Monday, September 1, 2014

Wilderness Navigation

There are many parts to wilderness navigation, but four tools stand out as being the most important. First, a good topographical map. Second, a compass. Third, an altimeter. And fourth a GPS unit. Each of these items is a complex tool that takes a great deal of time and energy to use effectively.

The following video, made by the owner of Midwest Mountaineering, Rod Johnson, is a brief overview of the components required for successful wilderness navigation.



The map, the compass, the altimeter and the GPS must all be used in conjunction to one another. A climber should never depend solely on one of these items, but must practice using them as complimentary tools.

The best time to practice with navigation tools is when you need them the least. When the weather is good and it is possible to see everything, then there is little need for these. But when the weather is good, it is also possible to see what real-life features look like on a map. Understanding what the real-world looks like vs. the world in a white-out when you are completely reliant on your understanding of your tools is incredibly important. If you can get your systems worked out in perfect weather, then you'll be ready for it when things are less than perfect...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Indespensibles

We all have them. They are the luxury items that you absolutely must have on every trip.

They are the indispensables.

In climbing, we always worry about weight. Every single item that we carry costs us energy, so every single item that we carry should be valuable to us.

I have a few items that are absolutely and utterly indispensable for longer trips. These aren't always the lightest items, but for me, they are completely indispensable. I always take the proceeding items:
  1. a book
  2. a jetboil/reactor and lots of tea
  3. a pee bottle
  4. down booties or flip flops
  5. good chocolate
I am terrified of tent time. I am terrified of knowing how many stitches are in my tent because I don't have anything but counting them to occupy my time. And as you know, sometimes the weather causes us to be trapped in a tent for anything from a few hours to a few days. As a result there are two items that I will always have with me. First, a book and second, a jetboil or reactor with lots of tea.

Books can be heavy, but they are literally worth their weight in gold when there is a storm. If you are in the middle of a novel, don't be afraid to cut a book in half in order to avoid carrying some of the weight.  I often slice books in half and then put duct tape on the remaining spine to ensure that it doesn't fall apart.

I bring a jetboil or a reactor with lots of tea because these stoves can easily be used in a tent's vestibule. When I'm sitting in my tent for hours on end, drinking tea not only keeps me warm, but helps to keep me hydrated and occupied. And it tastes good too...

At the ripe old age of 42, I've become lazy. I do not want to get out of my tent at the middle of the night to use the bathroom...indeed, I don't want to get out of my sleeping bag. As such, I carry a pee bottle on  most of my mountaineering trips. Men have it a little bit easier with pee bottles than women do. If men get really good at using them, they don't have to get out of their sleeping bags. Women usually require a pee funnel (something that most female guides consider an indispensable). The reality is, that I find a pee bottle so indispensable to my happiness on trips, that I would use one at home if my wife would let me. She doesn't...and has threatened divorce if I even think of trying to use a pee bottle in bed.

Early in the season I like to bring down booties. These provide a great way to get out of your boots when it's snowy. Later in the season, when I can camp on dry dirt, I like to bring a pair of flip flops for the same reason. These items provide my boots the opportunity to dry and my feet the opportunity to breathe.

And lastly, I find good chocolate to be indispensable in the mountains. Why? For two reasons. First, it tastes really good and I have a sweet tooth. And second, eating fat before going to bed can help you keep warm at night. When your metabolism is at work breaking down fatty foods, it warms your body in the same manner as light exercise. It's hard to sleep while exercising, but not so hard when you're just  digesting.

While I consider each of these items to be indispensable on multi-day mountaineering trips, I consider all of them to be completely dispensable on short, fast and light alpine climbing trips. On such trips, I carry as little as possible. And when I say as little as possible, I mean as little as possible. This may mean leaving everything from the toothbrush to the sleeping bag behind.

Everybody has luxuries that they consider to be indispensable. The goal in creating a list of indispensable items is to really think about things that you absolutely must have in order to be comfortable. And your indispensable list should be very very short...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 8/28/14

Northwest:

--A climber was injured on the Apron in Squamish last week. To read more, click here and here.

--A team that combined the Access Fund, and representatives from the American Mountain Guides Association, the Mountaineers, and the Wilderness Society climbed the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak last week to assess the current state of anchors. In a controversial move, two years ago, the NPS removed fixed anchors from the route's descent route. To read more, click here.

--The National Park Service said Thursday it will consider moving grizzly bears into the North Cascade Mountains of Washington state to aid their recovery. The agency is launching a three-year process to study a variety of options for helping their population. Director Jonathan B. Jarvis stressed that the process is required under federal law but no decision had been made. Native American tribes and conservation groups have pressed for years for the federal government to do more to bring back the bears. To read more, click here.

--A helicopter equipped with a mechanical claw plucked the bodies of three climbers from a glacier on Mount Rainier, in the same area where six went missing in late May, the National Park Service said Wednesday. A crew on a training flight spotted the bodies in an avalanche debris field Aug. 7 after they were exposed by melting snow, but the area, at the 9,500-foot level on the Carbon Glacier, was considered risky for a typical recovery operation. Warm weather has led to more ice and rock falls as well as the opening of new crevasses, making it one of the most hazardous spots on the 14,410-foot volcano, said park spokeswoman Patti Wold. To read more, click here.



--The Five Point Film Festival will be coming to Bellingham on September 20th. To learn more, click here.

--So it sounds like a couple climbed up Calculus Cracks in Squamish and got married on top. Following is the video to prove it:



Desert Southwest:

--In a sad turn of events, it appears the "Flyin' Brian" McCray, a prolific big wall climber and Red Rock local, took his own life this week. To read more, click here.

--One climber and two hikers were injured in Red Rock Canyon this week. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--In honor of the National Parks 98th Anniversary, all National Parks will be free on Monday.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Route Profile: Everest

Everest

29,029' (8848 m)

Mount Everest is still the ultimate mountaineering adventure. As one of the Seven Summits and also the highest mountain in the world, Everest has immense appeal to mountaineers and fascination for non-climbers. There is additional allure because of its position in Nepal's Khumbu, one of the world's most beautiful mountain regions, and because of its remarkable climbing history. An ascent of Everest provides immense personal challenge, a rewarding cultural experiences, and a personal connection with a rich history of exploration.

An attempt on Everest is also a major undertaking which requires significant climbing experience, solid alpine skills, good mountain judgment, excellent physical conditioning, and a huge amount of dedication and determination. If you see Everest as a definite or even possible climbing goal for yourself, we can help you through all the stages of your preparation, from technical skills development to training in cold weather survival skills and gaining high altitude climbing experience.

Which route? North or South?

The South Col route from Nepal offers the best chance of success for most climbers. High royalty fees by the Nepalese government have created a large disparity between the costs of Everest expeditions from Nepal and Tibet. 

It is well worth your time to research details about both sides of the mountain. People will argue the virtues of either approach. However, we maintain that the ‘entire package’ of the Nepal side makes it the preferred option: the delightful approach through the Sherpa homelands via the Khumbu valley, enjoying Sherpa hospitality in modern lodges with good food, and all the while being impressed by the spectacular scenery of the incredible peaks of the lower Khumbu.

Navigating a section of the Khumbu
Icefall. Guy Cotter.
The Khumbu icefall has a fearsome reputation and is indeed a phenomenal route to climb. Yet it is an integral characteristic of the south side that it is a ‘climbers route’, which means it requires a mountaineer to be well skilled in the use of crampons and ice axe. By the time you first arrive at Base Camp at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall, a route will already be established with ropes and ladders through to Camp 1. Sherpa teams will be busily involved in ferrying loads of equipment up the mountain. After a few days acclimatization at Base Camp, you will climb through the Icefall to Camp 1 and rest for a day. The following day you will continue up the more gentle slopes of the Western Cwm to Camp 2 to rest and acclimatize for several more days. A day-climb up the Lhotse Face towards Camp 3 will complete this first foray before returning to Base Camp. During this time the guides and Sherpa climbers will be establishing the higher camps and stocking these with bottled oxygen for the summit climb.

The Western Cwm is renowned for the phenomenal views of Lhotse, Nuptse, Pumori and Cho Oyu and our Camp 2 is situated directly beneath the imposing black hulk of the notorious Southwest face. As one climbs higher up the route to South Col, the views become even more outstanding with incredible vistas along the Himalayan mountain range and out towards the lowlands of Nepal. We ascend 900m from the South Col on summit day via moderate snow slopes with the occasional rock step to climb over. Approaching the South Summit as dawn breaks reveals astounding views from Kanchenjunga in the east to Shishapangma off to the west with all the peaks of the Khumbu well below us. The traverse along the summit ridge is exposed and exciting. When we make our way up the Hillary step you can look 2,400m straight down onto our Camp 2 in the Western CWM and 3000m down the opposite side of the ridge into Tibet! The summit itself provides ample space for the obligatory summit photo and is a time to reflect on the journey thus far. For many it is one of the most memorable moments of a lifetime.

Big smiles on the summit of Everest!

Everest guide Dean Staples on his 9th summit of
Everest in 2013.
After the summit we descend via the same route, losing height quickly and generally arrive back at the South Col about 3-4 hours after leaving the summit. On the north side climbers must do a long traverse and it is this feature where climbers cannot lose elevation quickly that can cause the demise of tired climbers, especially those who have run out of oxygen.

Climbs on Everest are during the spring season because the weather becomes progressively warmer and the days longer. Winter winds have already scoured away much of the snow, which significantly reduces the snow avalanche hazard as well. Contrast this with the fall where as the expedition goes on, the days get shorter and colder with more snowfall. Consequently very few expeditions are undertaken in the fall and those that do have a low chance of success.

What it takes to climb Mount Everest

The South Col route on Mount Everest is not an especially technically difficult climb - nor is it the "Yak Route" as some non-Everest climbers have termed it. However, it is imperative that expedition members are well versed in the latest techniques and have experience in the high mountain environment.

Climbers high on the slopes of Everest.
Mark Sedon.
What most photographs do not show are the difficulties of operating at the extreme high altitudes. It is a physically demanding ascent, requiring enormous determination and stamina. An expedition to Everest is not a place for those who will give up when the going gets uncomfortable or strenuous. Days can be up to 15 hours long and although you will have lightened the loads you personally carry by having enough Sherpa support to carry your equipment, the days are still arduous and taxing, especially over the 7-9 weeks of the expedition.

The outcome of the expedition will be determined by three broad groups of factors. The first is environmental (weather and snow conditions, etc). The second is the logistical approach taken by the expedition leaders and the strategies employed to embark on a summit bid. The third is your own preparation in the years prior to the expedition and how you perform while the expedition is under way. We can help design a training program that will both physically and mentally prepare you for the climb, but you need to commit the time and energy to ensure you attain the correct conditioning.

Our Everest expeditions run every year from April 1 to June 2. Whether you're just starting out with a Seven Summits goal or you're in the decision process of committing to an Everest climb, feel free to contact us for more information and advice on how to make your dreams come true!


--
Dylan Cembalski
Alaska and 7 Summits Program Coordinator
Mountain Guide 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What's Wrong with this Picture?

Most climbers begin their career by toproping.  If you're reading this blog, it's likely that you've toproped before.  So I'd like to try something new with this blog.  I'd like to ask each of you out there in the dark corridors of the internets what you see wrong with each of the set-ups in the following pictures.

Don't jump ahead to the answers. Just see what you think. If you're really good, you'll write down all the things that you think are wrong before scrolling down to see if you were right...

Picture #1 -- This first photo was taken at Barney's Rubble in Leavenworth.  What's wrong with this picture?


Picture #2 -- This second picture was taken at the top of a sport route on the Aquifer Wall in Red Rock Canyon. What's wrong with this picture?


Picture #3 -- This last picture was taken at the top of a route at Mount Erie.  What's wrong with this picture?


So there are three pictures of toprope anchors that may or may not be problematic.  Write down your answers and then look below...




The Answers:

Picture #1:

This first anchor is a mess.  Here is a quick breakdown of the problems:
  1. The rope is going through a single quickdraw.  This is not what is considered industry standard. There should be redundancy at the power-point. Most often, the redundancy is reached by using two opposite and opposed lockers or three opposite and opposed non-lockers.
  2. The entire system is an massive Magic X or Sliding X. If your goal is to build an anchor that  meets the standards of the anchor building acronyms SRENE or ERNEST, then an open Sliding X is the wrong choice. The problem with a large open "self-equalizing" system is twofold. First, there is the potential for a shock-load if one of the pieces fail.  And second, there is no redundancy in the sling. If you need some level of self-equalization, the best thing to do is to add load limiting knots to the system. Load limiters will decrease the shock-load while creating redundancy in the sling.
  3. It's not at all clear what the sling on the right is for.
  4. Some people might believe that there should be two locking carabiners into the bolts.  I don't believe this to be necessary. As there are two bolts, and a carabiner into each bolt, there is redundancy.
 Picture #2:
  1. One should not directly toprope off of chains. The constant lowering motion of the rope slowly damages the anchor.  It is best to toprope directly off of your own gear and then to rappel with the ropes through the chains.
Picture #3:
  1. Yep, that's an American Death Triangle, which means it's bad. There are dangerous vectors between the two bolts, and there is no redundancy in the system.
  2. In a toproped setting, the power-point should have at least two opposite and opposed locking carabiners or three opposite and opposed non-locking carabiners.
  3. Like Picture #1, some people have stated that they would put locking carabiners into the bolts.  I don't believe this to be necessary. As there are two bolts, and a carabiner into each bolt, there is redundancy.
--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 25, 2014

Outhouse Etiquette

We spend a lot of time on this blog talking about different techniques for climbing. We talk about mountain ethics, land management advocacy and Leave No Trace. Indeed, we have several leave no trace articles in the blog, including one about how to deal with human waste in the backcountry...

But what about the front-country?

What about the outhouse?


Many of us car camp at front-country campgrounds. Some of us spend a significant amount of time these campgrounds. In most cases, the campground hosts work very hard to keep the outhouses clean, but they are public toilets and with public toilets come people who have toilet issues...

There is nothing worse than walking into an outhouse to find that someone who had to "go number two" missed. How in God's name do you miss the toilet and splatter everything around it...?

My assumption is that these individuals who miss are afraid of sitting down on a public toilet. But the irony of that is that these individuals -- those who miss -- are the reason someone might not want to sit on a public toilet.

So if you need to go to the bathroom and you're afraid to sit down on a public outhouse seat, get over it. If you can't get over it, then have the decency of putting the seat up before squatting.

There are a few more rules about outhouses:

  1. Don't throw garbage, diapers or feminine hygiene products into the outhouse toilet. They must be removed during service and as you can imagine, that is a very dirty and unpleasant job.
  2. Put the seat down when you are done, it will help keep the critters out and the smell down.
  3. Close the door when you're finished. This will also help to keep the animals out.
  4. Don't steal the toilet paper...
  5. And lastly, if you do miss your target, please please please, wipe the seat down...
--Jason D. Martin


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

The history of climbing in the Yosemite valley is artfully documented in the latest project from Sender Films.  Valley Uprising has already gotten a lot of attention as it has started to make its rounds through the festival circuit.



So here's a little scenario that is all too familiar to some of us:  You've graduated from college, you've got that magic piece of paper, and now your working that dream job, right?  Oh, wait... you mean that dream job isn't all its cracked up to be?  But somewhere along the way you've found something you are truly passionate about.  "Waste" is a short from Handman Productions and the good folks at Mountain Athlete - you know, that little "gym" in Jackson Hole that has a nasty habit of turning ski bums into ski mutants, and dirtbag climbers into hard men and women!  They take a look at a few of their athletes who have traded a "normal life" for the chance to chase their dreams of becoming pro skiers.


The Monster Factory- Episode 1: Waste from Handman Productions on Vimeo.

"I think I'd rather go toil in a garden or something" - that was Alex Honnold's response after seeing this footage of Cedar Wright struggling up "Squat," the 5.12 off-width test piece in Vedauwoo.  You can take the off-width out of the man, but sometimes you can't take the man out of the off-width...



Have a great weekend! - James