Tuesday, October 29, 2013

AAI South Pumpkin Carving


This October we have had a number of guides down in the desert Southwest, staying at my house near Las Vegas, NV.  Some are here for guiding in Red Rock Canyon, Joshua Tree, and the Sierra.  Others are here for continuing education through the American Mountain Guides Association.  And still more are here to simply enjoy the best weather and some of the best climbing in the country.  Autumn is in the air here in the desert, and although we don't have deciduous trees that change colors or cider mills to enjoy the fall harvest, we still have a festive spirit!



We decided to get some pumpkins and do our best at climbing related carvings - here is the result from what we like to call "AAI South."

To start, we have Mike Pond's Black Diamond themed winking pumpkin.  Both of his eyes were supposed to be the BD logo, but an operator error was exploited to create this sly devil.
Next is Jeremy Devine's American Alpine Institute inspired pumpkin.  He did his best to copy our logo and carve it out, but without the special carving tools he did not have the ability to cut out letters.  It was a valiant effort for sure.
I went for more of a barbaric inspiration, with the execution of my pumpkin via a Petzl Sum'tec ice axe.  I think this carving really captures both the aggressiveness and versatility of this fantastic piece of equipment.
Well, this was our best attempts.  I would love to see if anyone else has made climbing related pumpkin carvings!  Shoot an email to andrew@alpineinstitute.com and I'll post them up here if I get any submissions.



--Andrew Yasso, AAI Instructor and Guide

Monday, October 28, 2013

Epinephrine Video Report

Last month I had the pleasure of guiding one of the most classic routes, and probably the most iconic, in Red Rock Canyon.  Epinephrine is over 1500' in length, with 12+ pitches of quality rock climbing.

The route is most well known for its chimneys, which vary in size and are quite physical.  It gets a difficulty rating of 5.9, however I know 5.10+ climbers who have struggled to find out how to get through the 500 foot section of smooth walled slickness.  We started that day at 04:15 on the Las Vegas Strip, began climbing at 06:30 topped out on the summit of Black Velvet peak at around 17:00, and were back in town around 21:00.  It is a huge day, and a worth objective.

My first role as a guide is to keep my guest safe, which makes it difficult to take pictures and film with an iPhone while belaying at the same time.  Regardless, here is my best attempt at making a video of this awesome climb.


Epinephrine 9.23.13 with Danny Bobrow from Andrew Yasso on Vimeo.

--Andrew Yasso, Instructor and Guide

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

It's been really foggy here in Bellingham this last week, but if you've gotten a chance to get up in the mountains, then you were probably able to get up above the clouds.  If you are still stuck in the gloom this morning, then grab a cup of something hot and enjoy this nice, long freestyle skiing video to get you going this weekend.



Kjerrskredkvelven (say that 3 times fast!) is a 900m high, big-wall-seized ice fall in Gudvangen, Norway. With difficulties of WI V/6 it can be considered one of the longest and most demanding ice falls in the world. The film shows the ascent of this monster line by Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt back in February of 2013.



Located in the remote reaches of Antarctica, Ulvetanna Peak is one of the most technically demanding peaks in the harshest environment in the world.  Since it's discovery in 1994, Leo Houlding has dreamed of climbing this unforgettable peak.



With the government shut-down behind us, we are able to get back and enjoy our National Parks.  Many climbers have expressed the "hassle" this has caused with campgrounds closed and long-planned trips suddenly cancelled.   But thanks to the National Parks Conservation Association, we also get a chance to see just how the Rangers and staff were affected by the closures.



Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, October 25, 2013

How to Practice Anchors at home.

Nothing eats up time like building anchors. There are several pieces to the anchor building puzzle so it's not something you can learn all at once. There are many ways to  practice but I've found that with so many popular climbs being bolted it's hard to gain experience building complicated traditional anchors.

I have found that practicing systems at home has been very valuable for me. I like to use chairs, sometimes you need to add weight so they don't tip over but you can place them wherever you like and attach carabiners in different configurations and practice building different systems. In the following video you can see I have three carabiners on a step stool and then I have a fourth on another chair. The anchor that I demonstrate is a pre-equalized anchor in a series.

Keep in mind the sole purpose of this is to demonstrate how you can practice at home. The video doesn't show angles properly so it may look like the fourth piece comes in at a 90 degree angle. This is not the case. Further, we'll assume that in the field I would lock all the carabiners and use the appropriate carabiners at the master point, etc.


I've found the primary benefit of practicing systems at home like this is efficiency. Once you've placed your protection it should be pretty intuitive to rig up your system. If you been practicing lots of different options at home it can really speed things up when you take it to the field. I do not recommend practicing at home and skipping practicing in the field. You should still be practicing placements and building systems with a mentor who can give you feedback on things you may have overlooked.

--Tim Page, Program Coordinator and AMGA Single Pitch Instructor


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Toprope Climbing Belay Technique

Nearly every climber starts with their climbing career with toproping. This is where beginners learn the art of rock climbing.

One of the most important baseline skills is toprope belaying. Almost universally, most guides are now teaching the PBUS technique to beginners. PBUS is an acronym for the following:

P - Pull
B - Brake or Bottom
US - Up-Slide

In other words, your guide hand is on the line coming out of the device and running up the rock to the climber. Simultaneously, you PULL down with your guide hand, while you PULL slack through your device with your break hand.

After you've pulled, BRAKE the rope with your break hand by bringing that hand down toward your hip.

Once the rope is in BRAKE position, reach down below your break hand and grab the rope. Then you can slide your break hand back up to the device. This is the UP SLIDE.

Once you've completed these steps you will be able to put your guide hand back on the rope coming up and out of your belay device in order to repeat the whole process again.

When you're ready to lower the climber, always put both hands below the device in order to create redundancy.

The following video by Julie Ellison and Climbing magazine demonstrates the process. And though Julie never uses the PBUS term, this is exactly what she is demonstrating.



There are those out there who still use the old Slip-Slap-Slide technique. If you don't know what that is, you can find a video of it here. Many people are really freaked out by Slip-Slap-Slide, primarily because it is often done really poorly. Many people who use the technique make significant mistakes and the only reason there haven't been more tragedies with this technique when performed poorly is pure luck.

Guides no longer teach the Slip-Slap-Slide technique to beginners. And indeed, there are some guide services that won't allow their students to use the technique at all. With that in mind, I would never personally condemn someone who uses the technique and does it properly. However, I don't believe that it's an appropriate technique for beginners. The PBUS is the most modern toprope belay technique and should be employed as the primary defense against a climbing fall...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 21, 2013

Paying Attention to Navigation in the Mountains

It was 1997 and I was on a backpacking trip with the woman who would one day become my wife. We set-up camp in the fog and then went to explore. We weren't on a glacier, we were just above tree-line on the Pacific Crest trail, and we couldn't see anything.

We wandered around a little bit, just enough to get disoriented in the fog. There were lots of hints as to how we could have gone back to camp, but I wasn't paying attention. Instead it was my significant other who navigated us back. She had been watching land marks and paying attention.

The mountains are tricky. And not paying attention is an easy way to get hurt, lost, or even killed.  Obviously, you need to pay attention everywhere in the mountains, but here are a few thoughts about places where particular care needs to be taken.


The preceding photo is of a debris field below Colfax Peak on Mt. Baker. The humps in the snow are ice blocks which sheered off an ice cliff above the glacier. The boot pack goes right through the center of this field.  There are two things which bother me about this particular objective hazard area.

The first is that it's easy to go around the icefall zone. But it's shorter to go through it. The result is that no matter how many guides try to move the boot-pack to the outside of the debris field, people continue to go right through it.

The second is that climbers often don't look at where the debris came from, and they just sit down on the ice blocks to take a break or have a snack. There are icefalls all over the place that you have to go through. The danger is mitigated by moving fast, not by having lunch.


This second photo is also on Mount Baker on the summit plateau. You'll note that there are two boot-packs. One of these leads down the Coleman-Deming Route and the other leads down the Easton. It's incredibly common for people to get to the summit, turn around and to start walking down the wrong side of the mountain.  And this happens on crystal clear days... Imagine what happens when there's a whiteout.

Once again, this is a very simple thing. Pay attention to where you came from and it will be much easier to get back.

Obviously, paying attention isn't the only thing you need to do in order to navigate well. You should also know how to use a map, compass, altimeter, GPS and guidebook. But paying attention is a good start.

Baseline navigation in the mountains is simple. Look around. Take in your surroundings. Make sure there's no objective hazard above you. Make sure you know where you came from. All of this will help you to have a successful day in the mountains.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

On Thursday, Teton Gravity Research came to town and brought their new film, "Way of Life" to the Mt. Baker Theater.  In case you missed it, here is Sage Cattabriga-Alosa's segment.  If you can't live without the full movie, you can download it on Itunes.


Sage Cattabriga-Alosa in Teton Gravity Research's Way Of Life from Teton Gravity Research on Vimeo.

Jake Sakson and Paul Kimbrough talk to us about what it's like to have a great ski partner who is on the same wavelength as you and that you can count on to not only encourage and push you, but also reel you back in when they feel something isn't right. And they also show us what it's like to rip some awesome tele turns!


Holden Village is a Lutheran religious camp nestled in the heart of the Cascades.  It is the gateway Cascade greats like Bonanza Peak, Mt. Fernow (two of the ten tallest peaks in Washington), and as Neil Provo shows us, it has some great backcountry skiing and boarding.  And when I say "backcountry" this is about as far away from the crowds as you can get.  You have to take a ferry across a lake, then you are bussed about 10 miles to the actual village.  No lift lines here.



Have a great weekend! - James

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!

First up this weekend, Todd Ligare melts your face with these rockin' lines in AK.  He's charging hard, and fast, and big, and it's awesome to watch.


Todd Ligare - Point 'Em from Todd Ligare on Vimeo.

"STEPS" not only features great riding and skiing, but the folks involved in this project are also very conscious of the environmental impact of their sport. "The film pursues the question of whether or not snowboarding and skiing in today’s world can be done in harmony with nature."


New Trailer: STEPS - A journey to the edge of climate change from Ride Greener on Vimeo.

I know many folks are getting pumped for winter, but for a climber, October is an awesome time of the year as well.  The cool, crisp temperatures are perfect bouldering weather, and this is a great time to be in the desert southwest.  So here's some stoke for those of you who aren't quite ready to put away the crash pads.



And last, but not least, this next trailer is from a soon-to-be instant classic...
"As the yearly Bikini Ski Day party descends on a small mountain town, something lurks beneath the snow. When an unwitting rider causes an avalanche, it awakens a huge, menacing, pre-historic Snow Shark! Cut off from help by mountainous terrain and blinding snow, the local sheriff must make an unlikely alliance with a motley crew of snowboarders to take down the Snow Shark before the white hills run red with blood!"
Avalanche forecasters will need to add another color to the danger rose for this one...



Have a great weekend (and don't forget your shark repellant!) - James

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Desert Winds and Camping

I love camping and climbing in the desert. There's something beautiful about the desert landscape. I lived in Las Vegas for nearly a decade and guided there.  Now I spend about six weeks a year in the desert, camping, guiding and climbing.  When I'm camping there, I love the beauty at night and I love the beauty in the morning.

What I don't love is the wind.

The desert wind can be incredibly viscous.  Forty, fifty and even sixty mile an hour winds arrive in the desert with an alarming frequency.  If you camp in the desert for more than seven days, you will definitely experience a wind storm.

The wind seldom has an impact on climbing. You can usually find a crag that is sheltered.  Camping, however, is another story.

Tents in a wind storm in Red Rock Canyon 

Our booth in Red Rock Canyon during 
Red Rock Rendezvous after a major wind storm.
Our pop up was attached to our neighbor's, and both were ripped up
by the wind and blown out across the desert.

A tent in the barb wire after a wind storm.

I have climbed and guided all over the place, including on many large mountaineering expeditions. But I have to say that the worst winds that I have encountered are in the desert.  There are a few differences with the desert and a mountaineering trip. First, on a mountaineering trip you can often dig in and build wind breaks. And second, you generally have a mountaineering tent in the mountains, which tend to be tougher.  And third, you don't have to deal with sand.

If you plan to do a desert trip, you should plan to bring a mountaineering tent. These can deal with the wind more adequately and they don't have as many places for sand to get into the tent during a storm.

If you intend to leave your camp for the day during a storm, it's not a bad idea to collapse your tent. Just take the poles out of the base and lay the whole thing down. Put a few rocks on top of it so it doesn't blow away. The last thing you need is to come back to camp to find that you have broken poles, or worse, that your tent is gone.

It's good to tie your tent down to solid items, whether you intend to leave it up or collapse it. Sometimes wind storms arrive unexpectedly.

 A tent with the guy lines tied to large rocks.

 If you use stakes, make sure to get them in all the way...

 ...and then place large rocks over the stakes.

 Every guy line should be attached to rocks. 
Even small rocks will keep your tent from drifting.

I think that the most difficult part of my long desert trips is the wind. When I do a trip with no wind storms or only one or two, I always feel like I got away with something.

You can always go and hope for no wind...but my feeling is that it's always best to be prepared...

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

The Outdoor Film Season is in full swing, with lots of shows nation wide.  Last night, here in Bellingham, we had Powderwhore's "Elevation" featuring backcountry bliss from Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Alaska and right here in the heart of our Cascades.



Another interesting one to check out is "Rise" from Eye of the Storm Productions and Arc'teryx.


Rise Official Teaser from Laurent Jamet on Vimeo.

I've probably already put this clip in earlier this year, but Sherpa Cinema's "Into the Mind" looks so freakin' beautiful that I have to put it in here again.  If you happen to be local, WWU will be showing this on Oct. 10 at the PAC Concert Hall.  Be there or be square!


Into The Mind - Official Trailer 2 from Sherpas Cinema on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, October 4, 2013

Book Review: Rockin' on the Rock: A Guide to Mt. Erie Climbing

In 2010, Dallas Kloke, a mountaineer with fifty-years of climbing under his belt, was killed tragically in a climbing accident. Kloke was a renowned first ascentionist and the author of several guidebooks. His home crag was the iconic Mount Erie, situated above the city of Anacortes, Washington.

I met Dallas several times over the years, but I didn't really get to know him until near the end of his life. I served on the Mount Erie Climbing Committee with him for about a year-and-a-half before he passed away. In that time I knew that I had found a kindred spirit in a man who loved exploring the mountains. Tragically, I never had the opportunity to climb with him.

Dallas was responsible for dozens -- if not hundreds -- of routes at Mt. Erie and he wrote one of the most popular guides to the crag, Rockin' on the Rock.  And though Dallas was an amazing man -- a middle school teacher, a track coach, and a climber -- his guidebooks always felt like they needed a little bit more work before they went to print. They were often a bit confusing. For example, in his winter mountaineering book he placed the routes in alphabetical order instead of in a geographical order. It was for this reason, that I was happy to hear that his Mount Erie book would see a second, postmortem edition.


After Dallas' death, two local climbers -- Jim Thompson and Aaron Bryant -- got permission from Dallas' family to develop a new edition of his Mount Erie guide.  The pair tirelessly worked to update the text and to make sure that it all made sense. The result is a beautiful book. A full color text stuffed with approach beta and chocked full of Mount Erie's finest climbs. The text is like having a local companion who knows every nook and every cranny of every crag....which was what it was like walking around the mountain with Dallas. I think he would be really proud of how this book turned out.

There are many ways that people have paid tribute to climbers that have passed on. Some get plaques, others get peaks, features or routes named after them, and yet others find their ashes left on a mountain. However, in some ways this was the best tribute that these two individuals could have made to both Dallas and to the Mt. Erie climbing community. Dallas was a climber and a guidebook author and Mt. Erie was his home.

I can't imagine him wanting anything more than a tribute like this...

--Jason D. Martin


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Day with Fred Beckey in the Dolomites

If there is one iconic climber, one person who stands out above the rest as discovering more new routes, climbing more rock, and ascending more ice than anyone else in history, it's Fred Beckey. Alpinist Colin Haley and Patagonia teamed up to make a video about the 90-year-old climber, about him climbing in a place that he'd never been before: the Dolomites.


--Jason D. Martin