Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fixed Lines for Cragging

There are many types of fixed lines. Some climbers use fixed lines in aid climbing to get back to their high point. Some climbers use them in expeditionary climbing to protect exhaustingly long slopes. And others use them more simply just to move up and down from the top of a smaller crag.

Each style of fixed rope has its uses, but surprisingly, the style used the most is the third style. Short sections of fixed rope are common at cragging areas throughout the country. Most of these ropes are used to facilitate classes for beginners.

Fixed lines are designed to protect an individual who is moving over exposed second, third or even fourth class terrain. In this application (with beginners) they shouldn't be used for more difficult terrain. Instead, such terrain should probably be belayed.

Fixed lines are relatively simple to install. Build a 12-point SERENE anchor at the top and then work your way down the exposed area, placing gear along the way. At each piece of gear, the fixed line should be clipped in with an overhand eight knot. It should not run through the carabiners freely as this would defeat the purpose of the pieces. Each stretch of rope should be isolated.

There are three ways that an individual might use a fixed line. First, they might simply use it as a handline. This is the simplest way as there is little for climbers to do but hold the line. Such a use indicates that the likelyhood of a fall is low and that an individual or a group simply needs a little bit of additional security.

Climbers moving down a hand-line.

Second, they might use the lobster claw technique. This is where an individual girth-hitches two slings to their tie-in point. A locking carabiner is then clipped to the end of each sling. A climber can then clip both slings to the fixed line as he or she moves up the line. As the climber gets to set pieces, he or she can clip past the piece without coming completely off the rope.


A static line protecting a brushy ledge. Note the pieces along the rope.


Another view of a static line protecting an exposed area along a trail.

The third technique is to place a prussik on the fixed line. A prussik offers the most security as it won't allow a person to fall anywhere if they slip. If you have one section that requires such tactics, it's not a bad idea to pre-rig the prussiks so that the beginner doesn't have to rig it in an exposed area.

No matter which style of line you employ, a good rule of thumb is that only one person should be attached to a given part of the line. You should never have two people in the same part of the system.

Fixed lines are great, but they should not take the place of a real belay. Before exposing your beginner friends to a fixed line, be sure that it makes sense. Be sure that it is the best solution to your problem. And be sure that everybody knows what they're supposed to do when they move up or down the line...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, September 18, 2017

Definitions for Beginners: Top-Rope vs. Lead vs. Bouldering vs. Free Solo

There is a legitimate concern that some have put forward concerning this blog. Occasionally, I get a little bit too techy and forget that climbers with a multitude of skill levels read these articles. It's good to step back a little bit sometimes and make sure that everyone is on board with some of the basics.

There are four terms that we use quite often on this blog.  First, the term top-rope.  Second, the term lead, as in lead-climber. Third, the term bouldering.  And fourth, the term free-soloing.  Following is a breakdown of these terms and their definitions.

Top-Rope Climber

A top-rope climber is a person who has a rope running from his or her harness, up to an anchor at the top of a cliff and then back down to a belayer at the base.  This is a standard technique, and it is the technique regularly used for beginning level climbers and at rock gyms.


A Climber Belays another Climber on Top-Rope in Joshua Tree National Park
Photo by Jason Martin

The value of a top-rope is that it is highly unlikely that a climber will fall very far.  The rope can be somewhat tight if the climber is a beginner or somewhat loose if he or she is comfortable.

Lead Climber

In essence, the lead climber is the guy that "gets the rope up there." A belayer pays out rope to a person as he climbs up.  The leader places rock protection as he goes and clips his rope to it.  He then continues climbing above the protection.  Should the leader fall ten feet above his last piece of protection, he will fall past his gear, and the belayer will catch him after he has fallen twenty feet.  The rope stretches so that the impact is not as great on the leader.


A Leader Working His Way Up a Climb


The act of falling on lead can be very safe, or quite dangerous.  It all depends on whether the fall is "clean" or not.  A clean fall means that there is nothing for the leader to hit.  A fall above a ledge or a protrusion could lead to serious injury.

Leading can be done in a very responsible way that limits one's exposure to danger.  But it does take a lot of training and practice to bring one's abilities to such a level where he or she has a good understanding of what kind of gear placements will hold a fall and what kind will not.


Bouldering

Bouldering is one of the fastest growing types of climbing.  In this, a climber does not use a rope, but also does not climb more than a few feet off the ground.  A boulderer is focused on making a handful of hard moves and will often work on those moves for a long period of time before completing a sequence.

Most boulderers use a pad or commercial bouldering mattress to protect themselves from ground-falls.  Every climber who falls bouldering hits a mat or the ground, as such there is some danger involved in the sport. 

Free Soloing

Often confused with free climbing, (which is simply climbing without the use of direct aid, but with a rope) free soloing is the art of climbing a route without a rope.

Obviously free soloing is the most dangerous type of climbing that there is.  If an individual falls in this situation, survival is highly unlikely.

Climbing is a varied sport with many different aspects to it.  Not every aspect is for every person.  Ultimately, the amount of risk that you choose to engage in within the sport is completely up to you. Indeed, the level of accomplishment you feel engaging in any kind of climbing is also completely personal.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Birth and Death of a Carabiner

A few weeks ago we put up a post on rope construction. Black Diamond has produced a little video entitled, "The Birth of a Carabiner." The video doesn't dwell on narration or anything else, it's just a quick peak inside a shop where carabiners are made.



Of course, once carabiners are made, a couple are tested from every batch. In other words, this is the death part of this blog.

The following video from Omega Pacific shows a force test on a carabiner. This is an awesome video. It's pretty intense to watch as the tester puts more and more and more pressure on it...



--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 9/14/17

Northwest:

--In this era of hurricanes and wildfires, it's good for all of us to think about our carbon footprints and what we can do in our lives to fight climate change. With that in mind, Powder magazine has a nice article on skiing the volcanoes with a smaller carbon footprint. To read the article, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--There are almost 60,000 cigarette butts on trails in Grand Canyon National Park. Gross. To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--The Durango Herald is reporting that, "A 40-year-old rock climber from Durango who fell 100 feet while climbing in an area northeast of Durango on Saturday is expected to recover from his injuries, friends of the man said Sunday." To read more, click here.

--Here's a cool story about the climber mural on the side of a building in Denver.

Notes from All Over:

--Totem has issued a voluntary recall of cams. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tree Ratings in kN

At one of the American Mountain Guides Association Single Pitch Instructor Provider continuing education programs, we discussed the strength of trees. One SPI provider noted that he had pull tested a tree to failure with a load cell and found that the tree had a 17kN value.

17kN is a decently high value. A kilonewton (kN) is worth approximately 225lbs. And most carabiners and slings are rated at 21-24kN. 17kN isn't quite high enough for a stand-alone anchor, but it is plenty high enough for a rappel or for an anchor component.

Just how good is that tree in the crack?

As soon as the provider finished speaking, several people challenged him. "That rating was only good for that tree at that spot," one person said. "It's all about the root system," another said. "You can't tell anything with one test," a third said.

All three of the people who challenged the provider were right. One test on one tree in one area doesn't really provide you with any real data. You need something more...

A few weeks later I attended the International Technical Rescue Symposium. The symposium brings together some of he best minds in rope rescue. Many participants do research and present papers at the event. At this particular symposium John Morton, a rescue technician from Everett Mountain Rescue and the Snohomish Helicopter Rescue Team, presented a paper on the kN value of trees.

Morton started working on determing the values of trees some years earlier with Mark Miller, a mountain guide and rescue instructor who was tragically killed in an accident early in 2015. After Mark's death, Morton continued to work on this project.

Essentially, he came at this problem in a new way. He looked at trees as anchors that have already been tested...by the wind.

When there is a windstorm, trees are seriously stressed. Indeed, they are tested just like any other piece of rescue or climbing equipment. They act almost like a sail and capture a tremendous amount of wind. If they don't fall over, then they've been tested to a certain level of kN.

Morton took this and developed a formula based on a combination of tree species profile and how windstorms impact those trees. In the process he further refined his formula to accommodate for trees on the lee side of hills. And when he was done... He had a means to actively give every tree everywhere a kN rating.

Click to Enlarge

The preceding shows the circumference of several trees in the Pacific Northwest and their kN rating based on Morton's formula.

For a rappel anchor, we probably want something that has a minimum value of at least 8kN. Leader falls are often given a value of approximately 7.5kN, so while a rappel shouldn't provide that kind of impact, we should be prepared for it.

For a climbing anchor, we want something with a minimum of 20kN. And for a rescue anchor, we should probably have at least 30kN.

