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Four Types of Snow Anchors and When to Use Them in the Alpine

Looking to climb glaciated or snow-covered peaks? These snow anchors will keep you secure on high-consequence terrain.


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Whether you’re crossing a glacier, performing a crevasse rescue, or pitching out a steep slope, you’ll likely need a snow anchor. There are many different types, and they all work in specific environments and trail conditions. The ability to set up safe, structural snow anchors is a crucial skill for mountaineers. Check out which ones are best for the terrain you’ll be crossing.

(Illustration: Brett Affrunti)

Picket

Best for: traverses, belaying, crevasse rescue

A picket is an 18- to 36-inch stake that works best in firm snow. Drive it in at a near-vertical angle on a mellow slope, or a 45-degree angle from the direction of pull on a steeper one. Attach your runner at the snow surface—any higher and it can pull the picket out.

(Photo: Brett Affrunti)

Deadman

Best for: hasty anchor-building, guying out a tent

Nearly any object buried in secure snowpack can make a deadman anchor, including an ice axe or pair of skis. Dig a trench at least a foot deep, perpendicular in the direction of pull. Attach a runner to the item’s midpoint with a girth hitch, then put it in the trench. Cut a trench-deep slot facing downhill in the snow to allow access to the runner, then bury the anchor and stomp the snow to compact it.

(Photo: Brett Affrunti)

Snow Fluke

Best for: anchoring in soft snow

Snow flukes are metal plates designed to hold in unconsolidated snow. Bury the fluke with its metal cable running to the surface toward the load.

Tip: A fluke can come out if the load is not directly downslope from it, or if it tips too far forward or backward under strain.

(Photo: Brett Affrunti)

Snow Bollard

Best for: anchoring when you’re short on gear

A bollard is a reliable anchor, through time-consuming to make. Dig a horseshoe-shape trench, with the open end downslope. It should be 12 to 18 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches wide. The bollard should be at least 3 feet across in hard snow, and up to 10 feet across the soft snow. Make sure the legs of the horseshoe trench don’t meet, and pad the bollard’s top with clothes or foam pads to prevent your rope or webbing from cutting through the snow.