Friday, September 23, 2016

A Children's Book about Mountain Guides?

Yep, you bet. Mark the Mountain Guide is a book for kids about Mountain Guides. The video doesn't give us the whole story, but I bet that the guide gets all of his climbers safely across the Grumpy Gorge!

I ordered both this book and a sequel to this book a couple of years ago. I have to say both of the books are quite good and my children really enjoy them...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 9/22/16


--The Register-Guard reports, "Authorities have recovered the body of a Portland, Oregon, man who went missing last fall during a climb of Colchuck Peak. The Chelan County Sheriff’s Office and a rescue team recovered the body of Adam Ochshorn from below the west buttress on Friday." To read more, click here.

--First Tracks reports that, "a massive new glacier ski resort planned for land just west of Jasper National Park, received a green light from the B.C. provincial government. Developers hope to have the CAN$175 million Valemount Glacier Destination Resort up and running by December 2017." To read more, click here.


Dr. Alfred Kwok

--Alfred Kowk, an AAI Alumnus, lost his life in a fall during a solo hiking trip this week. Kwok was a well known climber and physics/astronomy professor. Alfred was loved by both the Southern California climbing community as well as by the community at Pomona College. To read a remembrance, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Climber Greg McKee lost his finger in a fall in Indian Creek recently. He was climbing Fingers in a Light Socket (5.11+) when he took a fall, leaving one finger in the crack. To read more, click here.

--It appears that you will now have to pay to camp at Indian Creek. To read more about this, click here. To read a funny take-down of climbers complaining, click here.

--Waste removal with helicopters created temporary closures at Zion National Park last week. To read more, click here.


--The Daily Camera reports, "Fitness enthusiasts will be able to "earn their turns" this ski season at Eldora. The Nederland resort, which was purchased in June by the Utah-based chain Powdr, will allow uphill skiing — also known as uphilling or alpine touring — this winter with a temporary rule change." To read more, click here.

--Madaleine Sorkin recently became the first woman to free The Honeymoon is Over (5.13c, V) on the Diamond on Longs Peak. To read about the ascent, click here.

News from All Over:

--Climber Kim Shmitz was killed in a single car accident on September 19th. To read about this man's extraordinary life, click here.

--Gripped Magazine is reporting that, "there was an avalanche on Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National park that took two climbers for a 75-metre ride. Luckily, the climbers escaped with only minor injuries." To read more, click here.

--According to the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina, "A rock climber was injured in a fall at Pilot Mountain State Park Saturday afternoon, authorities said. The man, who was not identified, was climbing with a group near the park's parking area, Ranger Nick Bowman said." To read more, click here.

--The GearJunkie is reporting that "Kaiha “Wildcard Ninja” Bertollini may have just broke every record ever set on the Appalachian Trail. Not only would this be the fastest self-supported through-hike of the A.T. (beating Heather “Anish” Anderson’s 2015 record of 54 days), but it even tops every supported hike (beating ultra-running legend Karl Meltzer’s day-old record of 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes)." To read more, click here.

--The Banff Mountain Book Festival has announced finalists. To see the list, click here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sprained Ankles: Don't Do More Damage by Rushing Recovery

Ankle sprains are among the most common injuries, and unfortunately, they are more often than not, not well cared for. An article by health writer Jane Brody in the New York Times explains the dangers of not taking really good care of even a minor sprain.

She writes: “A sprained ankle is one of the most common joint injuries, prompting many people to consider it 'just a sprain' and not treat it with the respect it deserves. The too-common consequence of this neglect is a lasting weakness, an unstable joint and repeated sprains.
Given that some 25,000 ankle sprains occur each day in the United States, it is worth knowing how they can be prevented and how they should be treated.”

Under treatment means that 30 to 40 percent of people with simple ankle sprains develop chronic long-term joint pathology.

Experts say that after a sprain the ankle should be immediately immobilized to protect the joint and allow the injured ligaments to heal: at least a week for the simplest sprain, 10 to 14 days for a moderate sprain and four to six weeks for more severe sprains.

You can’t simply use pain as a guideline, because often times pains eases up or goes away in cases in which there is still a lot of ligament healing to be done.

Brody writes, “As with other such injuries, the recommended first aid for an ankle sprain, to be started as soon as possible after the injury, goes by the acronym

R – for rest,
I – for ice,
C – for compression,
E – for elevation.

In other words, get off the foot, wrap it in an Ace-type bandage, raise it higher than the heart and ice it with a cloth-wrapped ice pack applied for 20 minutes once every hour (longer application can cause tissue damage). This should soon be followed by a visit to a doctor, physical therapist or professional trainer, who should prescribe a period of immobilization of the ankle and rehabilitation exercises. An anti-inflammatory drug may be recommended and crutches provided for a few days, especially if the ankle is too painful to bear weight.”

See her article for more details on care and healing:

Brody writes on health every Tuesday in the NYT’s Science Times section.

Dunham Gooding

Monday, September 19, 2016

The 12-Point Anchor System

A number of years ago I was working one of our Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership programs with Jonathon Spitzer. Jonathon no longer works for AAI, but we keep in touch. In any case Jonathon asked what system I liked to use to teach anchor systems. At the time I had a system that I thought was clever where I graded each individual piece in a student's anchor with a standard A-F style American public school rubric.

Jonathon asked, "have you ever used the 12-point system?"

"The 12-point system?" I asked. "What's that?"

Jonathon explained that it's a system used to evaluate student anchors. The goal is for the powerpoint in each anchor to have a value of twelve. The value is provided by individual pieces. A good cam or a good stopper is worth four-points. So if you have three good cams or good stoppers, you have a value of 12 at the powerpoint.

I have used the 12-point system to teach anchor construction ever since that original conversation. I find that students understand this complex topic far more effectively when it is laid out before them in this way. Following is a breakdown of the 12-point evaluative system:

  • --A four-point piece is bomber. It should be able to hold a substantial fall.
  • --A three-point piece is pretty good. It should be able to hold a short fall. An example might be taking a fall with your feet at the piece.
  • --A two-point piece isn't very good. It will hold a fall with your waist at the piece.
  • --A one-point piece is essentially aid gear. It will hold bodyweight, but is unlikely to hold a fall.
With this in mind, consider the following pieces and how they might play into a 12-point system:
  • --A large cam, 1" or more -- 4 points
  • --A small cam, less than 1" -- 3 points
  • --Micro cams -- 2 points
  • --A large nut, a Stopper size 8 or greater -- 4 points
  • --A medium nut, Stopper 4-7 -- 3 points
  • --A small nut -- 1-2 points depending on size and rock quality
  • --A very large tree with a good root base -- 12 points
  • --A very large boulder that doesn't move and is on stable terrain -- 12 points
  • --A good bolt -- 6 points
The 12-point concept both plays into and undercuts the idea that you need three pieces of traditional gear to have a good anchor. It plays into it by saying that if you can get three 4-point pieces then you will have a solid anchor. It undercuts it by saying that some pieces might not be valued at four points.

A simple three-piece pre-equalized 12-point anchor in good rock
Note that you are not required to use lockers in the pieces and that these could have been non-lockers.

There are three additional pieces to this puzzle. The first is that the pieces must be good. In other words they have to be placed appropriately to achieve their full point status. The second is that the rock that the pieces are placed in must be good. If the rock quality is poor, you may have to subtract points. And the third piece of the puzzle is that due to weird rock, flaring cracks or a lack of pieces that fit properly, you may not be able to build a 12-point anchor with three pieces. The rock may force you to use four, five or even six pieces.

This is an anchor "in series." An individual may choose to use this kind of anchor
when there area lot of pieces in the system to obtain 12-points, but a cordellete
isn't long enough to link all the pieces together. In this photo there are
only three pieces, but there could easily be five, and they would be dealt with the
same way, by building anchors on top of anchors.

There are times in the alpine when it is not possible to build a 12-point anchor. In this circumstance you may only be able to fashion a four or six-point anchor. To do this, place a piece or two and then tie them off to your harness. Once you're tied in, you can use your body as a supplement to the anchor and then belay directly off your harness with a tube style device.

You should only build your body into a 12-point anchor if you need to do so for speed on a very big objective, or you cannot build a system that meets or exceeds 12-points. When you belay off your body it is difficult to escape the belay if anything went wrong...and if you're anchor is terrible, then a belay escape isn't really an option anyway.

There is only one magic bullet when it comes to building a good anchor, and that's experience. The concept of a 12-point anchor will provide you with a good foundation for anchor building, but to really feel confident, you're going to have to build a lot of anchors...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Worst Climbing Movies Ever!

For a non-climber, climbing is a foreign thing. All of the participants are adrenaline junkies looking for their next fix. This perception in conjunction with a serious lack of knowledge about climbing culture have come together over the years to provide us with some very bad climbing films.

You might think that there is little to no value in a poorly executed climbing film, but you would be horribly wrong. The value in these films is wholly unintentional. Most people can suspend their disbelief under certain circumstances. If there is something unrealistic here or there, we usually choose to ignore it. But in some films, it is utterly impossible to ignore the problems. They get it so wrong, yet play it so straight, that the films actually become quite comic.

The worst offenders take poor plot-lines, poor dialogue and incredibly ludicrous climbing scenarios and successfully -- though unintentionally -- weave them into a cinematic mess that is so unbelievable they seem surreal. Three films stand out as the worst of the worst. And indeed it is because these are the worst offenders that they are so fun to watch.

Cliffhanger (1993)

Synopsis: A high end climber and search and rescue expert -- who lost a friend in a tragic, but totally avoidable, climbing accident -- is forced to assist a group of gun-wielding thieves in their quest to find boxes of money scattered throughout the Rocky Mountains. Oh yeah, as this is a Sylvester Stallone movie, he does this mostly in the snow wearing a t-shirt. And sometimes he's even topless...

Cardboard characters, racial and ethnic stereotypes, and a script that is so unrealistic that there isn't a moment of the film where one doesn't laugh at the stupidity of the characters are all components of the vast majority of the Stallone films. This one certainly does not stand out as being different or of a higher quality.

Cliffhanger does have a few didactic moments for climbers. We learn that it is really not a good idea to shoot a machine gun at the cornice that you're standing beneath. We learn that we should be terrified if the stuffed animal in our backpack falls. And of course we learn that you shouldn't mess around with Rambo.

Suprisingly, the original storyline of this film was based on a true story. Climbing author, John Long, gets story credit for the film. In 1977, a plane filled with marijuana crashed in the Lower Merced Lake in Yosemite National Park. At the time it was winter and the lake was difficult to get to. Long lived in Yosemite when this happened and watched the incident unfold. It is likely that his original story pitch represented this true story, but was warped by Hollywood into a Sly Stallone vehicle which really is too bad.

Vertical Limit (2000)

Synopsis: A high end climber and photographer -- who lost his dad in a tragic, but totally avoidable, climbing accident -- must rescue his sister from a crevasse as well as from a crazed climber. Oh yeah, and he's supposed to do it with bottles of nitroglycerin. On K2.

A great deal has been said about this film in the climbing community. Indeed, it may be possible that this was the most talked about "bad" climbing film of all time. Why? It's just way over the top.

In the opening scene, somehow all kinds of cams and pins rip out of a desert tower leading to an incredibly unrealistic accident. Somehow they mixed up the party scene in Joshua Tree National Park with base camp on K2. And somehow, they thought that a mountain climbing rescue drama needed a few things to spice it up. It needed a villainous character who murders people high on the mountain. It needed characters wandering around on the glacier with full racks of shiny cams with no rock climbing in sight. And clearly to make any climbing movie realistic, you need to have unstable nitroglycerin.

A lot of people like to talk about leading man, Chris O'Donnell, and his radical running leap over a chasm high on K2. My question is, have you ever run in crampons? Have you ever run at altitude? Were that me, I would have probably tripped over my crampons while hyperventilating, thus falling down to the bottom of the bottomless chasm.

I know that I'm not the only one who noticed another problem with O'Donnell's portrayal of a world-class climber. Every time he talks to his sister (Robin Tunney) throughout the film it looks like he's trying to seduce her. It appears that O'Donnell only knows how to play one thing while working with a female counterpart on screen and in light of these two character's relationship, it's a little bit icky.

Vertical Limit was way over the top. Every scene was an excercise in excess. And every beat of the story seemed more unrealistic than the previous. It's likely that this was -- to some extent -- intentional. Film-makers often build action with sequences that are more and more dramatic throughout a movie. In Vertical Limit, this one-upmanship did not lead to an edge of your seat movie experience. Instead, it lead straight to serious unintentional comedy.

Take it to the Limit (2000)

Synopsis: A bad boy from the city -- who was in a tragic, but totally avoidable accident with a stolen car -- hangs out with a bunch of inept climbers who appear to have near-terminal cases of ADHD. Oh yeah, he does this to pick up a girl.

Famous B movie producer Roger Corman was behind this strange adventure. And ironically, even though it is a B movie, this film probably has the best script of the three. The problem is that with little to no knowledge of climbing culture or climbing itself, an okay script turns into an exercise in the ludicrous.

There are a few scenes that stick out as being over the top. There's the time when the hero and his girlfriend get stuck on a cliff approximately a hundred feet up a third class pitch with no way to get down. Then there's the time when they go "climbing" on a water tower; only to leave the hero stuck on top because he doesn't have climbing shoes. And then there's the time that they go toproping, but they give each other so many high fives when it's suggested that you literally wonder what they were smoking.

Perhaps the best part of the entire film is the rap. A rap, you say? Yes, a rap. Every time they go climbing the rap starts. It goes something like this:
  • Take it to the limit, the limit, the limit
  • Take it to the limit, the limit, the limit
  • Take it to the limit, the limit, the limit
By no stretch of the imagination is this a difficult rap. No, it probably took about ten minutes to write. But if one thing is for sure, once you see Take it to the Limit, you won't be able to get the words Take it to the Limit, out of your head...

Ironically, outside the climbing world, these three movies no longer have a life of their own. Clearly, they weren't just bad climbing movies. They were just plain bad. For better or worse, we're responsible for keeping these movies alive. I suppose I can live with that...

Trailers for Cliffhanger and Vertical Limit may be seen below. Follow the link to watch the trailer for Take it to the Limit.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Film Review: Vertical Frontier

Mount Everest is deeply embedded in the minds of climbers and non-climbers alike all over the world. People think about it constantly.  We hear it all the time: "what do I need to do to climb Everest?"

Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world. But that's not what's made it such a household name. No, instead, it was the countless books and documentaries that have been produced over the years describing the gruesome details of expeditions gone wrong, and the heroic efforts of climbers on successful ascents. Popular culture lore helped to create the Everest that exists in our minds...

And while there are other mountains that the collective climbing psyche is fixated on, there are few that have seen so many popular culture references. And fewer yet that have hundreds of documentary films chronicling the tales on their flanks.  Mount Everest is an international household name.  It was the scene of many heroic alpine struggles...but there are other places that deserve such an honor.  One of those places is Yosemite Valley.

Like Mount Everest, Yosemite holds an important place in the history of climbing. It is where modern rock climbing evolved the furthest, the fastest.  And it is a place where technical skill and big wall proficiency is still at the cutting edge.  One great difference between Mount Everest and Yosemite is the fact that there simply have not been as many popular culture explorations of the place and its history to climbers.

Vertical Frontier, subtitled, "A History of the Art, Sport and Philosophy of Rock Climbing in Yosemite," is a Mount Everest style documentary built for the masses.  But unlike many of the Everest documentaries, Vertical Frontier caters to climbers as well as to non-climbers, making it one of the rare films that is entertaining to both audiences.

Vertical Frontier is a slick PBS-style feature documentary narrated by Tom Brokaw that tells the story of climbing in Yosemite from the first forays onto big features in the 1800s to a battle between climbers and the National Park Service at the turn of the century.  In between these two bookends, the film follows the development of climbing skill and technique by chronicling the important ascents over the last 100 years.

Much of the film is done in a standard documentary format; a format that easily allows the filmmakers to tell the story. And though engaging, climbing history is fraught with emotion and one-upsmanship. This, unfortunately, doesn't always penetrate the documentary style.

The capstone of Yosemite's story in the film is the "coming-together" of climbers after a flood seriously impacted the valley's tourist infrastructure in 1997. The National Park Service proposed a change in Camp 4, the campground used by generations of Yosemite Climbers. They wanted to build a new lodge at the historic site.  The last minutes of the film are quite different from the rest, as they are filled with emotion as decades worth of climbers pull together to save the place that provided them with such inspiration.

This 2002 documentary won the "Best Film on Climbing" at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 2002 and at the Kendall Mountain Film Festival in 2003. The film won first prize in the Mountaineering Category at the International Mountaineering Film Festival at Teplice nad Metuii in the Czech Republic in 2004.  Additionally, it won the "Viewer's Choice" award at the International Festival of Outdoor Films in 2004 and the "Best Cameraman" at the Tbilisi International Mountain Films Festival in Georgia in 2006. It may be one of the better-awarded documentaries of its type...

Many of the films we see on Youtube or at the Banff Film Festival today are about people pushing standards. They are often slickly produced and are extremely entertaining. But they don't usually give us a glimpse into what came before the climbers on screen demonstrating their acrobatic skills.  Vertical Frontier provides this and is extremely entertaining for it...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, September 12, 2016

Finger Injuries in Climbing

The hangboard.

It sits above the doorway in the office, taunting me. It sits above the doorway, daring me to train. It sits above the doorway, and stares me down. It sits above the doorway...

I can't help it. I'm a climber. It's in my genes. I have to hang on it. I have to do pull-ups on it. I have to climb.

But the reality is that hanging on a hangboard is not climbing. Hangboards are supposed to be for training. In truth hangboards are one of the best ways climbers have devised to obtain sports injuries.

I know only too well. One day I succumbed to the devious taunts of the board and began to train on it. I succumbed and pulled something in my ring finger.

A climber on the Boy Scout Wall in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Jason Martin

After doing a little research I discovered that I probably injured one of the pulleys in my finger. A great website called climbinginjuries.comprovided me with everything that I needed to know in order to get better. They indicated that I had a pulley injury in my finger and they identified three levels of pulley injury.

  • Grade III: A grade three injury usually involves a complete rupture of the pulley creating bowstringing of the tendon. Symptoms of this severe soft tissue injury includes local pain in the pulley, swelling or even bruising, pain when squeezing, pain when extending the finger, and most disturbingly those who get this injury often hear a pop inside their finger.
  • Grade II: A grade two injury is identified by a partial rupture of the pulley tendon. This injury is characterized by local pain at the pulley, pain when squeezing and occasionally pain when extending a finger.
  • Grade I: A grade one injury is characterized by local pain at the pulley, pain when squeezing and a sprain of the finger ligaments (collateral ligaments).


These injuries can be quite serious. Some people may require months to recover from a Grade III pulley rupture. has a prescribed method for treatment:

Go buy some TheraPutty! All orthopedic doctors and physical therapists will recommend putty as a tool for successful recovery.(2) The fingers generally receive poor blood flow so getting blood to the injured area is important. Contrast baths have had mixed results in the literature, but it wouldn't hurt to try. To do a contrast bath, get a bowl of warm water, and cold water. Put injured finger in cold water for a few minutes, then place it immediately in the warm water for a few minutes. Repeat 3-5 times. Finish with the cold water. This could be done after squeezing the putty ball to "flush out" the injured joint. Massaging the effected area can be effective as well. Start out lightly and gradually increase the pressure.

  • Grade III: - Immediately- Stop climbing Apply ice or cold immediately, no more than 15 minutes at a time (1-2 days) Take ibuprofen for 1- 2 day Keep the hand elevated Week 1-2 Don't climb! Don't immobilize the finger. Unless there is a lot of pain, open and close your hand often VERY light massage at the site of the injury. Concentrate on other aspects of your life. Week 4-8 Warm the hands by use of a bath or an electric blanket, then squeeze the yellow (softest) putty. Don't push it, if there's pain…stop. Repeat a few times per day. Go to Grade II Treatment.
  • Grade II: (Week 1-2) No climbing Warm the hands by use of a bath or an electric blanket, then squeeze the red putty. Don't push it, if there's pain…stop. Repeat a few times per day. Lubricate and lightly massage at the site of the injury. (Week 3-6) Tape the injured finger, stretch your forearms (this relieves the stress on the finger tendons) and climb thebiggest holds you can find. Start easy, this will be the quickest way to recovery. If you climb too hard, too fast, then return to the start of Grade 2 and do not collect $200. Always stretch your forearms after warming up and prior to climbing. Start squeezing the medium to firm putty. Lubricate and massage the finger at the site of the injury a couple of times/day. Start lightly and gradually increase the intensity using very short strokes on the injured site. Go to Grade I Treatment
  • Grade I (Week 1) Tape the injured finger and continue to climb at a level well below your normal level. Gradually increase the stresses on the fingers. Stretch your forearms after warming up and prior to climbing. This relieves the stress on the finger tendons. Squeeze the medium to firm putty a few times per day. Lubricate and massage the finger at the site of the injury. Start light and gradually increase intensity. Very short strokes on the injured site. Expected outcome Take advice from a practitioner who specializes in climbing. However, if treated early and effectively, with an appropriately graded return to activity, recovery will usually take 3-8 weeks. However, if the injury is pushed beyond its stage of recovery, re-injury will occur and may result in a chronic injury that will require a much more protracted rehabilitation period.

The best way to recover from a finger injury is to avoid getting hurt in the first place. Here are a few rules to live by:

  • Always warm up on easy climbs. Don't jump straight onto the hardest thing you can get up. 
  • Stretch your fingers. 
  • Don't overtrain. If you are climbing hard then you should probably avoid climbing every day. Strong sport climbers will often climb every other day. 
  • Stretch your fingers again. 
  • Massage your forearms between burns. 
  • Stretch your fingers more.

Sooner or later my finger will heal up and when it does I'll train more consciously. The hangboard definitely requires a bit more care. The last thing I need is another finger injury to crimp my crimping style!

--Jason D. Martin