Monday, May 30, 2016

Non-Lockers vs. Lockers at the Powerpoint

At a beginning level, climbing tends to be rule-based. These rules that you are provided at the start of your career are important. They will help to keep you safe.

It should be noted that once you have a few years of experience, there is some room to re-evaluate some of the rules. However, this should only take place after you have climbed with a lot of different experienced people.

One of the commonly quoted rules for toproped climbing is that one should always use two opposite and opposed lockers at the master point.

Two opposite and opposed lockers.

The idea is that there is no way that the rope could possibly jump out of two opposite and opposed lockers. And while it may be possible -- however unlikely -- for movement in the system to cause the one of the gates to become unlocked and to open, it would be nearly impossible for the both lockers to become unlocked and to be opened.

In the guiding world, two opposite and opposed lockers are considered to be industry standard. The liklihood of a single locking carabiner becoming unlocked and opening is incredibly low. However, this is one of the rules that you learn when you start to climb and it has become so integral to outdoor groups throughout the world in toproping that it has become the industry standard across the board.

Industry standard is one of those phrases that we should pay attention to in climbing. There are very few things that can be considered industry standard in the climbing world.

That said, it is incredibly unlikely that a single locker in a toprope system will fail. But what if something does go wrong? And what if you were toproping in a way that was outside this standard? Certainly you would feel terrible, and not only that, you would also be hammered by the internet forums, the blogs, and the magazines for doing something considered to be outside the norm. As such, it's probably a good idea to stay within the norm.

Many climbers use two opposite and opposed non-lockers in lieu of two opposite and opposed lockers. Two opposite and opposed non-lockers should be considered the equivalent of one locking carabiner. For non-lockers to have equivalency to two opposite and opposed lockers, there must be three opposite and opposed non-lockers.

Three opposite and opposed non-lockers and equivalent
to two opposite and opposed lockers.

Rules in climbing exist to create a wide margin of safety. There's really no reason at all not to have a wide margin of safety in a toproped environment.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/26/16

Important Recall Notices:

--WARNING: Petzl has reported that a third party has been selling "modified" Petzl ASPIR harnesses on ebay. These harnesses have been modified in a way that makes them EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. If you own a Petzl ASPIR harness, click here to learn more.

--Black Diamond Equipment has issued another recall. They are recalling the Easy Rider and Iron Cruiser Via Ferrata lanyard sets, Index Ascenders, Camalots and Camalot Ultralights. This is in addition to previously announced recalls of select carabiners and nylon runners. To learn more and to see if your equipment has been affected by this recall, click here.


--The cliff-face near Larabee State Park's Clayton Beach was recently vandalized with graffiti. Clayton Beach has long been a popular place for bouldering. To read more, click here.

--This letter about people camping around Squamish is offered without comment. But be sure to read the comments of others at the bottom of the letter. To read the letter, click here. Please note that some of the comments are NSFW.


--It looks like someone "inadvertently" walked away with a climber's rack near the Washington Column in Yosemite. To read more, click here.

--Yosemite free-soloist Alex Honnold wrote a nice piece on protecting the national parks for the next generation. To read more, click here.

--And while Alex is working hard to save public lands, a University of Oregon frat house appears hell bent on destroying them. A massive party at Lake Shasta run by a U of O frat left tons of trash at Lake Shasta. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Officials at Zion National Park have scheduled a series of public meetings to discuss challenges facing the park as it continues to draw record numbers of visitors. National Park Service figures show that nearly 1 million people had visited the park in southern Utah through the end of April. That's about an 8 percent increase over the same time period last year and puts the park on track to set an attendance record for the third year in a row, reported The Spectrum newspaper in St. George. The increased traffic, combined with a stagnant budget, has taken a toll on Zion's infrastructure. To read more, click here.

--Advocates of a contentious national monument designation for Utah’s Bears Ears area are concerned that local residents will be misled about the designation dispute after forged federal documents and deceptive flyers addressing it were distributed in public spaces nearby. To read more, click here.


--Check out where all the AAI Denali teams are and read up on summit successes!

--On May 15, Graham Zimmerman and Chris Wright topped out Celeno Peak (13,395 feet) in Alaska’s St. Elias range via the West Face Direct (M6 5.10 X A2+ 95 degrees, 6,000 feet). This was the first ascent of the route and the second ascent of the peak. To read more, click here.
Notes from All Over:

--A man stranded while rock climbing on Monday was airlifted to safety near Idyllwild, California, authorities said. To read more, click here.

--Two mummified bodies were found on Mexico's Orizaba of climbers that had been missing for 55-years. To read more, click here.

--LG pulled off a strange, but very cool marketing stunt recently that had a famous rock climber called Sierra Blair-Coyle. Blair-Coyle was the winner of the 2015 US Extreme Rock Climbing contest and rather than climbing rocks this time, she scaled the outside of a glass skyscraper using suction created from a pair of LG Code Zero K94SGN vacuums. I have to say that we are a little worried about Sierra's back-up system. The rope coming from the back of her harness looks suspiciously like a static rope... To read more, click here. Or check out the video below:

--A black bear killed at Great Smoky Mountains National Park after an attack on a hiker was not actually the bear involved in the attack, according to a DNA analysis. “It was a large, dominant male bear that fit the profile of the bear we expected to be responsible,” park spokeswoman Dana Soehn told Reuters. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Alpine Ice Course on Mount Baker

I just got back from a trip on Mount Baker. The trip was an alpine ice climbing course for American Alpine Institute. We had incredible weather and mostly good conditions so in addition to learning the typical skills that are a part of this course we decided to try climbing a route that very rarely sees ascents. It turned out that the Cockscomb route was not in condition and we were stopped 900ft from the summit. From there we down climbed onto the Park Glacier in an attempt to summit via the Park Headwall. This too was not climbable and our only option was very serious glacier travel and navigation back to the other side of the mountain. This was a traverse of 4 large glaciers that cover over half of the mountain. Below are photos of our trip.

