Monday, November 30, 2009

Fear of Falling - Clip-Drop Technique

The scariest thing in all of climbing is falling. And perhaps the hardest thing to do in all of climbing is to manage the fear of falling. The Clip-Drop technique is a way to train your brain to accept that falling is a part of the game and that in many cases, that falling is perfectly safe.

In a nut-shell, the Clip-Drop technique is simply what it says. You clip a bolt, climb up a bit and fall. You clip the next bolt, climb up a bit and fall again. The idea is that if you do this all the way up a route, you will become accustomed to falling and will be able to get past the fear of it.

The following video from Steep Media and illustrates the use of this technique in a climbing gym.

Fear of Falling - clip-drop technique from SteepMedia on Vimeo.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, November 29, 2009

November and December Climbing Events

--November 27-29 -- West Cochise Stronghold Sweet Rock Campground, AZ --Cochise Stronghold Refuse Roundup 2009

--December 1 -- Bellingham, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival

--December 2-4 -- Seattle, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival

--December 5 -- Duluth, MN -- North Shore Style Climbing Competition 2009

--December 6 -- Berkeley, CA --Sierra Nevada Section Annaul Holiday Dinner

--December 9 -- New Haven, CT --Connecticut ABS 11 Bouldering Competition

--December 9 -- North Bend, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival - Index Support

--December 11 -- Bellingham, WA -- International Mountain Day Festival - Index Benefit

--December 12 -- Montbleu Resort, South Lake Tahoe --World Class Action Sports Cinematography featured at Tahoe Adventure Film Festival

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

--December 13 -- Bozman, MT --Bozman Ice Festival

--December 31-January 3 -- Joshua Tree, CA -- Joshua Tree Climbers Carnival

Friday, November 27, 2009

Consumerism and Climbing

I recently watched the excellent documentary, What would Jesus Buy? The film uses a theatrical troupe that poses as an anti-consumerism church as a window into today's shopping-driven lifestyles. This is a very serious topic, but the church and their tactics are also extremely funny. As a result, the sober nature of the subject matter can be addressed in a way that provides a non-confrontational look into how most Americans spend their time and money.

The Church of Stop Shopping is lead by a charismatic man who acts like a faith healer in order to stop people from buying into the need to constantly shop. The Reverend Billy preaches of the shopacalypse, an apocalyptic time when the world will literally collapse in on itself from too much shopping. The Reverend and his choir preach their message in front of Walmart and Starbucks and in churches across America. Check out the trailer below:

The documentary got me thinking. How do we as climbers and as outdoor people buy into the need to constantly get more stuff?

Clearly, based on the climbing and skiing and hiking gear stored in my garage, the Reverend Billy would see me as great sinner. A consumer with too much stuff for my own good.

However, I would argue that I use all my stuff until it wears out. I would argue that I don't spend my days hanging out in shopping malls and I would argue that I'm a fierce advocate for these sports that I love...sports that revolve around getting away from buying more stuff and getting people out to experience the outdoors.

I would also argue that the stuff we buy allows us to experience wild places that need protection. Our ability to see the beauty of these places leads us to become stewards of them, either from afar with our choice of elected officials and our donations to stewardship funds, or from close by with trailwork and litter cleanups. The stuff we as outdoors people buy leads us to be better advocates for wild places.

And indeed, many expeditions go to places where the entire economy is based on visiting climbers and trekkers. Not only do those who visit such places bring money into those communities, but they also bring aid in the guise of schools and medical care. Many who visit these places are so impressed by the people that they support foundations that provide such services to developing countries.

Now clearly, this is my defense of our lifestyles. And it's easy for us to get tunnel vision and to only see what's good for our own selfish interests. Certainly, the person who owns 700 pairs of shoes might have just as good a defense....but then again, maybe not...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

High Altitude Oxygen

We are always hearing about 8000 meter mountains and the use of oxygen. Should it be used of should it be left behind?

This blog entry has absolutely nothing to do with this common debate about oxygen in the mountains, but instead explains what

There are really two systems being employed in the high mountains. They are the constant flow system and the demand system.

The constant flow system delivers oxygen on a constant basis through a face mask worn by the climber. A flow rate is set and the oxygen keeps coming at that rate until you are out. This system is also often referred to as the Poisk system.

The second kind of oxygen flow system is the demand system. In this system, the climber wears a nose pipe that only provides oxygen when you inhale. The value of this system is that it's running half the time that a constant system is running. As a result, you have to carry half of the oxygen cylinders that you might carry otherwise.

The demand system has been used for nearly twenty years, but it has some problems. These include frozen tubes and release of oxygen when not in demand.

There is a third alternative which is a heavier and less realistic system and that is the closed circuit oxygen system. Most systems are a combination of the ambient oxygen in the air and supplemental oxygen from a bottle. In a closed circuit system, all of the oxygen is coming from a bottle, which could theoretically reduce the altitude feeling to sea level.

As the weight of all that oxygen is unrealistic, there has never been a valid test of a true closed system.

In the following video, we see the different parts of a normal constant flow system.

The first ascent of Everest in 1953 required quite a bit more in weight and old school technology. The following video shows a diagram of the original oxygen system and quickly describes how it worked.

The oxygen debate is one that will always rage, but that has nothing to do with the actual oxygen systems. If you choose to use oxygen in the high mountains, research each of the different systems, including brands and models available. Your summit and your life depend on making the right choice.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lynn Hill - Visualization and Patience

In this climbing technique video, world class climber Lynn Hill demonstrates her movement on a world class climb. While she is climbing a 5.13a, she talks about how to be patient and how to visualize the movement while resting.

Most of us won't be climbing 5.13s anytime soon, but that doesn't mean that this advice isn't apt. Lynn's recommendations are just as valid on a 5.6 or a 5.10 as they are on a 5.13.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November and December Climbing Events

--November 22 -- Baltimore, MD --Loyola University Maryland ClimbMax Climbing Competition 2009

--November 26 -- Vancouver, BC --4th Annual Reel Rock Film Tour

--November 27-29 -- West Cochise Stronghold Sweet Rock Campground, AZ --Cochise Stronghold Refuse Roundup 2009

--December 5 -- Duluth, MN -- North Shore Style Climbing Competition 2009

--December 6 -- Berkeley, CA --Sierra Nevada Section Annaul Holiday Dinner

--December 9 -- New Haven, CT --Connecticut ABS 11 Bouldering Competition

--December 11 -- Bellingham, WA -- International Mountain Day Festival

--December 12 -- Montbleu Resort, South Lake Tahoe --World Class Action Sports Cinematography featured at Tahoe Adventure Film Festival

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

--December 13 -- Bozman, MT --Bozman Ice Festival

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to get you stoked!

Ahoy there Weekend Warriors!

I found a couple videos for this weeks post that I really think you'll enjoy. They are made by the Rocky Mountain Sherpas, a very talented group of filmmakers who are passionate about the outdoors, especially when it is covered with snow! I hope you enjoy, both these videos are award winners at the Whistler film fest and are well worth watching.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Vertical Limit - An Instructional Video

Hold your breath! Okay, you can let it out now. There wasn't that much a reason to hold your breath, because the 2000 film, Vertical Limit is dumb.

It has been discussed here in the past and in many other climbing forums and blogs. There is no other way to put it...

Vertical Limit is stupid.

Maybe I should make this a little bit more clear. Vertical Limit is perhaps the most ludicrous climbing film of all time. There is not one iota of truth or reality in the entire movie from the beginning to the end. And in many cases, the storyline is so outrageous that it is actually comical.

So a small group of climbers decided that the best way to use the content of this film was to make an instructional climbing video out of it. Hilarity ensues...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 16, 2009

Outdoor and Climbing Literary Awards - 2009

It's the season of outdoor book awards. And as the weather is changing and the days are short, we thought that people might be looking for some good adventure books to read. This blog is a round-up of major outdoor adventure oriented book awards.

There are three different organizations that offer book awards to outdoor oriented books and their authors. They are the Banff Mountain Book Festival, the American Alpine Club and the National Outdoor Book Awards Foundation.

Banff Mountain Book Festival:

Grand Prize

Revelations -- Jerry Moffatt. By Jerry Moffatt and Niall Grime. Vertebrate Publishing (UK, 2009) Best Book -- Mountain Literature

Beyond the Mountain. By Steve House. Patagonia Books (USA, 2009)

Best Book -- Adventure Travel

The Great Polar Journey -- In the Footsteps of Nansen. By Borge Ousland. Ousland Design AS (Norway, 2009)

Best Book -- Mountain Image

The Alps -- A Bird's Eye View. By Matevz Lenarcic. Panalp d.o.o. (Slovenia, 2009)

Best Book -- Mountain Exposition

Flakes, Jugs and Splitters. By Sarah Garlick. Globe Pequot Press (USA, 2009)

Best Book -- Mountaineering History

The Last of His Kind: the Life and Adventures of Bradford Washburn, America's Boldest Mountaineer. By David Roberts. HarperCollins (USA, 2009)

Special Jury Mention

Royal Robbins: To be Brave - My Life, Volume One. By Royal Robbins. Pink Moment Press (USA, 2009)

Canadian Rockies Award

In the Bear's House. By Bruce Hunter.Oolichan Books — A Literary Publisher (Canada, 2009)

American Alpine Club Winner:

Where the other organizations have a series of awards, the AAC only presents one author with an award every year. The Literary Award was established to recognize excellence in alpine literature by American writers. Recipients of the award have contributed extensively and over many years to mountain literature. Recipients are not selected through a submission process.

