Describing some of the best techniques to use whilst mountain walking. Including different types of terrain that may be encountered.
Mountain walking is divided into four techniques dependent on the general formation of the terrain. Walking on hard ground,grassy slopes, scree slopes, and tallus slopes.
Hard ground. This is firmly packed dirt that does not give way under the weight of a climber's step. When ascending, your knees must be locked on every step to rest the muscles of the legs. Steep slopes can be traversed rather than climbing straight up. Turning at the end of each traverse should be done by stepping off in the new direction with the uphill foot. This prevents crossing the feet and possible loss of balance. In traversing, the full sole principle is used by rolling the ankle away from the hill on each step. For small stretches, the herringbone step may be used, ascending straight up a slope with the toes pointed out. A normal progression as the slope steepens would be from walking straight up the slope, to a herringbone step, and then to a traverse on the steeper areas.
When descending you should move straight down the slope without traversing. Your back must be straight and knees bent so they take up the shock of each step. Walking with a slight forward lean and with feet in a normal position makes the descent easier.
Grassy slopes. They are usually composed of small tussocks of growth rather than one continuous field. In ascending, the upper side of each hummock, or tussock, is stepped on where the ground is more level than on the loer side.
When descending a grassy slope, a climber should traverse because of the uneven nature of the ground. You can easily build up too much speed and fall if a direct descent is tried. The hop-skip step can be useful on this type of slope. In this technique the lower leg takes all of the weight, and the upper leg is used for balance.
When traversing, the climber's uphill foot points in the direction of travel. The downhill foot points about 45 degrees off the direction of travel. This maintains maximum sole contact and prevents possible downhill ankle roll-out.
Scree slopes. These consist of small rocks and gravel that have collected below rock ridges and cliffs. Scree varies in size from grains of sand to the size of a fist. Sometimes it occurs in mixtures of all sizes, but normally scree slopes consist of the same size particles.
If possible you should avoid ascending scree slopes since they are difficult and tiring. All principles of ascending hard ground apply, but each step is chosen carefully so that the foot does not slide down when weight is placed on it. This is done by kicking in with the toe of the upper foot so that a step is formed in the scree. After determining that the step is stable, weight is transferred from the lower to the upper foot. This process is repeated.
The best method for descending scree slopes is to come straight down the slope using a short shuffling step with the knees bent, back straight, feet pointed downhill, and heels dug in. When several climbers descend a scree slope together, they should be as close together as possible, one behind the other, about an arms length apart. To prevent injury from dislodged rock. Scree slopes can be traversed using the ice axe as a third point of contact. Always keep the axe on the uphill side.
When the herring bone step is used to ascend scree, the axe can be used by placing both hands on top of it. The bottom, or point, of the axe is sunk into the scree, and the axe is used for balance. The climber uses the herringbone step up to the axe. The tendency to run down a scree slope is to be avoided so control is not lost. When the bottom of the route cannot be seen, caution should be used since dropoffs may be encountered.
Talus slopes. Talus is a slope formed by an accumulation of rock debris much larger than a man's fist. When walking in talus, wether ascending or descending, always step on the top of and on the uphill side of rocks. This requires the least amount of movement into the slope. Always use caution when moving in talus. Large rocks can be held in place by smaller keystones, disturbing them can cause rockslides. Climbers must stay in close columns whilst traversing. To prevent injuries, no member of the group traverses below another member. All other basics apply.
These techniques are valuable precautions to learn in order to reduce the risk of the most common mountaineering hazard - rockfall. Learnt and practised to the point where they become second nature will make you a confident, and much safer, climber.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Haycock is an information publisher, one of whose many hobbies is (or rather, was) climbing. With recurring knee problems, including one replacement, making it no longer possible to physically climb, he spends a lot of time researching resources to help other climbers. For details of one amazing resource, go to http://www.climbingknowledge.com
Written by Chris Haycock