Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mountain Conditions Oct. 31, 2012



WASHINGTON:

Road Updates: 
    ALASKA:

    -- Weather --

                Mount McKinley Recreational Forecast

    -- Webcams --

                Denali from Wonder Lake


    SIERRA:

    U-Notch: Out of condition

    Dana Couloir: Out of Condition

    -- Webcams --
    RED ROCK CANYON:

    Red Rock Canyon Campground Is now open for the season. 



    -- Weather --

    -- Webcam --
    -- The late exit and overnight permit number for Red Rock Canyon is 702-515-5050. If there is any chance that you will be inside the park after closing, be sure to call this number so that you don't get a ticket.

    --The scenic drive currently opens its gates at 6 in the morning.


    JOSHUA TREE:


    --Weather 
    --Webcam

    ALPS:

    Monday, October 29, 2012

    Diamox - The Wonder Drug?

    Diamox is the trade name for a drug called Acetazolamide. This is a "altitude wonder drug" that many people take to increase the speed of their acclimatization. It is also a drug that some people put a little too much hope into instead of acclimitizing properly.
    The reality is that Diamox is not a wonder drug. It is is a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor that is commonly used to treat glaucoma, epilepsy, hypertension, cystinuria, dural ectasia and of course, altitude sickness. The drug is designed to help your body make the chemical changes that it needs to make in order to function better at altitude.

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

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

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

    Diamox - A Prophylactic?

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

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

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

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

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

    When to Take Diamox

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

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

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

    Alternatives

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

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

    Altitude Research

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

    A Final Note 

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

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

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

    --Jason D. Martin

    Sunday, October 28, 2012

    October and November Climbing Events, 2012




    It's Reel Rock Season


    Click Here to go to the calendar and find a showing near you. 


    10/27 - 11/4 -- Banff, AB Canada -- Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival

    11/4 -- Seattle, WA -- Northwest Snow and Avalanche Summit

    Now - 11/25 -- Varied locations -- IFSC World, Youth, and Asian Cup Schedule

    11/8 -- Bellingham, WA -- Waren Miller's Flow State at Mount Baker Theatre

    11/9 -- San Francisco, CA -- Stop 1 of Touchstone Bouldering Series :


    11/10 -- St. Louis, MO -- Gateway Bouldering Bash

    11/9 - 11/10 -- Bishop, CA -- Fall Highball Craggin' Classic

    November is Banff Season


    11/27 -- Bellingham, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival

    Friday, October 26, 2012

    American Alpine Institute Has a New Website

    We like to keep AAI's blog focused on subject matter that interests climbers in general, but sometimes we just have to toot our own horn.

    After a couple years of effort and a few false starts, we have a new website, published on a new domain that we hope is going to make us easier to find on the web.  Our new site is www.alpineinstitute.com. Come visit us!

    The new site has a number of features that should make it easier and more fun to use:

    • iPhone and mobile-friendly design
    • A top-level navigation menu that breaks down our programs into a logical hierarchy
    • A "Program Finder" to help narrow your searches
    • Facebook and Twitter buttons so you can recommend our programs to your friends

    The new site also features some new and expanded program areas:

    • Skills Expeditions   These expeditions are designed to beef up expedition skills for those with limited climbing experience. While most of these expeditions are based on trips we've been running for years, we've tweaked the curriculum to pack more instruction into the itineraries, guaranteeing a better experience for beginners and a more valuable skill refresher for established climbers.
    • Expanded Technical Rescue Program   For years we've offered technical rescue for independent climbers and guides. Our new offerings include professional-level instruction compliant with National Fire Protection Association standards, appropriate for EMT's, mountain rescue service members, and parks workers.
    • Expanded Programs for Outdoor Educators   In addition to the AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Course and Exam, we're now offering the Leave No Trace Trainer program.  Our comprehensive Mountaineering Instructor Program is the most complete course of study available to prepare for the AMGA certification track.

    We went live on Tuesday, October 23, and so far, no glitches!  Our web developers, Mindfly Web Studio in Bellingham, did a great job.  We've worked with them since about 2001, and they have always given us excellent, expert, professional service.  Thanks to Rusty, Heather, and the whole Mindfly team!

    Come see the new site, and if you feel like it ... no pressure ... "like" a program page or two.

    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 their 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

    Wednesday, October 24, 2012

    Mountain Conditions October 24th, 2012



    WASHINGTON
    :

    Skiing Heliotrope Ridge: Read the TR

    Blueberry Chutes and Artist Point: Read the TR

    Road Updates: 
      ALASKA:

      -- Weather --

                  Mount McKinley Recreational Forecast

      -- Webcams --

                  Denali from Wonder Lake


      SIERRA:

      U-Notch: Out of condition

      Dana Couloir: Out of Condition

      -- Webcams --
      RED ROCK CANYON:

      Red Rock Canyon Campground Is now open for the season. 



      -- Weather --

      -- Webcam --
      -- The late exit and overnight permit number for Red Rock Canyon is 702-515-5050. If there is any chance that you will be inside the park after closing, be sure to call this number so that you don't get a ticket.

      --The scenic drive currently opens its gates at 6 in the morning.


      JOSHUA TREE:


      --Weather 
      --Webcam

      ALPS:

      Tuesday, October 23, 2012

      Film Review: 127 Hours

      The news spread through the outdoor adventure community like a wildfire.

      A climber and canyoneer named Aron Ralston was involved in an accident in Bluejohn Canyon near Moab.  But this was no normal accident.  While descending a steep section, Ralston dislodged a boulder which caught his arm and pinned him.  After being stuck in the canyon without food or water for days, the young man was forced to do the unthinkable.

      He amputated his arm with a pocketknife.

      Why did this happen?  Ralston was notorious for gleefully flirting with danger.  Indeed, he was buried up to his neck in an avalanche just a few months before the Bluejohn Canyon incident.  It appeared that he had a record of being careless in the mountains.  He was heavily criticized for soloing when he performed his "self-rescue" in the canyon.  The theory being that if there was somebody there, they could have went for help.  And he was also roundly criticized for not telling anyone where he was going.

      After the incident, many people -- both outdoors people and media talking heads -- attacked Ralston for soloing the canyon.  People said that it was irresponsible or somehow wrong to go into the backcountry without a partner.  I would respectfully disagree.  Solo adventures by experienced backcountry enthusiasts are incredibly common in every type of wilderness travel, from climbing, to backpacking, to skiing, to canyoneering...

      There is some legitimacy, however,  to the second criticism.  A responsible backcountry user should do everything in his or her power to make sure that somebody knows where he or she is.  And while itineraries sometimes change, they often only change a little bit.  One is generally still in the same geographic area, so if you don't come home after a trip, at least SAR has a search grid to work with.


      After things cooled off a bit, Ralston wrote a book about his experience entitled, Between a Rock and a Hard Place.  This book was recently adapted into a feature film entitled 127 Hours directed by Academy Award winner Danny Boyle and staring James Franco.

      For the most part, the film is a tight, artistic and engrossing account of Ralston's ordeal.  The entire piece feels a lot like the film version ofTouching the Void.  In each of the movies, the poor choices that the characters make disappear into harrowing survival stories and we completely forget about them.  It's hard to be too judgmental when a person is in so much pain and enduring so much terror.

      Indeed, the beating heart of 127 Hours is an issue that many outdoor adventurers and enthusiasts have a hard time coming to terms with.  Outdoor adventure sports can be positive experiences that bring people together.  They can cement deep relationships and provide life-altering personal insights.  But we all know that these same sports provide thrills that can be powerful intoxicants and can lead one down a dark path away from the positive aspects of outdoor adventure and into selfishness and obsession.  This is where Ralston (James Franco) was at the beginning of the film, imprisoned by arrogance and self-absorption.  His trapped arm then becomes a metaphor for the trap that he has built around himself out of the negativity in his psyche.  His eventual escape from Bluejohn is then also a metaphor for his escape from his previous life and the shallowness that accompanied it.

      Films are generally constructed in three acts.  There's an introduction where the characters and the story are defined.  The first act is usually capped off by an important event which significantly raises the stakes for the character.  The second act is the meat of the story and it is also finished with a climactic event.  The third act usually includes the film's climax and closes out the story.  

      Though this is a very good film, it is not without flaw.  The weakest part of127 Hours is in the first act.  The problem is twofold.  First, the dialogue and the interaction between the characters is stilted and somewhat unrealistic.  Screenwriters Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, as well as the cast, would have done well to spend some time in the mountains or in the canyons with real outdoors people.  The interaction between Aron Ralston and two attractive young women (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) that he meets in the desert is weak and Hollywoodish.  They simply don't talk to each other the way that people talk to each other when they meet in the wilderness.  Instead, the characters have an interaction which is sexually charged and completely bereft of realism.

      Most outdoorspeople really like to see women working together in the mountains.  When we see two female partners at the crag, they are usually dialed.  There's something offensive about this sequence where a know-it-all guy drops in to help two damsels in distress and it turns into a flirt fest.  The stereotype of the no-nothing woman in the outdoors is dated and sexist.  All of the parties involved in this production should have known better than to rely on a weak cliché, especially when it comes to portraying individuals who are balanced and intelligent backcountry users.



      Trailer for 127 Hours

      The second problem in the first act revolves around the same interaction.  Ralston and his female companions decide that they are going to drop into a hidden pool deep within a canyon.  Of course the pool is crystal clear and absolutely beautiful.  The reality of such a pool, deep in a recess, is that it would be a scummy and disgusting pond.  Perhaps this was simply added to provide some sex appeal to the weakly written interaction between Ralston and the women.

      Early screenings of the movie at international film festivals brought in rave reviews.  Indeed, this film was put on the list as an Oscar contender long before it made its way to American theaters.  But those film festivals also brought in something else.  There were reports of people who were so disgusted by the amputation scene that they were vomiting and fainting in the aisles. Perhaps I'm jaded and have seen too much violence in film, but I personally found this sequence to be exhilarating.  I found myself rooting for the character and worrying that he would pass out and be unable to finish the task at hand.

      127 Hours is a fantastic survival movie.  James Franco is a master actor and Danny Boyle is one of the best directors currently working in American film.  This small story about one man literally caught between a rock and a hard place, is an inspiring piece about obsession and life.  Every person on the planet has a deep need to stay alive no matter what.  The fact that Ralston severs his own arm isn't that surprising.  Most people (at least those who read this blog) would do the same under such circumstances.  But what is surprising and refreshing about the piece instead, is the depth of the character's thoughts and the transformation that he goes through as the story unfolds.

      --Jason D. Martin

      Monday, October 22, 2012

      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.

      In both of the preceding pictures, the hiker could potentially fall and dislocate his thumb.


      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.



      Both of the photos above show acceptable ways to hold trekking poles 
      without the possibility of injury.

      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

      Sunday, October 21, 2012

      October and November Climbing Events 2012




      It's Reel Rock Season


      Click Here to go to the calendar and find a showing near you. 


      10/27 - 11/4 -- Banff, AB Canada -- Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival

      11/4 -- Seattle, WA -- Northwest Snow and Avalanche Summit

      Now - 11/25 -- Varied locations -- IFSC World, Youth, and Asian Cup Schedule

      11/8 -- Bellingham, WA -- Waren Miller's Flow State at Mount Baker Theatre

      11/9 -- San Francisco, CA -- Stop 1 of Touchstone Bouldering Series :


      11/10 -- St. Louis, MO -- Gateway Bouldering Bash

      11/9 - 11/10 -- Bishop, CA -- Fall Highball Craggin' Classic

      November is Banff Season


      11/27 -- Bellingham, WA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival


      Friday, October 19, 2012

      From Glory to Grace

      The well-regarded Canadian climber and athlete, Will Gadd, has one of the most informative climbing and training blogs on the net. Through Gravsports, Gadd brings us an array of tips, techniques, and commentary on the world of climbing.

      It was through his blog that we that we became aware of the video, Fall: From Glory to Grace. In this film, we watch a man take a very serious ice climbing fall and then we watch him walk away from it.  The video production is well-done, but the team's assessment of the fall and what lead to it and how to avoid such a situation in the future is poorly thought out.

      On Gadd's blog, he analyzes each of the elements that lead to the accident. We have done a round-up of these points below the video.





      Here is a breakdown of the mistakes made:

      • --First and foremost, ice climbing is a sport where falling is NOT acceptable.  Sure, it's okay to fall on top-rope, but it is definitely not okay to fall on lead.  In some rock climbing situations, it's okay to fall on lead, but even there one can get hurt.  With twenty-four sharp points on your feet, and five sharp points in your hands, there is a lot that can puncture you or catch on the ice, forcing a limb to bend in a way that it wasn't meant to bend.
      • --The placement of gear in ice climbing is meant to keep you from taking a ground fall.  It is not meant to keep you safe in a small fall.
      • --Leaders should be comfortable on the terrain that they are leading prior to climbing a given pitch.  There is nothing wrong with top-roping at the grade until you're comfortable.  Leading adds a lot of extra stressors.  One has to place screws, think about where the route's going, etc.
      • --Top-roping will also help with technique.  Gadd points out that many of the climber's tool placements are subpar and that his footwork is terrible.
      • --One should practice clipping into the tool.  There are many ways to do this.  At one point in the video, we can see one of the climbers that assisted the injured showing them how to deal with such a situation.  If you can clip into the tool, then you will have the ability to place a screw.  In Gadd's response the video, he writes, "stop before you get super pumped, put in a good screw, reset, maybe back off if you can't climb the pitch without getting super pumped. Or, climb it in five-foot sections putting in a screw and hanging; I have FAR more respect for someone who does that than gets pumped and falls off. If you're super pumped stop, reset. No "free" pitch is worth getting injured for."
      • --The belayer talks about putting slack in his anchor system so that he can easily move out of the way if there's icefall.  He should have built his belay in a place where there was no icefall to begin with.  In a single pitch setting, this is very easy to do.
      • --The belayer is also belaying the leader with a GiGi. This device is not designed to belay leaders.
      • --The climber is wearing a Black Diamond Bod Harness. It appears that the harness is not double-backed. He is very lucky that he didn't simply slide right out of his harness after the fall.
      People make mistakes in the mountains. I've made them and you've made them, too. We all have. But if you're reading this right now, you got away with your mistake. This guy was also able to walk away from his. And indeed, it is likely that this video's existence on the internet will help him to grow as a climber.

      I hope that re-posting this will help everyone in their growth and in their self assessment. I think that it is important to look at every day of climbing as a learning experience. There is no doubt that this is a dangerous sport. And it could be argued that the only way to keep playing the game is to constantly self assess and to constantly learn from every mistake, big and small...

      --Jason D. Martin

      Wednesday, October 17, 2012

      Mountain Conditions Oct. 17, 2012


      WASHINGTON:

      Fires: 

      -8 Mile Road in Icicle Canyon is currently closed due to a fire.

      -Stewart Lake and Colchuck Lake Trailhead is currently closed due to a fire. The Enchantment Lakes Basin is open via Snow Lakes Trailhead.


      Road Updates: 

      -Mt Baker Highway open to Artist Point.
        ALASKA:

        -- Weather --

                    Mount McKinley Recreational Forecast

        -- Webcams --

                    Denali from Wonder Lake


        SIERRA:

        U-Notch: Out of condition

        Dana Couloir: Out of Condition

        -- Webcams --
        RED ROCK CANYON:

        Red Rock Canyon Campground Is now open for the season. 



        -- Weather --

        -- Webcam --
        -- The late exit and overnight permit number for Red Rock Canyon is 702-515-5050. If there is any chance that you will be inside the park after closing, be sure to call this number so that you don't get a ticket.

        --The scenic drive currently opens its gates at 6 in the morning.


        JOSHUA TREE:


        --Weather 
        --Webcam

        ALPS: