Friday, March 23, 2018

Attaching an Ice Axe to a Pack

This morning I was putting away my rock rack in the garage when I noticed that one of my ice axes was lying on the floor. Both of my children appeared to still be intact and they both were each carrying around their favorite toys (an stuffed horse and a Minecraft Creeper). In other words, there had been no viscous ice axe attacks so that one might have the other's favorite toy...

The mystery was fleeting, but the idea of a blog wasn't. That ice axe lying on the floor reminded me that one question regularly arises when we are getting ready to go into the field: How do I attach my ice axe to my backpack?

Most backpacks have two loops that hang down off the back of the pack. To attach the ice axe, one must slide the shaft down into one of the loops with the pick facing in toward the center of the pack.

In this photo it is possible to see that the ice axe's pick
is facing toward the center. You can see that if the straps that hold it
in place were to fail, the axe would not fall off.

After the axe has been dropped down into the loop, rotate the spike up toward the top of the pack. Usually there is some kind of strap or buckle that can be fastened over the shaft so that the axe stays in place. The Black Diamond pack in the following picture has a special cord with a toggle to hold the axe in place.

A pack with an ice axe properly stowed.

After I took these pictures I found a nice hole in the backyard. It looked a little bit like somebody had been using a hoe to scrape up the grass. I immediately knew better. To me, it looked like an adze had been been at work.

After discovering that, I decided that it would probably be best if two little kids were not playing with an ice axe. There will be time enough for that when they're older...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Non-Event Feedback Loops

Many climbing and ski mountaineering accidents are the result of human error. There are a number of types of human error, but the most disconcerting and common type results from a non-event feedback loop.

--I've been doing it this this way for years and nothing bad has ever happened.

--We skied the slope all day and it was fine. How were we to know that it would slide?

--The boot-track went right under the ice cliff. I just went the way everybody else went.

The thinking process behind non-event feedback is predicated on the following belief: Nothing bad happened last time and nothing bad happened to someone else; therefore, nothing bad will happen this time to me. The psychology of non-event feedback is complex, but its very existence leads to following reality:

The crag that you climb the most, the slope that you ski the most, the mountain that you've been up the most times...these are the most dangerous places that you will ever go.

Non-event feedback takes on a new dimension with group dynamics. A beginner may follow a competent leader up a mountain. The leader may look at the conditions and decide that they're safe. If the leader doesn't go through his entire thinking process, the beginner may then make the assumption that the conditions are always safe.

Avalanche research indicates that the likelihood of skiers tackling a dangerous slope increases dramatically after one person successfully skis the slope first. In other words, once someone sees someone else get away with something, they subconsciously believe that they can get away with it too.

The only way to avoid getting stuck in non-event feedback loops is to constantly question yourself. Is this safe today? Am I just following the leader? And lastly, am I responding to the conditions as they are or as I wish they were?

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 19, 2018

Route Profile - Kautz Glacier

With a couple of pitches of steep climbing, an ascent of a broad glacier, and a bivy at the highest camp on Mount Rainier, the Kautz Glacier is thought to be the premier intermediate route on the mountain.

The Kautz Glacier Route
Photo by Mike Riley

In 1857, August Valentine and his party attempted to make the first recorded ascent of Mount Rainier via the Kautz. Unfortunately the party was turned away before they succeeded. The first documented ascent of the mountain would go to Hazard Stevens and Philemon Beecher Van Trump twelve years later in 1870 after they successfully climbed a line to the southeast of the Kautz.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that the Kautz was climbed by seven men and three women in 1913, but little more is known. The Kautz eventually received a documented climb in 1920, when Hans Fuhrer, Heinie Fuhrer, Roger Toll, and Harry Myers summited via the route.

In the early years of guided climbing on Mount Rainier, the Kautz became the standard route to the summit. Over time the line fell out of favor as people migrated toward the easier Disapointment Cleaver route, which is now the standard line of ascent. Unfortunately, this so-called "standard route" on the mountain has become a zoo. Thousands and thousands of climbers ascend the "DC" every year and as a result, the Kautz has reclaimed a bit of its wilderness character.

Climbers skirting crevasses on the Kautz Glacier
Photo by Alasdair Turner

The ascent of the Kautz starts in Paradise. From the parking lot, climbers hike up to Glacier Vista above the Nisqually Glacier. From there you drop down onto the the glacier proper. A short traverse across the lower glacier -- often skirting large crevasses -- brings you to "The Fan," a gully that takes you up off the glacier and onto a ridgeline. The ridge eventually leads to a series of moderate snowfields beneath Camp Hazard, known as "The Turtle." Most climbers will bivy as high as they can on The Turtle for a shorter summit day, often camping as high as 11,000 feet.

While there are established camp sites and blue bag receptical bins at Camp Hazard, most climbers avoid this camp. The Kautz ice cliffs above the camp often shed large seracs and the ice-fall danger in the camp is high.

Climbers descend the Kautz Glacier
Photo by Alasdair Turner

On summit day, most climbers will start very early. The short trek up to Camp Hazard must be done quickly to avoid ice-fall. Once at the camp, climbers drop down to the Kautz Glacier proper. There are two steepish pitches of ice climbing below Camp Hazard. Depending on the way that a climber goes, the difficulty can reach up to 60 degrees.

Above the ice pitches, the angle decreases significantly. The remainder of the climb to the summit requires standard mountaineering skills.

Climbers from around the world come to Rainier because of its beauty and granduer. The Kautz Glacier provides an excellent adventure for those looking for an intermediate level route on one of the most spectacular mountains in the world.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 16, 2018

"Gripped" - The Film

When I first watched this trailer, I fully thought it was a joke. Seriously, I thought some climbers had made this to make fun of climbing movies. Imagine my surprise when I found out that this is a real film with a website and everything...

