Monday, October 24, 2016

Book Review: Climbing Self-Rescue

Most climbers are concerned about what might happen if there were an accident high on a steep face. Most climbers play-out some kind of heroic scenario in their heads where they get out of said accident. But most climbers don't spend the time required to learn how to deal with a serious situation. In other words, the reality vs. what plays out in a climber's head could be quite different. As such, all climbers need to invest some time in learning about rock rescue.

The best way to acquire the skills required to deal with an accident in a multi-pitch setting is to take a class on it. But for those who don't have the time or the money, the late Andy Tyson and Molly Loomis wrote an excellent textbook a few years ago on the subject entitled, Climbing Self-Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations.

Tyson and Loomis put together a book that starts with what one should do in the case of an accident and then goes into an overview of baseline knowledge. They discuss knots and hitches as well as ropes, webbing and carabiners. After this introduction, they present the alternatives available to a climber during a rescue. These are escaping the belay, rappelling, hauling and lowering. And though these sound like simple things, in reality they are quite difficult with a injured or unconscious patient. Each technique requires a series of steps that are outside the average climber's knowledge base.

The primary competitor to this book is A Falcon Guide: Self-Rescue by David J. Fasulo. While this book is also excellent and covers much of the same ground as Climbing Self-Rescue, Tyson and Loomis have one-upped the Fasulo book by adding a comprehensive series of scenarios at the end of their text which could be used in "practice rescues." The scenarios are complex and often require mastery of multiple rescue techniques in order for a climber to achieve success. And indeed, it is when one has mastery that one will actually be able to deal with a real situation. This element above all others makes Climbing Self-Rescue the better book.

Can you find the crossloaded carabiner in the photo
on the cover of this book?
There is no better way to learn any new technique than with a qualified guide, but for those looking for an introduction to self-rescue or for a supplement to their training, there is currently no better book on the market than Climbing Self-Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 21, 2016

Belay Glove Confession

A few years ago I was in a Nomad Ventures, the climbing shop near Joshua Tree National Park, when a question arose.

"Do you use these?" my partner asked.

I looked over and saw him holding a pair of hand jammies. Hand jammies are a pair of gimmicky gloves that supposedly take the place of hand tape. They cover the back of your hand with sticky rubber in order to protect the skin from the sharp innards of a crack

Hand jammies seem like a good idea, but there's a problem with them. The problem is not that they don't work. The problem is not that they're too expensive. And the problem definitely is not that they're difficult to use. No, instead the problem is one of style. To put it simply, hand jammies are dorky. So lets follow this syllogism to its natural conclusion.

A -- Hand jammies are dorky.
B -- Gunther wears hand jammies.
C -- Gunther is a dork.

So my response was simple. "No, I don't wear all."

My partner turned to the clerk behind the counter and asked the same question, "do you wear these?"

The clerk was a little less political in his answer. "No," he snorted. "I don't want to get beat up."

Sometime later, something happened to me. I didn't take up hand jammies. No, instead I started to wear something a bit worse. I started to wear belay gloves.

When you go out to the crag you'll notice that belay gloves are inot terribly common. The reason that they're uncommon is because most people don't see the need for them. Nobody really rappels or lowers anyone fast enough to burn their hands. And they certainly don't learn to wear them at the rock gym.

I don't wear them to avoid hand burns. I wear them to avoid the aluminum that inevitably gets transferred from the carabiners to the rope and then subsequently to my hands. Over the last few seasons I've found it harder and harder to wash the tiny fragments of metal out of the creases in my hands and as such it always looked like my hands were dirty.

I worked with a guide some time ago who was concerned that Alzheimer's disease comes from aluminum. As a result he always wore gloves whenever he handled a rope.

A short time after the guide told me about this, we had our first baby. My wife felt that when I got home from work I should play with the baby, which I gladly did. But she also felt that the black smudges I left all over the baby's clothes were a bit much.

And so, I began to wear belay gloves. Everybody made fun of me, but I still wore them...

A -- Belay gloves are dorky.
B -- Jason wear's belay gloves.
C -- Jason is a dork.

That's okay. I've embraced my inner dork and so now I can wear my belay gloves with pride. And I suppose that it's also kind of nice that when I get home I can pick up my kids and then put them back down without them looking like they've been rolling in the dirt...

(Jason and his daughter Holly in 2007, discussing the difference between hand jammies and baby jammies in Joshua Tree National Park.)

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/20/16


--The Idaho Statesman is reporting that, "A group of homeowners at Tamarack Resort has bought part of the financially troubled resort, ensuring it will be open to skiers this winter. The Tamarack Municipal Association also will control all skiing and summer and operations, including all six chairlifts and lodging, said the resort’s general manager, Brad Larsen." To read more, click here.

Read more here:

--Tom Evans, the longstanding photographer who regularly chronicaled what happened on El Capitan with his lens, has retired. Over the years Evans took thousands of photos of climbers on El Cap, including some of AAI guides. These were published on his site, El Cap Report. He will be missed. To read more, click here and here.

--There are two new accident reports up on ClimbingYosemite. To read the reports, click here.

--In inspiring news, a parapalegic climber recently made an ascent of Zodiac on El Capitan. Enoch Glidden and his partners took five days to climb the route. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Red Rock Canyon is still under threat. Here's an article about what's going on...

--The October Fire on Mt. Charleston near Las Vegas increased by two acres overnight and is now at 27 acres. The fire is located southeast of Mary Jane Falls near Big Falls on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest’s Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (SMNRA) near Las Vegas. The October Fire was reported at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14, and the cause has been determined to be an escaped illegal campfire. To read more, click here.

--Red Rock Rendezvous will take place from March 24 to 27. This is the premire climbing event of the year. Early registration is now open. Early registration allows you to save money and while also providing you with better clinic options than when you register closer to Rendezvous! To register for the event, click here.

--It is possible that Zion National Park will start to limit tourists. There is no word yet on how this will impact climbers. To read more, click here.

--So a random dude built a random monument to Woodrow Wilson behind his house in the desert. Randomly, it turns out that he built it inside Joshua Tree National Park. Weird. To read more, click here.


--Neptune Mountaineering, one of the staples of the climbing and skiing communities in Boulder, is facing eviction. The Daily Camera reports that the beloved outdoor retailer owes $70,000 in unpaid rent. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Access Fund and American Alpine Club are pleased to announce the 2016 Anchor Replacement Fund grant awards. Now in its second year, the Anchor Replacement Fund was launched to address the growing concerns of anchor failure and the access issues that could result from these incidents. Across the United States, bolts installed in the 80s and 90s are aging, and there is an immediate need to address inadequate fixed anchors and increase support for the growing number of local organizations and national partners that are tackling this problem. To read more, click here.

Bigfoot's hiding at the airport shoping mall in Seattle.
It is currently illegal to hunt at the airport.

--So apparently Bigfoot hunting is legal in Texas, but not California... To read more, click here.

--Are pay to climb resorts the future of climbing? We hope not. But here is an article by Climbing magazine on that topic.

--It's not a bad time to support the American Safe Climbing Association. Donations prior to November 1st will be matched by Planet Granite. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Giddy Climbing Balm Review

We do a handful of gear and equipment reviews on this blog, but we've never done one on any type of climbing balm or salve. Maybe that's because climbing balm has always seemed like lip balm or sunscreen. In other words, something you don't necessarily put a lot of thought into, but pick up occasionally...

However, a few months ago a guy at Giddy sent me some climbing salve to review. This caused me to think a little bit more about what is inside this kind of material.

But before I get into that, I want to make sure everybody is on the same page as to what this product is for...

Climbing can be really hard on your hands. The more time you spend gripping rock and dipping chalk the more dried out and callused your hands get. This doesn't bother everybody, and there are a lot of people out there that don't use any kind of salve to treat their calluses, cuts and splits in their skin. But some of us are bigger babies than others and we need some kind of lotion or salve to keep our hands from coming apart at the seams.

According to my research, the base ingredient in most climbing balms is beeswax. Here's a note on this from the Giddy website:

Beeswax, which is produced by female worker bees at a 10:1 honey to beeswax ratio (meaning it takes 10 pounds of honey to product 1 pound of beeswax), is primarily used in skin care products to bind, or emulsify, the oil components of cosmetic recipes. However, due to wax esthers found in beeswax that are similar to those found in human skin cells, beeswax has a wide variety of skin benefitting properties all on it’s own outside of the oils it binds together. First and foremost, similar to how beeswax is used as a protective agent for cloth, lining, and leathers, beeswax provides protective properties for your skin as well. Also, high in Vitamin A, beeswax helps penetrate skin and retain moisture without the risk of clogging pores.

Giddy adds a number of other ingredients to this base. They include things like almond oil, aloe vera gel, and apple cider vinegar. To see a complete list of ingredients, click here. Giddy states that each of the ingredients is organic or green. Indeed, one of their main marketing points is that their company is a green company...

My hands tend to get trashed in different ways, primarily based on the type of climbing I'm doing at any given time. My palms and finger pads get trashed when I'm sport climbing, and the backs of my hands and fingers get seriously beat up when I'm trad climbing. Occasionally, on longer climbing trips, my hands don't heal very well... There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Giddy Climbing Salve increased the speed at which my skin healed and decreased the pain of split skin.

There are several scents to the salve. They include cedar mint, cooling mint, lavender, sweet orange and unscented. The unscented version is also vegan friendly. And though some of the scents were quite nice, I didn't care for the sweet orange. I would recommend that you smell these, if possible, before ordering as this will be an issue of personal taste.

I didn't do any type of scientific comparison between different skin salves or balms. Instead, I just used this particular brand non-stop on a week-long climbing trip. There may be other good products out there, but Giddy works, and it works well...!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 17, 2016

Rack on the Shoulder or Shoot from the Hip?

I admit it...

I wore a shoulder rack until approximately 2013. Please don't judge me. I started climbing in 1992. It's hard to change and evolve. But after 21-years of shoulder slinging, I finally switched and began to shoot from the hip...

Why would you subject yourself to a shoulder sling, you might be asking?

The author in Red Rock Canyon (circa 2005)
sporting a shoulder rack on a multi-pitch climb.

Easy, there are a number of advantages to racking on a shoulder sling.

Shoulder Sling Advantages

1) It's easy to shift a shoulder sling from one side of your body to the other when climbing off-widths or chimneys.

2) When you climb sport routes, nothing changes on your harness.

3) It's very easy to swap leads by handing the rack to your partner. Indeed, on some speedy ascents, we actually used to hold the sling out so the climber following the pitch would climb right up into the sling and then keep going...!

4) It's easy to see the gear that you have on your rack. Nothing is hidden on a gear loop at the back of your harness.

5) In steep snow, with a lot of clothing, it may be easier to find gear on a shoulder sling.

But there are also a lot of disadvantages.

Shoulder Sling Disadvantages

1) A large rack rubs your shoulder and neck raw. It can be very painful to carry doubles or triples.

2) On low angle terrain, the rack constantly gets in your way. It's hard to see your feet.

3) The edges of cams commonly get caught on edges while you're climbing, making it difficult to move efficiently.

4) Shoulder slings with fixed loops tend to change positions on your shoulder. Heavier gear constantly pulls the rack into inopportune positions.

5) If you fall and flip upside down, it's possible to lose the entire rack.

If you look at the advantages and disadvantages of a shoulder sling, it starts to feel like it's about even. There are five advantages and five disadvantages. But choosing whether to use a shoulder sling or to "shoot from the hip" isn't so much about the advantages and disadvantages of the shoulder sling, it's also about the advantages and disadvantages of racking on your harness.

A climber with a rack on his harness.

Advantages of Racking on the Harness

1) Nothing is rubbing on your neck or shoulder.

2) You can see your feet. Additionally, there's nothing in front of you, so it's easier to see mid-level holds.

3) The edges of your cams are less likely to get caught.

4) Ice screw clippers work extremely well on a harness, but don't work at all on a shoulder rack.

5) Everything feels cleaner and more streamlined when it's on your harness.

6) Most climbers use this system. This makes it easier to work with lots of different partners while having similar systems.

Disadvantages to Racking on the Harness

1) Depending on the harness, gear may be hanging in awkward places. This is especially true with harnesses that have offset gear loops. It can be problematic when cams are hanging over the front of your thigh.

2) It's harder to swap gear between leads.

3) It can be hard to see which cam is which at your waist. I personally rack my cams with carabiners of corresponding color to easily find what I need on my gear loop.

4) There may not be enough space on the gear loops to accommodate all the gear required for a lead.


How you rack is ultimately a personal choice. But I do lean toward racking on the harness. The main reason for this is because I did rack on my shoulder for over twenty years. I didn't want to change. But when I finally committed to updating my system, I found it to be much more streamlined.

That said, I don't put everything on my harness. I still put some slings over my shoulder. So you could say that my technique is a bit of a hybrid...

If you're new to climbing, I would strongly suggest that you try both systems. There is value to being able to accommodate different systems for different kinds of climbing. But ultimately, you're going to lean toward one system that you use most of the time. These days, it's highly likely that you'll lean toward "shooting from the hip." However, if you decide that the shoulder sling is better, there's nothing wrong with that. How you climb is completely up to you...that's one of the cool things about this sport!

Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Climb - Videogame

Okay. Okay. So there is a virtual reality video game out there about climbing. And when I say virtual reality, I mean the type of game where you're wear a headset and look around and see what's behind  you.

It's kinda' cool!

Here's a trailer for the game:

And here is a really funny video with a guy who is clearly not a climber, testing out the game:

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/13/16


--Search and Rescue teams are frustrated that even after two high profile fatalities, people continue to venture into the Big Four Ice Caves. To read more, click here.

--It looks like it will be a snowier winter in the Pacific Northwest.

--The Washington State Department of Natural Resources is likely to regulate target shooting on its lands after several close calls around hikers and mountain bikers. To read more, click here.


--There is a petition to reintroduce grizzlies to the Sierra. To see a thread on the controversy and a link to the petition, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--There is once again a movement to build thousands of houses across the street from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. It is possible for climbers to fight this by becoming informed and signing a petition to stop this development. To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund has recently announced that an Inter-Tribal Coalition has come out in support of climbing at Bears Ears. This is the area that is currently under threat from extractive industries in southeastern Utah. To read more, click here.

--The Las Vegas Sun published an editorial about conservationalists working together on grassroots campaigns to defend and protect public lands from development. To read the editorial, click here.


--The Denver Post has an interesting piece this week on how social media plays into mistakes in avalanche terrain and how avalanche educators grapple with it. To read the story, click here.