Monday, September 30, 2013

Aconcagua in Popular Culture

As the Aconcagua season ramps up, we decided to take a look at the "Stone Sentinel" and it's impact on popular culture. Most of you are aware that the peak is the world's highest mountain outside of central Asia and, as such, is the tallest mountain in the Americas. It stands at 22,842 feet (6962 meters) in Argentina, just a few miles east of the Chilean border. The mountain is about 225 air miles northeast of Santiago and 600 miles west of Buenos Aires.

The South Face of Aconcagua
Photo by Andy Bourne

Aconcagua has become incredibly popular over the last few years. While cold and high, the standard routes are not terribly technical. The result is that climbers from all over the world and of all ability levels come to the mountain in search of a high altitude experience on one of the Seven Summits.

For non-climbers, Aconcagua is a somewhat obscure mountain. Unlike Mount Everest or K2, the tallest mountain in the Americas has not seared itself into the public consciousness. But that doesn't mean that it hasn't poked around in popular culture. Cerro Aconcagua has made appearances in a Disney cartoon, a feature length film and in a video game.

In 1942, Disney produced a short cartoon about a small plane that must face "the terrors of Aconcagua." This cartoon, which was originally designed for a Spanish speaking audience was re-dubbed for English speakers. The premiere of the cartoon in the United States was likely the first time that the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere was introduced to North Americans on a large scale.

In the cartoon a small plane with the characteristics of a small child is charged with bringing the mail over the Andes. The plane must pass by a very steep looking and angry anthropomorphic Aconcagua. As is the case with all Disney stories, things turn out well for the little plane.

In 1964, a full-length color Argentine adventure movie called Aconcagua made its way to the silver screen. The film was directed by Leo Fleider and written by Norberto Aroldi.Aconcagua started the popoular Argentinean actor, Tito Alonso. The film was distributed by Gloria Films and premiered in Buenos Aires on June 18, 1964. This is a very difficult film to find. And should one find it, it's highly unlikely that it will be subtitled, much less dubbed.

In the year 2000 a Playstation video game entitled Aconcagua was released in Japan. The premise of the game seems to be a mix of Piers Paul Read's book, Alive and Sylvester Stalone's 1993 film, Cliffhanger. So in other words, plane crash survivors in the Andes meet gun-toting maniacs. To see a preview of the video game, please view the following video.

Aconcagua sees thousands of ascents every year and is slowly building a reputation amongst non-climbers. A combination of the popularity of the seven summits and the sheer number of people who have climbed the mountain makes it likely that Aconcagua will have a future in popular culture.

We will be running a handful of trips to Aconcagua this winter. To read about them, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

Welcome to the weekend everyone!

In our first video, we watch as Sarah Hueniken becomes the first women in North America to climb M12 as she completes "Musashi," a mixed route in Alberta's Cineplex Cave.

The snow is starting to fall on Mt. Baker, so I have to throw in some ski vids this weekend so we can stop thinking about the rain in town and start getting psyched about the fresh in the mountains.  How about a new POV from Bellingham's own John Wells?

7 Ways to Sunday from john wells on Vimeo.

Did you like that?  How about some more tasty powder treats!  Here's some Norwegian powder from the folks at SGN Skis.

SGNskis Season Edit 2013 from SGNskis on Vimeo.

(Btw, the music from this video is from Ronald Jenkees, a self-taught musician who has posted many videos on Youtube of himself on the keyboard.  This song is called "Stay Crunchy" and it's pretty amazing to see his fingers flying across the keys!)

And lastly, this video doesn't quite fall into the normal realm of Alpine Institute activities, but I thought that the emotion and feelings expressed are similarly found in the climbing world, and in life in general.

Darkside Of The Lens from mickey smith on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, September 27, 2013

Gear Review: Patagonia Cragmaster Approach Shoe

The utility of a good approach shoe for rock and alpine climbing is not to be underestimated. Most climbers starting out their first few seasons will get by with whatever light hiking shoes they use normally while in the outdoors. This is fine for a time, but as one’s climbing ability increases and your objectives become more significant having a dedicated approach shoe designed for rock scrambling is invaluable. Unlike many hiking shoes, approach shoes will have a sole comprised of sticky rubber resembling a rock climbing shoe, a durable upper material to resist scrapes and tears, and plenty of flexibility for smearing and conforming to rock. These traits make moving through 3rd and 4th class terrain much easier before donning proper rock climbing shoes for the harder 5th class rock of the route itself.

