Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Anatomy and Strength of a Carabiner

Surprisingly, most climbers don't know the names of the different parts of a carabiner. In addition to that, many climbers are unframiliar with the strengths and weaknesses of this tool. This knowledge may be very helpful to an individual in both instructional and real world settings.A -- The Nose
B -- The Gate
C -- The Basket
D -- The Spine
E -- The Crotch

On the spine of a carabiner there are a series of numbers with a kN next to them. kN stands for kilonewton. A kilonewton is a measure of force, not weight; but for the lay person who is not a physicist, the best way to understand this measurement is to equate it to pounds. In other words, a kilonewton is essentially 224.8 lbs.

Most carabiners show a strength of 18-25 kN (estimated 4046-5620 lbs) along the spine and 6-8 kN (estimated 1348.8-1798.4 lbs) when they are open or crossloaded. The vast majority of climbers are not capable of generating 18-25 kN of force. However, given the right kind of fall, a climber could generate 6-8 kN of force.

Every climber must work to avoid crossloading carabiners. Pay attention to how the carabiner hangs off your harness while belaying or rappelling. Use your belay loop to ensure that the load is on the spine. And watch for situations where the gate to a carbiner might be compromised.

Carabiner gates present the most common problem. In the alpine -- especially in a crevasse rescue situation -- snow may get caught in between the nose and the gate allowing for the carabiner to be open at a nearly imperceptable margin. On rock, a carabiner facing the wall may be pushed open by a protrusion. Each of these problems are solved by careful recognition of the possiblity of a problem. Double check everything and use locking carabiners when possible.

--Jason D. Martin

January and February Climbing Events

--January 4 -- Durango, CO -- Durango Ice Festival

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

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

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

--January 30-February 1 -- Jeffersonville, VT -- Smuggler's Notch Ice Bash

--February 13-16 -- Cody, WY -- South Fork Ice Festival

--February 20-21 -- Dayton, OH -- The Adventure Summit

--February 21 -- Golden, CO -- AAC Annual Benefit Dinner

Monday, December 29, 2008

Avalanche course Jan 2-4: spots still available!

Ski season is in full swing now, and the snow has been dumping in the North Cascades. If you have any plans of skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or snowmobiling in the backcountry this winter, please make sure you have taken an avalanche education course!

This weekend's Avalanche Level 1 course, Jan 2 - 4, still has a couple spots available, but is filling up fast. The course is $275 and is 3 days long (1 day in the classroom, 2 in the field). If you would like to make a reservation, please call us at (360) 671-1505 or register online.

In today's news, there were 9 avalanche related fatalities in the Northwest this past weekend - read these articles in the Seattle Times for more information:

B.C. Avalanche
Okanogan Avalanche

The Worst Climbing Movies Ever!

For a non-climber, climbing is a foreign thing. All of the participants are adrenaline junkies looking for their next fix. This perception in conjunction with a serious lack of knowledge about climbing culture have come together over the years to provide us with some very bad climbing films.
You might think that there is little to no value in a poorly executed climbing film, but you would be horribly wrong. The value in these films is wholly unintentional. Most people can suspend their disbelief under certain circumstances. If there is something unrealistic here or there, we usually choose to ignore it. But in some films, it is utterly impossible to ignore the problems. They get it so wrong, yet play it so straight, that the films actually become quite comic.

The worst offenders take poor plot-lines, poor dialogue and incredibly ludicrous climbing scenarios and successfully -- though unintentionally -- weave them into a cinematic mess that is so unbelievable they seem surreal. Three films stand out as the worst of the worst. And indeed it is because these are the worst offenders that they are so fun to watch.

Cliffhanger (1993)

Synopsis: A high end climber and search and rescue expert -- who lost a friend in a tragic, but totally avoidable, climbing accident -- is forced to assist a group of gun-wielding thieves in their quest to find boxes of money scattered throughout the Rocky Mountains. Oh yeah, as this is a Sylvester Stallone movie, he does this mostly in the snow wearing a t-shirt. And sometimes he's even topless...

Cardboard characters, racial and ethnic stereotypes, and a script that is so unrealistic that there isn't a moment of the film where one doesn't laugh at the stupidity of the characters are all components of the vast majority of the Stallone films. This one certainly does not stand out as being different or of a higher quality.

Cliffhanger does have a few didactic moments for climbers. We learn that it is really not a good idea to shoot a machine gun at the cornice that you're standing beneath. We learn that we should be terrified if the stuffed animal in our backpack falls. And of course we learn that you shouldn't mess around with Rambo.

Suprisingly, the original storyline of this film was based on a true story. Climbing author, John Long, gets story credit for the film. In 1977, a plane filled with marijuana crashed in the Lower Merced Lake in Yosemite National Park. At the time it was winter and the lake was difficult to get to. Long lived in Yosemite when this happened and watched the incident unfold. It is likely that his original story pitch represented this true story, but was warped by Hollywood into a Sly Stallone vehicle which really is too bad.

Vertical Limit (2000)

Synopsis: A high end climber and photographer -- who lost his dad in a tragic, but totally avoidable, climbing accident -- must rescue his sister from a crevasse as well as from a crazed climber. Oh yeah, and he's supposed to do it with bottles of nitroglycerin. On K2.

A great deal has been said about this film in the climbing community. Indeed, it may be possible that this was the most talked about "bad" climbing film of all time. Why? It's just way over the top.

In the opening scene, somehow all kinds of cams and pins rip out of a desert tower leading to an incredibly unrealistic accident. Somehow they mixed up the party scene in Joshua Tree National Park with base camp on K2. And somehow, they thought that a mountain climbing rescue drama needed a few things to spice it up. It needed a villainous character who murders people high on the mountain. It needed characters wandering around on the glacier with full racks of shiny cams with no rock climbing in sight. And clearly to make any climbing movie realistic, you need to have unstable nitroglycerin.

A lot of people like to talk about leading man, Chris O'Donnell, and his radical running leap over a chasm high on K2. My question is, have you ever run in crampons? Have you ever run at altitude? Were that me, I would have probably tripped over my crampons while hyperventilating, thus falling down to the bottom of the bottomless chasm.

I know that I'm not the only one who noticed another problem with O'Donnell's portrayal of a world-class climber. Every time he talks to his sister (Robin Tunney) throughout the film it looks like he's trying to seduce her. It appears that O'Donnell only knows how to play one thing while working with a female counterpart on screen and in light of these two character's relationship, it's a little bit icky.

Vertical Limit was way over the top. Every scene was an excercise in excess. And every beat of the story seemed more unrealistic than the previous. It's likely that this was -- to some extent -- intentional. Film-makers often build action with sequences that are more and more dramatic throughout a movie. In Vertical Limit, this one-upmanship did not lead to an edge of your seat movie experience. Instead, it lead straight to serious unintentional comedy.

Take it to the Limit (2000)

Synopsis: A bad boy from the city -- who was in a tragic, but totally avoidable accident with a stolen car -- hangs out with a bunch of inept climbers who appear to have near-terminal cases of ADHD. Oh yeah, he does this to pick up a girl.

Famous B movie producer Roger Corman was behind this strange adventure. And ironically, even though it is a B movie, this film probably has the best script of the three. The problem is that with little to no knowledge of climbing culture or climbing itself, an okay script turns into an exercise in the ludicrous.

There are a few scenes that stick out as being over the top. There's the time when the hero and his girlfriend get stuck on a cliff approximately a hundred feet up a third class pitch with no way to get down. Then there's the time when they go "climbing" on a water tower; only to leave the hero stuck on top because he doesn't have climbing shoes. And then there's the time that they go toproping, but they give each other so many high fives when it's suggested that you literally wonder what they were smoking.

Perhaps the best part of the entire film is the rap. A rap, you say? Yes, a rap. Every time they go climbing the rap starts. It goes something like this:
  • Take it to the limit, the limit, the limit
  • Take it to the limit, the limit, the limit
  • Take it to the limit, the limit, the limit
By no stretch of the imagination is this a difficult rap. No, it probably took about ten minutes to write. But if one thing is for sure, once you see Take it to the Limit, you won't be able to get the words Take it to the Limit, out of your head...

Ironically, outside the climbing world, these three movies no longer have a life of their own. Clearly, they weren't just bad climbing movies. They were just plain bad. For better or worse, we're responsible for keeping these movies alive. I suppose I can live with that...

Trailers for Cliffhanger and Vertical Limit may be seen below. Follow the link to watch the trailer for Take it to the Limit.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you Stoked!

Happy Holidays Weekend Warriors!

I hope that all of you are enjoying the holiday season thus far. For as long as I can remember I've always wondered what Santa did after he was done making his rounds and now, after years of searching, I've finally found the answer. He hits the slopes!

Watch Santa shred the slopes as he makes a stop in Colorado on his way back up to the North Pole. I've gotta say, despite his initial wipeout, Santa has some serious skills for an overweight old guy.

Apparently when Santa isn't cruisin' the pow in Colorado he stylin' in the terrain park at Heavenly. Is there anything this guy can't do? I mean, besides lay off the cookies and milk.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Climbing and Mountaineering in Space

Sooner or later human beings will go beyond our moon to explore the solar system. And sooner or later, some of those astronauts will be drawn to the high cliffs and peaks of distant worlds. We can do little more than think about such objectives right now. But someday, perhaps AAI will run trips to Mons Huygens, the tallest mountain on the moon or to Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain on Mars and the biggest known volcano in the solar system.
As scientists make plans for a Mars trip, some are already thinking about the mountain climbing prospects on the red planet. Indeed, some even argue that it is a necessary step in the planet's exploration. Read more about it here.

