Monday, December 10, 2018

Film Review: The Dawn Wall

The year 2018 was a banner year for climbing films. It was the year that climbing documentaries became a thing that had a life in mainstream theaters across the country. Yes, Meru made a splash in 2015, and it certainly paved the way for 2018. But 2018 was the year that there were literally two climbing documentaries at the theater at the same time! Those documentaries were The Dawn Wall and Free Solo...

There haven't really been that many mainstream media circuses around positive things in climbing. Most commonly the media is fixated on tragedies. But that changed in January of 2015. That was when Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson spent nineteen days on El Cap, attempting to free climb the Dawn Wall. At some point during their adventure, the media outside the outdoor media, found out what they were doing...and that's when all hell broke loose. They were on the news every single night...

But The Dawn Wall isn't just about the first free ascent of a Yosemite big wall. Instead, it is about Tommy Caldwell, the film's unlikely protagonist, his life and his friendship with Kevin Jorgeson.

The film delves deeply into Tommy's life. It looks at how he became a climber. It looks at his courtship with Beth Rodden. And perhaps, most importantly, it discusses the events surrounding Tommy, his friends and their kidnapping by Islamic militants in Kyrgyzstan in 2000.

In August of 2000, Tommy, Beth, John Dickey and Jason Smith were climbing a big wall in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. A group of militants on the ground began to shoot at them, forcing them down. Following that, the team was held for several days while Kyryzstani soldiers searched for them. The only reason they escaped is because Tommy was forced to push one of the militants off a cliff so that they could escape...

This is a central part of the climber's life, and indeed a central part of The Dawn Wall documentary. Tommy's experience lead him to marry Beth. That same experience was partly to blame for their divorce. The divorce drove Tommy to find an impossible project...and that project was the Dawn Wall on El Cap.

The film chronicles all of these different features. But there is one thing that stands out above the rest. It is the fact that Tommy places his partnership with Kevin above all things. He sees his climbing partnership as something that is almost holy. And as Kevin's falters on the wall, Tommy can't imagine finishing the project without him. They worked too hard together to allow one of them to fail.

People often ask the question, "why do you climb?"

The answer isn't, "because it's there." The answer is exactly what The Dawn Wall is about. It's a film that celebrates athleticism, natural beauty, the human spirit, and perhaps most importantly, friendship. These are the reasons most people climb. And these are the central subjects of the Dawn Wall film...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, December 7, 2018

Off Piste: Tragedy in the Alps

In January of 2015, two young skiers ventured off trail in the Alps. They were unaware of the difference between skiing in North America and in Europe. Off piste in Europe is essentially out-of-bounds and there was no avalanche mitigation.

Unfortunately, the two young men -- rising stars on the US Ski Team and Olympic hopefuls -- were caught in an avalanche...and both were killed...

The US Ski and Snowboard blog posted the following about the two skiers after the accident:

Killed in the avalanche were Ronnie Berlack, 20 (Franconia, NH and Burke Mountain, VT) and Bryce Astle, 19 (Sandy, UT).

“Ronnie and Bryce were both outstanding ski racers who were passionate about their sport – both on the race course and skiing the mountain,” said U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Tiger Shaw. “Our hearts go out to the Berlack and Astle families, as well as to their extended sport family. Both of them loved what they did and conveyed that to those around them.”

Berlack grew up racing in New Hampshire and had been a student-athlete at Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy. He was named to the U.S. Ski Team’s Development Team following two top-20s at the 2013 U.S. Alpine Championships and a spring tryout camp.

Astle raced at Snowbird and was invited to train with the development team trip this season. He had posted strong early season results, including two top-10 NorAm Cup races last month in Canada.

The Brass Foundation is an organization that promotes avalanche awareness amongst ski racers and coaches. They have produced an excellent film about the accident that took these two ski racers lives, and educational material about avalanche avoidance. To see the video, click below.

To learn more about the Brass Foundation, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 12/6/18


--Go Skagit is reporting that, "Six fishers — medium-sized, furry carnivores — will be released into the North Cascades this morning near the visitor center in Newhalem. The stocky, dark brown critters are related to weasels and are about the size of a house cat. The release today within the North Cascades National Park Service Complex is the latest step in an ongoing effort to restore populations of the native carnivore to the state's forests, according to a news release from the National Park Service." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--In what feels like a never-ending war with those who would like to develop Blue Diamond Hill across the street from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, conservationists and climbers have won the most recent battle. Save Red Rock is reporting that, "Clark County Commissioner, Susan Brager, today informed Save Red Rock that the Gypsum Resources development request will not be heard on tomorrow’s agenda. Susan Brager is the Commissioner over District F which includes the Red Rock Canyon area. 'We are so grateful to Commissioner Brager for listening to her constituents,' said Heather Fisher, President of Save Red Rock, adding, 'Thousands of phone calls and emails were sent to all the Commissioners asking them to keep their promises and protect Red Rock Canyon, and today Susan Brager said she would stand true to her word.'" To read more, click here.

