Thursday, July 31, 2008

Breaking News: Roadslide Blocks Highway to Squamish and Whistler

Late Tuesday night, a massive slide covered the Sea to Sky Highway in the Porteau Cove area. The highway will be closed for at least 5 days, an estimate that officials think is fairly reasonable, considering that the debris is piled 30-ft high, and is covering 250-ft of the roadway. There is an alternate route through Duffy Lake, and they are also considering using a temporary ferry service. For more information, please read The Vancouver Sun or click here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Discovery Channel Looking for Adventurers

The Discovery Channel is looking for individuals that want to join an epic journey through Alaska. Do you think you have what it takes? If you would like to be a part of the next Alaska Adventurer Challenge, click here.

To watch episodes from last season's challenge, click here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Trip Report: Mount Baker

We just received a quick trip report from Justin Wood, lead guide on this past weekend's Mount Baker climb:

Day one: Ten climbers joined fellow AAI guide Kristen Looper and me at the AAI office Saturday morning, and after reviewing gear, efficiently packing our packs, and loading up the AAI vans, we headed for the Coleman glacier. We arrived at the Hogsback Camp at 2:00pm with very high spirits, though the weather was looking gloomy. After setting up camp, we took a short break for lunch. We then spent some time reviewing the use of the technical equipment we would be using and introduced and practiced several climbing knots. We concluded the evening by demonstrating how to properly rope up for glacier travel.

Day two: Although it was raining, everyone had a lot of enthusiasm to continue learning the skills necessary to complete this climb. We spent more time on climbing technique and working on knots, practiced self-arrest, and concluded the day applying glacier travel skills during a tour of part of the Coleman glacier. We were all excited when the skies cleared around 7:00pm.

Day three (Summit day): It was quite hard to sleep once the weather turned nice, and we knew we were going to get a real chance to make the summit. But we did get up in time for a 1:00am departure from the 6000’ camp. We were treated to starry skies during the first three hours that we were headed for the summit, and we enjoyed the sight of the rising crescent moon. As the sun came up, we were nearing the summit, and at about 7:30am, all 12 members of our group made it to the top. We were lucky to have expansive views of the Cascades in three directions and the San Juan Islands to the west. After enjoying some views, we made an efficient return to our camp where we had some food, took a rest, and packed up. We then headed down the trail and made it back to Bellingham and the AAI office by 6:00pm, celebrating our success!

2008 Heather Meadows Guest Speaker Program

The following came from the good folks at the Mount-Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. Some of these look like very interesting programs!

All programs start at 1 p.m. at the Heather Meadows Visitor Center unless otherwise noted. All programs are accessible unless otherwise noted. Programs are free, but a valid parking pass is required. For more information call the Glacier Public Service Center at 360-599-2714, open daily, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Sunday, August 3

An Excursion on Fire and Ice
Join Whatcom County Parks interpreter David Bean for a walk through the geologic history of the Heather Meadows area.

Saturday, August 9
Mountain Goats of Mt.
. Baker Ranger District biologist Don Gay speaks about local mountain
goat herds.

Sunday, August 10
A Tale of Many Volcanoes: Volcanic Rocks at Artist Point
Join Dave Tucker, Mount Baker volcanologist and research associate at Western Washington University’s Geology Department, for a geological trip back in time. Meet at 1 p.m. near the bathrooms in the Artist Point parking lot.

Saturday, August 16
Avalanche Awareness
Learn more about how to be safe in a mountain environment from an Avalanche Safety Awareness Program educational volunteer.

Sunday, August 18
Subalpine Bird Walk
Come and find out about the birds of Heather Meadows. This walk in the Bagley Lakes area, led by Forest Service Volunteer Mary-Beth Phelan, will start at the Heather Meadows Visitor. *this program is not wheelchair accessible*.

Saturday, August 23
Stringing the Past Together--12 noon
Enjoy a musical presentation about the human history of the Mt. Baker area. Original songs are written and performed by local musician Jimmy Brite and wilderness ranger Luca Williams. Audience participation is encouraged. Come blow your horn for Jerry Bourn.

Subalpine Plant Walk 1 p.m.
Join Mountain Steward and former Komo Kulshan Native Plant Society club president Walt Lockwood for a guided plant walk around Bagley Lakes. *this program is not wheelchair accessible*

Sunday, August 24
Mt. Baker the Stories Behind the Beauty: Reminisces of Jake Steiner as told to Virginia Hoyt, Part 1
Local historian and author Virginia Hoyt will present a slide show about the road development of the area. Jake Steiner was born in Glacier. His father homesteaded in the area in the late 1800s.

Saturday, August 30
Nooksack Tribal Stories
Join Nooksack elder Tammy Cooper-Woodrich for traditional stories about the animals, plants, and people of the Nooksack River drainage.

Sunday, August 31
Mt. Baker the Stories Behind the Beauty: Reminisces of Jake Steiner as told to Virginia Hoyt, Part 2
Local historian and author Virginia Hoyt will present a slide show about the trees of the area. Jake Steiner was born in Glacier. His father homesteaded in the area in the late 1800s.

