I'm planning a mountain hiking trip and one of the issues is that the trails that we're following will almost certainly be covered in ice. There are two of us and we'll both be wearing shoe traction equipment like this: YaxTrax Extreme Outdoor Traction. The trails follow ridge lines and moderate slopes on relatively low altitude mountains (5,945' or 1,812 m). However there is the possibility that a slip on the ice will lead to sliding right off the edge of a cliff or steep drop.

My question then is, should we rope ourselves together so if one of us started sliding the other could "self arrest" by grabbing on to a tree, or even throwing ourselves in the deep snow? We will not have ice axes or climbing harnesses. I was picturing a bowline tied around each waist. Does this seem smart or does it seem like a way to guarantee both of us dieing if one were to fall?


  • Elevation doesn't say a lot about the conditions without further climate information. I've been at 1800 metre both in places where this is in the land of rocks and ice, and in places where this is evergreen forest that almost never sees snow.
    – gerrit
    Feb 5, 2014 at 21:42
  • 2
    If you are even considering this as a danger, get an ice axe. It's a very useful and long-lasting tool for the winter. This New Year's eve me and a friend used ours to get into the frozen-up shelter, which we reached after dark. So they have other uses, beyond the essential self-arrest ability.
    – Vorac
    Feb 6, 2014 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


This is a bad plan for several reasons.

YakTrax are not well suited for this situation. YakTrax are more specialized for people who want to go running on city streets in places with cold winters. For mountaineering, they're basically useless. They don't give enough extra traction. Microspikes or crampons would be more appropriate.

Roping up is a specialized technique that is used, for example, when crossing a glacier that may have crevasses. It's not the best technique for the situation you're describing. For the situation you're describing, you should be carrying ice axes and know how to self-arrest. With your rope plan, if one of you falls, the other is unlikely to be able to self-arrest quickly and firmly enough. There is a technique called a running belay, but it's not a common, basic technique that you should be worrying about as a beginner.

When traveling in a rope team, normally people use climbing harnesses. It's true that mountaineers used to tie in to a rope without using a harness a hundred years ago. It's also true that there are ways of tying in to a rope in an emergency without a harness; you can find the technique (a diaper sling) described in Freedom of the Hills. But basically there is no sane reason these days to intentionally not use harnesses if you're tying in to a rope team.

  • Thanks for the answer! Everything you said makes sense, I will definitely not be tying myself up to my partner :) Also, just for clarification, I edited my original post to show the actual product I was thinking of buying. It's a (seemingly) more rugged version that YakTrax makes. Is this more in like with what you talking about with microspikes?
    – Blackbear
    Feb 5, 2014 at 17:35
  • @Blackbear: I haven't seen that particular product. This is what microspikes are: rei.com/product/856702/kahtoola-microspikes-traction-system All I can say about YakTrax's products is that their other products suck for winter mountaineering, and I don't think that's their intended purpose. Microspikes work great for winter mountaineering when the slopes are not too steep and especially when there is mixed terrain (mud, rocks, ice, dirt, and snow).
    – user2169
    Feb 6, 2014 at 0:05

Roping up would be a bad idea. A good rule of thumb is that you should only rope up if you can place protection between climbers (i.e. attach the rope to something). Glaciers are a different story, but that's not where you're going. Many accidents have occurred when one rope mate falls and takes all the others with them.

As far as using YaxTrax , that is going to be trail and condition dependent. For ridge lines and moderate slopes on good (but somewhat icy trails), I think they would be fine. They are also going to be lighter and more flexible than proper crampons. If, on the other hand, you were planning on climbing steeper ice or deep snow, I would recommend bringing proper crampons.

Generally a good idea is to never climb up something you wouldn't feel comfortable climbing down, so you are not over-committed.

Trekking poles might be a good thing to bring, and would give you better balance. Also, be sure to practice walking around outside with your chosen footwear + crampon / yaktrak. You want to make sure you don't have any issues of fit, comfort, or the thing falling off.

  • 3
    +1 except that I disagree with the part about trekking poles. You can't self-arrest with them.
    – user2169
    Feb 6, 2014 at 0:06
  • I agree with you, trekking poles won't work for self arrest (BD does make a whippet trekking pole but that's just weird). However, one or two trekking poles can help you keep your balance and prevent a fall from happening. I think it all depends on the terrain you are traveling on, different tools for different places.
    – Felix
    Feb 6, 2014 at 1:11
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    @BenCrowell, you definitely can self-arrest with trekking poles, done it many times. It's just a different kind of technique. Of course, not as effective as with an ice axe. And not on the ice, only on the snow. Still, there are few mountaineers who can self-arrest even with an ice axe properly on ice steeper than 10 degrees.
    – Steed
    Feb 11, 2014 at 16:33
  • @steed: Well, you can self-arrest with your fingernails if you're lucky, but I'd prefer an ice ax. I realize that, e.g., ski instructors teach how to self-arrest with ski poles, but chances of success are probably low. Re steep ice --- well, chances of success vary according to the conditions, but whatever your chances with an ice ax, they're much, much lower with poles. An ice ax is a specialized tool designed for this purpose. Poles are not.
    – user2169
    Feb 11, 2014 at 23:06

As other posters said, roping together is not a good idea, at least if you are not an experienced mountaineer.

Now on how you can do your trip in safety.

  • When walking on ice and frozen dirt, don't rely on self-arrest. You can self arrest on the steep (>5-10 degrees) ice only by hitting it hard with your ice-axe and only during the first second while you haven't gained much speed. After that if you manage to hit the ice with your axe, if will be ripped out of your hands. And self arresting in this first second needs so much practice and luck.
  • Rely on not falling down. Get crampons. You don't need anything really "vertical" like Grivel G14 or Rambo, go for a lighweight G10 or even an aluminium alloy model. (Of course I don't advertise Grivel, you can shop any reliable brand).
  • You absolutely should practice walking on crampons beforehand on a horizontal surface. The common problem with them is "pants injury", when the teeth of a crampon catch your trousers and you fall down as if stepping on your shoelaces.
  • Now you can add trekking poles for balance and as a last resort.
  • When at some point on your route stumbling means falling down and you don't feel confident even with crampons, go back or find another route. One can learn how to walk with 3 fulcrums facing the slope, or other techniques, but when you need this you actually need serious ropes.
  • 1
    IMO the remarks about self-arrest are overly pessimistic. There are lots of different types of snow and ice conditions. Ice isn't just ice. Some ice is harder than other ice. Some ice is slipperier than other ice. You can have different runouts. You might or might not be carrying a heavy pack. You might be able to get some help from your crampons if it's necessary in an emergency (although you may break your ankles). If the conditions are extremely unfavorable for self-arrest and the runout is ugly, then I don't think it's good advice to rely on crampons to keep from falling. You need a belay.
    – user2169
    Feb 11, 2014 at 23:13
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    [...] But I do agree if your point is that it would be stupid to walk across steep ice with an ice ax and no crampons.
    – user2169
    Feb 11, 2014 at 23:18
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    @BenCrowell, right, the conditions may vary. Still, for an unexperienced man it's had to tell one from another, and his self-arrest performance will also be lower. Imho, from your answer someone might imply that they just need an ice axe, so my point was to explain a little more how all the components of safety go together.
    – Steed
    Feb 12, 2014 at 9:06

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