A climber rappelling in Joshua Tree National Park.

--Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree National Park is now reservation only. This could be a very good thing for those planning road trips well in advance. Historically, it's been hard to just show up in Joshua Tree during the high season and get a campsite. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Between November 28th and December 2nd, there were 54 recorded avalanches in Colorado. To read more, click here.

--The extremely popular Narrows Trail in Zion National Park is under threat. There is a dispute between the NPS and a private land owner about the trail. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Jackson Hole News and Guide is reporting that, "Five people caught in an in-bounds avalanche at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Saturday morning all survived the slide. At least one skier triggered the slide around 9:55 a.m. The avalanche’s crown was roughly 2 feet deep and 150 feet wide on the southern end of the Expert Chutes, resort spokesperson Anna Cole said." To read more, click here.

--The Ithica Voice is reporting on two individuals that were lost in the New York State wilderness. "Two cross-country skiers were lost for several hours Saturday in Hammond Hill State Forest. As it grew dark and the weather changed, the skiers' situation became increasingly dangerous. While the two skiers were wandering and looking for help, more than 70 volunteers from dozens of local agencies were searching the forest and finally linked up with the women after nine hours." To read more, click here.

--There were several avalanches in the Canadian Rockies and Selkirks over the last week. To read more, click here.

Arlene Blum has authored several books, including
Annapurna: A Woman's Place.

--Arlene Blum, a noted author, climber and expedition leader, has been accepted into the California Hall of Fame. To read more, click here.

--The Calgary Herald is reporting that, "a world-renowned Alberta ski resort has been fined just over $2 million for cutting down endangered trees five years ago. Judge Heather Lamoureux has given Lake Louise resort in Banff National Park one year to pay the fine. The resort pleaded guilty last December to taking down a stand of trees, including 38 whitebark pine, along a ski run in 2013." To read more, click here.

--There's a new drytool crag in the Canadian Rockies. To read more, click here.

--Stone stacking is a thing. You see them all over: precariously balanced stone towers. They look cool, but they are not a good example of Leave No Trace. To read more, click here.

--This is wild, it looks like you can rent ski apparel now. To read more, click here.

--Wyoming Public Media is reporting that. The outdoor recreation industry makes up an important part of the Mountain West economy and it’s feeling relieved right now after President Trump and President Xi of China have agreed to pause their escalating trade wars for now. That pause is in effect for 90 days. It means products that would have been subjected to a tariff increase by the end of the year will now be spared, at least temporarily." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Climbing Out - A Film about the Power of the Mountains in Recovery

Wikipedia defines wilderness therapy as, "an adventure-based therapy treatment modality for behavior modification and interpersonal self-improvement, combining experiential education, individual and group therapy in a wilderness setting." What they're referring to is a style of therapy that is supported by individuals trained to help a person overcome personal demons by using the wilderness or wilderness adventure as a backdrop.

But there's another model of wilderness therapy. It's the self-imposed model. It's a model that many people use to, "get away from the world." Or to "discover yourself." Or to "deal with something."

There is a long history of climbers and skiers, backpackers and explorers, sailors and adventurers, using the wilderness as a self-imposed form of wilderness therapy. There is also a long history of those who have had difficulties in their lives using wilderness adventure or a goal in the wilderness to show themselves, and the world, that they have overcome the thing that held them back.

This last thought brings us to the mountain as a metaphor. I have a personal history with cancer. As a teenager, I overcame brain cancer. Climbing mountains was a way to show myself that I was back, that I had beat my disease. I've met literally hundreds of people over the years that have used mountain climbing or the ascent of a single mountain as a goal to show that they've overcome a disease.

There's another disease that -- when overcome, or when in recovery -- is often a reason that people give to climb a hard mountain.  And that disease is addiction...

The mountain climb is a ubiquitous metaphor. It is commonly stated that one climbs a mountain to overcome a disease. Therefore it shouldn't be a surprise that so many people want to climb a mountain when they feel that they are close to defeating a disease, or at least are successful in resisting it...

