Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Choosing a Solo Tent

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mountain Hardware Halcyon

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Murder of the Impossible

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

Reinhold Messner

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

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

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

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

Who has polluted the pure spring of mountaineering?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, December 27, 2009

December and January Climbing Events

--December 28 -- Kelowna, BC -- Banff Film Festival

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

--January 1-2 -- El Portraro Chico, Mexico -- Climbing Festival

--January 7 -- Fernie, BC -- Banff Film Festival

--January 7-9 -- Kirov, Russia -- UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing

--January 7-10 -- Ouray, CO -- Ouray Ice Festival

--January 8 -- Carbondale, CO -- ABS Competition

--January 9 -- Cranbrook, BC -- Banff Film Festival

--January 10 -- Invermere, BC -- Banff Film Festival

--January 14-17 -- Crested Butte, CO -- High Adventure: Ice and Ski

--January 16 -- Bloomington, IL -- 15th Annual Hangdog Jamboree

--January 16-17 -- Saas Grund, Switzerland -- UIAA European Ice Climbing Youth Championship

--January 16-17 -- Val Daone, Italy -- UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing

--Janyary 22-23 -- Saas Fee, Switzerland -- UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing

--January 23 -- San Luis Obispo, CA -- Bishop Peak Adopt-a-Crag

--January 23 -- Superior, WI -- Rock On

--January 26 -- Walla Walla, WA -- Banff Film Festival

--January 29 -- Jeffersonville, VT -- Smuggs Ice Bash

--January 30 -- Boston, MA -- Heart of Steel Bouldering Comp

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to get you stoked!

Happy Holidays Weekend Warriors!

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

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

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

Friday, December 25, 2009

Reality TV and Mountain Guiding

Merry Christmas!

Let's see what Santa brought and put under the tree. Oh this is interesting... Look at this, it's everybody's favorite blog from a year and a half ago. You know, the one where I posted as many funny pictures of our guides as possible. Yeah, that's the one...

And not only that, a year has gone by, and I've spent that year looking for embarrassing pictures of guides to add to my initial post. So here is the new and improved, "Reality TV and Mountain Guiding."

Last Thursday it came in an email.

I received a call this morning from an attorney friend in Seattle who is setting up interviews for guides who are interested in being part of a TV reality show on guides and guiding. The company developing this concept has previously done a variety of TV reality shows including Survivor, The Bachelor, and now new work themed programs like Ice Road Truckers.

A separate production company working with them is financing this and is currently funding:

--auditions for a series focused on guides
--the creation of a pilot

Woah! What's this? A TV show about mountain guides. Can you imagine how much fun people would make of the guides involved? Can you imagine how much goading and ribbing they would take from their peers?

Could this man be a reality TV star? (Dylan Taylor)

It's hard enough to tell people that you're a mountain guide with a straight face. It would be utterly impossible to tell people that you were both a mountain guide and a reality TV star without sounding like a complete doofus.

So after making fun of this all day, Dylan Taylor and I talked each other into going. AAI Guides Richard Riquelme, Alasdair Turner and Dawn Glanc also participated.

The audition went well for everyone. Indeed, it sounds like if this thing gets off the ground we could all be on television. That would be both cool and incredibly embarrassing. Reality stars look like models. Mountain guides look like pieces of leather.

Anyway since we're all going to be stars of reality TV, I've started to work out my plan. I've already made alliances with everyone. Dylan and I are totally going to vote Rich
ard off the mountain and Richard and I are totally going to vote Dylan off the mountain. Dawn's still neutral. And Alasdair doesn't like alliances. But that's okay, I'll flip both of them over to my side... It's going to be awesome!

Or maybe it will just be ludicrous. I don't think there will be any voting, but who knows...? It is reality television.

Here's a little taste of reality vs. reality. In other words, Reality TV, vs the reality of being a mountain guide. I've placed a few pictures of reality TV stars above pictures of our guides. You can decide which reality is more interesting...

