Friday, October 31, 2008

Guide's Olympics!

Perhaps one of the most fun events at the American Mountain Guides Association Annual Meeting is the Guide's Olympics. This is an event wherein a group of guides from all over the country get together to compete in a series of skill-based games...and the competition is fierce!

The Guide's Olympics doesn't have "normal" Olympic events like curling, or speed walking, or synchronized swimming, or the 3000 meter steeplechase... Instead, in the Guide's Olympics, guides must demonstrate a series of mountain climbing and guide skills under unusual circumstances while dressed like Las Vegas pimps on New Years Eve.

In 1989, former AAI assistant director Sheilagh Brown devised the first of a series of competitions for the AMGA's Annual Meeting. That was the year that she developed the Guide's Olympics. Due to the overwhelming success of the event, she continued to create. In 1990 she established the Guide's Backcountry Cook-Off. And finally, in 1991 she developed the first annual Mountain Guide's Pumpkin Carving Contest.

The Backcountry Cook-Off and the the Guide's Pumpkin Carving Contest were both extremely popular events. However, as the years passed and the annual meeting evolved, the Cook-Off and the Pumpkin Carving Contest were dropped and the the Guide's Olympics became the preimere "fun" event of the meeting.

AAI Guide Forest McBrian belaying at the Guide's Olympics.

The 2008 Guide Olympic Events were as follows:

Glaciated White-Out Navigation while Avoiding Spillage

In this extremely difficult event, three guides must put on plastic boots and crampons and tie into one another with a rope. The guide in the lead is blindfolded. And there is a glass of wine suspended on the rope between each of the guides. The goal of the game is to direct the guide in the front down a treacherous path through the desert while spilling as little of the wine suspended between one another as possible.

Most people are a bit aggro in this event and at least one team was in such a rush that the blindfolded team leader ran directly into a tree.

Once the team finishes their tour through the desert -- tied together with crampons on -- the wine is measured. Teams are scored on a combination of how much wine is left in the cup and how fast they were able to complete the course.

Three-Legged Climb

This simple timed event requires that two guides are duct-taped together during an ascent. In other words, each participant has a wrist and a foot duct-taped to one another. The team that gets to the top the fastest gets the most points.

Two guides participate in the three-legged climb.

Rock Ascent with Sandbags Clipped to Crotch

In this endurance event, a guide must climb a 5.9 rock route on top-rope. The bolts on the route each have a bag of sand clipped to them. As the guide passes each bag of sand, he must unclip it from the bolt and then clip the bag to the belay loop at his crotch. By the time the guide gets to the top of the route he has fifty pounds of sand hanging from his crotch. Talk about rope drag!

A guide ascends the route with sandbags hanging between his legs.

This event is timed as well. And if a guide were to need assistance (i.e. people pulling on the rope to help him get up) he will have points docked.

Twister with a Bunch of Ski Junk Hanging Off of You

In this event, guides must play twister with a bunch of ski junk hanging off of them.

Two guides compete in a heated game of twister.

To be more precises, a group of guides will play twister while wearing packs that are heavy with skis and poles and other mountain equipment. On each twist another piece of equipment must be added to the participant. In other words, they have to put on gloves, mountain boots, or hang roller skates from their packs.

It's not really clear how this game is scored. And as twister with a backpack with skis on it is inherently dangerous, only the most fit and flexible guides are allowed to participate.

Dry-Skiing and Short Roping in the Desert

In this event, two guides must rope up and put on skis. A third guide must wear a pack with skis on it and walk in ski boots. The first guide must short-rope the second guide as they race up a dry desert trail, around a giant boulder and back to the main staging area. Once they have reached the staging area they must use an avalanche transceiver.

A team of guides dry ski through the desert.

It is not recommended that one use new skis for this event.

AAI Guide Richard Riquelme made the following video of the event. He had to add music to it to cover his non-stop laughing into the microphone.

When all was said and done, this year's Guide Olympics was a great success. People dressed up like idiots, competed like fifth-grade bullies, hooted and hollered like frat boys and sorority girls and made complete fools of themselves. In others words, the goal of the event was met. Everybody had a lot of fun!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Aidan is Wayyyyy Out There...

We just got another call from Aidan from a sat phone in China. He is still solo at 17,500 feet on Minya Konka and the weather still isn't very good.

As you may recall from a previous post, AAI guide Aidan Loehr was the lead guide on our China – Genyen Area Expedition which finished on October 12. Since then Aidan has been battling his way up Minya Konka (24,790') which is the highest mountain in the Sichuan Provence of China.

Since reaching his high camp, Aidan has attempted to get higher multiple times. He has now repeated the crux of the mountain three times. Each time he has climbed through loose and insecure snow only to find dreadfully dangerous snow and high winds above. At this point he only has one day of fuel left in high camp and then he has to go down. His plan was to scout up high one last time before descending.

