Thursday, March 26, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/26/15


--On Monday, March 23, the Mountaineers were excited to return to Olympia with our partners in the No Child Left Inside Alliance to testify in support of Senate Bill 5843.

No Child Left Inside is a grants program established in 2008 by the Washington State Legislature. In it, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission would award outdoor education and recreation grant funds to public agencies, private nonprofit organizations, formal school programs, informal after school programs and community based programs. More information here.

--Bringing grizzly bears back to the North Cascades is a way to restore the natural ecosystem and not something to fear. North Cascades National Park, is considered the “wild nearby” for its incredible scenery and diverse wildlife, is an easy drive from Seattle. It also represents a unique opportunity to “save all the pieces” in what the National Park Service calls the most rugged mountain range in the Lower 48. One of its missing pieces is the grizzly bear.  More information here.


--On Saturday, March 21, the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office, in Hawthorne, NV, received a 911 call regarding a hiker who had broken their leg in a fall near Matterhorn Peak, approximately 15 miles southwest of Bridgeport in the Sawtooth Mountain Range. Full article here

--Missing visitor, Michael "Mic" Dahl, was found alive this morning, at approximately 11:00 a.m., in Yosemite National Park. He was spotted by visitors on the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail. The visitors recognized him from the missing persons flyer. Dahl was found approximately a quarter mile east of the Lower Yosemite Fall trail, in a large boulder field below Sunnyside Bench. Dahl sustained multiple injuries and is being transported to a local hospital via ground ambulance. More here.

Desert Southwest:

-- See You TOMORROW at Red Rock Rendezvous!  Stop by our booth to meet AAI Staff and Guides and enter to win a $500 scholarship toward one of our many, many awesome courses! To learn more, click here.

--Backcountry to the future: More skiers skip lift lines. Although snowsports experts disagree on some of the numbers, there's widespread agreement that backcountry skiing and snowboarding represents a bright spot in the broader snowsports industry that doesn't have a lot of growth.

Sales of alpine touring gear, which includes skis, boots and bindings that allow skiers to free their heels and hike up hills in order to ski down, increased dramatically in the period covering August to January. Full article here.

Notes from All Over:

--Girl Talk: Peeing in the Back Country. AAI Guide Shelby Charpenter shares a blog post with helpful tips for the ladies. Click here for more info.

--American climber Ashima Shiraishi, 13, is currently on spring break in Spain. Last week she sent what might be a 5.15a, making her the first woman and youngest climber ever to send the grade. Full Article here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

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 23, 2015

Film Review: The Thing (2011)

A lot of AAI guides have spent time working in Antarctica over the years. These include Tom Kirby, Alasdair Turner, Dylan Taylor, Tim Connelly, and Danny Uhlmann, among others. Some guides have worked on Mt. Vinson, but most have spent time working at Antarctic bases.

One of the most popular films in all of Antarctica is the 1982 John Carpenter film, The Thing. People who work in Antarctica literally love that movie. They often watch it when they arrive on site. And those who winter down there always watch it right before the last plane leaves for the season.

The Thing has had a lot of lives on the big screen. First, there was the 1951 film, The Thing from Another World. Then there was the 1982 remake, where they dropped "from Another World," from the title. And then lastly, in 2011, they made a prequel to the Carpenter film, also entitled, The Thing.

If you're not familiar with the mythology behind The Thing, it goes like this. A crew of Norwegian scientists find ta massive spacecraft buried in the ice. They retrieve the body of something and bring it back to their base. The 1982 film starts with a crew of Americans finding the burned out remains of that base and also finding the thing that caused the death and destruction there.

The 2011 prequel tells the story of the Norwegian scientists who find the spacecraft and retrieve the body of an alien frozen in the ice. They bring it back home and realize -- much too late -- that it is not dead. And indeed, that not only is it not dead, but that it is a murderous thing that has the ability to mimic people. The scientists secluded in the Antarctic are picked off one by one by the monster, while never knowing whether their friends are still their friends, or whether they are monsters disguised as people.

The 2011 film is a fun B-movie style ride. It is not as tightly written as the super-popular 1982 film. And indeed, sometimes it feels a little bit too similar to that film. The storyline is quite similar: scientists, Antarctica, monsters, ice, impostors, everybody dies... And maybe that's what makes it fun.

The biggest difference between the 1982 film and the 2011 film is the protagonist. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays paleontologist, Kate Loyd. The character is smart and logical, which is exactly the opposite of what we tend to see of characters in most horror films. She doesn't panic. She doesn't explore weird dark rooms where she just heard a strange noise. She acts like we hope that we would act were we in such a situation...

Throughout the film we are treated to some great shots of high glaciers and peaks. It's not clear where these shots are from. It seems unlikely that it was filmed in Antarctica and a quick google search doesn't provide information beyond studio locations...

One of the most terrifying moments in the film for our readers is an early moment where a a large truck drops through a snow-bridge into a crevasse and gets wedged between the two walls. Unfortunately, the filmmakers decided to skip over the rescue of the truck's passengers, which is too bad, because regardless of the monsters running around, getting wedged into a crevasse is not a good thing and would have created more drama in the story.

These films are attractive to climbers because they take place in an environment that we are familiar with. While most of us haven't spent significant time in Antarctica, most of us have spent a lot of time secluded in the snowy mountains, somewhat cutoff from the rest of the world. As a result, of our experiences in these places, some of us might find them more spooky than our non-outdoorsy friends.

If you're not a The Thing fan, then this movie really isn't for you. But if you love the 1982 film, then you'll probably like the 2011 film...

I thought it might be fun to look at the trailers for all three versions of The Thing. First, we have the 1951 version. Second, we have the 1982 version. And then lastly, we have the prequel:


--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

The first video this weekend is a little something to get you motivated.  This 54 year old man just broke the Guinness World Record for pullups in a 24 hour period.  Can you guess how many he did?

Candide Thovex has been throwing it down this season. If you're ready to enjoy some of his twin-plank masterly, grab yourself a beverage, super-size this to "full screen" and get ready to enjoy Candide's latest full-length feature, "Few Words."

Sometimes it is the simple things that really get people excited. Here's a quick bit of wisdom to help get you going.

Stone Wisdom from Christian Lavery on Vimeo.

We've been getting a lot of calls recently asking about the conditions on Mt. Baker.  With the dismal snow down low and the closing of ski resorts, folks are worried about how this summer will be with the lack of snow.  Honestly, I'm a little worried too, but I'm going to hold off passing judgement until we see how these next couple of months pan out.

Throughout the winter, the snow levels have been relatively high, and all the rain that we've received down low has still been snow up high in the mountains.  It's just that we didn't get as many of those rainy/snowy days as we are normally accustomed to.  Currently, it is nuking up high on Baker and Shuksan.  Our final video for this weekend is from Monday when a couple headed up to the White Salmon Glacier on the northeast side of Mt. Shuksan.  It's not as good as what we'd normally see this time of year, but it is better than most people think.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, March 20, 2015

Route Profile: West Buttress - Denali

Denali from the Southwest. AAI Collection.

We make four camps as we climb alpine style, moving all camps higher as we go and leaving none established above or below. It is not uncommon for temperatures high on the mountain to fall as low as -30F, but at lower elevations daytime temperatures on the glacier can reach as high as 70F, so there we sometimes sleep in the day and ferry loads at night when temperatures are between 0F and 15F. The night's cold improves conditions under-foot, and we still have adequate light because of the extreme northern latitude. Double carries are done during the first part of the expedition to ease the work and to help with acclimatization.

AAI Guide Seth Hobby prepares for an early morning departure
from Talkeetna. AAI Collection
All expeditions begin with a meeting and orientation in Anchorage. We spend one night there, then travel by van the next morning to the small town of Talkeetna. There we repack our equipment, meet our ski plane pilots, and as soon as possible, make the beautiful flight to the Kahiltna Glacier at 7300 feet. Soon after our arrival and a review of glacier travel procedures, we begin moving to our first camp.
We establish our Camp 1 at 7800 feet at the confluence of the main Kahiltna Glacier and its rugged Northeast Fork, the approach for West Rib and Cassin Expeditions. Enjoying spectacular views the whole way, we continue on to Cache 1 at 9800 feet and Camp 2 at 11,200 feet while snowshoeing up moderate terrain. As we do throughout the climb, we travel in rope teams because of the ever-present crevasse hazard. To ease the burden of moving our expedition supplies, we use specially designed sleds that we tether to our packs and pull along the gentle sections of the lower mountain.

Advancing camp on Denali
with full sleds.
Kevin Cannon
Above Camp 2, the climbing steepens as our route takes us past the terminal walls of the West Buttress. We usually cache our snowshoes at 11,200 feet and continue our climb with crampons because of the gradient of the route and the hardening snowpack. We climb out of a basin to reach Windy Corner at 13,100 feet, then make an ascending traverse through seracs and heavily crevassed terrain as we approach the head of the Kahiltna Glacier at 14,200 feet. We enjoy spectacular views as we look down to the lower Kahiltna and out to 17,004-foot Mt. Foraker. In the other direction the impressive summit bulk of Denali rises above us, and we can easily see the details of the upper West Rib and Messner Couloir, as well as the steep headwall of the West Buttress that we will soon climb. At Camp 3 (14,200 feet), we take a well-deserved rest day and make final preparations for our summit bid, reorganizing our gear for the carry to the highest camps.

Ascending the lower part of the fixed lines.
AAI Colleciton

Looking across the top of the fixed lines 
and the crest of the Direct West Buttress.
AAI Collection
At this point we move into the most demanding part of the expedition: higher elevations combined with steeper ground. From Camp 3, we ascend 1100 feet up a gentle snow slope to the bergschrund at the base of the West Buttress. The bergschrund is at times quite steep but it is short and, with steps established in the ice, not difficult to surmount. We then begin our ascent to the top of the West Buttress on the 900-foot headwall of 45 and 50-degree slopes. Typically the pitches are of hard ice with some snow overlaid, and we protect them by using self-belays with jumars on a fixed rope. Because of the steepness of the route and the amount of elevation gained, we may make a double carry to establish Cache 3 at over 16,000 feet.

Emerging from the headwall onto the top of the Buttress, the atmosphere of the climb changes dramatically. While the earlier parts of the climb have all been on large glaciers and open slopes dominated by immense mountain masses towering above, we now move on an open ridge and enjoy that unmistakable feeling of climbing above most of the surrounding world. As we begin to move along the crest of the Buttress, we gain views across the Peters Glacier to the Alaskan tundra stretching out far beyond, and to the south we can look over the top of Mt. Hunter to the scores of other peaks in the Alaska Range. Initially the ridge is fairly broad, but as we reach the 16,400-foot level it narrows with steep drop-offs to both the north and south.

A fortified high camp at the 17,000 foot level on Denali. AAI Collection
The traverse to our final camp, Camp 4 (High Camp) at 17,200 feet, is one of the most beautiful climbs on Denali. We follow a steadily narrowing crest and at times move between and around a series of magnificent, pointed granite gendarmes up to fifty feet high. The climbing is never steeper than 35 degrees, but the exposure is very significant and requires caution as we move up a route that in some sections is reduced to ledges six feet wide. Further east the ridge finally begins to merge with the main part of the Denali massif, and there we establish camp in a basin just below Denali Pass, the low point between Denali's higher south summit and lower, 19,470-foot north peak. From this point we will climb to the summit in a single day.

Enjoying views of High Camp and Foraker from the Autobahn.
AAI Collection.
On summit day we make an ascending traverse to Denali Pass, crossing above some very large crevasses and traversing a fairly steep section between 17,600 and 18,000 feet. From there we climb gentle slopes to a plateau at 19,400 feet, from which we get impressive views down onto the Harper and Muldrow Glaciers and across to Denali's North Peak. Our final approach to the summit takes us up moderately steep slopes to the crest of the ridge between Kahiltna Horn (20,120') and the main summit. At the crest we peer down the 8000-foot drop of the precipitous South Face, looking between the Cassin Ridge to our right and the South Buttress to our left. We ascend the summit ridge on its exposed south side for two rope lengths, then cross to the north side for the final pitches that bring us to the 20,320-foot summit of North America. With steady drops on three sides and the abrupt face to the south, the final steps to the clearly defined summit point are a very exciting finish to a beautiful route.

Climbers approaching the summit of Denali. AAI Collection

Check out our Virtual Tour of a full Denali West Buttress expedition. The photos take you from the streets of Talkeetna to the summit of North America.

Have you been training hard lately, but haven't committed to a Denali team? We still have a few spaces open for 2014 and are taking reservations for 2015. Don't wait until the last minute!


Dylan Cembalski
AAI Guide
Alaska Programs and 7 Summits Coordinator

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/19/15


--With Washington state snow packs at record-low levels, Governor Jay Inslee has declared a drought emergency for three regions of the state. The emergency covers the watersheds on the Olympic Peninsula, the east side of the central Cascades and the Walla Walla region. Watch the video here.

--The Climbing is the Easy Part These Days – A report on the FA of Slesse's Heart of Darkness, Colin Haley and Dylan Johnson, 8 March 2015. Full report here.

--Mount Rainier is seeking volunteers for the Climbing Ranger Program. Volunteers will perform duties related to resource education and protection, visitor services, and hiker/climber safety. Further description here.


-- One 10-acre purchase secures FIVE different climbing areas. Once in a lifetime, an opportunity comes along to protect a world class climbing and scenic area…FOREVER. Whether you climb, hike or just like to look at nature’s wild beauty, these black granite towers at the west end of Donner Lake are some of the most dramatic terrain in the entire north Tahoe/Truckee region.  Click here to learn more: SAVE DONNER CLIMBING.

--Scott Sederstrom, 44, fell to his death on Friday, March 13, when a bolt failed on Life in Electric Larvae Land(5.10b) at Silent Pillar Wall, Owen’s River Gorge, California. Full article 

Desert Southwest:

--Registration for this year's Red Rock Rendezvous is now open. Rendezvous will take place in Red Rock from March 27-29. To learn more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Ashima Shiraishi Climbs Possible 5.15.  A nearly 14 year old, Ashima Shiraishi has climbed Open Your Mind Direct, a possible 9a+ (5.15a) in Santa Linya, Spain. Shiraishi, a New Yorker, climbed the route in a mere four days of attempts during her spring break. While the original consensus grade of the route was 9a (5.14d), a broken hold has led some to suggest it could now be as hard as 5.15a. If the grade holds, she could be the first woman to climb a solid 5.15a.  Full Article

-- What ski resort is the biggest on the East Coast? Soon, it’ll be The Balsams ski resort in New Hampshire. With 2,200 skiable acres of alpine terrain, the largest vertical drop, and 100 km of Nordic trails, The Balsams will be larger and more varied than any other resort in the east.  Check out the trail map and learn more click here

-- A Cinerella (Climbing) Story. This is the tale about finding the perfect climbing shoe for “Little-Half-Foot”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this fairytale, it involves me, Amy, a lawnmower accident when I was three, and half of my right foot.  Full article click here.

--  2 Mummified Avalanche Victims Found at 18,000-Feet in Mexico. According to the Mexican media, the two climbers may be two Mexico City climbers who disappeared in an avalanche on El Pico de Orizaba 55 years ago.  Full Article

--Can Everest Fix Its Human Waste Problem? Ask Denali.  Full Article

--On 12/9/2010 and independent snowboard instructor from Val d‘Isère and one of his clients, were caught by an avalanche in the “couloir des pisteurs” on the north face of the Charvet. The instructor escaped with a broken leg, his client died after spending 23 days in a coma. The instructor was in court charged with manslaughter and risks an 18 month suspended prison sentence. For full details click here.

--The big ski passes just keep getting bigger. Mountain Collective announced Tuesday that it has added Sun Valley in Idaho to its bundled pass. With the addition of Sun Valley, Mountain Collective brings its destination list to eight, including AltaSnowbird, Aspen/Snowmass, Banff/Lake Louise/Sunshine, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, and Whistler Blackcomb. On top of that, Intrawest, Powdr, and Boyne Resorts announced that they’ve joined forces on a 22-resort ticket, dubbed the Multi-Alpine Experience (M.A.X.) Pass.For more details click here. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Film Review: Mount St. Elias

Mount Saint Elias (18,008') is a massive peak with huge ridge lines, monster glaciers and steep terrain. There are no easy routes up -- or down the mountain.

From Wikipedia: 

Mount Saint Elias, also designated Boundary Peak 186, is the second highest mountain in both Canada and the United States, being situated on the Yukon and Alaska border. It lies about 40 kilometres (25 mi) southwest of Mount Logan, the highest mountain in Canada. The Canadian side is part of Kluane National Park, while the U.S. side of the mountain is located within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

Its name in Tlingit is Yaas'éit'aa Shaa, meaning "mountain behind Icy Bay", and is occasionally called Shaa Tléin "Big Mountain" by the Yakutat Tlingit. It is one of the most important crests of the Kwaashk'khwáan clan since they used it as a guide during their journey down the Copper RiverMount Fairweather at the apex of the British Columbia and Alaska borders at the head of the Alaska Panhandle is known as Tsalxhaan, it is said this mountain and Yaas'éit'aa Shaa (Mt. St. Elias) were originally next to each other but had an argument and separated. Their children, the mountains in between the two peaks, are called Tsalxhaan Yatx'i ("Children of Tsalxaan").

In 2007 a team of Austrian filmmakers went to the mountain to make a movie entitled Mount St. Elias, about the world's greatest ski descent. The goal was to ski from the summit all the way to the bay, which would make it an 18,000-foot ski line!!!

This particular objective had been tried before, with tragic consequence. The terrain is steep and
dangerous. It's one thing to make steep jump turns with serious consequences for a few hundred feet, but to do it for thousands upon thousands of feet is a different story. In 2002, Aaron Martin and Reed Sanders attmepted to ski down the mountain. Both men were killed in falls during the attempt.

This history provides a backdrop for the ski descent made by Axel Naglich and Peter Ressmann. The result is a gripping film about a serious undertaking by two world class skiers.

Throughout the film Naglich becomes the primary narrator. His Austrian accent is reminicent of Werner Hertzog's narration in Grizzly Man or Encounters at the End of the World. I found Naglich's accent easy to understand and endearing. This is probably because of my fondness for Hertzog's movies.

The ski descent doesn't exactly go as planned. The team is forced to ski the bottom portion of the mountain on a different trip from the top portion of the mountain. Some might argue that such a thing doesn't constitute a complete descent. I'm not one for such arguements...

Mount St. Elias is an awesome movie with fantastic cinematography and a fascinating story. And while the film doesn't exactly make me want to go out and ski Mount St. Elias, it certainly psyches me up for both skiing and climbing. I certainly wouldn't be opposed to climbing the mountain...

--Jason D. Martin