 My well loved pair of Patagonia Cragmasters

I’ve used a number of approach shoe models including classics such as the FiveTen Guide Tennie and the La Sportiva Boulder X. But a new model from Patagonia came out a couple years ago and it immediately peeked my interest. I had worn through the approach shoe I was using at the time and was shopping around for a shoe that would meet my needs of enough support for multi-mile approaches but enough climbing ability for easy 5th class terrain. These two features are normally mutually exclusive in approach shoes. They will either be very supportive and climb poorly, or climb nearly as well as a comfortable rock shoe but offer no support for the hike. Patagonia has nailed the sweet spot between these two ends of the spectrum with their Cragmaster.

An unknown climber on pitch 2 of the North Face Directismo 5.8 of Concord Tower

I’ve been using these shoes for three seasons and absolutely love them. They look like a rock shoe, and climb like one too. I’ve been able to lead some alpine 5.8 pitches in them such as the North Face Directismo of Concord Tower in Washington Pass, and follow a few 5.9 pitches here and there with them as well. They’re my go-to shoe for instructing alpine rock rated 5.6 or easier because they allow me to forgo even putting rock shoes in my pack. The Vibram sticky-dot rubber sole does wonders on rock and provides adequate traction on trail as well. Hiking multiple miles into alpine routes has been comfortable in these shoes due to the ample EVA foam cushioning under foot. I recently did the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart in a single push from the car in 24 hours; a true test of comfort and precision for these shoes. This involved a seven hour approach over nine miles, a 3,000 foot ridge climb where I wore them on all but the 6 or so 5.8-5.9 pitches, and the 5 hour descent to the car. A big day to say the least and my Cragmasters kept me light on my feet the whole time. I’ve also used them in a pinch for running too. During three weeks of guide training this spring they were my only shoe I stuck in the duffle, so when I was inspired to get in 6 miles of running before a day of climbing instruction they were the answer. Although not designed for running they did a fine job of cushioning my foot and sticking to the trail.

Simul-climbing somewhere in the middle of the 3000' Direct North Ridge of Mt. Stuart

The longevity I’m getting out of these shoes is also very surprising. I’m not wearing them around town which helps, but my days logged in the mountains with these far exceed the lifespan of any other approach shoe I’ve used. Normally my fellow guides are lucky to stretch a pair of shoes through two seasons on rock, but I’m moving into the fall of my 3rd year with them and they're still kicking. I’m curious about resoling them as well, because that is the only part of the shoe that’s really starting to wear out. It would appear to be a simple job with a quick cutout of sticky-dot rubber to be replaced.

The one criticism I’d have of the shoe would be the traction on loose dirt trails due to the limited tread of the sticky-dot pattern. Deeper tread on a shoe allows it to dig into loose terrain gaining better purchase. I’ve only rarely had an issue with this however because once the trail becomes steep enough for my feet to slip the terrain has normally changed to exposed rock where these shoes excel.

I’d highly recommend the Patagonia Cragmaster Approach Shoe for anyone looking for the perfect blend of hike and climb. Just a quick note on sizing; I normally wear a size 9 hiking shoe and size down to a size 8.5 for approach shoes, making for a tighter and more precise fit while climbing. I have the Cragmaster in an 8.5 and it still feels a little roomy. It hasn’t been a problem but I might consider going down to a size 8 on my next pair. Always best to try them on before you buy!

--Jeremy Devine, Instructor and Guide

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Film Review: Chasing Ice

You know how you put things on your Netflix list and then just keep moving them down. They're the movies that you feel like you should watch, but you just don't have the heart to. For me, many of these are documentaries, often about subjects that are depressing.

Chasing Ice was one of these films. It seems like everybody had seen it and loved it, but I just didn't want to see anything else about climate change and about the melting of glaciers. So I pushed it down my list and pushed it down again. Finally, I watched it...

