Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2013 Guides' Choice Award Winners

The American Alpine Institute is proud to announce the winners of the 2013 Guides' Choice Awards. Products that win the Guides' Choice Award have been through extensive field testing by AAI Guides and have proven to excel in design, durability, function and comfort. The awards will be presented to the manufacturers at the Summer Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Black Diamond - Camalot X4

The Black Diamond Camalot X4s are the most recent addition to the four lobe, flexible stem cam market. Our guides liked several features that set the X4 apart from other cams currently on the market. The springs are embedded inside of the cam lobes allowing for the head to be narrower. In testing the X4 guides found them great for wavering cracks, pods and pin scars that are normally difficult to protect using other four lobed cams. One feature that is unique to the X4 cams is the dual axle in the three larger sizes and the staggered axle in the three smaller sizes. These special axle designs give the X4s superior placement range. The trigger action of the X4 is similar to other Camalots, very smooth and fluid making them easy to retract the lobes even when your forearms are pumped. In our testing it appears that the aluminum beads that are threaded over the stem do add some durability and help to protect the stem if it is folded over the edge of a horizontal crack. All-in-all the X4s are what we all expect of Black Diamond, a well designed and great working of gear that will stand up to the use and abuse of any climber.

Black Diamond - Vector Helmet

Our guides have tested numerous helmets over the course of the season, and the Black Diamond Vector has become a clear favorite. Even though the Vector was not the lightest helmet that was tested, the comfort and fit was better than all of the other helmets that were used. AAI guide Shelby Carpenter said, "I found the Vector significantly more comfortable, loved that it was lightweight for my alpine climbing trips, and thought that it provided my head with better coverage than other helmets I have worn." The Vector's high level of comfort made it less noticeable on the head than even lighter helmets that we tested. The Vector has a hybrid design which combines a foam core with a harder outer shell. This design adds more durability than all-foam helmets. 

Mountain Equipment - Eclipse Hooded Zip Tee

The Mountain Equipment Eclipse Hooded Zip Tee has become a favorite mid-layer among our guides and staff over the course of the testing season. It's unique hood design provides a built-in balaclava that can be pulled up over the nose, or down under the chin. The lightweight Pontetoro Technostretch that makes up the balaclava is easy to breathe through making it ideal for pushing hard in cold weather. It's slim athletic fit and long arms with thumb loops, allow the Eclipse to follow your body's every move while climbing.

The Eclipse is body mapped with thinner waffle-gridded fleece panels under the arms, and around the hem for better breathability and thicker panels elsewhere for better insulation. The form-fitting athletic cut made it easy to layer over and comfortable to climb in.

Our guides found the Eclipse to be a perfect year round piece. Whether it is December in South America, May in Alaska, or July in the Cascades, the Eclipse Hooded Zip Tee was found to be a perfect part of every climbers layering system.

Petzl - Spirit 3D Carabiner

The Petzl Spirit was a Guides' Choice Award winner years ago when it first hit the market. It has continued to be an award holder over the years as improvements were made. By changing the profile to an "H" shape Petzl has managed to shave 10 grams out of the Spirit reducing it to 39 grams. This 20% reduction in weight makes the Spirit the number one go to solid gate carabiner for higher wear situations where wire gate carabiners won't suffice. The new Spirit is much easier to clip than older models, and now has some shape added to the either end of the major axis to help keep it straight while being used in a dog bone for sport climbing. The Spirit still features the beloved keylock nose, making it very easy to unclip from webbing without snagging. From weekend sport climbing to everyday guiding the Spirit 3D can do it all.

Tendon - Master 8.9 Rope

The Tendon Master 8.9 Rope is one of the most specializedlightweight ropes that we have ever tested. Our guides were quick to choose this rope when climbing routes that involved using a half rope for crossing a glacier combined with ice or rock climbing that would require a single rope, or a second half rope. The Master 8.9 weighs only 52 grams per meter making it extremely light compared to other single ropes, and only a few grams per meter more than similar sized half ropes.

The Teflon Complete Shield treatment repelled dirt and water very well, keeping the rope from absorbing water when being used on snow or ice, and clean when being used on rock. The Teflon coating also seemed to keep the rope feeling new for longer than other dry coated ropes that we have used.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Triaxal Loading on Trees

Surprisingly, there is one mistake that both beginners and advanced climbers alike tend to make. Many people will wrap a tree with a sling and then clip the sling. Often the sling is wrapped around the tree in such a way that it is loading the carabiner improperly. A carabiner that is loaded from three directions is often referred to as being triaxally or tri-directionally loaded. This is very very bad...

In this photo the carabiner is radically tri-loaded.
An impact on such a carabiner could cause failure.

