Tuesday, September 30, 2008

October and November Climbing Events

--October 1 -- Portland, OR -- Ozone Guidebook Party and Fundraiser

--October 1 -- Las Vegas, NV -- LVCLC Meeting

--October 3-9 -- Indian Creek, UT -- Internationalize Indian Creek

--October 10-12 -- Front Range, CO -- AAC's Inaugural Craggin' Classic

--October 10-12 -- Leavenworth, WA -- Cascadeclimbers.Com Rope-Up

--October 11 -- Boise, ID -- Adopt-a-Crag

--October 14 -- Seattle, WA -- Powderwhore Productions "The Pact"

--October 15 -- Las Vegas, NV -- LVCLC Meeting

--October 16 -- Seattle, WA -- Reel Rock Film Tour

--October 16 -- Bellingham, WA -- Reel Rock Film Tour

--October 16-18 -- Tehran, Iran -- UIAA General Assembly

--October 17 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Reel Rock Film Tour

--October 19-21 -- Bend, OR -- AMGA Annual Meeting

--November 19 -- Las Vegas, NV -- LVCLC Meeting

--November 22 -- Seattle, WA -- Seattle Bouldering Challenge

--November 28-30 -- Los Angeles, CA -- ATS Outdoor Adventure Festival

--October-November -- Various Other Locations -- Reel Rock Film Tour

The Seasonality of Mountaineering (Part 2 of 2)

We left off in the preceding article with March. We have accumulated snow all winter and now things are changing.

In April and May, the battle for domination starts to shift from the bad weather to the good and the snow pack continues to consolidate and firm up, eventually reaching isothermal (a consistent temp throughout) and becoming good for summer glacier climbing conditions.

Now don’t take this to mean that you can’t climb mountains at other times, in fact you can climb mountains in any month of the year here, and even have a good time and good conditions doing it. A few years back I wrote piece about winter climbing about capturing small windows of good conditions in the off season here in the Cascades. Trying to have safe and successful climbs outside of the typical season requires tenacity and even more attention to subtle details and current conditions. Traveling on a snowpack that has not yet consolidated almost always required flotation of some sort. AAI guide Dylan Taylor previously authored a piece on snow locomotion where he described the options for that.

During the mid-summer months, the snowpack receeds on a daily basis. The days are long and the sun is usually shining more often than not. A mountaineers concerns start to shift from surface conditions to coverage issues. Crevasses start to be revealed, things like moats, bergschrunds, and talus slopes start to become factors that require some consideration. This trend continues through fall until the cycle starts over again. Lately, the winter snow hasn’t been able to keep up with the summer warmth in most parts of the world and the glaciers are shrinking.

So what do these seasons mean for mountaineers? There is always something to climb and something to learn at any point in the cycle. It might not be your preferred activity, ascent or style, but there is always something to be learned. In my mind, that is kind of what it means to be a mountaineer. Not someone with a helmet, ice axe, and 40-feet of webbing, but rather a person who is knowledgeable about the mountains, intimately familiar with their features and conditions, and skilled in the techniques that it takes to travel in them safely, regardless of the season or conditions.

Learning these thing is a lifelong process and even those that have spent countless days in ranges across the globe always have something to learn, a new way of seeing things, and they have to adapt to both subtle and substantial changes from season to season and place to place. It think this is one of the many facets that makes mountaineering such an engaging pursuit and leads many people into a mountaineering lifestyle rather than treating it like a hobby of sorts. Many mountaineers choose to live in a place where they can be close to the mountains and be a part of these seasonal transitions.

Here in the Cascades, mountaineer’s are hanging up their crampons for the season and eagerly anticipating the first substantial accumulations of the winter season. Any day now we should get a big dump and the hardcores will get out their rock skis and battle out the seasons first turns. As the winter wanders on, savvy climbers will keep an eye on conditions and hope for a window to get up a route in winter conditions under fair skies. Into the spring, the short winter days will lengthen and our vitamin B starved bodies will start to long for the long walks on the glaciers and winding trails through lush undergrowth, and the heavy, moisture laden air of the Cascade summer, and the feeling of dry granite under our finger-tips and toes.

As mentioned above, all climbing areas have their own cycles. For example, now is the prime time for rock climbing in the desert southwest whereas a month ago you would have probably died of heat stroke in the direct sun. The summer mountaineering season in South America is just a few weeks from kicking off. The monsoon season in the Himalaya is just coming to and end and the technical climbing season is about to begin.

So, stay tuned in and turned on to make your free-time line up with the seasonality of mountaineering and go climbing!

--Coley Gentzel

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Seasonality of Mountaineering (Part 1 of 2)

The following blog entry got a little long winded, so we decided to break it up into multiple parts, two to be exact. Stay tuned for the rest of the article tomorrow!

We all know that in this great big world of ours, there are seasons, and that things like weather and local conditions change from day to day, week to week, and of course month to month. But how do these changes in the season affect the mountains and our travels in them. For most people, the mountains are the glittering points on the horizon. Sometimes they are snowy, sometimes they are bare, sometimes you can see them, but most of the time you can't. So what is going on up there anyhow? Being both a guide and a Program Coordinator in AAI’s offices, I often field questions about courses and programs that are “out of season” so to speak. Quite often people wonder why we don’t offer particular courses and climbs year round. A simple answer would be, the seasonality of mountaineering.

