Saturday, May 31, 2014

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

At the end of May for the last few years, a small gathering of climbers have descended on the seaside cliffs of Fair Head in the north-eastern corner of Northern Ireland.  It is believed to be the biggest expanse of climbable rock in either Ireland or Britain.  Here's some highlights from last year's meet.

'The Fair Head Meet' from Tops Off 4POWER on Vimeo.

Next up, Shauna Coxsey and her boyfriend Ned Feehally show us what it's all about with the variety of climbing in the Peak District of Snowdonia National Park in North Wales.  You can walk to world class boulder problems just minutes from the road, or hike into serene forests for other challenges.

Every climber seems to know one, the guy or gal who is living out of their car, roaming from crag to crag as the seasons change, who maybe went just a little too long since their last shower, who can create a feast with a Coleman stove, and in the end, who is out there crushing.  Yes, they are the dirtbags.  Our last video this week explores this strange, yet dying breed.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, May 30, 2014

American Alpine Institute Ski-to-Sea Photo Essay 2014!

The American Alpine Institute Car Free Ski-to-Sea team was successful. And we all had an awesome, albeit wet, weekend.

If you're not in the loop, the Ski-to-Sea is a seven leg relay race that starts at the Mt. Baker Ski area. The first leg is cross country skiing, followed by downhill skiing, followed by running, followed by biking, followed by canoeing, followed by mountain biking, and finishing off with kayaking. Check out the entire course, here.

Most teams elect to do the race with lots of car shuttling. We decided to forego that and did the entire race using human power, with no cars. Everything was staged with bikes, even canoe and kayak.

Here's who did what:

--James Pierson - Northwest Program Coordinator and Guide - Cross Country Skiing
--Jason Martin - Director of Operations and Guide - Downhill Skiing
--Daniel Probst - AAI guest and high-end ultra-marathoner - Running
--Tom Kirby - AAI IT Manager and Guide - Canoe
--Cliff Palmer - Guide - Canoe
--Dylan Cembalski - Seven Summits Coordinator - Mountain Bike
--Hillary Schwirlich - American SW and Foreign Programs Coordinator - Sea Kayak

In addition to the team, Chris and Anna helped out with the transitions.

The AAI Team planning for success a few days before the race.

Jeremy had a special t-shirt made for our car free Ski-to-Sea team from Amjay Screenprinting.

James' bike loaded down for the ride up.

James leaving Bellingham

Dan finally making it to the campground at mile 47 at 6am on race day after a flat kept him in Maple Falls overnight... just a 20 mile bike warm-up before his 8 mile warm-up run up hill to the start of his leg!

Jeremy's Camp

James and I rode our bikes up to the ski area on Saturday and spent the night. Jeremy rode up to milepost 47 and camped. Dan tried to but had bike issues, so slept in Maple Falls. The following morning Dan rode to meet Jeremy at Silver Fir Campground, then ran up and met me as I finished my leg.

The rest of the team made their way to their respective legs early in the morning.

Tom and the Canoe, making a very important morning stop before the race.

Hillary and Chris about to start pulling the kayak.

The first leg of the race was cross country skiing. James had this leg and can be seen somewhere in this video...

James making his way down the course.

At the end of the cross country ski section, James handed the timer off to me. I then skied down a slope, kicked off my skies and booted up an 800-foot hill. From there I whipped down to the finish line, where I handed the timing chip off to Dan. Unfortunately, the photographers for the Ski to Sea missed me, so no photos of me in action.

The finish line of the ski leg and the start of the running leg.

Dan had run up the from Mile 47 to the start of the running race and then ran right back down.

Dan making his way down the mountain.

Dan handed off the chip to Jeremy, who made a very wet and chilly 42-mile ride to the start of the canoe leg.

Waiting for the runners at the start of the bike leg.

Jeremy topping out on one of the numerous climbs.

Tom and Cliff took the chip from Jeremy and started paddling.

Tom and Cliff on the River.

Anna pulling the canoeists' bikes, while Tom and Cliff paddle down the Nooksack River for 18 miles. Anna and Jeremy brought the bikes down to the end of the canoe leg where they met Tom and Cliff again.

Jeremy pulling the canoeists' bikes and cart... getting warm again!

After the canoe section, Tom and Cliff handed the chip off to Dylan who did a mountain bike ride from Hovander Park to Zuanich Park and the start of the kayak leg.

Dylan on the Mountain Bike Leg.

 Hillary running to her boat after getting the timing chip.

Hillary departing for Fairhaven and the end of the race. 

Lots of Kayaks on the Bay racing to the end. 

 Boats coming into the final stretch.

Hillary coming into the finish line.

Hillary, legs numb from sitting in the boat, jumped out and ran up the beach in Fairhaven where she rang the bell and finished the race. Unfortunately, none of us were there to cheer her on. We were still scattered all over Whatcom county.

Hillary rings the bell to finish the race.

Though the race was finished, we all had to get our stuff back where it belonged using bikes. James and I both suffered two flat tires each. And the boats were heavier for everybody after the races were done. But that didn't matter...we all had a blast.

We will definitely be doing a human powered Ski-to-Sea adventure again in the future!

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

In the first video this weekend, Chris Little shows us a little southern hospitality in the areas around his home in Chattanooga, TN.

Organic Athlete Chris Little from The RV Project on Vimeo.

When you think back to your favorite climbing trip, what makes it so awesome? Is it that you climbed your hardest problem ever, or is it that you had the most fun? Ronny Rose and friends show us what its all about in this video for them in Bishop.

Since we're talking about having fun, keep in mind that not everyone has the same idea of what fun is.  For some, hanging out in the blowing mist and freezing ice may not be the most fun, but for Angelika Rainer, the icey formations of Helmcken Falls something special.

The mixed and iceclimbing trip of Angelika Rainer in Canada from ANGELIKA RAINER on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, May 23, 2014

Human Powered Ski-to-Sea this Weekend!

The weekend is just about here and the American Alpine Institute Car Free Ski-to-Sea team is getting pumped, even though it looks like the race might be a little bit on the wet side...

If you don't know what we're up to, check out this blog.

Here are some photos from our recent Ski-to-Sea planning session.

 Ski-to-Sea planning only really gets done when there is a beer in hand.

The team randomly toasts something. 

James Pierson and I will be pulling carts with our skis in them up to the ski area. 

Testing out the kayak cart on Hillary Schwirtlich's bike. 

Getting the kayak into position.

Hillary training for the kayak section.

The team, acting goofy.

From left to right, Dylan Cembalski, Hillary Schwirtlich, Jason Martin, Tom Kirby,
 James Pierson, Dan Probst, Cliff Palmer 

Just in case you've forgotten, here is our team breakdown:

  • James Pierson - Northwest Program Coordinator and Guide - Cross Country Skiing
  • Jason Martin - Director of Operations and Guide - Downhill Skiing
  • Daniel Probst - AAI guest and high-end ultra-marathoner - Running
  • Tom Kirby - AAI IT Manager and Guide - Canoe
  • Cliff Palmer - Guide - Canoe
  • Dylan Cembalski - Seven Summits Coordinator - Mountain Bike
  • Hillary Schwirlich - American SW and Foreign Programs Coordinator - Sea Kayak

Out of nearly 500 Ski-to-Sea teams, there are only 14 human powered car free teams. The American Alpine Institute is one of them. So if you're around Bellingham on Sunday, come on out and root us on...!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 19, 2014

Baker, Index, Rainier - This is the Life!

These past couple weeks back home in Washington have been just what I've needed before heading back up to Alaska to guide Denali. Baker is a mecca for year round riding but is especially nice in the spring and early summer. In the springtime in Washington it's rare to see more than a couple blocks of high pressure and when you see them you go!

This trip we went up the North side of the mountain, up the Coleman-Deming route. There can be snow on the road up to the trailhead miles out depending on the snow year. I've skinned four miles on the road in prior years to get to the trailhead, this time it was only about a mile in a half. We decided to do a one day push, leaving the car at about 5am. We parked at ~3,000 feet and the summit of Baker is 10,781, making it a pretty big day.

Finally out of the trees, atop Heliotrope ridge.

Drew Tabke photo of me with the Colfax icefall beyond.

Conditions were great for skinning, firm and fast. (Split-crampons are essential for spring touring on the volcanoes). The crevasses were really big, bigger than I've seen them in previous springs and the glacier has changed a lot in the last two years since I had been up the CD. You can easily avoid most big cracks but spring and early summer is the perfect time for those snow bridges to be getting thinner and thinner so a rope, harness, crevasse rescue skills and smart partners are essential. If you don't have basic crevasse rescue and glacier travel skills, I offer courses through the American Alpine Institute up on Mt. Baker.

We rode a variation from the summit linking together the upper section of the Roman Wall and the bottom section of the Roman Mustache. The Coleman/Deming route is a great ride but is a little traversy with a few ups and downs and route-finding to get up to the glacier but it's an absolute beautiful side of the mountain, my favorite.

We made some coffee on the summit and waited for the clouds to clear while getting a nice coffee high. Joe charging down the Roman Wall.

Tabke slashing.

Joe gittin' some under the rhimey Roman nose.

Joe droppin' into the lower section of the Mustache, a really nice kind of hanging glacier ramp.

Joe boosting.

We were tired so we went climbing in the sun at Index.... wait, the Champ never gets tired. Correction, I was tired.

Me, sending most magnificent splitter.

On to Rainier. Not too sure what our objective would be, Blaine and I headed out on the Turtle to camp for a night and practice some rescue skillz before we both take off for Denali. I've had my eyes on some bigger objectives but the snow wasn't right. It hadn't consolidated like I'd hoped so we did a Fuhrer Finger and Thumb lap the next day. Both super nice, sustained 2,000 ft lines. Pretty manky and it felt like 85 degrees booting up.

Blaine crushing the Fuhrer Finger.

Quick booter back up the Finger then dropped into the Thumb. Blaine having fun on the Thumb:

Whelp see ya! Off to Denali. Someone shred some wicked lines on Rainier for me while I'm away!

--Liz Daley, Instructor and Guide

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

"If you stay only with imagination, and you don't put it into reality, you will stay nothing but an empty ghost." That is a quote from the short film "Velocity" from Arc'teryx athletes Tanja Schmitt and Matthias Scherer. Below is a quick teaser from the film, which debuts in Chamonix on June 14.

A few weeks ago, I posted a video of Mark Synnott, Alex Honnold, Hazel Findlay and Jimmy Chin climbing in Oman.  Here is a great follow up interview with Mark, Alex and Jimmy talking more in-depth about their traveling experiences throughout the world.  There is a lot of great climbing in this video, but also a ton of laughs.

Adam Ondra has been on an onsighting frenzy in Northern Spain for the last few weeks.  He has nabbed a few 8c's and more impressively, two 9a's (5.14d)!  Here's some pretty raw footage of him cruising through number 2 - Il Doomani in the Baltzola Cave.

Have a great weekend! - James

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Route Profile: Mt Sill - Swiss Arête (5.7)

The view of the Swiss Arête from Gayley Camp. Ian McEleney

Mt Sill (14,153')
Route: Swiss Arête
Difficulty: 5.7
Elevation Gain: 6,100 ft


Looking at Mt Sill on the Palisade Traverse. Ian McEleney
With sweeping views of the Owens Valley, the White Mountains to the east, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to the south and west, Mt Sill goes down in many climber’s memories as the best summit view in California’s Sierra Nevada. The Swiss Arête, named for the famous line on the Matterhorn, has better rock and fewer crowds than its namesake. A fun route on solid granite on one of California’s fourteeners makes this a climb worth doing.

Climb this route with two nights spent in Sam Mack Meadow or another high camp to acclimatize. When we guide this route as part of our Sierra Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Course or Palisade Traverse, we combine it with multiple other peaks to make the most of the approach. 


The preferred approach is via the North Fork of Big Pine Creek from Glacier Lodge hiker parking. Follow the trail for about 8.5 miles, passing beautiful teal lakes and Temple Crag along the way. Turn off to the left on the Glacier Trail Turnout toward Sam Mack Meadow, with many nice campsites both in the meadow and on the rocky ledges above it. By now, you can see Mt Sill and the L-shaped couloir clearly, so get your bearings. Cross the stream in the meadow and follow cairns southeast and then south along the moraine to Gayley Camp and across the Palisade Glacier. You’ve gained about 4,000 feet of elevation by now, so you'll appreciate having a night or two of acclimatization before the climb.

Stream Crossing in Sam Mack Meadow.  AAI Collection 
From here head toward the L-shaped couloir on Mount Sill, accessible via a short gully (class 2 or easy 3) - get about a third of the way up this couloir and take your pick of crossings to the left to access the Swiss Arête.


Depending on where you crossed over from the L-shaped couloir, the climb starts out more or less low-angle, then becomes steeper and more interesting as you ascend. One option, the “Sit-Start,” involves aiming for the bottom of the arête, or choose to cross the snowfield and scramble to the notch where the original route begins.
Classic alpine conditions on the Swiss Arête. Ian McEleney 

Six to ten moderate pitches on solid granite take you to the top. After a section of tricky blocky moves, reach the crux about halfway up the route. This is the famous “step around” move, where you must navigate a long step and a reach to the side to a ledge off of the arête, then climb one of a couple variations to straighten back out. Alternatively, a 5.9 move straight up will do. About two more pitches of easier climbing lead to the summit, and after a summit reward and soaking in the views, descend via Walter Starr’s exposed route down the North Couloir.

If this route is something you’re interested in, consider working with AAI to make this a part of your summer adventure. We climb the Swiss Arête as part of our Sierra Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Course, as well as on a private basis and as part of our Palisade Traverse trip. Email us or give us a call at 360-671-1505 to find out more!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Girls Gone Wild - Alaska Style

Friends have been talking about Alaska for years. The land of perfect, stable, bootable snow that sticks to everything. Massive unridden spine walls, endless couloirs, huge alpine faces and large glaciers running from the sea to giant serac'd capped peaks. It snows at night and is bluebird in the morning. There are wild but friendly unicorns and rainbows atop every spine line. The climate heals any weak layers in the snowpack. It's not that dark in the winter. Ok, the unicorn part may be a tall tale but everything else is absolute fact.

The past five years I've saved all my pennies to get to Chamonix and going to Alaska just seemed out of the question. I always thought, "Alaska couldn't be much radder than the Alps could it? A girl just can't have it all." I tried to remain content with staying in the Alps, which I totally was... BUT this year I got lucky and decided to go find out for myself what the BFD was with AK. And boy oh boy Alaska did NOT fail to deliver.

We flew into Anchorage, and Emily from Silvertip Aviation, picked us up and her lovely fiancé, Matt flew us out to the Tordrillos. I'd highly recommend Silvertip, they fly out of Wasilla to the Chugach, Talkeetna, Tordrillo and Alaska ranges. Super nice couple, great service and solid pilots.

Alaska had a pretty bad season this year, low snow and a gnarly persistent layer I kept hearing about which made me kind of nervous to be 100 miles out on a glacier in the middle of nowhere with help far, far away. A little different than being in Chamonix with a free heli evac service just a phone call away. It's also different than Cham because you don't have a bunch of yahoos dropping in on your head or racing you up to a classic line that's in condition... they also aren't around to open up a big line for you in sketchy conditions (the only time they're appreciated). 

We set up camp then went for a little evening sesh on some west facing glowing slopes near our tents. The new snow that had fallen in the last 2 days was kind of baked with a nasty sugary layer underneath. I made some sweet fast turns then got up onto a spine to let my slough pass through the choke at the bottom. After it passed I pointed it over the shrund and out onto the glacier. SO FUN! It took us a couple days to figure out the snowpack, the weather and where the good snow would be then we crushed for the following 8 days.

We got up at about 3:45am almost every morning after that and hit the northeast aspects, where the snow was blower, that had light on them at sunrise. We'd come home after an 8 or 9 hour sesh, eat whiskey snickers pancakes, nap, drink some pabst then go back out for an evening sesh when the light was on the northwest aspects. 

Caroline getting some sunrise turns in. Absolute gorge.

Me in my tent on one of two down days.

Carolina in the pink light! This morning there were windslabs everywhere from a storm that deposited about a foot of fresh overnight. We stayed on smaller lines with good run-outs. I cracked a few small ones off. It was a good lesson in risk management and hazard evaluation.

Jay Beyer and JT Thompson going to crushtown in a crevasse.

Megalaspine zone miles from camp.

One afternoon we were tired from endless spines and powder, soon we got bored and we decided to make a music video.

We called this zone Cham, because it looks like Mont Blanc and the Tacul. Want.

Overall Alaska was an AMAZING experience and now I'm begrudged to make it happen every year. Oh dang. I'd really recommend camping out on the glacier for an extended period to get to know your zone and maximize shredding potential. I taught a splitboard course in the rain at Mt. Baker in a white out yesterday, dreaming of being back in AK.

--Liz Daley, Instructor and Guide