I'm looking forward to seeing this film!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/15/18


--A snowmobiler was killed in an avalanche near Park Butte, close to Mt. Baker on Saturday. This marks the 7th avalanche fatality in the Pacific Northwest this season. To read more, click here.

--A snowshoer that went missing on Monday on Mt. Rainier was found dead on Tuesday. To read more, click here.

--The Fremont Brewery in Seattle is sponsoring avalanche awareness course scholarships to 24 women next season. These scholarships will be funded by the Snowpack Ale. So if you're a beer drinker, this is a good investment in women's avalanche education. To read more, click here.


--An elderly woman died after a ski accident at Big Bear Mountain over the weekend. To read more, click here.

--A five-year-old skier lost consciousness while hanging off the side of a chairlift at Bear Mountain Ski Resort. The girl was rescued and will recover fully. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "U.S. scientists studying the effects of uranium mining around the Grand Canyon say they are lacking information on whether the radioactive element is hurting plants, animals and a water source for more than 30 million people. And they would not get to fully gather it if President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal is approved." To read more, click here.

--The annual Red Rock Rendezvous is slated to take place in Las Vegas from March 16-19, 2018. This is one of the biggest climbing festivals in the country...and one of the most fun. The American Alpine Institute works with Mountain Gear to put on the festival every year and many AAI guides will be on hand for both instruction, as well as for hanging out at the evening parties. You might also consider booking a guide before or after the program, or even participating in an additional climbing class. To read more, click here.


--A skier died after hitting a tree in Breckenridge over the weekend. To read more, click here.

--Hesperus Ski Area has suspended operations due to lack of snow. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Marc-Andre Leclerc and Ryan Johnson were killed while trying to climb a new line on the Mendenhall Towers in Alaska. The pair were reported missing on Friday. Over the next several days teams searched for the pair before they finally found them. There is no information available yet about what happened. To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "Four ice climbers survived an avalanche early Saturday afternoon on the route Kitty Hawk on David Thompson Highway in Alberta. Mounties in Rocky Mountain House were notified of an emergency locator beacon signal coming from an area near the classic WI5 ice route on Mount Elliot on Highway 11 about 50 km southwest of Nordegg and 250 km northwest of Calgary." To read more, click here.

--Deanne Buck just became the second woman to become president of the American Alpine Club. To read more, click here.

--There have been far too many avalanche and tree-well fatalities this year. Gripped addressed this trend in an article last week.

--NPR is reporting that, "Tony Tooke, the head of the U.S. Forest Service, resigned on last week following accusations of sexual harassment." To read more, click here.

--On a related note, the Forest Service is on the hot seat for issues of sexual harassment. This article, by a woman who spent 32-years with the service, takes a deep look at the agency and its culture.

--Imagine a ski that uses smart technology to give you feedback like a coach. It's coming!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Route Profile: Skiing the Shuksan Arm

Mt. Shuksan sits above the Mount Baker Ski area, a jagged jewel of rock and ice frosted in snow. The mountain is one of the most photographed mountains in the world, and for good reason. It is an absolutely stunning mountain.

Mt. Shuksan in the Winter

There are several ski tours that one can do out of the Mount Baker Ski Area. Some of them are quite easy, while others are more advanced. Skiing the Shuksan arm is one of the more aggressive ski days. Why? Because you cover quite a bit of ground. But the ground is absolutely awesome.

Here is a short photo essay from that tour:

 Skiers on the Shuksan Arm

A skier dropping down off the arm above Lake Ann 

The snow was literally like butter the day we were up nthere. 

 Okay, I admit it. I'm the one who screwed up the S turns by going straight.

The lower Curtis Glacier above Lake Ann

The American Alpine Institute runs private ski programs in the Cascades, the Sierra and in the San Juans every day throughout the winter. In the Cascades the ski programs run up to July...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 12, 2018

Route Profile: Diedre - 5.7, II+

Between Vancouver, British Columbia and the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort lies one of the best rock climbing playgrounds in North America. Squamish, sometimes referred to as the "Yosemite of the Northwest," is home to hundreds - if not thousands - of spectacular routes, many of them moderate, and most of them easily accessible.

In the early nineties as I learned to climb, I spent a lot of time on the cliffs and crags of Squamish. When I was twenty years old I climbed Diedre (5.7, II+) for the very first time. And at that point in my climbing career, the ascent was life-changing. I had never really done anything longer than two pitches prior to that, and so the completion of a six pitch moderate route was a major achievement.

Diedra was put up in the early sixties on a formation in Squamish called "The Apron." There are a number of moderate routes on The Apron as it is a lower-angled formation. Diedre climbs through some slabs to attain a beautiful corner crack, which you follow for three pitches.

The climbing is never terribly hard, but it is exhilarating. The views of Howe Sound, the Stawamus Chief and nearby Mt. Garabalidi are absolutely stellar.

 AAI Guide and Program Coordinator James Pierson on Pitch 2.

James, approaching the belay station on moderate ground.

AAI Guide Tad McCrea, being a doofus, on moderate ground.

AAI Guide Mike Powers making his way up the fantastic finger crack on pitch 3.
 Another shot of pitch 3.

 James, leading pitch 3.

James, getting after it!

A mother and daughter team following pitch 4. 

 Near the anchors at the top of pitch 4.

 I have climbed Diedre at least twenty times over a timeframe exceeding twenty years. And I never get tired of it. The route seems fresh every time. Writing this today makes me wistful for the route. I can't wait to go back and climb it again...

--Jason D. Martin