Mount Shuksan in summer (left) and winter conditions (right).

Most ranges of mountains have a defined or “typical” mountaineering season. That is to say a season where the climbing conditions are optimal for the types of climbing contained therein. Each range and place is unique in its characteristics, patterns, and factors, but there are many similarities as well. I will use the Cascade Range here in Washington as a model.

My first few years as a new climber in the Cascades were frustrating to say the least. I didn’t have much of a feel for conditions in the mountains, where to find info on such things, or how to interpret lowland factors to extrapolate highland realities. Many of my trips were met with bad weather, too much snow, not enough snow, or the route being “out of condition” for any number of reasons. Now, after over a decade of running around in the Cascades, I can almost predict the exact conditions at any given time without having been in the range for weeks or even months. This isn’t accomplished by any special skill in particular, but more from being familiar with the seasonal changes that happen every year, by knowing how to interpret lowland factors, and by knowing where to look for up to date information. Being familiar with each of these relatively straight forward process can help your success rate and enjoyment factor go way up by minimizing some of what is typically thought of as guess work in mountaineering.

The glacier mountaineering season in the Cascades is generally thought of as the summer months. Conditions for glacier climbing are at their best when the snowpack has gone isothermal and the surface of the glacier freezes at higher elevations during the night. During this freeze, climbers wear boots and crampons and walk on top of the snow instead of sinking into it deeply like they do during the winter and early spring months. Conditions in the mountains are always changing. Sometimes they are literally different from one minute to the next. Being able to predict, plan for, and properly assess these conditions can make a huge difference in your level of success, enjoyment, and even safety.

For the sake of order, lets look at the seasons starting from the end of the summer, before the snow starts to fall. Since many of these concepts revolve around snow, it makes the most sense to start from the beginning when there is none. Here in the Cascades, the middle or even the end of September is the end of the typical mountaineering season. Depending on the year, we might get some decent weather into October and be able to sneak in another climb or two, but the days are short and the snow can fly at any time.

As I write this I can see our last Cascade mountaineering group out my rain-streaked window returning from Mount Baker where they got pummeled by rain and snow. By the end of our summer, nearly all of the seasonal snow has melted off the surface of the glaciers and from the lower and even higher elevation slopes. When the snow starts again, it will gradually (or rapidly depending on the storm!) accumulate throughout the winter, usually into March when the days become long enough and bright enough that the snow pack depth starts to even out and even recede despite the fact that new snow is still falling regularly.

To Read Part II, Click Here.

--Coley Gentzel

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

Alright warriors, it's the weekend and it's time to get stoked! This week we're getting stoked over Red Rocks; we're getting stoked over bacountry pow. And we're getting stoked over twinkies...

First up, we have a nice little video to get you psyched about climbing in the desert. A crew of college students made a spring break road-trip to Red Rock Canyon and came up with the following video. It's quite a dramatic little piece of work.

Those who are sensitive to foul language should avoid this video. Though the expletives are not gratuitous, one can hear a word here or there in the background.

This week the snow began to fly at the higher elevations in the Pacific Northwest. It's a bit early and the likelihood of that snow staying around is a bit unlikely. However, the spray-masters on websites like turns-all-year.com and teletips.com can't shut-up about it. You'd think it had snowed four feet, not an inch. That said, we're all psyched for the Northwest backcounty season to start. This video provides a little taste of what's to come.

And lastly...you probably thought it was a little weird when we wrote that you would get stoked over twinkies, so let us explain. Many of you know that AAI Guide Jason Martin is also a playwright and screenwriter. He was recently invited by 911 Media Arts in Seattle to participate with them in a 48 Hour Film competition as a screenwriter. In other words, their team (led by his brother and producer of the project, Eli Martin) was provided a series of things that they must use in a film. Once they received their list of items they were required to write, shoot and edit the film all in 48 hours.
  1. The theme they were provided was, "a world dangerously disconnected from its food source."
  2. They were required to use a burlap sack as a prop.
  3. Their genre was roadtrip movie.
  4. They had to get the line, "it doesn't have to be that way" into the script.
  5. At least one character had to be named Rick Dickonson and he had to be a grocery store manager.
  6. Their film could be no more than three minutes long.
They felt that the easiest way to accomplish all this was to produce a movie trailer instead of an actual movie. So like most mediocre artists they ripped off people who did it better. Watch carefully for allusions to Saw, Alien and The Birds.

There are images in this video that some might find disturbing.

It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way! from Eli Martin on Vimeo.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Used Gear Sale!

It’s that time of year again!

The Equipment Shop at the American Alpine Institute’s Annual used gear sale is coming up this Thursday and Friday, October 2nd and 3rd.

Summit Day on Mount Baker -- Photo by Andy Bourne

We’ll have used Hilleberg and Mountain Hardwear tents, helmets, gaiters, crampons, ice-axes, boots and much more at up to 70% off!

In addition to the great deals on the usual used gear we’ll also have brand new Petzl Meteor Helmets and Adjama Harnesses, I/O Bio Wool Underwear and garments, Injinji Socks, all Petzl Ropes and Grigris, MSR Reactor and XGK stoves, and OR Bivy Sacks all at 30% Off.

