Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Indespensibles

We all have them. They are the luxury items that you absolutely must have on every trip.

They are the indispensables.

In climbing, we always worry about weight. Every single item that we carry costs us energy, so every single item that we carry should be valuable to us.

I have a few items that are absolutely and utterly indispensable for longer trips. These aren't always the lightest items, but for me, they are completely indispensable. I always take the proceeding items:
  1. a book
  2. a jetboil and lots of tea
  3. a pee bottle
  4. down booties or flip flops
  5. good chocolate
I am terrified of tent time. I am terrified of knowing how many stitches are in my tent because I don't have anything but counting them to occupy my time. And as you know, sometimes the weather causes us to be trapped in a tent for anything from a few hours to a few days. As a result there are two items that I will always have with me. First, a book and second, a jetboil with lots of tea.

Books can be heavy, but they are literally worth their weight in gold when there is a storm. If you are in the middle of a novel, don't be afraid to cut a book in half in order to avoid carrying some of the weight. I often slice books in half and then put duct tape on the remaining spine to ensure that it doesn't fall apart.

I bring a jetboil with lots of tea because a jetboil can easily be used in a tent's vestibule. When I'm sitting in my tent for hours on end, drinking tea not only keeps me warm, but helps to keep me hydrated and occupied. And it tastes good too...

At the ripe old age of 36, I've become lazy. I do not want to get out of my tent at the middle of the night to use the bathroom...indeed, I don't want to get out of my sleeping bag. As such, I carry a pee bottle on most of my mountaineering trips. Men have it a little bit easier with pee bottles than women do. If men get really good at using them, they don't have to get out of their sleeping bags. Women usually require a pee funnel (something that most female guides consider an indispensable). The reality is, that I find a pee bottle so indispensable to my happiness on trips, that I would use one at home if my wife would let me. She doesn't...and has threatened divorce if I even think of trying to use a pee bottle in bed.

Early in the season I like to bring down booties. These provide a great way to get out of your boots when it's snowy. Later in the season, when I can camp on dry dirt, I like to bring a pair of flip flops for the same reason. These items provide my boots the opportunity to dry and my feet the opportunity to breathe.

And lastly, I find good chocolate to be indispensable in the mountains. Why? For two reasons. First, it tastes really good and I have a sweet tooth. And second, eating fat before going to bed can help you keep warm at night. When your metabolism is at work breaking down fatty foods, it warms your body in the same manner as light exercise. It's hard to sleep whil excercising, but not so hard when you're just digesting.

While I consider each of these items to be indispensable on multi-day mountaineering trips, I consider all of them to be completely dispensible on short, fast and light alpine climbing trips. On such trips, I carry as little as possible. And when I say as little as possible, I mean as little as possible. This may mean leaving everything from the toothbrush to the sleeping bag behind.

Everybody has luxuries that they consider to be indispensible. The goal in creating a list of indispensible items is to really think about things that you absolutely must have in order to be comfortable. And your indispensable list should be very very short...

--Jason D. Martin

April and May Climbing Events

--April 2 -- Seattle, WA -- Climb for Life

Climb for Life is a fundraising event for HERA Women's Cancer Foundation, a national nonprofit that aims to empower women, researchers, and local communities in the fight against ovarian canter. While Climb for Life events are designed to raise awareness of ovarian cancer and raise funds for finding a cure, they are also a great introduction to the sport of climbing, and its physical and mental benefits. Climb for Life and other HERA events are held throughout the country year-round. For more information about HERA please click here.

--April 3 -- Lincoln, RI -- Collegiate Climbing Series - Rhode Island

USA Climbing began the inaugural season of the Collegiate Climbing Series in January 2009. The first Collegiate Climbing Series is held in six regions across the nation with 30 competitions. Competitors in the series must be currently enrolled in an accredited academic institution.

Each Series will include individual and team competition. USA Climbing compiles and tracks both the individual and team results on their website. Each series will consist of four local regular season events and a regional championship. Individual awards will be given out at each local event. At the culmination of the Regional Championship, a team champion will be announced as well as the individual series champions. Registration is open on the USA Climbing website. The Schedule of events can also be found there.

For more information on the CCS, go to www.usaclimbing.org.

--April 4 -- Marquette, MI -- Norther Michigan University's Annual Superior Climbing Competition

--April 9 -- Seattle, WA -- Skip Yowell Slideshow and Booksigning

--April 10 -- Seattle, WA -- FONWAC Snoball Dinner

The Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center is ramping up for the inaugural Snowball Dinner and Auction, an end-of-season celebration to support NWAC. Join the party on Fri, April 10 for some good food, great auction items, shared stories and maybe a prayer for more snow in 2010! NWAC is facing a potential budget shortfall of over $100,000 next year. Come out and show your support for a service we all rely on to plan trips and stay safe in the mountains. More info and tickets click here. Buy them now...tickets will not be available at the door.

News to you? Sign up for periodic updates from the Friends of NWAC and get in the loop about avalanche awareness in the Northwest.

--April 17 -- Bellingham, WA -- Mount Baker Ariel Photography

--April 18-19 -- Shenendoah National Park. VA -- Shenendoah Rockfest

--April 18 -- Bishop, CA -- Buttermilks Clean-Up and Slideshow

--April 19 -- Duluth, MN -- Concrete Smorgasbord

--April 20 -- Seattle, WA -- Ken Burns National Park Film

--April 24 -- Rohnert Park, CA -- SSU CCS USA Climbing Comp

--April 25 -- Boston, MA -- Collegiate Climbing Series Regionals

--May 3 -- Lincoln, RI -- USAC Onsight Competition

--May 7-May 10 -- Carbondale, CO -- Five Point Film Festival

The 5Point Film Festival is on a mission to inspire adventure of all kinds, to connect generations through shared experience and respect, to engage passion with a conscience, and to educate through film.

