Saturday, May 23, 2015

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

This past week, the climbing community lost a true innovator, someone who pushed the limits of what was thought possible.  Dean Potter was killed in a base jumping incident in Yosemite National Park.  Sometimes Dean was a polarizing figure, inspiring to some, reckless to others, but always pushing himself and the activities he loved to the next level.  So for this Weekend Warrior, we're taking a look back at Dean and some of his accomplishments, both in the world of climbing and base jumping.

Back in 2006, Dean Potter was the first to free solo Ron Kauk's iconic Yosemite climb, Heaven.  At first glance, the steeply overhanging 5.12d/5.13a doesn't seem too big of a deal for a world-class climber.  Unfortunately, the following video doesn't zoom out to show you the big picture - from the base of the route, the cliff slopes steeply away and as Alex Honnold says, "if you fell anywhere past the middle of the route, you'd bounce all the way down to the valley floor" which is about 3,000 ft below.  Alex is the only other climber to solo the route.

Also in 2006, Dean was the third climber to solo Separate Reality, another Ron Kauk classic going originally at 5.12a, then later downgraded to 5.11d after a block fell off the end and exposed a better finish hold.  The 6 meter long roof crack, awkward finish and amazing setting made this a big standout in the climbing world.  It has since been climbed by other standout soloists like Honnold and Will Stanhope.

Also in 2006, Dean, Ammon McNeely, and Ivo Ninov set the speed record on the Reticent Wall, one of the hardest routes on El Capitan.  As he mentions in the next video, Dean soured on the notion of speed climbing and climbing "competitions," but was eventually drawn back to the world of speed climbing.  In 2010, Dean and Sean Leary broke the speed record of the Nose of El Capitan by shaving off 20 seconds from the previous record.

Beyond the world of climbing, Dean was also a major innovator in the world of slacklining and especially highlining.

Last year, Dean stirred up controversy when he based jumped with his dog in a specially designed backpack.  Some thought it was cruel and selfish, but it Dean's mind it was more cruel to leave his faithful companion at home while he was out embracing life.

In the final video this weekend, Alex Honnold discusses with CNN how Dean not only pushed the sports he loved, but how he also pushed himself to overcome his fears.

Have a good weekend! - James

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Ice Bollard

Steep snow or ice can be descended two ways. A climber could downclimb the terrain or he could rappel. Rappelling is always a dangerous option as a lot can go wrong...but in the mountains, sometimes the speed of rappelling is safer than downclimbing.

A Climber Rappels Off of an Ice Bollard

In hard frozen snow or on ice, one option is to create a bollard. A bollard is essentially a tear-drop shaped pillar that is cut into a frozen surface with an ice axe adze. The rope is then wrapped around the bollard for the rappel. Once the rappel is completed, the climber can simply pull the rope.

Bollards are not the strongest anchors available, but they are quick and effective. If you choose to use a bollard, it is important to do two things. Back them up and reset the rope after each rappel.

An Ice Bollard loosely Backed-Up by an Ice Screw

To back-up a bollard, create the bollard and then preset the rope. Place a piece of snow protection (e.g. a picket buried as a deadman) and then loosely clip a sling to both the piece and to the rope. Once this is set-up, the heaviest person with the heaviest pack should rappel first. The theory is that if the heaviest person with the heaviest pack doesn't blow out the bollard, then a lighter person should be able to remove the back-up piece and safely rappel.

To reset the rope after each rappel, simply treat the rope like dental floss. Pull on each end of the rope once your down. Resetting the rope like this will ensure that it doesn't freeze into place and get stuck.

An Ice Bollard backed-up by an Ice Screw

Snow and ice bollards are a quick and effective style of anchoring that avoids leaving trash -- or expensive gear -- behind. Practice with this style of rappel anchor will lead to a solid and safe understanding as to how one should employ them effectively...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/21/15

--The 'hidden' Cascade volcano that poses a threat.  Glacier Peak lurks within the northern Cascade Mountains. Unlike most of the other Cascade volcanos viewable from I-5 or even Seattle, this is the mountain no one notices. Yet Glacier Peak sits within the borders of Snohomish County and has a record of violent, even extreme eruptions. Full article here.

--Extreme sports legend Dean Potter was one of two BASE jumpers found dead in Yosemite National Park after attempting an aerial descent from Taft Point, authorities said. More here.

Desert Southwest:

--The grave new threat facing the Grand Canyon.  A massive new development promises housing, hotels and boutiques. Opponents say it will deface a national monumentThe U.S. Forest Service is accepting public comment for a controversial plan that would pave the way for a foreign developer to build a mega-development at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Full article here.

--Updates for AAI 2015 Denali Teams: 
Team 1 has begun the descent.
Team 2 is planning to move up to Camp 3
Team 3 has moved up to Camp 1.
Follow the dispatches at our Dispatch Blog 

Notes from All Over:
--Bernhard Hug of Switzerland and Tony Sbalbi of France climb seven peaks, some of more than 4km (13,123ft), within 24 hours. Hug and Sbalbi set off just after midnight skiing and climbing the mountains all within a day. After setting off under cover of darkness, their lights can be seen ascending and descending the slopes

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Film Review: Beyond the Edge

The first ascent of Everest...

Everyone knows the story of the first real attempt on Mt. Everest. Indeed, a tremendous amount of ink and a tremendous amount of film footage has been generated about the (possibly?) failed ascent of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine.

And of course, everyone knows the story of the first ascent. Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary made the first ascent of Mt. Everest on May 29th, 1953. News of the ascent reached London on June 2nd, the morning of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

Everyone knows that story. Right?

The answer is, kind of...

A lot more modern literature has been written about the Mallory-Irvine ascent than about the Hillary-Norgay ascent. And though the Hillary-Norgay ascent is recounted in volumes of different pieces on modern ascents of the mountain, a lot of the detail is missing.

And that's where the documentary Beyond the Edge comes into play.

Beyond the Edge tells the story of the 1953 expedition to Everest and the struggles that took place. The following is the synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes.

In 1953, the ascent of Everest remained the last of Earth's great challenges. Standing at over 29,000ft, the world's highest mountain posed a fearsome challenge and had already claimed thirteen lives in previous expeditions. Faced with treacherous winds, sub-zero temperatures and battling altitude sickness, Edmund Hillary, a modest bee-keeper and keen mountaineer from Auckland, New Zealand, and the experienced Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, of Nepal, finally achieved the impossible and became the first men to stand atop Everest. It was an event that stunned the world and defined an era. Hillary and Tenzing carried the hopes and dreams of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the people of the Himalayas and the entire British Empire on their shoulders. As the world slowly recovered from the horrors of World War II their efforts allowed people everywhere to believe a new age was dawning.

The story is told in a similar fashion to Touching the Void and The Summit. In other words, the tale is told using a blend of dramatizations, original footage and photographs. This provides one with the experience of reliving the expedition and all the drama that took place during it.

I consider myself to be a well-read climber. I've read all the historic and modern classics of mountaineering literature, but this documentary really made me feel like I didn't know that much about one of the most important ascents in mountaineering history. I mean, I suppose that I knew about all the hardships on the expedition. I suppose that I knew that they were on a razor thin timeline by the time they got high on the mountain, and I suppose I knew that Hillary and Tenzing were the second team to attempt the summit on the expedition...

But I didn't really know...

And that's where this film really fills in the gaps. For example, climbing the Hillary Step in 1953 was no different than committing to landing on the moon. You might not come back. In fact, it almost seemed more likely that they wouldn't come back than they would... Making those moves in such an exposed and inhospital place wearing all kinds of oxygen equipment was incredibly daring.

Beyond the Edge takes us into the minds of the Everest mountaineers. We live each of their struggles and fears on the mountain. And finally, we rejoice in their ascent to the summit.  Indeed, the film is so well done that I would hazard to say that no Everest history buff is complete without a viewing of Beyond the Edge.

As of this writing, Beyond the Edge is available streaming on Netflix.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Dangers of Glissading

Yep, you can find them in just about every issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering. They have unwieldy headlines like:

"Climber injured in Glissade Accident"
"Out of Control Glissade Leads to Fatality"
"Inexperience, Lack of Proper Clothing and Glissade with Crampons On"

Gissading is an incredibly fun endeavor. I've often felt that after achieving a somewhat physical summit that a good glassade run back down makes it all worth it. It's as if nature gave you something back for all of the work that you did to get up there. The desire to glissade though should be tempered by the reality...and the reality is that a lot of people get hurt glissading.

Most injuries take place because an individual breaks one of the cardinal rules. To stay safe, the best thing to do is to take these rules seriously.

The Cardinal Rules of Glissading 
  1. Never glissade with crampons on. If you're wearing crampons it means that you're probably on hard snow or ice. This means that should you glissade, you will slide really fast. If you slide really fast and you catch a crampon spike, your leg will snap like a dry twig. As such one should never glissade with crampons on. 
  2. Never glissade on a rope team. If one person loses control on a rope team, then others may do so as well. 
  3. Never glissade on a glacier. It's likely that you'll be roped up if you're on a glacier so if you do glissade, you will be breaking two rules at once. We don't glissade on glaciers because of the possibility of hidden crevasses. 
  4. Always make sure that you can see where you're going. This should make sense. If you can't see, then you could end up sliding into a talus field or off a cliff. 
  5. Make sure that there is a good run-out. A good run-out is imperative. One should certainly avoid glissading above dangerous edges, boulders or trees. 

These rules are quite black and white. There are few gray areas in glissading. If there is some question, then the best thing to do is to err on the side of caution. Though you might be tired, sometimes walking down the mountain is the safer alternative.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 15, 2015

Arresting a Crevasse Fall with a Rope

Over the last ten years it has become more and more popular for rope teams on glaciers to tie knots between one another. The idea is that should someone fall into a crevasse, the rope will cut into the lip and one of the knots will get stuck, thus arresting the fall.

We teach a lot of crevasse rescue at the American Alpine Institute and enjoy testing different theories while we're in the field. Most of our guides have done some level of testing on this particular glacier travel theory and amazingly enough, it works...sometimes.

What we have found is that there are two types of knots. There are knots that are flat on one side and knots that go around the rope. Knots that are flat on one side, like an overhand or a figure-eight on a bite, tend to slide over the lip more easily than knots that go around the rope, like a butterfly.

In our testing, what we've found is that early in the season, when there is more snow and the snow is softer, figure-eights and overhands will often bite the lip and hold. But as the season progresses and the lips become icier, the knots just slide right over. Butterfly knots are more likely to bite into the lip both early in the season as well as later.

The following video shows a demonstration of how to tie a butterfly knot:

There are some disadvantages to knots on the rope between climbers. When there are a lot of sastrugi formations or penitentes on the snow's surface, the knots can get caught and will hinder movement. It can be difficult to haul a person out of a crevasse who is being held by a knot as you will have to pass the knots. It can also be difficult for a climber to prusik out and deal with the knot welded in the lip.

I generally don't put knots in the rope on teams of four or more. There is so much weight in the system that it really isn't required. Three person teams are a little more difficult. If they are experienced, I usually don't put knots in the rope, but if they are novices, I'll usually put a couple knots in the rope. On two person teams, I always put butterflys in the center of the rope.

It's better not to put too many knots in the rope. If there really is a crevasse fall, they might arrest a victim, but that doesn't mean that it will be easy for the person to get out. Instead, most guides put one to three knots in the rope between themselves and the other climbers. More than that generally just creates more problems.

Knots in the rope are a nice additional safety measure, but they will not take the place of good technique and a solid set of skills.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/14/15

--AAI's Denali Team 1 is progressing up the mountain on its way to Camp 3. Follow their journey on our dispatch blog.

--Team 2 will be landing at Base Camp to start their expedition. Follow along here.

--British climbers Jon Griffith and Will Sim have made the first ascent of the northwest face of Mt. Deborah, a seldom-climbed, 12,339-foot peak in the Hayes Range, a group of mountains at the eastern end of the Alaska Range. Read full article here.
Notes from All Over:

--Maggie Daley Park Climbing Wall opens in Chicago. Touted by Park District officials as one of the largest outdoor climbing structures in the world, the walls reach 40 feet at their peak and encompass a total surface area of 19,000 square feet. Up to 100 people can climb on the structure at a time, Guthrie said.

--After a quick jaunt up to the Northern Hemisphere, Aussie Logan Barber made the first free ascent of The Firewall (5.13d) in Liming, China last week—now considered the hardest traditional climb in the country. Full article here. 

--Global Warming Hitting Highest Peaks Harder Than Expected.   After one of the mildest winters on record, it may come as no surprise to hear that the world’s highest mountains may be warming much faster than than the global average — and faster than previously thought. Full article here.

--VIDEO: Freeskier Survives HUGE Avalanche with ABS Backpack. Watch here.