Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Route Profile: Vesper Peak's True Grit (5.8, II)

The first year I worked as a mountain guide was the first year of the new millennium. I started guiding in June of the year 2000. And it was a busy busy season, full of things to learn. I didn't get to climb outside of work. I only had the opportunity to do that once.

In July of 2000, I climbed the North Face of Vesper Peak in Washington's Cascades with a long-time partner. It was a nice day out with a good friend, but the route itself didn't necessarily stick with me. 

Fast forward to the COVID summer of 2020. That was the second time I went to the mountain. I took the opportunity to climba newish route that my long-time friend Darrin Berdinka put up on Vesper.

 A climber clips a bolt on True Grit.

The route isn't that long -- only five pitches -- but it is high quality. The line is airy, exposed and beautiful. The crux fourth pitch climbs a perfect little crack right up the middle of the face. That particular pitch reminded me a lot of Birdland in Red Rock. The line was tremendously fun!

And it wasn't too far back in the backcountry. There are those that tend to camp near the mountain, but there's no reason to do so. It takes around three hours to get to the base. With a 7am start in the parking lot, we were at the base of the line by 10am.

Our intent was to climb both True Grit and Ragged Edge (a four-pitch 5.7 adjacent to True Grit), but when we were ready for our second line of the day, there were several parties on the route. It seems like the best way to do both climbs on the same day is to go to the mountain mid-week.

The hiking approach starts at the Sunrise Mine Trailhead off the Mountain Loop Highway. Directions to the trailhead can be found here, and a map can be found here. The drive takes between two and two-and-a-half hours from Seattle or Bellingham.

From the trailhead (2,500-feet), follow the trail, passing over several creeks (often with improvised bridges over them) until you emerge into the scenic Wirtz Basin, a cirque between the rocky flanks of Sperry and Morning Star Peak. Once in the basin, the trail peters and there are several sections where  you must follow carins. After the rocky section the trail reappears and switchbacks steeply up the right side of the basin to Headlee Pass (4,600-feet), at approximately the three-mile mark. 

From the pass, follow the trail to the northwest under Sperry Peak, eventually crossing a creek just below Vesper Lake. Continue up a climbers trail on the other side of the lake to approximately 5,700-feet. From there traverse north toward the pass between Vesper and an unnamed peak, but don't go all the way to the pass. There is a carin near at that elevation that indicates the climber's trail across the north face. 

From the carin traverse heather (or snow) to the base of the route. You may need an ice axe and crampons here, and maybe even snow pro, if it's early enough in the season.

Climbing Topo by Daren Berdinka

Pitch One: Start on a block and make your way up low fifth class to a belay below a chimney. (5.2, 200')

Pitch Two: Either climb directly up the squeeze chimney or climb the corner to the right. Eventually, you'll cross a heather ledge. Clip a bolt and then continue up, passing a few more bolts to an anchor on another heather ledge. (5.7, 100')

Pitch Three: Climb up the face, passing several bolts to an airy anchor. (90', 5.7)

Pitch Four: Launch up the finger crack. The crack is intermittent and there is a bolt here or there to connect it. Finish at another bolted anchor. (5.8, 120')

Pitch Five: Make a couple of harder moves, and then continue onto easier terrain to the end of the pitch, just below the summit. (5.8 then 5.5, 70')

Beautiful Views from the North Face of Vesper


The descent is embarrassingly easy. It is a simple 30-degree snow slope most of the year. It can be glissaded or walked down. If you're on the mountain in August or September, there may be more rock slabs to walk down, but there's no rappelling or shenanigans to get off this peak.

Vesper Peak will not disappoint. There is a fair bit of bang for your buck on this little peak, not far from the big cities.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 10, 2020

Traditional Anchoring Options with a Rope

It's not terribly uncommon to be short on slings or cordelletes at anchor. Maybe they were left at the last anchor. Maybe you used them. Regardless, if you get to the top and you don't have any soft goods to work with, then the key will be to work with the rope

In the following videos, AMGA Rock Guide Lyra Pierotti demonstrates two quick and easy methods to build an anchor without any slings or cords. 

