Saturday, November 29, 2008

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

It's Thanksgiving weekend! And it's time to get stoked! So grab yourself a turkey sandwich and a little left-over pie, sit-back, relax and enjoy the show!

First we have a film that a few of our guides put together on the Spearhead Traverse in Canada. Most of the filming was done by Richard Riquelme and the stills were primarily taken by Matt Anderson. Matt edited the piece. The other participant was AAI senior guide, Dylan Taylor

And second we have a trailer for a new climbing film entitled, "Call it What You Want." We'll call this trailer something alright. We'll call it awesome!

'Call it what you want' Official Trailer from Dave Gill on Vimeo.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ice Tool Placement

The following video is a great tutorial for both novice and intermediate ice climbers alike. There is nothing more important than a good stick for a climber on steep terrain. Every stick should be considered a hold and must support your bodyweight.

The one thing that should be added to this video is one's need to trust the leash on the tool. If you have a leash on your ice tool then you should allow it to support your weight as much as possible. If you don't do this, then your forearms will flame out much more quickly on steep terrain.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Utah Climbing Areas Impacted by Oil and Gas Leases

From the Access Fund Website:

On December 19 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will auction off oil and gas leases near Moab. Once these parcels are leased and put into production, the BLM must build roads capable of accommodating trucks and other large vehicles. Oil and gas rigs will sprout up near many of Moab's most famous climbs, significantly scarring these famous desert landscapes.

Impacted climbing areas include the Big Bend bouldering area, Big Bend Butte, Dolomite Spire, Lighthouse Tower along the River Road, Echo Pinnacle, Merrimac and Monitor Buttes in Courthouse Pasture, and the Witch and Warlock Towers in Hell Roaring Canyon. These desert towers host many classic climbs such as Infrared, Dolofright, Iron Maiden, Poseidon Adventure, and The Window Route.

The Access Fund understands the need for domestic energy production, but believes Moab is well served by protecting its world-class recreational assets, which pump over $260 million annually into the local economy. We believe that a balance can be struck between the need for energy production and the benefits of recreation and tourism by urging the BLM to defer several key parcels slated for lease.

Please tell BLM officials-by December 4th-to protect climbing and other low-impact recreation by withdrawing proposed lease parcels near Porcupine Rim, Hell Roaring Canyon, Tusher Canyon and Courthouse Pasture.

Use the following official protest letter to voice your comments. This form must be used for correspondence with the BLM regarding this issue and must be mailed or faxed (it cannot be e-mailed). Due to the high volume of faxes received by the BLM on protest deadline days, we encourage you to send in your comments early.


November ___, 2009 [BLM MUST RECEIVE PROTEST BY DEC. 4, 2008]

Bureau of Land Management
Utah State Office
PO Box 45155
Salt Lake City, UT 84145-0155
FAX 801-539-4237

Re: December 19, 2008 Lease Parcels: 176, 177, 180, 181, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 196, 197, 216, 217, 218, 219, 221, 222, 223, 242, 243 and 244

Pursuant to 43 C.F.R. 3120.1-3, please accept this letter of protest regarding the proposed lease sale of the above noted parcels. I respectfully request that these parcels be withdrawn from the December 19, 2008 sale, for the following reasons:

I am a resident of ____________, ___. I [have been to Moab/am planning to visit Moab/currently live in Moab], and have specific concerns about BLM's December 19, 2008 oil and gas lease sale in Utah. I have reviewed the relevant parts of the recently released Moab Resource Management Plan (RMP). The RMP does not include a discussion or analysis regarding leasing and development of oil and gas in Porcupine Rim and Matt Martin Point, Tusher Canyon/Courthouse Pasture areas, or Mineral Point near Hell Roaring Canyon. The BLM should withdraw these parcels from potential leasing and at minimum conduct site-specific analyses and provide an opportunity for public comment before leasing these areas for oil and gas production.

Moab's Recreation Economy

The recently released Moab RMP includes specific reference to the Colorado Riverway Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) which includes the Big Bend area and Porcupine Rim Trail. The existence of this SRMA requires that the following parcels be deferred as access roads to these parcels and development infrastructure will violate the Visual Resource Management Objectives set forth in the RMP. The loss of trails (conversion to roads) and the visual impacts to this area would greatly reduce my desire to visit Moab and recreate in the Big Bend and Porcupine Rim areas. Parcel numbers: 216, 217, 218, 219, 221, and 223.

Tusher Canyon and the Mill Canyon/Upper Courthouse Pasture areas are designated Mountain Bike Areas within the BLM's Moab RMP and are closed to motorized travel except on designated routes. Rockclimbing is also a significant and longstanding use of this area. The controlled surface use stipulation for this VRM II area requires that the level of change to the landscape be low. Oil and gas activity in this area will greatly detract from the desirability of these trails and the climbing opportunities in the area. Impacts to this area from oil and gas development would greatly reduce my desire to visit Moab and recreate in the Tusher Canyon and the Mill Canyon/Upper Courthouse areas. Parcel numbers: 180, 181,182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 196, and 197.

The BLM should withdraw specific parcels located on Mineral Point adjacent to Hell Roaring Canyon to preserve the unique visual qualities of that area (parcel numbers 176 and 177), and specific parcels contiguous to Arches National Park requiring industrial access through the park should also be deferred (parcel numbers 217 and 218). Both of these locations are important recreation destinations in the Moab region and industrial activity here will diminish visitation and lessen the benefits of tourism on the local economy.

The BLM acknowledges that the potential for oil and gas production is low for these lease areas, yet the agency also recognizes that tourists attracted to Moab's recreational assets are a major component of the local economy. The BLM should protect Moab's unique recreational opportunities-and future economy-and prevent the permanent scars of access roads and industrial development. The BLM has discretionary authority to approve or disapprove mineral leasing of public lands. I have visited or plan to visit the specific parcels referenced in this protest letter, and request that the above listed parcels be withdrawn from the December 19, 2008, lease sale, and that these parcels not be re-offered in future lease sales.



Cc: The Honorable Governor Jon Huntsman
Utah State Capitol Complex
350 North State Street, Suite 200
PO Box 142220
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-2220

Red Rock Geology

The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area has a unique geological history. Throughout the vast majority of recent geologic history (the last 600 million years), Red Rock was underwater, a part of a massive inland sea. During this period -- known as the Paleozoic Era -- sediments settled at the bottom of the sea and ultimately turned into limestone.

The best time to take photos of the cliffs and mountains of Red Rock is just after sunrise.

Approximately 225 million years ago, the earth beneath the sea began to rise. As sea-bed sediments became exposed to the air they quickly oxidized. The oxidization is what was responsible for the red and orange hue found throughout the canyon. Indeed, there are places where one can see rust stains still spreading in the sandstone.

Throughout this period things continued to change. Over the years the area evolved into a broad plain. Approximately 180 million years ago the shift from sea to dry plain was complete. The area changed into a massive arid desert with mile-high shifting red sand-dunes. The limestone created by the sea still existed, it was just buried somewhere beneath the dunes. Over time these sand-dunes froze into a petrified state, creating the massive cliffs that now comprise Red Rock Canyon.

Mount Wilson in the Morning

Some geologists believe that the striations that exist throughout the canyon are the result of shifting sand on top of petrified rock. The lines were simply created by the wind blowing sand across the desert in a variety of different directions.

Beginning approximately 65 million years ago, the earth's crust was again changing the area. A massive series of thrust faults which extended throughout the west developed. This caused an unusual thing to happen in Red Rock Canyon. Older limestone layers of rock were thrust to the surface and pressed over the younger layers of rock. One can easily see this in Red Rock today. The limestone is on top of the sandstone. This particular feature is called the Keystone Thrust.

Red Rock Canyon remains one of the only places in the world where there is easy access to such a thrust. As a result, university geology classes from all over the country make trips to Las Vegas in order to look at, study and map the thrust. We suspect that they probably map the Las Vegas Strip during their free time as well.

Geologic history is always intriguing. At AAI we often look at glaciers, volcanoes and valleys that were formed by geologic events. But for many guides the most interesting geology that we encounter is not that of the high mountains, but that of the beautiful and every changing desert of Red Rock Canyon.

--Jason D. Martin

December and January Climbing Events

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

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

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

--December 4-6 -- Bozeman, MT -- Bozeman Ice Festival

--December 5 -- Ellensburg, WA -- The Fine Line

--December 9 -- Seattle, WA -- Siguniang First Ascent

--December 10 -- Bellingham, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival Tour

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

--December 12-13 -- Mammoth, CA -- Sierra Avalanche Kickoff Party

--January 8-11 -- Ouray, CO -- Ouray Ice Festival

--January 21 -- Bellingham, WA -- Backcountry Skiing Pacific Northwest

--January 30-Feb 1 -- Munising, MI -- Michigan Ice Fest

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Brief Discussion of Altitude Illness

Altitude illness is one of the most dangerous factors in high altitude mountaineering. It is incredibly important that all climbers who intend on spending a large amount of time up high take care to understand how altitude affects the body and the mind.

High altitude may be easily defined by three categories: High Altitude, Very High Altitude and Extreme Altitude. Each of these are defined below.

High Altitude: High altitude may be defined as elevations between 5000 and 11,500 feet. Given sufficient time most climbers will adapt to these types of elevations.

Very High Altitude: Though more than 10 million people throughout the world live at altitudes that range between 11,500 and 18,000 feet, the rest of us do not. As a result a variety of individual factors come into play when traveling to such an altitude. A climber's fitness and his age are both huge factors at such altitudes. Surprisingly, younger climbers tend to have more problems at altitude than older climbers.

Extreme Altitude: Elevations that exceed 18,000 feet are considered extreme. Performance at such high altitudes declines dramatically.

Denali is 20,320' and requires climbing at an extreme altitude.
Photo by Coley Gentzel

Death Zone: The words, "death zone" say it all. You probably should not spend too much time above 26,000 feet if you want to stay alive.

These definitions really don't mean much. They're simply an academic way to understand altitude. Your body will respond to altitude changes at every elevation no matter what the name of the altitude is. Some people will do well up high at extreme altitudes and some won't.

Thinner air and adaptation to a higher altitude results in a number of physiological effects. The first thing you'll notice is heavier breathing and diuresis (you'll need to pee a lot). As you notice this a million different things are going on in your body as you climb to higher altitudes. These changes include the following from

  • The depth of respiration increases;
  • The pressure in the pulmonary arteries increases, forcing blood into portions of the lung which are normally not used at sea level;
  • We make more red blood cells to carry oxygen;
  • We make more of a specific substance (called 2,4-DPG)that facilitates the release of oxygen from hemoglobin to the body tissues.

Acclimatization generally takes 1 to 3 days at a given altitude. For example, if a person hikes to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and spends several days at that altitude, their body acclimatizes to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). If the person then climbs to 12,000 feet (3,658 meters), the body needs to acclimatize once again and it takes another 1 to 3 days.

If your body is not adapting properly you may actually get sick. If the sickness appears to be getting worse, the best thing to do is to descend to a lower altitude. There are three types of altitude related illnesses to watch out for. Two of the three can be fatal, so it is incredibly important to monitor yourself and your team-members. The altitude illnesses are as follows:

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS): This is a common response to a rapid change in elevation. Symptoms include headaches and nausea. Usually this will go away after you hydrate and spend some time at a given altitude.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE): This is a life-threatening pulmonary edema that results from an increased blood flow through the lungs. Symptoms include wet sounds in the lungs, dizzyness, and sometimes even bloody sputum. Symptoms develop very quickly and the response -- to get the victim down to a lower altitude -- must take place just as quickly.

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE): This is a life-threatening swelling of the brain. Symptoms include poorly functioning mental abilities (i.e. confusion, fatigue and weird behavior) and severe ataxia (dizzyness). As with HAPE, it is extremely important to immediately descend with the victim.

In this brief discussion we were not able to cover every type of treatment for different altitude related problems and we didn't even touch on altitude drugs. To dip deeper into the world of high altitude mountaineering and altitude physiology you might enjoy Altitude Illness: Prevention and Treatment by Stephen Bezruchka and Mountain Sickness Prevention Recognition and Treatment by Dr. Peter Hackett.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

One of the most daunting faces in the world is the North Face of the Eiger. Today, Warriors, we are going to celebrate that face with a few clips from films featuring the mountain.

Some of the coolest footage ever to make it onto film comes from those who are working with IMAX as a medium. The following trailer is from a new IMAX film entitled. "The Alps: Extreme Mountain Climbing." And this movie looks very very cool...

If that last clip got you going, check out this one. This is more from the same film featuring the Eiger.

And lastly, here is a photo essay of a climb on the Eiger North Face:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Finger Injuries in Climbing

The hangboard.

It sits above the doorway in the office, taunting me. It sits above the doorway, daring me to train. It sits above the doorway, and stares me down. It sits above the doorway...

I can't help it. I'm a climber. It's in my genes. I have to hang on it. I have to do pull-ups on it. I have to climb.

But the reality is that hanging on a hangboard is not climbing. Hangboards are supposed to be for training. In truth hangboards are one of the best ways climbers have devised to obtain sports injuries.

I know only too well. One day I succumbed to the devious taunts of the board and began to train on it. I succumbed and pulled something in my ring finger.

A climber on the Boy Scout Wall in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Jason Martin

After doing a little research I discovered that I probably injured one of the pulleys in my finger. A great website called provided me with everything that I needed to know in order to get better. They indicated that I had a pulley injury in my finger and they identified three levels of pulley injury.
  • Grade III: A grade three injury usually involves a complete rupture of the pulley creating bowstringing of the tendon. Symptoms of this severe soft tissue injury includes local pain in the pulley, swelling or even bruising, pain when squeezing, pain when extending the finger, and most disturbingly those who get this injury often hear a pop inside their finger.
  • Grade II: A grade two injury is identified by a partial rupture of the pulley tendon. This injury is characterized by local pain at the pulley, pain when squeezing and occasionally pain when extending a finger.
  • Grade I: A grade one injury is characterized by local pain at the pulley, pain when squeezing and a sprain of the finger ligaments (collateral ligaments).

These injuries can be quite serious. Some people may require months to recover from a Grade III pulley rupture. has a prescribed method for treatment:

Go buy some TheraPutty! All orthopedic doctors and physical therapists will recommend putty as a tool for successful recovery. (2) The fingers generally receive poor blood flow so getting blood to the injured area is important. Contrast baths have had mixed results in the literature, but it wouldn't hurt to try. To do a contrast bath, get a bowl of warm water, and cold water. Put injured finger in cold water for a few minutes, then place it immediately in the warm water for a few minutes. Repeat 3-5 times. Finish with the cold water. This could be done after squeezing the putty ball to "flush out" the injured joint. Massaging the effected area can be effective as well. Start out lightly and gradually increase the pressure.

  • Grade III: - Immediately- Stop climbing Apply ice or cold immediately, no more than 15 minutes at a time (1-2 days) Take ibuprofen for 1- 2 day Keep the hand elevated Week 1-2 Don't climb! Don't immobilize the finger. Unless there is a lot of pain, open and close your hand often VERY light massage at the site of the injury. Concentrate on other aspects of your life. Week 4-8 Warm the hands by use of a bath or an electric blanket, then squeeze the yellow (softest) putty. Don't push it, if there's pain…stop. Repeat a few times per day. Go to Grade II Treatment.
  • Grade II: (Week 1-2) No climbing Warm the hands by use of a bath or an electric blanket, then squeeze the red putty. Don't push it, if there's pain…stop. Repeat a few times per day. Lubricate and lightly massage at the site of the injury. (Week 3-6) Tape the injured finger, stretch your forearms (this relieves the stress on the finger tendons) and climb the biggest holds you can find. Start easy, this will be the quickest way to recovery. If you climb too hard, too fast, then return to the start of Grade 2 and do not collect $200. Always stretch your forearms after warming up and prior to climbing. Start squeezing the medium to firm putty. Lubricate and massage the finger at the site of the injury a couple of times/day. Start lightly and gradually increase the intensity using very short strokes on the injured site. Go to Grade I Treatment
  • Grade I (Week 1) Tape the injured finger and continue to climb at a level well below your normal level. Gradually increase the stresses on the fingers. Stretch your forearms after warming up and prior to climbing. This relieves the stress on the finger tendons. Squeeze the medium to firm putty a few times per day. Lubricate and massage the finger at the site of the injury. Start light and gradually increase intensity. Very short strokes on the injured site. Expected outcome Take advice from a practitioner who specializes in climbing. However, if treated early and effectively, with an appropriately graded return to activity, recovery will usually take 3-8 weeks. However, if the injury is pushed beyond its stage of recovery, re-injury will occur and may result in a chronic injury that will require a much more protracted rehabilitation period.
AAI Guide Ian McEleney climbs up into the sun in Joshua Tree
Photo by Mark Allen

The best way to recover from a finger injury is to avoid getting hurt in the first place. Here are a few rules to live by:

  1. Always warm up on easy climbs. Don't jump straight onto the hardest thing you can get up.
  2. Stretch your fingers.
  3. Don't overtrain. If you are climbing hard then you should probably avoid climbing every day. Strong sport climbers will often climb every other day.
  4. Stretch your fingers again.
  5. Massage your forearms between burns.
  6. Stretch your fingers more.
Sooner or later my finger will heal up and when it does I'll train more consciously. The hangboard definitely requires a bit more care. The last thing I need is another finger injury to crimp my crimping style!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Patagonia Trek & Climb Underway!

Our first Patagonia trek of the Argentine summer season began this morning! Climbers started the day with a tour of Perito Moreno, one of the world's major ice flows.

Randy and Nick Solakian, along with photographer, Phil Starr, hiking around the Perito Moreno glacier.

The Perito Moreno ice flow is just a short drive from El Calafate, where our climbers met last night and got a taste of the local culture.

Enjoying great Argentine food and music at a open air restaurant in El Calafate. Photo by Phil Starr.

Our three climbers made their way back to El Calafate, and are now in the midst of a three and a half hour bus ride to El Chalten, a small mountain village at the base of Cerro Fitzroy Range.

Bust depot in El Calafate moments before departing for El Chalten. Photo by Phil Starr.

Tomorrow morning, Randy, Nick, and Phil will start the day with a brief gear check and orientation of their trip. They will then begin hiking to Campamento Bridwell base camp, located south of the Torre Glacier which flows between Cerro Torre on the west and Fitzroy on the east. In a few days they will be climbing Cerro Velluda below the east face of Fitzroy and then Gorra Blanca near the edge of the Patagonia Ice Cap.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ice Climbing in Washington

A few years ago, I was invited to participate in a segment on ice climbing for the public television show, Oregon Field Guide. Unfortunately for us all, I recently found clips from that episode on youtube.

After the producer called me, I got in touch with a few people who used to work here (Mark Allen and Gene Pires) as well as Alex Krawarik, whom I wrote an ice climbing guidebook with some time ago. Everybody was psyched to go out, climb some ice and be on television. A bit of the psyche drained away when we realized what this would really entail.

Though in shape, the camera crew wasn't used to long slogs in snow shoes. As such, it took us a long long time to get to the base of the routes. Neither of our objectives were in very good condition. Indeed, the route that Mark and I climbed was in terrible shape and took an extremely long time to send.

My favorite element of this video revolves around the fact that they put a microphone next to my mouth. As a result, while I'm climbing low-angled ice my breathing sounds as if I'm completely and utterly worked; whereas everybody else climbs in complete silence...apparently not breathing at all...

--Jason D. Martin

November and December Climbing Events

--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 Tour

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

5 Reasons You Should Climb Denali in 2009

AAI climber Will Baumann reaches the top of the fixed lines
on the West Buttress, Denali. Coley Gentzel

1. The State of the Economy.
So the rumor has it that the country is in an econimoc recession. Some have felt it, some haven't, but those that watch the news, listen to the radio, and read the paper are hearing plenty about it. We say, what better way to distract yourself from reality then to stand on top of the highest mountain on this continent? Nothing like a little personal accomplishment on a large scale to help you forget stock market woes!

2. Politics and Religion. I am not sure about other guides, but on my trips, one of the only hard and fast rules we have is that discussion on politics and religion must be kept light and short. If you've had your fill of Palin, Obama, he said, she said and the like, fear not, you can escape with us for a few weeks.

3. Denali Registration Fee, aka Money.
Another hot topic as of late is that there is a proposal on the table at Denali National Park to raise their mountaineering use fee from $200 per person to $500 per person in 2010. If you want to sneak in while the price is low and save yourself a few hundred bucks, 2009 would be the time to do it.

4. There is no time like the present, an oft used and sometimes abused statement that continues to ring true regardless of context. I have always been of the "use it while you got it" mentality. The reality is that none of us are getting younger, and so you might as well give it a shot sooner rather than later. Don't let, "maybe next year" turn into a decade. With regard to training, it is easier to keep up than catch up and if you have been maintaining a good base of fitness for a while now in preparation for something cool, now could be the perfect time to step it up and give Denali a go.

5. What Else are you going to Do? Take a cruise? Go sit on the beach for a week or two? Hey wait, that doesn't sound half bad. No really now, isn't 2009 a great time to change the scenery, check out what Alaska has to offer, and finally climb in one of the "Great Ranges of the World?"

Jaime Garis and an AAI team step onto the summit of Denali. Coley Gentzel

So now that you are thoroughly and completely convinced that 2009 is the year to climb Denali, the next question you might ask could be "Why Should I Go with You?" You shouldn't. Not without some homework that is. There are a lot of differences between services and programs on Denali. Our Denali program page details our approach to this climb and history on the mountain, including a wealth of information on training, gear, and the climb itself. Check it out and give me a call if you want to talk more about your qualifications and how those compare to the requirements for joining the trip.

Coley Gentzel
Alaska Programs Coordinator and Guide

AAI Gary Kuehn leads a team to the top of Motorcycle Hill. Coley Gentzel

A 2008 AAI team on the summit of Denali. Coley Gentzel

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Free Winter Clinics in Bellingham

This winter (beginning next week!), the American Alpine Institute will be running a free clinic series at our Equipment Shop. All clinics will be run by our winter ski and avalanche guides based in Washington.

Here are the program dates for the next couple months:

November 19:
An Introduction to Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding - an overview of required gear, skiing techniques, and places to go

December 10:
Avalanche Awareness Seminar - an introduction to safety in the backcountry

January 21:

Backcountry Skiing in the Pacific Northwest - a slideshow and discussion hosted by AAI guides

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

Welcome warriors to our weekend of weird. Yep, we've got a newscaster struggling, a robot sending and just to make sure our weirdness isn't too weird, we also have a couple of climbers deep in the Canadian wilderness ripping it up...

So apparently a sports reporter in Montana has a segment entitled, "How Hard Can it Be?" Yep, you know where this is going. In one segment he attempts indoor rock climbing. His white tube socks and red headband definitely did not help him to send. Check out this hilarious video below.

Okay, this one's a bit weird but also cool and very sci-fi. These dudes created a robot which can climb just about anything. This crazy contraption gives new meaning to the term, "sendbot."

Okay after that weirdness, we definitely need something to get you stoked. So check this out. This couple is in the Ghost River Valley of Alberta on a climb called Beowulf, WI4. The combination of the great music and the cool climbing is just what the doctor ordered to bring on the stoke!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Choosing a Solo Tent

Perhaps the most common question that our first year guides ask is, "what kind of tent do you recommend?" I actually remember asking that very same question myself as I started my guide career and I subsequently made a big mistake.

The first tent that I bought for guiding was a Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 which is a great tent. The thing is utterly bomb-proof, but clocks in at nearly ten pounds. Even when one splits such a tent with his partner, it is still a tremendously heavy piece of equipment. Unfortunately, as a guide you spend so much time in the field that you are often need to have your own tent for a little private time. During the summer season a guide's tent becomes a guide's home - a home that one carries by himself weighing almost ten pounds is an incredibly heavy abode.
Mountain Hardwear Trango 2

Every now and then I was lucky enough that our shop manager would let me borrow one of the one-man tents that we rent. I often borrowed the four season one man MSR Fury. This extremely heavy-duty tent is no longer made as a solo tent. It now only comes in a two-person version. This is a good thing, because the door in the vestibule on the one-man version was nearly impossible to get in and out of. One had to contort his body in multiple strange ways in order to get in or out of the tent.
MSR Fury

Many guides chose to go with small two-man single-wall tents like the Black Diamond/Bibbler Ahwahnee or the Black Diamond Firstlight. Others are big fans of the solo double-wall Hilleberg Akto. I personally hate single-wall tents in the Cascades. They often leak after a few years of use. And the Hilleberg tents have a somewhat confusing system wherein the tent and the fly are permanently attached to one another. This system often requires additional time to figure out when you set it up.

Personal prejudices toward the preceding tents aside, many of our guides have found these options to work exceedingly well. And it is important to understand that each individual has different needs and desires. Considering that, many of the options previously listed might work very well for you...

Eventually I decided that it was time to purchase a one-man tent of my own. I ended up with a very light option, but again something that wasn't terribly functional. I purchased a Mountain Hardwear Halcyon one-man tent.

Mountain Hardware Halcyon

There were three problems with the Halcyon. First, the entire inside of the tent was made of mesh. This kept the inside of the tent cold and allowed muddy water to splash in from below the rainfly. Second, I wasn't able to sit-up inside the tent. It was too short. And third, the tent was not free-standing, which is a huge pain in the rear. Each of these problems were enough to make the tent worthless on their own, but together they made the tent less than worthless, they made the tent pure garbage. As such, I got rid of it and invested in a much cheaper but more functional one man tent.

Approximately two years ago I bought a double-wall REI Chrysalis UL tent. This was a much warmer one man tent that allowed plenty of room for me to sit up inside. There wasn't very much mesh on the tent at all and it was completely freestanding. After all of my experimentation this was by far the best one-man tent that I encountered.
REI Chrysalis UL Tent without the fly

The problem with this tent of course, is that they no longer make it. And indeed, they have not replaced it with anything similar. Unfortunately, it looks like when my tent wears out I'll have to start a new quest for another one-man tent that works.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 13, 2008

November E-Newsletter

AAI's November E-Newsletter has just been released! Read about new winter programs, check out an article written by Coley Gentzel on "The Progression of a Mountaineer," vote for the photo contest finalists, and view the newest gear for the upcoming snow days.

Click here to see the November E-Newsletter

Click here to read Coley Gentzel's "
Progression of a Mountaineer"

Click here for the
Photo Contest

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Figure-Eight Follow-Through

The figure-eight follow-through -- also often referred to as the figure-eight retrace and the rewoven figure-eight -- is one of the hardest working knots in climbing. Most climbers tie this knot multiple times a day.

This short video shows one how to tie the figure-eight follow-through. The climber in this video does a great job of dressing the knot. In other words she doesn't have any weird crosses and the knot looks very clean. What she does a poor job with is her "back-up" knot. If you use one, it should be a single fisherman's knot which is also known as a barrel knot.

This second video shows the proper finish, but names it improperly. They call it a double fisherman's knot in this video, when it is actually a single Fisherman's Knot.

The reality of the so-called "back-up knot" is that it is not necessary. If your knot is dressed and there is at least one fist worth of rope sticking out of the end of the knot, then all will be well.

Many of my students tell me that after they related this information about back-up knots to the manager of their climbing gym, the manager wouldn't relent on his gym's back-up knot policy. This is not something to sweat over. If your gym requires that you tie such a knot, you should just do it. Some gyms have insurance policies that require this unnecessary step, whereas others have created protocol based systems that are hard to change without chopping through a lot of red tape. It is less of a headache if you just follow the gym's rules while you are there.

Some climbers like to finish their figure-eight with a "Yosemite tuck" or "Yosemite finish." This is common technique is accomplished by tucking the end of the rope back into the knot. The upside of this is that it can clean up the knot. The downside is that this technique may seriously weaken the knot if you use the inside of the knot as a belay loop. If you load the loop of the knot it is possible that it will invert, after which you will only have part of the figure-eight remaining. Some people cure this problem by passing the rope around itself before going through the hole, but that makes the knot a little bigger.

A Figure-Eight Follow-Through with a standard
Yosemite Finish.

A Figure-Eight Follow-Through with an
extra wrap. This is better.

After learning about this, many people ask why one might use the inside of the knot as a belay loop. In alpine climbing, a small percentage of climbers still use harnesses without belay loops. In technical terrain it's always better to have a belay loop, so those without one often simply use the inside of their knot. If this is something that you wish to do, it might be better to avoid all types of Yosemite tucks or finishes. Even better, if you're going to be on technical terrain, you should use a harness with a belay loop.

And lastly, this is a nice video that shows an overview of a few different figure-eight knots from the figure-eight family:

--Jason D. Martin

November and December Climbing Events

--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 Tour

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

Route Profile: Epinephrine

Many climbers consider Red Rock Canyon's Epinephrine (5.9 IV+) to be one of the best routes of its grade in the world. With over fifteen pitches of climbing, Epinephrine is a phenomenal route that places one in an incredible position high above the Black Velvet Canyon.

The chimneys on Epinephrine are behind the pillar at the bottom of the wall.
Photo by Greg Barnes from

Many look at the moderate 5.9 grade and believe that this route will be a walk in the park. The reality is that Epi -- as the locals call it -- is a route that includes significant difficulties that one doesn't often encounter on a regular day out at the crags. Indeed, the route is known for one major feature: a long 5.9 chimney system.

The first third of Epinephrine is dominated by chimneys. These chimneys are incredibly smooth inside. Some have even equated them to glass. It often feels that the inch at a time gains inside the chimneys might be lost at any moment from a mild slip or fall. Difficult passage inside the chimneys are exacerbated by the fact that the route is so big that a pack is absolutely necessary. To move through the chimneys one must drag their pack between their legs.

Climbing the Chimneys on Epinephrine
Video by Richard Draves

A climber in a chimney on Epinephrine.
Photo by Richard Draves

Once the first third of the route is completed, the difficulties ease, but there is still over a thousand feet to climb. The second third of the route ascends an exposed headwall which drops off nearly a thousand feet. There is a great deal of 5.9 terrain in this section of the climb, but the climbing feels significantly easier than that of the chimneys. The 5.9 climbing in the central part of the route is "normal" 5.9. In other words, it feels like any 5.9 that one might find on one of the shorter routes in Red Rock. This section goes significantly faster than the first section.

The last third of the route climbs a massive mid-fifth class ramp. One climbs pitch after pitch after pitch of easy terrain that slowly allows altitude to be attained. Finally after traversing an exposed tree ledge, one finds himself at the base of an easy scramble which leads to the top of Velvet Peak.

Red Rock Canyon is famous for its moderate (5.6-5.9) multi-pitch routes. There are literally hundreds of them. At the upper end of moderate climbing, Epinephrine stands out as a spectacular and unforgettable adventure.

Great Links for Information about Epinephrine:
Supertopo Beta (Best Route Topo)
AAI Epinephrine Trip Report
Los Alamos Mountaineers Trip Report
Team Jammies Trip Report
Trip Report from
Camp4 Trip Report

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

Well Warriors it's officially November! And desert climbing in places like Red Rock Canyon, Joshua Tree National Park, Smith Rock State Park, Zion National Park, and Indian Creek are alive with climbers. So today we have two videos...the first is will take you on a journey to Joshua Tree National Park for a little desert psyche. And the second will take you deep into the Alps for a little comic relief.

Sometimes it's fun to watch people climb routes that mortals can do. This video is one of those. We see a man and a rock and unlike many of those videos that we've put up in the past, the man is not superhuman and the route is 5.8. Enjoy!

People of a certain age have a real affinity for Bugs Bunny. I have to say that that rascally rabbit is kind-of an arrogant know-it-all, but he's still fun to watch. In this classic video, Bugs and Yosemite Sam race to be the first to summit the dangerous Schmatterhorn. During their ascent they run into all kinds of problems including rockfall, avalanches, and geographic impossibilities.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The In Between Time

Yep. It's here alright.

There are a few shoulder seasons here in the Northwest -- a sort of in-between time when it rains a lot. You can't really do anything in the mountains or on the rocks and the climber types are forced to step outside their comfort zone to try different things, all the while talking about the arrival of things like winter, skiing, and ice climbing.

The office staff working on new and creative marketing ideas.

Fortunately for us, this season usually coincides fairly well with the Halloween holiday, if you can call it that. And that is at least one weekend that we don't have to mill about with our hands in our pockets wondering what do to with ourselves.

I must admit to having been part of many of these "alternate activities" in the so-called off season. It can be pretty humorous to watch mountain guides and climber types try new and different things far from the scope of their daily lives. In the fall of one year, I took a co-worker mountain biking around Bellingham for a quick "something to do" sort of outing. Having been a few years since he had ridden a bike, it was pretty entertaining to watch him battle with the moderately technical trails. Even more entertaining was watching his bike fly 30 feet through the air after it tossed him into the woods. The next time we went bouldering at the gym and that worked out a little better.

So what do guides and climbers do when they are forced out of their mediums and into the city. Eat, drink, and be merry I suppose. The overly motivated types often maintain some sort of workout routine, but leading the active lifestyles that we do, the summer season often affords plenty of exercise and keeps a person fairly healthy. As such these off seasons can often afford some laziness, some indulgences, a few dark beers and some movie watching.

Assistant Director Mike Powers enjoying some sun bathing at the beach.

Here in the office at AAI, we are playing catch up from the busy summer season and trying to move quickly to update things like the web site, registration materials, the 2009 catalog, and to try our best to convince the boss that we are all super busy while we surf the internet checking the snow levels and freezing points, hoping for snow and ice.

The smart folks of course are the ones that run away. Like AAI Guide Kurt Hicks who is probably about 5 pitches up a wall in Zion right now. Over the years, the great desert migration has been a yearly occurrence amongst the AAI crowd. As soon as work here in the Cascades dies down, a mass exodus of sorts happens and swarms of quad heavy, pack carrying, shriveled armed mountain guides run to the desert to try and remember what rock climbing feels like in places like Joshua Tree National Park, Red Rock Canyon, Zion National Park, Moab, Yosemite, and many other locations that enjoy a more moderate fall and winter than here in the Northwest.


So, in the spirit of the season, here are some photos of various AAI folks trying desperately to entertain themselves outside of climbing.

Arts and crafts time at the office. Guides Kurt Hicks, Alasdair Turner, Richard Riquelme,
Danny Uhlmann, Forest McBrian, and Mat Erpelding represented in a fashion montage.

Andy Bourne shows of his musical talents.

Coley Gentzel and Lara Fountain enjoying a day at the beach.

Gary Kuehn experimenting with new cold weather systems.

Guide Scott Schumann on his way to salsa lessons.

Johnny Davison trying his hand at some fishing.

Coley Gentzel goes door to door as a cookie sales"man"?

Justin's wife, Justin Wood, Emily Znamierowski, and Ruth Hennings playing video games.

And the grand finally, AAI Justin Wood showing off a few dance moves.

As you can tell. We are all eagerly anticipating the arrival of winter and the next climbing and skiing season.

Coley Gentzel

Tuesday, November 4, 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. On the first Tuesday of every month we post an up to date version of this list.

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 Failure
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
Down Vs Synthetic
Expedition Sled Rigging
Glove Systems
Guide's Olympics
How Good is that Bolt?
How to Fit a Backpack
Human Waste Disposal in the Alpine
Important Glacial Features
Jetboil vs. Whisperlite
Mount Baker by the Numbers
Non-Event Feedback Loops
Popular Anchor Antonyms
Raynaud's Disease
Reality TV and Mountain Guiding
Rethinking the Camelbak
Route Profile: Inspiration Peak's East Ridge
Route Profile: Mount Whitney's East Buttress
Route Profile: North Ridge of Mount Baker
Route Profile: South Arete of South Early Winter Spire
Rock Climbing Styles
Rope Flossing
Snake Bite -- First Aid and Prevention
Snow Anchor Options
Somethin' About Nothin': Kelly Cordes on Alpinism
Steve House Rupal Face Clothing System
Steve House Rupal Face Equipment
The Best Route on Forbidden?
The "Burrito" Hypothermia Wrap
The Cascade Bushwack Rating System
The Coolest Place You've Never Heard Of...
The Dangers of Glissading
The Haunted Hut of Ecuador
The Importance of Being Prepared
The Murder of the Impossible
The Problem with Water
The Prusik Hitch
The Seasonality of Mountaineering
The Thankless Job of the Guidebook Author
The Worst Climbing Movies Ever
Toproping Sport Climbs
Travel Safety in a Developing Country
Understanding Fall Factors
Waterfall Ice Climbing: Cold and Scary or Quite the Contrary?
What's Up with Rock Shoes?

November and December Climbing Events

--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 9 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Pete Athans Slideshow

--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 Tour

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

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