Yesterday a massive avalanche washed down from the upper mountain splitting in half, one half washing down one side of the ridge and the other half washing down the other side just feet from his camp. This particular incident definitely raised his awareness about just how remote he actually is. Aidan is literally in the middle of nowhere, alone and on a mountain almost no one has ever heard of. In other words, Aidan is the man!

If this ascent doesn't work out, Aidan still thinks that he might have time to get down, resupply and then make a solo attempt on the as yet unclimbed west ridge of Dogonomba (19,550').

--Jason D. Martin

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Last call for ENewsletter Photo Contest!

All photo contest submissions for the November E-Newsletter are due this Friday, by midnight! To submit your photos for the contest, please email with your images attached. Please include your full name, address, and photo captions and locations.

To check out August's finalists, click
here. To sign up to receive the November E-Newsletter, click here.

The prizes for the photo contest are as follows:
1st prize: $100
gift certificate for trips or gear
2nd prize: $75 gift certificate for trips or gear
3rd prize: $50 gift certificate for trips or gear

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

AAI Guide Scouts New Routes in China

After completing our China – Genyen Area Expedition on October 12t, AAI guide Aidan Loehr has embarked on a solo expedition to scout new routes on Minya Konka and Reddomaine. He is currently climbing Minya Konka, the highest mountain in Sichuan, China at 24, 790 feet. As Aidan explained, “Minya Konka is the most holy mountain in China. There are four holy mountains in China, but Minya Konka is the holiest of the holy.”

Aidan stayed at the Gongaa Monastery, which sits at the base of Minya Konka, for several days, where he hung out with young monks, met tourists from Hong Kong, and spoke with French climbers who had climbed in the area. From the monastery, Aidan did many shorter exploratory hikes to find the best way to access the main ridge to Minya Konka’s summit.

Early on, Aidan experienced great weather: clear skies, warm days, cool nights, and barely any wind. Aidan described one particularly notable morning:

“I woke up around 6:30am. It has been an absolutely gorgeous day. I sat outside the monastery on a rock, and a young monk joined me to do his morning prayers. I watched the sun rise behind Minya Konka. There was a halo of clouds around the top that turned bright orange as the sun rose. It was pretty cool, a very good place to be.”

Aidan explored the surrounding area extensively. He followed a nearby river that lead him to a green, grassy valley from where he eventually discovered a great base camp. Located at about 14,700 feet, base camp sits next to an access glacier that leads to a “really long access ridge” which connects to the proper ridge of Minya Konka.

On October 22nd, Aidan set out from the monastery with 10 days of food, made his way up the access glacier he had found, and established his second camp at 15,900 feet. Unfortunately on October 25th, the weather took a turn for the worse, with heavy snow and roaring winds which Aidan guessed were reaching 80 to 100 miles per hour on the ridge above him. Despite the conditions, Aidan continued to climb to higher elevations, making it up to about 18,500 feet, to acclimatize and to find the quickest way to the top if the weather cleared.

Though Aidan is currently pinned down by high winds, he is in characteristically good spirits, and has been immersing himself in great literary works, such as Magellan and The Siege of Malta while he waits out the weather in his “tiny tent.” Aidan is currently camped at 17,500 feet, and will wait there for the weather to break, which he thinks will happen sometime in the next 4 or 5 days. Once he gets his long awaited window, he will make a bid for the summit.

After that he’ll descend back to the monastery in about 6 days before heading on to Reddomain base camp, where he will continue to explore and find new routes in the mountains of Sichuan, China.

--Emily Znamierowski

AMGA Annual Meeting and AAI Guide Training

AAI Guides Mike Powers, Kurt Hicks, Forest McBrian, Mat Erpelding, Andy Bourne, Coley Gentzel, Kristen Looper, Dawn Glanc, Richard Riquelme, Alasdair Turner and Jason Martin all attended the annual American Mountain Guides Association Meeting in Bend, Oregon last week.

The AMGA is the primary educational and professional organization that oversees mountain guiding in the United States. Every year they have an annual meeting wherein guides from all over the country come together to work on their guiding skills, climb together and party. Usually these meetings are far from our home-base in the Pacific Northwest, but this year the focal point of the meeting was the world class rock climbing at Smith Rock State Park.

A climber is sillouetted before the Picnic Lunch Wall, Smith Rock State Park
Photo by Kurt Hicks

AAI Guides were provided a number of opportunities to take specific clinics during the meeting. Our guides enjoyed clinics with titles like, Teaching Techniques for the Mountain Guide, GPS for the Mountain Guide, Technical Descents for the Mountain Guide, and Short-Roping for the Mountain Guide, amongst many other climbing related titles which ended with the words, "for the mountain guide."

The focal point of the annual meeting is the "main event." This is a night where we all get together and partake in a combination of food, drink, slideshows, and awards ceremonies. AAI's proudest moment at the awards ceremony was when our own Dawn Glanc received the AMGA President's Award.

Each year, the President of the AMGA selects someone in recognition of their guiding, their skill, and their love of the mountains. Dawn, along with three other guides (Matt Farmer, Kevin Mahoney, and Bayard Russell) were awarded for their commitment and contribution to the profession of mountain guiding through their efforts on The Big Expedition for Cancer Research. The Big Expedition was intented to show that seemingly insurmountable challenges are attainable and that they can lead to successes such as finding a cure for cancer...

