Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Arresting a Crevasse Fall with a Rope

Over the last ten years it has become more and more popular for rope teams on glaciers to tie knots between one another. The idea is that should someone fall into a crevasse, the rope will cut into the lip and one of the knots will get stuck, thus arresting the fall.

We teach a lot of crevasse rescue at the American Alpine Institute and enjoy testing different theories while we're in the field. Most of our guides have done some level of testing on this particular glacier travel theory and amazingly enough, it works...sometimes.

What we have found is that there are two types of knots. There are knots that are flat on one side and knots that go around the rope. Knots that are flat on one side, like an overhand or a figure-eight on a bite, tend to slide over the lip more easily than knots that go around the rope, like a butterfly.

In our testing, what we've found is that early in the season, when there is more snow and the snow is softer, figure-eights and overhands will often bite the lip and hold. But as the season progresses and the lips become icier, the knots just slide right over. Butterfly knots are more likely to bite into the lip both early in the season as well as later.

The following video shows a demonstration of how to tie a butterfly knot:

There are some disadvantages to knots on the rope between climbers. When there are a lot of sastrugi formations or penitentes on the snow's surface, the knots can get caught and will hinder movement. It can be difficult to haul a person out of a crevasse who is being held by a knot as you will have to pass the knots. It can also be difficult for a climber to prusik out and deal with the knot welded in the lip.

I generally don't put knots in the rope on teams of four or more. There is so much weight in the system that it really isn't required. Three person teams are a little more difficult. If they are experienced, I usually don't put knots in the rope, but if they are novices, I'll usually put a couple knots in the rope. On two person teams, I always put butterflys in the center of the rope.

It's better not to put too many knots in the rope. If there really is a crevasse fall, they might arrest a victim, but that doesn't mean that it will be easy for the person to get out. Instead, most guides put one to three knots in the rope between themselves and the other climbers. More than that generally just creates more problems.

Knots in the rope are a nice additional safety measure, but they will not take the place of good technique and a solid set of skills.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 30, 2016

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

Tent Melt-Out

When the spring is sprung and there is more rain and warmth than snow and cold, an odd thing starts to happen in the mountains around your tent. The bottom of the tent acts as an insulator or a blanket, keeping the snow cold. On overnight trips or short summit trips, you may not even notice this. But on longer trips, the warmer temperatures and the rain cause the snow to melt everywhere...everywhere except for under your tent.

Slowly your tent develops its own little pedestal. There are two problems with this. First, your tent-stakes will start to melt out and second, the edges of the insulated tent floor will begin to melt-out.In the snow, tent-stakes should be buried in a T-slot instead of buried vertically. Work-harden the snow to make sure that the stakes stay in place. If there is any metal showing from a stake, it becomes more likely that the stake will melt-out. Warmth radiates through metal. Making sure that a placement is solidly work-hardened will decrease the likelihood of a stake melting out in the short term.

When the snow underneath the tent starts to melt-out, it tends to do so from the edges. Over the course of a couple of days the melt-out will force the tent's occupants to cuddle more and more closely together. The sides of the tent become a trough, eating up all the extra equipment.

If you plan to camp in a given location for a longer period of time, the trick to avoiding problems is to pile snow all around your tent. Pile the snow heavily along the sides of the tent and over the snow-stakes. If the edges of the tent are well-covered, the problems that arise with longer camps become less prevalent.

A tent in the snow without additional snow piled-up to prevent melt-out

A tent that has a significant amount of snow piled around it 
so that it doesn't melt out on a warm day.

While this might not be the most technical tip that we've ever provided on this blog, stacking snow around your tent can certainly make your life a lot more pleasant.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/26/16

Important Recall Notices:

--WARNING: Petzl has reported that a third party has been selling "modified" Petzl ASPIR harnesses on ebay. These harnesses have been modified in a way that makes them EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. If you own a Petzl ASPIR harness, click here to learn more.

--Black Diamond Equipment has issued another recall. They are recalling the Easy Rider and Iron Cruiser Via Ferrata lanyard sets, Index Ascenders, Camalots and Camalot Ultralights. This is in addition to previously announced recalls of select carabiners and nylon runners. To learn more and to see if your equipment has been affected by this recall, click here.


--The cliff-face near Larabee State Park's Clayton Beach was recently vandalized with graffiti. Clayton Beach has long been a popular place for bouldering. To read more, click here.

--This letter about people camping around Squamish is offered without comment. But be sure to read the comments of others at the bottom of the letter. To read the letter, click here. Please note that some of the comments are NSFW.


--It looks like someone "inadvertently" walked away with a climber's rack near the Washington Column in Yosemite. To read more, click here.

--Yosemite free-soloist Alex Honnold wrote a nice piece on protecting the national parks for the next generation. To read more, click here.

--And while Alex is working hard to save public lands, a University of Oregon frat house appears hell bent on destroying them. A massive party at Lake Shasta run by a U of O frat left tons of trash at Lake Shasta. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Officials at Zion National Park have scheduled a series of public meetings to discuss challenges facing the park as it continues to draw record numbers of visitors. National Park Service figures show that nearly 1 million people had visited the park in southern Utah through the end of April. That's about an 8 percent increase over the same time period last year and puts the park on track to set an attendance record for the third year in a row, reported The Spectrum newspaper in St. George. The increased traffic, combined with a stagnant budget, has taken a toll on Zion's infrastructure. To read more, click here.

--Advocates of a contentious national monument designation for Utah’s Bears Ears area are concerned that local residents will be misled about the designation dispute after forged federal documents and deceptive flyers addressing it were distributed in public spaces nearby. To read more, click here.


