Friday, August 30, 2013

Look Ma, No Floor

As someone who spends a lot of time running around in the mountains, it's important to the longevity of my joints, tendons, and sanity to keep my pack as light as possible. The most efficient way to lighten up is to cut weight from the big three: backpack, sleeping bag, and shelter. Trying to do this led me to explore, and ultimately embrace, the use of a tarp as my shelter for much of the year.

I use the term tarp here to refer to any sort of floorless shelter. These come in many shapes and sizes, from a basic rectangle of nylon to the complicated geometry of a pyramid tarp. The pyramid tarp (or 'mid) was popularized by Black Diamond's Megamid and Betamid. Many companies now make similar shelters including MSR, Integral Designs, GoLite, Mountain Laurel Designs, Tarptent, and Brooks Range. The standard mid design is as weather and storm resistant as most tents.

One type of psuedo-floorless shelter is what many companies call "fast-pitching". This is a configuration some tents are capable of where the tent is pitched with the groundsheet, poles, and fly but no tent body. Generally, the weight savings are low and these set-ups aren't particularly stable or weatherproof. One exception are Hilleberg tents. Their tent design has the poles attached to the fly instead of the tent body and allows you to pitch the fly like a tarp.

A Hilleberg tent in "fast-pitch" mode, using only the fly and poles. Photo by Richard Riquelme.

The first and most obvious benefit of using a tarp is that it weighs a lot less than a tent.  I have been using the Black Diamond Beta Light almost exclusively from late spring through late fall for several years. It weighs 1lb 8 oz (680g) and has 34.7 square feet of livable space with about 15 more square feet of covered space for storage. Let’s compare this to a reasonably light two-person tent, the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2. It weighs in at 2lb 10oz (1190g) has 28 square feet of usable space and a 7 square foot vestibule. So it weighs almost twice as much, but offers less useable space or storage!

The second biggest benefit you get from using a tarp is that it takes up less space in your pack than a tent. The Beta Light fits in a 6" x 4" stuff sack, the Fly Creek UL 6" x 19". The tent takes up 4 times as much space as the tarp. Keep in mind that this is a fairly light and compact tent!

From L to R: Black Diamond Beta Light and Mega Light tarps, Firstlight and Skylight tents, Hilleberg Nallo 2, Mountain Hardware Trango 2. The Trango 2 is about 7 times heavier than the Beta Light. An old Petzl Elios helmet provides some scale.
One of the ways tarps can be so light is that most don't come with poles. You use your trekking poles to set them up. This is advantageous because trekking poles are much stronger than the poles that come with tents.

A tarp also has some subtle "quality-of-life" advantages over a tent. When camping on snow you can easily customize the "floor" to suit your needs. Because there is no fabric floor and the walls don't have to touch the ground, using a stove inside the tarp is less risky. When cooking in a tarp it's harder to accidentally melt part of your shelter and the superior ventilation lessens the danger of carbon monoxide accumulation. It should be noted that all manufacturers of tents, tarps, and stoves expressly warn the user to never cook inside their shelter.

The Black Diamond Mega Light in the High Sierra. This four person shelter weighs 2lbs 5oz (1005g) and is a palace for one person. Photo by Jessica Haist.

Tarps are not always as intuitive to set up as tents. Like tents, some are easier than others are. The additional thought you'll have to invest in understanding and setting up your tarp is more than paid off in a lighter and smaller pack. I can usually set up my Betamid faster than the average climber can set up their shelter. In their defense, I have had a lot of practice.

Aggressive bugs can be a big drawback of using a tarp. You've got two options to deal with them. The first is how it's set-up. Pitch the tarp so that the edges are on the ground and pin the edges to the ground with rocks, creating a reasonable seal between the fabric and the earth. The second solution is to use some kind of bug tent or netting arrangement inside the tarp. Some manufacturers make bug tents designed specifically to go with their tarps, many more make some sort of bug bivy sack.

Tarps accumulate just as much condensation as tents, but lack the inner tent body to keep the user away from it. MSR put together a great video on tent condensation and how to manage it. Please see the video below:

--Ian McEleney, Instructor and Guide

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bad Belay Video

When we saw this we were literally falling over laughing. These images are funny because they're -- unfortunately -- sometimes true.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 26, 2013

Infographic - How Budget Cuts Affect the National Parks

There are 401 national parks, and these six parks offer a snapshot of how budget cuts affect everything from maintenance to jobs.

If this graphic is going off the edge of your screen, please click on it to enlarge.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bolivia Expedition Begins!

We recently received the following email from our Team in Bolivia:

Greetings from Bolivia!

AAI’s 2013 Bolivia expedition has begun! Team members arrived from all over the US (with one token Aussie!) late last week to La Paz, the country’s capital. Bolivia, the highest country in South America, is nestled inland in the heart of the Andes, and offers an amazing mix of culture and climbing. The land-locked country, bisected by the Andes, has rich Amazonian jungles to the East, and the Altiplano (high plains) to the West of the mountains. Our expedition, naturally, focuses on exploring the Bolivian Andes, one of the best alpine climbing destinations in the world. Bolivia is also known for being a bastion of traditional Andean culture, with the majority of citizens having indigenous heritage. More than any expedition we offer, AAI’s Bolivia programs combine world-class alpine climbing with rich cultural experiences. This is truly an amazing place.

We were even willing to leave the amazing weather of the Cascades in the heart of the summer season to come down here! We (Chad Cochran and Mike Pond) traveled for two days to arrive at the highest international airport in the world. At over 13,000 feet, we felt the altitude immediately upon landing in La Paz. We have been busy preparing this expedition while feeling mildly hypoxic here in the city. We have been working with our Bolivian counterparts (local Bolivian guides; more to come in upcoming posts).

Edward Whymper, the famous classic mountaineer who made several first ascents in the Andes, once wrote that it is possible to find nearly everything in Quito, Ecuador. He said that it was also nearly impossible to find anything in Quito! While La Paz certainly is more developed than Quito in the 1800s, the sentiment rings true today. While it was easier to find many things we needed for this expedition in the U.S. we could only carry so much down with us, and while most things can be found here in La Paz you don’t tend to have the mega store or one-stop-super-shop to pick up everything. Instead, street vendors color the narrow streets here. One has to sort through nick nacks and pindly winks to find just what they need and at the price they’ll accept to pay. It makes shopping into almost a game.

In between tracking down the last of our supplies and plan the expedition, we have been able to enjoy some of the diverse food La Paz has to offer. Being a major hub and a large tourist destination, the city seems to have a flavor for every nationality that come to visit. From Japanese to Indian food, (yes, there’s even a Burger King if you can’t go without a Whopper, though there are very few multinational chains here) one is able to just about find any cultural cuisine experience they are looking for. This all wouldn’t be complete without a Bolivian touch to the dishes and drinks. Traditional soups are also found on most menus, consisting of vegetables, potatoes, quinoa and a little chicken or beef. The fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant and of the highest quality. The ubiquitous juices are phenomenal: fresh-squeezed pineapple, maracuya (passionfruit), orange, grapefruit, and many others grace nearly every restaurant, sidewalk vendor, and street corner.

Our team also did a city tour yesterday, where we walked past UMSA University, toured the Cathedral San Francisco, past Witches Markets, toured a Bolivian history and culture museaum, the coca museaum (not cocoa, coca - the sacred, healthy, and safe leaves that are sometimes made into cocaine), bought colorful alpaca clothing and articles, browsed the shelves of modern mountaineering stores, and ate at a quirky but intimate restaurant in the heart of town. All in all, a great day!

Today we head out on the first part of the expedition – a four-day trek along the base of the Condoriri Group, one of the major mountain ranges in the Bolivian Andes. Stay tuned to hear our daily dispatches of our adventures and keep up with the blog here for more posts. We will give stories and pictures when we come back into town after each section.

Following is a photo essay from our time in Bolivia so far:

 Plaza de San Francisco

 Packing in the hotel in La Paz


 Mike eating Sushi

 Market View

 The hustle and bustle of La Paz

 Another market view.

Outside the Museo de Coca

--Chad Cochran and Mike Pond, AAI Instructors and Guides

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sahale Peak via Sahale Glacier

Sahale arm and Sahale in the distance.
The Stats:
Sahale Peak: 8680 ft.
Parking Lot: 3480 ft.
Cascade Pass: 5400 ft.
Our High Point: 8600 ft.
Elevation Gain: 5120 ft.

Just reaching Cascade Pass. 
Sahale peak is a beautifully situated peak in an amazing setting. My wife has wanted to climb it since she first hiked to Sahale arm 10 years ago. I hadn't been to the area in an even longer time. I think I was about 15 or 16 when I visited Cascade Pass with my family. I knew that the Ptarmigan Traverse started from there and was interested in that but I don't remember much else from that visit.

This past spring when my wife said let's go climb Sahale for our annual anniversary hike I was happy to agree. After working at the Alpine Institute for a couple years now and hearing stories from Boston Basin and the Cascade Pass region every day I was ready to get out and revisit this area.

This was our first overnight foray away from our 3 year old son. My dad was excited to ride his new motorcycle over for a visit with his grandson and give us the break we need for this outing. We were able to break away in the late afternoon and begin driving to the Trailhead for Cascade Pass. We arrived with enough time to have our adult beverages and cook our dinner before sneaking off to the bivy sites just a 1/4 mile from the trailhead. The next morning we hit the trail about 7:30. We cruised the 34 switchbacks up to Cascade Pass and hit the pass about 9am.

This guy wanted our lunch, or at least our crumbs.
By the time we hit the pass it was becoming very obvious that we had chosen good day to get married on. Our anniversary was right smack dab in the middle of July, and July this year set a 50 year record for not getting a drop of precip. We had immaculate weather, the visibility was 100%. and we couldn't have imagined a better place to enjoy together.

Looking Southeast over Doubtful Lake.

I also didn't realize it until late in the day when Natalie, my wife, mentioned that we had met our goal of breaking 8,000 feet for our 8th anniversary. This was a nice accomplishment but didn't compare to what our knees thought of the 5,100 ft of elevation gain, and descent, that pounded our knees into submission. This day for us was really about getting away together not about picking a technical objective. However, the physical exertion from covering that much elevation turned out to be a substantial undertaking. Our route up the Sahale glacier is frequently done un-roped but we knew the rock would require a rope for us so we figured we'd refresh our snow skills and rope up on the glacier too.

This guy was hanging around Sahale Glacier Camp around 7600 ft.
After taking over an hour or more to lounge, enjoy lunch, get more water, and rope up we finally headed up the Sahale glacier toward the summit block. The glacier was in good condition and there really weren't any crevasses yet. You could see cracks on either side of the glacier opening up but nothing too menacing. I probed a few times as crossed one low spot but otherwise there appeared to be little need for worry. 

In the foreground, bubbles, in the distance, Glacier Peak.

When we reached the summit block around 2:30 or 3 we were a little surprised by the steepness of the rock. It appeared to be a little closer to 5th class than we had anticipated. This was a bit overwhelming for Natalie but we agreed to move up the rock a little bit and see how things felt. I led up and around the corner about 30 feet and built an anchor to belay Natalie up. She climbed up but was feeling very overwhelmed and couldn't move efficiently. She also knew she would be even more afraid coming down on rappel so we decided it was too late to take as much time as we would need to summit. So, we sat down and blew some bubbles. 

The moon hanging out just north
of Johannesburg peak (not pictured).
Certainly the struggle of working really hard to reach a high point and getting humbled just a few feet short is an apt metaphor for marriage. After 8 years we've had many successes and high points but the marriage itself is the most challenging thing in our individual lives and never gives the satisfaction of standing on top and saying now I've mastered this thing. Marriage offers no promise of completion but rather the promise of a journey with many aspects, vistas, high points, hard decisions, and disappointments. Sometimes you feel like you're roped together, trusting and working on a common goal and sometimes you feel like you're completely out of sight of each other cruising at your own pace. Marriage is not unlike mountain climbing. It pushes us to certain limits and teaches us about ourselves. Okay I'll stop with the metaphors! This moderate climb pushed us to our limit and gave us plenty to reflect on. We couldn't have been happier with the quality of this 8th anniversary outing.

- Tim Page
- Southwest & International Program Coordinator

Monday, August 19, 2013

AAI/Guideschoice Field Testing the SMC Spire

On Tuesday August 13th we met up with the guys from SMC and got out for some field tests with their new belay device "The Spire." We tested several versions of the device in two different diameter ropes. Here is a video for a little glimpse into our afternoon at Mt. Erie.

"The Spire" has an auto-lock mode for belaying from above. But what makes "The Spire" different is that you can lower someone by clipping a carabiner into it and levering it sideways. In this video you will see Richard do this for a lower. One of the things he is testing for is to see what the easiest grip is for lowering.

Video By: Tim Page

Friday, August 16, 2013

3 Days in Moab

Living full time in Las Vegas is a great place to be as a mountain guide. The variety and accessibility of climbing in Red Rock is simply amazing, but I will save that for another post.

Being in the center of the Southwest gives me the opportunity to also guide in Joshua Tree(an awesome place to climb and hang out), the Eastern Sierras(great cragging and long technical routes like the East Buttress of Mt. Whitney) and what has become one of my favorite places to climb: Moab!

If you have never been there it will blow your mind. Moab sits next to the Colorado River and has 5 roads leaving town, and every road has endless sandstone walls and towers. I'm constantly amazed at how much rock there is there. This past spring I worked a 3 day desert towers trip that was put on through Mountain Gear. We had 6 AAI guides and 12 guests. Although there were climbers of different abilities, Moab had something for everyone. Since it takes a bit of effort to get to Moab, I like the format of doing a 3 day trip and think it would be great for private trips. It's a bit hot there right now, but cooler temps will start coming in September, so make your plans and book a trip for this fall. Following are some itineraries I would suggest for climbers of every level:

Solid 5.9 Climber
Day 1 - Cragging on wall street to work on crack climbing technique
Day 2 - Ancient Art
Day 3 - Castleton Tower

5.7 - 5.8 Climber
Day 1 - Cragging at Ice Cream Parlor and Wall Street
Day 2 - Looking Glass Rock
Day 3 - Ancient Art

5.5 - 5.6 Climber
Day 1 - Cragging at Ice Cream Parlor
Day 2 - Cragging on Wall Street
Day 3 - Looking Glass Rockr

Climbers on Wall Street
Citibank Ancient Art Commercial(It's awesome to see this with non 
climbing friends and family and say, "yeah, I've done that")

Summit of Ancient Art
Climbers at the base of Castleton Tower
Looking Glass Rock(A free hanging 150' rappell to descend)
-Doug Foust, Instructor and Guide

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Lost Mountain

Former AAI Guide Majika Burhardt and climber Kate Rutherford are planning to make an expedition to a remote peak in Mozambique to study cliff-side ecology and to make a film about the area. Majika has spent a lot of time in Africa using climbing as a way to access the area's culture and history. We cannot think of anybody better to make a film like this.

The production team is looking for kickstarter funds to help with this project. Following is an abstract from their kickstarter site and a short film about their goals:

This fall, two rock climbers will lead a team of biologists onto an unexplored cliff face in Mozambique. Their mission:

- To search for new species of insects and reptiles that will link this fragile and vital mountain to the evolution of East Africa's wildlif

- To build a conservation plan with the local community and a team of Mozambique-based conservationists that will ensure a thriving future for one of the world's most precious biodiversity hotspots.

With your help, we will make a 30-minute documentary film for international distribution.

To learn more about this project, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

After spending the first half of his summer developing a new sport climbing area in Wyoming called Wolf Point, Jonathan Siegrist shifted his attention to the Wild Iris area.  After climbing a few of the test pieces, he focused in on Moonshine, Wyoming's hardest, coming in at 5.14d.

Jonathan Siegrist Climbs Wyoming's Hardest: Moonshine (5.14d) from DPM CLIMBING on Vimeo.

Here's another quick video pan of the Wolf Point area mentioned above:

Wolf Point from Kyle Duba on Vimeo.

Last week, during the Outdoor Retailer Show in Park City, UT, one of Chris Sharma's dreams became a reality.  He was the visionary force behind the Psicobloc Masters Series, a deep-water soloing competition.  Here's a peek of how the event went down.

Since 2002, Petzl has been gathering exceptional climbers in even more exceptional venues to develop the climbing there.  Originally starting in France, the Roctrip crew has traveled to the US, Canada, Greece, Austria, Mexico, China, and last year it was Argentina.

Petzl RocTrip Argentina 2012 [EN] The official movie from Petzl-sport on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, August 9, 2013

Washington Wildfires Update: 2012 vs. 2013

The Puget Sound region didn't receive any rain in July for the first time in 50 years. This record setting dry spell continues and has us Pacific Northwesterners running wild maximizing every minute of gleefully ideal weather. Climbing and mountaineering conditions have been absolutely splitter, as climbers like to say!

