Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Film Review: Third Man on the Mountain

There really haven't been that many movies made about mountain guides. I mean, there have been some...

Sanaa Lathan plays a world class guide in Alien vs. Predator...and she clearly demonstrates that bloodthirsty extraterrestrials are no match for an experienced mountain guide. I would tend to concur.

Robin Tunney plays a mountain guide on K2 in the worst best climbing movie of all time, Vertical Limit. We all learned a valuable lesson about guides in that movie, the lesson that it's important to bring nitroglycerin on any and all mountain expeditions.

And then there's Third Man on the Mountain.


You'd be forgiven if you didn't know this 1959 Disney film. But you're probably aware of the Matterhorn ride in Disneyland. This film was the inspiration for that ride. And it's no wonder, because the iconic mountain plays a central role in the film, as an infamous peak known as the Citadel.

Third Man on the Mountain is a beautiful film set high in the Alps during the golden age of alpinism. In other words, it was a time when guides and their charges worked together to develop new lines on unclimbed peaks. 

Disney promotes the film with the following plot synopsis:

Rudi Matt, a young kitchen worker, is determined to conquer the Citadel – the jagged, snowcapped peak that claimed his father's life. Encouraged by both a famed English climber and the youth's devoted girlfriend, Rudi goes through a grueling training period before he is ready to face the incredible dangers of the killer mountain.

What they don't say in this short synopsis is that the character Rudi Matt is the son of a mountain guide. And they don't say that the young man has a great desire to become a guide himself...



There is a great deal of climbing in the film that doesn't seem realistic, but it can be forgiven. Why? Because the heart of the film is in the right place. It's a coming of age story about a climber who wants to make the mountains a permanent part of his life. It's the story of an imposing route that that young man looks at every day. And it's ultimately the story of the young man's journey to the mountain.

Most of us can relate to this story.

It's sometimes difficult for those of us who are used to high end special effects to watch older films. It's usually obvious when they shift from scenes that were shot on location to scenes that were shot in a studio. Occasionally you can tell that you're looking at a matte painting... But the story is so nicely portrayed that I was able to suspend my disbelief and live in the moment throughout the film.

Of particular note, Gaston Rebufett directed the second unit film crew for all the mountain and climbing shots. Rebufett was the French guide who wrote the iconic book, Starlight and Storm, and participated in the first ascent of Annapurna.

Third Man on the Mountain was based on the 1954 young adult novel Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ulmann. This award winning book was republished in 1988 by Harper Teen and is apparently used as a middle and high school reading assignment.

Though I haven't read Banner in the Sky, I'm glad to know that this story is being read and even taught to young adults. It's likely that most students have the opportunity to watch the film after they've completed the book. It's good to know that this film has a life somewhere... It deserves it. It really does...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 25, 2015

Non-Lockers vs. Lockers at the Powerpoint

At a beginning level, climbing tends to be rule-based. These rules that you are provided at the start of your career are important. They will help to keep you safe.

It should be noted that once you have a few years of experience, there is some room to re-evaluate some of the rules. However, this should only take place after you have climbed with a lot of different experienced people.

One of the commonly quoted rules for toproped climbing is that one should always use two opposite and opposed lockers at the master point.


Two opposite and opposed lockers.

The idea is that there is no way that the rope could possibly jump out of two opposite and opposed lockers. And while it may be possible -- however unlikely -- for movement in the system to cause the one of the gates to become unlocked and to open, it would be nearly impossible for the both lockers to become unlocked and to be opened.

In the guiding world, two opposite and opposed lockers are considered to be industry standard. The liklihood of a single locking carabiner becoming unlocked and opening is incredibly low. However, this is one of the rules that you learn when you start to climb and it has become so integral to outdoor groups throughout the world in toproping that it has become the industry standard across the board.

Industry standard is one of those phrases that we should pay attention to in climbing. There are very few things that can be considered industry standard in the climbing world.

That said, it is incredibly unlikely that a single locker in a toprope system will fail. But what if something does go wrong? And what if you were toproping in a way that was outside this standard? Certainly you would feel terrible, and not only that, you would also be hammered by the internet forums, the blogs, and the magazines for doing something considered to be outside the norm. As such, it's probably a good idea to stay within the norm.

Many climbers use two opposite and opposed non-lockers in lieu of two opposite and opposed lockers. Two opposite and opposed non-lockers should be considered the equivalent of one locking carabiner. For non-lockers to have equivalency to two opposite and opposed lockers, there must be three opposite and opposed non-lockers.


Three opposite and opposed non-lockers and equivalent
to two opposite and opposed lockers.

Rules in climbing exist to create a wide margin of safety. There's really no reason at all not to have a wide margin of safety in a toproped environment.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

This past week, the climbing community lost a true innovator, someone who pushed the limits of what was thought possible.  Dean Potter was killed in a base jumping incident in Yosemite National Park.  Sometimes Dean was a polarizing figure, inspiring to some, reckless to others, but always pushing himself and the activities he loved to the next level.  So for this Weekend Warrior, we're taking a look back at Dean and some of his accomplishments, both in the world of climbing and base jumping.

Back in 2006, Dean Potter was the first to free solo Ron Kauk's iconic Yosemite climb, Heaven.  At first glance, the steeply overhanging 5.12d/5.13a doesn't seem too big of a deal for a world-class climber.  Unfortunately, the following video doesn't zoom out to show you the big picture - from the base of the route, the cliff slopes steeply away and as Alex Honnold says, "if you fell anywhere past the middle of the route, you'd bounce all the way down to the valley floor" which is about 3,000 ft below.  Alex is the only other climber to solo the route.



Also in 2006, Dean was the third climber to solo Separate Reality, another Ron Kauk classic going originally at 5.12a, then later downgraded to 5.11d after a block fell off the end and exposed a better finish hold.  The 6 meter long roof crack, awkward finish and amazing setting made this a big standout in the climbing world.  It has since been climbed by other standout soloists like Honnold and Will Stanhope.



Also in 2006, Dean, Ammon McNeely, and Ivo Ninov set the speed record on the Reticent Wall, one of the hardest routes on El Capitan.  As he mentions in the next video, Dean soured on the notion of speed climbing and climbing "competitions," but was eventually drawn back to the world of speed climbing.  In 2010, Dean and Sean Leary broke the speed record of the Nose of El Capitan by shaving off 20 seconds from the previous record.



Beyond the world of climbing, Dean was also a major innovator in the world of slacklining and especially highlining.



Last year, Dean stirred up controversy when he based jumped with his dog in a specially designed backpack.  Some thought it was cruel and selfish, but it Dean's mind it was more cruel to leave his faithful companion at home while he was out embracing life.



In the final video this weekend, Alex Honnold discusses with CNN how Dean not only pushed the sports he loved, but how he also pushed himself to overcome his fears.



Have a good weekend! - James

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Ice Bollard

Steep snow or ice can be descended two ways. A climber could downclimb the terrain or he could rappel. Rappelling is always a dangerous option as a lot can go wrong...but in the mountains, sometimes the speed of rappelling is safer than downclimbing.



A Climber Rappels Off of an Ice Bollard

In hard frozen snow or on ice, one option is to create a bollard. A bollard is essentially a tear-drop shaped pillar that is cut into a frozen surface with an ice axe adze. The rope is then wrapped around the bollard for the rappel. Once the rappel is completed, the climber can simply pull the rope.

Bollards are not the strongest anchors available, but they are quick and effective. If you choose to use a bollard, it is important to do two things. Back them up and reset the rope after each rappel.


An Ice Bollard loosely Backed-Up by an Ice Screw

To back-up a bollard, create the bollard and then preset the rope. Place a piece of snow protection (e.g. a picket buried as a deadman) and then loosely clip a sling to both the piece and to the rope. Once this is set-up, the heaviest person with the heaviest pack should rappel first. The theory is that if the heaviest person with the heaviest pack doesn't blow out the bollard, then a lighter person should be able to remove the back-up piece and safely rappel.

To reset the rope after each rappel, simply treat the rope like dental floss. Pull on each end of the rope once your down. Resetting the rope like this will ensure that it doesn't freeze into place and get stuck.


An Ice Bollard backed-up by an Ice Screw

Snow and ice bollards are a quick and effective style of anchoring that avoids leaving trash -- or expensive gear -- behind. Practice with this style of rappel anchor will lead to a solid and safe understanding as to how one should employ them effectively...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/21/15

Northwest:
--The 'hidden' Cascade volcano that poses a threat.  Glacier Peak lurks within the northern Cascade Mountains. Unlike most of the other Cascade volcanos viewable from I-5 or even Seattle, this is the mountain no one notices. Yet Glacier Peak sits within the borders of Snohomish County and has a record of violent, even extreme eruptions. Full article here.

Sierra:
--Extreme sports legend Dean Potter was one of two BASE jumpers found dead in Yosemite National Park after attempting an aerial descent from Taft Point, authorities said. More here.

Desert Southwest:

--The grave new threat facing the Grand Canyon.  A massive new development promises housing, hotels and boutiques. Opponents say it will deface a national monumentThe U.S. Forest Service is accepting public comment for a controversial plan that would pave the way for a foreign developer to build a mega-development at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Full article here.

Alaska:
--Updates for AAI 2015 Denali Teams: 
Team 1 has begun the descent.
Team 2 is planning to move up to Camp 3
Team 3 has moved up to Camp 1.
Follow the dispatches at our Dispatch Blog 


Notes from All Over:
--Bernhard Hug of Switzerland and Tony Sbalbi of France climb seven peaks, some of more than 4km (13,123ft), within 24 hours. Hug and Sbalbi set off just after midnight skiing and climbing the mountains all within a day. After setting off under cover of darkness, their lights can be seen ascending and descending the slopes


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Film Review: Beyond the Edge

The first ascent of Everest...