August and September Climbing Events

--August 6-11 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Outdoor Retailer Show

--August 8-9 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Mammut Bouldering Championship

--August 8-10 -- Morgantown, WV -- Appalachian Wilderness Medicine Conference

--August 16 -- Mt. Baker Ski Area, WA -- Avalanche Awareness

--August 16-17 -- Bear Valley, CA -- Bear Valley Adventure Sports Festival

--August 16-23 -- Bicz Gorges National Park, Romania -- International Youth Climbing Camp

--September 5-7 -- Pine Mountain, CA -- Pine Mountain Pulldown

--September 18-21 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- HERA Climb for Life

--September 24-28 -- Yosemite Valley, CA -- Yosemite Facelift

--September 29 -- Eugene, OR -- Justen Sjong Slideshow

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Last chance! Submit Your Photo Today!

Think you can beat this photo on the right? Well, they won the January 2008 Photo Contest, so make sure you've got something good!

The next AAI E-Newsletter and Photo Contest is set to release August 1st! This means that the deadline for new photos for the contest is coming right up. If you've got some great shots of a trip with us, or on an expedition of your own, we'd love to publish them in our E-Newsletter.

To check out the May 2008 photo contest, click here.

To submit your photos to the AAI Photo Contest, email them to

You can win great prizes!

1st Place: $100 gift certificate for trips or gear
2nd Place: $75 gift certificate for trips or gear
3rd Place:
$50 gift certificate for trips or gear

Friday, July 25, 2008

Jason Becomes a Father: Round 2

Jason Martin, AAI Program Coordinator and Guide, is now the proud father of a brand new son, born July 24, 2008! Jason and his wife Krista have named the new little guy Caden Jase Martin. Check out the pictures below of Jason, Krista, baby Caden, and his older sister Holly.

Congratulations Jason, we are so excited for the whole family!

Holly and Jason take a walk the day before Caden arrives.

Caden Jase Martin

Krista and Caden

Holly and Caden get to know each other.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Trip Report: North Ridge of Mount Baker

Last week Bill Thompson and guide Ian McEleney climbed the Mount Baker North Ridge. (Click the link to read our route profile.)  Read Ian's story below:
I met up with Bill at the AAI office Friday morning. By late afternoon, we were walking into a busy camp at about 6000-feet on the Hogsback. We settled in to our tents and tried to go to bed early for our alpine start the next morning.

After only a few hours of sleep we were roping up and picking our way across the upper Coleman Glacier. Navigating by headlamp through crevasses that could swallow a house will always be exciting, no matter how much glacier experience you have. About halfway to the base of the ridge we came across the tracks of another party. I've learned that following tracks isn’t always a good idea. This is because the climbers who made them might not have had the same destination as you, and even if they did, they might not know how to get there! However, we could see the headlamps of this particular party in the distance so we knew they were going to the North Ridge. After reminding ourselves not to follow their tracks if we didn’t like where they went, we decided to follow them.

We took the direct start to the route, which went up a steep snowfield sometimes called The Hourglass.
Earlier in the season, this area was a mellow snow bench leading up to steeper ice. Last week, however, this bench featured a crevasse and a 25-degree slope of hard water ice mixed with gravel. We pulled our second tools out of our packs and went to work. This terrain took us a little while to negotiate, but eventually we were climbing some steep ice to gain a 60-degree ramp that went up about two pitches high. Bill had expressed some nervousness about the steep ice, but when showtime came, he made quick work of it. Later, Bill told me that "The climb was harder than I expected, not because it was too technical, but because the harder sections went on for longer than I had read about." But the steep ice was hard and in the shade, so pulling over onto the sunny ramp with its one-swing “hero” ice was a pleasure. Above the ramp we climbed a little more steep snow, and then it was time for lunch.

After our lunch break we faced our last hurdle, the bergschrund guarding the summit plateau. The best route through this area changes quickly. This time it required climbing two steps of steep snow, the first was about 50 degrees and the second 90 degrees. We had stowed our second tools, but the snow was pretty firm so this wasn’t an issue. Above this, a quick walk put us on top. Though our day certainly wasn’t over (we still had to descend 4000 vertical feet of steep snow and glacier), the technical terrain was almost completely behind us. As Bill said, "Although this route was difficult and technical, it just made the climb all the more satisfying by the end." We could finally start to relax a little and daydream about the first thing we were going to eat when we got back to town.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Problem with Water

It was a few years ago now, but I remember it like yesterday. You don't forget something like that. It's too uncomfortable to forget. I was on Mount Baker and I drank some bad water. You can imagine what happened next. It wasn't pretty.

There are two major water-born protozoa that climbers must be aware of. Both Giardia and Cryptosporidium occur in lakes, rivers and streams throughout North America. They each take two to twenty days to manifest themselves. The most common symptoms of these protozoa are nausea, diarrhea, fever, headaches, stomach cramps, flatulence and belches that reek like rotten eggs.

In addition to protozoa, climbers must be concerned about viruses and bacteria in the water. We don't have to worry about water-born viruses too much in North America. Infectious hepatitis and other viruses are more commonly found in tropical waters. Bacteria such as salmonella and Escherichia coli may be found in some contaminated mountain water sources and alpinists should protect themselves against them.

There are three common ways to treat problematic water. The first way is to boil it, the second way is to disinfect with chemicals and the third way is to filter it.

Boiling Water:

There is perhaps no better way to kill anything that might live in the water and wants to live in your stomach than to boil it. Some people argue that you must bring your water to a boil for ten minutes. The reality is that if you bring the water to a rolling boil and then turn off your stove, anything that might be a real problem will be taken care of.