The Bachelor

The Real Bachelor (Forest McBrain)

Hell's Kitchen

And the kitchen after hell froze over. (Coley Gentzel)


And Guidezillas (Richard Riquelme)

Dancing with the Stars

And Not Dancing with the Stars. (Alistair Turner)

The Girls Next Door

And The Guides Next Door (Viren Perumal)

Temptation Island

And No Temptation Tent (Kurt Hicks)

America's Next Top Model

And America's Current Top Model. (Mike Powers)

--Jason D. Martin

Afterword - There never was a reality TV show. Too bad. It would have been really really really really fun to shock America...


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Regluing your Skins

Yesterday, we talked about waxing skis and snowboards, which requires messing around with the base of your device of choice. Since we were already in the workbench mode, I thought that we might spend a little more time talking about something that deals with skis and snowboards and also requires some workbench time.

If you've got money to burn, then when the glue on your skins wears out you can just buy a new pair. But if you're like most of us and you don't have money to burn, then you'll probably be willing to spend a few hours trying to reglue your skins. And unlike waxing your skis, because of the fact that you will only have to do this once every few years, the likelihood of developing real proficiency at this task is low.

When searching for information on the internet about this process, I found that there weren't as many resources as you might think. The reality is that a lot of people don't reglue their skins because the process is not terribly fun and can be frustrating. Instead, they end up buying new skins.

With that in mind, you can enter the regluing process with a "what do you have to lose" mindset. If you screw it up, you'll just have to buy new skins anyway. So take your time and as the guy in the video shows, make sure that you have a beer cracked and ready to steady your nerves with another one waiting in the fridge...

To reapply glue to your skins, you will need the following materials:
  • Gold Label Glue
  • Scissors
  • Brown Paper Bags (about 3-4 medium sized bags should be enough)
  • Masking Tape
  • Old Credit card/Hotel Key
  • Iron
  • Newspapers
  • Old Skins with correlating skis.

In his blog, the individual who made this video has the following additional tips:

Step 1 Preparation
  1. Throw some newspapers down to protect against glue damage.
  2. Attach skin to ski upside down so the adhesive is facing outwards.
  3. Put newspaper between the skin and ski to protect the ski from glue.

Step 2 Cleaning the Skins

  1. Cut paper bags into strips just wider than your ski.
  2. Place strip on skin and run iron over to soak up old glue.
  3. Run credit card over skin for final clean up.
  4. Do this for the whole length of the skin, until all the dirty glue is gone.
  5. The cleaner the better.

Step 3 Apply the Glue
  1. If you have Black Diamond Skins that have a covered center strip, put masking tape over it to protect it from getting glued on.
  2. Very thinly apply the glue.
  3. Make sure to get the edges and do one thin coat. Go as thin as you can.
  4. Let it dry for half an hour and apply a second coat.
  5. Let it dry for half an hour and apply a third coat.
  6. Let it dry for 12 hours.
Things to remember
  1. Put the glue on thin. It is too easy to go too thick and get globs.
  2. Make sure you do not bend the skin when it is drying.
  3. When feeling frustrated have a sip of beer.
  4. Although the glue comes with a brush, and I use the brush in the video, I would recommend applying the glue with an old credit card/hotel key only. It goes on faster and smoother and the brush leaves hair on your skin.

For more information on regluing your skins, check out Skiing the Backcountry and TetonAT.com. In addition to both sites having more information about this process, they both include a number of additional ideas to keep in mind in the comments sections.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 21, 2009

Waxing Skis and Snowboards

Surprisingly, only a small percentage of skiers and snowboarders take the time and energy required to properly wax the base of their equipment. Skis and snowboards simply don't perform as well when they are not maintained.

There are different waxes for the different temperatures. Colder snow with sharper snow crystals need a more robust wax to keep the skis from getting damaged, whereas warmer, wetter snow causes more friction, which can slow you down without the right wax.

For those that are lazy, there are rub on waxes that can easily be applied in a few minutes. But before you get too lazy, you should always remember that the more time you spend putting the wax on, the longer it will last.

