32. Islands of Safety

When traveling in the alpine realm, we look for optimal travel routes to hopefully reduce risk. This includes locating possible “Islands of Safety”.

Mountaineering and alpine climbing are chock full of objective hazard. Rock and ice fall, avalanches, crevices, other climbers, foul weather, you name it… Mountain environments are hostile to the human body.

Many mountain routes and climbs have relatively safe places, which offer possible shelter from hazards that might be encountered. Think of these spots as islands of safety. This could be any place on an alpine climb that is relatively safer, and shields climbers from the dangers of rockfall, avalanche, etc.

Ridgelines, alcoves, giant boulders, overhangs, or simply a place that is out of the fall line could all be considered possible islands of safety. Consider using these safer places during breaks, transitions, belays, or any time when moving through a hazardous area quickly is just not feasible. Try looking for stances that provide a small overhang, to possibly hide under and hunker down as needed. On alpine routes, belay spots that are wind protected can also be a plus.  

Hazardous terrain indicators include debris and rockfall. Be aware of the terrain ABOVE where you are. Also position the belay stances out of the line of fire from rockfall that could be caused by the leader. Climbing below cornices and icefalls should be AVOIDED if possible.

Keep the worst-case scenario in mind while climbing… If you were to stop here and an avalanche, rock or ice fall were to come down… would you be in a safe position?

Mountaineers don’t want to rely on luck, instead they want to put themselves in a lucky position. Good route finding skills, and experience with alpine terrain, both help mitigate rockfall or icefall hazards.

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.