Subchapter: Alpine dangers
SUBJECTIVE AND OBJECTIVE DANGERS IN ALPINE TERRRAIN
Navigating high rock faces across several pitches – often far away from civilization – involves dangers. Dangers that can have disastrous consequences if ignored or if the wrong decisions are made.
In the mountains, we distinguish between the objective and subjective dangers that climbers face during alpine ventures. However, objective and subjective dangers cannot always be clearly separated based on the situation and actions. For example, someone who starts climbing a rock face despite a thunderstorm warning (objective danger), because he overestimates his abilities (subjective danger), affects the objective danger due to his own subjective judgment.
Objective dangers are those posed by nature and the natural environment. Unlike subjective dangers, climbers usually have no direct influence upon objective dangers. However, with the right tactics, good planning and awareness they can be minimized.
The weather in the mountains is a crucial factor on any alpine tour. Storms and other weather-related dangers can soon put a rope team in danger.
Falling rocks are often caused by melted snow, wind, animals or rope teams climbing ahead. The type of rock can aggravate or reduce the problem.
Climbers need to be vigilant and keep an eye on their surroundings. Silent witnesses refer to clearly visible traces of falling rocks. These include damaged trees, fresh boulders at the foot of the wall, light impact marks on the rock or damaged material on the rock face.
Falling ice is primarily caused by other climbers or by the influence of heat.
Avalanches are not just an issue for skiers. Climbers also have to look out for avalanches, especially in spring.
A chamois or a rope team climbing ahead of you can suddenly cause falling rocks or ice. In such serious situations, a helmet can save your life. But it can also prevent life-threatening head injuries in the event of collisions with the rock or slipping on ridged terrain.
The leading cause of accidents on mountains is human error. Accidents are often the result of climbers’ overconfidence, ignorance or overdoing it. These dangers are referred to as subjective dangers, because they are caused by humans themselves. Self-reflection, caution and thorough training can minimize these dangers.
OVERESTIMATING YOUR OWN ABILITIES
An incorrect self-assessment and a lack of knowledge about the tour are the most frequent causes of accidents.
MISJUDGMENT OF THE SITUATION
Good, experienced mountaineers recognize misjudgments early on and have a plan B up their sleeves.
FEAR AND PANIC SITUATIONS
Fear in itself is not bad. On the contrary – it warns us and has an evolutionary purpose to protect us from dangers. The goal is therefore not to be fearless but to deal with fear and thus to recognize your own limits.
Compared to sport climbing, additional factors come into play in alpine climbing: Seriousness (protection), poor orientation, exposure and the length of the tour can push climbers to their limits both psychologically and physically.
Storms in the mountains
Mountain weather – storms in the mountains
THE WEATHER AS A CRITICAL FACTOR IN ALPINE CLIMBING
The weather is an extremely important factor on every mountain and climbing tour, especially when it comes to safety. This is why the weather forecast plays a key role, even as early as the planning stage. But your own weather observations are also crucial in detecting thunderstorms in good time and in making appropriate decisions at an early stage. There are essentially two types of thunderstorm: heat thunderstorms and frontal thunderstorms.
Heat thunderstorms are local thunderstorms with heavy rain and lightning which occur in the summer months due to temperature rise. The air near the ground is rapidly warmed by intense sunlight and, once it reaches a certain temperature, it rises as humid hot air, because it is warmer and thus lighter than its surrounding air. The rising air then cools down and condenses in the higher, colder atmosphere, leading to thermal thunderstorms.
Heat thunderstorms can be identified by a swelling cloud formation resembling an anvil (cumulonimbus).
ALARM SIGNALS FOR HEAT STORMS:
- Little to no morning dew
- Muggy air and very little wind
- Sharp cloud edges and strong swelling (Castellanus) in the morning
- Observe the course of the cloud formation that can lead to a thunderstorm: from cumulus clouds (isolated, dense and sharply marked out cloud) to castellanus clouds (partial swelling and crenellated appearance) to cumulonimbus clouds (storm clouds, mostly in the shape of an anvil)
- Heat thunderstorms can also occur in stable high pressure conditions
Frontal thunderstorms are year-round storms that are accompanied by continuous rainfall, a drop in temperature or strong winds. They occur when two opposing weather fronts meet, pushing the air masses under each other. These air mass shifts are particularly prevalent along cold fronts (see graphic): Cold, dense air masses push themselves under the warmer layers of air closer to the ground. These layers are then forced to rise and produce strong winds.
Upon reaching a certain height, the air condenses, forming cumulus clouds, which may then develop into storm clouds under certain conditions. Frontal thunderstorms extend over larger areas than heat thunderstorms would.
ALARM SIGNALS FOR FRONTAL STORMS:
- Gathering of a dark cloud wall from the weather direction
- Longer-lasting weather deterioration
- Is usually associated with a drop in temperature (icing, snowfall at higher altitudes)
NOTE: The weather forecast plays a key role, even as early as the planning stage. Alpine climbs should only be planned and climbing on the rock face only commenced under stable conditions. Frontal thunderstorms are forecast in good local weather reports. As is a likelihood of heat storms!
If a storm occurs in spite of good planning, ensure you do the following:
Seek out a sheltered place, such as a cave, recess or overhang away from conductive materials
In steep terrain, ensure you are protected from falling
Sit in a crouched position on your backpack or rope under a bivi bag and wait until the storm is over.
Only descend once the storm is over
ATTENTION: There is also a danger of falling rocks or hypothermia.
AVOID AT ALL COSTS:
Never stay on the summit during a storm. Descend in good time
Do not act rashly
Do not move across unprotected steep terrain
Do not separate from your climbing partner/group
Quiz: Storms in the mountains
If you end up in a thunderstorm in spite of good planning, you and your rope partner will need to seek out a suitable and safe place in which to wait until the storm has passed. The image shows potential locations.
OPERATIONS: Decide which places are suitable during a thunderstorm and tick them on the image!