Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Making of a Metolius Master Cam

Metolius has a great little video out about the life of a cam. It literally starts with a piece of aluminum and finishes with the cam being placed. Check out the video below:

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

DPS Skis has taken their first steps into making ski movies with their new short, "Sanctuary."  Set in Valle Nevado, Chile, this is the first in their four-part "Shadow Campaign" series that will later feature Mt. Baker, Baldface, and Refugio Frey.

The Shadow Campaign // Sanctuary from DPS SKIS on Vimeo.

Canadian Mountain Holidays is the worlds longest running heliski operation.  So when the Solomon team see their advertisement for "The World's Best Skiing," they decide to call them out on twitter.  To their surprise, CMH decides to prove their claim by inviting the crew to experience the awesome tree skiing for themselves.

Even though the temps are dropping here in the PNW, there is still plenty of good climbing to be had out there.  For those of you who are enjoying you own versions of Rocktober, here's some sweet Macedonia Bouldering from the Petzl Roctrip 2014.

Have a great weekend! - James

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Alpine Sandstone: In Pursuit Of A Castle Valley Testpiece

Last April, I attempted a challenging link-up in Castle Valley, Utah with my good friend Steffan Gregory.  For those who aren’t too familiar with the area, Castle Valley is located just outside of Moab.  The area is centered around Castleton Tower, which was the first Utah desert tower ever climbed, but contains several other towers and island mesas.  Desert tower climbing is a unique climbing experience.  Imagine 4-6 pitches of steep sandstone cracks to summits that are sometimes pinnacles just wide enough to stand on.  Throw in some loose rock and sections of funky climbing for a bit of an alpine feel, and you’ve got Castle Valley.
                                       (The main Castle Valley attractions, R-L: Castleton, The Rectory, and The Priest.  
                                       Sister Superior is about a mile to the North from the Priest)

I had stood on Castleton before and been inspired by the very aesthetic ridgeline that connected the towers- from Castleton to The Rectory, The Priest and, a mile down the ridge, Sister Superior.  Each tower held at least one classic route in the 5.10+ to 5.11 range.  Here the idea to connect them-doing a route on each of the formations in a day- was planted in my mind.  It would be the perfect testing ground for where we were at both in strength and technical ability.
                                       (The link-up, as seen atop Castleton Tower.  The formation to the far North 
                                     along the ridge is called the Parriot Mesa, and wasn’t included in our objective)

When we arrived in Moab and started putting the gear together, we quickly realized that this was going to be more difficult that we had originally thought.  3+ miles of hiking, and 18 pitches of full-value, gear intensive climbing.   After doing some research, we also discovered that the somewhat broken ridgeline between Sister Superior and the others did not have an established trail, and the topo map showed what looked to be some vertical steps in what we could only assume was some classic Utah mudstone, which is just as it sounds- terrifying.  We spent some time debating from which side to start.  In the end, we decided to shuttle the gear that wasn’t needed for the far-off Sister Superior to the bottom of Castleton and start on the far end the next day- get the longest amount of hiking over with.
                      (Leaving camp in the predawn light.  Sister Superior would be the first tower of the day)

We got a predawn start towards Sister Superior, and despite having to force our way up steep sand to the tower, arrived just as the sun was coming up.  Our route on Sister Superior was Jah Man, a classic 5 pitch 5.10. 
 The route was indeed amazing, with a bit of everything- chimneying, face climbing, and a steep and pumpy crux pitch culminating in a summit just big enough for the two of us to stand on.  We took some pictures, and started our rappel.
                                             (running along the broken ridgeline toward the Castleton group) 

Unsure how the ridgeline was going to go, we began to run to make up time.  We were stoked to find passage through the rock bands that didn’t involve down-climbing mud.  Coming up towards the Priest, we found the steep steps more difficult, with some mud-aneering required, but just as we got to the steepest part, we found a knotted rope hanging from the top of the cliffs.  Rather than fully commit to using the questionable rope to ascend the cliffs, we simply used it as a measure of protection and free-climbed to the top.  At the top were many pieces of re-bar fixed vertically into the sandy rock, the rope anchored to a few of these.  We would find out in conversation with a local guide later that these were most likely left in place after an adventure race that was held along the ridgeline a decade ago. 

    (Steffan contemplating the mental crux of the Honeymoon Chimney- a committing move off a ledge into a 
     squeeze chimney.)

Our route on The Priest was called the Honeymoon Chimney, and featured 2 pitches of chimney climbing, followed by some 5.11 face climbing to the top of the tower.  The first pitch was said to be pretty mentally taxing, so chimney-master Gregory agreed to put the rope up.  The chimney, while only rated 5.9 was just tight enough to wedge your body in, and establishing yourself required a wide lie-back which could only be marginally protected without the use of a big-bro or appropriately sized 2x4.  Some cursing followed by the sound of metal scraping on sandstone, and Steffan yelled, “Off-belay!”  My pitch featured enjoyable chimney moves protected with a Beckey-era pin.  The face-climbing proved to be quite a bit harder than 5.11, and in an effort to keep our momentum, we ended up french freeing quite a bit of it.  An airy step-across move would prove to be one of the highlights of the link-up. 

                                                (The ultra rad step-across leading to the summit of The Priest)

 Upon hitting the ground, we made a dash for our route on The Rectory, Fine Jade. This was statistically the most popular route in Castle Valley and sure enough, upon our arrival a party was on route, with two in line.  The sun was approaching the horizon.  We were hosed.

If we were smart, we would have left the gear stashed on the ridge, and attempted the link-up after a day of rest.  Instead, we started driving for Zion early the next morning.  100 miles down the road, we stopped for coffee.  An off-hand check of the smartphone yielded a 70% chance of T-storms in the Springdale area.  We weren’t going to be climbing in Zion anytime in the two days we had left.  “We could go home to the ladies,” Steffan suggested.  But we both knew that the link-up would persist in our thoughts until we put it to bed.  We had to find out if we had what it took.

            (Leading up to the crux on pitch one of the NF)                                        (Castleton Tower’s North Face)

First thing the next morning we left our camp at the base of Castleton.  An hour and a half later, the gear was stashed at the bottom of the iconic tower.  Tomorrow we would start with Castleton, and work our way towards Sister Superior.  An alpine start the next morning, and I was leading up the first pitch of the North Face of Castleton as dawn broke.  Endless fist-jams led to a difficult move on slick calcite rock to the chains.
                                                    (Stoked after making great time to the top of
                                                           Castleton Tower on our 2nd attempt on the link-up)

Steffan followed quickly up and took the lead on the next pitch of funky 5.10+.  I took over again at 8 AM, an hour and thirty minutes after starting the route.  We dispatched the last two 5.10 pitches and began our rappel.  Reaching the ground we ran towards Fine Jade, the route that had SNAFU’ed us two days before.  We were moving well and had a great chance of finishing in the day light.  To our dismay, two parties were on route, with one waiting.   
     (The Rectory from atop Castleton, with the Priest in the background.  Fine Jade takes a crack system up the center of              the sunlit face.)

Our only hope was to continue on, with hope of hitting Fine Jade last, but adding 2 miles of hiking and 9 pitches of climbing before we’d have our turn.  Quickly dispatching Honeymoon Chimney, we sprinted towards Sister Superior.  A long shot.  We roped up for the first pitch of Jah Man at 3pm, and with the desert sun berating us on the windless face, we fought our way to the summit.

(On the summit of Sister Superior, getting worked by the                   (Racing up Honeymoon Chimney)
desert heat)

Running back towards Fine Jade pushed us to beyond our fitness.  At the base of the Priest, with a waning sun, we sat and tried to recover our psyche.  “Let’s go see if it’s open at least,” Steffan said.  I followed, fully ready to demolish mac and cheese back at camp, but, like Steffan, unwilling to admit defeat.

There were no parties blocking our way on Fine Jade. We sat underneath the route absolutely spent, and watched the sun sink to illuminate the splitter cracks of Fine Jade as it made its descent.  The pursuit of the link-up would have to wait for another time, when we were stronger, and luckier.  
                                                                     (Witness the thin-ness: Sister Superior)

As we made our way down to camp in the waning light, a perma-smile took residence on my face.  I noticed the same gleefulness in Steffans expression as we humped our gear-laden packs down the side of the ridge.  There were no feelings of disappointment, and no regrets.  We had just realized the climber's dream- to attempt something we weren't sure we could finish.  And though we were defeated, in our shortcomings we were able to honestly evaluate the progress we had made in our sport.  As we laughed and joked our way down the hillside, it was obvious we had won in at least one aspect.

-Andy Stephen
Guide and Instructor at the Institute

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

Flakes are falling, passes are on sale, wax is being melted, and bullwheels are even starting to turn. And with the return of the ski season comes the return of the ski-movie season. We've already had a couple great ones roll through town, and have a couple more to look forward to.

Sweetgrass Productions has already made its mark with it's stunning cinematic feats, but what happens when you pair them with a big-budget LED manufacturer?  "Afterglow" happens...

We've seen epic ice climber Will Gadd tackle some tough routes before. When he brought Helmcken Falls into the ice climbing spotlight, we knew there was some amazing potential. In this latest teaser, we see Will working on his 7 pitch project to connect the base of the falls all the way to the top.

Coming up on November 7, AAI will be at Aslan Brewery with Mt. Baker Experience for the showing of Matchstick Production's "Days of My Youth."  Here's the trailer to whet your appetite and help you remember the good ol' days.

Have a great weekend! - James

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop - 11/2/2012

Time to reward those that are loyal to all things snowy…...

For those of you unfamiliar with The Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop (NSAW), it is an all-day seminar in Seattle with speaker's from all over North America all speaking to a common theme. It is a great way to start your snow season with an emphasis on safety, while having one heckuva great time!

This year the theme is, " Accidents, Surprises, and Near Misses".

Talks are no longer than 35 minutes, the breaks are long, and their are a TON of venders offering Pro Deals for participants (BCA, Brooks Range, Mammut, etc.). At the end of the day there is an after party on premise with FREE BEER (New Belgium), Smoked Salmon, Pizza, and a few other munchables.

The great part is that you don't have to sacrifice too much sleep to attend. NSAW starts at 9:00am the morning AFTER the switch to Daylight Savings. Yup, an extra hour of sleep to bank for your drive. Parking is FREE on the UW campus for NSAW, and children under 16 are FREE as well.

Go to the link below and click on Get Tickets

Click on Enter a Password or Discount Code

Type in active, all lower case

Purchase your ticket and save some money ( you can then spend it on raffle tickets cuz there will be over $10,000 in gear!)


Mt Whitney's Mountaineer's Route in the Winter

Mount Whitney (14, 505’)
Winter Ascent

Thousands of people climb Mount Whitney in the summertime - it’s one of the most popular peaks in the country, due to its beauty, accessibility and its status as the tallest peak in the Lower 48. However, from sometime in late fall to early summer, it’s a different beast. Snow, ice and low temperatures turn what is often considered a hard day-hike (especially if we’re talking about the Whitney Trail) into a more difficult snow climb. Fewer people climb the mountain in the winter, but the experience can be one of beauty and solitude - something rarely found on Mount Whitney.

The following are pictures from a Winter Mountaineering in the Sierra Course offered by AAI, in which climbers learn winter camping and mountaineering skills and get in a summit of Mount Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route. The pictures were taken by Chris Brinlee - a phenomenal professional photographer. As you can see, it’s a gorgeous route, and very rewarding!

If you are interested in climbing Mount Whitney in the winter with AAI guides, give us a call at 360-671-1505 or email info@alpineinstitute.com!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Toproping Etiquette Questions

This article is Part II of our climbing etiquette series. To read Part I, Glacier Climbing Etiquette Questions, please click here.

The following is a series of etiquette oriented questions that arise around toproped climbing at popular cragging destinations. The answers to these questions should be adhered to at North American Climbing destinations. Locations outside of North America may have different etiquette issues.

A Climber Lowers Off a Route in Leavenworth, Washington
Photo by Ruth Hennings

1) Where should I set-up my "camp" at a crag that I'm going to climb at all day?

