Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Crack Climbing Basics: Tape Gloves

A climber makes use of her tape gloves to jam the awesome Mithral
Dihedral on Mt. Russell, High Sierra (A. Stephen)
Today we will learn how to make tape gloves to better facilitate hand jamming.  I've been seeing "hand-jammies" more and more these days, but when I tape, I still use the tried and true athletic tape.  Made properly, tape gloves don't leave too much adhesive residue on your hands, have a lower profile than hand-jammies, and you can reuse the same gloves over and over again.  All you need is a roll of 1" width athletic tape.  Here's how:

In order for the gloves to hold their form, it is important to build in some framework.  Rip your tape into 1/2" wide strips.  You want the strips long enough to reach from your wrist bone, around your finger, and back again. You will need three strips per hand, and will wrap a strip around your pinky finger, first finger, and thumb.  Spread out your fingers as much as you can while doing this process.

Once the foundation of the gloves is set, it is time to put on the outer layer.  I use a panel method to do this so that I can keep my palm free of tape, both for comfort's sake and for ease of removal and reuse.  To do this, use the full width of your tape, and cut strips that are a 1/4" longer on each side than the width of the back of your hand.

Align the strips so that the edge of the first panel is even with your knuckles.  Fold the overlap at each end so that it sticks back on itself and the framework strip.  Then add panels moving down towards your wrist, with a 1/2" of overlap on each, and stop just before your wrist joint.  I usually need about four panels per hand, but this is all dependent on your hand size.  Remember to keep your fingers spread far apart during this process.

Once you've built your foundation and added the panels, the final step is to secure it all to your hand by wrapping a length of tape around your wrist.  Make sure to keep your wrist in a relaxed, prone position.  Start the wrap on the inside of your palm and, keeping the 1/2" overlap on the previous panel, wrap the tape around your wrist twice.  Don't wrap too tight-you don't want to restrict the movement in your wrist too much. End on the inside of your palm once again.

The best feature of these gloves is that you can reuse them.  I used one pair for an entire season before they were shredded!  Once you are finished sending, all you have to do is cut the wrist strap on the inside of your palm, gently unstick the tape from your hand, and wriggle your fingers through the loops of the foundation.  When its time to jam some splitters again, just put them back on and wrap your wrist again.  Try to keep it to a single wrist wrap every time you reuse the gloves to keep the bulk down.

Ok, there you go!  For less than $10, you have your own home-made "hand-jammies."

--Andy Stephen, AAI Instructor and Guide

Monday, October 12, 2015

Film Review: Backcountry

It was 1994 and a young medical student named Matthias Ruppert was pulled from his tent in the Bowron Lakes Provincial Park by an angry black bear. His girlfriend, Claudia Garschhammer, fought off the bear with a hatchet. The pair retreated to a ranger cabin, and that's when the bear attacked again...

The bear climbed up through the window. Garschhammer chopped at the angry animal with her hatchet until it retreated. It was then that she was able to close the shutters.

Ruppert survived. The bear did not.

It is very rare for a black bear to attack a person, and there are really no other stories out there about a bear that attacked people inside a tent. So after game wardens hunted down the animal and killed it, they performed an autopsy. Scientists could only come up with one conclusion about the aggressive nature of the animal. They believed that it was mating season and that the animal was...frustrated.

Throughout the 90s I spent a lot of time around bears, working in Alaska doing fish habitat surveys. I encountered literally hundreds of bears and luckily none of them were aggressive. They mostly ran away as soon as you yelled at them. That's not to say that I wasn't scared of them. Every bear I ever encountered seemed like a potential threat...

The Bowron Lakes story is horrific because -- while bear attacks occasionally happen -- this attack was vicious, ongoing and out-of-character. It seemed like something out of a horror movie. The Bowron Lakes incident is exactly the type of bear encounter that every backcountry traveler everywhere fears the most...

In 2014, writer/director Adam MacDonald loosely based his film Backcountry on the 1994 attack. The film, while not really a horror movie, provides the viewer with an intense and often terrifying roller-coaster of an experience.

A young urban couple travel deeply in the Canadian wilderness. Alex (Jeff Roop) is supposedly a seasoned backcountry traveler, while his girlfriend, Jenn (Missy Peregrym) is on her first camping trip. It turns out that Alex is not as seasoned as he thinks. He elects not to bring a map, which is a problem because the pair becomes seriously lost. Their problems are compounded by the loss of food, and then by an incredibly aggressive bear.

And yes, just like in real life. The bear attacks the couple in the tent, and it is both terrifying and incredibly gruesome. The scene makes it feel like a blood and guts slasher film instead of a backcountry thriller. It is a very hard scene to watch.

