Monday, November 30, 2015

Route Profile: North Face Chair Peak

As winter descends on the Cascades, I find myself thinking about one of my favorite winter alpine climbs in the Pacific Northwest. The North Face of Chair Peak is a classic winter ascent that can easily be done in a day. It has a beautiful alpine face that gets covered in snow. The freeze thaw cycle turns the face from powder on rock to a spectacular three pitch alpine line.

The route is moderate and with the exception of one ten foot step, the bulk of it is between fifty and sixty-five degrees. That one step is perhaps eighty degrees, but it is very short and sometimes isn't even iced up. The first time I climbed the peak, that last section was 5.6 rock.

Chair Peak Approach Route
Click on map to enlarge.

 Approaching Chair Peak. The face in the center is the east face
To get to the north face, you must drop over the saddle on the right.

The approach to this climb is relatively straight forward. You simply park at the Alpental Ski Area and then make your way up the Alpental Valley to the end, where Chair Peak oversees the bowl beneath it.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)
This photo shows the north face on the righthand side and the
two variations that one can take on the northeast buttress which
is a route of a similar grade to the north face.

There are two routes that should be considered on the mountain. The north face is the obvious one, but the northeast buttress is just as good. However, the northeast buttress often requires a bit more mixed climbing than the north face.

Approaching the north face. 

The first pitch of the route climbs up a cool corner and gully on thin alpine ground.

The second pitch works it way up steep snow and ice to a tree belay.

 A climber approaching the tree belay.

The third pitch makes its way up more thin terrain to another belay, before the last pitch goes over the aforementioned step up to the summit.

The descent off the mountain is straightforward. A couple of rappels bring you down a gully on the south side of the east face.

On a short winter day, you really can't beat an outing on Chair Peak!

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Climbing Technique: Outside Edge, Flag and Drop Knee

The following is an excellent video for those who enjoy climbing steep terrain. On steep routes, we commonly talk about keeping the arms straight in order to conserve energy. There are three core movements shown in the video that allow for this on this type of terrain.

The first movement is the use of the Outside Edge. It's common for people to climb "frog-style," with their hips paralleling the wall. This type of movement is intensive and difficult. Instead, to increase stability and to decrease the amount of strength used, one should try to use the outside edge of the climbing shoe. This essentially forces you to cross your legs and allows you to achieve more height on each move. The narrator of the video below says, "the outside edge move should be considered the utility move for climbing steep walls."

The second movement is the Flag. If the holds are not lining up appropriately for you to effectively use the outside edge of your rock shoe, you might have to regularly swap feet. This of course is energy intensive. The answer is to flag. In this situation, instead of swapping feet to use the outside edge, you can use the inside edge and either cross the opposite foot in front or behind and brace it against the rock to stabilize the stance.

The third and final movement is the Drop Knee. The outside edge and the flag moves are used on a wall where you only have one foothold and the spare leg is used to achieve balance. If you have two footholds then dropping the knee to create counter pressure and to lengthen the reach also works well.

The following video describes each of these techniques in depth and is well-worth your time:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ascending Systems

There are a million ascending systems out there. On this blog we have previously discussed jugging with mechanical ascenders, the prusik hitch and climbing the rope with an autoblocking device. These are all excellent techniques for climbing up a rope...but it doesn't mean that they're the only techniques.

Climbers are ultimately artists and part of the art of climbing is picking the right tool at the right time to get up or down something. As a result, the more things that you know, the more tools that you have in your toolbox. And the more things that you know, the more improvisational you can be in any type of climbing situation.

This blog will provide you with another option for climbing up a rope. To set-up this system, you will need a mechanical ascender, a GriGri and a double-shoulder length sling. The following photo shows how each of these components will be used.

Following are the steps that you will need to complete in order to make this system work:

Clip the mechanical ascender to the rope.
Clip a double-shoulder length sling to the base of the ascender. This will become your be for your foot.
Clip a carabiner to the top of the ascender, trapping the rope inside the ascender.
Run the rope through your GriGri below the ascender.
Redirect the rope from the break-hand of the GriGri up through the clip that is trapping the ascender on the rope.Once this is set-up you're ready to jug. Put your foot into the foot-sling and then stand up. Once you are standing, pull the backside of the rope through the GriGri. Sit back on the GriGri, kick you knee up to your chest and push the jug up the rope. Repeat until you're at the top.

One important thing to always remember is that you will need to tie back-up "catastrophe knots" in the rope as you climb. This should happen every ten feet or so. One should never forget to do this, as occasionally GriGris slip.

Obviously, the only way to really dial in this system is to practice it. The best way to work through this system is to print this blog out, bring it out into the field and then make it happen!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 20, 2015

Route Profile: Johnny Vegas, 5.7, II+

Johnny Vegas is an extremely popular, extremely cool little route that can be found on the lower tier of the Solar Slab Wall in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This phenomenal 5.6 or 5.7 route (depending on who you talk to) climbs up through three enjoyable pitches, all of which are in a spectacular position.

A father and daughter team low on Johnny Vegas.
Photo by Jason Martin

This is a slightly older route. It was put up in 1994, but didn't make it into a guidebook until 2000. The result is that this super classic line was overlooked for six full years.

In 1999, I was climbing Beulah's Book, a classic 5.9 found just to the left, when I saw a rock jock leading a 5.10 variation to Johnny Vegas. I looked down to see an older man with a very small frame encouraging his much younger partner on. The belayer was none-other than the iconic Red Rock climber, George Uriosite.

A happy climber on the second pitch.
Photo by Jason Martin

George and his ex-wife Joanne were Red Rock pioneers. They were responsible for dozens and dozens of classic lines throughout the park. It was very cool to meet such an important person in the history of Red Rock. And everytime I've run into him since has been just as great.

It was also cool to see those guys on a route that I knew nothing about. So I thought it was important as a Vegas local to get on that thing as soon as possible. The very next day my partner and I returned to the Solar Slab area to make an ascent of Johnny Vegas. And we were incredibly happy that we did.

A climber nearing the top of the route.
Photo by Jason Martin

Since that first time on the route, I've climbed the line dozens and dozens of times. There are a few little things that people should know before sending Johnny Vegas:

  1. Purists will say that the route is four pitches, not three. Indeed, super purists might even call it five pitches. It is three real pitches. Sometimes people make a tiny pitch to attain the base of the route. And there is a long stretch of 5.0 climbing at the top of the route.
  2. Some guidebooks say to rappel this route. It is a rope eating nightmare. It is far better to rappel the nearby Solar Slab Gully.
  3. There are two starts to the bottom of the route. If a party is going very slow on the right hand start, some may elect to pass them on the left.
  4. The bottom of the route goes into the shade in the winter from approximately 10am to noon. When it's cold in the shade, this can make the route very very chilly.

This has become a super popular route. Make sure to get up early!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/19/15


--Andrew Bower was killed in a climbing accident while he was replacing bolts in the Dishman Hills Natural Area near Spokane, WA. As Andrew's gear was still in his pack, it appears that he may have slipped at the top of the cliff. To read a report of the incident, click here.

--The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has reversed itself and agreed to change the controversial names of two geographic features in the Cascades—Coon Lake and Coon Creek—to Howard Lake and Howard Creek, after a pioneering prospector who lived there in the 1890s. The reversal was confirmed by the board’s executive secretary, Lou Yost. To read more, click here.

--A moratorium on bolting has been placed on Idaho's Castle Rock State Park. To read more, click here.

--The owner of a Winlock lumber business and three other Lewis County men have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle for illegally logging and selling massive bigleaf maple trees from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. In an indictment, prosecutors say Ryan Anthony Justice, James Michael Miller and Kevin James Mullins stole wood from the national forest, located east of Cowlitz County. Prosecutors are also targeting Harold Clause Kupers and his Winlock-based business, J&L Tonewoods, claiming it was a front for poached maple, according to the indictment. To read more, click here.

--A Seattle art gallery has a installation right now about fire lookouts. To read about it, click here.


--Michael Meyers, a UCLA graduate student in physics, was reported missing Sunday night. He was last known to be hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Catherine Meyers, Meyers’ mother, said her son planned to climb Mount Russell or Mount Whitney on Nov. 6. She added she reported his disappearance to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department Sunday night, and contacted university police Monday. To read more, click here.

--A backcountry skier was carried 150-vertical-feet by an avalanche and partially buried on Elephants Back off Caron Pass (hwy 88) near Lake Tahoe last week. He was able to dig himself out and was uninjured. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--This week marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area!


--A former instructor with the Aspen Skiing Co. has reached a settlement with the family of the boy she sued after the child, who was enrolled in her class, allegedly collided with her during a ski lesson in 2013. To read more, click here.

--The U.S. Forest Service is giving Vail Resorts a green light for more development on the slopes of the Tenmile Range, at Breckenridge Ski Area in Colorado. In a final decision released this week, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams approved a significant expansion of recreation infrastructure, including zip lines and canopy tours, as well as more off-highway vehicle tours and an expansion of the Peak 7 hut. All of the projects approved are on National Forest System lands and occur within Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Special Use Permit boundary. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A key suspect in the 2013 massacre of foreign climbers in Pakistan is on the run after he hurled grenades at officers who were pursuing him, injuring 10 of them, officials said on Tuesday (Nov 17). The suspect, named by police as Rahimullah, has a bounty on his head of one million rupees (US$10,000) over his alleged involvement in the attack on the base camp at Nanga Parbat, Pakistan's second highest mountain. To read more, click here.

--A skier backcountry skiing alone, impaled his groin on a low branch this week in Montana. The individual was left alone and bleed for a long period of time before being rescued. To read more, click here.

--A snowmobiler in the eastern Alaska mountain range of Alaska triggered an avalanche and was buried in the avalanche debris for about 25 minutes on Sunday. This is the first full burial that has been reported in North America this season. To read more, click here.

--The National Outdoor Book Awards winners have been announced.

--Yellowstone National Park officials have received much criticism — some based on inaccurate information posted on social media — for their decision to euthanize a grizzly bear that killed a Montana man this past summer, a park wildlife manager said. To read more, click here.

--So it appears that there may be a cultural misunderstanding concerning how to use toilets in Grand Teton National Park. A group of foreign visitors appear to be placing their feet on toilet seats in vault toilets and squatting while using the bathroom. Apparently the Park had 42 broken seats this season as a result of this use. To read more, click here.

--The United Nations has recognized the Outdoor Industry Association among a handful of companies and associations moving the needle on global sustainability. To read more, click here.

--Here are 12 things that Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell believes every outdoor business should know.

--The North Face and biotech company Spiber have collaborated to create the “Moon Parka” – a coat woven out of synthetic spider silk. Spider silk is one of nature’s stretchiest and strongest materials – making it ideal for active sportswear. However, harvesting spider silk on an industrial scale is not very efficient, mainly due to spiders' competitive disposition to eat their rivals. To read more, click here.

--Death Valley sure got hammered by floods last week...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Dangers of Tree-Wells

At the American Alpine Institute, we spend a lot of time talking about avalanches. We run dozens of avalanche courses a season and highlight avalanche near misses and fatalities on this blog. But we haven't spent much time talking about another major frontcountry and backcountry danger: tree-wells

Every year there are stories about people who have gone into a tree-well upside down and suffocated. Essentially, a skier or a snowboarder takes a fall and slides into a tree-well upside down. When this happens it's very difficult for one to extract him or herself. Indeed, struggling upside down in a well can actually cause an individual to slip down further. The result is very similar to an avalanche, an individual suffocates in the snow.

Occasionally we report on frontcountry avalanches, but they are rare. Tree-well accidents happen every year both in-bounds and out-of-bounds. The wells are particularly dangerous after a big snow storm that dropped a lot of powder.

The Tree-Well and Deep Snow Safety website indicates that, "the odds of surviving a deep snow immersion accident are low; especially if you are not with a partner. In two experiments conducted in the U.S. and Canada in which volunteers were temporarily placed in a tree well, 90% COULD NOT rescue themselves."

The following video portrays a shocking demonstration of just how dangerous tree-wells can be:

Following is a breakdown of what to do in the event of a tree-well accident:

Ski with a Partner

First and foremost, skiing with a partner is the most important part of staying safe on a powder day. And skiing with a partner means keeping track of him or her visually. If you speed ahead and are waiting at the bottom of the slope for your partner in the tree-well, then you have failed to truly ski with your partner. Many of those who have died as a result of a tree-well incident were with partners, but they did not actually witness the fall. Visual contact is important!

In addition to staying in visual contact, it is important to be close enough to your partner that you could dig him out if an accident occurs. How long does that person have? Well, about as long as you can hold your you should be close enough to perform a rescue quickly.

If your partner goes into a hole, don't leave to get help. Dig him or her out! Once you have reached the person's face, be sure to clear the airway as there might be snow in the mouth.

Carry Backcountry Equipment

Obviously digging requires a shovel. Be sure that you have a shovel, a beacon and a probe on any big snow days, in-bounds or out.

If you're a skier, remove your ski pole straps. People who go into tree-wells often have trouble removing these straps while in a hole.

Stay on Groomed Trails

On big powder days, groomed trails are always the safest. However, if you really want to enjoy the powder or you want to ski in the backcountry, you'll expose yourself to tree-well danger.

If you are off the groomed trails, stay away from the trees. There will not be a tree-well where there is no tree.

If You Fall in a Tree-Well

If you realize that you are falling into a tree-well, try to grab the tree and the tree-branches. Once you've fallen in, try to hold onto the tree or branches so that you don't fall in further.

Struggling in a tree-well often makes you sink more deeply. So if you're in the hole, think. Don't panic. Try to breathe calmly in order to conserve the little bit of air you might have while waiting for a rescue.

If you are in the hole, try to create a breathing space near your face. If you're secure, try to rock your body gently in order to increase this space. Over time, heat from your body, along with rocking motions, will compact the snow. The hardening of the snow around you might allow you to work your way out of the hole.


Following are a few great sites with information about tree-well related incidents:

Stevens Pass Tree-Wells
Tree-Well and Deep Snow Safety
How to Escape a Tree-Well

Tree-wells are dangerous, but they are a danger that can be mitigated and avoided. Pay attention to your surroundings and to your partners in order to stay safe while skiing or snowboarding.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/12/15


--The trail leading to the Big Four Ice Caves will likely reopen next year, according to the U.S. Forest Service. But the agency is planning to bring together trail builders, landscape architects and social scientists to look for ways to keep hikers out of the deadly caves. The trail has been closed since July 6, when rock and ice fell and killed 34-year-old Annalisa Santana, of California. Five other people were injured, including her brother, a Lynnwood resident who died of his injuries in October. To read more, click here.


--It appears that there was a fatality on Yosemite's Snake Dike Dihedral, a popular 5.7 route. There is limited information at this time, but it has been noted that the accident may have happened on the descent. To read more, click here.

--There was another fatal accident on the Royal Column in Yosemite. To read more, click here.

--The Sierra is getting some real snow this year!

Desert Southwest:

--A drunken British woman saved from a Grand Canyon cliff edge late Sunday night greeted her rescuers with scorn and spit, rangers say. Charmaine Isaacs, 36, whose hometown was listed as the small village of Ilton, England, was arrested by National Park Service rangers on suspicion of disorderly conduct (creating a hazardous condition), public drunkenness, and "interfering with agency function" after an hourlong night rescue at the South Rim. To read more, click here.

--A rented Lamborghini worth $180,000 suffered a rollover crash just outside the Red Rock Scenic Drive. There were no injuries...except the car...which is totaled. To read more, click here.


--The town of Breckenridge recently passed a 4.5% tax on ski lift tickets. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Canadian professional skier Ian McIntosh somehow survived a 1,600-foot head-over-heels-over-head-over-heels tumble lasting nearly a minute in Alaska’s Neacola Range about 120 miles southwest of Anchorage, an area pockmarked with numerous 3,000-foot couloirs. The video, with audio of his gasps, is frightening. To see the video, click below. To read more, click here.

--Peter Metcalf, the CEO and founder of Black Diamond, wrote an editorial about the economic power of the outdoor industry in Outside. Metcalf argues that a new bill that tracks the industry will be good for outdoor users because policymakers will have to respect the economic power of the industry. To read the editorial, click here.

--The Banff Mountain Book Competition has announced its winners. To read about them, click here.

--An editorialist in Alaska agrees with the Denali name change, but argues that geographical name changes should not be the new norm. To read the article, click here.

--A skier was buried to his chest in an avalanche in Alaska last week. To read more, click here.

--Two hunters were caught in an avalanche near Bozeman, MT last week as well. There were no fatalities. To read more, click here.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Route Profile: Bloodline (5.11a, II+)

The splitter crux pitch on Bloodline.  Mega Classic!
(A. Stephen)
In the quest to find awesome forgotten routes in Red Rocks, sometimes you have to travel off the beaten path. Other times, that classic line is less than half an hour from the parking lot.  Bloodline is a classic 4-pitch 5.11a at the top of "the cone"on the northwestern side of Mescalito.  The first two pitches ascend the left side of this cone and up to the base of the cavernous chimney that is a route known as Deep Space.

Looking down at the top of the stellar first pitch (A. Stephen)
The really fun climbing begins on the left side of the chimney, with a long(150 ft.) bolted face climb which both my partner and I thought was fun, engaging, and sustained enough to deserve a 5.10c rating.  The rock on this pitch was excellent and varied, providing some unusual and extremely fun movement.  Rad!

So Good!!!! (V.Portillo)
The next and final pitch of Bloodline is the crux finger crack.  The crack is very thin- only big enough for me to get the first knuckle of my fingers in. Most of the climbing felt like 5.10, with some difficult moves to good rests. The crux is a short 5.11a section where the feet disappear and the crack is really all you have to work with. A couple hard moves with great gear puts you underneath a hand-crack bulge which guards the anchor. There was a tiny bit of loose rock on this bulge, so be careful with your protection and make sure your belayer is alert, since they are anchored in the potential line of fire.  
Vanessa getting her first 11a TR on-site! (A. Stephen)
We continued on to try for the summit of Mescalito after this pitch, and after some scary, loose climbing, found ourselves below the Red Chimney, which guards the summit of Mescalito from Cat in the Hat buttress.  I definitely would recommend rapping the route from the top of the crux pitch! 

Bloodline is an amazing climb, and very approachable for the grade.  It is in the shade all day so if you are looking for something to climb when it is hot, give this one a try!

Can you feel the stoke!?  (A. Stephen)
-Andy Stephen, Instructor and Guide

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/5/15


--It's an El Nino year, which usually means less snowfall than normal. But after last year's 20% of normal snowpack, an 80% year sounds pretty good. The Pacific Northwest just received its first significant mountain snowfall of the season. To read more, click here.

--Reel Rock Film Festival will take place at Western Washington University in Bellingham on November 12th, in Seattle on November 14th and in Portland on November 17th. To learn more, click here.

Early morning on Mt. Rainier.

--Public scoping meetings will be taking place throughout November for the Mount Rainier Wilderness Stewardship Plan. To read more, click here.


--A climber paralyzed from the waist down recently made an ascent of Yosemite's El Capitan. To read more, click here.

--Two women made the first all-female, one-day ascent of Salathé Wall, the historic route on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, this past weekend. Libby Sauter, 31, of Las Vegas, and Alix Morris, 25, of Yosemite Village, started at the base of the 2,900-foot climb in darkness and topped out before 1 a.m., completing their push in less than 19 hours. To read more, click here.

--Mammoth Mountain ski resort is opening today! To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--It's time to start thinking about Red Rock Rendezvous! The event will be April 1-3 this year. To register, click here.

--Zion National Park is extending their shuttle service for the next two weeks, and the move comes after a surge of visitors to the park shut the canyon down earlier this week. To read more, click here.


--The Reel Rock Film Festival will be in Golden on November 6th and Gunnison on November 13th. To learn more, click here.

--Aspen Skiing Company has been one of the ski industry’s leaders on climate action since 1997, and Schendler is the resort’s outspoken climate czar. Nobody in the business has done more to sound the alarm and cajole resorts to confront climate change. He chairs Protect Our Winters, a global nonprofit devoted to climate activism, and he authored the book Getting Green Done, which is about the struggles of greening a big company. Schendler has testified before Congress, lectured at the Harvard Business School, and delivered countless climate talks. He has met with governors, senators, and congressmen and advised White House staff and the director of the Environmental Protection Agency about engaging skiers in the climate fight. Time magazine called him a “climate crusader” in 2006. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Jesus Deniz, an 18-year old male, was recently charged with the shooting of a climber who was camping in Wyoming's Ten Sleep Canyon in September of 2013. It appears that the teen confessed to the shooting while he was being interviewed about the shooting of three other individuals. To read more, click here.

--A new ice line was recently climbed in the Bugaboos. Check it out.

--The following was a video taken in the Alps a few weeks ago. Terrifying.

--The misleadingly named Resilient Federal Forests Act, a version of which passed the House in July 2015, would weaken environmental laws and allow the timber industry to log thousands of square miles of national forest land without adequately considering the environmental effects or discussing the impact on local communities. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

White Gas vs. Canister Stoves

For backcountry cooking, you have to main options on the market for how to heat up your food: white gas stoves and canister stoves. For white gas, the stoves connect to pumps and external fuel cans that you can refill with white gas. For canister stoves, they connect to pre-pressurized canisters of isobutane that you dispose of after use. Each type of stove has its own benefits and drawbacks.

In general, for long (week-plus) high-altitude trips, you will want a liquid fuel stove. They perform better at altitude and in the cold and are easier to fix in the field if something goes wrong. Because you can refill the fuel can, you end up with a less cluttered system because you don't have a bunch of spent canisters lying around. Liquid fuel stoves are also the best option for cooking for groups of 3 or more because you can boil water and get food going for longer and using less fuel. Some options, like the MSR Simmerlite and to some extent the Whisperlite, can be used to simmer food for cooking. Others, like the MSR XGK, are primarily very strong water boilers and not as good for cooking. The downsides of liquid fuel stoves are that they require priming before lighting the stove, which can be complicated and take some practice, and there is a greater risk of fuel leakage than with canisters.

Canister stoves have the benefit of being simple to use for just one or two people for shorter trips. These stoves tend to be more compact and lightweight than liquid fuel stoves. Popular options include the Jetboil, the MSR Reactor, and the MSR Pocketrocket, among others. Canister stoves light quickly without priming and get water boiling quickly. The main downsides of these stoves ares that they are good water boilers but aren't very good for cooking food (they don't really have a "simmer" function and therefore tend to burn it) and they rely on canisters, which are less fuel-efficient than white gas and it's harder to measure how much fuel is left in them once you've started using them. The canisters can also depressurize in the cold which leads to your stove not producing a flame. If this happens, you need to rewarm the canister and it should readjust. You can keep canisters inside your sleeping bag at night and cook on a foam pad to help prevent this problem.

In short, for longer trips at altitude, bigger groups or more elaborate cooking, white gas stoves are the way to go. If you're a small group that just needs to boil water and wants to go light a fast, consider a canister stove. For AAI Operations Manager Jason Martin's review of two different types of canister stoves, the MSR Reactor and the Jetboil, click here.

--Shelby Carpenter, AAI Instructor and Guide

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cleaning Toprope Anchors

In cooperation with Outdoor Research, the American Mountain Guides Association has made several videos for beginning level climbers.

In this video, AMGA Instructor Team Member Margaret Wheeler demonstrates how to clean a toprope anchor.

Critical Points
--Always double check yourself
--Maintain good communication with your belayer
--Do not rush
--Keep baggy clothing out of the way
--Always double check yourself

--Jason D. Martin