Monday, September 29, 2014

The Sin of Sponsorship

Elite climbers and well-known guides have been sponsored by gear manufacturers for years. The idea behind sponsorship is that a gear manufacturer will choose an individual who is making notable ascents and has good interaction with the public (through magazines, through guiding or through notoriety) to help promote their gear.

However, there is some controversy about this among sponsored climbers. Some ask, should certain individuals be sponsored? Certainly some may be asking this because they want to remain in a small elite crew of individuals. Others may be asking -- perhaps more legitimately -- the question because they don't see some of their peers as qualified.

Until recently, this particular question was left to the privacy of the brew pub...but then about a a couple of years ago Scott Semple wrote a blog entitled, "Is Sponsorship a Sin?" This question started a very serious conversation in the climbing community, both on his blog and in forums like

Scott wrote specifically that the ability of some climbers to self-promote outweighs their actual climbing abilities. His thesis is that those who are lying or exaggerating about their abilities to secure their sponsorships shouldn't be sponsored.

Following is the heart of his blog:

The more you climb, the less you’re interested in reading the same recycled stories with the same characters smiling from new faces. And the less you can tolerate the self-promotion that comes from white lies and self-serving exaggerations in hopes of becoming (or staying) sponsored. And those indulgences are rampant and widespread.

If sponsorship isn’t backed up by a legitimate accomplishment that is significant to the sport, then being rewarded for something insignificant is sad and undeserved. And it’s immoral, because it creates a facade, and facades are lies.

This happens more often than you might think. Many of the athletes you often see in climbing magazines are phenomenal at self-promotion, but range from average to crap at actually climbing. Ice, mixed and alpine climbing have the worst offenders. (Rock climbing is usually too consistent, popular and objective for lies to last long.) Truth is, many climbers are sponsored for what they say, or how well they’re known, rather than for what they’ve done.

The problem stems from the fact that the “athlete” is the performer, but also the judge and the journalist. A lack of objectivity and a lack of integrity combine to create opportunistic self-promotion masquerading as journalism. The result is that average achievements beget above-average attention.

Scott got so many comments about this particular blog that he presented a slideshow on the topic at the Night of Lies event in Canmore. The 22 minute slideshow was videotaped and is one of the most interesting and intriguing issues that has been presented recently, that will never be covered by the major climbing news outlets.

Though it is impossible to see Scott in the video, it is well worth watching all 22 minutes of this piece and it is well worth hearing the comments that were made by the audience as he presented it.

For a larger video format, click on the "Is Sponsorship a Sin" link below the video.

After the slideshow, Scott wrote a second blog about the responses that he received. One of the main comments that he posted was from Dave Karl, a gear rep.

I disagree with the three-test rule. I have IFMGA & AMGA Mountain Guides that I sponsor that are totally worthy. Their personal (non-guided) climbing accomplishments may not be noteworthy among their elite peers, but they don’t bullsh*t either, and they do help sell product. These guides help the entire sport and climbing community by educating the public and introducing new participants to climbing. A good mountain guide can be a great sponsorship investment.

Scott agreed with this comment and indicated that "I agree with Dave that there are folks out there worthy of support that may not be on the cutting edge of climbing. They are typically local, grassroots climbers or industry-folk like guides that are in front of the target market on a daily basis. I have no objections to these athletes being supported, either by sales reps or by brands, on an informal basis."

The outdoor industry is full of sponsored individuals. And it is full of a lot of ego, arrogance and self-promotion. Sponsorship is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it's great. It provides us with an insight into who is at the top of the game. But on the other hand, if we can't trust the magazines and the gear manufacturers to screen their athletes, then the value of every sponsored athlete -- whether they deserve it or not -- is diminished.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, September 22, 2014

Trucker's Hitch and Water Knot

Mike Barter, the video-savvy Canadian guide, has a new video that describes a couple of knots. In this piece he covers the trucker's hitch and the water knot.

Check out the video below:

After re-posting a lot of these videos, I've started to notice that Mike is a bit gun-shy. I get the impression that a lot of people are giving him negative feedback on some of his content...which is too bad. He's making some very good instructional videos.

So instead of negative feedback, I'd just like to make a couple of additional notes.

First, I'd like to reiterate the fact that the trucker's hitch is primarily for tents and tying things down. It doesn't have an application in climbing proper.

And second, I'd also like to note that the biggest danger of the water knot (also known as the ring bend) is cyclic loading. In other words, weighting and unweighting the knot can cause the tails to slowly work out. You can occasionally see this at rap stations with old webbing. As such, it is very important that there is plenty of tail when you tie the knot and that you always check rap stations closely.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

There are more than just "Pretty Faces" in this first video this weekend.  This new trailer from Unicorn Picnic shows some ladies who know how to rip!

Unicorn Picnic | Pretty Faces Teaser from Unicorn Picnic Productions on Vimeo.

Jeremy Jones' "Higher" was shown in Seattle on the 18th, and unfortunately I wasn't able to make it to the event. Hopefully I'll be able to catch it during Banff or some other tour. In the meantime, I'll have to suffice with just this awesome trailer.

Caroline George gives us some good insight on balancing her life as climber, guide, and mom in this next video.

In our last video, we get another look at a climber who is sharing his time between his family and the mountains.  With a full-time "regular" job, and also numerous first ascents, Jason Haas is the epitome of a Weekend Warrior.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, September 19, 2014

Carabiners and Damage to Ropes

We all know that we should always use the same end of the quickdraw for the rope. While the other end should always be used for bolt. The reasoning behind this is that the bolt-end of the carabiner gets damaged every time you take a fall on it, and that damage can have a serious impact on the life of your rope, and maybe even your safety.

The good folks at DMM have put together a nice video on this topic. Check it out, below:


A very similar issue takes place when draws are fixed permanently on sport routes. Draws are generally only affixed to routes that are very hard where the climbers working the routes tend to take a lot of falls. Eventually, the rope ends of the carabiners begin to get worn down by the ropes running through them and can create sharp edges.

The take-away here is not just to pay attention to where  you are using your carabiners, but also to constantly check your gear. Look for damage on the carabiners that could lead to rope damage. And look for damage in the rope that could lead to failure...

Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Gourmet Backcountry Food for Backpacking

AAI Backpacking guide Jeff Ries has a great advantage over our mountaineering guides. If you take out your rope and your harness and your pickets and your cams, suddenly your pack is a lot lighter. Some might argue that perhaps that weight shouldn't go completely away. Perhaps it should be replaced with food. Really good food.

Jeff has been cooking gourmet food on his backpacking trips over the last few years and has put together the following blog about how to eat really well in the mountains. Yeah, it might be a little bit on the heavy side...and if you're looking to lighten up then this won't be for you. But if you're okay with carrying a little extra and want to eat well, then check it out...

Before leaving the trailhead, I like to have everyone enjoy the option of a treat from a nice bakery and offer everyone a scone or something similar. On the hike in on the first day I offer grapes and bing cherries at the first rest stop. They are a bit heavy to carry further but the water and sugar content are both well appreciated.

A good first lunch is some fruit and pastries, rather than a larger meal that could slow strenuous activity. I prefer eating a little around 11am and a little more around 2pm, so I offer snacks like fruit, gorp and energy bars. Gourmet crackers with flavored cream cheese, like Laughing Cow products work well.

It doesn't take as much effort to carry a little more weight to the first camp, I splurge a bit with beef stroganoff on the first evening. I grill some fillet mignon medium rare a couple days before the trip; it will cook the rest of the way just before it is served. Then I cut it up into 1 inch cubes and freeze it. It will keep other foods cold on the hike in. I cook a stroganoff noodle mix and then add fresh sour cream, a little white wine and then the fillet mignon. The rest of the wine is served with or before the meal. If it is cold and rainy, I also serve soup. If it is hot and the climb has been tough, it is a good time for Frito's or baby carrots dipped in french onion dip (made with the rest of the sour cream). Variations I have used for the first evening include grilled salmon instead of fillet mignon and apple slices dipped in carmel dip as the appetizer.

For the next morning, eggs and hash browns work well, especially with some tomatoes. I always have some flavored oatmeal for people who don't like to eat eggs. A little ham and/or cheese is nice to put in the eggs. I boil some water for tea, coffee or hot chocolate before the main course.

The second lunch is a good time for fresh fruit; apples or oranges. I also like to provide some quality dinner rolls or flavored bread (last trip the bakery had spinach feta) with some flavored cheese spread.

Dinner on the second night is a good time for ham as it keeps well for 2 days and a night (as long as temperatures are not too hot). I serve soup if it as cold and cold beer if it is hot. If I have a campfire, I wrap some potatoes in foil and put them in or by the fire while cooking fresh broccoli. If there is no campfire, I slice the potatoes and boil them. Chocolate covered blueberries make a great dessert.

The rest of the trip breakfasts offer a choice of precooked Mountain House scrambled eggs with bacon (sometimes with potatoes - the skillet selection), flavored oatmeal, granola and of course coffee/tea/hot chocolate.

Lunch on the third day includes flavored wheat thins with extra sharp cheese and salami. If there is any fresh fruit left over, we finish it up today.

The third night's dinner is time for something that keeps well for a few days. I prefer precooked flavored chicken breasts in a foil pouch, available at some grocery stores. I serve them with instant flavored potatoes and baby carrots. Chocolate covered espresso beans are a hit with the coffee drinkers.

Beef steak nuggets, Bakers breakfast cookies and dried fruit (different types) make great lunches an later days of a trip. Bagels and cream cheese also keeps well. Soup is always nice when it is cold and stopping for a long lunch, I sometimes build a campfire to warm bodies and dry clothing.

For dinner on the fourth and subsequent nights, I offer a variety of Mountain House brand freeze dried dinners. I want the backpackers to try different entrees so I bring several 2 serving choices. If anyone is still hungry after emptying the foil pouch in which it cooks, I add an envelope of instant potatoes and the appropriate amount of boiling water to make sure everyone has had enough. This keeps dish cleaning to a minimum as there are no dishes to clean these nights.

--Jeff Ries, AAI Backpacking Guide

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Route Profile: Chimborazo's Stübel Glacier Route

Chimborazo rises from Ecuador's altiplano. AAI Collection. 

Chimborazo is Ecuador's highest peak. It is a massive, five-summited mountain rising nearly 11,000 feet above Ecuador's central valley in the western of the country's two parallel cordillera. It is visible from Colombia in the north, from near the Peruvian border in the south, and from far out on the Pacific Ocean. This is a much more complex volcanic peak than most all others of its type, showing many faces that offer a wide range of challenges to alpine climbers.

In recent years, climbs of Chimborazo have been more treacherous due to climate change, which has caused massive glacial melt resulting in extreme rock fall danger. However, a new route has been developed thanks to the guiding community in Ecuador, which avoids this threat.

Routes On Chimborazo

Almost everyone who has climbed Chimborazo has done so by one of four routes on the mountain's southeast side: The Whymper Route, the South Ridge, the Thielman Glacier direct, and the Thielman Glacier approach to the South Ridge route (the last two pioneered by AAI guides in the late 1970s). More recently and for a period of several years, those routes fell out of shape because of sequential seasons of low snow fall and warmer temperatures which combined to create rock fall issues. 

In that period AAI moved to the north face on another route that AAI guides established in 2007.
However, since then an active volcano in Ecuador's eastern cordillera has been in an intermittent but fairly steady state of eruption for several years. The ash that it has thrown into the atmosphere has been deposited in significant amounts on Chimborazo's north face, accelerating snow melt and making the route extremely icy. With belays required on a large percentage of its many pitches, the north face is not currently a practical option. Climate change has continued to result in melting ice and poor conditions on the normal route on the southeast side as well. 

In 2014, AAI guides took part in a successful expedition to find a new safe route to the summit. This new route, which we will return to in 2015, leaves from the Plaza Roja, near the Carrel Hut (currently closed for renovations) and climbs the Stübel Glacier. The Stübel Glacier route not only provides less risk but also more adventure, as climbers camp with the help of porters rather than use mountain refuges.
The new route (in black) and the abandoned section, which passes under El Castillo, a cliff band known for rock fall. AAI Collection

The Climb

Climbing Chimborazo requires at least seven days of acclimatization, which AAI achieves through strategic excursions and climbs of peaks like Cotopaxi and Cayembe, or for more advanced climebrs, Illiniza and Antisana. After completing this period of acclimatization, we spend a refreshing night in a hacienda in the 9000-foot (2750m) central valley. The next morning we drive up Chimborazo's flank to reach a small lodge at 13,200 feet (4023m). It sits in picturesquely on a grassy plain below Chimborazo and allows us to enjoy a good rest day and views of the altiplano surrounding Chimborazo and nearby Carihuarirazo (also known as Chimborazo's Wife). The high elevation keeps our ongoing acclimatization robust and is another perfect intermediate step up from the central valley as we prepare to move to the hut on Chimborazo.

The next morning we make a short drive through grasslands to the south side of the mountain and then continue higher to the Plaza Roja (4,852m / 15,914 ft) located close to the Carrel Hut. From there, it takes us about two hours to walk to the Stübel Camp (5,050m / 16,564ft ) where we spend the afternoon preparing for the climb the next day. Climbers help carry equipment to camp, while porters carry the tents and water.

Starting the climb at about midnight, we follow the Stübel glacier until it joins the Castle Saddle (5,500m / 18,044 ft). This new variant to the normal Castle Ridge route, free from rock fall, makes it a much safer line to the top. From the Stübel Camp it normally takes eight hours to get to the Whymper summit. By the time we reach the 18,500 foot level (5640 m), we will have surmounted most of the technical challenges on the mountain, and on the remainder of our route we will ascend compact and moderately angled snow. We reach Veintimilla summit at 20,500ft, where we could see Tungurahua (an active volcano often erupting). From the Veintimilla summit, we take our last short rest before traversing to the main (Whymper) summit. This final push takes 20-30 minutes, depending on the amount of recent snowfall. The summit crater area is a vast one that is normally covered in its entirety either in soft snow or nieve penitentes.

From the summit the panorama encompassing Ecuador's many other glaciated peaks is superb, and the views during the climb, the intricacy of the route, and the variety of moderate technical challenges encountered make this ascent of the world's highest equatorial summit an important achievement for both developing and experienced alpine climbers.

The descent to the Stübel Camp takes three hours. After returning to the camp, we pack and descend to Plaza Roja, or we will stay another night if necessary. We'll head back to Quito, or if we have an extra day because good weather facilitates an ascent on the first of our two summit days, we will return to the central valley and then travel east, part way down one of the major routes to the Amazon Basin. We will stop in the mountain valley town of Baños where the lush vegetation is home to an unusually large variety of orchids, butterflies, and hummingbirds a dramatic contrast to the flora and fauna of the alpine zones where we've been travelling and climbing. Based in a comfortable hotel near waterfalls and natural hot baths, we'll enjoy swimming, relaxing, and exploring the Rio Pastazas Canyon that flows with some drama (waterfalls!) to the Amazon. A bicycle descent of part of the canyon is an option. On our final afternoon, we'll return to Quito and look forward to a final celebratory dinner and a chance to review the highlights of our diverse and exciting trip together.

A group of AAI climbers in 2014 on the top of Chimborazo. Craig Hore.

If you're interested in climbing Chimborazo via the new route, email or call 360-671-1505.