Tuesday, May 31, 2011

UIAA Gear Testing Videos

A couple of weeks ago, we posted a video of a carabiner strength test. The video was very popular. We got to see a press destroy a carabiner. Videos of gear breaking are always engaging. As a result, today we have posted a few more climbing gear testing videos from the UIAA. These are both terrifying and a lot of fun all at the same time!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Mountain Film for People Who Didn't Like Vertical Limit

I’m a relative newbie when it comes to the mountain film scene. Of course I’ve seen The Eiger Sanction and Touching the Void, but I’ve never been to the Banff Mountain Film series. So I’m by no means a connoisseur.

Having made this disclaimer, I recommend The White Hell of Pitz Palu to anyone who has an interest in the cultural history of climbing. A German silent thriller that came out in 1929, it was restored and reissued with English titles and symphonic soundtrack in 1997 by the German Film Archive. Along with Holy Mountain and a few others, it is a prime exemplar of the Bergfilm genre, which emerged in Germany between the World Wars and is apparently considered by some critics to be the quintessentially German film genre, analogous to the American Western.

The plot of the movie is simple enough. Maria and Hans, a young couple newly engaged, arrive at a hut on the flanks of Piz Palu in the Bernina Alps of southeast Switzerland. They are riding a wave of excitement and romance. But then a stranger arrives: Dr. Johannes Krafft, who years earlier had lost his wife to a crevasse fall on the Palu, and has wandered the mountain ever since, attempting new routes solo and brooding on his loss. This dangerous figure disrupts the harmonious drama of the newly engaged couple, stirring Maria’s interest and Hans’s competitive ego. The three embark on an ill-contemplated attempt on the North Face of the mountain. Trouble follows.

A series of clips from Leni Riefenstahl's Bergfilme career.

Despite the clear potential for weary psychodrama, the film does not develop a heavy-handed allegory, and instead stays in the realm of the concrete. The special effects -- including an artificial ice cliff, man-made avalanches and serac falls, and a torch-lit search operation in the underworld of the glacier -- are matched only by the fine mountain cinematography.

As enjoyable as the film may be in itself, what makes it really interesting is how it sheds light on some less obvious links between climbing and the larger history of European popular culture. Climbing was something close to a national obsession in Germany between the wars, and was connected to a much broader interest in physical fitness and spiritual overcoming. These interests in turn informed aspects of the Nazi ideology. Leni Riefenstahl, who plays Maria in The White Hell and starred in other Bergfilme, went on to direct her own films in the service of Hitler and Goebbels. Her Triumph of the Will, the film record of the 1934 party rally in Nuremberg, shares many thematic interests and visual motifs with The White Hell.

For those of us who ruminate on the dark side of our sport – the fatalism, the obsession, and the egomania, and where these can lead – the White Hell is a good feed.

Details: You might have some trouble finding it. Bellingham’s excellent high-brow video store Film Is Truth 24 Times a Second stocks it thanks to Graham, our shop manager who once worked there. Netflix has it. Good luck finding it at any mainstream video store.

-- Tom Kirby, AAI Instructor and Guide

Sunday, May 29, 2011

June and July Climbing Events

-- 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!

-- June 2 -- Vail, CO -- IFSC Bouldering World Cup - Teva Mountain Games 

-- June 6-10 -- Grand Teton, WY -- Grand Teton Climbers’ Ranch Work Week

-- June 23 - 26 -- France -- Vibram Natural Games 

-- June 25 - 26 -- Mazama, WA -- AAC's RockFest 2011 with Sonnie Trotter and Will Stanhope

-- July 6 - 10 -- Lander, WY -- International Climber's Festival 

-- July 13 - 17 -- Squamish, BC -- Squamish Mountain Festival 

-- July 13 - 16 -- Norway -- World Base Race 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!

Local Rider Kyle Miller schreds the gnar and is livin' the dream! 

Enjoy the weekend! Katy Pfannenstein Program Coordinator

Friday, May 27, 2011

Placing Cams - SLCDs

The Canadian Guide, Mike Barter, posted the following two videos on youtube about placing cams.

In the first video Mike, his wife and his young daughter talk about cams while hanging out at a swimming pool in Spain. The banter between them about cam placements is quite good...but it sounds like some of his regular viewers gave him a hard time about it and told him that he needed to be in front of a rock wall.

In the second video, Mike talks about cams at a crag.

While watching these videos, it's important to understand that placing cams is an art. And before you trust your life to them, the best thing that you could do is to take a class in order to learn how to place them properly.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Indespensibles

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 while exercising, 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 dispensable 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 indispensable. The goal in creating a list of indispensable 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

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mt. Baker Summit Climb with Students from the Bush School

This week I did a trip to Mt. Baker's Easton Glacier with a group of students from the Bush School in Seattle.  The trip started with a questionable weather report, which is never a good thing when you are hoping to summit Mt. Baker.  The first issue is that the road to the trail head is still covered with snow for over three miles.  This made for a long hike in to our first camp.

After a long day of walking we got to a camp at the base of the Rail Road Grade (a glacial moraine that runs along the west side of the Easton Glacier).  We set up camp cooked dinner and went to bed.  Unfortunately we awoke the next day to rain.  We decided not to move to a higher camp so we could stay dry.  After breakfast I went back to bed.  The students entertained themselves with cards.

Looking down the valley to Baker Lake.

Even the birds were wet. 


 I was surprised to find the rain had turned to snow when I woke from my 4 hour midday nap. 

Snow on the cook tent. 


Is the sun trying to break through? 
 The next morning looked like the weather might get better so we decided to move to a camp that was high enough up the mountain to summit from.  The move to Sandy Camp was reasonably strait forward and only took a couple of hours.



 As the weather slowly improved we did some glacier skills practice in hopes that we would be able to climb to the summit the next morning.

Checking out a small crevasse.

Rope team travel practice. 

 Morning always comes too early for me.  We had a 1am wake up.

Camp at 1am with the Twin Sisters Range in the background.

Camp at 1am with Mt. Baker's summit in background.



Starting up the Roman Wall.

Mt. Bakers summit.

On the summit. 

The second rope team nears the summit. 

Th last few steps to the summit. 

The summit. 

A slight detour heading down to view some seracs.

A panorama of the summit crater.  This was seven photos stitched together.
Once  back at camp we ate some lunch and packed up camp.  From there we began the long hike out.  The really long hike out.  Thanks to the crew from the Bush School in Seattle.  This was one of the more fun groups of people I have been out in the mountains with.   All in all a very rewarding experience for all, including me!

The complete set of photos can be found at http://alasdairturner.smugmug.com/

Alasdair Turner
Instructor and Guide

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May and June Climbing Events

-- May 20 -22 -- New River Gorge, WV -- New River Rendezvous

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

-- May 22 -- Vantage, WA -- Adopt-A-Crag 

-- May 22-26 -- Greece -- Kalymnos Climbing 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!

-- June 2 -- Vail, CO -- IFSC Bouldering World Cup - Teva Mountain Games 

-- June 6-10 -- Grand Teton, WY -- Grand Teton Climbers’ Ranch Work Week

-- June 23 - 26 -- France -- Vibram Natural Games

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!

Does size really matter? Well, according to Colin Haley, height doesn't matter to him for climbing. He'd prefer more technical, shorter routes that require speed and efficiency for survival. Check out this sweet video by Fringe Elements.

Now get out there and get some!
--Katy Pfannenstein
Program Coordinator

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rope Flossing

Flossing is a practice recommended by most dentists, but in the mountains flossing can be bad for you. “Rope Flossing” is a potentially fatal exercise that should be avoided at all costs.

In the mountains, “getting flossed” refers to being plucked off the mountain by the rope of another climbing team. The consequences for such an event are usually tragic, and constitute yet another objective hazard that climbing parties should be aware of. In busy mountain ranges such as the alps, thousands of climbers with a varying array of ability levels attempt hundreds of classic routes daily. Here in Chamonix, accident data is not reported as conveniently as it is in Accidents in North American Mountaineering, but I do know that the PGHM rescue helicopter does upwards of 12 rescue flights daily. You can bet that a team or two has been “flossed” over the years.

At times, rope-flossing has been a real threat to my safety and the safety of others around me. I have arrived at route bottlenecks in the past only to find groups of four to six climbers all tied together on the same rope, with 10 or 15 meters of slack between them - most of which is being held uselessly in their hands. Their blank expressions and blinking eyes often signify a level of ignorance and maladroitness that I find frightening. The most stated justification for this technique that I have heard stems from the irrational “safety in numbers” heuristics trap, based on the assumption that the chance of something going wrong diminishes as the group size increases. There is often no running belay (protection points) between them, nor do many of these teams have a grasp of using existing terrain (horns, flakes, etc) to their advantage. It begs the question, what will happen if one team member falls? I don't waste time trying to answer the question - my priority is to either pass or bail ASAP. Poor rope-work and dangerously large group sizes have led me to suggest to some rope teams (who peculiarly seem to arrive from the eastern European countries) that they should A), divide their rope team into smaller ones, or B) that they should put the rope away and climb unroped. It may seem crazy, but a poorly-used rope is often more dangerous than none at all. At least that way only one person at a time can fall....

I was told a story by a colleague about a large group of climbers (Seven) he encountered on Mt Blanc who were traversing the Grande Couloir and were making their way up the loose rock on the other side. The slack rope between them was dislodging many stones, and their pace was at a stand-still (at the most dangerous part of the route). Out came my colleagues’ knife, and the seven-person team became two 2-man teams and one 3-man team. There was little argument when the knife began slashing sheath and core.

The most famous example of rope-flossing in recent history was prominently displayed in the 2001 Sony Pictures abomination Vertical Limit. In the beginning of the film, a critical error (one only possible in hollywood-land) causes a rope-team of two to fall simultaneously off of a multi-pitch tower in the Arizona desert. Below them, Royce Garrett belays his son and daughter Peter and Annie Garrett while they follow his pitch. The rope between the two falling victims flosses the father from his belay station (i am not sure how his body is able to withstand the force of the fall-factor 10+ fall from above while his anchor fails, but physics must not work the same way in Hollywood...) In series, Royce pulls off Peter, who pulls off Annie, until five dangling and spinning people are stopped by a #3 and #5 metolius camming unit (gosh I love those sizes). As is customary whenever climbing is portrayed in a Hollywood film, the knife comes out eventually to cut the rope - in this case it’s the father who pays the ultimate sacrifice so that his two children can survive in order to endure an incredibly contrived and totally improbable half-baked climbing epic on K2 later in the film (For more examples of knives and climbing ropes, read or watch Touching the Void, The Eiger Sanction, Cliffhanger, or any James Bond film).

More recently, in May of 2002, there was a high profile rope-flossing incident on Mt Hood. A four-person team fell from near the summit and were not able to arrest their fall. Their rope snagged a team of five during the fall, until two rope-teams (9 people) were tumbling down the slope. The teams slid into a bergschrund at the bottom, and three climbers were killed, while three were critically injured. The accident underscored the limited threshold at which self-arrest is a viable means of stopping a sliding rope team - sometimes the slope is just too steep for self arrest to be appropriate, and more secure techniques should be used, such as the placement of snow pickets, the use of belays and stances, etc. Perhaps in extreme circumstances, no rope at all could be safer. The public’s attention to the accident was unfortunately distracted by the subsequent crash of the Blackhawk rescue helicopte dispatched to the scene.

The rope is a tool that is effective only when used properly. It can provide a great service to the climbers tied to it by keeping them attached to one another, but also hopefully attached to the mountain. Proactive self-education in the form of taking courses and reading how-to books such as Mark Houston and Cathy Cosley’s Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher go a long way in providing climbers with the skills to make well-informed decisions on how best to employ the rope as a tool of safety and security, not one of hollywood mayhem.

--Dylan Taylor

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Finger Injuries in Climbing

The hangboard.

It sits above the doorway in the office, taunting me. It sits above the doorway, daring me to train. It sits above the doorway, and stares me down. It sits above the doorway...

I can't help it. I'm a climber. It's in my genes. I have to hang on it. I have to do pull-ups on it. I have to climb.

But the reality is that hanging on a hangboard is not climbing. Hangboards are supposed to be for training. In truth hangboards are one of the best ways climbers have devised to obtain sports injuries.

I know only too well. One day I succumbed to the devious taunts of the board and began to train on it. I succumbed and pulled something in my ring finger.

A climber on the Boy Scout Wall in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Jason Martin

After doing a little research I discovered that I probably injured one of the pulleys in my finger. A great website called climbinginjuries.com provided me with everything that I needed to know in order to get better. They indicated that I had a pulley injury in my finger and they identified three levels of pulley injury.
  • Grade III: A grade three injury usually involves a complete rupture of the pulley creating bowstringing of the tendon. Symptoms of this severe soft tissue injury includes local pain in the pulley, swelling or even bruising, pain when squeezing, pain when extending the finger, and most disturbingly those who get this injury often hear a pop inside their finger.
  • Grade II: A grade two injury is identified by a partial rupture of the pulley tendon. This injury is characterized by local pain at the pulley, pain when squeezing and occasionally pain when extending a finger.
  • Grade I: A grade one injury is characterized by local pain at the pulley, pain when squeezing and a sprain of the finger ligaments (collateral ligaments).

These injuries can be quite serious. Some people may require months to recover from a Grade III pulley rupture. Climbinginjuries.com has a prescribed method for treatment:

Go buy some TheraPutty! All orthopedic doctors and physical therapists will recommend putty as a tool for successful recovery. (2) The fingers generally receive poor blood flow so getting blood to the injured area is important. Contrast baths have had mixed results in the literature, but it wouldn't hurt to try. To do a contrast bath, get a bowl of warm water, and cold water. Put injured finger in cold water for a few minutes, then place it immediately in the warm water for a few minutes. Repeat 3-5 times. Finish with the cold water. This could be done after squeezing the putty ball to "flush out" the injured joint. Massaging the effected area can be effective as well. Start out lightly and gradually increase the pressure.
  • Grade III: - Immediately- Stop climbing Apply ice or cold immediately, no more than 15 minutes at a time (1-2 days) Take ibuprofen for 1- 2 day Keep the hand elevated Week 1-2 Don't climb! Don't immobilize the finger. Unless there is a lot of pain, open and close your hand often VERY light massage at the site of the injury. Concentrate on other aspects of your life. Week 4-8 Warm the hands by use of a bath or an electric blanket, then squeeze the yellow (softest) putty. Don't push it, if there's pain…stop. Repeat a few times per day. Go to Grade II Treatment.
  • Grade II: (Week 1-2) No climbing Warm the hands by use of a bath or an electric blanket, then squeeze the red putty. Don't push it, if there's pain…stop. Repeat a few times per day. Lubricate and lightly massage at the site of the injury. (Week 3-6) Tape the injured finger, stretch your forearms (this relieves the stress on the finger tendons) and climb the biggest holds you can find. Start easy, this will be the quickest way to recovery. If you climb too hard, too fast, then return to the start of Grade 2 and do not collect $200. Always stretch your forearms after warming up and prior to climbing. Start squeezing the medium to firm putty. Lubricate and massage the finger at the site of the injury a couple of times/day. Start lightly and gradually increase the intensity using very short strokes on the injured site. Go to Grade I Treatment
  • Grade I (Week 1) Tape the injured finger and continue to climb at a level well below your normal level. Gradually increase the stresses on the fingers. Stretch your forearms after warming up and prior to climbing. This relieves the stress on the finger tendons. Squeeze the medium to firm putty a few times per day. Lubricate and massage the finger at the site of the injury. Start light and gradually increase intensity. Very short strokes on the injured site. Expected outcome Take advice from a practitioner who specializes in climbing. However, if treated early and effectively, with an appropriately graded return to activity, recovery will usually take 3-8 weeks. However, if the injury is pushed beyond its stage of recovery, re-injury will occur and may result in a chronic injury that will require a much more protracted rehabilitation period.

The best way to recover from a finger injury is to avoid getting hurt in the first place. Here are a few rules to live by:
  1. Always warm up on easy climbs. Don't jump straight onto the hardest thing you can get up.
  2. Stretch your fingers.
  3. Don't overtrain. If you are climbing hard then you should probably avoid climbing every day. Strong sport climbers will often climb every other day.
  4. Stretch your fingers again.
  5. Massage your forearms between burns.
  6. Stretch your fingers more.
Sooner or later my finger will heal up and when it does I'll train more consciously. The hangboard definitely requires a bit more care. The last thing I need is another finger injury to crimp my crimping style!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 16, 2011

High Altitude Oxygen

We are always hearing about 8000 meter mountains and the use of oxygen. Should it be used of should it be left behind?

This blog entry has absolutely nothing to do with this common debate about oxygen in the mountains, but instead explains what

There are really two systems being employed in the high mountains. They are the constant flow system and the demand system.

The constant flow system delivers oxygen on a constant basis through a face mask worn by the climber. A flow rate is set and the oxygen keeps coming at that rate until you are out. This system is also often referred to as the Poisk system.

The second kind of oxygen flow system is the demand system. In this system, the climber wears a nose pipe that only provides oxygen when you inhale. The value of this system is that it's running half the time that a constant system is running. As a result, you have to carry half of the oxygen cylinders that you might carry otherwise.

The demand system has been used for nearly twenty years, but it has some problems. These include frozen tubes and release of oxygen when not in demand.

There is a third alternative which is a heavier and less realistic system and that is the closed circuit oxygen system. Most systems are a combination of the ambient oxygen in the air and supplemental oxygen from a bottle. In a closed circuit system, all of the oxygen is coming from a bottle, which could theoretically reduce the altitude feeling to sea level.

As the weight of all that oxygen is unrealistic, there has never been a valid test of a true closed system.

In the following video, we see the different parts of a normal constant flow system.

The first ascent of Everest in 1953 required quite a bit more in weight and old school technology. The following video shows a diagram of the original oxygen system and quickly describes how it worked.

The oxygen debate is one that will always rage, but that has nothing to do with the actual oxygen systems. If you choose to use oxygen in the high mountains, research each of the different systems, including brands and models available. Your summit and your life depend on making the right choice.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, May 15, 2011

May and June Climbing Events

-- May 20 -22 -- New River Gorge, WV -- New River Rendezvous

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

-- May 22 -- Vantage, WA -- Adopt-A-Crag 

-- May 22-26 -- Greece -- Kalymnos Climbing 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!

-- June 2 -- Vail, CO -- IFSC Bouldering World Cup - Teva Mountain Games 

-- June 6-10 -- Grand Teton, WY -- Grand Teton Climbers’ Ranch Work Week

-- June 23 - 26 -- France -- Vibram Natural Games

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Denali: Names of Injured Persons and Fatality Released in Mt. McKinley Climbing Accident

The National Park Service released the names of the climbers involved in the fatal accident on Mt. McKinley May 11-12.  The following is the press release issue at 8:54am Alaska time, Saturday, May 14.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Maureen McLaughlin, (907) 733-9103

Climbers Involved in Mt. McKinley Rescue Identified

Two remaining injured climbers were evacuated from the 17,200-foot high camp on Mt. McKinley in the afternoon of Friday, May 13. Mountain Trip guide Dave Staeheli, age 56, of Wasilla, Alaska and client Lawrence Cutler, age 45, of Croton-on-Hudson, New York, suffered from frostbite to the hands and feet after a night spent at high elevation in cold temperatures and gusty winds. Staeheli also sustained a broken rib. On Friday afternoon it was determined that the two men could not safely descend the mountain on foot, so a helicopter evacuation was initiated. Both men were individually shorthauled from the 17,200-foot camp to the 14,200-foot camp by NPS ranger John Loomis and B3 helicopter pilot Andy Hermansky. From there, the helicopter flew them down to the Kahiltna Basecamp for a fixed wing flight back to Talkeetna.

On the previous night of May 12, fellow teammate Jeremiah O¹Sullivan, age 40, of Ballinhassig, Ireland, was rescued from 19,500-feet on Mt. McKinley with a broken leg and severe frostbite to the legs, hands, and face. The fourth member of the rope team, 38-year-old Beat Niederer of St. Gallen, Switzerland died from unknown causes near 18,000 feet. Neiderer¹s body was recovered late Thursday night via helicopter shorthaul.

An additional client who had turned back along with a guide earlier during the day of the summit bid due to frostbite on his fingers was evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp by the NPS Thursday afternoon. He has been identified as Tony Diskin, age 33, of Westmeath, Ireland.

As of the morning of May 14, there were 282 climbers attempting Mt. McKinley. Eight summits have been recorded thus far. A total of 1,029 climbers are registered to climb during the 2011 season.


Maureen McLaughlin
Mountaineering Administration and Public Information
Talkeetna Ranger Station
Denali National Park & Preserve
PO Box 588
Talkeetna, Alaska 99676

(907) 733-9103 (phone)
(907) 733-1465 (fax)

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to get you STOKED!

Beautiful mountains, beautiful lines, beautiful people.  Three women spent 25 days in the Cirque de Unclimbables, Northwest Territories, Canada.  Their goal was to free climb the entire 1963 Original Route on the 2000 foot Southeast Face of Proboscis, and the end result was IV 5.12 R Women at Work.  Very inspiring! 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Denali Accident Near Summit

Cold temperatures dropping to -20F at night and winds of up to 70 mph have created very difficult conditions high on Denali / Mt. McKinley.  The two American Alpine Institute teams that are currently on the mountain, lead by Kurt Hicks and Richard Riquelme, are patiently and safely waiting for the weather to improve.  Kurt's team at Camp 3 at 14,000 feet and Richard's team is at Camp 2 at 11,000 feet.  The American Alpine Institute teams were not involved with the accident or the rescue that occurred  May 11-13, 2011.

On Wednesday, May 11, a Mountain Trip guided team had an accident near the summit ridge of Denali.  A rope team of one guide and three clients fell near the ridge, and one of the climbers sustained a broken leg.  While the guide worked to secure the injured climber in a bivy sack at 19, 500 feet, the two other climbers began the descent.  One climber never made it back to high camp and died.  On Thursday, May 12, the injured climber was successfully rescued by helicopter and the body of the climber who died was located and removed from 18,000 feet.

Friday morning, the surviving guide and client (who both sustained frostbite) were still at High Camp at 17,200 feet.  As of 4 pm, May 13, the names of those involved had not been released by the National Park Service.

The following is the Denali National Park News Release:

Denali National Park and Preserve News Release
Date: May 12, 2011, 10:00 p.m.
For Immediate Release
Contact:  Maureen McLaughlin, (907) 733-9103

One Climber Rescued, One Recovered from Mt. McKinley

Denali National Park and Preserve rescue personnel were able to save the life of an injured climber at 19,500-feet on Mt. McKinley the night of Thursday, May 12, however, a teammate from the same guided expedition was found dead at 18,000 feet.

The guided client rescued from 19,500-feet had broken a leg when the 4-person rope team fell near the summit ridge of Mt. McKinley very late on Wednesday or early Thursday.  After the fall, the team’s guide secured the injured climber in a bivy sack at the ‘Football Field’ while the other two clients descended.  By morning, the guide and one of the two uninjured clients had separately descended to the 17,200-foot high camp where they were treated by another team for frostbite to the hands and feet.  The third client never returned to high camp.

At the request of the National Park Service, the 176th Wing of the Alaska Air National Guard launched a HC-130 aircraft from the 211th Rescue Squadron on Thursday morning in an effort to spot the injured and missing climbers. Pararescuemen from the 212th Rescue Squadron on board the HC-130
spotted the client with the broken leg at 19,500-feet, though they were unable to definitively verify the location of the other client.

Winds gusted to 70 mph throughout the day on Thursday, and Denali National Park’s high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter was unable to safely fly above14,200 feet.   However, by 5:00 pm that evening the winds subsided and boththe HC-130 aircraft and the NPS helicopter were able to make a reconnaissance flight up high on the mountain.  The helicopter pilot and an NPS ranger verified the location and status of the injured climber at 19,500-feet, and for the first time rescue personnel were able to confirm the location of the second climber above 18,000 feet.

With a rescue basket secured to the end of a 125-foot rope, A-Star B3 helicopter pilot Andy Hermansky returned to the climber at 19,500 feet. The injured client was able to climb into the basket as the helicopter hovered overhead.  Once the patient was secure in the basket, the helicopter flew down to the Kahiltna Basecamp to an awaiting LifeMed air ambulance for transport to Anchorage.

Next, the A-Star B3 helicopter returned to the site of the climber near 18,000 feet, this time with NPS mountaineering ranger Kevin Wright on the end of the 125-foot shorthaul line.  Helicopter pilot Hermansky hovered while Ranger Wright set down adjacent to the climber and buckled him into a
canvas sling known as a ‘screamer suit’.  The climber was flown on the end of the shorthaul line to the Kahiltna Basecamp.  The patient showed no obvious signs of life during the shorthaul flight.  The patient was transferred to a CH-47 ‘Chinook’ helicopter from the 52nd Aviation Regiment out of Ft. Wainwright for a more thorough medical assessment.  Two NPS ranger medics, also on board the CH-47, confirmed that the climber had died.  The cause of death is unknown at this time.

The guide and the client, both of whom suffer from frostbite, currently remain at the 17,200-foot camp.  The names of all climbers involved in the incident are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Down vs. Synthetic

On big expeditions a good sleeping bag is perhaps the most important piece of equipment that you carry. A sleeping bag does a great deal more than to simply keep you warm at night. It becomes a means to keep water bottles from freezing and provides a way to dry out damp clothing and boots. And indeed, in an emergency it might be the last shield between you and hypothermia or even death.

So what kind of sleeping bag should you invest in? Down or synthetic? Synthetic or down?

Advantages of a Down Sleeping Bag:

  1. Many would argue that nature does it best. Down (either goose or duck) tends to be significantly warmer than a synthetic alternative. Ounce per ounce, down tends to be approximately three times warmer than synthetic.
  2. If you take care of it, down retains its shape and loft. With proper care a down bag can last a lifetime.
  3. Down tends to wick body moisture away which can make for a far more comfortable night's sleep.
  4. Down is far more compressible and lightweight.
  5. The nature of down is that it keeps you warm in the cold and cool in the warmth.
AAI Guide Justin Wood enjoying a book in a down bag on Denali.

Disadvantages of a Down Sleeping Bag:
  1. The largest disadvantage to a down bag is how poorly it deals with water. A wet down bag is close to useless. Those who elect to use down in a wetter climate need to have all of their systems dialed. In other words they need to be very good at protecting their bag from the elements.
  2. Once wet, down bags don't dry easily.
  3. Down can be difficult to clean. If it is improperly cleaned it may break down and lose its loft. Be sure to read and follow all washing directions on your down bag.
  4. Some people have allergic reactions to down.
  5. Down is expensive.
Advantages to a Synthetic Sleeping Bag:
  1. Synthetics are more weather resistant and dry more quickly.
  2. Synthetics are easier to care for.
  3. Synthetics are hypoallergenic.
  4. There is a lot of variety out there and it tends to be less expensive than the alternative.
Disadvantages to a Synthetic Sleeping Bag:
  1. Synthetics tend to be heavier and bulkier than down.
  2. Many synthetics don't pack down as tightly as down.
  3. Synthetics tend to breakdown and perform poorly over time.
  4. Some of the lower end products may not fit well.
So which is better? Most guides use down bags, but they know that they have to be hyper-aware when it comes to getting them wet. If you don't think that you can do this, then a synthetic bag is the way to go.

The purchase of a sleeping bag is a big financial decision, but that shouldn't be the deciding factor. Instead, it should be based on where you think you're going to use it and what type of conditions you think you're going to encounter the most.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Travel Safety in a Developing Country

Many of our guides spend a great deal of time traveling in developing nations. As tourists with expensive climbing and photography equipment, we are definitely seen as targets. Most of us who have spent significant amounts of time in South America or Asia have encountered some petty crime.

We spend time in cities as well as in open camps near the mountains. Each of the two environments have their own circumstances. In order to be safe and avoid theft, one must "follow the rules" in each of these environments. Following is a list of precautions that should be undertaken in any foreign environment:
  1. Many guides make a photocopy of their passports and carry it around the city. They put the passport itself in a hotel safe that they feel comfortable with.
  2. Use a money belt or money necklace. If you don't feel comfortable with the hotel safe, carry your passport in the money belt/necklace.
  3. When you first arrive in a country, be sure that you know what the currency looks like. One of our guides was once given change in play money shortly after he got off the plane in Bolivia.
  4. If you elect to wear a small backpack around the city, place luggage locks on the zippers. In crowds, wear the backpack on the front of your body so that you can see it. People will often try to open zippers when you are still. In extreme cases they may even attempt to cut open the bottom of the pack with a knife.
  5. As ATMs become more popular throughout the world, it has become easier to obtain money in developing countries with a debit card. This keeps one from carrying massive amounts of cash or hard-to-convert travelers checks. If you do choose to go this route, talk to your bank first. They may give you a list of "safe" ATMs in a city. If you don't have such a list, make sure that you use an ATM attached to a bank and be sure that you are aware of your surroundings before putting your card into the machine. Do not use a machine if there are any suspicious characters around.
  6. Beware of fake police and fake taxis. If someone flashes you a badge and then wants to see your money, be suspicious. If a taxi doesn't have appropriate documentation in the window, be suspicious.
  7. No matter how much you trust it, do not leave expensive items out in your hotel room.
  8. Do not wear expensive looking jewelry in public.
  9. You may choose to wear a "decoy wallet." In other words, you have a wallet that distracts a potential thief from going for the real thing. Never put your wallet in your back pocket. Even zippered pockets can be opened or cut by experienced thieves.
  10. Women should try not to respond to local men that approach them for no apparent reason in foreign countries, especially in patriarchal cultures. Even a curt "no" may be construed as the start of a conversation.
  11. Be wary of new romantic relationships with people in developing countries.
  12. If you pay for your hotel room in advance, be sure to obtain receipts.
  13. Beware of circumstances where people need help or are trying to help you. In other words, if somebody is trying to hand you a baby for some reason or is trying to help remove bird dung from your shoulder, be suspicious and watch your bags closely.
  14. Do not wander around a city in a developing country at the middle of the night while intoxicated.
  15. When camping underneath the mountains in a developing country, hire a cook. If you can, try to get one from a local outfitter. The cook will double as a camp guard while you are in the mountains.
  16. Be sure to bring all of you gear inside the vestibule of your tent at night. Do not leave anything of value outside.
  17. If you use animals to carry gear on your expedition, be sure that they are loaded appropriately. Don't let them put a sleeping bag on one animal and a tent on another so that they can charge you for more animals. In addition to this, make sure you know how many animals you hired. Sometimes locals don't keep track and round up in their estimations.
On AAI trips, the guides will always orient you to the particular dangers of a given city or camp. If you elect to climb in foriegn countries without a guide who is "in-the-know," then be sure to research the tourist oriented scams of your destination before you leave.

Traveling and climbing in developing countries can be incredibly exciting. But the excitement dissipates when something is stolen. Always keep your eyes open and be smart. This is the best way to keep your vacation on the right track.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 9, 2011

How it's Made: Climbing Ropes

The Discovery Channel has a wonderfully engaging television show entitled, How it's Made. They recently ran an episode on how ropes are made with a focus on climbing ropes and yachting ropes.

Check out the video below:

Sterling Ropes also produced a video on how climbing ropes are made. Though the production values of this video are a little bit lower than that of the Discovery Channel show, there is a great deal more specific information about climbing rope construction. There are also a few goofy jokes that make this video fun to watch.

See the Sterling video below:

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May and June Climbing Events

-- May 20 -22 -- New River Gorge, WV -- New River Rendezvous

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

-- May 22 -- Vantage, WA -- Adopt-A-Crag 

-- May 22-26 -- Greece -- Kalymnos Climbing 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!

-- June 2 -- Vail, CO -- IFSC Bouldering World Cup - Teva Mountain Games 

-- June 6-10 -- Grand Teton, WY -- Grand Teton Climbers’ Ranch Work Week

-- June 23 - 26 -- France -- Vibram Natural Games

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to get you STOKED!

Ah, the climbing season is right around the corner!  While some of us take months off from work (or is it we work to take time off from playing??) and others of us are weekend warriors, we need to take rest days now and again from climbing.  The following video will get you brainstorming on how to best spend your rest days!


Katy Pfannenstein
-Program Coordinator

Friday, May 6, 2011

Anchors "In Series"

Many climbers find the transition from top-roped climbing into leading to be daunting. This is especially daunting when the move is tinged with the possibility that you will have to build your own traditional anchor. It's scary because at first it's quite difficult to trust an anchor that you've built. It's scary because maybe there aren't that many pieces in the anchor or maybe the rock is bad.

One way to eliminate some of the fear and to build a more secure anchor is to build anchors "In Series."

In the past we've discussed SRENE and ERNEST anchors. The standard is that these anchors are built off of three or four pieces with a cordellete as in the following picture.

A Standard Pre-Equalized SRENE Anchor
The angles on this particular anchor are a bit wide between each of the outside pieces.

In an ideal three piece anchor all of the pieces are completely solid. In an ideal anchor each of the pieces can hold a tremendous amount of weight by themselves. In an ideal anchor, the powerpoint can easily hold ten times the weight of the two climbers on the route.

But what if it can't?

When the pieces aren't solid, you have to add more. To keep it simple, the best way to add more pieces is to add them in series. This is a method wherein one SRENE anchor is stacked on top of another SRENE Anchor. This system allows a climber to do a couple of things. First it allows one to add more pieces to the anchor. Second, it allows those pieces to be added in a simplistic way that makes sense with a cordellette or an extra sling. And third, it spreads out the weight at the powerpoint into more equalized pieces.

An Anchor In Series with a Magic X on the Left-Hand Leg

While the preceding picture may seem to tell the whole story, there is one thing to consider when building an anchor in series. One element that is terribly important to be aware of is that if a magic x (self-equalizing twist) is used in the system, it may not be as effective as a pre-equalized knot in the system.

In the picture above, the left hand leg of the cordellette terminates in a sling clipped to two pieces and equalized with a magic x. The problem with a magic x in this kind of system is that if one of those left hand pieces blows out, the sling will become limp and the weight will not automatically transfer to the other piece in the magic x. If this happens, then all of the weight will be placed on the two pieces on the right.

It's better to build two pre-equalized anchors on top of each other when working in series. However, occasionally this isn't possible and you're forced to work with a magic x. When that happens, make sure that the pieces that are not a part of the x are extremely strong.

An Anchor In Series with a Pre-Equalized Knot on the Right-Hand Leg
This anchor is essentially a three piece anchor that was linked together in series
because the climber only had two double-shoulder length runners to build an anchor.

It is quite possible to build a vast anchor with codellettes and slings in series. And sometimes -- when the rock is very bad -- that is exactly what you have to do.
There are many other ways to add additional pieces to an anchor and to keep it SRENE, but for many who are just dipping their toes into the world of leading, anchors in series make a lot of sense. Most guides recommend that beginning level leaders work with anchors in series for a significant period of time before experimenting with other systems. This will help lay a solid intellectual framework of what an anchor is supposed to look like and what it is supposed to do.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Self-Arrest Techniques

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

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

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

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

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

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

.--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tent Melt-Out

When the spring is sprung and there is more rain and warmth than snow and cold, an odd thing starts to happen in the mountains around your tent. The bottom of the tent acts as an insulator or a blanket, keeping the snow cold. On overnight trips or short summit trips, you may not even notice this. But on longer trips, the warmer temperatures and the rain cause the snow to melt everywhere...everywhere except for under your tent.

Slowly your tent develops its own little pedestal. There are two problems with this. First, your tent-stakes will start to melt out and second, the edges of the insulated tent floor will begin to melt-out.In the snow, tent-stakes should be buried in a T-slot instead of buried vertically. Work-harden the snow to make sure that the stakes stay in place. If there is any metal showing from a stake, it becomes more likely that the stake will melt-out. Warmth radiates through metal. Making sure that a placement is solidly work-hardened will decrease the likelihood of a stake melting out in the short term.

When the snow underneath the tent starts to melt-out, it tends to do so from the edges. Over the course of a couple of days the melt-out will force the tent's occupants to cuddle more and more closely together. The sides of the tent become a trough, eating up all the extra equipment.

If you plan to camp in a given location for a longer period of time, the trick to avoiding problems is to pile snow all around your tent. Pile the snow heavily along the sides of the tent and over the snow-stakes. If the edges of the tent are well-covered, the problems that arise with longer camps become less prevalent.

A tent in the snow without additional snow piled-up to prevent melt-out

A tent that has a significant amount of snow piled around it so that it doesn't melt out on a warm day.

While this might not be the most technical tip that we've ever provided on this blog, stacking snow around your tent can certainly make your life a lot more pleasant.

--Jason D. Martin