Friday, May 25, 2018

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Route Profile: Cutthroat Peak, S. Buttress (5.8, III+)

Every winter the Washington Department of Transportation turns a cold shoulder to a stretch of State Route 20 that winds its way through the Northern Cascades.  This area sees so much snow and crosses so many avalanche paths that it is not feasible for them to maintain the road and keep it plowed.  This stretch can see sometimes more than 60 or 70 feet of snow in some places.  Every spring, we eagerly await the reports from the DOT as they start the clearing process.  Depending on the snowfall and the avalanche conditions, this can take a few weeks, or a few months.  This year, the highway was cleared and open by May 8, and climbers and skiers alike have already started enjoying the numerous routes there.

The Liberty Bell Group from the East.  Dana Hickenbottom.
SR 20 cuts through the heart of the North Cascades National Park, and is the access for hundreds of peaks.  One of my favorite areas along there is known as Washington Pass.  This Pass is home to some of the best alpine rock climbing in the state.  The most notable formation there is the Liberty Bell Group, which includes Liberty Bell, Concord Tower, Lexington Tower, North Early Winters Spire and South Early Winters Spire.  Each of these peaks have numerous routes on them ranging from 5.6 beginner routes to 5.12 Grade V monsters.

However, the Liberty Bell Group isn't the only fine chunk of granite in the area.  Another great is Cutthroat Peak, which is just to the north of Liberty Bell, on the other side of the highway.  At 8050', it tops out at about 300' higher then anything in the Liberty Bell Group.  When viewed from the east or west, you can see the distinctive North and South Summits, which form the shape of the salmon that it is named after.

Climbers approaching through the grassy meadows to
the southwest of the peak.  James Pierson

There are a hand-full of routes on the peak, mostly in the moderate range, although there are a couple in the 5.10 and over range, as well as some alpine ice routes.  From the highway, you park at a broad pull-off south and just west of the peak, approximately 1.5 miles west of Washington Pass.  Drop down into the drainage and start the brushy hike up the other side towards the meadows on the southwest of the peak.  Ascend the northern-most notch of the Southwest Arm to get to the base of the South Buttress to start the real climbing.  The South Buttress, shown middle-center in the photo below, is a great 5.8 route that follows the crest of the feature, with a few short sections that venture to the east before returning back to the ridge.  If you find yourself getting sucked too far to the left, be sure to steer yourself back to the crest again.

View of Cutthroat Peak from the summit of Liberty Bell.  James Pierson

The majority of the route is easier climbing with a few short but well protected 5.6 - 5.7 spots.  The crux of the climb (5.8) comes near the top, just before you start the final easy scramble.  This takes you up to the first of the two summits.

Rock Ptarmigan trying to blend in. James Pierson
Mountain goat coming to say hello.  James Pierson


Above is a 360 deg. panorama from the summit of Cutthroat Peak.  From this vantage point, you have spectacular views of the Liberty Bell Massif, Big Kangaroo Peak, Silver Star Peak, the Wine Spires, in to British Columbia to the north, and on a good day you can even catch glimpses of Mt. Baker.

Climber starting to rappel down the
West Ridge. James Pierson
For the descent, you have two options.  If there are no other climbers behind you, you can rappel the route.  The other option is to continue scrambling and drop into the notch between the North and South Summits, ascend the North Summit and then rappel down the West Ridge route.  There are fewer rappels this way, but there is also some loose scree scrambling as you come off the West Ridge.

Cutthroat Peak is often overlooked by climbers since its neighbors on the other side of the highway have such easy access.  But with a little extra effort on the approach, you will find a great climb for anyone looking for a long, moderate climb with beautiful surroundings.

--James Pierson, Program Coordinator and Guide

Monday, May 21, 2018

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

Friday, May 18, 2018

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Mountaineers Rest Step

When I first started mountaineering it became clear to me that there were two things I needed to be successful. And no, I'm not talking about a lighter ice axe or more breathable clothing.

Nope. What I need were legs and lungs.

I realized that I needed to be able to walk uphill forever. And I realized that I needed to be able to breathe while I walked uphill forever.

The problem is that nobody can really walk uphill forever. Going up into the sky on a snowy peak really works the quads. Tired quads, plus walking uphill early in the morning, plus altitude, equals tired lungs.

There is a simplistic trick that can help you to preserve both your legs and your lungs. The Mountaineer's Rest Step is a technique that slows you down a bit -- which helps you keep your breath -- and allows you a micro-rest on every step. In the simplest terms, all that you have to do is lock your knee on every step. Locking your knee allows your body to rest on your skeletal system instead of on your muscles.

The Rest Step definitely slows you down. Some might say that this is far from ideal when trying to cover a lot of ground, but the reality is that slow and steady wins the race. It's always better to go slower and take less breaks than to go fast and have to stop a lot.

The Rest Step is a key mountaineering technique. On long summit days it doesn't get any better than taking a mini-rest with every step.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 14, 2018

Two Nineteen Forty Four - The Fastest Time on the Nose

The following video chronicles Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds fastest time on the Nose in Yosemite. And the film is both awesome visually and inspiring. This is from the Vimeo page:

On a cold, misty morning in late October 2017, after 11 previous attempts, Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds broke the standing speed record on The Nose (formerly held by Alex Honnold and Hans Florine) with an unbelievable new time of 2 hours, 19 minutes, and 44 seconds. Watching this as it happened was one of the more incredible spectacles I've ever witnessed; an amazing display of superhuman mastery unlike anything I've seen before...

Make this film as big as you can on your screen. It's worth it...



--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 11, 2018

First Female Ascent of Necessary Evil (5.14c)

Necessary Evil (5.14c) is a mythic route in hard sport climbing. The route is located in the Virgin River Gorge in the extreme northwest corner of Arizona right off the Interstate 15 Highway. The route was first completed by Chris Sharma in 1997 and never saw a female ascent...until Michaela Kiersch began to work the route. This is her story...



--Jason D. Martin