REI has put together a very nice short film about a woman who is literally climbing out of addiction on Mt. Rainier. You can view this excellent film below...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 3, 2018

Winter Backcountry Campsite Construction

Outdoor Research has posted a nice video on how to create a backcountry winter campsite. Specifically, they design a site for a Megamid or Mega Lite style tent. These are circus style tents with no floor and a center pole. In the snow, this style of tent allows for quite a bit of customization.

It should be noted that this style of tent is often used for cook tents on expeditions. Historically, AAI guides used this style of tent to create cook tents on Denali. Climbers still slept in tents with floors, but the ability to customize cooking space makes this a very desirable tent to operate with in an expeditionary setting.

Check out the video on how to build a backcountry campsite in the snow, below:

  1. Stamp out a platform with your skis.
  2. Start small with digging out the tent area.
  3. One person will climb down onto the "table" and hold the center tentpole. That person should place the tentpole on something that will disperse the weight appropriately.
  4. Once the tent is up, fill in the snow around the edges.
  5. Dig down inside to create bed areas or benches.
  6. Cut blocks with a snow saw and stack the blocks around the tent to decrease the impact of wind.
  7. Finally, when taking down the tent, be sure to fill into the holes. There's no reason to leave a place where someone could ski into a hole and get hurt.
People who do a lot of light backpacking also often use this style of tent. However, the tent is not as good if you have bug or rodent issues, issues you won't have in the snow.

One more interesting thing... These tents are often used in outdoor education. Outdoor educators have started to refer to the pole in the center of the tent as a "chastity pole." In other words, it blocks someone from rolling over to snuggle with someone else. So if snuggling is your thing, this probably isn't the tent set-up for you...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 30, 2018

No Shortcuts - Ski Training Video

It takes a tremendous amount of dedication to become one of the top big mountain skiers in the world. Pro skier Dane Tudor is at the top of his game. The following video shows what it takes to get there...

I think that there's something to be said about the name "no shortcuts." The reality for every mountain athlete is that they have to work incredibly hard to get to where they are. There really are no shortcuts to being as good as you can be...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/29/18


--The North Cascades Highway (Highway 20) officially closed yesterday. It is closed between milepost 134 at Diablo Overlook, east of Newhalem and milepost 171 at Silver Star Creek west of Mazama. The highway typically reopens in early May. The highway usually closes once there is enough snow to warrant avalanche danger to the road around the Liberty Bell massif.

--King County is reporting that their pilot project which entailed providing transportation to trailheads was a success. "Hikers boarded Trailhead Direct for more than 10,000 round trips during the first full season of the transit-to-trails service, increasing the number of people who explored King County’s mountain forests without having to drive or park." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--There at it again. The developers continue to do whatever they can to try to develop Blue Diamond Hill across the street from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Las Vegas. This world class climbing area has been under threat for nearly two decades now. A group of Clark County commissioners promised to protect the Conservation Area. It now looks like they may have reneged  on that promise. To learn more and to sign a petition to save Red Rock, click here.

 A climber on Johnny Vegas (5.7, II) in 
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

--Speaking of Red Rock, it was pretty busy there over the weekend. Black Friday was Red Rock Friday for many. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

-This is truly horrible. The Anchorage Daily News is reporting that, "A Whitehorse French immersion teacher and her infant are dead after a grizzly bear attack at their trapper’s cabin in a remote area of central Yukon, their bodies discovered by her partner as he returned home from a trapline." To read more, click here.

--This is spooky. A woman was ripping down the side of a Mexican volcano, sliding on her back, headfirst, when a dude tackled her to stop the fall. Had she slid into the rocks, she certainly would have been killed. To see dramatic video and to read more, click here.

--Here's a cool story about a legally blind climber from Oklahoma who has done extremely well in the world of competition climbing.

--A massive ice pillar called, The Real Big Drip, a direct ice variation to a classic line -- saw it's first ascent in Canada's Ghost River Valley recently. The 600-foot line clocks in at WI 7, M8. To read more, click here.

--Patagonia is donating the 10 million dollars they saved in President Trump's tax cuts to programs that are on the front line of fighting climate change! To read more, click here.

--Outside online is reporting on the changing image of the ski resort as large corporations buy them out. "Conglomerates aren’t killing off core skiers and riders. In fact, they’re throwing them a lifeline. Acquisitions come with downsides, of course, including overcrowding and excessive grooming. But by drastically reducing the cost of ski passes and offering some semblance of job security for locals, the corporations are giving the struggling industry a future." To read more, click here.