Once you have determined the temperature of snow that you are likely to encounter, you will need the following items:
  • Iron for ironing the wax into the ski base
  • Vise for stabilizing skis while waxing
  • Scraper for removing extra wax
  • Brush for removing extra wax
After you have obtained the proper equipment, you're ready to make a foray into the world of waxing. We have mined the internet for two films on this subject. This first video from REI, provides a solid base of information for those who would like to wax. The second video expands on the information in the first video and provides a few extra tips for snowboarders. If you are going to start waxing your skis or snowboard, it is strongly suggested that you watch both videos to build a solid basis of knowledge. It is possible to damage your equipment without a good understanding of what you're getting into...

For more techniques including some waxing techniques for first time waxers, check out this awesome Spadout article on How to Wax Skis.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December and January Climbing Events

--December 28 -- Kelowna, BC -- Banff Film Festival

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

--January 1-2 -- El Portraro Chico, Mexico -- Climbing Festival

--January 7 -- Fernie, BC -- Banff Film Festival

--January 7-9 -- Kirov, Russia -- UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing

--January 7-10 -- Ouray, CO -- Ouray Ice Festival

--January 8 -- Carbondale, CO -- ABS Competition

--January 9 -- Cranbrook, BC -- Banff Film Festival

--January 10 -- Invermere, BC -- Banff Film Festival

--January 14-17 -- Crested Butte, CO -- High Adventure: Ice and Ski

--January 16 -- Bloomington, IL -- 15th Annual Hangdog Jamboree

--January 16-17 -- Saas Grund, Switzerland -- UIAA European Ice Climbing Youth Championship

--January 16-17 -- Val Daone, Italy -- UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing

--Janyary 22-23 -- Saas Fee, Switzerland -- UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing

--January 23 -- San Luis Obispo, CA -- Bishop Peak Adopt-a-Crag

--January 23 -- Superior, WI -- Rock On

--January 26 -- Walla Walla, WA -- Banff Film Festival

--January 29 -- Jeffersonville, VT -- Smuggs Ice Bash

--January 30 -- Boston, MA -- Heart of Steel Bouldering Comp

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Weekend Warrior - Videos to Get You Stoked

Some of the older climbing movies don't get played very much anymore. People are really stuck on Sender Films and all of its copycats. And while the films that they put together are awesome, there are some older backshelf films that were made by shaky-handed climbers that are just as awesome.

The following video of Tony Yaniro climbing through the Paisano Overhang at Suicide Rock in California is one of the better of this older genre of film-making.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The North Face and Bad Press

The North Face has done an absolutely spectacular job of supporting climbing athletes and climbing causes over the years. It has been a major sponsor of climbing events like Red Rock Rendezvous (an event that the American Alpine Institute also sponsors). And they have lobbied for sustainability and environmental protection. In other words, they've done a lot of good. Indeed, these are all things that make us feel good about the entire outdoor industry. It's an industry that cares. It's an industry that gives back. It's an industry that's just full of good people...

But occasionally a company does something that hurts that image. Unfortunately, the North Face has fallen into such a trap. And this trap is big and public and dangerous for their image.

On December 14th, the Associated Press reported the following:

ST. LOUIS — The North Face Apparel Corp. is suing a small suburban St. Louis-area company called The South Butt and the teenager who started it. The lawsuit filed last week in federal court in St. Louis seeks unspecified damages and asks the court to prohibit The South Butt from marketing and selling its parody product line.

The North Face says it does not comment on pending litigation.

The South Butt's attorney, Albert Watkins, says the company was started by 18-year-old Jimmy Winkelmann to help pay for college. It puts out products with the tag line "Never Stop Relaxing," a parody of The North Face line, "Never Stop Exploring."

The parody company sells T-shirts, fleece jackets and sweatshirts on its Web site.

Okay, so let me get this right... The North Face is suing a teenager because his product is similar to theirs?

The North Face and The South Butt
Jimmy Winkelmann is the owner of The South Butt

Somebody at the North Face headquarters must have missed the memo that that said this would be national news. Somebody else missed the memo that said that if you do this, the South Butt's sales will skyrocket (which has reportedly happened). And somebody else missed the memo that the company would be mocked for such a move by the very people that they are trying to sell their products to. Check out this forum and this forum and this forum. In addition to the forums, there are countless blogs that are bagging on the North Face for this move.

In recent years there have been some complaints about a loss of quality in some of the company's products. Whether these complaints are founded or not is beside the point. Ten years ago everybody in the mountains owned a North Face jacket. Now only a fraction of the people out there are wearing the clothes. Bad press and good social networking equals more bad press. It definitely brings the complainers out of the woodwork. And more complainers means more bad press which ultimately means less North Face jackets in the mountains.

It's understandable that the North Face might be concerned about some cheap rip-offs of their products. Last time I was in South America, I saw dozens of these for sale on the street. But those are intentional rip-offs which are trying to pretend like they are something that they're not. The South Butt is a parody. Nobody is going to mistake it for the North Face.

It's too bad that a company that has done so much good for our community has placed itself in such a negative position. In the eyes of many, the company has rebranded itself. It has rebranded itself as a Goliath.

In the biblical story of David and Goliath, David wins. I seriously doubt that the limited funds available to the South Butt will allow them to prevail in this case. But if the heart of this battle isn't litigation, but good press versus bad press, then the South Butt has already won...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Expedition Training Regimine

When climbing peaks of high altitude, the limiting factor is usually the inability to supply muscle tissue with sufficient oxygen. Generally speaking, oxygen delivery at altitude is dependent upon two things: first is the strength and capacity of the heart and lungs, and second is the degree to which one is acclimatized. When you acclimatize to altitude, your oxygen delivery system becomes more efficient through a number of changes. These changes can only come about by a lengthy exposure to high altitude and as a result most of us go through the process of acclimatization after we’ve arrived on the mountain. If you are fortunate enough to have some high peaks (12,000 ‘ plus) near your home, remember that the beneficial effects derived from a lengthy stay at altitude usually are eliminated by a stay of the same length at a lower elevation. In other words, if you camp out on the summit of Pike’s Peak (14,000’) for a week prior to the beginning of your climbing trip, you’ll lose most of the good affects if you descend to a lower elevation for a week before the trip.

Expeditions can be Incredibly Demanding Physically

Photo by Alasdair Turner

Lacking large mountains close at hand, most of us must be content with working on enlarging the capacity and strength of our heart and lungs. There are many excellent exercises and activities which can accomplish this (can be outlined below), but the important thing to remember is to begin your exercising well in advance of your climb. The body takes a long time to make significant changes in its oxygen delivery capabilities. Also, some people’s exercise regimes are so strenuous that they need time to stretch out and heal those over-exercised parts. In any case, if you spend a long time increasing your aerobic capacity, it will stay with you long after the climb.

It’s best to begin your chosen activity at least a month before the climb. If you haven’t exercised much in the last year or so, starting six weeks or two months before your trip would be even better. Start slowly to avoid exhausting yourself, working up to more exercise when your body can handle an increase. You should perform your chosen exercise about every other day. Once you begin, avoid going without exercise for more than a few days. You should maintain a heart rate of 60-80% of maximum in order to actually strengthen the heart. Maximum heart rate can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220. Try to work to the upper end of the 60-80% range by the time you arrive for your program.

Every time you exercise you should stretch, both before and after the activity.

Suggested stretches include:

1. Stand with your feet together, arms stretched above your head, and slowly stretch from the waist forward and down to your feet, stretching both back and leg muscles. It’s important not to bounce, but instead try to hold your lowest stretch as long as you can. You’ll find that in three weeks you’ll see an amazing difference in your ability to stretch out.

2. Stand with feet about shoulder width apart and hands on hips. Bend sideways at the waist first in one direction, then in the other. Repeat this exercise, but with your left hand on your hip and your right arm extended above and over your head as you bend toward your left side. Repeat for the right side.

3. Sitting or standing, clasp your hands behind your back, left hand reaching over your left shoulder and right hand reaching up from your lower back; repeat using opposite hands.

4. To stretch calf muscles, stand at least an arm's length from a wall, extend one leg out behind you and drop your heel as slowly as far as possible. Repeat for other leg.

5. To stretch out fingers, gently pull back fingers one at a time with your other hand.

The best exercise for climbing is, of course, climbing. However, very few of us can afford to go climbing every other day. A good long hike or climb done at a fairly quick pace whenever possible can only help. When you do spend all day hiking, try to maintain a steady pace at which you are just short of breath. Don’t push yourself to gasping as you’ll never be able to keep it up for long. The following list of activities are only suggestions. In order to vary your activities and avoid becoming bored with them, you may wish to alternate.

1. Bicycling: This involves the thigh muscles in a short, downward stroke similar to the short steps taken when climbing slopes. Using the downward curving handlebars on your bike will encourage the use of back and shoulder muscles. You may find that your calf muscles are somewhat overlooked in this activity. Working with weights in this area will help you develop strength here. Cycling is a good activity for people who want to avoid the jarring associated with running. Be sure to keep a fast cadence, approximately 90 revolutions/minute. To avoid placing undue stress on your knees, gear down. To measure your cadence, take a watch with you and time yourself. Before beginning a cycling program, be sure to consult your local bike shop to make sure that your bike fits you properly and is in safe working order.

2. Running: This activity is great for strengthening both heart and lungs. It requires very little equipment and can be done almost anywhere in any weather condition. The stride used in running is normally a bit longer than the one used for climbing. Running hills is good and will improve all of the thigh and leg muscles used in climbing. Take care to avoid jarring injuries. Investing in the best possible pair of running shoes and avoiding running down steep hillsides and on pavement and other hard surfaces will help you minimize possible injuries. A program that includes moderate paced runs interspersed with sprints and uphill sections will put you in excellent condition. The muscles in your back and shoulders will be neglected with a running program, so you may want to supplement this with another exercise program or weight training.

3. Swimming: This exercise is very good for the heart and lungs when done with vigor. There are almost no stress-related injuries with swimming, so it’s well suited to people with sensitive joints. Swimming strengthens primarily the shoulders and back, so combining it with a program that works on developing leg muscles is recommended.

4. Racquet sports: These are especially good during spells of bad weather. Played rigorously, they strengthen the heart and lungs and are good for toning and strengthening the shoulder, back, and leg muscles.

Knees are the most abused parts of the body. In order to avoid knee problems later it is worth taking a few precautions now to strengthen them. If you are a relatively active person chances are that an exercise program won’t lead to any knee problems. If you have had knee problems or are afraid you might, the following exercises are designed to increase knee strength. The best insurance against knee injury is to have strong quadriceps, the large muscles on the front of your thigh. They’re connected to ligaments which pass over the knee joint, keeping everything in place. The following exercises will strengthen your quads and therefore your knees. Do 5-10 repetitions of each exercise several times a day.

1. Quad muscle setting: With your legs straight, either lying on your back or sitting, pull your kneecap toward you as you push the back of your knee down. Hold the muscle tight a few seconds and release.

2. Straight leg raises: Lie flat on your back with one leg extended flat and the opposite leg bent with the knee raised. Raise the entire straight leg, keeping it straight, 12 inches off the floor. Hold the position a few seconds and then slowly lower the leg. Repeat with the opposite leg. This one is fairly strenuous, so take care not to strain yourself.

3. Terminal knee extension (lying): Lie on your back with a rolled towel under one knee. Straighten your leg, raising the foot. Hold straight a few seconds, then lower. Repeat with the opposite leg.

4. Terminal knee extension (sitting): Sit on a firm surface with a rolled towel under the back of one knee and hang your leg freely. Straighten you knee all the way. Avoid leaning forward, backward, or sideways. Hold the leg straight for a few seconds, then slowly lower. Repeat with the opposite leg.

If you haven’t been involved in physical activities for a while, consult your physician prior to any physically demanding conditioning program.

Remember, it’s important to set a realistic goal for yourself. A number of moderate workouts give superior results to several extreme workouts that result in injury. If you’re not having fun or getting satisfaction form your workout, then scrutinize your activities and attitude toward your training program. Perhaps changing your activity would better suit you. After the initial period when muscles are sore, activities very tiring, and motivation is low, a program involving the entire body and integrating a number of activities will be both fun and exciting, and you’ll find yourself motivated to spend time on your training. The better condition you come in, the more you’ll enjoy your climbing.

--AAI Staff

Monday, December 14, 2009

Harness Alternatives

A few years ago, I was running a trip up on Mount Shuksan. One of the climbers on the trip had a problem with her harness. The end of the waist belt strap was slightly damaged and the belt simply wouldn't double back.

I decided that the best alternative was to give her my harness. I then proceeded to guide the route wearing a bowline-on-a-coil. I descended the rock portion of the route by rappelling in a diaper harness made out of a double shoulder-length sling...and everything worked out fine.

While that experience wasn't the most comfortable of my life, I definitely drew on my knowledge of harness alternatives to make it happen the trip happen. It's important for every climber to have a small bag of tricks to reach into when something weird goes down.

In this Blog, I have assembled a couple of short articles on harness alternatives and have found a nice video that will help you develop your own bag of tricks.

The following demonstration of how to tie a bowline on a coil is from the website for the Blue Ridge Mountain Rescue Group.

Bowline on a Coil

Start with 15 or so feet of the belay line wrapped around your torso with about 3 feet left over

Create a loop in the long end of the line, just like you would for the regular bowline.

Use the short piece on the other side of the wraps to finish off the bowline

The finished knot.

This was often used long ago as an impromptu harness. this is not recommended today because of the availability of pre-fabricated harnesses and the ability to tie a much better harness from 1 inch tubular webbing. If none of those are available, however, this method is preferable to a single loop around the body because it distributes the weight much more across all those wraps.

There are two options when it comes to creating a harness out of webbing. The first option is to use a long sling or runner and to wear it like a diaper. The second option is to create a hasty harness, also known as a swiss seat harness. Naomi Judd wrote the following breakdown of how to do this for trails.com:

Step 1

Find a piece of webbing that is 7 to 9 feet long, depending on how large the person using the harness will be.

Step 2

Tie a water knot with the ends of the webbing so that it creates one big loop. Do this by making a loose overhand knot with one end of the webbing, then take the other end of the webbing and insert it into the loose overhand following the curves of the knot. Pull tight so that the knot has the two ends coming out on opposite sides.

Step 3

Wrap the webbing around the back of the person with one strand above the hips and one below.

Step 4

Reach for the lower strand, and bring it between the legs and to the front of the body.

Step 5

Attach a locking carabiner to the three strands meeting in the front of the body, near the navel. You now have your makeshift harness.

Following is a nice video that demonstrates how to build a hasty or Swiss harness out of webbing. Clearly a harness made out of webbing -- as well as a harness made out of a long sling -- would be very uncomfortable to hang in...not to mention the fact that it would be far easier to fall out of such a harness. But occasionally you need something on the fly.

In the video you are about to watch, the climber says that you should get instruction at a climbing gym. I would argue that one should never go to a local indoor climbing gym to learn about anything funky at all. Climbing gyms do a good job at teaching the basics of belaying and tying in. But you should never turn to a climbing gym person for instruction beyond that.

Obviously these techniques are unusual. As Scott in the video says, practice them, but then get checked out by a guide. A mistake in any of these harness alternatives could put your life in danger.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December and January Climbing Events

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

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

--December 28 -- Kelowna, BC -- Banff Film Festival

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

--January 1-2 -- El Portraro Chico, Mexico -- Climbing Festival

--January 7 -- Fernie, BC -- Banff Film Festival

--January 7-9 -- Kirov, Russia -- UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing

--January 7-10 -- Ouray, CO -- Ouray Ice Festival

--January 8 -- Carbondale, CO -- ABS Competition

--January 8-10 -- France -- Ice Climbing Ecrins

--January 9 -- Cranbrook, BC -- Banff Film Festival

--January 10 -- Invermere, BC -- Banff Film Festival

--January 14-17 -- Crested Butte, CO -- High Adventure: Ice and Ski

--January 16 -- Bloomington, IL -- 15th Annual Hangdog Jamboree

--January 16-17 -- Saas Grund, Switzerland -- UIAA European Ice Climbing Youth Championship

--January 16-17 -- Val Daone, Italy -- UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing

--Janyary 22-23 -- Saas Fee, Switzerland -- UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing

--January 23 -- San Luis Obispo, CA -- Bishop Peak Adopt-a-Crag

--January 23 -- Superior, WI -- Rock On

--January 26 -- Walla Walla, WA -- Banff Film Festival

--January 29 -- Jeffersonville, VT -- Smuggs Ice Bash

--January 30 -- Boston, MA -- Heart of Steel Bouldering Comp

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to get you stoked!

There are some very high quality climbing films out there. What makes them high quality? Well one thing is the production values. It's fun to watch climbers that have been filmed by people who know what they're doing. Following are two trailers for films that were shot and edited by such artists.

First, we have a trailer for the new film, Extreme Climbing: Beyond Gravity. This film showcases world-class climbers in different disciplines including rock, ice, aid, alpine, big-wall, bouldering and free-soloing.

Narrated by acclaimed climber and author Greg Child, this internationally praised and multiple award-winning documentary features many of North America's top climbers including Peter Croft, Lynn Hill, Barry Blanchard, Katie Brown, Sean Isaac, Nancy Feagin, Joe Josephson, Steve House, Abby Watkins and many others.

And second, we have the trailer from a British film entitled, Psyche. This film features the best of British climbers including Steve McClure, Andy Kirkpatrick, Ian Parnell and Dave Birkett. And it explores a number of avenues of climbing from hard trad to big mountains to hard sport.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy International Mountain Day

Mountains are an important part of our lives. And if you're reading this, you probably consider them an important part of your life as well. However, when we say that mountains are important to us, we really mean that they are important in a recreational or a spiritual way...but they are far more important than that.

The life cycles of many regions on our planet start in the mountains. We depend on the mountains for water for everything from irrigation to hydroelectric power to watering our lawns. The mountains are an incredibly important place for the physical and economic health of massive population centers.

The Convention on Biological Diversity put it best when writing about mountains and their importance to the world:

Mountain systems, covering about 27% of the world’s land surface and directly supporting 22% of the world’s people, are the water towers of the world, providing for the freshwater needs of more than half of humanity. The world’s mountains encompass some of the most spectacular landscapes, a wide variety of ecosystems, a great diversity of species, and distinctive human communities. The world’s principal biome types—from hyper-arid hot desert and tropical forest to arid polar icecaps—all occur in mountains. Mountains support about one quarter of world’s terrestrial biological diversity, with nearly half of the world’s biodiversity “hotspots” concentrated in mountains. Almost every area that is jointly important for plants, amphibians, and endemic birds is located within mountains. Of the 20 plant species that supply 80% of the world’s food, six species (maize, potatoes, barley, sorghum, tomatoes, and apples) originated in mountains. A large portion of domestic mammals—sheep, goats, domestic yak, llama, and alpaca—originated in mountain regions. Genetic diversity tends to be higher in mountains associated with cultural diversity and extreme variation in local environmental conditions.

However, mountains are vulnerable to a host of natural and anthropogenic threats, including seismic hazards, fire, climate change, land cover change and agricultural intensification, infrastructure development, and armed conflict. These pressures degrade mountain environments and affect the provision of ecosystem services and the livelihoods of people dependent upon them. The fragility of mountain ecosystems represents a considerable challenge to sustainable development, as the impacts of unsuitable development are particularly intense, more rapid and more difficult to correct than in other ecosystems.

It was for this reason that the United Nations General Assembly dedicated December 11th as International Mountain Day.

Right now there are specific threats to the recreational value of the mountains all over the world. The Access Fund lists dozens of crags and mountain areas all over the United States as being under the threat of closure. One specific threat that is near and dear to those of us in the Pacific Northwest, is the potential closure of the Index Lower Town Wall.

A Climber on the Lower Town Wall
Photo by Alasdair Turner

A few years ago, I wrote an article for the Seattle P.I. about Index. And though I'd climbed there repeatedly over the years, I never realized the deep and important history of the area not only to local climbers, but indeed, to climbers all over the West Coast. The area has hosted some of the best climbers in the world and has been a training ground for many of today's climbing luminaries.

The land owner at Index has decided that he will sell the property to a quarry if local climbers cannot come up with the money to buy the area. The Washington Climbers Coalition reached an agreement that they would buy 20 acres -- including the Lower Town Wall, the Middle Wall, the Inner Wall and several other crags -- if they could come up with the requisite $300,000 in 18 months.

The Washington Climbers Coalition currently has half of the amount.

As a result, in honor of International Mountain Day, today the American Alpine Institute is running a series of donation only rescue clinics at the YMCA in Bellingham. We are also going to have a raffle, slide show and auction tonight at New York Pizza. All proceeds from these events will be going to the Washington Climbers Coalition and their fund to purchase the walls at Index.

Today is a day for action. Whether your action is to help secure a recreational resource, to support schools in a remote mountain village, or to lobby against environmental degradation in the mountains, today is the day to act. Every climber, hiker, backpacker, and skier needs to ask themselves a question today:

What am I doing to celebrate International Mountain Day?

Juana Cocorico lives in a Pinya, a poor village below Illimani.
Juana's father has been our cook on numerous Bolivian Expeditions.
The author of this blog is sponsoring Juana's education.
Photo by Krista Eytchison

There are a number of quick and easy things that you could do. You could do a stewardship project like help build a trail or replace bolts. You could log onto our website and make a donation to help save Index from becoming a gravel quarry. You could donate to the Access Fund. You could donate to the American Safe Climbing Association. Or you could donate to your local climbing access group. Outside of the climbing world, you could make a donation to a larger environmental organization like the Sierra Club or to a larger mountain children advocacy group like the Central Asia Institute.

Regardless of what you do, you should take some time to do something for the mountains, the mountain people, or the mountain environments today...that's what International Mountain Day is for...

--Jason D. Martin

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Forest Service Opens Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road

The American Alpine Institute just received the following email from Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest:

Everett, Wash. Dec. 9, 2009--The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest opened the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road, road 56, to vehicular traffic this week. Last winter's floods closed the road, blocking access to the Middle Fork and Snoqualmie Lake Trailheads. The Upper Middle Fork Road remains closed until next summer for repairs just beyond the Middle Fork Campground and Taylor River Bridge, from mile post 12.5 to its end at Dingford Creek Trailhead.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Red Rock - An Event Roundup from November

Well, it was a busy November in Red Rock.

The weather was amazing, and lots of climbers enjoyed the perfect Fall sun, despite the shorter days. The nights were a bit chilly, but the campground was busy and climber camaraderie was in the air.

There have been a few events of note lately; that is in addition to the usual stuck rappel lines and descents in the dark. The Las Vegas Climbers Liaison Council recently co-sponsored a fundraiser for Tyrus Bachar, son of deceased climbing legend John Bachar. With help from Acopa Climbing Shoes, lots of volunteers, and the generosity of the American Alpine Institute, we were able to raise almost $1500. AAI donated a 6 day Alpinism 1 course that was the central feature of a silent auction. The main event was the Climbing Poker Night, where participants climbed five routes of their choice at the Red Rock Climbing Center, and were given a playing card for each. The holders of the best hands received prizes donated from Sterling Ropes, CiloGear, and many others.

The day after Thanksgiving, in conjunction with the BLM, the LVCLC also sponsored an Adopt-A-Crag event. Volunteers, including both locals and visiting climbers, helped clean up trash and wash chalk off the popular Kraft Boulders. In addition to that I worked with John Wilder and other LVCLC volunteers in replacing many of the outdated bolts and hardware at the Ultraman Crag. Gotta love that ½” stainless steel that the American Safe Climbing Association donated to the cause!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the events, and a special thanks to the BLM for their hospitality and support for the climbing community!

So here are a few pictures to motivate and inspire those of you that live in places that have what they call “winter”. I hope to see some of you here in the near future.

A Climber in Red Rock Canyon

Beautiful Steep Red Rocks!

The Chimney Pitch on Frogland (5.8, III)

A Climber on the Solar Slab Wall

Mount Wilson at Sunset

Climbers on top of the Solar Slab Wall

Lisa Buchina - President of the Las Vegas Climber's Liaison Council - at the Tyrus Bachar Event

--Scott Massey, Instructor and Guide