In this first video, the concept could be thought of as stacking. She stacks three cams on top of one another, then clove-hitches the rope to each of them. She places a figure-eight-on-a-bight on the bottom of the stack and uses that for her master point.

The biggest problem with this technique is that Lyra's end of the rope is tied to the anchor. This makes it difficult if she wants to continue leading. This system works much better when leads are swapped.

In this second video, Lyra uses the rope again. This time, it looks a lot more like a traditional pre-equalized anchor, but built with the rope instead of a cordellete.

As with the preceding video, Lyra is still stuck in the system, and will have to do a lot of messing around if she wants to continue to lead.

Using the rope in the system isn't the most elegant technique, but it can certainly help you out in a pinch!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, August 7, 2020

The Kiwi Coil

The Kiwi Coil is a technique that is used to bring in rope, in order to shorten the distance between two climbers. This technique is commonly used for simul-climbing on easy terrain, or in glacier travel.

Check out a video on how to do it, below:

One thing to be very careful about is the use of a Kiwi Coil on a glacier. It is important to add one additional element to tie off the rope. The climber should tie an overhand knot in the line and clip it to a carabiner. The reason one does this is to ensure that if your partner falls into a crevasse and you have to untie the Kiwi, you won't get strangled when it comes undone.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 8/6/20


Early morning on Mt. Rainier.

--Mount Rainier National Park noted that a body was recovered this week: "Park rangers recovered a body of a deceased person from an off-trail drainage near Paradise on Monday, August 3, 2020. The body is believed to be that of Talal Sabbagh, a hiker who went missing in late June." To read more, click here.

--KATU 2 is reporting that, "The body of a Kennewick climber who died in a fall from Mount Jefferson in central Oregon has been recovered. The Tri-City Herald reports 68-year-old David Freepons was climbing July 25 with a group at the mountain when he slipped on a glacier and fell several hundred feet to his death." To read more, click here.

--A major technical rescue took place last week on Mt. Stuart. An individual was lowered pitch after pitch down the northwest face of the mountain in a litter. 


--The Fresno Bee is reporting that, "A mountain climber who died while scaling Mount Humphreys in the remote Sierra Nevada has been identified as Paul Sheykhzadeh, 52, of Reno. Sheykhzadeh’s body was recovered on Monday with assistance from the California Air National Guard and its CH-47 Chinook helicopter due to the high elevation, Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti said." To read more, click here. Paul was an active member of the SAR community.

--It's not a good sign for our National Parks that the president doesn't know how to pronounce the word, Yosemite.

Desert Southwest:

--It's possible that the chemicals that a New Mexico ski area is using are having a chilling downstream effect, and might be killing the soil. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--A 26-year-old climber suffered a fatal fall on Longs Peak last week. From Rock and Ice: "Dillon Blanksma of Golden, Colorado died following an unroped fall from Broadway, the ledge a third of the way way up the East Face—also known as the Diamond—of Longs Peak (14,259 feet), in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Colorado." To read more, click here.

--Unofficial Networks is reporting that, "Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Mike Kaplan wrote a letter to passholders to give them an idea of what to expect during the upcoming ski season in the midst of a global pandemic. In the letter Kaplan acknowledged some of the new procedures would be “annoying” but things like decreased uphill capacity of chairlifts and gondolas would foster 'more of an old school experience, but that could also translate to less noise, fewer distractions and, hopefully, more meaning.'" To read more, click here.

Due to the Pandemic, the OR Show was done virtually two weeks ago.

--The Outdoor Retailer Show online didn't really draw the numbers they were hoping for. From SNEWS: "OR's 2019 Summer Market drew 1,400 brands and nearly 25,000 attendees. It was, according OR's parent company Emerald, the largest outdoor B2B show in history. Before this week, those figures had people hoping that OR Online would set some records, too.  Unfortunately, that didn't quite pan out. When OR Online opened on July 21, a total of 100 brands had signed up to exhibit, with slightly more than 1,100 retailers, working media, and designers registered to attend. In terms of actual participation, the figures weren't much better. Over the course of the show's three days, retail buyer attendance was down 70 percent compared to the 2019 Summer Market's numbers; designer attendance came in at 67 percent compared to last year." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A climber was injured near Whitefish, Montana on Sunday. Limited information is available. To read more, click here.

--Time is reporting on some of the additional impacts that have taken place in the National Parks due to the Pandemic: "Many of these spaces, supposed to be untouched swaths of time-proof wilderness, have been overrun by first-time visitors seeking refuge from quarantine, joblessness, or the inability to take far-flung vacations. And as people have flooded into the parks, new crises have arisen for rangers and nearby communities, including indigenous populations who were already particularly susceptible to the virus. To read more, click here.

--Antartica is the only continent not to have any cases of COVID-19, but research stations are sparsely populated during the winter in the southern hemisphere. That will start to change as more researchers and adventurers travel south in September, October and November. Outside is asking how the continent can keep the Coronavirus at bay. 

--It's not currently clear how many wildland firefighters have the coronavirus. And as fire season is ramping up, the Forest Service is trying to figure out what to do. To read more, click here.

--Should climbing in the Canadian Rockies be more regulated? This author, writing for the Calgary Herald, thinks so. "This spring and summer have been unforgiving for climbers and hikers and unrelenting for rescue teams. A skier tumbled 400 metres and died in Banff National Park on July 18. Other recent deaths include a climber on Mount Andromeda and scramblers on Mount Fable and Yamnuska. Kananaskis Public Safety set a record when they were called out to more than 20 rescues over a three-day stretch from July 9 to 11. Will these deaths and rescues compel the climbing community and planners to cross the Rubicon and fundamentally change the way climbing is undertaken in parks?"

--Climbing is reporting that, "on July 31, Kai Lightner launched the nonprofit Climbing for Change, which will partner with brands, climbing gyms, and existing organizations to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the climbing community." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

How to Pay Out Slack with Multiple Belay Devices

Petzl's "How To" video on paying out slack is quite good. It looks at the issues surrounding inattentive partners, while also demonstrating good belay technique. 

Check it out!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 3, 2020

How To: Partner Check

In this video, Julia Chanourdie goes through all the elements of a partner check before climbing:

The elements of the partner check are as follows:

  • The harness should be well-adjusted and above the hips.
  • Ensure that the buckles are threaded properly.
  • If the harness requires a double-back, confirm that it is doubled-back.
  • Confirm that the knot is properly tied.
  • Confirm that it has been tightened.
  • Confirm that it is through both tie-in loops.
Belay System
  • If using a assisted breaking device (GriGri), confirm that the rope is threaded properly.
  • If using a tube-style device, confirm that the carabiner has captured the rope.
  • Confirm that the carabiner is connected to the belay loop.
  • Confirm that the carabiner is locked.
  • If using an assisted breaking device, confirm the function of the device by pulling on the rope.
  • Confirm that there is a knot in the end of the rope to close the system.
--Jason D. Martin

Friday, July 31, 2020

First Piece in a Multi-Pitch Setting

We recently received a request to write about this subject:


I follow your climbing blog and really appreciate the humor and knowledge.

I was wondering if you could do a post on clipping the anchor on multi pitch climbs. I have heard a lot of back and forth on the merits of clipping the anchor or just climbing up a few moves and placing a gear. Here is a link to a video where some comments are concerned about the video persons not clipping the anchor. Here is another link to a post from Will Gadd who talks about some pros and cons. I am wonder where guides stand on this issue? Do they never, always or just depends on clipping the anchor?

Ironically, I found a couple of pictures that I took some time ago, thinking that I would eventually do an article on this subject. So, here we go!

To begin with, the concept the questioner eludes to has to do with the idea that clipping the anchor will decrease the likelihood of a factor two fall. In review, a factor two fall is the highest fall factor possible. It essentially means that the climber climbed up above the belayer without placing any gear, and then fell. He falls twice the distance of the rope out before the fall is arrested. In other words, it means that he fell past the belayer and placed tremendous force on the system.

If the concept of fall factors is new to you, check out this article from Petzl.

To decrease the likelihood of a factor two fall, many climbers clip one piece in the anchor, or clip the shelf.

 In this photo, the climber clipped a locking carabiner on the right leg of the anchor.
If one clips a carabiner in this application, it must be a locker. Please note that in
this photo the climber clipped the bolt on the right and then climbed up left. He 
probably should have clipped the bolt on the right.

The argument for clipping a piece to the anchor is twofold. First, the belayer will be pulled up instead of down. And second, a piece in the system will help dissipate some of the force. 

The main problem with clipping a single piece of the anchor is that a fall will double the force on the piece. In other words, you need a counter force equal to the force of the falling climber to arrest him. That counter force doubles the load. If the piece is not adequately placed or the rock is poor, the piece could blow out. 

The fact that a single piece could blow out doesn't mean that this technique is universally inappropriate. Instead, it's possible to clip a single piece if it's absolutely bomb-proof. If there's any possibility that the piece is poor or that the rock is poor, you should avoid clipping the single piece in the anchor.

Some climbers clip the anchor's shelf to put force on more than one piece.
The problem with this is that it puts the arresting piece closer to the belayer.
The anatomy of an anchor may be found, here.

Another -- and perhaps more crucial issue -- has to do with the force a fall puts on the belayer. The belayer could easily be pulled up into the first piece and potentially let go. Additionally, on a lower-angle climb, the belayer could get pulled into the wall and -- in an attempt to protect himself from getting slammed -- let go of the rope and put up his hands.

It should also be noted that clipping into the anchor doesn't completely mitigate the fall factor forces that you're trying to avoid. A fall onto a piece in the shelf or in the anchor will still put massive forces into the system.

So, what to do?

First and foremost, there is no reason to clip the anchor if you are not below it. In other words, if your anchor is at your feet and you clip it, it's not going to do anything. Similarly, there's no reason to clip a piece into the anchor if the climber will just fall onto a ledge anyway.

If the terrain is easy enough to avoid clipping the anchor, most guides will avoid it. However, if there are hard moves directly off the belay station, most guides will clip a carabiner or draw into the anchor. If a guide does clip into the anchor, he usually asks his belayer to unclip the anchor piece once the guide has placed adequate protection higher up on the route. This mitigates the problem of the belayer getting pulled up into the system as the guide gets higher. Though he certainly could get pulled up early in the lead...

Occasionally the terrain above an anchor is run-out or doesn't provide decent protection. If this is the case, it may be appropriate to use the anchor as a much more dynamic first piece. But if it's going to be a dynamic first piece there needs to be more rope in the system, so that there is more stretch in the event of a fall. The only way to do this is to place the belayer significantly (10+ feet) below the anchor. The idea is that if the belayer is significantly below the anchor, the anchor will act more like a normal bomb-proof piece in the lead system and none of the disadvantages listed earlier will apply.

There are two ways to do this:

1) The belayer can clip the rope through the carabiner at the master-point. He can then lower himself down the wall a given distance and then clip the backside of the rope to his belay loop. The advantage to this style is that when the leader gets to the next belay station and he puts the belayer on belay, the belayer can unclip from the clove-hitch and the leader can quickly pull up the slack, decreasing the likelihood of a hard fall.

2) The belayer may also simply clip himself into the anchor long. The problem with this is that his clove-hitch will be high above him and the belayer will have to solo up to it before unclipping it when it's his turn to climb.

While using an anchor as the first piece in a multi-pitch lead is common, one should think through the advantages and disadvantages on every single pitch. This is not a system that should be universally applied to this type of climbing...

--Jason D. Martin