Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Essential Gear for Freesoloing, as Indicated by "Cliffhanger"

So there is a lot of free soloing in the 1993 Sylvester Stalone film, Cliffhanger. But holy moley, they carry a lot of gear.

Here's a fun spoof video about the film and the gear carried for free solo climbing:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 6, 2020

Carbon Dioxide Poisoning in the Mountains

We celebrated New Years Eve in the backcountry. We hiked pretty far back to climb some -- as of yet unknown -- ice climbs. It was a really cool trip, and I'll never forget it. We were in one of the most beautiful places you could imagine, but...

Shortly after midnight on January 1, 2000 -- the first day of the new millennium -- I woke up, gasping in my tent. My girlfriend, now wife, woke up too. There didn't seem to be enough air inside the fabric.

I unzipped the fly, and then unzipped the vestibule to find that we were completely covered in snow. There wasn't a single area of the vestibule that wasn't covered. For all intents and purposes, a storm that brought a combination of wind and two new feet of powder, had buried us.

The closed system resulted in mild carbon dioxide poisoning. We were breathing in the air that we'd breathed out.

I have worked as a professional guide since the year 2000, and since then, I have seen the effects of mild carbon dioxide poisoning several times. And it's always the same. People go to sleep. It snows heavily. They wake up feeling a shortness of breath. They clean off their tent, and then they go back to sleep.

Deep new snow on Mt. Baker.
This was a trip where I woke people up several times
at night to make sure that they cleaned new snow off their tents.

In more severe cases, the person may take a little time to recover. Sometimes it takes up to a full day. A longer recovery can feel like a hangover. 

Severe cases tend to happen when several factors come together: (1) There's a significant snowstorm. (2) The tent is not cleared off. (3) A person is in a tent alone. When there are two people in the tent, it is likely that one will wake up more quickly than the other to deal with the problem. And (4) the person in the tent alone is a heavy sleeper.

It would be an incredibly rare situation where something like this lead to a fatality. The simple reality is that most people wake up when they feel like they can't breathe. Some don't wake up right away, which can lead to a more severe "hangover" style case.

The normal atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 0.04%. Sensitive people may start to feel the effects of carbon dioxide when it reaches 1% or 10,000 ppm (ppm = parts per million, a calculation of how many molecules there are of a given substance in a million particles). Most people will wake up when it reaches 1.5 to 2% or 15 to 20,000 ppm. Real health hazards come at 4% or 40,000 ppm. And the risk of death doesn't arrive until you get to about 8% or 80,000 ppm, long after you've awoken to fix the problem.

So, now we get to the real meat of the question.

Most guide services in the United States are requiring the use of masks or cloth face coverings when a physical distance of six feet or more cannot be maintained in an outdoor environment. At AAI, we require face masks under these circumstances. It is part of our COVID-19 operating plan.

Masks are required at AAI when a distance of six-feet or more
cannot be maintained in an outdoor environment. When moving on trails
we require there to be at least twelve-feet between individuals without 
masks due to increased exhalation with work. 

There are a number of internet rumors out there about the dangers of face coverings and face masks. These are unequivocally, bunk. Yes, if you duct taped a plastic bag around your head, you'd have a problem. But a cloth face covering or a mask isn't a plastic bag. Air molecules are really small and can certainly get in and out. 

The following is from an article in Fatherly:

In one small study published in Respiratory Physiology and Neurobiology, twenty subjects wearing surgical masks walked on treadmills for one hour. Scientists measured their blood oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations, respiratory and heart rates, and core temperatures. After that hour, the scientists found no significant change in these measurements.
Masks and face coverings are used to mitigate hazard from the coronavirus by keeping large droplets in. The face coverings are not meant to keep the disease out. They make it safer for other people to be around you, if you have it and don't know it.

We've had people say things like, "but, you can smell a fart through blue jeans." Or some other variation of that, to say that coronavirus will get you with or without a mask. It should be obvious, but a fart is a gas, and we're trying to stop large droplets. And indeed, if there are large droplets with your flatulence, your jeans would block that too...

(Click to Enlarge)

If you absolutely cannot abide by a mask/facial covering, then you can use a face-shield. Locally, when people arrive in public buildings and say they can't wear a face covering, they're provided a face-shield. 

Indeed, some studies suggest the the use of a face mask, combined with other "social distancing" techniques, may reduce the spread of the coronavirus by up to 85%.

So that's it. Carbon dioxide can be bad, but backcountry travelers are most likely to deal with it in their tents, not in their face coverings.

One last thought for the face-mask doubters. Arjun Arya, MD, made a great point about this. "If you're worried about C02 accumulation from masks, our climate crisis is really going to blow your mind..."

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, July 3, 2020

Rope Considerations for Glacier Travel

What type of rope should I use for glacier travel...?

This particular question is a moving target, and has three distinct parts. The first part concerns rope length on the glacier, the second part concerns rope type and the third part concerns the diameter of rope one might use.

Let's take a look:

Rope Length

There are several considerations that need to be addressed to determine rope length. How many people are going to be on the rope? Are there crevasses? If someone falls in, how do you intend to rescue them? Do you intend to pitch any portion of the climb?

First and foremost, we have to make sure that there is enough rope in the system to ensure that no two people are on the same snow bridge at once. Additionally, we need to make sure that there's enough distance so that if someone does fall in a crevasse, her partners have enough time to self-arrest before they get pulled into the hole.

A  climber on a glacier.

Second, if the rope is shorter, it may be difficult to perform more than one type of crevasse rescue. We teach beginners the "Direct Haul" technique because it is the simplest and requires the least amount of rope. However, the Direct Haul, doesn't work if there are knots in the rope (used to help arrest the crevasse fall) and can be difficult if the rope is embedded deeply in the crevasse lip.

One can get away with a much shorter piece of rope if they intend to only perform a Direct Haul style rescue. However, if a climber wishes to perform any kind of Drop Loop system -- which takes a lot less muscle to perform due to better lip management -- they will need a lot more rescue rope, at least twice the amount out between individuals on either end. In other words, if there's 40-feet between two climbers on a two-person team, each climber will need at least 80-feet to complete a rescue, meaning that a two-person team would need a 60-meter rope. Bigger teams can get away with less, if they intend to perform a drop-loop.

Diameter and Rope Type

In recent years, there has been a push to use semi-static ropes on glaciers. The reason that one might want this is because dynamic ropes stretch, and if someone falls into a crevasse while tied to a dynamic rope the stretch might be great enough for the person to hit something, or for the person to get "corked" in the crevasse. The idea is that if you use one of these semi-static ropes, then he risk of hitting something or getting corked goes down.

Some might argue for dynamic ropes because they're afraid of how hard and fast the rope will stop them in the event of a fall. But the reality is that a rope team is commonly pulled a bit before the falling climber stops. This provides for a slower, less jarring hit.

Semi-static ropes can get really really thin. But for prussic-hitches to work, and for stopper butterfly knots (knots placed in the rope to arrest a fall in the lip of a crevasse) to work, the rope needs to be at least 8mm. 

If you will be pitching, rock climbing, or ice climbing in any way, you should still use a dynamic single rope. 

A half of a twin rope should never be used because it's designed to stretch in conjunction with a second rope. When alone, it will stretch dramatically, which could lead to a climber hitting something or getting corked.

Choosing the right rope is a much easier skill than many others in climbing. It just takes a little practice...!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 7/2/2020


--The News Tribune is reporting that, "A climber missing since Friday while travelling through treacherous terrain at Mount Rainier National Park marks the third person to go missing at the Washington park in a little more than a week." To read more, click here.

--Here's an update on the missing climber. It sounds like he was a skier and was found at that bottom of Liberty Ridge on Rainier. 

--Oregon Live is reporting that a climber was rescued off Mt. Hood on Saturday.

Mt. Baker last week.
Photo by Quinn Slocum

--Artist Point will remain closed until the snow melts on its own accord. This means that there will be an extra couple miles of road walking for people to access the Lake Ann Trailhead for the Fisher Chimneys on Mt. Shuksan. To read more, click here.

--Some climbers in British Columbia are making cool climbing videos that they will provide for free to anyone taking part in an anti-discrimination movement. To learn more, click here.


--After an earthquake caused a rockfall event at Whitney Portal last week, the road was closed. It appears that the road has nearly been cleared and Whitney permits will be available again on July 3rd.

--Climbing is reporting that, "The Yosemite Climbing Association Museum and Gallery was set to open this spring, featuring artifacts and photographs from Yosemite’s climbing history, but was delayed due to the pandemic." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--There is a significant fire on Mt. Charleston just outside Las Vegas. It does appear that some -- if not many -- of the world class climbing crags will be affected. To read more, click here.

One of the boulders vandalized in First Creek. This is a 7-foot by 4-foot boulder.
Photo by Andrew Harris

--Several boulders were vandalized in Red Rock Canyon last week. The bulk of them were hit with spray paint, but some were hit with permanent marker. The boulders are in First Creek on the approach to the Romper Room area. It is believed that the BLM will investigate this.

--And on top of everything else, there has been an increase in poisonous snakebites in 2020. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The town of Breckenridge and the associated ski resort are considering a name change. The town was originally named after an individual who fought for the Confederacy. To read more, click here.

The ski industry is struggling.

--The Colorado Sun is reporting that, "the ski resort industry, reeling from early closures in March, suffered another major blow this week when President Donald Trump extended a ban on visas for immigrant workers through the end of the year.  Citing soaring unemployment, Trump’s proclamation applies to H-1B visas used by technology companies, H-2B visas and J-1 visas. The resort industry has spent years relying on visa workers, especially J-1s, many of them college students from the southern hemisphere who spend several months at resorts teaching skiing." To read more, click here.

--The New Yorker has published a piece entitled, "A Guy Named Craig May Soon Have Control Over a Large Swath of Utah." The piece is about oil leases near Moab between Canyonlands and Arches. To read it, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--USA Today is reporting that, "A California woman was gored by a bison at Yellowstone National Park after approaching too closely to try to take a photo, the second incident in less than six weeks between a visitor and one of the park’s iconic hulking animals." To read more, click here.

--Outside is reporting that, "the Appalachian Trail made it to Washington last week. On June 15, the Supreme Court took on a case about a contentious natural gas pipeline crossing the trail, United States Forest Service vs. Cowpasture River Association. On a 7-2 vote, they overturned a ruling from the Fourth Circuit court of Appeals and decided that, based on the Mineral Rights Act, which allows for government-sanctioned extraction on public land, the Forest Service could grant Dominion Energy the right to run the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest." To read more, click here.

--There is significant concern that Canada's iconic outdoor equipment store, MEC -- Mountain Equipment Coop - will not survive the coronavirus pandemic. To read more, click here.

--Outdoor Sportswire is reporting that, "Backcountry Access, Inc. (BCA) has announced a software update specifically and exclusively for its Tracker2 avalanche transceivers. The company recommends that all Tracker2 owners take advantage of this update. This software update improves functionality during power-saving mode. After 12 hours without user input, Tracker2 enters into power-saving mode and begins emitting an audible beep every two minutes to let you know you are in lower power mode. In power-saving mode, the Tracker2 transmit pulse can vary slightly from the international standard. All avalanche transceiver brands must operate on the same international standard to ensure interoperability." To read more, click here.

--This guy took a cheese ball container off the head of a swimming bear cub...

Friday, June 26, 2020

Tips for Minimizing Rockfall in Loose Terrain

In the following video, AMGA Instructor Team member Emilie Drinkwater discusses a few techniques that can be used to decrease rockfall in loose terrain.

It's not brain surgery. But a lot of people don't accurately protect the belayer from rockfall. It should be easy though. Just place cams up above the loose rock to keep the rope from knocking stuff down onto the belayer.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/25/20


--A US Air Force Pararescueman was killed when his anchor failed while rappelling near Boise in October. The following article details what lead up to the service member's death. To read about it, click here.


--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "On June 9, Ray Warburton of Bishop, California, died while descending the North Couloir on Mount Humphreys, a prominent peak above the area that he’d summited several times through the years by multiple routes. Ray, 59, may have been struck by rockfall, which was heard by climbers on the nearby East Ridge. Ray leaves his wife, Lesley Allen, and their two children, Augie and Lacy, ages 9 and 8." To read more, click here.

El Capitan
Photo by Krista Eytchison

--The Fresno Bee is reporting that, "The man in charge of concession operations for Yosemite National Park had a short run in his new position after a video surfaced on social media of him teeing off at the edge of a protected meadow, aiming to strike Half Dome with a golf ball. 'That hit the rock,' said Michael Grisar at the end of a short video clip that’s since been removed but was captured by Yosemite employees and circulated widely on Thursday. Grisar was then vice president of operations for the park’s concessionaire, Yosemite Hospitality, a subsidiary of Aramark." To read more, click here.

--The Squaw Valley Ski Resort is considering a name change. The word "squaw" has long been considered derogatory, sexist and racist. Hopefully this happens. To read more, click here.

--The Reno Gazette Journal is reporting that, "a rockslide near the main parking lot of the Mt. Whitney trail closed the Whitney Portal Area and forced officials to evacuate campgrounds, according to a Facebook post from the Inyo County Sheriff's Office." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--St. George News is reporting that, "A rappelling accident in Kane County resulted in a man receiving traumatic injuries Tuesday. A climber in the Fat Man’s Misery slot canyon fell 20 feet after his rappel line snapped, Kane County, Utah, June 23, 2020 | Photo by Shawn King and Mica Steiner Church, courtesy of the Kane County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, St. George News The Kane County Sheriff’s Office received a report Tuesday that a 37-year-old man had fallen 20 feet while rappelling down the final stretch of 'Fat Man’s Misery,' a popular slot canyon just outside of Zion National Park that empties into the East Fork of the Virgin River in Kane County, according to a press release from the Kane County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team." To read more, click here.

--The Know Outdoors is reporting that, "Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits plummeted by 20 percent during a 2019-20 season shortened by the coronavirus crisis, the company announced Wednesday." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Gripped is reporting that, "missing scrambler has been found deceased on Mount Fable near Exshaw in the Bow Valley west of Calgary. Canmore RCMP said they received a call that Trina Ramanaden, 44, was overdue on June 21 at 8:30 p.m. She had been part of a large group when she chose to take a different, more difficult trail on her own." To read more, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "Michael “Mike” Flood, a longtime Southern California climber, remains in critical condition after a fall soloing the route Potholes (5.9) at Stoney Point, where he was a respected regular, on June 14. Climbers on the scene hastened to help, one phoning 911. Flood, 58, was helicoptered out and taken to the Intensive Care Unit at Northridge Hospital. He fell from near the top of the route, approximately 50 feet, according to a Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) report." To read more, click here

--Alaska Public Media is reporting that, "An Army National Guard heavy-lift helicopter has removed the old Fairbanks city bus from the spot near Denali National Park where it once housed Christopher McCandless, the subject of the popular nonfiction book “Into the Wild.” Photos posted to Facebook on Thursday show a twin-bladed Chinook helicopter carrying the bus away from the remote site it occupied near the Teklanika River, where it attracted numerous tourists who had to be rescued after the book’s publication." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund is reporting that, "the Texas Climbers Coalition (TCC) and Access Fund are pleased to announce the official opening of Medicine Wall in San Antonio to rock climbing. After nearly 20 years without legal access, TCC now owns Medicine Wall, and Access Fund holds a conservation and recreation easement to permanently protect the property for rock climbing. Medicine Wall is free and open to the public for climbing and other low-impact activities." To read more, click here.

--From the AAC: "The American Alpine Club (AAC) Board of Directors announced today that it has named Mitsu Iwasaki as the organization’s next Chief Executive Officer, effective August 3. Iwasaki is currently the Executive Director of the Mazamas in Portland, Oregon." To read more, click here.

--Climbing is reporting that, "in the wake of the recent racial justice discussions across the United States, local route developers have come together to rename several controversial routes within the sport climbing epicenter of Ten Sleep Canyon, Wyoming. Ten Sleep is no stranger to controversy. Over the years, the limestone wonderland has become a hot spot for discussions about route manufacturing and, more recently, about the process of naming—and renaming—routes." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Route Profile: Northwest Rib, Mt. Shuksan (5.7, III)

Mt. Shuksan is one of the most photographed mountains in the world. The peak is draped in hanging glaciers and beautiful rock buttresses. But most people stick to one of three routes, the Sulphide Glacier, the Fisher Chimneys or the North Face. But the reality is that there are several more interesting lines and variations on the peak. The Northwest Rib is one such feature.

Fisher Chimneys and Sulphide Routes on Mt. Shuksan.
(Click to Enlarge)

Fred Beckey doesn't give much information about this route. He notes the following:

This is the narrow rock spur that separates the White Salmon and Hanging Glaciers; the route crosses the 1939 ascent line. First ascent by Pat Cruver and Dave Davis in July, 1974. Use the White Salmon approach (see the Fisher Chimneys route). The original party kept mostly on the rib's crest, but many variations are possible. The climb joined the Northwest Face route at the summit pyramid and was completed by the 1939 finish. Grade III; class 5.7 (one pitch); the climb is mostly class-4, easy class 5 on firm rock.

It should be noted that the concept of "firm rock" is a bit in the eye of the beholder. There are definitely sections of this line that are very loose. That said, if you are interested in some adventure climbing and can handle some areas of looseness, the rest of the route is well-worth the time.

 The NW Rib from the bottom of White Salmon Glacier.
(Click to Enlarge)

The NW Rib essentially links the White Salmon Glacier with the Upper Curtis. The line climbs up just to the right of the Hanging Glacier. Indeed, it also provides access to the upper Hanging Glacier above the seracs, if that is a line that you're interested in.

The NW Rib from the top of the Fisher Chimneys.
(Click to Enlarge)

The route can be broken into several sections.

Section 1: Approach

The standard approach is via the Fisher Chimneys. At the top of the Chimneys and below Winnie's Slide there are a few areas to bivy. Above Winnie's Slide there are a few more. After the beginning of July, there is often running water near camp where you access the upper Curtis Glacier. Sometimes this is available earlier.

The route could be done from Lake Ann and back in a day, but that would be a very big day and would likely not include a summit. Indeed, the best way to do this line and include a summit would be to climb the Fisher Chimneys on Day 1. Climb the route and the summit on Day 2, and then descend the Fisher Chimneys and go out on Day 3. If you elect to do this as a two day adventure, it's unlikely you'll have time to summit and go out on the same day...but it is possible to complete the route, and then descend the Fisher Chimneys on a two day itinerary as the top of the route is only thirty or forty minutes away from the bivys between the Curtis Glacier and Fisher Chimneys.

Most parties require anywhere from five to eight hours to get from the car to the top of the Chimneys. It takes four to six hours to get back to the car from the top of the Chimneys.

Approximate line of ascent.
(Click to Enlarge)

Section 2: Descend the White Salmon Glacier

Drop down skier's left on the White Salmon Glacier to avoid crevasses. Traverse to the base of the route at approximately 5500-feet (this is lower than the maps seem to indicate and could have been due to a faulty altimeter.). The route starts at a prominent loose gully with a large chalkstone in it. (Approximately 1 hour to the base of the route from the bivys.)

Section 3: Transition and Ascend the Choss Gully and Heather

Transition out of glacier travel mode and into climbing mode and then make your way up. We climbed up left of the chalkstone on loose rock to heather climbing, left of a steep heather chimney.

Chimney Start - This looks somewhat intimidating from the glacier, but it is 
not as steep as it looks. It is one of the crux loose sections of the route though.
(Click to Enlarge)

Go out left, avoiding the heather chimney and then work back right to better climbing. This will be two to four pitches or simul-climbing, depending on what you do. Things will stepen at the end of the heather for the next section.

Section 4: Climbing!

Continue up a slightly loose mid-fifth class section toward a beautiful handcrack that cuts through a roof. Once below the handcrack, you have three options:
  1. Go straight up through the handcrack to the top of a tower. (5.7-5.8, appx. 100 feet from base.)
  2. Climb out left to a -- hidden around the left corner -- more consistent handcrack. (5.7, appx 100 feet from base.)
  3. Or continue up the gully to the right on third, fourth and low fifth class terrain. If you choose to do this, aim for the crest when you can to get out of the loose.
Regardless of which way you go, continue on the ridge or just left it. There will be a few hundred feet of climbing with many variations, until you are forced to traverse to the left above the bottom of the Hanging Glacier.

Section 5: Better Climbing!

You will make your traverse below a series of cool slabs. Work up these fourth and low-fifth class slabs, avoiding loose rock. You may want to place pro to keep the rope away from looseness. Your goal is to work up toward the obvious notch.

As you get closer to the notch, the climbing gets better. The notch brings you back onto the ridge. Some easy climbing will eventually get you to the base of a nice handcrack. Climb the 5.6 crack. Above the handcrack pitch, there's another nice crack, but it can be avoided on the right with easier climbing.

Section 6: The Choss Apron

As you work through good climbing, a finger will appear above you on the ridge. Aim for that. Eventually you will get out of the good climbing and find yourself on the "Choss Apron." This is really the last challenge. Work up and right on the apron. Eventually you'll find a giant cave behind a tower. Go right at that wall and work up through easy terrain to the top of the route.

Top of the Route:

You made it. Now you're looking at the Upper Curtis Glacier! Negotiate the moat and then decide if you're going to climb the rest of the mountain via the upper Fisher Chimneys Route, or via the NE Ridge of the Summit Pyramid (5.7).

NW Rib of Mt. Shuksan from the White Salmon Glacier
Photo by Ben Gardner
(Click to Enlarge)

Final Thoughts:

How many pitches is this? Who knows. It depends on how you do it. The route is approximately 1300-feet long. There are definitely sections where you could simul-climb. There are also definitely sections where pro is scarce and simul-climbing could be very dangerous. Additionally, there are loose area throughout the route, so maybe silmuling isn't such a good idea. You have to decide for yourself.

There are variations everywhere on this route. As such, I gave some big brushstrokes in this description. It's okay to take them for a grain of salt. 

All that said, it took my party five hours from the base to the top of the route. It took eleven hours to descend to the climb, climb the route, descend to camp and then descend back down to the car. We did not go to the summit, but we had a grand adventure on an obscure Shuksan route...

--Jason D. Martin