Friday, March 22, 2019

Lowering from a Loaded Belay Plate

In cooperation with Outdoor Research, the American Mountain Guides Association has made several videos for beginning level climbers.

In this video, AMGA Instructor Team Member Jeff Ward, demonstrates two techniques to lower a climber from a loaded autoblocking device (belay plate).

Following is a quick breakdown of the points made.

Technique 1 - Rocking the carabiner
--Good for lowering short distances
--Need an active break hand

Technique 2- Redirect the plate with a thin sling
--Better for slightly longer distance lowering
--Need hands free backup for break strand

There is actually a third technique that he didn't show. One can put a nut tool or the nose of a carabiner into the small hole on many of these devices and crank it backwards. This will allow the device to open. But like the first technique, it will be important to have an active break hand.

--Jason D.  Martin

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/21/19


--A snowboarder was found dead in a tree-well at the Northstar resort last week. To read more, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that there was a large rockfall incident in Yosemite over the weekend on El Cap in the vicinity of Dark Star and The Prophet. To read more, click here.

--The Onion posted an article entitled, "Woman’s Solo Hiking Trip Shockingly Doesn’t Have To Do With Inner Journey Or Anything." It starts with these lines, "Confusing her friends and colleagues as to what could possibly drive her to undertake such an expedition, sources confirmed Friday that aspiring explorer Jillian Greene’s solo hike through Yosemite National Park has evidently nothing to do with soul-searching, an inner journey, or any other form of self-discovery." To read more of this satire, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Outside is reporting that, "Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Christine Lehnertz notified park employees on March 14 that she was resigning, effective March 31. This comes weeks after a four-month investigation turned up no wrongdoing and found a series of 2018 allegations against her to be 'unfounded.'" To read more, click here.

--Graffiti in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is getting out of hand. Volunteers spend thousands of hours and thousands of dollars cleaning it up. So now, there's a reward for those who see people tagging the rocks. You can report graffiti at of find out more, here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Outside is reporting that, "the recent additions to the Epic Pass highlight, again, the massive consolidation occurring across the ski industry, which is driving up rents and turning mountain towns into company towns." To read more, click here.

--The Outdoor Alliance is reporting that, "on February 28, the State of Utah submitted its petition to the U.S. Forest Service requesting that the Forest Service implement a rulemaking to drastically roll back protections for National Forests under the 2001 Roadless Rule. The Roadless Rule has been important for protecting outdoor recreation. While roadless areas are protected from new development, their management is less restrictive than in Wilderness, which gives important middle ground for many kinds of recreation, from mountain biking to motorized use." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--As the team that attempted K2 in the winter returned to basecamp, Himalayan writer Alan Arnette asks whether it's even possible to summit K2 in the winter. To read the article, click here.

--Elizabeth Swaney was the American woman who competed for Hungry in the half-pipe competition at the last Olympics. She was roundly criticized for completing her run without doing any tricks. Unlike Olympians who have been hailed for their persistence even though they did poorly, Elizabeth was attacked. But her "back-way in" to the Olympics isn't the whole story. To read more, click here.

--If ski resorts were characters in Game of Thrones...

--And finally, rock gyms are a little bit of an afterthought on this blog. But that doesn't mean that they aren't an important part of a climber's training. And an important part of the gym experience is route-setting. Setters build routes for different body types. So it's a problem when the bulk of the setters come from one gender. Gripped asks, where are all the female route-setters...? To read the article, click here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Route Profile: Mount Shuksan, Sulphide Glacier

Mount Shuksan from the Northwest.
Photo by Coley Gentzel

If I had to pick one peak that would most completely and accurately represent alpine climbing in the Cascades, Mount Shuksan would be the one. Shuksan takes a striking form from any angle and every route on the peak can be considered a classic.

The most popular route on the peak is the Sulphide Glacier. The Fisher Chimneys and the North Face are also both popular routes that are among the best of their type in the range.

The Price Glacier route is listed in the 50 Classic Climbs book (Steck and Roper), but has fallen out of favor in recent years due to a dramatic change in the nature of the glaciers on the route. Once a classic ice face, the Price is now a jumbled mess with little aesthetic value to the climbing.