Everyone knows the story of the first real attempt on Mt. Everest. Indeed, a tremendous amount of ink and a tremendous amount of film footage has been generated about the (possibly?) failed ascent of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine.

And of course, everyone knows the story of the first ascent. Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary made the first ascent of Mt. Everest on May 29th, 1953. News of the ascent reached London on June 2nd, the morning of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

Everyone knows that story. Right?

The answer is, kind of...

A lot more modern literature has been written about the Mallory-Irvine ascent than about the Hillary-Norgay ascent. And though the Hillary-Norgay ascent is recounted in volumes of different pieces on modern ascents of the mountain, a lot of the detail is missing.

And that's where the documentary Beyond the Edge comes into play.


Beyond the Edge tells the story of the 1953 expedition to Everest and the struggles that took place. The following is the synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes.

In 1953, the ascent of Everest remained the last of Earth's great challenges. Standing at over 29,000ft, the world's highest mountain posed a fearsome challenge and had already claimed thirteen lives in previous expeditions. Faced with treacherous winds, sub-zero temperatures and battling altitude sickness, Edmund Hillary, a modest bee-keeper and keen mountaineer from Auckland, New Zealand, and the experienced Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, of Nepal, finally achieved the impossible and became the first men to stand atop Everest. It was an event that stunned the world and defined an era. Hillary and Tenzing carried the hopes and dreams of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the people of the Himalayas and the entire British Empire on their shoulders. As the world slowly recovered from the horrors of World War II their efforts allowed people everywhere to believe a new age was dawning.

The story is told in a similar fashion to Touching the Void and The Summit. In other words, the tale is told using a blend of dramatizations, original footage and photographs. This provides one with the experience of reliving the expedition and all the drama that took place during it.



I consider myself to be a well-read climber. I've read all the historic and modern classics of mountaineering literature, but this documentary really made me feel like I didn't know that much about one of the most important ascents in mountaineering history. I mean, I suppose that I knew about all the hardships on the expedition. I suppose that I knew that they were on a razor thin timeline by the time they got high on the mountain, and I suppose I knew that Hillary and Tenzing were the second team to attempt the summit on the expedition...

But I didn't really know...

And that's where this film really fills in the gaps. For example, climbing the Hillary Step in 1953 was no different than committing to landing on the moon. You might not come back. In fact, it almost seemed more likely that they wouldn't come back than they would... Making those moves in such an exposed and inhospital place wearing all kinds of oxygen equipment was incredibly daring.

Beyond the Edge takes us into the minds of the Everest mountaineers. We live each of their struggles and fears on the mountain. And finally, we rejoice in their ascent to the summit.  Indeed, the film is so well done that I would hazard to say that no Everest history buff is complete without a viewing of Beyond the Edge.

As of this writing, Beyond the Edge is available streaming on Netflix.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Dangers of Glissading

Yep, you can find them in just about every issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering. They have unwieldy headlines like:

"Climber injured in Glissade Accident"
"Out of Control Glissade Leads to Fatality"
"Inexperience, Lack of Proper Clothing and Glissade with Crampons On"

Gissading is an incredibly fun endeavor. I've often felt that after achieving a somewhat physical summit that a good glassade run back down makes it all worth it. It's as if nature gave you something back for all of the work that you did to get up there. The desire to glissade though should be tempered by the reality...and the reality is that a lot of people get hurt glissading.

Most injuries take place because an individual breaks one of the cardinal rules. To stay safe, the best thing to do is to take these rules seriously.

The Cardinal Rules of Glissading 
  1. Never glissade with crampons on. If you're wearing crampons it means that you're probably on hard snow or ice. This means that should you glissade, you will slide really fast. If you slide really fast and you catch a crampon spike, your leg will snap like a dry twig. As such one should never glissade with crampons on. 
  2. Never glissade on a rope team. If one person loses control on a rope team, then others may do so as well. 
  3. Never glissade on a glacier. It's likely that you'll be roped up if you're on a glacier so if you do glissade, you will be breaking two rules at once. We don't glissade on glaciers because of the possibility of hidden crevasses. 
  4. Always make sure that you can see where you're going. This should make sense. If you can't see, then you could end up sliding into a talus field or off a cliff. 
  5. Make sure that there is a good run-out. A good run-out is imperative. One should certainly avoid glissading above dangerous edges, boulders or trees. 

These rules are quite black and white. There are few gray areas in glissading. If there is some question, then the best thing to do is to err on the side of caution. Though you might be tired, sometimes walking down the mountain is the safer alternative.

--Jason D. Martin