Saturday, April 30, 2011

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!

Dam Climbers....

No, I am not swearing on this blog, nor did I misspell it. Sometimes there's not much to climb where climbers live, so they have to improvise.

That video was pretty casual.  Anyone can climb a crack on a dam.  How about climbing a dam like a big wall with plastic holds?

I think these next climbers are lost...

If anyone asks, I don't want a dam. 

Have a great weekend!

--Katy Pfannenstein
Program Coordinator

Friday, April 29, 2011

Avalanche Claims Life near the Ruth Gorge

The American Alpine Institute just received this sad news from Denali National Park:

An avalanche claimed the life of a climber near the Ruth Gorge during the early morning hours of Thursday, April 28. Two climbing parties were camped overnight on the ‘Root Canal’, a glacier landing strip and camping area that lies directly south of the commonly climbed 10,300-foot peak known as the Moose’s Tooth.  A large serac, or column of ice, at the eastern end of the glacier collapsed at approximately 1:00 a.m. Thursday, shedding ice and snow onto the camp below. One male climber was fatally injured by the falling ice. His name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

The four surviving climbers attended to the injured climber, who was found unconscious and barely breathing immediately after the ice fall. One of the climbers called 911 via satellite phone, and National Park Service rangers were immediately notified. Weather and darkness prevented a night time rescue using military aircraft, so just after daybreak, at approximately 6:00 a.m., Denali National Park’s high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter pilot and two NPS mountaineering rangers launched out of Talkeetna en route to the accident site. Upon arrival at the scene, rangers immediately loaded the injured climber into the helicopter for transportation to an Aeromed air ambulance from Anchorage that was staged at Mile 133 on the Parks Highway, near the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. During the flight the ranger/paramedic determined that the climber had died from his injuries. This was confirmed when the helicopter rendezvoused with the air ambulance.

The NPS helicopter flew the climber’s remains back to Talkeetna, and then returned to the accident site to evacuate the surviving climbers, all of whom were uninjured but had lost their climbing gear, tents, and a pair of boots in the avalanche.

Although the mountaineering season on Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker has only recently begun, now is the height of the spring climbing season in the Ruth Amphitheater and Ruth Gorge.  In addition to the five climbers involved in the Root Canal accident, a total of 30 other registered climbers are currently attempting various peaks in this popular backcountry area of the Alaska Range.

Film Review: The Way Back

In our culture -- the climbing and outdoor culture that is -- there is an amazing appetite for epic adventure stories.  People love films like Seven Years in Tibet, Alive, Lawrence of Arabia, or even less realistic films like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Three Kings

What do all of these films have in common?

In each of them there is a an epic adventure that is uniquely connected to the environment. There is often cultural conflict and usually there is extended travel by difficult means.  These types of films tend strike a cord among outdoor adventurers.  They affect us because we intentionally seek out struggle and strife in far off places.

The Way Back is an absolutely stellar adventure movie.  It is exactly the type of film that engages the outdoor adventurist the most.  The story -- inspired by a true story -- deals with an epic journey, minor cultural conflict and significant wilderness travel.

Janusz, a young Polish officer played by Jim Sturgess, is held for interrogation by the Soviet Secret Police.  When he will not admit to working as a foreign spy, they torture his wife into revealing him as such and send him to a POW camp in Siberia.  Conditions in the camp are absolutely atrocious and Janusz isn't sure that he will survive one year, much less the twenty years of his sentence.

Before long, Janusz creates alliances with a number of other prisoners including the hardened criminal Valka (Colin Farrell), Polish artist Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean), a Latvian priest Voss (Gustaf SkarsgĂ„rd), a Pole suffering from night blindness Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky), and an accountant from Yugoslavia Zoran (Dragos Bucur). Together the ragtag crew of misfit prisoners escape the prison and lead by Janusz, they begin to travel on foot overland to freedom.  The problem and the central storyline of the movie is that true freedom is nowhere nearby.  The team must travel across Siberia, Mongolia, and Tibet to find freedom in India.  In other words, they must walk 4000 miles through the wilderness including a traverse of both the Gobi Desert and the Himalaya before they can say they truly escaped.

Director Peter Weir hasn't been heavily involved in filmmaking since his 2003 epic, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but he clearly has a love for the adventure genre.  He is also responsible for films like The Mosquito Coast, Witness, and Gallipoli.  Additionally he has been the directoral mind behind dramas such as Dead Poet's Society and the Truman Show.

