Saturday, July 31, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

I'll keep the lead up to this one short. Here it goes: Jacinda Hunter - Mother of 4, full time Nurse, sends 5.14b project. Enough said. Your excuse is no longer valid.

So I'll just stick with the theme I guess, and make this the hardcore women's edition of Weekend Warrior. Another super impressive female climber out there. I love climbing because as a guy, I think it is totally accepted to be extremely impressed by a woman and to admire her climbing, as well as to strive to climb like her. Sure climbing involves brute upper body strength, which on average men have more of (click here to a see a Wikipedia article on it, section 3.1; I am not making this comment from a sexist view point, just stating a fact), but climbing is so much more than just pull-ups. I honestly think I learn way more when I watch a female climb than when I watch a male climb. Trying to take the grace, balance, and fluidity that women seem to inherently have more of when it comes to climbing, and integrate it into my own climbing, is something I really need to get better at.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Mt. Rainier Kautz Glacier Climb

I am way behind on posting photos from the trips I have done lately on my blog, so hopefully I will have a bunch of posts both here on the AAI blog as well as on my own in the next week or so. I will start with my latest trip since it has the fewest photos to sort through.

A Mt. Rainier greeting agent. Much more friendly than the Rangers. Actually the rangers were great!

Here is a panorama from our camp. Mt. St. Helens in the distance.
Crossing the Nisqualy Glacier.

Justin, Kate, and Liz.

Another guide services camp below us.

Scott near the summit.

Scott at the summit.

Liz with about ten steps to go.

Fist Bump!

The rappel down the Kautz Ice Chute.

Kate back at camp.

Heading out in less than perfect weather.

A panorama of the entire Muir Snowfield.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jetboil vs. Whisperlite

For a very very long time, guides used MSR Whisperlites with near exclusivity. Why? Primarily because these stoves provided two large advantages:
  1. They're easy to fix in the field. No matter how gummed up the stove is, it's possible to get it to work.
  2. It's easy to check the level of fuel in the fuel bottle.

MSR Whisperlite

There are some disadvantages to a Whisperlite to:
  1. Eventually they need to be cleaned and worked on at nearly every meal.
  2. There are multiple parts that could potentially get lost.
  3. If they are not running properly they will burn a lot more fuel.
  4. Unless you have a platform for the Whisperlite, it will sink into the snow when it gets hot.
  5. It doesn't necessarily boil water quickly.
These disadvantages brought most guides to a point where they became quite interested in alternatives. The first real alternative to make waves was the Jetboil. I remember my first encounter with this product...suprisingly, I wasn't impressed.

It took me a little while to warm up to this new system. I really liked the way that the whole system could be packed into the mug-shaped pot. It seemed convinent. But initially I wasn't impressed by the lack of a windscreen, the need for canister fuel, or the need to keep the canister off the snow in order to make it work well.

Jetboil Personal Cooking System

It was working with a guide who used the Jetboil constantly that turned me. He would climb an ice route and hang it at the top of a pitch, throw some ice chips in there and then have tea before continuing to climb. He was easily able to carry the stove around while it cooked food or boiled water...and speaking of boiling water, it was really fast. He could cook in the tent (not the vestibule) with the door open to vent fumes. And the pot itself was designed to double as a mug.

I became a big fan of the Jetboil shortly thereafter. I haven't gone back to the MSR Whisperlite simply because I have far too many bad memories of trying to get my stove to work in the cold or, honestly, trying to get it to work at all.
MSR Reactor

In all fairness, MSR has come out with its own answer to the Jetboil. Though I haven't used one yet, the MSR Reactor is considered to be a comparable product. Some say it's better. But I'm a bit stubborn. It takes a lot to get me to change. I will probably have to see a guide do something cooler with the Reactor than to simply hang it at the top of an ice pitch before I try it. I'll probably have to see it carry my pack or something.

Like I said, I'm a bit stubborn...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Worst Climbing Movies Ever

For a non-climber, climbing is a foreign thing. All of the participants are adrenaline junkies looking for their next fix. This perception in conjunction with a serious lack of knowledge about climbing culture have come together over the years to provide us with some very bad climbing films.

You might think that there is little to no value in a poorly executed climbing film, but you would be horribly wrong. The value in these films is wholly unintentional. Most people can suspend their disbelief under certain circumstances. If there is something unrealistic here or there, we usually choose to ignore it. But in some films, it is utterly impossible to ignore the problems. They get it so wrong, yet play it so straight, that the films actually become quite comic.

