30. Transitions

Here we discuss transitions between snow, ice, and rock in the mountain environment. Part of the fun in alpine climbing is the varying medium upon which climbers travel.

Snow, ice, rock, neve, and other big mountain features often provide major logistical challenges. Interestingly, they can also provide easier and more efficient modes of travel. To travel efficiently in the mountains or on long alpine routes, climbers must be competent in transitions. They should be able to move from rock, to snow, or ice travel and then back again. Remember speed is safety, but haste makes waste!

The test of any alpinist is how efficient they can transition from one medium to the next. A true master can move from ice to rock with efficiency, grace, and safety. Below are a few considerations for efficiently managing transitions while alpine & mountaineering.

– Try to gain as much information or beta on the route as you can ahead of time, and be prepared for changing conditions.

– Imagine and plan out where and when you might need to transition from rock to snow climbing.

– When transitioning from ice, or a steep snow climb, to rock, consider leaving your crampons on and climbing in them. It is good practice to get used to the feeling of crampons on rock. Start easy, and work your way up until you are comfortable climbing in them.

– You may need to holster one or both of your ice tools or axe. Consider climbing with one ice axe if there is a mix of snow, ice, and rock.

– You may also need to take your gloves off. Stuff them in a pocket to climb more securely.

– Anticipate any transition and what you may need. Ask yourself, is a rope or belay needed on that pitch? Is it hard rock climbing? Too hard to do with crampons on? Or can you climb 100 feet and then get back on snow?

– Seeing how we try to create our belays in protected areas, try to transition in a relatively safe spot. Make it quick and efficient. Make a decision and execute that decision with confidence and an eye for the big picture.

The better our transitions, the more efficient the climb will be. In this context, “better” does not necessarily mean fewer.

However, improving climbing skills such that we don’t have to take off crampons every time we cross rock will greatly improve efficiency. Transition swiftly when you need to, but also work on your movement skills to reduce the number of transitions needed on a big alpine climb.

For additional information, please see our video on “Islands of Safety”.

We hope you found this video helpful. Feel free to comment below with questions or thoughts!


Please remember, climbing is inherently dangerous. Climb at your own risk.