Friday, November 17, 2017

Stick Clipping

I was in Red Rock Canyon, just below the first bolt, when my foot smeared off. My stance was somewhat sideways and if I didn't have a rope on, I would have fallen eight feet directly on my side, likely breaking my arm...

But how could I have a rope prior to the first bolt?

Easy. I stick clipped it. And that stick clip saved me from a hospital visit.

Stick clips are an important part of sport climbing. These are specially designed poles that may be used to clip the first bolt with a rope prior to climbing the route. These devices may be purchased from many different climbing companies, they may be made out of homemade supplies or they may be "McGyvered."

The concept behind a stick clip is simple. You have a pole that allows you to clip the first draw to the first bolt with the rope prerigged through the bottom carabiner on the draw. Then you may be toproped through the starting moves of the climb.

There are several manufactured stick clips available on the market. Following are a couple of examples:

Trango Beta Stick Clip

Epic Sport Epic Stick Clip

Homemade stick clips are relatively easy to make. I bought a painters pole and a placed a spring clamp a the end. I duct taped this securely on to keep the spring clamp in place. Alternately, some people use hose clamps to keep the spring clamp in place at the end of the pole.

My well-loved homemade stick clip.

My stick clip wasn't designed with a means to keep the carabiner open. Instead, I just push the carabiner against the bolt until it clips.

There are going to be occasions when you don't have access to a stick clip. On these occasions, you may wish to McGyver something. Climbing magazine put together and excellent video on this topic with the now Executive Editor of the magazine, Julie Ellison, describing how to do this:



I used to be a little wary about carrying stick clips. A lot of my friends made fun of me for carrying it around. But the fact that I didn't hurt myself in that short fall before the first bolt made up for every last joke made by my trad climber buddies...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/16/17

Northwest:

--Two snowboarders went missing on Sunday just outside the Mt. Baker Ski area. Bellingham Mountain Rescue worked with the Sheriff's department to search for the two men, identified as Jake Amancio and Drew Lenz. Storm conditions have made searching difficult. To read more, click here.

--In honor of AAI guide and splitboard athlete Liz Daley, AAI worked with the Liz Rocks foundation to provide a scholarship to a young woman over the summer on one of our Leaders of Tomorrow programs. On Friday, November 17th, there will be a fundraiser to help get more disadvanted youth out into the mountains and to help make them future outdoor leaders. To learn more about the fundraiser, click here. To see a video of last year's recipient, click below.



--Lowell Skoog is well-known for his climbing and skiing exploits. But he is perhaps even better known as a mountain historian. The Seattle Times wrote an excellent profile of Lowell, touching on not-just his adventures, but the tragedy he's lived through... To read the article, click here.

--The Mountaineers are reporting that, "Last month, we invited you to join us in contributing funds to save a section of the Lake Serene Trail from logging. This month we’re happy to report we met our goal! Together we raised $275,000 to purchase the land from the timber company, ensuring that the area is conserved and recreational access is never again restricted." To read more, click here.

Sierra:

--Mammoth has been selected as a town that will receive additional assistance in the management of wildfires in the 2018 fire season. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A lead climber took a fall on Eagle Dance (5.10c, IV) in Red Rock Canyon last week and suffered a broken ankle. High winds kept him from an immediate helicopter evacuation, though he was eventually plucked off the route. To read more, click here.

--The New York Times has an opinion about Bears Ears. "President Trump, ever intent on expunging the legacy of Barack Obama, is on the verge of undermining the priceless conservation vision of Theodore Roosevelt as well. After ordering a review of 27 national monuments last spring, Mr. Trump is reported to have decided to greatly shrink two monuments covering millions of acres in Utah, weakening strict federal protections and reopening vast areas to possible commercial use." To read more, click here.

AAI Guide and Lead Guide Trainer Michael Powers
Teaches Self-Rescue at Red Rock Rendezvous

--AAI will once again have a large presence at the biggest and best climbing festival in America. Check out the Red Rock Rendezvous, running from March 16-19, 2018. Learn from our world-class climbing instructors and from the athletes you watch in the climbing movies and read about in the magazines...! To register, click here.

Colorado:

--One-handed rock climber Maureen Beck is beginning to make a name for herself. She was featured in a Reel Rock film entitled, Stumped and was -- this week -- featured in an ESPN article. Maureen has successfully climbed 5.12 and her Reel Rock film tells the story of her struggles to work up to that grade.

--Arapahoe Basin is opening a new area this winter. The 371 acre expansion will reportedly challenge steep skiers. To read about it, click here.

--The Know Outdoors is reporting that, "Marise Cipriani, the 22-year owner of Granby Ranch, is listing her 5,000-acre Grand County–ski and golf resort community for sale." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--AAI Guide Lindsey Fixmer made a successful trip to India's Zanskar Range on an all women's expedition. To read more, click here.

--There is a bill in Congress to gut the Antiquities Act. This is the act that allows for the creation of National Monuments. To take action against this congressional action, click here.

--Stacy Bare, a major advocate for veterans in the outdoors, wrote an interesting editorial about the outdoor industry and veterans. Stacy argues that many in the outdoor industry have made a lot of money by selling clothing and equipment to the military. Then he argues that outdoor brands owe veterans. To read his editorial, click here.

--Mara Johnson-Groh at Rock and Ice took a look at what's in store for climbers as the climate changes. Check out her excellent article, here.

--Chris Sharma is getting some flak for doing a commercial for a Ralph Lauren cologne. John Burgman at Climbing looks at the complex relationship that climbers have with their history and "selling out," here. Personally, I think this is a pretty good commercial and have wouldn't have even known what they were selling if someone didn't tell me. Check it out below:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: The Alchemy of Action by Doug Robinson

In 2001, I attended my first American Mountain Guides Association Annual Meeting in Yosemite Valley. I was standing at the campfire, looking for someone to talk to. I didn't really know anyone as I hadn't been guiding very long.

Suddenly, a small-statured man with white hair and muscular forearms offered me a beer. I accepted and was quickly stunned to find out that the man was a living legend:

Doug Robinson

Doug welcomed me to the meeting and I spent the evening talking to him. I was still a young guide and had a lot to learn. The wise old guide had a lot to say and I found it to be a very enjoyable night...

Doug is an incredibly well-known and respected climber and guide. He was at the forefront of the "clean climbing" movement in the early 1970s. He pushed back against the use of rock-altering pitons in favor of equipment that didn't damage the rock. In his essay, “The Whole Natural Art of Protection,” he argued for the use of "chalks" or what we refer to now as wired nuts in lieu of pins.

Doug did more than lecture his contemporaries. He practiced what he preached. In 1973, he made the first clean ascent of Half Dome. This and the subsequent article in National Geographic magazine cemented his place in climbing history.

Doug Robinson

In addition to leading the clean climbing revolution, Doug has been responsible for dozens of first ascents in the Sierra. Most notably, he made the first ascent of Dark Star on Temple Crag, made the first ice ascent of V-Notch Couloir, made numerous first ice ascents in Lee Vining Canyon, made the first ascent of Ice Nine, and finally he made the second ascent of Ama Dablam (22,495') in Nepal.

As a mountain guide, there may be no one more prolific. He was the first president of the American Mountain Guides Association and has been working as a rock and alpine guide for over fifty-years...

In addition to being a climber and a guide, Doug is a writer. And his most recent offering is a book that explores climbing in a very different way than anybody has previously. The question as to why people climb is as old as the sport; and people answer it in lots of different ways. Doug takes on the question and answers it in a completely new way. In his book, The Alchemy of Action, Doug argues that people climb because the activity releases a series of complex brain chemicals, which provide a feeling of euphoria. Indeed, the cover of his book reads:

Why do people climb mountains?
Because it gets us high.
But adrenaline junkies we are not,
and beta-endorphin isn't behind the runner's high either.
The surprising answer reveals natural psychedelic transformations
at work deep in the brains of adventure athletes.

The book is an exploration of brain chemistry through the lens of adventure sports. Doug looks at skiers and runners and climbers and delves into the complex cocktail of brain drugs that induce feelings of euphoria when climbing or the "runner's high."

There are five hormones that are released into the brain to create the feelings that we strive for in the mountains. They are noradrenaline, anandamine, serotonin, DMT, and dopamine.  Each of these are released for different reasons.

Note that adrenaline was not one of the hormones on the list. Adrenaline is a "fight-or-flight" chemical. It generally comes in a rush when something very dangerous almost happens. It is not really what people strive for in their mountain sports, the idea that climbers are "adrenaline junkies" is completely false.

Doug's book delves deeply into each of the chemicals and then discusses how they interact with an athlete and make him feel. He explores these through a mix of chapters on brain chemistry and active adventure stories, bringing us on a complex journey to understand why we actually climb mountains...

The Alchemy of Action is a little dense at times. There is a lot of science packed into the book. But there is also a lot of adventure in there. And while there are a few sections that take a lot of focus for someone who isn't "science-brained" to get through, it's well worth it. Doug's anecdotes and his take on what makes us do what we do is well worth the time...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 13, 2017

Route Profile: North Face Chair Peak

As winter descends on the Cascades, I find myself thinking about one of my favorite winter alpine climbs in the Pacific Northwest. The North Face of Chair Peak is a classic winter ascent that can easily be done in a day. It has a beautiful alpine face that gets covered in snow. The freeze thaw cycle turns the face from powder on rock to a spectacular three pitch alpine line.

The route is moderate and with the exception of one ten foot step, the bulk of it is between fifty and sixty-five degrees. That one step is perhaps eighty degrees, but it is very short and sometimes isn't even iced up. The first time I climbed the peak, that last section was 5.6 rock.

Chair Peak Approach Route
Click on map to enlarge.

 Approaching Chair Peak. The face in the center is the east face
To get to the north face, you must drop over the saddle on the right.

The approach to this climb is relatively straight forward. You simply park at the Alpental Ski Area and then make your way up the Alpental Valley to the end, where Chair Peak oversees the bowl beneath it.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)
This photo shows the north face on the righthand side and the
two variations that one can take on the northeast buttress which
is a route of a similar grade to the north face.

There are two routes that should be considered on the mountain. The north face is the obvious one, but the northeast buttress is just as good. However, the northeast buttress often requires a bit more mixed climbing than the north face.

Approaching the north face. 


The first pitch of the route climbs up a cool corner and gully on thin alpine ground.


The second pitch works it way up steep snow and ice to a tree belay.

 A climber approaching the tree belay.


The third pitch makes its way up more thin terrain to another belay, before the last pitch goes over the aforementioned step up to the summit.

The descent off the mountain is straightforward. A couple of rappels bring you down a gully on the south side of the east face.

On a short winter day, you really can't beat an outing on Chair Peak!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ascending Systems

There are a million ascending systems out there. On this blog we have previously discussed jugging with mechanical ascenders, the prusik hitch and climbing the rope with an autoblocking device. These are all excellent techniques for climbing up a rope...but it doesn't mean that they're the only techniques.

Climbers are ultimately artists and part of the art of climbing is picking the right tool at the right time to get up or down something. As a result, the more things that you know, the more tools that you have in your toolbox. And the more things that you know, the more improvisational you can be in any type of climbing situation.

This blog will provide you with another option for climbing up a rope. To set-up this system, you will need a mechanical ascender, a GriGri and a double-shoulder length sling. The following photo shows how each of these components will be used.


Following are the steps that you will need to complete in order to make this system work:

Clip the mechanical ascender to the rope.
Clip a double-shoulder length sling to the base of the ascender. This will become your be for your foot.
Clip a carabiner to the top of the ascender, trapping the rope inside the ascender.
Run the rope through your GriGri below the ascender.
Redirect the rope from the break-hand of the GriGri up through the clip that is trapping the ascender on the rope.Once this is set-up you're ready to jug. Put your foot into the foot-sling and then stand up. Once you are standing, pull the backside of the rope through the GriGri. Sit back on the GriGri, kick you knee up to your chest and push the jug up the rope. Repeat until you're at the top.

One important thing to always remember is that you will need to tie back-up "catastrophe knots" in the rope as you climb. This should happen every ten feet or so. One should never forget to do this, as occasionally GriGris slip.

Obviously, the only way to really dial in this system is to practice it. The best way to work through this system is to print this blog out, bring it out into the field and then make it happen!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/9/17

Northwest:

--The Forest Service has a number of entry level jobs available in Washington and Oregon. To read more, click here.

--In other jobs news, the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center is hiring avalanche forecasters. To read more, click here.

Sierra:


--The legendary High Sierra guidebook author, R.J. Secor has passed away. There is limited information right now, but it appears to be from natural causes. To read some remembrances, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that Yosemite, "now has a plan to expand Camp 4 by nearly double its size. Funded by the Recreational Fee Program, the expansion will include 25 new campsites, more parking spaces and a comfort station with showers, according to a Yosemite National Park press release." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A hiker took a 40-foot fall in Red Rock Canyon last week. To read more, click here.

--The Wilderness Society is reporting that the Trump Administration is recommending the opening of oil and gas mining around Grand Canyon National Park. "The report calls for lifting the ban on uranium mining on national forest lands around Grand Canyon National Park, which would destroy crucial wildlife habitat, devastate the tourism-based economy and put drinking water for regional tribes and wildlife at grave risk. The Grand Canyon watershed contributes drinking water for 25 million people. The recommendation is one of 15 others that affect national forests across America." To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--The Coloradoan is reporting on a rescue in Rocky Mountain National Park that took place on Sunday. "Megan Kies, 31, was climbing the Martha's Couloir route on Mount Lady Washington about 11 a.m. when she was struck by a rock dislodged from above, according to an RMNP press release." To read more, click here.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "A reservation and permit-fee system for the popular backcountry destination Conundrum Hot Springs is the Forest Service’s first concrete step toward managing record crowds in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A party in the Brooks Range of Alaska had a close call with an avalanche last week. To read more, click here.

--The Antiquities Act -- the act used to protect public lands -- is under attack. Please take a few minutes using the Access Fund Action Alert page to write to your congressman about this situation. To read more, click here.

--We've spent a lot of time wringing our hands at the American Alpine Institute, worrying about a dramatic increase in NPS entrance fees. James Edward Mills at Outside points out that that's not the only thing to worry about in the new National Park Service dynamic. "hat’s most striking about the leaked 2018–2022 strategic plan for the U.S. Department of the Interior isn’t what this 50-page document has to say—it’s what it leaves out. While much of the conservation community decried the proposed increase in admission price at the busiest national parks, few took notice that the new administration has deleted the entire diversity, equity, and inclusion mandate from its plan." To read more, click here.

--US Ski Team racers are learning avalanche awareness in Vermont. This is certainly a good thing. To read more, click here.

--A new WI 5 has gone up in the Canadian Rockies already. To read more, click here.

--Outside is reporting that, "After hiking for more than seven months, 82-year-old Dale Sanders completed the Appalachian Trail on Thursday, October 26, officially becoming the oldest person to finish the 2,190-mile trek. Sanders, known on the trail as “Greybeard,” broke a record previously held by Lee Barry, who set the mark in 2004 at age 81." To read more, click here.

--And Outside is also reporting that an 87-year-old just climbed Devil's Tower. To read more, click here.

--And finally, this dude is hiking from Patagonia to Alaska...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Route Profile: Johnny Vegas, 5.7, II+

Johnny Vegas is an extremely popular, extremely cool little route that can be found on the lower tier of the Solar Slab Wall in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This phenomenal 5.6 or 5.7 route (depending on who you talk to) climbs up through three enjoyable pitches, all of which are in a spectacular position.

A father and daughter team low on Johnny Vegas.
Photo by Jason Martin

This is a slightly older route. It was put up in 1994, but didn't make it into a guidebook until 2000. The result is that this super classic line was overlooked for six full years.

In 1999, I was climbing Beulah's Book, a classic 5.9 found just to the left, when I saw a rock jock leading a 5.10 variation to Johnny Vegas. I looked down to see an older man with a very small frame encouraging his much younger partner on. The belayer was none-other than the iconic Red Rock climber, George Uriosite.

A happy climber on the second pitch.
Photo by Jason Martin

George and his ex-wife Joanne were Red Rock pioneers. They were responsible for dozens and dozens of classic lines throughout the park. It was very cool to meet such an important person in the history of Red Rock. And everytime I've run into him since has been just as great.

It was also cool to see those guys on a route that I knew nothing about. So I thought it was important as a Vegas local to get on that thing as soon as possible. The very next day my partner and I returned to the Solar Slab area to make an ascent of Johnny Vegas. And we were incredibly happy that we did.

A climber nearing the top of the route.
Photo by Jason Martin

Since that first time on the route, I've climbed the line dozens and dozens of times. There are a few little things that people should know before sending Johnny Vegas:


  1. Purists will say that the route is four pitches, not three. Indeed, super purists might even call it five pitches. It is three real pitches. Sometimes people make a tiny pitch to attain the base of the route. And there is a long stretch of 5.0 climbing at the top of the route.
  2. Some guidebooks say to rappel this route. It is a rope eating nightmare. It is far better to rappel the nearby Solar Slab Gully.
  3. There are two starts to the bottom of the route. If a party is going very slow on the right hand start, some may elect to pass them on the left.
  4. The bottom of the route goes into the shade in the winter from approximately 10am to noon. When it's cold in the shade, this can make the route very very chilly.


This has become a super popular route. Make sure to get up early!

--Jason D. Martin