It's common for guides to use iodine to treat their water. Iodine tablets effectively kill viruses and bacteria...and they also effectively make the water taste terrible. Iodine is less effective agains Giardia and Cryptosporidium.

There is the possibility that too much iodine may be bad for your thyroid. This may not be too big of a deal for weekend warriors, but for those who spend a significant amount of time in the field, this could pose a serious health risk.

Another chemical, chlorine dioxide, is gaining popularity for treating water. This chemical reliably kills viruses, bacteria, Giardia and Cryptospridium, however the contact time required for killing protozoa may be unacceptably long for some climbers.

Water Filtration:

These are heavy items for alpinists to carry, but they do provide the quickest filtration. And though water filters do an excellent job removing protozoa, most models are less effective in with viruses and bacteria. A small percentage of the filters on the market include an integral iodine chamber that will treat the water for additional pathogens, but these models are more expensive, less common and may not always be effective.

There was a time when it was possible to trust running water in the mountains. That time is long gone. Today the wisest course of action is to treat all of the water that you drink...that or risk the uncomfortable consequences.

--Jason D. Martin

July and August Climbing Events


--August 16-17 -- Bear Valley Adventure Sports Festival


--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.

--July 27 -- Allgäu Mountains, Germany -- UIAA Global Youth Summit: Hot rocks wild water camp in Germany

--August 6-11 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Outdoor Retailer Show

--August 8-9 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Mammut Bouldering Championship

--August 16-23 -- Bicz Gorges National Park, Romania -- International Youth Climbing Camp

Monday, July 21, 2008

Non-Event Feedback Loops

Many climbing and ski mountaineering accidents are the result of human error. There are a number of types of human error, but the most disconcerting and common type results from a non-event feedback loop.

--I've been doing it this this way for years and nothing bad has ever happened.

--We skied the slope all day and it was fine. How were we to know that it would slide?

--The boot-track went right under the ice cliff. I just went the way everybody else went.

The thinking process behind non-event feedback is predicated on the following belief: Nothing bad happened last time and nothing bad happened to someone else; therefore, nothing bad will happen this time to me. The psychology of non-event feedback is complex, but its very existence leads to following reality:

The crag that you climb the most, the slope that you ski the most, the mountain that you've been up the most times...these are the most dangerous places that you will ever go.

Non-event feedback takes on a new dimension with group dynamics. A beginner may follow a competent leader up a mountain. The leader may look at the conditions and decide that they're safe. If the leader doesn't go through his entire thinking process, the beginner may then make the assumption that the conditions are always safe.

Avalanche research indicates that the likelihood of skiers tackling a dangerous slope increases dramatically after one person successfully skis the slope first. In other words, once someone sees someone else get away with something, they subconsciously believe that they can get away with it too.

The only way to avoid getting stuck in non-event feedback loops is to constantly question yourself. Is this safe today? Am I just following the leader? And lastly, am I responding to the conditions as they are or as I wish they were?

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

The weekend is upon us once again and it is time for us Warriors to get outside and play!

The weather is warm and the snow is melting here in the North Cascades and climbers are migrating into the mountains like the salmon of Capistrano. To help you get stoked we have an eclectic mix of videos for your viewing enjoyment.

The first video we have for you features two power couples of climbing teaming up to create a regular International Dream Team of big-wall alpine ascents. Watch as Americans Beth Rodden and Tommy Caldwell combine forces with French climbers Arnaud Petit and Stephanie Bodet to climb the incredible Lotus Flower deep in the Yukon Territory...and I mean deep.

The second video of the weekend features some serious alpine climbing, beautiful scenery, and a killer soundtrack to boot. But seriously, I want to download this music to my iPod and listen to it every morning to get pumped up for the day. This montage-esque video documents an expedition to climb the Arwa Tower in the Indian Himalayas, a 900 meter climb that goes at VI M9 5.9 A3...sounds like a good time to me.

The final video may seem a little out of place in this line-up but I assure you that it is worthy to get you stoked! I don't know how many of you are familiar with the glorious Japanese television show called Ninja Warrior but it is basically an obstacle course on steroids. Watch as "The Fireman" makes his way past various challenges in an attempt to become a true Ninja Warrior. Just imagine what this guy could do on a rock face.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Top Ten Reasons Why Natasha Caldwell is Awesome

Natasha Caldwell, Program and Outreach Coordinator for AAI, is an incredible person and staff member. Today is her last day at the Institute, and to show her how much we are going to miss her, we put together this list - 'Top Ten Reasons Why Natasha is Awesome.' Although she will be moving on from her position in the office, she will always be a part of the AAI family.

1. She runs marathons.

2. She wants to kidnap Jason's baby.

3. Her hair is larger than her body.

4. She tells it like it is.

5. She's got the finest strut in town.

6. She can dance circles around anyone at Reggae Night - she is by far the best person to go out with on a Wednesday night!

7. Her theme song to life is "Rains down in Africa" by Toto . . . it doesn't get cooler than that

8. Her deep love and appreciation for the color pink

9. She is the most caring and compassionate friend
10. She is now the best person to go visit in Seattle!

Natasha, you are energetic, ambitious, considerate, thoughtful, organized, confident, courageous, kind, loyal, hilarious, and beautiful - We are going to miss you so much!

With Love,
Your AAI Family

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Snow Anchor Options - Part I

Believe it or not, but you can use almost anything for a snow anchor.