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

Cliffhanger (1993)

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

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

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

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

Vertical Limit (2000)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take it to the Limit (2000)

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, July 25, 2010

July and August Climbing Events

-- July 31 - Aug 1 -- Golden, CO -- Managing Human Waste

-- Aug 6-7 --Utah -- Cedar Mountain Adventure Experience

-- Aug 7 -- Denali Park, AK -- Denali Education Center Auction

-- Aug 21 -- Moose, WY -- Grand Teton Climber's Ranch Anniversary

-- Aug 28 -- Truckee, CA -- Craggin' Classic

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

As the weather seems to stabilize, and the sun stays out for longer, certain climbing areas become more consistently enjoyable here in the Northwest. One of those areas is just across the border from us, in Squamish, BC. I really cannot do Squamish justice in one paragraph, nor does this video do it justice in four and a half minutes. However, just trust me when I say Canada really takes care of their parks, and Squamish rocks. Here is a clip put together from shots taken at last weekend's mountain festival.

While we are talking about climbing in other countries, may as well stick with the theme and go with this hilarious video from Australia. Cedar Wright, the same guy who made the previous video, has a little too much time on his hands. However, he ends up making pretty solid videos, and it seems like he climbs pretty darn hard. If you can drone out the music, you'll notice some pretty stellar climbing going on, and may just be inspired to renew that passport.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Reflection on my first major expedition

As a program coordinator (and aspiring guide) at AAI, I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing climbers, guides, and teachers in the mountains. It seems to me that our staff members are all three at the same time, and I feel so fortunate to be learning and climbing with them. Additionally, I have been given the opportunity to experience things and climb in areas that have challenged me both physically and mentally, as well as broaden my climbing resume.

Most recently I just returned from an 18 day expedition on Denali's West Buttress. I participated in this trip as an "assistant guide," which means I couldn't quite lead a rope team, but I could cook! Essentially, I got a free trip up to Alaska to climb in a beautiful range, on a beautiful mountain, with some extremely experienced and quality guides. However for whatever reason, I wasn't as stoked before the trip as I should have been. I thought the West Buttress was just some three week slog up a wide snow slope with minimal to no technical climbing.

Base camp with Mt. Hunter in the background, looking stellar

In some way, that is exactly what it is. But while I was on the trip, my opinion started to change. It wasn't because the loads got lighter over time, or that the altitude was messing with my head - it was the continual conversations I had with my team members and other climbers that changed my mind. I remember one specific conversation that went like this.

Me: "You know, my favorite type of climbing is when the climb lasts no more than two days. I can fit all my gear in a 30L pack and go work myself over the course of a few days to get up something truly exciting. I like it to be steep, and full of exposure, and be logistically pretty simply."

Climber: "Yeah, that does sound fun. I do enjoy ice climbing, and technical rock is great, but my most favorite type of climbing, what I really yearn to do, is steep snow. That's why I love climbs like the West Buttress"

A steep snow slope... at the top of Motorcycle Hill on Denali

Steep snow!? Really dude? My initial thought was, man that is the one type of "climbing" that I could do without! I see steep snow as an inevitable object in the way of more exciting climbing. It is in no means an "end" in and of itself. However seeing this climber's passion for the route, and for the location and views it exposed him too, I started to gain an appreciation for it.

Sure I wasn't being challenged technically, but that meant I had the time to look around and to appreciate the clean mountain air I was breathing. More often than not I'm thinking about technical systems or how to manage rope drag, instead of how beautiful the ridge top looks when the sun is setting and the alpenglow starts to take form. Moving up the ridge between 16,000 and 17,000 feet I wasn't thinking about the level that I climb at, but simply where I was climbing and how stunning the Alaska range is.

A view of the stunning summit ridge

Furthermore, I found myself enjoying the social experience of Denali. I was rubbing shoulders with climbers from every country of the world, and heard more languages at 14,200 in Alaska than in most international airports. Where else can you share a shot of vodka with a Romanian climbing team, and then have some fish with a Japanese team that were drying it in the sun - hung between two trekking poles? While I'm usually not one to randomly engage people in "climber talk," I really appreciated the opportunity to meet people from other places and observe their climbing style and ethics.

Playing badminton at 14,200 feet

Overall, at the end of the trip, I found myself a little ashamed of my initial attitude towards the route and the style of climbing. I judged the climb and the type of people who do it before I even attempted it myself. Sure the physical challenge is there, and yes the mental obstacles are numerous, but I am truly looking forward to going back to Alaska and climbing that mountain again. If I stand on the summit again, I guess that's cool. But really I'm excited to simply be on the mountain, to see the views, the meet the people, and to experience the trip as a whole. I'm so thankful that my original view of the mountain was crushed, and that now I can really enjoy and appreciate expedition style climbing.