This year's winner was Doug Robinson.

National Outdoor Book Award Winners:

History/ Biography Category:

Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America. By Douglas Brinkley. Harper, New York

Outdoor Literature Category

Halfway to Heaven. By Mark Obmascik. Free Press/Simon & Schuster, New York.

Honorable Mention. Rowboat in a Hurricane: My Amazing Journey Across a Changing Ocean. By Julie Angus. Greystone Books, Vancouver.

Design and Artistic Merit Category

Lars Jonsson's Birds. Illustrations by Lars Jonsson. Princeton University Press, Princeton

Classic Category

Kayak: The New Frontier. By William Nealy. Menasha Ridge Press, Birmingham.

Honorable Mention. Appalachian Odyssey: Walking the Trail from Georgia to Maine. By Steve Sherman and Julia Older. Author's Guild, New York.

Children's Category

Whistling Wings. By Laura Goering. Illustrated by Laura Jacques. Sylvan Dell Publishing, Mt Pleasant, SC.

Honorable Mention. Operation Redwood. By S. Terrell French. Abrams/Amulet Books, New York.

Nature and Environment Category

Our Living Earth. By Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Abrams/Books for Young Readers, New York.

Natural History Literature

Every Living Thing: Man's Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys. By Rob Dunn. Smithsonian Books. New York.

Nature Guidebook Category

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America. By Roger Tory Peterson. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston.

Honorable Mention. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West. By Dennis Paulson. Princeton University Press.

Outdoor Adventure Guidebook Category

Guide to the Green and Yampa Rivers in Dinosaur National Monument. By Duwain Whitis and Barbara Vinson. RiverMaps, Buda, TX.

Honorable Mention. The Guide to Baja Sea Kayaking. By Dave Eckardt. Paddle Publishing, Eagle, CO.

Instructional Category

Girl on the Rocks: A Woman's Guide to Climbing with Strength, Grace and Courage. By Katie Brown. Photos by Ben Moon. Globe Pequot Press/Falcon Guides, Guilford, CN.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

November and December Climbing Events

--November 15 -- Seattle, WA SausageFest'09 Slide Show

--November 21 -- Nacogdoches, TX --3rd Annual East Texas Climbing Competition

--November 21 -- Seattle, WA --14th Annual Seattle Bouldering Challenge

--November 21 -- Jasper, TN --Castle Rock TeamWorks Trail Day

--November 21 -- Mira Loma, CA --Mt. Rubidoux Clean-up

--November 21 -- Between Blowing Rock and Linville, NC --Adopt-A-Dump: Adopt-A-Crag at the Dump/Warpin Endorphin

--November 21 -- Pittsburgh, PA --Pitt Bouldering Competition/NRAC Fundraiser

--November 22 -- Baltimore, MD --Loyola University Maryland ClimbMax Climbing Competition 2009

--November 26 -- Vancouver, BC --4th Annual Reel Rock Film Tour

--November 27-29 -- West Cochise Stronghold Sweet Rock Campground, AZ --Cochise Stronghold Refuse Roundup 2009

--December 5 -- Duluth, MN -- North Shore Style Climbing Competition 2009

--December 6 -- Berkeley, CA --Sierra Nevada Section Annaul Holiday Dinner

--December 9 -- New Haven, CT --Connecticut ABS 11 Bouldering Competition

--December 11 -- Bellingham, WA -- International Mountain Day Festival

--December 12 -- Montbleu Resort, South Lake Tahoe --World Class Action Sports Cinematography featured at Tahoe Adventure Film Festival

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

--December 13 -- Bozman, MT --Bozman Ice Festival

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to get you stoked!

SNOW!!! That's all I can really think about right now. Here is some eye candy for all of you who have been patiently waiting for the white stuff to fall...and I've even included a video for those of you who live in warmer climates. Enjoy!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Anchor Replacement Initiative Hits New Heights

The American Alpine Institute just received the following press release from Skram Media.