There is a famous story about a female guide in the Alps who used a lighter as a deadman in the snow. She rappelled a steep couloir with the tiny object as her only protection. A few years ago on an Alpinism 1 course we buried a Powerbar, work hardened the snow, and then proceeded to clip a rope to a cord wrapped around the bar. Four people attached themselves to the rope and then bounced on it. The anchor held...for a few bounces. Eventually it blew out, but the force required to make it do so was tremendous.
While these unusual objects are not recommended, there are objects that we carry that are. A deadman is any buried item that might be used as an anchor point. Deadmen are often generated by commercial pickets and snow flukes. But there are many more options. Skis, trekking poles, packs, stuff-sacks filled with snow, and crampons are all items that we commonly carry that could easily be used as a deadman.

To make a deadman with an object that you would like to bury, first dig a T-slot. This is a hole that has been cut in the shape of a T. Second, girth-hitch or clove-hitch a sling around the object. The sling will run out of the body of the T. Place the object in the hole and then fill it in. After the T-slot is completely filled in, you must work-harden the snow on top of it. In other words, it must be packed down until it is completely flat and hard. Once this is complete, the object will have become a deadman anchor.
Another simple -- yet time-consuming -- snow anchor is the snow bollard. These are an excellent choice for an anchor that will be used for a rappel. To make a snow bollard, one must cut a teardrop shaped groove into the snow. One may then lay a rope into the groove and rappel. When bollards are cut correctly, they work better than anything else. When they are cut incorrectly there is a distinct possibility of failure.

All of these anchors should be considered suspect until they're tested. In order to test an anchor, back it up first. You may use a second deadman, an ice axe, a picket or a fluke to back-up the initial bollard. The back-up should be loosely linked to the line. Should the rope cut through the base of the bollard, the back-up will stop the anchor from failing completely.

Once the back-up has been established, the biggest individual with the largest pack should be sent down first. If the anchor holds the largest amount of weight available, then it's reasonable to assume that the anchor will continue to hold smaller individuals.

Snow anchors are an integral part of mountain climbing. In "Snow Anchor Options - Part II," we'll discuss more options and ideas for both simple and complex snow anchors.

More Information Online:
--Here is a short video on how to place an ice axe as a deadman. Ignore his use of the cord on the picket.
--Here is a short video on the use of a picket in a vertical placement.

AAI Courses that Cover this Information:
Glacier Skills and Crevasse Rescue
Alpinism I: Intro to Alpinism
Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership: Part I
Sierra Intro to Mountaineering

--Jason D. Martin

July and August Climbing Events


--July 16-20 -- Squamish, BC -- Squamish Mountain Festival


--July 16 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Las Vegas Climbers Liaison Council Meeting

--August 20 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Las Vegas Climbers Liaison Council Meeting


--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.

--July 15 -- NA -- Reel Rock Filmmaking Competition Deadline

--July 27 -- Allgäu Mountains, Germany -- UIAA Global Youth Summit: Hot rocks wild water camp in Germany

--August 6-11 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Outdoor Retailer Show

--August 8-9 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Mammut Bouldering Championship

--August 16-23 -- Bicz Gorges National Park, Romania -- International Youth Climbing Camp

Monday, July 14, 2008

Climbing Commands

One of the most inconsistent things in the entire world of climbing are climbing commands. Climbers commonly hook up for a day of climbing with little knowledge of how to communicate with one another at the crag. It is always important to review your climbing commands with a new partner so that no mistakes are made.

The most common mistakes in a command series tend to come around the word "take." Climbers often use the word in two different ways. Some will say "take" in lieu of the command, "up rope." Whereas others will say "take" to mean "take my weight." A much larger problem arises out of the nature of a word that only has one syllable. "Take" could also be mistaken for the words, "safe" or "slack." Either of these mistakes could have tragic consequences. The result is that we try to teach people not to use the word.

The following sets of commands reflect what AAI guides are teaching in the field.

Toprope Commands:

Climber: On belay?
(After checking that everyone's double-backed, that knots are correct and that the belay device is threaded appropriately.) Belay on.
Climber: Climbing.
Belayer: Climb on.

Once the climber reaches the top, the following discourse should take place:

Climber: Tension.
Belayer: (After pulling the stretch out of the rope and locking it off.) Tension on.
Climber: Ready to lower.
Belayer: Lowering.

It's important to close out the commands at the end. People often get lazy about the next set. Once the climber is back on the ground the following commands should take place.

Climber: Belay off.
Belayer: Thank-you. (Then after removing the device from the rope:) Off belay.

The "thank-you" exists in this series to get individuals ready for multi-pitch climbing where the words are used a great deal.

Multi-Pitch Commands:

You'll notice that the words "thank-you" are used heavily throughout this command series. We use to words to acknowledge that an individual heard the last command. For those who don't normally use the words "thank-you" as part of your personal series, I would recommend trying it. A lot of stress melts away on multi-pitch climbs when you know that your partner heard you.

Following are the commands that we teach in a multi-pitch setting:

Climber: On belay?
Belayer: (After checking that everyone's double-backed, that knots are correct and that the belay device is threaded appropriately.) Belay on.
Climber: Climbing.
Belayer: Climb on.

Once the climber has reached the top, built an anchor and tied-in, the following commands should take place:

Climber: Off belay!
Belayer: Thank-you! (The belayer will then take the rope out of his device.) Belay off!
Climber: Thank-you! (The climber will then pull up all the slack.)
Belayer: That's me!
Climber: Thank-you! (The climber will then put the belayer on belay.) Belay on!
Belayer: Thank-you! (The belayer will break down the anchor and then yell just before he is about to climb.) Climbing!
Climber: Climb on!

Ancillary Commands:

These are commands that are not necessarily said on every single climb. These are only said if there is a need. The commands are as follows:

Rock -- This should be yelled whenever anything falls. If you hear this, press your body against the wall and do not look up. Your helmet will provide some protection. Unfortunately, sometimes people yell "stick" or "camera." Such unusual commands often result in inappropriate reactions. In other words a person may not immediately attempt to get out of the way.

Watch me -- Climber will say this to a belayer if he is nervous and thinks he might fall.

Falling -- The appropriate command if you actually fall.

Up rope -- When a climber says this, he is asking that slack be eliminated from the system.

Slack -- The climber needs slack.

Tension -- Anytime a climber wants to sit back on the rope and rest they should use this command.

Clipping -- Periodically a leader will need more rope to clip a piece of protection. When a leader says this he's actually asking for a few feet of slack.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

Hola Weekend Warriors!

I hope all of you made it through the work week without too many bumps and bruises. We are now in the heart of summer in the Cascades and I have been tortured by the beautiful weather right outside my office window. I imagine many of you are experiencing a similar torment. In the spirit of this hot weather we are having I thought it might be nice to cool things down a little with some refreshing, ice cold videos.

The first video we have for you this weekend is from Robert Rogoz, who happens to be a former AAI shop employee. He sent us this trailer of a new movie called "Painted Blue". This sneak-peak features some great ice climbing footage and the movie looks to deliver some truly breathtaking ascents.

Have you ever jumped into a glacier fed lake? There is the initial shock that takes your breath away, followed by the frantic splashing and paddling to get back to shore. Afterwards however, you feel incredibly refreshed, as long as you're not in a blizzard of course. This is what I feel like after I watch our second video, which features a speed riding descent of the Eiger. Those crazy Europeans must have gotten tired of hiking down mountains and decided to fly down instead.

For the final video of the week we have a special treat for all you Weekend Warriors. This video, "Three on a Rope", is straight out of the archives and features some very interesting and painful old-school climbing techniques. Watch this hilarious historical documentation of the early days of rock climbing and be thankful of all the new climbing techniques we now enjoy today.

Friday, July 11, 2008

AAI 'Staff Climbing Day' at Mt. Erie

With summer season in full swing, and AAI guides and climbers coming in and out of the office on their way to enjoy the beautiful North Cascades, we office folk were starting to feel a little antsy about sitting inside for another sunny day in Bellingham.

So we declared yesterday a Staff Climbing Day at Mt. Erie. In the afternoon, after wistfully looking out the windows for half the day, we grabbed one of the vans, some gear and ropes, and drove south. There is really nothing better than a Thursday at Mt. Erie in the early evening light.

We had a great night - we climbed hard and laughed a lot.
Here are a few photos and team shots:

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Limited Space Available in Glacier Skills and Crevasse Rescue courses!

AAI has limited space available in the three remaining crevasse rescue courses offered this season on Mt. Baker. Please sign up now or call us at 360-671-1505 if you wish to reserve a spot on one of these trips!

This course is also a great review for climbers that haven't been on a glaciated peak recently - it is very important to practice these skills in order not to lose them.

Our Glacier Skills and Crevasse Rescue course is a three-day introduction and comprehensive review of glacier travel, mountain weather, ice axe and crampon use, rope work, snow anchors, self arrest, crevasse rescue, and the specifics of self-rescue and prussiking.

Remaining 2008 Course Dates
July 18-20
Aug 9-11
Aug 30 - Sep 1

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

July and August Climbing Events


--July 9-12 -- Mount Rainier, WA -- Climb to Conquer SADS

--July 16-20 -- Squamish, BC -- Squamish Mountain Festival


--July 16 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Las Vegas Climbers Liaison Council Meeting

--August 20 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Las Vegas Climbers Liaison Council Meeting


--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.

--July 9-13 -- Lander, WY -- International Climber's Festival

--July 15 -- NA -- Reel Rock Filmmaking Competition Deadline

--July 27 -- Allgäu Mountains, Germany -- UIAA Global Youth Summit: Hot rocks wild water camp in Germany

--August 8-9 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Mammut Bouldering Championship

--August 16-23 -- Bicz Gorges National Park, Romania -- International Youth Climbing Camp

Aggressive Bear Shot in Denali National Park

We recently received the following email from Denali National Park. Most bears are not aggressive and if treated warily and with respect will not attack human beings.

  • Denali National Park and Preserve personnel shot an aggressive black bear in a remote section of the Denali National Park additions on the night of July 4, 2008. The black bear had threatened the life and safety of three park employees in an area along the McKinley River approximately 20 miles northwest of Wonder Lake.

  • A research team consisting of three seasonal NPS biological technicians was conducting a botany field study along the remote river bar when a sub-adult black bear approached their field camp at 11:15 p.m. on July 4. The team responded with aversive action including yelling, arm-waving, and throwing objects at the bear. After initially being chased off into dense brush, the bear circled back to the camp three or four times, and at one point, the animal clawed and destroyed one of the team’s tents. On its final approach to the camp, the black bear aggressively charged the three researchers, hissing and pouncing at the ground. An attempt to divert the bear with pepper spray was ineffective.

  • In accordance with policy set forth in the park’s Bear-Human Conflict Management Plan, one of the researchers made the decision to shoot the bear when it charged within 20 feet of the team and posed immediate hazard to human safety. The employee, who was qualified and authorized by the National Park Service to carry and use firearms in the park, hit the bear in its mid-section with a 12-gauge shotgun slug. Despite considerable blood loss, the wounded bear moved into dense vegetation and out of view.

  • The three employees immediately notified Denali’s Communication Center via park radio. The following morning, the park wildlife biologist, along with two Law Enforcement rangers and one backcountry ranger, were flown to the camp in a park helicopter to investigate the situation and take further action if necessary. The group tracked the blood trail for 200 meters, but thereafter they were unable to locate the wounded bear in the dense brush. Both the helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft searched from the air, but spotters were similarly unable to locate the bear.

  • In light of the remoteness of the incident and the amount of blood loss to the bear, park officials consider there to be little, if any, ongoing hazard to human life. Park management has issued a backcountry closure for the area in question, a remote unit that sees very limited visitor activity. Further investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Climbing Class and Grade

One of the most confusing elements for a new climber is how the climbing class and grade systems work in the United States. Many individuals go to the rock gym and feel like they understand what a 5.7 feels like, but seldom understand where that grade came from. Many wonder why it's not simply a 2 or a 3 instead of a 5.7.

In North America we use the Yosemite Decimal System to define the class of a climb. This system provides a class number and then a specific grade. Following is a breakdown of the classes:

Class 1 - Hiking on a maintained trail.
Class 2 - Easy scrambling. Some may occasionally need their hands.Class 3 - Moderate scrambling. Hands may be employed more often.
Class 4 - Easy climbing. Hands are used all the time. Many will climb at this level without a rope.
Class 5 - Where real rock climbing begins. Technical equipment is employed at this level.

At Class 5 we add a decimal and a number to the system. Periodically a plus or a minus will be used in conjunction with the class identification (i.e. 5.6+ or 5.8-). Once the system hits 5.10, a letter grade is added. There are four letter grades before the number grade changes. (i.e. 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, 5.10d, 5.11a, 511b...). Following is a breakdown of this system;

5.0-5.6 - Beginner level climber
5.7-5.9 - Intermediate level climber
5.10a-5.11c - Advanced level climber
5.11d-5.13d - Professional climber
5.14a-5.15b - World class climber

Currently 5.15b is the hardest grade climbed in the world. However, the system is open-ended and one day somebody will climb something that is 5.15c.

Though climbers strive for consistency in grades, this breakdown is often quite subjective. In other words, a 5.10a in Red Rock Canyon might be the equivalent of a 5.8 in Joshua Tree National Park. It's important for climbers to get a feel for how the grades work in every new area they visit before pushing themselves too hard.

Many long rock and alpine climbs also employ a Roman Numeral commitment grade. This grade gives the "average climber" an overview of how long the route will take, how many pitches are technical, how difficult the routefinding on the route might be, and in some cases it will also take into account the remoteness of the climb. The commitment grades are as follows:

Grade I - A very short route requiring one to two hours.
Grade II - A route that takes two to four hours.
Grade III - A route that takes the better part of a day. For slower parties a Grade III will be an all day endeavor.
Grade IV - A route that takes all day. Generally a day that requires in excess of 12 hours. The technical difficulties are more pronounced.
Grade V - Generally takes more that a day. There are clear technical difficulties to be overcome.
Grade VI - A multi-day climb that requires solid technical skills and often requires both aid and free climbing techniques.

As with the Yosemite Decimal System, the commitment grade system is not without problems. It is incredibly subjective. The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite is a Grade VI. When it was first climbed in 1958, it took 45 days. Last week, the speed record was set at 2 hours and 43 minutes. So the question must then be asked, what is an "average" climber? How should these grades be set? Most guidebook authors will look for some kind of consensus. The real average party on the Nose still takes about four days. As such, the Grade VI will remain for the time being.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 7, 2008

Crevasse Rescue Review

The following crevasse rescue description is based on the course work provided by American Alpine Institute field guides. This systematic description will make the most sense to those students who have worked with AAI in the field on crevasse rescue systems.

This two person crevasse rescue description is broken into three parts. The first part is entitled Anchor; the second, Z-Pulley and the third, C on Z.
Most students obtain the best results when they think of this as a dynamic three part system. Students have problems and get lost when they lose sight of their objective. Any time one gets lost while working through the system they should step back and think clearly about what they are trying to do in that part of the rescue.

  1. Self-arrest and place your foot over the rope. Be sure to kick your feet in firmly to hold the weight.
  2. Place a piece of snow or ice protection and attach it to a locking carabiner. This locking carabiner will thus be designated the "master carabiner." This first piece of snow protection must be extremely good. If it is not, both the victim and the rescuer will be in serious danger.
  3. Attach your foot prussiks to the master carabiner. Lock the carabiner and NEVER OPEN THE MASTER CARABINER AGAIN!
  4. Keeping your ice-axe handy, slowly allow the victim's body to weight the anchor. Be sure to keep your ice-axe within reach until the anchor is complete. If that first piece of protection blows out, you will need to arrest again.
  5. Take the rescue coils off of your shoulder and slowly unwrap them. Be sure not to panic as the mountaineers coil is easily tangled.
  6. Estimate the distance up to the master carabiner, then estimate the distance from the carabiner to the crevasse. Add these two figures together and then tie a figure-eight knot in the rope at this length. If there is a large amount of crevasse danger in the area, you may have to tie this knot significantly closer to yourself in order to protect yourself.
  7. Clear one of the two locking carabiners that you are tied into the rope with of all items. Clip the new figure-eight knot into this carabiner. Clear the second carabiner of everything. Leave your waist prussik on the rope.
  8. Work your way up to the master carabiner. Tie a figure-eight knot into the rope that is being held by your foot prussik. Using a locking carabiner, clip this into the master carabiner and lock it. This will back-up the prussik which is currently holding the victim's weight.
  9. Step nine is where you will back-up the first piece of protection. It is important not to disturb this piece of protection while placing the second piece or all will be lost. Measure the distance from the master carabiner to your second placement. Be sure that when you place the second piece, you consider the length of the sling or cordellete with the carabiners on them. You want this second piece to be as equalized as possible. Beginner level students will stretch a sling as tightly as possible from the master carabiner to the second piece, where advanced students may use the block and tackle with a cordellete. Once you complete this, the Anchor is finished.
  1. Take your pack-prussik or a shoulder-length sling and girth-hitch it to your waist prussik which is still on the tensioned rope. If you are wearing crampons, be very careful not to step on the rope. Clip this extension to the unused locking carabiner at the tie-in point on your harness.
  2. Work your way toward the crevasse while probing for additional crevasses with your ice-axe. You may have to re-tie your safety knot to reach the crevasse. Re-tie this knot whenever it is necessary.
  3. Once you reach the lip, confirm that your partner is conscious and needs to be pulled out of the crevasse. If he or she does not answer, you will have to rappel down into the crevasse to see what is wrong. To climb back out of the crevasse it is possible to use your partner's prussik cords. Pad and clear the lip before rappelling.
  4. If your partner answers and says that he or she needs to be pulled out, clear the lip of all snow. Warn your partner before you start to kick snow down on top of them. The entire rope should be visible at the lip of the crevasse before you are finished.
  5. Slide your ice-axe under the rope at the lip in order to pad it. Place the pick into the snow in order to secure it. Clip the axe to the rope so that it does not fall down into the hole.
  6. Unclip the extension attached to your harness. Take the pack prussik off of your waist prussik. You should still be relatively close to the lip of the crevasse when this takes place.
  7. Clip a pulley to the waist prussik. Run the rope coming from the master carabiner through this pulley. The waist prussik may also be reffered to as the "tractor."
  8. Walk back up to the master carabiner. Clip a second pulley into the master carabiner and run the rope that is clipped to the locking carabiner on the master carabiner through the pulley. It doesn't matter which side of the knot you attach the pulley too.
  9. Untie the knot next to the pulley, but leave the locking carabiner attached to the master carabiner.
  10. Pull on the line that you are tied too. Haul the vicitm up approximately a foot.
  11. Untie the knot between the pulley attached to the master carabiner and the foot prussik. The foot prussik may be reffered to as the "ratchet."
  12. You may now haul the victim on a 3:1 system. Remeber to mind the foot prussik (ratchet) while hauling, and be aware that for every three feet you pull, the victim will only rise one foot. You have now completed the Z-Pulley.
C-Z Pulley System
  1. "To add the C, I must tie the end of the rope into the anchor!" This is usually chanted during some guides trainings for a reason. If you remember this, the rest will make more sense. Tie a figure-eight knot into the end of the rope and clip it into the locking carabiner that is still attached to the master carabiner.
  2. Tie a knot next to the pulley nearest the crevasse lip and clip a carabiner into it. This knot may be a clove-hitch or a figure-eight. Advanced students may place the pack prussik on the haul line here with a non-locker clipped to it. This carabiner may also have an additional pulley on it if you have one.
  3. Clip the line that you just clipped into the locking carabiner into the new carabiner down by the pulley nearest the lip. This is your new haul line.
  4. You now have a 6:1 hauling system. It is important to realize that you must haul six feet for every foot that the victim rises. You have completed the C-Z Pulley system.
The photo to the left shows a completed anchor. The red carabiner is the master carabiner. Note that there are two pieces of gear. The first piece placed was a snow fluke. The back-up piece was a picket buried in a t-slot. The blue carabiner is the backup line.

This photo shows a completed Z-Pulley anchor. There will be one more step for the rescuer in this picture. He will have to release the figure-eight knot from the blue locking carabiner before the rescue can continue. The blue locking carabiner should stay in place for later use.

This photo shows a completed Z-Pulley system. The rescuer need only to pull on the "haul line" in order to get his partner out of the crevasse.

This photo shows a climber hauling her partner out of a crevasse with a completed 6:1 pulley system. We often refer to this as a C-Z Pulley system.

Other Consi
  1. Always pull away from the crevasse.
  2. If the victim suddenly becomes more difficult to pull-out check the victim. Do not crush the victim in the lip of the crevasse.
  3. Make sure the victim keeps his hands from behind the rope as it cuts through the lip.
  4. Lock all carabiners. You only need two locking carabiners aside from the two on your harness to complete this rescue.
  5. If you can haul the person out on a 3:1, then do it. It will be faster.
  6. Once you understand the system, experiment with short-cuts. Do not experiment until you have a concrete understanding of the whole system.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

All Eight Denali Teams Summit!

Congratulations to all the AAI Denali expeditions this season! Each of the 8 teams summited successfully. Below are photos from various groups throughout the season - if you have any more you would like posted, just email us at If you would like to read dispatches from these trips, just click here.

Photo by Tom Betor
Photo by Tony Newton
Photo by Tony Newton
Photo by Alasdair Turner

Photo by Alasdair Turner

Photo by Coley Gentzel
Photo by Coley Gentzel
Photo by Coley Gentzel
Photo by Dylan Taylor
Photo by Dylan Taylor
Photo by Dylan Taylor

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

Hey all you Weekend Warriors!

I hope that everyone still has all their fingers left after yet another 4th of July celebration. In case you didn't see enough fireworks yesterday we have some explosive videos for all of you to enjoy. These movies are sure to get you pumped for this weekend!

Imagine the craziest fireworks display you have ever seen in your entire life. Now imagine that this display was somehow transformed into a person. You have just created Tom Eric Heimen. Watch as this Norwegian soars through the air mere feet from the cliffs below. My heart was beating so fast after watching this that I thought a Roman Candle had just been shot at my face.

The second video in our line-up should calm you down a little if you watched our first one. It features some truly breathtaking alpine scenery in Nepal. Watch as Fredrik Ericsson attempts to do a ski descent of Dhaulagiri, or White Mountain, the seventh highest peak in the world. This guy brings a whole new meaning to earning your turns.

I know that all you weekend warriors have a variety of outdoor pursuits and this third video captures many of them at once. This particular video features more variety than that old bag of leftover fireworks I have stored in my closet from last year. You will be amazed as you watch 6 different mountain sports come together for one incredible photograph.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Get to Know Your Guide: An interview with Paul Ivaska

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.

This week, we interview Paul Ivaska.

Age: 38
Hometown: Monroe, Connecticut
Recent trips and expeditions with AAI: Denali (West Buttress), Temple Crag (Venusian Blind), North Palisade (U-Notch Couloir)
Upcoming courses with AAI: Mt. Whitney (East Buttress)

A Guide’s Life
How old were you when you first started climbing?
22 years old. I was attending an Army Medic training course in Ft. Sam Houston, TX. My roommate had experience climbing in the Dolomites of Northern Italy. He invited me out to do some climbing in the hill country north of San Antonio. I was immediately hooked!

How do you stay in shape, and what are your favorite training activities?
Guiding and Ski Patrolling keep me in shape.

Who is the most inspiring person in your climbing life?
My friend Mike Storeim from Colorado. He grew up climbing in Eldorado Canyon and the South Platte region in the 70's (a time when climbers had so little as far as equipment goes, but did so much as far as pushing the traditional clim
bing standard). I learned a lot from him and enjoyed many a great climb with him.

What are your other interests besides climbing?
Skiing and guiding.

Where is your favorite place to travel?
As each year goes by, I find myself enjoying more mountain ranges in North America. My favorite ranges are those with the beautiful combination of huge granite walls and glaciers. I would like to one day go climb alpine walls in Pakistan and Patagonia. I also enjoy climbing in the Utah desert.

On the Technical Side
Describe your climbing style.
I enjoy long alpine rock routes the most.

What has been your most technically difficult climb?
The route Oz in Tuolumne Meadows. It was sustained in its difficulties and very aesthetic. I have done two climbing routes that where put up by Dale Bard in the Sierra and found them both awesome in setting and difficulty.

What is your biggest strength as a climber? Biggest weakness?
Strength: I don't let long arduous approaches deter me from climbing interesting routes. Weakness: I sometimes have a hard time leaving the coffee shop to go climb :)

A Guide on Guiding
Is there anything you know now that you'd wish you'd known when you were just beginning to climb?
Trying to make a living climbing is difficult, but the rewards make it worthwhile.

When you guide, what piece of advice do you find you give most often to climbers?
I think Mark Twight gives the best advice in his book "Extreme Alpinism". He says that it is common to look at photographs of climbers doing really cool climbs and think to yourself " I want to be that climber right now!" But he cautions us that behind those pictures there are many years of apprenticeship and dedication.

What qualities do you think are most important in a guide?
Patience and good mountain sense.

Name a few guide “turn-ons” (for example, what makes a good climber on one of your courses, ascents, or expeditions?).
Climbing with people who have a good attitude is the best. Those who enjoy the journey vs. the destination get the most out of a challenging climb.

Any memorable events while guiding for AAI?
Last summer, I remember topping out on Mt. Whitney via the East Buttress route with a climber named Steve. Standing there on the summit was a man dressed up as Elvis and drinking a Fosters. He was hamming it up for all the other hikers. It was pretty entertaining.

What are your must-haves? Favorite foods or gear?
I must have dried fruit and wet wipes for back country trips :)

Describe your achievement of which you are the most proud.
I am proud of getting three of four team members to the summit of Denali this past Spring. We had challenging conditions, but through perseverance, enjoyed standing on top of North America's highest peak together.

Any closing comments?
Get out there and enjoy Mother Nature's design. Some of Her most beautiful displays will only be viewed through hard work and determination.