Friday, May 26, 2017

Self Arrest with Crampons

We teach self arrest a lot.

You could argue that we teach this skill more than any other. Every single course that goes out onto a glacier will spend at least some time covering this foundational skill. Some will spend all day, whereas others may only spend a short period of time. But it happens on just about every mountaineering trip...

There are a lot of different elements to a successful self-arrest and this particular post wasn't written to address them all. Instead, this post was written to discuss the one area of self-arrest where there is a fair bit of contention: toes up or toes down.

One school of thought is that when you arrest, you need to kick your toes up off the ground. This is so that if you are wearing crampons, they won't catch and flip you over.

The second school of thought is that you should kick your toes into the snow to help arrest the fall. In this school of thought, your toes should go in immediately to provide more resistance to the slide. However, this school also believes that you should only do this if you are not wearing crampons. This school believes that you should not kick your toes in if you are wearing crampons for fear of injury or flipping over.

The third school of thought is that you should always kick your toes into the snow, regardless of whether or not you are wearing crampons. The theory here is that stopping is the most important thing and that it's worth the risk of getting flipped over or injuring your ankles to stop.

Most AAI guides teach a combination of the second and third schools of thought. Programs that teach the first concept are definitely in the minority these days. The number one focus of any self-arrest activity is to stop a slide and most of the time, that means using your feet as part of the arresting system.

The real question comes when we look at the most obvious break between the second and third schools of thought. In the second, you kick your feet up while wearing crampons and in the third, you put them into the snow no matter what. Each of these styles of thinking are a little bit too rigid. In alpine climbing there are seldom absolutes. Both concepts have validity in one venue or in another. The problem is that it depends on snow conditions.

If you are on hard, solid ice or neve, then it's usually better to kick your feet up into the air. If you are on semi-solid terrain with occasional harder sections, then it's probably better to kick your toes in. This "it depends" approach isn't what most people want to hear. They want to hear a black and white answer; in part because a black and white answer is easier to remember in the heat of the moment.

Strategical thinking when moving in the mountains, in any kind of terrain, should always be composed of two questions. What is is the likelhood of a fall? And, what are the consequences of a fall? If these questions are always at the forefront of your thinking, then a black-and-white answer may not be so important. If you are constantly strategizing what you'll do in the event of a fall, then it is likely that you will react appropriately when the right skill is needed.

There is no easy closure on this question. There will always be people who argue vehemently for one of the three schools of thought. When all is said and done, none of the arguments matter. All that matters is that you can stop yourself when you fall.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/25/17

Northwest:

--A man was attacked by a bear in Squamish this week. It is believed that the attack was unprovoked but that the bear charged because she was protecting a cub. To read more, click here.

Sierra:

--The Sierra Wave is reporting that, "At noon Tuesday Dongying “Cindy” Qiu was located deceased at the base of a frozen waterfall near Outpost Camp. It is believed that she fell approximately 60 feet through a snow chute at the top of the waterfall (located on the southwest side of Outpost Camp, about a quarter mile off trail)." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Tom Beck, a well-known Red Rock and Joshua Tree climber, has passed away. To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund plans to work with the BLM to do a complete inventory of all the trails in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--It is quite likely that the Outdoor Retailer show is going to move to Denver. To read more, click here.

The Aspen Times is reporting that, "Aspen Skiing Co., the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans are among the five parties a Snowmass Village man has assigned blame to for a skiing collision that has put him on the defense in Denver federal court. Michael Sura is being sued for negligent skiing by Santa Fe, New Mexico, resident Stuart Pendleton. Pendleton's civil complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court of Denver in December. It accuses Sura of skiing negligently when he collided with Pendleton on the Mick's Gully run at Snowmass ski area April 7, 2016." To read more, click here.

Alaska:

AAI West Buttress Team 2

--AAI West Buttress Team 2 has made it to Camp 3 at 14,200-feet. Team 3 is working to move a cache up to 10,000-feet. To read all of AAI's Denali dispatches, click here.

--Super Alpinist, Colin Haley recently soloed the North Buttress of Mt. Hunter in a 17-hour round trip. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Early this week, there were several reports stating that the Hillary Step on Mt. Everest had collapsed. That no longer appears to be the case. It's just covered in snow. To read more, click here.

--I'm not sure how I feel about the Go Pro awards. They do seem to feature a lot of people who made mistakes and got in over their heads. The following video is of a guy who wipes out on a glacier in the Alps, slides down the slope, falls in a crevasse and then later gets rescued. Pretty epic really...



--Many news sources have been saying that a climber was nearly killed by a major rockfall event in Spain as seen in the following video. What they don't say is that the climber appears to be cleaning a new route and that the rockfall was instigated by a prybar. Check out the video below to see for yourself:



--Speed climber Killian Jornet has made the Everest speed record without the use of oxygen or fixed ropes. To read more, click here.

There's climbing in the new Alien film.
This shot was from Alien vs. Predator.

--So there's a sequence in the new science fiction/horror film, "Alien Covenant" where a character watches her now deceased husband free solo in the snow, somewhere...wearing shorts. It should be noted, that this is the second time a climbing sequence was used in the Alien franchise. In the first Alien vs. Predator film, the protagonist is a female mountain guide. Just saying...

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

AAI Guide Class of 2017

The American Alpine Institute is incredibly well known for the quality of its internal guide training. Indeed, the American Mountain Guides Association based their alpine guide courses on AAI's three-week internal training.

Every year AAI hires guides, but usually the new guide staff consists of three to eight people. In 2017 the new guide staff busted the seams at 15 people.

It was certainly no small task to train so many people, but the curriculum held up and every individual had the opportunity to train under AAI's Tenured and Certified guide staff.

Class of 2017 (Click to Enlarge)
Left to Right-Back: Seth White, Jason Martin (Trainer), Mike McCartan, Elias Jordan, 
Kevin McGarity, Karl Henize, George Bieker, Mike Powers (Trainer), Sam Boyce, Calvin Morris, 
Will Nunez, Zak Krenzer, Ben Gardner (Trainer). Front Row: Eric Shaw, Alejandra Garces, 
Katie Griffith & Katlynne Schaumberg. Not Pictured: Lindsey Hamm

Historically, the entire AAI guide training has taken place in the Cascades. This year things were a bit different. The new guides first met in Las Vegas to practice their rock skills in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

  A pair of new guides work on their short-roping skills.

More short-rope/short pitch skills in Red Rock Canyon. 

Multi-Pitch Skills on Snake Charmer (5.7) 

Mike McCartan  belays Karl Henize on All That Jazz (5.8)

 Zak Krenzer and Calvin Morris at a belay on Big Bad Wolf (5.9)

After putting in some days in the desert, the team moved to the mountains. They continued their skills development around Mt. Baker.

Obviously a mountain guide has to be incredibly good at crevasse rescue, especially in the places where we operate. In order to use our time well, we often do some training just outside the Mt. Baker Ski Area. This isn't a glacier. Indeed, it is just a parking lot, but it allows the guides to practice their crevasse rescue skills prior to using them on a real glacier.

In the following video, the guides participate in a crevasse rescue race near the Mt. Baker Ski Area Parking Lot:



The weather for the training wasn't always perfect. It snowed hard on more than one occasion throughout the training. In the following video, the team is leaving the van on the north side of Mt. Baker to ski and walk into the mountain for additional training.


Once we were on the mountain, we began to train steep climbing and guiding skills.

Seth White practices a snow seat.

Alejandra Garces practices a "butt-axe" belay.

And there was some skiing and ski guide practice on the mountain as well.
In this photo, Ben Gardner is tearing it up!

Ice skills are a major component of guide training. In this 
photo the team works on basic ice skills on the Coleman Glacier.

In this photo, guides practice steep ice skills.

Toward the end of the guides first stint to Mt. Baker they climbed 
the Moustache and made an attempt on the North Ridge. 
This photo is from the Moustache.

Each guide must also work through multi-pitch rescue skills.
In this photo Elias Jordan practices these skills with Katlynne Schaumberg.

