How to: Build a Snow Anchor for the Pico Crevasse Rescue Kit
Sterling has come up with a truly ingenious solution for crevasse rescue, ideal for alpine guides and climbers traveling in glaciated terrain. The Pico Crevasse Rescue Kit has advantages over traditional hauling systems, most notably it is fast. It comes pre-rigged as a 5:1 out of the bag on an independent hauling line, making the need to remember how to rig a hauling system obsolete. Ideally suited for high ratio teams with minimal excess rope to work with, it’s also a great kit for ski mountaineering where shorter, skinny ropes are the norm. Research teams traveling on glaciers will also find the Pico Crevasse Rescue Kit an indispensable addition to their safety.
The instructions included are comprehensive and user-friendly. I had the honor of working with Sterling to develop and test the Pico Kit and you can bet it will be in my pack for future glacier outings. How to build a viable snow anchor is not included in the instructions. The anchor is the single most important component of any successful crevasse rescue effort and must be unquestionably strong. The system I use to build a bombproof anchor is the focus of this article. Prior to embarking on any glacial endeavor I highly recommended hiring an IFMGA Mountain Guide or AMGA Alpine Guide to learn the ropes and skills needed for alpine climbing.
Included in the Pico Rescue Kit are; one 50’ 6 mm TRC Cord with a sewn eye, two Pico Double Pulleys, two Osprey Oval Screwlock Carabiners, one 8.5” 5 mm TRC Prusik, one 48” 10 mm Dyneema Sling, one 6.8 mm HollowBlock Prusik and a colorful stuff sack to keep it tight. Less than the size of a small tarp or first aid kit, the entire package weighs just over 2 lb.
Not included but necessary for constructing a solid snow anchor are; one 18’ Sterling 5.9 mm PowerCord, 2-3 more locking carabiners, one snow picket and a quality ice axe with an adze.
Unless the snow is bullet-proof, building a T-Slot anchor will be the strongest method in virtually all conditions. A vertically oriented picket will only work if you can pound it in with 10-15 extremely hard blows. If ever in doubt, default to the trusted T-slot. Depth depends on the resistance of the snow. With very firm snow 8-10” deep may suffice but with soft snow, go more than 12”. Make the slot for the sling as narrow as possible with the axe pick or shaft, not the adze. Avoid disturbing any snow on the load size of the T to keep it as strong as possible.
Clove hitch the 48” Sterling Dyneema sling around the middle of the picket. Shown here is the Yates Expedition model. Their Cable version is preferred and eliminates the 48” sling.
Place the picket horizontally at the bottom of the T slot, tight against the load wall, with the 48” sling resting in the slot toward the crevasse. It’s crucial that the forward slot is the same depth as the main slot to prevent it from pulling the picket up under load.
Use snow from the backside of the slot to bury the picket, stomping it down firmly. This increases the strength of the anchor. In very firm snow this may not be necessary, but is advised.
Tying a small master point in the sling adds redundancy and makes it easier to back up your initial anchor with a second anchor as will be shown. Digging a trench below the master point reduces friction on your hauling system and makes a cleaner working space. This master point is tied in an overhand on a bight with a loop for the tail. This loop will be the attachment to the second anchor and make it easy to equalize with a block and tackle system.
Attach a locking carabiner to the master point and transfer the load from your harness to the master point. Building all this while you are in self-arrest, holding the weight of your partner is assumed and not covered as well as skills such as how to tie in to the rope and carry coils.
At this point the next step may be going to the lip of the crevasse to communicate with your partner and pad the lip of the crevasse. Before you descend to your partner if necessary, or start hauling you need to enhance the anchor with a second T-Slot, equalizing it to the main anchor. You should carefully consider your security and use the anchored rope as you move about above the crevasse. Your ice axe may be the only tool available if you do not have two pickets. Dig another T-slot, ideally directly behind the primary anchor, back at least 2 feet, taking care not to disturb the snow between anchors.
Find the balance point of your ice axe. It will be closer to the head of the axe rather than the middle with the mass of the pick and adze.
This is where the 18’ Sterling PowerCord comes into action. To maximize usable length, use it as a single strand with an 8-10” overhand on a bight tied on one end. Make a clove hitch on this bight and slip it over the shaft of the axe, snugging it up on the center of balance point.
Place the axe with the pick down firmly, in your second T-Slot with the cordelette laid in the slot towards the crevasse.
Bury the axe with snow from behind the T-Slot and stomp it down to strengthen the anchor. Tie an overhand on a bight in the cordelette above the first T-Slot clipping a locking carabiner in it.
Equalize both T-Slots using a block and tackle system from this carabiner, using the single strand of the cordelette to a second locking carabiner on the primary anchor, clipped into the small bight behind the master point.
Simply clip the single strand in a circular loop between both carabiners, at least twice to make a block and tackle. Take care to keep strands tidy, not crossing or twisting them to reduce friction. Pull tension through the block and tackle so both anchors share the load. Tie it off with a mule hitch or slip knot and secure it with an overhand on a bight.
You should now have a bombproof, inline anchor capable of withstanding potential forces you generate extricating your partner. You have to be 100% confident in your anchor system.
This is the point where Sterling’s Pico Crevasse Rescue Kit comes into play, making the rest of your work easier than traditional hauling systems and using less equipment. Although a drop loop system may be more efficient, if you don’t have enough rope to rig it the Pico Kit will make your direct hauling work much easier.
Attach one of the Osprey Carabiners to the master point. It does matter that you attach the correct carabiner. You must pull away from the crevasse rather than against your anchors. Pulling against your anchors multiplies the forces on your anchor and although this may not be a concern with bolted anchors, snow is considerably weaker. Stack the odds in your favor and set it up in the 5:1 configuration outlined in the instructions and as shown here.
Attach the HollowBlock to the loaded rope with a well-dressed prusik hitch.
Gloves make easier work pulling the 6mm TRC Cord through the system. The Pico Double Pulleys reduce friction dramatically. If you need additional pulling power, attach the 6mm TRC to your harness/belay loop and use your legs to pull, walking back away from the crevasse. Gently release the hauling strand, engaging the 5mm TRC Prusik on the 6mm cord (pre-rigged). Reset the HollowBlock forward and repeat.
As you haul, slack is generated in the climbing rope at the anchor. Manage this slack either tying bights in it, or with a clove hitch on the master point. Slack shouldn’t exceed 6-8’ at any point. This step safeguards your partner if the system slips.
The Sterling Pico Crevasse Rescue Kit sells for $304.95. A small price for pulling your partner out of a hole. If you're looking to add to your current travel glacier system, you can purchase the Pico Pulleys separately (without the rope and bag).
Many other key details are beyond the scope of this article. Rappelling into the crevasse with your first aid and skills to use it, or position your partner upright with a chest harness are real possibilities. Ascending the rope to climb back out of the crevasse with your partner’s pack is another essential skill. You may need to knock considerable snow off an overhanging crevasse lip before doing either. There are many competencies that are assumed before you venture onto glacial terrain and attempt crevasse rescue. If you lack them, get up to speed with an AMGA certified guide. If you’re a Chick and want to learn the ropes or buff out your skill sets so you’re ready to get out in the mountains safely with your partners, check out our all-women’s clinics at Chicks Climbing and Skiing. Our guides are some the most experienced certified professionals in the industry.
Angela Hawse is a Sterling Rope Team Member. She’s a co-owner and guide for Chicks Climbing and Skiing, a fully certified IFMGA/AMGA Mountain Guide and Instructor Lead for the AMGA. Often conflicted which shoes to wear, or what Sterling Rope to choose from, one thing’s for sure... she’s living the dream.