--Check out where all the AAI Denali teams are and read up on summit successes!

--On May 15, Graham Zimmerman and Chris Wright topped out Celeno Peak (13,395 feet) in Alaska’s St. Elias range via the West Face Direct (M6 5.10 X A2+ 95 degrees, 6,000 feet). This was the first ascent of the route and the second ascent of the peak. To read more, click here.
Notes from All Over:

--A man stranded while rock climbing on Monday was airlifted to safety near Idyllwild, California, authorities said. To read more, click here.

--Two mummified bodies were found on Mexico's Orizaba of climbers that had been missing for 55-years. To read more, click here.

--LG pulled off a strange, but very cool marketing stunt recently that had a famous rock climber called Sierra Blair-Coyle. Blair-Coyle was the winner of the 2015 US Extreme Rock Climbing contest and rather than climbing rocks this time, she scaled the outside of a glass skyscraper using suction created from a pair of LG Code Zero K94SGN vacuums. I have to say that we are a little worried about Sierra's back-up system. The rope coming from the back of her harness looks suspiciously like a static rope... To read more, click here. Or check out the video below:

--A black bear killed at Great Smoky Mountains National Park after an attack on a hiker was not actually the bear involved in the attack, according to a DNA analysis. “It was a large, dominant male bear that fit the profile of the bear we expected to be responsible,” park spokeswoman Dana Soehn told Reuters. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Alpine Ice Course on Mount Baker

I just got back from a trip on Mount Baker. The trip was an alpine ice climbing course for American Alpine Institute. We had incredible weather and mostly good conditions so in addition to learning the typical skills that are a part of this course we decided to try climbing a route that very rarely sees ascents. It turned out that the Cockscomb route was not in condition and we were stopped 900ft from the summit. From there we down climbed onto the Park Glacier in an attempt to summit via the Park Headwall. This too was not climbable and our only option was very serious glacier travel and navigation back to the other side of the mountain. This was a traverse of 4 large glaciers that cover over half of the mountain. Below are photos of our trip.

Climbing through the Colman Icefall
On a serac in the Colman Icefall.
Ice Climbing practice.

Learning the fundamentals of climbing... Rope Coiling. 

Sunset at our open bivy high on the mountain.

A cold breakfast at our bevy site.

More climbing on the Colman Glacier.

Learning ice tool use.

Although the weather was good down low. There were strong winds high on the mountain. 

Beginning our climb on summit day.

The Roosevelt Glacier.

High on the Cockscomb Route.
On the Park Glacier Headwall.

Negotiating very broken glacier conditions on our way down the Park Glacier.

-- Alasdair Turner - AAI Instructor and Guide More photos at www.alasdairturner.com

Monday, May 23, 2016

Film Review: Dead Snow

Some time ago, Ski Magazine was promoting a foreign language film about a group of twenty-somethings that go on a ski trip to a remote cabin in the mountains of Norway. This same film made a bit of a splash as an official selection a few years ago at the Sundance Film Festival... So I thought I would check it out.

Dead Snow is not about skiers or climbers, but it does take place in the mountains and there are avalanches and cornice collapses; so it does apply loosely to the focus of this blog. And of course, I use the term loosely, loosely...

Three young couples, all medical students, decide to take a trip into the mountains for Spring Break. The film starts like most horror movies start. There's a fair bit of sexual energy, lots of electric guitars playing in the background, and some adrenaline sports, in the form of snowmobiling. What the group of students don't know at the start of their trip is that the area they are playing in is haunted....by zombies...and not just any zombies, but Nazi zombies...

Zombie movies have been popular now since they re-emerged on the film scene with Danny Boyle's fantastic horror morality play 28 Days Later in 2002. In the last fourteen years, this sub-genre of horror has constantly been re-explored by filmmakers looking for new angles. Some zombie movies like Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Zombieland (2009) were experiments in action/comedy. Others like Fido (2006) and Planet Terror (2007) were experiments in campy horror comedy. But of course the vast majority of the films have been more deeply seated in the action/horror camp like the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004), the Resident Evil series (2002-2007) and The Walking Dead (2010-present) television show.

Dead Snow is harder to categorize. It's about Nazi zombies. The subject matter alone leads one to believe that this is going to be a very campy movie, and it is. There is some great situational comedy in the film, and of course there are battles with chain saws and scythes that are bloody, but also kind of funny. However, at its heart there is no doubt, this is a blood and guts horror film. Indeed, there is one gruesome scene where a zombie puts his fingers into a young man's eyes and then tears his skull in half, spilling his brains on the floor. And even worse, there is a sex scene in an outhouse, on an outhouse toilet, which is really pretty gross too...

The biggest problem with the film is that it never really settles into a tone. While it is a gruesome horror movie, it wants to play up the campiness of the situation. The film probably would have been much better if it let go of the categorization of horror and either played more into the silliness of the concept or played up the zombie metaphor in relation to Nazism.

Arguably, the re-emergence of zombie movies has more to do with opinion news and opinion blogs (on both the left and the right) than it has to do with the horror genre. The idea is that people become slaves to a certain viewpoint and that they are no longer able to see the other side. Metaphorically, zombie movies are about mindless people who just do what they're told or get caught up in propaganda to the point where they become dangerous. The rise of Nazism is a great subject for a metaphorical zombie movie and when I saw the trailer for this film, I sincerely hoped that the piece might be a more high-brow version of this zombie metaphor... I can assure you that it is not...

I was engaged by the film. I was definitely grossed out a few times. And there were a few, "aw, come-on" moments. That said, I've never seen a movie about Nazi zombies before, and in a genre that has been explored so deeply in the last decade, it was refreshing to see something completely different.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 20, 2016

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