On the edge between desire and fear, between the known and unknown, is a place deep inside us all where the spirit is transformed — pushed beyond its limit by our deliberate commitment to usher in something new and original. In this soulful place we are catalyzed to learn, expand and engender newfound understanding to inspire others on their journeys. It is this spirit, this thirst for adventure that the 5Point Film Festival celebrates and shares with the community and filmmakers that gather for its annual Festival in Carbondale.

The 5Point Film Festival is on a mission to inspire adventure of all kinds, to connect generations through shared experience and respect, to engage passion with a conscience, and to educate through film.

The 5Point Film Festival inspires us to explore wild places and to return with a renewed vigor to protect our natural world. Proceeds from the 5Point Film Festival, a 501(c)3 non-profit, benefit 1% for the Planet, Carbondale Environmental Board and other non-profits throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.

--May 9 -- Seattle, WA -- Skip Yowell - Founder of Jansport

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dance Monkey Dance

The following article written by AAI Guide, Andrew Wexler, was first published in Highline Magazine.


Nineteen ninety nine was not a particularly unusual year for Ecuador. The President was about to be thrown out of office, the country was defaulting on international loans, indigenous groups were rioting in the streets and the value of the local currency was falling faster than a 10- pound Loonie. As a first year guide with the Spanish verbal skills of a rock, the situation was not quite ideal for my South American debut.

“Mountains are mountains; it’ll be fine,” I reassured myself. Of course, I was wrong. What I learned quickly enough was that in South America, guiding the peaks was the simple part. Logistics, health and the reality of political and social chaos would end up presenting much greater challenges to a northern guide and his innocent flock.

What skill-set best serves a guide when working in an environment as reactive as Chernobyl and as unpredictable as a harridan? How does one operate effectively in places where roadblocks pop-up like ground squirrels, where baggage disappears faster than a pickpocket, where every morsel of food is a potential time bomb, and where the answer to every question is: yes? Obviously, guiding clients to the summit of a 6,000-metre peak requires basic skills: glacier travel, crevasse rescue, short-roping, ice climbing, hazard assessment and good route selection are all part of the job. But a skill-set will only get you so far in South America. What The Freedom of the Hills fails to mention, and what every guide new to the region soon learns, is of course, how to dance.

The Dance begins when the organized planner, the well intentioned if na├»ve guide, meets the indifference of a continent that seems committed to a state of perpetual chaos. The Dance involves a curious, if not baffling, mixture of improvisation, madness and demonic possession. It’s what a guide does when a roadblock pops up on the way to an intended mountain, and there are 10 clients looking at you with an expression of, “Okay, now what genius?” Where the only appropriate response is to mirror yourself on the chaos that you wish didn’t exist. The Dance happens when it’s midnight at high camp, and you find yourself lying in the snow, curled in the fetal position, purging violently from both ends, and a client asks if you’re going to be ready for the summit in 20 minutes? “Aww, this is nothing, just a little uncooked meat in the system,” you say as you drift in and out of consciousness, determined to lead the group to the heights. And if it isn’t already clear, dancing like a monkey is the only response when the airline loses your bags, the hotel loses your reservation, the bank has no change, and the ATM machine eats your card all within the space of a few hours.

If I had to bet on one time and one place being particularly challenging, I would put my Bolivianos on Bolivia’s Festival de San Juan. This local celebration occurs in late June and like any noteworthy party, the shindig involves back-to-back days with a surfeit of fire and alcohol. Traditionally, the fires are lit outside, in the hills, in order to keep evil spirits away on the coldest day of the year. But in 2006, the rules of the game were suddenly changed. In that fateful year, the staff at the hotel we were staying at decided it would be prudent to light a massive bonfire in the hotel basement. I have no idea how many evil spirits fled the establishment, but I do know that every hotel guest was successfully smoked out of the building. “Andrew, what the hell is this?” I was asked by more than one client as we huddled together in the street, fighting to stay warm. “What kind of a staff lights a fire in the basement of an occupied hotel? Why the hell are we staying here?” The Dance happens here, at the moment when the guide is confronted with the impossibility of translating the chaos into a coherent narrative.

There is no single word in the Spanish language that will get a guide’s attention faster than "Bloqueo," (roadblock). The mere thought of this word is enough to make a guide's back hair stand on end, for it embodies all that is out of the guide's control. Steep snow, hard ice, challenging clients; all these can be dealt with safely. But the Bolivian Bloqueo is a stubborn situation that often refuses to be tamed. So when our private bus rolled to a slow stop on the outskirts of La Paz one day, and our driver sent his son outside to scout, I didn't know what to think. When the scout returned moments later and climbed aboard, shaking his head and muttering "bloqueo, bloqueo...." I cleaned out my ears and asked him to repeat himself. "Roadblock," he said, "the bus drivers from Coroico are striking...." At this moment, faced with only one choice, I stepped off the bus, put on my dancing shoes, and began to move to the beat of an imaginary tribal drum. In this lucid and flexible state, I spent the next hour gathering intelligence from various sources: the local ice-cream boy, the llama man, the soda lady, the chicken kid and other drivers, before formulating an ad hoc plan. Once it was determined that we could not A) ram our bus through the road block or B) take a side road around the obstacle, we decided on option C. Carrying nothing but our day packs and flanked by our local staff, we walked stealthily through the angry mob, around the roadblock, and hailed a cab once on the other side. Of course, that cab ended up breaking down but the next one we caught managed to work out.

You’ve got to be in the right frame of mind for South America. If you’re hell bent on promptness and organization, you’re probably better off going to Switzerland or Germany where you can spend your Sundays marching around the local parks. The Southern Continent has a unique ability to ratchet human folly up to the highest level, and the only surprising thing is that the Locals never seemed miffed. Don’t expect to manage the chaos. The best you can hope for is to ride it with grace. If you try to mould it or make it bend to your wishes, you will fail. Relax, enjoy the ride, and come ready to dance.

--Andrew Wexler

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to get you stoked!

Ahhh, the time is upon us again.  The time of week when we, the Weekend Warriors, can shed our work clothes in exchange for the respective gear of our favorite outdoor endeavors.  Since March is coming to a close and Spring has officially begun, at least according to the calendar, I wanted to feature some great Northwest traverses in hopes of getting everyone stoked for the coming Spring and Summer climbing season!  Whoohoo sunshine!

The first video features a traverse of the Northern Pickets of the Cascades.  This documents a trip up to Challenger then around the Luna Cirque.  If you're looking to escape the crowds this summer this is the place to head.  Enjoy!

The second video is the famous Ptarmigan Traverse.  This has been on my tick-list for quite some time and this video reaffirms why I want to do it so badly.  Beautiful scenery, lots of peak bagging opportunities, incredible vistas, wildlife sightings, the list goes on and on....

Friday, March 27, 2009

Red Rock Rendezvous 2009

This was my first year joining all the AAIers at Rendezvous, and I didn’t know quite what to expect other than some hopefully sunny weather and a chance to see all our guides in one spot (a rare occasion given that they are guides!). But what I found out is that I can't wait to get back there next spring. Red Rock Rendezvous (RRR) is a huge 3-day climbing festival put together by Mountain Gear with the support of a bunch of sponsors – including the American Alpine Institute. AAI’s responsibility during the event is to plan for and provide guides for all the clinics that are run for the festival participants.

All the AAI Guides

AAI guides and athletes on stage for the opening ceremonies

On the first day of the festival, Friday, all the attending climbers are in clinics focused on teaching basic climbing skills – learning climbing commands, rappelling, the use of different gear, knot tying, belaying, hand and feet placement and general climbing techniques. One of the reasons RRR is so amazing is this first day. There are not many events in the world that teach people who have never stepped into a harness how to climb on their own.

Festival participants enjoy a water break during Friday's clinic with Andy Bourne

Viren, an AAI guide, relaxing in the sun on the Friday clinic

On the second and third days, Saturday and Sunday, the clinics ranged from rock rescue to crack climbing to slacklining to wilderness first aid. The majority of the clinics were run by AAI guides and professional athletes such as Sonnie Trotter, Micah Dash, and Katie Brown. Many of the clinics took place on the festival grounds (especially as the weather turned to rain on Sunday), but most were out in the Red Rock canyons. The canyons are breathtaking this time of year - everything is green and vibrant, there is water in the creeks, and wildlife (birds, rabbits, burros) to be seen.

Participants in a course on wilderness navigation - note the mild confusion on everyone's faces as they learn to use a compass to navigate the wilds of the RRR festival grounds . . .

A burro - I can't tell you how excited I was to see this little guy!

A few rain clouds approach on Sunday

It is a great opportunity for everyone involved – the festival participants, the sponsors, professional athletes, and our guides – it gives folks a chance to make connections with peers in the climbing world and for the athletes and guides, it’s a great chance to teach new climbers safe and effective climbing techniques.

AAI guide Andy Bourne teaching belay techniques out in Calico Basin

My role (I normally work as one of the program coordinators in the office) was to hang out at the AAI booth and talk to festival participants about what AAI does and who we are, and how we’re involved with RRR. Although I didn’t get to attend any of the clinics (next year I’ll make it happen!), I did get to do some personal climbing before and after.

The AAI booth - come and see me here next year!

Laura and Richard hanging out in the booth

Because we had 20 of our guides in one spot, we ran a few trainings for our guide staff. As I’m still a pretty new climber myself, I got to be the ‘client’ in Thursday’s training, which was super fun. We all climbed Algae on Parade, a four-pitch route in the First Creek area. On Monday, I climbed in the Calico Basin area - and tried out some of the routes detailed in Jason Martin's new book, Fun Climbs Red Rock.

Jason Martin, AAI guide and program coordinator, signing a copy of his new book, Fun Climbs Red Rock

Here I am starting up the first pitch of Algae on Parade

Ben and Forest discuss the finer points of guide training half-way up the route

Can you see the rainbow? The rain never seems to stick around too long in the desert . . .
Can't wait for next year!

-- Ruth Hennings

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bear Encounters

Prior to working as a mountain guide, I was a high school teacher with a lot of free time in the summer. The free time was great. I definitely got out and climbed as much as I possibly could. But I also had the time to pick-up a part time job in the mountains.

For nearly ten years, I spent part of my summer as a field tech doing fish habitat surveys. Most of the surveys took place in remote streambeds throughout Washington, Idaho and Southeast Alaska. And most of the time I was in bear country.

In the place where the bears get their food.

While the salmon were spawning...

American Black Bear
From Wikepedia

Needless to say, we had a lot of bear encounters. In Southeast Alaska, we averaged one to two bear encounters a day. Most of the time, you would see a bear fishing in the creek nearby. A loud yell, a hoot or a holler was usually more than enough to scare most up into the woods. Most didn't want anything to do with us. Most...

Occasionally a bear would be curious. They wouldn't run up into the woods after we yelled at them. These were the scary bears.

Bear safety is an incredibly important part of wilderness travel in bear country. And while bear attacks are incredibly rare, they do happen. There are a number of common sense safety tips that all backcountry users should be aware of:
  1. In the Sierra, never leave a cooler in your car. Bears in that region know exactly what a cooler is and what's inside. The result is that they will destroy your vehicle to get to the cooler's contents.
  2. Never cook or store food inside your tent. Create a cooking area that is away from your camp and use bear canisters or bear bags to store food. If you hang food, be sure that it is really hung in a way that a crafty bear won't get to it. Garbage should be kept with food.
  3. Campsites need to be cleaned well. Watch out for food microtrash that has a scent.
  4. Try to keep food smells off of your clothing.
  5. Avoid surprising bears. If it is difficult to see, make noise as your travel, sing songs, talk loudly or wear a bear bell.
  6. While bears are active day and night, they tend to be most active in the morning. Be wary if making an alpine start below treeline.
  7. Pay attention for hints that there are bears around. When I did fish habitat surveys we often saw fish swimming by that had bites taken out of them. This is an obvious hint. Less obvious is bear scat, tracks, areas where they've dug up the soil or even trees that they rub up against.
  8. Dogs are not welcome in bear country. Pets seem to arouse a bear's aggression, so leave them at home.
  9. Stay away from bear cubs and never get between a cub and its mother.
Grizzly Bears
From Wikepedia

If you do run into a bear, remain calm. Don't run away or otherwise provoke it. If you run, you may actually initiate the bear's predatory instinct and it will probably chase you. If it does chase you, it will probably catch you...so don't run.

Obviously you should give any bear that you encounter plenty of room. Make sure it knows you're there by making noise, but don't surprise it. If the bear is in your way and won't leave the trail, find a way to detour around it.

If a bear notices you, try to get the bear to understand that you are a human by talking to it in a normal voice or waving your arms. Sometimes a bear will come closer or even stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. Usually a standing bear is just curious, and shouldn't be seen as an escalating threat.

Occasionally a bear will charge. Most charges are bluffs and the bear will veer away at the last second. Do not run if a bear charges. Instead, you should stand still until the bear makes his bluff. After this has happened, slowly back away from the animal.

Polar Bear
Photo from Wikepedia

Some charging bears will be distracted by an item thrown to the side. If a bear is distracted by a thrown hat or trekking pole, back slowly away. Do not throw food for the bear to chase. He might like it and think that you have more.

Bears can climb trees. So climbing a tree to get away from a bear is really not a very good idea.

Many backcountry users carry pepper spray. It is important that you know exactly how the spray works before using it on an animal. Practice with it before carrying it. And never use it unless you believe that your life is in jeapordy.

If a Bear Attacks:

There are three major categories of bears: black bears, grizzly bears (called brown bears or brownies in Alaska), and polar bears. Each of these bears will attack for different reasons.

Black bears tend to attack when they are hungry. As a result, the old idea that you should play dead during an attack wouldn't be very effective. The bear will keep at it in order to feed himself. If attacked by a black bear, fight back vigorously, yell and scream at it. Try to scare it away. Try to make it think that you're too much work to deal with...

Grizzly bears are responsible for most of the bear-attacks and fatalities in North America. Usually, a grizzly is attacking because it sees you as a threat. It is in these attacks that you should try to play dead. Lie face down and cover the back of your neck with your hands. Spread your legs to keep the bear from rolling you over. If you are wearing a pack, keep it on in order to protect your back. Usually the bear will end the attack once he believes that there is no longer a threat. Lay motionless until the bear has left the area.

Obviously it's important to know what kind of bear is what. Your self-defense in an attack is dependent on this. Following is a excerpt from an article about bear safety by Darren Smith:

There are some obvious physical differences between the American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) and the Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis). Color, however, is not a reliable identifying characteristic for either species. Not all black bears are black in color; they come in a various shades of brown and may even be blonde. Grizzly bears range from yellowish-brown to black. When looking from the side, a black bear has a straight facial profile ( from the forehead to the nose). The same profile of a grizzly bear will have a dished out appearance. Also, a black bear will have a straighter shoulder-rump line, while the grizzly will have a characteristically large hump on it's back above the shoulders. The black bear has claws which are shorter and more curved than those of the grizzly bear.

While polar bear attacks are the most rare kind of attack, they are almost universally fatal. Polar bears attack because they see you as food. So there are three things that one must do in polar bear country. First, don't get attacked. Second, if you do, shoot the animal or hope that someone else does. And third, if you don't have a gun or bear spray, get eaten by the animal.

It is important to have a good understanding of bear safety whenever you are in the backcountry. A good understanding of the proper ettiquete and protocals in such an area could save your life.

--Jason D. Martin

March and April Climbing Events

--March 17-18 -- Tempe, AZ -- Warriors Way Clinic

--March 27-28 -- Bishop, CA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival

--March 28 -- Washington DC -- Fourth Annual Climb 4 Life

--March 28 -- Alpental, WA -- Vertfest

--April 10 -- Seattle, WA -- FONWAC Snoball Dinner

--April 17 -- Bellingham, WA -- Mount Baker Ariel Photography

--April 18-19 -- Shenendoah National Park. VA -- Shenendoah Rockfes

Friday, March 20, 2009

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to get you stoked!

Buenos dias Weekend Warriors,

In the honor of the Red Rock Rendezvous climbing festival I decided to compile a few "fest" videos.  These are pretty varied and cover alpine climbing, ice and mixed climbing as well as skiing.  A couple of the videos aren't official "festivals" but who cares...they're still super cool, and they have 'fest' in the name so that counts right?

The first video is from the 2008 Ouray Ice Festival.  This an incredible event that brings together the best of the best in the ice and mixed climbing world.  On an interesting side note, one of our very own guides, Dawn Glanc, recently won the 2009 Ouray Ice Festival...way to go Dawn!

The second video features a trip to the Wind River's in Wyoming.  The trip was into the Cirque of the Towers and was dubbed by the filmmakers as "Climbfest 08".  This has been a place I've always wanted to go and explore.  The peaks are striking, the scenery grand, and the climbing is phenomenal.  Enjoy!

The final video turned out to be less of a festival and more of a celebration of backcountry skiing.  Enter "Snow World 2008", an incredible journey into the beautiful backcountry of Washington.  This is part 1 of a 3 part series.  I would recommend sitting down with your coffee (or morning drink of choice) and watching all three.

Full Moon Skiing March 10-11

Once or twice each winter the full moon lines up with clear, cold conditions in the Pacific Northwest, so we took the unusual opportunity to make some powder turns while the rest of the world was sleeping.

It felt like we were going skiing in reverse. At a leisurely 4:30pm my roommate Ben and I packed up the car and left Bellingham for the Mount Baker backcountry. Passing all the other cars coming down the highway in the opposite direction, we arrived at the almost empty parking lot just as the sun was turning the Canadian border peaks pink.

We made the short approach to our camp where our friends had already dug an enormous snow cave. We dug a bit more out and made room for all five of us, then started on dinner.

Around 10:00pm the moon rose and the scenery went from dark to a surprisingly bright wintery lunar glow. Headlamps were turned off and we packed our gear for the hike up Table Mountain.

After an hour or so of skinning up to the 5300 foot level, we ripped our skins off and headed down the fresh powder. There was hooting and hollering piercing the otherwise bitter cold silence. After the first run we were so amped up, we all decided to make another run. By the time we got to our highpoint again I looked at my watch . . . 1:00am. It was so surreal to be there at that time of night. I asked around to see what time people thought it was and the estimates ranged from 11:00pm to 3:00am.

We finished our final powder run and made it back to our snowcave at 2:00am. After everyone piled into the cave, I decided to sleep outside. Poor choice when the temps were in the single digits. After a cold night, we awoke the next morning to skiers heading out for the day. We got a late start and went out for another tour, this time by the light of the sun.

It might not happen again until next winter that we get these conditions, but I'll be on the lookout for when the planets and weather align once again for the moonlight ski session.

- Andy Bourne, AAI Guide

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Michael Kennedy Named Editor-in-Chief of Alpinist Magazine

The following piece was published on supertopo.com, last evening:

Michael Kennedy named Editor-in-Chief of Alpinist Magazine 
Announces April 15 release date for Issue 26 

Jeffersonville, Vermont—March 16, 2009 Height of Land Publications, the independent publisher of Alpinist, Backcountry and Telemark Skier Magazines, announced today the well-known climber and editor Michael Kennedy will join Senior Editor Katie Ives to relaunch Alpinist Magazine. Issue 26 ships to subscribers, shops and newsstands April 15. 


Founded by Christian Beckwith and Marc Ewing and operated in Jackson, Wyoming, until the autumn of last year, the quarterly Alpinist features a timeless, clean design with minimal ads. Publishing only the highest quality and most authentic climbing art and writing, Alpinist portrays the essence of the climbing life, inspired by an ethos of beauty, purity and style, and a dedication to help preserve the natural world that makes all adventures possible. 

”My aim is to continue to explore the heart and soul of the climbing experience,” says Kennedy, “building on the incredible foundation Alpinist has developed over the last six years.” Widely known in the climbing community for his work at Climbing Magazine from 1974 to 1998, Kennedy served as an advisor to Alpinist since its inception in 2002. In over 35 years of climbing he has ventured far and wide, from pioneering Colorado ice climbs to lightweight alpine climbs in Alaska and the Himalaya, and he remains an active rock climber and backcountry skier today. 

Independent publisher Height of Land Publications was founded in Jeffersonville, Vermont in 2002 and currently owns and operates Alpinist, Backcountry and Telemark Skier Magazines. "Our mission is pretty simple," says cofounder and Height of Land Publications Editorial Director Adam Howard, "to publish about that which we live. Michael is climbing, and he understands little companies like ours. It's a perfect fit." 

A Wonderland of Glaciers and Snow

Northwest ski historian Lowell Skoog recently posted some interesting facts about the history of skiing in the Cascades on the Northwest ski forum, Turns-All-Year. Lowell has done a great deal of research on the history of skiing in the Cascade range of Washington state. His post on Turns-All-Year indicates that the he believes that recreational skiing on Mount Rainier began with an expedition lead by Milnor Roberts on March 18, 1909.

Lowell posted on Turns-All-Year because he recognized that this March 18th marks the one-hundred year anniversary of skiing on Rainier. Lowell has also put together a centennial event to celebrate the anniversary which will take place on March 22nd in Mount Rainier National Park. To read more about the event, click here.

The following article was written by Milnor Roberts after the ski trip to Mount Rainier. This article recently moved into the public domain. As such, I have reprinted it here:

A Wonderland of Glaciers and Snow

By Milnor Roberts, University of Washington, Seattle
National Geographic Magazine, Vol. 20, 1909, pp. 530-537

The Editor of the National Geographic Society recently asked the members to name those articles in the last volume of the Society's Magazine which seemed most interesting. Opinions on such a question naturally would differ widely, but it must be admitted that in the remarkable array of subjects treated some of the most striking articles consisted of illustrated descriptions of snow-clad mountains and polar regions. The remoteness of these scenes may add to their charm, but it also lessens our chances of ever seeing them. The Mount Rainier National Park, a wonderland of glaciers and snow in our own country, is so easily reached in summer that it is becoming fairly well known to travelers. A recent visit to the park made by the writer and a party of friends has shown that the slopes of Mount Rainier may be reached even in winter without discomfort.

