Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Spring E-Newsletter Now Available!!!

The Spring E-Newsletter features an article by AAI Guide Andrew Wexler on his stunning ascent of Ama Dablam, new Guides Choice Equipment Winners, and an "Ask a Guide" section covering ice screw directionality and how to climb efficiently with a large group.

Also, check out this month's photo contest and the winners from January, and catch up on the latest Institute news and programs.

To read previous AAI E-Newsletters, check out our archive!

April and May Climbing Events

--April 29 -- Bellingham -- The climbing and skiing film Higher Ground will be shown at Western Washington University tonight at 7:30 in Comm room 125. There is a $2 admission charge. To see the preview, click here.
--April 30 -- Seattle -- Participants of the popular climbing forum cascadeclimbers.com are planning a picnic for climbers at Woodland Park. For more information, click here.
--April 30 -- Seattle -- Author Jennifer Worick reads from her book, Backcountry Betty: Roughing it in Style at REI. For more information, click here.
--May 1 -- Seattle -- Jennifer Lowe-Anker will talk about her new book, Forget Me Not. The event will take place at the Mountaineers building in Seattle at 7 pm. For more information, click here.
--May 1-4 --Seattle -- Hazel Wolf Environmental Film Festival at the University of Washington. For more information, click here.
--May 8 -- Seattle -- Old skool climber Royal Robins will present a film on his ascent of the West Face of the Sentinel in Yosemite at REI. For more info, click here.
--May 25 -- Bellingham -- Ski to Sea relay multi-sport relay race.

--May 21 -- Las Vegas -- The next Las Vegas Climber's Liason Council meeting will be held at Red Rock Climbing Center on West Charleston.


--Former AAI Guide and writer Majka Burhardt will be presenting a slide show on her new book, Vertical Ethiopia in Boulder, Greenwich, Boston, New Paltz, San Francisco, and Telluride. for more info, click here.

--May 8-10 -- Carbondale, CO -- The 5 Point Adventure Film Festival comes to town. For more info, click here.
--May 8-10 -- Oisans-Ecrins, France -- International Guide Festival

--May 9 -- Denver, CO -- HERA Foundation Fundraiser

--May 13 -- Television -- David Breashears film, Storm over Everest, will air on the PBS show Frontline. Check your local listings.

--May 16-18 -- Fayetteville, WV -- New River Rendezvous

--May 23-26 -- Telluride, CO -- Telluride Mountain Film Festival

--May 31-June 1 -- New York, NY -- (Rubin Museum, New York City)Peak Experience III
In the ultimate sleepover, 40 kids, aged 10-12 and roped together alpine-style, confront the challenges of climbing Everest. Along the way they learn the scientific and medical aspects of mountaineering from experienced guides and Sherpas. Parents of potential registrants as well as AAC volunteer guides should contact Phil Earad.

Raynaud's Disease

Every year we have a small selection of climbers on our trips who have Raynaud's Disease. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute defines the disease as follows:

  • "Raynaud's disease and Raynaud's phenomenon are rare disorders that affect blood vessels. These disorders are marked by brief episodes of vasospasm (narrowing of the blood vessels). Vasospasm causes decreased blood flow to the fingers and toes, and rarely to the nose, ears, nipples, and lips. The fingers are the most commonly affected area, but the toes also are affected in 40 percent of people with Raynaud's."

In other words, one's hands and feet are more prone to getting cold. This is particularly problematic on cold weather and high altitude trips. People who have this disease are more likely to experience frostbite or other cold injuries.

As this type of disease has little effect on the normal person living and working in a city, there are a number of people out there who are undiagnosed. Most who spend time in the outdoors are aware that they might have "poor circulation" in the cold. And most who feel that they have "poor circulation" take measures in order to ensure that they do not suffer frostbite.

An April 2007 online issue of the the Wilderness Medicine Newsletter addressed Raynaud's. The newsletter prescribes both treatment and rehabilitation to the disorder. If you have circulation issues or a diagnosed case of Raynaud's and have completed this rehabilitiation let us know how it worked out. If it had a positive effect and you found that your hands and feet remained warmer in cold climates we would certainly like to pass that on. And if it didn't work, we'd like to pass that along as well.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 28, 2008

Book Review -- Red Rock Odyssey

This article was originally published in the April 2005 issue of Climbing magazine. It is reprinted here with the permission of the author, a senior AAI guide.

Red Rock Odyssey: Classic Traditional Climbs
By Larry DeAngelo and Bill Thiry
Verex Press; $24.95

Throughout the years, dozens of books have illustrated the history of major climbing destinations like Yosemite Valley, the Alaska Range, and Joshua Tree National Park. Until recently, one area has been conspicuously omitted from North America’s literary climbing scene. Red Rock Odyssey, by Larry DeAngelo and Bill Thiry, stands alone as the first book to explore the history, the characters, and the routes that laid the foundation for the modern climber’s experience in Red Rock Canyon.

DeAngelo and Thiry have put together a book that, at first glance, appears to be a guidebook. With chapter titles that are also route names, it’s quite easy for a climber familiar with Red Rock to come to such a conclusion. However, the route names are merely a means to access the history of the canyon. The authors have compiled a book that includes essays written by first ascentionists, stories penned by modern climbers, a history of the area, and route information, which cumulatively paints a picture of both the past and the present of Red Rock Canyon. Clearly, the work could be used as a guidebook, but the authors intent appears to be more oriented toward literature than simple route guide.

Red Rock Odyssey looks closely at the people who have influenced Red Rock’s history, and their exploratory climbs. Early ascents by Joe Herbst, George and Joanne Uriosite, and the legendary guide Randal Grandstaff, are detailed with interesting anecdotes, comic stories, and sometimes even with bitter tragedy.

There are moments in the book that stand out as humorous. Alex Chiang, one of the book’s essay contributors, wrote an entertaining story about climbing a route the “historical way.” In an attempt to see how the first ascentionists felt, DeAngelo convinced Chang to climb with nothing but old-school tube chocks, hip belays, and nylon swami belts. Chang – a relative newcomer to long trad routes – comically recounts his feelings as DeAngelo hands him one-inch webbing for a swami belt and tells him he can “save weight by leaving the ATC.”

Along with the comedy, there is also tragedy. Though DeAngelo and Thiry chronicle the untimely deaths of Randal Grandstaff and a modern local climber named Lee Stout, the vividly written story of a third climbing-related fatality is the most striking. In 1980, Betsy Herbst was high on a wall when she suffered a stroke. The ensuing epic of descending with her and finding medical care was a nightmare of the worst kind.

Along with a storied history, Red Rock Odyssey provides route information and excellent photos of the climbs, which are chronicled throughout the book. This guidebook element is a welcome addition to the literary work, and greatly adds to the overall flavor.

Joanne Urioste’s original 1984 guidebook to climbing in Red Rock is dedicated to “the Paiute Ghosts that haunt the Red Rocks.” DeAngelo and Thiry expertly pay homage to a different set of ghosts that dwell within Red Rock Canyon. These are the ghosts of climbers both alive and dead, who, through their adventures and their love of the place, made Red Rock a world-class climbing destination.

-- Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 25, 2008

Get to Know Your Guide: An interview with Justin Wood

Every week, we take the reader into the interesting and ever-changing life of an American Alpine Institute guide. Every AAI guide is very experienced in alpine and rock climbing, and all have received professional training in advanced guiding techniques and rescue. Collectively they have one of the highest levels of wilderness first aid, avalanche, and Leave No Trace training among the world's international guide services. For profiles on all AAI guides, please click here.

This week, we interview Justin David Wood.

Age: 33
Hometown: It’s hard to pin me down. I’m pretty all American, California born, but I’ve also spent many years in Texas, Washington D.C., Chicago, and the past 15 years tooling about western Washington. I now live with my wonderful wife and loyal 95-pound German Sheppard in the lovely hamlet of Bellingham, Washington.

Recent trips and expeditions with AAI: This winter I’ve been ski guiding the steep and deep around the Mt. Baker ski area and instructing avalanche courses. Rock-wise, my last stint of work was at Red Rock instructing basic climbing skills and guiding classic moderate multi-pitch routes; most recently, Lotta Balls II 5.8, and Solar Slab IV 5.6.

Upcoming trips wit
h AAI: I’ll be shipping off to Alaska in a few weeks to work in the Denali National Park for five weeks on Mt. McKinley’s West Buttress, and will also be rock climbing in Alaska in the Little Switzerland area.

A Guide's Life
How were you introduced to mountaineering?
I started backpacking and pulling plastic (gym climbing) when I was 23. Mountaineering adventures soon followed. I worked as a backcountry ranger and later on, as a climbing ranger for five years in the Olympic National Park in Washington. A large part of this work required reconnaissance of the high traverses and climbing routes on the Eastern side of the park. I spent a good amount of time touring about the early season high country in crampons and soloing the rotten rock pinnacles routes along Mt.Cruiser’s Sawtooth Ridge. One thing led to another, and I was soon obsessed with the wild high country of the Cascades Range and climbing the range's most classic routes.

How do you stay in shape and what are your favorite training activities?
Running is a necessary evil in winter, but I much prefer backcountry skiing anytime I can. Skinning is a great low impact workout. Adding and few pounds of weight to every stride for thousand of reps builds incredible endurance and you can't beat the quiet winter wilderness setting.

Who is the most inspiring person in your climbing life?
My friends and climbing partners.

What are your other interests besides climbing?
Art and music were huge in my more formative years; mainly drawing, painting, printmaking, and playing guitar. I’m currently doing the pre-med studies and working towards an eventual Master’s Degree in Nursing, so that occupies most of my free time as of late.

Where is your favorite place to travel?
The ease of access within the French Alps makes those mountains incredibly fun for skiing and alpine climbing. This summer, I’m looking forward to guiding in the Little Switzerland area of Denali National Park and making my first trip to the Bugaboos in the Selkirk Range of Eastern British Columbia.

On the Technical Side
Describe your climbing style.
Balancing free with fast is essential in the mountains. I resist having “rules” beyond surviving. Splitter granite crack climbing is my favorite as far as cragging goes, and I don’t “work” routes. I suppose you could say my emphasis is towards “onsighting,” but even that changes from time to time depending on how obsessed I am with a particular route. My bottom line is not leaving trash behind in the mountains so the next person can enjoy the route as much as I have.

What has been your favorite climb or route?
Hmmm, that’s a tough one. In the past year or so, probably Naija on L’aguille Vert (IV 700m M4 80). It was a perfect day, and the route was in excellent condition. I was climbing with a good friend who never ceases to make me laugh. The walk along the summit ridge to the second highest mountain in the French Alps reveals an incredible expansive view. From Mt. Blanc’s Brenva face, to the Grande Jorasse, the Argentiere Cirque, and the Matterhorn in the distance, it’s all there.

What is your biggest strength as a climber? Biggest weakness?
I’m your typical jack of all trades mountain guide. You’ll never see me climbing 5.13 sport routes in some magazine, that’s just not my interest. But if you want to climb or ski long classic mountain routes, I’m your man.

A Guide on Guiding
Is there anything you know now that you'd wish you'd known when you were just beginning to climb?
I would have hired a professional guide, learned the right way the first time, and progressed soooooo much faster.

When you guide, what piece of advice do you find you give most often to climbers and skiers?
Master your mind. Stop negativity dead in it’s tracks. Don’t get hung up on with the “I’m too…… (fill in the blank)” line of thinking. It’s our worst enemy, so try to focus on the possibilities instead.

What qualities do you think are most important in a guide?
Patience is the one attribute a guide should definitely have. Familiarity with the medium you work within is also very important. I’m primarily an alpine guide, so in my case, “mountain sense” or experience/time in the mountains is really important. Lastly, but certainly not least, is technical proficiency, within the medium a guide works.

Name a few guide"turn-ons" (for example, what makes a good climber on one of your courses?).
Enthusiasm and a sense of adventure are key.

What are your must-haves (e.g. favorite foods, equipment)?
An MP3 player with a radio is pretty high on the list, but fresh ground coffee is probably number one. Puffy jacket = happiness!

Any closing comments on what you're looking forward to in the next year?
I plan on living to be an old man in the mountains, so keeping the big picture in perspective is essential. Know your limits and trust your senses. The world’s best climber is the one having the most fun.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Short Message from Everest

The AAI/AC Everest Team is currently resting at Base Camp, recovering from a trip to Camp 1. Although the Nepalese army has asserted that teams are no longer allowed to send out dispatches directly from camp, we received a new email from an anonymous source today:

"Experiencing the realities of being under military rule (albeit soft) at Base Camp is a first for me. The collusion of factors (Chinese politics, Olympic Torch, Nepalese elections, the legitimizing of the Maoists who were not long ago 'mass murderers', the Nepalese Army now taking orders from the Maoist Government as it now forms) creates a bizarre and compounding set of circumstances. The reactions of other groups in unspoken compliance . . . it's all part of the rich tapestry of life."

For more Everest news relayed from the AC office, please check out our dispatches webpage: http://www.aai.cc/currentnews/

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Denali Pro Award Winners Announced

The National Park Service (NPS) and Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI) recognize mountaineering guides Heidi Kloos and Robert Durnell of Mountain Trip International as joint recipients of the Denali Pro Award for their selfless assistance to fellow climbers during a May 2007 rescue effort.

Since its inception in 1998, the Denali Pro program has honored members of the climbing community for exhibiting high standards for safety, self-sufficiency, Leave No Trace ethics, and assisting fellow mountaineers. Throughout each climbing season, rangers award worthy individuals with a Denali Pro lapel pin, the design of which changes from year to year. At the end of each season, mountaineering rangers collectively select a Denali Pro Award winner from the list of pin recipients. The winner, or winners in the event a team is selected, receive a specialized trophy, and their name is added to the Denali Pro Award plaque on display at the Talkeetna Ranger Station.

We are proud to say that over 20 American Alpine Institute Denali guides and clients have received the Pro Pin!

Kloos and Durnell were positioned at the 17,200-foot camp on Denali when they witnessed two climbers from another expedition suffer a 2,000 foot fall on May 17, 2007. Upon arrival at the accident site, the hasty team determined that one of the two climbers had died in the fall, while the other was in serious condition with a compromised airway and active bleeding. The two guides were instrumental in assisting the NPS mountaineering staff in emergency medical treatment and preparation of the surviving patient for evacuation back to the 17,200-foot camp.

After the evacuation was underway, Kloos and Durnell remained at the accident site. On their own volition, they also collected and consolidated the various personal effects that were strewn throughout the fall zone. These difficult tasks were crucial to the eventual recovery effort, as the scene was quickly getting covered by drifting snow and 30 mph winds. Once the personal effects were secured and marked, the two returned to the 17,200-foot camp where they initiated the preparation of food and water for all rescue personnel, as well as the preparation of hot water bottles to help warm the surviving patient. Although the injured climber died the following morning without regaining consciousness, the contributions of Kloos and Durnell helped ensure that everything possible was done in the attempt save the patient.

South District Ranger Daryl Miller said “The efforts of Mountain Trip guides Heidi Kloos and Robert Durnell exemplify the quality of character that the Denali Pro Award seeks to recognize. We thank them for their hard work, and we also thank PMI for helping sustain this important award program.”

Good work Heidi and Robert!

For more information on AAI's Denali Expeditions, please see the
Denali program page and the 2008 Denali Team Rosters.

Toproping Sport Climbs

Pulling through the last few moves on “Lude Crude and Misconstrued,” a popular 5.9 located in the Black Corridor of Red Rocks, is not a particularly difficult thing to do. The moves at the top are easy. No instead, the scariest part of the climb is not the climb itself, but the anchors. So many people have put their rope through the chains at the top of the route and then proceeded to toprope or lower off the anchors that the sawing action of hundreds of ropes has nearly eaten them clean through.

This is a chronic problem at sport climbing areas across America. Chain and quicklink anchors are severely damaged due to ignorance or laziness. The problem is most visible however, in places where it is sandy. Once a rope gets sand in the sheath it literally becomes like sandpaper. The repeated sawing action of a moving tensioned rope -- especially one with sand in the sheath -- may severely damage anchor chains in as little as a matter of hours.

The question then must be asked, who is responsible for a newly damaged anchor? Is it the first ascent party's responsibility to replace the anchor? Is it the responsibility of a local guide service? Does it become the problem of local climbing conservation groups? Or are the people who damaged the anchor responsible?

There is no right answer to the preceeding question. I have personally replaced innumerable anchors out of my own pocket. I know a number of others that have the same. We do this because we don't want to see anybody get hurt. But it's not something that we want to do.

Most of us who put up new routes or repair existing climbs simply avoid toproping directly through the chains. Instead, we use a cordelette or a double shoulder-length sling in conjunction with locking carabiners.

To the left is an example of a rope threaded directly through the anchor. Do not do this for anything but a rappel.

On the left-hand side, the anchor is composed of quick links. These are easier to change-out when they are damaged. On the right, the anchor is made up of chain purchased from a hardware store. This is more difficult to replace when damaged.

The photo on the right provides an example of a properly set-up toprope. The anchor is composed of a double shoulder-length sling, tied into a pre-equalized eight. At the bottom, clipped into the power-point (sometimes called the master-point) are two opposite and opposed locking carabiners. This is the best possible system as it meets the requirements for a SRENE or ERNEST anchor and protects the anchor chains from damage.

There are two organizations that are currently replacing bolts and anchors throughout the country. The first is the nonprofit American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) and the second is the Anchor Replacement Inititive (ARI) sponsored by Climbing magazine, the North Face and Petzl . It is possible to support the ASCA with donations and to support the ARI by purchasing items from their corporate sponsors.

Checking anchors to make sure that they are not damaged, replacing those that are or providing financial support to those who will replace them, and reporting damaged anchors to individuals who will fix them is the responsibility of every climber. But perhaps the greater responsibility is to simply avoid damaging an anchor to begin with.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 21, 2008

Book Review -- Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher

Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher
by Mark Houston and Kathy Cosley
Mountaineers Books; $21.95

Most bookstores and climbing shops have a shelf set aside where one can find a number of “how-to” volumes on alpine climbing and mountaineering. For the aspiring alpinist, picking through such tomes can be a daunting task. Which author has the most experience? Which book is the easiest to read? Which provides the most information? In other words, which of these books is the best? Mountaineers Books has answered each of these questions with their new instructional manual, Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher by Mark Houston and Kathy Cosley.

Houston and Cosley have over fifty years of combined experience as instructors, guides, and climbers. They guided for AAI for many years in the Cascades, Alaska Range, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Nepal. This depth of experience in all three capacities is directly reflected in Techniques to Take You Higher. The book is laid out in an easy to read format that addresses everything an alpine climber might need to know. The book starts with the dynamic psychological skill of making informed decisions in the mountains and then works its way through each of the technical skills required for a climber to move safely and effectively in an alpine environment.

One very nice element of the book are anecdotes throughout the text that highlight the value of each chapter’s content. For example, Houston writes about the extraction of a climber from a crevasse who fell in while glissading during a discussion on the dangers of that method of descent; and Cosley writes about dealing with a victim of AMS in a section on altitude illness. These stories scattered throughout the book reemphasize the importance of the skills being discussed while providing entertaining tangents.

Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher is an excellent resource for the beginning to intermediate alpinist. Indeed, the collected experiences and instruction of Mark Houston and Kathy Cosley might be well worth a read by even the most seasoned of alpine climbers.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 18, 2008

Get to Know Your Guide: An interview with Mike Powers

Every week, we take the reader into the interesting and ever-changing life of an American Alpine Institute guide. Every AAI guide is very experienced in alpine and rock climbing, and all have received professional training in advanced guiding techniques and rescue. Collectively they have one of the highest levels of wilderness first aid, avalanche, and Leave No Trace training among the world's international guide services. For profiles on all AAI guides, please click here.

This week, we interview Mike Powers.

Age: 49
Hometown: Bend, Oregon
Recent and upcoming trips and expeditions with AAI: I’ll admit my big expeditions are few and far between these days. I recently worked at the Red Rocks Rendezvous and look forward to leading AAI's annual three-week guide training in the North Cascades this May. I always guide for the Institute in the Swiss Alps in the summer, and I'm looking forward to that too.

A Guide's Life
How were you introduced to mountaineering?
I didn’t get started that early; I was perhaps 24 when I first received some formal instruction to climbing. Then I floundered around in typical Northwest mountaineering style for a few years before I was lucky enough to see some other mountain ranges. I also grew up as a skier, and after living in Verbier, Switzerland for a few years in my mid twenties I was exposed to the Alps. I learned that alpinism is a necessary part of off-piste skiing. I also learned that mountaineering doesn’t have to mean 80-pound packs and slogging up snow slopes for a few days at a time. It really opened my eyes to the alpinist experience, and I’ll never forget the excitement and passion I had during those first few years in the Alps.
How do you stay in shape and what are your favorite training activities?
I’m a big fan of cross training and I am taking a bit more of a disciplined approach towards climbing these days. This plan includes doing intervals and maintaining specific aerobic zones, and keeping track of those targets. When I was younger, I would just climb all the time and that seemed to work. Now, as I’ve lost a bit of my height and redistributed it on my belly, I have to be a bit more careful with what I eat and where it ends up. However, I’ve always liked other sports such as biking, table tennis, skiing, and tennis and never really think of those activities as training. I will admit though, that doing one long day a week (such as a 10-12 hour ski tour) is very helpful in preparing for an Aconcagua or Denali West Buttress trip.

Who were some of your climbing partners that had an impact upon you?
Mark Houston, Ave Kvale, and Steve House probably shaped my outcome as much as most anyone else. I’ve learned so much from them, but still continue to curse them when appropriate.

What are your other interests besides climbing?
I’m equally inept at photography, cinematography, coffee roasting and espresso making, crust cruising, and being a good dad and husband. I know I’ll never be very good at any of those but I don’t mind trying.
How do you keep abreast of the latest developments in climbing and guiding?
I attend international guides conferences and periodically teach and examine other guides in the AMGA certification process. I was chairman of the AMGA Technical committee and have really enjoyed debating and developing guiding standards.
Where is your favorite place to travel? Where do you hope to travel to in the future?
I don’t really have a favorite place to travel, but since I’m guilty of spending, oh, twenty seasons in the Alps versus one in Patagonia, I guess that says something. I do like new places but going somewhere is always at the expense of someplace else. I did go to Bhutan for the month of December (with my family) but I’ll admit that that trip, followed by Nepal in January, was a bit long. This was only because my foot was acting up and I couldn’t do as much hiking and exploring as I wanted.

Some other places on my list are: Dolomites, Norway, Cody, Banks Lake, Little Switzerland, Trout Creek, Adirondacks, Hawaii, and especially those places that I never heard of but people tell me that I should go.

Describe your climbing style.
Comfortable. Usually that means having a small pack and being in reasonable shape, but that doesn’t happen nearly enough.

Is there anything you know now that you'd wish you'd known when you were just beginning to climb?
I really wish I wasn’t such a cheapskate when I started to climb. I learned from my friends who didn’t know what they were doing either. If I had a professional guide for a few days at the start, I would have learned some good habits right away and would have progressed much faster and more safely. But I don’t know if it would have been as fun…

There are a few concepts that I think are important when learning to alpine climb:

I like to think that everything comes at a cost. That means that even though small, seemingly minor motions like tying a safety back up knot on my figure eight could seem like a good idea, there are downsides like less rope available for the lead, it is slower to tie in, and slower to change the length of the rope. Also, I think it’s important to determine the likelihood and consequence of a fall and to use that to determine how to move (whether it’s putting on crampons, building anchors, etc.)

I also like the idea of managing only the risk and hazards you are exposed to and can effectively manage at a certain time. It’s easy to turn back for some perceived risk up above that may or may not come true.

To get a better sense of this please come do guides training with me this May!

When you guide, what piece of advice do you find you give most often to climbers?Stop fussing with your gear and keep moving. In a nice way.

Tell us about some of your favorite AAI trips.
Certainly. Waddington, my first Moose’s Tooth trip, and my first Matterhorn climb were great trips, although they all happened a few years ago (mid nineties). I know it’s funny to look back and say those were the good old days, since they certainly continue today (as I’ll look back 15 years from now). But all those trips I just mentioned were done with great climbers and working aside another AAI guide; we felt like we were doing what we really loved in life and also making it our profession.

Of course, none of those trips compares to a certain Red Rocks climbing trip I did in 1997. However, I don’t think the director of AAI (Dunham Gooding) will allow me to divulge the details. [Editor’s note: since more than ten years have passed, the AAI statute of limitations is in effect. There was romance with a client which evolved to a marriage. In truth, the transgression was forgiven and the marriage was greatly celebrated.]

What are your must-haves (e.g. favorite foods, equipment)?
Absolutely none. Should I have some?

Immediate family:
Wife Carla, six year-old son Sameer, and five year-old dog Shuksan

Everest Update

Mike Roberts and the AAI/AC Everest team are making progress, but will soon be hampered in their efforts due to the political issues surrounding China's torch carrying expedition.

Robyn ascending a 4 section ladder in the icefall

This email came in from Mike today:

"Hello from Everest Base Camp! I hope this email finds you doing well and enjoying some fine spring days.

Tomorrow we are scheduled to move up to Camp 1 for our first overnight trip. All going well, we will stay 2 nights at Camp 1 and then move up to Camp 2 for a further 3 or 4 days. The route to Camp 1 was only opened yesterday, April 17th, and the route to Camp 2 is still not opened. Historically, the latest opening of the Icefall that I am aware of is April 10th. Normally, the icefall opens about the 7th of April. This is a significant delay! Combine this delay with higher than normal climber numbers on the South Side, and the ensuing bottlenecks and delays in the icefall, and you can see there are very real safety issues. You will appreciate that in a season of high drama and politics, where we are already getting squeezed at the end of the season, we have now been squeezed at the beginning.

The Nepalese authorities have now stated that we are unable to go above Camp 2 until the Chinese have reached the summit. This is contrary to the permit conditions to which we agreed and signed. (The initial conditions stated that we were able to sleep at Camp 3 until April 30th and between May 1-10, and while we could not sleep at Camp 3, we were entitled to do day trips to Camp 3. Furthermore, it was stated that after May 10th, we could climb above Camp 3 and continue our climb to the summit regardless of whether or not the Chinese had reached the summit). As you will appreciate, this potentially has a huge effect upon us. Traditionally, we regard the acclimatization phase as complete once we have spent a night at Camp 3. Now the earliest we can even begin a Camp 3 cycle is May 10th! Where does this leave us? This is a question we are trying to ask. We are petitioning this decision through our agents in Kathmandu, but our ability to individually act is limited as Base Camp is now under military surveillance.

Please be aware that our email ability is very limited right now and may be cut at any time. The best thing we can hope for is that the Chinese are taking advantage of the recent fine weather and that they will summit early May. Fingers crossed. Climbing Everest is difficult enough without these ‘political’ and time consuming distractions. Even in a good year, Everest can be highly political and the implications of decisions become much more magnified than on any other expedition peak."

Please note that this will be the AAI/AC team's last correspondence via email and electronic dispatch for an undisclosed period of time as the Nepalese authorities have now closed all electronic communications.

Please see our dispatches page for recent photos and dispatches from the mountain.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Women's Programs at AAI

Many women prefer the empowerment of a trip run by female guides and populated by female climbers. Those who come out of these programs often find friendships and climbing partnerships that last for years. Surprisingly, these types of programs are relatively new. Most of them have been developed in just the last decade.


It certainly wasn’t because women didn’t want to learn how to climb. Instead, it was because there just weren’t that many female mountain guides out there. It took a number of courageous female climbers to break through this “glass ceiling;” the first of which was Alma Wagon.

A few years ago I had the honor of writing an article about this pioneering guide for the Northwest Mountaineering Journal. Wagon began her career in 1918 and laid the groundwork for every female climber and guide to come. To read about her, click here.

Though there still is a deficit of female guides in the industry, this group of individuals grows every year as does the popularity of women specific climbing programs.

For those who feel some trepidation about issues that relate specifically to women in the mountains, websites like Rockclimbing.com provide open forums for women to talk about these issues as they relate to climbing.

If you are interested in a more thorough history of women in climbing and guiding, you might try one of the following books:

Women on High: Pioneers of Mountaineering by Rebecca A. Brown
Annapurna: A Woman’s Place by Arlene Blum
Clouds from Both Sides by Julie Tullis
High Infatuation: A Climber's Guide to Love and Infatuation by Steph Davis
Climbing Free: My Life in the Vertical World by Lynn Hill

For more information on Women’s Programs at AAI, please call us at (360) 671-1505!

Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 11, 2008

AAI Denali Update - New Cook Tents!

Cook tents in action on Denali.

The expedition lifestyle on Denali is often not a very comfortable one. It's cold, the weather is can be variable, the loads are heavy, and what started out as exciting and fun tasks can start to feel mundane and repetitive by week three. Did I mention that it was cold?

To ease the suffering and to make life on the mountain more enjoyable for all, we often recommend climbers to bring "pleasure items" on a trip like this, more than in other instances where "light and fast" are bigger allies than comfort and entertainment.

As a guide on Denali, you spend a lot of time melting water, cooking food, and arranging bulk bag items. Enter the importance of the cook tent. The cook tent may not have been AAI's idea originally, I am not sure, though AAI was the first guide service to widely employ the tent concept for expedition style climbing.

There are many variations on the shape, size, construction, and application of a cook tent. Over the years, and particularly this year, we think we have the best design to date. More on that shortly.

The author (don't laugh!) cheffing up
mountain cuisine in the cook tent.

Our relationship with the cook tent is very much a love-hate relationship. On the positive side, it provides a place for communal gatherings for meals, team meetings, repair projects, first aid administration, and other orders of expedition business that is better done in a larger tent and away from the elements. The cook tent is a social place where jokes are told, friends are made, and soul warming hot drinks are enjoyed.

On the less positive side, it takes a lot of time to dig and maintain cook tents, they often get messy and smelly, and the time spent there often involves time consuming and stressful work on which many people depend. In some cases the cook tent is the site of notable disasters - picture 7 MSR stoves and 13 gallons of fuel!

So at this point you might be wondering what my point is with all of this talk. I am happy to say I don't have one, other than to annouce our great satisfaction with the arrival of our new cook tents for the 2008 Denali season. We made some substantial updates to last year's model, and I think that we will be eating and lounging in good style this year high up on the mountain. Check out the pics and details below.

Our new cook tent design for 2008. We have gone to a
slightly square floor plan over more of hexagon shape of years past.

Room with a view. Note the 24 inch vertical rise on the sidewalls.
This allows for more headroom when seated and less digging!

Plenty of head room for the tall types.

Ventilation for the stoves and mesh pockets for utensil storage

As we speak, our equipment shop staff is busy loading one of our vans with food and equipment for the annual migration north to Alaska. After the three-day drive, Erik Johnson and Dustin Byrne will be spending about 10 days setting up and preparing for our first Alaska trips of the season. Stay tuned for another dispatch on their voyage shortly!

Coley Gentzel
Program Coordinator and Guide

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Red Rock Rendezvous Recap - a note from Natasha

Since I began coordinating our Red Rock Program in 2007, my co-workers have been telling me about the Red Rock Rendezvous climbing festival. Everyone kept telling me how much fun I would have if I had the opportunity to go and what an awesome experience it was to be a part of the Rendezvous. Plus, there was also mention of a 'beer truck’ that piqued my curiosity!

Jason Martin, one of AAI's senior guides, coordinated the event and AAI guides led the Friday clinics and oversaw the safety of the climbing on Saturday and Sunday. Fortunately for me, this was the year that I was sent as an American Alpine Institute representative to the Fifth Annual Red Rock Rendezvous! (Maybe I’d even get the chance to 'investigate' the beer truck if time allowed.)

Two guides and I flew down from Bellingham to Red Rock (via Las Vegas, of course) carrying what seemed to be an enormous amount of gear for just a couple days of climbing and fun in the sun. My carry-on bag probably weighed as much as my checked luggage! By nightfall of the first day, we were settled in to the Spring Mountain Ranch, just outside the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area boundary, catching up with friends and co-workers under a starry night sky.

The concept of this event is unique and interesting: gather a bunch of climbers of all skill and experience levels, offer a variety of clinics, camp out on grass, get some vendors together to showcase cool gear, and throw a party! It really doesn’t get much better than that. There is truly something for everyone at this event.

The weekend passed by way too quickly in a whirlwind of excitement. There were numerous conversations with many interesting people, hours sitting in the sun talking about climbing, watching slidesho
ws in the evenings, and I even found the real beer truck - it wasn't a myth! From the sound of talk at camp, you could tell people did a lot of climbing, despite having to put up with a touch of unusual desert rain on Sunday. Everyone seemed to be psyched for the spring season.

Returning to the desert is always a pleasure. The union of sunny days and great company make the Red Rock Rendezvous a spectacular event and one that I felt fortunate to attend.

The weather is still excellent at this time of year, so if you want to get away for some beautiful climbing before the Red Rock season ends, please contact me at natasha@aai.cc or call AAI’s office at 1-800-424-2249. We will get you out climbing!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Everest Expedition dispatches now online!

The Adventure Consultants/American Alpine Institute joint Everest Expedition is underway, and daily dispatches are now online! The 2008 Everest Expedition team is one of 35 teams that will attempt to reach the summit via the South Col route. There are eight climbers (including two mother-daughter teams!), four guide staff, a doctor, cook, and base camp manager, and 34 Sherpa staff.

Adventure Consultants director and guide Guy Cotter called Sunday evening from base camp, where he and staff are awaiting the arrival of the rest of the climbing team on Wednesday. The rest of the expedition team members are currently on the approach to Base Camp, while Guy has been there overseeing the base camp set-up project. Guy said the weather has been good (with pretty cool temperatures but not real cold) and there appear to be good conditions on the mountain.

Guy previously spent time negotiating with the Nepalese over the closure of the mountain May 1-10 because of Chinese pressure to avoid the presence of protesters (over the Chinese occupation of Tibet), while a Chinese climbing team tries to carry the Olympic torch to the summit, presumably without killing everyone in the hurried process.

The Nepalese government has agreed to allow the team to work on establishing camps on the mountain prior to the May 1-10 closure, so that is great progress. The unknown is whether or not they will allow the climbers to go as high as the Sol Col to stock it. We should find out before too long – it would certainly be a big help. Guy said there will be eight Nepalese military staff members on the mountain, rotating four in base camp and four on the route. That will be interesting.

For the main climbing team, today was a rest day in Lobuche, and tomorrow they will leave in the early morning to hike towards Base Camp, where they will spend their next seven weeks. To read more about the team and their adventures thus far, please follow the link below:

AAI/AC Everest Expedition dispatch report

Friday, April 4, 2008

Get to Know Your Guide: An interview with Joseph Anderson

Every week, we take the reader into the interesting and ever-changing life of an American Alpine Institute guide. Every AAI guide is very experienced in alpine and rock climbing, and all have received professional training in advanced guiding techniques and rescue. Collectively they have one of the highest levels of wilderness first aid, avalanche, and Leave No Trace training among the world's international guide services. For profiles on all AAI guides, please click here.

This week, we interview Joseph Anderson.

Age: 31
Hometown: Bellingham, Washington
Recent trips and expeditions with AAI: ski mountaineering, backcountry ski guiding, ice climbing, avalanche training
Upcoming trips wit
h AAI: more ski mountaineering in the North Cascades followed by the May 19 Denali Expedition

A Guide's Life
How were you introduced to mountaineering?
I was nine years old the first time I went skiing, and it was on icy hills in New Hampshire. When I was 14, I got my first real initiation to skiing in the French Alps! My first time climbing rock occurred when I was 16 on a NOLS course in Wyoming. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I started climbing rocks on my own time, outside of a guided trip.

How do you stay in shape and what are your favorite training activities?
Good question -- assuming that I do stay in shape! Lately, my favorite training activity has been breaking trail in deep, light powder with my skis. Then I get to ski down in deep, light powder and go home and feast.

Who is the most inspiring person in your climbing life?
Mr. Miyagi, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali: balance, devotion, and self confidence!

What are your other interests besides climbing?
I enjoy hanging out with my wife and kids, building stuff, history, philosophy, politics, percussion, community, and eating.

Where is your favorite place to travel?
My favorite place to travel is my early twenties. In the future, I hope to travel towards financial fortitude.

On the Technical Side
Describe your climbing style.
Thoughtful and accurate.

What has been your most technically difficult climb?
The climb of which I’m most proud is in North Carolina - it’s called Whiskey for Breakfast. This is a rock route with about 20 feet of very difficult climbing, and only two #3 stoppers for pro. I mentally rehearsed the moves in my mind for months before taking on the challenge. When I finally climbed the route, I felt an inner calm that will last a lifetime.

What is your biggest strength as a climber?
I climb for myself.
Biggest weakness?
Finding the balance between climbing and the rest of my life.

A Guide on Guiding
Is there anything you know now that you'd wish you'd known when you were just beginning to climb?
If I knew climbing and mountaineering was were going to be my livelihood, I would have trained harder and earlier. I would never have guessed in those first few years that I would be supporting a family by guiding.

When you guide, what piece of advice do you find you give most often to climbers and skiers?

What qualities do you think are most important in a guide?
- The ability to key into each climber and understand their individual needs and interests.
- To know when to be patient and when to be directive.
- To understand when to put more responsibility in the hands of the climber I’m teaching.

Name a few guide"turn-ons" (for example, what makes a good climber on one of your courses?).
I appreciate climbers who are there for the over all experience and those who keep a positive attitude and good sense of humor throughout the course.

Describe a memorable event that has occurred while guiding for AAI.
A few years ago, I took a family from the North East onto the lower Coleman Glacier for a single day of late summer ice climbing. The couple had two boys between the ages of 9 and 14. It may have been one of the simplest trips I have ever guided, but I will always remember how excited they were to be there and excited to try this crazy activity. Every step was like a dream come true for the whole family. It was really touching, and I realized that climbing is for everybody -- we’ve just got to get the word out there!

What are your must-haves (e.g. favorite foods, equipment)?
A sufficient amount of calories and a warm sleeping bag.

Describe your achievement of which you are the most proud.
Two happy and healthy boys.

Any closing comments on what you're looking forward to in the next year?
“In Wildness is the preservation of the world” - Henry David Thoureau.

It should be noted that Henry says “Wildness” not Wilderness. Wildness is a state of mind, not a place that is managed by a government agency. Nobody has more control over your state of mind than you do.

Preserve the World: Play outside and bring others with you!