Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Pain and the Pleasure of Crampons on Approach Shoes

Whoa! Crampons on approach shoes? That's crazy talk. Crampons belong on boots!

Most of us couldn't agree more with this sentiment. But most of us also don't want to walk across a short section of ice wearing boots for an alpine rock climb and then carry said boots in our backpacks when we put on our rock shoes.

Sometimes it makes a lot of sense to wear crampons on approach shoes. It's not comfortable and it's not fun. Indeed, half the time that you're doing this, it feels like your foot is going to come right out of the shoe. On every step the crampons stick in the ice and have a nearly imperceptible hold your foot. It feels a little bit like you're walking in sticky mud.


Approach shoes were not designed for such a use. They bend easily and it is difficult to walk up steeper terrain while wearing them. The strap-connectors on many crampons are hard plastic and these commonly dig into your ankles.

There are some crampon styles that work more effectively with approach shoes. Aluminum crampons are not really designed for standard mountaineering where you are going to wear your crampons all day. Instead, such crampons are light, have a low profile and often fit well on approach shoes. Aluminum crampons like the Black Diamond Neve Strap Aluminum Crampons and the Stubai Ultralight Universal Crampons are perfect for this type of use.


The pain of crampons on approach shoes is at least somewhat worth it. As with so many other things in climbing, the pleasure comes after the pain. And in this case, the pleasure is no heavy boots in your pack while working your way up a massive alpine rock climb.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 21, 2017

Women's Baker Skills and Climb: A Photo Essay


You never conquer a mountain. You stand on the summit a few brief minutes and then the wind blows away your footprints
-Arlene Blum

The attitude that Arlene Blum maintains in this quote is one that many mountaineers share, in some cases the summit is not attained, in others it is, in some cases you are battling the mountain to try to conquer it, in other cases you are working in sync and harmony with the mountain, letting it tell you whether today is your day. Good planning, a solid foundation of skills, and realistic expectations help with making a decision like this in the mountains. And, having an incredible group of Women venture into the wilderness together, to learn, laugh, and support one another, rain or shine, is what made this weekend on Mount Baker a memorable and meaningful trip.

Day 1: Approach to Low Camp

On Friday, June 16 we met at AAI Headquarters in Bellingham, WA. Conducted an intensive gear check to ensure everyone was set up for success with their clothing, technical gear, and camping and cooking gear. We then set off for the North Side of Mount Baker and started our approach from the Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead (3600) to our base camp (6000).

 
Erin-Leigh's skillfully packs her food into portions for 2 breakfasts, 2 dinners, and 3 lunches
photo by Erin-Leigh Hardy


  
The team of ladies are ready! But first we must take an obligatory Trailhead photo.
Photo by Pete Riewald


Christie and Sara cross a Snow bridge covering a small stream (branch of the Kulshan Creek) crossing
Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo



Sangeeta and Jeanna extend their trekking poles in preparation for the Kulshan Creek Crossing
Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo
Sara balances her way across the log at the Kulshan Creek Crossing
Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo 

The team taking a snack break before working their way up the Hogsback ridge.
Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo


Working our way up the Hogsback Ridge, nearly to camp
Photo by Sara Jung


Sara shares her stoke for our awesome view of Mount Baker while we set up camp

Photo by Erin-Leigh Hardy

The sun begins to set after a long first day up to Hogsback Camp 

Photo by Sangeeta Sakaria

Day 2: Skills on the terminus of the Coleman Glacier 

On Saturday, we woke up at base camp, cooked breakfast while discussing topics such as glaciology, and tour planning for our objective the following day. We then set off for a tour around the terminus of the Coleman glacier, up the Hogsback Headwall while covering Snow School, roped glacier travel, and finished our day with demonstrations on Self Arrest and a two-person rope team scenario for Crevasse Rescue. We then went to sleep early for our Alpine start the following morning



AAI Guide Alejandra explains tour planning and discusses the many ways to plan and "backwards plan" for the following day.
Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo 


Panorama of Hogsback camp 
Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

AAI Guide Alejandra demonstrates different cramponing techniques for walking on snow
Photo by Sara Jung

The team works their way up the Hogsback Headwall to practice Roped Glacier Travel

Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo
AAI Guide Alejandra and team members, Jeanna and Erin-Leigh pose for a picture while discussing snow protection in the context of pickets, and ice axes
Photo by Christie Summers


Day 3: Summit attempt of the Coleman-Deming Route on Mount Baker


The rope team takes their first break above the Hogsback headwall, having spent the last hour in hail, rain and low visibility Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo
The whiteout conditions continue.. and the team maintains good morale

Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

... and psych for the objective :)
Photo by Christie Summers

After a discussion about the conditions and our planned timeline for our trip, the team collectively decided to turn back, but not before having a glacial dance party

Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo



There's nothing quite like Reggeaton in a whiteout at 8,500 feet
video by Alejandra Garcés Pozo


A hasty descent down the Hogsback ridge from our summit attempt after tearing down camp
Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo 

At the Kulshan Creek Crossing we met Karen, who was taking her friend hiking for her first time and helping her across the precarious log crossing

Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

Our Team near the trail head after an incredible weekend on Mount Baker
Photo by Karen

Upon arriving to the trail head, we quickly loaded the van, changed into a fresh set of clothes and began our drive to Bellingham. The 3 days of bonding and learning opened us up to eachother more than we realized. Sara suggested we all share three things we were most thankful for. This could extend to the trip, the day, or anything in life at that moment. The participation of everyone on the team made for a beautiful moment of positive energy, personal achievements, empowerment, self assessment,  growth and stronger bonds within the group. Watching this team of strong women push themselves, encourage each other and grow individually as mountaineers was truly an incredible thing to be a part of.

--Alejandra Garcés Pozo, AAI Instructor and Guide


Friday, August 18, 2017

Angle and Force in an Anchor

You've heard before, and I'll say it again. The lower the angle between the pieces in an anchor, the better equalized the anchor will be.

What does this actually mean?

Well, first it means that the American Death Triangle is really bad...

The American Death Triangle = Death

And second it means that...

If an anchor is composed of two pieces, and one piece is directly above the other piece, and you are using a pre-equalized knot on a cordellete clipped to the pieces, then you are likely to be close to completely equalized at your master-point. The photo below shows a three piece anchor with low angles between the pieces. The low angles make this a very good anchor. However, due to the fact that the pieces are not completely in line with one another, the anchor cannot be truly equalized.

A Very Good Pre-Equalized Anchor  on bolts that is Not Truly Equalized
Guides believe that this is an acceptable anchor.

Note: The rope running through the shelf is a means to decrease the 
likelihood of a factor 2 fall on the anchor.

Some may find minor concerns with the different lengths of cord in the preceding picture. Most guides are not concerned about this.

When the angle on a two-point anchor increases, so too does the load on each piece. The theory is that when there is no or a very low angle -- under 20 degrees -- the pieces are close to equalized. When the angle increases to 40 degrees, then 54% of the load is on each piece. As the angle increases to 80 degrees, then 70% of the load is on each piece. And when the angle increases to 120 degrees, then 100% of the load is on each piece.

The following chart from the Technical Manual for Mountain Guides from the AMGA, demonstrates this with proposed weight of 1000 pounds.


The video savvy Canadian guide, Mike Barter, put together a great video on this subject for youtube.com. He uses a number of visual demonstrations throughout the video to show how weight affects an anchor as the angle increases. Check out the video below:


--Jason D. Martin

NOTE:

This is the second time we've posted this blog. And after I posted it the first time a couple of years ago an extremely valid comment was made. I thought that it would be prudent to post the comment as well as my response:

Anonymous said...
I hate to flame people trying to put good information out for the public, but I thought his demonstration was pretty silly. First off(although it really wasn't important for the demonstration) he had the knot of the cordelette directly on the carabiner of one of his "anchors". You think that an IFMGA guide wouldn't do this even in a demonstration. His demonstration really didn't show the increase in force on the anchor, but the change in the direction of pull. I think he could of easily done this by attaching a simple fish scale to each anchor.

Jason Martin said...
I also thought about the knot on the carabiner when I found this video. The knot on the carabiner does weaken the cordellete mildly. But not really enough for it to matter.

In addition to this, lets remember what this blog is about. It's about how angle impacts individual pieces...and I think that the video does a great job of demonstrating this...

Jason

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Falling on Lead and "Cratering"

It was a beautiful spring day in Red Rock Canyon. I was overseeing the second day of an American Mountain Guides Association Single Pitch Instructor exam and all of the guide candidates were doing a great job. It was a great day to be in the mountains.

It was a great day until we saw a "runner."

People who are running to get help for an injured climber are often referred to as runners. In this particular instance it was a young woman running down the canyon. She yelled for help and told us she was trying to get a better cell signal...she kept losing 911.

Two SPI Candidates, Kevin and Brenden, and I grabbed our first aid kits and made our way up canyon. Kevin was a firefighter and Brenden was a nursing student. They were excellent people to have with me on a rescue.

When we finally discovered the injured climber, we found a man in his late fifties. His head was seriously lacerated and he had been knocked unconscious for two to three minutes before coming back. There was blood in his helmet and it appeared that the the tab on the back had perpetrated the laceration. The rear of helmet was also cracked. It looked like it had been pushed up under his scalp and then pulled back out as the helmet contracted around his skull.

The man's two college-aged daughters were both there as well. All of them, the man and his grown children, seemed to be rank beginners. A tote bag that was used to carry their gear sat next to the rocks.

We immediately held the man's head to keep him from moving it, providing C-spine. Clearly the fall could have caused a spinal injury and we didn't want to take any chances whatsoever. Kevin cleverly created a spinal collar out of coiled up rope and wrote the time of the accident on a piece of medical tape holding the rope in place.

The Patient Getting Ready to be Short-Hauled

Not long after we finished with the C-collar, a helicopter arrived. The Las Vegas Search and Rescue team is one of the best in the world. They packaged the man on a litter and were quickly able to extract him in the tight canyon. We assume that he safely made it to the hospital and is now back to his normal every day life...

Rescues can be extremely interesting to watch. There are helicopters, medical people, cool hauling systems, and often some blood. But they aren't that cool if you're the one that is getting rescued...so why did this individual need to be rescued...?

A Search and Rescue Office being hauled back to the Helicopter

Obviously we weren't there, but there were clues. The group was climbing at the Cut Your Teeth Crag in Calico Basin. This is a beginner crag, but it is also a very young crag. It was developed in 2006 by Mike McGlynn and Todd Lane. The route that the party was on is a bolted 5.7 called Introproximal Stripper. The importance of knowing the age of the crag is that on sandstone, holds can sometimes crumble or even break on newer routes...

The lead rope ran through draws on the first two bolts. The girls claimed that their dad was trying to clip the third bolt when he fell. The dad was tall, at least six-feet four inches tall, and probably weighed around 200 lbs. The girls were both small and probably didn't weigh more than 120 lbs each.

So looking at the situation, there are a lot of possible factors. Following are some speculations based on the story that the girls told.

Rope behind the Leg:

It's unfortunately quite common for climbers to lead with a rope running behind their leg.  If this is not something that you are constantly paying attention to, it is an element that could easily cause you to fall, catch your leg and flip upside down.

Both of the man's daughters claimed that he flipped upside down in the fall.  This could have been from the rope running behind his leg and it could have been from his feet hitting something and flipping him.  However, since he had no obvious injuries to his feet, heels or ankles, it seems more likely that he was flipped by the rope.

Over the Head Clipping:

It's very dangerous to clip over your head. This is because when you pull slack to clip the rope, you are also putting a lot of extra slack into the system. If you are close to the ground and take a fall at this time, it is likely that you will "crater."

Some people put the slack rope in their mouth when they are getting ready to clip. It is not uncommon for those who take leader falls in such a situation to have teeth pulled out by the rope. While this didn't happen in this case, it is definitely something to be worried about.

The safest way to clip a rope is to wait. Wait until the draw is at your waist to clip it. That way, you will take the smallest possible fall. Unfortunately, this can feel very unstable. It's always more satisfactory to have the rope clipped than not to. And indeed, many routes are designed to clip the rope above the head...but we should be very aware of the dangers implicit in the action.

It is quite possible that the individual in this accident was trying to clip over his head when he fell.

Weight Differences

When weight differences are small, sometimes its nice to have a situation where a person can be pulled off the ground a little bit. This provides a soft catch. But when weight differences are large, it's important to make sure that the belayer is tied to the ground. This will limit the distance that the person falls.

The Cut Your Teeth Crag is a short crag and the weight differences between the two individuals was large. It's likely that the young woman who was belaying was pulled significantly off the ground as her dad landed. I did not confirm this at the time, but I did ask if she was tied down.

Slack in the Belay


Lastly, it's possible that the lead belay had additional slack. Sometimes belayers allow the lead line to sit on the ground in front of them. The line going from the device to the wall should have a mild smile to it. It should not hang down on the ground.

As we were not there, we don't know what the belay looked like and this may not have been an issue. But clearly one or more of the factors described contributed to the accident.

Accident Avoidance

The best way to avoid an accident is to avoid climbing all together. But for most of us, that isn't a possibility. So instead of avoiding the sport we love, we have to constantly study how accidents take place and learn from them.

Every year the American Alpine Club produces a book of accident analysis entitled, Accidents in North American Mountaineering. It is a grim read, but it also provides us with many many opportunities to see what not to do.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 14, 2017

Forearm Exercises to Make You Strong

There's no question about it. When your forearms are fried, the dishes are done. You're going to fall off your route.

Technique is important for climbing and it can save your strength. Indeed, on routes with a rating below 5.8, strength may not even be an issue if your technique is adequate. But as you start to push up through the grades, you'll find that forearm strength becomes more and more important.

The more you train your forearms, the stronger you'll be. And the more you train your forearms, the more likely it is that you will be able to rest them quickly and adequately by shaking out or finding a stance on which to take a break.

There are a handful of exercises that work to build forearm strength and endurance. Following is a quick breakdown of some of these exercises:

Static Hangs


You probably remember from your days of lifting weights in the high school weight room that muscle is most effectively built when you workout until muscle failure. Commonly, an athlete will work a specific muscle group by lifting a weight a number of times (referred to as reps) until the muscle fails. Most will know that with a given weight, the muscle will begin to fail after a given number of reps.

A static hang works the muscle in much the same way. For this to work effectively, you have to hang until your muscles fail. This doesn't mean that you have to hang until it hurts or even until it hurts a lot. You have to go beyond those thresholds to the point of complete muscle failure.

After failure, allow the muscles to rest for five minutes or so and then try again. Ideally, you will do this exercise three or four times in order to get the most out of it.

Endurance Static Hangs

Hang on a bar or a hangboard with both hands. Drop one hand and shake it out while still hanging on the other. Hang for at lease five seconds on one arm before switching.

This particular exercise is great for climbers because of the way it imitates real life!

Forearm Curls

There are two effective ways to do forearm curls. One may use a regular barbell or a dumbell.

To use a barbell, you will need to lay your forearms across a weight bench holding the barbell. Your hands should hang over the edge, palms up. All the bar to roll toward your fingers and then flex, bringing it up into your palm.

With a dumbell, the system is almost the same. Allow the dumbell to roll out toward your fingers and then flex, allowing int to roll back into your palm.

With both of these exercises, it tends to be more effective to work toward a combination of strength and endurance by working on time as opposed to reps. Try to do as many curls as possible in a minute and then work up from there. Remember most sport routes take five to ten minutes to climb, so that should be a goal in the exercise.

Indoor Gym Exercise

One of the best ways to build forearm strength and endurance is to traverse around the climbing gym on easy holds. Try to stay on the wall for at least twenty minutes. Another version of this same exercise is to try to down-climb the routes after you reach the top.

As with other excercises, a series of these twenty minute sessions will be more effective than a one time run at them.

Forearm Exerciser

There are a number of different commercial forearm exercising devices out there. Perhaps the most popular is the blue latex rubber doughnut. The value of these devices is that they work out both fingers and forearms. This should be used like any weight device. Do a series of reps until failure, rest and then repeat two more times.

Additional ResourcesYou can find more on forearm workouts here. For information about why forearms pump out and about lactic acid buildup in forearms, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, August 11, 2017

Search and Rescue Costs

Should climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts have to pay for rescue...?

Many non-climbers feel that climbing related rescues should be paid for by those that are rescued. However, many of these same individuals do not feel that hiking related, hunting related, or boating related rescues should be paid for by the individuals that are rescued. Of course, every year there are a lot more yachters and wayward Boy Scouts that are rescued than climbers.

Mountain rescue in the United States is generally managed by the Sheriff's department or the Park Service, depending on the location. The actual rescue though is usually done by mountain rescue volunteers or the military.

Las Vegas Metro Police Department Search and Rescue Practice in Red Rock Canyon
Photo from LVMPD S&R Website

Some cities maintain full-time Search and Rescue police officers. Places like Las Vegas and Los Angeles County send out their Search and Rescue officers nearly every day to deal with everything from boaters to ATV riders to people who took a wrong turn during a flood. Climbers make up a very small percentage of their rescue costs... But tax dollars certainly do support these operations.

Mountain rescue volunteers work for the satisfaction of providing assistance to those in need. They do not cost the government or the tax payers anything. The military operations that are used in rescues often employ individuals who are rescue specialists and would be training to do rescues anyway. As a result, the funds that go into these rescues are not as exhorbinant as many people might believe.

A law in New Hampshire forces those who are rescued to pay for their rescues. WMUR Channel 9 New Hampshire reported that:

A New Hampshire law aims to make people think twice before heading into the woods unprepared or under the influence.

The state Department of Fish and Game currently fines lost hikers who recklessly venture into the woods to pay for the cost of the rescue, but now the department will have the power to revoke the driver's licenses of those who don't pay. Hikers can also lose licenses with the state Health and Human Services Department, and hunting and fishing licenses.

The law also gives the state more power over who they decide to fine. Previously, the state had to prove someone acted recklessly before charging a hiker for repayment for a rescue. This meant the state had to show the hiker or hikers were aware going into the woods posed a substantial risk but they did it anyway. Now the state only has to prove the person was negligent.

While many rescues are of those who were negligent, there are a lot of rescues that take place where an individual made an honest mistake. The downside to laws such as this is that mountain activities have the look and feel of danger, even when they aren't terribly dangerous. Other wilderness users -- whether they do something that is negligent or not -- may not look like they are putting themselves in peril. The result is that climbers will likely bear the brunt of such laws.

Two Climbers Practice Rescue Techniques in a Single Pitch Instructor Course
Photo by Jason Martin

Indeed, who will decide if a given action is negligent or not? An experienced climber might try a hard route in a light-and-fast manner. Somewhere high on the route a hold breaks and he shatters his ankle. Were this brought to court after a rescue, that climber...even though he did everything right...might be charged for negligence. Why? It's a hard route and he didn't have a lot of equipment.

If a climber that is carrying seventy pounds of food and fuel up a glaciated peak decides to glissade with his crampons on and breaks an ankle, he might be seen as playing it safe and the idea of negligence might never come up. This is despite the fact that he was using an innapropriate technique at an innappropriate time.

Rescues take place in the mountains every day and climbers make up a very small percentage of those that are rescued. This issue always comes to a head when something bad happens to a climber, but it never comes up when something bad happens to another wilderness user. We are unfairly targetted by those that have little knowledge of what happens in the wilderness.

Creating laws that require negligent people to pay for rescues is a step in the wrong direction. It is far too difficult for the courts to delve into the idea of what is negligent in this field and what is not. Our main concern is that any type of climbing activity -- regardless of the experience level and training of the participant -- may be seen as negligent.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Snow Seats and Dynamic Belays

Standard snow anchors are comprised of pickets, flukes, bollards and deadmen. As stated in previous blogs, sometimes people overlook items that might be used as deadmen such as packs, crampons, ice axes, skis, trekking poles, and stuff sacks filled with snow.

Quick snow anchors can be devised from just about anything...including your body.

Most of you are probably familiar with Simon Yates and his infamous snow seat in Touching the Void. To say the least, that was an unusual situation.

Photo by Jason Martin

To create a quick snow seat you must simply sit down in the snow, arc your legs, and stomp your heels into the snow. After you've achieved this position, you will be able to put a climber on belay. However, if the climber takes a fall with slack in the rope, it is possible that you may be pulled out of the snow seat. There are two ways to keep this from happening.

The first way to deal with a potential shock-load in a snow seat is to add a snow anchor to back it up. This could be anything, but many climbers will simply use their ice axe. The belayer must then clip the climbing rope (which is tied to the climbers harness) to the snow anchor. Most will just make a clove-hitch with the rope and then slide the shaft of the ice axe down through the hitch. If the belayer has elected to use a hip belay, the tie-in must come off the same side of the climber's body as rope running to the climber, otherwise the load will twist the belayer uncomfortably.
The second way to deal with this is by using a dynamic belay. In other words, when the climber falls, allow the rope to run through the belay device for a short period of time, slowly breaking it and bringing it to a stop. This allows the snow seat -- and you -- a much smaller shock. There are clearly some problems with this technique and it cannot be used in every situation. The dynamic belay is only truly useful on steep snow climbs where there is little danger of a falling climber hitting something.

If we learned one thing from the Simon Yates in Touching the Void, it's that snow seats are an excellent option in terrain where you do not anticipate a need to escape the belay. If there is anything suspect going on, it's important to build a bombproof SERENE/ERNEST anchor.

When used properly, snow seats and dynamic belays can save a great deal of time...and as we all know, speed in the mountains is safety...

--Jason D. Martin