Friday, July 3, 2015

Belaying from Above

In cooperation with Outdoor Research, the American Mountain Guides Association has made several videos for beginning level climbers.

In the following video, AMGA Instructor Team member Margaret Wheeler demonstrates two techniques for belaying from above. There are several other ways to do this and this video is by no means comprehensive.

Redirected Belay

Redirected belays were used quite heavily in the 90s. Indeed, that was the way that I learned how to belay in multi-pitch environments and at the top of climbs. But this is now considered an old way to belay. It has too many problems to be used regularly.

1) A redirected belay puts 2:1 force onto the anchor. This may not be a big deal if the anchor is strong, but could be a very big deal if it's weak.

2) It's possible for a belayer to get sucked up into the anchor while operating. The climber's weight may be enough to pull the person up and in an extreme case, the belayer could even drop the climber.

3) It is difficult for a belayer to escape the belay when using this technique.

Direct Belay

A direct belay with an autoblocking device allows one to escape the belay easily, belay one or two people up simultaneously, and let go of the rope if there's a problem without dropping the climber.

It is still common to see club climbers using the redirected belay. At this point there is no reason for beginning level leaders to use this technique. A direct belay with an autoblocking device has too many advantages to be ignored.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 7/2/15


--A climber is recovering from his injuries after the Chelan County Sheriff's Office and the Snohomish County Air Support Unit rescued him Saturday afternoon. The Chelan County Sheriff's office said David Kieninger, 39, from Wenatcheee, fell about 500 feet during a climb on Seven Fingered Jack Mountan. Another climber called 911, saying Kieninger suffered a head and hip injury, possible broken arm, and other injuries during the fall. To read more, click here.

--Detectives with the King County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit would like the public's help to identify skeletal remains found on Mt Si, near North Bend Washington. Evidence suggests the remains may be from the mid 90’s. On 06/16/15, two off trail hikers came across what they believed to be human, skeletal remains near the “haystack” on Mt Si. After they called 911, deputies responded to the scene, collected the remains, and took them to the King County Medical Examiners office. To read more, click here.

--While final skier and snowboarder visits to Canadian ski areas have not yet been released, resorts in Western Canada had a poor to average season. The winter's warm temperatures, below average snow, and decreased days of operation have led a few ski areas to offer dramatically reduced rates on 2015-16 season passes. To read more, click here.

--On Earth Day in April, regional grocery chain Haggen said it would donate 2 percent of its sales in its Washington and Oregon stores to national parks in those states. Last week, the chain announced it was donating $33,690 to Washington’s National Park Fund, the official nonprofit partner supporting Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic national parks. To read more, click here.

Read more here:

--The New York Times posted a very well researched article on the deaths of Graham Hunt and Dean Potter in Base Jumping accident in in Yosemite in May. To read the article, click here.

Desert Southwest:

Mt. Wilson in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

--The BLM is proposing improvements for the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive and the trailheads. The agency is also proposing a shortcut, which would allow visitors to duck-out early, and not have to stay on the one-way road for all of its 13 miles. To read more, click here.

--New Mexico’s 11 ski areas saw a 19.4 percent increase in skier and snowboarder visits in 2014-15 compared to 2013-14, to 909,357, contributing to a $98 million increase in local economic activity, according to Ski New Mexico. To read more, click here.

--A busy weekend continues for emergency responders at Zion National Park. Despite recent hazardous weather alerts warning of dangerously high temperatures, Zion has been packed with visitors who are hiking, biking and otherwise recreating within the park under a hot summer sun. Physical exertion in the stifling temperatures has already led to many heat-related emergency calls in Zion. To read more, click here.

--A photographer witnessed a fire in Zion and took some time lapse photography. Check it out as a video, below:


--A climber is in critical condition after falling off the First Flatiron in Chautauqua Park in Boulder. The climber fell around 6 p.m. on Tuesday. To read more, click here.

--Rescuers at Rocky Mountain National Park performed two separate, complex evacuations through snow, rocks and thunderstorms on Sunday. To read more, click here.
--So some guys in Colorado made a first ascent using a drone to put the rope up. To read about it, click here.


--AAI Team 7 climbed to the summit of Denali on Monday! They were the last AAI team on the mountain. To read about all the trips, click here.

--Former AAI Guide Chantel Astorga and Jewell Lund made the first all female ascent of the Denali Diamond (Alaska Grade 6, 5.9 A3/M6 A1 WI5+, 7,800') on Denali. This was not only the first female ascent of the route, but likely the first all female ascent of an Alaska Grade 6. To read more, click here.
--A dispute over the height of North America’s tallest mountain may be resolved this week, as surveyors climb to the top of Mount McKinley. McKinley – recognized throughout Alaska by its Koyukon Athabascan name, Denali – has long been thought to stand at 20,320 feet, a measurement recorded in 1953. That number was contested in 2013, when the United States Geological Survey (USGS) used radar technology to re-calculate the mountain’s height. The result was a mere 20,237 feet… 83 feet lower than the previously recognized elevation. To read more, click here.

--British Alpinists Mike "Twid" Turner and Tim Blakemore made a first ascent of a new route on the rarely climbed North Triple Peak (8399'). To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--An experienced mountaineer from Kalispell was injured June 27 in a massive fall in Glacier National Park that required a complicated helicopter rescue in steep, rugged and remote terrain. Jack Beard, 60, is hospitalized but in stable condition after falling some 600 feet while attempting to pioneer a new route up a glacial wall called the Lithoid Cusp. To read more, click here.

--AAI Operations Manager Jason Martin, and Director, Dunham Gooding, co-authored an article for last year's Accidents in North American Mountaineering on snow travel. To read the article, click here.

Last week, REI purchased Adventure Projects, a website that compiles trail data for climbers, mountain bikers, skiers, hikers and trail runners, for an undisclosed sum. Adventure Projects is a Boulder-based business founded in 2005 by Nick Wilder and Andy Laakmann. Laakmann is also the developer and owner of the very popular climbing gym POS software, Rock Gym Pro. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Megan Behrbaum, manager of New Ventures at REI headquarters in Seattle in told Times Called Business, “Mountain Project is a hub for the climbing community to talk about and discover the best spots to climb around the world. It is the definitive resource for more than 3 million climbers, featuring more than 125,000 climbing routes.” To read more, click here.

--Utah saw the lowest amount of snow they’ve ever recorded at 267.5″ of snowfall at Alta in 2014/15. They’re previous lowest snowfall amount of record. In 2015, Utah experienced 116 human triggered avalanches with 26 humans caught in avalanches, 3 injuries, and 1 fatality. To read more, click here.
-Alta is currently defending itself at a federal appeals court on Friday from a lawsuit saying that their exclusion of snowboarders is unconstitutional. “Quite simply, the Constitution neither recognizes nor protects a right to snowboard,” Alta attorneys wrote in court documents. The fact that anyone would believe that the right to snowboard is in the Constitution is funny all by itself... To read more, click here.

--The "Climbing Toddler" is sure making his mark. As of this writing, the little guy had over 17 million views on Facebook. If you haven't seen it yet, click here.

--Professional climber Will Gadd, wrote an entertaining rant on Instagram last week. Essentially he called out people who post photos on social media which imply success on climbs. He argues that implied success is not success and that people are "posing." To read the post. click here.

--There is a couple currently trying to climb the state high points in the Lower 48 in record time. To do this, they need to do them all in less than 23 days. To read more, click here.

--Thanks toe the Access Fund and the Upper Peninsula Climbers Coalition, the AAA walls in Marquette, Michigan have been reopened to climbing after being closed for a year. To read more, click here.

--And finally, the Girl Scouts went camping and "climbing" on the White House lawn, which is kinda' cool.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Art of the Plunge Step

The plunge step is a simple technique for walking downhill in the snow. However, it is one of those techniques that seems relatively straight-forward in certain snow types, while difficult in others.

