Saturday, January 31, 2015

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

Free runner, vegan and artist Tim Shieff and The Arch team athlete Leah Crane explore routesetting, creativity and movement together at Building One when they set a 10 problem experimental dynamic circuit in December 2014.

Just call it movement from The Arch Climbing Wall on Vimeo.

Renan Ozturk, Jimmy Chin, and Conrad Anker are three huge names in the world of alpine climbing, encompassing years of experience and hundreds, if not thousands of notable, world-class ascents. The Shark's Fin on Mt. Meru is one of the most technically challenging and dangerous peaks in the Himalaya. In Hindu, Jain and Bhuddist mythologies, it is a sacred mountain, considered to be the center of all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes. The challenge is daunting. It has been attempted by many, but accomplished by none. Conrad had attempted it twice already, and one of those attempts was with Jimmy and Renan as well.

Meru Official Trailer from Chai Vasarhelyi on Vimeo.

With the Northest in the grips of a major cold-snap, ice climber Will Gadd is able to take advantage of the chilling temps. Will has dreamed of climbing the iconic Niagara Falls since he was young, and thanks to the frigid weather, he was able to achieve what was once thought impossible.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, January 30, 2015

Noise Pollution: In Defense of the Dub-Box

"You damn kids and your music!" Playing music in the
wilderness can be awesome or an ear-sore. (photo: A. Stephen)

Ever since the late 70's when battery operated boomboxes became popular, adventurous (and young) souls have been taking their music with them to the crags, and, with the advancement of technology, into the wilderness. For a weight sacrifice of a lb. or less, you can add a compact, solar-rechargable bluetooth-equipped speaker to your backcountry travel kit and bump your Miley Cyrus (or whatever the kids are into these days) wherever you are. But there are some ethical questions that need to be answered here. Not all climbers will see your music as motivating or appropriate.

If all the members of your party are psyched on bumping some music, speakers can bring much enjoyment, inspiration, and even much-needed reality breaks in times of high stress.  On the Torment-Forbidden traverse in the North Cascades, I vividly remember simul-climbing up through heavy fog with the "dub-box"-as our portable speakers have affectionately become known- playing Radiohead's "All I Need", and thinking how perfectly it set the mood, cutting through the mist, inspiring us onward.  There have been many times multi-pitching where the dub-box has helped distract me from the discomforts of a hanging belay, or provided psych to push through fatigue or fear.  And nothing is better than a little musical inspiration to power through steep approaches!

The dub-box hasn't only provided positive experiences, however.  Some climbers find music distracting- others down-right noise-polluting.  I have had a climbing partner who asked me to "turn that s&%# off!," and others who felt as though music was a detriment to their wilderness experience. Fair points, which I cannot argue with.  So when is the dub-box appropriate? Here are some guidelines to help you boogie down without rocking the boat:

1. Evaluate Surroundings.  Where are you?  A crag? A crowded hiking trail? In the wilderness?  If the area you're in or traveling through is devoid of other people, there may be no problem with playing music.  If you are anywhere near other people however, there is cause for consideration.

2. Be Upfront! If you are at a crag, sharing a multi-pitch line, or camping near others, the best thing you can do if unsure whether or not cranking the dub-box is acceptable, is ask.  Simply asking the people you are sharing space with if they would mind if you played some music goes a long way towards creating respect and a good name for those about to rock.  If any parties say no, you should cease and desist.

3. Know Your Audience.  Even if everyone around you is ok with a little music, you should do your best to anticipate what is likely to be appropriate, and what may be offensive.  This should be obvious after the discussion of step 2.  If you are climbing next to a bunch of 50-year-olds, EDM may not be the best choice if you are hoping not to offend.  As a general rule, even if other parties consent, keep the volume down a little lower than you might if you were alone.

If you follow these three easy steps, you are guaranteed to keep the peace and positively influence the portable speaker community by showing that you can rock out without disrespecting others.

Where To Get Your Own Dub-Box
GoalZero is the standard portable speaker for climbing.  It is affordable, rechargeable, clip-able, and durable.  Find them here.  The top of the line is the Turtle-Shell; it has all the features of the GoalZero, except better, and more expensive.  Find the Turtle-Shell here.

--Andy Stephen, Instructor and Guide

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

"Social Media" has become quite a part of modern culture.  From blogs and Facebook, the latest and greatest apps, we are becoming more and more aware of what others around us are doing.  KT Miller and Beau Fredlund explore how social media plays a role in their ski mountaineering throughout the Tetons.

The Social Media Factor // Episode 2 // Backyard Roots from beau fredlund on Vimeo.

On a warm summer evening, Mauro Calibani made a clean solo ascent of a clean and beautiful line at the sea cliffs of Capo Noli, near Finale Ligure, Italy.  The climb was not truly a deep-water solo since the water is so shallow there, and the route was free from bolts, a purposeful choice made by locals to maintain the beauty of the rock.

AQUASOLO from E9 urban & climbing on Vimeo.

Back before Thanksgiving this last fall, I showed a trailer for Lucas Debari's new film, "Mica to Greenland."  Just those few minutes were impressive and conveyed the drive Lucas had to chase after a little bit of inspiration.  Here now is the full film for you to enjoy!

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, January 23, 2015

How to Build a Freestanding Fingerboard Mount

Fingerboarding is one of the best ways to consistently build finger strength for climbing. That said, it is almost a prerequisite that every serious climber have easy access to a fingerboard, preferably in the comfort of their own home. The crux is finding a way to mount the fingerboard without damaging or leaving unsightly holes in your wall... this is where building a freestanding fingerboard mount comes into play!

The objective of this post is to build a simple, inexpensive, and strong freestanding fingerboard mount using everyday tools and materials that you may already have laying around your garage or shed.

Material List for Building a Freestanding Fingerboard Mount

Tape measure

A box of 3" decking screws


Circular saw or hand saw

Two 6' 1"x6" strips of wood

Two 8' 2"x4" strips of wood

Two 4' 2"x4" strips of wood

One 3' 2"x4" strip of wood

Two small 5" 2"x4" blocks of wood

Two 3' 1"x6" strips of wood or a 1'x3' sheet of .75" plywood

Two eyebolts and quick links (optional)

One fingerboard

How to Build a Freestanding Fingerboard Mount

Step 1: Measure and mark all your materials to the proper lengths.

Step 2: Make all the necessary cuts.

Step 3: Start by screwing the 8' 2"x4"s to the middle of the 6' 1"x6". I used 4 screws... do this for both sides. Note to make sure the 2"x4"s are perfectly perpendicular and flush with the 1"x6"s.

Step 4: Once you have the sides built, attach them together by screwing the 3' 2"x4" into both 1"x6"s behind the upright 2"x4". Put 2 screws through the 1"x6" into the end of the 3' 2"x4" and 2 screws through the 3' 2"x4" into the upright 8' 2"x4"s.

If you completed the previous steps correctly, this is what you should have so far... make sure to check the mount rests perfectly flat on the floor during this stage so you can make any adjustments if necessary.

Step 5: Lay the top of your mount down on an elevated surface so that you can easily screw into it. Now attach your two lengths of 3' 1"x6"s, directly on top of each other, flush with the 8' 2"x4"s using at least 4 screws (see notes for plywood). Finally attach the fingerboard to the two 1"x6"s using the mounting instructions that included with the fingerboard.

Step 6: Attach the two 4' 2"x4" support braces on a 45 degree angle to the ground on both sides. Just as a rough estimate they should touch the floor around 3' from the vertical 2"x4"s. Use the two small blocks to fill in the space between the braces and the 1"x6"s. Put at least 2 screws through the 1"x6" into the block and at least 2 screws through the brace into the block from the other side. Also, use 2 screws to attach the braces to the vertical 2"x4"s.

Step 7 (optional): Screw your two eyebolts directly into the bottom of your 1"x6", attach the quick links, and you are all ready to go!

Using your Freestanding Fingerboard Mount

Step 7 is optional based on how you plan on using your fingerboard mount. That said, given fingerboard repeaters are arguably the most effective training tool for building finger strength, I personally feel a fingerboard pulley system is absolutely necessary. For more information on fingerboard repeaters and the fingerboard pulley system, make sure to check out the posts on Fingerboard Repeaters - Training for Climbing and the Fingerboard Pulley System.

Also, I am using a basic Metolius Project Board in this setup, but I encourage you to get creative. Try mounting different pinch grips or a small "kick board" to train different grip types, almost like a mini system board. As long as the exercise type is static in nature (see notes), the sky is the limit... so get after it!

Quick Notes on Building your Freestanding Fingerboard Mount

-I chose the type and dimensions of wood based on whatever I just had laying around in my garage. That said, you can easily adapt the instructions to cater to whatever type of lumber is easily accessible to you. With that in mind, try to keep your vertical supports and braces at least 2"x4" in order to withstand the forces generated from fingerboarding.

-If you do choose to install a fingerboard pulley system and need to offset more then 25-30 lbs or if you end up using a single sheet of plywood, you may have to modify this design to include another 2"x4" length of wood running between the two vertical 2"x4"s behind and flush with the bottom of the lowest 1"x6" in the picture. This will give you a much stronger mounting surface to screw in your eyebolts and hang the pulley system.

-Again, the goal was to build a simple, inexpensive and strong freestanding fingerboard mount using everyday tools. As such, this is not the most elegant freestanding fingerboard mount design I have seen, but it meets and exceeds all those criteria. Keep it simple, safe and functional...

-A little bit of "wobble" during use is normal, but use common sense... This design was meant for holding STATIC weight and not supporting dynamic movements. Always check to make sure that your mount is in good condition and that there is nothing loose or cracked before each use. You are responsible for your own safety.

--Chris Casciola, Guest Blogger and Author of SeekingExposure. For more tips on building DIY training tools and training for climbing make sure to check out his blog and follow SeekingExposure on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Film Review: Frozen

A couple of winters ago, something absolutely terrifying happened at a European ski resort. A German tourist in the Austrian Alps was "forgotten" on a ski lift. He went up for one last run before they were going to close down for the day...and before he got to the top of the hill, they actually did close for the day, leaving the man stranded.

The 22 year-old skier, who had left his cell phone behind, was stuck for nearly five hours in temperatures reaching 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The young man was finally rescued when a snowcat driver caught sight of him burning money in order to keep warm.

This real-life event was fortuitous for the makers of last winter's chill-thrill film, Frozen. The plot of the low-budget flick is almost exactly the same. Three friends get stuck high on a ski lift on a Sunday night after a New England resort closes for the week. Parker (Emma Bell), Joe (Shawn Ashmore) and Dan (Kevin Zegers) are left to try to find a way to get down or face the prospect that they will freeze to death.

This could have been a good movie. It really could have been.

That is, if someone had spent any time outdoors at all. That is, if someone had researched frostbite and cold weather injuries. And that is, if they weren't trying to make a horror movie and instead were just trying to make a tight and engaging story.

The characters in this movie had a hard time thinking about how to stay warm. Joe, the lone skier in the group, never puts up his hood, no matter how cold it gets. Parker looses a glove early in the movie and then decides that it's a good idea to go to sleep on the ski lift with her hand wrapped tightly around the metal safety bar.

These are things that just wouldn't happen in real life. It's really hard to suspend disbelief when it's clear that the actors aren't really cold and have never really been cold. Nobody ever really shivers in the entire movie and the film-makers are far more interested in getting some gore out of the cold weather injuries than some reality.

The biggest problem of all with this film is that this is exactly the type of movie a low-budget production company could do very well. It is a tight and simplistic storyline that, when character driven, could be a tremendously engaging story. The problem here is that the characters are paper thin. They have nice back-stories, but they are just such dumb people, it's hard to really be engaged by them instead of by their situation. This is definitely one of those movies where you spend a lot of time yelling, "no! No! No! Don't do that!" And then you sigh and say, "that was a really stupid thing to do..."

All that said, this movie has one major thing working for it. It's the same thing that works in movies like, Open Water where a pair of scuba divers are left at sea by their tour boat, or in The Blair Witch Project, where a group of documentary film-makers become lost in a haunted's the what-would-I-do-if-I-were-in-this-situation factor. And Frozen is flush with what-would-I-do situations. The likelihood -- if you read this blog regularly -- is that you probably wouldn't do the same things that these not-very-outdoor savvy individuals did.

I suspect that most of you would zip up your jacket and put up up your hood in the cold. I suspect that most of you would not lose your gloves. And if you did lose your gloves, I bet that you would keep your hands in your pockets. Indeed, most of you would probably have cell phones and the problem would be solved without any real drama.

The characters in this movie are not bright and sometimes you do get angry at their choices. But that element, combined with the what-would-I-do element, keeps Frozen from being all bad...and in fact even makes it mildly -- and I stress mildly -- entertaining.

--Jason D. Martin

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Weekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

For Candide Thovex, dropping cliffs, airing over ski racers, hucking off the unload ramp at a lift, and jibbing the railing of the second-story balcony of the ski lodge is all part of a day's work. Does anyone else feel like they are playing a video game when they watch this?

After completing her initial project in Red Rock, Helen Sinclair was left in Vegas looking for something new to work on. And boy, did she find it! The Great Red Roof is a beautiful, yet burly 5.13b trad line. Time to get fit!

Stuck In Las Vegas from Ben Neilson on Vimeo.

And last but not least, one of the biggest climbing events of the decade, the Dawn Wall project has been completed by Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson.  After 19 days on the Wall (and 7 years of preparation and training), the duo topped out on January 14th.  Speculated to be the "hardest climb in the world" Tommy and Kevin's route is over 30 pitches, with 12 pitches of 5.13 and 6 pitches of 5.14, including two back-to-back 5.14d pitches.  Click here to read more about this truly awesome feat of climbing.

Have a great weekend! - James

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Wekend Warrior - Videos to get you STOKED!!!

In February of 2014, Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold left the big walls of Yosemite and headed to the epic alpine playground that is Patagonia.  Their objective was the iconic skyline of the Fitzroy traverse, a previously unclimbed 10-peak traverse.

Unless you've been under a rock, in the hills, or out to sea for the last week, you've probably heard some mention of Tommy latest feat.  He and fellow climber Kevin Jorgeson are in the midst of climbing the Dawn Wall, one of the last big aid climbs in Yosemite that is yet to see a free ascent.  It is a massive undertaking, and as Tommy says in the video below,  it is amazingly difficult climbing on the minuscule features.

Ice and dry-tool climber Greg Boswell spends his winters swinging tools.  But in the summer when there's no ice to be found, he's working hard on a farm in Scotland and training on some serious drytool routes at Newtyle Quarry.

Have a great weekend! - James

Friday, January 9, 2015

Equipment Review: OR Trailbreaker Ski Pants

This winter, I finally got lucky.  I owe it to impeccable timing and an unwavering commitment-even after two years of striking out- to owning the best ski pants ever made.

For the last two years, the Trailbreaker Pants have been on my radar.  Being the most generic size for male mountain travelers, I haven't been able to secure a pair of these legendary pants until now because the Men's mediums simply leap off the shelves.  Last year the winter line of apparel at Outdoor Research hadn't even been available for a month, but medium Trailbreakers were already sold out.  But this year I made my pilgrimage to the Outdoor Research Retail Store in South Seattle, and there they were!

The Trailbreaker Pants are a perfect blend of breathability, durability, and protection from the elements.  They are constructed of a lightweight softshell material above the knees, and a waterproof fabric below.  The pants feature thigh-long zippered vents to dump heat quickly.  On each side, there are two generously-sized zippered pockets, one in the front of the thigh, and one behind.  The pant leg features an elasticized and removable mesh gaiter underneath the reinforced waterproof material, and an inner scuff guard.  In case you are a snowboarder, or plan to wear these pants with mountaineering boots, there is a standard gaiter clip in the front of the cuff to attach to laces, as well as eyelets to attach paracord to for a more complete gaiter set-up.  The waist is adjustable via two velcro pulls at the hips, and there are belt loops as well as attachments for O.R.'s universal suspenders (sold separately).

With the slow start to the season this year, I haven't had a chance to put the pants to the rigorous task of multi-day ski tours.  That said, I have logged around 15 touring days in them so far and have made an effort to test out the features and the durability.  The thigh zippers are easily the most impressive feature of the Trailbreakers.  They are easy to zip and un-zip quickly, and are a game-changer for me on the skin up- I haven't found myself overheating at all, which is usually a constant issue on the ascent.  You have to be extra careful not to fall over with the zippers open however, as there is nothing stopping the snow from entering the vents.  I consider this a small price to pay for such an amazing feature, and added incentive to stay on my feet.

The other feature that really sets the Trailbreakers apart are the well-thought and equally well-designed combination of waterproof and softshell fabrics.  Whether fiddling with bindings, digging pits, or simply taking a quick break on a steep slope, dropping to ones knees in the snow is a pretty common position in the backcountry.  The waterproof material allows you ample protection for this, rising just above the knee to make sure you aren't going to soak through.  I also like that they leave the butt of the pants as softshell material rather than waterproof, signifying the commitment to maximum breathability. Whether waterproof or not, you should never be sitting directly on the snow anyway!

The Trailbreaker Pants by Outdoor Research have fully lived up to my ideals as the best backcountry ski pants I have owned yet.  It is worth noting that the Trailbreakers are a very specialized pant, and would not be very comfortable for riding chairlifts as the softshell material will likely soak through pretty quickly, or for skiing in very cold climates.  But for ski tours in deep snow where breathability is equally as important as water protection, the Trailbreakers are king.

Pick up your own pair here!

--Andy Stephen, AAI Instructor and Guide

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

International Mountain Day Fundraiser - 2015

At the American Alpine Institute, we love mountains for their beauty and challenge, and for the livelihood they provide us as guides and outdoor educators. But there are ample reasons for flatlanders to love mountains as well. Mountain ranges function as engines of water production, provide habitat for game, and supply resources for industry. In view of the universal value of mountains, the United Nations established International Mountain Day to celebrate this shared natural heritage.

The actual date of the day is December 11th. But due to serveral different circumstances, we have decided to celebrate the day on January 10th.

This year, we have decided to benefit the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center with our International Mountain Day Activities.

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center (NWAC) promotes safety by helping reduce the impacts of avalanches and adverse mountain weather on recreation, industry and transportation in Washington through data collection, mountain weather, avalanche forecasting and education.

The achieve this mission, the Northwest Avalanche Center:

assists a variety of snow safety and snow maintenance programs by providing and analyzing useful weather, snow and avalanche data, and by producing and distributing a variety of mountain weather and avalanche forecast products.

assists backcountry travelers by providing current information on snowpack structure and avalanche danger, and by forecasting expected changes in snow and avalanche conditions.

The professional mountain meteorologists and avalanche specialists at NWAC are on duty from September through June, issuing twice daily forecasts from mid-November through mid-April and special statements as warranted in early Fall and in late Spring.

You can develop your personal climbing skills, your avalanche awareness skills and help us to benefit this important cause by participating in our International Mountain Day events in Bellingham, Washington.

Bellingham NWAC Fundraiser - January 10, 2015

Rock Rescue Clinics

We will be offering two two-hour rock rescue clinics at Vital Climbing Gym in downtown Bellingham. The clinics will focus on the baseline skills required to perform a rescue in a high-angle environment. We will be offering these from 12:30-2:30 and from 3:00-5:00.

Avalanche Awareness Seminars

We will be offering an Avalanche Awareness Seminar and reception (with beer, pizza and live music) in the evening at the the Vital Climbing Gym. Doors will open at 6pm, with the seminar starting at 7pm. This seminar will be a short introduction to the skills required to safely and effectively move through the backcountry during the winter season. In addition to the avalanche awareness seminar there will be a raffle and an auction.

To learn more, click here. Preregistration is not required, but it strongly encouraged as space is limited.

--Jason D. Martin

Climbing Workouts - Drills and Excercises

The Climbing Movement Essential Training Series on Youtube is kind of awesome. The series is composed of a number of well produced videos that focus on different aspects of training for climbing.

This particular blog post is specifically oriented toward drills and exercises from the videos. The first video looks at "The Session," which is composed of specific training for common climbing movement.

The second video looks specifically at developing movement on a "Systems Training Wall." This is a wall that allows one to work certain movements over and over again.

Certainly, it's reasonable to do a lot of these workouts in a rock gym without this kind of wall. One just has to be a bit creative.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, January 5, 2015

International Committee on Alpine Rescue Highlights

The International Commission for Alpine Rescue (ICAR) met in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, between October 6th and 10th, 2014. This was the first time in its 66 year history that ICAR met in the USA. There were 325 rescuers from 54 countries and a great exchange of information and best practices.

Topograph Media has produced the Annual Highlights Video since 2007, and previous editions can be found at The company has recently posted the highlights from the 2014 conference.

This first video is a round-up of the technical trainings and new products presented at ICAR.

This second video describes the commission workshops at the conference.

There are four commissions in ICAR. They are:
  • Terrestrial rescue
  • Air rescue
  • Avalanches
  • Mountain Emergency Medicine

--Jason D. Martin