Saturday, November 30, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

If you're not recovered from Thursday, then you better hold on, because we've got some more tasty morsels for you this weekend.  In our first clip, Jens Holsten puts up a new route, Mainsail (5.12d), in Leavenworth.

Mainsail from Max Hasson on Vimeo.

In the latest from Salomon Freeski TV, Josh Daiek, Mike Henitiuk & Kieran Nikula head to an abandoned mining village in the BC backcountry in search of their own "white gold."

Fred Wert resides in Winthrop, WA and used to climb many of these peaks shown in our next video. It was taken over several winters from his Cessna 182.  Fred says his videos are, "a way to share a view of these magnificent peaks that few people can ever see. And it is to provide a different perspective and view of the many sides of many peaks that are not usually even seen by mountain travelers."

How many of these peaks can you name?

Flying the North Cascades from MtnsFlyer on Vimeo.

And finally, for those of you who are still in a food coma and can't get out, here is 45 minutes of climbing.... in Turkey!

Have a great weekend!!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Eye Protection on Long Expeditions

Anyone who has spent any time on a glacier when the sun is out, will tell you how fast their skin started to tan or burn. The reflective nature of snow and ice greatly magnifies the suns power, and proper measures need to be taken to protect our skin and eyes from UV rays. Putting on sunscreen and wearing sun glasses seems like basic common sense when the sun is out, however it is not as obvious when the clouds are overhead. The fact is though, that even when the clouds are out, those damaging UV rays are still making their way through, and your chances of becoming snow blind or burning your skin is still high. On long expeditions, the chance of you encountering bad weather and having to deal with variable conditions is almost a guarantee, and as such you should come prepared.

The author, rocking out his Spectron 4 shades in the bright light on Denali

This leaves you with a bit of a dilemma, seeing as sunglasses generally are made for when the sun is out, right? Most sunglasses are just too dark to use when the clouds are out, making visibility even a bigger issue. Julbo USA realizes this issue, and as such have created glacier glasses with much higher visible light transmission. They use a lens system which range from Spectron 1 - 4, with the higher number eliminating more of the visible light. They have even created a lens system, which they cal lCamel, that is photochromatic - meaning it transitions between two different lens categories depending on the amount of light available.

This feature however, can price some people out of these glasses, and personally, I choose another option anyway. On long expeditions, I will bring 3 different sets of eye wear, for a variety of reason. The first, is a pair of sunglasses that have Spectron 4 lenses, for those days that are bluebird and the sun is out shining. The second pair, will have Spectron 3 lenses in it, and an anti-fog coating. I tend to find that when I'm in a white out, there is a lot more heat and moisture and my glasses will fog up. That is why it is most important to have an anti-fog coating on this pair.

The author, with his Spectron 3 glasses - preparing for when that fog rolls in.

My final pair, will be some goggles, with the highest visible light transmission possible. If I have goggles on, it is probably because the weather is so terrible and the wind is blowing so hard, that I will need to be able to see as much as possible. Smith Optics makes a great pair of lenses called the sensor mirror, which seem to increase contrast and really help with the flat light that can be found in a blizzard.

Smith goggles with the Sensor Mirror Lens.

The important thing to note, is that all of these glasses/lenses filter out 100% of UVA/UVB rays. The amount of visible light that is transmitted is a completely different story, which is why you can still remain protected while altering your lens to the current conditions. Additionally, you could very well get a pair of glasses with Spectron 3 lenses, and they would serve most all of your purposes. I choose 3 pairs of eye protection because I like to have redundancy in this system. If I, or someone else on my team, loses or breaks their glasses - there will be a back up pair. I would rather carry the extra weight of a second pair of glasses, than go snow blind.

The author, covering up his skin and rocking a different pair of shades on the summit of Denali.

Let's not forget the most important reason to carry more than one pair of sunglasses however. Sometimes it's nice to switch up your style while on the mountain!

--Andrew Yasso, Instructor and Guide

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Top Rope Anchors off Bolts or Chains – Part II

I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for a while now and thought it would be a good follow up to Jason Martin's Toproping Sport Climbs

My initial inspiration for this topic came from the following Mountain Project Thread: How to use rap rings and chains properly

I find it interesting how such a simple topic receives so much controversy and attention, but I do understand why. I believe that most climbing, especially toproping, is extremely safe when done correctly, but the consequence of a simple mistake can prove fatal.

It's always tough weeding through threads like this for the good information. There are many misnomers in the thread like reference to the “AMGA Way” or self proclaimed experts that believe their knowledge base is greater than the combined knowledge of hundreds of AMGA guides and then accusing the AMGA of teaching incorrect methods.

There really is no AMGA Way; if you asked 5 Certified AMGA Rock guides to build a toprope anchor off bolts, I’m pretty sure you would see 2 or 3 different ways. Through my experience of taking both my Rock Instructor course and Rock Guide Course/Aspirant Exam I’ve found that the AMGA teaches us to use many different techniques, but the main thing they try to do is help us to develop sound judgment to decide what techniques are appropriate for the given situation. A common theme throughout advanced courses is, “what is the price paid (in time and energy) and what is gained from that?”

So how does this relate back to the topic of building topropes off bolts or chains? I think there are a few factors you should consider before deciding on what method to use. For the purpose of this discussion, I am working under the assumption that we have two well placed, solid, 3/8” or larger bolts. Anything less than this, you may want to consider working another anchor point or back up into the system.

One of the techniques discussed in the thread is toproping off two quickdraws. I don’t see a big safety issue with a toprope through two opposite and opposed quickdraws that are well equalized, overhanging and in sight. My question with this is “how much time and effort would it be to incorporate a draw with a locking carabiner?” I think a locker adds a considerable safety factor with very little effort. Also, in real life, the bolts aren’t always placed so the draws meet all of the above requirements.

If anchor bolts are out of sight, not well equalized, or rubbing against rock, my favorite toprope setup in the Quad. This is a form of the equalette and can be found in John Longs Climbing Anchors on page 172.

One of the great things about the Quad is that it self-equalizes, but for that gain you lose part of your "No Extension." My rule of thumb for extension is something that I learned in Search and Rescue Training: "Keep it to 6 inches or less" The quad can typically be tied and used on multiple anchors with little or no adjustments to the extension limiting knots to keep it less than 6 inches. I also like to use the quad on multipitch climbs with bolted belays stations, in that application I anchor into only two strands(using 7 mil cord) and then belay and anchor the second into the other two.

No matter what method you decide to use to set up your toprope anchor, you should try to take into consideration the above factors and anything else that could affect your setup and build it to SERENE principals.

I hope everyone had a great fall and is getting stoked for some good snow and ice.

Doug Foust, Instructor and Guide

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mountain and Backcountry Smart Phone Apps

Over the last couple of years, smart phone technology has developed at a pace that is unprecedented.  Engineers who develop phones are only part of the story though. Application developers are the other part of the story. And yet another part of the story are developers who create programs for outdoor enthusiasts.

There are three kinds of apps for backcountry users and climbers. The first kind is for entertainment. Sometimes they have useful beta, but not always. The second type provides pre-trip planning beta.  And the third type provides onsite beta.  There is value to all three types of apps, but those that present beta that has value in the moment provide the most bang for the buck.

Recently guides have been spending a lot of time trading ideas on apps for backcountry use.  Here is a short list of apps that some guides are beginning to carry:

Mapping and GPS Apps

A backcountry GPS is no small purchase. Most run between $100 and $400.  However, the smart phone applications that many are using these days work almost as well.

When I was first told about this GPS option, I thought that it wasn't for me. I thought that you had to be in cell phone range for these to work. That is absolutely not the case. In the proper settings your smart phone GPS application will work even when you are in airplane mode.

Trimble Outdoors Navigator and US Topo Maps

These two applications represent the gold standard of GPS backcountry app technology.  While each of these programs have their quirks, they both work well even when you are far from 4G technology. Indeed, I have to say that I often find that these programs operate more effectively than my (admittedly old) GPS unit.

Google Earth

The ski guide who told me about this uses Google Earth to find potential ski runs in the backcountry. Mountain Rescue volunteers and professionals also use this app to develop search plans in complex terrain.


Though this isn't really a backcountry app, it can certainly get you from one place to another. I've been using mapquest regularly to get to towns or landmarks near climbing areas that I've never visited before. The application "speaks" to you, telling you where to go and when to turn. It's a must have for the traveling climber.

Medical Apps

Wilderness First Aid

In this day and age it seems ludicrous to carry a book into the mountains, whether it be for personal reading or for reference. There is currently at least one free first aid app available and dozens of apps that you have to pay for.


Weather Bug Elite

Like most weather programs, there is a free version and an upgrade. I really like the Weather Bug Elite. In part it's because this program not only provides the weather, but gives updates on where lightning strikes are taking place. Unfortunately, this program doesn't work without connectivity.

NOAA Weather

At the American Alpine Institute, we use NOAA regularly to determine where to run trips and programs. We look at the telemetry to determine everything you can imagine. Like the Weather Bug, the program doesn't work without connectivity.

Camping Apps

Campground Finder and RV Parky are two apps that I use to find campgrounds nearby. The downside of each of these is that they don't seem to be able to find the same campgrounds. So, if you show up to a campground and it's full, you might need to use both programs in order to find something suitable.

These programs use the GPS in your phone to provide you with camping options. It's too bad that there isn't an app that also shows good free or hidden campgrounds...

When I've pitched these programs to people in the past, they've become worried that they only list places for RV camping. This is not the case. Both programs provide info on both RV and tent camping options.

Skiing and Snow Apps

Avalanche Forecasts

The Avalanche Forecasts app provides information on avalanche conditions in the Northwestern United States. I haven't dug very deeply, but I suspect that there are apps for other regions as well.

BCA Assessor App

This program helps you with both your avalanche assessments and tour plans. I haven't used the app yet though, because it's only for Iphones and I have an Android. However, those who use it certainly like it.

Ski Report

The Ski Report app provides "on piste" information from ski resorts all over the place. The information provided from a ski resort may help you to decide whether you want to visit the resort or play in the backcountry nearby.


Mountain Project

For a small  fee you can download Mountain Project. If you're not already aware of this resource, you should be. Mountain Project is an online guidebook built by users all over the world. The app allows you to access tons of route beta through your phone...  Just don't drop your phone when you're up there reading about where the next pitch goes!

Climb Tracker

I've been looking for some kind of a fitness app for the rock gym, one that I could track my progress on as well as my other training activities. Unfortunately, the app that I really want doesn't exist. What does exist is an app called the Climb Tracker. It's a very easy to use app for you to keep track of the routes you completed. You could use this to track everything you've done as almost a climbing resume, or you could use as I have been, to track gym training...


This is more of a standard app than a backcountry app. It is a program that allows you to take notes and then sync them to all of your devices. And notes can include anything from photos, to web clippings, to maps. I regularly put information into my Evernote notes on my computer in order to have them on my phone when I'm in the field.

Magazine and Book Downloads

There is something to be said about ebooks and magazine subscriptions in your phone. You can get Climbing magazine through your phone as a subscription based service. You could also download any instructional books or documents that you might need. Many guidebooks may now be purchased as ebooks. This could make the weight in your pack go down significantly.

What do you use?

We're incredibly interested in finding out what others are using on their phones in the backcountry. Please let us know either here in the comments or on our facebook page.

And lastly, if you intend to use your smartphone in the backcountry, bring spare batteries and potentially even a solar charger... The last thing you want is to run out of juice!

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

Dubsatch Collective brings it one more time with some sweet footage from their Japan trip.

Hakuba from Dubsatch Collective on Vimeo.

With most of the major ski resorts across the US ramping up this weekend, I thought it was a good idea to drop this one for you Weekend Warrior out there.  If you decide to duck that rope and travel into the backcountry, be sure you know what you're getting yourself into.  Stay safe out there.

Weak Layer, Slab, Trigger = Avalanche from Trent Meisenheimer on Vimeo.

Lastly, for those of you who just aren't ready for (or frankly Scarlet, don't give a damn about) snow, here's a little something rad to keep you stoked as we roll into the weekend.

RAD DAYS - Teaser from kim feast on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, November 22, 2013

AORE Conference 2013 Round-Up

The Association for Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE) is the the premier conference of it's type in the United States. The focus of the AORE conference is to bring together college and university outdoor educators, outdoor rec students and professors, military rec planners and community rec planners to share ideas.

This conference was my fourth representing the American Alpine Institute. I have attended the conference in Keystone, Colorado; in San Antonio, Texas; in Snowbird, Utah; and finally, this year in College Park, Maryland, just outside of Washington DC.

One of the valuable things about the AORE conference is that the clinics and seminars don't just revolve around hard technical skills. Many discuss academic papers and studies concerning the outdoors, as well as issues that young outdoor professionals might face. I attended seminars on everything from mentorship to how to fix a van that broke down on a program.  I also presented on two topics. I co-presented a lecture with Ed Crothers from the American Mountain Guides Association on "How to Become a Professional Mountain Guide," and I presented a lecture on "Professionalism in the Outdoor Industry." Both of which were well attended.

AAI Guide Mike Pond, presented a lecture from his outdoor recreation thesis on spiritualism in climbing. He didn't look at religion as much as how individuals feel when they are in the moment on a climb when they feel connected spiritually to the universe.

Following is a photo essay on the conference as well as on my journeys in Washington DC.

 The Univeristy of Maryland, College Park has an excellent 
outdoor climbing wall and bouldering cave.

AAI Guide Mike Pond presenting his 
research on climbing and spirituality.

During the AORE Auction, this guy modeled jackets without his shirt on.

The Capitol 

Nobody ever talks about the Korean War Memoral, but I think it's the most 
haunting of all the war memorials. One can really feel the pain 
and suffering in the eyes of these statues.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial

The Washington Monument, under repair.

The Martin Luther King Memorial

The Boy Scout Memorial

The Air and Space Museum was a highlight of the tourist part of my trip.

 Another highlight was the Natural History Museum.

 There are very few things cooler in the world than dinosaur bones.

This was my favorite old sign from the American History Museum.
Perhaps this is still apt today with all the traffic and global warming and on and on...

Sorry for the "my trip to DC" slideshow, but it was my first time there. Next year the AORE Conference will take place in Portland, Oregon. I'm looking forward to another spectacular conference...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

AMGA Rock Guide Course Reflection

AAI Guide Andrew Yasso just finished his Advanced Rock Guide course with the American Mountain Guides Association. The Rock Guide Course is not just another course, the course also tests guide skill with an assessment that is referred to as an "Aspirant Exam." This is a prestigious and difficult program. Andrew wrote about his experience withe program in the following blog:


The AMGA Rock Guide Course/Aspirant Exam (RGC/AE) was more than I could have asked for. It clarified and solidified many of the techniques I use as good habit and best practice, in addition it showed me new perspectives to evaluate situations and skills to better manage them. There is truly no better resource than having multiple IFMGA level guides as your instructors. The long days during the course were a testament to their dedication to ensuring ample time to practice and digest the material. The knowledge I received from these instructors was well worth the time and investment.

Each day focused on either introducing new concepts or applying our novel skills in real terrain. For example, one day we focused on short-roping techniques to ascend and descend a feature, practicing with one and then two mock guests. The following day we applied these skills and climbed an objective that involved real world short-roping. This style of learning, practicing, and then performing is seriously effective in hammering home the skills and judgement required for keeping a rope team safe in non-fifth class terrain. I am thankful for the practice and could use plenty more, especially under the watchful eye of a more highly trained and experienced guide.

Overall I think my favorite part of the course was interacting with my peers, and seeing how they responded to challenges in a guide role. Most of the students in the course had significant guiding experience under their belts, and I felt lucky to be among a class that could share that experience in a positive and constructive way. I hope that throughout the AMGA process and my career as a whole, I will continue to be among individuals who are dedicated to becoming the best guides they can possibly be, and they truly motivated and encouraged me while on this course.

Of course there were challenges as well, however, they seemed minor in comparison to the positive aspects of the course. The government shutdown began on the first day of our course limiting our terrain selection, and weather on the final day cut our aspirant exam objectives short. These challenges however, became opportunities and assets to the instructors as they found new and varied venues to deal with area closures. The inclement weather on the final day served to teach me a very important lesson while on AMGA exams: When in guide mode - stay in guide mode. Not only did I learn how to “bail safely” off a climb, I learned to bail in style.

I am fortunate to work as the lead guide in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area for the American Alpine Institute during the Winter/Spring season. I see the AMGA as the premier source for education and career advancement in the United States, and as such I looked to this course to build my knowledge-base and skill set. I am grateful to have taken, and passed, my RGC/AE. To add to my excitement, I applied for and received a very generous full-tuition scholarship from Petzl. It is an amazing feeling to know that friends, family, and even equipment manufacturers, believe in and support my passion and career. For that, and to Petzl directly, I am extremely grateful.

 --Andrew Yasso, Instructor and Guide

Monday, November 18, 2013

Toproping Sport Climbs - Part I

Pulling through the last few moves on “Lude Crude and Misconstrued,” a popular 5.9 located in the Black Corridor of Red Rock Canyon, is not a particularly difficult thing to do. The moves at the top are easy. No instead, the scariest part of the climb is not the climb itself, but the anchors. So many people have put their rope through the chains at the top of the route and then proceeded to toprope or lower off the anchors that the sawing action of hundreds of ropes has nearly eaten them clean through.

This is a chronic problem at sport climbing areas across America. Chain and quicklink anchors are severely damaged due to ignorance or laziness. The problem is most visible however, in places where it is sandy. Once a rope gets sand in the sheath it literally becomes like sandpaper. The repeated sawing action of a moving tensioned rope -- especially one with sand in the sheath -- may severely damage anchor chains in as little as a matter of hours.

The question then must be asked, who is responsible for a newly damaged anchor? Is it the first ascent party's responsibility to replace the anchor? Is it the responsibility of a local guide service? Does it become the problem of local climbing conservation groups? Or are the people who damaged the anchor responsible?

There is no right answer to the preceeding question. I have personally replaced innumerable anchors out of my own pocket. I know a number of others that have the same. We do this because we don't want to see anybody get hurt. But it's not something that we want to do.

Most of us who put up new routes or repair existing climbs simply avoid toproping directly through the chains. Instead, we use a cordelette or a double shoulder-length sling in conjunction with locking carabiners.

Above is an example of a rope threaded directly through the anchor.Do not do this for anything but a rappel.

On the left-hand side, the anchor is composed of quick links. These are easier to change-out when they are damaged. On the right, the anchor is made up of chain purchased from a hardware store. This is more difficult to replace when damaged.

The photo above provides an example of a properly set-up toprope. The anchor is composed of a double shoulder-length sling, tied into a pre-equalized eight. At the bottom, clipped into the power-point (sometimes called the master-point) are two opposite and opposed locking carabiners. This is the best possible system as it meets the requirements for a SRENE or ERNEST anchor and protects the anchor chains from damage.

There are two organizations that are currently replacing bolts and anchors throughout the country. The first is the nonprofit American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) and the second is the Anchor Replacement Inititive(ARI) sponsored by Climbing magazine, the North Face and Petzl . It is possible to support the ASCA with donations and to support the ARI by purchasing items from their corporate sponsors.

Checking anchors to make sure that they are not damaged, replacing those that are or providing financial support to those who will replace them, and reporting damaged anchors to individuals who will fix them is the responsibility of every climber. But perhaps the greater responsibility is to simply avoid damaging an anchor to begin with.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

Sven Kueenle has put together a sweet edit from his 2012 and 2013 seasons, and boy does this guy rip!  I love the fly-overs towards the end!

Over the years, we've featured quite a few clips from Salomon Freeski TV.  Well, those folks just hit a major milestone with their latest episode - #100!  In this episode, they take a look back through the reels for some of the great moments.

After his first trip a couple years ago, Nalle Hukkataival returns to Australia's Grampains National Park for some awesome bouldering, and nabbs some first ascents along the way.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Underappreciated Value of Trekking Poles

"I've never used 'em, so why should I start now?"

We hear it at nearly every rendezvous before nearly every trip. Many people pride themselves on being anti-trekking pole. And it's not really clear why.

Trekking poles can be your best friend. The use of the poles allows you to protect your knees while carrying heavy loads. They also help to preserve your balance on deep snow or in uneven terrain. Indeed, they provide so much support that I often argue that once you let your guard down and use poles, it's hard to go back to not using them...of course a handful of the stubborn will drop the poles for awhile after being "forced" to use them by a guide. But the value of said poles is so high, that even some of the most stubborn will eventually pick them back up again on their own private trips.

While the advantages of trekking poles are clear, there are two potential drawbacks to them. Both of the drawbacks have more to do with the use of wrist straps than anything else. The first is that if you always use the strap, it is possible to develop tendinitis in the elbow, or tennis elbow. If you only use the wrist-strap when it's possible that you're going drop and lose the pole, then this impact can be limited. Without the strap, people tend to constantly change how they're holding the pole and as such, it doesn't impact the elbow so much.

The best way to use a trekking pole is without the 
wrist strap as, as wearing the strap can lead to tendentious.  

This variation is dangerous because if you fall 
you can dislocate your thumb.

The second potential problem is what's referred to as "skier's thumb." This particular issue is also related to the strap. If you put your wrist into it and allow the strap to run behind your thumb as shown in the picture above, it is possible that a fall will dislocate your thumb. It is incredibly important to wear a wrist leash -- while hiking or skiing -- with it running from the top of your wrist.

The problems with trekking poles are very avoidable...and if you use them regularly, so are the problems that arise when you don't use them...

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

Jeremy Jones has been at the forefront of big-mountain backcountry snowboarding for over 15 years.  His film trilogy, "Deeper," "Further," and his newest film "Higher" have brought his and other amazing riders/alpinists' skills to the public. This won't be released for another year, but we've got a lot to look forward to!

Next up is a sick clip from Mammut with some crazy ice climbing footage.  I'm not going to spoil this with any other descriptions...

This next clip from Mountain Hardware captures the smooth fluidity of Sam Anthamatten on some beautiful lines up in Haines.

Last, but not least, our friends up at Glacier Ski Shop just put together this quick video of them tearing it up in the Mt. Baker backcountry on Wednesday. They're reporting 30" at about 5500'!!

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, November 8, 2013


Backclipping is one of the most common mistakes that beginning level leaders make. This is the process of misclipping a quickdraw so that the rope does not run smoothly out of the top of the carabiner, but instead runs behind the gate. If a leader falls with the rope clipped in such an orientation, it is possible that the rope could become unclipped.

This diagram from shows an incorrectly clipped rope
and how it may become unclipped in the event of a fall. Click on the photo for a larger image.

This image from shows the proper way that a rope should be clipped.
Note that the rope runs out of the top of the carabiner and over the spine.

It is quite common for those that are learning -- and even some of those that have been climbing for a long time -- not to recognize a backclipped carabiner. It is important for both leaders and belayers alike to be able to easily recognize an incorrectly clipped draw. It is also important to quickly correct this once it is recognized.

One of the best ways to avoid backclipping is to practice the art of clipping a rope into a draw. Climbers should be able to do this with both hands, regardless of the direction of the gate. This is a great technique to practice while vegging in front of the television. If you can wire it at home, then your muscles will remember how to do it and will do it right.

The following video provides a quick lesson on clipping a rope to a draw. Be sure to obtain real instruction from a live person before doing this in an environment that has consequences...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 4, 2013

First Ascents in Kyrgyzstan

The spare on a six-wheeled vehicle used to reach
remote climbing zonse.
This summer I took a climbing trip to Kyrgyzstan with some fantastic climbing in mind. This is the story of my trip. My goal: “To climb and explore in a remote and spectacular range full of varying climates and fantastic peaks. Second, to attempt a summit bid of Khan Tengri, a majestic and technical mountain to climb, and the most northern 7000m peak in the world.”

If you’re not familiar with Kyrgyzstan it’s a country that gained its independence from the USSR in 1991. It’s a small mountainous country north and slightly east of Afghanistan. It’s truly in the heart of the Asian continent. In fact it’s further from the sea than any other country in the world and none of it’s rivers reach a sea or ocean.

In recent years Kyrgyzstan has drawn the attention of the climbing community as a region for those seeking uncharted territory and first ascents at high altitude. Of course climbing in a less developed country means half the adventure is the logistics of getting to your base camp. This meant a three day journey from the U.S. by flight and land culminating in a transfer in a 6-wheeled truck to the Terskey Ala-Too region. For Khan Tengri we had to be airlifted in by helicopter. Once in Terskey Ala-Too I met the support team and the other climbers then began the trek to base camp.

For this trip I used a service that provides logistical support to climbers so they can establish a base camp in the region but it is up to the climbers to find climbing partners and go do the climbing. The only info they had was from old Russian Aerial topographic maps. The maps were relatively accurate save being off by several meters most of the time. This put the onus on us climbers to, essentially, be first ascensionists relying on very little beta. I was fortunate to team up with other climbers while on the trip.

An example of the maps we used to prep for our climbs.
There were two segments to the trip. The first half of the trip we were climbing in the central range, and for the second half of the trip we moved North and East to the borders of Kazakhstan and China to set up base camp for Khan Tengri. The central range is made up of peaks that are all very technical and shear. The climbing was difficult to say the least. The type of rock and rock quality varied greatly and sometimes there would even be multiple types of rock on the same route. We definitely had to deal with some rock fall hazard and this was a great route finding experience for me. Going into a route with no beta changes the game dramatically. Thankfully, once we cleared loose rock and picked our lines the quality of the rock was usually pretty good. The storms and the snow were really the biggest challenges of the trip.

Peak 4300m in distance on right side.
For the first several days in the region we could view the impending storms as they approached. Usually between 1pm and 4pm the strong and short-lived hail storms would come. I wore my hard-shell almost every day. Every objective required exploratory walks and with less than ideal snow conditions even exploration was tiring. The snow was soft and deep and definitely kept us climbing in the coldest hours possible. We would typically try to be coming down by 7am or 8am. It was a small window, but with advanced camps, we were able to summit all the peaks we attempted. Although all these peaks had no documented climbs, we found evidence of people on two peaks leaving us with two first ascents and these are how we classified the peaks we climbed.

Peak 4420 - Another First Ascent actual elevation; 4480m.
  • Un-named Peak, (4300m) Snow 50°-70°, III, 300m, (07/2013); first ascent.
  • Un-named Peak, (4135m), 5th class, 5.6, III, 200m, (07/2013); found evidence of people at summit.
  • Un-named Peak, (4280m), 5th class, 5.8, 3 Pitches, 150m, (07/2013); found evidence of people at summit.
  • Un-named Peak, (4420m), Snow 40°-60°, III, 600m, (07/2013); first ascent.

Khan Tengri was a little different experience we were getting more support in our attempt and thus had much more beta going into the climb. The altitudes supplied were still approximate and usually were off but we still had much more route information going into the climb.

Khan Tengri in back on the left.
Khan Tengri with camp locations identified.

I was able to climb to 5000m but started suffering from mild AMS. At that point I moved to a lower elevation and my condition improved pretty quickly. Unfortunately the weather did not improve. Other members of the team moved to Camp 2 at (5600m), they climbed a nearby peak Csepajer (6120m) and then moved to Camp 3 (5800m). I was anxiously watching their progress and waiting for the weather to improve thinking maybe I could make a move up to join them. However, the weather didn’t improve and the team got pinned down at Camp 3 with endless high winds and meters of snow falling daily all along the route from Base Camp all the way up the mountain.

Camp 1

The high volume of snow led to a super high risk for avalanches. It became very hazardous to either ascend or descend. Eventually the base camp manager pulled all the teams off the mountain and closed base camp 8 days ahead of schedule. As far as I know, only the three people setting ropes and a four-person team from the south side made the summit this season.

The route to Camp 1

All in all it was an amazing trip. Taking all the skills I’ve developed in recent years, thanks in part to AAI, and putting them into play exploring entirely new routes was a dream come true for me. The weather was challenging and could have been better but that’s the nature of this sport and despite it all I was fortunate to find experienced climbing partners and to get some first ascents under my belt. This was an amazing trip to a remarkable region!

Submitted by: George Thomas
Edited by: Tim Page

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

Jack Sakson and Paul Kimbrough are a couple of the top Tele skiers out there these days, and the "eat-sleep-ski" simplicity of their lifestyle is evident in their smooth skiing styles and mellow vibe.

Ski mountaineers Bjarne Salen and Andreas Fransson share their enthusiasm and appreciation for great friends, great mountains and great skiing in this next clip.

Here's a sweet short from Dubsatch Collective, showing us why they love their home mountain of Alta so much!  It's pretty easy to fall in love with powder that deep!

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, November 1, 2013

AMGA Annual Meeting - 2013

I've been attending American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) annual meetings occasionally for the better part of 15 years, but this meeting in Boulder was by far the best one that I've ever been too. 

Maybe I should step back...

The AMGA is the organization that oversees guide training, certification and accreditation for guides and guide services throughout the United States. Every year the organization hosts an annual meeting for membership. These meetings primarily provide an opportunity for three things. First, they provide a place for opportunities for continuing education. Second, they allow guides from all over the place to meet and compare notes. And finally, they provide the organization's leadership with a chance to talk to guides about what they're doing in order to support them.

This year was special for two reasons. First, I became a member of the AMGA's Board of Directors. And second, the organization hosted the first ever high altitude summit for guides and high altitude doctors to come together and talk about issues surrounding guiding and high altitude medicine.

Dr. Peter Hackett directed the training at the AMGA High Altitude Symposium.
Dr. Hackett is one of the word's leading researchers on high altitude medicine.

Dr. Alison Sheets, a former guide and a volunteer at the Himalayan Rescue Association, 
oversees a group of guides as they practice with a Gamow Bag. A Gamow Bag is a device 
that may be used for an individual who is suffering from altitude illness.  The patient is placed 
inside the bag and then the bag is pumped up creating the pressure of a lower altitude.

The High Altitude Symposium was absolutely fantastic. It was worth going to the meeting just for that.

Following the symposium, there were a number of "normal" clinics. I attended clinics on Advanced Tour Planning, Advanced Beacon Search Techniques, and Marketing.

AMGA Instructor Anna Keeling teaches a clinic on Tour Planning.

One of the most important parts of the annual meeting is the "Main Event." It is at the main event that they provide awards and generally have an excellent slideshow.

From left to right: AMGA Executive Director Betsy Winter, AMGA 
Access Director Scott Massey and AMGA Outreach Coordinator 
Dana Richardson. Scott Massey worked as an AAI Guide prior
to moving into the AMGA office.

At the main event they presented two awards. The President's Award went to Majika Burhardt and the Lifetime Achievement Award went to Kathy Cosley. Both Majika and Kathy started their careers at the American Alpine Institute.

The slideshow was presented by Dylan Taylor. Dylan started his career with AAI and still picks up work for us in the Alps. Dylan's slideshow was about his experience climbing and skiing in Afghanistan with Danny Ulmann and Aiden Loher, both guides who occasionally work for AAI.

Dylan's Afghanistan presentation was fantastic. He just returned from the region. However, he went there with Aiden, and Aiden was not able to get a visa out. As of this writing, he is still there! To learn more about this epic, check out Aiden's blog.

One of my favorite parts of annual meetings is seeing old friends.
Laura Sanders is one of the lead reps for FiveTen. She is one of my favorite
people from the years that I lived in Las Vegas. FiveTen and Laura do 
a phenomenal job of supporting guides throughout the industry.

Finally the grand meeting was over, and it was time for me to get down to work with the Board. We had a long and hard day working through a myriad of issues that affect American guides. At the end of the day we were rewarded with a high-end-dress-your-best dinner.

I never knew there were going to be such perks for being on the Board!

It was an exciting trip and I'm looking forward to more meetings in the future. But more importantly, I continue to look forward to serving the American Guide Community on the AMGA Board of Directors...

--Jason D. Martin