Imagine the situation. You are somewhere in the montblanc massif crossing a glacier and you come across a pair of climbers. You/ I are well trained in crevasse rescue, but are not a certified guide.

One of the pair has fallen into a crevasse but is conscious, and is being supported by his partner in self arrest. The victim is unable to climb out.

You call mountain rescue and they say they will be there in 30 mins. Should you attempt to hoist the victim out with a 3:1 system or just wait for the pros?

At the very least, I would attempt to build an anchor to take the load off the self arresting climber. Assume sufficient but basic equipment: prussics, karabiners, axes, screws, maybe a petzl micro traxion...

Please qualify answers with experience or repeatable references. No personal opinions.

  • 3
    Why won't you help? Especially when you say you are trained in crevasse rescue. I don't get the point here?
    – Wills
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 10:38
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    @Wills While the following is obviously an assumption, it was the impression I got: This seems to be based on a wide-spread and very understandable fear of doing more harm than good. This is a very common issue in all types of assistance by laymen. The most important aspect of first-aid courses is to take that fear from the participants. So while my first reaction was the same "Why not?" I think this is very much a legitimate question, even if the essence only is: Just do it.
    – imsodin
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 11:45
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    @ldgorman Not if you are "well trained in crevasse rescue". Most importantly, always have a backup. If you have, there is not so much what can go wrong. Of course it may be possible you won't get the victim out but then you will be very glad to have a rescue team backup. Besides that, trying to help is a very important spirit, especially in the mountains. Just my 2 cents...
    – Wills
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 15:56
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    Many years back I was in the Mont Blanc massif when our leader went into a crevasse on a steep and tricky glacier. We were a rope of 4 and knew what we are doing so managed to extract him, though he was pretty shaken up. But during the process a guide-led party wandered by without offering to help. We weren't impressed! We could have got him out more quickly and safely if they had contributed but they couldn't be bothered. If you have the skills I feel you have a moral duty to help, particularly if rescue isn't as nearby as in the OP's scenario. Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 18:14
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    @Tullochgorum Exactly, you have the moral duty! If you get problems with some lawyers afterwards is not really of interest in my opinion. Even if they have something to complain about, you can still sleep well and don't regret your decision not to help. And yes, there are guides who make the wrong decisions in the mountains too. I assume this even happens quite often.
    – Wills
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 11:00

4 Answers 4


Yes, you absolutely should rescue the climber when the situation allows.

The reason that matters most is suspension trauma: Prolonged motionless hanging in a harness can lead to loss of consciousness and eventually even death. Of course you say the victim is conscious, so he might be able to move or even install a foot-loop to transition weight to his legs. You also state that he can't climb out, so it is likely he is injured so he might not be able to do this. In any case, even if he is not in immediate danger for suspension trauma, free hanging in a crevasse is not a comfortable position to be in (personal experience). So assess the situation together with the climber in the crevasse and take a decision.

I am not saying you need to get him out in every situation, but if the situation permits it, you should. So as usual contact the victim to evaluate his condition and position. If he is unhurt, able to get weight off the harness, but for some reason can't ascend and rescue is hard to do due to an immense snow lip at the crevasse border - by all means wait for the professional rescuers. They have material like tripods to solve such a situation.

There might even be a legal argument about denial of assistance if the victim comes to harm due to the prolonged stay in the crevasse and it can be proven, that you were able to help but didn't. However I doubt this can happen unless you are a professional yourself. Still this is also morally relevant: Do you want to be in the situation where you need to ask yourself the question: What if?

As I raised legalities I assume the following argument comes up: But what if the climber is injured during rescue?
The premise is that the climber is conscious. So you can communicate during the entire rescue and you should. Then the risk is minimal.

I specifically didn't go into details of the rescue, as that was specifically not what the question asked: They are experienced in crevasse rescue. So when I say you should help when applicable, I obviously mean to the extent that makes sense given the situation (I specifically said so) and under the number one principle of any rescue: Keep yourself safe.

  • 18
    On the legal side, it very much depends on if your country (or the country where you are climbing) has "Good Samaritan" laws. In a lot of countries, including the US, you have no legal responsibility to help someone from danger even if it is within your power to do so (largely due to Doctors that kept being sued by people they helped on the street).
    – SGR
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 12:14
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    @SGR yes, in the US you may be help responsible for some consequences if you try to help. Conversely I've been told that in some countries such as France (if my memory serves me well) you are compelled by law to help to the best of your abilities.
    – Roflo
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 14:14
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    @Roflo Yes, in the US rendering aid is generally protected by good samaritan laws and to be held responsible you have to have done something very irresponsible. Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 22:59
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    @Shokhet CPR is not a lifesaving technique, it's primarily a life-extending technique. CPR very rarely actually restarts the heart (source). What it does do is keep the blood flowing until paramedics or doctors can take over and do what actually needs to be done to restart the heart properly. Thus, calling EMS is essential for CPR's effectiveness. There's no reason not to call them first, and failing to call them because you were busy doing CPR would most likely be catastrophic.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 23:53
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    you are compelled by law to help to the best of your abilities @Roflo If you find a car accident victim, for example, that requirement (in France) might be satisfied by your calling the emergency services.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 1:12

Additionally to @imsodins brilliant answer, I'd say the same applies to almost any mountain rescue situation:

  • if you are able to contribute to the situation while maintaining your own safety, do it (and if you're not able, stay out of the way of the rescue team)
  • securing your position takes precedence over the next steps (you don't want to be the next task in the rescue teams list!)
  • securing the victims position takes in most situations precedence over immediately starting to get her/him out

If someone gets injured while being rescued, it depends on the local laws. In Europe it's mostly that you are protected unless you've been extremely reckless. (That would be a question for another stackexchange site)


The most important point in any emergency is to avoid making the situation worse. The situation you describe is dynamic and may have several outcomes. Its not really possible to make a decision without seeing the details of the situation. If you attempt to help and mess up there may be more casualties to rescue and the injuries may be worse. Alternatively even if you can't pull the guy out of the crevice you might be able to help secure the partner and prevent him from going in too (self arrest might be unstable, or tiredness could kick in).

I would do as you suggest, assist the partner while taking minimal risk. Once they are secure (and whoever is in the crevasse isn't going in any further) I would reassess what else, if anything, could be done.

Doing nothing is not acceptable, at the very least you should check that rescue services have been informed and offer to call them, even if you can provide no material help to the pair. Its possible that the partner can't get access to a phone or radio due to literally holding on for their life.

  • if you read the question... "At the very least, I would attempt to build an anchor to take the load off the self arresting climber."
    – llama
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 14:39
  • OP specifically stated "You call mountain rescue and they say they will be there in 30 mins. Should you attempt to hoist the victim out with a 3:1 system or just wait for the pros?" which pretty much invalidates your third paragraph.
    – user
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 19:08
  • @MichaelKjörling There is no harm in reiterating it. Someone may have skimmed the question.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 0:56

I'd like to add one point to the other good answers:

You call mountain rescue and they say they will be there in 30 mins.

As you are in communication with rescue, once you have answered all their questions, ask them how to proceed meanwhile (tell what knowledge and equipment you have).

Side note: plausibility check for the scenario: You meant to say that your team comes across another team that just had an accident, right? You are not on your own in a crevasse area!? (Otherwise, rescue would probably tell you to anchor yourself and stay where you are and not move until they pick you off the glacier after the other guy is rescued...)

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