Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Climbing Events: February & March 2013

2/1 -- Petaluma, CA -- Tahoe Adventure Film Festival

2/1 -- Munising, MI -- Michigan Ice Fest

2/7 - 2/9 -- Busteni, Romania -- UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup - Lead and Speed

2/9 -- Richmond, VA -- Manchester Wall Adopt a Crag

2/23 -- Dallas, TX -- SMU Pulldown Climbing Wall Competition

2/23/2013 -- Atlanta, GA -- Rock & Rave Fundraiser (with Sharma, Florine, Smith and more)

2/24 -- Ashland, OR -- Emigrant Lake Adopt a Crag

2/27 - 2/28 -- Santa Barbara, CA -- Banff Mountain Film Festival at UCSB Arlington Theater

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Summit

In August of 2008, 11 climbers were killed over the course of a two days on the world's second highest peak, K2. Like the 1996 Mt. Everest tragedy, stories of what happened -- and what didn't happen -- were leaked to the international press almost immediately.  And to this day, the decisions made on K2 and the stories that were built from the tragedy are still controversial.

Last year we published a review of a book about this incident. Buried in the Sky is the story of the Nepali and Pakistani guides and porters that were on the mountain during the tragedy. But as people continue to dissect this incident, more books and films are coming out about it all the time. The Summit is one of those films.

The Summit was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival, which just wrapped up in Park City, Utah.  Here is a little information from the film's press release:

In August 2008, twenty-four climbers from several international expeditions converged on High Camp of K2, the last stop before the summit of the most dangerous mountain on earth. Forty-eight hours later, eleven had been killed or had vanished, making it the worst K2 climbing disaster in history. 

In a century of assaults on K2, only about 300 people have ever seen the view from the planet’s second highest peak. More than a quarter of those who made it didn't live long enough to share the glory, or to tell the tale. 

At the heart of The Summit lies a mystery about one extraordinary man, Ger McDonnell. By all accounts, he was faced with a heart-breaking dilemma— at the very limit of his mortal resources, he encountered a disastrous scene and a moral dilemma: three climbers tangled up in ropes and running out of time. In the death zone, above 8,000 metres, the body is literally dying with each passing second. Morality is skewed 180 degrees from the rest of life. When a climber falls or wanders off the trail, the unwritten code of the mountain is to leave them for dead. Had Ger McDonnell stuck to the climbers’ code, he might still be alive 

The Summit is about the very nature of modern adventure. Those who survive carry with them a commodity to sell— The Story. This one remains contentious and fiercely debated.

It's not clear when the film will be available at theaters or on DVD, but I would assume that we will be able to see it within the next year.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!

Back in 2010, Will Gadd and Tim Emmett established the first climbs at the otherworldly Helmcken Falls, a few hours from Lillooet, BC.  This winter, Helmcken has seen some more action.  Here's some highlights, including Wolverine, which is possibly the hardest ice climb in the world at a proposed WI11!

BD athletes Klemen Premrl and Tim Emmett making the first and second ascents of Wolverine (WI11) at Helmcken Fall, Canada from Black Diamond Equipment on Vimeo.

This next clip goes to the ladies out there who are tearing up the slopes. Here's a little something to pump you up!

For those of you who are eagerly anticipating the warmer temps of summer and can't wait to get out on some rock, here's a quickie with a good message for you - If you are having trouble overcoming your own climbing obstacles, go get inspired by someone else!

Have a great weekend! - James

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Climbing Events January & February 2013

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

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

1/12 --Cheongsong, Korea -- UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup Begins

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

2/1 -- Petaluma, CA -- Tahoe Adventure Film Festival

2/23 -- Dallas, TX -- SMU Pulldown Climbing Wall Competition

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Splitboard Set-Up (Jones Board and Karakorum Bindings)

AAI Guide and Professional Splitboarder, Liz Daley, recently did a spot on Epic TV about her snowboard set-up. She currently uses a Jones Snowboard and Karakorum bindings. In the spot, she talks specifically about the value of the set-up that she uses. However, in general terms, she also goes over the way that splitboards work.  This is a great little video for those of you who are looking to try out splitboarding.


 The American Alpine Institute rents splitboards, and if you're interested in getting some professional splitboard instruction, you can register for our Intro to Splitboarding program, our Intermediate Splitboarding program or our Splitboard Mountaineering program, all with Liz.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, January 21, 2013

Frostbite: Symptoms and Treatment

When you start to get cold, it's not uncommon for it to feel like your face, your ears, your hands and your feet are affected first. This is a reaction that everybody is predisposed too. As you get cold, your blood vessels constrict in order to avoid heat loss and the possibility of hypothermia. This allows areas of your body which are already cold to get colder. Ultimately, frostbite will occur in these extremeties.

Frostbite is the result of frozen skin and/or other tissue under the skin that becomes frozen. Naturally, this causes cell damage.

Three types of frostbite have been identified by severity. Like burns, they are listed as first degree, second degree and third degree. The following breakdown is from

First degree, also called frost nip: Most people who live in very cold climates or do a lot of outdoor activity in the winter have had first degree frostbite (just as most people have had a first degree burn when they get a sunburn). Frost nip presents itself as numbed skin that has turned white in color. The skin may feel stiff to the touch, but the tissue under is still warm and soft. There is very little chance of blistering, infection or permanent scaring as long as it is treated properly.

Second degree, superficial frostbite: Superficial frostbite is a serious medical condition that needs to be treated by a trained medical professional. The skin will be white or blue and will feel hard and frozen. The tissue underneath is still undamaged. Blistering is likely which is why medical treatment should be sought out. Proper treatment is critical to prevent severe or permanent injuries.

Third degree, deep frostbite: The skin is white, blotchy and/or blue. The tissue underneath is hard and cold to the touch. This is a life threatening injury. Deep frostbite needs to be treated by a trained medical professional. The tissue underneath has been damaged, in sever cases amputation may be the final recourse to prevent severe infection. Blistering will happen. Proper medical treatment in a medical facility with personnel trained to deal with severe frostbite injuries is required to aid in the prevention of severe or permanent injury.

As first degree frostbite is common on expeditions or ice climbing trips, it is also common that it needs to be treated in the field. The most important thing with this mild frostbite is to rewarm the area. Rewarm the injured areas slowly and start working from the outside in. In other words, go toes to feet and fingers to hands. Extremities may be warmed under inside clothing or sleeping bags, arm pits or in the groin. Never rub or massage a frozen area. This merely rubs the ice crystals around on the delicate cell walls which causes additional injury and pain. Once it is rewarmed and thawed, it is very important that the area is not re-frozen. If the injury is re-frozen the severity of the injury will increase.

Second Degree Frostbite

Unfortunately, treating second and third degree frostbite in the field is extremely difficult. Such cold injuries will require medical attention.

Second and third degree cold injuries are the types of injuries that people read about in the climbing literature. These are the injuries that result in blistered skin and blackened digits upon rewarming. The rule is never to walk on frozen feet unless you absolutely have to. Such use will increase the level of injury. But if you are in a situation where you will die of hypothermia if you don't walk on frozen feet, then you're going to have to walk on frozen feet. If they thaw and you are unable to walk on them, or you thaw them and they refreeze later, the situation could become significantly worse.

Third Degree Frostbite

The reality of frostbite is that in most cases it's avoidable. Dressing right and paying attention to your body are two simple ways to avoid this debilitating and dangerous injury.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

This week, Powder Magazine held their annual Powder Awards, a ceremony to crown the readers' choice for top skiers of the season and also to hand out awards to the top ski and snowboarding films of the season. Below I have the trailers for the nominees in the the "Movie of the Year" category. To see the complete list of award winners, click here.

The first trailer here is from "Few Words" by Process Films

The next one is from "Dream Factory" by Teton Gravity Research

Here is a clip from Stept Productions' "The Eighty Six"

And lastly, here is the winner of the 2013 Powder Magazine's Video of the year:  "Sunny" by Level One Productions!

I hope you get a chance to see all these great films!  Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, January 18, 2013

Film Review: Frozen

A couple of winters ago, something absolutely terrifying happened at a European ski resort. A German tourist in the Austrian Alps was "forgotten" on a ski lift. He went up for one last run before they were going to close down for the day...and before he got to the top of the hill, they actually did close for the day, leaving the man stranded.

The 22 year-old skier, who had left his cell phone behind, was stuck for nearly five hours in temperatures reaching 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The young man was finally rescued when a snowcat driver caught sight of him burning money in order to keep warm.

This real-life event was fortuitous for the makers of last winter's chill-thrill film, Frozen. The plot of the low-budget flick is almost exactly the same. Three friends get stuck high on a ski lift on a Sunday night after a New England resort closes for the week. Parker (Emma Bell), Joe (Shawn Ashmore) and Dan (Kevin Zegers) are left to try to find a way to get down or face the prospect that they will freeze to death.

This could have been a good movie. It really could have been.

That is, if someone had spent any time outdoors at all. That is, if someone had researched frostbite and cold weather injuries. And that is, if they weren't trying to make a horror movie and instead were just trying to make a tight and engaging story.

The characters in this movie had a hard time thinking about how to stay warm. Joe, the lone skier in the group, never puts up his hood, no matter how cold it gets. Parker looses a glove early in the movie and then decides that it's a good idea to go to sleep on the ski lift with her hand wrapped tightly around the metal safety bar.

These are things that just wouldn't happen in real life. It's really hard to suspend disbelief when it's clear that the actors aren't really cold and have never really been cold. Nobody ever really shivers in the entire movie and the film-makers are far more interested in getting some gore out of the cold weather injuries than some reality.

The biggest problem of all with this film is that this is exactly the type of movie a low-budget production company could do very well. It is a tight and simplistic storyline that, when character driven, could be a tremendously engaging story. The problem here is that the characters are paper thin. They have nice back-stories, but they are just such dumbpeople, it's hard to really be engaged by them instead of by their situation. This is definitely one of those movies where you spend a lot of time yelling, "no! No! No! Don't do that!" And then you sigh and say, "that was a really stupid thing to do..."

All that said, this movie has one major thing working for it. It's the same thing that works in movies like, Open Water where a pair of scuba divers are left at sea by their tour boat, or in The Blair Witch Project, where a group of documentary film-makers become lost in a haunted's the what-would-I-do-if-I-were-in-this-situation factor. And Frozen is flush with what-would-I-do situations. The likelihood -- if you read this blog regularly -- is that you probably wouldn't do the same things that these not-very-outdoor savvy individuals did.

I suspect that most of you would zip up your jacket and put up up your hood in the cold. I suspect that most of you would not lose your gloves. And if you did lose your gloves, I bet that you would keep your hands in your pockets. Indeed, most of you would probably have cell phones and the problem would be solved without any real drama.

The characters in this movie are not bright and sometimes you do get angry at their choices. But that element, combined with the what-would-I-do element, keeps Frozen from being all bad...and in fact even makes it mildly -- and I stress mildly -- entertaining.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Appalachian Trail in Five Minutes

Thru-Hiker Kevin Gallagher hiked the 2,175 mile Appalachian Trail in six months. Numerous people complete the entire trail every years. But Gallagher did something a little bit different on his trip.

Every day of his trip, Gallagher took twenty-four slides of iconic portions of the trail. He recently put these slides together into a film, which condenses the entire journey into a single five minute segment. He titled the film, "The Green Tunnel."

Following is the product of his adventure:

To learn more about Gallagher and his work, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, January 14, 2013

Strong - A Retrospective

Arcteryx recently posted an excellent video about climber and skier, Roger Strong and how he recovered following an avalanche. The piece is beautifully shot and poignant.

--Jason D. Martin

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Climbing Events January and February 2013

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

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

1/12 --Cheongsong, Korea -- UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup Begins

1/17 -- Las Vegas, NV -- Red Rock BLM Open House
Restoration of Springs in and near Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
-The open house will be held at the Red Rock Canyon NCA Visitor Center classroom, with sessions taking place at 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.  Entrance fees will be waived for those attending starting at 1:00 p.m.; please tell the attendant at the Fee Station that you are coming in for the open house.  The open houses are being held to give the public an opportunity to meet staff, get information about projects and planning, and ask questions about the management of Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon National Conservation Areas and Walking Box Ranch.

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

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

2/1 -- Petaluma, CA -- Tahoe Adventure Film Festival

2/23 -- Dallas, TX -- SMU Pulldown Climbing Wall Competition

Monday, January 7, 2013

Trip Report: Northwest Couloir of Mt. Shuksan

It has been dumping over the last month in Washington as you may have known. Mt. Baker has the second largest snowpack in the world right now at 157.9 inches, not very surprising, right? After the entire Mt. Baker ski area closed for 3 days during the snowpocalypse we had epic blue-bird days for a  week or so. I taught a splitboard course in Mt. Baker's backcountry and was tormented, looking up at Mt. Shuksan for three days straight. The NW Courloir was looking so irresistible with the stable snowpack we've had with only further stability projected. I was hoping to get up there before the weather/stability shifted or I'd surely loose my mind!

This is what I had to look at for three days:

Here's a zoomed in shot of the route from the BD website. The NW couloir is a 50 degree, super exposed line. It starts with the blind roll-over at the top which can be pretty intimidating, then you get to the choke which is a short section of 50 degrees. At the base of the choke you make a sketchy exposed skiers left traverse, above some cliffs, out of the couloir onto the face. After this you enjoy a steep slide down 2,500 +/-, which gradually turns into a less gripped free-riding frenzy down to the Salmon Creek drainage. We shredded from the col at the top of the Crystal Glacier at about 8,600ft down to Salmon Creek drainage at 3,000ft. Making this about a 5,600 ft line! STOKED!

Blaine and Rhett, Pro patrol watch out! We left Bham at 2:45am, leaving the Mt. Baker parking lot at 4:45am. None of us had been up Shuksan before so we were playing it safe time-wise. A 4:45am departure proved to be more than enough time. 

Sunrise on the skin up the White Salmon Glacier. Blaine convinced me that it wasn't him that smelled like shit, it was my hat. 

Mt. Baker at sunrise, so epic!

Unfortunately the only pic I got at our high point and the only sun we experienced all day. Shuksan summit pyramid behind me.

Rhett dropping. Since none of us had been on Shuksan or knew exactly where the entrance to the NW Couloir was, we dropped in far skiers right against the rocks in a well defined steep couloir. We descended about 400 ft when it turned to blue ice and cliffed out right above the NW Couloir. We could see down the entire line but there was no way to get down safely with 4,000 feet exposure below. I anchored myself into the blue ice, carefully changed over to crampons and we all hiked out. When we dropped in again we stayed more skiers left and dropped over the blind roll-over to a steep face with no crevasses that led directly to the entrance of the couloir. Ya' live and learn...

Blaine jump-turing in the choke the traverse below.

So stoked to be done with crux and heel side traverse, I put my axe away and we prepare for shred.

Steep, kind of scary but the snow was firm and edge-able pow the entire way. It got a little variable towards the bottom of the face but soon after turned to carvable goodness.

We began hiking out of the drainage at 1:30pm, had a 700ft climb then skin/ski back a cat-track to the White Salmon Lodge. Plenty of time for champagne in the parking lot staring up at Shuksan as the sun went down. 

Good times had by all! Thanks Blaine and Rhett for a great day!

--Liz Daley, Instructor and Guide

Friday, January 4, 2013

Avalung in the News

In recent news, there have been several amazing stories that highlight avalanche safety gear such as BCA's Float and Black Diamond's Avalung. These two bits of technology are recent additions to the backcountry traveler's safety gear. In this blog entry, I'll talk about some stories that shine on the  Avalung and what it means for us as backcountry skiers, boarders, and climbers. Here's what's been said:

In 2002, Mike Morrissey was heli-skiing in Elm Creek Basin, BC, when an avalanche buried him and five others. Two men died. Morrissey survived, which he credits to his Avalung. He was buried for about 38 minutes at four feet deep, in an upright, sitting position with his left hand about his head. He did not have an airspace to breathe from, but did breathe through his Avalung. Here is an exerpt from an interview with Morrissey that the Colorado Avalanche Information Center's Dale Atkins conducted.

In 2011, Pete Lev, a Montana skier, was skiing in-bounds and fell into a tree well. The primary hazard from falling into a tree well is suffocation. Pete was wearing an Avalung but did not have it in his mouth when he fell into the tree-well. His hands were too far away from his mouth (and unable to reach his mouth because of the amount of snow) but was able to bite the Avalung mouthpiece. He forced his hand above the snow and was able to dig himself out. Pete is convinced that the Avalung saved his life. Read more on the Black Diamond website. At least two other people died from falling into tree-wells at the same ski resort in 2011.

In 2009, Three men, known only by their initials from a Colorado Avalanche Information Center incident report, were all buried in the backcountry and survived by breathing through their Avalungs. All three were caught in an avalanche and buried up to seven feet deep. All breathed through their Avalungs. One man was able to dig himself out and was able to uncover the others. The deepest burial was 7 feet deep. The longest burial was about 2 hours 15 minutes. Wow! Read more on the Denver Post.

These reports make the Avalung seem like your magic bullet - your way to survive an avalanche. This attitude is unfortunately incorrect. An Avalung may increase your chances of staying alive should you be buried, but is not a magic bullet.  To put it in perspective, [*edit] most avalanche fatalities are from asphyxia (est. 65% - 75%), whereas trauma accounts for approx. 20% - 25% and about 15% from triple H syndrome (a combination of slow asphyxiation and hypothermia).  While properly using an Avalung will aid survival for asphyxia and part of Triple H, the Avalung will not prevent against hypothermia or trauma - going over a cliff, hitting a tree, or the impact force from the falling snow, for example. While it does significantly help your odds with the most common cause of avalanche fatalities, it only can do so much.

One thing that bothers me about the Denver Post article is that it makes the Avalung a celebrity superhero (as Lou Dawson put it on his blog, Wildsnow). The Avalung certainly saved those three skier's lives, but what the article neglects to mention is that for all three skiers to be caught in an avalanche is an egregious error. The standard practice is for skiers to go down one at a time and to wait in a safe area while the next skis down. That way, if one person gets caught in an avalanche, the other members of the party can assist. The article does not go in to detail about the incident, but it is presumable that they were not engaging in the proper protocol for backcountry travel.

The Avalung is a great piece of gear. I wear one, and I fully support others using them. It's an amazing piece of technology that just might save your life if you get caught in an avalanche. But the most important thing is that you don't get caught in an avalanche in the first place. Do not let the Avalung affect your decision making in the first place - have a solid idea of what the snowpack is doing. Learn about snow science - take an avalanche course! Read avalanche conditions bulletins, such as the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, and the Gallatin (Montana) National Forest Avalanche Center. Look up the avalanche center in your area.

When you do go into the backcountry, take all the safety gear (beacon, probe, shovel), consider bringing an Avalung and/or float, travel with other knowledgeable skiers, and dig pits! Remember, no amount of safety gear will prevent an avalanche or guarantee your safety in one. Be smart, be safe, and enjoy the backcountry.

--Mike Pond, Instructor and Guide

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Climbing Events January & February 2013

1/6 -- Bellingham, WA/Mt. Baker Ski Area -- Baker Beacon Rally

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

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

1/12 --Cheongsong, Korea -- UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup Begins

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

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

2/1 -- Petaluma, CA -- Tahoe Adventure Film Festival

2/23 -- Dallas, TX -- SMU Pulldown Climbing Wall Competition

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Super-Munter

In a serious rescue situation, it might be possible that you would have to lower an extreme weight down a rock face. For example, there is the possibility that you might have to lower two climbers, one cradling another one, or you might have to lower a climber and a litter. There are many ways to do this, but there is one really smooth technique.

The super-munter is a variation on the munter-hitch. It creates a tremendous amount of friction and doesn't have one of the main problems of the munter-hitch, it doesn't tangle the rope. Indeed, the action of the rope as it goes through the super-munter twists the rope and then twists it back.

Following is a short video on how to make a super-munter:

The super-munter creates a great deal of friction. I have never used this for a rescue, but occasionally I have lowered two climbers together with this who didn't feel comfortable rappelling. I've always found it to provide more than enough friction to deal with 400+ lbs of dead weight.

While it is unlikely that you will use this particular hitch very often, it is a valuable rescue tool to have in your back-pocket.

--Jason D. Martin