Doors open at 10 am! Get here early! Please keep in mind that the sale is limited to in-store purchases only and all sales are final.

Reality TV and Mountain Guiding

Last Thursday it came in an email.

I received a call this morning from an attorney friend in Seattle who is setting up interviews for guides who are interested in being part of a TV reality show on guides and guiding. The company developing this concept has previously done a variety of TV reality shows including Survivor, The Bachelor, and now new work themed programs like Ice Road Truckers.

A separate production company working with them is financing this and is currently funding:

--auditions for a series focused on guides
--the creation of a pilot

Woah! What's this? A TV show about mountain guides. Can you imagine how much fun people would make of the guides involved? Can you imagine how much goading and ribbing they would take from their peers?

Could this man be a reality TV star? (Dylan Taylor)

It's hard enough to tell people that you're a mountain guide with a straight face. It would be utterly impossible to tell people that you were both a mountain guide and a reality TV star without sounding like a complete doofus.

So after making fun of this all day, Dylan Taylor and I talked each other into going. AAI Guides Richard Riquelme and Dawn Glanc also participated.

The audition went well for everyone. Indeed, it sounds like if this thing gets off the ground we could all be on television. That would be both cool and incredibly embarrassing. Reality stars look like models. Mountain guides look like pieces of leather.

Anyway since we're all going to be stars of reality TV, I've started to work out my plan. I've already made alliances with everyone. Dylan and I are totally going to vote Richard off the mountain and Richard and I are totally going to vote Dylan off the mountain. Dawn's still neutral. I'm going to have to flip her one way or the other to win. It's going to be awesome!

Or maybe it will just be ludicrous. I don't think there will be any voting, but who knows...? It is reality television.

Here's a little taste of reality vs. reality. In other words, Reality TV, vs the reality of being a mountain guide. I've placed a few pictures of reality TV stars above pictures of our guides. You can decide which reality is more interesting...

The Bachelor
The Real Bachelor (Forest McBrain)

Hell's Kitchen

And the kitchen after hell froze over. (Coley Gentzel)

Dancing with the Stars

And Not Dancing with the Stars. (Alistair Turner)

The Girls Next Door

And Eric next door. (Eric Johnson)

America's Next Top Model

And America's Current Top Model. (Mike Powers)

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Down vs Synthetic

On big expeditions a good sleeping bag is perhaps the most important piece of equipment that you carry. A sleeping bag does a great deal more than to simply keep you warm at night. It becomes a means to keep water bottles from freezing and provides a way to dry out damp clothing and boots. And indeed, in an emergency it might be the last shield between you and hypothermia or even death.

So what kind of sleeping bag should you invest in? Down or synthetic? Synthetic or down?

Advantages of a Down Sleeping Bag:
  1. Many would argue that nature does it best. Down (either goose or duck) tends to be significantly warmer than a synthetic alternative. Ounce per ounce, down tends to be approximately three times warmer than synthetic.
  2. If you take care of it, down retains its shape and loft. With proper care a down bag can last a lifetime.
  3. Down tends to wick body moisture away which can make for a far more comfortable night's sleep.
  4. Down is far more compressible and lightweight.
  5. The nature of down is that it keeps you warm in the cold and cool in the warmth.
AAI Guide Justin Wood enjoying a book in a down bag on Denali.

Disadvantages of a Down Sleeping Bag:
  1. The largest disadvantage to a down bag is how poorly it deals with water. A wet down bag is close to useless. Those who elect to use down in a wetter climate need to have all of their systems dialed. In other words they need to be very good at protecting their bag from the elements.
  2. Once wet, down bags don't dry easily.
  3. Down can be difficult to clean. If it is improperly cleaned it may break down and lose its loft. Be sure to read and follow all washing directions on your down bag.
  4. Some people have allergic reactions to down.
  5. Down is expensive.
Advantages to a Synthetic Sleeping Bag:
  1. Synthetics are more weather resistant and dry more quickly.
  2. Synthetics are easier to care for.
  3. Synthetics are hypoallergenic.
  4. There is a lot of variety out there and it tends to be less expensive than the alternative.
Disadvantages to a Synthetic Sleeping Bag:
  1. Synthetics tend to be heavier and bulkier than down.
  2. Many synthetics don't pack down as tightly as down.
  3. Synthetics tend to breakdown and perform poorly over time.
  4. Some of the lower end products may not fit well.
So which is better? Most guides use down bags, but they know that they have to be hyper-aware when it comes to getting them wet. If you don't think that you can do this, then a synthetic bag is the way to go.

The purchase of a sleeping bag is a big financial decision, but that shouldn't be the deciding factor. Instead, it should be based on where you think you're going to use it and what type of conditions you think you're going to encounter the most.

