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I have far less experience in trekking where there is snow. I believe walking through snow and through Ice are two different techniques.
Is there some sort of safe technique to walk on such snow with nearly 30 degree slope and winds?
I wonder if I would be able to take the same route that I open during an ascend, while descending. Yes, I can use some sort of markers, so that I can judge the way, but with such snow, you can't really bet on the fact that the marker will hold there.
I have heard past experience of people that, fixing rope lines there isn't of much help either, as they found their ropes got buried under snow. And, that sounds logical to me, because there is a major factor, wind.
I am referring to high altitude slopes. Probably between good 20000 - 22000 ft. An unhurdled slip-and-drop would be fatal without a doubt. How should I go about it then?

Obvious Assumptions: I have walking sticks, equipment, Ice axe.

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Better use distant markers, and 3 of them. Eg. forest, peak. IF it is snowing, your steps can be gone in about 10 minutes. Of course, snowshoes. –  Vorac Dec 21 '13 at 10:30
    
@Vorac Distant markers have the problem of needing good sight conditions. If it is snowing heavily or is misty visual ranges may drop down to some meters. Then a distant peak will quickly get invisible. –  Benedikt Bauer Dec 22 '13 at 17:38
    
Which region of the himalayas is it? In my opinion there are too many variables in the form of fresh snow, altitude, wind and inclination. Sounds too risky. –  Unsung Dec 23 '13 at 10:55
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Thigh-high snow and 30 degree slope sounds like a dangerous combination. You're just asking for avalanche trouble. Then the 20,000 foot altitude will make rescue much less likely. –  Olin Lathrop Dec 23 '13 at 18:05
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@WedaPashi Just saw some blogs on saser kangri climb. Man it looks awesome! All the best! And do get a guide. Looks technical to me. –  Unsung Dec 24 '13 at 6:45

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Three thoughts:

  1. If the snow is thigh-high, then you should be either using touring skis or snowshoes to "float" over the snow. You'll expend way less energy. Seriously, I can cover probably 10x-50x the distance (or more) with alpine touring gear or snowshoes in the same amount of time as someone without, and that's regardless of the angle of slope.

  2. Retracing your trail only matters if there is only "one safe way" through a route. Event then, it's probably not worth it. The beauty of snow is that you can create an optimal trail each time, so perhaps you're doing large switchbacks as you ascend, and then something much more aggressive when descending. If there is high wind then the trail is going to be lost and you'll spend more time looking for it than simply blazing a new trail. If you want a secret for finding trails in the snow: bring a dog. I've travelled in 12ft deep snow where the dog was able to find the trail underneath with no hassle. I rarely use the same trail descending in snow that I use when ascending.

  3. 30 degree slopes at 20,000+ altitude reeks of avalanche danger, crevasse danger, and exposure danger. I assume you're travelling in a group, that you've all taken AST (avalanche safety training), are all wearing beacons, shovels and probes, have a certified guide with you who knows how to read terrain for avalanche danger, is geared to extract you (e.g. has a satellite phone, a 1st aid sled in his pack) and that you are all tied in together?

I can only speak having done alpine mountaineering in the 10,000ft range, but I would expect it to be doubly important in your case.

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+1 for the avalanche/crevasse dangers. I don't think climbing in thigh-high snow at 20,000+ ft is advisable. Unless of course you have absolute guarantee of safety in terms of well established routes with no known dangers. –  Unsung Dec 23 '13 at 5:30
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Re #3, the statistical evidence is that avalanche classes, beacons, shovels, etc., don't actually save lives. What saves lives is making the decision not to go to an area where there's avalanche danger. The reality of extracting someone from under an avalanche is very different from practicing it in an avalanche class. The snow partially melts and then refreezes, and it tends to set up as hard as concrete. –  Ben Crowell Dec 24 '13 at 19:09
    
According to the book Staying Alive in Avalanche Territory by Bill Tremper, using a beacon in untrained hands resulted in a 15% reduction in loss of life while in trained hands it resulted in 75-80% reduction. Please cite your stats. –  furtive Dec 25 '13 at 22:20
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@furtive Check the answer of Ben below. There is the source. –  EverythingRightPlace 23 hours ago

An unhurdled slip-and-drop would be fatal without a doubt.

If this is the case, then maybe you need a belay. However, if the snow is sufficiently deep and soft that you're sinking up to your knees, why is it the case that slipping and being unable to self-arrest is so dangerous? In these conditions, typically you can't even intentionally get going fast enough to glissade or practice self-arrest.

Given the conditions you're describing, the first thing I would worry about is avalanche danger. If the snow is that deep and soft, it sounds like you've just had a storm dumping a ton of fresh powder. Typically there is significant avalanche danger if there's (a) a lot of fresh snow, and (b) a slope of about 30-35 degrees or more. Since you're describing a slope of "nearly 30 degrees," I think my basic answer is that you should not be out in those conditions due to avalanche danger.

I would not suggest going out and then making the decision about whether conditions are OK to go up. There has been a lot of work by social scientists studying why people die in avalanches. Avalanche safety courses and transponders are not really highly correlated with survival. Once people get there, there are strong social forces pushing them forward. See Ian McCammon, "Evidence of heuristic traps in recreational avalanche accidents," http://www.snowpit.com/articles/traps%20reprint.pdf

Obvious Assumptions: I have walking sticks, equipment, Ice axe.

If the slopes are a little less steep than you're describing, or there's not as much fresh snow, then the avalanche danger might be acceptable, and then these are conditions where you want snowshoes. Personally, I don't bring poles when I'm going to be on snowshoes; I just bring an ice ax, which I only use if I'm on a steep slope. For mountaineering, you want snowshoes that have crampons.

As far as routefinding, you have various options, the most straightforward of which is not to march up to 22,000' in the middle of a storm. If you find yourself in whiteout conditions, you could try to use GPS, but since GPS isn't 100% reliable, I wouldn't intentionally seek out conditions where you were likely to need it in order to get down from such high altitude.

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+1 for describing about the reasoning behind thigh-high snow. –  Unsung Dec 23 '13 at 5:33

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