Friday, July 31, 2015

Understanding Fall Factors

Many climbers don't really understand fall factors. But it's actually is quite straightforward. Fall factors may be determined by a simple formula:

Fall Factor = Length of Fall/Length of Rope

Using this formula, you can determine how hard you've hit the anchor. A factor 2 is the maximum that may be attained in a typical climbing fall, since the height of a fall can't exceed two times the length of the rope. Under normal circumstances, a factor 2 fall can only occur when a leader has no protection and he falls past the belayer. Once protection is placed, the distance of the fall as a function of the rope length is lessened, and the Fall Factor drops below 2.

A fall of 30 feet is significantly more serious if it takes place with 15 feet of rope out after the climber has placed no protection and falls past the belayer, than if it occurs 100 feet above the belayer (a fall factor of 1.15), in which case the dynamic stretch of the rope more effectively cushions the fall.

A factor 2 fall is very bad. Indeed, it is actually possible that an anchor may fail in the event of such a fall. As such, it is imperative that climbers place gear immediately after they start to climb as they leave a belay station. This will limit the possibility of a bad fall.

In the following video a climber is approximately twenty-five feet out from his belayer. He falls eight feet above his last piece of pro. With rope stretch and slippage he actually falls approximately twenty feet. That piece of pro eight feet below makes his rather large fall totally acceptable with a fall factor of 1.32.

If you are interested in finding out what kind of fall factors you've sustained or might have come close to sustaining, an online fall factor calculator may be found here.

After a breakdown of fall factors such as this, some people will still be confused. So the question must be asked, what are the main points that you should take away from this? They're actually quite simple:
  1. Always put in a piece immediately after you climb away from the anchor. This will protect your anchor from sustaining a factor 2 fall.
  2. This should be an obvious one. Always use a dynamic rope that is in good shape.

--Jason D. Martin


There are two problems with this post that were pointed out in the comments below.  First, my math is a bit off in the last paragraph above the video.  And second, the online fall factor calculator doesn't appear to be working properlyNot surprisingly, I used the faulty calculator to come up with my number.  The actual fall factor would be 0.8.

Special thanks to the two anonymous commentators who pointed these things out.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

North Cascades News Release: Park Creek Trail Closed due to Goode Fire

The American Alpine Institute just received the following email from North Cascades National Park:

Sedro Woolley, WA – Lightning likely started a fire approximately 1,000 feet above Five Mile Camp near Goode Mountain in Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. The Goode Fire was detected Wednesday and was estimated to be approximately 2 acres in size. Fire access is difficult due to high cliffs and steep terrain. With continued high temperatures and dry weather, firefighters will monitor the situation and call in additional resources as needed.

Park officials have closed Park Creek Trail between Park Creek Pass and Park Creek Camp. Five Mile and Two Mile camps are both closed. Climbers attempting Goode Mountain will also be impacted, as descent via the southwest into the Park Creek drainage will not be possible. Climbers may still access the peak via the North Fork Trail, with descent via the same side. All other trails in North Cascades National Park Service Complex are open; however, caution should be used near the Thunder Creek and Chopping Block fires.

For climbing and backcountry information, contact the Wilderness Information Center at 360-854-7245. Area fire information is available online at

--Jason D. Martin

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 7/30/15


--Human remains found over the weekend inside Mount Rainier National Park are believed to be those of a missing 64-year-old hiker who vanished without a trace last summer while walking the Wonderland Trail. The remains were found Sunday by a group that was hiking off-trail at about 6,800 feet above sea level near the Frying Pan Glacier on the east side of the mountain, said park spokesman Kevin Bacher. To read more, click here.
--Here's a nice story about an older couple on the Pacific Crest Trail...

--Kate Rutherford and Jasmin Caton spent several days in Canada's Prucell wilderness and put up a couple of new lines. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--It's always a good idea to bring along water and watch your step during any trip to Red Rock Canyon. That advice has taken on added significance lately, as federal officials wrestle with a crumbling boardwalk and a faulty water system at the popular National Conservation Area. The Bureau of Land Management was forced to block off roughly a third of the half-mile boardwalk at Red Spring after a visitor fell through the deteriorating wood planks outside Red Rock Canyon's core fee area a few months ago. BLM spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon said the entire boardwalk will be replaced with composite material next summer, but the existing wood could be repaired and the loop reopened before then thanks to a volunteer service project now being organized for National Public Lands Day on Sept. 26. To read more, click here.