To do a standard plunge step, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees and drop your rear end. As you step down the hill during your descent, be sure to lead with the heel of your foot. The heel of your boot should be like a dagger, the pointy section of the heel slicing into the snow first.

In soft snow, this technique is relatively easy to understand. On our courses, we will often play games of Red Light/Green Light with students racing down the hill. In soft snow, everybody tends to stay on their feet and in control when we say red light. Hard snow is a different story. It's not uncommon to see people slip and fall trying to plunge step in such conditions. And sometimes it can be quite amusing to play Red Light/Green Light in such conditions...

The main reason that plunge stepping becomes more difficult in firm snow conditions is because your heel doesn't penetrate the snow as easily. Indeed, you have to be incredibly aggressive to get your heel into the snow.

In hard conditions, it's not uncommon for people to become tentative in their steps. Such movement can cause an individual to be more likely to slip as opposed to less likely. Occasionally this develops into a dangerous and frustrating cycle. A climber slips once, becomes more tentative, slips again, and becomes even more tentative, creating yet even a higher likelihood of slipping. The only way to kill this potentially hazardous cycle is to become more aggressive, stabbing your foot deeply into the snow no matter how hard it is.

Moving effectively in the snow is one of the most important things that climbers do. And learning to employ a solid plunge step in all the different kinds of conditions that you might encounter can only help you to become a faster and more solid climber.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 29, 2015

Route Profile: Mt Triumph - Northeast Ridge (5.6, III+)

Mt. Triumph is one of those mountains that looks both incredible and incredibly hard to climb. It is a sharp tooth sticking up above the town or Marblemount that begs to be climbed.

The Northeast Ridge is a reasonable route to the summit. It's only about 5.6, but that doesn't mean any of the climbing on the route should be taken for granted. It is a full-on alpine experience that includes some loose and scratchy rock, some moss and giant snow blocks. The mountain is not that far back, but the approach is extremely physical.

Though the route can be done in two days, it is a far more comfortable ascent in three...

Here's a write-up on the mountain from

Mt. Triumph is an important mountain in North Cascades National Park. It is located about six miles WNW of the town of Newhalem, WA. It lies entirely within the Skagit River drainage. The peak is not as high as a lot of the other important peaks of the park, yet it possesses just as much chutzpah. Certainly, on the whole, it is more precipitous than most of those peaks. You can see the very top of the peak from Marblemount as it rises over the nearer summit of Oakes Peak. This extra rise hints at its prominence above peaks immediately to the south. Mt. Triumph is connected via Triumph Pass to a slightly higher Mt. Despair--an aptly named tandem if their ever was one. Although Despair is an easier climb than Triumph (at least in terms of the climbing on the mountain itself; Despair requires a longer approach) maybe the peaks should be named in reverse. But then, one feels triumphant to have climbed Triumph, for there is no easy way up it.

Yes, Mt. Triumph is characterized by verticality and sharpness. It is rugged on all flanks. On a topo or from directly overhead, the peak has the appearance of a three-bladed propeller. Evenly spaced Northeast, Northwest, and South Ridges divide evenly spaced East, North, and West Faces. The mountain cradles two rapidly declining glaciers below the East and North Faces. In particular, the eastside glacier is very sickly. It is much reduced from that depicted on topographic maps. A veritable pool table slate of slabs below the glacier makes for quite the tumbling ground for billiard cubes of ice excising themselves from the glacier's lower terminus. The northside glacier isn't faring much better. On both of these we often heard blocks of ice careening down the slabs.

A note about the name: Triumph was named by Lage Wernstedt, the famous surveyor of the North Cascades (namely, in the Pasayten region) in the early part of the 20th Century. In addition, Wernstedt was responsible for the naming of Mt. Despair, Mt. Fury, Mt. Terror, Mt. Challenger, Inspiration Peak, and the "Picket Range." It should be noted that Wernstedt did not climb any of these peaks. Information courtesy of Harry Majors.

Following is a photo essay from a recent ascent of Mt. Triumph:

The approach passes by a series of beautiful alpine lakes.

 The approach is very physical. 
Camping options are at the top of the pass shown in the picture.

Mt. Triumph: The Northeast Ridge is the right-hand skyline. 

The final approach to the ridge requires a traverse across steep snow. 

 The Southern Picket Range

Mt. Triumph 

Looking back at the col where most people camp. 

Climbing the Northeast Ridge

 The obligatory summit selfie.

Looking back at Triumph on the way out.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 26, 2015

Healthy Forest Fires

As the warm and dry weather of summer approaches, we all get excited about going out to play in the splitter weather. However, along with the blue skies comes the increased likelihood of forest fires...and for most of us, the idea of a forest fire in the areas we frequent turns our stomachs.

Forest Fires often ravage the areas we care for, leaving them desolate waste lands in which the native flora and fauna are devastated, rural houses are destroyed and our access to the mountains is blocked. The list of the cons to forest fires seems daunting, especially the list of cons for those fires which are responsible for the loss of property, or even worse the loss of human life...but surprisingly, some wildland fires can actually be beneficial, especially the smaller ground fires which do not ravage the entire forest.

Forest fires can help stimulate the new growth and germination of many different plant species. For brevity, we'll look specifically at one type of plant that is affected positively by wildfires, the sequoia tree.

Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park need forest fires to help them reproduce. When a fire moves through, the heat dries out the cones up high in the canopy, which causes the seeds to release and fall to the ground. In addition to this, the fires clear out the lower vegetation that would otherwise block the light and compete for nutrients with the sequoia seedlings. Without these fires, the great sequoias and other plants that need fires to aid in germination would not be able to successfully repopulate.

In the same way that wildland fires clear out brush and smaller trees to help the sequoia seeds get the nutrients they need, fires can also “reset” the vegetation for an area. Aggressive plants often choke out slower growing plant-life. When the existing vegetation is burned-up, the competition is limited and this promotes more diversity of plant-life on the forest floor.

In addition to aiding in the life cycle process of some vegetation and vegetation diversity, forest fires are also efficient in pest eradication and pest population control. This has a positive affect on a number of forest trees and plants that are adversely affected by these pests.

Certainly, some fires are bad. Some fires completely devastate everything in their path. And while these large fires have some benefits, it's more common for the smaller ground fires to provide the most benefit. Indeed, part of the reason that some fires are so large, is because there haven't been enough of these smaller fires to clear out the debris on the forest floor; the debris that when stacked-up can create a real tinderbox. This is part of the reason that some National Parks and National Forests have taken to setting controlled burns. By doing this they are helping manage some of that debris on the forest floor while providing the positive benefits of a small ground-fire.

So while none of us want a forest fire in any of the wilderness areas that we visit regularly, it is good to know that when they do affect these areas, they're not all bad.

To keep up with the forest fires in your area, click here.

Following is a public service announcement about forest fires that was produced in the 60s. You'll probably recognize the celebrity who narrates this commercial as Rod Serling, Mr. Twilight Zone himself...

--Erik Budsberg, AAI Staff

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/25/15


--An injured climber was rescued Sunday after he fell while ascending Dome Peak in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. To read more, click here.

--For those of you who have been to the Grand Wall boulders at the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park lately, the forest appears to be in an unnatural state. Ropes, stages, fake boulders and florescent flagging tape line the boulders, as a film crew sets up for a shoot that will take place at the end of the week. When walking through the area, it feels as though the boulders have been invaded without care from BC Parks, who granted access for filming in this location, or the film crew, who has been setting up since last Monday. To read more, click here.

--A massive year-round ski resort project has been put on hold in British Columbia. Environment Minister Mary Polak has determined that the Jumbo Glacier Resort project has not been substantially started. As a result, the environmental assessment certificate has expired and Glacier Resorts Ltd. cannot proceed with developing this project unless a new certificate is obtained. To read more, click here.

--Some guys recently put up the longest slackline in Canadian history in Squamish. The following video shows some awesome slacklining, but the Squamish stuff doesn't come on until about 2:51.


--Washington state expanded a burn ban statewide Monday as hot, dry weather persists in drought conditions. "Westside forests are drying out and the outlook is for continued warm, dry weather," said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. "These conditions make it clear it's time for a statewide burn ban." To read more, click here.

--As the clock ticks down on Washington state’s second overtime legislative session, House Democrats released their latest budget proposal Monday, a plan that doesn’t include any new taxes but looks for additional revenue through closing or limiting several tax exemptions. If Washington state officials fail to pass a budget by June 30, the state will go into a partial shutdown starting July 1, a move that would partially close some departments and completely close others including state parks. This means popular state-owned camping and recreational areas could be closed for business just in time for the Fourth of July weekend. To read more, click here.


--Last week the National Park Service announced it has selected Aramark, the food and hospitality partner for national and state parks and other leisure and cultural attractions across the country, as the new concessioner for Yosemite National Park. Under the 15-year contract, scheduled to begin on March 1, 2016, Aramark will manage Yosemite’s hospitality programs encompassing lodging, food and beverage, retail, recreational and transportation services. To read more, click here.

--A massive rockfall ripped down one of the canyon walls of Tenya Canyon in Yosemite on June 14th. To read more, click here. To see a video with some embedded photos, click below:

Desert Southwest:

--A 38-year-old woman from Flagstaff was injured last week while climbing at Arizona's Mount Elden. It appears that a handhold broke while she was placing protection. To read more, click here.

--The new climbing gym in Vegas -- Origin Climbing and Fitness -- is awesome! Check it out.


--A college student in Colorado fell nearly 100 feet off a cliff and survived. Maggie Michael was studying rare plants when she lost her footing. To read more, click here.


--AAI Team 6 made Denali's summit on Sunday. And now there is only one expedition still on the mountain. AAI Team 7 will be moving to high camp soon. To check out their progress, click here.

--In a new study, scientists with the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and several other institutions report a staggering finding: Glaciers of the United States’ largest — and only Arctic — state, Alaska, have lost 75 gigatons (a gigaton is a billion metric tons) of ice per year from 1994 through 2013. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The USA has averaged 28 avalanche fatalities per year over the past 10 winters. This winter, there have only been 11 avalanche fatalities. That is an enormous drop in avalanche deaths. That’s 60% less avalanche deaths this year than the annual average. To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund and the American Alpine Club have come together to create one unified document that describes desired fixed anchor policy. To read the document, click here.

--Two Swiss climbers lied about their need to be rescued in the Alps. And now they're paying the price, literally. They have been fined 3000 euros. To read more, click here.

--There is a small glimmer of hope that climbing will still be included in the 2020 Olympics to take place in Tokyo, Japan. To read more, click here.

--Ueli Steck of Switzerland and Michi Wohlleben of Germany plan on climbing 82 summits in 80-days. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Route Profile: Forbidden Peak, West Ridge, 5.6, Grade III

If you are an alpine climber in the Cascades, you can basically be divided into two groups.  You have either climbed the West Ridge of Forbidden, or you want to.  With amazing views, thrilling exposure, solid rock and moderate climbing, there is no wonder why it is listed as one of 50 classic climbs in North America.

Forbidden Peak from Boston Basin.  The summit is to the far right.  Dawn Glanc.

The climb starts up the finger of snow to the right of the photo.  There are also rock variations to the left of the couloir.
The West Ridge to the left, with Mt. Torment to the far left.
Taken from the summit of Sahale Peak.  James Pierson
Climbing up the snow couloir.  Alasdair Turner
Heading up the ridge.  Alasdair Turner.

Climber on the last pitch of Forbidden with Moraine Lake and
Eldorado Peak in the background.  Dawn Glac