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Are there any specific skills and/or techniques for traversing a knife edge ridge in the mountains? The route to many summits (e.g. Mt. Matterhorn, Mt. Satopanth, etc.) includes sections of traversing a knife edge ridge with steep drop offs on either side.

Other than being very careful, are there any other techniques, precautions, etc. to tackle these? Especially for Mt. Satopanth, where the knife edge is at higher altitude, implying less oxygen and greater fatigue, hence worsened balance.

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  • Is this a solo endeavour or part of a team?
    – Darren
    Mar 26, 2022 at 16:18
  • Use a rope in your team? (Unfortunately, just in the first successful climb of the Matterhorn, that didn't help much)
    – PMF
    Mar 26, 2022 at 16:19
  • @Darren small team, alpine style.
    – ahron
    Mar 26, 2022 at 18:21
  • @PMF considering that the drop off is steep on either side, self arrest by other team members is hard.
    – ahron
    Mar 26, 2022 at 18:23
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    @Yogesch it’s about your only option though. Hoping a team mate can throw a rope round a spike or - better, but less likely - will throw themselves off the opposite side in the event you fall.
    – Darren
    Mar 26, 2022 at 18:30

1 Answer 1

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It really depends. Is it a snow or rock ridge, how long is that section, can you place protection or are there bolts? In the alps many popular routes have been bolted to some degree at critical sections. The Matterhorn is a good example of this. Lion ridge has a lot of bolted protection and also fixed ropes whose anchors can be used to belay. (I have not done Hörnli Ridge, but the topo lists protection there as well).

If it is possible to place protection you can either belay pitch by pitch which is the safest option but slow and therefore only suited for short sections. If you have a longer section and protection is easy to find/place, a running belay is a good option that prevents you falling to death, although serious injury is still likely.

On snow ridges it is typically not possible to place protection. There is no rock to place anything and ice screws will not hold on snow. In this case there is a special technique of going roped and jumping to the other side when one member falls. This is already a pretty high risk technique. Apart from the psychological issue (will you really jump into the abyss?) there is the problem of reacting in time, especially if the second member of a team falls (which the first member often cannot see). This is not to be confused with shortroping which aims at preventing a stumble turning into a fall in the first place. Both techniques require a lot of practice and still carry high risk for the whole team. Therefore this is a technique that I do not use personally.

The last available option is going unroped at such ridges. This does not allow for any error on an individual level, but it removes the risk for the second member of the team. It is only suited if all members of the team feel comfortable with the difficulty of the climb.

In practive, we alternate between going unroped and and a running belay, with rare occasions where we switch to belay for a single pitch or two.

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  • Many thanks for the very useful answer (especially the last line). The technique of jumping to the other side - is this something people actually do, or is it just something to talk about in training programs and write in answers? Maybe it is more of an instinctive throw in the towel technique to be aware of. Because I don't think one can reasonably practice this.
    – ahron
    Mar 30, 2022 at 18:23
  • I do not know. I know that it is a technique that is presented in magazines of various alpine clubs, but fortunately I have not seen anyone needing to to it yet. However, as written in the answer, I have some doubts about practical application for amateurs. That looks more like a technique for mountain guides, as they do not really have the option of going unroped in potentially dangerous terrain. This is basically filling the same gap as short-roping in a situation where short-roping is not really applicable
    – Manziel
    Mar 31, 2022 at 15:12

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