And it was depressing. But it was also awesome.

James Balog, an outdoor and environmental photographer, became well-known for his inspiring images. He shot for magazines renowned for their photos like National Geographic, Life, The New York Times Magazine and Outside. He worked in the outdoors relentlessly and found himself to be a skeptic of climate change when it became a common topic of scientific discussion. He felt that he just hadn't seen it... That is, until he made a trip to Iceland and quickly changed his mind. He became convinced that human beings and human activity are at the root of climate change.

Balog understood how hard it was for the average person to understand or see climate change. He understood that it's easy to be a sceptic until you see the glaciers and the changes their going through. So he decided to initiate a project, The Extreme Ice Survey. With this he would use time-lapse photography to chronicle the changes that the glaciers go through over the course of years.

Chasing Ice is Balog's story, as well as the story of the disappearance of the world's glaciers. And it is depressing. The glaciers are going away. Balog's survey demonstrates this in a way no one else ever has. We can literally watch the glaciers melting away.

But Chasing Ice is also awesome.

The images that Balog and his team capture are unprecedented. One of the most amazing moments of the film takes place near the end, when his team is onsite at a massive glacier when an island the size of Manhattan breaks away and crumbles into the sea. The violence and the grandiosity of the collapse are things that have never been witnessed by a person holding a camera before.

Chasing Ice puts a glacial face on climate change. And no matter how depressing documentaries like this can be, we have to watch them. We have to tell others to watch them, and we have to fight to save the ice in our mountains and at our poles...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Daily Splitter with AAI Guide Liz Daley

I came to Europe this time not knowing what the heck I was going to do. I almost always have a plan but this time didn't really. I usually I spend the fall working my butt off so I can get back to Chamonix for the winter. After a week or two of panicking looking for work I said screw it, I'm just going to shred some splitter. And splitter I've been sending. Right when I started sending and stopped worrying so much about responsibilities, turns out I can get paid for climbing! Not much, but it's a start. I have a new series on EpicTV, it's starting with alpine climbing then once winter hits I'll be shredding big lines in Chamonix and other rad places. Before reading on you MUST watch:
Note: You may need to go to the epic tv page to center the video.

I came to Europe this time not knowing what the heck I was going to do. I almost always have a plan but this time didn't really. I usually I spend the fall working my butt off so I can get back to Chamonix for the winter. After a week or two of panicking looking for work I said screw it, I'm just going to shred some splitter. And splitter I've been sending. Right when I started sending and stopped worrying so much about responsibilities, turns out I can get paid for climbing! Not much, but it's a start. I have a new series on EpicTV, it's starting with alpine climbing then once winter hits I'll be shredding big lines in Chamonix and other rad places. Before reading on you MUST watch:

Most photos by Davide De Masi

Upon my arrival in Switzerland, Marq, Olov and I headed to Furka Pass. Awesome trad alpine climbing near Andermatt, Switzerland. You can park right at the top of the pass, camp five minutes from the car and it's about a 45 minute approach to the wall we climbed at. We climbed a 6 pitch 6c? I think. I was out of shape from guiding all summer, I didn't really climb above 5c all summer at work so I was SO STOKED to get on some harder stuff.

Furka Pass was rad but I wanted to get to Chamonix. I haven't climbed much alpine splitter in Chamonix because I've always been here in the winter. I had a classic in mind I've wanted to climb for a while, the Voie Contamine on the South face of the Aiguille du Midi. 7 pitches, 6c+/7a.

It was so good, I climbed it once with Marq and once with Tom. Notice the tank top at 3800 meters! WOOOOOOO!

Next it was time for a bit bigger of a mission. Miss Tique on the Aiguille du Moine, 10 pitches, 6c+. A couple hour approach up the Mer de Glace and about 150 meters of sketchy overhanging ladders. The Moine is the nasty mountain on the right, Miss Tique pretty much follows a line right up the middle of the face.

Olov is a Swedish send-bot here to take over the world. He's about to finish his Phd in something I don't understand. I just nod my head and smile. He spends his leisure time on missions to Pakistan and skiing first descents around the Alps. He wanted to climb a 10 pitch 8a route on the other side of the Moine but he settled for Miss Tique on mine and Marq's account. He lead the super fun 6c+ splitter fingers pitch up to an airy hanging belay.

I lead a really nice 6b hand crack pitch to another nice 6a pitch. Somehow I got convinced to lead the sandbagged "6a" death slab pitch. The topo said it had 3 bolts in 30 meters... Olov said it would be good for my head game, I believe anything Olov says so I went for it. Bolts every 20-30 feet and being 1,000 or so feet above the glacier below I may or may not have sharted a cute girl shart on this pitch.

We got down in the dark and made it back to our bivy by the Courvecle Hut right across from the Grandes Jorasses.

Two days later we found ourselves in Italy going up the Helbronner tram (home of the worlds BEST shredding, pizza amongst other things). It was about an hour approach to Cache Cache on Pointe Adolphe Rey. 6 pitch 7a. (Adolphe Rey is the orangie outcrop that comes down the furthest in the shot in the center-right of the picture):

Famous British extreme skier, Tom Grant leads the amazingly splitter 7a crux fingers pitch. This pitch seemed easier than the 6b slab pitch before it. Why do Euro's always have to ruin a perfectly good splitter climb with a pitch of run-out slab?

I led the 5th pitch. 6b SPLITTARRRR fingers to hands to off-width pitch. This was one of the best pitches I've climbed since I've been here. The off-width part was protected with bolts, which for the first time I really appreciated, and at the top you climb through a hole in the rocks and belay from a pillar above.

We were worried about making the last bin down the Helbronner in time for Happy Hour in Italy so we quickly rapped off and ran back up the glacier. We managed to make it down to stuff our faces with Nigroni's and free Italian tasty bites. Ti amo Italia!

The weather turned and it snowed 30cm's on the Midi. I was excited for some mixed climbing!

Turns out mixed climbing is extremely cold, the belays are colder, you're unprotected from the ice chunks coming down and hitting you in the face, the pro is poor, and it gives you a nasty cold. Perhaps it's an acquired taste, I'll try it again soon. Screw that crap, we're going to Italy.

We climbed some nice limestone above the sea, got fat and drank more Negroni's.

We reconfirmed Italy is our favorite!

--Liz Daley, AAI Instructor and Guide

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

We've missed the last couple of weekends, but the Warrior is back now, and with great timing! There is a whole slew of great new videos and film trailers out now. So without further adieu, here we go! First of all, "Valhalla" from Sweetgrass Productions is out on tour right now. You can find the tour dates here, and check out the trailer below.

Next up here is "Wrangelled", a ski-mountaineering short filmed in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska. Big mountains, big lines, big climbing, big skiing.

Wrangelled - A Ski-mountaineering Flick from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.

Here is an interested ski mountaineering short that captures the first female ski descent of the Otterbody Route on the Grand Teton.  The team talks about decision making process and the team dynamics needed to pull off a successful descent.

The Otter Kind from getungrounded on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ptarmigan Ridge and its Unexpected Gifts

What does it take to make me happy? Not much, I sit here with an amazing view of Mt. baker and the surrounding Cascade mountains, my hiking poles, camera, notebook, pen, collapsible REI chair and water bottle, plus a pouch of Indian food from Trader Joe's and I couldn’t be any happier or content, just being out here makes me tickled with Joy from the inside out.

Moments of Bliss!
 Actually just the thought of knowing that I was driving away from Bellingham and by myself for a whole day with no schedule (not always easy to do as a parent) was the first glimpse of pure bliss that was about to follow.

Ptarmigan Ridge and Mt. Baker

Today I am out here making peace as I say my goodbyes to Mt. Baker and this amazing area; my family and I will soon be moving. My obsession with Mt. Baker and the North Cascades began in 2001 when I moved to the area, I fell in love and still am with it’s never ending beauty, amazing trails and peaks. It was the following year in 2002 while hiking out on the Mt. Baker lake trail while eating lunch and looking across the lake at Mt. Baker that I decided that day then and there I was going to climb her.

Ptarmigan Ridge Trail and Mt. Baker
 For those of you that don’t know, Mt. Baker is definitely a she mountain in all her grandness. It was the first Mountain that really spoke to me and called some deep sleeping longing out of me. And so I began climbing mountains and hiking any hike that had steep switchbacks on it.

Ptarmigan Ridge Trail and Mt. Baker
 Two years, three mountains, and many hikes later I would reach the 10,781 ft summit with my now husband and a pair of golf shoes that I carried to the top for a photo from a bet or promise I made with a friend.

Looking across at Church Mountain

What I did not realize when I chose to do this hike was that at different points in the hike I would be able to look across and say thanks to all the different ranges, hikes, that I explored in the name of training to climb Mt. Baker. What a real treat to see Church Mountain a natural amphitheater of waterfalls, Skyline Divide and it’s heavenly alpine flowers , Welcome Pass and it’s 60 plus switchbacks, Lake Ann and it’s calving glacier views and sounds , and then down onto Baker Lake where the vision began.
View of Welcome Pass

Mt. Shuksan with Lake Anne trail below.

 Just getting outdoors and enjoying a hike with views is all it takes to give me a grin all day long and a mental shift for the days in the week ahead! North Cascades you will always have a piece of my heart filled with memories. Thanks for teaching me how to enjoy exploring the peaks and the valleys of life! I will return again someday!

--Natalie Page, AAI Blog Contributor

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mt. Erie Logging Proposed - Action Alert!

 Over the last months it has become clear that Mt. Erie, an awesome climbing area near the town of Anacortes, Washington, is under threat. An organization has proposed a logging operation followed by the construction of a development directly below Mt. Erie's south face. Following is a letter and some information about what you can do to stop this!

Friends of Mt Erie - 
As you may be aware, the Skagit Planning and Development Services (PDS) has determined that the application to log 40 acres of timber directly below the south face of Mt. Erie does not have a probable significant adverse impact on the environment (PL13-0102 & BP13-0136). As a result, an environmental impact statement is not required.

The organization Evergreen Islands ( is appealing this determination. The hearing for the appeal was recently changed from a private to a public hearing.

As a result, public commentary for the hearing is being accepted by attendance, by letter, or at the PDS website (
 Comments are due by September 24th.

IT IS VERY IMPORTANT that your voice be heard on this issue. Further information about the appeal and how to communicate is included below. Also, please pass this message on to anyone else you know who may want to comment.

Thank you,


Notice is hereby given that the Skagit County Hearing Examiner will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 in the Board of County Commissioners Hearing Room, 1800 Continental Place, Mount Vernon, Washington, at the hour of 9:00 a.m. or soon thereafter, for the purpose of determining the following:

A. Open Record Appeal PL13-0281 submitted by Evergreen Islands of a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) threshold determination of a Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (MDNS) for forest practice conversion application PL13-0102 and grading permit application BP13-0136 filed by Mr. Frank Harkness proposing harvest of timber and subsequent residential development of the forested 40 acre parcel south of Mount Erie. The subject site is located north and adjacent to 5285 Campbell Lake Road Drive within a portion of the Northwest quarter of Section 12, Township 34 North, Range 1 East, Skagit County, WA (Parcel P19301). Staff Contact: John Cooper

The Public Notice for the Mount Erie Appeal states that the hearing will be an Open Record hearing, and it also states, “Your views for or against the requests are invited either by attendance, representation or letter.”

Comments and/or facsimiles must be received by this office no later than 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 24, 2013 or be presented at the public hearing. Email correspondence will not be accepted however comments may be submitted with the PDS website under the current legal notices tab.

Some of the pertinent topics for commenting are as follows:

10. Aesthetics

b. What views in the immediate vicinity would be altered or obstructed?

12. Recreation

a. What designated and informal recreational opportunities are in the immediate vicinity?

b. Would the proposed project displace any existing recreational uses? If so, describe.

13. Historic and cultural preservation
a. Are there any places or objects listed on, or proposed for, national, state, or local preservation registers known to be on or next to the site? If so, generally describe.

b. Generally describe any landmarks or evidence of historic, archaeological, scientific, or cultural importance known to be on or next to the site.

Friday, September 13, 2013

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:

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.

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.

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