--On July 22, the Access Fund, in partnership with public land agencies and five local climbing organizations, purchased the northern section of the Dripping Springs Ranch, Arizona to preserve access to the Homestead’s 12 limestone walls with over 250 routes on the southern slopes of the Mescal Mountains north of Winkleman and the Gila River. To read more, click here.

A Joshua Tree in Joshua Tree National Park

--Joshua Tree’s surreal landscapes and stunning vistas offer a serene escape from urban Southern California. But the national park can’t escape the rampant air pollution that plagues the Coachella Valley and the Los Angeles basin. In a report released Tuesday, the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association gave Joshua Tree an ‘F’ grade for smog, making it one of four national parks — all in California — that regularly suffer from unhealthy air. Joshua Tree also earned an ‘F’ for climate change impacts, since rising temperaturesthreaten to wipe out the park's iconic trees. To read more, click here.


--Search crews worked to recover the body of a woman who had fallen on Paiute Peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness on Sunday. The victim is a 44-year-old Denver woman who was with a friend when she slipped and fell while climbing the peak. Sheriff’s deputies and search and rescue personnel were notified of the fallen climber about 8:20 p.m. Sunday after her companion called for help. He told authorities that she fell about 2 p.m. as they were attempting to descend the summit. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Dallas oilman Richard “Dick” Bass, a globetrotting adventurer and businessman, died Sunday night at his Dallas home of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 85. His sprawling interests ranged from ranching in Central Texas to coal leases in Alaska and Wyoming, but in business, he was best known as the co-founder and longtime owner of the Snowbird resort in Utah. On April 30, 1985, Bass put his name indelibly in the history books when he reached the summit of Mount Everest. It was the last leg of his Seven Summits challenge and the realization of his dream to be the first man to climb the highest peak on every continent. To read more, click here.

--On Tuesday, July 21, a large boulder dislodged and rolled over the arm of a hiker/climber, causing severe injury to his limb and prompting a helicopter-assisted rescue by Grand Teton National Park rangers. Tucker Zibilich, 26, of Jackson, Wyoming and his partner were on their descent after making a day trek to the Upper Saddle of the Grand Teton, elevation 13,285 feet, when he was injured by the boulder. To read more, click here.

--A North Texas dad claims a climbing gym's negligence may leave his son with a permanent injury — an allegation he is now taking to court. According to Clayton Greenberg, his 7-year-old son, Cope, cracked his elbow at the growth plate in January 2014 when he fell from a slide. To read more, click here.

--Last week, Powder Magazine recognized AAI's Guide Like Liz scholarship winners. This scholarship was built in memory of Liz Daley, an AAI guide and professional splitboard athlete who died in an avalanche last year in South America. To read more, click here.

Chad and Katy's feet before the wedding.
Photo by AAI Guide Alasdair Turner

--As we all know now, AAI Guide Chad Cochran married former AAI Program Coordinator Katy Pfannenstein on the Pika Glacier in Alaska, with AAI guide Mike Pond running the show and AAI guide Alasdair Turner shooting photos. What you might not have known is that the Weather Channel picked up the story and did a segment on it. Check it out, here.

--In a statement posted to his website Friday morning, Scott Jurek issued his first public response to the three summonses he received from Baxter State Park on his final day of breaking the Appalachian Trail thru-hike speed record.  In it, he describes interactions with park rangers that offer a contradictory account to a Facebook post published by the park on July 16. Jurek claims rangers approved the size of his hiking party and allowed them to carry alcohol to the summit; these two matters were the basis of two of the three summonses he received. To read more, click here.

--Researchers and citizens have known for some time that Turkey’s glaciers are shrinking. Now scientists have calculated the losses and found that more than half of the ice cover in this mountainous country has vanished since the 1970s. A team of researchers from Ege University (Turkey) and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center analyzed four decades of Landsat satellite data to document this steady decline. The team, led by Dogukan Dogu Yavasli (Ege), published their results in June 2015 in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book Review: Buried in the Sky

There are a lot of great stories from a lot of horrible tragedies in the Himalaya. This is one of the great ironies of mountaineering literature. The most horrific stories are the ones that lead to the most interest amongst those of us that follow this type of literature. But there is more to these stories than just tragedy. As in tales of war or natural disaster, there tend to be people who show great compassion and courage, even when their lives are on the line. And for many readers this is the true value of mountain literature.

Most books that deal in Himalayan expeditions are about the Western climbers who make their way to the mountains. They tell the stories of Americans, Brits, Europeans, Aussies, and New Zealanders. They tell stories of Western privilege, Western mountain success, and the tragedy of Western death in the mountains. Most books don't tell the stories of the indigenous climbers, their struggles and their tragedies...

At least most books hadn't told that story... Until now.

Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2's Deadliest Day, written by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan is one of the very few pieces of writing that explores Sherpa culture and those factors that bring Sherpa climbers into the Death Zone. It is an extraordinary piece of investigative writing that provides a glimpse of the economic and cultural factors that lead Sherpas to work for foreign expeditions while examining the worst disaster in K2's climbing history.

In 2008, the news trickled out of Nepal slowly. There had been yet another tragedy in the Himalaya that made headlines around the world; and when the dust settled 11 people were dead. The main culprit? A combination of things, but perhaps of most importance, ignoring turn-around times at altitude and the destruction of the fixed lines by serac-fall in a feature known as the Bottleneck.

The events that took place between July 31st and August 3rd, 2008 provide the perfect lens for Zuckerman and Padoan to focus our attention not on the expeditions from a variety of different countries on the mountain, but instead on the Nepali and Pakistani climbers who assisted the international expeditions. And indeed, not just on their culture, but also on their hopes, dreams and nightmares. For many of these people Himalayan expeditions provide good jobs with decent pay in an economically depressed area. They are happy to accept the risk inherent in climbing mountains because it puts food on the table and allows their children to go to school. For many, there is little choice.

Some high-altitude workers have been incredibly successful. They have completed numerous climbs of mountains like Everest and Cho Oyu. Success on a peak as difficult and dangerous as K2 provides them with a major status boost and can provide them with more work opportunities at a higher rate of pay.

Buried in the Sky is the first piece -- that I've read, anyway -- that explores the cultural and religious significance of the mountains to the Sherpa people.  It explores the legends and the history as the Sherpas understand it and delves into the political and ethnic divisions that define their lives.

With this cultural history underlining the narrative, the book follows the stories of a number of Sherpa and Shimshali (Pakistani) climbers.  But two of them stand out, their narratives a step beyond the rest. Pasang Lama and Chhiring Dorje were both involved in the tragedy and were also both involved in an amazing rescue.

While descending and still high on the mountain, Pasang was forced to use his ice axe to secure a fixed line into place. The anchor was weak and the axe was needed to keep it secure. There were people below on the ropes and he couldn't stomach the thought of an anchor blowing out. He thought he could rappel and follow the fixed lines down to camp, without the need of an axe. At the time he was completely unaware of the fact that the line below him had been destroyed by icefall. And so, when he reached the end of the rope, he had no means to continue down...

When the ropes through the Bottleneck disappeared, Pasang had figured it was his time to die. Stranded, he was unable to climb up or down without help. Why would anyone try to save him? A climber who attached himself to Pasang would surely fall, too. Using an ice axe to catch the weight of one mountaineer skidding down the Bottleneck is nearly impossible. Stopping two bodies presents twice the difficulty, twice the risk. A rescue would be suicidal, Pasang thought. Mountaineers are supposed to be self-sufficient. Any pragmatic person would leave him to die.

Chhiring found the axeless Sherpa and decided not to be pragmatic. Instead, he attached a line to the man and began to short-rope him through the exposed space. It didn't take long for the two climbers greatest fears to come true, the pair slipped and were not able to arrest their fall.

The pair fell hundreds of feet, but eventually came to rest. Ironically, neither of the men were seriously injured and were able to make it back to camp.

The authors indicate that had this been a "Western rescue" where one person surrendered his ice axe for the safety of many and where another helped the first to safety, such a selfless rescue story would have made it into the mountaineering history books. But because it was a pair of Sherpas, the story was barely reported.

In the aftermath of the tragedy there were a number of accusations made about the way that teams worked together and the differences between the Nepali and Pakistani climbers. As with many mountaineering triumphs and tragedies, arguments over specifics can easily degenerate into "he-said, she-said" style arguments. The truth can be difficult to come by.

The writing team for this book studied the incidents around the 2008 tragedy for two years. They made seven trips to Nepal and three trips to Pakistan, trekking to regions that are almost never visited by foreigners and obtaining unprecedented access to military and government sources. It is likely that their accounting of the tragedy is the most objective put on paper to date.  But it would be understandable if it offends some readers. It doesn't always paint the foreign climbers in the best light.

Buried in the Sky is a beautifully crafted piece and it stands out in the world of mountain literature. Many armchair mountaineers are infatuated with Mount Everest and the stories that revolve around the tallest mountain in the world.  But Mount Everest isn't the Savage Mountain. No, that name is reserved for K2, a mountain inhabited by the last of a group of bloodthirsty goddesses hunted by an ancient warrior.

The final sister -- Takar Dolsangma, the youngest, with a green face -- was a hard case. She mounted a turquoise dragon and fled northward to the land of three boarders. In modern Rolwaling folklore, this is Pakistan. Guru Rinpoche (the ancient warrior) chased after her and eventually cornered her on a glacier called the Chogo Lungma. Takar Dolsangma appeared remorseful and, spurring her dragon, ascended K2, accepting a new position as the goddess of security. Although Guru Rinpoche never doubted her sincerity, maybe he should have: Takar Dolsangma, it seems, still enjoys the taste of human flesh...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 27, 2015

Snow Seats and Dynamic Belays

Standard snow anchors are comprised of pickets, flukes, bollards and deadmen. As stated in previous blogs, sometimes people overlook items that might be used as deadmen such as packs, crampons, ice axes, skis, trekking poles, and stuff sacks filled with snow.

Quick snow anchors can be devised from just about anything...including your body.

Most of you are probably familiar with Simon Yates and his infamous snow seat in Touching the Void. To say the least, that was an unusual situation.

Photo by Jason Martin

To create a quick snow seat you must simply sit down in the snow, arc your legs, and stomp your heels into the snow. After you've achieved this position, you will be able to put a climber on belay. However, if the climber takes a fall with slack in the rope, it is possible that you may be pulled out of the snow seat. There are two ways to keep this from happening.

The first way to deal with a potential shock-load in a snow seat is to add a snow anchor to back it up. This could be anything, but many climbers will simply use their ice axe. The belayer must then clip the climbing rope (which is tied to the climbers harness) to the snow anchor. Most will just make a clove-hitch with the rope and then slide the shaft of the ice axe down through the hitch. If the belayer has elected to use a hip belay, the tie-in must come off the same side of the climber's body as rope running to the climber, otherwise the load will twist the belayer uncomfortably.
The second way to deal with this is by using a dynamic belay. In other words, when the climber falls, allow the rope to run through the belay device for a short period of time, slowly breaking it and bringing it to a stop. This allows the snow seat -- and you -- a much smaller shock. There are clearly some problems with this technique and it cannot be used in every situation. The dynamic belay is only truly useful on steep snow climbs where there is little danger of a falling climber hitting something.

If we learned one thing from the Simon Yates in Touching the Void, it's that snow seats are an excellent option in terrain where you do not anticipate a need to escape the belay. If there is anything suspect going on, it's important to build a bombproof SERENE/ERNEST anchor.

When used properly, snow seats and dynamic belays can save a great deal of time...and as we all know, speed in the mountains is safety...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Figure-Eight Follow-Through

The figure-eight follow-through -- also often referred to as the figure-eight retrace and the rewoven figure-eight -- is one of the hardest working knots in climbing. Most climbers tie this knot multiple times a day.

This short video shows one how to tie the figure-eight follow-through. The climber in this video does a great job of dressing the knot. In other words she doesn't have any weird crosses and the knot looks very clean. What she does a poor job with is her "back-up" knot. If you use one, it should be a single fisherman's knot which is also known as a barrel knot.

This second video shows the proper finish, but names it improperly. They call it a double fisherman's knot in this video, when it is actually a single Fisherman's Knot.

The reality of the so-called "back-up knot" is that it is not necessary. If your knot is dressed and there is at least one fist worth of rope sticking out of the end of the knot, then all will be well.

Many of my students tell me that after they related this information about back-up knots to the manager of their climbing gym, the manager wouldn't relent on his gym's back-up knot policy. This is not something to sweat over. If your gym requires that you tie such a knot, you should just do it. Some gyms have insurance policies that require this unnecessary step, whereas others have created protocol based systems that are hard to change without chopping through a lot of red tape. It is less of a headache if you just follow the gym's rules while you are there.

