Thursday, December 31, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 12/31/15

Happy New Year!
from the
Guides and Staff 
of the
American Alpine Institute

Northwest:

--Colin D. Watt says he's lucky to be alive after an avalanche in Whistler swept him into a tree well and buried him in snow Saturday. The experienced snowboarder and two friends ventured into the area under Whistler's Peak to Peak Gondola, which had pristine powder that morning. It was also out of bounds. Watt was caught in an avalanche and pushed 150 feet down the slope and into a tree well. He says it was the worst thing he had ever experienced in his life. To read more, click here.

--American Alpine Institute Guide Like Liz Scholarship applications are due on January, 31, 2016.

--People in Squamish don't screw around. When it snows, they strap on their skis. And when it snows on top of the Stawamus Chief, they also strap on a parachute. Check it out:



--Two new ice climbs have been added to the Peace region of British Columbia. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A Spokane climber was killed in Red Rock Canyon on Saturday. It appears that his party of three had completed a climb of Johnny Vegas (5.7, II) and were in the process of rappelling the Solar Slab Gully when 25-year-old Brian William Tracy was killed in a rappelling accident. It has been reported that he fell 80-feet, but there is no info on what lead to the fall. There is limited climbing related information in the media, but here's a news report.


--Red Rock Rendezvous will take place from April 1-3. Join American Alpine Institute guides for three days of fun in the sun just outside of Las Vegas. To read more, click here.

--Maybe it’s too soon to label the nearly 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park as crowded – but its popularity continues to grow as the park hit a record two-million visitors mark this week. To read more, click here.

--Zion National Park is getting a new plan to manage the thicker flow of visitors. The National Park Service is planning to develop a new Visitor Use Management Plan, officials said this month. "The VUMP will address visitor and commercial uses, visitor experience and capacity, and resource conservation," Aly Baltrus, Zion's chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services, said in an email to The Spectrum newspaper in St. George. "Through the planning process, the park will gather data and share that information with the public." To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--The new owner of Purgatory is a very hands on individual and is in the process of returning the ski resort to its roots. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Stein Eriksen, the man known as the founder of modern skiing and a legendary alpine skier, died at the age of 88 at his home in Park City on Sunday. To read more, click here.

--There have been no new developments in the search for Bart Pickard, the 65-year-old Corvallis man, who has been missing since he was seen at Montana's Lost Trail Powder Mountain a week ago. Ravalli County Search and Rescue called off the search after two days of searching. To read more, click here.

--John Ellison -- the founder of Climbers Against Cancer -- started the organization after his own diagnosis with prostate cancer in 2011. John died from his illness on December 27 at the age of 52. To read more, click here.

--Are "Dude Grades" a thing? In other words, are climbing grades innately sexist? Alan Tonnies Moore, an author for the Moja Gear blog, thinks so. Read his piece, here.

--A real estate investment trust that's selling more than a dozen ski resorts from Maine to California won't meet its deadline of completing the transaction by year's end. CNL Lifestyle Properties, which is based in Orlando, Florida, has sold its senior housing portfolio, a dozen marinas, four attractions, and the Mount Washington Hotel and Bretton Woods ski area in New Hampshire. But it continues to seek buyers for 15 additional ski resorts, remaining attractions and marinas, and says it will update shareholders in the first quarter of the new year. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Failed Ski Lift Rescue

One of the many jobs that ski patrolers are responsible for is ski lift evacuation. In other words, when the ski lift stalls, they lower people off the lift to the ground. This is generally a relatively simple task that any climber with baseline skills would be able to accomplish. Unfortunately for a snowboarder at Beech Mountain Ski Area in North Carolina, the ski patrol there aren't very dialed into basic climbing skills.



So there are a handful of takeaways from this, not-the-least-of-which is to avoid being rescued by a ski patroller in North Carolina. Why would you be skiing in North Carolina anyway? Did you see what kind of snow they have in the video...?

Anyway, here are some thoughts:

1) Use an Anchor or get beneath the Victim!

In the video, the ski patroller on the left is at a wide angle. Occasionally we are forced in a climbing setting to place a belayer far from the base of the crag. This happens in any top-roped climbing when situation where it is not possible to be close to the base of the crag. When there is a wide angle like the one in the video, the belayer is always pulled in.

There are two ways to mitigate this problem. The first way is to anchor yourself down and the second way is to eliminate the angle.

At the end of the video, the guy on the ground says to his hanging buddy, "you know next time...Ima' gonna have to get up there and hold ya'." Holding the other ski patroller wouldn't work. He could clip himself to the patroller to increase the weight, but the best thing of all would simply be to tie the belayer down.

However, if the belayer was wearing a normal harness and wasn't using a "what-the-!%&@-is-he-doing strap," he might have been able to get directly beneath the snowboarder and probably wouldn't have needed an anchor at all.


2) Use a Climbing Harness or a Rescue Harness for Rescue Work

Ahhh...this one seems a little obvious. If the strap had slipped off the ski patroller's legs, the victim would have fallen to the ground.

3) Counterbalance Situation

This is more in response to something that shouldn't have happened in the first place, but once both the ski patroller and the snowboarder are both hanging, they are essentially counterbalancing each other. If the ski patroller rappels, the snowboarder will remain where he is. Once the ski patroller is on the ground and continues to lower the snowboarder will come down.

Had this situation been a bit different, the ski patroller might have had to counterbalance rappel with the snowboarder. In other words, the only way for the two of them to move together is for the ski patroller to clip something to the snowboarder and then rappel. As the patroller lowers, he would pull the snowbarder to the ground.  Due to the lack of harness' and competence in this arena, this would not have been realistic for this team.

Rescue Strategy

These guys made some mistakes and they learned from them. Certainly, they won't do this this way in the future.

The reality is that a rescue is always the victim's emergency. The last thing you want to do is to make something worse. If you're in a rescue scenario, don't rush. Think about consequences of any systems you build and mitigate the dangers...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: Psycovertical

I became aware of Andy Kirkpatrick some years ago when I was an avid reader of every climbing magazine out there. Kirkpatrick has written for the American magazines Climbing and Alpinist as well as for the UK magazines Climb and Climber. His articles were always engaging, often funny, and even more often, terrifying.

Recently Kirkpatrick's award winning autobiography, Psychovertical, made it's way across the pond and was reprinted by Mountaineers Books. And like his shorter work Kirkpatrick's stories from the mountains of his life are always entertaining and enlightening.

I'm well aware that a large percentage of our blog readers are Americans and are far more interested in tales from Alaska and Yosemite than stories from the Alps. And I also know that some of you might already be turned off to this book because it was written by a Brit. But rest assured, Kirkpatrick's sense of humor has a flair that we Americans can appreciate, and he even writes about the Sierra...extensively...

I don't believe in God, and intelligent design is only for those who know nothing about either, but when I stand beneath El Cap I always have second thoughts. How could nature be so brash and showy? And if there is a God, he must be an American, or the road wouldn't be so close to this glorious wall.

Kirkpatrick frames the story of his life around a solo climb of the Reticent Wall (VI, 5.9, A5) in Yosemite Valley, an incredibly committing and dangerous climb. The book is written as if from the climb. Kirkpatrick tells us the story of his life and his obsession with high end alpine climbing in a series of vignettes, always returning to the pinnacle of his climbing career on the solo climb of the Reticent.



Early in my climbing career, I become obsessed with big wall climbing. The idea of vertical backpacking was extremely attractive. And as such, I poured over articles about big wall routes throughout the world and found many of them to be...dull. This is not at all the case with Kirkpatrick's wall adventures. Even as he describes individual moves, which in the hands of a lesser writer would be incredibly boring, we are engaged. And we are never more engaged with this type of climbing than we are when he is relating comic stories from living on the wall:


For breakfast we had a big tin of fruit to share, and every day he would eat his half, then in the same motion as he passed the tin to me, pull out a paper bag, pull down his pants, and have a dump. It's not surprising that more often than not I would lose my appetite, the sight, smell and sound unconductive to keeping a mouth full of pineapple and grapes.

Many of us learn the art of climbing with a little bit of trial by fire. Some of us end up running out of food. Others spend unplanned nights in the mountains. And a few of us even get hurt. But almost none of us jump out of bed one day and right into high end climbing. Kirkpatrick was one of those who did just such a thing. He learned the art of alpinism as most of us do, by climbing local rocks and then graduating to the mountains. But most our graduation climbs do not include travel to a new range in the winter for our very first alpine climb...

Early in his life, Kirkpatrick threw himself at his climbing and became totally enamored with winter ascents in the Alps and in Patagonia. Psychovertical chronicles a number of these in his trademark comic, self-deprecating style. The winter ascents are incredibly engaging in part because so many of them turn epic, with dangerous descents in massive storms, rappels off terrible anchors into the unknown and freezing bivys in tiny snow caves...

After an hour we'd dug a coffin-shaped cave, just big enough as long as we left almost everything outside. I was putting the finishing touches to our temporary home, scraping any irregular lumps in the roof so water wouldn't build up on them and drip onto us, when, as I was leaning against one wall, my hand shot through and I fell onto my shoulder. I rolled away and realized we'd dug through into the side of a crevasse. It was so late that I just filled in the gap and climbed back out into the storm. I said to Aaron that he could sleep on that side, neglecting to tell him why. He was lighter anyway.

And while the book is chalked full of intermittent intensity and comedy, the heart of the book is in Kirkpatrick's obsession with high end climbing and the guilt he feels when he leaves his family for climbing trips. This is a theme that many climbers deal with. Most of our spouses understand that we need to climb in order to be who we are, but our kids don't understand that. Instead, they just see us as not being there. Kirkpatrick describes significant anguish around his lifestyle and how he feels when he's in the mountains that he should be home with his family; and conversely that when he's at home with his family, he wants to be in the mountains.

Late in the book, he makes this point more eloquently than any other climbing writer ever has, and by doing so places himself in the top tier of mountaineering authors:

I thought about talking to Ella, imagined her voice, what she would say.

She would ask when I was coming home. 

I often wondered about writing her a letter, to tell her who I was, why I climbed, and why I left her, even though she was the greatest gift I had ever been given. But every time I started, my words sounded like the excuses they were. The only thing I had to give were the photos I had taken of her, boxes full. Through them you could see my love for her. And her love for me.

One day, I would write a book and hope she would then understand that fathers are only children too.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, December 25, 2015

First Light - A Holiday Climbing Film

Sooo... This is the funniest Christmas climbing film that we've come across so far. Here's the promo material:
"It's visionary. It's truly on the edge of what we could call climbing," says Arc'Teryx athlete Jesse Huey. "You can train for the Karakoram, for Alaska, but nothing can prepare you for this." This winter, Huey and his team of elite alpine climbers will journey to the roof of the world. When darkness falls, there will be light.

Check it out below:



--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 12/24/15

Note:

This has been an unusually active week for fatalities in the mountains, especially given the time of year. Here are a few lessons that we can draw from this week's SAR news:

1) Ski with a partner. There were two tree-well deaths this week. To learn more about how to avoid this danger,  click here

2) Stay found. There are two missing people out there right now, and a few more that were missing but that have been found. Make a tour plan. Stick to the plan and carry a personal locator beacon to call for help in an emergency.

3) Double check your systems before lowering or rappelling. There are a lot of accidents and fatalities from this. If you make a transition, check the system by weighting it while you're still clipped in. If there's a problem, you should notice it.

4) And finally, use common sense in avalanche terrain. Know how to use your self-rescue equipment and ski with those who understand how to use it too. Pick appropriate routes for the avalanche report and don't deviate.

And finally, on this holiday weekend, let's think about the families of those we've lost from our community...

Northwest:

--The search for a missing backcountry skier has been suspended due to dangerous conditions and may not resume until Saturday, search-and-rescue officials said. It's already been four days since 43-year-old Monty Busbee of Maple Valley went missing near Snoqualmie Pass. And it could be three or four more days until the conditions moderate enough to allow the search to continue. To read more, click here.

--At the time of this writing, a teenage snowboarder was still missing on Mt. Washington on British Columbia's Vancouver Island. To read more, click here.

--A skier died Saturday afternoon after falling into a tree well at Snoqualmie Pass. According to the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office, 50-year-old Kelly Luna was skiing in the Silver Fir area when he separated from his son and two other adults to ski through a wooded area. To read more, click here. To learn about how to deal with tree wells, click here.

--North Shore Search and Rescue volunteers spent hours Sunday night looking for a backcountry skier lost in an area at high risk for avalanches. The night ended successfully for the 42-year-old Vancouver man and the team of 23 people who helped find him in a gully near the Cypress Mountain ski area. To read more, click here.

--American Alpine Institute Guide Like Liz Scholarship applications are due on January, 31, 2016.

Sierra:

--On December 15th the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office received notification of a deceased 18-year-old female at Outpost Camp, which is a stopping point on the route to Mt. Whitney. To read more, click here.

--Finally something good to report on the California snowpack. It is currently at 121% of normal. To read more, click here.

--An in bounds avalanche was triggered by a skier in the Dragon’s Back area of Mammoth Mountain ski resort in California on Dec. 14th, 2015. Another skier below was caught in the avalanche and rode in it for a few hundred feet. This area was closed at the time of the avalanche. To read more, click here.

--The Bureau of Land Management Bishop Field Office is seeking public comment on proposed fee increases at campgrounds in the eastern Sierra. The BLM is proposing to change the fee strategy and initially increase fees for the Tuttle Creek, Goodale Creek, Horton Creek and Pleasant Valley Pit campgrounds in Inyo County and the Crowley Lake campground in Mono County. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A 28-year-old woman fell to her death on Bell Rock in Sedona on Monday evening, according to Yavapai County officials. To read more, click here.


--The Red Rock Rendezvous is coming. To learn more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

Kayah Gaydish

--Jennifer Kendall "Kayah" Gaydish died in a 50-foot fall while climbing at Hidden Valley, Virginia on Sunday, December 20. She was a prominent North Carolina climber, conservationist, board member of the Carolina Climbers' Coalition, and a single mother, with two teenagers. To read more, click here. To learn about the cause of the accident, click here.

--A 25-year old female skier was killed in an accident at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Tuesday. It appears that this individual was also killed in a tree well. To read more, click here.

--Officials have confirmed that 42-year-old Snowbasin, UT ski patroller Mike Erickson was caught in an avalanche and injured while performing avalanche control at Snowbasin on Tuesday.. Mike pulled his airbag and was partially buried when the avalanche came to a stop. To read more, click here.

--Winter sports is a $60 billion industry that props up 900,000 U.S. jobs, but because of climate change it could be melting away before our eyes. Since the 1960s the Northern Hemisphere has lost nearly a million miles of spring snow cover and that trend shows no signs of stopping. “Even if we stopped everything right now the warming continues for half a century, maybe more,” says Porter Fox, author of DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow. “We are trying to get ahead of that ball and say the trends you are seeing are only going to get worse.” If the warming trend continues unabated and the western part of the country loses between 25 to 100 percent of its snowpack by 2100, as predicted, it will reduce the snowpack in Park City, Utah, to zero and relegate skiing to the top quarter of Aspen Mountain. To read more, click here.

--Speaking of Climate Change, the Cool Green Science blog has a cool assignment for citizen scientists and mountaineers. They're looking for samples from the world's glaciers above 20'000-feet to better understand glacial thinning. To learn more, click here.

--The Italian newspaper La Stampa reports that three people will go to trial facing manslaughter charges for the death of Tito Traversa. In July of 2013, 12-year-old Italian climbing phenom Tito Traversa died from injuries sustained from a ground fall while climbing in Orpierre, France. An investigation into the cause revealed that he had been climbing on improperly assembled quickdraws—specifically the improper use of a rubber keeper designed to hold the carabiner in place. Tito was under the supervision of a climbing club when the accident occurred. To read more, click here.

--A Boy Scout leader was injured when he and three scouts were attacked by a black bear while exploring a cave in New Jersey, officials said. The attack, which occurred at Splitrock Reservoir in Rockaway Township, left Scout leader Christopher Petronino, 50, with bites and scratches to his scalp and legs. He was airlifted to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The three children were uninjured, officials said. To read more, click here.

--On Tuesday, after the president's early morning gym session, President Barack Obama, his family and a few friends took on the Koko Head Crater Stairs -- a popular Hawaii hike that is so grueling, people often refer to it as the "Stairmaster from Hell" or the "Koko Head Stairs of Doom." To read more, click here.

--The international ski federation is banning camera drones from its World Cup races after one of the flying objects crashed and nearly hit Austrian skier Marcel Hirscher during a slalom in Italy. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

How to Uncoil a New Rope

You've just bought your brand new rope and you are extremely excited to pull it out and get some use out of it. You notice that it is bundled up in a nice tight little coil, and you think, "hey, this is perfect for my pack!" So you take it to the crag.

It's a beautiful day and you're itching to get on a route. You pull the plastic wraps off the coil, you release the initial wraps, and then...you drop the coils on the ground.

Opps.

Party foul.

Now the whole coil looks like spaghetti, and you spend the next hour trying to untangle the mess.

Sound familiar?

It's certainly happened to me. And it's certainly happened to a lot of people I know. And if it hasn't happened to you, it certainly can...

When you uncoil a new rope, you have to be very careful. Essentially, you have to unspool the coil. The most ideal way to do this is with a partner. One person puts his arms inside the coil, while the other carefully unspools the rest onto the ground.

This can certainly be done by an individual, but you have to be much more careful.

Following is a video (unfortunately not in English) which shows a technique for uncoiling a new rope.



Happy climbing!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Munter Mule

In the following clip, a climber demonstrates two things. First, he shows us how to tie a munter hitch on a carabiner clipped to a harness. And second, he shows us how to mule off a munter hitch that is clipped to a locker on a pre-equalized anchor.

The munter-mule is one of the most useful combination's that one can employ in any rock rescue scenario.  It provides the basis for load transfers and for a number of other rescue techniques.

In the video, the climber refers to the mule knot as a slip knot...which it is, but the official name for what he is doing is the "mule."

It is important to watch how the climber releases the mule. He never takes his hand off the break strand. I believe that the most common mistake that people make in this particular setting is that they completely let go of the break strand as they jump their break hand up the strand and closer to the hitch. When you practice, be aware of this and be careful to avoid letting go of the break strand.



--Jason D. Martin

Friday, December 18, 2015

Pro Tips: Ice Climbing


So I’m going on my fifth year guiding for AAI, and somewhere along the way I got a bit of a reputation. Seems that folks think I’m some kind of ice climber. Turns out they’re pretty right.

In truth, I love all kinds of climbing. Depending on the time of year, I chase long alpine routes, big rock climbs, small rock climbs, ice routes of all shapes and sizes, and sport-rock, sport-mixed, and even some sport-trad (right…). I even bought a bouldering pad this year!  But one of the coolest mediums to climb, in my opinion, is ice. I just love winter climbing (almost as much as I like summer climbing)! The ice changes so much from day to day, even hour to hour. Ice climbing can be remarkably different, too, depending on where and when you climb it. Water ice routes in the northeast and southwest, summer glacier ice in the Cascades, bullet-hard alpine ice in Alaska, or even the semantically challenging “snice” that forms from hardening freeze-thaw cycles in snow.

One of my favorite things to teach, in fact, is ice climbing. I teach water ice climbing techniques in the winter, and teach glacier ice climbing in the Cascades in the summer. Both types of climbing certainly have their differences, but in general, the technique of ice climbing is transferable to all types of ice, just like how rock climbing skill transfers through its many flavors. 

This Pro Tips article is divided into three parts: form, gear, and clothing.


Part I: Form

The following picture will be good to dissect ice technique. It’s “mostly” all there. Let’s pick it apart, shall we? 



Technique 1: Arms

Picture 1: Arm Position

There are two basic positions for your arms. Number one, which is shown in this picture is the resting position. And two, which we’ll talk about below, is the lockoff.

Which would you rather do – hang from a pull-up bar with your arms bent or straight? Of course, we all find straight arms easier. In this position, you’re hanging with the help of your skeleton, not from just your muscles. The result is that your guns will last a lot longer than if you hang with bent arms. It’s hard at first, and takes practice to make it feel comfortable, but it’s worth it. As you progress to steeper climbs, this will make all the difference.

Compare that to the next picture. This climber is demonstrating the bent-arm technique that will get’cha pumped! 

 Picture 2: Bent Arms


Technique 2: The Lockoff

Picture 3: The Lockoff

This two-part picture demonstrates the sequence of swinging form. In the left picture, the climber is resting on a straight arm. In the right picture, he has moved his feel up (with arms still straight, right?) and is now swinging his left axe with a locked off right arm.

The “lockoff” is the second-easiest position to be in. This is the same place as when you are hanging from the pullup bar with your head above the bar. It’s easier than the mid-position, bent-arm hang, but is much more difficult than hanging from a straight arm. So, this is used while swinging for the next axe placement, but is much more strenuous than hanging as the climber is in the left picture. 


Technique 3: Kicking

Picture  4: Kicking


Okay, back to the demo picture. Ice climbers, with their penchant for politically correct slogans, use the term “Swing like you screw, and kick like you poo.” While funny in a cute, weird sort of way, this is really valuable. While you’re swinging, you want to be locked off, and have your hips into the wall. When you’re kicking new steps, you want to have your arms locked off and have your hips out from the wall. This allows you to keep your heels down and make direct hits into the ice with your crampons. In general, smaller steps are easier on your body than big steps. You may need to take a few smaller steps up as opposed to one big step. I like my feet to end up about where my knees were at the previous break.


Technique 4: Hand Position

Picture 5: Hand Position

There are a few things going on in this picture that I want to talk about. First, the right hand is using the higher grip on the ice tool. This is only possible with leashless tools (which I do recommend if you’re ready for it. But that’s a totally different issue). The top grips allow you to get another 4 inches or so above the bottom grip, which can allow you to have a straighter arm, and give you a little longer stride up. Only modern tools like the Petzl Nomic, Quark, Ergo, or Black Diamond Cobras have the second grips. The more comfortable, the better.
Second, the two tools are about the same height. I usually avoid this, instead keeping one tool higher than the other. This allows you to swing fewer times for each step up you take.  Sometimes, though, I will make two placements near each other, for traversing or for stability if the ice is a bit funky.
Last, try to grip the ice tool as lightly as possible. I often play “twinkle-fingers” while practicing on toprope. When you are hanging from your straight arm, try to wiggle your fingers on your hand. The goal is to release the death grip from your ice tool. The more you clench your hand, the more pumped you’ll be. Try to find the position which holds the tool well, but doesn’t waste energy. Then, try and take this technique to all times when you’re hanging on your ice tools to save some grip strength. 


Technique 5: Straight Legs

Picture 6: Climber with bent Legs
Ideally, when standing, your legs will be straight (again, to rest on the skeleton instead of your muscles, in this case the calves). You can lock them, or have a very slight bend in them. This climber’s legs are a bit too bent for “textbook” form. It will end up putting a bit too much strain on the calves, and will feel insecure in general. The telltale “Elvis foot” or “sewing machine leg” is sometimes related to this, although not all cases are attributable to poor form. Sustained climbing tends to fatigue calf muscles while ice or mixed climbing.
So that gives a good overview of ice climbing techniques. Stay tuned to the blog for more technique tips to take you higher!

Part II: Gear

Look at the difference between these two ropes! 
Where would we be without good ropes in the winter?!

Ice climbing is a perfect storm for poor rope conditions. Water often flows down the ice flow, and down the rope itself. This water freezes, either just on top, or it soaks the rope entirely to the core. Then, the rope gets dragged through snow that sticks like Cheerios to honey, which further compounds the problem. Rinse, repeat.

The picture above shows the difference between a brand new, dry-treated rope and a fatty, fuzzy, ice collecting rope you simply shouldn’t take out climbing in the winter. Notice not only how much ice and snow the purple rope has collected, but also how much wider it is. The rope was so stiff and frozen that I had to break the “ice cable” just to coil it. The green rope remains soft and supple, ready for another climb or three.

Bottom line: use new, fairly thin (under 10mm), dry-treated ropes. If it’s fuzzy, leave it at home unless you want to be belaying or rapping down (!) frozen ice cables.



It’s amazing how much a single picture can say. I’ll use this picture again, this time to talk about my technical systems while ice climbing in the winter.  From gloves to ropes, screws, draws, and where to put your watch, I’ll go over as much as I think is reasonable and productive from this picture.

I will name drop companies in this article, so I hope you’re okay with that. In general, I’m kind of well-versed in which companies offer good ice climbing gear. I’ve used a lot of it, and talked to people who have used even more. I’ll pass on what little I’ve learned, and will acknowledge any gaps in what I know. I’ll admit, though, that I do not know about every gear company’s ins and outs.  I’m not sponsored by any company. (I am totally willing to try any gear out, by the way, so feel free to send me free gear. I promise I’ll use it).

1.      Ice Tools. I like leashless tools. I think, given enough experience and strength, that leashless tools offer a greater range of skills and will leave you less pumped than climbing with leashes. It’s a personal preference, for sure. But for what it’s worth, a lot of climbers are going sans-leashes. I have tried the Black Diamond and Petzl tools. I climb with the Petzl Nomics. I think they climb the best, though they lack the mountain applications that the BD tools have (a spike, a good hammer, smaller grips for shaft climbing in snow). So if you’re thinking about doing that gnar-bar Alaskan or Andean mixed route, well, you shouldn’t belive me, go and try both out and decide for yourself.