In The Way Back, one can see a director late in his career with a long filmography as a complete master of his craft. The film is never an edge of your seat thriller, but it is still hard to look away. Weir has created a beautiful adventure that inspires tension from the opening shot to the closing sequence.  This masterful storytelling combined with beautiful natural images keeps the audience thoroughly engaged with the characters throughout every second of the film.

The Way Back is a grand movie on a grand campus about grand people. It is exactly the type of film that you should put on your movies to see list right way...

Following is a trailer for The Way Back:

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Using Your Rope in Anchors

It's not uncommon for us to get up to an anchor point only to find that we've left our cordellete on our partner's harness or to find that it is impossible to hear.  Most people will just deal with these problems without thinking outside-the-box.  One outside the box thought though is to use your rope for these things.

This first photo was taken in Red Rock Canyon at the start of the "Tunnel Pitch" on Tunnel Vision (III, 5.7).  If you're not familiar with this route, it is an absolutely stellar ascent.  On the fourth pitch, one has the opportunity to actually climb through the mountain in a tunnel. In other words, the route requires a bit of vertical spelunking.

The top of the third pitch, at the start of the tunnel, it is difficult to see or hear the second.  The route follows a corner and chimney system up the wall.  In order to see my climber, I built an anchor and then, using the rope, extended the anchor to the edge where it was far less difficult to see and hear.

Some might argue that this system lacks redundancy.  I'm not too worried about that as I can see the whole anchor to ensure that there is no rubbing and we never have redundancy in the rope while we're climbing with a single line...

This second picture was taken in Leavenworth, Washington on one of our AMGA Single Pitch Instructor courses.  The assignment was for the student to create a fixed line across a catwalk on the slab shown.  This particular student didn't have the webbing or the cordellete to create a perfect SRENE anchor.  Instead, he built a pre-equalized anchor with his rope. In this application, this worked really well.

In this picture, another Single Pitch Instructor candidate built a top-rope anchor, wrapping a rope around a boulder and tying it off with a double-bowline.  In order to create some flexibility in the anchor he tied an figure-eight on a bite and clove-hitched it to the line going to the edge of his top-rope anchor.

This last picture shows a close-up of the figure-eight and the clove-hitch mentioned above.

Flexibility and thinking outside the box are two major tenants of climbing efficiency.  One way to be efficient and to be flexible and to be outside-the-box is to use your rope for anchoring instead of other materials.  Your rope is always on you and as such, it definitely provides an option that really shouldn't feel like it's that far out-of-the-box...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fred Beckey Documentary

In the world of American climbing, there is one name that stands above all others. And no, it's not Ed Viesters, or Steve House, or Alex Honnald, or Lynn Hill, or any one of a dozen more names. The person who stands above all others is Fred Beckey.

Fred is perhaps responsible for more first ascents than anybody in the history of the planet. The octogenarian has been climbing since he was sixteen years old and has been a force in American climbing throughout his entire life.

The Mountaineers have recently strung together a number of different films that were taken of the climber throughout his life. This amazing silent film documenting many of Fred's ascents can be seen below:

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April and May Climbing Events

-- April 26 -- Bellingham, WA -- Enjoy and Survive the North Cascades with AAI Guide Jeff Reis  
-- April 27 -- San Fransisco, CA -- ASCA Fundraiser with Alex Honnold at Planet Granite  

-- May 6 -- Atlanta, GA -- Dirty South climbing Film Fest

-- May 21-31 -- Armenia -- Armenia First Ascent Open Festival

 -- May 27 - 29 -- Gunnison, CO -- 24 Hours of Gunnison Glory

-- May 29 -- Bellingham, WA -- Ski to Sea -- Celebrating 100 Years Since the Mt Baker Marathon!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!

Bond, James Bond.  He can ski away from bad guys, shoot them with his pole, do flips off cliffs, and land safely with his parachute.  You may remember this scene from 1977's "The Spy Who Loved Me."

Today's modern James Bond still wears yellow pants, jumps off cliffs, and uses his parachute to land safely.  But instead of outrunning bad guys, the modern James Bond outruns avalanches.

Well, not much changes over 34 years. The world is never enough!