Shuksan's Price Glacier from the air.
Photo by Dunham Gooding

Mountaineering routes on Shuksan are unique in that all require a variety of skills to complete. Every route requires glacier travel, snow climbing, ice climbing and rock climbing to reach the top. All routes end at the dramatic summit pyramid, which by its easiest route requires primarily fourth class with a few 5th class moves.

The view from the summit of Shuksan is one of the best in the range. Sitting at the heart of the North Cascades, views of Mount Baker, the Pickett Range, and north to the Canadian Border peaks are completely unobstructed.

Mount Shuksan's Sulphide Glacier and summit pyramid.

The Sulphide glacier route starts at the Shannon Creek trailhead and follows an overgrown road bed for a few miles before winding through old growth forest eventually climbing into the craggy alpine forest and then finally talus fields.

Although the route is doable in one very long day for experienced and fit parties, most opt to go for a 2-3 day climb so that they might enjoy the setting on the way to and from the climb. There are great camping spots at the toe of the Sulphide glacier and at several spots along the route to the summit pyramid. The Sulphide is a gentle glacier, but not without crevasses. There have been numerous solo climber crevasse falls in the area.

An AAI team reaching the summit of Shuksan.
Photo by Alasdair Turner

The crux of the route is ascending and descending the summit pyramid which, by the standard route, involves about 500 feet of scrambling up a gully. Depending on the time of year, the gully can be nearly all snow, mixed, or completely rock. An alternate route to the summit and a good choice if the main gully is busy, is the southeast ridge of the summit pyramid which requires a bit more mid-fifth class climbing. There is some loose rock on both routes so you must choose your holds carefully!

It is said that Mount Shuksan is the most photographed mountain in the United States, and that is not hard to believe. The Mount Baker ski area provides a perfect view of and easy access to the north side of Shuksan. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see a line of tripods pointed at the peak on clear days. Whether you are looking for an easier ramble in a spectacular setting, or a challenging long rock or ice route, Shuksan has something to offer for every mountaineer.

Shuksan's Summit Pyramid above the Sulphide Glacier

AAI climb's Mount Shuksan as part of their Classic Guided Climbs in the Pacific Northwest Program on Part 1 of their Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership series and on group courses throughout the summer season.

--Coley Gentzel, Former AAI Program Coordinator and Guide

Monday, March 18, 2019

Film Review: The Summit

K2 is often considered to be the most dangerous mountain in the world. One out of every four people who climb to the summit of the mountain perishes on the descent. So it is no surprise that one of the most terrible mountaineering incidents of all time happened on the mountain.

In 2008, the news trickled out of Pakistan slowly. There had been yet another tragedy in the Himalaya that made headlines around the world; and when the dust settled 11 people were dead. The main culprit? A combination of things, but perhaps of most importance, ignoring turn-around times at altitude and the destruction of the fixed lines by serac-fall in a feature known as the Bottleneck.

We have previously written about this incident in our review of the excellent book, Buried in the Sky. But now a new film which combines, interviews, footage from the expeditions in 2008, and actors portraying real people has come to video and streaming. The Summit is a powerful film that will keep you from ever considering an ascent of K2.

Nick Ryan's stunning film tells the story of a series of climbing teams who came together on K2 on August 1st of 2008 to make an attempt at the summit. The problem was that there were twenty-five people from several countries with several different types of climbing styles trying to get up the mountain that day.

The film is built much like Touching the Void. Ryan uses actors when necessary, emotional interviews and real video to weave together a complex web in order to tell a complicated story.

In most tragic mountaineering stories, there is one incident that acts as a catalyst for everything else that goes wrong. While that exists in The Summit, there are so many complicating factors to the story that it is hard to finger one thing. Instead, the film feels like a real-life horror movie. People make mistakes and die. People trip and die. People are hit by icefall and die. People try to save others and die...

You get the picture.

The film is hard to watch. It's a true story with real footage of people on a mountain. And many of those you're watching are gone, their bodies still up on the mountain.

Perhaps the greatest flaw in the film is that the story of what happened that day on K2 is complex. It's so complex that you leave the film without a complete understanding of what happened in the tragedy. None of the people who lived it tell the same story. As such, there is no unified version where armchair mountaineers can sit back and say, "that's where it all went wrong."