2.      Picks. Ice tools come with many pics these days. I use the mixed picks (Petzl Astro) for rock/mixed routes and the ice (Petzl Ice) picks for ice climbing. There actually is a difference in the way they climb. The ice pics enter and exit the ice easier, and the mixed picks grip the rock a bit better. I recommend using ice picks for climbs that are most or all ice.

3.      Mono point crampons. For steep ice routes, and any time I go mixed climbing, I go mono-point. They give me the precision and accuracy I need. They also puncture the ice better, and won’t lever out in rock like twin front-points will. That said, a lot of high-end climbers use dual points. Bottom line: try out both and see what works for you.

4.      Anti-balling plates. For everything but the crag, anti-balling (or “anti-botte”) plates are essential to prevent your crampons from balling up. Snow will collect over time – sometimes very little time – and make a big snowball under your feet. This will make you fall. New, lightweight crampons like the Petzl Darts are excellent (I have a pair), but ball up like crazy. If you’re going anywhere backcountry, bring a pair of ‘pons with anti-ball plates.

5.      Lightweight helmet. The days of the construction helmet are over! Time to get a foamy! Petzl, Black Diamond, Camp, and probably a dozen other companies make great foam helmets. They’re lightweight, they breathe better, have a strong plastic shell on the outside, and, most of all, are comfortable. Yeah, they’re more expensive, but so is ice climbing. Get the good ones, and use them! Also, many foam helmets are designed to take a side impact, which also safer.

6.      Harness. I’m actually not too picky about the harness, as long as it fits with and without several layers, has ice clipper slots, and is comfortable. I like them to have at least 4 gear loops.

7.      Quickdraws. I usually bring a selection of regular quickdraws and extendable (24”) runners. Long ice routes or traditional mixed climbs may require up to 15 quickdraws. I typically, though, use under ten.

8.      Racking gear. I like to put draws on both the front gear loops, leaving the two back gear loops for any rock gear (pins, cams, nuts) and anchor building and misc. materials (lockers, cordelettes, long slings, belay device, knife, v-threader, tat). If I have a lot of rock gear, like when I’m doing trad mixed climbs or when I might be putting in rock gear near the ice, I’ll put the rock gear in the front gear loops and leave draws and anchor stuff in the back. A fifth gear loop helps to keep anchor gear in the back, out of the way. Some people climb with a shoulder sling that has either rock gear or draws. I don’t personally do this, but it’s not a bad idea.

9.      Ice clippers. The only way to efficiently rack ice screws is with ice clippers. (If you have Grivel 360 ice screws, you’ll probably have to figure something else out). I usually have four on my harness, two on the right and two on the left. I can rack as many screws as I need for a lead, or clip my tools to them when I’m not climbing. By the way, a good habit is to clip your tools to your harness as soon as you finish a pitch – I have rappelled down without my tools more than once!

10.  Ice screws. I use only Black Diamond Express screws – the ones with the color-coded spinners. They rack the best, come in easy colors, sink really well into the ice, have two clip-in points, and are the easiest to screw in. In my opinion, they are the best on the market. 

11.  Anchor building materials. I usually bring a double-length (48”) sling or two, a triple-length sling (72”), and a 20-foot cordalette. The double slings allow me to extend a piece of gear, sling an icicle, or do a two-screw ice anchor beautifully. The cordalette is for multi-piece anchors, or anchoring to trees. It also comes in handy if you need to leave some material for a V-thread, rappel anchor, pre-rig a rappel, or in case of self-rescue. The triple sling is basically a lighter version of a cordalette, with far less versatility and wears down faster. But it’s a lot lighter, so it works well.

12.   Puffy jacket. I love my puffy. I bring it on most climbs, if it is at all chilly ouside. There are two ways you can bring it up: in a stuff sack or a backpack. The backpack option is a little faster for getting your jacket in and out, but stuff sack comes with you all the time and clips right to the harness. If I am doing a straightforward ice climb, I’ll usually opt for the stuff sack. If I’m going to do a mixed climb or one that has a lot of chimneys, I’ll bring a backpack. If it’s a longer climb and I have a backpack anyway, I’ll bring the pack, especially if I have some food and water with me anyway.

13.  Half ropes. I usually use half ropes for ice climbing. The two ropes allow for longer rappels than one single rope. They also are lighter and stretch more if you take a fall on them. The #1 rule ice climbing is “don’t fall” but in case you do, you’ll likely appreciate the stretchy rope that puts less impact force on your ice screws (so it will be more likely to hold a fall and not pop out).

14.  Knife. I always bring my little knife with me. If I need to clean up a rappel station or cut a V-thread, the knife will make that possible. Trango and Petzl both make really small knives that clip into a biner easily. Get one!

15.  Emergency gear. Just in case. This category might be bigger or smaller, depending on the climb. I usually bring an extra prussik cord and a Petzl Tibloc. These will help for a pulley or if I need to ascend the rope. I may also bring an emergency blanket, first aid kit, bivi sack, sleeping pad, depending on the length and type of climb. “emergency” might simply mean “bivi gear” that doubles as splint-making material (like sleeping pads, extra cord, or even skis). Cilo Gear backpacks, as well as a few from other companies, have a built-in foam pad as the frame sheet to allow for a bivi pad or splint. Handy stuff!

16.  Tat. If I am planning on rappelling with V-threads or if I am in the alpine, I will bring some kind of “tat,” or spare material like cordalette or half-inch webbing for leaving at rappel stations. You could always use your cordalette or a chunk of your rope (a bummer), but it’s a little cheaper and less emotionally scarring to use an old piece of webbing or cord.

17.  V-Threader tool. There are a variety of V-threaders out there. Any one will do (including a piece of coat hanger wire). Grivel has the best, though – one that has a V-thread hook, knife, and built-in carabiner. It’s also the most expensive. On this one, though. there’s no need to go big and spendy. I’ll post a blog article soon about how to make your own V-threader tool.

18.  Bullet Pack. Sometimes, on longer routes, I’ll bring a small pack. Sometimes called “Bullet Packs,” these are made by many companies. A 20-L size is usually good. Just something to hold some food and water, possibly another layer or some tat. If possible, I have the second carry it so that the leader can have less weight on while on the sharp end.


Part III: Clothing

Everyone has their own clothing systems. It seems like a lot of climbers these days have the same idea
when it comes to dressing for the coldest sport in the lower 48. Note that NONE of the gear is cotton.
It’s all synthetic, which insulates when wet, dries easier and smells worse, too.

Clothes:

1.      Base layer. A t-shirt will do. It is more comfortable than the R1 on your skin, and if nothing else, this layer keeps the R1 from smelling too bad.

2.      R1 Hoody. This is a dream piece. It is comfortable, warm, and has a built-in hood/balaclava for your head and neck. It’s awesome.

3.      Softshell or hardshell jacket. Depending on the location, weather, and how wet I think the snow and ice will be, I’ll decide between soft- and hard shells. A softshell is more breathable, but gets wetter and lets more wind through. Hard shells are water- and wind-proof, but are not as comfortable, and stretch less.

4.      Expedition down parka or DAS parka. Again, depending on weather. If it is really cold out, the down parka is the warmer option, though it, like all other down, cannot insulate or dry out when wet. The DAS in synthetic, so will keep you warm when wet and can dry out with body heat if it does get wet. It’s not quite as compressible or warm as the other. Either way, I always bring a puffy with me.

5.      Softshell or hardshell pants. Just like the jacket, I’ll base the decision on the anticipated conditions. Softshell pants are a lot nicer to move in, because they stretch so much, compared with hardshells. I like the Mixmaster pants because they have built-in R1 insulation and are suspenders, which is more comfortable than regular pants. It is nice if your pants can fit over ski boots and climbing boots, to allow more versatility. Most pants do this well.

6.      R1 long underwear. I really like these. They’re warm and stretchy. I rarely go ice climbing in just pants with no insulation underneath. If it gets too hot and I have them on, I can usually regulate my temperature easily with upper layers easily enough.

Gloves:

7.      Chilly-Grips. Find these at your gas station or Home Depot. They’re a synthetically-insulated glove with a rubber palm. They are cheap ($12) and climb really well. I use these only when it’s warm out. They’re great for mixed climbing.

8.      Black Diamond Punishers. There are others out there that work well, but I have found these to be excellent. They’re totally waterproof, have good dexterity and grip, and are warm enough for most ice climbing.

9.      Mitts or warm gloves. I love my hands, and want to keep them warm at belays. I can usually belay in big gloves and then switch to Punishers for climbing. I often carry the gloves I’m not wearing inside my jacket to keep them warm and dry.

Misc.

10.  Buff. I love my buff! It is great in the sun, the wind, over my face, or as a headband for extra style points. It’s a versatile neck gaiter that is stretchy, too. Available in lots of styles, so choose carefully which Buff will represent your personality the best. Mountain flair and function.

11.  Socks. Medium weight, usually. Make sure they fit with your boots and are not going to cut off circulation to your toes from being too tight.

12.  Hat. Get one that fits your head well and won’t ride into your eyes under your helmet.

13.  Goggles. I often pack ski goggles with me if I’m going into the mountains, in case the wind is bad. They don’t weigh much, and often make windy weather tolerable.

14.  Sun glasses. Ice and snow reflect a lot of light. It’s great to have something that will shield your eyes from UV radiation and falling ice. A one-two punch!

15.   Watch. Altitude watches are nice, but usually not necessary for ice climbing.


And most important, have fun!


--Mike Pond, Instructor and Guide

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 12/17/15

Northwest:

--A Sun Valley Idaho skier suffered serious injuries after being buried in an avalanche. It happened in the out of bounds area on the north side of Bald Mountain on Monday. The Sawtooth Avalanche Center says they're not sure of the man's condition, and his identity has not yet been released. To read more, click here.

--A Nampa man who skied out of bounds and got lost at Tamarack Sunday was found safe Monday morning. According to Idaho's Valley County Sheriff's Office, 32-year-old Sean E. Stevenson was reported missing just after 11:30 p.m. after he failed to return home from skiing. Stevenson's vehicle was still in the parking lot, and his lift ticket had last been scanned at 10:35 a.m., officials say. To read more, click here.

AAI Guide and Professional Splitboard Athlete Liz Daley
was tragically killed in an avalanche in September of 2014.

--American Alpine Institute Guide Like Liz Scholarship applications are due on January, 31, 2016.

--The Glacier Creek Road that accesses the North Side of Mt. Baker was damaged in this last storm cycle. It is currently not passible.

--The purchase of 82 acres of timberland neighboring the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River will ensure more room to roam in the popular Mailbox Peak trailhead area. The land, which had been owned and harvested by local timber companies for more than 100 years, was headed toward development. Now, it will be added to the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Resource Conservation Area (NRCA) owned by the state of Washington and managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). To read more, click here.

Sierra:
--The Truckee Donner Land Trust and the Access Fund are pleased to announce the acquisition and protection of a significant set of climbing areas on Donner Summit, located just west of Truckee, California. The victory is announced only eight months after going under contract and launching the Save Donner Climbing Forever fundraising campaign. To read more, click here.

--The U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region is sharing our Wild and Scenic Rivers inventory, eligibility and classification findings for the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--New Mexico's Taos Ski Resort is seeing 300-million dollars in upgrades. To read more, click here.

--Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area will have to wait a while longer for its first major road upgrade in 20 years, and there are conflicting reports about the scope of the work and when it will be finished. Bureau of Land Management officials had hoped to see work begin this month on expanded parking lots and new pavement for the park's 13-mile Scenic Drive, but delays on an earlier project have bumped the start date for the new construction into next year. To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--Vail Resorts came out with two major initiatives last week, each with the company’s employee base in mind: the EpicPromise Foundation, to support employees’ educational development and general well-being; and an employee housing program. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A well known Alaskan rock and mixed climber has passed away. Eddie Phay was a pillar of the Alaskan climbing community. To read more and to see some videos of his climbs, click here.

--The 2016 Mugs Stump Award Winners have been announced. To read about the winners, click here.

--The Access Fund has had a mobile conservation team on the road since 2011. The organization recently announced that they will have a second team on the road starting in January of 2016. To read more, click here.

--The ski patrollers at Park City Mountain Resort are scheduled to decide this week whether to unionize, a vote complicated by the merging of PCMR and Canyons Resort into a single property prior to the start of ski season. To read more, click here.

--A jury will hear arguments in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of a 16-year-old German exchange student who fell head first into a pocket of loose snow while skiing at Montana's Whitefish Mountain Resort, a federal judge has ruled. To read more, click here.


--New York Magazine has published an interesting article about the interface between Instagram users and National Parks. On the one hand, these users are bringing popularity to the parks. But on the other many people are doing irresponsible things...such as taking a picture of themselves near a bear or vandalizing something and documenting it for social media. To read the article, click here.