Gear and equipment should not be placed directly under the wall. It's good to set-up a "safe" area away from the wall where you can relax without a helmet on and eat lunch. This will also keep the base of the wall from being crowded with gear and packs.

It's a good idea to consolodate your group's gear. Avoid allowing equipment and packs to be scattered around.

A Climber Leads Tonto (5.5) in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Jason Martin

2) What if I have a large group and want to "take-over" a crag for the day?

It is not appropriate for a group to "take-over" a crag. Climbing areas are public areas that are open to everyone. As such, it is incredibly rude for a group to hold an entire area -- or even a few routes -- hostage for the day.

If you have a large group, you have a large impact on both other users as well as the area. The best thing that you can to mitigate that impact is to keep a low profile, allow others to work in on the wall that you're using. Never leave a rope up that is not being used to "hold" a route.

If you do have a lot of ropes up and other users wish to climb routes that you have ropes on, it is okay to allow people to use your ropes if they look like they know what they're doing. If they don't appear knowlegable and they are climbing on your gear, you could become legally liable if something happens to one of the climbers that aren't with your group.

A group climbs at the Cowlick Co. Crag in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Jason Martin

3) What if a large group is using a crag and refuses to give up a climb to my small group?

If you've got moves, then offer to have a dance-off for the climb. Seriously, joking with people will often loosen them up. In most cases, people that have had a good laugh will be more polite and more open to allowing people to climb.

If the large group is very rude and refuses to give up a climb, then politely find another place to go. It's not worth lecturing an ignorant climber about crag ettiquete. More often than not, a lecture will just reinforce negative behavior.

4) Is it okay to use the same anchor bolts as the person on an adjacent route?

Yes and no. Will this cause the person next door problems? If so, they were there first. If not, then be sure to ask them before clipping in next to their carabiners. If they say yes, then clip the bolts, but be sure not to do anything that changes their set-up in any way.

5) Where should I go to the bathroom when I'm cragging?

If there is an outhouse nearby, always use that first. Avoid urinating at the base of the wall and always avoid urinating in cracks on a wall as this causes the smell to linger.

If you have to defeicate, know the rules of the area. Some areas require the use of WAG Bags, while other areas require you to dig a cat hole and pack out your toilet paper. Never go to the bathroom on the ground, stack the toilet paper on it and then put a rock on top.

6) When should I say something to a person who is doing something dangerous?

This is up to you. I usually don't say anything unless there is real and iminent danger. If there is mild danger, I will usually chat with the people for awhile in a non-threatening way before providing any unsolicieted beta.

7) Is it okay to toprope the first pitch of a multi-pitch climb?

More often than not, the answer is no. This is a more complex issue than the others and it does depend on the route and the route's history. People who are doing multi-pitch climbs always have the right of way over those who will TR a climb.

Some climbs are multi-pitch climbs, but nobody does anything but the first pitch. In this case, all the other ettiquete rules apply. Other climbs are commonly climbed as multi-pitch routes and are seldom done as single pitch routes. Such climbs should not be toproped.

8) It it okay to yell beta at people who didn't ask for it that I don't know?

No, many climbers like figure out the moves on their own.

Climbers who keep these concepts of etiquette in mind will almost universally have a much better time with a lot less conflict at the crags. And climbing isn't about conflict. It's about having fun...!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 6, 2014

Liz Daley - Memorial Articles

One week ago today, we lost a dear friend and an inspiration to the climbing and splitboarding community. On September 29th, AAI Guide Liz Daley was killed in an avalanche in Patagoina while on a photo shoot.

We announced this tragic news last Wednesday when Dunham Gooding, the American Alpine Institute's Director wrote this blog.

In the last week, we haven't stopped thinking about her. And neither have many others. Here are a few articles about Liz, her life and her tragic death:

Bellingham Herald

Seattle PI

Outside Magazine

The Adventure Journal

Powder Magazine

Eddie Bauer

Outside Online


And here is a wonderful article she wrote for Teton Gravity Research, which we reposted on our blog.

--Jason D. Martin