Tuesday, November 30, 2010

International Mountain Day - 2010

At the American Alpine Institute, we love mountains for their beauty and challenge, and for the livelihood they provide us as guides and teachers. But there are ample reasons for flatlanders to love mountains as well. Mountain ranges function as engines of water production, provide habitat for game, and supply resources for industry. In view of the universal value of mountains, the United Nations General Assembly established International Mountain Day on December 11th of each year to celebrate this shared natural heritage.

This year, we have decided to benefit the Central Asia Institute with our International Mountain Day activities. The Central Asia Institute is a non-profit organization with the mission to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in the remote mountainous regions of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Greg Mortenson, whose story was chronicled in the best-selling books, Three Cups of Tea and Stones to Schools, started the Central Asia Institute in 1993. Mortenson was inspired to develop a program to build schools at the foot of the Himalaya after he stumbled into a remote village in northern Pakistan following a failed attempt to climb K2. The villagers took him in, fed him, and gave him a place to rest while he recovered from his Himalayan failure. After Mortenson regained his strength, he vowed to come back to the village in order to help them to build a school. His return some months later marked the start of his quest to bring education to some of the poorest and most remote reaches of the world. Since 1993, Mortenson has helped build 145 schools throughout central Asia.

You can develop your personal climbing skills, your avalanche awareness skills and help us to benefit this important cause by participating in our International Mountain Day events.

You can now register online by clicking here. Registration is optional, but space is limited and those who register will be given priority.
  • Rock Rescue Clinics  We will be offering four two-hour rock rescue clinics at the YMCA climbing wall in downtown Bellingham. The clinics will focus on the baseline skills required to perform a rescue in a high angle environment. We will be offering these from 8am-10am, 10:30am-12:30pm, 1pm to 3pm, and 3:30-5:30pm.

  • Avalanche Awareness Seminars We will be offering two avalanche awareness events to celebrate International Mountain Day. The first event will be at 7pm at Western Washington University on December 2nd and the second event will also be at 7pm on December 11th at the American Museum of Radio and Electricity in downtown Bellingham.
At all events we will be selling raffle tickets ($5 per ticket) to raise money for the Central Asia Institute. Many sponsors have donated to our event. To learn more about International Mountain Day and our events to celebrate it, please click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 29, 2010

National Park Service Hosting Open Houses on Mountaineering Use Fee

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

The National Park Service (NPS) is examining approaches to recover more of the cost of the mountaineering program in Denali National Park and Preserve. As part of the public involvement process, the NPS is hosting two public open houses in December and two in January to provide information on the  mountaineering program and how the special mountaineering use fee is utilized. The cities, dates, locations, and times of the open houses are:
  • Talkeetna, Alaska, Tuesday, December 7, Talkeetna Ranger Station, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. 
  • Anchorage, Alaska – Wednesday, December 8, REI, 1200 W. Northern Lights Blvd., 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. 
  • Seattle, Washington – Monday, January 17, REI Flagship Store, 222 Yale Ave. N, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. 
  • Golden, Colorado – Tuesday, January 18, American Mountaineering Center, 710 10th St., 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Park staff will give two 20 minute presentations on the mountaineering program and fee at each open house, beginning at 15 minutes after the hour. Official public testimony will not be taken, but park staff will be available before and after the presentations to provide additional information and answer questions.

Currently each climber of Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker pays a cost recovery mountaineering use fee of $200. Income from this special use fee funds some of the cost of the mountaineering program, including preventative search and rescue (PSAR) education, training for rescue personnel, positioning of patrol/rescue personnel (including volunteers) at critical high altitude locations on the mountain, the CMC (human waste) program, and administrative support. Since the cost recovery fee was implemented in 1995, the number of fatalities and major injuries has decreased significantly. This is directly attributable to the increased educational and PSAR efforts made possible through the cost recovery program.

When the special use fee was initially established it covered approximately 30% of the cost of this specialized program. Even though the fee was increased from $150 to $200 in 2005, current fee revenue only covers 17% of the cost. McKinley/Foraker climbers make up less than 1⁄2 of 1 percent of the park’s visitors, and in 2011 Denali will expend approximately $1,200 in direct support of each permitted climber. The average cost for all other visitors is expected to be about $37. In recent years, the park has diverted funds from other critical park programs in order to fully fund the mountaineering program. This has negatively impacted funding available for interpretation, wildlife protection, resource management, and maintenance.

The NPS is seeking input and ideas regarding two key questions:
      1) Is the current mountaineering program the most cost effective,
      efficient and safe program we can devise?
      2) How much of the cost should be recovered from users, and what
      options are there for how those costs can be distributed?

Comments from the public will be accepted through January 31, 2011. Comments may be submitted via email to: DENA_mountainfeecomments@nps.gov or faxed to (907) 683-9612. They may also be sent to: Superintendent, Denali National Park and Preserve, P.O. Box 9, Denali Park, AK 99755.

For additional information on the mountaineering program or the cost recovery special use fee visit the park website at www. nps.gov/dena. If you have questions about the fee you may contact Chief Park Ranger Peter Armington at (907) 683-9521 or peter_armington@nps.gov. Media inquiries should be directed to Public Affairs Officer Kris Fister at (907) 683-9583 or kris_fister@nps.gov.

 We recently wrote about this particular issue in a blog on November 5th.  To learn more about the issue and what you can do to help keep mountaineering fees low, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Toproping Sport Climbs

Pulling through the last few moves on “Lude Crude and Misconstrued,” a popular 5.9 located in the Black Corridor of Red Rocks, is not a particularly difficult thing to do. The moves at the top are easy. No instead, the scariest part of the climb is not the climb itself, but the anchors. So many people have put their rope through the chains at the top of the route and then proceeded to toprope or lower off the anchors that the sawing action of hundreds of ropes has nearly eaten them clean through.

This is a chronic problem at sport climbing areas across America. Chain and quicklink anchors are severely damaged due to ignorance or laziness. The problem is most visible however, in places where it is sandy. Once a rope gets sand in the sheath it literally becomes like sandpaper. The repeated sawing action of a moving tensioned rope -- especially one with sand in the sheath -- may severely damage anchor chains in as little as a matter of hours.

The question then must be asked, who is responsible for a newly damaged anchor? Is it the first ascent party's responsibility to replace the anchor? Is it the responsibility of a local guide service? Does it become the problem of local climbing conservation groups? Or are the people who damaged the anchor responsible?

There is no right answer to the preceeding question. I have personally replaced innumerable anchors out of my own pocket. I know a number of others that have the same. We do this because we don't want to see anybody get hurt. But it's not something that we want to do.

Most of us who put up new routes or repair existing climbs simply avoid toproping directly through the chains. Instead, we use a cordelette or a double shoulder-length sling in conjunction with locking carabiners.

To the left is an example of a rope threaded directly through the anchor. Do not do this for anything but a rappel.

On the left-hand side, the anchor is composed of quick links. These are easier to change-out when they are damaged. On the right, the anchor is made up of chain purchased from a hardware store. This is more difficult to replace when damaged.

The photo on the right provides an example of a properly set-up toprope. The anchor is composed of a double shoulder-length sling, tied into a pre-equalized eight. At the bottom, clipped into the power-point (sometimes called the master-point) are two opposite and opposed locking carabiners. This is the best possible system as it meets the requirements for a SRENE or ERNEST anchor and protects the anchor chains from damage.

There are two organizations that are currently replacing bolts and anchors throughout the country. The first is the nonprofit American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) and the second is the Anchor Replacement Inititive (ARI) sponsored by Climbing magazine, the North Face and Petzl . It is possible to support the ASCA with donations and to support the ARI by purchasing items from their corporate sponsors.

Checking anchors to make sure that they are not damaged, replacing those that are or providing financial support to those who will replace them, and reporting damaged anchors to individuals who will fix them is the responsibility of every climber. But perhaps the greater responsibility is to simply avoid damaging an anchor to begin with.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, November 28, 2010

December and January Climbing Events

-- Nov 30 -- Bellingham, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival at WWU

-- Dec 1-3 -- Seattle, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival

-- Dec 4 -- Chattanooga TN -- Triple Crown Bouldering Series 

-- Dec 9-12 -- Bozeman, MT -- Bozeman Ice Fest

-- Dec 11 – Worldwide – International Mountain Day

-- Dec 11 – Bellingham, WA – AAI's International Mountain Day Avalanche Awareness Seminar

-- Dec 12 -- Sandstone, MN -- Sandstone Ice Festival 

-- Jan 6-9 -- Ouray, CO -- Ouray Ice Fest

-- Jan 11-25 -- Tanzania -- Climb to Fight Breast Cancer

-- Jan 14 -- Nevada City, CA --  Wild and Scenic Film Festival 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you stoked!

So in the festivities of being thankful for my life, I forgot to get a video up for you guys today!  Better late than never I suppose.  Here is a great video of some notable climbers deep water soloing.  Except it is over a river, and they are climbing on an artificial wall.  Pretty cool idea if you ask me, I would show up to this event.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Triaxal Loading on Trees

Surprisingly, there is one mistake that both beginners and advanced climbers alike tend to make. Many people will wrap a tree with a sling and then clip the sling. Often the sling is wrapped around the tree in such a way that it is loading the carabiner improperly. A carabiner that is loaded from three directions is often referred to as being triaxally or tri-directionally loaded. This is very very bad...

In this photo the carabiner is radically tri-loaded.
An impact on such a carabiner could cause failure.

A tri-loaded carabiner is crossloaded. It will not hold a high impact fall. As such, it is important to use slings that are long enough to tie off. In the preceding example, there is not enough sling material to get all the way around the tree, but even if there was enough for the carabiner to hang more loosely, it could still triaxally load it.

One could tie the sling off with a pre-equalized knot, but this isn't required. The following photo shows one quick example of a tie-off that eliminates the possibility of triaxal loading.

Triaxal loading is a detail that a lot of climbers don't think about. But it is just these kinds of minor details that can get you in the end. The phrase, "the Devil's in the details," didn't come from nowhere.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2010 AMGA/IFMGA Conference

The American Mountain Guides Association recently held its annual meeting in Boulder, Colorado.  In the past we have written about the AMGA and the events associated with it.  In 2008, we covered the annual meeting at Smith Rock and the always popular Guide Olympics.  This year was quite bit different, and the focus of the annual meeting was much more broad.  It also coincided with the annual meeting of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA, or UIAGM in French or IVBV in German) and this year that organization held it in the United States in conjunction with the AMGA for the first time in history.

Banners Advertising the Meeting Ornamented Boulder's Downtown District

The AMGA is one of the twenty-two member organizations of the IFMGA, and through it, American guides who attain the highest level of certification in all three American guide certifications (rock, alpine and ski) are provided with welcoming access and assistance in the mountainous areas of member countries from the regional organizations.

While the AMGA/IFMGA meeting was really a conference with dozens of smaller committee meetings and trainings all over the city, there were a handful of bigger events at which a large percentage of the participants got together.  The first was a fantastic opening event at the Prana store in downtown Boulder.  The second was the IFMGA General Assembly, the third was a guides parade in Downtown Boulder, and the last was the AMGA Main Event, consisting of dinner, talks, awards, and a climbing narrative presented by American IFMGA guide and world class climber, Vince Anderson.

The AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Provider Training at the Boulder Rock Club

I had the opportunity to attend the IFMGA General Assembly on the morning of the 14th.  This particular meeting was the centerpiece of the entire affair, and was devoted to a range of business and guiding issues in the member countries.  It was tricky to understand what was going on though.  The meeting was presented in German and there were limited translation headsets.  I ended up sitting near someone wearing one of them to get an idea of what was going on.  This made it a bit difficult to follow the whole thing, but I got the jist through second-hand communications...

Herman Biner, the President of the IFMGA, talks to a group of Swiss Guides at the Guides Parade

The elephant in the room at this meeting was the fact that while American guides have access to Europe, European guides don't have the same level of access to the US.  This has to do with the public lands permitting systems in the US.  Each of the parks, recreation areas, forest lands, and BLM lands have different permits and rules in the United States.  And unfortunately for the European guides, US permit rules do not make it terribly easy to get access to these lands.  This is something that the AMGA pledged that they would continue to work on with the Europeans on over the coming years.

The city of Boulder pulled out all of the stops at the event.  You're probably aware that Boulder is an extremely popular place for outdoor sports.  Indeed, like our homebase in Bellingham, Boulder is considered by many to be one of the capitols of outdoor and adventure sports in the United States.  Clearly, the business owners and residents of the city take pride in this perception and opened their arms to the visiting guides. There were meetings and dinners at numerous restaurants and shops. And for a few days, guides wearing IFMGA and AMGA jackets dominated the downtown scene.

Bergfuhrer is German for Mountain Guide.  This specialty brew was created 
for the meeting and features European IFMGA guide Leo Caminada in the center.  
Leo was the president of the IFMGA when the AMGA was selected as a member.

On the afternoon of November 14th, all of the guides got together and walked in a parade down Pearl Street.  This public event with guides from seventeen countries was perhaps the largest such event for mountain guides in the history of American guiding.  Following is a short video from the parade.