--Here's an article about the costs of obtaining life insurance as a climber...

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Avalanche Awareness: Proper Probing Technique

The following video is the second in a three-part series put together by backcountry access.

Once again, I'd like to state the importance of having proper avalanche training before traveling into the winter backcountry. And proper training doesn't come from a two-minute video.



--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 14, 2015

Regluing Your Skins

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about waxing skis and snowboards, which requires messing around with the base of your device of choice. Since we were already in the workbench mode, I thought that we might spend a little more time talking about something that deals with skis and snowboards and also requires some workbench time.

If you've got money to burn, then when the glue on your skins wears out you can just buy a new pair. But if you're like most of us and you don't have money to burn, then you'll probably be willing to spend a few hours trying to reglue your skins. And unlike waxing your skis, because of the fact that you will only have to do this once every few years, the likelihood of developing real proficiency at this task is low.

When searching for information on the internet about this process, I found that there weren't as many resources as you might think. The reality is that a lot of people don't reglue their skins because the process is not terribly fun and can be frustrating. Instead, they end up buying new skins.

With that in mind, you can enter the regluing process with a "what do you have to lose" mindset. If you screw it up, you'll just have to buy new skins anyway. So take your time and as the guy in the video shows, make sure that you have a beer cracked and ready to steady your nerves with another one waiting in the fridge...

To reapply glue to your skins, you will need the following materials:
  • Gold Label Glue 
  • Scissors 
  • Brown Paper Bags (about 3-4 medium sized bags should be enough) 
  • Masking Tape 
  • Old Credit card/Hotel Key 
  • Iron 
  • Newspapers 
  • Old Skins with correlating skis. 


In his blog, the individual who made this video has the following additional tips:

Step 1 Preparation
  • Throw some newspapers down to protect against glue damage.
  • Attach skin to ski upside down so the adhesive is facing outwards.
  • Put newspaper between the skin and ski to protect the ski from glue.
Step 2 Cleaning the Skins
  • Cut paper bags into strips just wider than your ski.
  • Place strip on skin and run iron over to soak up old glue.
  • Run credit card over skin for final clean up.
  • Do this for the whole length of the skin, until all the dirty glue is gone.
  • The cleaner the better.
Step 3 Apply the Glue
  • If you have Black Diamond Skins that have a covered center strip, put masking tape over it to protect it from getting glued on.
  • Very thinly apply the glue.
  • Make sure to get the edges and do one thin coat. Go as thin as you can.
  • Let it dry for half an hour and apply a second coat.
  • Let it dry for half an hour and apply a third coat.
  • Let it dry for 12 hours.
Things to remember
  • Put the glue on thin. It is too easy to go too thick and get globs.
  • Make sure you do not bend the skin when it is drying.
  • When feeling frustrated have a sip of beer.
  • Although the glue comes with a brush, and I use the brush in the video, I would recommend applying the glue with an old credit card/hotel key only. It goes on faster and smoother and the brush leaves hair on your skin.
For more information on regluing your skins, check out Skiing the Backcountry and TetonAT.com. In addition to both sites having more information about this process, they both include a number of additional ideas to keep in mind in the comments sections.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, December 11, 2015

Film Review: Devil's Pass

Sigh... Most movies that have climbing and mountaineering in them are bad. Some are mediocre and a very small percentage of them are good.

Devil's Pass, one of those easily found Netflix films, is also one of those mediocre films. You don't feel like you wasted your time unless you had something better to do. If you have something better to do, then you should probably do it. But if not, then maybe Devil's Pass might be a good way to burn ninety-minutes.

What's up with these kinds of posters? I get it that Hollywood 
believes that sex sells. But a woman freezing in the snow
isn't what most people would think of as sexy...

Devil's Pass tells the story of a group of American college students who set out to investigate the Dyatlov Pass incident. If you're not familiar with the incident, here's a short paragraph about it from Wikipedia:

The incident involved a group of ten from Ural Polytechnical Institute who had set up camp for the night on the slopes of Kholat Syakhl. Investigators later determined that the skiers had torn their tents from the inside out. They fled the campsite, some of them barefoot, under heavy snowfall. Although the bodies showed no signs of struggle, such as contusions, two victims had fractured skulls and broken ribs. Soviet authorities determined that an "unknown compelling force" had caused the deaths; access to the region was consequently blocked for hikers and adventurers for three years after the incident. Due to the lack of survivors, the chronology of events remains uncertain, although several explanations have been put forward, including a possible avalanche, a military accident, or a hostile encounter with a yeti or other unknown creature.

This true life incident is one of those Twilight Zone/X-Files type things that occasionally appears in mountaineering literature. It's a great premise for a science fiction/horror film. But then they decided to hire Renny Harlin to direct the film.

Harlin is one of those directors that tends to work on half-assed genre films. He's responsible for such luminary works as Die Hard 2: Die Harder and the Andrew Dice Clay vehicle, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. But most climbers will remember his signature outdoor film accomplishment: Cliffhanger.

So without going any further, you pretty much know that there are going to be problems with the film.

The story is primarily done as a found footage piece, with Holly King (Holly Goss), a young student leader who wishes to make a documentary on the Dyatlov Pass incident. And of course, to do so, she needs to put together a team to make a trip to the pass. The team includes a filmmaker (Matt Stokoe), a sound woman (Gemma Atkinson) and two guides (Ryan Hawley and Luke Albright).



The problems start early in the story. For example, when you choose a guide, he probably shouldn't be under 25 and tell everyone that "I've pretty much climbed every mountain that matters in the US and want to go other places." Sure, he might be experienced. But he's not Fred Beckey. That arrogance alone means that you're liklihood of survival is going to be low. Add monsters, and there's no way you're going to make it back.

Shortly after that, we find out that the "guide" also hooks up with one of his clients on every trip. He calls them "trail hookups" and videotapes them.

There's also a sequence where we find out that the Russian military doesn't want them there, even after issuing them a permit. And decides that the best way to get rid of them is not to tell them to leave, but to set-off an avalanche with explosives. If the "guides" knew anything, then that military tactic would not have worked out because the team wouldn't have been in an avalanche path...

For some reason they build campfires at every camp, even though their way up in the alpine with no trees or wood anywhere nearby. I wonder if the guides made the rest of the expedition carry logs up there? But they keep going...

The guides compasses and GPS units go crazy and they keep going...

Did I mention that they find a human tongue? Yeah... They do. And for some reason they keep on going.

The guides are really really bad. And the motivations for all of them to stay on the mountain are really really bad. It doesn't make much sense.

But it was a Renny Harlin movie. They don't tend to make much sense. The best he'll ever do is...medicore...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 12/10/15

Northwest:

--There was a full avalanche burial just outside of Stevens Pass this week. The victim was dug out safely. To read more, click here. Following is a video about the incident:



--The U.S. Forest Service is hiring 1,000 temporary spring and summer jobs in Oregon and Washington, the federal agency announced last week. Applications will be accepted from Nov. 30 to Dec. 7, with positions in fields including fire, recreation, natural resources, timber, engineering, visitor services and archaeology. To read more, click here.

--Canada is currently considering a proposal that would connect several provincial parks, creating a new national park. The new park would connect Manning, Cathedral, Skaha and Okanagan Mountain Provincial Parks into one National Park called The South Okanagan-Similkameen National. Twenty years ago, 3,000 people visited Skaha Provincial Park and last year over 50,000 visited. To read more, click here.

--A group formed in the wake of an Oregon Supreme Court decision opening the door to liability lawsuits against recreation businesses will be holding a public meeting in Bend on Monday. The Oregon Big Tent Recreation Coalition was formed following a ruling by the court in the case of Bagley v. Mt. Bachelor. In 2006, 18-year-old Myles Bagley was paralyzed when he crashed while jumping in a terrain park at the ski area. Bagley sued seeking $21.5 million, but the Deschutes County Circuit Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that by signing a liability release when he bought his season pass, Bagley had waived his right to sue. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Utah's newest ski resort is set to open on December 21st. The Cherry Peak will open or the very first time. To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--Gerald Groswold, the Fraser Valley ski pioneer, passed away on Thanksgiving, just a year after Colorado's governor declared Nov. 15 as "Gerald F. Groswold Day." He founded the famed National Sports Center for the Disabled at Winter Park, the resort he helmed from 1975 to 1997. He opened Mary Jane in 1979, one of the state's largest resort expansions ever. Groswold helped form Colorado ski policy and served on more than a dozen boards that shaped the modern day resort industry. The Grand Foundation, which he founded in 1996, has distributed more than $6 million in the Grand County community. To read more, click here.

--Will Gadd may be getting older, but he's still got it. The renowned mixed climber sent an M14- this week at the Vail amphitheater. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A nine-year-old girl who was found unconscious at Nakiska Ski Resort on Sunday has died. RCMP  and Alberta Alpine confirmed her death on Tuesday. She was a member of the U10+ Mt. Allen Ski Team and was skiing with her group on the Homesteader run at the resort in Kananaskis Country, west of Calgary, when it is believed she lost control and hit a tree off the main trail, according to Alberta Alpine. To read more, click here.

--Douglas Tompkins, a noted conservationist and the founder of the clothing brands North Face and Esprit, died on Tuesday after a kayaking accident on General Carrera Lake in the Patagonia region of southern Chile. He was 72. To read more, click here.

--Virtually every Western (and European) ski resort has a canine staff, a team of highly trained rescue dogs who use their speed, on snow agility and incredible sense of smell to locate buried avalanche victims faster than any known alternative. It is believed that one dog and its handler can do the job of 150 trained human searchers in the same amount of time. For much of skiing history, this canine safety net has been hidden behind the scenes, but resorts have given them an increasingly public persona in recent years – and guests love them. To read more, click here.

--There's an awesome new app out that helps you find phone service and allows you to send overdue notices. Check out the Facebook page for Cairn.

--A jury will hear arguments in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of a German exchange student who fell head first into a pocket of loose snow while skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana, a federal judge has ruled. To read more, click here.

--It appears that there is a move in Wyoming to remove grizzly bears from the endangered species list. Experts believe that this will lead to an immediate population decline. To read more, click here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tree Ratings in kN

At one of the American Mountain Guides Association Single Pitch Instructor Provider continuing education programs, we discussed the strength of trees. One SPI provider noted that he had pull tested a tree to failure with a load cell and found that the tree had a 17kN value.

17kN is a decently high value. A kilonewton (kN) is worth approximately 225lbs. And most carabiners and slings are rated at 21-24kN. 17kN isn't quite high enough for a stand-alone anchor, but it is plenty high enough for a rappel or for an anchor component.

Just how good is that tree in the crack?

As soon as the provider finished speaking, several people challenged him. "That rating was only good for that tree at that spot," one person said. "It's all about the root system," another said. "You can't tell anything with one test," a third said.

All three of the people who challenged the provider were right. One test on one tree in one area doesn't really provide you with any real data. You need something more...

A few weeks later I attended the International Technical Rescue Symposium. The symposium brings together some of he best minds in rope rescue. Many participants do research and present papers at the event. At this particular symposium John Morton, a rescue technician from Everett Mountain Rescue and the Snohomish Helicopter Rescue Team, presented a paper on the kN value of trees.

Morton started working on determing the values of trees some years earlier with Mark Miller, a mountain guide and rescue instructor who was tragically killed in an accident early in 2015. After Mark's death, Morton continued to work on this project.

Essentially, he came at this problem in a new way. He looked at trees as anchors that have already been tested...by the wind.

When there is a windstorm, trees are seriously stressed. Indeed, they are tested just like any other piece of rescue or climbing equipment. They act almost like a sail and capture a tremendous amount of wind. If they don't fall over, then they've been tested to a certain level of kN.

Morton took this and developed a formula based on a combination of tree species profile and how windstorms impact those trees. In the process he further refined his formula to accommodate for trees on the lee side of hills. And when he was done... He had a means to actively give every tree everywhere a kN rating.

Click to Enlarge

The preceding shows the circumference of several trees in the Pacific Northwest and their kN rating based on Morton's formula.

For a rappel anchor, we probably want something that has a minimum value of at least 8kN. Leader falls are often given a value of approximately 7.5kN, so while a rappel shouldn't provide that kind of impact, we should be prepared for it.

For a climbing anchor, we want something with a minimum of 20kN. And for a rescue anchor, we should probably have at least 30kN.

By these figures, every tree in the PNW that is at least 22-inches in circumference is adequate for a climbing anchor. And every tree that is at least 25-inches in circumference is adequate for a rescue anchor.

For SAR personnel, Morton recommends carrying a field guide so that you might be able to look specifically at a given tree species and determine how small you can go.

This is really cool work. To see Morton's complete paper, please log onto http://itrsonline.org/papers/ and search for John Morton, "What if Trees had Ratings in kN? Tree Anchor Ratings Based on Wind Loading."

--Jason D. Martin