--Jason D. Martin

September and October Climbing Events

--September 21-27 -- Whistler, BC -- ISSW Avalanche Workshop

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

--September 27 -- Portland, OR -- Portland Ice Festival

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

--October 1 -- Portland, OR -- Ozone Guidebook Party and Fundraiser

--October 3-9 -- Indian Creek, UT -- Internationalize Indian Creek

--October 10-12 -- Front Range, CO -- AAC's Inaugural Craggin' Classic

--October 10-12 -- Leavenworth, WA -- Cascadeclimbers.Com Rope-Up

--October 16 -- Seattle, WA -- Reel Rock Film Tour

--October 17 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Reel Rock Film Tour

--October 19-21 -- Bend, OR -- AMGA Annual Meeting

--September-November -- Various Other Locations -- Reel Rock Film Tour

Monday, September 22, 2008

Steve House Rupal Face Equipment

Last week we posted a video where former AAI Guide Steve House described the clothing that he wore on the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat (26,658') when he and Vince Anderson made an alpine style ascent of the route. To see last week's post, click here.

This week we have posted a slightly longer video wherein Steve describes the equipment that they used on the route. The Rupal Face is arguably one of the most dangerous technical and demanding routes in the world. Steve and Vince were required to go as light as possible while being prepared for extreme climbing. And though the equipment systems presented here may not work for everyone, it is well worth seeing what world class alpinists prefer.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

Ah, the seasons are changing my fellow weekend warriors. In honor of this planetary shift I have included some videos of places to go and things to do during this fall season. Enjoy!

Our Red Rock season has begun! This world-class climbing locale is a short drive from Las Vegas and features a seemingly endless selection of routes. One of the classics is Frogland, a 6-pitch 5.8. The video even features some helmet cam shots which give you a good idea of what the rock texture is like.

The second video we have for you is a clip from the movie "First Descent". Watch Terje Haakonsen boldly descend where no man has descended before. Warning: This video may cause a sudden drop of the jaw, please ensure that all obstructions are clear.

The final video we have for you features some breathtaking shots of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Oh how I love time-lapse photography...probably the greatest invention since Hostess cupcakes.

Sierra Segment Trailer from Neil Gill on Vimeo.

Friday, September 19, 2008

National Park(ing) Day!

A parking space is occupied by a small impromptu park.

Happy National Park(ing) Day!

What's National Park(ing) Day you ask?

National Park(ing) Day is an opportunity to celebrate parks in cities and to promote the need for more parks and for more open spaces by creating temporary public parks in public parking spaces. National Park(ing) Day is sponsored by The Trust for Public Land, a national conservation nonprofit, and based on an idea conceived by REBAR, a San Francisco art collective.

In 2007, National Park(ing) Day spawned more than 200 new parks in more than fifty cities nationwide. So if you see a weird little patch of grass and a park bench in your favorite parking spot, take a load off and enjoy that tiny bit of nature in the urban jungle. To read more, click here.

Route Profile: The South Arete of South Early Winter Spire

South Early Winter Spire with the South Arete
following the sun/shade line left of center.

Location: North Cascades of Washington, Washington Pass

Season: Nearly year round. As with most alpine route routes in the Cascades, snow levels are the biggest variables outside of weather. The opening and closing of Highway 20 (usually opens in April and closes in November) play a big part in the time required for climbing at the Pass.

Time required: 1 day, not counting drive time.

Route Description: From the Blue Lake trailhead, the typical summer approach is about 2.5 miles and you gain about 2000 feet of elevation on the approach. The South Arete is a fairly broad and broken ridge that follows a crest between the SW couloir and the steep and dramatic East Face of South Early Winter Spire. The route is primarily a 4th and low-5th class scramble with a few short steps of harder moves. It is rated 5.3 and the exposure along the route is just about perfect for first time alpine rock climbers.

AAI leads climbs on the South Arete as part of their Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership series and also as part of their Classic Guided Ascents in the Pacific Northwest private programs. This route make a fantastic first alpine rock climb for beginning level climbers, and is also well-suited for a climber's first "lead" in the mountains. The Beckey Route on Liberty Bell, just a short distance away, is a great follow-up to the South Arete for a weekend of Alpine Rock climbing at Washington Pass.

Climbers start up the first,
crux pitch of the South Arete.

The South Arete starts with a steep step right off the bat that includes a few slabby moves and a bit of crack climbing before the angle eases. This is followed by mellow scrambling in a shallow gully for a few hundred feet.

AAI Guide Ben Traxler traverse a narrow
section of the Arete about halfway up the route.

At the top of the gully there is a chockstone which is passed on the left that includes a few 5.3 moves. Above the chockstone the scrambling and traversing continues until the ridge-crest narrows leading to a fun traverse on a sharp spine of smooth granite.

Climbers traversing the final lenth of ridge just below the summit.

After the completing the spine the views become increasing better. The last few hundred feet of blocky traversing leads directly to an airy ridge crest.

AAI Director of Staff Development, Mike Powers, on the summit of South
Early Winter Spire after his 85th ascent of the South Arete.

From the summit it's possible to see nearly all of the North Cascades from Mount Baker to the north down to Glacier Peak to the south. The summit offers a rare glimpse of the Northeast Face of Mount Goode, a rarely seen Cascade giant. And across the valley the rocky ridges and pinacles of Silverstar Mountain and the Wine Spires jut into the sky.

If you're looking for a scenic cruise on perfect granite, you simply can't miss with a trip to Washington Pass!

