Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Golden Eagle Nest Work

AAI Guide Alasdair Turner just returned from an incredibly unusual trip. Alasdair was hired to do the rope work for a study on golden eagles. Following is a blog he originally posted on his personal blog last month...

I just got back from a week of working with WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife. The work was some of the more interesting that I have done this summer. I spent the week collecting prey remains from from golden eagle nests in an attempt to identify what the eagles are eating. Eagles will put their nests on cliff faces often in caves to protect them from the weather. Getting to many of these nests was pretty challenging and each presented a unique problem. Some nests have no overhead anchors and very loose rock making for difficult climbing conditions. Once at each nest I would collect any pellets and any remains of prey that were in the nest.

Me sitting in a particularly challenging nest.

I found all sorts of animal parts in the nests including deer faun legs, coyote skulls, lots of marmot skulls, game bird legs, raptor skull, and snake parts. From a non-biologist perspective it appears that eagles will eat anything available and are pretty good hunters.

One of the last nests we did still had a chick in it. Soon after this photo was shot the bird fledged and made a remarkably graceful first flight out of the nest and down to the valley below.

The bird was captured, banded and fitted with a GPS tracking device.

Banding the bird. This is the business end of an eagle. The talons are the main danger in dealing with eagles.

Adding the band.

The eagle with the GPS tracker.

And a couple of eagle portraits.

The eagle then had to be returned to the nest. This involved wading across a creek, hiking up a hill, climbing down to the nest and putting the bird in.

In this photo I am standing in the nest so I can put the bird back. After grabbing the bird I put it in the nest and quickly climbed out. The bird stayed and we left. (WDFW photo)

--Alasdair Turner, Instructor and Guide

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Mountaineer's Rest Step

When I first started mountaineering it became clear to me that there were two things I needed to be successful. And no, I'm not talking about a lighter ice axe or more breathable clothing.

Nope. What I need were legs and lungs.

I realized that I needed to be able to walk uphill forever. And I realized that I needed to be able to breathe while I walked uphill forever.

The problem is that nobody can really walk uphill forever. Going up into the sky on a snowy peak really works the quads. Tired quads, plus walking uphill early in the morning, plus altitude, equals tired lungs.

There is a simplistic trick that can help you to preserve both your legs and your lungs. The Mountaineer's Rest Step is a technique that slows you down a bit -- which helps you keep your breath -- and allows you a micro-rest on every step. In the simplest terms, all that you have to do is lock your knee on every step. Locking your knee allows your body to rest on your skeletal system instead of on your muscles.

The Rest Step definitely slows you down. Some might say that this is far from ideal when trying to cover a lot of ground, but the reality is that slow and steady wins the race. It's always better to go slower and take less breaks than to go fast and have to stop a lot.

The Rest Step is a key mountaineering technique. On long summit days it doesn't get any better than taking a mini-rest with every step.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, August 29, 2010

September and October Climbing Events

-- Sept 2 -- Aspen, CO -- Deep Water Solo Film Showing

--Sept 12 -- Bishop, CA --John Cyril Fischer Celebration

-- Sept 16 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- HERA Foundation Climb4Life

-- Sept 18 -- Pocatello, ID -- Pocatello Pump, Idaho State University

-- Sept 19-20 -- Bidsboro, PA -- 3rd Annual Clean and Climb

-- Sept 19 -- Index, WA -- WCC Index Purchase Celebration

-- Sept 25 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Adopt-a-Crag American Fork

-- Sept 25 -- Indian Creek, UT -- SushiFest

-- Oct 2 -- Boone, NC -- Trip Crown Bouldering Comp

-- Oct 7-9 -- Seattle, WA -- Mountainfilm Tour

-- Oct 8-10 -- Red River Gorge, KY -- Rocktoberfest 2010

-- Oct 8-10 -- San Luis Obispo, CA -- Pine Mountain Pull Down

-- Oct 10-12 -- Golden, CO -- Craggin Classic

-- Oct 14 -- San Diego, CA -- Allied Climbers Annual Fundraiser

--Oct 24-26 -- Joshua Tree, CA -- ClimbSmart

--Oct 24-26 -- New River Gorge, WV -- Warrior's Way SPORT Camp

--Oct 29-Nov -- Southwest various locations -- Chris Sharma Slideshow Tour

--Oct 30-Nov -- Banff, Canada -- Banff Mountian Film Fest

--Oct 30-Nov 7 -- Italy -- International Mountain Summit Festival

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cover Photo Contest!

The American Alpine Institute is currently looking for a photo to be featured on the cover of our upcoming 2011 catalog. We would like a photo that signifies what the American Alpine Institute is all about; namely working, teaching, and playing in the beautiful mountain ranges around the world. This is a chance for you to show off your artistic side and submit a few photos to be considered for our catalog cover. We are really leaving it up to you to decide what you would like to see on the cover! Runners up will be used on the inside.

What’s in it for you? Well, besides the opportunity for the fame and glory that comes with photo credit in a very public and widely distributed place, the winner will receive a $200 credit on any of our programs or on gear at the Equipment Shop at AAI. The top six shots for the inside will receive $25 credit each. Please submit your photos no later than September 10th.

Email your photos with your name and where the shot was taken to: andrew@aai.cc

Please submit photos that are no larger than 4mb, however if your photo is selected, we will need a full size copy that can be printed at 300 dpi. Essentially, the photo would need to be more than 8.2 Mega pixels (3350x2382) and could be printed at 300 dpi at a size of 8.5" x 11". Smaller sizes are OK for inside the catalog.

We look forward to seeing your stunning mountain photography soon. Best of luck!

-Andrew Yasso, Program Coordinator

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Missing Day Hiker Walks into Toklat Road Camp

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

At approximately 12:30 p.m. today, John MacGregor of Jasper, Georgia, the object of an intensive search effort, walked into the Toklat Road Camp with some hikers he had encountered earlier in the day. He was cold and tired, but uninjured. The road camp is located at Mile 53 on the Denali Park Road. It is a seasonal housing facility for approximately 40 people.

The employees at the camp will warm him up, get him something to eat, and then transport him to park headquarters. He is expected to arrive there by late afternoon. Rangers working on the search will interview MacGregor to find out what took place since he left the Eielson Visitor Center Sunday morning.

The National Park Service wishes to thank everyone who contributed their efforts to this search.

Search Underway in Denali National Park for Missing Day Hiker

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

An aerial search of routes and trails in the vicinity of the Eielson Visitor Center is underway for missing day hiker John MacGregor, 54 of Jasper, Georgia. On Sunday, August 22, MacGregor took a parkconcessioner-operated shuttle bus that departed the Wilderness Access Center at 6:15 a.m., bound for the Eielson Visitor Center, which is located at Mile 66 on the park road. He was seen at the Visitor Center that morning, heading north up the Alpine trail towards the Thorofare Ridge.

The Alaska State Troopers notified the National Park Service on Monday, August 23 that MacGregor had not arrived at a Fairbanks hotel on Sunday as he had planned and had not appeared for a meeting on Monday. His car was located in the Wilderness Access Center parking lot, and an investigation is ongoing.

John McGregor

The air search will continue until dark today. Plans are being made to dispatch ground teams to search trails and likely routes near the point last seen.

MacGregor is in good health, and an experienced hiker. He weights 150 pounds, has brown hair, and brown eyes. Anyone who may have seen him in the park is asked to call the National Park Service emergency dispatch center at (907) 683-9555.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Piton

We don't really use pitons very much anymore. Some climbers will use them on mixed mountain routes and other will use them for high end aid climbing, but even in these venues pins are certainly less used than in the past.


There are two reasons. First, modern clean climbing equipment like nuts and cams have replaced the widespread need for pins. And second, modern pitons tend to damage the rock. Every pin placement subtly changes things until you have very well-defined pin scars.

The Canadian guide Mike Barter has put together a very nice video on pitons and piton placement. Check it out below:

There are two notes that I'd like to make about Mike's cleaning method.

First, some climbers will use a "cleaner carabiner" that they clip to the pin while pounding on it. This is then attached to the climber. This is so that the pin is not dropped while taking it out. The cleaner carabiner is commonly a very old and very beat-up carabiner. It's important that it is not a carabiner that you will be climbing on, as it will likely be struck by the hammer when the pin is being cleaned.

And second, Mike clips two quick draws together to pull the pin out. While this is fine for an occasional pin, climbers on big walls that require a lot of hammering will use a funkness device to pull out pitons. This is essentially a metal cable that has been designed specifically for this purpose. To see a funkness device, please click here.

Practicing with pitons is a tricky thing. The fact that they damage the rock makes them heavily frowned upon. I would strongly suggest that ground-school with this kind of hardware should take place primarily in areas where there is little to no climbing, otherwise someone may get very upset at you...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 23, 2010

Insect Repellent

It's summer in the Cascades, which means that it's bug season. Sometimes it comes a little before July, sometimes a little after, but this year it came right smack dab in the middle. And it's still here. Racking up at the Blue Lake Trailhead parking lot for a climb in Washington Pass is near suicidal this time of year, as the bugs can seriously ravage you in minutes if you don't start hiking as soon as you step out of the car. You can however, take some preventative measures. Sure you can cover as much skin as possible by wearing pants, long socks and long sleeves, but it sure is hot out and your face, neck, and hands are still exposed. The next thought is, bug spray.

There are many repellent options out there, some which are just down right ridiculous (ultrasound based electronics) and others which may spark arguments among friends. Personally, I find it is an argument (or at least a discussion) starter when I whip out the 100% DEET. Personally, I have found nothing that works more effectively and universally than DEET 100%. Some may recommend that you try products such as Deep Woods OFF which is made up of a mixture of 25% DEET and 75% who knows what. What I find people generally do, is use these compressed aerosol can mixtures and spray copious amounts of repellent all over themselves. The result of this is that they get the same, if not more DEET on them than if they used a more concentrated version sparingly, as well as 75% more of whatever else was in the can.

I choose to use the 100% DEET version and place perhaps one spray pumps worth, or a couple of drops, on my hands and rub the chemical on my exposed skin. Most companies say 100% DEET will last around 10 hours, and I think that's about right, but it doesn't matter because you will know when its effectiveness stops (it's rather dramatic). There are arguments against DEET, such as it discolors skin, decomposes synthetic fabrics and can cause seizures. There have even been four deaths which the EPA says DEET may have played a part in. However the number of reported cases lead the EPA to say that the likely seizure rate is only one in one million users, and I feel like my chance of contracting West Nile Virus, Malaria, Lyme disease, or the bubonic plague is much greater than one in one million. Not to mention the complications of those diseases are generally much worse than seizures.

There are other options besides DEET however, and I suppose I should mention those at least briefly. Avon Products produces a "Skin So Soft" line that contains the chemical IR3535 and some tests have shown that it is just as effective as DEET (if not better), at least when it comes to repelling mosquitoes. I think that this is probably the next best option and what I would try if I took the time to shop around for this product.

"Avon Skin So Soft Bug Gaurd Plus IR3535 Gentle Breeze SPF 30 Sunscreen with Aloe and Vitaman E." Man, I just want to keep the bugs away... not moisturize.

And then there are natural options, which honestly I'm not going to bother discussing. I have never used a single natural product that did anything more than make me smell delicious to koalas. You are more than welcome to experiment with these options, however I encourage you to have some anti-itch cream on hand as well.

Andrew Yasso - Program Coordinator

Sunday, August 22, 2010

August and September Climbing Events

--Aug 27 -- Fairhaven, Bellingham, WA -- Mountain Film Festival with a slideshow by AAI Guide Alasdair Turner

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

-- Sept 2 -- Aspen, CO -- Deep Water Solo Film Showing

-- Sept 16 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- HERA Foundation Climb4Life

-- Sept 18 -- Pocatello, ID -- Pocatello Pump, Idaho State University

-- Sept 25 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Adopt-a-Crag American Fork

-- Sept 25 -- Indian Creek, UT -- SushiFest

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

If you are anything like me, you find yourself saying at times, "man, that person would make a great climber!" I always wonder what sports would lend themselves well to making good climbers, and vice versa. Well, I stumbled across this video of some pretty impressive dudes, who I think would make some amazing climbers. Look out Sharma, your biggest competition is coming out of India.

And then, there are guys working out on kid's playgrounds that could just crush you so hard. Turn off the sound on this one if you are offended by explicit lyrics. But keep your eyes open to witness the demolition.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ratchets for Rescue

As stated in the past, we love Mike Barter's videos. The Canadian guide is currently doing perhaps the best job at creating instructional videos for climbing...and usually their pretty funny too!

Recently Mike posted a video on ratchets for rescue. One major component of any hauling system in a crevasse or rock rescue scenario is the ratchet. This is essentially the element of the system that allows the rescuer to retain any advantage that he has gained in the rescue.

Mike's video discusses four different types of ratchets:

1) Autoblocking Device:

Examples of autoblocking devices include the Petzel Reverso, the Black Diamond Guide ATC, the Trango GiGi and the B52. Each of these devices allows one to pull rope up through the device, but won't allow the load line to release without a few shenanigans...more on the shenanigans in a different post.

2) Garda Hitch

Also known as the alpine clutch, this quick system is very effective. However, it is extremely important to check that the hitch has been tied properly before using it in a rescue scenario.

3) Self-Minding Prussik

If you have taken a basic course from the American Alpine Institute, you know that we don't usually teach a means to create a self-minding prussik hitch. In the system that we teach, we leave the prussik cord a bit longer so that the rescuer can mind it himself. This is not quite as effective as either having a pulley that is designed to mind the prussik or a tube-style belay device that will operate the same way.

In the video, Mike also quickly demonstrates a way to make this prussik load-releasable by adding a munter-mule into the shelf. A load-releasable system is desirable in all rescue applications.

4) GriGri

The Petzl GriGri and the Trango Cinch are both highly underutilized tools for rescue. In part, it's because they are heavy, so a lot of climbers don't take them on long routes or into the alpine, but they are very effective. They work as both a pulley and a ratchet simultaneously and are -- by their very nature -- load releasable.

It is imperative that anyone going into the mountains has a rudimentary understanding of ratcheting in rescue. If you haven't had the opportunity to take a class, it might be very valuable to watch this video a few times over and to practice each of the skills shown...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How to Wrap a Cordellete

A few years ago I was guiding a multi-pitch line in Red Rock Canyon. Before we launched off the ground, I showed the climbers that I was working with how to wrap up a cordellete.

Their response?

"Oh, it's a Codyball."

"A what?" I responded.

"A Codyball," one of the climbers said. "When we were in the Gunks, we had a guide named Cody who showed us this technique. We didn't know what to call it, so we started to call it a Codyball."

So Cody, wherever you are...thank-you. For I too have started to call this technique of wrapping up a cordellete a Codyball.

Before launching into how to tie a Codyball, I'd like to point out that there are many ways to stow a cordellete. The two most popular ways are 1) to simply triple up the cordellete and then tie an eight into it and 2) to tie a Codyball.

It is easier, albeit sloppier to simply tie the cordellete into an eight. In addition to this, it is quite long. A long cordellete -- or anything long hanging off your harness -- can be dangerous when you are mountaineering or ice climbing. Things can get stuck in your crampons when you are not paying attention.

A cordellete tied as an eight.

A Codyball is a little bit harder to make. It requires you to spend a bit of time wrapping up the cord and it can also hang down too far if you are not careful. If you're wearing crampons, always be very careful about how far down things hang.

To make a Codyball:

1) Start with the end of the cordellete in your hand.

2) Wrap the cord around your hand until there is only about two feet left.

3) Take your hand out of the wrap and squeeze that section of cord together.

4) Wrap the remaining cord around the squeezed section. Be sure to capture the strand coming out of the squeezed section so that it all doesn't come unraveled.

5) Once there is almost no additional cord left, take the remaining line and push it through the eye of the Codyball.

A finished Codyball.

6) When the Codyball is finished, you may clip it to your harness. If it hangs down too much, simply add a couple more twists with the cord around the ball until the tail is at the desired length.

Codyballs provide a great way to stow your cordellete, but like everything else in this blog, they take some practice. When you're sitting around watching movies on your laptop, keep a cordellete in your hand. It will probably only take one or two viewings of The Eiger Sanction before you'll have it completely dialed.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 16, 2010

Snow Seats and Dynamic Belays

Standard snow anchors are comprised of pickets, flukes, bollards and deadmen. As stated in previous blogs, sometimes people overlook items that might be used as deadmen such as packs, crampons, ice axes, skis, trekking poles, and stuff sacks filled with snow.

Quick snow anchors can be devised from just about anything...including your body.

Most of you are probably familiar with Simon Yates and his infamous snow seat in Touching the Void. To say the least, that was an unusual situation.

Photo by Jason Martin

To create a quick snow seat you must simply sit down in the snow, arc your legs, and stomp your heels into the snow. After you've achieved this position, you will be able to put a climber on belay. However, if the climber takes a fall with slack in the rope, it is possible that you may be pulled out of the snow seat. There are two ways to keep this from happening.

The first way to deal with a potential shock-load in a snow seat is to add a snow anchor to back it up. This could be anything, but many climbers will simply use their ice axe. The belayer must then clip the climbing rope (which is tied to the climbers harness) to the snow anchor. Most will just make a clove-hitch with the rope and then slide the shaft of the ice axe down through the hitch. If the belayer has elected to use a hip belay, the tie-in must come off the same side of the climber's body as rope running to the climber, otherwise the load will twist the belayer uncomfortably.

The second way to deal with this is by using a dynamic belay. In other words, when the climber falls, allow the rope to run through the belay device for a short period of time, slowly breaking it and bringing it to a stop. This allows the snow seat -- and you -- a much smaller shock. There are clearly some problems with this technique and it cannot be used in every situation. The dynamic belay is only truly useful on steep snow climbs where there is little danger of a falling climber hitting something.

If we learned one thing from the Simon Yates in Touching the Void, it's that snow seats are an excellent option in terrain where you do not anticipate a need to escape the belay. If there is anything suspect going on, it's important to build a bombproof SERENE/ERNEST anchor.

When used properly, snow seats and dynamic belays can save a great deal of time...and as we all know, speed in the mountains is safety...

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, August 15, 2010

August and September Climbing Events

--Aug 21 -- Alexandria, VA -- SportRock Beat the Heat

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

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

-- Sept 2 -- Aspen, CO -- Deep Water Solo Film Showing

-- Sept 16 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- HERA Foundation Climb4Life

-- Sept 18 -- Pocatello, ID -- Pocatello Pump, Idaho State University

-- Sept 25 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Adopt-a-Crag American Fork

-- Sept 25 -- Indian Creek, UT -- SushiFest

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

People may accuse us of being a little "Cascade-centric" at times, and I think that is completely fair. I really don't feel bad about loving the Cascades, because "there is no set of mountains, that prepare you better, for the world's great ranges." Here is one in a series of three videos about Colin Haley, arguable the most active alpine climber of our generation to come out of the Cascades.

Speaking of climbing and expeditions in the world's great ranges, here is a climb down in Patagonia that looks rather fantastic.

Los Fabulosos Dos - Cerro Catedral '10 from Pete Rhodes on Vimeo.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Art of the Plunge Step

The plunge step is a simple technique for walking downhill in the snow. However, it is one of those techniques that seems relatively straight-forward in certain snow types, while difficult in others.

To do a standard plunge step, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees and drop your rear end. As you step down the hill during your descent, be sure to lead with the heel of your foot. The heel of your boot should be like a dagger, the pointy section of the heel slicing into the snow first.

In soft snow, this technique is relatively easy to understand. On our courses, we will often play games of Red Light/Green Light with students racing down the hill. In soft snow, everybody tends to stay on their feet and in control when we say red light. Hard snow is a different story. It's not uncommon to see people slip and fall trying to plunge step in such conditions. And sometimes it can be quite amusing to play Red Light/Green Light in such conditions...

The main reason that plunge stepping becomes more difficult in firm snow conditions is because your heel doesn't penetrate the snow as easily. Indeed, you have to be incredibly aggressive to get your heel into the snow.

In hard conditions, it's not uncommon for people to become tentative in their steps. Such movement can cause an individual to be more likely to slip as opposed to less likely. Occasionally this develops into a dangerous and frustrating cycle. A climber slips once, becomes more tentative, slips again, and becomes even more tentative, creating yet even a higher likelihood of slipping. The only way to kill this potentially hazardous cycle is to become more aggressive, stabbing your foot deeply into the snow no matter how hard it is.

Moving effectively in the snow is one of the most important things that climbers do. And learning to employ a solid plunge step in all the different kinds of conditions that you might encounter can only help you to become a faster and more solid climber.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Coiling a Rope

Coiling a rope is both a skill and an art. First, it's a skill because no matter how you coil the rope, you should be proficient and it should be easy to uncoil the rope for use. Second, it's an art, because each of us have our own little tricks that we throw into coiling that make a given coil our own.

Mike Barter, the prolific climbing instructional video-maker, has a handful of different rope coiling techniques posted on his youtube channel. The one thing that he neglects to say though, is that before you start in any rope coiling endeavor, you should flake the rope. This first video of an individual doing a butterfly coil in his hand is a great example of someone who skipped the flaking part of the process.

Butterfly coils -- or lap coils, if that's what you prefer -- can be bulky and difficult to deal with when they are in your hand, particularly if you have small hands. In the next video, we will have the opportunity to see the same type of system done over the neck.

Mike calls coiling over the neck the Brit Style, or something like that. I might refer to this instead as simply a butterfly coil over the neck... And I have to say that this is also the way that most American guides coil their ropes. It's very fast and it's very easy once you've put in a bit of practice. The biggest downside is when you have a heavy and wet rope from glacier travel. When that happens it's never fun to coil over your neck...

In each of the preceding videos, it would be easy to convert the ropes, the way that the climbers coiled them, into backpacks. You must simply wrap the two ends of the rope over your shoulders, wrap them around your waist -- capturing the rope behind you -- and then tie them together in front of you. Generally a square knot tends to be the easiest and quickest knot to tie in that position that won't come undone.

Some climbers elect to butterfly a rope as a single strand. This style, sometimes referred to as a French coil, is nice for quick use of the rope. Many will do this when they are sport climbing because if you're good, the rope doesn't necessarily need to be flaked.

In the third video, Mike demonstrates the mountaineers coil. This particular style can be very nice for traveling with a rope. But where it is not nice is in uncoiling it. If you coil or store your rope in this particular fashion, it's very important to remember to uncoil the rope one strand at a time, otherwise things will get very messy.

Unless you always put your rope into a rope bag, coiling is a very important part of climbing. As I say on this blog a lot, practice makes perfect!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 9, 2010

Glacier Travel Ettiquete

Climbing etiquette is a weird and wiley thing. What is acceptable in one area may not be considered acceptable in another. What is common practice in one spot, may be looked upon with horror in another. In the larger climbing world, there are millions of etiquette questions, but on a glacier there only tends to be a few.

1) What is the etiquette for passing a rope team on a glaciated climb?

It is acceptable to pass a rope team on a glacier. However, this must be done without hindering the other team's progress that you're passing. If a team has a pace and continues to hold that pace, then they have a right to the boot-pack trail no matter how fast they're moving.

A team works its way up Mount Shuksan
Photo by Alasdair Turner

In order to pass the slower team, the faster team must step out of the boot-pack and pass the other team without slowing them in any way. This may take considerable energy if the snow outside the boot-pack is soft or deep. The passing team should not complain about having to pass as they didn't get up as early as the slower team.

If your rope team is walking in a boot-pack and needs to take a break, the polite thing to do is to step out of the trail. You should not take a break in a place that blocks others. If your team is slow and is taking a lot of standing mini-breaks (i.e. stopping for a few seconds or even a minute or so), then you should step out of the boot-pack and allow faster teams to pass in the trail without protest.

2) Who has the right to the steps that have been kicked in the slope?

There is a nice line of steps kicked into the slope going all the way up the mountain. Clearly, it is easier to use the steps that another team has put in than to create your own. As you're climbing up the mountain, you see another team descending in the steps. Their plunge-steps are completely destroying the steps as they descend. And while this may make things more difficult for your team, you didn't create the steps and as such, don't have any ownership over them.

A team camps on the Easton Glacier on Mount Baker
Photo by Alasdair Turner

If you create a series of steps up the mountain, you do have the right to use them on your descent. However, it is far more polite to leave these steps for others. I will almost universally try to leave my steps for other climbers, unless the snow is incredibly soft and difficult to move through. Occasionally, the snow is so deep that new downhill steps could cause a climber to hyper-extend his or her knee. When conditions are this severe, I use my uphill steps for downhill travel.

3) What should I do with my human waste? Should I leave it on the summit for all to see with a nice pile of toilet paper? Or should I do something else with it?

You should do something else with it.

On expeditions or on big mountains, sometimes you can put your waste in a crevasse, but you should pack out your toilet paper. On smaller glaciated peaks, you should use a Wag Bag or the equivalent and pack everything out.

If you have other etiquette questions, feel free to post them. This is such a large topic that a single Blog cannot do it justice.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, August 8, 2010

August and September Climbing Events

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

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

--Aug 21 -- Alexandria, VA -- SportRock Beat the Heat

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

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

-- Sept 2 -- Aspen, CO -- Deep Water Solo Film Showing

-- Sept 16 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- HERA Foundation Climb4Life

-- Sept 18 -- Pocatello, ID -- Pocatello Pump, Idaho State University

-- Sept 25 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Adopt-a-Crag American Fork

-- Sept 25 -- Indian Creek, UT -- SushiFest

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

The other day at the office, the discussion came up surrounding super high-end climbers and their personalities. A colleague made a sweeping generalization that all elite climbers are jerks and kind of rude. I think their thought was that to get that good at something, you have to dedicate yourself to it in a way that leaves you inconsiderate of others.

I disagree, and I think this video of Alex Honnold crushing in Indian Creek proves my point. Although his free-soling endeavors unfortunately make him a walking time bomb, what he accomplishes through his climbing he does so with an extremely humble demeanor. See for yourself...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mount Baker - Always Engaging

Here are some photos from a recent trip to Mt. Baker. This was an enjoyable trip despite the weather. It was certainly a memorable one due to reaching the summit in the worst weather I have ever been on the summit in.

Ed practicing his ice climbing.
Iryna practicing hers.
A group heading down from the summit. This weather did not last long.
Our camp.

Ed and Iryna.
Iryna taking advantage of the short stint on good weather.
Dana practicing self arrest.
Ed getting over his fear of heights.
Dana and Lincoln Peak.
Heading to the summit.
On the summit in crappy weather.
Oh look at the wonderful view!

--Alasdair Turner, Instructor and Guide

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Names of Plane Crash Victims Released

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

The individuals onboard the Fairchild C-123 cargo plane that crashed in
Denali National Park on Sunday, August 1 were Bill Michel, age 61of Delta
Junction, Alaska; John Eshleman, age 52 of Wasilla, Alaska and Paul
Quartly, age 66 of Wasilla, Alaska. Michel was the owner of All West
Freight, Inc. and the plane’s pilot. The identities were determined through
interviews with acquaintances, friends, and relatives familiar with the
plane and the intended flight on Sunday.

Investigators with the Office of the State Medical Examiner arrived in the
park Monday afternoon and will oversee the recovery of the remains of the
three men as part of the on-site investigation. Official identification of
the deceased will be made by the State Medical Examiner by forensic
examination. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board
and the FAA arrived at the park mid-morning, and have completed an aerial
reconnaissance and preliminary ground survey of the site. Those offices
will take over the on-scene investigation when the State Medical Examiner’s
work is completed.

Responsibility for overseeing the continued mop up of hot spots within the
one-acre area burned by the wildfire resulting from the plane crash has
been transferred from the Alaska Fire Service smokejumpers to Denali’s NPS
wildland fire fighter personnel. National Park rangers will continue to
provide security for the site until the ground investigation is completed.

The Denali Park Road is open to traffic, and the Rock Creek Trail has
reopened. The Roadside Trail, which will remain closed until the on-site
investigation has been completed. The Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR)
that was in effect over the crash site was cancelled by mid-afternoon on

AAI Guides Choice Awards Announced!

This year the American Alpine Institute presented five awards at the annual Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City. The equipment and clothing awarded the AAI Guides Choice designation have proven to be of the highest quality in their product category. The awards are determined on the basis of excellence in design, performance, and durability demonstrated in rigorous international field tests conducted by professional guides of AAI. Evaluations are made throughout the year in desert, cold weather, rain, snow, high wind, and high altitude environments. The American Alpine Institute has no financial ties or financial interest in any manufacturer or distributor. All testers and their expenses are paid by AAI.

A core group of AAI professional guides conduct Guides Choice field tests year round, throughout the world. Tests may be completed in a single long season (for example five summer months of intensive climbing in South America), or over several seasons (for example McKinley expeditions in the spring and Himalayan expeditions autumn). Because of the intensity and constancy of use, the wear and stress that gear receives during these tests corresponds to many years of use by a recreational climber.

The following products won this year's Guides Choice award:

John Baldwin – Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis 3rd Edition

http://www.guideschoice.com/scripts/prodView.asp?idproduct=1050If you are a backcountry skier looking for a tick list that will last you the rest of your life, then John Baldwin’s newest edition of Exploring the Coast Mountains of Skis is it! This ski guide is packed full of ski trips that range from Washington States North Cascades Region, north to the Panhandle of Alaska. The 3rd edition packs an excess of 300 ski trips, more than 125 additional trips compared to the previous edition! A larger format and better photos make this guide more worthy of a coffee table than a bookshelf. Baldwin includes every detail for each trip including, number of days, distance, elevation gain, topographic map references, difficulty, and time of year to go! The route descriptions are very clear, concise and easy to follow. This book is easily one of the most comprehensive ski guides there is.

Black Diamond – Couloir Harness

http://www.guideschoice.com/scripts/prodView.asp?idproduct=1063When on a ski trip or climbing in glaciated terrain, the last thing that you want is a big bulky harness. The Couloir Harness from Black Diamond is the perfect ultra light solution when space and weight are primary concerns. Weighing in at a scant 8 ounces and the ability to pack down to the size of your fist, you won’t think twice about which harness you will bring on your next trip into the mountains. Just because it is lightweight does not mean that Black Diamond has left out any features. The Couloir comes with two gear loops to rack gear and four slots to insert ice clippers to rack your ice screws. Quick release buckles on the leg loops allow the harness to easily be put on or removed even if you are wearing crampons, or skis. If that isn’t enough you will be happy to see that there is also a dedicated belay loop and haul loop, two things that are generally hard to find on an alpine style harness. The Couloir Harness is by far the most full featured ultra light alpine harness on the market!

Edelrid – Madillo Helmet

A helmet is essential to safety when climbing, but they are always awkward to pack away when it is not being used, and no one wants a helmet swinging from their pack as they hike down a trail. Edelrid has designed the Madillo helmet to remedy this problem. The Madillo has the ability to be folded up into a very compact package that will fit nearly anywhere in your pack! The Madillo’s side panels slide up into the top of the shell and the back panel folds inward reducing the helmets volume by nearly 50%. Two different densities of foam are used strategically to ensure comfort and shock absorption. Our guides reported that, “The Madillo performed much better than other helmets” and “The packability sets this helmet in a category all to itself”. The Madillo is the most innovative advancement in helmet technology that the sport of climbing has ever seen!

Kayland Boots – Hyper Traction Boot

One of the biggest challenges for any alpine climber is to find a pair of boots that you can use in a variety of conditions, and different styles of climbing. Kayland’s Hyper Traction boots have proven to deliver these qualities! The Hyper Tractions are packed full of features and technology to keep your feet warm, dry and comfortable. With the Vibram® Teton Sole you are guaranteed the grip that you need when hiking and scrambling. The A5 board lasted construction will give you the stiffness you need when edging on those small features when on alpine rock. The combination of Dryver®, Primaloft® and event® in the lining provide the essential warmth and dryness for those spring climbs in glaciated terrain. If that’s not enough, the Hyper Traction’s also have their own Schoeller® gaiter to keep the snow and scree out of the top of your boot! As one of our guides puts it, “These are the only boots I have used in the last five years that not only do the things I want as a guide [and] they do everything I want as a climber”. From climbing alpine rock and ice in the North Cascades, to mountaineering at over 20,000 feet on Bolivia’s Illimani, Kayland’s Hyper Traction boots have proven to be one of the best all-around boots there are!

Patagonia - R1
No matter what activity or what season; the Patagonia R1 will have a place in your pack. The R1 has been made worthy of being part of the American Alpine Institute guide uniform. The Regulator® Insulation Technology gives the R1 superior warmth to weight ratio. Worn alone the R1 makes a great light insulation layer, or paired with other layers it can boost your warmth on those cold days in the mountains. The interior grid pattern made from Polartec Power Dry® allows for better airflow through the fleece therefore decreasing dry time if the R1 becomes wet. Patagonia has paid attention to detail in the R1 by offsetting the shoulder seams so that they do not cause pressure points while wearing a backpack, As a good steward to the environment, Patagonia is using polyester material that is made up of recycled items, such as scrap fabrics, plastic bottles, and even old garments that have been turned back into Patagonia through their Common Threads Recycling Program!

--AAI Guides Choice Staff

Monday, August 2, 2010

Plane Crash in Denali National Park

We received two emails this morning from Denali National Park concerning a tragic plane crash that took place yesterday afternoon. This first email arrived in our inboxes at 10:24pm:

Plane Crashes in Denali National Park With Fatalities

At approximately 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, August 1 a large multi-engine cargo-type aircraft crashed into the south-facing slope of Mount Healy within a mile of the park headquarters and approximately 200 yards north of the Denali Park Road. The crash started a wildland fire, which is currently contained at approximately one acre. As the fire is still active, a thorough investigation of the scene is not possible until the fire is under control. There are fatalities, but the number and identities can not be confirmed at this time.

The first personnel arrived on scene within minutes, but the wreckage was already engulfed in flames. In addition to National Park Service medics and other emergency responders, the Tri-Valley and McKinley Village volunteer fire departments responded with fire engines and an ambulance. The Tanana Zone of the Alaska Fire Service dropped eight smokejumpers into the scene. The jumpers and Denali wildland fire fighters are currently putting water on hot spots to fully control and extinguish the fire. They and NPS rangers will be on scene overnight. The Alaska State Troopers also responded and have assisted with the investigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have been notified. The NTSB investigators will arrive on scene tomorrow morning.

The Denali Park Road is open to traffic, but the Rock Creek and Roadside Trails (which link park headquarters and the Denali Visitor Center) are temporarily closed. There is a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) in effect over the crash site until further notice. Pilots using the park airstrip or transiting the Windy Pass area are cautioned to check Notices to Aircraft (NOTAMs) and be alert for firefighting and official aircraft.

This second email arrived at 2:23am:

Plane Involved in Denali Park Crash Identified

The multi-engine cargo plane involved in the Sunday, August 1 accident in Denali National Park was a Fairchild C-123 registered to All West Freight, Inc. of Delta Junction, Alaska. There were three people reported to be on board. It appears as if there were no survivors. The identities are not being released at this time, pending notification of next of kin.

The plane crashed into the south-facing slope of Mount Healy within a mile of the park headquarters and approximately 200 yards north of the Denali Park Road. The crash started a wildland fire, which has been contained at approximately one acre.

The first personnel arrived on scene within minutes, but the wreckage was already engulfed in flames. Alaska Fire Service smokejumpers and Denali wildland fire fighters are putting water on hot spots to extinguish the fire. They and NPS rangers will be on scene overnight. National Transportation Safety Board investigators will arrive on scene tomorrow morning.

The Denali Park Road is open to traffic, but the Rock Creek and Roadside Trails (which link park headquarters and the Denali Visitor Center) are temporarily closed. There is a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) in effect over the crash site until further notice. Pilots using the park airstrip or transiting the Windy Pass area are cautioned to check Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) and be alert for firefighting and official aircraft.

MC SpandX and his Hip Hop Tune, Get Dirty!

A couple of weeks ago Steve Casimiro of the Adventure Life Blog posted a hilarious mountain biking video. It was funny enough, that I thought it might be worth reposting here...

"Mountain biking video!" you scream. "I thought this was a climbing blog!"

Well, of course, it is. Our focus is climbing, skiing and the land that we use for these adventures. But occasionally we step outside our limited world view when something really interesting comes up. The "Get Dirty" mountain biking video is just such a thing. It is a very funny video about a road biker who turns to the dark side and "gets dirty."

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, August 1, 2010

August and September Climbing Events

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

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

--Aug 21 -- Alexandria, VA -- SportRock Beat the Heat

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

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

-- Sept 2 -- Aspen, CO -- Deep Water Solo Film Showing

-- Sept 16 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- HERA Foundation Climb4Life

-- Sept 18 -- Pocatello, ID -- Pocatello Pump, Idaho State University

-- Sept 25 -- Salt Lake City, UT -- Adopt-a-Crag American Fork