The Summit is a beautiful movie about a horrible day in the mountains. And while it is often hard to watch, it is a gripping story that I personally have not been able to stop thinking about...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 15, 2019

Non-Event Feedback Loops

Many climbing and ski mountaineering accidents are the result of human error. There are a number of types of human error, but the most disconcerting and common type results from a non-event feedback loop.

--I've been doing it this this way for years and nothing bad has ever happened.

--We skied the slope all day and it was fine. How were we to know that it would slide?

--The boot-track went right under the ice cliff. I just went the way everybody else went.

The thinking process behind non-event feedback is predicated on the following belief: Nothing bad happened last time and nothing bad happened to someone else; therefore, nothing bad will happen this time to me. The psychology of non-event feedback is complex, but its very existence leads to following reality:

The crag that you climb the most, the slope that you ski the most, the mountain that you've been up the most times...these are the most dangerous places that you will ever go.

A Climber Leads Up the Mustache on Mt. Baker

Non-event feedback takes on a new dimension with group dynamics. A beginner may follow a competent leader up a mountain. The leader may look at the conditions and decide that they're safe. If the leader doesn't go through his entire thinking process, the beginner may then make the assumption that the conditions are always safe.

Avalanche research indicates that the likelihood of skiers tackling a dangerous slope increases dramatically after one person successfully skis the slope first. In other words, once someone sees someone else get away with something, they subconsciously believe that they can get away with it too.

The only way to avoid getting stuck in non-event feedback loops is to constantly question yourself. Is this safe today? Am I just following the leader? And lastly, am I responding to the conditions as they are or as I wish they were?

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/14/19

Climate Advocacy:

--What anthropogenic climate change means to the future of ice read about it, click here.


--An ice climber was killed in an avalanche near Field, British Columbia on Monday. To read more, click here.

--News Channel 1 is reporting on this tragedy near Bend, Oregon. "One of two cross-country skiers rescued by volunteers who tracked them in the snow northwest of Tumalo Falls last week has died in the hospital, Deschutes County sheriff’s deputies said Monday. To read more, click here.


--Gripped is reporting that a classic ice climb has seen a 2019 ascent. "Widow’s Tears in Yosemite doesn’t always form, but when it does, it’s the longest continuous ice climb in the lower 48 and it hasn’t seen many ascents. First climbed in 1975 by Mark Chapman and Kevin Worral, it’s a seven-pitch classic near the Inspiration Point trail." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--It's weird that single use plastic water bottles are used at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Denver, when the outdoor industry has so many options for real high quality multi-use plastic bottles. To read more, click here.

--The American Alpine Club has a policy internship available. To learn more, click here.

March 7 Instagram Post from the Friends of CAIC
Click to Enlarge

--Last week, Colorado had something really strange happen. The avalanche hazard in at least four zones was marked as extreme. To read more, click here.

--And now this week, Colorado's Red Mountain Pass is closed indefinitely due to avalanche hazard. To read more, click here.

--The Aspen Times is reporting that, "A massive slide that swept down from Highlands Ridge into Conundrum Creek Valley last weekend was probably a 300-year event, a leading avalanche consultant said Tuesday while touring the site." To read more, click here.

--Graffiti on the rocks in Moab have had a major effect on the off road vehicle community. The incident has lead to a lot of online battles, including death threats. To read more, click here.

--In four minutes of pure unadulterated fun, here's the song Let it Go from Disney's Frozen, performed in Aspen...on snowshoes and drag!

Notes from All Over:

--A collision between two skiers left one man dead at Cannon Mountain Ski Resort in New Hampshire. To read more, click here.

--"Luis Benitez became the face of government’s interest in the outdoor recreation industry, one that’s larger than both the auto and oil and gas exploration industries. He sat down with 'Outside' to discuss the industry’s expanding role in politics and his own future." To read more, click here.

--Camber Outdoors got in all kinds of trouble when they presented their diversity pledge in January at the Outdoor Retailer Show. But there were a lot of lessons to be learned. Check out Outside's story on how to move forward with diversity in the outdoor industry.

--The family of a teenager who died in January of 2017 is suing a Pennsylvania ski resort. To read more, click here

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Best Snow Cave Ever was at Mt. Baker!

A handful of skiers and snowboarders put the time and effort in to create the absolute best snow cave of all time near the Mt. Baker Ski Area in the Mt. Baker Backcountry.

Check it out:

--Jason D. Martin