The author, thoroughly pleased to be on the ridge between 16,000 and 17,000 feet

If you've ever been too focused on "your style of climbing" and haven't given much credence to routes like the West Buttress, and haven't given it a try, then you are doing yourself a disservice. I highly recommend you challenge your prejudices, and yourself, by giving the climb a fair chance. If not, you are missing out.

Andrew Yasso - Program Coordinator
(All photos by the author)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tumwater Bridge Repairs to Begin in North Cascades National Park

The American Alpine Institute just received the following email from North Cascades National Park.

The National Park Service will be conducting erosion control and abutment work on Tumwater Bridge along the Stehekin Valley Road in North Cascades National Park. The construction will temporarily close the Stehekin Valley Road to all vehicle traffic above Tumwater Campground on weekdays beginning Monday, July 26, 2010. The bridge will remain open to hikers, bicycles and stock and will open to vehicle traffic on Saturdays and Sundays. Work is expected to be ongoing through mid-August.

Tumwater Bridge endured flood damage and erosion during the 2003 flood. Subsequent floods and high water events have further eroded the bridge approaches and abutments. This work will stabilize the bridge approaches and ensure continued access to this portion of the Stehekin Valley. The total project cost is $319,000 with 46% of the work going to local businesses.

Tumwater Bridge is located 12.3 miles from the Stehekin Landing on the Stehekin Valley Road. This construction will not affect the Stehekin Shuttle service between Stehekin and High Bridge or the Old Wagon Trail (Pacific Crest Trail) trailhead at High Bridge. Tumwater Campground, located at 12.1 miles from the Landing, will remain open during the project.

Photos of the erosion on Tumwater Bridge can be found at

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

August Closures on Washington's Mountain Loop Highway

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

Everett, Wash. July 21, 2010— The Forest Service is closing Mountain Loop Highway (Forest Service road 20) to traffic through August at various locations to install culverts. Construction will close the road 7 a.m.-5 p.m. on the following dates and locations:

Aug. 2-3 at milepost 39.5.
Aug. 4-5 at milepost 37.8, 42.5, and 34.7.
Aug. 9-10 at milepost 35.2-36.85.
Aug. 11-12 at milepost 38.6.
Aug. 16-17 at milepost 39.7.
Aug. 18-19 at milepost 40.4.
Aug. 23-26 at milepost 38.25 - 38.00.
Aug. 30-Sept 1 at milepost 39.00.

Call Darrington Ranger District for updates at 360-436-1155 or go to alerts and conditions on

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Mount Baker Marathon

In the early nineteen-hundreds the first endurance and adventure race took place in the Pacific Northwest. A crew of hearty individuals raced from Bellingham to Glacier by whatever means necessary (car, train, motorcycle) and then began to run. They ran from Glacier to the summit of Mount Baker and back, before they could take their machines back down to Bellingham.

The first to arrive in Bellingham would win a purse of gold worth $100.

There were no rope teams and little additional safety if something went wrong. It was a dangerous race. But $100 was no joke in 1911. Indeed, some of the runners would even set-up camp at 4,500 feet and run to the summit and back twice a day to train.

A documentary film is currently being put together on the mountain runners and the American Alpine Institute was brought in to provide support, rigging, and a stunt man for some of the shots. As a result, Tom Kirby, Ross Buchanan (our intern) and I went up to the mountain with the film crew last week to help them create a seminal moment in the story of the runners.

Apparently one of the runners fell into a crevasse. He was ultimately rescued, but the crevasse fall was serious enough that they decided that they would no longer run the race.

Jason decked out in full costume.
Note the helmet hidden under the hat.

To create the crevasse fall scene, we realized that we needed two settings. First we needed the actual fall into the crevasse and second, we needed to see the bottom of the crevasse. Due to the geography of the mountain, it made more sense to shoot the scene at the bottom of the crevasse first.

The logging boots had studs on the bottom, but they definitely weren't mountain boots.

After some initial training, we worked our way up into the lower icefall on Mount Baker's Coleman Glacier. This is the same icefall that we regularly use for our ice courses and we knew that we would probably be able to find a good crevasse to work with somewhere.

A cameraman shooting the crevasse sequence.

After scouting a good portion of the icefall, we found a nice crevasse with a floor that didn't pinch off.

Running through the scenes at the bottom of the crevasse.

Obviously this wasn't the most stable crevasse in the world. There was a fair bit of debris on the floor which meant that things were occasionally calving off. None of the debris seemed to be recent, but we still elected to get the shots in a get-in-there-and-get-it and then get-outta-there fashion.

The film's director, Todd Warger, took a number of different shots of me lying on the bottom of the crevasse as well as running around and trying to find a way out. He wanted me to look cold and scared. Neither of these things were hard to do at the bottom of a drippy crevasse in cotton clothing.

When I finally got out I had to change my clothes completely. The cotton racer clothes were soaked by the time we were finished for the day and so were we.

Ice climbing in logging boots isn't terribly easy.

The next day we climbed up above the Hogsback to find a crevasse to do the second series of shots. Eventually we found something that would work, but it wasn't great. It would have been nice if the crevasse had been a bit wider.

Prepping for the crevasse fall. Note the rope coming
out of Jason's fly. He is wearing a harness under the pants.

I wore a harness beneath my pants for the shot. We buried and equalized three pickets and clipped the rope to them. The crux of the shot was that I would have to slide through the frame without the camera seeing the rope. To make this happen we stacked the rope next to the anchor and put it down the right-hand side of my body. When I slid, the cameras were on the left and I would have to roll to my right just before entering the crevasse to mask the rope.

Once everything was in place I did it. I slid towards the crevasse acting like I was trying to stop and screaming the whole way. My body launched out over the crevasse, cutting perfectly through the frame.

With all the calculations that we did to set-up the stunt, there was one problem that wasn't well anticipated: the other side of the crevasse. I thought that I would drop more than I did. Instead, I had enough velocity from the slide that I hit the other side of the crevasse and had the wind knocked out of me.

Even though I suffered a bit for the stunt, it appeared to be worth it. The footage of the crevasse fall was absolutely perfect. It's not easy to see the rope and on the first look at the fall, it looks like I took a completely out-of-control slide into the depths.

It was a lot of fun to be involved in a film shoot like this and I'm looking forward to the release of the documentary in 2011. Following is the shot of a "terrified" Jason Martin falling into the crevasse. You'd think with all the years that I spent in the theatre, my screams could have been more convincing:

To learn more about the film, please check out the Mountain Runners website. There is a tremendous amount of information about the real mountain runners there and quite a bit of information about the documentary as well.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 19, 2010

Book Review: Climbing Self Rescue

Most climbers are concerned about what might happen if there were an accident high on a steep face. Most climbers play-out some kind of heroic scenario in their heads where they get out of said accident. But most climbers don't spend the time required to learn how to deal with a serious situation. In other words, the reality vs. what plays out in a climber's head could be quite different. As such, all climbers need to invest some time in learning about rock rescue.

The best way to acquire the skills required to deal with an accident in a multi-pitch setting is to take a class on it. But for those who don't have the time or the money, Andy Tyson and Molly Loomis have written an excellent textbook on the subject entitled, Climbing Self-Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations.

Tyson and Loomis put together a book that starts with what one should do in the case of an accident and then goes into an overview of baseline knowledge. They discuss knots and hitches as well as ropes, webbing and carabiners. After this introduction, they present the alternatives available to a climber during a rescue. These are escaping the belay, rappelling, hauling and lowering. And though these sound like simple things, in reality they are quite difficult with a injured or unconscious patient. Each technique requires a series of steps that are outside the average climber's knowledge base.

The primary competitor to this book is A Falcon Guide: Self-Rescue by David J. Fasulo. While this book is also excellent and covers much of the same ground as Climbing Self-Rescue, Tyson and Loomis have one-upped the Fasulo book by adding a comprehensive series of scenarios at the end of their text which could be used in "practice rescues." The scenarios are complex and often require mastery of multiple rescue techniques in order for a climber to achieve success. And indeed, it is when one has mastery that one will actually be able to deal with a real situation. This element above all others makes Climbing Self-Rescue the better book.

Can you find the crossloaded carabiner in the photo
on the cover of this book?

There is no better way to learn any new technique than with a qualified guide, but for those looking for an introduction to self-rescue or for a supplement to their training, there is currently no better book on the market than Climbing Self-Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, July 18, 2010

July and August Climbing Events

-- July 20 (Deadline) -- REEL ROCK Filmmaking Contest

-- July 31 - Aug 1 -- Golden, CO -- Managing Human Waste

-- Aug 6-7 --Utah -- Cedar Mountain Adventure Experience

-- Aug 7 -- Denali Park, AK -- Denali Education Center Auction

-- Aug 21 -- Moose, WY -- Grand Teton Climber's Ranch Anniversary

-- Aug 28 -- Truckee, CA -- Craggin' Classic

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

So, I just got back from a Denali trip in Alaska - what a trip! One thing is for sure, 18 days of beautiful weather, on a beautiful mountain, on a stellar route, in a beautiful range will spoil someone. Luckily it's the technical stuff that really attracts me, so I can't wait to go back to the Alaska Range and suffer a little more on something steep. Here is a great video from the late, great Jonny Copp about the beauty of Alpine climbing in remote areas.

After my 18 day trip, followed by a week in Talkeetna and then a Greyhound bus ride back to Bellingham, I had spent a considerable amount of time away from "the real world." It wasn't until I was sitting in a bus station somewhere randomly in Northern British Columbia that I found myself staring at moving pictures on a screen, and realized I hadn't seen TV (which is normal because I don't own one) or caught up with the world news in almost a month. I started to wonder, is the oil spill in the gulf still going on? Is the world's economy still depressed? Have people been big wall climbing in Borneo? It turns out the answer to these questions are Yes, Yes, and Yes!

Borneo Big Wall Expedition from camp4 collective on Vimeo.

Friday, July 16, 2010

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

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Urban Dictionary Definition - MountainSexual

Yep, the urban dictionary has defined us...


Similar to metrosexual, but one who lives in the mountains or otherwise pursues the outdoors adventure lifestyle. Kind of a cleaned-up granola, a woodsy GQ kinda' guy with a splash of bohemian. Knows that he doesn't have to look or smell like a dirtbag to enjoy climbing, hiking, cycling, skiing, (all forms), snowshoeing, etc. Progably reads Men's Journal, Outside, and Alpinist. Brands: Patagonia, Keen, Kuhl, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, Mountain Khakis. Stong environmental ethic. Drives a well-maintained truck, performance SUV, or cross-over when absolutely necessary but walks or rides a bicycle whenever possible. Works out at the gym, but primarily to be in shape for outdoor pursuits. Shuns chain stores and shops.

"For such an outdoorsy guy, that dude sure has great style."

"Yeah, he's a veritable MountainSexual!"

It's funny because it's true...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 12, 2010

Film Review: 180° South

In 1968, Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins and a handful of other climbers from Southern California dropped everything, bought a van and drove to Patagonia to climb Fitzroy. This 5,000 mile journey into the heart of the South American mountains became a focal point of the climbers lives. They felt that the journey to get to the mountain was just as important as the mountain itself. Indeed, Chouinard, who started the Patagonia clothing company, sites this trip for his later involvement in conservation efforts throughout the world. And Tompkins also sites the trip as the inspiration that led him to eventually move down to Patagonia in order to help create national parks in Chile.

The newly released film, 180° South, doesn't really go into much depth about that initial trip to Patagonia. Instead, the film focuses on a much younger adventurer named Jeff Johnson. Johnson saw a film entitled, Mountain of Storms, about Chouinard and Tompkins 1968 trip. This short film inspired Johnson to make his own trek south in the search of adventure.

Johnson picked out an obscure Patagonian peak and some friends to join him on it. The friends included Chouinard and "the-funny-man-of-climbing" Timmy O'Neil, as well as pro surfer Keith Malloy. Along the way, he also befriends a young woman named Makohe whom also joins them on the climb.

To imitate Chouinard's and Tomkin's long ago journey, Johnson gets "hired" to help crew a 57-foot sailboat down to South America. While he didn't exactly imitate the 1968 van ride, he did imitate the adventure of the travel. Johnson experiences everything he could experience on a small boat during the journey from seasickness serious damage at sea.

When Johnson finally arrives in Patagonia, he and his crew bushwack in and try to climb Cerro Corcovado, a striking glaciated peak capped by an imposing rock tower overlooking the ocean.

180° South is a beautifully crafted film. Stylistically it is quite similar to Banff Mountain Film Festival films like Take a Seat, the documentary about the tandem bicycle rider who road 20,000 miles from Alaska to South America, always looking for someone to join him on his bike. Or like Alone Across Australia, another Banff film about an adventurer who walks across Australia pulling a cart with his dog. These are the outdoor adventure films that strike home and 180° South can easily hold its head up among these other classic documentaries.

180° South is an absolutely phenomenal film. It encompasses all of the elements that make for a beautiful "mountain" (in the Banff sense) film. It explores conservation and culture through the lens of adventure sports and it gives us some insight.

