a bump on the ice will be slightly lower angle than will be the face of the bump.

Descending, flat foot, facing down

Because the knees are so flexible, descending moderate angle slopes is easier than ascending. Simply walk down the hill, facing outward. Walking slightly bowlegged will reduce gouging yourself with front points or catching gaiters or crampon straps with vertical points. Make each step positive, and set feet squarely and positively so that all crampon points contact the surface.

Flat–Foot Cramponing With The Ice Axe

This builds on the balance and footwork practiced earlier, and combines it with the use of the ice axe. The ice axe is used to both maintain balance, and on steeper slopes, support the climber. Start with moderate angled slopes where the axe is used a cane (piolet canne) to maintain balance as the feet are moved. Continue with steeper slopes where the axe is used both for support and balance. On the steepest slopes, the axe pick is placed as an anchor (piolet ancre) and the use is more support than balance. As you climb over the top of a pitch, and the gradient lessens quickly, avoid the tendency to lean into the slope. This causes your ankles to roll and your crampons to edge rather than remain flat foot. 

Front Pointing For One Tool

Not everything can be climbed with flat feet. Eventually you will encounter a slope beyond the flexibility of your ankles and knees (or boots). This is the time to switch to your front points. As mentioned earlier, ice climbing can be hazardous. Front pointing especially so. Often times you have no warning of when your front points will pop. Make sure that your heels are down, and feet spread comfortably for a stable stance. Do not lean into the slope, as this will tend to lever your front points out. This mistake is especially common as you top out on a pitch and make the transition from steep to less steep terrain.

Front Pointing For Two Tools

Experiment with ice dagger placements of the ice tools (piolet panne). Use both the high dagger (the axe placed above the head), and low dagger (the axe placed about waist level).  The slopes you will practice on are short, so exhaustion is not much of an issue, but learn to find spots on which to rest. Experiment with one foot front pointing while the other foot is splayed flat on the ice (position troisieme). Look for bulges, or chop a small step.  As with flat-footing, don’t lean forward as you top out on a pitch. This raises the heels and increases the chance of popping out.

Placing Anchors/Protection

Ice screws offer quick and secure anchors depending on the quality of the ice. Placing them is not difficult, but requires practice to do it efficiently. Some points to consider are:

•  Pick a spot where the ice is solid. Avoid bulges, as they will shatter more easily than concavities.

•  When placing tools, watch the surrounding ice for fracturing.

•  Clear away any bad ice. Remove sufficient ice to allow clearance for the screw hanger.

•  In typical summer ice, incline the screw away from the direction of pull. In these conditions, screws rely on shear resistance against the screw shaft to keep them from popping out. If the screw goes beyond perpendicular to the ice, it may fail.

Use the time to place as many screws as possible. Try different types of screws, and note their characteristics. Note the condition of the core coming out of the screw as it is placed, this will help you determine the condition of the ice. Remember, pickets can often be used, and are often more secure.

Belaying On Ice

As with rock, two anchors should be used for all belays. Some points to consider about belay anchors are:

•  Screws should be far enough apart to prevent the placement of one screw from fracturing the ice surrounding the other.

•  If possible, loads on the anchor should be chained rather the equalized, due to the manner in which ice screws actually fail. The best ice anchors, in general are nearly as good as rock anchors. However, poor ice quality can seriously degrade the security of an ice anchor.

•  If at all possible, place the belay site off to one side of the climbing route. This should nearly always be a reasonable possibility. An amazing amount of ice debris falls from the lead climber’s tool and foot placements. Additionally, should a lead climber fall, it’s definitely safer to be off to the side. Remember those sharp crampons and tools!

•  Running belays are very efficient and require less time than setting up fixed belays, but the terrain, pitch, and climber’s common sense should determine which time of belay will suffice.


Mount Baker/Coleman Glacier

  • USGS Mt Baker

    Green Trails Mount Baker Wilderness Climbing No. 13SX

    Green Trails Mt Baker No. 13
  • See full route/place details.
Required Equipment

Required Equipment

10 Essentials

Please read the FT description online to supplement this email, but in terms of equipment, you will need climbing helmet, harness, anchor building material, 10 essentials, eye protection (ice is rough on the eyes, believe me), stiff boots, ice axe, second ice tool (two ice tools preferred), sharp 12-point crampons with front points (no aluminum crampons), glacier gear (prussiks, pulley, etc.), a minimum of three single and one double runners, cordelette, two pickets (OR one picket and one fluke), a minimum of two medium length (e.g., 22 cm) tubular ice screws, v-thread (if you have one), tool holster, a minimum of six carabiners, and one first aid kit for every two climbers. Club ropes will be used for this field trip. 

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