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I am planning to do a 3-day hike combined with multiple via ferratas this summer in the Brenta Dolomites in Italy. I haven't done the big research yet, but from looking at the (hiking) map I can see that I will need to cross a couple of (what looks like) very small corners of a glacier. I estimate the crossings to be no longer than a few hundred meters. How serious those glacier crossings could possibly be? Is it likely that there would be cracks big enough to fall in at the edge of a glacier? Can there be snow covered cracks in July/August at around 3000 meters? Is it likely that the ice would be steep at the very corner of a glacier?

I do not have any glacier crossing experience beyond stepping onto some in touristy galcier watching spots (in Canada, Island). And I do not want to bring too much unnecessary equipment. But I could get crampons, I will have a harness, hiking sticks, at least one other person with me, and I can bring a 20-meter-long rope. I would absolutelly not want to carry an ice axe though.

I will of course do more research before I go, and I have sufficient experience with hiking and via ferratas. So what I would like to know, is really just an estimate on how challenging such a short galcier crossing could possibly be.

  • Do you mean that the glaciers are small, or that the part you will be crossing is small? Small glaciers may not be glaciers but ice fields, and therefore much less dynamic and with less cracks. – gerrit Mar 20 '18 at 14:17
  • I mean crossing a small bit of a glacier, but the glacier itself is not that huge either – april rain Mar 20 '18 at 15:09
  • have a look on google earth/ satelite, look at an OS map and asses contour line density – ldgorman Mar 20 '18 at 15:29
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I traversed my first glacier when I was 5 years old in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. For the most part, if you're following an established trail, then you likely aren't going to be venturing far enough onto the glacier to be met with any serious danger. The crossings will likely be like hiking in spring snow. Chances are you're going to be following a very well used and defined trail trampled down by the many hikers before you.

That being said, whenever venturing into glacier terrain it's wise to familiarize yourself with safe glacier travel practices, and to be able to identify glacial features. Crevasses for example (large and deep cracks in the ice) are a serious danger on glaciers.

Glaciers are in a constant state of flow, like a very slow moving river. When a glacier flows over a bulge, it stresses the ice which can cause crevasses to open up at the surface. These crevasses can be hundreds of metres deep.

Snow can blow over the crevasse opening, creating a snow bridge and concealing the crevasse. Often these snow bridges are strong enough that they can be safely crossed, but when people fall into crevasses it almost always because they are unknowingly walking over a snow bridge, and it breaks beneath them.

Bringing a 20m rope for glacier walking would be a wise precaution. If there are only two of you tied to either end of the rope, then it's recommended you tie a few knots in the rope between you to act as stoppers to help slow or stop a fall if one of you falls into a crevasse. If you're hiking with poles, you can use them to probe the snow ahead of you for hidden crevasses

The most appropriate people to direct your questions to would be the people who maintain the trail. They will be able to tell you what the conditions are like, and what the risks are.

  • Yes, I do expect there should be something like a path crossing the glacier, as more people should be doing the via ferratas in summer. So probably crevasses and snow bridges are not a problem. But just in general, do you think snow bridges are likelly in the hight of summer when it hasn't been snowing for a while? Also, will the rope be of much help if the main danger is simply slipping? Do I understand correctly that the extra knots on the rope would act as (sort-of) stoppers by adding friction? – april rain Mar 22 '18 at 10:33
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    @aprilrain See this answer to another question. When someone falls into a crevasse while roped, the rope can cut into the edge of the crevasse like a wire through cheese. If conditions are right, simply having a knot in the rope can be enough to jam the knot into the cut the rope makes in the snow, effectively stopping or slowing the fall. – ShemSeger Mar 22 '18 at 14:51
  • All snow on glaciers eventually turns to ice, including snow bridges, there can most certainly be bridges in the summer time. However, I don't anticipate you'll encounter any as long as you stick to the trail and the edges on the glacier. – ShemSeger Mar 22 '18 at 14:52
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I would say that it is going to depend on how steep the glacier is. If it is pretty flat, then you won't need the ice axe and crevasses are highly unlikely. This wouldn't be any harder than walking on a snowfield.

If on the other hand the glacier is steep and parts of the glacier are moving at different speeds, then you will have to watch out for crevasses.

Cracks do tend to from at the edge of glaciers especially at the top where they are called bergschrunds.

The later in the year, the more melted out the cracks will be.

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