One element that works some of the time, but doesn't work consistently thoughout the film is a thematic connection between the mountains and the sea. Much of the film is about a boat journey and surfing, but then the piece transitions into a mountain phase. Once in the mountains they do repeatedly callback the sea...but as the narrative shifted away from the sea, it would have made more sense to focus on that environment.

180° South was released on DVD, at a series of theaters and on streaming video almost simultaneously. And while this has happened with a handful of films over the last five years, it's not terribly clear why they did this with the documentary. For most viewers, it doesn't matter. The film is accessible immediately on Netflix via streaming video.

Yvon Chouinard is an icon in the outdoor and climbing world, and this film helps us to understand what has motivated him. It is the same thing that motivates each one of us each time we go outside.

The trailer for 180° South can be viewed below. To see the film's website, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, July 11, 2010

July and August Climbing Events

--July 14-18 -- Squamish, BC -- Squamish Mountain Festival

-- July 15-18 -- New River Gorge, WV -- HomoClimbtastic

-- July 20 (Deadline) -- REEL ROCK Filmmaking Contest

-- July 31 - Aug 1 -- Golden, CO -- Managing Human Waste

-- Aug 6-7 --Utah -- Cedar Mountain Adventure Experience

-- Aug 7 -- Denali Park, AK -- Denali Education Center Auction

-- Aug 21 -- Moose, WY -- Grand Teton Climber's Ranch Anniversary

-- Aug 28 -- Truckee, CA -- Craggin' Classic

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED

FREE RANGE TURKEY_dispatch #7 from camp4 collective on Vimeo.

This weekend, I'm going back to my roots. Yep, I'm going sport climbing.

Sure, I know this is the American ALPINE Institute, but sometimes you just get tired of dillydallying with nuts, cams, crampons, and ice axes and you want to clip and go, clip and go. This weekend, I want to train hard. I'm in the mood for pumped arms, tiny crimps, and Type -2 fun (suffering). I won't look as graceful, calm, or strong as Mr. Yuji Hiriyama, but I can still try until I yell "TAAAAKE, TAAAAKE!".

His self-awareness is inspiring and that video really does get my STOKED. I've going to find my inner ninja. Much like this guy below.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Military Assists in Mentally Unstable Climber Evacuation

The American Alpine Institute just received the following email from Denali National Park:

A 25-year-old solo climber from Pennsylvania was evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp on Mt. McKinley on July 7 after his erratic behavior and alarming statements revealed signs of mental illness with a likelihood of causing serious harm to himself or others.

Prior to flying to the Kahiltna Basecamp, the solo climber told a Talkeetna resident that he intended to paraglide from the summit, an activity prohibited by federal regulation in Denali National Park. When NPS staff members in Talkeetna were informed of this, rangers confronted the individual who signed an affidavit saying that he would not bring his paragliding equipment on the mountain. After he began his ascent of the West Buttress on June 28, other climbing parties on the route made numerous reports to rangers that the soloist demonstrated unsafe glacier travel, a lack of appropriate gear, improper disposal of human waste, littering, and unusual inter-personal interactions.

When he reached the 14,200-foot camp, Denali mountaineering volunteers and rangers evaluated the climber, who was cold, wet, and in distress. While treating the man for hypothermia, rangers discovered paragliding equipment in his sled. The paraglider was seized, at which time the individual’s behavior and language grew increasingly unusual and erratic. Two NPS volunteer medical professionals at the camp consulted over a 24 hour period by telephone with the park’s medical director in Anchorage about their patient observations. A determination was made that the patient’s behavior and condition presented a potential risk to his life and others.

Under provisions of Alaska State law, a 72 hour protective custody order was prepared by the medical director in Anchorage. It was deemed unsafe to transport a mentally unstable person within the small confined cabin of the park’s high altitude helicopter. Denali staff requested military assistance through Alaska’s Rescue Coordination Center. Two Army Chinook CH 47 helicopters from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade out of Ft. Wainwright responded to Talkeetna on the morning of July 7 and transported two Denali law enforcement rangers to the 14,200-foot camp.

NPS personnel at the camp had the individual strapped and secured on a backboard when the single Chinook landed early in the afternoon. The individual was placed in the aircraft and flown directly back to Ft. Wainwright. Alaska State Troopers assisted the park by taking custody of the individual on the ground and transporting him to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

Fixed Lines for Cragging

There are many types of fixed lines. Some climbers use fixed lines in aid climbing to get back to their high point. Some climbers use them in expeditionary climbing to protect exhaustingly long slopes. And others use them more simply just to move up and down from the top of a smaller crag.

