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Subchapter: Planning alpine climbs

Risk management

CONDITIONS AND TERRAIN

Various aspects are taken into account when selecting and planning a route destination. Your own climbing abilities and those of your rope partner are just as important as assessing the conditions, ensuring adequate information, appropriate scheduling and the right equipment. Good planning and having enough experience to recognize potential hazard points are the foundation for your safety.

The following ten steps are important tips to consider when planning a climb. Of course, they are not set in stone and will need to be amended or adapted depending on the route and rope team.

01
Step
Choose the right rope team

Choose the difficulty of each route based on the weakest person in the rope team. Only then can you master an alpine climb safely and in the planned period with sufficient reserve. If you are in a team of three, there are additional aspects of route planning to bear in mind: Due to the length and course of different climbs, not all alpine routes are optimally suited for teams of three. For example, long traverses such as the “Nasenquergang” traverse on the west face of the Totenkirchl (Wilder Kaiser) or the 90-meter-long exposed traverse in the Ciavazes (Sella group) do not provide ideal conditions for a team of three.

02
Step
Judge the weather properly

Checking the weather is extremely important in alpine climbing. Is there going to be a storm on the day of the climb, and will the temperature drop? Is precipitation or strong wind forecasted? The date of the last precipitation may also be crucial: On north-facing rock faces or in chimneys/dihedrals, the rock often remains wetter for longer. In spring, melted snow from above can also run into the rock face, meaning that it will not dry out for quite some time. 

In addition to the online weather forecast and your own weather observations, reliable sources such as local mountain guides, shop owners or local climbers are helpful contact points for obtaining information.

03
Step
Select a suitable region

A rope team should decide on a suitable region and route based on the conditions and the weather. The journey to the destination and the travel time, as well as the duration of the approach and descent, are all important parts of planning. In unfamiliar regions, it is useful to obtain an Alpine Club map or an appropriate map of the region.

NOTE: There will be different types of rock depending on the region. These variations are a crucial factor in determining the type of climbing and each therefore presents new challenges.

04
Step
Select a route and find information

Your selection of a suitable route must take into account your own climbing skills and mental abilities as well as those of your rope partner. You will need to consider not only the difficulty of the route, but also its seriousness as well as the total length including the ascent and descent.

Information about the route can be found in a climbing guidebook. This will provide information about the climbing difficulty, route finding, the length, the seriousness (safeguards) as well as the approach and descent. In addition, climbing guidebooks will also contain topographic maps, which provide important information about the route with standardized symbols. Both climbers in a rope team should always have a topographic map at hand when on the rock face.

05
Step
Finding further information

The rope team will usually be able to find all the important information about a route in the appropriate guidebooks: from the travel time to the approach and descent to the description of each pitch. If the climbing guides used are old or missing information, local climbers or mountaineering schools can be important contact points. Good online climbing forums can also provide information on current conditions.

You should always have the regional emergency numbers stored in your cell phone!

06
Step
Proper scheduling

A good schedule of the entire alpine activity is essential. However, the schedule you established during your route planning will only help if you factor in sufficient buffer in advance and meet the intermediate goals you set. In an emergency, the rope team must stop and turn back in good time.

As a rule of thumb:

  • Approach: 400 – 500 vertical meters per hour
  • On level ground: 5km per hour
  • Climbing time per pitch: 20 – 30 minutes
  • Rappelling: 5 – 6 pitches per hour
  • Descent: 600 vertical meters per hour
07
Step
Define an alternative destination and determine a retreat option

In the mountains, various factors have an impact on whether or not a rope team can climb a rock face or not, including problems in route finding (approach), wet rock or congestion caused by too many rope teams. Alpine climbers therefore always need an alternative destination!

Sensible alternatives are easily accessible and are not more difficult than the planned climb. A rope team must also have a Plan B in place once on the rock face itself. It is reassuring to know that a route can be rappelled in an emergency or that the possibility of stopping has been factored in.

08
Step
Check equipment and pack backpack

After carefully planning a climb, the rope team will know what needs to go in their backpacks. It is important that each climber only takes what is absolutely necessary and required to ensure safety. If you will be climbing an alpine rock face for several hours, you will move more quickly and easily without additional weight.

When packing a backpack, climbers should prioritize optimal load distribution, so that the backpack’s center of gravity is close to the body.

Equipment check: Each person checks the integrity of their own equipment as well as their partner’s.

09
Step
Inform a third party of your climb and destination

If a person or rope team goes missing, it is very helpful to know which route the missing persons took. In some alpine huts, climbers and mountaineers are asked about their destination summit the evening before.

10
Step
Comparison of plan with actual conditions

A rope team can get an overview of the route even well before getting started. It is only possible to identify the route and access to the rock face from a distance. If you are directly in front of it, you will no longer have an overview of the entire rock face! In addition, it is important to check the weather and the conditions locally: How much has the weather changed despite the good forecast? What condition is the route in? A rope team needs to be able to decide and react flexibly based on the conditions they find. This is referred to as rolling planning.

Mountain weather Mountain weather

Mountain weather

CITICAL 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.

Check out the weather of your climbing region!

Check out the weather of your climbing region!
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Mountain weather - central part of the tour planning

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Alps Southwest / Marittime Alps
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French Alps/Western Switzerland
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Central and Souteast Switzerland
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Allgäu-Bavarian Forest
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Western and Central Austria
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South Tirol
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Lake Garda
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Alps Southeast + Carinthia
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Eastern Austria
Alps Southwest / Marittime Alps

Alps Southwest / Marittime Alps

Continue to the weather forecast

French Alps/Western Switzerland

Continue to the weather forecast

Central and Souteast Switzerland

Continue to the weather forecast

Allgäu-Bavarian Forest

Continue to the weather forecast

Western and Central Austria

Continue to the weather forecast

Alps Southeast + Carinthia

Continue to the weather forecast

Important tips for tour planning

Whether with the ORTOVOX alpine touring app or the ORTOVOX tour planner, it is important to ensure that your route information is as comprehensive and up-to-date as possible – this can be crucial for the success of the climb.

Take a look at the online tour planner and find your alpine climbing tour!

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