Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Training: Injury Prevention

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



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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 22, 2018

Toproping Etiquette

The following is a series of etiquette oriented questions that arise around toproped climbing at popular cragging destinations. The answers to these questions should be adhered to at North American Climbing destinations. Locations outside of North America may have different etiquette issues.

A Climber Lowers Off a Route in Leavenworth, Washington
Photo by Ruth Hennings


1) Where should I set-up my "camp" at a crag that I'm going to climb at all day?

Gear and equipment should not be placed directly under the wall. It's good to set-up a "safe" area away from the wall where you can relax without a helmet on and eat lunch. This will also keep the base of the wall from being crowded with gear and packs.

It's a good idea to consolodate your group's gear. Avoid allowing equipment and packs to be scattered around.

A Climber Leads Tonto (5.5) in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Jason Martin

2) What if I have a large group and want to "take-over" a crag for the day?

It is not appropriate for a group to "take-over" a crag. Climbing areas are public areas that are open to everyone. As such, it is incredibly rude for a group to hold an entire area -- or even a few routes -- hostage for the day.

If you have a large group, you have a large impact on both other users as well as the area. The best thing that you can to mitigate that impact is to keep a low profile, allow others to work in on the wall that you're using. Never leave a rope up that is not being used to "hold" a route.

If you do have a lot of ropes up and other users wish to climb routes that you have ropes on, it is okay to allow people to use your ropes if they look like they know what they're doing. If they don't appear knowlegable and they are climbing on your gear, you could become legally liable if something happens to one of the climbers that aren't with your group.

A group climbs at the Cowlick Co. Crag in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Jason Martin


3) What if a large group is using a crag and refuses to give up a climb to my small group?

If you've got moves, then offer to have a dance-off for the climb. Seriously, joking with people will often loosen them up. In most cases, people that have had a good laugh will be more polite and more open to allowing people to climb.

If the large group is very rude and refuses to give up a climb, then politely find another place to go. It's not worth lecturing an ignorant climber about crag ettiquete. More often than not, a lecture will just reinforce negative behavior.

4) Is it okay to use the same anchor bolts as the person on an adjacent route?

Yes and no. Will this cause the person next door problems? If so, they were there first. If not, then be sure to ask them before clipping in next to their carabiners. If they say yes, then clip the bolts, but be sure not to do anything that changes their set-up in any way.

5) Where should I go to the bathroom when I'm cragging?

If there is an outhouse nearby, always use that first. Avoid urinating at the base of the wall and always avoid urinating in cracks on a wall as this causes the smell to linger.

If you have to defecate, know the rules of the area. Some areas require the use of WAG Bags, while other areas require you to dig a cat hole and pack out your toilet paper. Never go to the bathroom on the ground, stack the toilet paper on it and then put a rock on top.



6) When should I say something to a person who is doing something dangerous?

This is up to you. I usually don't say anything unless there is real and iminent danger. If there is mild danger, I will usually chat with the people for awhile in a non-threatening way before providing any unsolicieted beta.

7) Is it okay to toprope the first pitch of a multi-pitch climb?

More often than not, the answer is no. This is a more complex issue than the others and it does depend on the route and the route's history. People who are doing multi-pitch climbs always have the right of way over those who will TR a climb.

Some climbs are multi-pitch climbs, but nobody does anything but the first pitch. In this case, all the other ettiquete rules apply. Other climbs are commonly climbed as multi-pitch routes and are seldom done as single pitch routes. Such climbs should not be toproped.

8) It it okay to yell beta at people who didn't ask for it that I don't know?

No, many climbers like figure out the moves on their own.

Climbers who keep these concepts of etiquette in mind will almost universally have a much better time with a lot less conflict at the crags. And climbing isn't about conflict. It's about having fun...!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 19, 2018

Extending Your Rappel

We have talked about extending a rappel in this blog before. However, to date we've been too lazy to make a video on the subject.  This is not the case with Climbing magazine's gear editor Julie Ellison. Julie made a very nice video on the subject of rappel extensions.

Following is the video:



There are a handful of additions that I'd like to make to Julie's notes.

Girth-Hitching the Sling

It is important that the sling is girth-hitched through the tie-in points on the harness. It should not be girth-hitched around the belay loop. This is because a girth-hitch crushes the loop and slowly wears it out.

Some choose to keep a PAS or a daisy chain attached to their belay-loop on a more or less permanent basis. This is very dangerous as it freezes the belay-loop in place, keeping it from rotating. The natural rotation of the gear-loop allows wear to disperse around the loop. When something is permanently girth-hitched to it, all the wear is focused into two places, wearing out the loop faster.  To avoid this, we recommend girth-hitching through the tie-in point.

Redundancy

Julie shows the clipping of the device inside the loop between the harness and the rope. To create additional redundancy in the system (at least while rappelling) it is possible to clip the device into both loops. That way, when you clip the end of the system back to yourself, you have a level of redundancy.

Type of Sling Used (Dynema)

In the video Julie is using a Dynema sling. These slings don't do well in a factor two fall.

A factor two fall could take place when you clip into your anchor above your anchor, and then slip. In tests completed by DMM, Dynema slings did much more poorly than nylon slings.  To see a video concerning this, click here.

Our recommendation is generally to use nylon slings in this application. But if you have to use Dynema, then you should be cognizant of this danger.

Third Hand - Autoblock

Julie shows clipping this into your belay loop, which is the correct place to clip the autoblock. However, many people clip it to their leg-loop when they extend the rappel. There is no reason to do this. If your belay loop is clear, why wouldn't you clip the autoblock to it? It's the strongest part of your harness.

Third Hand - Letting Go

Julie does make one off the cuff comment about how your autoblock will save you if you let go.  Indeed, that is the intent of the third hand. However, if the autoblock is loose or sloppy, it may not engage appropriately. As such, I generally still wrap the rope around my leg or tie a catastrophe knot below the autoblock in order to have some peace of mind when I have to go hands free.

Speed and Efficiency

One thing that was not mentioned in the video is that the use of extended rappels in a multi-pitch setting allows more than one person to clip in at the same time. This can significantly expedite a descent and also allows you to check one another to ensure that everything has been set-up right.

I personally tend to extend my rappels at every opportunity. There are some places where it's not terribly useful or realistic (like in a sport setting), but in trad and multi-pitch settings, it is definitely the way to go...down...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/18/18

Elections!


--The 2018 Mid-Term Elections are fast approaching. The Outdoor Industry Association has released a comprehensive voters guide to help people across the country make informed choices about who cares about the outdoor industry, public lands and climate change. To read more, click here.

Northwest:

--At about 1:30am on October 11, AAI's Technical Rope Rescue Comprehensive program was awakened by Bellingham Mountain Rescue volunteers. Guides and participants sprung into action to help a shoeless hiker and his dog that were stuck mid-face on a rotting moraine. An AAI guide performed a pick-off to rescue the victim, while other rescue personnel retrieved the dog. Another AAI guide made shoes for the victim out of his ripped up sweatshirt, a cut-up z-pad and ace bandages. To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--A climber was severely injured after sustaining a 65-foot fall in the San Juan National Forest. Information about what lead to the accident and the victim's current condition is scarce. To read more, click here.

--Here are the projected opening dates for all the Colorado Ski Resorts.

Notes from All Over:

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "nine climbers died in an accident at the base of Gurja Himal (7,193 meters), Nepal, on Friday, October 12, in what was the greatest loss of life in Himalayan climbing since the 2015 avalanche that killed 18 people on Everest. The dead, all from the same expedition, numbered five South Korean climbers and four Nepali climbers. The expedition had hoped to forge a new route to the top of the infrequently attempted Gurja Himal, and to name the route 'One Korea — Unification of North and South Korea.'" To read more, click here.

--The Casper Star Tribune asks and then answers, "what’s the best way to celebrate the landmark of your 91st birthday? For Dr. Bill Weber of Florida, the obvious answer was to break a record and become the oldest known person ever to have climbed to the summit of Devils Tower." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund has identified several of our favorite places to climb as being under serious threat. They just produced their 10 Climbing Areas in Crisis report. To see it, click here.

--In other Access Fund news, they have recently selected several places for bolt replacement and have donated $10,000 to the fund. To read more, click here.

--This is a super engaging story about a little known part of NPS law enforcement, essentially, the FBI of the National Park Service...

AAI Guides enjoying beer and rainbows at the Red Rock Rendezvous 
in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

--Craft beer is a ubiquitous part of outdoor culture. But what about beer made from climbing chalk...? Yeah. Somebody did it. And Climbing has the story, here.

--The first ever Olympic medals were given out to climbers recently. The Youth Olympics included climbing in its Buenos Aires events. To read more, click here.

--And finally, Outside argues that you should let your kids participate in extreme sports. "Experts say intense outdoor activities can help children increase focus and develop a better awareness of their surroundings." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rack on the Shoulder or Shoot from the Hip?

I admit it...

I wore a shoulder rack until approximately 2013. Please don't judge me. I started climbing in 1992. It's hard to change and evolve. But after 21-years of shoulder slinging, I finally switched and began to shoot from the hip...

Why would you subject yourself to a shoulder sling, you might be asking?

The author in Red Rock Canyon (circa 2005)
sporting a shoulder rack on a multi-pitch climb.

Easy, there are a number of advantages to racking on a shoulder sling.

Shoulder Sling Advantages

1) It's easy to shift a shoulder sling from one side of your body to the other when climbing off-widths or chimneys.

2) When you climb sport routes, nothing changes on your harness.

3) It's very easy to swap leads by handing the rack to your partner. Indeed, on some speedy ascents, we actually used to hold the sling out so the climber following the pitch would climb right up into the sling and then keep going...!

4) It's easy to see the gear that you have on your rack. Nothing is hidden on a gear loop at the back of your harness.

5) In steep snow, with a lot of clothing, it may be easier to find gear on a shoulder sling.

But there are also a lot of disadvantages.

Shoulder Sling Disadvantages

1) A large rack rubs your shoulder and neck raw. It can be very painful to carry doubles or triples.

2) On low angle terrain, the rack constantly gets in your way. It's hard to see your feet.

3) The edges of cams commonly get caught on edges while you're climbing, making it difficult to move efficiently.

4) Shoulder slings with fixed loops tend to change positions on your shoulder. Heavier gear constantly pulls the rack into inopportune positions.

5) If you fall and flip upside down, it's possible to lose the entire rack.

If you look at the advantages and disadvantages of a shoulder sling, it starts to feel like it's about even. There are five advantages and five disadvantages. But choosing whether to use a shoulder sling or to "shoot from the hip" isn't so much about the advantages and disadvantages of the shoulder sling, it's also about the advantages and disadvantages of racking on your harness.

A climber with a rack on his harness.

Advantages of Racking on the Harness

1) Nothing is rubbing on your neck or shoulder.

2) You can see your feet. Additionally, there's nothing in front of you, so it's easier to see mid-level holds.

3) The edges of your cams are less likely to get caught.

4) Ice screw clippers work extremely well on a harness, but don't work at all on a shoulder rack.

5) Everything feels cleaner and more streamlined when it's on your harness.

6) Most climbers use this system. This makes it easier to work with lots of different partners while having similar systems.

Disadvantages to Racking on the Harness

1) Depending on the harness, gear may be hanging in awkward places. This is especially true with harnesses that have offset gear loops. It can be problematic when cams are hanging over the front of your thigh.

2) It's harder to swap gear between leads.

3) It can be hard to see which cam is which at your waist. I personally rack my cams with carabiners of corresponding color to easily find what I need on my gear loop.

4) There may not be enough space on the gear loops to accommodate all the gear required for a lead.

Conclusion

How you rack is ultimately a personal choice. But I do lean toward racking on the harness. The main reason for this is because I did rack on my shoulder for over twenty years. I didn't want to change. But when I finally committed to updating my system, I found it to be much more streamlined.

That said, I don't put everything on my harness. I still put some slings over my shoulder. So you could say that my technique is a bit of a hybrid...

If you're new to climbing, I would strongly suggest that you try both systems. There is value to being able to accommodate different systems for different kinds of climbing. But ultimately, you're going to lean toward one system that you use most of the time. These days, it's highly likely that you'll lean toward "shooting from the hip." However, if you decide that the shoulder sling is better, there's nothing wrong with that. How you climb is completely up to you...that's one of the cool things about this sport!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 15, 2018

Film Review: Backcountry

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

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

Ruppert survived. The bear did not.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 12, 2018

Belay Glove Confession

A few years ago I was in a Nomad Ventures, the climbing shop near Joshua Tree National Park, when a question arose.

"Do you use these?" my partner asked.

I looked over and saw him holding a pair of hand jammies. Hand jammies are a pair of gimmicky gloves that supposedly take the place of hand tape. They cover the back of your hand with sticky rubber in order to protect the skin from the sharp innards of a crack

Hand jammies seem like a good idea, but there's a problem with them. The problem is not that they don't work. The problem is not that they're too expensive. And the problem definitely is not that they're difficult to use. No, instead the problem is one of style. To put it simply, hand jammies are dorky. So lets follow this syllogism to its natural conclusion.

A -- Hand jammies are dorky.
B -- Gunther wears hand jammies.
C -- Gunther is a dork.

So my response was simple. "No, I don't wear those...at all."

My partner turned to the clerk behind the counter and asked the same question, "do you wear these?"

The clerk was a little less political in his answer. "No," he snorted. "I don't want to get beat up."

Sometime later, something happened to me. I didn't take up hand jammies. No, instead I started to wear something a bit worse. I started to wear belay gloves.

When you go out to the crag you'll notice that belay gloves are inot terribly common. The reason that they're uncommon is because most people don't see the need for them. Nobody really rappels or lowers anyone fast enough to burn their hands. And they certainly don't learn to wear them at the rock gym.

I don't wear them to avoid hand burns. I wear them to avoid the aluminum that inevitably gets transferred from the carabiners to the rope and then subsequently to my hands. Over the last few seasons I've found it harder and harder to wash the tiny fragments of metal out of the creases in my hands and as such it always looked like my hands were dirty.

I worked with a guide some time ago who was concerned that Alzheimer's disease comes from aluminum. As a result he always wore gloves whenever he handled a rope.

A short time after the guide told me about this, we had our first baby. My wife felt that when I got home from work I should play with the baby, which I gladly did. But she also felt that the black smudges I left all over the baby's clothes were a bit much.

And so, I began to wear belay gloves. Everybody made fun of me, but I still wore them...

A -- Belay gloves are dorky.
B -- Jason wear's belay gloves.
C -- Jason is a dork.

That's okay. I've embraced my inner dork and so now I can wear my belay gloves with pride. And I suppose that it's also kind of nice that when I get home I can pick up my kids and then put them back down without them looking like they've been rolling in the dirt...



(Jason and his daughter Holly in 2007, discussing the difference between hand jammies and baby jammies in Joshua Tree National Park.)


--Jason D. Martin