By these figures, every tree in the PNW that is at least 22-inches in circumference is adequate for a climbing anchor. And every tree that is at least 25-inches in circumference is adequate for a rescue anchor.

For SAR personnel, Morton recommends carrying a field guide so that you might be able to look specifically at a given tree species and determine how small you can go.

This is really cool work. To see Morton's complete paper, please log onto http://itrsonline.org/papers/ and search for John Morton, "What if Trees had Ratings in kN? Tree Anchor Ratings Based on Wind Loading."

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, September 11, 2017

Film Review: Meru

Conrad Anker and Jimmy Chin have been major names in the climbing world for a long time. Both of the athletes have built themselves into climbing superstars.  Conrad is world famous for his ascents and even made waves in the non-climbing world by finding the body of George Mallory on Mt. Everest. Jimmy is well known for his climbing photography and cinematography.

In 2004, I was living in Las Vegas and guiding in Red Rock Canyon every day. Many of my friends at the time were living the "dirt bag" lifestyle, living out of their cars and getting after it whenever they could. It was then that I met a young climber who had just linked up three huge classic lines in Red Rock. Renan Ozturk linked Epinephrine (5.9, IV), Cloud Tower (5.12a, IV) and Levitation 29 (5.11c, IV) in a single day. I was absolutely amazed. Each of those lines are not only big, but are nowhere near each other...


It didn't surprise me when I started to hear stories about Renan climbing with Conrad and Jimmy. There's no doubt that he had the chops to play in the same world class arena as the other two.

There have been several articles and films that featured each one of these climbers over the last several years. But none of them come close to the aesthetic quality and the human tension that exists in the film, Meru.

Meru tells the story of the three climbers and one mountain: Meru. Or to be more specific, the Shark's Fin of Meru, which is a massive granite peak that combines mountaineering, ice climbing, mixed climbing and A4 big wall climbing skills to ascend. Dozens of parties have tried the route, but no one had succeeded.

Conrad attempted the route in 2003 with Doug Chabot and Bruce Miller, but failed. They simply didn't expect it to be as challenging as it was. The film chronicles his return to the mountain with Renan and Jimmy in 2008 and 2011.



In the course of the film, we discover that all three of the men have dealt with close calls and loss. Conrad's mentor died first, and then his best friend. Renan becomes seriously injured in an avalanche. And Jimmy barely escapes from another avalanche with his life.

The three men all have different reasons for climbing Meru. It was a dream passed down to Conrad from Mugs Stump, his alpine mentor. It was a passion for Jimmy as he slowly brought himself back into the climbing and skiing world from his brush with death. And it was an absolute necessity for Renan to prove to himself that he still is who he was before his accident.

Meru is a beautiful film. The scenery mixed with the expert cinematography is breathtaking. But the real story is the story of the three men, mountain partners who work together to achieve a goal while sealing the bonds of friendship...

There is no doubt that it was a tremendously difficult task to make such a film in such conditions. There were times when I was amazed by the fact that the camera elevates as if by a boom (where did they get a boom in the mountains?) to provide a better shot. There were other times that I was shocked that they kept the camera rolling when someone was clearly in pain or at the edge. And there were times that I was amazed by the fact that they probably had to climb something twice or even three times in order to get a shot. And indeed, I was amazed by the fact that it all came together so seamlessly. Meru is a testament to documentary filmmaking. It is a testament to what can be done...

I had an unusual experience in this film. It was the first documentary-style climbing film that I had ever seen with a non-climber audience. Most of the films that I see like this are at Reel Rock Film Festival, at Banff Film Festival or at 5 Point Film Festival. The people watching films at these types of festivals tend to be like-minded individuals, who don't hyperventilate at the heights depicted or question the motives of the climbers.

It was valuable to have this experience watching the film with non-climbers, in part because hearing the reactions and the gasps of the audience reminded me what a beautiful place the mountains are, and how the images of what we do inspire others. But we need inspiration too. And that's where the value of a movie like this comes into play. Those of us who are not world class climbers need people like Conrad, Jimmy and Renan to inspire us. And a film like Meru does exactly that. It reminds us what is possible...

Jason D. Martin

Friday, September 8, 2017

Bad Belay Video

When we saw this we were literally falling over laughing. These images are funny because they're -- unfortunately -- sometimes true.



--Jason D. Martin