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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Climbing Events December and January 2012

It's Reel Rock Season

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

Let's Go Telemark Movie, On Tour Now - Check Dates

November is Banff Season

12/1 -- Bellingham, WA -- International Mountain Day

12/2 -- Columbia, MD -- Ice Nite at Earth Treks Climbing Center - Free

12/3 -- Rockville, MD -- Ice Nite at Earth Treks Climbing Center - Free

12/5 -- Timonium, MD -- Ice Nite at Earth Treks Climbing Center - Free

12/5 - 12/9 -- Bozeman, MT -- Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival

12/8 -- Everett, WA -- International Mountain Day

Monday, November 26, 2012

Waxing Skis and Snowboards

It's getting to be that time. Our guides have been playing in the snow for a couple of weeks now and ski areas are opening around the country and so, with that in mind...

Surprisingly, only a small percentage of skiers and snowboarders take the time and energy required to properly wax the base of their equipment. Skis and snowboards simply don't perform as well when they are not maintained.

There are different waxes for the different temperatures. Colder snow with sharper snow crystals need a more robust wax to keep the skis from getting damaged, whereas warmer, wetter snow causes more friction, which can slow you down without the right wax.

For those that are lazy, there are rub on waxes that can easily be applied in a few minutes. But before you get too lazy, you should always remember that the more time you spend putting the wax on, the longer it will last.

Once you have determined the temperature of snow that you are likely to encounter, you will need the following items:

  • Iron for ironing the wax into the ski base
  • Vise for stabilizing skis while waxing
  • Scraper for removing extra wax
  • Brush for removing extra wax
After you have obtained the proper equipment, you're ready to make a foray into the world of waxing. We have mined the internet for two films on this subject. This first video from REI, provides a solid base of information for those who would like to wax. The second video expands on the information in the first video and provides a few extra tips for snowboarders. If you are going to start waxing your skis or snowboard, it is strongly suggested that you watch both videos to build a solid basis of knowledge. It is possible to damage your equipment without a good understanding of what you're getting into...

For more techniques including some waxing techniques for first time waxers, check out this awesome Spadout article on How to Wax Skis.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 23, 2012

Dreams of Aconcagua

As the Northwest rainy season begins I find myself missing the warmth of the southern hemisphere.  I of course drift back to Mendoza, Argentina where the days are still long and the temperatures are reaching a comfortable 80 degrees. Flip flops and shorts amazing food and fine wines. Thought of this can easily improve the mood of the cloud covered Northwest.

As a climber I aways find my world travels to be more fulfilling when I can combine the local culture with a mountain objective.  A climb of Aconcagua satisfies this need perfectly. I specifically arrived a couple of days early for my climb of Aconcagua so I could allow some time to enjoy the city of Mendoza and take in some of the sights and culture. Mendoza being a leading producer of fine wines a wine tasting was high on the list.  After a couple of days of walking around the center of Mendoza and maybe a few to many wine tastings I was ready for ready to get on with my objective of climbing the highest peak in South America.

A 3 hour shuttle ride gets me from the downtown Mendoza to the the small town of Penitentes, where I prepare my food and expedition equipment for the Mules to carry the bulk of my gear up to the roughly 14,000 Plaza Argentina base camp on Aconcagua.

Penitentes the start of the climb.

The next day I began my 3 day trek into Plaza Argentina. It is hot and arid with a desert like landscape. The gentle slopes up the Vacas Valley to my fist camp at Pampa de Lenas is enjoyable and not to taxing considering my pack only weighs about 20 pounds. I brought some fresh steaks packed in a cooler taken by the Mules and gave my muleteers some extra paso's and they prepared a classic barbecue on an open fire. The local steaks in Argentina live up up to the fine reputation of some of the best meat I have ever tasted.

Day two I cross the Vacas Rivier and continue up the valley being passed by the Mules carrying the heavy loads of all the expeditions working there way up the valley. The trek to Casa de Piedra is a little longer but not much harder then the trek to Pampa de Lanas. I arrive in mid afternoon and relax by the Vacas River washing the dust off me from my 2 days of casual trekking.

Rio De Vacas Valley

The final day of trekking begins with a very cold crossing of the Vacas River that the day before was so refreshing and now is just waking me up. After the crossing  I begin to climb up the somewhat steep Los Relincho valley and the environment quickly changes from arid desert scape to a high alpine setting. The air becomes thinner as the climb nears the 14,000 foot Plaza Argentina base camp.

Los Relincho Valley

Upon reaching Plaza Argentina I find my barrels and begin to unpack my supplies for the climb that awaits. I take 4 days at Plaza Argentina to acclimate and ferry some loads up to 16,000 foot camp 1. I use the climb high sleep low method these days to help my acclimatization process.

Plaza De Argentina

The climb up to Camp 1 goes up through the frontal moraine and is mostly on scree and boulders until it hit the plateau at around 15,000 feet where it rises gently up hill for about a mile then the last 800 feet is a steep calve burner and lung worker up to 16,000 foot camp 1. The loads are heavier then the trek in although the days I spent ferrying loads help lighten the pack a touch but my pack still weighs in at around 55 lbs.

The same process is used to get up to my high camp (camp 3)  at 19,600 feet with ferrying loads up high and sleeping low to keep the acclimatization process going. At camp 1 my acclimatization proves to work as I watch many teams turn around because they have just moved to fast and got one of the many forms of Acute Mountain Sickness and have to return to Plaza Argentina or retreat home.

It takes me 5 more  days to reach my high camp at 19,600 feet.  I start the arduous task of finding clean snow to boil and make my meal in hopes of good weather the next day to summit. Just as I begin to shut my stoves down I hear my tent begin to flap and a small breeze sets in for the night. An hour later that small breeze turns into a steady 50 mile per hour gale. Barely sleeping that night with concerns of my tent blowing away and feeling like I was trying to sleep in a Metalica concert. I was glad to see the wind had not abated. I got a rest day if you could call it that. I spend most of the morning building rock walls around my tent an repairing broken guide lines on the tent a very arduous task to do in 80mph gusts.

Windy day at a high camp with low rock walls.

The next nights sleep is a little better with ear plugs and the high walls around my tent. My body is little more use to sleeping a 19,600 feet so I feel more rested when I awake to check the weather at 5:30 am. I poke my head out and still very high winds and a little snow is falling, I decide more sleep and recheck the weather again at 7:30 am. At 10 am I decide it will be another rest day/ weather day. This day proves more difficult then one would expect. I find myself bored and unwilling to be active. I spend most of the morning wishing I could be climbing and the other half missing my home and friends. Two days stuck at altitude not doing anything but surviving is starting to drive me crazy. Finally at around 5 pm, I notice something, it is quite. I craw out of my tent it is cold and clear but almost windless I have a hard time believing this is true how could of I missed it stopping or did it just stop? What ever the case, it is windless so I prepare my pack for the summit day the next day.

I awake at around 5:30 am still calm but cold. I get my boot liners on my feet and down pants and jacket on and  I craw back in my bag. I do this to warm all my cloths I will be climbing in. Starting warm is easier then starting cold in hope that you warm up.  I wait for my water to boil a painful 20-30 minute process. I leave just past 6:45 am and fall in line with many of the other groups heading for the summit.

About an hour an half later I am at Independencia Hut and the sun is warming me up. I  I take off my down pants and eat and drink in the warm morning sun, although the air temps are still right around 0 degrees. The next stretch is to La Cueva and it is cold, cold, cold I took a small break half way to add my down pants again and extra warm gloves the sun seems to stay just up ahead of me the whole time until I reach La Cueva then once again I warm my body in the warmth of the sun's rays.  More food and water and around 21,800 feet I stare up at La Canaleta.

Sun out of reach La Cueva in distance.

La Canaleta is the final stretch to the summit and is steep and difficult as I am breaking trail in the fresh snow that fell the day before. My lung burn and pace slows. I concentrate on the my breathing and keeping a steady pace. I don't want to find myself walking fast and hunching over to catch my breath. Instead I keep a steady pace and keep my chest upright so my diaphragm can help move the most amount of air through my body.  The only nice thing about the the fresh snow is that steps tend to be easy to kick and the loose rock under foot tends to hold footing better then when there is no fresh snow.

After an hour of trudging up La Canaleta I reach the Summit plateau. Views of Chile are to the west and to the south you see the amazing South Face of Aconcagua.  I am lucky and it is a rare windless day up at 22,842 feet barely a cloud in the sky. I spend an hour before on top then start the decent back to my high camp. It takes about half the time to descend as it took to climb and after some food and hot drinks I get a great nights sleep at my high camp.

View of the south face and the Canaleta to the right.

The next morning I pack all my equipment up and descent down the Normal Route which completes my traverse of the mountain. Again I am just amazed at the beauty of the changing of environments from the alpine environment into the desert landscape just below 14,000 feet. I spend the night in Plaza de Mulas the base camp for the Normal route . It is more crowded then the other side of the mountain but I enjoy the people and a since of accomplishment is heightened as I am climbing down and they have still yet to summit. My smile on my face and skinny look suggest my success all to well and most just ask how was the summit.

The next day I do the 8 hour trek from Plaza de Mulas to Horcones. It is nice to have light packs again as I have the mules taking the heavy equipment back to Penitentes. The view as I descend are just as amazing they were going up the Vacas valley and in the Horcones Valley I get to see the south face in its entirety. May an objective at a later date.

In Penitentes I get to sleep in a bed for the first time in 17 days. the next morning a shuttle gets me back to Mendoza where it it is hot and I treat myself to the famed Argentine all you can eat grill and enjoy some more fine Malbec!!

--Mark Cionek, Alaska and Aconcagua Programs Coordinator

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Climbing Events November & December 2012

It's Reel Rock Season

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

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

Let's Go Telemark Movie, On Tour Now - Check Dates

November is Banff Season

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

12/1 -- Bellingham, WA -- International Mountain Day

12/2 -- Columbia, MD -- Ice Nite at Earth Treks Climbing Center - Free

12/3 -- Rockville, MD -- Ice Nite at Earth Treks Climbing Center - Free

12/5 -- Timonium, MD -- Ice Nite at Earth Treks Climbing Center - Free

12/5 - 12/9 -- Bozeman, MT -- Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival

12/8 -- Everett, WA -- International Mountain Day

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Non-Event Feedback Loops

Many climbing and ski mountaineering accidents are the result of human error. There are a number of types of human error, but the most disconcerting and common type results from a non-event feedback loop.

--I've been doing it this this way for years and nothing bad has ever happened. 

--We skied the slope all day and it was fine. How were we to know that it would slide?

--The boot-track went right under the ice cliff. I just went the way everybody else went.

The thinking process behind non-event feedback is predicated on the following belief: Nothing bad happened last time and nothing bad happened to someone else; therefore, nothing bad will happen this time to me. The psychology of non-event feedback is complex, but its very existence leads to the following reality:

The crag that you climb the most, the slope that you ski the most, the mountain that you've been up the most times...these are the most dangerous places that you will ever go.Non-event feedback takes on a new dimension with group dynamics. A beginner may follow a competent leader up a mountain. The leader may look at the conditions and decide that they're safe. If the leader doesn't go through his entire thinking process, the beginner may then make the assumption that the conditions are always safe. 

Avalanche research indicates that the likelihood of skiers tackling a dangerous slope increases dramatically after one person successfully skis the slope first. In other words, once someone sees someone else get away with something, they subconsciously believe that they can get away with it, too.

The only way to avoid getting stuck in non-event feedback loops is to constantly question yourself. Is this safe today? Am I just following the leader? And lastly, am I responding to the conditions as they are or as I wish they were?

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 19, 2012

2012 National Outdoor Book Award Winners

The American Alpine Institute just received the following press release concerning the National Outdoor Book Award Winners:


POCATELLO - Stunning underwater photography.  A coming-of-age story of three women.  Wonder and magic in a small patch of forest.  Nail biting adventure. These are some of the themes found among the winners of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Awards (NOBA).  The annual awards program recognizes the best in outdoor writing and publishing.

"The judges were unanimous in their assessment of photographer David Hall's work," said Ron Watters, Chairman of the Awards Program, "He is a gifted artist and has created a masterpiece."

Hall's large format book "Beneath the Cold Seas" is a collection of photographs taken in the underwater world of the Pacific Northwest.

"To get his photographs, Hall works under exceptionally difficult conditions,"  Watters. said.  "He dives in bitter cold waters and works without a tripod.  Due to the turbidity of the water, he can't use telephoto lenses and has to get close to his subjects.  Despite these obstacles, he does exquisite work."

In addition to "Beneath the Cold Seas," fourteen other books were honored in this year's National Outdoor Book Awards.  The awards program is sponsored by the National Outdoor Book Awards Foundation, Idaho State University and the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.

Among the winners is "Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail" by Suzanne Roberts.  It is one of two winners in the Outdoor Literature category.

"Almost Somewhere" is about a backpacking trip that Roberts takes with two other women.  It's outdoor adventure from a feminine perspective.  Roberts obsesses with her weight and grapples with conflicted views of sex and relationships.  One of the other women on the trip struggles with bulimia.

"It's an introspective and honest narrative of their journey," said Watters.  "What emerges from the book is a revealing and insightful coming-of-age portrait of women of the post baby boom generation."

The other winner of the Outdoor Literature Category is "The Ledge" by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan.  It is the true story of Davidson's desperate attempt to escape from a crevasse on Mount Rainier.  After he falls, he finds himself caught with his pack wedged between two walls of ice.  Below him is an abyss.

"I promise," said Watters.  "'This is a book that will keep you turning the pages.  Davidson must dig deep into his inner physical reserves, all the while, struggling internally with a range of emotions that alternate between hope, despair, and terror.  It's a spellbinding account."

"The Forest Unseen" byDavid George Haskell is the winner of the Natural History category.  Haskell describes the natural processes occurring on one square meter of an old growth forest.

"It's quite a unique and fascinating perspective.  Haskell works wonders, using only a tiny patch of forest, and creates for the reader a mesmerizing account of the natural world."

Two winners were also awarded in the history/biography category.  The first of the two is "Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2's Deadliest Day" by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan.

"Buried in the Sky" chronicles the 2008 climbing season on K2, the second highest mountain in the world.  During a turn in the weather, eleven climbers died and three others were seriously injured.  The authors tell the story of what happened from the Sherpas' point of view.

"This is a book that really needed to be written," said Watters.  "It finally humanizes the unsung heroes of the mountaineering world and their hopes and dreams for a better life."

The other winner in the history/biography category is Anything Worth Doing by Jo Deurbrouck.  This book is about two men who launch a small wooden dory on Idaho's Salmon River during flood stage.  Their plan is to float all night and all the next day in an attempt to set a 24-hour speed

"This is a highly creative and exceptionally well written book.  It will keep you glued to the pages," Watters said.

Complete reviews of these and the other 2012 winners may be found at the National Outdoor Book Awards website at:

Here is a list of winners. 

Outdoor Literature.  Winner.  "Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail."  By Suzanne Roberts.  University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

Outdoor Literature.  Winner.  "The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier."  By Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan. Ballantine Books, New York.

Outdoor Literature.  Honorable Mention.  "Before They're Gone:  A Family's Year-Long Quest to Explore America's Most Endangered National Parks."  By Michael Lanza.  Beacon Press, Boston.

Natural History Literature.  Winner.  "The Forest Unseen:  A Year's Watch in Nature."  By David George Haskell.  Viking, New York.

History/Biography.  Winner.  "Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2's Deadliest Day."  By Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan.  W. W. Norton, New York.

History/Biography.  Winner.  "Anything Worth Doing: A True Story of Friendship and Tragedy on the Last of the West's Great Rivers."  By Jo Deurbrouck.  Sundog Book Publishing, Idaho Falls, ID.

Design and Artistic Merit.  Winner.  "Beneath the Cold Seas: The Underwater Wilderness of the Pacific Northwest."  By David Hall. University of Washington Press, Seattle and Greystone Books, Vancouver.

Children's Category.  Winner.  "For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson."  By Peggy Thomas.  Illustrated by Laura Jacques.  Calkins Creek, Honesdale, PA.

Nature and the Environment.  Winner.  "The Melting Edge:  Alaska at the Frontier of Climate Change."  By Michael Collier.  Alaska Geographic Association, Anchorage.

Nature and the Environment.  Honorable Mention.  "Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast:  A Natural History."  By Carol Gracie.  Princeton University Press.  Princeton.

Nature and the Environment.  Honorable Mention.  "Polar Bears: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior."  By Andrew E. Derocher.  Photographs by Wayne Lynch.  The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Instructional / How-to.  Winner.  "AMC Guide to Outdoor Digital Photography: Creating Great Nature and Adventure Photos."  By Jerry Monkman.  Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston.

Instructional / How-to.  Winner.  "Backpacker Magazine's Complete Guide to Outdoor Gear Maintenance and Repair: Step by Step Techniques to Maximize Performance and Save Money."  By Kristin Hostetter.  Falcon Guides, Guilford, CT.

Outdoor Adventure Guidebooks.  Winner.  "Grand Canyoneering:  Exploring the Rugged Gorges and Secret Slots of the Grand Canyon."  By Todd Martin. Todd's Desert Hiking Guide, Phoenix.

Nature Guidebooks.  Winner.  "A Field Guide to the Southeast Coast & Gulf of Mexico."  By Noble S. Proctor and Patrick J. Lynch.  Yale University Press, New Haven.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Win a Free Copy of Andy Kirkpatrick's Cold Wars

If you haven't read my review below, definitely check it out. But if you're interested in the book, you might consider doing a bit more than that.

Mountaineers Books has generously donated three copies of Cold Wars to a little competition we are running.  Log onto our Facebook page and make a comment on the post about Kirkpatrick's book and be entered to win a copy!

The competition runs from today (Friday) through Monday evening. So you have a little time... But not much!

Jason D. Martinu

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Climbing Events November & December 2012

It's Reel Rock Season

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

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

Let's Go Telemark Movie, On Tour Now - Check Dates

11/14 -- Leavenworth, WA -- Jason Hummel Slideshow

November is Banff Season

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

12/2 -- Columbia, MD -- Ice Nite at Earth Treks Climbing Center - Free

12/3 -- Rockville, MD -- Ice Nite at Earth Treks Climbing Center - Free

12/5 -- Timonium, MD -- Ice Nite at Earth Treks Climbing Center - Free

Monday, November 12, 2012

Intro to Aid Technique

Free climbing is the technique of ascending a route with equipment and climbing protection, but without directly using that equipment to assist one's ascent. Instead, the equipment is used solely for safety. In direct opposition to this, aid climbing is the direct use of climbing equipment to climb a wall.

A basic aid pitch requires one to place a piece of protection. Once the piece is secure, the climber will clip an etrier or aider to that piece of gear. An etrier (which some people refer to as an aider) is a nylon ladder. The climber will climb up the etrier until she is as high as possible. The climber will then place another piece of gear and clip another etrier to this. An aid pitch requires one to do this repeatedly as he or she works up the route.

A Climber Relaxes on a Portaledge
Photo from

A big wall climb is a route that is so big, that it generally takes more than a day to complete. Many walls require one to haul bags full of food, water and equipment as well as to use a portable ledge (a portaledge). This type of climbing can be equated to vertical backpacking.

Most big wall climbs require a great deal of aid climbing. Part of the reason that one must sleep on the wall is because aid climbing is incredibly slow. There has to be a piece of gear of some sort every six feet. If a climber is not quick with her system, then the time will add up very quickly and aGrade IV will turn into a Grade VI.

Aid climbing requires a lot of unusual gear. Following is a quick glossary of simple aid terms. There is a lot more to this aspect of climbing and this should simply be thought of as a quick intro:
  1. Hook -- This is literally a hook that one might use as a piece of protection. A climber will put a small metal hook over a rock lip and then clip the etrier to it in order to move up.
  2. Jumar -- The second (the follower) on an aid pitch is required to climb the rope instead of the rock. The second will usually do this with mechanical ascenders called jumars. The act of climbing up the rope with these is called jugging.
  3. A1-A5 -- The aid grade system. An A1 placement is perfect and could hold a bus. An A5 placement is really bad and will only hold bodyweight.
  4. Daisy Chain -- This is a personal anchor system with a series of loops sewn into it. A climber can place a hook (called a fifi hook) on her harness an hook the loops of the daisy to shorten it.
  5. Hauling -- The act of dragging a bag up the wall. This is the most miserable part of an aid climb.
  6. Copperhead -- A wire with a maleable copper top. These can be pounded into a crack and will usually hold bodyweight on high end aid climbs.
  7. Nailing -- A pitch that requires the use of pitons.
The following videos provide an introduction to aid technique with a focus on the methods required to climb a big wall.

At AAI we will begin teaching aid and big wall technique in a classroom format for the first time this summer. Previously, we have only taught these courses on a private basis. This summer we will be offering aid and big wall technique in Part III of our Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership series.

--Jason D. Martin

Sunday, November 11, 2012

National Geographic: Adventurer of the Year Award

To all our Adventure Loving fans out there, 

The following is a Press release from National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Some of the adventurers on this list were in favorite films from last season and some have been ever-present in climbing media for ages so take a minute to support your favorite adventurer.

Cheers to Adventure from AAI!!!

National Geographic Announces Nominees and Start of Online Voting
For People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year

WASHINGTON (Nov. 1, 2012)—National Geographic announced today the start of online voting for its annual People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year contest. The nominees for 2013 are 10 adventure innovators whose extraordinary achievement in exploration, conservation, humanitarianism and adventure sports have distinguished them in the past year. Fans can go to to vote every day for their favorite nominee. The adventurer with the most votes on Jan. 16, 2013, will be the 2013 People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year.
This year’s nominees include a surfer who rides giant waves; a skier who landed the first sit-ski backflip; a mountain biker who pedaled across cultural boundaries; and a BASE jumper who jumped from space. The 10 nominees are:
Felix Baumgartner — Austrian BASE jumper
Josh Dueck — Canadian skier
Steve Fisher — South African kayaker
Shannon Galpin — American humanitarian
Lizzy Hawker — British ultrarunner
Jeremy Jones — American snowboarder
David Lama — Austrian climber
Mike Libecki — American explorer
Ramon Navarro — Chilean surfer
Renan Ozturk — American artist

“This is the eighth year that National Geographic has combed the globe to find people who have pioneered innovation in the world of adventure. This year’s Adventurer of the Year nominees have pushed the boundaries of exploration and adventure,” said Mary Anne Potts, editor of National Geographic Adventure online.
To learn more about each adventurer through photos, interviews and a video and to vote every day for the People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year, go to

National Geographic Society
The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society works to inspire people to care about the planet. National Geographic reflects the world through its magazines, television programs, films, music and radio, books, DVDs, maps, exhibitions, live events, travel programs, interactive media and merchandise. National Geographic magazine, the Society’s official journal, published in English and 36 local-language editions, is read by more than 60 million people each month. The National Geographic Channel reaches 440 million households in 171 countries in 38 languages. National Geographic Digital Media receives more than 20 million visitors a month. National Geographic has funded more than 10,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geography literacy. For more information, visit

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

While most people shy away from the notion of going out in a storm, skiers and boarders have a different view of the weatherman's foreboding forecast. Salomon's latest edition of FreeSkiTV shows us why getting out when others are staying in can be so good.

Jason Kehl heads for the forests and boulders of Squamish to escape the heat and the hub-bub of Texas and to refocus and send.

As part of Mammut's 150 Peak Project this year to celebrate the 150th Anniversary, David Lama heads off to tackle the 6,239 meter Nameless Tower, also known as Trango Tower, in northern Pakistan.

Lastly, I've got to send a little love to my new friends Stef Hendry and Brendon Porter at Chair 2 Board Sports in Easton, WA.  I met them at the CWU Winterfest in Ellensburg on Thursday, and they're good people.  If you're a snowboarder or split-boarder and live or ride in I-90 corridor, be sure to stop in and check them out.  Here's a clip of Brendon and one of their team riders, Brian Leahy, tearing it up in Chinook Pass earlier this spring.

Stef and Brendon love getting out in the backcountry, but they also know how serious it is, so they come prepared with Avalanche Safety Kits (shovel, beacon, probe), and have the training on how to use them properly and effectively.  This season, we have Level 1 Avalanche Courses in Bellingham, Seattle, Olympia, and now on the east side of the mountains in Leavenworth as well!  Be sure to take a look at the schedule here and sign up for a course if you plan to venture in to the backcountry.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, November 9, 2012

Self Arrest Techniques

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

Though this video is quite good, there are a couple of things that we teach differently:

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

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

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

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

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

.--Jason D. Martin

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Climbing Events November and December, 2012

It's Reel Rock Season

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

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

Let's Go Telemark Movie, On Tour Now - Check Dates

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

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

11/13 -- Seattle, WA -- Graham Zimmerman Slideshow at Second Ascent

11/14 -- Leavenworth, WA -- Jason Hummel Slideshow

November is Banff Season

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

12/2 -- Columbia, MD -- Ice Nite at Earth Treks Climbing Center - Free

12/3 -- Rockville, MD -- Ice Nite at Earth Treks Climbing Center - Free

12/5 -- Timonium, MD -- Ice Nite at Earth Treks Climbing Center - Free