The final evening of the conference was far more AMGA oriented than many of the previous meetings.  The first part of the evening was dedicated to the memories of two guides that passed away this year.  John Fischer and Heidi Kloos were guides from two completely different generations.  Fischer was a pioneer in the guiding industry in the 1970s and was instrumental in helping create an organization that was the predecessor of the AMGA (the APMGA - the American Professional Mountain Guides Association).  Kloos was a modern "big mountain" guide and one of the few women in the United States to complete her Alpine Guide certification.  The community lost both of these guides this year, Fisher in a motorcycle accident and Kloos in an avalanche.  As with every guide memorial, many tears were shed.  Both John and Heidi will be missed.

At the centerpiece of the Main Event was a history of the AMGA.  Doug Robinson sketched out the events that led to the creation of the APMGA, the predecessor to the AMGA, the original organization pioneered by a small circle of guides in California from 1979 to 1985.  Dunham Gooding, AAI's president, gave a colorful history of the AMGA's challenging and ground-breaking first ten years. He detailed the events which led to where we are today.  Dunham began the narrative in 1986 and talked about how the National Accreditation Program was established, how the National Guide Certification Program was designed and implemented, and how the US applied to the IFMGA for membership in that international body.  Dunham served as AMGA Vice President for three years and President for six years during that formative time.

Former AMGA Presidents - From left to right, Alan Pietrasanta, Ian Wade, John Cleary,
 former AAI guide Mark Houston, AAI President Dunham Gooding, Phil Powers, Dick Jackson, and John Bicknell.  Missing was former AMGA president and AAI guide Matt Culberson.

Dunham related that some individual European guides were concerned that with US membership in the IFMGA, the Alps would be overwhelmed with American guides.  He said he jokingly reassured them that "it would be at least 6 or 8 years before there were 1000 American guides in the Alps."  The reality was and is that the certification process is a rigorous one, and the increase in numbers of American guides working in the Alps has been very gradual. The AMGA was officially voted into membership of the IFMGA in 1997.  Now, 13 years later, approximately 30 American guides regularly work in the Alps.

In the historical sketch, Dunham noted that the leadership of the IFMGA was incredibly encouraging and welcoming to the American application.  Representing the US through those years at the IFMGA annual meetings, he described how open and supportive the Europeans were to the candidacy, both on personal as well as on official levels.  Dunham particularly noted the generosity of the Canadians, Hans Gmosser, and Karl Classen.  Canada served as the US sponsor in the application process, led by the esteemed Canadian Mountain Guides Association President Hans Gmosser (known as the beloved "grandfather of guiding" in Canada, unfortunately now deceased) and Technical Committee Chair Karl Classen.

The AMGA Annual Meeting and the IFMGA Meeting were both great successes.  This was a spectacular event, and the membership of the AMGA is thankful for the work of AMGA Executive Director Betsy Novak and AMGA President/former AAI Avalanche Provider Margaret Wheeler, in putting together the conference.  This was a real opportunity for those of us who don't work in Europe to reach out to our foreign brothers and sisters in friendship.  And now we can only hope that we have the opportunity to do so again. While this was the first IFMGA meeting in the United States, it will certainly not be the last.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 22, 2010

2010 AORE Conference

I had never heard of AORE before I started working in the American Alpine Institute office.  As a person who didn't study recreation in college, I wasn't aware that there was an organization which supports young people in their quests to work in the outdoor industry.  The Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education or AORE is just such an organization.

AORE recently held its annual conference at 10,000 feet in the beautiful Colorado resort town of Keystone.  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend the event in order to represent the American Alpine Institute.  It was only my second time to Summit County, but it felt just like the first time that I visited.  The area is absolutely beautiful and everywhere I looked there was a tremendous amount of skiing and climbing available.

The AORE conference brings together people from all over the country to discuss issues of importance to those who strive to work in the outdoor industry. "The mission of the Association is to provide opportunities for professionals and students in the field of outdoor recreation and education to exchange information, promote the preservation and conservation of the natural environment, and address issues common to college, university, community, military, and other not-for-profit outdoor recreation and education programs."  The best way that the AORE Board of Directors has found to develop these opportunities and this information exchange has been through this yearly conference.

Attendees had a number of interesting opportunities.  There were literally dozens of workshops on everything from working with young people in the outdoors, to developing challenge courses, to creating international outdoor programs, to wilderness medicine, to hard skills like climbing site management and rappel safety.  Additionally, students were able to attend a variety of social events in order to network with outdoor professionals (like me!) and with each other.

Perhaps the two highlights of the event for me were the two keynote speakers.  Former AAI guide Angela Hawse provided the first of these.  Angela talked extensively and emotionally about a grand experience on Ama Dablam.  She lead an all women's expedition on the 18,251-foot mountain where for the first time in history, not only were the climbers all women, but so to were all the members of the Sherpa support staff.  Angela's expedition was designed not only to climb the peak, but also to raise money for a safe house for girls through the dZi Foundation.

The second keynote address was made by Mark Jenkins, a well-known writer for Outside and National Geographic.  Jenkins spoke extensively about his investigative work on the murder of seven Central African mountain gorillas in 2008.  His original article on the subject can be found here.  The story of the mountain gorillas and the slides that the writer showed with them put the audience on the edges of their seats and kept them there.  Jenkins is a powerful storyteller...which is probably part of the reason that he works for such high-end magazines.

AAI was a major AORE conference supporter.  We provided six $1000 scholarships to aspiring outdoor educators that attended the conference.  In addition to that, we devoted a block of time to talk to students about what it takes to become a professional mountain guide. In many ways this short time period was the most rewarding part of the conference for me.  It was absolutely wonderful to have the opportunity to give students guidance on a career in the mountains.

After attending this conference, I've become a big fan of AORE.  Most people enter the outdoor industry from backgrounds in other things.  Many of us get "sidetracked" by the industry until we are so immersed that it's in our blood.  The young people who attend the AORE conference are not among the sidetracked.  Instead, they're the ones that come into the outdoor industry with a taste for it well before the rest of us.  And indeed, this deep-seated interest is what will likely make them future leaders of the industry.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November and December 2010 Climbing Events

-- Nov 30 -- Bellingham, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival at WWU

-- Dec 1-3 -- Seattle, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival

-- Dec 4 -- Chattanooga TN -- Triple Crown Bouldering Series 

-- Dec 9-12 -- Bozeman, MT -- Bozeman Ice Fest

-- Dec 11 – Worldwide – International Mountain Day

-- Dec 11 – Bellingham, WA – AAI's International Mountain Day Avalanche Awareness Seminar

-- Dec 12 -- Sandstone, MN -- Sandstone Ice Festival 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you Stoked!!

Two ice videos coming at you today.  As far as the first video is concerned, the moment at 1 minute and 37 seconds makes it for me.  Even if the rest of the video was rubbish (which it isn't) the four seconds following this point is so suspenseful and exhilarating that I watched it many times over.  The sound of the ice smashing into the ground is a reminder of just how fragile ice can be when you are climbing at that level, or any level really.  Let's just say that sometimes, I'm thankful for the top rope.  Then again, getting on the sharp end is what it's all about.

BD grassroots athlete Jesse Huey on The Real Big Drip (M7 WI 6), Canadian Rockies from Black Diamond Equipment on Vimeo.

This second video is really well done, and if it doesn't make you want to get on to a plane and fly to Scotland, then I suppose mixed climbing in icy cracks just doesn't hold an appeal to you.  Congratulations to Ines Papert for being the first woman to free a route of this grade in Scotland.

--Andrew Yasso, Program Coordinator

Friday, November 19, 2010

Belay Glove Confessions

A few years ago I was in a Nomad Ventures, the climbing shop near Joshua Tree National Park, when a question arose.

"Do you use these?" my partner asked.

I looked over and saw him holding a pair of hand jammies. Hand jammies are a pair of gimmicky gloves that supposedly take the place of hand tape. They cover the back of your hand with sticky rubber in order to protect the skin from the sharp innards of a crack

Hand jammies seem like a good idea, but there's a problem with them. The problem is not that they don't work. The problem is not that they're too expensive. And the problem definitely is not that they're difficult to use. No, instead the problem is one of style. To put it simply, hand jammies are dorky. So lets follow this syllogism to its natural conclusion.

A -- Hand jammies are dorky.
B -- Gunther wears hand jammies.
C -- Gunther is a dork.

So my response was simple. "No, I don't wear those...at all."

My partner turned to the clerk behind the counter and asked the same question, "do you wear these?"

The clerk was a little less political in his answer. "No," he snorted. "I don't want to get beat up."

Sometime later, something happened to me. I didn't take up hand jammies. No, instead I started to wear something a bit worse. I started to wear belay gloves.

When you go out to the crag you'll notice that belay gloves are incredibly uncommon. The reason that they're uncommon is because most people don't see the need for them. Nobody really rappels or lowers anyone fast enough to burn their hands.

I don't wear them to avoid hand burns. I wear them to avoid the aluminum that inevitably gets transferred from the carabiners to the rope and then subsequently to my hands. Over the last few seasons I've found it harder and harder to wash the tiny fragments of metal out of the creases in my hands and as such it always looked like my hands were dirty.

I worked with a guide last season who was concerned that Alzheimer's disease comes from aluminum. As a result he always wore gloves whenever he handled a rope.

A short time after the guide told me about this, we had our first baby. My wife felt that when I got home from work I should play with the baby, which I gladly did. But she also felt that the black smudges I left all over the baby's clothes were a bit much.

And so, I began to wear belay gloves. Everybody made fun of me, but I still wore them...

A -- Belay gloves are dorky.
B -- Jason wear's belay gloves.
C -- Jason is a dork.

That's okay. I've embraced my inner dork and so now I can wear my belay gloves with pride. And I suppose that it's also kind of nice that when I get home I can pick up my kids and then put them back down without them looking like they've been rolling in the dirt...

(Jason and his daughter Holly in 2007, discussing the difference between hand jammies and baby jammies in Joshua Tree National Park.)

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Self-Arrest Techniques

Self-arrest is perhaps the most important skill that we practice in snow school. The British Mountaineering Council put together a nice video on the self-arrest techniques that one should practice.

Though this video is quite good, there are a couple of things that we teach differently:
  1. It is breezed over in the video, but the best way to self-arrest is to avoid falling. Good snow climbing technique should be practiced on low-angle slopes so that when you are on high-angle slopes it comes as second nature.
  2. We teach the piolet canne (cane) position as the baseline position. We only hold the piolet in the self-arrest position when it appears that a fall is likely. As the piolet canne position is the most stable walking position and it provides the most security, we like to see people move up the mountain in this position. One should practice self-arrest starting from the piolet canne position.
  3. There is some debate on whether you should put your feet up or not. The concern -- as the guide in the video points out -- is that if you put your feet down and your crampon points catch, that you might flip head-over-heels. On the other hand, it might stop you more quickly. We teach people to put their toes into the snow to arrest the fall.  To read a recent blog on this issue, click here.
There is some controversy about whether to use a leash on an ice axe or not. Most of our guides choose not to use a leash on standard mountaineering routes like the Coleman/Deming on Mount Baker or on the Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier.

Many people like wrist-leashes because they limit the possibility of dropping the axe. Our guides prefer them for steep terrain. There are two downsides to the constant use of a leash. First, it adds time to a turn, because the axe must be on the uphill side of your body. Moving the wrist-leash from one hand to the other many hundreds of times throughout the day adds time to the clock. Second, if you fall and lose control of the axe, it may become a liability. The last thing that you want in a fall is to be punctured by the axe.

Some people like to attach the ice-axe leash to their harness. This is a very bad place to attach a leash. Any loss of control during a fall could lead to a catastrophic torso puncture injury.

People are very adamant about wanting to use a wrist-leash while climbing for fear of dropping the axe. But really, how common is it for a climber to drop an axe? Not common at all. An ice axe is like a mountaineer's weapon. How many soldiers in the heat of battle drop their weapons? While mountain climbing is definitely not as intense as a war, it can be a dangerous pursuit and most climbers are unlikely to drop the most important tool they carry.

In preparing this blog, I watched a number of videos about self-arrest techniques. There were quite a few bad examples and indeed, some that were just flat dangerous. If you practice self-arrest, always wear a helmet and do not attach the leash of the axe to yourself. Always practice in a place where there is a good run-out. And be conservative in your practice of the head-first/stomach technique as this is a very easy one to get hurt practicing.

Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 15, 2010

William Shatner Explains the Motivations of Climbers

Captain Kirk likes to climb mountains.

In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the movie starts with Captain Kirk most of the way up a free solo ascent of El Capitan. Of course, Spock has to mess things up by showing up in his jet boots.

We've posted this clip in the past, but we've never had William Shatner's commentary on the scene before. It's pretty funny. William Shatner is clearly not a climber. This is the clip where William Shatner explains that mountain climbers like to hug and make love to the mountain:

And this is the remix of the clip fashioned as a musical.

Yep, Captain Kirk sure likes to climb mountains...

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November and December Climbing Events

-- Nov 19 -- Sunnyvale, CA -- Bloc Party: A Planet Granite Bouldering Series 

-- Nov 20 -- Seattle, WA -- Stone Gardens 2010 Seattle Bouldering Challenge 

-- Nov 30 -- Bellingham, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival at WWU

-- Dec 1-3 -- Seattle, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival

-- Dec 4 -- Chattanooga TN -- Triple Crown Bouldering Series 

-- Dec 9-12 -- Bozeman, MT -- Bozeman Ice Fest

-- Dec 11 – Worldwide – International Mountain Day

-- Dec 11 – Bellingham, WA – AAI's International Mountain Day Avalanche Awareness Seminar

-- Dec 12 -- Sandstone, MN -- Sandstone Ice Festival 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you Stoked!!

With the base developing up here in the Northwest, skiing is becoming more and more of a consistent possibility for daily recreation.  I don't know if I should be ashamed or proud to say that this weekend will be the first time this season I will be getting after it.  The ski area isn't open yet, so on one hand you could say I'm fairly motivated.  On the other hand, the snow has been on Mt. Baker proper for quite some time and only laziness (and being out of WA I suppose) has prevented me from getting out there.  Regardless, I am pumped to slap those planks on and make some turns.

The following video is part one of a three part series from Black Diamond which is bound to be awesome.  Sure this weekend I will be in the Baker backcountry; maybe next weekend La Grave?

Ski Here Now - webisode #1 from Black Diamond Equipment on Vimeo.

--Andrew Yasso, Program Coordinator

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Euro Death Knot

There is a commonly used knot out there that many people use regularly to join two ropes together that is totally misrepresented by its name. The Euro death knot (EDK) is not dangerous and it is not a death knot. It is likely that American climbers gave the knot this name when they saw Europeans use it because it looked sketchy.

The EDK is officially known as an overhand bend or an overhand flat knot. It would be far better to refer to this knot by one of these names as they do not strike fear into those that use the knot.

The Overhand Bend (AKA Overhand Flat Knot/Euro Death Knot)
In this photo the tail is very short and there is no back-up to the Overhand Bend.
Photo from Wikepedia

Most people like the overhand bend for two reasons. First, because of the knot's asymmetrical profile, it tends to pull smoothly over edges and doesn't get caught as easily. And second, it is very easy to untie.

To tie the knot, lay both ends of the rope together. Make sure that they are pointed in the same direction and then make an overhand knot in both ropes at the same time. This is the overhand bend. Most guides tie a backup by adding a second overhand bend next to the first. This will keep the knot from rolling if there are unexpected high loads.

In the past, most climbers tied the overhand bend alone. If the knot is tied by itself without a backup, there must be a significant tail. It is not recommended to tie the overhand bend by itself.

Some people tie an overhand eight in lieu of an overhand bend. This is far more likely to roll than a unbacked-up overhand bend and is not recommended.

Most of our guides tend to tie not only their rappel ropes together with an overhand bend, but their cordelletes as well. Guides tie their cordelletes with this knot because it is easy to untie. A cordellete that may be opened has a great deal more flexibility. It can easily be opened up and used like a webolette. Some like the ability to open up a cordellete because an open cordellete without a welded double-fisherman's knot can be cut up more effectively for anchor material.

Following is a short video from the Canadian guide, Mike Barter, on how to tie a overhand bend.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rope Length on a Glacier

How much rope should be between people on a glacier?

Twenty feet?  Forty feet?  Sixty feet?  It seems like there should be a clear-cut answer to the question, but unfortunately there's not.

Some years ago a friend of mine was coming down the Coleman-Deming route on Mount Baker late in the season.  He was at the back of the rope team.  The person at the front of the team slowly began to work his way across a snowbridge. Approximately half-way across, the bridge collapsed.

The leader dropped into the crevasse.  The guy in the middle of the rope team did not attempt to arrest the fall at all.  And my friend immediately dropped into a self-arrest position.  Each of the two climbers at the front of the team were essentially lowered to the bottom of the crevasse.  But unfortunately, my friend was dragged in and fell to the bottom.

The Coleman Glacier on Mount Baker
Photo by Jason Martin

As the crevasse wasn't that deep, no one was seriously hurt in the incident.  But it was a very close call.  One could make a very good argument that if there were just a few more feet between these individuals, that then the fall could have been arrested before it became as serious as it became.

There are three things to consider when deciding on rope length:

1) How big are the crevasses?

Obviously, you will need enough rope out to make sure that two members of the team are not on the same crevasse.  If you're in the Alaska Range or the Himalaya, this is significantly more rope than it is if you are in the Cascades, the Canadian Rockies, or the Andes.

2) How many people are on the team and what kind of room will you need to arrest?

The more people on the rope, the more weight there is.  On a team with five people, I've seen a person fall into a crevasse and stop without a single member of the team self-arresting.  While larger teams tend to be slower and more difficult to manage, they are better when it comes to arresting a fall.

It is also important to make sure that there is not only enough room between each member of the team to arrest a fall, but that there is also enough rope out to arrest the fall before getting dragged into the crevasse.  Essentially, this means that there should be more rope out between people when there are smaller teams.  Having lots of rope out between people doesn't matter as much with larger teams.

3) Is there enough rope to perform a rescue?

Why not just put all the rope out?  Won't this ensure that you always have enough room to arrest?

Certainly there are places where having all the rope out is good.  In ranges with giant house-eating crevasses like the Himalaya and the Alaska Range, it's probably best to put all of the rope out.  But this does make crevasse rescue more difficult and it doesn't give you a lot to work with if someone gets hurt in a fall.

One of the things that we teach at AAI is that, if possible, you should have some rescue rope on either end of your team.  This rope should be long enough to reach the next person on your team.  This is so that if there is a major injury in a crevasse fall, that you have enough rope to rappel down and perform first aid before pulling a person out.

If you plan to travel to a range where you will need to have all of your rope out, it is good to practice crevasse rescue without rescue coils.  Unfortunately, it is a slower and more tedious technique.

Rope Measurement for Smaller Ranges

I have a simple system for measuring rope length in the Cascades.  I'm six feet tall and so my wing span is also approximately six feet.  I will generally separate people by measuring the rope with my arms.  Here is a team breakdown:

Two person team - 8 arm lengths - 48 feet between climbers
Three person team - 7 arm lengths - 42 feet between climbers
Four person team - 6 arm lengths - 36 feet between climbers
Five person team - 5 arm lengths - 30 feet between climbers

In a pinch, it's possible to have a larger team, but it is not optimal.  And you should never go below 30 feet between climbers.

When you get to teams with five or six people on them, generally there is not enough rope on either end to perform a rescue.  In such a case, you should have the leader (i.e. the strongest/most experienced person on the team) carry any rescue rope that's available.


Certainly, the amount of rope out between people is a personal and team choice.  Some of you who are reading this are probably shocked at how little rope I suggest between people.  And others are just as shocked about how much I suggest.  Either way, I can say comfortably that I personally feel as safe as is reasonable with these lengths on the glaciers of the Northwest...

--Jason D. Martin

Update --

The guide who fell into a crevasse back in 2000 responded to this post.  Following are his comments on the topic:

Hey Jason, I was checkin out your AAI blog this morning and I saw your post on rope distance on glaciers. Nice article - well written and a great topic. I thought about trying to write about that topic recently but got side-tracked.

Interesting to see an anecdote told about my experience. I learned a few things from that, and as such I might disagree with a couple of your premises - or at least have a few other factors to consider. After my accident, some people told me (Crusty old Tom Bridge being one of them) that I could have benefited from the rope distance being a bit longer. I saw that you put that in your blog as well. Keep in mind however that had there not been a little "floor" in that crevasse, an extra few meters would not have mattered, and we probably all would have gone in anyway - and died. Yeah, more rope distance = more "time to react" but only to a point. The amount of rope out was for me a tiny little variable. The other key thing worth pointing out (and you did anyway) is that it was a small, visible bridge that failed over an open crevasse, rather than the failure of a soft blanket of snow over a hidden crevasse.

 My clients and I were tied the "standard" 35 or so feet apart. In the following season or two, I heeded Tom B. and others' advice that I should go more like 40-45 feet on cascades glaciers. It wasn't until 2005 or 2006 or so when I realized, that all things being equal, I should have gone way closer  than 35 feet. When I started going through the AMGA alpine program, that confirmed it for me. For me rope distance ceased to become a function of anticipated crevasse width. I now go even closer in AK too. I think the most likley consequences of a crevasse fall is usually trauma to the victim - not "the whole rope team getting sucked in". The circumstances of my crevasse fall in 2000 should never be used as an example of how far apart to tie in for glacier travel. We should have been in short rope mode - and thats what I would do if I could go back to that moment on Sept 28th, 2000 (at about 1:45pm in the afternoon to be exact).

At some point that day as we descended, the snow got firmer and the crevasses became more open. It was probably around  8000 feet on the coleman glacier.  S-R mode would have allowed me to route-find better and just end-run the crevasse (which was the most logical and "safe" way of solving that particular guiding problem that day. Long-roping is a great technique for crossing glaciers where hidden crevasses comprise the greatest hazard, but in our case most everything that could open was already open. Short-roping would allow a guide to routefind much better than trying to long-rope with a client 80 feet in front of you leading the way (on that piece of glacier, I thought
about going first but the risk of slips and falls was high - thus another reason to S-R and not L-R.

The other thing to remember about your blog topic is that crevasse falls are not the only big hazard on glaciers. Slips and falls on steep terrain are sometimes more severe, and a rope team moving together while tied in far apart is not well prepared (in my opinion) to deal with those hazards.

So, to make a long story longer, when I am trying to figure out how far apart to tie my rope, I think about a few of the following variables (above and beyond crevasse size, numbers of people, etc...)

- Is long-roping more appropriate or less appropriate than short-roping right now? (L-R when soft snow, bad vis, lots of hidden slots, etc... S-R when late season, Firn, most slots are open, route-finding in complex (but not whiteout) terrain.

- Is the snow firm or soft? I might short rope routes these days in the morning, but then L-R them in the afternoon when they have softened up.

- How fit are the clients and how important is my communication with them and with each other?  - if client safety benefits more from communication, pacing, direction, etc then I might go shorter rather than longer. Its a lot easier to remind your clients to keep the rope tight when they are 25-30 feet away than it is when they are 40. Its also easier to keep the rope tight, as well as direct, warn, caution, etc... I have gotten so sick and tired of tying my clients in 40 feet apart only to see them tripping on my rope with their crampons. They sometimes do such a bad job monitoring rope tension that the additional distance ceases to become a benefit. And you know this is true for recreationalists (comprising much of your blog audience) as well.

- Is adjustability important?  Build a system into the rope team that allows one or more members to drop an intermediate knot - thus extending themselves temporarily - It isn't that hard to teach even the greenest of clients. If we are approaching a monster slot where I am afraid of its strenght and of having 2 or more people on it at once, its easy to go quickly from 25 feet to 40 feet if neccessary - or even switch to a belay-from-anchor.  Furthermore, I think there are hardly any monster slots out there (bigger than 20-25 feet or so) that don't manifest themselves on the surface some how. The biggest slots I have ever seen outside of AK are down in Antarctica, and they always reveal themselves one way or another.

Instead of asking myself "how long should I go with my rope distance" when I rope up with my clients, I now try to ask my self 1): Is a rope even necessary? (because sometimes it isn't of course - or sometimes the presence of a rope makes things more dangerous than less - I asked my clients to unrope on a relatively crevasse-free glacier on Mt Blanc this summer because I felt the risk of rockfall from above far outweighed the likelihood of an unroped crevasse fall. 2): How short can I safely go? I bet there are plenty of days on Baker late in the season where one could short rope the vast majority of the route and argue logically that it exposed the team to less risk than long-roping.

The caveat of all of this, and the reason that it is on my mind so much (besides me being the lucky survivor of the story you told) is because of all the 14 guide fatalities in France last year, many of them were due to crevasse falls. Many euro guides can be seen short roping here and there on heavily crevassed glaciers, and it really makes me wonder sometimes... I find myself long roping lots of terrain that fellow french, italian, or swiss guides might be short roping on. There was an inquiry at ENSA (the french guide school) last year after many of the accidents and the ENSA instructors were asked if they teach new guides to S-R the glaciers. "No" they said. "We teach our candidates to use longer distances of rope when the risk of crevasse falls is high" they said. "We don't know why these guides learn one way with us then do something completely different (and much less safe) when they complete their UIAGM diploma".

That about wraps her up... Sorry this isn't very short but as you might know I have a very personal connection to crevasse falls  and crevasse-related risk management. Plenty of people probably don't agree with me by the way, but I'd happily maintain that there is little or no evidence to support the claim that more rope in the team equates to less crevasse fall risk.

I witnessed two crevasse falls in a 30 minute period while guiding the Dufourspitze in Switzerland last summer. I rescued both victims myself. One team (a czech team) tied in a about 35 feet, and did a poor job of watching their tension. A girl popped through a weak bridge in the dark and yanked the other two guys off their feet. She went deep-until she corked. If she hadn't corked she might have dragged them both in. 15 minutes later an Italian climber passed me as I was probing a suspicions area (he wasn't concerned). He and his (single) partner were tied in 25 feet apart. He fell in - and the tension went immediatey onto his partner - who self arrested (crampons on, toes in the snow! - It works!). Is partner was dragged a little bit but not much, and successfully stopped the fall. We hauled that guy out too. One of your blog points was that smaller teams should tie in further apart than big teams. I disagree (with some exceptions). I think they can go just as close (and use heaps of butterfly knots). I honestly believe the benifits outweigh the disadvantages, and overall - if people are skilled and aware - going a little closer is often safer. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Movie Review: Frozen

Late last winter, something absolutely terrifying happened at a European ski resort.  A German tourist in the Austrian Alps was "forgotten" on a ski lift.  He went up for one last run before they were going to close down for the day...and before he got to the top of the hill, they actually did close for the day, leaving the man stranded.

The 22 year-old skier, who had left his cell phone behind, was stuck for nearly five hours in temperatures reaching 0 degrees Fahrenheit.  The young man was finally rescued when a snowcat driver caught sight of him burning money in order to keep warm.

This real-life event was fortuitous for the makers of last winter's chill-thrill film, Frozen.  The plot of the low-budget flick is almost exactly the same.  Three friends get stuck high on a ski lift on a Sunday night after a New England resort closes for the week.  Parker (Emma Bell), Joe (Shawn Ashmore) and Dan (Kevin Zegers) are left to try to find a way to get down or face the prospect that they will freeze to death.

This could have been a good movie.  It really could have been.

That is, if someone had spent any time outdoors at all.  That is, if someone had researched frostbite and cold weather injuries.  And that is, if they weren't trying to make a horror movie and instead were just trying to make a tight and engaging story.

The characters in this movie had a hard time thinking about how to stay warm.  Joe, the lone skier in the group, never puts up his hood, no matter how cold it gets.  Parker looses a glove early in the movie and then decides that it's a good idea to go to sleep on the ski lift with her hand wrapped tightly around the metal safety bar.

These are things that just wouldn't happen in real life.  It's really hard to suspend disbelief when it's clear that the actors aren't really cold and have never really been cold.  Nobody ever really shivers in the entire movie and the film-makers are far more interested in getting some gore out of the cold weather injuries than some reality.

The biggest problem of all with this film is that this is exactly the type of movie a low-budget production company could do very well.  It is a tight and simplistic storyline that, when character driven, could be a tremendously engaging story.  The problem here is that the characters are paper thin.  They have nice back-stories, but they are just such dumb people, it's hard to really be engaged by them instead of by their situation.  This is definitely one of those movies where you spend a lot of time yelling, "no! No! No! Don't do that!" And then you sigh and say, "that was a really stupid thing to do..."

All that said, this movie has one major thing working for it.  It's the same thing that works in movies like, Open Water where a pair of scuba divers are left at sea by their tour boat, or in The Blair Witch Project, where a group of documentary film-makers become lost in a haunted forest...it's the what-would-I-do-if-I-were-in-this-situation factor.  And Frozen is flush with what-would-I-do situations.  The likelihood -- if you read this blog regularly -- is that you probably wouldn't do the same things that these not-very-outdoor savvy individuals did.

I suspect that most of you would zip up your jacket and put up up your hood in the cold.  I suspect that most of you would not lose your gloves.  And if you did lose your gloves, I bet that you would keep your hands in your pockets.  Indeed, most of you would probably have cell phones and the problem would be solved without any real drama.

The characters in this movie are not bright and sometimes you do get angry at their choices.  But that element, combined with the what-would-I-do element, keeps Frozen from being all bad...and in fact even makes it mildly -- and I stress mildly -- entertaining.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, November 7, 2010

November and December Climbing Events

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

-- Nov 5 -- Philadelphia, PA -- Penn Pull Down Bouldering Competition --  215.746.8622

-- Nov 6 -- Horse Pens Steele, AL -- Triple Crown Bouldering Series

-- Nov 7 -- Seattle, WA -- Northwest Snow and Avalanche Summit

-- Nov 11 -- El Paso, TX --  Reel Rock Film Tour  

-- Nov 19 -- Sunnyvale, CA -- Bloc Party: A Planet Granite Bouldering Series  http://www.planetgranite.com/

-- Nov 20 -- Seattle, WA -- Stone Gardens 2010 Seattle Bouldering Challenge 

-- Nov 30 -- Bellingham, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival at WWU

--Dec 1-3 -- Seattle, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival

-- Dec 4 -- Chattanooga TN -- Triple Crown Bouldering Series 

-- Dec 11 – Worldwide – International Mountain Day

-- Dec11 – Bellingham, WA – AAI's International Mountain Day Avalanche Awareness Seminar

-- Dec 12 -- Sandstone, MN -- Sandstone Ice Festival 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos to Get You Scared!

For those dedicated Weekend Warrior watchers you may recognize this post.  I know, I know, I got a little lazy this week and decided to re-post this video blog from a couple years ago.  But, in my defense the content in these videos is very important to consider this time of year.  It's that shoulder season when all most people can think of is getting out and shredding down some snow covered slopes.  But before you go charging out the door and flying down the slopes remember that avalanches do happen and you'd better be ready to react if one does.  Better yet, you should probably know how to stay out of one in the first place!  If you haven't had any avalanche training and you're headed into the backcountry, it's time to get some. Check out our avalanche courses here.

OK, commence with repost:

Today we're going to look at some avalanches. Some of them are pretty scary and there's not a lot of information on the web about how the people caught in these avalanches turned out...which makes them even scarier.

In this first video, you'll see a compilation of avalanches from a snowboarding video.

In this second video, two snowmobilers who are high marking start a massive slab avalanche.

And in this third video, an avalanche that could take out a small city is documented by a variety of means, including by helicopters.

Friday, November 5, 2010

NPS Seeking Public Input on Denali Cost Recovery Fee for Climbers

We know.  We know.  We just asked you to do something for the Southeastern Climbers Coalition.  But as you know, climbing access is an ongoing fight.

Here's another big issue that could have not only a big impact on climbing in Denali National Park but could also have  implications for parks throughout the country.

Denali National Park and Preserve is considering/planning to substantially raise the climbing fee assessed on Denali climbers, raising it from $200 to $500 effective in 2012.  We met with officials at the park last month to discuss the plan and its implications.  

Below is the announcement that DNPP recently issued regarding the new fees, and below it is a list of a few of the issues surrounding this plan.

The National Park Service (NPS) is examining approaches to recover more of the cost of the mountaineering program in Denali National Park and Preserve. Currently, each climber of Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker pays a cost recovery special mountaineering use fee of $200.  Despite an increase in the fee from $150 to $200 in 2005, current fee revenue only covers 17% of the cost of this specialized program; the fee initially covered approximately 30% of the cost. Climber numbers since 2002 have remained essentially flat, as has NPS staffing. Excluding costs of the high altitude helicopter portion of the program, operational expenses have gone up significantly, due mainly to inflation.

 The cost recovery program is authorized by Federal statute. Income from the cost recovery fee offsets some of the cost of the mountaineering program. Costs recovered by the fee fund preventative search and rescue (PSAR) education, training for rescue personnel, positioning of patrol/rescue personnel (including volunteers) at critical high altitude locations on the mountain, the CMC (human waste) program and administrative support.

The cost recovery fee was implemented in 1995.  The number of fatalities and major injuries has decreased significantly since then, which is directly attributable to the increased educational and PSAR efforts made possible through the cost recovery program. The fee has also enabled the park to start and sustain effective human waste and garbage management programs on Mt. McKinley.

McKinley/Foraker climbers make up less than 1⁄2 of 1 percent of the 378,000 people who visited the park in 2010.  Denali will expend approximately $1,200 in direct support of each permitted climber in 2011.  In contrast the average cost for all other visitors is expected to be about $37. In recent years, the park has diverted funds from other critical park programs in order to fully fund the mountaineering program.  This has negatively impacted funding available for programs such as interpretation, wildlife protection, resource management, and maintenance.  “The park budget can no longer support the specialized costs of the mountaineering program without impacting other programs that protect park resources and provide services to far more visitors”, said Paul Anderson, Denali National Park Superintendent.

Through the public involvement process, the park is seeking input and ideas about two key questions: 1) Is the current mountaineering program the most cost effective, efficient and safe program we can devise?; and 2) How much of the cost should be recovered from users, and what options are there for how those costs can be distributed?

Comments from the public will be accepted between November 1, 2010 and January 31, 2011. Public Comments may be submitted via email to: DENA_mountainfeecomments@nps.gov  or faxed to (907) 683-9612.  Written comments may also be submitted by mail to: Superintendent, Denali National Park and Preserve, P.O. Box 9, Denali Park, AK 99755.

Public meetings to hear comments on the mountaineering and cost recovery program will take place in Talkeetna and Anchorage, Alaska in December and in Seattle and Denver early in January 2011.  Dates and specific meeting locations will be announced in the near future.

For additional information on the mountaineering program or cost recovery special use fee visit the park website at www.nps.gov/dena/.  If you have questions about the fee you may contact Chief Park Ranger Peter Armington at (907) 683-9521. Media inquiries should be directed to Public Affairs Officer Kris Fister at (907) 683-9583.

When we met with park officials in October, they said they will not divert money from other uses to pay for the mountaineering program.  Therefore there are only two choices: 1) scale back the mountaineering program (the park is not considering this presently) or 2) raise fees to cover the budget shortfall.

Some at the National Park have proposed a tiered system in which Americans would pay $350 per person and foreign climbers would pay $800 per person.  This would be similar to how Argentina charges for Aconcagua and how Nepal charges for Mt. Everest.  Each of these countries charge foreigners a higher rate than they charge locals.  This national park fee differential based on citizenship is not unique to climbing.  For example, Ecuadorians visiting the Galapagos pay $6 while foreign visitors pay $100, sixteen times as much.

Others have argued that all climbers should have rescue insurance to offset the costs on the mountain.  However, 1) rescue does not constitute a major part of the mountaineering program budget, and 2) if climbers were required to hold rescue insurance on Denali with the hopes of reducing costs slightly, would other parks follow suit (and would this be a bad precedent to set in the US where rescue on land and sea is almost always provided without charge, e.g., for boaters, fishermen, hikers, campers, private pilots, etc.)?

Some questions you might consider when responding to this are:
  1. Will a fee change price people out of Denali?  Or are the costs associated with expeditions there (e.g., equipping oneself for arctic conditions, flying to Alaska, paying $575 to fly onto the glacier, etc.) so high that a fee moving from $200 to $500 won't have much impact?
  2. The park is convinced that they cannot scale back their presence on the mountain and still do the job they believe they should do.  They maintain a constant ranger presence at 14,000 feet and have ranger patrols (with volunteer members) moving up and down the mountain regularly.  Personnel costs are the biggest part of the mountaineering program budget.  Do you think scaling back could work?
  3. While having help nearby is great when you need it – no doubt about that, it's not the norm on most mountains.  It may typify the Alps, but not the big mountains of the world.  How do you feel about having that support on Denali?
  4. Some have argued that the constant ranger presence at 14,000 feet significantly diminishes the sense of challenge and adventure.  What do you think of the trade-offs?
  5. Is having one fee for Americans and a higher fee for non-Americans a reasonable thing to do?  
  6. The NPS has explained to us that non-American climbers on Denali create significant more demand on staff time and significant more demand on rescue services?  Is that a reasonable basis upon which to decide to charge them more? 

The American Alpine Institute, American Alpine Club, Access Fund, American Mountain Guides Association and other organizations are all working on responses to this NPS proposal.  But the Park Service wants to hear from YOU.

This is a very important issue and we urge you to let the park know what you think should be done.

Please tell them.

– Dunham Gooding and Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Help Preserve Southeastern Climbing with an Online Vote!

The American Alpine Institute just received this notice from our friends at the Access Fund and at the Southeastern Climbers Coalition.

Help save more classic climbing!
The Southeastern Climbers Coalition asks for YOUR help to secure access to 2 excellent crags currently closed to climbing. We have entered the Pepsi Refresh Project grant competition at the $250,000 level. The winners are determined by public e-voting.  If we win, and that is entirely up to YOU, the SCC will use the money to secure access to climbing areas in Alabama and Tennessee.  The specific locations cannot be disclosed at this time because access hasn’t yet been secured, but trust us, they’re amazing properties to preserve and enjoy forevermore! 
E-voting begins November 1, 2010 and a direct voting link will be provided then.  You may vote for the SCC's Land Acquisition Proposalonce a day, every single day, from November 1 to midnight November 30, 2010.  Every vote is valuable and counts towards the cause!  The proposal with the most votes WINS! 
If you would like a daily voting reminder via email, please send an email to sccreminders@gmail.com
Please help spread the word!  More details and a link to the proposal for voting will be provided on November 1.  So mark your calendars, stay tuned on www.seclimbers.org, follow us on Twitter www.twitter/SEClimbers, friend the Southeastern Climbers Coalition on Facebook, and check out November’s issue of Deadpoint Magazine for the Triple Crown’s 2 page promo which includes a teaser about this grant competition!
The SCC is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to preserving climbing areas for future generations to enjoy. To learn more about us, visit our website at www.seclimbers.org

We thank you for your support!
Paul Morley
Southeastern Climbers Coalition

The link was released yesterday morning.  To vote for this cause, click hereTo vote via text message, text "104071" to the number 73774.  For more information, check out www.seclimbers.org.

--Jason D. Martin