In 2006, the Cassini Spacecraft discovered a gigantic mountain range on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. One scientist compared the range to the Sierras! I wonder how good the rock is... A report on this new range range may be found here.

The mountains of Venus were all named after the goddesses of different cultures. This planet, often called the morning star, might harbor one of the harsher environments for climbers. In the Cascades we worry about getting wet from a rain storm. On Venus, it rains sulfuric acid. If a storm came, getting wet would be the least of your problems. In such an environment, ropes would melt, slings would distigrate and all the cool stickers on your helmet would vanish!

Scientists believe that the tallest mountains in the solar system are on Io, a moon of Jupiter. There are mountains twice the size of Everest scattered about the planet. Although it appears that the geology there is quite active; and unfortunately active geology equals extreme danger to Earth climbers who don't need pressure suits or space ships to move around. I suspect that it means that it's a no go for future climbing expeditions on the small moon. To read more about these massive mountains, click here.

And as long as we're talking about inaccessible climbing, did you know that there is a gigantic mountain range under the sea? The Mid-Ocean Ridge System is the largest single volcanic feature on the planet. This massive range snakes its way around the Earth beneath the ocean. But I suppose that if the ocean were ever to dry up, people wouldn't be that psyched to check out the climbing. They'd probably have other things on their minds...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Book Review: Red Fred

Fred Beckey is perhaps the most well know first-ascentionist in North America. The 85 year-old climber and author was recently featured in the New York Times and still gets out regularly. Over the years many AAI guides have climbed with the octogenarian, but even more have used his highly detailed three-volume guide to the Cascades, the Cascade Alpine Guide: Climbing and High Routes.

The 432 page-third volume of this series -- often affectionately called Red Fred -- has recently been released by Mountaineers Books. Red Fred covers the climbing, mountaineering and high traverses that may be found from Rainy Pass to the Frasier River in Canada. This new addition includes 101 black and white photos with route overlays, 60 route topos, and 29 maps. Most of the driving directions, approaches and route descriptions have been updated.

Though there are dozens and dozens of valuable updates in the book, there are still a few descriptions that could use some clarification. Here is an example from the description of Lady Peak:

Make the probably difficult approach from the end of Jones Lake; the approach will be a classic bush thrash unless the ground is snow-covered.

What throws one off is the use of the word, "probably." It indicates a low level of area first or second-hand knowledge. Writing a guidebook with this much information is a monumental task. And no one can be expected to have perfect information on the thousands of routes and peaks Beckey covers. As a result, I am more-than-willing to forgive the author for an occasional ambiguous direction.

In addition to historical and first ascent information, Beckey's series addresses the geological significance to the mountains and sub-ranges of the Cascades. An unprecedented amount of energy was put into the geologic descriptions and the essays on mountain feature formation. Most guidebooks provide some geological history, but the Cascade Alpine Guides stand alone in the bredth of the information provided.

Fred reads Cosmo on a glacier
Photo by Aaron Clifford

Comprehensive guidebooks like this one are the most difficult to research and write. They require a great deal more time, more commitment and more running around than any other form of book. Beckey's books literally cover hundreds of miles of mountains. One might be able to argue that this compilation of routes is the most audacious, the most complete and the most complex description of routes in a mountain range that has ever been written.

Way to go Fred!

Fred Beckey climbing in Leavenworth
Courtesy of the Jared VanderGriend Collection

--Jason D. Martin

January and February Climbing Events

--January 4 -- Durango, CO -- Durango Ice Festival

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

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

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

--January 30-February 1 -- Jeffersonville, VT -- Smuggler's Notch Ice Bash

--February 13-16 -- Cody, WY -- South Fork Ice Festival

--February 20-21 -- Dayton, OH -- The Adventure Summit

--February 21 -- Golden, CO -- AAC Annual Benefit Dinner

Monday, December 22, 2008

Climbing in Cuba

Beautiful Walls in Cuba

If there's one place in the world that I'm pretty sure AAI won't be offering trips to in the near future, it's Cuba. Not that a lot of Americans don't go to Cuba, because there's a fair amount of US passports that pass through customs and immigration at the Jose Marti airport in Havana. There is no law in Cuba prohibiting Americans to enter and they don't stamp your passport.

As many of you know there's been a US embargo on Cuba since 1963 which prohibits US citizens and residents from spending money in this communist nation under the "Trading with the Enemy Act". According to the US Dept of Treasury "The basic goal of the sanctions is to isolate the Cuban government economically and deprive it of US dollars."

Fortunately I was traveling with a Canadian citizen who paid for the whole trip with Canadian dollars. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Now, for the best part. The climbing.

I can't claim to be an expert in many things, but if there were something that I could write a book about it might have the title of "Limestone Sport Climbing Areas in Communist Countries" or something to that effect. Cuba is my third such area after China and Vietnam, and it is a real gem (if I can manage Laos and North Korea, much to my mother's dismay, I'll have the quintet). There are a couple of hundred established routes in Cuba, mostly bolted with a few traditional climbs throughout the area known as Vinales. The climbing is on large limestone towers and mountains called mogotes that are riddled with caves and overhanging limestone walls.

The climbing history in Cuba is very young, with the first documented routes going up in 1999. On one of the first climbs in '99, the first ascensionists found pitons that are storied to have been placed by a pair of adventurous Spanish women who first climbed there 15 to 20 years previously. Craig Luebben, a renowned American climber responsible for inventing Big Bros (wide crack protection in the form of spring loaded tubes) was one of these first ascensionists, and one of the first people, along with a few Cuban climbers, to discover the area's potential. Since then, climbers from around the world have visited and contributed to the established climbs making Cuba a legitimate climbing destination.

There is a tradition amongst visitiong climbers o bring climbing equipment to Cuban climbing locals. This is because they cannot procure climbing gear in their home country, and probably couldn't afford it even if it was available.

There is a web site created for those interested in climbing in Cuba. This was created by Armando Menocal, one of the Cubans who first explored the limestone with Luebben.

We spent 10 days in Vinales while staying in a Casa Particular, the Cuban version of a bed and breakfast, owned by Oscar Jaime Rodriguez. This is the unofficial basecamp for all climbers visiting the area and for good reason. Oscar is the patriarch of a wonderful casa and has rooms for rent at $20 per night. It's a great place to meet other climbers and you can find all the information that you need to climb in Vinales at his casa. If you go to Cuba, find Oscar.

The downsides of climbing in Cuba are the mosquitoes. So bring your own repellent because it is not available in Cuba, or at least we didn't find any. The only other annoyance is the government, who assert a tremendous amount of control over the daily life for Cubans. They don't really bother tourists, because they are spending money. But they make sure that tourists pay as much as possible for food and services. There is a way around all this, and you can make a relatively cheap trip out of it, but be sure to get lots of good information before going.

Cuba is an amazingly unique place with extremely friendly people and rich culture. It is flush with great music, art, history and beautiful colonial architecture. It makes a great vacation that includes authentic culture and great climbing.

Here is a photo essay of our trip:

--Anonymous Guide

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you Stoked!

Last week we brought you a compilation of climbing falls which I am sure got your blood pumping. Since we may be getting the first big snow of the season up here in Washington this weekend I'll give you Warriors one guess what type of videos we have for you this time....if you said ski falls then congratulations, you can give yourself a big pat on the back. These videos are sure to make you squirm in your seat but let's face it, deep down there is a little part in all of us that enjoys watching other people eat snow.

The first video showcases Tanner Hall attempting to launch himself over Chad's Gap in the Utah backcountry. Unfortunately for him he didn't quite get enough speed...see if you can guess what he hurt in this crash.

You can't talk about ski crashes without one of those wonderful compilation videos. Those folks at Teton Gravity Research have no shortage of these, this particular one is from "Under the Influence". What is it about death metal that makes it the perfect soundtrack for watching people fall?

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Course - Avalanche Refresher

AAI is excited to announce a new program offering this winter: the Avalanche Refresher course. This affordable course is designed for those backcountry users who have some avalanche education under their belt, but are in need of a day in the field to practice their skills.

The course is $125 per person, and will run from 8:00am to 5:00pm in the Mt. Baker backcountry. Snowboarders, skiers, and snowshoers are welcome. All material presented in the course will be consistent with AIARE curriculum and the other AAI Avalanche course offerings.

We have four dates schedule for this season:

Jan 3, 2009
Jan 17, 2009
Feb 7, 2009
Feb 21, 2009

If you are interested in signing up for a course, please register online. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to give us a call at (360) 671-1505.

AAI Lore -- The Gear Check

This story has been passed down through generations of guides. Indeed, this is one of those stories that guides sit around the campfire and tell one another. We believe that this incident took place sometime in the late eighties.

Long ago a guide was doing a gear check at our main office in Bellingham before setting out on a six day trip into the backcountry. They finished going through all the clothing and equipment. The guide only had one more thing to check.

"So, do have food for the trip?" the guide asked.

The two climbers, a mother and her adult daughter, looked at one another nervously. Finally the mother responded, "yes. Yes, we have food."

The guide thought it was a little weird that they didn't respond right away. She also caught the little glance that they gave one another. So she decided to take a look at it. "Can I see what you brought?"

The climbers hesitantly unloaded their food bag. Inside, there was a long plastic tube-bag -- the style that bagels come in -- and it was loaded with six days worth of Burger King hamburgers.

Needless to say they stopped at a grocery store before going out into the field.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snowfall in Red Rock Canyon

One of the biggest snowfalls in Las Vegas and Red Rock in almost 30 years produced some beautiful scenery in Red Rock. It won't last long, but here's a few pictures that I took on December 16:
Turtle Head Peak seen while hiking up the Kraft Wash

The Cube in Calico Basin

Barrel Cactus in the Snow

Clouds above Calico Hills

Another view of Turtle Head from Calico Hills

A Snow Clad Mount Wilson

Bridge Mountain

Things looked similar on the World famous Las Vegas Strip:

To read more about snow in Las Vegas, click here.

--Andy Bourne

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Avy Report -- December 17, 2008

Avalanches in the News:

December 14, 3008 -- Man Killed in Aspen Avalanche
December 14, 2008 -- Woman Killed in Snowbird Avalanche
December 7, 2008 -- Police Launch Appeal After Series of Fatalities
December 7, 2008 -- Book Honors Avalanche Victim

The Avalanches in the News information was obtained from the AIARE website.

Northwest Avalanche Profile:

The following is raw information obtained during an AAI Avalanche Course. We are posting this on a weekly basis so that trends may be followed by those that are interested.

Region: North Cascades
Date: 2008/12/13-14
Location: Mount Baker Ski Area
Activity: AAI’s AIARE Level I Avalanche Course


Students used Skis, Snowboards and Snowshoes for flotation.

We found a snowpack of 90cm to 110cm (3-4 ft) found 30cm to 35cm of new snow sitting on top of a 1.5 cm thick pencil-knife hard rain crust. This seemed consistent throughout the Ski Area.

On N to NNW facing slopes with a 28-29 degree incline, all of the compression tests caused failure on top of this crust, under the new snow layer. This varried from CT13 to CT16 Moderate Scores at elevation between 4200 to 5200 ft. On a 29 degree slope a Rutschblock Test score RB5 with Q3 quality shear EB Release Type (Edge of Block = 10-40 %).

At 4300 ft and at 5200 ft on a 38 degree slope, we obtained a score of RB4 with a Q2 quality shear failure. This was characterized by a MB Release Type (Most of the Block = 50-80 %) at Artist point area.

There was plenty of new light-weight snow available for wind transport. This was clearly visible throughout the day with snow being transported to the top of south facing slopes on both Saturday and Sunday.

On steeper terrain (about 40-45 degrees) we observed two loose snow releases. We observed them on the NNE shaded slopes below the Table Mountain Chimney area. Both of the releases were probably due to the fact that they were located in shallow convex/concave terrain.

In places the snow seemed scoured to the rock from much of the snow cover due to wind and the poor anchoring. Temperatures were -14C or about 9F to 10F at midday Sunday the 14th.

--Richard Riquelme

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Free Avalanche Seminar -- December 17th

Join us on Wednesday night at 7:00 at the American Alpine Institute to learn more about snow and avalanche safety in the winter backcountry. This free seminar provides an introduction to the hidden danger of avalanches for skiers, snowshoers, and snowboarders.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at 360-671-1505. Or log onto our website.

We are located at:

1515 12th Street
Bellingham, WA 98225

There will be snacks and drinks!

January and February Climbing Events

--December 17 -- Bellingham, WA -- Avalanche Awareness Seminar

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

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

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

--January 30-February 1 -- Jeffersonville, VT -- Smuggler's Notch Ice Bash

--February 13-16 -- Cody, WY -- South Fork Ice Festival

--February 20-21 -- Dayton, OH -- The Adventure Summit

--February 21 -- Golden, CO -- AAC Annual Benefit Dinner

Monday, December 15, 2008

Highway 20 Closed for the Season!

AAI just received the following email from Jeff Adamson at the Washington State Department of Transportation:

Hi all,

We got 14" of new snow (bringing the roadside total between Rainy and Washington passes to 30"), but we didn't get any major slides. Avalanche Control tells me that's due to the -5 degree temperatures which is keeping it stable at the moment. At the same time, Avalanche says the only prudent thing to do is leave it closed. In a nutshell, it would take well into Tuesday to clean up the 37 miles of highway between the east and west closure gates.

Unfortunately, the next front is forecast to begin dropping what could be between 12 and 16 inches of new snow starting between midnight and 4 a.m. Wednesday morning. That snow, coupled with the forecast wind, will form an unstable layer putting the avalanche danger "way too high". The forecast then calls for a break on Friday, followed by another front on Friday night that will bring a lot more snow (described in the forecast as "mammoth"!).

On the bright side - the highway stayed open a week and a half later than last year. On the not so bright side - the avalanche danger is probably going to inhibit a lot of back country recreation between now and Christmas until all the chutes fill and dump and then we get a break in the weather. Check with the Forest Service or Park Service before you go.

WSDOT won't have anyone working beyond the gates and we'll no longer being doing pass reports for a closed pass. The links on the North Cascades Highway web page to the cameras at Newhalem and Winthrop and the backcountry weather station near Washington pass, as well as the weather service forecasts will still be useful as you plan your outings. Unless something unusual happens - don't expect more of these emails until sometime in late February or early March when the Avalanche crew does their spring opening assessment trip. Be safe, Jeff

AAI Guide Aidan Loehr Solos New Route

AAI Guide Aidan Loehr is currently working a trip for us on Aconcagua. He recently returned from China. After guiding one of our China programs, Aidan set out to do some personal climbing.

Initially, he made a solo attempt on China's Minya Konka. This 24,816 foot mountain is the highest peak in eastern Tibet. The first ascent of Minya Konka was made in 1932 by an American team. Since that ascent, only six expeditions have been successful the mountain, with a total of 18 people reaching the summit.

Aidan made a strong showing on the mountain, but got stuck at 17,500 feet. He repeatedly tried to move camp up higher, reclimbing the crux of the route three times, but it was not to be. The weather never really let up and the technical difficulties appeared to be too severe for a soloist.

Aidan descended and returned to the the Reddamaine region, hoping to solo a new route there. This was where the AAI team he lead initally made an attempt on the east ridge of Dogonomba (19,550'). Aidan tried a different strategy and climbed the west ridge.

He found the lower part of the mountain to be quite difficult. He was forced to climb a loose and exposed fourth-class ridge while keeping an eye out for rockfall from above.

Once he was on the snow and ice, the route became more moderate. He worked his way up 30-40 degree snow slopes until he reached the summit ridge. At that point he was required to traverse sixty-degree snow on a corniced ridge. Aidan indicated that the snow was quite bad at "inappropriate times." Snow conditions on the upper mountain made the traverse incredibly cruxy and extremely dangerous.

The summit of the mountain was unbelievably small. Aidan stated that, "I had to kneel on the tippy top of the mountain because it was so tiny. If I stood up and the wind blew, I would have been blown off and they would never find me."

This ascent marked a first ascent of both the route and the mountain.

Following is a photo essay of his ascents:

Aidan at the end of the AAI Expedition

The first views of Minya Konka

The Monastery below Minya Konka

The Ornate Windows of the Monastery

The Monks at the Monastery

A Tibetan Girl and the Monastery below Minya Konka

Aidan at Low Camp

Aidan being Artsy

Minya Konka (24,816')

Aidan at his High Point

Dogonomba's Crux
Note the tracks on the sixty degree terrain.

Aidan's Self-Portrait on the Summit of Dogonomba

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to Get You Stoked!

This week we're going to watch people fall. Yep, the scariest thing in all of climbing. It's the thing that makes your hands sweat the most when you think about it. And it's the possibility that creates the most adrenaline.

Following are a few videos that relish in leader falls in a number of different venues. I hope you enjoy your sweaty hands.

First we have a nice compilation of falls from last year's Ouray Ice Fest. Falling on mixed-routes with all kinds of sharp points sticking out everywhere certainly takes more bravery than I have...

This super short video is scary and was completely avoidable. It's lucky this guy didn't get hurt:

And this is my personal favorite. Dean Potter is trying to climb the Tombstone in Indian Creek. The moves are so hard that he can't place any gear. You'll see the crack getting wider toward the end of the video. If he can get one of those jams, he'll make it... But this is a blog about falling. So do you really think he'll make the jam? Check it out!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Naming of Routes

The naming of routes is a difficult matter,
it isn't just one of those holiday games;
You may think at first that I'm as mad as a hatter
when I tell you a route must have the most perfect of names.

When a climber makes a first ascent he or she secures a great honor. The climber claims the right to name the route. This honor has led to some very interesting names over the years. Following are ten of my favorites:
  1. Tammy Baker's Face (5.10c - Smith Rocks)
  2. Magical Chrome Plated Semi-Automatic Nuclear Enema Syringe (5.6 - Lumpy Ridge)
  3. A Dream of Wild Turkey's (5.10a - Red Rock Canyon)
  4. Meat Grinder (5.10 - Leavenworth - Yes, it's a crack climb...)
  5. Unimpeachible Groping (5.10c - Red Rock Canyon - Yes, this was put up in the late 90's.)
  6. Candy Colored Tangerine Flake Streamlined Baby (5.10c - Joshua Tree - Now called Illusion Dweller)
  7. Deck Chairs on the Titanic (5.9+ - Brown Cloud Rocks)
  8. Let them Eat Flake (5.12a - Reimer's Ranch)
  9. Be Sharp or Be Flat (5.10x - Catherdral Ledge)
  10. Smear Campaign (5.8 - Red Rock - Yes, it's slabby.)
There's a lot to the preceding route names. Some are intentionally funny, whereas others are descriptive. Some give you an idea of what was going on in the world when the route was put up and others give you an idea of what was going on in the first ascentionist's head when he did the route. The real art of naming a route exists in those names that are creative, funny and descriptive all at once.

A climber working out the moves on a previously unclimbed route.
This route became The Good Boy Scout (5.11a) on the Boy Scout Cliff.

I have had the opportunity to put up a number of routes over the years. Early on, I was primarily interested in giving routes funny names like Stuffed Animals on Prozac, Amish Girls Gone Wild and Don't Touch That in Front of Grandma.

As I got older, I decided that themes on walls were more important than individual names. I authored a new route next to a number of routes with the word "soup" in the name and called it Soup Nazi. There is a popular beginner and intermediate area in Red Rock Canyon called the Panty Wall. Every route on that wall are named after some form of underwear. My first ascents there are respectfully called Granny Panties and Tighty Whities.

Last year I had the opportunity to develop a new crag which we called, the Hamlet. Every route name on the wall is lifted from or is a literary allusion to Shakespeare's Hamlet. Routes on the wall include the likes of Goodnight Sweet Prince, The Play's the Thing, The Rest is Silence, and When the Blood Burns.

Back when I was putting up a lot of new routes I was always looking for name inspiration. That's part of the reason that I picked an easy subject for the development of the Hamlet. Recently I have discovered a new inspiration. I have two babies. One is seventeen-months old and the other is five-months old. I've repeatedly found that the things I say to the babies could make for some very funny route names. Here are a few examples:
  1. Time for a New Diaper (Definately for a scary route.)
  2. Don't Go Crying to Mommy (This route would have to be hard.)
  3. It's Jammy Time (This should be a climb that requires a lot of jamming.)
  4. Big Girls Don't Throw Oatmeal (or soup, or spinach, or pizza, there could be a whole wall.)
  5. No Bubblebath for Bad Babies (Probably a hard sport route that requires days of practice working on the route before it is able to be climbed.)
Anything and everything in life could potentially lead to a good route name. Indeed, perhaps the naming of the route is the easy part. Finding and climbing a new line is the real challenge, as well as the real adventure.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Postcard from Peter Kuhnlein

AAI Guide Peter Kuhnlein and his wife Lisa run a photography studio in Anacortes, WA. And though Peter is focused on his photography business, he still makes some time in his busy schedule to do some guiding for us.

We just received this fantastic and creative Christmas greeting card from the Kuhnlein's.
As a mountain guide with two small children of my own, I told Peter that I thought this was, "The Best Picture I've Ever Seen!!!" AAI Guide Richard Riquelme, who also has a baby, responded in a very similar way...

--Jason D. Martin

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Washington Pass -- Highway 20 Closed!

AAI just received the following email from the Washington State Department of Transportation.

WENATCHEE – A weekend forecast for 1-1/2 to 3-feet of snow, high winds and much colder temperatures beginning Friday has prompted the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to temporarily close the North Cascades Highway at 7 p.m. Thursday night, December 11th. Twisp Maintenance Supervisor Don Becker says, “Avalanche chutes can fill and release in as few as 20 minutes under the right conditions which is faster than we can react to keep motorists or our crews safe. We don’t want to risk back country recreationists getting caught in a potentially dangerous storm event either. We’ll go back in on Monday and evaluate conditions for reopening.”

Becker says crews will check all the parking areas between the two closure gates to “make sure everyone is out.” While the storm front isn’t expected to bring the heavy snow until Friday afternoon, “Having the gates closed Thursday night will keep anyone who didn’t get the word from getting up there and caught in the weather event that’s coming.”

Four inches of new snow fell overnight. “Rainy and Washington passes are 1,000 feet higher than Stevens and 2,000 higher than Snoqualmie so typically, they get more snow, sooner and it’s colder,” according to NCRegion Avalanche technician Mike Stanford. The key to reopening is stability of the snow in the chutes and that will depend on how much snow comes down and the temperature. Stanford says, “By Monday, we could be looking at avalanche chutes with firm and stable snow or dangerous layers of unstable snow.” If it can be reopened, it will likely take crews a day or more to clear the roadway for traffic.

SR 20 is gated closed between milepost 134, seven miles east of Diablo Dam on the west side of 4,855’ Rainy Pass and milepost 171, nine miles west of Mazama on the east side of 5,477’ Washington Pass.

The North Cascades Highway usually closes between Thanksgiving week and mid December, re-opening in late April or early May. The highway closed last winter on December 4th and reopened last spring, on May 1st.

Visit the North Cascades Web page:

www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes/northcascades that includes the opening and closing dates since the highway first opened in 197

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

To wag or not to wag...that is the question...

In many climbing areas and mountaineering destinations around the country, Wag Bags are required.

What's a Wag Bag?

A Wag Bag is a simple system for human waste disposal in the backcountry. These are essentially sanitary bags for human waste removal. They're not complex and there's no mystery. They're plastic bags that you poop in.

Access to places like Mount Rainier, Mount Whitney and the desert are threatened by an overabundance of human waste. In some of these locations you are required to use a Wag Bag or the equivalent. Of course, part of the pack-it-in pack-it-out philosophy is not just using such a bag, but also bringing it back out with you. These areas are also threatened by an overabundance of used and discarded Wag Bags.

The following description is from the Wag Bag website.

The WAG BAG Toilet in a Bag waste kit is a biodegradable double-bag system made from puncture resistant materials.

Each waste kit includes a zip close disposal/transport bag, a waste collection bag preloaded wiith Poo Powder waste treatment, toilet paper and a hand sanitizer.

Our non-toxic Poo Powder waste treatment treats up to 32 ounces of liquid and solid waste allowing for multiple use. It turns liquid waste to a solid for hygenic and spillproof transport. The Poo Powder waste treatment controls odors and contains a decay catalyst that breaks down solid waste.

The WAG BAG Toilet in a Bag waste kits are biodegradable and approved for landfill disposal.

Timmy O'Neil is often considered the "funniest man in climbing." A few years ago, Timmy put together the following video about wag bags in the Utah desert.

It should be noted that Wag Bag is a specific brand name that has become somewhat synonymous with backcountry sanitation. The main competitor to Wag Bags are the Restop sanitation kits. These work equally well.

--Jason D. Martin

December and January Climbing Events

--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

--December 13 -- Seattle, WA -- Seattle Ice Fest

--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, December 8, 2008

AAI Trip Giveaway at Banff Film Festival - Bellingham

This Wednesday, December 10, the Banff Mountain Film Festival will be shown at Western Washington University. AAI will be there with some freebies, and a big raffle prize - one spot on a 6-day Alpinism 1 course!

The show begins at 7:00pm sharp at the PAC mainstage. Tickets are $6 for students, and $9 for general admission. Click for more information on Wednesday's show. And click here for information on the Banff Film Festival.

Route Profile - Mount Shuksan's Sulphide Glacier

Mount Shuksan from the Northwest.
Photo by Coley Gentzel

If I had to pick one peak that would most completely and accurately represent alpine climbing in the Cascades, Mount Shuksan would be the one. Shuksan takes a striking form from any angle and every route on the peak can be considered a classic.

The most popular route on the peak is the Sulphide Glacier. The Fisher Chimneys and the North Face are also both popular routes that are among the best of their type in the range.

The Price Glacier route is listed in the 50 Classic Climbs book (Steck and Roper), but has fallen out of favor in recent years due to a dramatic change in the nature of the glaciers on the route. Once a classic ice face, the Price is now a jumbled mess with little aesthetic value to the climbing.

Shuksan's Price Glacier from the air.
Photo by Dunham Gooding

Mountaineering routes on Shuksan are unique in that all require a variety of skills to complete. Every route requires glacier travel, snow climbing, ice climbing and rock climbing to reach the top. All routes end at the dramatic summit pyramid, which by its easiest route requires primarily fourth class with a few 5th class moves.

The view from the summit of Shuksan is one of the best in the range. Sitting at the heart of the North Cascades, views of Mount Baker, the Pickett Range, and north to the Canadian Border peaks are completely unobstructed.

Mount Shuksan's Sulphide Glacier and summit pyramid.

The Sulphide glacier route starts at the Shannon Creek trailhead and follows an overgrown road bed for a few miles before winding through old growth forest eventually climbing into the craggy alpine forest and then finally talus fields.

Although the route is doable in one very long day for experienced and fit parties, most opt to go for a 2-3 day climb so that they might enjoy the setting on the way to and from the climb. There are great camping spots at the toe of the Sulphide glacier and at several spots along the route to the summit pyramid. The Sulphide is a gentle glacier, but not without crevasses. There have been numerous solo climber crevasse falls in the area.

An AAI team reaching the summit of Shuksan.
Photo by Alasdair Turner

The crux of the route is ascending and descending the summit pyramid which, by the standard route, involves about 500 feet of scrambling up a gully. Depending on the time of year, the gully can be nearly all snow, mixed, or completely rock. An alternate route to the summit and a good choice if the main gully is busy, is the southeast ridge of the summit pyramid which requires a bit more mid-fifth class climbing. There is some loose rock on both routes so you must choose your holds carefully!

It is said that Mount Shuksan is the most photographed mountain in the United States, and that is not hard to believe. The Mount Baker ski area provides a perfect view of and easy access to the north side of Shuksan. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see a line of tripods pointed at the peak on clear days. Whether you are looking for an easier ramble in a spectacular setting, or a challenging long rock or ice route, Shuksan has something to offer for every mountaineer.

Shuksan's Summit Pyramid above the Sulphide Glacier

AAI climb's Mount Shuksan as part of their Classic Guided Climbs in the Pacific Northwest Program and also on Part 1 of their Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership series.

--Coley Gentzel