Sunday, July 31, 2011

August and September Climbing Events

-- August 1-6 -- Stockholm, Sweden -- Stockholm Climbing Festival

-- August 4-7 -- Salt Lake City, Utah -- Outdoor Retailer Show

-- August 19-21 -- Adirondacks, NY -- Chicks Climbing

-- Sept 10 -- Hamilton, MT -- Lost Horse Climbing Festival

-- Sept 15-18 -- Salt Lake City -- HERA Climb4Life

-- Sept 17-18 -- Pocatello, ID -- Pocatello Pump

-- Sept 26 - Oct 1 -- Yosemite Valley, CA -- International Climbers' Meet

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Weekend Warrior: Videos to Get You Stoked

So we don't show many basejumping videos...probably because they make us a bit nervous.  This week's weekend warrior doesn't do much to change that.  Indeed, even though the guy in the video makes it out uninjured, it just reinforces our belief that rocks are made to climb, not to jump off of...

BASE Jump Chute Failure, Miracle Save! from Rock & Ice on Vimeo.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, July 29, 2011

Natural Anchors

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Bushes and Shrubs

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

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

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


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

Pinches and Thread-Throughs

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

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

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

Natural Chockstones

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

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

Class dismissed.  Now go build some natural anchors!

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Film Review: Sanctum

Outdoor adventure movies come and go, and unfortunately few of them are really very good.  The newly released to DVD film, Sanctum is just such a film.

The film follows a team of cave-divers, climbers and cave explorers on their quest to drop down a deep hole in Papa New Guinea in order to find a cave system that connects to the ocean. While exploring the depths of the cave a cyclone settles on land far above the team.  The team's exit is blocked and the water begins to rise.  This forces the team to descend deeper into the cave system and to try to find a way out to the ocean.

The plot is fascinating and it could have been an excellent outdoor adventure film.  But alas, the writing is quite poor.  The characters are weak.  And there are some sequences that are just plain bad...

The writing team for this film is made-up of people who haven't done much when it comes to narrative drama.  Screenwriter Andrew Wight has a number of underwater documentary films to his credit, but no real narrative film-writing experience. And screenwriter John Garvin has no other screenplays to his name.  Director Alister Grierson has a handful of other movie titles under his belt, but they all appear to be second-rate B films.

It is clear that the reason this movie was made was because super-director James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar, The Abyss) was behind the production team.  It's well-known that Cameron enjoys working with an underwater environment.  He has pioneered a number of underwater and deep-sea filming techniques for both his narrative blockbusters as well as for some of his lesser-known documentary works.

The underwater cave diving sequences in Sanctum are cool.  Some of them are really cool.  And this element of the film lends credence to the entire -- sometimes painful -- experience of watching the movie.  It is clear that the focus of the film was to play with this type of cinemetagrophy instead of telling a story that has some value.

Supposedly the story is based on real life events. It appears that the real-life version of the story wasn't anywhere near dramatic enough for Hollywood.  The problem with the real-life story was that, while dramatic, everybody survived and there were no cardboard villains twisting their mustaches.

In 1988 Sanctum screenwriter Andrew Wight was on an expedition that mirrored the one in the film.  His team was exploring a deep cave when a cyclone arrived causing a flash-flood which cut-off their exit route.  Wight and his companions were forced deeper into the cave system to find their exit.

The core of the story is really interesting, but the characters and the situations some of the characters put themselves in are somewhat ludicrous.

There is a tendency in Hollywood-style outdoor adventure films to paint one character as a gruff, hard, outdoor-type guy.  Usually this kind of character has seen it all.  And often there's a coldness or a latent level of violence in the character.  Think Clint Eastwood in The Eiger Sanction, or Scott Glen in Vertical Limit, or even Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet.  The character is so common in these types of movies, that he (and it usually is a he) is almost archetypal.

The problem with the gruff-outdoors-guy-who's-seen-it-all-and-is-an-ass because-of-it character is that he doesn't exist in real life.  Yeah, there are a lot of anti-social climbers out there.  And yeah, there are a lot of people who are obsessed with their objectives.  And indeed, there are a lot of people out there who will push it to the limit and beyond to achieve their goals.  But, you know what?  Even when they're arrogant, most of these people are still nice. They want to talk about their passion and they want to bring you into it. And most of them don't see death on a daily basis the way these types of characters seem to. 

The leader of the caving team, Frank (Richard Roxburgh) is just such a character.  At one point in the movie a man is seriously injured and Frank decides that the best way to deal with him is to drown him instead of to try and get him out.  This is absolutely crazy.  And not only that, but dealing with an injured character that they're trying to keep alive would have been a whole lot more interesting than murdering him.

There is another archetypal outdoor adventure movie character as well.  That's the billionaire playboy explorer, who is actually a coward. Ioan Gruffudd plays this character well because there's little to play.  It's a boring and simplistic characterization that needs to disappear from adventure films.

This is a women and minorities die first movie.  These types of films had their heyday with horror movies in the seventies, eighties and early nineties.  I thought that modern filmmakers were done with such a terrible story arc, but I was wrong.

And from a climbing perspective, one woman dies after she gets her hair caught in a belay device and decides that she should try to cut it out...accidentally cutting the rope.  She should have taken one of our classes...

Sanctum is not a good movie, but there are some interesting sequences and some moments where you're with the characters as they struggle to survive.  But when they start to talk, things fall apart...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Magnetron - Hint: It's not from a Summer Blockbuster

So I haven't seen the new Transformers movie yet. But there is a character in the old cartoon series named Megatron.  He was a great character and I hope he's in the movie.

I did see one review of the film that admitted that it was bad, very bad, but that it didn't matter. It essentially said that you should just "shut-up and eat your awesome."  I always have a hard time eating the awesome, unless there's some substance to it.

Every time a new piece of climbing equipment comes out, I can't wait to try it.  Unfortunately, not every new innovation has turned out to be as awesome as the hype,  I thought Link Cams were going to be the coolest addition to my rack, until I realized how easily they got stuck.  I felt the same about the GriGri 2, until half of them were recalled.  So I always try to temper my excitement...

But now I'm enamored with a new product, the Black Diamond Magnetron autolocking carabiner.  No, not the Megatron -- like the cartoon/movie -- but instead, the Megnetron!

As most of you are probably aware, autolockers are notoriously difficult to open and close.  Additionally, they don't operate well in snowy or icy conditions.  Black Diamond's new carabiners will supposedly deal with these issues.

Here is what Black Diamond wrote in their press release on the new product:

What’s so special about Magnetron Technology? One word: magnets. Yes, that’s right locking carabiners that utilize magnets and not twistlocks or screwlocks on the gates. Available on select locking carabiners in July 2012, our patent-pending Magnetron Technology is so revolutionary we decided to share a sneak preview with you now to get you stoked. Here’s the basics: using the power of magnetic fields to reinvent the locking carabiner, the Magnetron GridLock and the Magnetron RockLock locking carabiners combine maximum security and ease of use like never before.

•    Magnetic attraction to a steel insert in the carabiner nose keeps two independent arms securely locked
•    Locking arms must be individually depressed before the gate can be opened
•    Once open, opposing magnetic fields repel the arms to ensure smooth and reliable gate operation
•    Symmetrical design allows for easy one-handed operation (right or left)

For an in-depth look at the concept and development of Magnetron Technology, watch the video below, and then look for the Magnetron GridLock and the Magnetron RockLock to be in stores by July 2012. If you are a member of the outdoor industry, be sure to check out the Magnetron GridLock and the Magnetron RockLock in person at Black Diamond Equipment’s booth during the Summer 2011 OutDoor Europe and Outdoor Retailer tradeshows.

So yeah, I'm hungry for some awesome. I have high hopes for this new carabiner. Hopefully it will satisfy my hunger...for awhile...

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mountaineers Books Twitter Promotion runs through Friday 7/29!

We know some of you out there are serious Twitter fans.  And for those of you who are, we are teaming up with Mountaineers Books to do a special Twitter promotion.

All that you have to do in order to win, is log on and tell us what the first mountain or route was to obsess you...  When you tell us, be sure to add the hash tag #freedomofthehills to your answer. You will be automatically entered into a contest to win the eighth edition of Freedom of the Hills.  If you'd like to be entered more than once, RT initial posts on Monday to be entered again.

The contest will end on Friday at 2pm.

To learn more about this promotion, log onto Twitter and follow @AlpineInstitute and @MtneersBooks.

--Jason D. Martin

August and September Climbing Events

-- August 1-6 -- Stockholm, Sweden -- Stockholm Climbing Festival

-- August 4-7 -- Salt Lake City, Utah -- Outdoor Retailer Show

-- August 19-21 -- Adirondacks, NY -- Chicks Climbing

-- Sept 10 -- Hamilton, MT -- Lost Horse Climbing Festival

-- Sept 15-18 -- Salt Lake City -- HERA Climb4Life

-- Sept 17-18 -- Pocatello, ID -- Pocatello Pump

Friday, July 22, 2011

Best Climber Eats

In a short blog entry, it's not really possible to discuss all of the great dining options for climbers on the road. What is possible is a smattering of great dining options at a few popular climbing areas. Please feel free to add your own favorites in the comment section!
Squamish, BC:

  • Howe Sound Brew Pub - Cool ambiance with cool people and cool music make up for the okay menu and mediocre beer. This is the evening focal point for climbers, skiers, kite boarders and mountain bikers. As such it cannot be missed.
Leavenworth, WA:
  • Gustavs -- The somewhat limited menu is the downside of this climber's hangout. The upside is that there is great locally brewed beer in this faux Bavarian haunt.
  • South -- The best Mexican food in the area!
  • Munchen Haus -- This restaurant in "the corner" of the Leavenworth offers outside dining for those with a big Bavarian appetite.  If brauts and beer are your think, you can't go wrong with eh Munchen Haus.
  • Icicle Brewing -- This is less of a classic restaurant as it is a brewry.  The location offers meat or vegetable plates alongside excellent craft brews.
Washington Pass, WA
  • The Duck Brand -- This great little restaurant/inn is actually in the town of Winthrop which is about thirty miles from the pass. The menu includes both Mexican and American fare, all of which is really good. Bottomless tortilla chips and friendly service on top of excellent food make it well worth the travel time from the mountains.
Other Washington State Options -- Be sure to check out this website for great suggestions from members of the Washington Trails Association.

Eastern Sierra, CA
  • The Mobile Station -- One of the best kept secrets and perhaps one of the oddest secrets in the world of restaurants is the gas station/deli in Lee Vining, California. The Whoa Nellie Deli, found inside the Mobile Station, provides arguably the best food and the best musical entertainment on the entirety of the Eastern Sierra 395 corridor. People as far away as Bishop and Yosemite Valley will make special trips to see a band and have a meal at this gas station. Upon hearing this many people scoff at the idea that a gas station could compete with "real" restaurants. Those same people will -- after one meal at the Whoa Nellie Deli -- make entire vacation plans around eating there again.
Joshua Tree, CA:
  • Crossroads Cafe and Tavern -- This kitchy little restaurant features a cool ambiance but limited hours of operation. In particular, the breakfasts stand out as tasty and above average.
  • Santanas Mexican -- This 24 hour Mexican restaurant is cheap and greasy with a capital "g." Though many might see Santanas as a little too cheap and greasy before a hard day of climbing, it is a popular after-climb destination. Lots of food plus lots of calories equals a full stomach and a happy climber!
Red Rocks, NV:

Red Rock Canyon is just 19 miles from the world famous Las Vegas Strip. In other words, it is minutes away from more five star restaurants than anywhere else in the world. The following selections are common climber destinations and hang-outs that mix good food with great prices.
  • BJs Restaurant and Brewery -- Just minutes from Red Rock Canyon, this restaurant and brewery offers an excellent variety of different foods, beers and appetizers. The place has a very family oriented feel to it and there are often kids running around the restaurant. There are certainly a lot of options in Vegas, but this seems to be the most attractive to many climbers as it does not really feel like a Sin City restaurant. The downside of its ambiance is that it is a very busy destination and there are often long waits.
  • Red Rock Hotel and Casino Buffet -- Those who have spent a significant amount of time in Vegas are over the whole buffet scene. They could care less. But there are still a lot of climbers who want to eat themselves silly and for them, the "Feast Buffet" at the Red Rock Hotel and Casino is just a hop, skip and a jump away and will please the bottomless belly.
  • John Cutter -- This little bar/restaurant hasn't been around for too long, but it is becoming really popular with the locals.  This is primarily because most climbers finish their day around Happy Hour, and John Cutter's has $1 beer and $1 sliders...
Zion National Park, UT:
  • Zion Pizza and Noodle Co. -- The beer is definitely weak. It is Utah. But there is a great deal of variety at this scenic little Italian restaurant. And though it is often crowded with visitors from around the world, it's a place well worth the wait.
Talkeetna, AK
  • West Rib Pub and Grill -- After coming out of the Alaska Range, people are hungry and thirsty.  And the West Rib is one place that will definitely cover a big hunger and a big thirst.  Try the monster McKinley Burger after climbing the mountain; or slurp down an Ice Axe Ale, but don't drink it too fast, the servers will only provide patrons two of these beers with 9% alcohol content.
  • Talkeetna Roadhouse -- This is the place for breakfast. The "family style" space provides the opportunity to make new friends while testing their famous sourdough pancakes.
  • Denali Brewing Company/Twister Creek -- This is the new kid on the block when it comes to AK dining. With excellent beer and a varied menu, this is a place that can't be missed.
While researching this blog post, I decided that I should get some opinions beyond those of myself, my wife and a few of our guides. As a result I started threads some time ago on and on for people to post their favorite eats at their local crags throughout the country. To read these threads, click here and here.

For more discussions about great places for hungry mountain people to visit, click here and here.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Non-Lockers vs. Lockers at the Power Point

At a beginning level, climbing tends to be rule-based. These rules that you are provided at the start of your career are important. They will help to keep you safe.

It should be noted that once you have a few years of experience, there is some room to re-evaluate some of the rules. However, this should only take place after you have climbed with a lot of different experienced people.

One of the commonly quoted rules for toproped climbing is that one should always use two opposite and opposed lockers at the master point.

Two opposite and opposed lockers.

The idea is that there is no way that the rope could possibly jump out of two opposite and opposed lockers. And while it may be possible -- however unlikely -- for movement in the system to cause the one of the gates to become unlocked and to open, it would be nearly impossible for the both lockers to become unlocked and to be opened.

In the guiding world, two opposite and opposed lockers are considered to be industry standard. The liklihood of a single locking carabiner becoming unlocked and opening is incredibly low. However, this is one of the rules that you learn when you start to climb and it has become so integral to outdoor groups throughout the world in toproping that it has become the industry standard across the board.

Industry standard is one of those phrases that we should pay attention to in climbing. There are very few things that can be considered industry standard in the climbing world.

That said, it is incredibly unlikely that a single locker in a toprope system will fail. But what if something does go wrong? And what if you were toproping in a way that was outside this standard? Certainly you would feel terrible, and not only that, you would also be hammered by the internet forums, the blogs, and the magazines for doing something considered to be outside the norm. As such, it's probably a good idea to stay within the norm.

Many climbers use two opposite and opposed non-lockers in lieu of two opposite and opposed lockers. Two opposite and opposed non-lockers should be considered the equivalent of one locking carabiner. For non-lockers to have equivalency to two opposite and opposed lockers, there must be three opposite and opposed non-lockers.

Three opposite and opposed non-lockers and equivalent to two opposite and opposed lockers.

Rules in climbing exist to create a wide margin of safety. There's really no reason at all not to have a wide margin of safety in a toproped environment.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July and August Climbing Events

--July 14 - 18 -- New River Gorge, Vest Virginia -- Homo Climbtastic 

--August 1-6 -- Stockholm, Sweden -- Stockholm Climbing Festival

--August 4-7 -- Salt Lake City, Utah -- Outdoor Retailer Show

--August 19-21 -- Adirondacks, NY -- Chicks Climbing

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weekend Warriors- Videos to get you Stoked!!!

Climbing in our Backyard!

The infamous Chris Sharma's first ascent of Dreamcatcher in Squamish, BC. It's only 5.14d, so you should jump on it this weekended.  I'll belay...

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Dangers of Glissading

Yep, you can find them in just about every issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering. They have unwieldy headlines like:
  • "Climber injured in Glissade Accident"
  • "Out of Control Glissade Leads to Fatality"
  • "Inexperience, Lack of Proper Clothing and Glissade with Crampons On"
Gissading is an incredibly fun endeavor. I've often felt that after achieving a somewhat physical summit that a good glassade run back down makes it all worth it. It's as if nature gave you something back for all of the work that you did to get up there. The desire to glissade though should be tempered by the reality...and the reality is that a lot of people get hurt glissading.

Most injuries take place because an individual breaks one of the cardinal rules. To stay safe, the best thing to do is to take these rules seriously.

The Cardinal Rules of Glissading
  1. Never glissade with crampons on. If you're wearing crampons it means that you're probably on hard snow or ice. This means that should you glissade, you will slide really fast. If you slide really fast and you catch a crampon spike, your leg will snap like a dry twig. As such one should never glissade with crampons on.
  2. Never glissade on a rope team. If one person loses control on a rope team, then others may do so as well.
  3. Never glissade on a glacier. It's likely that you'll be roped up if you're on a glacier so if you do glissade, you will be breaking two rules at once. We don't glissade on glaciers because of the possibility of hidden crevasses.
  4. Always make sure that you can see where you're going. This should make sense. If you can't see, then you could end up sliding into a talus field or off a cliff.
  5. Make sure that there is a good run-out. A good run-out is imperative. One should certainly avoid glissading above dangerous edges, boulders or trees.
These rules are quite black and white. There are few gray areas in glissading. If there is some question, then the best thing to do is to err on the side of caution. Though you might be tired, sometimes walking down the mountain is the safer alternative.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 11, 2011

The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

I just got back from a climb of Forbidden Peak over the Forth of July weekend.  Conditions are about as good as they could be right now, with the coulour still completely filled with snow, and the ridge mostly bare and dry.  We dropped our campons a couple hundred feet above the top of the coulour and then continued in our boots from there to the summit.  

Two Skiers in  Boston Basin.  

We did not seem to bother the year round inhabitants of our camp.


 We did not get a super early start, and were at the base of the coulour by 8.
Starting up the coulour.

Above the shrund.  

Somewhere on the ridge heading up. 
Seen somewhere on the ridge.  WTF was someone trying to accomplish with the blue cord added to this anchor?  Thanks, I can add this to my collection of crappy anchor photos.  

Heading down.

Another party below us on the ridge.  

James down leading. 

Another Pika back at camp.  

Skiers with Johannesburg Mountain in the background.  

--Alasdair Turner, Instructor and Guide

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July and August Climbing Events

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

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

-- July 14 -- Portland, OR -- Rocky Butte Cleanup

-- July 14 - 18 -- New River Gorge, Vest Virginia -- Homo Climbtastic 

-- July 16 -- Eldorado Spings, Co -- Zanskar Odyssey Flim presented by the American Alpine Club 

-- August 1-6 -- Stockholm, Sweden -- Stockholm Climbing Festival

--August 4-7 -- Salt Lake City, Utah -- Outdoor Retailer Show

--August 19-21 -- Adirondacks, NY -- Chicks Climbing

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Weekend Warriors- Videos to get you Stoked!!!

Here are ten minutes and 37 seconds of pure drool factor in this video!
Long Ways - Johnny Copp on Alpine Climbing from Patagonia's Tin Shed.


Friday, July 8, 2011

When is Trash in the Mountains, Not Trash?

Walking through the forest, I notice a plastic bag, a candy-wrapper, and a an old glove.  There is little doubt that these items are nothing more than trash and that they need to be removed.  I regularly pick up garbage in different climbing areas and on the trail; it's part of being a good steward to the area.

Old bottles, old cans, rusted metal, that's all garbage too, right...?

I mean somebody just carelessly left it there, so it much be garbage to be thrown away...

What about native potsherds, arrowheads, or stone tools?  Somebody just left that there too, so it too must just be trash...right?

Ironically, it's not always trash.  Or at least the federal government doesn't see it as trash.  The Archaeological Protection Act of 1979 essentially says that an object is no longer trash if it has been discarded for over 100 years.  At that point it becomes illegal to remove the item from where you found it.

That's right, it is super-illegal to take home that arrowhead you found.  Why?  Because as soon as an archaeological artifact is removed from its resting place, it loses its value.  Part of an archaeologist's job is to determine why something is where it is.  The location of an object gives perspective to the object.

Native objects are one thing, but old cans and bottles are another.  It may not even be clear that an old can or bottle is old enough to qualify under ARPA (that's the snazzy shorthand for Archaeological Protection Act) for protection.

The fourth principal of Leave No Trace is to "Leave What You Find."  The intent is certainly not for you to leave obvious modern trash, but instead to leave these cultural artifacts for others to discover and enjoy in the setting that they've lived in for over a century.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

3:1 Haul with a GriGri

A lot of climbers get really wrapped up in using a GriGri on the ground, either for top-roping or for belaying a leader.  But a GriGri can also be used effectively at the top of a crag, for belaying a second.

One very nice aspect to using a GriGri as your top-of-the-crag belay device, is that it can easily be converted to a hauling system.  If your partner can't follow the pitch, you can help him through the difficulties, by quickly switching the GriGri from belay mode to hauling mode.

In this photo, AAI Guide Kevin Hogan, hauls a climber using a 3:1 system 
with a GriGri as a ratchet.

To swap your GriGri from belay mode to haul mode, you must simply:
  1. To start, belay directly off the anchor with your GriGri.  Make sure that it is loaded properly so that the climber strand is going to the climber.  It is also good to make sure that the handle to the GriGri is facing away from the rock.
  2. As you belay, make sure not to take your break-hand off the break-strand.
  3. When the person gets stuck, tie a catastrophe knot on the break-strand.  This could be an overhand or a figure-eight on a bight.
  4. Take a short loop of cord and tie a friction-hitch to the load strand.  This can be a prussik-hitch, a kliemheist, or an autoblock hitch.
  5. Clip a carabiner to the loop and then clip the break-strand to the carabiner.
  6. Take the catastrophe knot out.
  7. Yell down to the climber to climb, in order to help you.
  8. Then haul on the haul strand.
This is essentially a z-pulley system and so there is a mechanical advantage of 3:1.  In other words, you're pulling a third of the person's weight, plus friction.  This isn't really enough mechanical advantage to haul a person a significant distance, but it is more than enough to help a person pull a move or two.

Following is a video that I took of AAI Guides Andrew Yasso and Erin Smart using this system:

We should note that a Trango Cinch will work exactly the same way, as will autoblocking devices like the Reverso and the Guide XP.

The GriGri is often overlooked as a tool by people who spend a lot of time on multi-pitch terrain or in the mountains, but it is an excellent device for single-pitch climbing.  This application of it's use is only one of the many tricks that this device and others like it are able to perform.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 4, 2011

What's Up with Rock Shoes?

You've heard it before and you'll hear it again. It happens all over the country with a carbon copy of the same clueless individual at the climbing shop. "Dude, you need shoes that hurt," he tells you. "They should be at least two sizes too small for your feet!"

Two sizes too small...? Is there any truth to this?

The answer is yes and no. What the yahoo behind the counter forgot to do was to ask what you're going to do with your rock shoes. Are you going to boulder a lot? Are you trying to do hard sport climbs? Or are you headed out to do long multi-pitch trad routes? Each answer should lead the clerk to a different recommendation...not to the generic two sizes too small answer.

To understand rock shoes, one must understand that the shoes are tools. And different tools are constructed differently for a different job. There are two major styles of rock shoe, board-lasted and slip-lasted.

These are shoes that feel literally stiffer than the alternative. The midsole of these shoes are particularly stiff. This stiffness comes from an internal structure on the bottom of the shoe called a last. In this style of shoe the last is rigid, but it is important to note that this is not the case with all lasts.

Board-lasted models are excellent all-around shoes for two major reasons. First, they work equally well in all environments. They work well for edging and friction as well as for cracks. Second, they do not require a super tight fit to perform well. As a result, this style of shoe is recommended as an all day shoe for all levels of climbers and as a first shoe for beginners.

When it comes to fit, all shoes should be somewhat tight. I often buy board-lasted shoes that are a half size to a full size too small. A half size is good if you plan to wear them in the alpine with socks and a full size is good if your plan is to go go barefoot in them. Don't forget that your shoes will stretch and that if your toes are moving around it will be hard focus force where you want it to be.

These shoes are designed for sensitivity. They are built around a sock-like last that allows a climber to focus his foot strength on the smallest of edges. Slip-lasted shoes have little support, require a tight fit and are not recommended for those who have not yet developed the prerequisite foot strength.

Slip-lasted shoes were designed primarily for bouldering and sport climbing. In these endeavors a climber might only wear his shoes for a very short period of time and thus a tight fit is more tolerable. This is the type of shoe that an individual might get in an extra tight size. One to one and a half sizes too small is good for sport climbing...and for those who engage in bouldering, they are among the only ones that should consider wearing shoes that are two sizes too small...

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July and August Climbing Events

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

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

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

-- July 14 - 18 -- New River Gorge, Vest Virginia -- Homo Climbtastic 

-- July 16 -- Eldorado Spings, Co -- Zanskar Odyssey Flim presented by the American Alpine Club 

-- August 1-6 -- Stockholm, Sweden -- Stockholm Climbing Festival

--August 4-7 -- Salt Lake City, Utah -- Outdoor Retailer Show

--August 19-21 -- Adirondacks, NY -- Chicks Climbing

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Mug Dilema

Well, it's not really that much of a dilemma.  A few years ago, somebody suggested to me that one could save space and go lighter if he ditched his mug for hot drinks.  The idea was that you're already carrying water-bottles...why not use those instead?

So I did.  I ditched the mug and started to drink all of my hot fluids out of my Nalgene bottles.  This worked for awhile, until I found out about polycarbonate and Bisphenol A.

If you've had you haven't heard some rumblings about this, you've probably been in the backcountry too much. This controversy set the outdoor blogs and forums on fire a few years ago.

Essentially, many water bottles are made out of polycarbonate.  The problem with this is that the bottles may leech Bisphenol A into the contents.  This is exacerbated in hot liquids, older bottles, or in bottles that you store fluid in for a long period of time.

The problem with Bisphenol A is that this estrogen-like chemical has been linked to breast cancer and the onset of early puberty. Studies have also raised concerns about the effect of such feminizing hormones on men, such as breast enlargement or dropping semen counts.

So after finding out about this, I wasn't that psyched on my water-bottles any more.  I know that many companies have taken steps to keep this chemical out of their bottles, but I didn't want to chance it.  As a result, I invested in a little metal water bottle, which mostly worked well.

It was always a bit difficult to hold the plastic bottles after filling them with boiling tea. This was much worse when I used the metal bottle.  Indeed, I actually made a little cosy in order to comfortably hold the bottle.

And so all was well for a time...  But then it happened.

Inexplicably, I put a plastic water-bottle into my pack instead of a metal bottle.  I don't know why I did this.  And the bottle I put in the bag wasn't from one of the well-known bottle manufactures. No, it was from a gear rep and it had a company name on it...

I didn't think this would matter.  It looked just as heavy as any Nalgene bottle I'd carried in the past.  But it turns out that it wasn't.  When I put my hot water into the bottle, it changed shape and became something all together different.

A bottle melted out of form by boiling water.

This had never happened to me before, so I was a bit shocked.  I didn't expect the bottle to melt.

The moral of the story isn't that I've gone back to carrying a mug, but instead to say, check your bottles with hot water in them before you take them into the backcountry,  If there's something weird about them, it's better to know ahead of time than during a trip...

--Jason D. Martin