Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Economic Power of the Outdoors

We spend a lot of time on this blog defending parks and recreation. We spend an incredible amount of time promoting human powered recreation, while defending the areas where we climb, hike and ski. We have a passion for these things. We love the outdoors and we love the wilderness...

But sometimes this passion, this need for preservation, gets in the way. And we forget one of the most vital arguments that we have: the economic argument. We are a business that employs dozens of guides. There are thousands of climbing guides in the United States. But once again, this clouds the reality of the situation...

How many guides are there out there when you add hunting, fishing, rafting, hiking, horseback riding, photo tours, cycling, and nature walks? How many jobs are there when you add all the equipment needed to participate in these activities? How many people do these activities on their own, spending money and traveling the world in pursuit of their passions?

Outdoors people are a force in and unto themselves. When we are fighting for conservation or preservation, this is something that we have to remember. Every time a crag closes or wilderness is lost, there is an impact on recreation and recreation dollars.

Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, recently wrote a piece for the White House blog on this subject that has been reprinted here:

President Obama has made it clear that job creation is, and must remain, front and center for his Administration day in and day out.

With that in mind, I traveled to New England this week to highlight the economic power of outdoor recreation and tourism to create jobs. Hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation contribute an estimated $730 billion to the U.S. economy each year. And one in twenty U.S. jobs are in the recreation economy – more than there are doctors, lawyers or teachers.

More than 12 million Americans hunt; more than 30 million Americans fish; and three out of four Americans engage in some kind of healthy outdoor activity.

A letter I recently received from a Canadian family shows just how big an impact tourism and recreation can have. The family spent 42 days on the road, exploring national parks across the U.S. Over the course of their travels, they stayed in motels and hotels, ate in restaurants and spent money in local businesses from coast to coast:

“Our family spent almost $20,000 on our trip,” the letter reads, “almost all of it at local stores and services as we traveled. Without the National Park Service, our destination would have probably been somewhere in Europe.”

Many small and large businesses in New England are also key drivers of the outdoor economy. A store like LL Bean is a shining example of how a home-grown business can fulfill the American dream. What started almost 100 years ago as one man’s idea to sell a waterproof boot to hunters has grown into a company that today employs 5,000 people and generates 1.4 billion in revenue.

The businesses I visited this week -- including L.L. Bean’s headquarters in Freeport, Maine, Bibens Ace Hardware in Colchester, Vermont, and Eastern Mountain Sports near Portsmouth, New Hampshire -- demonstrate the power of outdoor recreation to create jobs and spur economic growth in communities both in New England and across our country. When we invest in conservation and encourage people to reconnect with nature, we aren’t just investing in the land, water, and wildlife we love, but also in our economic future.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 29, 2011

American Alpine Institute Newsletter

The American Alpine Institute will be launching its monthly newsletter later this week. If you like what you read on our blog, what you find on our twitter account, and what you see on facebook, you'll love this!

To sign up for the newsletter, please click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Mammut 150 Year Anniversary

Mammut is celebrating its anniversary with the biggest peak project in history: 150 teams will be scaling 150 mountains around the world.  The year of mountains started in August with an ascent of the Jungrau in Europe.  Mammut is promoting this as the biggest peak project in history.

When I mentioned this at the office, we were hard-pressed to come up with many companies that have been in continual existence for 150 years.  Though I have little to back this up, I would suspect that Mammut is the oldest climbing related company operating.

To learn more about Mammut's peak project, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, August 28, 2011

September and October Climbing Events

-- Sept 2-5 -- Penticton, BC -- Skaha Climbing Festival

-- Sept 9-11 -- Gower Penninsula, UK -- Gower Climbing Festival

--September 10 -- Index, WA -- Craggin Classic

-- 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 

--Oct 1 -- Portland, OR -- RBCC Meet and Greet Party 

--Oct 1 - Nov. 5 -- Various Southeast Locations -- Triple Crown Bouldering Comp

--Oct 7 - 8 -- Seattle, WA -- Mountainfilm Tour

--October 7 - 9 -- Red River Gorge, KY -- Rocktoberfest

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weekend Warrior: Videos to Get You Stoked!

A few weeks ago we showed a somewhat extreme BASE-jumping video. We received a handful of emails after that video about basejumping.

We are sorry if we offended anyone by saying things like, "BASE-jumping is a fringe sport." Or "BASE-jumping is googly-eye crazy." Or for saying that BASE-jumpers are "absolutely nutso." We know that people say those things about climbers too, and we know that those comments just not true.


ou guys are nuts!

I mean, I'm sorry if I offended anyone. Especially you, Tom. Tom Dancs is a former AAI guide and an all around great guy. Tom is a major proponent of BASE-jumping and has lobbied to change the rules in order to allow BASE-jumping in national parks. I had the pleasure to work with him once or twice while he was here and know for a fact that he's not crazy. It must just be the rest of those basejumpers. They're the adrenaline freaks...!

Or maybe I'm stereotyping, like others do about climbers.

Naw. That couldn't possibly be it. I'm wayyyy to open-minded to be prejudiced against those crazy, absolutely out-of-their-minds, BASE-jumpers...

Anyway, enough about my thoughts. Tom was recently featured in an excellent film on BASE-jumping entitled, "Right Here, Right Now." Enjoy!

Right Here, Right Now from Crest Pictures on Vimeo.

-Jason D. Martin

Friday, August 26, 2011

Book Review - Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher

Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher
by Mark Houston and Kathy Cosley
Mountaineers Books; $21.95

Most bookstores and climbing shops have a shelf set aside where one can find a number of “how-to” volumes on alpine climbing and mountaineering. For the aspiring alpinist, picking through such tomes can be a daunting task. Which author has the most experience? Which book is the easiest to read? Which provides the most information? In other words, which of these books is the best? Mountaineers Books has answered each of these questions with their new instructional manual, Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher by Mark Houston and Kathy Cosley.

Houston and Cosley have over fifty years of combined experience as instructors, guides, and climbers. They guided for AAI for many years in the Cascades, Alaska Range, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Nepal. This depth of experience in all three capacities is directly reflected in Techniques to Take You Higher. The book is laid out in an easy to read format that addresses everything an alpine climber might need to know. The book starts with the dynamic psychological skill of making informed decisions in the mountains and then works its way through each of the technical skills required for a climber to move safely and effectively in an alpine environment.

One very nice element of the book are anecdotes throughout the text that highlight the value of each chapter’s content. For example, Houston writes about the extraction of a climber from a crevasse who fell in while glissading during a discussion on the dangers of that method of descent; and Cosley writes about dealing with a victim of AMS in a section on altitude illness. These stories scattered throughout the book reemphasize the importance of the skills being discussed while providing entertaining tangents.

Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher is an excellent resource for the beginning to intermediate alpinist. Indeed, the collected experiences and instruction of Mark Houston and Kathy Cosley might be well worth a read by even the most seasoned of alpine climbers.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Top Managed Belays

Most leaders will do one of two things at the top of a route. They'll either build an anchor and lower off or they'll bring up a second to clean the route. It makes a lot of sense to bring up a second if you're going to continue up a multi-pitch line or if it isn't possible to rappel off.

In essence the leader who is stationed above the climber is working at a top-managed site. He is belaying the climber from above and is not top-roping. Most people only belay from above after they have lead a climb, but there are a number of situations where it is advantageous to actually top-rope from the top of a climb.

A Climber Belays from the Top
Photo by Jason Martin

Acadia and Ouray are both popular places where many routes require top-managment, climbers literally have little to no choice in many parts of these parks. Acadia is a climbing area situated on a series of sea cliffs. One can only access the crags by lowering down or rappelling down. Ouray is an ice park in Colorado. All of the routes are accessed from the top and most people lower in and then climb back out on a top-rope.

Most places don't require a top-managed set-up like the preceding examples. But there are many advantages to managing a crag from the top.

Value of a Top-Managed Site:
  1. There is no chance that rocks or other debris will strike a belayer or another climber below. This is particularly nice in ice climbing. In Ouray, it is common for climbers to lower one another into a canyon to climb back out. There are very few people at the base that might be hit by falling ice.
  2. There is fifty percent less rope in the system. Less rope in the system allows for less elongation in a dynamic rope when a climber falls on a top-rope. This is a great advantage if there are a lot of ledges on a climb that someone might twist their ankle on if they take a short dynamic fall.
  3. If a climb is over a half of a rope length, it is often easier to manage the route from the top than to deal with two ropes tied together.
  4. This provides you with the ability to easily monitor the anchor system.
  5. Smaller loads are placed on the anchor than in a traditional top-rope set-up. In a traditional set-up, the physics of the system make it so that both the climber and the belayer's weight are on the anchor whenever a climber falls or is lowered.
  6. Occasionally, the bottom of the crag is dangerous. Perhaps you are working on sea cliffs or in another medium that makes the base of the climb hazardous. Numerous crags have parking lots above the routes. In many scenarios the bottom of the climbs are steep and vegetated. In some cases, they are simply hard to access via a trail.
  7. If you know any quick hauling systems, it's nice to manage from the top because you can assist a person if they get stuck climbing.
  8. If you want to get a lot of top-rope routes in without leading, it may be fastest to top-manage the climbing area.
A Climber Lowers his Partner from a Top-Managed Site
Photo by Jason Martin

Disadvantages to a Top-Managed Site:
  1. It is difficult to see and to coach the climber that has been lowered down. Sometimes it is also difficult to hear.
  2. The climber's rope is more likely to go over edges when managed from the top.
  3. There may be more impact on a fragile cliff-top ecosystem.
  4. If there are many climbers waiting to climb, it may be more dangerous to manage the route from the top. There is more exposure and more opportunities to make a mistake near a cliff-edge.
  5. People are unused to it and often don't want to try something new.
The most common way to access climbs in a top-managed situation is for the climber to lower down and then climb back up. Occasionally, a climber will rappel to the bottom and then climb back up, but this is not quite as safe as lowering. Lowering is safer because the belayer can check the climber's knot before he leaves.

This blog isn't to say that top-management is better. While it may be better in some situations, this article was actually designed to give you a quick taste of an alternative to regular top-roping. The best way to understand the strengths and weaknesses of such a technique is to experiment. Try top-managing at a crag you are familiar with for a day. It will be a very educational experience and will definately put another tool into your climber's toolbox.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 22, 2011

Glacier Peak: Washington State's Most Remote Volcano

Glacier Peak should be on every Cascade mountaineer’s tick list.  While folks averse to walking might complain about the long approach (about 15 miles each way), it is perhaps the most scenic and ecologically diverse that I’ve ever done in the Cascades.  Our trip began with a seven mile bike ride up the closed USFS 49 road, since it was temporarily closed due to a miniscule washout.  The biking was quite reasonable and went quickly with mountain bikes and pull-behind trailers.

Biking up the road. Unfortunately, I didn't have a trailer.

After we stashed the bikes at the end of the road, the hike begin on a well-maintained trail along the North Fork of the Sauk River, wandering through an incredible old growth forest that houses some of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. We spent the first night camping near the historic Mackinaw Shelter and prepared for an early start the next day.

Massive trees along the Sauk River

The morning found us climbing up a series of switchbacks in the cool morning air before we gained a long traverse out to White Pass.  The wildflowers (Tiger Lily, Columbine, Lupine, Paintbrush, and lots more!) were blooming in the meadows just below the pass and made each turn an exciting proposition. Beyond the pass, the trail was snow-covered and we made our way to Foam Pass and our first real views of Glacier Peak.

Taking in the view.

A couple hours later we settled into a great bivy site near Glacier Gap and prepared for our alpine start.  Clear skies boded well for us and in the morning we found perfect cramponing conditions from the very first step onto the snow.

Crampons on at the Gerdine Glacier

The Gerdine Ridge is a better-than-average moderate volcano route.  Most Cascade volcano routes are loose and chossy, while the Gerdine is primarily compacted pumice and somewhat solid rock.  All of the tedious scrambling sections are easily bypassed to the east on snow, which I highly recommend.  Around 8000′, we left the ridge and traversed northeast on the Gerdine Glacier to an obvious col where it intersects with the Cool Glacier.  Easy travel on a largely uncrevassed glacier then led to a pumice saddle, which we used to gain the final headwall, a nice 35 degree snow climb, and hit the top in just five hours from camp!

The Cool Glacier and the summit

On the final headwall with Gerdine Ridge behind

Mike on the summit

The descent back down the route was uneventful and presented incredible views from Mt. Stuart to Mt. Adams to the Olympics.  Back in camp, we settled in for a fantastic and warm afternoon of napping and eating in preparation for our early start the coming morning.  The hike out was surprisingly fast, even with a couple of detours (I have an inability to walk past granite boulders), and a nice nap at the Mackinaw Shelter.  The last half hour of the trip was perhaps the most leisurely of all–speeding down a gravel road with a full backpack pushing you along!  What an incredible trip!

A little granitic bouldering near Glacier Gap

Ron getting back to White Pass

Back to the car at 30mph!

Glacier Peak climbs are offered from late June to August every year. If you would like to learn more, please contact the American Alpine Institute at 360-671-1505.

--Kurt Hicks, AAI Instructor and Guide

Sunday, August 21, 2011

August and September Climbing Events

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

-- Sept 2-5 -- Penticton, BC -- Skaha Climbing Festival

-- Sept 9-11 -- Gower Penninsula, UK -- Gower Climbing Festival

-- 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, August 20, 2011

Weekend Warrior: Videos to Get You Stoked!

Climbers come up with some crazy things to do with their spare time...

Enough said:

Jumping off Cliffs in Utah from Mason Earle on Vimeo.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ratchets for Rescue

As stated in the past, we love Mike Barter's videos. The Canadian guide is currently doing perhaps the best job at creating instructional videos for climbing...and usually they're pretty funny too!

Recently Mike posted a video on ratchets for rescue. One major component of any hauling system in a crevasse or rock rescue scenario is the ratchet. This is essentially the element of the system that allows the rescuer to retain any advantage that he has gained in the rescue.

Mike's video discusses four different types of ratchets:

1) Autoblocking Device:

Examples of autoblocking devices include the Petzel Reverso, the Black Diamond Guide ATC, the Trango GiGi and the B52. Each of these devices allows one to pull rope up through the device, but won't allow the load line to release without a few shenanigans...more on the shenanigans in a different post.

2) Garda Hitch

Also known as the alpine clutch, this quick system is very effective. However, it is extremely important to check that the hitch has been tied properly before using it in a rescue scenario.

3) Self-Minding Prussik

If you have taken a basic course from the American Alpine Institute, you know that we don't usually teach a means to create a self-minding prussik hitch. In the system that we teach, we leave the prussik cord a bit longer so that the rescuer can mind it himself. This is not quite as effective as either having a pulley that is designed to mind the prussik or a tube-style belay device that will operate the same way.

In the video, Mike also quickly demonstrates a way to make this prussik load-releasable by adding a munter-mule into the shelf. A load-releasable system is desirable in all rescue applications.

4) GriGri

The Petzl GriGri and the Trango Cinch are both highly underutilized tools for rescue. In part, it's because they are heavy, so a lot of climbers don't take them on long routes or into the alpine, but they are very effective. They work as both a pulley and a ratchet simultaneously and are -- by their very nature -- load releasable.

It is imperative that anyone going into the mountains has a rudimentary understanding of ratcheting in rescue. If you haven't had the opportunity to take a class, it might be very valuable to watch this video a few times over and to practice each of the skills shown...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Piton

We don't really use pitons very much anymore. Some climbers will use them on mixed mountain routes and other will use them for high end aid climbing, but even in these venues pins are certainly less used than in the past.


There are two reasons. First, modern clean climbing equipment like nuts and cams have replaced the widespread need for pins. And second, modern pitons tend to damage the rock. Every pin placement subtly changes things until you have very well-defined pin scars.

The Canadian guide Mike Barter has put together a very nice video on pitons and piton placement. Check it out below:

There are two notes that I'd like to make about Mike's cleaning method.

First, some climbers will use a "cleaner carabiner" that they clip to the pin while pounding on it. This is then attached to the climber. This is so that the pin is not dropped while taking it out. The cleaner carabiner is commonly a very old and very beat-up carabiner. It's important that it is not a carabiner that you will be climbing on, as it will likely be struck by the hammer when the pin is being cleaned.

And second, Mike clips two quick draws together to pull the pin out. While this is fine for an occasional pin, climbers on big walls that require a lot of hammering will use a funkness device to pull out pitons. This is essentially a metal cable that has been designed specifically for this purpose. To see a funkness device, please click here.

Practicing with pitons is a tricky thing. The fact that they damage the rock makes them heavily frowned upon. I would strongly suggest that ground-school with this kind of hardware should take place primarily in areas where there is little to no climbing, otherwise someone may get very upset at you...

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, August 14, 2011

August and September Climbing Events

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

-- Sept 2-5 -- Penticton, BC -- Skaha Climbing Festival

-- Sept 9-11 -- Gower Penninsula, UK -- Gower Climbing Festival

-- 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, August 13, 2011

Weekend Warrior: Videos to Get You Stoked!

It is that time again. Time t0 throw off the suits and ties (or whatever you wear to work) and dawn our respected suits of outdoor armor. Whether it be shorts and t-shirt for some classic cragging or the full-on gore-tex tux for some hardcore alpine endeavors...whatever you wear the important thing is getting out there and playing outside. To help you get psyched we've got a few great videos for you.

The first is the trailer for the seldom seen classic climbing movie "Take it to the Limit". I watched this last night and was simply amazed at the filmmaking and acting quality. If you haven't seen it yet, watch it and be prepared to laugh...a lot!

The second video is from another classic piece of climbing cinema, "Cliffhanger". Whenever I see footage from this movie I was wonder what type of impact Sylvester would have had on the climbing world if he hadn't went the Hollywood route. I mean, you can't fake this footage...right?

And last but certainly not least...Vertical Limit! This film is quite possibly Chris O'Donnell's finest work...which I realize isn't saying much (I apologize ahead of time to all three of his fans). After all, only the best of the best could pull off the high flying chasm jump at the end of this trailer, talk about shoulder and grip strength!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Snowmobiles or Human Powered Winter Recreation - What do you want to see?

On Friday, August 5th, the Wenatchee World ran an editorial about snowmobiles in the National Forests.  The editorial was written by Robert Mullins and Gus Bekker, both of the Wenatchee Mountains Coalition.  It has been reprinted here with their permission.

The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, an area east of the Cascade Crest in Washington State, is considering a revision to the current forest service operating plan.  Those in favor of motorized winter use have a powerful voice.  It's time for us who love the quiet of the mountains to make our voices heard as well:

Will it be Snowmobile National Forest, or expanded wilderness? What is the reasonable middle ground? The short answer is, please, U.S. Forest Service, manage the winter forest for multiple recreational uses, in some reasonable balance, in consideration of the impacts to nature, and for all of the public owners of the forest.

We are asking that the local Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest managers designate significant areas for non-motorized winter recreation — an activity of the majority of off-highway winter forest users. We ask also for reasonable management of the single dominant use — snowmobiles, by a relative few in the general public. The accessible areas set aside currently for winter non-motorized use are pitifully small. Most wilderness is inaccessible in winter to most people, although snowmobile riding allows access in some examples.

Skiers, snowshoers, winter campers, dog sledders, skijorers, climbers, runners, even snowmobile-assisted ski tourers, seek pristine, safe, snow-covered areas for quiet recreation. The challenge is to find quiet and pristine accessible areas away from the current typical situation of rutted, offroad, snowmobile speedways. USFS Wenatchee Forest management dates back to the days when snowmobiles were ridden almost entirely on roads.

The recent advancements of snowmobile technology and horsepower have allowed for the exponential expansion of offroad snowmobile riding in the winter forest. Areas normally ridden now include to the high summits of 5,000-plus feet to 7,000-foot peaks of the Wenatchee Mountains crest, from Mission Ridge to Ingalls Lake, and also across the wilderness boundary deep into the Alpine Lakes. To contrast, in summer, we all expect that when hiking a forest trail we will not see or hear loud, intrusive, motorized vehicles riding all over the offroad areas of the forest, and close to us as we hike (exception are trails legal for motorcycles or ATVs). Why, we ask, has USFS allowed the current snowmobile free-for-all to evolve on the winter forest?

Snowmobile riding is great recreation. However, that activity must be managed as are other uses. Cars, trucks, Jeeps, motorcycles, mountain bikes, motor boats, horses, and even camping and hiking — all are managed in regard to where and how they are used on the forest. There has been little or no USFS consideration, planning, NEPA process, EIS, request for public input, not even a formal designation for snowmobile recreation for these currently used extensive areas of the pristine, unroaded Wenatchee Mountains. While snowmobile riding is a reasonable and legitimate activity, it is an activity on the forest that excludes the safe or reasonable quiet pedestrian use of the same terrain.

We ask for public input to Forest Service. We ask that winter non-motorized forest users describe how and where they recreate, and also share their thoughts about this issue and this need with the Forest Supervisor and the Forest Plan Revision Team. Contact Forest Supervisor Rebecca Heath and the Forest Plan Revision Team: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Headquarters, 215 Melody Lane, Wenatchee, WA 98801,

Robert Mullins, Leavenworth, and Gus Bekker, Wenatchee, represent the Wenatchee Mountains Coalition.

Robert can be reached at wenatcheemountainscoalition@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Guide's Pack: Backcountry Mountaineering

Backcountry mountaineering, you say?  How is that different from traditional mountaineering?  Well, it’s in the approach distance.  Most mountaineering trips in the Cascades require a few hours of hiking to get from the car to a high camp, usually on well-maintained trails and easy sub-alpine terrain.  This isn’t the case for my upcoming objective; I’m headed into the most remote volcano in the Cascades this week–Glacier Peak–and have a 20 mile one-way distance car-to-summit to contend with.

So how does my strategy change for backcountry mountaineering?  Initially, I wasn’t thinking that there would be much of a difference, but there must be given the amount of time I’ve spent with my gear today.  My main concern, as usual, is weight.  There are other factors that are conspiring to have me leave some standard items out of my pack.  We have to ride mountain bikes about 7 miles up a closed gravel road to reach the trailhead, so I want a pack that is quite compact and balanced, so that it doesn’t push me around while peddling uphill.  We’re also concerned with the potential for sub-optimal trail conditions (downed trees, creek crossings, etc), so I’m looking for a streamlined pack where I don’t have much, if anything, hanging off the outside of the pack.

The climbing along our chosen route–the Disappointment Peak Cleaver with variations onto the White Chuck, Gerdine, and Cool Glaciers–is of moderate technical difficulty, especially considering that it’ll still be blanketed in a ton of last winter’s immense snowpack.  As such, I’ve gone with aluminum crampons, my lightest harness, and lightest helmet to shed some serious weight while still carrying the essentials.  I did bring an ice axe when a Black Diamond Whippet ski pole could probably suffice.

So what’s in there exactly?

The "made it" pile (before final tweaks)

Clothing System
  • The North Face short sleeve synthetic shirt (5 oz)
  • Eddie Bauer/First Ascent windshirt (5 oz)
  • Patagonia Grade 6 Gore-tex jacket (12 oz)
  • Montbell Thermawrap synthetic puffy jacket (12 oz)
  • Patagonia Rock Guide pants (10 oz)
  • Patagonia synthetic boxers (3 oz)
  • Marmot Precip rain pants (12 oz)
  • 2 pair Smartwool Mountaineer socks (10 oz)
  • Outdoor Research Gripper gloves (3 oz)
  • Black Diamond Sensei gloves (8 oz)
  • K2 Aviation baseball hat (3 oz)
  • Marmot beanie (2 oz)
  • Buff  - Merino wool (2 oz)
  • La Sportiva Nepal Evo boots (5.5 lbs)
  • Julbo Explorer sunglasses (2 oz)
Camping System
  • Cilogear 60L Worksack (3 lbs 1 oz)
  • Feathered Friends Lark sleeping bag 10 degrees (2lbs 3 oz)
  • Thermarest Women’s Prolite pad (16 oz)
  • Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 tent (38 oz)
  • Jetboil PCS w/one 8oz fuel canister (15 oz + 13 oz)
  • Platypus 100oz water bladder (4 oz)
  • 16oz wide mouth Nalgene (5 oz)
  • Orikaso folding bowl (1.5 oz)
  • REI titanium folding spork (0.5 oz)
  • Ursack Minor food bag w/ food (9 lbs, 10 oz)
  • Mini toothbrush, trial-size toothpaste, pre-cut floss (1.2 oz)
  • Aquamira water purification (2 oz)
  • Small bottle of Off! insect repellant (2 oz)
  • Refillable bottle of sunscreen (3 oz)
  • 2 Banana Boat chapstick (1 oz)
  • Lighter (0.7 oz)
  • Biffy Bag (2.5 0z)
Technical Equipment
  • Camp XLH130 Harness (3 oz)
  • Grivel Air Tech Racing Aluminum Crampons (1 lb 7 oz)
  • Grivel Air Tech Racing 63cm axe (16 oz)
  • Black Diamond Expedition trekking poles (1 lb 6 oz)
  • Petzl Meteor III helmet (8 oz)
  • MSR Coyote Picket (13 oz)
  • 3 Camp Photon carabiners, Petzl triple sling, Petzl Attache 3D locking carabiner, Metolius FS Mini carabiner, Camp Mini-autolocking carabiner, waist prussik cord, Petzl Tiblock, Trango Piranha alpine knife (14 oz)
  • Mammut 30M ½ rope (2lbs, 12 oz)
  • Black Diamond dyneema double length sling (2 oz)
Guiding Equipment
  • Casio digital wristwatch (1 oz)
  • Yaesu VX-7R radio w/AA battery adapter (11 oz)
  • iPhone w/battery recharger & cable (8 oz)
  • Glacier Peak Map and beta (4 oz)
  • Garmin eTrex H GPS receiver w/spare batteries (6 oz)
  • Suunto Ranger compass (2.5 oz)
  • Black Diamond Storm headlamp (7 oz)
  • Rite-in-the-Rain notebook, mechanical pencil (3 oz)
  • First aid kit w/ roll of athletic tape, SAM Splint, Liquid Band-aid (17 oz)
  • Homeopathic remedies (Arnica, Rhus Tox, and Apis) (1 oz)
  • Epi-Pen w/Benadryl taped to it (2.5 oz)
  • Repair kit (Gorilla Tape, pack waist buckle, thermarest patch, goretex patch) (2 oz)
  • Canon G12 camera (14 oz)
What’s not pictured?
  • Rope
  • Picket
Of course, I made a few concessions in my ultralight strategy.  I brought two pairs of gloves and two pairs of socks since having wet hands or feet can make a trip really miserable.  I also threw in my iPhone so I could have music for the trail and a potential emergency communication link.  I swapped out my light Petzl Tikka XP for the Black Diamond Storm headlamp, so that I could navigate the darkness with confidence on our summit attempt.  Finally, after much self-torment, I brought my heavier sleeping bag (which added 7 ounces), so I could get a solid night’s sleep.
What would I comfortably change if I really wanted to?
  • Cilogear 45L Worksack for the 60L Worksack
  • Jetboil Sol Ti for my older Jetboil PCS (saves 7 ounces)
  • CAMP Nanotech Corsa ice axe for my Grivel Air Tech Axe (saves 7 ounces)
  • REI Womens Kilo Plus 35F sleeping bag (saves 7 ounces)
  • Thermarest NeoAir size medium for the Women’s Prolite (saves 3 ounces and is more comfy)

All systems go!

So what’s the total weight including what I’ve got on?  45lbs, 10 ounces
What’s the total pack weight without water?    36lbs, 8 ounces
How much will it weigh when I get back (no food, gas, sunscreen)? 26lbs, 1 ounce

Now all I have to do is hope that our summer weather has actually arrived and rest my legs!

--Kurt Hicks, Instructor and Guide

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Euro Death Knot – Overhand Bend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, August 7, 2011

August and September Climbing Events

-- August 4-7 -- Salt Lake City, Utah -- Outdoor Retailer Show
-- August 19-21 -- Adirondacks, NY -- Chicks Climbing

-- Sept 2-5 -- Penticton, BC -- Skaha Climbing Festival

-- Sept 9-11 -- Gower Penninsula, UK -- Gower Climbing Festival

-- 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, August 6, 2011

Weekend Warrior -- Videos to get you stoked!

Well, seeing as it has finally warmed up here in the Pacific Northwest, I though it would fitting to bring you some good old fashioned deep water soloing action. Nothing says summer like climbing on sea or lake cliffs with nothing to stop your fall but the cool, clear water below. Ahhh, doesn't that just sound refreshing?

Here is a little taste of the deep water soloing potential in Vietnam. The islands featured in this video are made for this stuff!

A deep water soloing blog wouldn't be complete without a video from Mallorca, that Mediterranean paradise that draws climbers in from across the globe.

What would be more refreshing than deep water soloing after a hardcore bouldering session in the Jordanian desert? I honestly have no idea....

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Underappreciated Value of Trekking Poles

"I've never used 'em, so why should I start now?"

We hear it at nearly every rendezvous before nearly every trip. Many people pride themselves on being anti-trekking pole. And it's not really clear why.

Trekking poles can be your best friend. The use of the poles allows you to protect your knees while carrying heavy loads. They also help to preserve your balance on deep snow or in uneven terrain. Indeed, they provide so much support that I often argue that once you let your guard down and use poles, it's hard to go back to not using them...of course a handful of the stubborn will drop the poles for awhile after being "forced" to use them by a guide. But the value of said poles is so high, that even some of the most stubborn will eventually pick them back up again on their own private trips.

While the advantages of trekking poles are clear, there are two potential drawbacks to them. Both of the drawbacks have more to do with the use of wrist straps than anything else. The first is that if you always use the strap, it is possible to develop tendinitis in the elbow, or tennis elbow. If you only use the wrist-strap when it's possible that you're going drop and lose the pole, then this impact can be limited. Without the strap, people tend to constantly change how they're holding the pole and as such, it doesn't impact the elbow so much.
The second potential problem is what's referred to as "skier's thumb." This particular issue is also related to the strap. If you put your wrist into it and allow the strap to run behind your thumb as shown in the picture above, it is possible that a fall will dislocate your thumb. It is incredibly important to wear a wrist leash -- while hiking or skiing -- with it running from the top of your wrist.

The problems with trekking poles are very avoidable...and if you use them regularly, so are the problems that arise when you don't use them...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Update from the OR Show

Here's are some pictures from our Director, Dunham Gooding, the Equipment Shop Manager Richard Riquelme, and Equipment Specialist Jeff Voigt, who are at the Outdoor Retailer Show, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

From right to left, Jeff Voigt Guides Choice Program Coordinator, Roody Rasmussen President of Petzl North America, Paul Petzl President of Petzl Europe, Dunham Gooding Director American Alpine Institute, Richard Riquelme Equipment Manager.

Petzl Sum’tec Ice Axe

The Sum’tec had it’s place on nearly every ice, or glaciated route that our testers climbed. It’s design allows it to excel in a variety of alpine climbing applications, without making sacrifices to weight or performance.

Petzl Core Battery
The Core is hands down one of the best innovations in lighting technology that AAI testers have seen. With Petzl OS and a computer the user can determine their own brightness and burn time needs. Since the Core is rechargeable it keeps about 300 batteries out of

Attache 3D
The Attache 3D is an improvement on the highly regarded Attache locking carabiner. The Attache 3D lighter, thinner and has a larger gate opening than the original Attache making it to go-to locking carabiner on AAI guides racks.


 Christopher J. Lussier, Vice president of sales and marketing accepts the Guides Choice Award from Dunham Gooding.

Sol Ti Premium Cooking System by Jetboil
The Sol Ti Premium Cooking System exhibits all the key points that
alpine climbers want in a stove system. The Sol Ti is ultralight,
compact, and super efficient. The Thermo-regulate technology allows
the Sol Ti to be used in much colder conditions without sacrificing


Left to right Dunham Gooding, Sam Killgore, Rab Marketing Manager, Karen Moldenhauer Rab Customer Service Rep, Richard Riquelme

Xenon Jacket by Rab
Testers were impressed with how lightweight, warm and compact theXenon Jacket is. The Xenon is a great insulation piece for three-season use. The Xenon sheds snow well; the fit is great for climbing, and it weighs next-to-nothing.

Cascade Designs
Left to right, Jeff Voigt, Doug Jacot, Vice President of Thermarest, Dunham Gooding, Brandon Bowers, Thermarest Product Engineer.

Ridge Rest Solar, and SOLite Sleeping Pads by Cascade Designs
The Ridge Rest Solar and SOLite are improvements on the tired and true Ridge Rest sleeping pad. Using a reflective coating on one surface of the sleeping pad, heat is reflected towards the user for use in cold conditions or when sleeping on snow. The Solar is thicker and meant for 4-season use, while the SOLite is thinner and perfect for 3-season use.

Injinji Socks
Left to right, Richard Riquelme, Jason Battenfield CEO / President of Injinji Socks, Dunham Gooding, Jeff Voigt.

Outdoor Series Socks by Injinji
AAI guides have been testing Injinji’s Outdoor Series socks from the deserts of Red Rock, to the cold and icy slopes of Alaska. Since the socks have individual toes, it provides more insulation in colder conditions, and gives sweat a place to go in hot conditions. Skin on skin contact between toes is eliminated preventing blisters between toes.

Guides Choice Award - Outdoor Retailer 2011

The American Alpine Institute will present eleven awards to eight different companies at the annual Outdoor Summer Retailer Show in Salt Lake City.  The equipment and clothing awarded the AAI Guides Choice designation have proven to be the highest quality in their product category. The awards are determined on the basis of excellence in design, performance, and durability demonstrated in rigorous international field tests conducted by the professional guides of AAI. Evaluations are made throughout the year in the desert, cold weather, rain, snow, high wind and in high altitude environments.

A core group of AAI professional guides conduct Guides Choice field tests year round, throughout the world. Tests may be completed in a single long season (for example five summer months of intensive climbing in South America), or over several seasons (for example McKinley expeditions in the spring and Himalayan expeditions autumn). Because of the intensity and constancy of use, the wear and stress that gear receives during these tests corresponds to many years of use by a recreational climber.

Details on current award winners as well as past awardees can be found at

The 2011 Awardees are:
Ledo Environmental - Biffy Bag
As more and more people venture into the backcountry every year, management of human waste become increasingly important to protecting the health of our pristine wilderness areas. Weighing only 65 grams the Biffy Bag system is smaller and lighter than all of the competitors. Our guides liked that the system is made up of two independent bags, minimizing the possibility of a puncture leading to nasty situation. The Biffy Bag is unique because its design allows it to be used easily without a bucket or commode.  The user simply ties two straps around their waist, pulls the bag up between their legs while squatting to do their business. The Biffy Bag kit includes, an odor-proof zip-top transport bag, 1 biodegradable inner bag, an ample amount of toilet paper, Biffy Powder (neutralizing agent) and a sanitizing hand wipe.

Ursack - Ursack Minor

In many locations it is not bears that you need to worry about getting into your food, but rather the small gnawing critters that like to chew silver dollar sized holes in backpacks, tents and stuff sacks to get at the food you are packing. Our guides found the Ursack Minor to be a perfect solution to keeping their food protected from these destructive little varmints. The Ursack Minor is made of the same very densely woven material used in body armor meant to protect against stabbing from knives. The bag’s closure method is kept low-tech with a specific set of knots, thus eliminating the chance of a buckle closure breaking. The closure cord can also be tied around something sturdy to keep larger rodents from dragging off the entire bag of food. AAI testers have witnessed everything from mice, birds and other rodents trying to chew through the bag with no success. Weighing in at a scant 2.7 ounces and with an ample capacity of 650 cubic inches there is no doubt that the Ursack Minor is the perfect solution to protecting food from critters in the backcountry.

Petzl - Sum’tec
Since its debut in 2009 we have taken pride in the Sum’tec for its versatility in different alpine climbing environments. The Sum’tec is equally at home on a glacier slog, as it is on a steep alpine ice climb. The adjustable Trigrest is easy to slide up to the head so it is out of the way when plunging the axe in the piolet canne on a glacier and can be slid down toward the spike and locked when swinging in piolet traction on steeper ice routes. The slight curve in the shaft allows for clearance over ice and snow bulges when climbing the steeps, but isn’t curved to the extent where it creates problems self arresting or plunging the axe while on lower angled glaciated terrain. The Alpix pick can be replaced, so a dulled down pick doesn’t mean the death of your axe. At 485 grams in the 52 cm length the Sum’tec has achieved the fine balance of being lightweight, yet still has enough head-weight to make sinking the pick in harder ice effective.

Petzl - Core
 Petzl impressed us all with the release of the Core rechargeable battery. We tested the Core from the bitter cold of Alaska, to the rainy and wet Cascades, and it lit our headlamps reliably the entire way. At only 30 grams the Core is actually several grams lighter than three alkaline AAA batteries. As alpinists we appreciate any weight savings that can be had. Instead of rummaging around for fresh batteries before each trip the Core can simply be plugged into any standard USB charger to top off its charge. The ability to program different brightness and burn times into the Core using Petzl’s OS proved to be another highlight of the Cores features. All in all the Core is lightweight, customizable and keeps lots of batteries out of landfills, so there is nothing bad that we can say about it.

Petzl - Attache 3D
Our guides have been using and abusing the Attache 3D since its release in mid 2009. Almost two years later we are still impressed with how light and versatile this locking carabiner is. Despite being trimmed and shaved down in every way to a mear 55 grams, the Attache 3D is still very durable. The Attache 3D is large enough to be considered a munter biner, and can be used for almost all applications in rock climbing as well as mountaineering where a locking carabiner is needed. The keylock nose prevents snags on slings, and gear loops and the gate design is kept low profile to allow for easy rotation around belay loops to avoid cross loading. The gate opening is 2mm larger than the original Attache so getting clipped and unclipped from clustered anchor setups is just a little bit easier.

Ortik - Tupek Guide
The Tupek provided piece of mind to our guides climbing in Alaska that at any point they could deploy a two-person shelter and escape from the wind and blowing snow within the matter of a minute or two. At 525 grams and the size of a 1 liter water bottle, it was small and light enough that our testers had no problems packing it along on any fast and light ascent that they were doing. The Tupek can be set up using a variety of configurations including with or without trekking poles, one or two people, and can even be hung from a wall. The floor of the Tupek is joined at the middle with velcro, but can be separated and pushed to the sides in the event that the user is wearing crampons. A small foot well can even be dug in snow so that the users can sit facing each other comfortably. If an overnight bivy is inevitable, two people can stretch out in reasonable comfort reclined against their packs. A door on one side makes getting in and out easy, and multiple vents keep condensation to a minimum inside. 

Rab - Xenon Jacket       
When it comes to insulated jackets, the warmth to weight ratio is key. Rab has managed to increase the warmth and decrease the weight with the release of the Xenon Jacket. 60 grams of Primaloft One insulation was more than adequate to keep testers comfortable in the cool times during spring, summer and fall. The Pertex Quantum 10D outer shell fabric is even lighter, and despite the almost see through appearance the newer Petex is actually more robust than previous versions. The Xenon has no problems shedding snow and light drizzle, and blocks out the wind very well. To cut even more weight, the hood is cut to fit close to the head and be worn under a helmet. The hand warmer pockets lack zippers (another weight saver), but there is a zippered chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack. The combination of being warm, lightweight, and very packable make the Xenon Jacket perfect for cutting the chill while mountaineering, rock climbing, ski touring, and backpacking.

Injinji Socks – Outdoor Series
 Anyone that is plagued with blisters on their toes while hiking will appreciate Injinji Socks. Because Injinji Socks have individual toes the skin on skin contact between the toes is eliminated. Having the toes act as individual units while hiking providing a more natural feel. The fabric between the toes also gives sweat a way to be transported out from between the toes, resulting is a drier feeling. On Denali our guides found them to work really well as a liner sock in their cold weather footwear system. The NuWool material is Injinji’s own merino wool that provides a high level of moisture wicking that allows feet to stay warmer in cold conditions and cooler in hot conditions. One other added benefit is that you can rock these socks with flip-flops!

Jetboil - Sol Ti Premium Cooking System
 All Jetboil cooking systems are tired and true to being lightweight, efficient, and convenient. The Jetboil Sol Ti Premium Cooking System is no exception. With a titanium cook pot the system is super light weighing in at a scant 12.2 ounces. The Thermo-Regulate Burner Technology it is even more efficient at cold temperatures allowing the user to consistently boil up to 12 liters of water per standard Jetboil fuel canister. And non of the convenience is lost in the weight dropping or efficiency boosting changes. In the Sol Ti Premium System Jetboil even includes a pot stand that allows the cook to use a normal cook pot instead of the Jetboil mug, if cooking needs to be done for more than one person. The Sol Ti is definitely something that any lightweight gear junkie would love to get their hands on!

Cascade Designs –Ridge Rest Solar Series Sleeping Pads
 The Ridge Rest Solar and SOLite are Cascade Designs newest closed cell pad additions to the world of sleeping pads. These pads have one surface that is aluminized to reflect body heat back up toward the user. The Solar is slightly thicker at 2 centimeters giving it an R-value of 3.5. This added material and reflective surface kept testers warmer than other closed cell pads while sleeping on snow in cold conditions. The Solar worked great as a supplemental pad in a two-pad system for high altitude climbing. The high insulation value of the Solar gave peace of mind in the event our testers inflatable pad deflated. The SOLite is the lighter weight version of the Solar. It is a half-centimeter thinner than the Solar, but still has an R-value of 2.8. We found the SOLite to be the perfect 3-season pad for backpackers and climbers who might need to sleep on snow but not in super cold conditions. When these pads are used in warmer conditions just face the reflective surface down, and it performs just like the original tried and true Ridge Rest.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Continuing Threat to Red Rock Canyon

Developer Jim Rhodes has submitted his proposal to develop 2,500 acres of land directly across the street from the world class climbing area, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  This development will include up to 7,000 homes, grocery stores, schools, gas stations, everything.  The area will be akin to a small city...

...directly across the street from Red Rock Canyon.

Las Vegas residents were able to stop this project from taking place when it first got a foothold in 2003. But things have changed and this project now seems far more likely to go forward. Indeed, ground may be broken as early as 2013.

There is no doubt that this project will have an extremely negative impact on climbers, hikers, cyclists, and equestrians.  There will be an ugly tract house city with noise and pollution right outside of a federally designated Wilderness Area.

So the question is, what can I do about this?  Well, first you should look at the following resources to learn more about the issue:
Second, you can contact the people who have something to say about this. The ultimate goal is to protect Red Rock, so there are a few things that can be done. They can change the zoning rules to decrease the density of the housing, which would not make the plan feasible anymore.  And the BLM can do a land swap with the developer.

Here are the people that you can contact with your concerns:

BLM Southern Nevada District Office:
Mary Jo Rugwell, District Manager,
4701 North Torrey Pines Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89130
Phone: 702-515-5000
Fax: 702-515-5023
Email: lvfoweb@blm.gov

Clark county commissioners:
All commissioners can be reached at: (702) 455-3500
All commissioners can receive faxes at: (702) 455-3271
Clark County Commissioners, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89155
Steve Sisolak, District A, ccdista@ClarkCountyNV.gov
Tom Collins, District B, ccdistb@ClarkCountyNV.gov
Larry Brown, District C, ccdistc@ClarkCountyNV.gov
Lawrence Weekly, District D, ccdistd@ClarkCountyNV.gov
Chris Giunchigliani, District E, ccdiste@ClarkCountyNV.gov
Susan Brager, District F, ccdistf@ClarkCountyNV.gov
Mary Beth Scow, District G, ccdistg@ClarkCountyNV.gov

US Senators and Representatives for NV: (and yes, even if you don't live in NV, it doesn't mean you shouldn't contact them)
Senator Harry Reid (D- NV), 202-224-3542, reid.senate.gov/contact/index.cfm
Senator Dean Heller (R- NV), 202-224-6244, heller.senate.gov/contact_form.cfm
Representative Shelley Berkley (D-01), 202-225-5965, shelley.berkley@mail.house.gov
Representative Joe Heck (R-03), 202-225-3252, https://heck.house.gov/contact-me/email-me

When you make contact, either by email or by phone, make sure that they understand the following things:
  • --Red Rock is a unique area: world-class rock climbing, unique desert environment (oasis-like fauna and flora in a desert environment), amazing and still relatively intact views
  • --The area proposed for development is fully and plainly visible from most places on higher ground at RR, particularly many of the more popular climbs. Development there will irreparably alter the experience.
  • --There are still plenty of other areas around Las Vegas that are available for development if needed. The Red Rocks NRA should be preserved at all costs.
  • --Las Vegas is a tourist town.  To damage anything that might bring in tourists is at odds with business interests throughout the city.
Third, log onto saveredrock.com and sign the petition.

And Fourth, there will be a meeting in Las Vegas on August 17th on this topic.  If you are in the vicinity, please try to make the meeting at:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 -- 9:00am
Clark County Government Building, Commission Chambers

 Red Rock Canyon is truly one of the best climbing areas in the nation. Please help us to protect it not just for ourselves, but for the generations of climbers and outdoor enthusiasts to come.

--Jason D. Martin