A tri-loaded carabiner is crossloaded. It will not hold a high impact fall. As such, it is important to use slings that are long enough to tie off. In the preceding example, there is not enough sling material to get all the way around the tree, but even if there was enough for the carabiner to hang more loosely, it could still triaxally load it.

One could tie the sling off with a pre-equalized knot, but this isn't required. The following photo shows one quick example of a tie-off that eliminates the possibility of triaxal loading.

Triaxal loading is a detail that a lot of climbers don't think about. But it is just these kinds of minor details that can get you in the end. The phrase, "the Devil's in the details," didn't come from nowhere.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

Psicobloc climbing (also known as deep-water soloing), was once the realm of sunny, warm days at the lake, river or ocean.  Well after the success of the first Psicobloc competition in Spain in 2011, Chris Sharma has decided to bring the competition to the US, and push it a step further. This time, it will be held at the Utah Olympic Park's 750,000-gallon freestyle aerial training pool and will feature a custom built wall by Walltopia.  The first video here is Chris talking about the development of the competition (which is held in conjunction with the Summer Outdoor Retailer Show in Utah).

This second video is of Chris and some other climbers doing some "test jumps" at the training pool.  The highest jumps are from over 50 feet up!

Psicobloc Test Jumps from Momentum Climbing Gym on Vimeo.

We are rapidly approaching one of the coolest times of the year - no, not temperature wise (it's pretty toasty out there in most places right now).  No, I am talking about Film Season!  We'll soon be seeing signs for Banff, Reel Rock, 5 Point, and a slew of other local outdoor film festivals.  This next clip is the trailer from "Our Own Way," a new ski film from Brotherhood Films.  Hopefully you get a chance to catch the full film when it makes the rounds in the tours.

Our Own Way - Official Trailer from Brotherhood Films on Vimeo.

I had to throw this in as well.  We all know that after a few days out climbing, we all can develop.... let's just say, "a little funk".  Well, with this great new cologne, you won't have to worry about that any more.  It looks like it helps with those top-roped dynos too!

WingsFragrence (1) from Bob Carmichael on Vimeo.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Palisade Traverse

In 1931 Robert Underhill, one of the best climbers in the country, was invited to California to teach Sierra Club members proper rope and belay techniques. Afterwards he and the top students toured the range, making many first ascents. This group of heavy hitters included Norman Clyde , Jules Eichorn, and Glen Dawson.

They spent 6 days in The Palisades that August, the most rugged and inspiring region in the Sierra Nevada. Amongst their climbs was the first ascent of Thunderbolt Peak, the last California 14er to be climbed. The climbers were surprised on the summit by a thunderstorm and, with lightning striking all around, barely escaped.

This story came to mind frequently during the last days of June and early July. The Sierra was experiencing record high temperatures and violent thunderstorms were happening every afternoon. Jim and Bob signed up for a Palisade Traverse trip starting July 4 and fortunately this spell of thunderstorms was showing signs of abating that day.

The three of us set out from The Big Pine Creek Trailhead. Conversation carried us up the trail to Sam Mack Meadow, and a few miles beyond to Fischer Camp. The afternoon was cloudy and we heard thunder from time-to-time, but our objective stayed out of the clouds. The High Sierra is filled with fantastic ridges and the classic Palisade Traverse, from Thunderbolt Peak to Mount Sill, is arguably the best. Climber and guidebook author Peter Croft says, "This magical mystery tour of five 14,000 foot peaks has got to be one of the very best and most popular traverses in the United States of America".

Creek Crossing in Sam Mack Meadow.
On the second day of our trip we woke early, left our camp behind, and headed out across the Thunderbolt Glacier to the Northeast Couloir of Thunderbolt Peak. An unexpected but really fun pitch of alpine ice got us across the bergschrund and snow slogging took us to the ridge just north of the summit. The day was far from stormy, and we were making good time. The summit of Thunderbolt Peak is tiny, and the moves to gain it probably the crux of the route. After taking turns on top we descended to the south and took a lunch break in a sheltered spot, watching another party climb the peak.

Next we climbed Starlight Peak and its summit block, The Milk Bottle, named for its appearance. Beyond Starlight we passed an unnamed gendarme, moved through some exposed sections, and climbed to the top of North Palisade, one of the more commodious summits on the route. We were stoked, three 14ers in one day! A short rappel off the summit block left us at one of the best bivouacs in the range. After a hot meal and some chit-chat about the fun we'd had that day we were off to a well-earned night's sleep.

Sleeping over 14,000 feet on the second night of a trip is never notably restful, but we all managed to get some sleep. After being warmed by the sun and stimulated by hot coffee (thanks guys) we resumed our southward course on the ridge with two rappels into the U-Notch Couloir. Crossing this, we climbed up the other side and quickly found ourselves on top of Polemonium Peak. The summit register has been missing for several years, but we made do with photos.

Documenting the summit on Polemonium Peak.
Bob, Jim, and I descending Polemonium. Starlight Peak is in the foreground, we're the three specks on the bump in the distance. Jed Porter photo.
Some fun and exposed climbing put us onto the slope between Polemonium and Mount Sill. This is the easiest stretch of the whole traverse - merely rough hiking - and we were happy to unrope for a while. Arriving at Sill we ditched our packs and scrambled to the summit. Five 14'ers in two days!

We descended the quickly melting L-Shaped snowfield to Glacier Notch and from there to the Palisade Glacier. We crossed this, with a quick stop to drink fresh glacial melt, and were soon at our camp, a little tired but happy and successful.

Click here for more information on the Underhill Camp trip to the Palisades (including photos).

--Ian McEleney, Instructor and Guide

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Testing the Spire

The Seattle Manufacturing Corporation -- or SMC -- is, ironically, not located in Seattle. Instead, it is located about fifteen miles north of Bellingham, near the town of Ferndale, Washington.  In a nondescript factory building near Birch Bay State Park, the minds behind SMC gear are constantly developing new equipment for climbing and rescue.

In their quest to create "something new," they have developed an autoblocking device (like a Petzl Reverso or the Black Diamond ATC Guide). They have affectionately named the new device, the Spire. In their quest to make their device the best on the market, they invited a group of AAI guides in two waves to come out to their factory and test it.

As you're likely aware, autoblocking devices have become standard equipment for multi-pitch leaders. Most companies have some kind of device they offer. However, in one key way, the devices are very much the same. It is difficult to complete a lower with them when they are in guide mode.  We did a blog on this last year, to check it out, click here.

The innovation behind the Spire is that it has two holes in the area the I refer to as the fin. In most of these devices there is only one. One of the holes is for clipping the device into a powerpoint, while the other hole is for a spare carabiner.  When the device is loaded, you can insert a spare carabiner into the second hole and crank on it sideways. This allows the pinched rope to release, allowing the person being belayed to lower.

A prototype of the Spire

On the first trip up to the factory, AAI program coordinator Tim Page, AAI guide and equipment shop manager,  and AAI Guides' Choice manager, Jeff Voigt tested the device and found it lacking. It appeared that the slots were too wide which caused some problems with rope movement.

When Jeff Voigt, Richard Riquelme, James Pierson and I returned, they had fixed this problem and the device was relatively smooth.

The Spire in Autoblock Mode with the Release Carabiner on the side.

 The Spire loaded with a rope with the Release Carabiner on the side.

 Using the Release Carabiner to lower.

As we began to experiment with the device, we ran through a number of scenarios. In most cases, the device worked admirably.

AAI Guide Richard Riquelme studied engineering in school, and his inner geek kicked in during the tests. He was able to spot a number of places on the device where a millimeter of additional width here, and a millimeter less of material there would make the device smoother.

Richard, wearing his high tech climbing shoes, testing the device.

Richard belaying James on the wall at the SMC factory.

 James testing the device.

 In the process of testing, I decided that I would try something that really doesn't work with any of the competitions devices. I decided to try to lower two climbers at once, each on different ropes, using the release carabiner.  Not only did it not work, but I bent the prototype and got the carabiner welded into one of the holes.

They had to cut the carabiner out to continue the tests.

 The carabiner welded in the Spire.

The reality is that this new device could be a game-changer in the autoblocking world. It works significantly better than many of its competitors and as the folks as SMC continue playing with its design, the device will just get better.

Once we completed our tests, we were taken on a little tour of the factory.

 The desk where carabiners are put together.

A worker using a drill press to finish edge rollers for the rescue services.

Carabiner Parts

I was impressed by SMC. They build everything in the United States, which is rare these days, and they do a great job.  Just the fact that they brought us in to give them feedback on their new device is admirable.

And I'm really looking forward to the official release of the Spire...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 22, 2013

Things Climbers Say

About a year ago there was an internet meme that looked at the stupid things that people say in a variety of different venues. They were almost universally titled, "Sh#t (name-your-group) Say." Not to be outdone by triathletes or emo girls, a few climbers put together the following videos on "sh#t climbers say."

The language in these videos is a little harsh, so if you're offended by the "f" word, I'd probably avoid watching these today.

This first video appears to have been shott Smith Rock and is very much about the sport climbing experience.

This next video is pretty gym heavy.

This last video is about what people say to climbers. In some ways it is the funniest of the three.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, July 19, 2013

Bellingham Gets a Gym - Introducing Vital

For years rumors of a climbing gym coming to Bellingham have been floating around. We have all been grateful for the YMCA and it's really tall, really steep wall for training. However, as the staff there will tell you, they are not a climbing gym.

If one were to characterize Bellingham, climbing town would certainly be part of that characterization. That said, a climbing town averaging 36 inches of rain, and 168 rainy days per year definitely requires a gym for training. With an ear to the rumor mill the feeling for the last couple years has been almost one of desperation. The news of a new gym brought smiles to many of our faces.

When the day came for Vital to open, climbers were coming out of the woodwork. On a sunny Saturday in July when any climber would normally be out taking advantage of the weather window, I was questioning how many folks would actually show up. Surprisingly, there were easily a couple hundred people that came through. It was a great turnout! Not only are the locals absolutely stoked for the new facility, Vital did an excellent job promoting the event to make for a great day; and the excitement was palpable.

Vital invited AAI along with numerous other sponsors to be present at the event. We had our stand on the sidewalk out front and saw lots of familiar faces and just as many new faces. We had a great time chatting with our climbing community and making connections.

The gym itself is amazing. The design is modern, sleek, and functional. When you walk in the landing area feels like a college lounge area. There are couches, a counter along the street side window, a kitchenette and an island with stools for sitting. There's a bookshelf that is stocked with books and games, a coffee and tea maker, as well as a dorm fridge. This lounge area overlooks the lower climbing area.

The climbing space is pretty much a horseshoe shape with an island wall. There is generally a good mix of routes on most of the walls, the cave routes, however, do look pretty vicious. I'm not the most experienced gym climber but I would say the route setting is excellent. In the short time I was climbing I was quickly able to discern what color matched my ability level and when I picked routes in that range I had about a 60% success rate. So I had projects in that range and some of the easier routes in the next color range I could begin to work on. Also, for any given route all the holds will be the same color. This made routes a little easier to follow than I've experienced at some other gyms. Hopefully Vital will maintain this standard.

The cushioning is good and I generally felt safe falling, however, near the top of some of the larger walls I was definitely a little intimidated to jump down when I finished. That said, had I fallen I doubt if I would have gotten hurt, but my aging beat up body might have let me know not to do that again.

All in all I think Bellingham climbers are in a frenzy over the new gym. I can't wait to get back in there and if you're in the area I would definitely check it out. The prices are super reasonable and if you're a member you can climb there 24/7. Talk about working with anyone's schedule?

Thanks Vital for a great event and welcome to Bellingham.

--Tim Page, Program Coordinator

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Triumph on Mt. Triumph!

Last week I had the opportunity to climb a route on a mountain in an area that I've never been in before.  My partner and I made our way into the Cascade backcountry to climb the Northeast Buttress of Mt. Triumph.

The trip had a bit of an inauspicious beginning. As I was racking up at camp, I accidentally dropped five locking carabiners clipped together down the moat between a rock and the snowpack. For a short bit, I thought I might have seriously hindered our ability to climb the mountain.  Over the course of an hour-and-a-half we used our stove pot to excavate a large amount of snow from our camp.

Finally, we found the carabiners!

The following morning, we got up at 4:30am and were walking out of camp and across the glacier by 5am. We were climbing by 6:00am and on the summit by 11:30am. The descent took a long time and we were not back on the glacier until 4pm.  We didn't make it back to the car until almost 9:30pm.

It was a long day, but it was great fun.  Following is a photo essay from the day:

Approaching near Thornton Lake 

The camp is for Mt. Triumph is at the top of the gully in the distance. 

 Climbing the gully below camp.

Mt. Triumph with the Northeast Ridge on the Right Skyline 

Steep snow on the glacier 

 The Southern Pickets

Mt. Triumph 

 Looking back at the Col where we camped.

 Low on the Northeast Ridge

The Obligatory Summit Shot! 

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 15, 2013

Three-Day Mt. Baker Summit Climb

I just got back from a three day work trip up Mt Baker. We had amazing weather and almost perfect conditions. If anything it was possibly a little hot for me, but most days seem to be a little warm for me. Day one consisted of gear check, driving to the trailhead and hiking into our camp.

The hike in.

A camp caretaker.

The hike in.

Excited to be at camp?


Day two consisted of skills practice. We started with snow school which consists of snow walking and ice axe use and moves into self arrest.

Self arrest practice.

After lunch we worked on roped glacier travel and took a tour of the glacier.

The ice fall.

We ended the day with a little crevasse rescue training, after lowering one of the group into a crevasse.

Using the drop C to rescue a team member.

Day 3 was summit day and started at 2am when my alarm went off. I started by shooting a couple of photos of the summit.

The long walk uphill.

A cloud cap covered the mountain most of the day and we climbed into it.

Steam rises from the crater about 1000ft below the summit.

Into the clouds.

Above the crater.

Signing the summit log.

Summit Gu!


We took the scenic route down and stopped at one of the best overlooks in the lower 48.

--Alasdair Turner, Instructor and Guide