--Coley Gentzel

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Steve House Rupal Face Clothing System

Former AAI Guide Steve House goes through the clothing he wore on his and Vince Anderson's alpine-style first ascent of the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat (26,658') in September, 2005. They were awarded the 2005 Piolet d'Or Award, recognizing the significance of this innovative route climbed in a clean and committed style.

The Rupal Face is arguably one of the most dangerous technical and demanding routes in the world. Steve and Vince were required to go as light as possible while being prepared for extreme temperatures. And though the clothing system presented here may not work for everyone, it is well worth seeing what world class alpinists prefer.

September and October Climbing Events

--September 18 -- Bozeman, MT -- Alpinist Film Festival Tour

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

--September 18-21 -- Ogden, UT -- Utah Mountain Film Fest

--September 21-27 -- Whistler, BC -- ISSW Avalanche Workshop

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

--September 27 -- Portland, OR -- Portland Ice Festival

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

--October 1 -- Portland, OR -- Ozone Guidebook Party and Fundraiser

--October 3-9 -- Indian Creek, UT -- Internationalize Indian Creek

--October 10-12 -- Front Range, CO -- AAC's Inaugural Craggin' Classic

--October 10-12 -- Leavenworth, WA -- Cascadeclimbers.Com Rope-Up

--October 16 -- Seattle, WA -- Reel Rock Film Tour

--October 17 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Reel Rock Film Tour

--October 19-21 -- Bend, OR -- AMGA Annual Meeting

--September-November -- Various Other Locations -- Reel Rock Film Tour

Monday, September 15, 2008

Article Wrap-Up

The following instructional and informational articles have been published on the American Alpine Institute's blog. We strive to provide the best and most up to date information about climbing techniques in our courses as well as in our articles. Check back often, as this list is growing.

Alpine Efficiency
Americans in the Outdoors
Anatomy and Strength of a Carabiner
Autoblocking Devices
Bang Bang go the Boots!
Belay Glove Confession
Belaying a Leader with a GriGri
Best Climber Eats!
Blister Prevention
Bolting: What's the Big Deal?
Changing My Story
Climbing and Mountaineering in Space
Climbers are Funny
Climbing Class and Grade
Climbing Commands
Conserving Your Favorite Crag: What You Need to Know
Crevasse Rescue Review
Expedition Sled Rigging
Glove Systems
How Good is that Bolt?
Human Waste Disposal in the Alpine
Important Glacial Features
Mount Baker by the Numbers
Non-Event Feedback Loops
Popular Anchor Antonyms
Raynaud's Disease
Rethinking the Camelbak
Route Profile: North Ridge of Mount Baker
Rock Climbing Styles
Rope Flossing
Snow Anchor Options
Somethin' About Nothin': Kelly Cordes on Alpinism
The Best Route on Forbidden?
The "Burrito" Hypothermia Wrap
The Dangers of Glissading
The Haunted Hut of Ecuador
The Importance of Being Prepared
The Problem with Water
The Thankless Job of the Guidebook Author
The Worst Climbing Movies Ever
Toproping Sport Climbs
Travel Safety in a Developing Country
Waterfall Ice Climbing: Cold and Scary or Quite the Contrary?
What's Up with Rock Shoes?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

Hey Weekend Warriors....Let's follow this crazy guy's advice and go play. If you're having a hard time getting the motivation check out these videos, I think they might help. By the way, if you want to check out a cult classic, this clip is from "The Warriors", a crazy 70's rendition of The Odyssey.

This first video provides you with a walk through of one of the sketchiest approaches I have ever seen. Originally built in 1901 this wild trail leads you to Makinodrome, the famous climbing area in El Chorro. Just watching this makes me sweat.

Mountain Top Golfing Backfires - Watch more free videos

If you haven't laughed yet today this video will change that. You have to watch this to believe it.

The final video we've got for your enjoyment should get you in the mood for the upcoming skii season. It's called "Teton Skiing - Legends of the Fall Line" and it documents the bold pioneers of backcountry skiing in the Tetons.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bolivia’s Nevado Illimani Summited

The summer climbing season in Bolivia ended today with another success on 21,201-foot Illimani. AAI guide Jaime Avila called by satellite telephone this afternoon to report the team’s success. Though the weather report was for snow last night, they woke up a 1:00am to find starry skies and no wind. Getting underway with the climb by 3:00am, they summited from their 18,000-foot high camp in under six hours and were back to their high camp by noon.

Descending 21,201-foot Illimani with the lower north summit in the distance.

Earlier on the trip, climbers Jennifer Klich (Boulder, Colorado), Shawn Collins (Boulder, Colorado), and Janet Coudurier (Truckee, CA) along with Jaime and fellow AAI guide Juan Chura climbed Piramide Blanca, Pequeno Alpamayo, and 20,000-foot Huayna Potosi by both the regular route and the French Direct.

For more photos and to read their dispatches from their trip (or other expeditions in Peru and Bolivia) click here.

It was a great season of predominantly very good weather and conditions in both Peru and Bolivia, and we’re sorry to see it end. But with the advent of South America’s “other” dry season (November through February), AAI climbers and guides now turn their attention to Patagonia, Ecuador, and Aconcagua.