All this great weather doesn't bode well for the eastern side of our state however. Last year the western United States was hammered with fires and Washington was among the worst hit. I used InciWeb to review fire activity from last season. By August 9th last year Washington had only one fire. The biggest burst of fire activity was in September. Of the 17 fires last season in Washington 11 were started by lightning; most of those in one massive thunderstorm that rocked the whole region. The first fire of the season was caused by humans. It started on August 14th and burned 11,299 acres. The first fire of this season started on July 4th and, not surprisingly, was also human caused.

This season we have already had 6 fires in Washington. Two of these fires were started by Humans, two are currently of unexplained origin, and only the Moore Point fire is due to lightning. The human ignited Colockum Tarps fire is the biggest fire so far this season and had burned 80, 801 acres by 7 pm on August 8th.

With some substantial fires already raging, this season is already well ahead of last year. Even the west side of the mountains is beginning to see burn bans in effect. On the west side we forget these happen because they are so infrequent. Let’s hope some rain comes to knock down the current fires and to help us prevent another late season explosion like last year. In the meantime, as all of us climbers, mountaineers, and outdoor enthusiasts race to the hills in this great weather, it’s imperative to remember that our duty is to pay attention to fire conditions and regulations just like we would avalanche or trail conditions. It’s part of being a good steward of the land we all enjoy.

--Tim Page, Program Coordinator

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

Sooner or later, every climber is going to have to deal with being stuck in their tent.  Sometimes it's only for a few hours, maybe a day, maybe a week or more.  Climbers Alex Honnold, James Pearson, Hazel Findlay, and Mark Synnott headed to Devil's Bay, Newfoundland, with hopes of climbing the 1,200' granite walls there.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature had some other plans for them.  While this video may not necessarily get you stoked, it does give you some insight on how each of the climbers deal with the tent time.

TENT BOUND IN DEVIL'S BAY from Camp 4 Collective on Vimeo.

Does the phrase "campusing on fingerlocks" sound appealing to you?  Yea, me neither.  But for Mason Earle, it is all part of the game as he is trying to free what may be one of the world's hardest crack climbs.

When Ines Papert, Jon Walsh and Joshua Lavigne travel to the remote north area of Baffin Island for an attempt at a first ascent of Mt. Asgard's south tower, the brutal yet beautiful landscape does not treat them kindly.  With icy rivers to ford and thick clouds to blind them, they still able to climb the 1200m tower, but it took a grueling 60 hours.

Spirits of Ásgarðr from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.

Hope you have a great weekend! - James

Friday, August 2, 2013

How Fire Can Restore a Forest

In March 2013, photographer Rich Reid ( joined fireworkers as they conducted a controlled burn at Georgia's Moody Forest Preserve. He left his cameras rolling for nearly two months to capture the stunning regrowth of the longleaf pine habitat.  What resulted was a really cool little video which shows forest floor regrowth.

The Nature Conservancy works to prevent the destructive megafires that are so common these days in the west. Learn more about their programs at

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Guides Choice 2013

Dunham Gooding, AAI's director, Richard Riquelme, a guide and equipment manager, and Jeff Voigt, the Guides Choice manager, presented the 2013 Guides Choice Awards yesterday at the summer Outdoor Retail show.

Descriptions of the products that won this prestigious award can be viewed, here.

To learn more about Guides Choice, click here.

Black Diamond: Awarded for the Vector Helmet and Camalot X4
Left to Right: Jeff Voigt Guides Choice Program Manager AAI, Bill Belcourt Climbing Category Director of Black Diamond, Dunham Gooding President of AAI, Richard Riquelme Equipment Services Manager of AAI

Mountain Equipment: Awarded for Eclipse Hooded Zip Tee
Left to Right: Dunham Gooding President of AAI, Craig Dixon VP Sales and Marketing of Mountain Equipment, Richard Talbot Product Manager of Mountain Equipment

Petzl: Awarded for the Spirit 3D Carabiner
Left to Right: Jeff Voigt Guides Choice Program Manager AAI, Duham Gooding President of AAI, Nazz Kurth President of Petzl America, Richard Riquelme Equipment Services Manager AAI

Tendon: Awarded for Master 8.9 Rope
Left to Right: Ivana Josefusova, Tendon Sales Representitive, Craig Dixon Head of Tendon US distribution, Jiri Gazada, Product Manager of Tendon Climbing Ropes, Dunham Gooding, President of AAI, Jeff Voigt, Guides Choice Program Manager, Richard Riquelme, Equipment Services Manager AAI

--Jason D. Martin