The Mount Rainier National Park, of 324 square miles area, includes the symmetrical, glacier-clad slopes of the mountain and a broad belt of magnificent forest land around its base. In 1883, Professor Zittel, the geologist, and Prof. James Bryce wrote of Rainier:

"The peak itself is as noble a mountain as we have ever seen in its lines and structure. ... The combination of ice scenery with woodland scenery of the grandest type is to be found nowhere in the Old World, unless it be in the Himalayas, and, so far as we know, nowhere else on the American Continent."

The altitude of Rainier has been reported between 14,394 feet and 14,526 feet, placing it either first or second among the peaks in the United States proper. A difference of a few feet, which can be determined only by accurate measurement, is of slight importance to the ordinary observer. The noteworthy facts are that Rainier stands absolutely alone, is snow-clad throughout the year, and may be seen in its entirety from sea-level at distances of forty to one hundred miles to the westward.

The Cascade Range, in its north-south course across the State of Washington, has a general summit elevation varying from five to seven thousand feet, above which tower the volcanic peaks of Mounts Adams, Saint Helens, Baker, and Rainier. Glaciers still linger on nearly all the higher peaks, as relics of the ice-sheet which once covered the whole range. Many cirques of former glaciers are occupied now by fields of snow and neve of great thickness. The snowfall is heavy throughout the mountains, due to the chilling of the warm, moist winds from the Pacific. In spite of the glaciers and snows, the winter climate of the Cascades is mild.

The railway station nearest to the Mount Rainier National Park is Ashford, on the southwest, fifty-five miles from Puget Sound by the Tacoma and Eastern Railway. Camping parties with wagons or automobiles must come in from the lower country by the county road passing through Ashford, but pack-trains can be driven into the park by four or five other routes. The county road from Ashford continues up the Nisqually River for six miles, to the western boundary of the park at which point it joins the government road. The latter has a maximum grade of 4 per cent, and extends to Paradise Park, a favorite camping ground near timber-line, between the Nisqually and Paradise glaciers.

In summer the Ashford stages run thirteen miles, to Longmire's Springs, where there are two hotels. The road is open however past Nisqually Glacier and Narada Falls several miles farther up.

During the season of 1909 a temporary road with steeper grades will be completed to Camp of the Clouds, at an altitude of 5,600 feet. Eventually the permanent road will reach 7,000 feet, where trails will branch off. An automobile party leaving Seattle or Tacoma in the morning can pitch its evening camp in one of the dense groves of stunted trees at timber-line in the shadow of the great peak, looking out upon the jagged pinnacles of the Tatoosh Range and the vast forest wilderness to the westward.

On March 18 our party found three feet of snow at the National Park Inn at Longmire's Springs. On the morning after our arrival a dense cloud-bank hung a few hundred feet overhead. Frequent flurries of snow came drifting down from it, now in matted bunches of moist flakes an inch wide, again as separate crystals, these in turn giving way to little rounded pellets like dry sago, which hopped from bough to bough down through the evergreens. Our skis settled silently through the fresh snow, as we trailed up the government road along the Nisqually River, intending to break a trail part way to Paradise Valley, the goal of our trip. During the midday thaw, masses of snow clung to the worn spots on the sole of a certain ski in the outfit. After many gyrations and contortions had been made by its fair owner in removing the burden, she announced piously, "My soul is ready for Paradise," and on we "mushed" again.

On the trail up the narrow valley of the Paradise River the snow was found to be a foot deeper for each two or three hundred feet of elevation gained. So quietly had the flakes fallen in the sheltered valleys that each stump and fallen tree was covered almost as deeply as the surrounding ground, as some of the photographs show. On the exposed ridges, however, the winds had piled huge drifts over the brow of every leeward slope.

Cornices of snow overhanging the crags of Eagle Peak had broken off and shot down its precipitous northern side, coming to rest on a long talus slope near the stream. There we reveled in ski sliding and jumping. Huge boulders in the talus beneath the seven-foot covering of snow had caused hummocks on the surface which served us in place of the artificial take-offs used in regular ski jumping.

Two divisions of our party made the ascent to Paradise Valley. The first group consisted of three men, including the writer. We followed the general course of the horse-trail, but made frequent cut-offs by crossing Paradise River on the snow bridges. The only toilsome part of the journey was at Narada Kails, where we were forced to navigate our skis sidewise, in crab fashion, up the steep slope. Half a mile farther upstream, on the second bridge of the government wagon road, the snow measured more than two ski-lengths in depth, at least fourteen feet, without a sign of drifting. Under the bridge was a pool of open water overhung on all sides by rounded cornices of soft snow. A few inky-bottomed wells marked the upper course of the stream for a short distance, until it disappeared entirely under the deepening load of snow.

The long, open meadow in Paradise Valley lay like a smooth floor of snow, rising slightly until it merged into the final slopes of Mount Rainier. The surrounding ridges, dotted with the tops of stunted trees, had been so rounded and smoothed by drifting that the small gulches and hillocks of ground were almost blotted out. Constant shifting of the dry snow had produced a fine, powdery surface everywhere. All appearances indicated that the snow in the open meadow of Paradise Valley was much deeper than at the bridge where we had neasured it. The difference in location and elevation of the two localities may be held accountable for such a condition. Some marks which we made on a tree trunk at the surface level of the snow will be interesting reading in summer.

Excellent views of Mount Rainier and its southern glaciers were had on a brilliant sunny day from the Ramparts, a long ridge covered with standing burnt timber, extending southward from the mountain. A series of cascades in the South Tahoma Glacier caused the ice to stand out in jagged blocks against the skyline. The surface of the Kautz Glacier was perfectly smooth with snow except at its cascades. From Gibraltar Rock a snow banner as large as the rock itself waved to the eastward.

On March 24, another cloudless day, two young ladies of our party, accompanied by James McCullough, watchman at the National Park Inn, made a ski trip to Sluiskin Falls, considerably beyond the point reached by the first party. As both the ladies had ascended Rainier in summer, they could enjoy to the utmost the wonderful view of the snow-clad range spread out before them.

The Cascade Range in its winter garb is just beginning to be appreciated. Hotels at several mountain resorts now remain more or less open throughout the winter. The great advantage of visiting the higher altitudes lies in the drier snow usually found there, with only a slightly lower temperature. The beauties of the forests and the snow-fields may be seen without hardship by any visitor, while experienced mountaineers have unlimited opportunities for climbing and exploring on trips of two or three days. The writer's experience, gained through mining work in various parts of the range at all seasons, has been that only the severest storms or the heaviest rains make the Cascades unpleasant. So far as ski sport is concerned, it would be difficult to imagine more perfect riding than can be had on the many miles of varied slopes in Paradise Park. Judging by the fresh tracks of snowshoe rabbit, weasel, marten, fox, wildcat, white goat, and bear which our party saw in a few days, it is safe to say that the Mount Rainier National Park offers good chances to the camera-hunter.

To see archival photos from this trip, check out the following links:

A Group with Skis and Snowshoes
A Woman Skiing Under a Log
A Group of Skiers in a Clearing
Skiers with Long Staffs instead of Poles
A Group of Skiers Pose for a Shot
A Skier with Castle and Pinnacle Peak in the Background

--Jason D. Martin

March and April Climbing Events

--March 17-18 -- Tempe, AZ -- Warriors Way Clinic

--March 19 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Warriors Way Clinic

--March 19 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Peter Croft Slideshow and BBQ

--March 19 -- Seattle, WA -- Devils Tower Slideshow and Fundraiser

--March 20-22 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Red Rock Rendezvous

--March 20-21 -- Anchorage, AK -- Banff Mountain Film Festival

--March 22 -- Mount Rainier, WA -- Celebrate 100 Years of Skiing Rainier

--March 27-28 -- Bishop, CA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival

--March 28 -- Washington DC -- Fourth Annual Climb 4 Life

--March 28 -- Alpental, WA -- Vertfest

--April 10 -- Seattle, WA -- FONWAC Snoball Dinner

--April 17 -- Bellingham, WA -- Mount Baker Ariel Photography

--April 18-19 -- Shenendoah National Park. VA -- Shenendoah Rockfes

Monday, March 16, 2009

Las Vegas Climbing Events!

It's spring and some of the biggest climbing events of the year are getting underway in the desert just outside of Las Vegas!

As usual, the American Alpine Institute will be an integral part of the Red Rock Rendezvous festivities. If you are interested in attending, be sure to sign up. We will have dozens of guides in the area and will be running daily climbing trips to Red Rock Canyon. To book a day or more of guided climbing in Red Rock, give us a call at 360-671-1505.

Red Rock's Rainbow Mountain at Dawn
Photo by Jason Martin

Following are a handful of the events taking place around this world renowned climbing festival:

Pebble Wrestler Bouldering Competition -- March 18th

Red Rock Climbing Center will be hosting their annu
al Pebble Wrestler Round-Up bouldering competition on Wednesday, March 18th from 5:30-9 p.m.. The cost of the comp is $15 in advance or $20 the day of and features three categories each for both male and female participants: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. The comp will feature over 80 new problems and a fun, encouraging vibe! The first 75 sign-ups receive a climbing dvd valued at $30 and EVERY competitor a raffle ticket for the post comp prizes! Prizes will be awarded to the top finisher in each category but the rest of the many great prizes will be raffled off regardless of where one places! Come on over and throw yourself on the many new plastic classics crafted by our esteemed route setters!

Arno Ilgner Warrior's Way Clinic -- March 19th

Join Arno Ilgner at the Red Rock Climbing Center for a course on mental training for climbing. Arno is well known for his book, The Rock Warrior's Way. To read more about this clinic, click here.

A Climber Sends The Fox (5.10d)
Photo by Andy Bourne

Peter Croft Slide Show and BBQ -- March 19th

Desert Rock Sports
and Red Rock Climbing Center a
re excited to announce that on Thursday, March 19th we will be holding our much anticipated, annual Spring BBQ/Slideshow/Fundraiser with a presentation by the legendary Peter Croft! The festivities will start with a BBQ, by donation, in the parking lot of Red Rock Climbing Center from 6-7:30 p.m.. The Peter Croft slideshow will follow at 8 p.m. in Red Rock Climbing Center at a cost of $10, which also includes one raffle ticket for the plethora of post slideshow prizes! Slideshow tickets and additional raffle tickets (cash or check only for both) will be sold at the BBQ and at the door. Extra raffle tickets can be purchased for $3 per ticket, $5 for two tickets, and $10 for five tickets. All the proceeds from this event will benefit the Las Vegas Climber's Liaison Council (www.lvclc.org) and their ongoing grassroots efforts pertaining to the many climbing areas surrounding Las Vegas. We hope to see many re-emerge from winter hibernation to chow down, hang out with fellow climbing tribe members, get inspired by a climbing master, and hopefully go home with some scored gear! The weather should be good, the company even better, and the prizes epic!

Red Rock Rendezvous -- March 20-22

Mountain Gear Presents: Red Rock Rendezvous” rock climbing festival willtake place this year on March 20-22. This event has climbing clinics for all skill levels at Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas, including a Friday “Intro to Climbing at the Red Rocks” day run by the American Alpine Institute.

Due to the growing popularity of the festival, this year’s event is limited to the first 1,000 registrants. Registration is now open at www.RedRockRendezvous.com and interested climbers are urged to sign up quickly. To register for the event or for additional information, call 800.829.2009 or visit www.RedRockRendezvous.com

Friday, March 13, 2009

Road Crews Begin Plowing Denali Park Road

Spring is coming in Alaska! The American Alpine Institute just received the following email from Denali National Park:

On Monday, March 16 the National Park Service road crew will begin the annual operations to clear and prepare the Denali Park Road beyond park headquarters (Mile 3) for vehicle access by park visitors. They expect to encounter deeper snow and more drifting further out in the park than they have in recent years, due to reports from overflights and remote weather stations. Last week the Toklat station at Mile 53 was reporting 19 inches of snow, and there were 27 inches at Kantishna. In March 2008 the stations recorded four inches at Toklat and 21 inches at Kantishna.

This year it appears that crews will have less overflow ice to remove from the road. The new culverts and improvements made at Mile 4 – 4.5 last year have been successful in controlling the overflow that has historically built up on this section of road, which is just west of park headquarters.

In addition to removing the winter accumulation of snow and ice, road crew personnel must steam open culverts clogged with ice to prevent road damage caused by the runoff from melting snow and rain. They will also make repairs before opening the road for use by the public.

Updates and pictures of the spring road opening operation will be posted regularly on the park website at www.nps.gov/dena.

Access to park areas west of headquarters for snowshoeing, mushing, cross-country skiing and other seasonal recreational activities is available on the Spring Trail, which runs south and parallel to the park road. The trailhead is located near the entrance to the park’s sled dog kennels. Visitors using the road should expect to encounter snow removal equipment. Please make certain the equipment operator is aware of your presence before attempting to go by.

Depending on the weather and road conditions, the park road could open for travel to the Savage River (Mile 15) by late March to early April, and to the Teklanika River Rest Stop (Mile 30) by mid to late April. Visitors are advised to call before their trip to confirm opening dates.

The Murie Science and Learning Center (MSLC) at Mile 1.3 is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily as the winter visitor center, providing information and backcountry permits. Ranger-led snowshoe hikes are taking place on Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. through Sunday, March 29, conditions permitting.

The Riley Creek Campground at Mile 0.2 is open year-round, but water and sewer services will not be available until later in the spring. A vault toilet is provided for campers in the loop that is currently open, and water can be obtained at the MSLC.

Denali National Park and Preserve collects an entrance fee year-round. The entrance fee of $10 per person or $20 per vehicle is good for seven days. The majority of the money collected remains in the park to be used for projects to improve visitor services and facilities. Interagency Federal Recreation Passes such as the Annual, Senior, and Access Pass, and the Denali Annual Pass are also valid for entry into the park.

Additional park information can be obtained by calling (907) 683-9532 from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. daily or on the web at www.nps.gov/dena.

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to get you stoked for Red Rocks!

Hola Weekend Warriors,

In case you didn't notice in the title of this weekends edition of Weekend Warrior but it is all about Red Rock!  The time of year is once again upon us for the famous and much anticipated Red Rock Rendezvous.  This wild and crazy climbing festival is coming up next weekend on March 20 - 22 and I hope some of you can join us there.  For those unfamiliar with the event you can check out the website here.  I've chosen this weeks videos to give you a  little taste of what the Rendezvous is like.

Here is a compilation of footage from Red Rock Rendezvous 2007.   Look like a great time huh?  Lots of great climbing, delicious food, interesting people, beer...what more could you ask for?

And now some footage from the 2008 festival.  You know, I've always heard that the Rendezvous is a lot like a fine wine...it gets better and better every year.  I wonder how 2009 is going to  be?  Only one way to find out...

The final video is a showcase of one of the more popular routes at Red Rock Canyon, the famous (or infamous if you hate chimneys) Epinephrine.  At about 15 pitches this 5.9 is guaranteed to give you a full day of adventure and fun.

AAI Guides in the News

Two AAI Guides recently made it into the news for stories of their climbing pursuits and travails . . . read below for photos and articles from guides Mark Grundon and Andrew Wexler.

Mark just led a crew of the California Montrose County Search and Rescue team to Lee Vining to do some waterfall ice climbing. The Lee Vining climbing area is in a deep box canyon below 13,057-foot Mt. Dana deep in the Sierra Nevada. With walls up to 2000 vertical feet on either side, the shadowed reaches of the canyon stay consistently cold and provide ice that is almost always in excellent condition.

According to Mike Leum, a SAR team member, "We regularly go to areas like Mt. Baldy with ice shoots that can be 1,500 feet long," he said. “Hikers will fall down the ice shoots. We can cover the top and bottom [of the shoot], but we didn't have the expertise to cover the middle." AAI has been working with these groups for several years now to train and prepare them for situations such as this.

Read the full article in the Crescenta Valley Sun here.

Andrew's article for Highline Magazine takes an inside look at what it really takes to be a guide in South America:
What skill-set best serves a guide when working in an environment as reactive as Chernobyl and as unpredictable as a harridan? How does one operate effectively in places where roadblocks pop-up like ground squirrels, where baggage disappears faster than a pickpocket, where every morsel of food is a potential time bomb, and where the answer to every question is: yes? Obviously, guiding clients to the summit of a 6,000-metre peak requires basic skills: glacier travel, crevasse rescue, short-roping, ice climbing, hazard assessment and good route selection are all part of the job. But a skill-set will only get you so far in South America. What The Freedom of the Hills fails to mention, and what every guide new to the region soon learns, is of course, how to dance.

. . . read the full article here

Andrew's been guiding for AAI in South America for almost 10 years. His stories and photos are always captivating - check out some more of his photos below and keep checking back for more stories: