• Mary Anderson

The Rules of Self-Arresting

“Long 15 miles tomorrow with one of harder snowier passes. Heavy pack as just resupplied. And thunderstorms in forecast.” —Satellite message from Mary, sent from Glacier Park last night and received this morning in France.

Editor's note: Mary wrote the following post in May just before heading west to begin her hike of the Continental Divide Trail, northern half, where this year's snowpack has been a deterrent for many hikers. At the time, she was practicing with her new ice axe on the snow remaining in Vermont.


By Mary Anderson

First, don’t fall, but if you do, try to fall feet-first on your belly. Of course, this seldom happens.

Don’t focus on the shock of the fall, how much it hurts, or your fear of picking up speed as you approach the trees at the bottom of the mountain. Focus instead on your ice ax. Grab the spike so it does not impale your critical organs. And while you are sliding at a high rate of speed, focusing on the position of your hands on the ax, you must also focus on your feet. Do not, under any circumstances, allow your cramponed feet to hit the ground, unless you want to break your lower limbs in multiple places.

Dig the point of the ax pick into the ground. Fight against the weight of the thirty-five-pound pack on your back and flip yourself into the correct belly-down, head-uphill arrest position. Keep your face down, close to the snow, which you may be eating mouthfuls of at this point. Make sure not to let the adze cut your face or shoulder to pieces.

While digging that spike into the ground, raise your belly off the snow and rise slightly onto your knees. While kneeling, you may as well throw in a few desperate prayers to the patron saint of stopping falls.

When done correctly, you will come to a stop before going off the edge of the cliff.


Mary Anderson is writing a book about her trek along the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail, a journey of healing that she undertook in her sixties. Mary hiked the southern half of the trail in 2021 and is undertaking the northern half this year. Read more of Mary's story.

Above: Screen capture from a video about how to self-arrest using an ice axe. You'll find scores of videos on YouTube about the proper use of an ice axe to arrest a fall.

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