--Pfannenstein, Katy Pfannnestein

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Group Therapy/Tunnel Vision Link-Up

Most of you are aware that I spent nine years living in Las Vegas from September through May guiding in Red Rock Canyon.  In that time I developed a series of "special" routes that I would take people on.  Often these were two popular routes combined in a way that provided some of the best climbing from both routes.

Recently I was back in Vegas working Red Rock Rendezvous, a Single Pitch Instructor course and doing some regular multi-pitch guiding.  I had the opportunity to work with a woman that I've worked with a handful of times over the years.  Toni is a great person to climb with and she has had the opportunity to sample some exciting routes with me.

Initially our plan was to climb Purblind Pillar (III, 5.8), a somewhat new route that makes its way up the Angel Food Wall.  But upon our arrival, we were surprised to find two other parties already on route.  As such we decided to change our objective.  Instead, we decided to climb the first two pitches of Group Therapy (III, 5.7) and then transition over to Tunnel Vision (III, 5.7) for the last three pitches.

I've done this combination route a number of times.  It's an absolute blast as it climbs the classic low pitches of Group Therapy and then transitions into the super-fun tunnel pitch on Tunnel Vision.

Now here's the really cool part.  Toni's husband, Roger, is an amateur photographer with a professional's eye. He rented a telephoto lens for his camera and took photos of us as we climbed the route.  Toni then took the photos and made them into a video.

That video can be found below:

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, April 21, 2011

EA for Concessioner Facility Instruction in Denali Available for Public Comment

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

An Environmental Assessment (EA) for construction of new concessioner support facilities in the entrance area of Denali National Park is now available for public review and comment, announced Park Superintendent Paul R. Anderson. The National Park Service (NPS) is proposing to construct new permanent facilities on the Concession Land Assignment that would support the park’s current and future bus operations and services concession. The proposed new facilities include:

Maintenance shop and covered storage area for the carpenter, plumber and electrician maintenance functions, replacing the current ATCO and trailer.  Recycling center building to provide a centralized collection and processing facility for concessions and park recycled waste materials. Commissary to support food storage and assembly of the meals and beverages provided on the tour buses, and additional food storage for the employee dining room and Morino Grill. 

The project is necessary because the existing facilities are inadequately sized, dilapidated, and/or inappropriate for their functions.

The Concessions Land Assignment (CLA) is Park allocated land and facilities assigned to the concessionaire, presently Joint Venture, Incorporated, to carry out and support visitor services within the park. The CLA’s main purpose is to support/facilitate bus fleet operations and maintenance in the park. Additional buildings on the CLA include housing, dining, and recreation facilities that support concession employees. The concessionaire is required to carry out a building and utilities maintenance operation for the land assignment facilities and other directed services throughout the park.

The improvements to the concessioner facilities are based on the park’s 2001 Environmental Assessment for Construction of New Visitor Facilities in the Entrance Area of Denali National Park (2001 EA). The 2001 EA evaluated disturbing "...13 acres of mixed white spruce and  hardwood forest [aspen]vegetation and soil ...during construction of new  access roads, visitor facilities, and concessionaire facilities in the  entrance area." Approximately 11 acres of park land have been disturbed for this purpose, and this project would remove approximately 0.7 acres of forest. These structures were not specified in the 2001 EA, but are part of the general upgrades in support of the new entrance area visitor facilities.

The NPS has published an EA for this project titled “EA for Concession Facilities Construction.”  It will be available at the NPS planning web site at on Friday, April 22. The EA analyzes the impacts of the proposed action and the no-action alternative. It was completed in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and the regulations of the Council on Environmental Quality (40 CFR 1508.9).

Comments on the EA may be submitted through May 22, 2011, preferably via the web site at Alternately, comments may be mailed to: Steve Carwile, DENA Compliance Project Manager, NPS Alaska Regional Office, 240 West 5th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501; Fax: (907) 644-3803; Email:

If you have any questions about the EA or need paper copies, please call project manager Erik Hendrickson at (907) 683-9578 or Steve Carwile at (907) 644-3612.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Games that Climbers Play

Yesterday, we did a Red Rock Rendezvous news round-up. But we left something out...something that was a high point for our guides at the event.  And indeed, something that will now become a part of future Red Rock Rendezvous Spring Mountain Ranch games.

On Sunday night after all of the Rendezvous participants leave the festival grounds, Mountain Gear hosts a dinner for the athletes and guides.  This is usually a pretty laid back affair where Paul Fish, the president of Mountain Gear, thanks those who helped put on the event.  But this year something happened that was a little bit different.  The usually laid back event turned into a series of competitive non-climbing climber games.

The centerpiece of the evening was a game called "Cups." In the game, a person must not allow his or her feet to pass a line, but they can crawl out from the line using wine bottles for hands.  Once they stretch out as far as they can, they place one of the two bottles upright, then using the single bottle work their way back to the line.

The goal is to place a wine bottle as far out from the line as possible.

AAI Guide Mike Pond working backwards by bouncing on the bottle after making a placement.

AAI Guide Mike Pond helps AAI Guide Mary Harlan place a bottle by holding one foot.  
This gave Mary a bit more reach than she would have had.

When we started, this game was somewhat subdued.  It was simply a matter of, how tall are you and how far can you stretch?  But as the game went on, teams got more an more creative.

In this first video, AAI senior guide trainer, Mike Powers, makes a very standard bottle placement.

In this second video, we start to see how the guides became a little more competitive and started to be a lot more creative.  Here we see AAI guide Ben Traxler with the bottles, AAI Guide Cliff Palmer is holding his legs and AAI guide Richard Riquleme climbs across Ben's back to place a bottle as far out as possible.

This last video shows the extent and creativity that our guides combined with Mountain Gear employees went to in order to place a bottle as far as was humanly possible.  In this video, Richard Riquleme, Cliff Palmer, Scott Massey, and Dana Hickenbottom, along with a Mountain Gear Employee hold another Mountain Gear Employee using sling material, while AAI guide Mary Harlan squirms across the guy in order to place a bottle waaaay out there.

This game was really fun, though it could certainly be dangerous.  After we finished we imagined what might happen if one of those bottles broke, and we didn't come up with many positive outcomes.

Next year this will become an actual competition at Red Rock Rendezvous, though they will use bowling pins instead of bottles to create a little bit wider margin of safety.  A room with thirty people in it come up with some spectacular and creative ideas.  I can't wait to see what a thousand people with dozens of different teams will come up with for this game...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 18, 2011

Red Rock Rendezvous News Round-Up

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of clean climbing, it was the age of bolting debauchery, it was an epic of wind, it was an epic of calm, it was the season of sun it was the season of rain, it was the spring of Five Ten, it was the winter of Black Diamond, we had a sea of sandstone before us, we had no granite beneath us, we were all jamming direct up to heaven, we were all clipping direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted their type of climbing was the best, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

When Dickens wrote that famous and very long sentence, he had no idea how appropriate it would be to 2011 in Red Rock Canyon.  And while the internet is abuzz with bolting vs. non-bolting conflicts and climbers getting on each other about route ethics, one event every year proves that climbers of all skill levels and all backgrounds can come together for a grand party.

The eighth annual Red Rock Rendezvous ran from March 18th through March 20th just outside of Las Vegas in scenic Red Rock Canyon.  This was the sixth year that the American Alpine Institute participated in the event run by the internet equipment retailer, Mountain Gear.

Red Rock Rendezvous is an AWESOME event. Most consider it to be one of the biggest and best climbing events every year.  Seventeen AAI guides participated in Red Rock Rendezvous this year and for those who had not yet participated in the event, or climbed in Red Rock Canyon, or visited Las Vegas, there was a little bit of culture shock. They realized just how spectacular the event and the place both are.

The very first day of Rendezvous is designed for beginner level climbers.  AAI guides work with anywhere from eighty to a hundred first time climbers.  We take them out into the field in groups of three to five and work with them to establish climbing movement skills, belaying skills, rappelling skills and any other skills needed to have fun outside with rocks and ropes...

At the center of the event is a fairgrounds at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.  It is there that many of the non-climbing oriented elements of the event take place. 

The Yoga Slackers Performing Feats of Flexibility and Balance at Spring Mountain Ranch
Photo by Jason Martin

The Yogaslackers combine Yoga and Slackline to create a unique form of gymnastics

Practice Aid Climbing on an Artificial Wall in Spring Mountain Ranch
Photo by Jason Martin

AAI Guide Mike Powers Teaching Rock Rescue at Spring Mountain Ranch
Photo by Jason Martin

AAI Guide Mike Pond Teaching Crevasse Rescue at Spring Mountain Ranch
Photo by Jason Martin

A First Aid Class Sponsored By TrailMed at Spring Mountain Ranch
Photo by Jason Martin

During the Rendezvous, sponsor tents surround the main event area.  It is there that we ate most of our meals and prepared for our clinics.  It is also there that many mini-clinics take place.

Our friends at Five Ten sponsored each of the AAI guides that worked the event.  We all received a pair of Chase parkour shoes. And we all had the opportunity to work in this awesome footwear over the following days of the event, testing them out on the Aztec Sandstone of Red Rock.

AAI Guides Kurt Hicks, Andy Bourne, Jason Martin and Lyle Haugsven 
trying on new shoes. Thanks Five Ten!
Photo by Ian McEleney

The Mohave Desert has two very challenging elements to it.  One of them you probably already know.  It gets very very hot in the summer, with the average temperatures hovering between 102 and 108 degrees.  The other challenging element is the wind.  Las Vegas tends to get a wind storm once every two weeks or so.  Unfortunately, one of these hurricane force storms made its way through the canyon just in time for Red Rock Rendezvous.  Following are some pictures of the damage sustained by vendor booths and tents after the fifty-mile an hour winds ravaged the area throughout the night.

 The American Alpine Institute Booth Pre-Desert Hurricane
Photo by Dyan Padagas

 The New Belgium and American Alpine Institute booths after a Windy Night
Photo by Jason Martin

  The Rendezvous Campground before the Storm
Photo by Jason Martin

Tents Crushed by the Wind the following Morning
Photo by Jason Martin

One of the Tents Crushed by the Wind and Shredded in the Barb Wire
Photo by Jason Martin

The second and third days of the event are dominated by a variety of different clinics.  Some of these clinics are run by world class climbing athletes like Beth Rodden or Peter Croft, whereas others are run by world class American Alpine Institute guides.

The clinics vary in subject matter.  Beginners work in clinics with titles like "Footwork and Techniques," or "Trad Climbing for the Chicken Hearted."  More advanced climbers tend to partake in clinics like, "Multi-Pitch Efficiency," or "Aid and Bigwall Climbing."  There are literally dozens of different clinics to choose from and those who register early get the pick of the litter.

A Climber on the Classic Sport Route, Caustic while working on skills at the Rendezvous
Photo by Jason Martin

Another major effort at Red Rock Rendezvous is to raise money for the Access Fund, the American Safe Climbing Association, the American Alpine Club, and the Las Vegas Climbers Liaison Council.  Each of these organizations has a positive impact on the lives of climbers and on the land that we spend time on.

At each Rendezvous, a local project is selected for participants to work on in order to give back to the Red Rock climbing community.  This year's project was the re-development of the trail that leads from the parking area to the Kraft Boulders bouldering area.

 Trail Construction Done by the Las Vegas Climber's Liasion Council (LVCLC)
Two AAI Guides, Jason Martin and Scott Massey, have served on the Board of Directors for the LVCLC
Photo by Jason Martin

On the second evening of the event there was a major dance party on stage (Spring Mountain Ranch has a summer theatre outdoor stage).  A few AAI guides like Dana Hickenbottom, Ian McEleney, Tom Kirby, Mary Harlan, Ben Traxler, Program Coordinator Dyan Padagas and former Program Coordinator Ruth Hennings were the first to take the stage and were responsible for getting that part of the party going!

I will admit that I took the following short camera videos and posted them here to show that our staff really should not pursue careers as dancers. The problem with this is that some them are surprisingly good dancers.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any video of Mary Harlan, an AAI guide and former professional dancer, but she literally put everybody else who was making an attempt to dance to shame.

The Red Rock Rendezvous is one of the highlights of my guide year.  And I would like to thank Mountain Gear for inviting the American Alpine Institute to participate once again.  We are all looking forward to another great event next spring in Red Rock Canyon!

To see literally thousands of pictures from Red Rock Rendezvous, click here.  To get updates about next year's event, join the Red Rock Rendezvous Facebook page, here.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April and May Climbing Events

-- April 15 - 17 -- Shenandoah, VA -- Shenandoah Rockfest 

-- April 18 -- Ellensburg, WA -- Ropeless Rodeo, Central WA University Comp

-- April 23 -- Anacortes, WA -- Dallas Kloke Memorial Workparty

-- April 26 -- Bellingham, WA -- Enjoy and Survive the North Cascades with AAI Guide Jeff Reis  

-- April 27 -- San Fransisco, CA -- ASCA Fundraiser with Alex Honnold at Planet Granite  

-- May 6 -- Atlanta, GA -- Dirty South climbing Film Fest

-- May 21-31 -- Armenia -- Armenia First Ascent Open Festival

 -- May 27 - 29 -- Gunnison, CO -- 24 Hours of Gunnison Glory

-- May 29 -- Bellingham, WA -- Ski to Sea -- Celebrating 100 Years Since the Mt Baker Marathon!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!

We all get excited when we ski sweet powder, see amazing rainbows, and so on.  But not all of us get the reaction on video.  The guys in the next two videos captured their reactions:

This next one you may have seen or have heard the reference to.  It's only been viewed 26,943,823 times on YouTube.  DOUBLE RAINBOW!  

Hopefully at least one of these videos made you crack a smile and giggle a bit! Next time you have a great reaction to something super sweet, capture it on video and send it in!

--Katy Pfannenstein
Program Coordinator

Friday, April 15, 2011

AAI Van heads to AK for Denali Season

Yesterday we said goodbye to our Alaska food purchaser and guide, Dustin Byrne, and AAI's Alaska Intern, Mary Powers.  These two individuals are headed up north for a four-plus day drive from Bellingham, WA to Talkeetna, AK (2,218 miles).  While certainly a long and arduous journey, it is through some of the most beautiful landscape that North America has to offer. 

Dustin and Mary, really looking forward to their drive.

The arrival of Dustin and Mary in Alaska means that our season up there will have officially started!  They are bringing up most of the equipment, food, and effort it takes to get our Denali season up and running smoothly.  For that reason, all of you joining us on Denali should be sending these guys positive thoughts as they make the drive!  A few of us gathered outside our shop to send them off, and give them a hard time about the drive ahead.

Just a little bit of gear packed into this red machine.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Backcountry Skiing in Canada - A Photo Essay

AAI Backpacking Guide and Instructor, Jeff Reis made a trip up to the Elfin Lakes area Northeast of Squamish to do some backcountry skiing.  Following are some of the photos from that February adventure:

 Photo by Ralph Weiche,

Photo by Ralph Weiche,

 Photo by Jeff Reis

Photo by Jeff Reis

 Photo by Jeff Reis

 Photo by Jeff Reis

 Photo by Jeff Reis

Photo by Jeff Reis

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Appalachian Trail in Five Minutes

Thru-Hiker Kevin Gallagher hiked the 2,175 mile Appalachian Trail in six months. Numerous people complete the entire trail every years. But Gallagher did something a little bit different on his trip.

Every day of his trip, Gallagher took twenty-four slides of iconic portions of the trail. He recently put these slides together into a film, which condenses the entire journey into a single five minute segment. He titled the film, "The Green Tunnel."

Following is the product of his adventure:

Green Tunnel from Kevin Gallagher on Vimeo.

To learn more about Gallagher and his work, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April and May Climbing Events

-- April 15 -- Seattle, WA -- NWAC Snowball Fundraiser  

-- April 15 - 17 -- Shenandoah, VA -- Shenandoah Rockfest

-- April 18 -- Ellensburg, WA -- Ropeless Rodeo, Central WA University Comp

-- April 26 -- Bellingham, WA -- Enjoy and Survive the North Cascades with AAI Guide Jeff Reis  

--April 27 -- San Fransisco, CA -- ASCA Fundraiser with Alex Honnold at Planet Granite 

-- May 21-31 -- Armenia -- Armenia First Ascent Open Festival

 -- May 27 - 29 -- Gunnison, CO -- 24 Hours of Gunnison Glory

-- May 29 -- Bellingham, WA -- Ski to Sea -- Celebrating 100 Years Since the Mt Baker Marathon!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

I've always been a fan of self-propelled sports.  But this video has me thinking... Jet propulsion might not be bad!  I wonder how well it works going uphill...

Testing New Jetpack on Skis - Troy Hartman from Troy Hartman on Vimeo.

Enjoy the weekend!

--Katy Pfannenstein
Program Coordinator

Friday, April 8, 2011

Diamox - The Wonder Drug?

Diamox is the trade name for a drug called Acetazolamide. This is a "altitude wonder drug" that many people take to increase the speed of their acclimatization. It is also a drug that some people put a little too much hope into instead of acclimitizing properly.

The reality is that Diamox is not a wonder drug. It is is a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor that is commonly used to treat glaucoma, epilepsy, hypertension, cystinuria, dural ectasia and of course, altitude sickness. The drug is designed to help your body make the chemical changes that it needs to make in order to function better at altitude.

We get a lot of questions about this drug from people who are planning on climbing Denali or other high-altitude objectives. But we also get them from people who are going to go on relatively low-altitude climbs.

Those who are climbing peaks that are less than 14,000 feet tall may not need to worry about any type of specialized drug to acclimatize. They should just take their time. Those who are climbing peaks that are between 14,000 and 16,000 feet should only take the drug if they've had problems in the past. And those climbing peaks that are 16,000 feet tall or more, should really see how their body reacts before filling it full of drugs.

The reason that we advise caution with this drug is that it has side-effects that can be difficult to deal with. Diamox is a diuretic. It causes you to urinate frequently. This, of course, can lead to dehydration, which is a contributing factor to altitude sickness. It can also cause a very unusual sensation in the fingers and toes. It feels like they have fallen asleep. This could be confusing or even scary in extremely cold environments.

Diamox - A Prophylactic?

Some climbers choose to take Diamox prophylactically, starting a few days before going to altitude. A percentage of climbers respond well to this, especially if they take between 125 milligrams (mg) to 500 mg per day before ascending rapidly to 10,000 feet or more.

What is rapidly? This is generally a fast one to two day ascent from sea level. Examples of rapid ascents might include Mount Rainier or Mount Whitney in two days...

Those who have a history of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) are urged to take Diamox prophylactically especially with plans for a rapid ascent or plans to ascend 2000 feet or more per day after reaching 10,000 feet.

Diamox forces the kidneys to excrete bicarbonate, the conjugate base of carbonic acid. The more bicarbonate excreted, the more acidic the blood gets. The more acidic the blood gets, the more that ventilation is stimulated. This will ultimately result in more oxygen in the blood.

Clearly the changes in the blood take time. It takes time for the body to catch up to your altitude. As such, Diamox cannot be seen as an immediate fix for AMS. If the symptoms are bad, then climbers are urged to immediately descend before the AMS devolves into a life-threatening cerebral or pulmonary edema.

When to Take Diamox

Many guides argue that the best time to take a drug like Diamox is right before bed. As I know that I don't tend to breathe as deeply at night as during the day, I will usually take Diamox before I go to bed when I'm at high camps on high altitude peaks.

On the one hand an evening dose of the drug may help you acclimatize better up high at night. It may also keep you from getting sick at night. But on the other, you are unlikely to sleep well due to the whole, "I have to pee every five minutes" thing.

Others feel that the morning is better because it doesn't interrupt your sleep.


There has been a lot of research over the last few years that indicate that Ginkgo Biloba may work extremely well in acclimatization. As this is easily attainable at health food stores and has few side effects in healthy people, it may be a much better alternative to Diamox.

On the other hand, those taking anticoagulants such as ibuprofen, aspirin, warfarin, or antidepressants should be wary of potentially dangerous side effects.

Altitude Research

Understanding altitude and its effects on the body is an extremely broad topic. This blog has only touched on the bare surface of the subject and indeed, only on the bare surface of the uses of Diamox. Those interested in learning more should check out Going Higher: Oxygen, Man and Mountains by Charles Houston or Altitude Illness: Prevention and Treatment by Stephen Bezruchka.

A Final Note 

We are not doctors. We are climbers. And the advice here is just that, advice. All the information here is based on our experiences working at altitude and everyone's body reacts differently under such circumstances.

Diamox is a prescription drug. And it is extremely important that you get proper medical advice before self-medicating with any such drug. If you are on an expedition with a guide, it is also important to tell your guide whenever you take any drugs.

High altitude climbing is an awesome experience. Diamox is merely one tool that will help you to get up high. Another, and perhaps far more important tool, is to use good sense, good judgment and to acclimitize properly.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sunburns in the Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following is a short video on sunburn treatment:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 4, 2011

Singles, Halves and Twins

To start with, all of those who found today's blog by typing in the word "single" while looking for a dating site are going to be disappointed. And those of you who found this blog after typing in the word "twins" are going to be doubly disappointed...

Instead, this article will describe the different types of dynamic climbing ropes available to climbers and their uses. As the title indicates there are three types of ropes that are regularly used for rock, ice and alpine climbing. Following is a brief description of each type of rope and their uses:

Single Ropes:
The single rope system is the most commonly used system in all of climbing. Most climbers will start with a single rope which is adequate for pretty much everything. As a result these are used on ice, rock and in mountaineering settings.

Single ropes are designed to be used alone. A leader doesn't need a second rope to ensure security. When leading, he will only clip the single strand that he is tied to into the protection.

Single rope diameters range from 9.2 mm to 11 mms and vary in length. Most climbers currently use 60-meter ropes. The greater the diameter of the rope, the more wear and tear the rope can handle. However, though alpine ropes tend to wear out the fastest, it's probably not a good idea to get the heaviest rope that you can find for glacier travel.

Most climbers will try to buy a light single rope that can be used in a variety of functions. Heavy 11 mm ropes really only exist for two reasons, search and rescue teams and big wall climbers. Most people purchase ropes that range from 9.5-10.3.

Single ropes will have this insignia on the end.
Single ropes are the least expensive alternative. Each of the other systems described here require

Half Ropes:

Half ropes -- often called Double Ropes -- have a smaller diameter (8-9 mm) and are designed to be used in pairs. As a climber leads, he is supposed to clip each rope independently, swapping ropes as he passes each piece of protection.

Half ropes will have this insignia on the end of the rope.
The concept behind half ropes is excellent. They provide a number of advantages. First, if the route wanders up the crag, clipping the opposite rope each time you move up will reduce drag. Second, you will always have two ropes for double rope rappels. Third, you can share the weight of the ropes on the approach with your partner. Fourth, in the event of an emergency you have double the length to get down quickly. And fifth, in the event of a bad leader fall if one rope is severed, the other rope will still catch the falling climber.
While the concept is excellent, in practice half ropes can be difficult to manage. It will take most climbers a fair bit of time to completely wire all the idiosyncrasies of working with two ropes simultaneously.

Some climbers do elect to use half-ropes for glacier travel. However, one should be very careful when doing this. Stepping on a half-rope with crampons will do a lot more damage than in a single rope. It should go without saying that ropes that see damage from crampons, regardless of diameter, should be retired.

Twin Ropes:

The twin rope system employs two small diameter ropes (usually 7-8 mm) together as if they are one rope. In other words, both ropes go through every piece of protection.

Twin ropes will have this insignia on the end of the rope.

The advantages to the twin rope system are quite similar to the advantages of the single rope system. The exception is that because of the fact that the twin ropes are being used the same way as a single rope, the same type of drag you encounter with single ropes will be apparent.

It is not possible to use twin ropes like half ropes, clipping one rope to one piece and the other rope to the next. The stretch in twin ropes is significantly greater than in half ropes and using them like this could lead to a significant leader fall.

Another problem that some climbers encounter with twin ropes revolves around belay devices. Not all autoblocking belay devices will work with twin ropes. If you elect to use this system, make sure that the ropes will not slip while belaying.

It's good for climbers to be aware of a number of different rope systems. Ideally, you become familiar enough and experienced enough with each of these that you will be able to use the system that works the best for each and every climb that you plan.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April and May Climbing Events

-- April 6 -- Skagit Valley, WA -- Kevin Thurner Photography Slideshow

-- April 8 -- Sunnyvale, CA -- Planet Granite Climbing Comp

-- April 15 -- Seattle, WA -- NWAC Snowball Fundraiser  

-- April 15 - 17 -- Shenandoah, VA -- Shenandoah Rockfest

-- April 18 -- Ellensburg, WA -- Ropeless Rodeo, Central WA University Comp

-- April 26 -- Bellingham, WA -- Enjoy and Survive the North Cascades with AAI Guide Jeff Reis  

-- May 21-31 -- Armenia -- Armenia First Ascent Open Festival

 -- May 27 - 29 -- Gunnison, CO -- 24 Hours of Gunnison Glory

-- May 29 -- Bellingham, WA -- Ski to Sea -- Celebrating 100 Years Since the Mt Baker Marathon!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!

Look Ma, No Ropes!

First climbed in 1938, efficient parties climbing the North Face of the Eiger today usually climb it in three days.  Ueli Steck has climbed it in 2 hours and 47 minutes, breaking his own record by 1 hour and 7 minutes!

Go Ueli, Go! 

--Katy Pfannenstein
Program Coordinator

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Alpine Quickdraw

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin