Friday, December 31, 2010

Popular Anchor Acronyms

Over the last decade, the use of anchor acronyms has become quite popular. For awhile, it seemed like everybody had a different acronym for the "ideal" anchor. Following are a few examples of anchor acronyms:


Rumor has it that this term was initially coined by an east coast guide. As I am unable to independently verify the truth of this, I'm going to keep his name out of this blog. In any case, the preceding acronym stands for:

R - Redundant
E - Equalized
N - No
E - Extention

"Redundant" simply means that there is more than one element involved in every aspect of the system. "Equalized" means that the all the weight is evenly distributed. "No Extention" means that if one piece fails, the anchor will not shockload other parts of the system.

John Long's How to Rock Climb series added an element to the acronym. In his books he began to use SRENE. The RENE part remained the same, but he added the "S". This stood for "secure" or "strong." In other words, are all the pieces strong and secure?

The 2008 AMGA Single Pitch Instructor manual added another letter to the acronym. In this recent publication they made the acronym, SERENE. The new "E" stood for "effective;" as in, was the construction of this anchor quick? Was it well-placed? Does it do the job without too much equipment or fuss?

Popular books like Freedom of the Hills, Rock Climbing: Mastering the Basic Skills, and Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher have gone a completely different route. Instead of SERENE, they use ERNEST.

E - Equalized
R - Redundant
N - No
E - Extention
S - Secure/Solid
T - Timely

The only real addition to this particular acronym is the "T" for "timely" which could well equate to the "E" for "effective."

When all is said and done, it doesn't really matter which acronym you prefer. It doesn't matter as long as your anchors are RENE, SRENE, SERENE and ERNEST...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, December 28, 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

Monday, December 27, 2010

Former AAI Guide does TED Presentation

Former AAI Guide, Majika Burhardt has been making a good portion of her living writing about her adventures. She has focused the majority of her writing on the three things that she loves, climbing adventure, coffee and Ethiopia.  In 2008, she published her first book, Vertical Ethiopia: Climbing Toward Possibility in the Horn of Africa.

Recently Majika had the opportunity to talk about her book at a TED: Ideas Worth Spreading conference.  These are conferences where speakers try to inspire people into action.  Majika's gave a passionate speech about climbing in Africa and about how coffee can change Ethiopia in a positive way. The following is a video of that speech:

Majika second book, Coffee Story: Ethiopia will be available soon.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, December 26, 2010

January and February Climbing Events

-- Jan 6-9 -- Ouray, CO -- Ouray Ice Fest
-- Jan 5 -- Skagit Valley, WA -- Jason Hummel Slideshow

-- Jan 7 -- Golden, CO -- AAC Sun Valley Dinner

-- Jan 15-16 -- Green Bay, WI -- Ice Pit Festival 

-- Jan 17 -- Seattle, WA -- Denali NP Open House Meeting On Climbing Fees

-- Jan 18 -- Golden, CO -- Denali NP Open House Meeting On Climbing Fees

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

-- Jan 13 -- Seattle, WA -- Travel Medicine Seminar 

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

-- Jan 22 -- Bellingham, WA -- Northwest Collegiate Climbing Challenge

-- Jan 27 -- Seattle, WA -- Altitude Illness Seminar

-- Jan 29 -- Truckee, CA --  Lost Trail Lodge Ice Climbing

-- Feb 5 -- Mammoth, CA -- (Ski Mountaineering) Mammoth Chase  

-- Feb 12-13 -- Alpental, WA -- VertFest sponsored by OR

-- Feb 26 -- Seattle, WA -- AAC Annual Benefit and Awards Dinner

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos To Get You Stoked!!!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

In honor of this holly, jolly day, I would like to pay tribute to Santa and his potentially extreme ways.  I would love to support the other religious holidays during this winter season, however none of them have a "mascot" quite like Santa! 

Here Comes Santa Claus Skiing Whistler, BC from Chris Wheeler on Vimeo.

Apparently the tough times have hit Santa as well, the North Pole's economy is obviously down.  His elves are on strike, and it appears he had to take up some rope access work as a window washer to make up the deficit in his budget.  Good on you Santa!

Santa is Coming from Roberto Kaplan on Vimeo.

--Andrew Yasso, Program Coordinator

Friday, December 24, 2010

Marking Your Gear

The Facebook post was incredibly embarrassing.  "It looked like a crime scene," my wife wrote.  "An entire bottle of blood red nail polish spilled from the kitchen counter top, all down the cabinet door, and ending in a 3-foot spray across the tile floor.  Who could have created such a mess?  My 2-year old?  My 3-year old?"

I could imagine her smile as she typed the next line for all of her friends to see.  " was my husband!  And it was HIS nail polish."

Yes, I admit it.

It was MY nail polish.  And yes, I did spill it everywhere.  But in my defense, I was using it to mark my climbing gear...which is exactly what I wrote in response to her post.  But that didn't stop the good-natured ribbing.

When the accident took place, I was trying to update all of my gear with the latest in gear marking technology, nail polish.  Most of my climbing friends and nearly all of the guides at the American Alpine Institute long ago moved away from multi-colored tape on hardware and toward the use of nail polish.

Both of the carabiners in this photo have been marked for about the same amount of time.  
The carabiner on the left has nail polish painted in strategic location.  Whereas the carabiner 
on the right has electrical tape on the spine.  Clearly the tape did not hold up as well as the polish.

In the past, each of my carabiners had two strips of electrical tape around the spine.  One strip was black and one was red.  The dual colors helped to keep them from getting mixed up with other people's gear.  The problem with the tape though is that it wears off.  It starts to fall off in a sticky mess, creating micro-trash in the mountains.

To keep the nail polish from rubbing off, I try to paint it on near the hinge at the base of the gate and next to the nose.  Because these areas are mildly inset, ropes and rocks don't tend to rub as much and the paint markings stays on for a long time.

It is also possible to mark cams and stoppers with nail polish dots in strategic locations.  Look for a spot where your dots will not be easily scraped off, but where you can see them without too much trouble.

I put two dots on each of my cams.  My colors are red and black.  It's always 
good to mark your gear with more than one color.

It is important to note that I still have multi-colored electrical tape on my slings, over the stitching.  You definitely would NOT want to put nail polish onto a soft good like a sling.  While I don't know exactly what's inside nail polish, I can only assume that the chemicals would have a negative and perhaps even dangerous impact on the material.

Those who swap partners a lot should really play it safe. Protect yourself. Mark it carefully and you'll lose less of it.  Mark it poorly and your gear will slowly migrate away to your partners racks...

Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rules of Ice Climbing: A Trip to Hyalite Canyon

I'm not a cold-weather person. You've probably heard this before. I'm a desert person. I like Red Rock. I don't even own a down jacket.

But, this Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to branch out a little. After a 12-hour white-knuckle drive in horrible road conditions, climbing everything a reasonable distance away from the parking lot in five days with seven other guys, I now know and respect the five rules of ice climbing:

1) Look good.
2) Don't fall.
3) Don't fall. (This is important.)
4) Saying you can climbing something is just as good as actually climbing it.
5) Take lots of pictures.

In honor of Rule #5, here is a photo essay trip report.

 Guidebooks are a must!

 We spent some time dreaming about things we can't quite do yet. 

 Heels down! Trust your feet.

Climbing until it's dark is a must. 

 Sometimes you have to slog to get to where you want to go.

 I learned something very important on this trip: I have very poor circulation in my feet. I still can't quite feel my big toes.

 Lastly, I'd like to add my own rule:

6) Never turn down a top-rope. There is no shame in top-roping.

Thanks to everyone who made this trip a blast. 

--Dyan Padagas, Program Coordinator

Monday, December 20, 2010

Choosing The Right Partner

I've noticed that a majority of my blog posts have a "reflective" theme to them.  However, being able to evaluate situations after the fact and learn from them, is an important tool to progress in the mountains.  My most recent reflection revolves around the month long road trip I just took and the importance of choosing the right partner for the right climb.

For the month of October, my terribly strict employer (read: sarcasm) told me to take a month off and to go work on my climbing resume.  I took this opportunity gladly, and planned a road trip that would have me hitting many of the areas we have programs in.  Joshua Tree, Lee Vining, parts of the High Sierra, and of course Red Rock.  I started reading route descriptions and making a tick list, and then realized I still needed someone to climb with and a way to get there.  Partner-less and vehicle-less I thought the trip wouldn't happen, but out of nowhere a friend contacts me and lets me know he just bought a car and is looking for something to fill his October.  I guess the stars aligned, because I just solved both of my problems without even trying.

Although the author found a partner and transportation, he was unable to solve the problem of his clashing clothes.  Approaching North Peak in the High Sierras
We discussed a game plan and it sounded like we were on the exact same page when it came to our goals for the trip.  The idea was to climb as much as possible, ideally in the mountains, where we would have to move quickly over big alpine routes.  Pushing our grade level was less important than improving efficiency and building our mental game.

First stop, a multi-pitch route at Smith Rock, OR, to test out the partnership
After the first two weeks of our trip however, I felt as though the way I approached these goals was significantly different from the way my partner did.  I started to get frustrated with nuances in climbing style, and the pressure of being on the road with somebody and sharing each others space 24/7 was getting to me.  The disconnect between us in the mountains was only exacerbated by the disconnect between us in the front-country, and vice-versa.  I definitely take the blame for not communicating my feelings earlier, but the partnership just wasn't working for me.

Climbing was starting to feel like I was carrying a heavy burden (at the top of Fairview Dome in Toulumne Meadows)
I started to feel like the climbing trip was not serving its purpose at all.  Yes, I got up a few routes, but not nearly as many as I had hoped and not nearly in the style and enjoyment I was looking for.  It was funny how I was waking up, less than stoked to go climbing each day, mostly because I didn't really feel connected to the person I was climbing with.  Additionally, I felt less bold on route, and less willing to try something that challenged me because I just didn't trust the partnership.  Again though, it seems as though the universe was looking out for me because I was blessed with meeting another climber who would join our trip.

This new climber joined us for a few days of cragging in Joshua Tree, which was a fantastic way to break the ice and to allow a sense of separation from the original partnership.  Partner #2, as I will refer to him, and I got along much better and I felt a sense of encouragement between us that was mutual.  We traveled together to Red Rock, and that is when I felt my trip really started to be productive.  Day after day, Partner #2 and I climbed big link-ups and moved quickly in the mountains.  The climbing was amazingly fun, and our accomplishments felt less important to share with others because we knew what they meant personally, and that's all that mattered.  Not only did I climb harder and faster than I ever have before, I was enjoying the climbing more than ever, simply because I had a good connection with my partner.

Having tons of fun, two pitches from the top of Dream of Wild Turkeys in Red Rock, NV
At this point you may be thinking that I'm talking about a romantic relationship instead of a climbing partnership, but in some respects they share very similar qualities.  I didn't enjoy climbing with Partner #2 because of the conversations we had, I enjoyed climbing with him because of how comfortable we were to be silent during our 30 second belay transitions.  Sure one of us had just lead the crux pitch, and the other had followed it with a backpack, and perhaps there was an awesome run-out section, but talking about it now meant nothing because there was still more elevation to gain on route.  This shared thought alone gave me the confidence and desire to push on with the same energy pitch after pitch, day after day.
The author climbing one of those slabby crux traverse pitches that you just don't need to talk about
I wish I could list off the 5 things you want to look for in a partner before choosing one, but ultimately I found there is no formula.  The partner that is perfect for me, may be the absolute worst partner for you.  Additionally, the people I hang out with consistently might not be the people I would want in the mountains with me.  You really have to step back and decide if a partnership is healthy, and if it's not, have the courage to say something and move on.  Life is too short to be frustrated while climbing, go out and find a partner that really encourages your climbing and that you can feed off one another.  And when you find that person, never let them go.

Capturing the happy partnership after a link-up of Black Orpheus to Solar Slab,
roughly 3400 vertical feet and 24 pitches of stellar rock climbing.

--Andrew Yasso, Program Coordinator

Sunday, December 19, 2010

December and January Climbing Events

-- Jan 1 -- American Alpine Club Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Grant Proposal Due

-- Jan 1 -- American Alpine Club Mountain Fellowship Applications Due

-- Jan 1 -- American Alpine Club McNeil-Nott Grant Application Due

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

-- Jan 7 -- Golden, CO -- AAC Sun Valley Dinner

-- Jan 15-16 -- Green Bay, WI -- Ice Pit Festival 

-- Jan 17 -- Seattle, WA -- Denali NP Open House Meeting On Climbing Fees

-- Jan 18 -- Golden, CO -- Denali NP Open House Meeting On Climbing Fees

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

-- Jan 13 -- Seattle, WA -- Travel Medicine Seminar 

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

-- Jan 22 -- Bellingham, WA -- Northwest Collegiate Climbing Challenge

-- Jan 27 -- Seattle, WA -- Altitude Illness Seminar

-- Jan 29 -- Truckee, CA --  Lost Trail Lodge Ice Climbing

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Weekend Warriot - Videos To Get You Stoked!!!

So last week we featured a 3 year old crushing it on the boulders of Tennessee, and this week I would like to go to the other end of the spectrum.  Francisco "Novato" Marin is 58 years old and climbed a 5.14a in Rodellar, Spain.  I would love to climb 5.14a at 58, heck I would love to be able to climb 5.14a now and I'm 22!  Thankfully I have time to get there, and Francisco as an example to prove it is possible.

Novato en Botanics - Rodellar 2010 from Christian Checa on Vimeo.

While no where near the "older" category at 41, Hirayama Yuji is already talking about his "second life," after climbing.  Well, in his first life he won the World Cup twice, in 1998 and in 2000, both in Slovenia.  I found this video to not necessarily be "stoke inducing," but it is certainly touching to hear Yuji talk about climbing, his family, the places it has taken him, and what others think of him.  Next time I go out and climb it will be less about how hard I can crush, and more about how humble I can be.

Hirayama Yuji (平山ユージ) - On The Road To Slovenia from Rožle Bregar - kloc on Vimeo.

--Andrew Yasso, Program Coordinator

Friday, December 17, 2010

Flightseeing Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan in the Winter!

AAI backpacking guide, Jeff Ries, has a hobby that allows him to provide us with some of the most fantastic photos imaginable.  Jeff is a private pilot.

On a recent beautiful winter day, Jeff made a quick tour around Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan in his little plane.  The following photo essay is the result of that flight.

The north side of Mount Baker and the Black Buttes.

The Black Buttes and the Easton Glacier.

The Easton and the Squak Glaciers

Sherman Peak, the Boulder and the Park Glaciers

Mount Shuksan

Mount Shuksan's distinctive summit pyramid and the Sulphide Glacier

Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan

Mount Shuksan's Summit Pyramid

--Jason D. Martin

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Applications Open for 2011 Denali Research Fellowship Programs

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

The National Park Service and the Murie Science and Learning Center (MSLC) are seeking applicants for two research fellowships that are available to individuals wishing to conduct research in Denali National Park and Preserve and other arctic and subarctic Alaska national parks.  The Discover Denali Research Fellowship is for research in or near Denali, and the Murie Science and Learning Center Fellowship is for research taking place in Denali or other arctic or subarctic Alaska national parks. For the first time,  applications for 2011 fellowships will be considered for funding requests up to $7500-$8000, to be used over one or two years.

The Discover Denali and the MSLC Fellowship Programs are designed to assist undergraduate and graduate students, but may be appropriate for college and university faculty, state and federal agency scientists, and private-sector researchers. Proposals for research that will help managers make decisions about critical resource issues are particularly encouraged. If an applicant wants to be considered for both funding sources, only one application is needed. More than one fellow is expected to be selected for each program.

The deadline for both fellowship applications is March 1, 2011 and a decision is expected to be made by March 15, or soon thereafter. The fieldwork of fellowship recipients must be arranged before September 1, 2011.

This is the sixth year that the Discover Denali Research Fellowship has been available for Denali researchers; it is the fourth year that the Murie Science and Learning Center research funds will be available to researcher-applicants whose studies help managers in all of the parks that are partners with the MSLC:  Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Denali National Park and Preserve, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, Noatak National Preserve, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and Yukon – Charley Rivers National Preserve.

Any previous fellow may reapply, but is not assured of additional funding.

An information guide about either of the fellowships, which includes specifics on how to apply and other information helpful to the application process, may be downloaded from For more information contact Denali’s Research Administrator Lucy Tyrrell at (907) 683-6352 or

The Discover Denali Fellowships are made possible through proceeds from Discover Denali, an MSLC program developed in partnership between the Denali Education Center and the National Park Service. The Discover Denali program educates Royal Celebrity Tours participants about Denali’s natural and human history. The Denali Education Center is an NPS park partner that inspires personal connections to Denali by educating people of all ages and abilities.

The Murie Science and Learning Center Research Fellowships are made possible through the partnership between Alaska Geographic and the National Park Service. The Murie Science and Learning Center provides research, discovery, and learning opportunities within arctic and subarctic National Parks to promote appreciation and caring for our natural and cultural heritage.  As part of its mission to connect people with their public lands, Alaska Geographic provides staffing and funding toward MSLC operations.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Natural Anchors

Okay, kids.  The question for today is easy.  What is a natural anchor?

The most straightforward definition is that a natural anchor is any simple anchor point that nature provides.

The class know-it-all in the front row raises her hand and asks, "but Mr. Martin, isn't a crack a natural anchor?" 

A crack is a crack.  We actually have to put something inside the crack before we have a piece.  It is a natural spot to place an anchor, but it is not a natural anchor point.  No, instead a natural anchor is anything that is already there.  The most common examples of natural anchors are trees, bushes, boulders, pinches and thread-throughs.


This tree, found on the iconic Northwest route, Outer Space (III, 5.9), 
has little more than a few roots in the crack system keeping it in place.

Before you elect to use a tree as an anchor point, you should make sure that it is "Five-and-Alive." In other words, that it is at least five inches in diameter, five feet tall, has a good root-base and is alive.  You should be wary of trees that could have a root-base in dirt or sand and on top of the rock.  An anchor with this kind of structure could easily fail.

This photo shows a frictionless wrap with a static rope on a very large tree.

Bushes and Shrubs

In the mountains and in the desert, it is not uncommon to use bushes and shrubs that clearly don't meet the Five-and-Alive standard.  These are primarily used as rappels to get down obscure gullies or to get off the backside of a peak, so the tendency is to try to avoid leaving too much gear.  The tendency is to want to only leave webbing or cordage.

When you elect to use these less-than-stellar natural anchors, consider equalizing a number of them together.  If you're tying your cord around a desert bush that is comprised of a number of finger-sized sticks, you'll probably want to equalize this with similar bushes.  Depending on the size and density, I would want at least two of these, if not more.

And lastly, when it comes to bushes and shrubs as anchors, use common sense.  Don't put your weight on something that might blow out.  You could always back up the first person (usually the heavier person) on rappel with a loose gear anchor.  If all goes well, the second person could tear down that anchor and then descend.  If the equalized bush anchor didn't come apart during the first rappel with the heavier climber, it's reasonable to believe that it wouldn't come out with the second climber either.


Boulders can be absolutely fantastic natural anchors.  But there are a few things to look at before committing to a boulder.  First, make sure that it is in good contact with the ground.  Boulders on sandy or sloping surfaces should be considered suspect.  Second, make sure that it won't wobble or roll toward the edge.  Every boulder should be checked by pushing and pulling on it to confirm it's position.  And lastly, if there is any possibility of movement, don't use it.  The last thing you need is a boulder falling down on top of you.

Pinches and Thread-Throughs

Pinches are places where two large boulders come together so tightly that you can wrap cordage or webbing around them.  Thread-throughs are places where there is a hole in the rock that you can something through to tie-off.

It is not uncommon for people to simply miss these opportunities while trying to build an anchor.  They simply aren't as intuitive for most people as the other natural anchors out there.  If you can keep the fact that these exist in mind and you look for them, you'll find them.

Like boulders and trees and bushes, it's important to make sure that pinches and thread-throughs are sturdy enough to handle the stress of being an anchor.  This is particularly important in sandstone or in other soft and friable rock-types. 

Natural Chockstones

In the following video, the Canadian Mountain Guide, Mike Barter demonstrates a quick and dirty improvised anchor. 

Ultimately, the great value to natural anchors is that they don't require much gear.  And since they don't require much, you'll have plenty to use on your next lead.

Class dismissed.  Now go build some natural anchors!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Indespensables

We all have them. They are the luxury items that you absolutely must have on every trip.

They are the indispensables.

In climbing, we always worry about weight. Every single item that we carry costs us energy, so every single item that we carry should be valuable to us.

I have a few items that are absolutely and utterly indispensable for longer trips. These aren't always the lightest items, but for me, they are completely indispensable. I always take the proceeding items:
  1. a book
  2. a jetboil and lots of tea
  3. a pee bottle
  4. down booties or flip flops
  5. good chocolate
I am terrified of tent time. I am terrified of knowing how many stitches are in my tent because I don't have anything but counting them to occupy my time. And as you know, sometimes the weather causes us to be trapped in a tent for anything from a few hours to a few days. As a result there are two items that I will always have with me. First, a book and second, a jetboil with lots of tea.

Books can be heavy, but they are literally worth their weight in gold when there is a storm. If you are in the middle of a novel, don't be afraid to cut a book in half in order to avoid carrying some of the weight. I often slice books in half and then put duct tape on the remaining spine to ensure that it doesn't fall apart.

I bring a jetboil with lots of tea because a jetboil can easily be used in a tent's vestibule. When I'm sitting in my tent for hours on end, drinking tea not only keeps me warm, but helps to keep me hydrated and occupied. And it tastes good too...

At the ripe old age of 36, I've become lazy. I do not want to get out of my tent at the middle of the night to use the bathroom...indeed, I don't want to get out of my sleeping bag. As such, I carry a pee bottle on most of my mountaineering trips. Men have it a little bit easier with pee bottles than women do. If men get really good at using them, they don't have to get out of their sleeping bags. Women usually require a pee funnel (something that most female guides consider an indispensable). The reality is, that I find a pee bottle so indispensable to my happiness on trips, that I would use one at home if my wife would let me. She doesn't...and has threatened divorce if I even think of trying to use a pee bottle in bed.

Early in the season I like to bring down booties. These provide a great way to get out of your boots when it's snowy. Later in the season, when I can camp on dry dirt, I like to bring a pair of flip flops for the same reason. These items provide my boots the opportunity to dry and my feet the opportunity to breathe.

And lastly, I find good chocolate to be indispensable in the mountains. Why? For two reasons. First, it tastes really good and I have a sweet tooth. And second, eating fat before going to bed can help you keep warm at night. When your metabolism is at work breaking down fatty foods, it warms your body in the same manner as light exercise. It's hard to sleep whil excercising, but not so hard when you're just digesting.

While I consider each of these items to be indispensable on multi-day mountaineering trips, I consider all of them to be completely dispensible on short, fast and light alpine climbing trips. On such trips, I carry as little as possible. And when I say as little as possible, I mean as little as possible. This may mean leaving everything from the toothbrush to the sleeping bag behind.

Everybody has luxuries that they consider to be indispensible. The goal in creating a list of indispensible items is to really think about things that you absolutely must have in order to be comfortable. And your indispensable list should be very very short...

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December and January Climbing Events

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

-- 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, December 11, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos To Get You Stoked!

Albert Einstein once said, "do not worry about your problems with mathematics, I assure you mine are far greater."  I believe that the following individual has the right to say, "do not worry about your problems on boulders, I assure you mine are far greater."  Although this little guy may have the right to say it, I think that at the young age of 3 he does not possess the vocabulary to say it. 

Viewer beware: Adorableness ensues.

--Andrew Yasso, Program Coordinator

Friday, December 10, 2010

Outdoor Book Award Roundup - 2010

Every year a number of outdoor writers compete for fame and perhaps a few extra dollars by submitting their books to three different competitions.

In order of fame, the biggest is perhaps the most well-known is the Boardman-Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature.  This is an award that has been has been established in remembrance for Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker, who were lost on Mount Everest in 1982.

The Banff Mountain Film and Mountain Book Festivals happen every year simultaneously in Banff, Alberta.  The Banff Mountain Book Festival is the biggest outdoor literature competition in North America.  This year marked the seventeenth year of this festival.

The National Outdoor Book Award, or NOBA, is a smaller award bestowed on authors and publishers by individuals in the world of outdoor education. The most useful part of the NOBA award for readers is the way that it is broken down.  There are more categories in this particular competition than in any of the others.

Following is a breakdown of this year's winners for each of these prestigious competitions.

Boardman-Tasker Award

Ron Fawcett: Rock Athlete. By Ron Fawcett with Ed Douglas

Banff Mountain Book Festival Awards

Grand Prize. Winner. The Stone Masters: California Climbing in the Seventies. By John Long and Dean Fidelman.

Mountain Literature. Winner. Walking Home.  By Lynn Schooler

Adventure Travel. Winner. Running Dry: A Journey from the Source to Sea Down the Colorado River. By Jon Waterman

Mountain Image.  Winner.  Polar Obsession.  By Paul Nicklen.

Mountain Exposition.  Winner.  Canadian Rock: Select Climbs of the West. By Kevin McLain.

Special Jury Mention.  The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. By John Vaillant.

National Outdoor Book Awards

Nature and the Environment.  Winner.  Adventures Among Ants.  By Mark W. Moffett.

Natural History Literature.  Winner.  An Entirely Synthetic Fish.  By Anders Halverson.

Natural History Literature.  Winner.  The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.  By Elisabeth Tova Bailey. 

Outdoor Literature.  Winner.  Kook.  By Peter Heller.  

Outdoor Literature.  Honorable Mention.  Just Passin' Thru.  By Winton Porter.  

History/Biography.  Winner.  Pilgrims of the Vertical.  By Joseph E. Taylor III.

History/Biography.  Honorable Mention.  The Last Man on the Mountain.  By Jennifer Jordan.

History Biography.  Honorable Mention.  Arctic Labyrinth.  By Glyn Williams

Classic.  Winner.  Annapurna.  By Maurice Herzog.

Children Books.  Winner.  Camping With the President.  By Ginger Wadsworth.

Children Books.  Winner.  Captain Mac:  The Life of Donald Baxter MacMillan.  By Mary Morton

Children Books.  Honorable Mention.  An Egret's Day.  Poems by Jane Yolen.

Design and Artistic Merit.  Winner.  Freshwater Fish of the Northeast.  Illustrated by Matt Patterson. 

Nature Guidebooks.  Winner.  Tracks and Sign of Insects.  By Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney.

Nature Guidebooks.  Honorable Mention.  Night Sky.  By Jonathan Poppele. 

Nature Guidebooks.  Honorable Mention.  Molt in North American Birds.  By Steven N. G. Howell.

Outdoor Adventure Guidebooks.  Winner.  Exploring Havasupai. By Greg Witt.

Instructional Category.  Winner.  Sport Climbing.  By Andrew Bisharat. 

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Backpack as Luggage

Air travel is a pain.  And frankly, I'm sick of it.  I sometimes think it would be better to drive eight hours than to take a short flight...

I used to really enjoy the process of flying...when I was eight or nine.  But now as an adult, I find it to be an expensive, uncomfortable and nerve-racking process.  It's a game.  What will I have to pay for?  Will I get to use the arm-rest?  Have the others in my row elected to use deodorant?  Will my neighbor's body fat "share" my seat?  Will my luggage get there?  How long will I have to sit on a plane that isn't moving?

I hate it.

But I also recognize that it is part of the process.  To go anywhere really cool, you have to fly.  And flying somewhere on a climbing trip means that you have to check baggage.

Obviously one of the key components to a flight is your backpack.  There are a couple of ways to deal with this ever-so-important item.

A smaller pack (under 3500 cubic inches) can often be brought into the cabin with you.  On foreign mountaineering trips, we often recommend that climbers stow their boots and hard-shells in the pack.  These are things that you won't be able to replace if your luggage gets lost.

Some people suggest carrying a rock rack or harness in your carry-on.  If you elect to do this, expect to spend significant time at the security check-point.  If you have things on your harness, don't forget to check your harness knife, otherwise they'll take it away.

This should be common sense, but don't even consider carrying an ice rack, ice tools or an ice axe in your carry-on.  You can expect to have significant problems trying to get through security with such items...and an attempt to bring so many sharp things through, could lead to all kinds of additional problems (i.e. a "backroom" search).

If you intend on checking a backpack, it should be noted that pack-straps can cause significant issues on the different machines used in airports to maneuver luggage.  It's important to pull the shoulder straps tight and to clip the waist belt around the body of the pack.

In this photo, note that the shoulder straps have been pulled as tightly as possible and 
that the waist belt has been clipped on the opposite side of the pack.

There are still a lot of straps that could get caught, but by pulling everything tight, 
there are a lot less loops that could get caught in airport machinery.

Some airlines will simply put a backpack in a large plastic sack.  This would also be a perfectly acceptable way for you to ensure that nothing on your pack got stuck.

Airline travel is terrible...but to do what we love to do, it is often a necessary evil.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 6, 2010

Yosemite Rockfall

In October, it happened again.  Massive boulders sheared away from the East Buttress of El Capitan and fell thousands of feet to the floor of Yosemite Valley.  Nearby climbers were unaffected, but had they or anything else been beneath the rockfall, the results would have been catastrophic.

Rockfall is part of the natural cycle in Yosemite Valley as well as on every mountain on the planet.  Many of us have encountered inexplicable rockfall while in the mountains. And many of us have thought, "wow, that thing has been sitting there for millions of years, and it just decided to come down while I was lucky for me..."

While this is a part of life for climbers and for the mountains, it is important to remember that there are over four million visitors to Yosemite National Park every year.  And while we are constantly on edge about the possibility of rockfall, your average Hawaiian-shirt-wearing tourist has no idea that there is a danger present.  As such, the NPS has hired teams of geologists to study the cycles of rockfall and to try to determine a way to predict it.

As you might think, this isn't the easiest thing in the world to do.

The team the produces Yosemite Nature Notes has put together an engaging episode on rockfall in Yosemite Valley.  You can view the video below:

To learn more about rockfall in Yosemite Valley, check out the Yosemite National Park webpage on the topic.  To learn more about what industry is doing to protect highways and buildings from natural rockfall, check out the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research and their studies on rockfall here.

Rockfall is part of life in the mountains.  And unfortunately also part of what creates injuries and fatalities in the mountains.  It's not clear that any scientific research on rockfall could ever be employed by climbers, but it is good to know that there are people out there trying to understand the natural cycles of rockfall...

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weekend Warrior - Videos To Get You Stoked!

Surprising as it may be, my work here at the Institute could very well be described as a desk job.  Don't get me wrong, I am so thankful for and truly enjoy my work; sharing the mountains with individuals I wholeheartedly believe is my "raison d'être."  It may seem glorious to be talking on the phone for hours about people's climbing goals, or writing email after email about the next big expedition we have coming up; however, I'm still on the phone all day and writing emails all day.

We here at the institute live for the weekend just like you do, and try to mix in a little climbing or skiing every chance we get.  The employees over at Outdoor Research down in Seattle are obviously in the same boat, as this video so clearly shows.

Needless to say, by the time you are watching this - I will already be on the slopes.  If you'd like an idea of where I will be, watch the following video.  Just please know, that I will have two planks strapped to my feet, not one.  Also, I probably won't be riding a lift.

--Andrew Yasso, Program & Expedition Coordinator

Friday, December 3, 2010

Film Review: 127 Hours

The news spread through the outdoor adventure community like a wildfire.

A climber and canyoneer named Aron Ralston was involved in an accident in Bluejohn Canyon near Moab.  But this was no normal accident.  While descending a steep section, Ralston dislodged a boulder which caught his arm and pinned him.  After being stuck in the canyon without food or water for days, the young man was forced to do the unthinkable.

He amputated his arm with a pocketknife.

Why did this happen?  Ralston was notorious for gleefully flirting with danger.  Indeed, he was buried up to his neck in an avalanche just a few months before the Bluejohn Canyon incident.  It appeared that he had a record of being careless in the mountains.  He was heavily criticized for soloing when he performed his "self-rescue" in the canyon.  The theory being that if there was somebody there, they could have went for help.  And he was also roundly criticized for not telling anyone where he was going.

After the incident, many people -- both outdoors people and media talking heads -- attacked Ralston for soloing the canyon.  People said that it was irresponsible or somehow wrong to go into the backcountry without a partner.  I would respectfully disagree.  Solo adventures by experienced backcountry enthusiasts are incredibly common in every type of wilderness travel, from climbing, to backpacking, to skiing, to canyoneering...

There is some legitimacy, however,  to the second criticism.  A responsible backcountry user should do everything in his or her power to make sure that somebody knows where he or she is.  And while itineraries sometimes change, they often only change a little bit.  One is generally still in the same geographic area, so if you don't come home after a trip, at least SAR has a search grid to work with.

After things cooled off a bit, Ralston wrote a book about his experience entitled, Between a Rock and a Hard Place.  This book was recently adapted into a feature film entitled 127 Hours directed by Academy Award winner Danny Boyle and staring James Franco.

For the most part, the film is a tight, artistic and engrossing account of Ralston's ordeal.  The entire piece feels a lot like the film version of Touching the Void.  In each of the movies, the poor choices that the characters make disappear into harrowing survival stories and we completely forget about them.  It's hard to be too judgmental when a person is in so much pain and enduring so much terror.

Indeed, the beating heart of 127 Hours is an issue that many outdoor adventurers and enthusiasts have a hard time coming to terms with.  Outdoor adventure sports can be positive experiences that bring people together.  They can cement deep relationships and provide life-altering personal insights.  But we all know that these same sports provide thrills that can be powerful intoxicants and can lead one down a dark path away from the positive aspects of outdoor adventure and into selfishness and obsession.  This is where Ralston (James Franco) was at the beginning of the film, imprisoned by arrogance and self-absorption.  His trapped arm then becomes a metaphor for the trap that he has built around himself out of the negativity in his psyche.  His eventual escape from Bluejohn is then also a metaphor for his escape from his previous life and the shallowness that accompanied it.

Films are generally constructed in three acts.  There's an introduction where the characters and the story are defined.  The first act is usually capped off by an important event which significantly raises the stakes for the character.  The second act is the meat of the story and it is also finished with a climactic event.  The third act usually includes the film's climax and closes out the story. 

Though this is a very good film, it is not without flaw.  The weakest part of 127 Hours is in the first act.  The problem is twofold.  First, the dialogue and the interaction between the characters is stilted and somewhat unrealistic.  Screenwriters Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, as well as the cast, would have done well to spend some time in the mountains or in the canyons with real outdoors people.  The interaction between Aron Ralston and two attractive young women (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) that he meets in the desert is weak and Hollywoodish.  They simply don't talk to each other the way that people talk to each other when they meet in the wilderness.  Instead, the characters have an interaction which is sexually charged and completely bereft of realism.

Most outdoorspeople really like to see women working together in the mountains.  When we see two female partners at the crag, they are usually dialed.  There's something offensive about this sequence where a know-it-all guy drops in to help two damsels in distress and it turns into a flirt fest.  The stereotype of the no-nothing woman in the outdoors is dated and sexist.  All of the parties involved in this production should have known better than to rely on a weak cliché, especially when it comes to portraying individuals who are balanced and intelligent backcountry users.

Trailer for 127 Hours

The second problem in the first act revolves around the same interaction.  Ralston and his female companions decide that they are going to drop into a hidden pool deep within a canyon.  Of course the pool is crystal clear and absolutely beautiful.  The reality of such a pool, deep in a recess, is that it would be a scummy and disgusting pond.  Perhaps this was simply added to provide some sex appeal to the weakly written interaction between Ralston and the women.

Early screenings of the movie at international film festivals brought in rave reviews.  Indeed, this film was put on the list as an Oscar contender long before it made its way to American theaters.  But those film festivals also brought in something else.  There were reports of people who were so disgusted by the amputation scene that they were vomiting and fainting in the aisles. Perhaps I'm jaded and have seen too much violence in film, but I personally found this sequence to be exhilarating.  I found myself rooting for the character and worrying that he would pass out and be unable to finish the task at hand.

127 Hours is a fantastic survival movie.  James Franco is a master actor and Danny Boyle is one of the best directors currently working in American film.  This small story about one man literally caught between a rock and a hard place, is an inspiring piece about obsession and life.  Every person on the planet has a deep need to stay alive no matter what.  The fact that Ralston severs his own arm isn't that surprising.  Most people (at least those who read this blog) would do the same under such circumstances.  But what is surprising and refreshing about the piece instead, is the depth of the character's thoughts and the transformation that he goes through as the story unfolds.

--Jason D. Martin