Thursday, January 23, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 1/23/20

Climate Crisis:

--Here's how climate change is affecting outdoor adventures sports and wilderness exploration.


--Prolific Northwest mountaineer, artist, NPS ranger and guide, Dee Molenaar, died at the age of 101 on Sunday. As a ranger and guide, Dee climbed Mt. Rainer over 50-times. He was on the second ascent of Mt. St. Elias, and was on the third attempt to climb K2. To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "it was a tragic weekends at two B.C. ski resorts, as more inbound accidents lead to fatalities. The B.C. Coroner’s Service is investigating after a skier and a snowboarder died after becoming trapped in tree wells in separate incidents." To read more, click here.


--KCRA 3 is reporting that, "One person was killed and one person was seriously injured in an avalanche at a Tahoe ski resort on Friday morning, authorities said. The avalanche happened around 10:15 a.m. near the Subway ski run at Alpine Meadows ski resort, according to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office." To read more, click here.

Carson Now is reporting that, "The man who died Saturday has been identified as 36-year-old Christopher John Nicholson of South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Nicholson was a member of the Heavenly Ski Patrol and had been working that day. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Washoe County Coroner’s Office is working to identify a cause of death, according to a DCSO news release." To read more, click here.

Yosemite's El Capitan
Photo by Krista Eytchison

--At least 200-people left Yosemite with a norovirus recently.

Desert Southwest:

--CNN is reporting that, "Skeletal remains that were found in Joshua Tree National Park last month have been identified as 51-year-old Paul Miller, a Canadian man who went missing in 2018, according to officials." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Out There Colorado is reporting that, "An ice climber was killed on January 18, 2020 in Uncompahgre Gorge in Ouray County, Colorado when a block of falling ice triggered a small avalanche. Untethered at the time of the avalanche, the victim was hit and carried into a creek, where she was fully buried by snow and ice. According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the victim was not climbing at the time of the accident." To read more, click here.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "Police on Monday identified the skier who died Saturday on the slopes of Winter Park Resort as 25-year-old Francis Raymond Ermilio of Massachusetts. Ermilio was not an experienced skier and investigators believe he lost control Saturday afternoon while skiing an intermediate run and crashed into nearby trees, according to a news release from the Fraser Winter Park Police Department." To read more, click here.

--Out There Colorado is reporting that, "Backcountry skiers came to the rescue Saturday when a dog became buried under a large slab avalanche in Central Colorado." To read more, click here.

New Variation to Jah Man
Photo by Gaar Lausman

--Last week it was reported that the Moab classic Jah Man fell down. This week AAI guide Gaar Lausman and a few other locals developed three new pitches to link into the original line. To read more click here.

--The Adventure Blog is reporting that, "Colorado is home to 58 mountains that exceed 14,000 feet (4267 meters), which of course makes it one of the most mountainous states in the entire U.S. Over the years, countless climbers and hikers have made it a priority to climb each and every one of those mountains, which have entire websites dedicated to them. But recently, a Siberian husky by the name of Loki topped out on his 58th 14er as well, making him the third dog to ever accomplish that feat." To read more, click here.

--The Aspen Times is reporting that, "Former Aspen Skiing Co. executive and city Councilman Derek Johnson was sentenced to six years in prison Tuesday for methodically stealing and selling more than 13,000 pairs of company-owned skis worth nearly $6 million over more than 12 years." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--John Evans, a prolific American climber, recently died at the age of 82. To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "Legendary Rockies climber Charles “Chas” Yonge, who made hundreds of first ascents in Canada and was a world renowned cave explorer, has passed away. He was in his mid-70s." To read more, click here.

--The News Tribune is reporting on something really scary: "A family hike Monday in a Southern California wilderness park turned terrifying when a mountain lion lunged at a 3-year-old boy, The Orange County Register reports. The animal bit the child on the neck and began to drag him away in the 4:15 p.m. attack at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Lake Forest The father of the family of six threw a backpack at the mountain lion, which let go of the boy and retreated into a tree with the backpack." To read more, click here.

--Independent Record is reporting that, "an Indiana man was rescued uninjured from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone last week, according to district park ranger Klint Powell. Dave Christensen, 55, of Indiana, was reported rappelling into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone around 11 a.m. on Jan. 6. He was illegally off trail and in the canyon, according to Powell." To read more, click here.

--Applications are open for the Kyle Dempster Solo Award. From Gripped: "Each year, the Kyle Dempster Solo Adventure Award will be given to an American solo adventurer embarking on a journey that embodies Kyle’s passionate spirit and love of exploration, with an emphasis on storytelling and leave no trace ethics." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The "What People Think" Internet Meme

A couple years ago, there were a lot of "what people think" memes placed on social networking sites.  These usually involved a series of pictures subtitled with lines like, "what my mom thinks I do" or "what society thinks I do." Usually at the very end there is a final photographic punchline.

We've scoured the internet in order to find a handful of these that apply to our culture. If you find these hard to read, please click on them to enlarge:

It should be no surprise that there are some skiing memes out there:

Unfortunately, we couldn't find any that applied to mountaineering or mountain guides.  So our very own Andrew Yasso made the following memes:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, January 20, 2020

Closing the System and Staying Alive

It was a short day in December of 2007 and I had to get at least one more route in. The climbers who'd come in to climb with me were supposed to do a multi-pitch the next day.  So I rushed to the top and moved the rope from one top-rope anchor to the next.

I didn't notice that the ends on the ground had become offset.

I rappelled the rope, until one end slid easily through my device and I fell.  It was a short fall, only six feet, but I still ended up in the hospital. It took three months to recover from my fractured pelvis.

When I think back on this accident, the thing that burns me the most is that it could have been easily prevented. All that I had to do was to put stopper knots in the end of the rope, then it wouldn't have mattered if the ends were offset.

Most people think of rappelling off the end of your rope as some kind of grand thing that only happens way up off the ground. The reality is that it happens all the time in much less dramatic circumstances. It happens exactly the way it happened to me, with one end that didn't quite touch the ground. Often times the injuries are minor, but sometimes they're not.

The thing is that it is very easy to protect yourself from this type of accident. The way to do it is to "close the system." In other words, make sure that what happened to me simply can't happen to you...

Single-Pitch Rappel

In a single-pitch setting it's very easy to put a stopper knot in both ends of the rope.  This works well as there are limited concerns about the rope getting stuck somehow below you. The best knot to use is the barrel knot, or stopper knot. This is essentially half of a double-fisherman's knot. Though any knot will do.

A Stopper Knot (Barrel Knot)


A second situation that is different, but related, is the possibility of dropping someone by lowering them  until the rope runs out.  In such a situation, the rope runs through an unsuspecting belayer's hands, and then it's gone...and the climber falls to the ground.

Once again, this is extremely preventable.  Every single time you climb, you should tie a stopper knot in the open end of the rope. It doesn't matter if there is a hundred feet of rope on the ground.  The idea is to make knotting the end of your rope part of your process, so that when something does happen, nothing happens...

Multi-Pitch Rappels

When I preach the gospel of tying knots in the ends of ropes, a lot of people bring up a very valid concern.  On multi-pitch rappels, it's not uncommon for the ends of the rope to fall past a rappel station. If there are knots in those ends below, they can get caught down there.

One simple way to avoid this is to tie an overhand or an eight on a bite at the ends of the ropes.  Clip these to your harness before tossing the line. Then when you are ready to pull your rope, you can untie them.  If you keep them clipped to your harness until the very last moment, there are three advantages:

  1. The first advantage was the point of all this. You won't rappel off the end of your rope.
  2. The second advantage is that the knots can't get stuck below you and you have the end of your rope.
  3. And lastly, if you keep these clipped to your harness until the very last moment, it will also help you to remember to untie the knot at the end of the rope before pulling it.
Rappelling off the end of your rope or dropping someone are both things that most of us would like to avoid.  Climbing is dangerous. Something as simple as tying a knot can make it less so...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, January 17, 2020

Route Profile: Denali - West Rib

Denali - 20,320 ft (6194 m)

Route: Complete West Rib

Our approach is to climb this line "alpine style." In other words, we climb the normal West Buttress route up to Camp III at 14,200 feet to acclimatize. Leaving a cache of food and fuel at Camp III, we descend back down to Camp I at 7,800 feet with light packs. This approach will allow us to efficiently climb the West Rib in a single push without the use of fixed ropes.
Climbing the entrance couloir to the West Rib.
Climbing the entrance couloir to the West Rib. AAI Collection
The following day we will travel up the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna and establish a Camp at 9,400 feet. From the base of our route at 11,100 feet, we face a rather spectacular beginning: a 2000-foot couloir of 45 to 55-degree snow and ice. Pitching out this steep section is important because it is very strenuous and there are no options for shelter before reaching West Rib Camp III at 12,800 feet.
Once comfortably established on the crest of the Rib, we are confronted with another ice dome that requires additional pitching and climbing on hard alpine ice up to 60 degrees. Above the ice dome the climbing eases some, with a mixture of 45-degree snow and rock climbing as we work our way to Camp IV at 14,700 feet and Camp V at 16,400 feet. On summit day we climb snow and ice couloirs and then easy mixed rock, which leads us to the summit plateau at 19,400 feet. From that point we turn east and climb gradually to the final summit ridge.
Besides offering high quality climbing, this entire line of ascent is aesthetically attractive and provides great views of surrounding peaks and routes. As soon as we reach the rib crest we have the impressive outline of the Cassin Ridge off to our east; as we climb higher we see the West Buttress route and then look down onto its 14,000-foot plateau camp; and finally as we ascend the high snow and ice couloirs, we are able to look out to all the major peaks of the Alaska Range. With a descent via the lower half of the West Buttress route, we enjoy varied and remarkably beautiful terrain from beginning to end of this expedition.
Advantages to Climbing the Complete West Rib
1. This is a highly aesthetic line on one of America's most beautiful mountains. Were it not for the extreme popularity of the West Buttress to the left of the route, and of the notoriety of the world-class Cassin Ridge to the right of the route, this line would be one of the most recognized and sought after on the mountain.
2. An ascent of the Upper West Rib misses nearly 5000 feet of interesting and engaging climbing on the crest of the Rib proper adjacent to the beautiful Cassin Ridge.
3. An ascent of the entire West Rib is significantly more committing than an ascent of the Upper West Rib. Many see mountain commitment as an attractive element and seek out trips with such an aesthetic.
4. Many find the exposed and complex terrain of the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier to be both exhilarating and frightening. An ascent of the complete West Rib requires late night/early morning travel through this well-known zone. 

Route: West Rib Cutoff

Many individuals are interested in climbing Denali via a route other than the West Buttress, but don't want to commit to something as serious as the complete West Rib.
The Upper West Rib provides for a fantastic adventure on a classic line while still providing you with many of the aesthetics found on the West Buttress. On this climb, out team will ascent the standard West Buttress route up to Camp III at 14,200 feet. From there, we will climb up the West Rib Cut-Off to join the upper Rib.
High camp on the West Rib
High camp on the West Rib.
Joe Stock
After arriving at Camp III, most teams will make an acclimatization climb up to the 17,200-foot West Buttress camp. There they will leave a cache set-up for their descent a few days later.
After waiting for an appropriate weather window at Camp III, the team will work its way up the Cut-Off to join the ridge crest at 15,700 feet. Once the crest is reached, the climbing is absolutely fantastic. The team will climb a steep and sustained couloir to a protected camp at 16,400 feet.
On summit day, we will climb a six-hundred foot steep and windy couloir with sections of sixty-degree terrain to a flat spot at the base of the last crux. From here the team has two options, a traverse across the top of the infamous Orient Express couloir or an ascent up another steep couloir to the east. Both options top out on the "Football Field," a flatish spot below the final summit ridge. From here, the route once again joins the West Buttress to the mountain's summit at 20,320 feet.
Our descent will take us back down the West Buttress route to the camp that we prepped on our acclimatization ascent at 17,200 feet. From there, we will make our way down the West Buttress and back to Base Camp.
Advantages of Climbing the Upper West Rib
1. Climbing the Upper West Rib allows for a lighter ascent. If you climb the complete route, you must carry multiple days worth of food and fuel on your back. If you only climb the Upper Rib, the ascent to 14,200 feet will be sled assisted.
2. After climbing all the way up to Camp III at 14,200 feet, it can be demoralizing to descend all the way back down to the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier to start your "real" ascent.
3. Though this is an incredibly physical climb, it is ultimately an easier ascent than the Complete West Rib.
4. An ascent of the Upper West Rib avoids the complexity and the objective danger that complete Rib climbers face in the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.
Climbers approaching the summit after a successful climb of the West Rib.
Climbers descending after a successful climb of the West Rib.
AAI Collection
Feel free to call or email for more information about the West Rib route!

Dylan Cembalski
Alaska Programs and 7 Summits Coordinator
AAI Guide

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 1/16/20

Climate Crisis:

--The National Environmental Policy Act is under attack from the Trump Administration. According to the New York Times: "Many of the changes to the law — the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, a landmark measure that touches nearly every significant construction project in the country — have been long sought by the oil and gas industry, whose members applauded the move and called it long overdue." Such changes will have an effect on both the climate, as well as public lands where we recreate, everywhere. To read more, click here.

--CNN is reporting that, "Grasses, shrubs and mosses are growing and expanding around Mount Everest and across the Himalayan region as the area continues to experience the consequences of global warming, researchers have found."  To read more, click here.

--REI is working to decrease the amount of single use plastic in the outdoor industry. They intend to charge industry partners who send polybags for recycling fees. To read more, click here.

--Many low altitude ski resorts will be closing in the coming decade due to climate change.


--A 19-year-old ski racer had a close call with a tree well at Oregon's Mt. Bachelor this week. To read more, click here.

--7KTVB is reporting that, "Officials say an eastern Oregon man died in an avalanche Saturday while he was snowmobiling in the Elkhorn Mountains." To read more, click here.

--In response to overcrowding, Crystal Mountain Ski Resort is no longer selling day passes at their ticket window on weekends. Instead, skiers will have to buy them ahead of time online. This will decrease the chances that you will drive up and find a full parking lot. To read more, click here.


--News 4 is reporting that, "A Reno native and local hotshot firefighter captain died after a skiing accident at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe in December, according to his wife. 37-year-old Damian Rivadeneyra passed away at Renown hospital on Dec. 28, 2019 after complications from hitting a tree while skiing the day before." To read more, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "Lover’s Leap, outside Tahoe, California, has been deteriorating under a dramatic increase in climber traffic. This popular granite climbing area saw its first ascent in 1950 and is now home to over 180 climbing routes, including Travelers Buttress—one of the 50 classic climbs in America. The area draws droves of climbers from the San Francisco, Sacramento, and South Lake Tahoe climbing communities who appreciate the many traditional, multi-pitch routes in a beautiful forested setting. However, climber impacts have reached a tipping point." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

Mt. Wilson in Red Rock Canyon
Thieves recently hit a climber car in the parking lot for the right hand side of this feature.

--We continue to hear reports about active thieves in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Be sure to hide your stuff in your car to ensure that it doesn't get stolen.

Colorado and Utah:

--A female ice climber was hit and injured by falling ice at Utah's Bridal Veil Falls (WI 4-5+ variation dependent) To read more, click here.

--An avalanche hit a car this week in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

--The first pitch of the ultra-classic Moab climb, Jah Man (5.10c, II+) collapsed at the beginning of the month. To read more, click here.

-Out There Colorado is reporting that, "Hibernation season is in full swing, but some bears are still very much awake in Colorado. According to the Aspen Police Department, garbage cans need to be secured, even in the winter months, where bear activity is still being reported. The department recently shared a video of two black bears wandering around a snowy residence just earlier this month – an unusual time for bears sightings in the high elevation town that rests at nearly 8,000 feet." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Gripped is reporting that, "An avalanche on Mount Hector on the Icefields Parkways buried Canmore skier and family physician, Laura Koraskoski, for nearly an hour on Jan. 11. Her husband, Adam Campbell, and another skier were able to reach her and coordinate a rescue." To read more, click here.

--Sad news from Minnesota's Pioneer Press: "Hastings Middle School students and staff are struggling to cope with the sudden loss of a seventh-grader killed in a skiing accident this past weekend at Welch Village Ski Area in Welch." To read more, click here.

--The National Parks are under attack by the current administration. Their goal? To allow a dismantling of America's crown jewels for extractive industries. A former head of the NPS argues that it's time to disconnect the parks from the Department of the Interior to protect them from this kind of manipulation. To read more, click here.

--There is now an indoor ski area in a mall in New Jersey. It's essentially a bunny hill in a warehouse. What could possibly go wrong...?

--The News Tribune is reporting that, "men who were caught walking on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser at Yellowstone National Park have been sentenced to time behind bars, according to park rangers. The trespassing duo — 20-year-old Eric Schefflin of Lakewood, Colorado, and 25-year-old Ryan Goetz of Woodstock, New York — pleaded guilty to charges of thermal trespassing following the Sept. 10, 2019, incident at the iconic thermal spring in the park that spans Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park rangers said in a news release on Thursday." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund is reporting that it "is thrilled to announce that the Hell’s Kitchen bouldering area outside Chattanooga, Tennessee is now permanently protected as part of Cumberland Trail State Park." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Skis - Baseline Knowledge

When you start to talk about skis, it's important that you have a working knowledge of the different parts and each skiers different needs. This blog provides you with a baseline of understanding, so that you can hold your own in a conversation about what ski is best for what use...


Skis are measured in centimeters. Most adults skis are between 160cm and 200cm in length. The length of the ski that you purchase should be in line with your height and weight...but those that are new to skiing may want a shorter ski for better control.

Here's a baseline size chart:

Waist and Turn Radius

The waist is the area directly underfoot. This is often where the width of the ski is measured. Wider skis are best for powder, but they are also harder to handle for beginners.

The wider a ski, the longer the turn radius. Here's a short video about how this works:

Ski Profile: Camber vs. Rocker vs. Early Rise

Click to Enlarge

Camber is a concave profile that allows for better snow contact and more pop coming out of turns. The rocker, on the other hand, is a ski profile with a more upturned tip and tail for deep snow conditions.

A flat or early rise ski, is a ski profile that has a flatter bottom with upturned tips. This is good for deep snow.

The following video delves into camber, flat/early rise and rockered skis:

Din Setting

The DIN setting, short for Deutsches Institut für Normung (German Institute for Standardization), is a ski setting that determines the amount of force that can be placed on a binding before it releases. This is set based on your weight, height and ability level. The DIN setting is usually adjusted by a ski shop professional, because if the ski doesn't release when you need it to, you will break your leg.

Touring Bindings

There are two standard types of bindings for the backcountry, frame bindings and tech bindings. Frame bindings are a heavier binding that aren't as good for touring, but perform exceptionally well in downhill terrain. They also operate better as crossover in-bounds/out-ofbounds bindings.

Tech bindings (or pin bindings) have a pin and hole system and attach directly to the boot. These are the go to bindings for ski touring and ski mountaineering. They don't operate as well in an in-bounds setting.

Frame and tech bindings release differently, so when people have a release malfunction, the injuries look different. Frame bindings tend to lead to knee injuries (meniscus, ACL, MCL, etc.), while tech bindings tend to lead to broken bones.


Skiing and backcountry skiing are equipment heavy sports, and we could talk tech all day. And while this isn't a comprehensive list of terms and concepts, it is a solid introduction.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, January 13, 2020

Munter-Hitch to Clove-Hitch

The ability to turn a munter-hitch into a clove-hitch quickly is extremely valuable, especially when you choose to belay with a munter-hitch.

Check out this quick video on how to do it!

--Jason D. Martin