Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Climbing Events December and January 2013

1/1/2013 -- Everywhere -- New Years Day

1/11 -- Seattle, WA -- Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival

1/10 - 1/12 -- Ouray, CO -- Ouray Ice Climbing Festival

1/19 - 1/20 -- Keene, NY -- Adirondack International Mountain Festival

1/25 - 1/27 -- Smuggler's Notch, VT -- Smuggler's Notch Ice Bash

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas from the American Alpine Institute

A couple of years ago Peter Kuhnlein, of our former guides and professional photographer, sent us this awesome Christmas card. We shared it at the time, but I really wanted to share this again!

Have a great holiday and stay safe...

The American Alpine Institute Staff

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Favorite Layer: The Windshirt

I think this is about to be the most conceited, narcissistic, and vain post that I will ever make. But honestly, when I take 1 minute to look at my Facebook photos, 50% of them are of me in my windshirt. I knew I loved my windshirt, that it was my go-to layer; I didn't know I loved it this much!

My windshirt happens to be a Patagonia Houdini, and I really am quite fond of it. It does anything and everything that I need an action layer to do. What follows is a photo essay of me in my windshirt in all sorts of environments.

Wearing my windshirt while ski-touring near Mt. Baker in Washington State in November. Perfect on the uphill with a light wind, adds just enough warmth under a shell on the way down.

Wearing my windshirt as a little extra warmth and wind protection during a rapid descent off Mt. Stuart in the Cascades in August

Topping out on a route up Squamish, B.C.'s Lower Apron in July. The windshirt is a perfect "momentarily in the shade and I'm cold," layer.

Racked up at the base of a route about to head up into the sun. This climb is the Southwest Rib of South Early Winter Spire in the Washington Pass area of Washington State. I did this climb in July.

Showing off my tennis shoes at base camp on Denali in Alaska in June. I never took this layer off, even as I went higher.

Bouldering on a beach in April. The sun is out but the light breeze made the windshirt a must.

Climbing ice in the Canadian Rockies in February. When it's cold and dry and you're working hard, the Houdini keeps your warm enough without sweating, while keeping the snow/water off your skin!

Celebrating a link-up of Black Orpheus and Johnny Vegas to Solar Slab in October (actually on Halloween, hence my buddy's racing suit) in Red Rock, NV. October in the desert can be cold and windy. We were moving fast and simul-climbing most of the route, so the windshirt kept me at the perfect temperature.

Finishing a climb up a steep couloir in the Sierra of California. It was a cold and snowy september, and with the altitude, I really appreciated that perfectly thin and perfectly light windshirt that added the right amount of warmth and protection from the elements.

Slogging through some awkward conditions on Mount Rainier in March. It was humid out and I would have sweat too much in a hardshell, hence the windshirt!

So, I'm really sorry about that. I'm even a little sick of looking at myself at this point. But really, I was just trying to prove to you how much I love this layer, and how often I use it. Go and get your windshirt today! I doubt you'll be disappointed.

--Andrew Yasso
Program Coordinator & Guide

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

Just in case you are spending this holiday season somewhere else other than the PNW, we are getting dumped on up here.  Close to 100" inches in the last week!  The road to Mt. Baker has been closed the last three days due to downed trees, so it is ripe for the plunder this weekend!

The Powsurf Chronicles Episode 4: Big Waves from Grassroots Powdersurfing on Vimeo.

Here's a clip from Sweetgrass's new flick.  It's not usually what comes to mind when you think of a ski movie, but that's not a bad thing, now is it.

VALHALLA: A New Film From Sweetgrass Productions from Sweetgrass Productions on Vimeo.

For many here in the northwest, skiing and fishing go hand-in-hand.  Here's a great video from the Provo Brothers about taking on two of their favorite things.

Steelhead and Spines- The Provo Bros from The Provo Bros on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend and Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Santa's Rappelling Dilemma

In late November of last year, Santa decided to make a dramatic entrance into the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach, Florida. But instead of flying in behind eight tiny reindeer, Santa decided to rappel in. But unfortunately, Santa isn't very good at rappelling...

Indeed, Santa's so bad at rappelling, that it's lucky that he's still in one piece.


As a parent with young children, I can just imagine their thoughts.  First, they would probably be horrified.  And then after the horror wore off a little bit, they would probably ask a number of know, like:

"Why did Santa let go of the rope when he was trying to free himself. What if the device somehow released when he was trying to pull the rope through.  Santa would have gone splat!"

"Why didn't Santa have an autoblock back-up on his rope or wrap the rope around his leg while he tried to work his beard out?  You know, so he would have been safer and not gone splat?"

"Why didn't Santa have a couple of prussik cords or slings that he could have used to climb up the rope to release his beard?"

"Why didn't Santa just rappel on an extension? You know, like the guy in the next picture?  This would have put the device up high enough that his beard would have been less likely to get stuck."

And lastly, "why was it again that Santa didn't just fly in with his sleigh?"

The kids might have some comments too, like, "Santa needs to take a class. Mrs. Claus should get him a course with know, so that he's around to bring us gifts next year!"

My four-year old and five-year old are really smart.  They're so smart that they even found this cool write-up and description of exactly what Santa could have done...

Happy Holidays from all of us at the American Alpine Institute!

--Jason D. Martin

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Climbing Events December & January 2013

12/21/2012 -- Earth -- The End Of The World

1/1/2013 -- Everywhere -- New Years Day

1/11 -- Seattle, WA -- Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival

1/10 - 1/12 -- Ouray, CO -- Ouray Ice Climbing Festival

1/19 - 1/20 -- Keene, NY -- Adirondack International Mountain Festival

1/25 - 1/27 -- Smuggler's Notch, VT -- Smuggler's Notch Ice Bash

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lizzy N the Sky with Diamondz

I've been all over the country in the last three weeks. After an impromptu trip to NYC to do some hurricane disaster relief work (cutting down massive trees), I headed to Chicago for Thanksgiving then to Utah for some desert splitters.  I spent the majority of the fall last year climbing in Indian Creek and now I remember why.  World class climbing, great temps, $35 hotels with hot tubs.   After a long October in Seattle waiting for the rain to turn to snow, the desert sun was the relief I'd been waiting for.  

Our friend, Dr. Sky took a break from the particle reactor at the lab in Los Alamos to meet us in Moab for some adventures in splittersville.  One of our objectives was the classic route, In Search of Suds (5.10+, III) on the impressive tower, Washer Woman.  It was a bumpy, uncomfortable 2 hour ride from Moab in Sky's 1980 something AWD honda civic.  He ensured us that his tires had cost more than his car and we wouldn't get stuck back there. 

The Washer Woman

We finally arrived at the base and noticed another car.  Once we hiked to the top another team of three was just starting the 1st pitch. We were really worried that we would be benighted after waiting for them for an hour but decided to climb anyways, starting the climb at about 1pm. 

The first pitch was a super fun, long 5.10-.  Hands at the bottom with a nice little overhang to pretty wide off-width (#4 or 5).

I led p2, 5.10-, which started at the "window" and followed up a nice hand crack to off-width chimney with good pro in the back.  

Liz Leading the Second Pitch

p3, 5.10+ led by the Dr. was a fun overhangy pitch with nice cracks and face holds reaching us above the Arch in the Washer Woman.  It was getting dark at this point and we decided to rally to the top as we see the other team start their rappel.  

p4 was a easy 5.6 traverse above the arch

p5, short 5.9 sandbag

p6, 5.10+ A fun face climb that Sky leads.  A bolt ladder leads us to the top as the sun had long disappeared  behind the rusty orange desert plateau. 

Liz, high on the Washer Woman

This was probably one of the most exciting rappels I've ever done.  It was a free-hanging rappel by headlamp through the giant arch.  We made it into town to find that the only place in Moab that serves food after 10pm was Denny's.  

Rapping in the Dark

And so we finished the day the best way that we knew how, we gorged ourselves with nachos and grand slams.

Following is a short video that I made about the day out...

--Liz Daley, Instructor and Guide

Monday, December 17, 2012

Avalanche Information Centers in the U.S.

Backcountry skiing or boarding is one of my favorite activities. It's quite a nice departure from ice climbing, which is also one of my favorite activities. In many areas, both backcountry skiing/boarding and ice climbing put us into avalanche terrain. To travel in these areas, you must learn about avalanche safety! The first thing to do is take an avalanche safety class. Another wonderful resource is your local avalanche information center, which offer free observations, snowpack discussions, and recommendations. Remember that they are information and not gospel. You need to combine this resource with what you observe in the field!

Here are several avalanche information centers:



New Hampshire
--Mike Pond, Instructor and Guide

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Avalung

Welcome to winter! Not the calendar year, of course, but the de facto “winter season” – skiing and ice climbing! I am so excited to spend the winter in a place that has a strong winter. Which means lots of backcountry skiing!

Backcountry skiing is beautiful, but has more risks than resort skiing. The biggest concern is avalanches. In the backcountry, you must make your own decisions – and live with the consequences. As a result, skiers in the backcountry bring an array of tools to assist in the (unlikely, unfortunate) event of an avalanche.

At several ski resorts’ backcountry areas, for example, you are only allowed to “duct the ropes” and enter the backcountry (unpatrolled) area if you have a beacon, probe, shovel, and partners. After all, even if you have the right gear, if you are alone, no one will be there to dig you up should you get buried. Other pieces of gear that have entered into the backcountry skier’s avalanche toolkit are Black Diamond’s Avalung  and BCA’s Float.

The Avalung, by Black Diamond. Photo from

The Avalung is a really cool device. If you are buried and have an Avalung (and are using it properly), you can essentially breathe while underneath the snow. Snow itself has quite a lot of air in it. The Avalung allows you to breathe this air in, and doesn’t create an ice lens near your mouth. If you simply have your hand out in front of your mouth to create a small air pocket (a good idea if you don’t have an Avalung), even with this small air pocket, you will run out of air before long because warm, moist breath will make an ice lens on the pocket and not allow air to pass in. 

With the Avalung, however, the air intake and exhaust are in different places, which allows you to breathe for significantly longer. Some victims have been buried for 45 minutes – and remained fully conscious breathing through an Avalung – until their rescue. The Black Diamond website says that the “Avalung can significantly extend your fresh air supply from an estimated 15 minutes to 58 minutes or more – dramatically increasing your odds of being dug out of an avalanche alive.”

So what is it?

How an Avalung works. Photo from

The Avalung itself is quite simple. There is a tube (that looks a bit like a bagpipe mouthpiece) through which you breathe in and out. The intake is in a different place as the exhaust, which prevents using up all the air in one spot and also prevents the ice lens mentioned above.

The standard Avalung weighs a mere 9 ounces and costs about $140 – a reasonable purchase considering its potential benefits. They come in three sizes for different size people.

Important things to know about the Avalung are that:

1.  You must have the mouthpiece IN your mouth while traveling through avalanche terrain. It is unlikely that you will be able to bring the mouthpiece to your mouth in you get caught in an avalanche.

2. You MUST have the Avalung on the outside of your clothing. If it is underneath your jacket, for example, you will not be able to breathe air from the outside! So, if you are going to change your clothing, you need to replace the Avalung to the outside.

3. Avalungs come built into backpacks! This is a great solution to the previous problem, since your pack is almost never covered. Make sure to have the Avalung vent areas open (not covered).  Black Diamond makes a line of packs that have Avalungs built-in. The only drawback is that you cannot take the Avalung out of one pack and put it in another. You would have to buy multiple Avalung packs. The line ranges from the tiny 11-L Bandit pack, meant for short jaunts in the sidecountry or heliskiing, to the 43-L Anarchist, perfect for multi-day backcountry tours and ski mountaineering objectives. I look forward to testing out my Anarchist this winter. I’ll post a review when I’ve had enough time using it.

The Anarchist pack, with a built-in Avalung.  Photo from

One thing to keep in mind is that this will not make you invincible. Many avalanche victims are injured or killed by the trauma – the force of an avalanche – and not by suffocation. The Avalung will not of course do anything to help this.

To reiterate, make sure to keep the mouthpiece in your mouth if you think you might be caught in an avalanche. It is much easier to keep the mouthpiece in your mouth than it is to put it in while you’re being caught by a slide.

You can read more about the Avalung here:
1.     Avalung Basics (click on “more tech info below underneath the picture of the Avalung)
3.     Avalung Packs

 Please take an avalanche course before you travel in the backcountry - know those skills! Enjoy, be safe, and make sure to travel in the backcountry safely!

--Mike Pond, Instructor and Guide

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Baker Beacon Rally

The Baker Beacon Rally is a very cool event that is put on by a combination of the REI, the American Alpine Institute, and a number of other organizations in early January. The event planners are looking for some volunteers to help with a combination of instruction and monitoring a beacon race.  Please see information below:

REI is seeking a few additional Beacon instructors and a few race course volunteers for the Baker Beacon Rally on January 6th.  Beacon instructors need an AIARE level 1 or Canadian equivalent; more importantly they need to be comfortable showing signal search, course search, fine search, pinpoint and probe technique.  No shoveling technique is presented with the Beacon instructors; Steve Christie will have a diorama and a revolving 15 minute talk on strategic shoveling. 

Race Course volunteers just need to be ok with being outdoors and have some energy and enthusiasm.  Their responsibilities are to monitor the course listening for probe strikes on buried wood boards then giving the ok to proceed.  They will also be the ones disqualifying people if they are caught from behind. 

The race will be 160 meters long, groomed, with two lanes side by side.  Two stop points in which you search for a buried beacon, once a probe strike is attained they move on to the second set of buried beacons.  First person to cross the finish gets 5 raffle tickets, second gets only one ticket.  A separate raffle will take place for the race.  Oh yeah, every two minutes another set of people start on the course.  If you are caught from behind you are disqualified; pressure is on from the person you are racing next to and from behind.  If you are DQ’d you can get back in line and race again. 

If you are interested in volunteering at the event, please email Jason Martin at jason(at)

For those of you who would like to attend the event, please see event details below:

--Jason D. Martin

My Red Rock Discoveries

It is nearly the middle of December, which means I have spent roughly the past three months climbing and guiding near Las Vegas, NV, in the hills and canyons of Red Rock National Conservation Area. During these short three months, I have explored the plethora of rock that Red Rock has to offer, and have discovered a few things. The following photo essay outlines some of the personal discoveries I have made about this amazing place.

1.  Red Rock has extremely ideal opportunities for teaching and learning how to build anchors - from sport climbing to trad.

Bryan Winther setting up an anchor after leading his first sport climb on a 5.7 route on the Upper Hamlet Wall

2.  Red Rock has climbing for all ability and age levels!

Mother and 8-year-old son working together as belayer and climber at the family friendly Lower Hamlet Crag

3.  Red Rock has some of the longest, most moderate multi-pitch lines I have come across.

Dillon Chen climbing a 5.8 heavily featured corner on Epinephrine, with roughly 1000' of air below him

4.  Red Rock is a great place to climb with your partner.

Jennifer and John are all smiles on the second pitch of Frogland, 5.8 - an area classic

5.  Red Rock is a great place to climb with your college buddy!

Nancy and Kim, college buddies of 20+ years, at the top of the first pitch on the 6 pitch classic - Cat in The Hat, 5.7

6.  Red Rock has seemingly limitless rock, and opportunity for first-ascents abounds!

Looking at pitch 3 and 4 of Frigid Air Buttress on the right, with endless beautiful rock and cracks on the left

7.  Red Rock is a great place to push your grade, and your limits.

Doug Foust leading a crux 5.9+ finger crack through heavily varnished rock.

8.  Red Rock has some of the most beautiful rock I have ever seen.

Christie Galitsky climbs through the third pitch of Armatron, on what seems like handmade bricks of perfectly patinaed sandstone

9.  Red Rock is unique in that on the same climb you can face climb on excellent edges, jam on stellar cracks, or a combination of both.

Patrick Harris enjoying his first attempt at crack climbing, before transitioning onto the featured face of pitch three on Ginger Cracks, 5.9

10.  Red Rock climbing makes me happy!

Doug Foust, the author, and Walter Larkins enjoying a summit shot on top of Frigid Air Buttress

All of these photos were taken in the past few months, with too many more to share.  I feel so blessed and thankful to be working here through the Winter and Spring, and want to share this amazing place with as many people as I can.  The weather has been beyond stellar, with many days this December forcing me to seek shade because it was a little too warm in the sun. 

I know this blog gets readers from across the country and the world - so let me repeat that slowly and more clearly:  There is sun and warmth in Red Rock, NV, even in the middle of winter.  Perhaps I'm more astonished by this seeing as I spent my past few winters in the Pacific Northwest's winter, but I'm just excited to spend the next 5 months of my life in this wonderful playground of rock.  Come join me!

-Andrew Yasso
Lead Rock Guide - Red Rock, NV

Monday, December 10, 2012


There are a few mental tools that we use when we instruct people how to climb safer and better. One of these is the use of acronyms to remember the components of safe anchor systems. Fortunately, these are becoming part of the average climber's vocabulary. The two that are most commonly used are SERENE and ERNEST. Here's what they stand for:

Solid (or strong)


Solid (or strong)

Both of these acronyms have the basic components that make a safe, reliable climbing anchor. I'll go over each component individually:

Solid. This means that each individual piece that makes the anchor (i.e., nuts, cams, ice screws, pins) are solid enough on their own. See Jason's 12/4 post on "The 12-Point Anchor System" for a great way to quantify how solid pieces are. Ideally, you want multiple pieces that are all capable of holding a significant fall.

Redundant. There should be more than one piece for the anchor. Common anchor examples are two bolts, three pieces of rock gear, etc. One exception is a single rock or tree - the BFT (Big freakin' tree) and the BFR (Big freakin' rock) - that can be counted as sufficiently reliable on its own.

Equalized. Each piece in the anchor should share the load of the anchor force equally. If there is slack to any single piece, that means that that piece is not loaded, and the anchor is not equalized.

No Extension. This means that if one piece should blow out of the anchor (and become useless), there will not be a shock-loading of the anchor as a result. If there is slack to one piece and the others blow out, there will be a severe load directed onto that piece - a shock loading. Prevent against this. Note that the "Magic X," also known as a "self-equalizing anchor" must have load limiting knots to prevent shock loading.

Timely or Efficient. These terms relate to the common adage "speed is safety." While speed is not the only important element, it is quite important to make your anchors in a timely manner. If it takes 20 minutes to make an anchor, that can add up to a LOT of time on a long multi-pitch route. The faster you can make an excellent anchor the better. Absolutely take the time you need to make a good anchor, though, a quick but weak anchor is no good!

SERENE and ERNEST are basically equivalent. Some climbing schools teach it one way, and some the other way. I'm sure there are other anchor acronyms out there, but these are the two that stick in my head the best. Hopefully they can help you when you are assessing your own anchors on your next climb!

--Mike Pond, Instructor and Guide

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

Thursday was the kick-off for the 16th Annual Bozeman Ice Climbing Fest.  I have gone to Bozeman with a crew of friends for the last couple years now, and it is always a great time.  The big thing this year is the addition of the Urban Base Camp, with a 36' tall artificial wall located downtown.  The addition of the wall is a drive for support of a more permanent structure, with the hopes of hosting an Ice Climbing World Cup event next year.

For this Weekend Warrior, I'm showing a series of Hyalite Highlights!

BIF16_Conrad and the Icebreaker Wall_Presented byTheNorthFace from Ulteri on Vimeo.

Genesis. 40 Years of Hyalite Ice Climbing from Bozeman Ice Festival on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, December 7, 2012

NPS Appoints New Denali SuperIntendant

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

The National Park Service has named Don Striker as Denali National Park and Preserve’s new superintendent.

Striker has been the superintendent at New River Gorge National River, West Virginia, for the past five years, and brings a strong background in both business and resource management to his new position.

Since 2007, Striker has managed New River Gorge along with the nearby Bluestone National Scenic River and the Gauley River National Recreation Area. The parks annually see more than one million visitors, and include four visitor centers and more than 100 access points. He has been instrumental in improving relationships with state government and local partners, building a large cadre of volunteers, and managing significant construction projects. Prior to working in West Virginia, Striker served as a special assistant to the Comptroller of the National Park Service, as superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota), as superintendent of Fort Clatsop National Memorial (Oregon), and comptroller at Yellowstone National Park.

"I am deeply humbled to have been asked to serve as the chief steward of one of our country's most spectacular and iconic parks,” Striker said. “My wife, Gretchen, and I are excited to be moving to Alaska, a goal we've long held.  We are really looking forward to becoming productive partners in our new community.” Striker will move to Alaska in January.

Don Striker

NPS Alaska Regional Director Sue Masica said that Striker’s accomplishments over more than 15 years with the Service position him well for the Denali job. “Denali is a complex park, with many major business and resource decisions coming up. Over the next couple of years, the park will be looking at implementing its new road management plan, re-bidding the main concession contract and continuing to work on a variety of wildlife issues with the State of Alaska and others. Don brings the talents we need to lead the Service on these issues.”

Denali National Park and Preserve is Alaska’s most recognized park, hosts more than 400,000 visitors every year, and encompasses more than 6 million acres that includes Mount McKinley, North America’s highest peak. Striker replaces Paul Anderson, who retired this fall. Jeff Mow has been the acting superintendent.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The 12-Point Anchor System

A number of years ago I was working one of our Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership programs with Jonathon Spitzer. Jonathon no longer works for AAI, but we keep in touch. In any case Jonathon asked what system I liked to use to teach anchor systems. At the time I had a system that I thought was clever where I graded each individual piece in a student's anchor with a standard A-F style American public school rubric.

Jonathon asked, "have you ever used the 12-point system?"

"The 12-point system?" I asked. "What's that?"

Jonathon explained that it's a system used to evaluate student anchors. The goal is for the powerpoint in each anchor to have a value of twelve. The value is provided by individual pieces. A good cam or a good stopper is worth four-points. So if you have three good cams or good stoppers, you have a value of 12 at the powerpoint.

I have used the 12-point system to teach anchor construction ever since that original conversation. I find that students understand this complex topic far more effectively when it is laid out before them in this way.  Following is a breakdown of the 12-point evaluative system:
  • --A four-point piece is bomber. It should be able to hold a substantial fall.
  • --A three-point piece is pretty good. It should be able to hold a short fall. An example might be taking a fall with your feet at the piece.
  • --A two-point piece isn't very good. It will hold a fall with your waist at the piece.
  • --A one-point piece is essentially aid gear. It will hold bodyweight, but is unlikely to hold a fall.
With this in mind, consider the following pieces and how they might play into a 12-point system:
  • --A large cam, 1" or more -- 4 points
  • --A small cam, less than 1" -- 3 points
  • --Micro cams -- 2 points
  • --A large nut, a Stopper size 8 or greater -- 4 points
  • --A medium nut, Stopper 4-7 -- 3 points
  • --A small nut -- 1-2 points depending on size and rock quality
  • --A very large tree with a good root base -- 12 points
  • --A very large boulder that doesn't move and is on stable terrain -- 12 points
  • --A good bolt -- 6 points
The 12-point concept both plays into and undercuts the idea that you need three pieces of traditional gear to have a good anchor.  It plays into it by saying that if you can get three 4-point pieces then you will have a solid anchor. It undercuts it by saying that some pieces might not be valued at four points.

A simple three-piece  pre-equalized 12-point anchor in good rock
Note that you are not required to use lockers in the pieces and that these could have been non-lockers.

There are three additional pieces to this puzzle. The first is that the pieces must be good. In other words they have to be placed appropriately to achieve their full point status. The second is that the rock that the pieces are placed in must be good. If the rock quality is poor, you may have to subtract points.  And the third piece of the puzzle is that due to weird rock, flaring cracks or a lack of pieces that fit properly, you may not be able to build a 12-point anchor with three pieces. The rock may force you to use four, five or even six pieces.

This is an anchor "in series." An individual may choose to use this kind of anchor 
when there area lot of pieces in the system to obtain 12-points, but a cordellete 
isn't long enough to link all the pieces together. In this photo there are 
only three pieces, but there could easily be five, and they would be dealt with the 
same way, by building anchors on top of anchors.

There are times in the alpine when it is not possible to build a 12-point anchor. In this circumstance you may only be able to fashion a four or six-point anchor. To do this, place a piece or two and then tie them off to your harness. Once you're tied in, you can use your body as a supplement to the anchor and then belay directly off your harness with a tube style device. 

You should only build your body into a 12-point anchor if you need to do so for speed on a very big objective, or you cannot build a system that meets or exceeds 12-points. When you belay off your body it is difficult to escape the belay if anything went wrong...and if you're anchor is terrible, then a belay escape isn't really an option anyway.

There is only one magic bullet when it comes to building a good anchor, and that's experience. The concept of a 12-point anchor will provide you with a good foundation for anchor building, but to really feel confident, you're going to have to build a lot of anchors...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 3, 2012

CrossFit training

I just moved into the AAI offices, and I turned 40 this year. My previous life consisted of guiding a couple of Denali trips in the summer and then about another 100 days of guiding in the cascades. Off seasons were spent in Indian Creek, Ut, Red Rocks, NV, The Sierra mountains, and Yosemite Valley. In the winters I ski patrolled and ski/ ice guided in various places around the world. Now I live in the largest city I have lived and traded the uncertainty of trips and where I'm going to live for the security 9-5 and a stable lifestyle. Seems like all guides eventually go through this. With these changes mean I still have to be fit enough to return in the summer and still guide Denali and put in days guiding in the Cascades. I realized very quickly that I needed to start to train.

I now have a very similar schedule to many of our clientele. I simply needed to start a training program. I began by getting a simple membership at the YMCA and I am lucky enough that our Y in Bellingham host a great climbing wall. I started to go 3-4 times a week climbing on the wall. My only training background comes from taking a few trainers climbing and the misconception of climb until you can't mover your arms anymore. This concept worked about 2 weeks before I injured my shoulder and was unable to climb. I was lost and didn't know what to do.

I began to search the Internet on training schedules and workouts I kept running across this CrossFit training.  According to wikipedia "CrossFit, Inc. is a fitness company founded by Greg Glassman in 2000. CrossFit's exercise program is practiced by members of approximately 4,400 affiliated gyms, most of which are located in the United States, and by individuals who complete daily workouts posted on the company's website."

I found the local CrossFit gym and signed up. The workouts are one hour of sweat and intensity I work out right next to people half my age and 20 years older then me. We all do the same workout but weights and reps are different. The level of intensity is judged by the individual doing the workout and of course encouraged by the coach of the workout.

You tend to do a large number of movements with focus on whole body workout. Their may be muscle group focused but you still will be running or jumping on days you seem to be focused on shoulders. On days the your are squatting you may find yourself finishing with a large number of pull ups. At the end of each work out I feel like my whole body has been worked as well as at some time during the workout I went anaerobic and worked on my recovery time. This aspect seems super key for climbing and mountaineering as recovery time is what need to happen on big routes and big mountains.

I have already started to feel the difference and the best part I am going 3 time a week my injury to my shoulder seems to be getting better and when I go to the YMCA to do some climbing I feel stronger and I am maintaining a standard level of climbing. This is just proof that if you can't be out climbing, skiing, bike riding, or running all the time having a great training program will help you out. I certainly would recommend checking out a CrossFit program.

--Mark Cionek, Alaska and Aconcagua Programs Coordinator

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

It is pretty amazing to see how far outdoor adventure films have come.  This first clip is from Warren Miller's first ski film from 1949, called "Deep and Light"

This second clip is from TGR's 1996 inaugural huck-fest, "Continuum," which won two awards at the International Film Festival and voted Best Ski Movie of the Year by France's SKIEUR Magazine.

Last year, the film that blew me away was Sherpa Cinema's "All.I.Can"  If you didn't get a chance to see it, here is my favorite clip, which features JP Auclair.

Well, it looks like Sherpa has done it again this year with "Into The Mind."  This week I saw the trailer for their new film, and you can tell that it truly is a "film" and not just another ski movie.  It sent a shiver down my back, and I think it will do the same to you as well, even if you are not a skier, snowboarder or climber.

Into The Mind - Official Teaser from Sherpas Cinema on Vimeo.

Be sure to stop by for our International Mountain Day event tonight. There will ge an Avalanche Awareness Seminar, food, drinks, music, a raffle, and more! All proceeds are going to the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center. For more information, click here.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hannegan Pass/ Peak 5963 Ski Tour

Snow has started to fly in the North Cascades and I was excited to go out an explore over the holiday weekend. After a couple of days skiing just outside the Mt. Baker Ski resort to get a feel for the recent snowpack I needed a much longer tour.

On November 25, I decided that skiing Ruth Mountain would fit the bill. My ski partners confirmed it to be a bigger endeavor, with a 4 mile low angle approach before you even get to the mountain.

We left a bit late in the morning so time was not on our side but everyone was still very excited about getting out to Ruth Mountain. After arriving at the trail head a realizing we would be able to ski right from our cars the excitement level increased.

View across the basin below Hannegan Pass

The first part of the tour was a gentle 12 degree trail that lead up to Hannegan Pass. The creek crossings and overall trail could have used more snow to make the first 3.5 miles a bit more pleasant. About 4500 feet the snowpack became deep enough to make more enjoyable skinning. At the top of Hannegan Pass the snow turned to winter snow. (Less dense and more powder like) The next 1500 feet of skinning was more like a mid winter ski tour with plenty of snow and thoughts of good powder turns.

To get to Ruth Mountain we would have to traverse around Peak 5963 as the slope changed from a west to more of a Northwest aspect a wind slab become more apparent. We adjusted our original route choice to gain the ridge line of Peak 5963 to the new conditions encountered. Once we gained the ridge line we had a clear view of our objective of Ruth Mountain.

Skinning just above Hannegan Pass

I checked the time and it would be a very late day probably headlamps on the way out. I also knew that going out would be a long process cause you would have to skin out along the same trail as we skinned in, there just wasn't enough snow to ski out the trail.  The group discussed our options and ate some food at the ridge line. In the time we took to weigh our options, we notices our approach path to Ruth Mountain, that we wanted to take seemed to be wind effected. Using the information we just gained on the wind slab we just crossed we erred on the side of caution and decided on trying to ski multiple laps on Peak 5963.

After a compression test with results of CT 17 @ 30cm Q2-3 soft slab. (Compression test, 17 represents  a fracture occurred with moderate taps from the elbow, 30 cm is the depth below the snowpack that it fractured, Q2-3 represents the quality of shear that was observed and soft slab describes the nature of the slab observed) We discussed how we would ski the slope and what level of risk we thought we would be taking. Our final decision on the upper slopes was skiing with a definite plan on how to escape a probable avalanche and ski in a fashion that would limit stress on the slope. I translate this to big fast GS style turns. The turns proved glorious and our slope selection proved perfect.

View of the Nooksack ridge

The next pitch down the turns got even better a bit deeper with no wind effect. We hit the bottom of the basin and skinned back up to Hannegan Pass for another lap. Upon reaching the pass we decided on a half lap and started to ski back towards the car.

The ski out was tedious to say the least tricky skiing on a narrow somewhat melted out path with hidden obstacles everywhere. Then there was the constant jumping over the creek drainage's that took it toll on the knees and legs. and just as you became fatigued enough to not want to ski any more you had to put skins back on and start an arduous skin back to the car. I reached the car just at the light that you would need to dawn a head lamp.

In conclusion the ski was just what I was looking for a big day in the mountains with lots of walking and some great turns had. I would not recommend this tour in these conditions unless you are looking to do more walking/skinning then skiing. I will put this on a place to revisit once the snowpack gets deeper in the lower elevations.

--Mark Cionek, Alaska and Aconcagua Programs Coordinator