Kevin McGarity on Zig Zag/Springboard (5.8) at Mt. Erie.

George Bieker follows the Springboard Pitch at Mt. Erie.

Lindsey Hamm at Mt. Erie

The final test for the new guides is to complete a week of student teaching. The team works with real students on an Alpinism I or an AMTL I.

Conditions on Mt. Baker were tough for the student teaching week.
We got over two feet of snow when we arrived on the mountain.

White-outs and white-out navigation was the norm for the week.

Lead guide trainer, Mike Powers at the crater on Mt. Baker.
Mike has been running AAI guide trainings since the mid-nineties.

The summit of Mt. Baker at dawn on the final day of
student teaching.

Every member of AAI's new guide staff brings something special to the table. And I believe that all of those who have the chance to work with these guides will learn a great deal while having an excellent time...!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 22, 2017

In the Company of Ticks

As the weather warms, it feels surreal as I step out of my winter dreams of warmth and into a bright sunny reality. I love wearing shorts on approaches... But as it warms I cannot rid myself of the feeling that some little bloodsucker feels the same spring euphoria as I when he sees my bare white calves approaching.

Now I don’t want to sound like some kind of entomophobian (yes, there actually is a word for fear of insects), but lets be honest, nobody enjoys cavorting with these little monsters. So if you're like me and want to avoid ticks this summer, here are some tips, tricks and general info about these crazy arachnids.

Adult Deer Tick
Photo from Wikipedia

Ticks are viscous little creatures. They've figured out that since they can't jump or fly, the best way to get their vampire on is to wait in brush, tall grass, and bushes along deer and human trails. Some ticks have even developed the “oh-so-not-cool” move of falling out of trees and onto an unsuspecting host.

Once they have reached their delicious meal, ticks will insert a barbed feeding tube into the host to secure themselves in place while they feed. This blood feast can last from a few hours to several days. Once satiated the creepy little parasite will drop off and hide while it spends some time digesting your blood.

While the tick is stuck to the host it might feel guilty about taking so much away and thus want to give a small poisonous “present” in return. These presents are numerous as ticks are capable of transmitting a variety of diseases, the most common of which is a fun little thing called Lyme disease. If you are one of the lucky 1% of all tick bite recipients to contract Lyme disease, you will know in anywhere from 3 to 32 days after being targeted by the creature. The present will start off as a headache with fever, fatigue, depression and a bulls-eye shaped rash around the bite mark. If at this point you decide that you don’t want to keep this gift, you will not be able to return it to the tick, (besides that would be rude). Instead, you will need the help of a doctor and his antibiotics, which in most cases will rid you of the disease.

However, if you decide that you would rather keep the bloodsucker's gift, then you will begin to contract chronic problems as the disease attacks your organs, especially the brain, heart, and bone joints. The longer that you wait to get treated, the harder it will be to treat the disease. In an extreme case Lyme disease could lead to a permanent paralysis.

Luckily though, there are ways to prevent ticks from getting to skin level. When playing in popular tick habitats (pretty much any wooded or forested area in the world), one should wear long sleeved shirts, pants, and a hat. Another trick is to tuck your pant legs into your sucks so as to look like such a dork that the tick will be embarrassed to be seen on you (it also will prevent them from crawling up your boots and socks into the promised land).

However, even with the best of defenses, the ticks still might find their way through and therefore it is good to do a thorough tick check a few times a day while paying special attention to the warm places of your armpits and groin. It's also a good idea to check your pets over to make sure that they haven’t become a blood buffet.

If a tick is found, then the best method of removal it is use tweezers. Pull in line with the creatures body and it's entrance hole while holding it its body as close to the head as possible. Be careful and move slowly; as much as you might hate these guys, the last thing that you need is for one's head to pop off while beneath your skin.

Following are two videos which show methods of tick removal. The first shows the use of a forceps and the second discusses a number of tick related issues before demonstrating removal.



Ticks are gross, but good prevention and treatment will keep them from being anything more than a major nuisance.

--AAI Staff

Friday, May 19, 2017

Diamox - The Wonder Drug?

Diamox is the trade name for a drug called Acetazolamide. This is a "altitude wonder drug" that many people take to increase the speed of their acclimatization. It is also a drug that some people put a little too much hope into instead of acclimitizing properly.

The reality is that Diamox is not a wonder drug. It is is a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor that is commonly used to treat glaucoma, epilepsy, hypertension, cystinuria, dural ectasia and of course, altitude sickness. The drug is designed to help your body make the chemical changes that it needs to make in order to function better at altitude.

We get a lot of questions about this drug from people who are planning a Denali climb or other high-altitude objective. But we also get them from people who are going to go on relatively low-altitude climbs.

Those who are climbing peaks that are less than 14,000 feet tall really shouldn't worry about any type of specialized drug to acclimatize. They should just take their time. Those who are climbing peaks that are between 14,000 and 16,000 feet should only take the drug if they've had problems in the past. And those climbing peaks that are 16,000 feet tall or more, should really see how their body reacts before filling it full of drugs.

The reason that we advise caution with this drug is that it has side-effects that can be difficult to deal with. Diamox is a diuretic. It causes you to urinate frequently. This, of course, can lead to dehydration, which is a contributing factor to altitude sickness. It can also cause a very unusual sensation in the fingers and toes. It feels like they have fallen asleep. This could be confusing or even scary in extremely cold environments.

Diamox - A Prophylactic?

Some climbers choose to take Diamox prophylactically, starting a few days before going to altitude. A percentage of climbers respond well to this, especially if they take between 125 milligrams (mg) to 500 mg per day before ascending rapidly to 10,000 feet or more.

What is rapidly? This is generally a fast one to two day ascent from sea level. Examples of rapid ascents might include Mount Rainier or Mount Whitney in two days...

Those who have a history of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) are urged to take Diamox prophylactically especially with plans for a rapid ascent or plans to ascend 2000 feet or more per day after reaching 10,000 feet.

Diamox forces the kidneys to excrete bicarbonate, the conjugate base of carbonic acid. The more bicarbonate excreted, the more acidic the blood gets. The more acidic the blood gets, the more that ventilation is stimulated. This will ultimately result in more oxygen in the blood.

Clearly the changes in the blood take time. It takes time for the body to catch up to your altitude. As such, Diamox cannot be seen as an immediate fix for AMS. If the symptoms are bad, then climbers are urged to immediately descend before the AMS devolves into a life-threatening cerebral or pulmonary edema.

When to Take Diamox


Many guides argue that the best time to take a drug like Diamox is right before bed. As I know that I don't tend to breathe as deeply at night as during the day, I will usually take Diamox before I go to bed when I'm at high camps on high altitude peaks.

On the one hand an evening dose of the drug may help you acclimatize better up high at night. It may also keep you from getting sick at night. But on the other, you are unlikely to sleep well due to the whole, "I have to pee every five minutes" thing.

Others feel that the morning is better because it doesn't interrupt your sleep.

Alternatives

There has been a lot of research over the last few years that indicate that Ginkgo Biloba may work extremely well in acclimatization. As this is easily attainable at health food stores and has few side effects in healthy people, it may be a much better alternative to Diamox.

On the other hand, those taking anticoagulants such as ibuprofen, aspirin, warfarin, or antidepressants should be wary of potentially dangerous side effects.

Altitude Research

Understanding altitude and its effects on the body is an extremely broad topic. This blog has only touched on the bare surface of the subject and indeed, only on the bare surface of the uses of Diamox. Those interested in learning more should check out Going Higher: Oxygen, Man and Mountains by Charles Houston or Altitude Illness: Prevention and Treatment by Stephen Bezruchka.

A Final Note

We are not doctors. We are climbers. And the advice here is just that, advice. All the information here is based on our experiences working at altitude and everyone's body reacts differently under such circumstances.

Diamox is a prescription drug. And it is extremely important that you get proper medical advice before self-medicating with any such drug. If you are on an expedition with a guide, it is also important to tell your guide whenever you take any drugs.

High altitude climbing is an awesome experience. Diamox is merely one tool that will help you to get up high. Another, and perhaps far more important tool, is to use good sense, good judgment and to acclimitize properly.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Dangers of Glissading

Yep, you can find them in just about every issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering. They have unwieldy headlines like:

"Climber injured in Glissade Accident"
"Out of Control Glissade Leads to Fatality"
"Inexperience, Lack of Proper Clothing and Glissade with Crampons On"

Gissading is an incredibly fun endeavor. I've often felt that after achieving a somewhat physical summit that a good glassade run back down makes it all worth it. It's as if nature gave you something back for all of the work that you did to get up there. The desire to glissade though should be tempered by the reality...and the reality is that a lot of people get hurt glissading.

Most injuries take place because an individual breaks one of the cardinal rules. To stay safe, the best thing to do is to take these rules seriously.

The Cardinal Rules of Glissading 
  1. Never glissade with crampons on. If you're wearing crampons it means that you're probably on hard snow or ice. This means that should you glissade, you will slide really fast. If you slide really fast and you catch a crampon spike, your leg will snap like a dry twig. As such one should never glissade with crampons on. 
  2. Never glissade on a rope team. If one person loses control on a rope team, then others may do so as well. 
  3. Never glissade on a glacier. It's likely that you'll be roped up if you're on a glacier so if you do glissade, you will be breaking two rules at once. We don't glissade on glaciers because of the possibility of hidden crevasses. 
  4. Always make sure that you can see where you're going. This should make sense. If you can't see, then you could end up sliding into a talus field or off a cliff. 
  5. Make sure that there is a good run-out. A good run-out is imperative. One should certainly avoid glissading above dangerous edges, boulders or trees. 

These rules are quite black and white. There are few gray areas in glissading. If there is some question, then the best thing to do is to err on the side of caution. Though you might be tired, sometimes walking down the mountain is the safer alternative.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 15, 2017

Using Your Rope in Climbing Anchors

It's not uncommon for us to get up to an anchor point only to find that we've left our cordellete on our partner's harness or to find that it is impossible to hear.  Most people will just deal with these problems without thinking outside-the-box.  One outside the box thought though is to use your rope for these things.



This first photo was taken in Red Rock Canyon at the start of the "Tunnel Pitch" on Tunnel Vision (III, 5.7).  If you're not familiar with this route, it is an absolutely stellar ascent.  On the fourth pitch, one has the opportunity to actually climb through the mountain in a tunnel. In other words, the route requires a bit of vertical spelunking.

The top of the third pitch, at the start of the tunnel, it is difficult to see or hear the second.  The route follows a corner and chimney system up the wall.  In order to see my climber, I built an anchor and then, using the rope, extended the anchor to the edge where it was far less difficult to see and hear.

Some might argue that this system lacks redundancy.  I'm not too worried about that as I can see the whole anchor to ensure that there is no rubbing and we never have redundancy in the rope while we're climbing with a single line...

This second picture was taken in Leavenworth, Washington on one of our AMGA Single Pitch Instructor courses.  The assignment was for the student to create a fixed line across a catwalk on the slab shown.  This particular student didn't have the webbing or the cordellete to create a perfect SRENE anchor.  Instead, he built a pre-equalized anchor with his rope. In this application, this worked really well.


In this picture, another Single Pitch Instructor candidate built a top-rope anchor, wrapping a rope around a boulder and tying it off with a double-bowline.  In order to create some flexibility in the anchor he tied an figure-eight on a bite and clove-hitched it to the line going to the edge of his top-rope anchor.


This last picture shows a close-up of the figure-eight and the clove-hitch mentioned above.





One last thing to be aware of is that dynamic climbing ropes stretch 8-12%. Usually there isn't much rope in the anchor so there's not going to be that much stretch, but this should be taken into account before the system is loaded.

Flexibility and thinking outside the box are two major tenants of climbing efficiency.  One way to be efficient and to be flexible and to be outside-the-box is to use your rope for anchoring instead of other materials.  Your rope is always on you and as such, it definitely provides an option that really shouldn't feel like it's that far out-of-the-box...

--Jason D. Martin