Matt Farmer and Dawn Glanc accept the President's Award from the new president of the AMGA, AAI Avalanche Trainer, Margaret Wheeler.
Photo by Kurt Hicks

As the meeting was nearby and we had a number of guides around, we took the opportunity to do an "in-house" training as well. As such, our guides had the opportunity to compare and contrast the guide techniques and styles that we use with those that guides from other companies employ. This was a tremendously satisfying way to train as it allowed guides to see a number of perspectives beyond those of AAI's senior guides.

AAI Guide Richard Riquelme whips onto a bolt in an effort to test a new belay technique.
Photo by Alasdair Turner

One of the great values of our internal guide trainings are our experiments with new techniques that have come over from Europe. On this particular trip we spent hours playing with a technique wherein one belays a leader directly off the anchor in a multi-pitch setting. Of course, to truly see if a new technique works, we have to really try it out. And by really try it out, I mean that we had to have people whip on the system...a lot. Kurt, Richard and Alasdair all took massive intentional leader-falls onto the anchor-belay. When all was said and done, we found that the system worked exceptionally well when employed correctly.

Following is a photo essay of the meeting, the training and the spectacular climbing found in Smith Rock:

AAI Guide Kurt Hicks on Karate Crack (5.10a)
Photo by Alasdair Turner

A shadow of two climbers at a belay station.
Photo by Jason Martin

AAI Guide Alasdair Turner leading a hard seam.
Photo by Kurt Hicks

AAI Guide Kristen Looper starts up Super Slab (5.6)
Photo by Jason Martin

AAI Guide Andy Bourne making plans for the night.
Photo by Jason Martin

AAI Guide Forest McBrian, all tuckered out after a long day of climbing and training.
Photo by Coley Gentzel

Stay tuned for a blog on Friday about one of the most exciting events at the AMGA Annual Meeting, the annual Guide's Olympics!

--Jason D. Martin

November and December Climbing Events

--October 29 -- Yakima, WA -- Skiing the Cascade Crest

--October 29 -- Pasadena, CA -- Under the Influence

--October 30 -- Ellensburg, WA -- Teton Gravity Research "Under the Influence"

--November 5 -- Seattle, WA -- AK the Hard Way

--November 6-8 -- Boulder, CO -- Adventure Film Festival

--November 8 -- Seattle, WA -- Northwest Snow and Avalanche Summit

--November 8-9 Seattle, WA -- 2008 Snowbash

--November 10 -- Beaverton, OR -- Wayne Wallace Picketts Slideshow

--November 14 -- Seattle, WA -- Yosemite in the 60s

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

--November 20 -- Seattle, WA -- Climbing in China

--November 20 -- San Francisco, CA -- North America Wall

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

--November 22 -- Bellevue, WA -- Ski Mountaineering in the Central Caucasus

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

--November 30 -- Contest -- Defenders of Wildlife Writing Contest

--December 2 -- Bellingham, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour

--December 3-5 -- Seattle, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour

--December 11-13 -- Mora, MN -- Sandstone Ice Festival

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gunks Climber's Coalition Fundraising Campaign

The following message was recently posted on

On Memorial Day 2008, Maria del Piano fell on a climb in the Near Trapps and was taken to an ambulance on a rescue litter. She needed surgery on her wrist, where a titanium plate was inserted.

As a result of this experience, Maria offered to donate a generous amount of money to the Gunks Climbers' Coalition Rescue Fund, to help with the purchase of new rescue equipment for the Mohonk Preserve. With this seed money, the GCC was just about to start a fund drive when something unbelievably offensive happened. Thieves stole $9000 worth of ropes and specialized rigging gear from the rescue cache in the Trapps.

While the Mohonk Preserve works with their insurance company to help recover their losses, the GCC would like to continue our plans for the Rescue Fund drive to raise money for new equipment, defray rescue costs and help with any theft expenses not covered by insurance.

We hope to raise as much money as possible between now and our November 1st benefit slide show featuring Michael Kodas, the author of High Crimes - The Fate of Everest in the age of Greed, a narrative look at how big money and big egos are drawing crime and malfeasance to Mount Everest. Admission to the slide show is a $10 donation. For more information about the slide show, see

Please help the GCC help the Mohonk Preserve, so they can have the rescue equipment needed to help us climbers when we need them the most. The Mohonk Preserve is a non-profit land conservation organization supported by its members and visitors and depends on all of us to help. At present accident rates, the Preserve estimates that rescues cost $10,000 per year and presently this must come out of the Preserve's bottom line. Also, equipment ages and needs to be replaced with new equipment regularly.

Please go to to make your donations. We accept personal check, credit cards and Paypal payments.

Thank you for your help.

The Gunks Climbers' Coalition

The Coolest Place You've Never Heard of...

...just might be the Chehalis Range.

The where?

Exactly. The Chehalis Range is a compact group of peaks that sit just across the Frazer River valley on the boarder between Washington and Canada. If you have spent any amount of time perusing the host of "selected climbs" volumes for this part of the country, you have probably heard of some of the peaks and routes there. Although you you would be hard pressed to talk to someone who has climbed any of them. So it is with the Chehalis. The approaches are vague and problematic and first hand reports and current information is hard to come by. For those willing to give it a go, the rewards are well worth the effort.

A waterfall on the Chehalis River along the Statlu Lake approach.

There are many would be ultra-classic routes in the Chehalis including the Tuning Fork on Bardean, the North Ridge on Clarke, and the incredible Viennese-Clarke Traverse. The range is glaciated, but barely. For the most part the glaciers are remnants of snow and ice that sit at the base of the rock faces in the range. In early season most of the approaches involve crossing some snow and/or ice, but by late season it's often possible to approach in tennis shoes.

The climbs range from easy class 2-3 scrambles to 5.10+ climbs, all on compact granite which is for the most part, excellent for climbing.

Lower Statlu Lake

Perhaps the biggest draw to the range for climbers looking for a moderate mountaineering route/traverse is the Viennesse Clarke traverse. This is a 4 mile ridge traverse that enchains about 6 summits, starting with smaller peaks and eventually linking the prominent summits of Viennese, Recourse, and Clarke. For the most part the route is class 3-4 scrambling along the crest of an undulating ridge with exciting but not nerve racking exposure. The summits of Viennese and Clarke both involve a pitch or two of mid-fifth class climbing with one cruxy 5.8 move on Viennese.

I have done a number of long ridge traverses in a few different ranges here in the US and this is perhaps the best of those if not the most unique. For skilled and efficient climbers, this climb is very doable in one day. For those a bit slower with route finding and roped movement, doing the climb in two days would allow for a spectacular bivy along the way.

Most round-trips into the Chehalis Range are easily accomplished in three days from Washington. One day for the approach, one to climb, and one to hike out. That having been said, it would be a shame not to spend a few days in this remote and scenic place. A 4-5 day trip would allow for a climb or two and a more relaxed pace.

Mount Bardean from the Viennese Clark Traverse.

From most of the summits in the Chehalis, the North Cascades are in plain view, including Mount Baker to the south. The deep valleys and long ridges of the range all add to the alpine flavor of this seldom visited corridor of the Pacific Northwest.

The approach gully on the Viennese-Clarke Traverse

The full length of the Vienesse-Clarke
traverse follows the white ridge crest.

Just below the summit of Viennese.

Regrouping on the way down from Viennese.

Descending Recourse on the way to Clarke.

Looking back along the crest of the Viennese-Clarke traverse.

Seth Hobby boulders a section
of ridge on the way to Recourse.

On the summit of Clarke at the end of
the Viennese-Clarke traverse, Chehalis Range, BC.

--Coley Gentzel

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

Ahoy Weekend Warriors!

I hope that the fall climbing season has started off with a bang for all of you! I figured that since the weather is getting colder by the day some of you may need a different type of video to get you stoked. Therefore...I bring you the Gelada Baboon. This incredible primate lives exclusively in the Ethiopian Highlands and has got some serious climbing skills. Just check out the little guys doing dynos already!

The second video we have for you epitomizes why I love time-lapse photography. Although it doesn't actually feature any climbing, the scenery is simply breathtaking. It makes me want to buy a ticket to Patagonia and so I can see this incredible landscape for myself...ahh, if only I had that kind of money laying around.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Cascade Bushwack Rating System

In writing a recent piece for AAI's Blog, I was describing what a typical approach to the Pickett Range -- a sub-range of the Cascades here in Washington -- involves, and bushwacking was a big part of that.

Over the years, I have worked with many climbers who are very new to the concept of bushwacking, especially of the type that we have here in Washington. Describing these things to a person who has never been in brush so thick that it literally makes forward progress impossible is a futile effort at best. In considering how to best describe the intricacies of pushing the bush, forcing the foliage, and groping the garden here in the Cascades, I was reminded of an article I had seen a few years back on the very same subject. As we all know, difficulty is a somewhat subjective thing and as such, definitions, interpretations, and general impressions vary from person to person. To help put various bushwacks into perspective, Mark Dale authored the following piece.

Coley Gentzel
Program Coordinator and Guide, AAI

Above the buskwacking in Boston Basin, North Cascades

The Brush and Bushwhack Rating System
by Mark Dale

For years there has been something sadly lacking in the climbing world. Something necessary to help describe the total mountaineering experience in those areas blessed with challenging peaks surrounded by primeval forest. That something is a brush and bushwhack rating system. After years of the hand-to-limb combat encountered in below-timberline approaches, one comes to realize that this part of an ascent can be half or more of the battle. (Notice the use of fighting terms.)

And yet, just how does one accurately relate this important facet of a climb in words? "It was ugly, real ugly," "Brutal," "A freaking flail," "Oh, not too bad, but I did lose a pint of blood." Well, these are pretty good subjective descriptions, but what's missing here is something more definitive. What we need is a way to portray in a more precise manner those endearing struggles with the brush.

Therefore I propose the Cascade Brush and Bushwhack Rating System. This system is so named because most of my experience in the past ten years of climbing has been in the Washington Cascades. It's perfectly applicable, though, to other ranges of a similar nature, e.g. the Olympics, Northern Selkirks, British Columbia Coast Range, Alaska Range or any mountain group where below-timberline approaches necessitate brush-beating and bushwhacking. This system rates both difficulty and grade much like the technical climbing ratings in use today.

Seth Hobby enjoying some moderate
brush walking, North Cascades, WA.

Before defining system nomenclature here are a few guidelines for describing your favorite flail:

  1. Conditions described must be when the approach is snow-free, since snowpack greatly affects most bushwhacks, reducing their difficulty considerably.
  2. More demanding terrain, e.g. cliffy or steep, will increase a bushwhack's difficulty and grade as compared to one with the same vegetation on level ground.
  3. Both the density and the type of brush are important factors. I'll take an open area of mature devil's club over a dense stand of slide alder any day.
  4. Grade is determined by both time and distance involved in completing the approach, as well as the duration of the difficulties.
  5. Since creek and river crossings play an important part of many approaches, a special sub-rating has been devised for these.
  6. When a mechanical device such as a machete is used the bushwhack is no longer "free," and an aid sub-rating must be used.
Difficulty Ratings
These apply to the "free" difficulties (no aid used) and range from BW1 to BW5, where BW stands for "bushwhack." Difficulty ratings apply to those areas of worst brush that can't be avoided.

  • BW1 Light brush. Travel mostly unimpeded, only occasional use of hands required (e.g. mature open forest).
  • BW2 Moderate brush. Occasional heavy patches. Pace slowed, frequent use of hands required.
  • BW3 Heavy brush. Hands needed constantly. Some loss of blood may occur due to scratches and cuts. Travel noticably hindered. Use of four-letter words at times.
  • BW4 Severe brush. Pace less than one mile per hour. Leather gloves and heavy clothing required to avoid loss of blood. Much profanity and mental anguish. Thick stands of brush requiring circumnavigation are encountered.
  • BW5 Extreme brush. Multiple hours needed to travel one mile. Full body armor desirable. Wounds to extremities likely, eye protection needed. Footing difficult due to lack of visibility. Loss of temper inevitable.
Aid Ratings
When artificial means are used to penetrate brush, then an aid rating should be used to describe the device required. These ratings range from BA1 to BA5, where BA stands for "brush aid":

  • BA1 Machete or sickle
  • BA2 Gas-powered weed-eater
  • BA3 Chainsaw
  • BA4 Agent orange
  • BA5 Bulldozer

As the terrain steepens, running
"veggie belays" are often used

Creek and River Ratings
These ratings are used to describe the difficulty in crossing watercourses. The range is WA1 to WA5, where WA stands for "water":

  • WA1 A dry crossing is possible by using rocks or logs.
  • WA2 Possible wet crossing, but a dry crossing can be accomplished with some finesse.
  • WA3 Wet crossing, ankle- to calf-deep.
  • WA4 Wet crossing, calf- to knee-deep.
  • WA5 Wet crossing, greater than knee-deep, possibility of getting swept downstream.
Grades range from I to VI and follow the same general guidelines as climbing grades:

  • I Brush beating can be done in a few hours or less.
  • II Generally will take less than half a day.
  • III Could take most of a day, but hardened parties will be able to complete in a short day.
  • IV Will take a long day and involve continuous battle.
  • V A 1+ to 2-day bushwhack, difficulty rarely less than BW4, large quantities of bandaids and wound dressings will be needed unless properly attired.
  • VI The most extreme of bushwhacks, requiring over 2 days to complete with probably a BW5 encountered along the way.
Following are some examples of rated bushwhacks:
  • Picket Range, Goodell Creek approach -- Grade III - IV, BW4
  • Mt. Shuksan, White Salmon approach -- Grade I - II, BW4-
  • Mt. Spickard, Silver Creek approach -- Grade V, BW4+
  • Mt. Blum, Blum Lakes approach -- Grade III, BW3+, WA5
  • Devils Peak, Coal Creek approach -- Grade I, BW2
  • Monashees, Thor Creek approach -- Grade VI, BW4, BA1
  • Chimney Rock, standard approach -- Grade II, BW2

A typical climbers "trail" approaching
Mount Goode in the North Cascades.

And there you have it. No longer must one try to decipher the deranged mutterings of a victim of jungle warfare. A person needs only to apply the appropriate brush ratings to relate his brutal experience to others. And who knows? With advances in bush technology and the competitive nature of climbers, we'll probably see difficulties pushed to BW6 and beyond. And there just HAVE to be some Grade VII's out there!

So come on, folks! The next time you report a mountaineering trip that involves green hell, use the Cascade Brush and Bushwhack Rating System to tell others about it. They'll be glad you did!

Mark Dale is a Washington climber, skier and paraglider pilot and a recovering brush abuser.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Backcountry Skiing - Winter Dates Now Online!

AAI's Washington Backcountry Ski course dates (and prices) are now online! Check out our brand new program pages:

Introduction to Backcountry Skiing for Intermediate and Beginner Skiers

Guided Ski Ascents and Tours in Washington

Avalanche and Backcountry Ski Combination Course

Ski Mountaineering in the North Cascades

The snow is just starting to accumulate in the Mount Baker backcountry and we are stoked to begin our winter season. Please call us if you have any questions or wish to make a reservation (360-671-1505) or you can simply register online.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Route Profile - Inspiration Peak's East Ridge

The East Ridge of Inspiration Peak is another of the endless first ascent gems picked off by Fred Beckey. Many consider it to be both one of the best rock routes in the Picket Range, a sub-range of Washington's Cascades, as well as one of the more dramatic summits in North America.

Inspiration Peak is the "M" shape peak at center.
The East Ridge is the right-hand skyline.

The Picket Range is infamous and for a good reason. The approaches are long, steep and involve substantial, ahem, "cross country travel" (read gnarly bushwacking) and there are no easy routes to any summit. But, as most Cascade climbers often tell themselves, the harder the work the greater the reward. I am still not sure there is truth in that, but we have to justify the insanity somehow.

Andy Niskanen approaching Inspiration Peak in Terror Basin.

Although the first ascent was done in a blitz, ahead of it's time for its vision and tactics, most parties climb the East Ridge of Inspiration in a three day weekend. One day for the approach, one day for the climb, and one day to lick your wounds...I mean descend.

Over the last few years the standard approach into the southern part of the Picket Range has become more established. Most of the year there is a fairly well defined climber's track into the Terror Basin which is where most parties camp for the East Ridge. From Terror Basin, the final approach is across glacier scoured slabs and eventually onto the Terror Glacier below the South Face of Inspiration.

Resting weary bones after a long approach into Terror
Basin with the southern Pickets in the distance.

The route actually starts at the base of the south face before you gain a col and the start of the East Ridge proper. Once you are established on the ridge, the exposure is breathtaking, and the climbing is on incredibly sound rock. There are two highlights to the route: a perfect 5.9 handcrack and the final traverse across the summit ridge.

From the tiny summit, you can see the entire Pickett Range and most of the North Cascades with immense drops on every side of your airy perch. The descent is made mostly by rappelling down the West Ridge, a much lower quality route.

On the Terror Glacier below Inspiration Peak on summit day.

For climbers looking for a less technical objective deep in the heart of the Cascades, West McMillan Spire is right next door and it's West Ridge is a classic class 4 scramble.

If remote adventures in wild settings and sharp summits interest you, consider joining us for a technical route route or scramble in the Pickett Range this summer.

Coley Gentzel
Program Coordinator and Guide, AAI

Leading the spectacular hand crack below the summit ridge.

Just below the summit of Inspiration Peak.

Andy Niskanen paying tribute to David Hasselhof on the summit of Inspiration.

Inspiration and the southern Pickett's from Terror Basin.

Sunset and the Chopping Block from Terror Basin.

November and December Climbing Events

--October 24 -- Joshua Tree, CA -- 11th Annual Climb Smart

--October 25 -- New River Gorge, WV -- Deadpoint Magazine Kickoff Party

--October 29 -- Yakima, WA -- Skiing the Cascade Crest

--November 5 -- Seattle, WA -- AK the Hard Way

--November 6-8 -- Boulder, CO -- Adventure Film Festival

--November 8 -- Seattle, WA -- Northwest Snow and Avalanche Summit

--November 10 -- Beaverton, OR -- Wayne Wallace Picketts Slideshow

--November 14 -- Seattle, WA -- Yosemite in the 60s

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

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

--November 22 -- Bellevue, WA -- Ski Mountaineering in the Central Caucasus

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

--November 30 -- Contest -- Defenders of Wildlife Writing Contest

--December 2 -- Bellingham, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour

--December 3-5 -- Seattle, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour

--December 11-13 -- Mora, MN -- Sandstone Ice Festival

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Murder of the Impossible

In 1971, Reinhold Messner was already a well-known alpinist. So when he wrote an essay that became one of the most heavily quoted and debated pieces of writing in climbing's history, people paid attention. In 1971, Messner wrote, The Murder of the Impossible.

Reinhold Messner

Messner became one of the most well-known alpinists in the world after he became the first person to summit Mount Everest without Oxygen in 1978 and then the first person climb all 14 8000 meter peaks in 1986. These accomplishments culminated to make him an important voice in the world of climbing. It also served to keep his essay alive and under constant scruitny.

Following are a series of select incendiary quotes from the essay. Some of the most quoted parts have been highlighted:

Expansion bolts are taken for granted nowadays; they are kept to hand just in case some difficulty cannot be overcome by ordinary methods. Today's climber doesn't want to cut himself off from the possibility of retreat: he carries his courage in his rucksack, in the form of bolts and equipment. Rock faces are no longer overcome by climbing skill, but are humbled, pitch by pitch, by methodical manual labor; what isn't done today will be done tomorrow. Free-climbing routes are dangerous, so the are protected by pegs. Ambitions are no longer built on skill, but on equipment and the length of time available. The decisive factor isn't courage, but technique; an ascent may take days and days, and the pegs and bolts counted in the hundreds. Retreat has become dishonorable, because everyone knows now that a combination of bolts and singlemindedness will get you up anything, even the most repulsive-looking direttissima.

Times change, and with them concepts and values. Faith in equipment has replaced faith in oneself; a team is admired for the number of bivouacs it makes, while the courage of those who still climb "free" is derided as a manifestation of lack of conscientiousness.

Who has polluted the pure spring of mountaineering?

"Impossible": it doesn't exist anymore. The dragon is dead, poisoned, and the hero Siegfried is unemployed. Not anyone can work on a rock face, using tools to bend it to his own idea of possibility.

Anyone who doesn't play ball is laughed at for daring take a stand against current opinion. The plumbline generation has already consolidated itself and has thoughtlessly killed the ideal of the impossible. Anyone who doesn't oppose this makes himself an accomplice of the murderers.

I'm worried about that dead dragon: we should do something before the impossible is finally interred. We have hurled ourselves, in a fury of pegs and bolts, on increasingly savage rock faces: the next generation will have to know how to free itself from all these unnecessary trappings. We have learned from the plumbline routes; our successors will once again have to reach the summits by other routes. It's time we repaid our debts and searched again for the limits of possibility - for we must have such limits if we are going to use the virtue of courage to approach them. And we must reach them. Where else will be able to find refuge in our flight from the oppression of everyday humdrum routine? In the Himalaya? In the Andes? Yes certainly if we can get there; but for most of us there'll only be these old Alps.

So let's save the dragon; and in the future let's follow the road that past climbers marked out. I'm convinced it's still the right one.

Put on your boots and get going. If you've got a companion, take a rope with you and a couple of pitons for your belays, but nothing else. I'm already on my way, ready for anything - even for retreat, if I meet the impossible. I'm not going to be killing any dragons, but if anyone wants to come with me, we'll go to the top together on the routes we can do without branding ourselves murderers.

So thirty-seven years later, we have to ask whether or not the impossible has been murdered? Has the advent and popularity of sport climbing changed the way that we think of climbing? How about aid climbing? What about mixed climbing? We've seen ascent after ascent over the last few years that required such a high level of commitment and technical ability, that it's hard to say that the impossible has been murdered.

On the other hand, imagine a route up a blank rock face where every four feet there is a bolt. Anybody could climb such a route using aid techniques. This would definitely fit into Messner's description of the murder of the impossible. But now imagine that same route with a bolt every seven feet. There might be climbers out there who could climb such a route and then again there might not...

Most climbers don't think about whether or not they are murdering the impossible with their techniques. Most are just out there to have a good time and maybe do something cool.

The reality is that the introduction of 5.15 into the grade system and wild expeditions to the edges of the Earth continue to show us that every generation of climbers has a new "impossible" to overcome. As long as we continue to follow the ethics of a given area or range, meeting the impossible on its own terms will always be possible...

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, October 19, 2008

AAI Guide Dawn Glanc Receives AMGA President's Award

Each year, the President of the AMGA selects someone in recognition of their guiding, their skill, and their love of the mountains. This President's Award is presented at the Award Ceremony, which takes place each year at the American Mountain Guides Association annual meeting. Other awards presented are the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Outstanding Guide Award. (In 2006, AAI Guide Tim Connelly won the Outstanding Guide Award.)

Dawn Glanc, along with three other climbers (Matt Farmer, Kevin Mahoney, and Bayard Russell) was awarded for her commitment and contribution to the profession of mountain guiding through her effort on The Big Expedition for Cancer Research. The Big Expedition was intended to show that seemingly insurmountable challenges are attainable and that they can lead to successes - such as finding a cure for cancer.

Congratulations Dawn!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

Nobody doubts that it's fall. The leaves are changing in Washington and our summer programs are at an end. Rock climbing in the Southwest has started in earnest and up here, we're just waiting for there to be enough new snow to strap on the skis and make it happen.

As it is rock climbing season in certain parts of the country, we had to throw in a rock video. But as we're jonesin' for the steeps, obviously we had to put in a ski video too.

Okay, okay, okay... I know most people who check out this blog are not that into bouldering, but this video is really cool. As Dana in the office put it, "it just makes me want to get outside. Check it out!

Red Chili Journey Series - Magic Wood from Red Chili on Vimeo.

And speaking of getting outside, the snow is starting to fly around the country. People are feeling some serious psyche for skiing. We found this spectacular trailer online for Powderwhore productions newest film, The Pact. This will definately get you stoked for blue skies and deep pow!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Alpinist Magazine to Suspend Operations!

From the Alpinist website:

Jackson, Wyoming — October 16, 2008 — Alpinist LLC, which publishes the climbing magazine Alpinist, runs the website and produces The Alpinist Film Festival, announced today that the October 2008 financial crisis has forced them to suspend operations.

Founded in 2002 by Marc Ewing and Christian Beckwith, Alpinist began in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as an archival-quality publication dedicated to world alpinism and adventure climbing. The quarterly quickly gained a reputation for both superior writing and beautiful photography; by 2004, Italian climbing legend Reinhold Messner called it, "The best climbing magazine in the world today." Alpinist went on to win numerous awards; in March 2005 it was featured in a seven-page article in Outside Magazine ("The Purists") that explored its impact on American climbing.

Alpinist's website,, attracted more than 50,000 unique visitors per month. Breaking news, weekly features, video, and desktop wallpaper images were complemented by reader's blogs and gear reviews, creating a site that thousands of climbers turned to daily for both information and entertainment.

In 2004, Beckwith founded The Barry Corbet Film Festival in honor of cinematographer and adventure legend Barry Corbet. In 2005, the event was folded into Alpinist LLC as The Alpinist Film Festival (AFF). By 2008, the AFF, held each winter in Jackson, had grown to a four-day annual event that attracted more than 3,000 people each year. In 2008, the AFF began touring; events in Bend, OR; Bozeman, MT; and Boulder, CO, exported signature elements of the master festival, such as cocktail hours and live DJs, to create a fun gathering for adventure communities across the West.

"We're extremely proud of what we've been able to accomplish in the six and a half years since we started," said Publisher Ewing from his home in Chicago. "There hasn't been a publication like Alpinist since Ascent"—the iconic climbing publication that emerged from the 1960s to inspire a generation of climbers—"and our readers have been our lifeblood. We owe them everything."

"It's incredibly sad to close after working so hard for so many years," said Editor-in-Chief Christian Beckwith. "That being said, I'm deeply proud of our team for putting out twenty-five great issues, the film festival has been a blast, and I'm honored to have shared all this work and creation with our community. I'll always look back on Alpinist with joy."

Exploration of the options for the various Alpinist businesses are underway. Details will be made available on when they are finalized.

Climbing and Failure

Since long before I started guiding, I kept a journal of my ascents. I noted how many days it took to do a mountain route and who I did it with. I also noted how many times it took to get up an alpine route or a hard rock climb. Over the years this journal become an invaluable resource. I am now able to take that information and see patterns and statistics. And perhaps the most pertinent pattern is my success rate.

On non-guided alpine climbs I summit approximately 67 percent of the time or two thirds of the time. On rock climbs that are at or slightly above the limits of my skill, I fail approximately 80 percent of the time.

On Toqllaraju (19,790 ft.) in Peru. I was sick when we climbed this
and wasn't sure it would go...but we summited!

(Photo by Andrew Wexler)

Anecdotal evidence indicates that these types of statics are the norm for climbers who "get-after-it." Failure to summit or failure to complete your rock climb without falling are major elements of the game. Indeed, one could argue that without the possibility of failure, climbing as a pursuit is meaningless.

Dealing with failure is a whole other ballgame though. Some people are fine with it, while others throw tantrums. When one's failure is the result of another team member, sometimes grudges are created and sometimes people treat the individual who caused the failure poorly. This latter response is completely inappropriate. Climbing is a team sport and if one person can't make it and forces a team to turn back, that too is part of the game.

Some failures can be chalked up to no one's fault (i.e. the weather crapped out or a key hold broke). Whereas others might relate to improper fitness, poor route-finding, a poorly executed strategy, or any number of other things. The reality is that regardless of what caused the failure, you still failed and you will still have to deal with the aftermath.

Long before I became a guide I attempted Mount Baker twice, before I summited
on my third time. I've now summited Baker 31 times.

Some people are not very good at dealing with failure in climbing. They let it eat away at themselves. "I was only a thousand feet from the summit!" or "It was just two more moves and I would have gotten to the anchor!" And while these sentiments might be true, they should not dominate your thought process. Mountains and rocks will always be there and there will always be another opportunity.

Climbers can't help but compare themselves to others. It's easy to look at high-end climbers and to assume that they're always successful. It's easy to look at somebody that's floating up a hard rock climb like it's nothing and then to assume that that's the way they were born. In both cases, these climbers failed on numerous occasions before they were successful.

By examining my success and failure rate I was able to see that ultimately I do tend to achieve my goals. In some cases it takes two or three or ten tries. But when one's mind is set on an objective, failure is a positive part of the process. If you have failed on a summit or a route multiple times, success is significantly sweeter than it is when you get up everything every time.

Failure is a major part of the learning process. I know -- through guiding -- that my success rate on peaks that I once considered daunting, is considerably higher. Failure has taught me how to climb those peaks. Failure has taught me how to climb a hard rock route. Failure has allowed me to battle through the crux of a tricky ice route. Failure and my ability to learn from it is what has made me the climber that I am today.

--Jason D. Martin