Boulder, CO and New York, NY November 13, 2009 - Skram Media, a leading publisher of special interest outdoor magazines and websites, today announced that the Anchor Replacement Initiative (ARI) has surpassed last years total of routes upgraded by 20%. With 2 months of the year remaining and a number of ARI projects underway and scheduled to be completed before the year ends, 2009 is guaranteed to be the ARI’s most productive year ever.

“I’m delighted that 2009 is the most productive ARI year in the programs six year history”, commented Mark Crowther Skram Media’s Publisher. “Thanks to the support of The North Face and Petzl, the ARI continues to make a real difference to the climbing community”, he added.

“In addition to the year on year build up of grassroots knowledge and know-how, we launched three new initiatives at the start of 2009: an ARI road trip which we plan to repeat next year, a social media program through twitter, and a new editorial section in Climbing Magazine, Anchored, which profiles ARI volunteers and their work,” Crowther commented.

“This is a great accomplishment,” says Kevin Riley, Skram Media’s ARI Program Manager, “The goal of the ARI is to ensure the safest anchors possible on routes of all levels at the country’s most popular crags. The ARI’s continued success this year means another major step forward in safety for climbers.”

John Evans, Marketing Director for Petzl America, added, “One look at the anchors replaced by the ARI and it’s obvious how valuable this program is.”

About the ARI
The Anchor Replacement Initiative (ARI) is an industry-supported and industry driven program that serves the U.S. climbing community by systematically replacing worn-out or inadequate belay and rappel anchors. The ARI is a network of climbing community activists, who are familiar with the needs at their areas and have the expertise and judgment to replace existing belay and rappel stations. Since the Anchor Replacement Initiative’s (ARI) establishment in 2003, supported by Climbing Magazine, The North Face, Petzl and countless volunteers across the country have touched 30 different destinations, maintaining over 1,500 anchors. For more: and

About The North Face®
The North Face®, a subsidiary of VF Corp., was founded in 1966 and opened its first retail store in 1968. Headquartered in San Leandro, California, the company offers the most technically advanced products in the market to accomplished climbers, mountaineers, extreme skiers, and explorers. The company's products are sold in specialty mountaineering, backpacking, and skiing retailers, premium-sporting goods retailers, and major outdoor-specialty retail chains. Additional information about The North Face® can be found on the company’s website,

About Petzl
Petzl America is the U.S. division of Petzl, headquartered in France. Petzl America, based in Clearfield, Utah, has been recognized by Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work 2008. For over 50 years, Petzl has been developing innovative tools and techniques used by those entering the vertical world. Today, the Petzl brand is closely associated with adventure, exploration, rescue, and many notable exploits in the worlds of rock climbing and alpinism. Petzl climbing hardware and headlamps can be found in outdoor specialty shops and premium sporting goods retailers around the world. For more information, visit:

About Skram Media
Skram Media leads the industry by providing a portfolio of highly read multiplatform outdoor editorial products, including Climbing Magazine,, Urban Climber Magazine,,, Mountain Gazette, and The portfolio provides synergy between print and digital properties, reaching over 330,000 readers monthly and many more online. With the acquisition of Mountain Gazette in Fall 2008, Skram Media provides advertisers the opportunity to reach the full spectrum of mountain and outdoor enthusiasts.

For more information, please contact:
Mark Crowther
212-691-2927 x101

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Registration Now Open for 2010 Red Rock Rendezvous

AAI just received the following newsletter from Mountain Gear, the main sponsor for Red Rock Rendezvous. This will be the fifth year that the American Alpine Institute provides guide support for the event.

Las Vegas, Nev. – Registration has officially opened for the seventh annual “Mountain Gear Presents: Red Rock Rendezvous” (RRR) rock climbing festival, title sponsored by the North Face. RRR will return to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area near Las Vegas on March 19-21, 2010, to benefit The Access Fund, a climbing and environmentally focus organization, and other local and national non- profit organizations. This year’s event is limited to the first 1,000 registrants and early registration is recommended. To register, visit

“With the limited number of spaces available for Red Rock Rendezvous and specific clinics within the event, we are encouraging climbers to sign-up early,” said Phil Bridgers, RRR event coordinator. “As this event has grown into one of the most popular rock climbing festivals in the country, we cap registration to maintain a level of excellence and appropriately cater to outdoor enthusiasts and climbers of all skill levels.”

For the first time, Red Rock Rendezvous will offer an intro to mountain biking clinic on Friday, March 19 that will teach basic biking skills and how to read off road trails. This Friday clinic along with the Saturday and Sunday climbing clinics will be $159 and will include the rental of a mountain bike provided by Specialized Bikes. Red Rock Rendezvous will also offer beginner, intermediate and advanced mountain biking clinics as part of the Saturday and Sunday clinic schedule.

For less experienced climbers and those who have never attempted the difficulty levels of the Red Rock Canyon, the festival will offer a Friday “Intro to Climbing: UClimb” day. UClimb is designed to teach all ages how to rock climb in small-group settings with other amateur climbers. The full-day introduction clinics will teach climbing fundamentals to succeed at Red Rocks and other outdoor settings.

The clinics will take place in an intimate clinic setting by professional guides from the American Alpine Institute who are also some of the world’s most accomplished climbers. “Intro UClimb” participants will then be able to enjoy one full day and one half day throughout the weekend. There will also be an optional gear package that will include harness, helmet, shoes, belay device, carabiner, chalk bag and a membership to the Access Fund. The gear package with the “Intro UClimb” day and the weekend climbing clinics is $349.

The festival will also offer clinics for advanced and intermediate climbers on Saturday and Sunday. Registration is $99 per person for the Saturday and Sunday events, and $179 per person for the Friday “Intro UClimb” day and Saturday and Sunday clinic combo (without the gear package). Registration includes the Friday night opening celebration, a dinner buffet on Saturday night, demos, comps and mini- seminars by event sponsors, slideshow and movie on Friday night, a
blow-out party on Saturday night, pancake breakfast Sunday morning and service projects to assist in the environmental conservation of the Red Rock Canyon and Spring Mountain.

All of the festival activities, outside of the climbing clinics, will take place at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park located approximately 10 minutes from the entrance to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This year’s Red Rock Rendezvous participant camping will be at Bonnie Springs, one mile south of Spring Mountain Ranch. The festival will be running a shuttle bus between the campground and the festival locations throughout the event.

Event proceeds will benefit The Access Fund, a national non-profit organization dedicated to keeping climbing areas open and conserving the climbing environment. Other benefiting organizations include the American Safe Climbing Association, the American Alpine Club, Friends of Red Rocks and the Las Vegas Climbers Liaison Council.

For additional information, call 800.829.2009 or visit

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cut a Christmas Tree -- Permits for sale on Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

AAI just received the following press release from Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest:

The public can buy permits to cut Christmas trees on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest beginning Nov. 12 through Dec. 24.

Cutting areas are located within national forest lands in the eastern portions of Pierce, King, Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties. Maps and information about cutting areas are provided where permits are sold at ranger stations and the Verlot and Glacier Public Service Centers.

Additionally, permits are sold at REI’s Alderwood Mall and the Outdoor Recreation Information Center located inside the downtown Seattle REI store. Permits cost $10 each, one tree per permit, with a tree height limit of 12 feet. The permits are nonrefundable.

Trees taller than 12 feet require a special permit at a minimum price of $20. Credit cards are not accepted at Forest Service offices or the Outdoor Recreation Information Center in the Seattle REI store, however, the REI at Alderwood Mall will take them. Forest Service offices and REI stores are closed Thanksgiving Day. Forest Service offices may close early Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, so call ahead for operating hours.

Plan to purchase a parking permit if the trip includes parking in a designated Sno-Park lot. Getting a tree early before substantial snow falls usually means better access on forest roads. “Set out early in the day to allow for maximum daylight and let friends or relatives know where you are going and when to expect you back,” said Forest Service’s Dave Kendrick, who oversees the Christmas tree permit program. Most trees are accessible only by narrow, unplowed mountain roads. High-clearance vehicles are often required along with tire chains and a shovel. Check ranger stations for road and weather information, or go online to <> .

Offices and Locations

Mt. Baker Ranger Station
810 State Route 20 Sedro Woolley, WA
360-856-5700 Ext. 515
Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Nov. 28, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dec. 5, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dec. 12, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Glacier Public Service Center

Mt. Baker Highway 542 Glacier, WA
Weekends, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Darrington Ranger Station

1405 Emens Ave. N. Darrington, WA
8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Nov. 28, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dec. 5, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dec. 12, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Verlot Public Service Center

33515 Mountain Loop Highway, Granite Falls, WA
Weekends, Nov. 27, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Skykomish Ranger Station
74920 NE Stevens Pass Hwy, Skykomish, WA
Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Nov. 28, 29, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Dec. 5,6, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Snoqualmie Ranger Stations

North Bend Office

902 SE North Bend Way North Bend, WA
Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Nov. 28, 29, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Dec. 5, 6, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Dec. 12, 13, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Enumclaw Office

450 Roosevelt Ave. E. Enumclaw, WA
Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Nov. 28, 29, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Dec. 5, 6, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Dec. 12, 13, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Seattle REI

Outdoor Recreation Information Center
222 Yale Ave. N. Seattle, WA
Mon.-Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

REI Alderwood Store
3000 184th St. SW Lynnwood, WA
Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

Adventures in Cowboy Country - Part 2, The Cirque

Add Image
The Cirque of the Towers. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

So, when we last left you my friend Andy and I had just made it back from climbing the Grand Teton in a day. Needless to say we woke up the next day pretty haggard and hurting. But, after being cooped up in an office for the majority of the summer I wasn’t about to throw in the towel just yet. We said goodbye to George, our climbing ranger compadre, as he was getting ready to chase down a couple of model citizens who were hunting elk with bows…while high on meth…in the park (I’m not kidding). I didn’t envy this particular job requirement and couldn’t really think of a good way to way to go about accomplishing this task, so we left this incredible park and drove south to the Wind River Gorge and into the Cirque of the Towers.

The drive went fast and soon we had our bags packed and ready to go. I couldn’t believe my eyes; we had packed five days worth of food, supplies, and climbing gear into two 50-liter packs. After a quick stretching session to loosen up our sore legs and backs we hit the trail. The first 6 miles to Big Sandy Lake went quickly and soon we were climbing toward Jackass Pass and the alpine playground that is the Cirque.

Looking across Big Sandy Lake toward the Haystack and E. Temple Peak. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

Pingora from the end of Lonesome Lake. The Northeast Face is just to the left of the right skyline. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

Before long we finally caught sight of our objective, Pingora. This tower dominates the Cirque and had been sneaking its way into my dreams ever since this trip was drawn up. To finally see this incredible peak gave me a second wind and I found myself trotting along the trail, barely aware of the heavy load on my back. When we arrived in the Cirque itself I had to pinch myself. Surrounding us were huge, towering pillars of beautiful rock, jutting up from serene alpine meadows, teeming with countless streams and ponds. We found a suitable camping location above Lonesome Lake and quickly pitched our tent. We excitedly packed our bags in anticipation of the early start the next morning. Sleep came easy considering that in three days we had driven from Bellingham to Jackson, climbed the Grand, then drove to the Wind River and hiked 10 miles into the Cirque.

Andy and I both woke up early the next morning with very annoyed bodies. My calves felt like they had gallons of lactic acid built up inside and the rest of my body didn’t feel much better. We contemplated taking a rest day but the weather was supposed to be perfect today…and we were just stiff from sleeping on the ground all night, right? It wasn’t too difficult to convince ourselves that we were right and we threw on our packs and started the approach. We spotted a long line of headlamps on the opposite side of the lake and cursed ourselves for not waking up earlier, as these headlamps seemed to be headed for the same route as we were, the Northeast Face of Pingora. Everywhere I read stated that this route had become incredible popular ever since it was featured in the 50 Classic Climbs of North America. We picked up the pace hoping to beat the large group to the base of climb, but fortune was on our side that morning as they headed up a different trail and disappeared into the darkness.

We made it to the base and found ourselves alone, with only a massive face of solid granite above us. We traversed over to the start of the vertical pitches and were soon greeted by the sun as it rose above the valley to the east.

Sunrise over Lonesome Lake from high on Pingora's NE Face. Mitchell Peak is on the right and also offers some incredible climbing. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

The weather was perfect, no wind and just the right temperature. The climbing was some of the best I had ever experienced. The pitches blended together in a wonderful swirl of incredible cracks, warm sunshine, gentle breezes, and breathtaking scenery. There is nothing about this climb that I didn’t enjoy. Every belay ledge was perfectly situated and you could just climb and climb and climb until you were almost out of rope. We moved over the stone with giant smiles on our faces. We were the only one on the route the entire day, this classic line was all ours.

Andy climbing up the first vertical pitch. A fun halfmoon-esque dihedral arching to the right. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

Moving up the face quickly we were greeted by perfect belay stations the whole route. All smiles, all day. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

Striking a pose after one of the best routes of my climbing career. Photo by Andy Farley

It was almost a shame to make it to the summit; a wall that good should never have to end. But, what a summit it was! We got to see the entire Cirque wrap around these lush alpine meadows and caught glimpses of the other peaks littering the Wind Rivers. We were able to get a perfect view of the other objective we had in mind, the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head.

The incredible exposure on the East Ridge of Wolf's Head makes this a classic route for many climbers. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

That route would have to wait however, as the day we planned to climb it we woke up greeted by dark clouds, high winds, and snow flurries. Not the best conditions for the thin ridgeline and exposed traverses that make the route so appealing.

Andy trying desperately to catch us some dinner in the last remaining light. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

The descent back to our camp went quickly and we basked in the remaining sunlight by Lonesome Lake, only getting up to take shifts fly-fishing in an attempt to catch ourselves a delicious celebratory trout supper. Needless to say we enjoyed a fantastic feast of dehydrated mashed potatoes and oriental noodles that evening.

Wolf's Head and Pingora watch over the lush alpine meadows of the Cirque. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

The Cirque of the Towers hold a special place in my heart now and I am counting the days until I am able to return. Boy am I glad I didn’t go back to sleep that morning!

-Dana Hickenbottom, Program Coordinator and Guide

Monday, November 9, 2009

Adventures in Cowboy Country - Part 1, The Tetons

The Teton Range. The Grand Teton is the prominant peak in the center of the picture. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

These long days always seem to begin the same way. I am lying on the ground, tucked in my warm sleeping bag trying desperately to ignore my beeping alarm. My eyes are heavy as I try to open them under the clear, cold night sky, squinting at my watch for a look at the time…4:ooam. The thought crosses my mind, as it always does, ‘Do I leave my small down-filled world of warmth and comfort for the bitter, biting cold or tuck my head back inside and continue my pleasant dream?’ As I hear my partner rustle out of his bag I know that the decision is now out of my hands so I shed my sleeping arrangement and quickly dress before my body losses too much heat.

We don’t have much time to waste so we quietly load our climbing gear into the car and head down the road to the trailhead. As we drive with the heat cranked as high as it can go we munch on bars and snacks, trying to wash the dry food down with as much water as we can handle. We are packing light so the more we can eat and drink now, the better. Within minutes we arrive at the trailhead and after a quick trip to the bathroom we are on our way. I check my watch, 4:30am, right on schedule. Our objective is the summit of the Grand Teton via the Direct Exum Ridge, a true American classic, or at least that’s what everyone keeps telling me. Our goal is to do it in a day and after a summer of being cooped up in an office I am anxious to see how we do.

As we hike along I think about where I was this same time yesterday. I was just waking up next to my fiancĂ© in my Bellingham Washington home. My things were already packed and ready to go when I met my good friend and fellow adventurer Andy at my back door. We threw my things into his trunk and were on our way in no time. Andy has an infectious energy and we are soon reminiscing of past climbs and dreaming of adventures to come. We watch the sun rise above the horizon and stretch it’s warm, glowing arms across the landscape. This is one of those simple things I enjoy so much in life, witnessing the earth wake up from it’s nightly slumber. I’m not a regular early riser so when I get the opportunity to watch this brilliant event I try to savor every moment.

“White Lightning”, Andy’s affectionate name for his hardy Toyota Camry, eats up the miles and the hours pass quickly. We take shifts driving towards our destination, Andy’s home state of Wyoming and that most famous of skylines, the Tetons. After 18 hours of driving we finally arrive at the national park and pull off the road to try and catch a glimpse at these beautiful peaks. We can barely make-out the numerous peaks against the black night sky but our excitement builds none-the-less. Even if we can’t see it clearly we know the Grand Teton is sitting proudly amongst its fellow mountains, beckoning to be climbed, and we hope to answer that call. We sleep in the driveway of one of Andy’s old acquaintances George, who happens to be one of the senior climbing guides for the park and lives inside the park among the rows of cabins inhabited by his fellow rangers.

The rocky trail brings my attention back to the present. We have headlamps on but keep them turned off. The bright moon provides enough light to avoid the majority of the rocks and roots but the trail still demands my attention. Our keep a good pace and are soon watching the sun rise (two days in a row, boy am I lucky!) across the Jackson Hole. This is my first time in the area and this new light soon reveals the incredibly beauty of this place.

Morning light shines on the southern Teton range; (from left) Cloudveil Dome, Spalding Peak, and Gilkey Tower. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

The trail winds through forest, talus, and mountain streams, the whole time bringing us higher and higher. We pass climbers tents and soon reach the notch that divides the Grand and the Middle Teton. We have a great view of our route from here and stop for a moment to eat and drink while scouting the beginning of our climb. Our excitement pushes on onward and soon we are traversing the horizontal black dike that leads us to the base of the Exum Ridge.

The Exum Ridge follows (roughly) the right skyline. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

Around 9am, after about 5,000 ft of elevation gain we finally arrive at the base of the Exum. Now the real fun begins. As this is a blog and I am running out of time until my deadline, I will let my photos tell the remainder of the story.

Leading the famous Black Face pitch. The angle steepens but the holds are all there and the climbing is incredible. Easily my favorite pitch of the ridge. Photo by Andy Farley

Andy enjoying all the Black Face has to offer. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

Andy leading up the following pitch which we dubbed the crystal crack. The rock was unlike anything I had ever climbed on, with large quartz crystals peppering the rock. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

Ahhh, what a view from the top. Photo by Dana Hickenbottom

Summit success! Now all we have to do is find the way down and get back to the car before our energy wears out. Photo courtesy of The Grand Teton

We made it to the summit of the Grand at about 2pm. After some celebratory photos and much needed nourishment we began our hurried descent. We teamed up with some other parties and combined ropes to make some longer rappels, putting us back at the notch within a couple hours. We've still got a long way to go back to the car so we don't linger too long. We watch the long shadows of the Tetons stretch across the valley as the sun sets and soon we find ourselves hiking in the dark once again. Exhaustion has set in and my legs are now on autopilot. Andy and I dream of the delicious dinner we will make once we return to the car. My headlamp is playing tricks with my surroundings and soon pine cones become giant beetles and roots are enormous snakes hiding in the brush. We are constantly convince ourselves that around every turn our car will be waiting, a dangerous and demoralizing game when all you want to do is sit in a nice comfy seat and fall asleep. Finally we round that last corner and see "White Lightning" waiting for us like a trusty steed. We made it back after 18 hours of constant movement and while we certainly won't be setting any speed records we are very proud of our effort. We drive back to George's cabin and eat ravenously until our stomachs are close to bursting and then settle once again into our sleeping bags once again. We are going to need our rest for tomorrow we head into the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Gorge.

Stay tuned for Part 2, The Cirque, in which I budget my time much more wisely and am able to offer a full written account of this incredible alpine playground.

-Dana Hickenbottom, AAI Program Coordinator and Guide

Sunday, November 8, 2009

November and December Climbing Events

--November 8 -- Athens, GA --UGA Boulder Bash '09

--November 11 -- Golden, CO --Secrets of Shangrila with Brot Coburn

--November 11 -- Boulder, CO --Rock Climbing Around the World presented by Sonnie Trotter

--November 12 -- Berkeley, CA --Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival

--November 12-14 -- Boulder, CO --Fifth Annual Adventure Film Festival

--November 13 -- Seattle, WA --Secrets of Shangri-la
with Peter Athans

--November 13 -- Berkeley, CA --Touchstone Bouldering Series 5: Ironworks

--November 14 -- Fargo, ND --NDSU Fall Crawl

--November 14 -- Obed National Park Wild & Scenic River, TN --Lilly Boulder Competition

--November 14 -- Boulder, CO --Adventure Film Festival

--November 14 -- New York City, New York --Thirtieth Annual New York Section Black Tie Dinner

--November 14 -- Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego, CA --Climbers Loop Trail Work

--November 14 -- Dripping Springs, BLM, Las Cruces, NM --La Cueva Clean and Climb

--November 14 -- New River Gorge, WV --New River Gorge Adopt-a-Crag,
Burnwood (Rendezvous site)

--November 14 -- Wake Forest, NC --Fifth Annual AAC Eastern NC Get Together

--November 14 -- Collierville, TN --Memphis AAC Last Days of Fall Barbecue

--November 15 -- Seattle, wA SausageFest'09 Slide Show

--November 21 -- Nacogdoches, TX --3rd Annual East Texas Climbing Competition

--November 21 -- Seattle, WA --14th Annual Seattle Bouldering Challenge

--November 21 -- Jasper, TN --Castle Rock TeamWorks Trail Day

--November 21 -- Mira Loma, CA --Mt. Rubidoux Clean-up

--November 21 -- Between Blowing Rock and Linville, NC --Adopt-A-Dump: Adopt-A-Crag at the Dump/Warpin Endorphin

--November 21 -- Pittsburgh, PA --Pitt Bouldering Competition/NRAC Fundraiser

--November 22 -- Baltimore, MD --Loyola University Maryland ClimbMax Climbing Competition 2009

--November 26 -- Vancouver, BC --4th Annual Reel Rock Film Tour

--November 27-29 -- West Cochise Stronghold Sweet Rock Campground, AZ --Cochise Stronghold Refuse Roundup 2009

--December 5 -- Duluth, MN -- North Shore Style Climbing Competition 2009

--December 6 -- Berkeley, CA --Sierra Nevada Section Annaul Holiday Dinner

--December 9 -- New Haven, CT --Connecticut ABS 11 Bouldering Competition

--December 12 -- Montbleu Resort, South Lake Tahoe --World Class Action Sports Cinematography featured at Tahoe Adventure Film Festival

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

--December 13 -- Bozman, MT --Bozman Ice Festival