Some climbers like to finish their figure-eight with a "Yosemite tuck" or "Yosemite finish." This is common technique is accomplished by tucking the end of the rope back into the knot. The upside of this is that it can clean up the knot. The downside is that this technique may seriously weaken the knot if you use the inside of the knot as a belay loop. If you load the loop of the knot it is possible that it will invert, after which you will only have part of the figure-eight remaining. Some people cure this problem by passing the rope around itself before going through the hole, but that makes the knot a little bigger.

A Figure-Eight Follow-Through with a standard
Yosemite Finish.
A Figure-Eight Follow-Through with an
extra wrap. This is better.

After learning about this, many people ask why one might use the inside of the knot as a belay loop. In alpine climbing, a small percentage of climbers still use harnesses without belay loops. In technical terrain it's always better to have a belay loop, so those without one often simply use the inside of their knot. If this is something that you wish to do, it might be better to avoid all types of Yosemite tucks or finishes. Even better, if you're going to be on technical terrain, you should use a harness with a belay loop.

And lastly, this is a nice video that shows an overview of a few different figure-eight knots from the figure-eight family:

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 7/23/15


--A climber fell 20 feet and broke his ankle when a rock gave way in the Mount Washington Wilderness on Sunday. Linn County Search and Rescue responded Sunday to assist. To read more, click here.

--Technical rescue crews from Vancouver and Fire District 6 were called to Beacon Rock State Park in Skamania County Saturday evening after an injured climber was reported to be stranded 150 feet above the ground. To read more, click here.

--Canadian homicide detectives are treating the death of a teenage Australian skier as suspicious after his body was found in a gravel pit near the ski village of Whistler. Jake Kermond, 19, from Harrietville, Victoria, was last seen about 7.30pm on April 26 when leaving the Adara Hotel. A dirt biker found his body in the pit in an industrial area on the outskirts of Whistler on June 17. To read more, click here.

--Here's an update on the Gold Bar Boulders access situation.

--The U.S. Army wants to create a North Cascades training area for helicopter pilots that would include a high-altitude landing site in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and another within a mile of the Pacific Crest Trail. To read more, click here.

--A new line has gone up in the Picket Range of the Cascades.


--The north face of Peak 11,440+, above Spring Lake in Sequoia National Park has a new route on it, The One That Got Away clocks in at 5.11b C1, 1,500'. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Opposition to the Oak Flat land exchange is heating up. Earlier this month, Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva introduced the Save Oak Flat Bill, HR 2811, into Congress. It has bipartisan support with three Republican and eight Democrat cosponsors. This bill would repeal the controversial land exchange legislation that was buried within the 2015 Defense Authorization Act. Attaching the land exchange bill (which was unable to pass on its own) to a piece of must-pass legislation circumvents the democratic process and provides another example of an inequitable federal land giveaway. The Access Fund has been working to protect the Oak Flat region, home to hundreds of roped climbs and thousands of boulder problems, from a foreign mining company for over ten years. The loss of Oak Flat climbing would result in the largest loss of climbing resources in the US. To read more, click here.


--A lightning strike likely killed a man and a boy in their tent Tuesday night or early Wednesday near West Maroon Pass, though two other children camping with them were unhurt, authorities said. The two dead were father and son, while the two survivors were an older daughter about 12 years old and younger son approximately 8 or 9 years old who had been staying in a separate tent, according to a U.S. Forest Service volunteer who spoke with the man who found the bodies, helped report the incident and saw the children come out of the wilderness. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Note that if you book an Aconcagua trip with the American Alpine Institute prior to August 1, you will be able to climb for the 2015 rate instead of the 2016 rate!

--A battle is currently looming in Congress over the transfer of a huge swath of America’s public lands in the west—putting millions of acres (and the climbing opportunities they offer) under siege. To read more, click here.

--The official trailer for Meru was finally posted on Tuesday. The film follows climbers Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, and Renan Ozturk as they attempt to ascend the Shark’s Fin of Mount Meru. The an alpine big wall in India’s Garhwal Himalaya. To see the trailer, click below:

--Is sponsorship commercialization of the wilderness? A ranger in Maine thinks so and cited Scott Jurek after he completed his record breaking trail run. To read more, click here.

--Reel Rock has officially announced their 2015-2016 lineup. To learn more, click here.