Monday, November 19, 2018

Cleaning Toprope Anchors

In cooperation with Outdoor Research, the American Mountain Guides Association has made several videos for beginning level climbers.

In this video, AMGA Instructor Team Member Margaret Wheeler demonstrates how to clean a toprope anchor.

Critical Points
--Always double check yourself
--Maintain good communication with your belayer
--Do not rush
--Keep baggy clothing out of the way
--Always double check yourself

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 16, 2018

Counter Ascending a Rope to Perform a Climber Pick-Off

Imagine you are taking two friends out to the crag who have never climbed before. You meet at the trailhead and quickly make the approach. On the way in you spot a beautiful looking slab, perfect for introducing some simple movement skills.

You tell your buddies to hang out at the base as you scramble around, build a bomber anchor, and drop a rope to set up a base-managed tope rope site. Back at the bottom you run them through all the basic knot/belaying skills and before you know it, you all are ready to climb.

You have one of them climb, while the other one belays and you are ready to give a back up belay if necessary. The climber does an awesome job, just cruising all the way to the top, tagging the carabiners at the master point. The belayer tells them to lean back and starts to lower them, but about halfway down the pitch, they just freeze and grab the wall.

You try to talk them down, but they are not having it. You can tell they are getting more and more scared the longer they are up there. You do not want this to ruin their experience, especially after they just absolutely crushed it a few minutes earlier... so what do you do?

Counter-ascending a Rope to Perform a Climber Pickoff

One of the most interesting skills covered by American Alpine Institute (AAI) as part of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Single Pitch Instructor (SPI) curriculum is top-managed and based-managed assistance skills.

In the above situation, you have three climbers operating from a base-managed top rope site. In order for one of the people on the ground to assist the climber being lowered, they would need to counter-ascend the rope to perform a climber pickoff.

A "pickoff" is any situation where one member of a climbing party has to descend or ascend a rope in order to assist another member of the group who is experiencing difficulty on the pitch. Counter-ascending is a technique where the person ascending the rope uses the weight of the climber on the pitch as a counter-balance to help them maintain their progress as they move up the rope.

There are multiple scenarios you could encounter at the crag that would involve using variations of this skill. For the purposes of this post we are going to focus primarily on the situation above: Three climbers at a base-managed site with the belayer using either a tube style or assisted-braking style belay device and the most experience climber outside of the primary belay.

Building the Counter-Ascending System

Assuming you are playing the role of the experienced climber, the best way to think about building the counter-ascending system for this situation is in three steps:

Step 1.) Transition to the Primary Belay

Have the belayer pull and hold the climber tight. Now tie a backup knot in the brake strand of the rope about two arm’s lengths from the belayer’s brake hand. The backup knot can either be a figure-eight or overhand on a bight.

Pre-rig your assisted-braking belay device, a Grigri in this case, underneath the belayer’s belay device and clip it to your belay loop with a locking carabiner. If done correctly, the Grigri should be pre-rigged between the belayer’s brake hand and the backup knot you tied.

Reach over to the climber’s strand of the rope and use a friction hitch to attach a locking carabiner. An Autoblock was used in the picture above. Basket a double-length runner through the hard points on your harness and clip both ends to the locking carabiner on the climber’s strand of the rope.

Run through your carabiner and knot checks and then slide the Autoblock as high as you can along the rope. Now ask the belayer to slowly step forward as you slightly lean back. Up until this point all the climbers weight should have been on the belayer’s device. You should now start to feel the pull of the climber transition onto your harness as the Autoblock takes the weight.

If done correctly, there should be no weight on the belayer’s belay device and you can ask them to go off belay. As soon as they are out of the system, pull any slack through your Grigri and disengage the Autoblock. You should now be on belay just as if you were belaying from the beginning.

Step 2.) Counter-Ascend the Rope to the Climber

If there is an excessive amount of slack between the Grigri and the original backup knot, start by tying a new backup knot about one to two fist lengths away from the Grigri. Remove the double-length runner from your harness and just let it hang from the Autoblock.

To begin ascending, move as close to the wall as possible while pushing the Autoblock up. Make sure you keep the climber tight by taking in slack as you move forward.

Assuming your break hand is on the right side, put your left foot inside the runner and shift your weight above that foot. This will lock the Autoblock in place and allow you to stand up your left leg. As you thrust upward, use your left hand to pull down on the climber's side of the rope and your break hand to pull up on the break side of the rope.

Continue this motion until the Autoblock is about two fist lengths away from the Grigri, then sit back and weight the rope to re-engage the Grigri and capture your upward progress. At this point all your weight should be off your foot in the runner, which will allow you to move the Autoblock higher up the rope.

Repeat this process until you reach the climber and make sure to tie backup knots in the break strand every 8-10' as you ascend.

Step 3.) Transition Friction Hitch to Climbers Rope and Lower

Once you reach the climber, tie a final backup knot in the break strand and untie all of the backup knots below it. If the climber is distressed, this is your opportunity to assess the situation and provide whatever aid is necessary.

Once you decide to lower, remove the Autoblock from the strand above you and re-attach a locking carabiner to the strand above the climber with another friction hitch. I am using a Prusik in the picture above.

Again, basket a double-length runner through the hard points on your harness and clip both ends to the locking carabiner on the strand of the rope above the climber. Run through your carabiner and knot checks, then untie your back up knot and lower as you normally would on a Grigri.

This "tricks" the system and allows both the experienced climber who ascended and the distressed climber to lower simultaneously.

Some quick notes
- In situations like above, the best solution is usually the simplest and most efficient. Before getting into a complex belay transition with friction hitches and whatever, check if the climber can comfortably unweight the rope.

If they can... just tie your backup knot, pre-rig the Grigri, have the belayer remove themselves from the system, and go on belay like normal before they re-weight the rope—a much simpler solution. That said, for the purposes of this post we assumed the climber could not unweight the rope and we needed to use a hitch to transfer the load.

- For ascending, you can use an Autoblock, Prusik, or Klemheist, but I personally prefer to use an Autoblock. I like the Autoblock because in my experience, the Prusik and Klemheist proved to be very difficult to disengage and slide along the rope after putting my full bodyweight on the runner.

On the flipside, for lowering I tended to use a Prusik and Klemheist because I wanted a hitch that really "grabbed." This was important because I did not want to fumble around trying to get the hitch to stay in place, while dealing with the distressed climber.

- Depending on your preference, you can use a slipknot or tie an overhand/figure-eight in the bottom of the double-length runner to keep your foot from slipping out as you ascend. If you do end up tying a knot, lean toward a figure-eight because it is a little easier to untie after you get to the ground.

- When you get to the climber, it is a good idea to continue ascending until your feet are at about their hip to chest height. The reason you want to be above them if possible is because it is easier to offer assistance and avoids you both being right on top of each other as you lower. It also allows you to slide under their strand of rope and push them away from the wall if you need to maneuver around obstacles or roofs on the descent.

With regard to the story above, something similar actually happened to me a few weeks after I took the SPI while I was teaching a beginner class at the local climbing gym. Instead of yelling up at the stranded climber for ten minutes and making the situation worse, I quickly transitioned to the primary belay, counter-ascended and talked them through the whole lowering process, right next to them on the wall as we descend together.

I don't know if it made a difference in the climber's experience, but what I do know is that they came down with a smile on their face and got right back on the wall. To me, whether you are a climbing instructor, guide, or just a recreational climber taking friends out, that's what it is all about.

--Chris Casciola, Guest Blogger and Author of the Seeking Exposure Blog

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/15/18


Smith Rock State Park

--Adam Ondra just did the unthinkable. He onsighted Just Do It (5.14c) in Smith Rocks State Park in Oregon. Onsighting is when one completes a route on the first try. It's crazy that this guy is climbing so hard. To read more, click here.

--Somebody appears to be chipping and torching holds on Squamish boulders. To read more, click here.


--Somebody took it upon themselves to chop DOA (5.11c/d) at Lover's Leap. This route reportedly was put up on lead, ground up. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The Arizona Daily Sun is reporting that, "Multiple agencies responded to a call about a 34-year-old climber who fell 40 feet at a popular climbing spot near Oak Creek Vista off of State Route 89A Saturday afternoon. The Phoenix woman sustained multiple serious injuries when she fell while rappelling, including a back injury." To read more, click here.

--The Las Vegas Review Journal is reporting that, "The Nevada State Historic Preservation Office will host a training session Saturday in Mesquite for volunteers interested in protecting the state’s archaeological treasures. State and federal land managers are looking for site stewards to serve as the 'eyes and ears' for dozens of historic and prehistoric cultural sites across the state." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Access Fund has some exciting news! "Access Fund, the national non-profit organization that keeps climbing areas open and protected, is thrilled to announce that Chris Winter will join the organization as Executive Director this January. He replaces Brady Robinson, who stepped down in June after leading the climbing advocacy organization for eleven years." To read more, click here.

--It looks like Colorado ski resorts are going to open early. Check it out!

--Avalanche mitigation is starting. Following is a recent video from Loveland Pass:

--The National Parks Traveler is reporting that, "The Trust for Public Land has finalized the donation to the National Park Service of a 35-acre inholding inside Zion National Park. The land, known as Firepit Knoll, will be incorporated into the park and protected from future development. The donation was made possible thanks to support from the National Park Foundation, the National Park Trust and the the George S. and Dolores DorĂ© Eccles Foundation of Salt Lake City." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--What do the election results mean for climbing? The Access Fund has the answer, here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "GRIT&ROCK announced a launch of an annual international First Ascent Expedition Prize to enable female first ascents. Now in its third annual installment, the award, the largest of its kind globally, funds projects of female-led expedition teams up to the amount of USD 10,000." It appears that the application period is open. To read more, click here.

--So that "cute" video of the bear cub trying to climb to it's mother...yeah, those bears were reacting to the drone chasing them. At one point, the bear cub slides all the way down the slope into the rocks. It's horrible. They're terrified... From Slate, " Many Twitter users found the video to be inspiring, in a way: Look, that baby bear never gave up! Many wildlife biologists, however, saw something rather different. They saw a disturbing example of how some irresponsible drone pilots are happy to harass wildlife to get a perfect picture, putting animals at risk and tarnishing the reputation of all users of the technology." To read more, click here.

--And finally, there is a cool little line on Mount McGillivray in the Canadian Rockies called Arterial Spurt. This three-pitch WI3 is seldom climbed due to avalanche danger. A couple of guys were able to sneak it in in mid-November before there was much snow. Check out their climb for some stoke, below!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Update on Eden Fire in Sequoia National Park

The American Alpine Institute just received the following from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park:

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, Calif. November 14, 2018 - The Eden Fire continues to grow and is now 343 acres as mapped via the parks’ helicopter. Fire has slowed its progress in the Eden Creek drainage on the western edge of the fire. Fire however has established itself on the east side of the eastern branch of Eden Creek drainage. One spot fire was observed on the east flank approximately 200 feet off the main fire and burning actively. Fire does not appear to be moving up-slope (south) towards Homers Nose.

Continued positive fire behavior is occurring with consumption of brush and downed logs. Some standing dead trees, called snags, may have been the source of some spotting. Numerous snags are present in the area from tree mortality and the lack of modern fire history. The parks will continue to monitor the fire via helicopter while scouting for natural barriers along the rocky ridge (Homer's Nose) to the south. Additionally the parks will actively track any new growth downhill toward the Kaweah drainage.

Smoke is visible from the western side of Sequoia National Park. Most of it is coming from a trio of fires in Sequoia National Forest with some smoke contribution from the Eden Fire. Other smoke in the area is from the larger fires currently burning in California. For more information on non-NPS fires, visits or

“The parks take air quality concerns very seriously,” said Sequoia National Park Fire Management Officer Kelly Singer. “However, as this fire burns in designated wilderness, taking valuable firefighting resources away from the larger more dangerous fires in California to suppress this ecologically beneficial fire would be a mistake.”

There is a low pressure trough that's forecasted to come in the middle of next week, possibly Wednesday or Thursday. It may or may not have precipitation but it will help in clearing out the air. If you are sensitive to smoke please refer to one of the following links for recommendations on reducing your exposure to fine particulates. or 

Another thing to keep in mind is that in addition to the smoke from wildland fires, daily activities in the valley (vehicles, agricultural activities, industry) are also contributing to these particulates that are trapped in this region. It's an unfortunate meteorological condition during some extreme fire events that we're experiencing.

All areas of Sequoia National Park remain open as previously scheduled. Additionally, there are no impacts to any of the normal operations in the Mineral King section of Sequoia National Park.

Pictures, videos, and maps of the Eden Fire, please visit the official website:

The Eden Fire continues to move with moderate to low intensity restoring fire to the Eden Creek Grove of giant sequoias. - NPS Photo.

- NPS -

Monday, November 12, 2018

Climbing Commands

One of the most inconsistent things in the entire world of climbing are climbing commands. Climbers commonly hook up for a day of climbing with little knowledge of how to communicate with one another at the crag. It is always important to review your climbing commands with a new partner so that no mistakes are made.

The most common mistakes in a command series tend to come around the word "take." Climbers often use the word in two different ways. Some will say "take" in lieu of the command, "up-rope." Whereas others will say "take" to mean "take my weight." A much larger problem arises out of the nature of a word that only has one syllable. "Take" could also be mistaken for the words, "safe" or "slack." Either of these mistakes could have tragic consequences. The result is that at the American Alpine Institute, we try to teach people not to use the word.

A climber on Angel's Crest (5.10c, IV) in Squamish, BC.

The following sets of commands reflect what AAI guides are teaching in the field.

Toprope Commands:

Climber: On-belay?

Belayer: (After checking that everyone's double-backed, that knots are correct and that the belay device is threaded appropriately.) Belay-on.

Climber: Climbing.

Belayer: Climb-on.

Once the climber reaches the top, the following discourse should take place:

Climber: Tension.

Belayer: (After pulling the stretch out of the rope and locking it off.) Tension-on.

Climber: Ready to lower.

Belayer: Lowering.

It's important to close out the commands at the end. People often get lazy about the next set. Once the climber is back on the ground the following commands should take place.

Climber: Off-belay.

Belayer: Thank-you. (Then after removing the device from the rope:) Belay-off.

The "thank-you" exists in this series to get individuals ready for multi-pitch climbing where the words are used a great deal.

A climber on Myster Z (5.7, II+) in Red Rock Canyon.

Multi-Pitch Commands:

You'll notice that the words "thank-you" are used heavily throughout this command series. We use the words to acknowledge that an individual heard the last command. For those who don't normally use the words "thank-you" as part of your personal series, I would recommend trying it. A lot of stress melts away on multi-pitch climbs when you know that your partner heard you.

Following are the commands that we teach in a multi-pitch setting:

Climber: On-belay?

Belayer: (After checking that everyone's double-backed, that knots are correct and that the belay device is threaded appropriately.) Belay-on.

Climber: Climbing.

Belayer: Climb on.

Once the climber has reached the top, built an anchor and tied-in, the following commands should take place:

Climber: Off belay!

Belayer: Thank-you! (The belayer will then take the rope out of his device.) Belay-off!

Climber: Thank-you! (The climber will then pull up all the slack.)

Belayer: That's me!

Climber: Thank-you! (The climber will then put the belayer on belay.) Belay-on!

Belayer: Thank-you! (The belayer will break down the anchor and then yell just before he is about to climb.) Climbing!

Climber: Climb-on!

Ancillary Commands:

These are commands that are not necessarily said on every single climb. These are only said if there is a need. The commands are as follows:

Rock -- This should be yelled whenever anything falls. If you hear this, press your body against the wall and do not look up. Your helmet will provide some protection. Unfortunately, sometimes people yell "stick" or "camera." Such unusual commands often result in inappropriate reactions. In other words a person may not immediately attempt to get out of the way.

Watch me -- Climber will say this to a belayer if he is nervous and thinks he might fall.

Falling -- The appropriate command if you actually fall.

Up-rope -- When a climber says this, he is asking that slack be eliminated from the system.

Slack -- The climber needs slack.

Tension -- Anytime a climber wants to sit back on the rope and rest they should use this command.

Clipping -- Periodically a leader will need more rope to clip a piece of protection. When a leader says this he's actually asking for a few feet of slack.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 9, 2018

Staying Found

Here's a nice little video on some baseline trail and backcountry safety...

Please note that Satellite Messaging Systems like the InReach or the SPOT can be triggered on accident. It's not a bad idea to store these devices in a hard-sided box. If you accidentally trigger one of these devices, make sure to notify the authorities that it was a mistake.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/8/18


--The Access Fund and all Northwest Climbers want your help. "The Methow Headwaters is home to some of the most outstanding climbing and mountaineering in Washington state, including the sport climbs up the Chewack River, the massive multi-pitch climbing on the Goat Wall, alpine rock climbing and glacier mountaineering around the Silver Star Massif, cragging near Robinson Creek, and mountaineering and long alpine rock climbs along the Pacific Crest Trail. Several years ago, a mining company filed for permits to conduct exploratory drilling for copper on Goat Peak at the north end of the Methow Valley. This kind of exploratory drilling is the first step to developing a large-scale mine that would devastate the upper Methow region. Access Fund is working with a coalition of stakeholders on several advocacy efforts to protect this incredible region and its climbing resources.To read more and to take action, click here.

--Outside is reporting on one of the deadliest climbing disasters in US history. "About an hour before midnight on Mother’s Day in 1986, a group of teenagers assembled at an Episcopal high school in Portland, Oregon, to embark on an expedition. Their goal was to summit Mount Hood, completing an adventure program that was required for all sophomores. What followed was a story of tragedy and loss that is commemorated annually at the institution it changed forever." To read more, click here.

--So they're blindfolding goats in the Olympics to keep them from freaking out when they get helicoptered to the Cascades. To read more, click here.


--A climber in Yosemite sustained a 50-foot fall last week on Mt. Watkins. Following is dramatic helicopter footage of the rescue that ensued. To read more about the accident, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Sketchy Andy is at it again. In the following video, Andy Lewis BASE jumps off a cliff, lands on a tiny tower, repacks and jumps again. Crazy...!

Notes from All Over:

--Pique is reporting that, "Juneau Mountain Rescue and the Alaska State Troopers have suspended efforts to recover the remains of Squamish climber Marc-André Leclerc, 25, and fellow climber Ryan Johnson, 34. The two men were reported missing on March 7 after they were late returning from a climb in the Mendenhall Ice Field in Juneau." To read more, click here.

--A scientist in the Antarctic stabbed a co-worker because he kept telling him how the books he was reading were going to end. This is not okay. But you still shouldn't tell people how books end when you're on an expedition in a remote region. To read more, click here.

--The American Alpine Club is now accepting applications for their Cutting Edge Grant. To read more, click here.

--Here are some major takeaways from this week's elections and the outdoor industry.

--The Guardian is reporting that, "the Girl Scouts of the United States of America have filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America after the Boy Scouts decided to drop “Boy” from its program and start welcoming older girls. According to the complaint filed on Tuesday, the Boy Scouts do not have a monopoly over such terms as “scouts” or “scouting”, and its decision to rebrand its program Scouts BSA will erode the Girl Scouts brand and “marginalize” their activities." To read more, click here.

--As of this writing, it appears that Democrat Katie Hill won the 25th Congressional District in California. We'd like to believe that the following ad certainly helped her candidacy...