Changing My Story

As you might imagine, in guiding -- and even climbing for that matter -- folks who are relatively new to the pursuit often ask similar questions. As such, it often behooves a guide to come up with standard answers and explanations that are easily committed to memory and recalled when the times comes.

The group on one of the skills days, Kahiltna Glacier, AK

One such example is what became sort of a standard response of mine when answering questions related to crevasse rescue. An extremely common question when teaching glacier based programs is always “have you ever had anyone fall to the bottom of a crevasse.” My standard response has always been something along the lines of, “if you're practicing proper glacier travel procedures, someone on a rope team should never fall into a crevasse past their waist."

This spring I was leading an Alaska Range Alpine Mountaineering course for AAI. It was a fantastic program with a great group of folks. We had awesome weather and accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. I will however say, that because of this trip, I now have to change my story...or in this case, my response.

Gearing up for our ascent of the Radio Control Tower

As part of this program we spend one day climbing a peak in the Alaska Range. The glacier tour and ascent is a great way for participants to put into play many of the things we spent a number of days learning and practicing thus far in the program. On our climbing day, the guides (Forest McBrian and myself) split the team into three groups. We would each lead one team and climbers would take turns leading the other rope team between our groups. On the front of this rope team was, let's call him, Joe. Joe’s wife’s was a bit worried about the nature of climbing and mountaineering and to reveal his true identity might hamper his future climbing ambitions.

My team was in the lead when we came to a fairly thin bridge over what appeared to be a narrow crevasse. We each stepped over the small hole and across the bridge without incident. I noticed that the bridge was a little soft around the edges and I thought maybe the slot could be a little bigger than it appeared.

Approaching the Control Tower

My team waited for Joe to come around the corner. I filled him in on the situation and gave him some instruction about how to minimize the chance of punching through on his way over.

Before I continue, I should say that Joe is not your average sized human being. He would have made an excellent linebacker in the NFL should he have chosen football as a career.

So Joe goes to step over the hole and no sooner does his foot touch the other side when the bridge collapses and he disappears from sight. Fortunately for us, we had just spend the day prior practicing crevasse rescue and so the teams were dialed on what needed to happen. My team -- back towards the hole -- lowered Joe a loop of slack and pulled him out. The whole affair took about 20 minutes and went very smoothly, despite another team member punching through (just to his waist) in the process.

In analyzing the fall, there were a few factors that contributed to Joe going into the hole beyond his waist. First and foremost, his team was practicing good glacier travel procedures and did not make any mistakes. The bridge that failed was quite large and very overhung. When Joe punched through, the bridge continued to fail around him and his rope cut deeply (4+ feet) through the upper lip of the crevasse. As his rope cut through, he was lowered that distance into the hole. Being a larger than average human being, Joe stretched the rope more than average for that length of fall as well.

Nearing the summit of the Control Tower

So one of the lessons that I personally took away from the situation was that there are exceptions and special circumstances that can and will eventually contradict every rule you make in the mountains. I haven’t yet come up with a polished version of my revised response to the crevase fall questions, but it will likely be something along the lines of “you shouldn’t ever go in much over your waist if you are practicing proper glacier travel procedures, but it is possible given the right combination of factors!"

--Coley Gentzel

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Book Review: Climbing Self-Rescue

Most climbers are concerned about what might happen if there were an accident high on a steep face. Most climbers play-out some kind of heroic scenario in their heads where they get out of said accident. But most climbers don't spend the time required to learn how to deal with a serious situation. In other words, the reality vs. what plays out in a climber's head could be quite different. As such, all climbers need to invest some time in learning about rock rescue.

The best way to acquire the skills required to deal with an accident in a multi-pitch setting is to take a class on it. But for those who don't have the time or the money, Andy Tyson and Molly Loomis have written an excellent textbook on the subject entitled, Climbing Self-Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations.

Tyson and Loomis put together a book that starts with what one should do in the case of an accident and then goes into an overview of baseline knowledge. They discuss knots and hitches as well as ropes, webbing and carabiners. After this introduction, they present the alternatives available to a climber during a rescue. These are escaping the belay, rappelling, hauling and lowering. And though these sound like simple things, in reality they are quite difficult with a injured or unconscious patient. Each technique requires a series of steps that are outside the average climber's knowledge base.

The primary competitor to this book is A Falcon Guide: Self-Rescue by David J. Fasulo. While this book is also excellent and covers much of the same ground as Climbing Self-Rescue, Tyson and Loomis have one-upped the Fasulo book by adding a comprehensive series of scenarios at the end of their text which could be used in "practice rescues." The scenarios are complex and often require mastery of multiple rescue techniques in order for a climber to achieve success. And indeed, it is when one has mastery that one will actually be able to deal with a real situation. This element above all others makes Climbing Self-Rescue the better book.

Can you find the crossloaded carabiner in the photo
on the cover of this book?

There is no better way to learn any new technique than with a qualified guide, but for those looking for an introduction to self-rescue or for a supplement to their training, there is currently no better book on the market than Climbing Self-Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations.

--Jason D. Martin

September and October Climbing Events

--September 10 -- Seattle, WA -- HERA Fundraiser - Dosage V

--September 13-14 -- Seattle, WA -- Adventures in Travel Expo

--September 18 -- Bozeman, MT -- Alpinist Film Festival Tour

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

--September 18-21 -- Ogden, UT -- Utah High Adventure Mountain Film Fest

--September 21-27 -- Whistler, BC -- International Snow Science Workshop

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

--September 27 -- Portland, OR -- Portland Ice Festival

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

--October 1 -- Portland, OR -- Ozone Guidebook Party and Fundraiser

--October 3-9 -- Indian Creek, UT -- Internationalize Indian Creek

--October 10-12 -- Front Range, CO -- AAC's Inaugural Craggin' Classic

--October 10-12 -- Leavenworth, WA -- Cascadeclimbers.com Fall Rope-Up

--October 16 -- Seattle, WA -- Reel Rock Film Tour

--October 17 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Reel Rock Film Tour

--October 19-21 -- Bend, OR -- AMGA Annual Meeting

--September-November -- Various Other Locations -- Reel Rock Film Tour

Monday, September 8, 2008

Baby Time Again! -- Sophia Rose Kuhnlein

We are pleased to announce that yet another AAI Guide has had a baby this summer! Peter and Lisa Kuhnlein had their second child on Saturday, August 6th at 8:34 in the morning.

Sofia Rose Kuhnlein

The birth of Sofia Rose Kuhnlein comes on the heels of two other births at AAI this summer. Richard Riquelme's wife had a baby on September 4th and Jason Martin's wife had a baby on July 24th.

Everybody around here is just as excited to meet Sofia Rose as they were to meet Samuel Uruchi Riquelme and Caden Jase Martin!

Somthin' About Nothin': Kelly Cordes on Alpinism

In the following video, climbing writer, former American Alpine Institute Guide and Patagonia product tester Kelly Cordes discusses his training techniques and his style of climbing. Cordes refers to his alpine climbing strategy as "disaster style."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

The tide has begun to turn my fellow Weekend Warriors. With September comes the end of the glorious summer months and the beginning of fall. I can feel it on my morning bike ride to work, the air is becoming cool and crisp once again. So dust off those warm clothes and get ready for the next season of fall and winter climbing and skiing. I've compiled some videos this week that should shift your mindset and get you stoked for autumn.

Watch as Sonny Trotter attempts Rhapsody, an E11 in Scotland, while battling with the brutal wind that is trying to blow him off the climb. This is one of the hardest trad climbs in the world and the crux move has one of the most interesting holds I have seen.

Check out the preview for the 2008 Reel Rock Film Tour! If this event is coming to a city near you I would highly recommend attending. It highlights the best of the best in outdoor film making and will leave you awestruck. In the words of monster truck announcers everywhere, "you'll pay for the whole seat but you'll only need the edge!"

As fall approaches so does the prospect of backcountry skiing. The North Cascades are the perfect playground for skiing and this trailer for "Out of Bounds" should get you psyched to throw on those skins and get out there! Keep in mind that backcountry skiing has its inherent risks and should always be done with caution.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Bugaboos!

Seventy Million years ago in the mountains of British Columbia the strikingly clean granite of the Bugaboos was finally uncovered setting the stage for world class North American Alpine Rock Climbing. Just shy of 51 degrees North “the Bugs” are located in the midst of the Purcell Mountains of B.C., a range of mountains sandwiched between the Canadian Rockies and the Selkirks.

Amidst the Bugaboos sit the mighty Howser Towers, (featured in issue 14 of Alpinist magazine). These perfectly symmetrically, sound granite peaks have been inspiring climbing’s greatest talent for decades and are home to the biggest and boldest Bugaboo climbing objectives. Bugaboo spire at 10,511', Pigeon spire 10,354', and Snowpatch Spire 10,120', provide quality routes for everyone. And as if this were not enough to occupy a lifetime of climbing, there are many more spires, towers and rock faces to explore. The Bugaboos are excessively scenic, wild and accessible…a true alpine rock climber’s paradise.

For years AAI has been running successful and exciting trips to the Bugaboos. For AAI’s Technical Leadership program we typically use the area for phase III of the three-part program. Here is what one Technical Leadership graduate had to say after getting back home from the part I, II and III in August 2008:
  • It was somewhere near the sixth or seventh pitch on the Kraus-McCarthy route on Snowpatch spire that I realized something. I just learned how to crack climb a few weeks ago, and here I am making my way up this huge granite spire, with even bigger towers all around me. A few weeks ago I could barely understand how a hand jam works let alone put it into practice, and now I'm pulling down on my hands in cracks as if it were nothing. The Bugaboos were an amazing range of mountains for me to practice all of my new found skills. To know that the same things I had learned in theory and practiced in the Washington Pass area, still applied in such a large mountain setting, was extremely comforting. I truly learned enough that I was both a competent leader and second. And that thought was exactly what I needed in order to feel confident in the Bugaboos.

  • I left the Bugaboos and headed for my hometown of Detroit, MI, only to turn around on the same day of my arrival in order to leave for the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. While I was there I met someone with a trad rack who let me borrow it, and I felt completely confident in my leading abilities. I lead myself and a friend, who had never done any trad or crack climbing in his life, up a five star 5.8 finger crack. It felt amazing to offer someone else the opportunity to find another aspect of climbing to fall in love with. There is no doubt in my mind that my casual approach to trad climbing, something I found so nerve-wracking less than a month before, was due to the practice I had in the Bugaboos. It prepared me in a way that I don't think I will everbe able to fully comprehend or appreciate, until I'm able to go back there one day and enjoy the magnificent quality of climbing. I feel truly spoiled to have had such an amazing climbing experience so early in my climbing career, and can't wait to get back on my own one day.

  • - Andrew Yasso
This season AAI climbers accomplished a great deal in the Bagaboos. The West Ridge of Pidgeon (II 5.4); Ears Between on Crescent Spire (grade III 5.8) and the South East Ridge of the Bugaboo Spire were all climbed several times by AAI teams. Other routes such as the Kraus-McCarthy on Snowpatch (grade IV 5.9), The Mcteche Arete on Crescent Tower (grade III 5.10), The Enjoyable Way (grade III 5.8) ofn Snow Patch and the Kain Route (grade III 5.6) on Bugaboo were climbed as well.

The Bugaboo climbing season runs from late June to the end of September. And while it may be a little late in the year to plan a trip this season, next summer is right around the corner. Hope to see you there!

-- Joseph Anderson

Thursday, September 4, 2008

AAI Welcomes a New Baby Boy

Richard Riquelme, AAI's wonderful Equipment Shop Manager, and his wife Laura, are celebrating the birth of a baby boy, Samuel Uruchi Riquelme. He is adorable and healthy, and already seems to be smiling as much as Richard does. We are very very excited for the entire family, and can't wait for little Sammy to come visit us all at the office. Here's a picture of the little guy and his proud father --

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Last chance - Learn to Rock Climb at Mt. Erie!

AAI's final Mt. Erie rock climbing programs are running this Saturday, September 6th, and on Saturday, September 20th. There are still spaces available for these courses, so sign up now!

For more information on Mt. Erie rock climbing, visit the AAI program page. The course will cover equipment selection and use, knots essential for climbing, an introduction to anchors, belaying and climbing technique, and rappelling. And don't worry if you don't have any gear, we'll rent you everything you need for $10 - that includes rock shoes, a harness, and a helmet!

Call or email now to sign up for a day of rock climbing. We can be reached Monday through Friday, 9:00am to 5:30pm at 671-1505 or info@aai.cc.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Haunted Hut of Ecuador

The Whymper Hut on Chimborazo

The hut keepers won't sleep in the Whymper Hut on Chimborazo. For them it's not a myth or a legend. It's a fact.

The Whymper Hut is haunted.

The hut keepers all have ghost stories about the place. They've all seen something in there. They've all felt something. Maybe it was nothing more than a candle inexplicably blowing out. Maybe it was nothing more than a door blowing shut. Maybe it was nothing. Or maybe it actually was something. They're certainly convinced.

It's not terribly surprising. Chimborazo is a dangerous mountain. Since its first ascent in 1880, this mountain has seen thousands of ascents and hundreds of fatalities. Many of those who died on the mountain have been stored in the empty third story of the hut. South Americans are superstitious and for them ghosts are simply a part of life. For them, a place that has been used as a morgue is no place to be when it is dark.

One of the stories goes something like this. A hut keeper was alone in the kitchen. There were no climbers there. He was washing dishes. Suddenly he felt something. It was like someone was watching him. But when he looked around there was no one there.

He went back to washing his dishes.

A moment later, somebody slapped him on the back. Whomever it was slapped him hard...so hard that it left a red mark in the shape of a hand on his skin. But there was still no one there. The young man immediately ran from the hut. After he got outside and into the freezing wind, he fell to his knees.

And threw up.

A lot.
Memorial Stones on Chimborazo

Another story goes like this. A hut keeper was sleeping in a bunk. The bunks in the hut are nothing more than wooden platforms where people lay out their sleeping bags and pads. The hut keeper was sound asleep when somebody grabbed the foot of his sleeping bag and dragged him from his slumber and onto the ground. It couldn't have been comfortable... One moment you're asleep and the next you've been pulled from your bed and thrown onto the wooden floor.

I suppose that the hut keeper could have simply rolled over and fallen out of bed. I suppose that happens a lot. But if he supposed anything, he supposed that the ghost of a dead climber dragged him from his sleep and onto the floor. He supposed that the climber wished to bring him with him into the next world.

And my favorite story of the group, goes like this...

An Ecuadorian guide and his client were alone in the hut. The guide told the client that they would wake up at one in the morning to start their climb. At midnight, somebody wearing an old school yellow one-piece Gore-Tex suit quietly came over to the guide's bunk and sat down on it. The climber never looked at the guide. Instead, he began to put on his boots.

"What are you doing?" the guide asked. "It's only midnight. Go back to sleep."

Without looking at the guide, the climber got up and walked away.

An hour later, the guide's client appeared wearing black pants and a red jacket. "What happened to the one-piece suit?" the guide asked.

"What are you talking about? I don't have a one-piece suit."

"But you were wearing a yellow one-piece Gore-Tex suit when you got up an hour ago."

"I didn't get up an hour ago," the client responded. "I only just woke up."

--Jason D. Martin