Each style of fixed rope has its uses, but surprisingly, the style used the most is the third style. Short sections of fixed rope are common at cragging areas throughout the country. Most of these ropes are used to facilitate classes for beginners.

Fixed lines are designed to protect an individual who is moving over exposed second, third or even fourth class terrain. In this application (with beginners) they shouldn't be used for more difficult terrain. Instead, such terrain should probably be belayed.

Fixed lines are relatively simple to install. Build a 12-point SERENE anchor at the top and then work your way down the exposed area, placing gear along the way. At each piece of gear, the fixed line should be clipped in with an overhand eight knot. It should not run through the carabiners freely as this would defeat the purpose of the pieces. Each stretch of rope should be isolated.

There are three ways that an individual might use a fixed line. First, they might simply use it as a handline. This is the simplest way as there is little for climbers to do but hold the line. Such a use indicates that the likelyhood of a fall is low and that an individual or a group simply needs a little bit of additional security.

Climbers moving down a handline.

Second, they might use the lobster claw technique. This is where an individual girth-hitches two slings to their tie-in point. A locking carabiner is then clipped to the end of each sling. A climber can then clip both slings to the fixed line as he or she moves up the line. As the climber gets to set pieces, he or she can clip past the piece without coming completely off the rope.

A static line protecting a brushy ledge. Note the pieces along the rope.

Another view of a static line protecting an exposed area along a trail.

The third technique is to place a prussik on the fixed line. A prussik offers the most security as it won't allow a person to fall anywhere if they slip. If you have one section that requires such tactics, it's not a bad idea to pre-rig the prussiks so that the beginner doesn't have to rig it in an exposed area.

No matter which style of line you employ, a good rule of thumb is that only one person should be attached to a given part of the line. You should never have two people in the same part of the system.

Fixed lines are great, but they should not take the place of a real belay. Before exposing your beginner friends to a fixed line, be sure that it makes sense. Be sure that it is the best solution to your problem. And be sure that everybody knows what they're supposed to do when they move up or down the line...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Forest Service Requires Visitors Possess New Map

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

Everett, Wash., July 6, 2010—This weekend visitors driving onto the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest will need a map showing what type of motor vehicles they can use and where they can use them. The maps are free at Forest Service offices and on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest website. Roads and trails will no longer be signed in the field as to permissible uses.

The map changes how the Forest Service will enforce road closures to motor vehicles on national forests. Those travelling on a forest road, area or trail not shown on the MVUM can be cited.

The map is a result of the 2005 National Travel Management Rule requiring each national forest to assess road systems to limit environmental damage caused by off-highway vehicles, such as jeeps, motorcycles and quads, and to create a uniform system of enforcement across the country. The rule does not apply to snowmobiles.

The entire 2,600 mile road system on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is open to state licensed, street legal vehicles. About 100 miles of forest trails are open to motorbikes and one area, Evans Creek, is open to other vehicles including quads.

The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest did not make any changes or close roads to vehicles during this process. “We actually started several decades ago looking at motor vehicle use patterns and making decisions on the use of roads and trails based on public involvement,” said Rob Iwamoto, Forest Supervisor.

To keep up with on-going changes to road and trail systems, each national forest will update its map annually. For more information about the map, or to print it, go to

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rappelling on Skinny Ropes

Super skinny ropes are becoming more and more common among high-end alpinists. Twin rope systems provide a climber with the ability to do double-rope rappels with just a bit more weight than a single line. They provide additional security should one of the lines get cut or damaged during a lead. And lastly, they are a bit slick when it comes to rappelling.

It's this last item -- providing more friction on the rappel -- that we will address in this blog today.

As with most of the things that we address here, there are many ways to add friction to a standard device. The first and most popular way is to simply add a second carabiner to the rappel. This decreases the size of the holes in your belay device and increases friction because there is more ground for the rope to run over.

The second way, while less popular, works just as well. In this system, the rope runs in a Z, running down from an extended device to the climbers leg-loop, being redirected back up above the device to a carabiner and then down to the break-hand.

The preceding picture is slightly difficult to see as there is shade on the climber; but you will note that the climber is holding the rope with her left-hand. The rope runs down from above and into the device. From the device it runs through her hand. There is a autoblocking hitch clipped to her belay-loop in her hand. From the autoblock, the rope runs to the leg-loop, is redirected off a carabiner and runs back up to the top. At the top, it is redirected off of another carabiner and the backside goes to the breakhand.

Some of you will probably end up pointing out that the woman in the picture is about to rappel off the end of the rope. Rest-assured, she was on the ground when this picture was taken and was just setting up the system to practice.

In the preceding picture, it is possible to see how the autoblock is engaged and how the rope is redirected back up.

After the rope is redirected off the leg-loop it is then again redirected off of a carabiner clipped to the line coming out of the top of the device.

This is a somewhat complex system to demonstrate here, but if you put it together, it will make sense once you see the ropes moving through the system...

Adding friction to a rappel is an important skill to have. Whether you use this system or add an additional carabiner, it might be a good idea to practice before you actually need additional friction. This will decrease the liklihood of a mistake when doing it for real...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Culture of Youth and High Stakes Risk

Late May and June were interesting months in the outdoor world. Most of the high end climbing was taking place in the Alaska Range and in the Himalaya. Japan's Giri-Giri Boys completed a new route in the Ruth Gorge. Ubber-climber Colin Haily completed an ascent of the Cassin Ridge in seventeen hours. And a Kazakh climber added a new line to Mount Everest's closest neighbor, Lhotse.

But while all of this high-end end, high-stakes alpinism was taking place, something else was going on, something much quieter. Two teenagers were engaging in risky endeavors where the stakes were just as real as the stakes being sought by world class alpinists.

In one venue, thirteen year-old Jordon Romero became the youngest person ever to summit Mount Everest. And in the high seas 2000 nautical miles off the Western Australian coast, sixteen year-old Abby Sunderland was foiled in her attempt to make a solo sailing tour around the globe.

Jordon climbed Everest via the more technical north side and opted to go without a professional Western guide. There has been quite a bit of controversy about whether or not someone so young should be allowed to climb at such altitudes. It's not terribly clear what altitude does to teenagers. It tends to affect young adults more radically than older adults, so it might be possible that there could be serious cognitive effects from extreme altitude on a still developing brain. There are a lot of questions about whether or not he truly understood the magnitude and the potential risk involved in such an ascent.

After Jordon summitted, a Sherpa guide announced that he would take his nine year-old son to the summit. Nepali authorities do not allow climbers under the age of sixteen, so he too would have to climb from Tibet. Shortly after this announcement, the Chinese closed the north side to anyone under the age of eighteen. As a result, Jordon will remain the youngest person ever to climb Mount Everest.

Jordon is only one mountain away from completing an ascent of all seven summits. He plans on climbing Antarctica's Mount Vinson sometime late this year.

Sixteen-Year Old Abby Sunderland

After five months at sea alone, Abby Sunderland was rescued by the Australian authorities. She encountered thirty-foot swells and her boat was severely damaged. The teen lost her ability to communicate with the outside world and many feared the worst. A fishing vessel rescued her from the remnants of her damaged boat.

One might argue that this is a bit more dangerous than Mount Everest. On the mountain, you have your team to fall back on. On a solo voyage around the globe, you only have yourself. If something goes wrong and you can't fix it, then it's all done.

Some reports indicate that Abby's father signed a deal with reality TV producers shortly after the teenager set sail. It wasn't terribly clear what the show was going to be about, but it was likely going to feature all seven of Laurence Sunderland's "daredevil" children and was to be entitled "Adventure's in Sunderland."

The current rumor is that the television show is dead, but it sounds like all is not lost in media land. Indeed, some articles indicate that book deals, documentaries and other reality television projects are all a possibility for the family. Abby's father denies all of these rumors.

Abby is not the only teenage woman to attempt a solo circumnavigation of the globe in a sailboat, Australian Jessica Watson finished just such a journey on May 16th.

The Christian Science Monitor notes that:

A Dutch judge stopped a 13-year-old girl from trying to sail around the world last year. The Dutch Child Protection Agency had asked that the girl be placed under state custody, calling her plan to spend about two years circumnavigating the world aboard a 26-foot boat "irresponsible."

So is it responsible to send your child on an adventure such as this? At what point do you have to say, maybe when you're a bit older? Is it fair to tell your child to dream big and then to lock him or her in the closet?

Both families have been severely criticized...and perhaps they deserved it. Both teens are likely better for their experiences...and perhaps they earned it.

There are no easy answers here. I have two small children and I could easily see them climbing Mount Baker at fourteen years-old, but not Mount Everest. I don't know much about sailing, so it's hard for me to be comfortable saying that I could see them sail alone across a smaller body of water than an ocean, but maybe I would. It depends on who they are when they are that age...and perhaps more importantly, who I am when they're at that age...

--Jason D. Martin