Throughout the film, there are several close-ups of the hatchet. But ultimately the woman doesn't fight the bear with it. I have a feeling that they shot some kind of final battle between Jenn and the bear, but cut it. Maybe the filmmakers felt that it would be too hokey, that it would be too unrealistic. And maybe they're right. Truth can be stranger than fiction. And it's likely that it's a better film for the fact that she didn't kill the bear...

Both Roop and Peregrym are completely believable as a young inexperienced backcountry duo. They are also completely believable as people. They make a lot of mistakes (no map, didn't try to scare the bear away, no communication device, poor food storage plan, etc.), but they're mistakes a lot of inexperienced backcountry travelers might make. You in no way feel that they deserve what happens to them. Instead, you are terrified by it and are rooting for them throughout the film.

This is an intense story that builds slowly. The stakes are constantly raised throughout the film; and indeed, the bear doesn't even make an appearance until about half-way through. This is a little bit odd because the film is packaged as a piece about a bear stalking a couple. But ultimately, that's not what it's about. Instead, it's about a couple on the verge of a major life decision seeing one another at both their worst and their best...

One thing that always drives me nuts about outdoor films are the packs. You can tell that there's nothing in them. Actors throw them around like they weigh nothing. One way to increase believability in all of these types of films is to put some actual weight inside the packs. Then the actors will actually look like they're carrying something.

Packs aside, this is a pretty good outdoors film. The bear attack is gratuitous, but I suppose that's reality. Bears don't attack people very often at all, but when they do it's a big deal. And when they are so aggressive that they actively pull someone from their tent, that's a really big deal.

Most outdoors, climbing and backcountry films designed for mainstream audiences tend to be fantastical. There are monsters or there are killers. They often don't deal with the real threats of the wilderness. Backcountry brings us those real threats and it does it in a way that is both engaging and intense. You can't ask for much more...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 9, 2015

Film Review: Everest

I had significant concerns about the film, Everest. In the trailer, it looks suspiciously like the same type of garbage that we saw in films like Cliffhanger and Vertical Limit. I was also very concerned that Hollywood was going to create something out of the 1996 Everest Tragedy that was disrespectful to both those that died and those that lived...

Arguably, the 1996 Everest Tragedy is one of the most well known incidents in the history of mountaineering. The film binds together several books, including Jon Krakauer's best selling Into Thin Air, Anatoli Boukreev's The Climb, and Beck Weathers' Left for Dead. But these books are by no means the only narratives out there. Several other books were written about the incident as well, including, After the Wind, by Lou Kasischke, Everest: Mountain without Mercy, by Broughton Coburn, Climbing High: A Woman's Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy, by Lene Gammelgaard, and A Day to Die For, by Graham Ratcliffe.

Many of the books paint different individuals as heroes or villains. But they don't all paint the same people as heroes or villains. Indeed, they tend to contradict one another, and it has always been difficult to work one's way through the conflicting narratives to find the "true" story.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the film did little to paint anyone as a hero or a villain. Instead, it does it's best to find a few central threads in a large cast of characters to tell the story of two tragic days in May of 1996. And it does find those threads, primarily in the story of Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the New Zealand mountain guide who died high on the mountain and in Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a pathologist from Texas who survived a brutal night on the mountain.

The film's primary weakness is also it's strength. We are interested in Rob and Beck, but there are so many others on the mountain that it's hard to follow them all. Those of us who have read extensively about the incident are capable of keeping a large number of them straight, but it becomes significantly harder when the characters don down suits and oxygen masks. I was reminded of Black Hawk Down in this way. It's similar to that film in that everyone is dressed the same, there are a lot of characters and it's hard to keep everyone straight.

There are a few real people who were not covered in the film as well as they were in the different books. These include Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal), the famous American mountain guide; Sandy Hill-Pitman (Vannessa Kirby), the New York socialite; Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Eggert SigurĂ°sson) the Russian high altitude guide; and John Krakauer (Michael Kelly), the now best selling author. Each of these individuals appear in the film, but they regularly fade into the background.

The preceding list includes several of the most controversial people on the mountain. Each of these individuals has been both lionized and condemned in the different accounts. Indeed, both Jon Krakauer and Sandy Hill-Pittman (now going by Sandy Hill) have come out to defend their actions on the mountain. Krakauer has even stated the the film is "total bull."

Certainly Everest doesn't make either of the two look good. Neither of them come out smelling like roses, but it doesn't condemn them either. Honestly, neither of them are in the film enough to truly paint them as much more than one dimensional figures (I'm a reporter!/I'm a socialite!).

And while Krakauer and Pittman have commented on the film, Fisher and Boukreev are no longer here to do so. Fisher died in the tragedy, and Boukreev died a few years later. Neither of the men are portrayed negatively -- Boukreev rightfully looks like a hero -- and Fisher seems like a laid back hippie who believes it will all work out. Boukreev was criticized for guiding without bottled oxygen, and Fisher was criticized for that same laid back style, a style that previously had provided a lot of success.

There is one major problem with the overall Everest narrative. Something didn't feel right about the film. It wasn't until I read, What Disaster Films Miss about Death by James Douglas that I understood. It is really really really hard for a filmmaker to honestly and effectively portray a character who slowly loses the will to live. Hollywood films are all about fighting. Characters fight foes both internal and external. So it's incredibly hard for someone who comes from that background to effectively portray a very realistic non-dramatic death in the mountains...

The most unfortunate thing about this is that Everest is about the best that we can expect from Hollywood. They spent a tremendous amount of money on the film. But without real Himalayan climbers behind both the development of the script and the film shoot, there will never be a completely narrative film the comes out of Hollywood, that "gets it right."

That said Everest is visually stunning. Much of the film was shot in Nepal and feels authentic. And they clearly tried really hard to make the who film feel real. This level of attempted verisimilitude is damaged by two scenes. In the first, Beck Weathers nearly falls off a ladder crossing a crevasse. But of course, there's ice fall and heavy breathing and scary music and it's just dumb. Also the fixed line he's attached to has an unlocked carabiner.

In the second, Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), falls off a fixed line somehow and goes ripping down the Lhotse Face...that is until Rob Hall tackles him and self arrests, presumably stopping both of them from sliding off the mountain. After the incident, no one questions why Hansen apparently wasn't on the fixed rope that everyone else was on. It's another dumb moment in a mostly well done film.

And though there is a little bit of Vertical Limit in the aforementioned scenes, and the script could have been better in a few areas, and maybe they needed a little bit more guidance from real Himalayan climbers here and there, the bulk of the film is pretty good and is worth watching...especially for those who have some knowledge of the tragedy.

Everest is certainly not the last word on the 1996 Tragedy. That particular incident will continue to be discussed and debated for decades to come. But for now it presents a perspective on what happened, and it does so in a way that is about as engaging and thoughtful as possible for such a sprawling event...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/8/15


Click on Image to Enlarge

--The 5-Point Film Festival will be having a major festival in Bellingham, Washington from October 15-17. There will be a number of events including a Trivia Night hosted by AAI at Elizabeth Station on October 15, as well as a festival honoring the dirtbag vehicle living lifestyle. And there will be lots and lots of movies. To read more, click here.


--Yosemite's annual Facelift event took place last night. Nearly 1,500 volunteers helped to clean up the crags of Yosemite National Park. To read more, click here.

--The fourth principal of Leave No Trace is to Leave What You Find. This means to leave cultural artifacts in place, as they lose their value once they are removed from their context. Johnathan Bourne probably should have taken an LNT class before transporting a bunch of native artifacts across state lines. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A 50-year-old Utah man died in a canyoneering accident in Zion National Park on Friday. The man, identified by park officials as Christian Louis Johnson, was found dead about 7:20 p.m. by a search and rescue team in Not Imlay Canyon, a park release said Saturday. To read more, click here.

--Sigh... Do people really think that desert potholes filled with water are wishing wells? Apparently they do in Arches National Park. People are dumb. To read more, click here.

--Officials with the Santa Fe National Forest have offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever cut down hundreds of trees to create what are believed to be illegal ski runs. To read more, click here.

--Here are some additional details about the Joshua Tree Climb Smart Festival, running from October 16-18.

--Five Four Corners-area tribes have united to propose a 1.9 million–acre Bears Ears National Monument that would be the first truly collaborative land management effort between Native Americans and the federal government. To read more, click here.


--A 41-year-old climber died on Christiana Peak after falling 200 feet Monday afternoon when a piece of rock he was using as a hold flaked off, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. The body of Travis Boyle of Union, Kentucky, was taken out of the backcountry west of Capitol Peak by 3:20 p.m. Tuesday, according to a Sheriff’s Office statement. To read more, click here.

--The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in a wrongful-death case that could shake the foundation of the law that shields ski areas from liability for on-slope injuries and deaths. Lawyers were grilled by the justices weighing this question: Are avalanches an inherent risk of skiing, or should resorts be liable for injuries caused by sliding snow within their boundaries? It depends, they said, on how you interpret dangers listed in the Colorado Ski Safety Act — which doesn't specifically name avalanches but does include the conditions that create them. To read more, click here.

--The Denver Post wrote an editorial concerning the case in the preceding news item. They argue that avalanches inside a ski resort are NOT an inherent risk of skiing. We agree with this. One of the many reasons to ski inside a resort is because avalanche danger is supposed to have been mitigated. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Late last week, the most successful land conservation program in U.S. history expired. Despite bipartisan support for the program in both the Senate and House of Representatives, congressional leaders have neglected to include the program in recent budget negotiations and are letting it die. To read more, click here.

A climber walks across a ladder in the Khumbu Icefall.
Photo by Guy Cotter

--This year, 2015, will be the first in 41 years that no human has stood on the summit of Mount Everest. To read more, click here.

--There has been a lot of debate this week about the term and designation, "first female ascent." To read about it, click here.

--A university in Louisiana lost a lawsuit concerning a campus climbing wall accident due to the fact that the state doesn't allow liability waivers. To read more, click here.

--Two American brothers made the first ascent of Greenland's Polar Bear Fang. To read more, click here.

--The Mugs Stump award committee is now open for applications. To read more, click here.

--Following the announcement that there is water on Mars, there was an article about how they can study it. Climbers will be needed! And considering there are some walls on the red planet that are nearly 18,000-feet tall, I'm sure there won't be any deficit in climber/scientist/explorers who will one day want to participate in a manned mission to Mars. To read more, click here.

--They also witnessed an avalanche on Mars from space. Check it out.

--And finally... A woman thanks a black bear for not messing with her kayak. She then subsequently uses bear spray on the animal and it seems to immediately know the best way to get revenge...by eating the kayak. Check out the video below:

--And of course, every viral video needs a parody. The following is a lot of fun:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Training: Injury Prevention

In this video, Climbing Coach Taylor Reed shows some of the techniques he teaches to the Columbus, Ohio climbing team.

Specifically, Reed deals with some of the most common injuries. First, he discusses crimping (something I've personally been injured doing several times). Second, he deals with shoulders. And then finally, he deals with fingers and wrists.

One thing he doesn't say, that he might just think is self-evident, is that when you climb hard, you should always, always warm up. If you don't, you will get injured.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 5, 2015

Equipment Review: Camp Blitz Harness

The Camp Blitz Harness is designed as a versatile, lightweight all-mountain harness. The padding is light (but there) and you can remove the harness by undoing a series of buckles and clips and without needing to slip your legs through--which means you can whip off your harness while leaving your crampons or skis on.

While I love the principle behind this harness, it loses major points on comfort for the way the gear loops are designed. The gear loops are loose and floppy and, crucially, they are attached to the upper part of the waist belt rather than the lower part. This means that when you clip things to the loops, they tend to drag the upper part of the waist belt down and twist it. I've generally found this to be uncomfortable, but it was particularly bothersome on a Denali trip this year when I was dealing with a harness loaded with a lot of gear and then a 60-plus-pound pack on top of that. The waist belt twists all around and can end up riding up against your clothes and then directly against your skin. This is an issue that could easily be fixed by adding more structure to the waist belt and gear loops or moving the gear loops down lower on the waist so that it doesn't twist it.

Pluses for the harness are that it's light (just 7.7 ounces) and easy to take on and off. The belay loop floats freely rather than being permanently locked in to the waist belt, and unlike some other lightweight harnesses (like the Petzl Hirundos, for example) there are clips for the leg loops that you can undo rather than having permanently sewn loops. There's also a loop for hub racking carabiners, which makes it easy to carry ice screws. The fact that this harness has some padding on it (as opposed to the Black Diamond Couloir) makes this harness suitable for alpine rock climbing and ice climbing rather than just pure glacier walking. You wouldn't want to spend the whole day in a hanging belay in it, but you can put your weight in the harness without feeling like you're slowing cutting off circulation to your legs.

Camp has long been on the cutting-edge of lightweight climbing gear, and the first iteration of this harness has promise. But the gear loop issue is a major one, and while I want to love this harness, instead I think I'll just replace it.

-Shelby Carpenter, AAI Instructor and Guide

Friday, October 2, 2015

Replacing Anchor Cords for a Rappel

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

AMGA Instructor Team Member Margaret Wheeler demonstrates how to replace tat at an anchor.

Thread Cord Through:

Here are the stages of placing the cord as they are laid out in the video:

1) Cord through quick link
2) Through first bolt
3) Back through quick link
4) Through second bolt
5) Connect cord with double fisherman's knot
6) Equalize Strands
7) Tie Isolating Knot

--Jason D. Martin