Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Expedition Sled Rigging

Pulling sleds on an expedition is very much a love-hate relationship - one that is unquestionably weighted towards the latter. For the most part, sleds are a beast of burden and a huge pain in the posterior. I have seen the exasperated faces of Denali climbers doing battle with their sleds countless times, and everyone seems to think, “surely there must be a better way.”

Read an updated version of this article on how to rig an expedition sled on our main website, AlpineInstitute.com.

There are definitely some methods that are better than others, but in the end, sleds are inconvenient, cumbersome, get in the way, and frustrate you to no end. During the moments where your sled is working smoothly and efficiently, revel in it, because soon the path ahead will change and it will be pulling you off balance, tripping you, getting tangled in the rope, and flipping over. Don’t worry - it is all par for the course and part of the joys of expedition climbing.

Having set the stage for frustration, I can now say that sleds are invaluable tools on expeditions like Denali’s West Buttress. The hassle is more than worth the benefit of not having to carry all that gear on your back.

Below you will find a description of a system that AAI uses to rig and pull expedition sleds. What method will work best for you will ultimately depend on your sled and pack models and what feels best given your dimensions and load.

Some basic principles of pulling sleds are as follows:
• The majority of the sled weight should be born by your hips and not your backpack or shoulders.
• Some form of a sliding or self-equalizing attachment point for the sled tether/sled attachment is very useful in maintaining equal load on each tether while traversing or on uneven terrain.
• Make sure your attachment system is redundant and that total failure of loss of a sled is not possible.
• Be patient. When you get tripped and fall down for the 10th time that day, chuckle and remember that you aren’t working and you are in the mountains, so how bad can it be?
• Mind the sled in front of you. Don’t forget, when going downhill on a rope team, you are responsible for managing the rope and sled in front of you. This means constantly paying attention and putting forth continual effort to keep the rope and sled from running into the pack of your buddy.
• Experiment with different set-ups if yours does not feel manageable or sustainable. If your sled seems like an unmanageable burden or if it puts unbearable weigh on your pack, mix it up a bit and use the principles contained herein to guide your experiments.

Gear needed (diagram and labels in photo below):1. 2 x non-locking carabiners
2. 1 x 11 to13-foot piece of 6 mil cord for sled pulls/tethers
3. 2 x 3-foot pieces of 6 mil cord.
4. 1 x Expedition Sled
5. Attachment points for duffel tether.
6. 25 feet of 4 mil cord for duffle bag tether
7. 1 x locking carabiner for rope attachment.
8. 1 x locking carabiner or a pulley.

Rigging Your Sled

Make sure your sled has attachment points or loops for your duffel bag tether feed through. These are labeled #5 in the photo. If your sled doesn’t have them, they are easy enough to fashion with any thin cordage.

2. Form the nose and tail attachment points with the two pieces of 3-foot 6 mil cord. Do this by making a loop from the cord using a double fisherman’s knot threaded through holes in the sled. The length of the cord will depend on your sled and the hole configuration. Three feet seems about right for most models. This attachment point needs to be a loop using a secure knot. This will prevent loss of the sled if one hole in the plastic were to fail.

3. Set up your sled pulls using the 11 to 13-foot length of 6 mil cord and the two non-locking carabiners.
There are a few ways to attach the sled pull to the nose attachment point. My favorite, even though it is more gear intensive, is to use a small crevasse rescue pulley. This allows the sled pulls to run freely through the attachment point and to remain equalized on uneven terrain. To do this, I run the nose attachment cord through the carabiner hole in the pulley and they run the sled pulls through the pulley wheel hole. A carabiner can also be used in place of the pulley, but this would allow the sled pull to slide all of the way through the carabiner should one of the pack attachment points come undone. As long as you build redundancy into your sled attachment, this shouldn’t be much of a concern.

4. Fashion your attachment method for the sled pulls. Again this can be done a number of ways. I recommend either a figure-8 or fisherman’s knot on a non-locking carabiner as pictured below. These will attach to your backpack.

5. Attach your duffel bag tether. This is the 25-foot piece of 4 mil cord that will be used to tied your duffel bag and gear to your sled. I usually tie one end of this directly to your nose or tail attachment point of the sled rather than one of the smaller and weaker attachment points as in the picture.

6. Attach your sled pulls to your pack. Unfortunately, there are many variables in this aspect of the rigging process. What system will work best depends on the configuration of your pack and a few other factors that can’t really be assessed ahead of time. Remember the principle concern is to get the weight of the sled onto your hips and not the pack itself. Below is a diagram that shows an attachment point that works well on the Gregory Pro pack. Most other similarly sized packs have an attachment point on or near the wait belt that can work well. If your pack doesn’t have a suitable attachment point on the waist belt, one can be fashioned by wrapping 6 mil cord around you pack and forming a power point to attach the sled pulls to. In my experience, this is a less user-friendly and efficient method and should be a last resort.

Setting the length of your sled pulls for optimum distance from your sled can be tricky, and it is something that you will get a feel for over time. As a general rule, I think it works best to have the sled pulls as short as possible while having them far enough away from your feet that they won’t easily interfere with walking. Bear in mind that on the descent, the person behind you will be managing your sled, which will tend to chase you down the hill, and so you don't want the sled pulls too tight or it will be more difficult for your sled manager to keep the sled from hitting your feet.

7. Attach the sled to the climbing rope. In most cases while in glacier travel mode, you will want your sled tied into the climbing rope. This is most often and most easily accomplished by using a clove hitch on the locking carabiner (see tail rigging photo above). Tying the climbing rope into the sled servers a few different purposes. First it allows the person behind you on the rope team to manage your sled while going downhill. Second, it provides some redundancy to your primary sled attachment to prevent loss of a sled in the even of a crevasse fall or knot/equipment failure in the primary system.

8. The last and final step…PULL!!

To view a pdf version of this article, download here.

To get in touch with our guides, please email us at ak-programs@alpineinstitute.com. AAI runs several expedition training programs, such as our 7-Day Alaska Mountaineering - Denali Prep. We also run seven guided Denali climbs each season.

--Coley Gentzel, Denali National Park Climbing Ranger and former AAI Guide

Monday, March 29, 2010

UIAA Gear Testing Videos

A couple of weeks ago, we posted a video of a carabiner strength test. The video was very popular. We got to see a press destroy a carabiner. Videos of gear breaking are always engaging. As a result, today we have posted a few more climbing gear testing videos from the UIAA. These are both terrifying and a lot of fun all at the same time!

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, March 28, 2010

April and May Climbing Events

-- April 7 -- Skagit Valley, WA -- Dallas Kloke, 50 Years of Climbing

--April 10 -- Grand Junction, CO --
"MOG" Outdoor Gear Sale & COPMOBA Bike Swap

-- April 16 -- Seattle, WA -- Snowball! NWAC Fundraiser

-- April 17 -- Central Washington University -- Ropeless Rodeo Bouldering Competition

-- April 23,24 -- Maryland/DC Area -- EarthTreks Roc Comp

-- April 24 -- Joshua Tree, CA -- Bridwell Fest at the Gordon Ranch

-- April 29 - May 2 -- Carbondale, CO -- Five Point Film Festival

-- May 2 -- Redmond, WA -- Redmond Vertical World Spring Rendezvous

-- May 8 -- Seattle, WA -- Rain City Send, University of Washington

-- May 8 -- Tuscon, AZ - SCS Regionals

-- May 30 -- Bellingham, WA - Ski to Sea

Friday, March 26, 2010

Snake Bites - First Aid and Prevention

As the climbing season in the Southwest goes through the high season of March and April, I am often asked about snakes. Are there snakes in Red Rock? Are there snakes in Joshua Tree? Are they dangerous?

The answer to all three questions is yes...and no. There are rattlesnakes in both Red Rock and Joshua Tree, but they are uncommon in both venues. Large populations of predatory birds help keep the snake populations low. It is unlikely that you will encounter a snake in either location. And even if you do, the likelihood of a problem with a snake is very low.

Mojave Rattlesnake

Statistically the mostly likely group of individuals to be bitten by a snake are between the ages of 15 and 25 years-old and are male. Most of these bites take place on the hands or forearms. I couldn't find any statistics about the involvement of alcohol in snake bites.

Based on my last sentence, what do you suppose such statistics suggest?

Yep, you guessed it. They're messing with them.

Millions of people live, work and play in the same places where snakes live, work and play. In the continental United States less than 8,000 people are bitten by snakes every year and as stated above, a large percentage of them are literally asking for it.

In the unlikely event that somebody in your party does receive a snakebite, don't panic and try to keep the victim calm. Many snakebites happen because the snake is defending itself. When a snake bites out of defense it is less likely to envenomate. So there is the possibility that there is no venom in the bite. So there may be nothing to panic about.

If there is venom in the bite, panicking will only raise one's heart-rate and allow the venom to move more quickly through the system. It is incredibly important to keep the victim calm. Remove any jewelry or rings from any extremity that has been bitten. If there is venom in the bite, there will be significant swelling -- so much that a ring could become stuck, cutting off blood flow and ultimately causing the loss of a finger.

In the old movies, John Wayne loved to cut open a snakebite to suck out the venom. John Wayne was apparently unaware of hepatitis, HIV, cytomegalovirus or any of a number of other blood-borne dangers. Doctors and nurses don't wear latex gloves for nothing. Sucking venom out of a wound flies in the face of a basic tenant of first aid, body substance isolation.

Obviously if someone is bitten by a snake, call for emergency assistance immediately. Responding quickly is crucial. While waiting for emergency assistance:
  • Wash the bite with soap and water.

  • Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart.

  • Cover the area with a clean, cool compress or a moist dressing to minimize swelling and discomfort.

  • Monitor vital signs.

If a victim is unable to reach medical care within 30 minutes, the American Red Cross recommends:

  • Apply a bandage, wrapped two to four inches above the bite, to help slow the venom. This should not cut off the flow of blood from a vein or artery - the band should be loose enough to slip a finger under it.

  • It is possible to place a suction deviceover the bite to help draw venom out of the wound without making cuts. These devices are often included in commercial snake bite kits. However, the value of these devices is debatable.

Physicians often use antivenin -- an antidote to snake venom -- to treat serious snake bites. Antivenin is derived from antibodies created in a sheep's blood serum when the animal is injected with snake venom. Because antivenin is obtained from horses, snake bite victims sensitive to horse products must be carefully managed.

The best way to avoid a snakebite is to avoid a snake. If you see one, don't mess with it. Both you and the snake will be much happier in the long-run.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sunburns in the Mountains

Over the decade that I've been guiding, I've decided that the greatest enemy to the climber is not the rain, it's not the snow and it's not the wind. Instead, it is the sun. There is nothing more relenting and nothing that will have such dire long term effects as the sun.

There was a time in my life when I went from working in the heat of the desert directly to high altitude snow. These are both places where the sun is far more dangerous than in a city. And while I'm not aware of any reports of a higher incidence of skin cancer among climbers, it wouldn't surprise me if this were the case.

The most common places for climbers to get burned are on the tops of the ears, the tip of the nose and on the lips. High altitude climbers on glaciers will also see burns develop on the roof of their mouths and inside their nostrils.

The Author Belaying on Mount Baker
The bandanna covers both his ears and neck.

It might seem obvious, but it is incredibly important to wear sunscreen and cover as much skin as possible when you are in bright sunlight. Over the years I've had a few people on glaciers who decided that they "tan well" and elected not to wear sunscreen. In each of these cases, the climbers contracted serious burns that were so bad, they actually scabbed up.

Whether in the desert or at high altitude one must apply sunscreen and then reapply it often.

Many climbers on big mountains will wear a Buff to cover their faces or will carry multiple bandannas to pin around their faces and necks "Al Qaeda" style. Most will wear sunglasses with a nose beak. And many will apply sunscreen inside the nostrils.

In the desert, some will wear a bandana under their helmets and over their ears and neck. Sunshirts and shirts with collars are also popular. Sunshirts are designed to reflect most of the sunlight away while providing good coverage. Shirts with collars provide a little extra shade for the neck.

These hiking oriented shirts can be found at most outdoor stores.

Following is a quick breakdown of how to treat a sunburn from the Sunburn Resource:

1. When treating sunburn, it is very important to prevent further damage or irritation. To prevent sunburned skin from getting worse, keep from further direct exposure to the sun, and stay indoors as much as possible.

2. Closely observe the affected areas for blisters. When blisters are present, this means that the skin has been severely damaged, and complications are highly probable. Don’t try to break them, or you’ll increase the risk of infection. If blisters are present on a large area of the skin, get to a hospital’s emergency room immediately. Other instances that warrant medical attention right away are when severe swelling causes breathing difficulty, when pain on the affected area is terrible, and when serious swelling occurs around the limbs such that it threatens to constrict blood flow and cause hands or feet to go numb or turn bluish. Too much sun exposure can also cause other related ailments, such as sun poison or heat stroke. When any of these are suspected or when high fever is detected, consult a doctor immediately.

3. Take pain relievers to help ease the pain and swelling. Aspirin and ibuprofen are examples of oral medications commonly taken to minimize these sunburn symptoms, but do avoid giving aspirin to a child or teenager. Also, consult a doctor before taking any pain killer if you’re also taking prescribed medication.

4. Drink lots of water. This will help you regain lost fluids in your body, as well as aid your system in its recovery from sunburn. Fresh fruit juice, such as watermelon, is also a good alternative. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, as these may cause further dehydration.

5. Regularly apply a cool, soothing cream or aloe lotion to the affected area to keep it moist. Aloe extract has powerful healing properties, and is most effective in its pure form. Vitamin enriched lotions and moisturizers may also help speed healing. When treating moderate to severe burns, 1% hydrocortisone cream may also be used. Avoid using butter, oil, and strong ointments on burned skin, as these will only irritate and worsen sunburn symptoms.

On mountains like Denali, climbers must completely cover their skin.

6. Shower with cool water whenever possible. This should help ease the pain and discomfort on your skin until it begins to heal. Use very mild soap, and refrain from using abrasive personal skin products, such as exfoliating skin formulas and body scrubs to avoid irritation.

7. Wear loose-fitting clothes made of natural fibers, such as cotton or silk, as sunburned skin tends to be extremely sensitive, and harsher fabrics will do more harm than good. When heading outdoors, wear long sleeved shirts and long pants that cover the affected areas.

8. Leave peeling skin alone. When your skin starts peeling, try your very best not to scratch, scrub or strip the dry skin off. The layer of skin underneath the peeling is still very sensitive, and will only lead to further skin damage when forcibly exposed. Just continue using moisturizer to help relieve itching and dryness.

Following is a short video on sunburn treatment:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 22, 2010

In Defense of Soloing

It's a common enough site. A young man pulls on his rock shoes and clips on his chalk bag. The next thing you know he's blasting up the wall without a rope or a harness.

Someone nearby says, "that guy's stupid."

And someone else disagrees.

And then someone yells something at the soloist. "Hey!" the person shouts. "Don't you know that's stupid?"

And so it goes. People argue the value and the dangers of soloing on the ground. Eventually someone irresponsibly tries to get the soloist's attention, which makes his position far more precarious.

When in the field it's common for climbers to ask me what I think about soloing. Most expect me to universally condemn it. But I can't. It's hard for me to dictate to someone else what their climbing should or should not be. This conversation exists throughout the internet. Here is a great thread on the subject.

One of the main points of contention is the question of exactly what soloing is. Is it soloing if you do a highball boulder problem? Is it soloing if you climb a third-class ridge? What about a fourth-class ridge? What about a 5.0 ridge?

At some point each of us has to decide what soloing is for ourselves. And there's the rub. A person who is a non-climber might see third-class movement as the epitome of danger, whereas a climber might not even think about it. In the mountains, climbers commonly solo "easy" terrain to move fast. The question is what is easy ground? It's going to be different for everybody.

A soloist who falls is likely to die. But if you're riding a motorcycle fast and you fall you're likely to die too. Some might see soloing as akin to riding a motorcycle. Falls are uncommon because the rider/soloist stays in control. But when they happen, they are very serious.

It's hard for me to universally condemn soloing because for some the reward is worth the risk. Most soloists don't see what they're doing as being that risky because they're on terrain where they feel extremely comfortable. Does that mean I'm going to solo 5.10 or even 5.5, at this point in my life, probably not. Each of us has to make our own decisions about the risks that we take while climbing. And it is not really our jobs to dictate what's right and what's not right to those outside our parties who are unlikely to impact anyone else.

One might argue that if a soloist falls while you are in the mountains, that you will then be impacted by their decision. You will be responsible for administering first aid or calling for help. This is true. But will telling somebody -- especially a young male soloist -- that you think what they're doing is stupid, change the individual's perspective or will it harden it? I suspect that it will harden it.

Climbing is a very personal sport and we all have opinions about how it should be done. But I feel like those opinions, especially where soloing is concerned, are best left to the ground. Soloists have every right to explore the mountains just like everyone else. And indeed, I believe that they should be left alone while doing it as responsibly as they can...

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, March 21, 2010

March and April Climbing Events

-- March 24 -- Washington, DC -- Glen Denny speaking on Yosemite, presented by the Mountaineering Section of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club

--April 10 -- Grand Junction, CO -- "MOG" Outdoor Gear Sale & COPMOBA Bike Swap

-- April 16 -- Seattle, WA -- Snowball! NWAC Fundraiser

-- April 17 -- Central Washington University -- Ropeless Rodeo Bouldering Competition

-- April 23,24 -- Maryland/DC Area -- EarthTreks Roc Comp

-- April 24 -- Joshua Tree, CA -- Bridwell Fest at the Gordon Ranch

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

A few weeks back I posted a video of "The most difficult big wall climb on Earth," as the title proclaimed. I highly apologize for providing false information, but I blame Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson for proving me wrong. The video below takes a little while to load, but if you are patient you will be treated to the duo working what is "likely" one of the hardest (if not the hardest) big wall free climbs in the world. If this isn't enough, get some dessert by checking out Part 2 of the video and the 8-foot dyno in the middle of a big wall route.

VIDEO Part 1: BD athletes Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson attempting to free El Cap's hardest climb from Black Diamond Equipment on Vimeo.

I've been debating whether or not to put this next video up, but not for lack of stoke. Let me make it clear that we in no way affiliate ourselves with Yvon Chouinard's company or spin-off companies, or those of American Express. With that said, Yvon is super inspirational in this video, and I want to be climbing when I'm his age. The last line, really gives me chills, "To do good you actually have to do something."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Vertical Limit - An Instructional Video

Alright. I know. We've posted this before... But I'm off in Red Rock working at the seventh annual Red Rock Rendezvous and didn't have time to get you an original article this week.

But this video is so funny, it's well worth posting again. Below is my original article from November 20th, 2009:

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

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cascade Pass in the Winter

Andrew and I headed up to Cascade Pass a few weekends ago during a high pressure system. Although not much climbing was done we did spend some quality time in a pretty amazing area.

Our camp at the pass.

A skier

Bear tracks in the snow.

Andrew heading to the pass.

Eldorado Peak

Two skiers heading up Sahale Arm.

Trees covered in rime ice.

Andrew heading back down with a rime covered tree in the foreground.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Google Maps Directions For Your Bike

The debate over the usefulness and accuracy of services like Google Maps and MapQuest is not quite as serious as the one surrounding GPS in the backcountry. I myself may be considered a Luddite, seeing as I refuse to purchase a GPS unit and purposefully rely on my map and compass while in the wilderness. Regardless of your opinion on these technologies and products, you have to admit that some people out there trust these things far to much. A beautiful example of this was demonstrated in the following hilarious clip from NBC's The Office.

While it may seem like a stretch that someone would actually follow spoken directions from a GPS unit verbatim, real life cases are on the rise where people have done just that. The newest service aimed at simplifying our lives, provided by Google, is an addition to their very popular Maps product. You can now get directions specifically for biking from one destination to another. The map will show bike lanes and bike trails specifically, as well roads recommended for cyclists due to their lack of steep hills and traffic. While this product is still in beta testing, cyclists will surely start using it and seemingly as anything Google creates, it will probably become part of our daily lives.

Personally I "Googled" the bike directions from the Institute's office to my house, and it suggested pretty much the exact route I bike to and from work. I was impressed that it picked up even the slightest detail of the side alley I ride through the cut a few corners. The only difference I noticed, was that it took me on the proper one-way road in which I would be biking with the flow of traffic - while when I bike I take an extra short-cut the wrong way down a street. I guess I can't be too critical of the fact that it had me abide by traffic laws. While I don't see this service being extremely helpful in a town I already bike all over and have my routes figured out, it would be nice while heading to a new area. I'm interested to see if any bike related accidents come about due to someone biking while holding a print out copy of their Google Maps directions in their hands, and just hope they are wearing a helmet when it happens.

-Andrew Yasso

Sunday, March 14, 2010

March and April Climbing Events

-- March 5 -- Dayton, OH -- Wright State University Adventure Summit

-- March 6-7 -- Steven's Pass, WA -- Hope on the Slopes

-- March 6 -- Warrenville, IL -- Vertical Endeavors No Hold Barred

-- March 13 -- Washington, DC -- HERA Foundation Climb4Life

-- March 16 -- Bellingham, WA -- Will Stanhope Slideshow

-- March 18 – Bellingham, WA -- The Continuum Project, Chris Alstrin Films

-- March 18 – Las Vegas, NV -- Banff Mountain Film Festival Tour

-- March 18 -- Washington, DC -- Chris Warner speaking on 8km peaks, presented by the Mountaineering Section of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club

-- March 19-21 -- Red Rocks NV -- Red Rock Rendezvous

-- March 24 -- Washington, DC -- Glen Denny speaking on Yosemite, presented by the Mountaineering Section of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club

--April 10 -- Grand Junction, CO -- "MOG" Outdoor Gear Sale & COPMOBA Bike Swap

-- April 16 -- Seattle, WA -- Snowball! NWAC Fundraiser

-- April 17 -- Central Washington University -- Ropeless Rodeo Bouldering Competition

-- April 23,24 -- Maryland/DC Area -- EarthTreks Roc Comp

-- April 24 -- Joshua Tree, CA -- Bridwell Fest at the Gordon Ranch

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

With Red Rock Rendezvous less than a week away, many of our guides are getting stoked to head South for some desert rock climbing. One of the most classic routes down there that will surely get some traffic is Epinephrine; a 15 pitch 5.9 with noteworthy chimney sections. The video which follows documents the climb really well, albeit with some foul language and interesting self-portrayal. If you are easily offended I suggest you skip this video.

One of Bellingham's prodigies, Blake Herrington, will be there as an athlete at the Rendezvous. I found this pretty cool video of him climbing stuff in Alaska last year.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Expect delays as crews begin to move Mount Baker Highway near Glacier

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

GLACIER – Crews are moving equipment into place now and will soon shift a quarter-mile of Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) away from the Nooksack River near east Church Mountain Road, four miles east of Glacier. Drivers can expect closures and delays to begin this month.

WSDOT will shift the highway to help reduce the risk of flood damage and emergency closures. This is a long-term fix that will prevent costly emergency repairs and lane closures.

Starting Monday, March 22, and lasting for two weeks, crews will stop traffic for up to 30 minutes at a time during daylight hours, Monday through Saturday, to fall and remove trees along what will become the new path for the highway.

The Forest Service will close Church Mountain Road (Forest Service Road 3040) March 17 through April 22. The Forest Service road provides access to the Church Mountain Trailhead. Hikers can still access to the trailhead from Forest Service Road 3035 by hiking 1.25 miles east along the power lines to Church Mountain Road.

Along with shifting the highway, crews will also build a new bridge at Chain-up Creek, to improve fish passage. The existing culvert is a barrier for fish. Bridge work will begin in June. Crews will reduce the road to one lane for several months and will use a signal to alternate traffic through the area.

This project is primarily funded by the 2005 Transportation Partnership Funding Package.

Hikers are advised to call the Mt. Baker Ranger District at 360-856-5700 or visit their Web site http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs/ for updated information about trails and roads.

For more project details, visit the Web page: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR542/ChurchMountainRealignment/.

Route Profile: Johnny Vegas

Johnny Vegas is an extremely popular, extremely cool little route that can be found on the lower tier of the Solar Slab Wall in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This phenomenal 5.6 or 5.7 route (depending on who you talk to) climbs up through three enjoyable pitches, all of which are in a spectacular position.

A father and daughter team low on Johnny Vegas.
Photo by Jason Martin

This is a slightly older route. It was put up in 1994, but didn't make it into a guidebook until 2000. The result is that this super classic line was overlooked for a six full years.

In 1999, I was climbing Beulah's Book, a classic 5.9 found just to the left, when I saw a rock jock leading a 5.10 variation to Johnny Vegas. I looked down to see an older man with a very small frame encouraging his much younger partner on. The belayer was none-other than the iconic Red Rock climber, George Uriosite.

A happy climber on the second pitch.
Photo by Jason Martin

George and his ex-wife Joanne were Red Rock pioneers. They were responsible for dozens and dozens of classic lines throughout the park. It was very cool to meet such an important person in the history of Red Rock. And everytime I've run into him since has been just as great.

It was also cool to see those guys on a route that I knew nothing about. So I thought it was important as a Vegas local to get on that thing as soon as possible. The very next day my partner and I returned to the Solar Slab area to make an ascent of Johnny Vegas. And we were incredibly happy that we did.

A climber nearing the top of the route.
Photo by Jason Martin

Since that first time on the route, I've climbed the line dozens and dozens of times. There are a few little things that people should know before sending Johnny Vegas:
  1. Purists will say that the route is four pitches, not three. Indeed, super purists might even call it five pitches. It is three real pitches. Sometimes people make a tiny pitch to attain the base of the route. And there is a long stretch of 5.0 climbing at the top of the route.
  2. Some guidebooks say to rappel this route. It is a rope eating nightmare. It is far better to rappel the nearby Solar Slab Gully.
  3. There are two starts to the bottom of the route. If a party is going very slow on the right hand start, some may elect to pass them on the left.
  4. The bottom of the route goes into the shade in the winter from approximately 10am to noon. When it's cold in the shade, this can make the route very very chilly.
  5. This has become a super popular route. Make sure to get up early!
--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A History of Ice Screws and How to Sharpen Them

For many, February is the heart of the ice climbing season. And indeed, it is about now that ice tools, crampons and ice screws start to get dull. As expected, the Canadian Guide, Mike Barter, has a great series of videos on the topic. He spends a good chunk of the first video talking about the history of ice screws, before he goes into how to sharpen them.

And of course, as with most of Mike's videos, he can't help throwing in something a little bit funny at the end of the second clip.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 8, 2010

Red Rock Rendezvous - March 19-21!

The Red Rock Rendezvous is nearly upon us. And once again, the American Alpine Institute will be working with Mountain Gear to make the event a success.

Along with all of the big name athletes that are brought in for the event, our guides will be running clinics throughout Rendezvous. Michael Powers, Dawn Glanc, Paul Ivaska, Aiden Loehr, Kurt Hicks, Richard Riquelme, Forest McBrian, Alasdair Turner, Viren Perumal, Angela Seidling, Ian McEleney, Kristen Looper, Scott Massey, Alaina robertson, Kevin Hogan, Cliff Palmer, Lyle Haugsven, Mark Grundon and yours truly, Jason Martin, will all be on hand assisting with the event and doing everything that we can to make it the best climbing festival of the year.

If you're already visiting Red Rock Rendezvous, don't forget that we have a lot going on in Las Vegas around that time. Following is a quick breakdown of everything that is happening:
In addition to all of the events going on around Red Rock Rendezvous, don't forget that AAI will have all of our best guides available for private guiding and instruction in Red Rock Canyon. To learn more, send us an email at info@aai.cc or give us a call at 360-671-1505.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

On Morning Edition today (yes, I listen to NPR) Joe Palca was discussing hibernation, and how not only Bears partake in the activity. Mosquitoes apparently join the act in their own form of "hibernation" - in which the females fatten up in the winter. A scientist he talked to led an expedition to Antarctica to explore the idea of arctic bugs, and how they survive. These bugs, or midges, implore amazing survival strategies, including the ability to freeze solid and almost completely dehydrate. I'm sure these climbers wish they had similar abilities...

A little more topical, I'm going to go rock climbing this weekend. The weather is looking to good not to take advantage of it. Index, Leavenworth - hmm not sure where I will head. I found this mash-up of climbs in Index and I really want to head that way, we will see. I hope you guys can take advantage of whatever weather is coming your way!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Route Profile: Pequeno Alpamayo

Bolivia's Pequeno Alpamayo is one of the prettiest little peaks in the Cordillera Real. The mountain looks a great deal like Peru's Alpamayo, but doesn't have the objective danger or the size of it's namesake. Instead, Pequeno Alpamayo is a striking and accessible peak that can easily be done in a day from the Condoriri basecamp.

There are two major routes on the mountain. The moderate Southwest Ridge and the more difficult Southeast Face. Both lines require four to five pitches of climbing. The Southwest Ridge is primarily forty to fifty degree snow and ice climbing, while the Southeast Face is a bit steeper with terrain that ranges from sixty to seventy degrees.

In 1990, an AAI team established the steeper of the two routes. During the 80s and 90s American Alpine Institute expeditions were responsible for dozens of new routes in the Cordillera Real.

The route selection on Pequeno Alpamayo often takes place based on how one feels. The mountain's summit rises to 17,618 feet above sea level, so the oxygen is a bit thin. Many who might see the Southeast Face as a quick jog will find it to be somewhat more difficult due to the altitude. Climbing steep terrain at 17,000 feet often requires one to take a bit more time on each pitch. This is primarily because climbers tend to take a few breaths between each tool placement.

Both routes are accessed by traversing an adjacent peak. Tarija is 16,601 feet and is often considered an objective in and of itself. This approach to the mountain provides for an excellent view of the potential routes. Many of the striking photos of Pequeno Alpamayo have been taken from Tarija's summit.

Following is a photo essay from a series of ascents of Pequeno Alpamayo:

The classic shot taken from the summit of Tarija.
The Southwest Ridge climbs the obvious ridge.
The Southeast face ascends the steeper terrain to the left of the rocks.
Photo by Miles Newby

A group of climbers descend the Southwest Ridge
Photo by Jason Martin

Two AAI Climbers take a break in the middle of the Southwest Ridge
Photo by Jason Martin

Pequeno Alpamayo from nearby Chachapamapa
The Southeast Face route climbs up to the left of the rocks
Photo by Jason Martin

To learn more about the American Alpine Institute's expeditions to Bolivia, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Road Construction Closes Mountain Loop Highway

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

Weekday Access to Through Traffic Blocked

Everett, Wash. March 4, 2010— The Forest Service is closing Mountain Loop Highway 7 a.m. Monday through noon Friday beginning March 8 until the end of April. It will open on weekends. Workers will close various locations from mile post 42, south of White Chuck Bench Overlook, to mile post 35, south of Bedal Creek Bridge.

Closures next week on the north side of Mountain Loop Highway will block access from Darrington to forest road 49 and Sloan Creek Trailhead, which leads to Glacier Peak Wilderness. Hikers will need to come from Granite Falls to reach that trailhead.

The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is making road upgrades, including replacing older, deteriorating culverts and upsizing culverts to better accommodate the passage of fish and flood waters.

Call Darrington Ranger District for updates weekdays at 360-436-1155, or Verlot Public Service Center weekends at 360-691-7791. For updated information about trails and roads, go to alerts and conditions on http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs/

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Alpine Quickdraw

There are two ways to stow a shoulder-length runner. The first way is to simply sling it over your shoulder; and the second is to "triple-it" or turn it into a an alpine quickdraw.

If you prefer to keep runners slung over your shoulder, you should keep them oriented the same direction so that they don't get tangled. You should also consider leaving one carabiner on each runner. If they are pre-rigged with carabiners, then it is easy to simply clip the other end directly into a cam. Cams should also all be racked with their own carabiners to make this a quick and simple operation.

I usually carry some of my slings over my shoulder and others on my harness. Those on my harness are set-up as alpine quickdraws so that I can easily extend them.

Michael Silitch worked as an AAI guide for many years in the Cascades and Alaska Range and now guides for the Institute part time in the French and Swiss Alps. He has put together a nice, short video on how to make an alpine quickdraw. Check it out below:

Some climbing skills -- such as rope tricks and knots -- are best practiced on the ground. I like to refer to these skills as "TV watching skills." In other words, these are things you should practice while zoning out in front of the boob tube so that you have them completely dialed. The alpine quickdraw is just such a skill. Get it wired when it's not critical and it will be easy to make or open up when you are in cruxy situation on the sharp end of the rope...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Frozen" A Ski Movie with Horror Themes

A horror film about skiers?

Makes sense to me. Every time I pay for a lift ticket, I am truly and deeply horrified.

But that's not what we're talking about. A new film was recently screened at the Sundance Film Festival about a trio of twenty-somethings that get caught on a ski lift. But unlike the standard situation where the ski lift stops for a few minutes while a group of people are untangling themselves from either the top or the bottom of the lift, in this film, the skiers are stranded for a very long time. The lift is shut down and it's not supposed to open until the following week.

Surprisingly, a version of this just happened for real. In mid-February, a 22-year-old German skier suffered hypothermia after being trapped for six hours on a chair lift that had been closed down for the evening. The man got on the lift 20 minutes after closing to descend to the Kaltenbach-Hochzillertal ski resort in the Austrian Alps. At that time, the lift was still running for maintenance, but it was shut down shortly afterward. The man was rescued by a cat driver that saw the glow of the man burning dollar bills.

The Adam Green horror film takes this much further. Nobody has cell phones, there's a storm, and the resort isn't supposed to re-open for a week.

Frozen looks a lot like the 2003 film Open Water when a pair of scuba divers get left behind in the middle of the ocean. Open Water was a very good film, filled with psychological horror that never really let up. Hopefully the tension in Frozen can live up to its predecessor. Unfortunately, the critics in Park City didn't think it did.

One of the Frozen movie posters that has recently hit the Internet

The reviews from Sundance are mixed. The New York Times liked the film. Other reviewers gave it mediocre reviews. The Hollywood Reporter isn't so kind to even give it a "it's okay" type review:

Frozen delivers enough thrills and gory chills to satisfy the horror-film crowd, but is not written, directed or acted well enough to be a first-rate thriller. A great premise in which three friends are stranded on a chairlift in the dead of winter is squandered to satisfy the expectations of the genre. The film should scare up reasonable returns in theatres and after-markets from the usual suspects, but not beyond that.

In theory, this film is already out at theaters. But it's premise feels a lot like something that will be on DVD very quickly. It is not playing locally here, but rest assured, when I finally get a chance to view it, I'll give you a review from a climber/skier's perspective.

In any case, without further ado, I give you a pretty good film trailer that will leave your palms quite sweaty.

--Jason D. Martin