Self-arresting is used to stop a mountaineer who has fallen and is sliding down a slope.

Ice axes are generally used for self-arrest, but what should a climber do to self arrest if he has lost his ice axe?

  • 3
    To avoid loosing your ice axe, always wear the axe leash around your wrist when outside of any flat ground terrain. Many climbing teams also carry a small spare axe for just this reason. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 17:40
  • 3
    @Danderanger - The first thing most instructors will tell you is to remove the leash from your axe. If you do fall and the axe is not in your hand then you certainly don't want it bouncing around your head as you try and arrest yourself.
    – Qwerky
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 12:35
  • I wonder if striking with elbow in order to break the hard icy cover of the snow would be a good idea.
    – Vorac
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 15:13
  • 1
    I've had two instructors tell me not to use a leash. Generally when people are found dead, the ice ax is still clutched in their hands; it's a matter of instinct to grip it tightly.
    – user2169
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 19:00

1 Answer 1


Your best bet is to try and position yourself face down, with your feet at the bottom, and then arc your body to put as much pressure on the hands, feet and knees as you can. As pointed out below though if you have crampons then don't ever dig those into the surface at all - you'll only injure yourself! If that's the case, just use your hands and knees.

It's worth noting however that this is much less effective than a proper arresting manoeuvre with an axe - use it only as a last resort, it has no guarantee of stopping you in time. It's far better to take precautions to make sure you won't lose your axe in the first place!

  • 5
    If the above method is used while wearing crampons in steep terrain you must not dig the crampons into the ice surface. If you do you will flip over and slide head first down the slope. If you have any metal objects in your pockets or on your person use them to dig into the ice surface. Prayer would also not be a bad idea in this very bad situation. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 17:37
  • 3
    For this reason, it should become clear that whenever you plan on bringing crampons, you must also bring an ice axe. If you don't wear crampons, try to kick your feet into the snow.
    – Lagerbaer
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 23:49
  • 1
    If you have a ski pole or hiking pole, you can use that for self arrest if it's not too icy, with one hand near the bottom and one hand higher up.
    – xpda
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 3:12
  • Pete Hill, in The Complete Guide to Climbing and Mountaineering, suggests pointing your toes outward and using the edges of your boots to stop yourself, on the theory that doing it with the toes could injure your Achilles tendon. He also suggests keeping your knees off the snow, although he doesn't say why. He says, "...it is obviously not a suitable technique for use with crampons, although in real life you will do anything to try to slow yourself down or stop."
    – user2169
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 18:58
  • I have heard it suggested that elbows are more effective than hands at self arresting without an ax. Jabbing your elbows into the snow gives you a bit more leverage than trying to grip with your little fingers.
    – nhinkle
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 19:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.