Climbing through the Colman Icefall
On a serac in the Colman Icefall.
Ice Climbing practice.

Learning the fundamentals of climbing... Rope Coiling. 

Sunset at our open bivy high on the mountain.

A cold breakfast at our bevy site.

More climbing on the Colman Glacier.

Learning ice tool use.

Although the weather was good down low. There were strong winds high on the mountain. 

Beginning our climb on summit day.

The Roosevelt Glacier.

High on the Cockscomb Route.
On the Park Glacier Headwall.

Negotiating very broken glacier conditions on our way down the Park Glacier.

-- Alasdair Turner - AAI Instructor and Guide More photos at

Monday, May 23, 2016

Film Review: Dead Snow

Some time ago, Ski Magazine was promoting a foreign language film about a group of twenty-somethings that go on a ski trip to a remote cabin in the mountains of Norway. This same film made a bit of a splash as an official selection a few years ago at the Sundance Film Festival... So I thought I would check it out.

Dead Snow is not about skiers or climbers, but it does take place in the mountains and there are avalanches and cornice collapses; so it does apply loosely to the focus of this blog. And of course, I use the term loosely, loosely...

Three young couples, all medical students, decide to take a trip into the mountains for Spring Break. The film starts like most horror movies start. There's a fair bit of sexual energy, lots of electric guitars playing in the background, and some adrenaline sports, in the form of snowmobiling. What the group of students don't know at the start of their trip is that the area they are playing in is zombies...and not just any zombies, but Nazi zombies...

Zombie movies have been popular now since they re-emerged on the film scene with Danny Boyle's fantastic horror morality play 28 Days Later in 2002. In the last fourteen years, this sub-genre of horror has constantly been re-explored by filmmakers looking for new angles. Some zombie movies like Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Zombieland (2009) were experiments in action/comedy. Others like Fido (2006) and Planet Terror (2007) were experiments in campy horror comedy. But of course the vast majority of the films have been more deeply seated in the action/horror camp like the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004), the Resident Evil series (2002-2007) and The Walking Dead (2010-present) television show.

Dead Snow is harder to categorize. It's about Nazi zombies. The subject matter alone leads one to believe that this is going to be a very campy movie, and it is. There is some great situational comedy in the film, and of course there are battles with chain saws and scythes that are bloody, but also kind of funny. However, at its heart there is no doubt, this is a blood and guts horror film. Indeed, there is one gruesome scene where a zombie puts his fingers into a young man's eyes and then tears his skull in half, spilling his brains on the floor. And even worse, there is a sex scene in an outhouse, on an outhouse toilet, which is really pretty gross too...

The biggest problem with the film is that it never really settles into a tone. While it is a gruesome horror movie, it wants to play up the campiness of the situation. The film probably would have been much better if it let go of the categorization of horror and either played more into the silliness of the concept or played up the zombie metaphor in relation to Nazism.

Arguably, the re-emergence of zombie movies has more to do with opinion news and opinion blogs (on both the left and the right) than it has to do with the horror genre. The idea is that people become slaves to a certain viewpoint and that they are no longer able to see the other side. Metaphorically, zombie movies are about mindless people who just do what they're told or get caught up in propaganda to the point where they become dangerous. The rise of Nazism is a great subject for a metaphorical zombie movie and when I saw the trailer for this film, I sincerely hoped that the piece might be a more high-brow version of this zombie metaphor... I can assure you that it is not...

I was engaged by the film. I was definitely grossed out a few times. And there were a few, "aw, come-on" moments. That said, I've never seen a movie about Nazi zombies before, and in a genre that has been explored so deeply in the last decade, it was refreshing to see something completely different.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/19/16

Important Recall Notices:

--WARNING: Petzl has reported that a third party has been selling "modified" Petzl ASPIR harnesses on ebay. These harnesses have been modified in a way that makes them EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. If you own a Petzl ASPIR harness, click here to learn more.

--Black Diamond Equipment has issued another recall. They are recalling the Easy Rider and Iron Cruiser Via Ferrata lanyard sets, Index Ascenders, Camalots and Camalot Ultralights. This is in addition to previously announced recalls of select carabiners and nylon runners. To learn more and to see if your equipment has been affected by this recall, click here.


--A 50-year-old female climber was killed after slipping at the Bob's Wall area in Leavenworth. It appears that the woman was transitioning from one climb to another after a light rain. Zulfiya Dokukina fell 80-feet. To read more, click here.

--A team has been combing Snoqualmie Pass searching for the body of a skier who went missing five months ago. To read more, click here.

--U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists reported earlier this month that more than 100 small earthquakes have shaken beneath infamous Mount St. Helens in southern Washington State since mid-March. While scientists do not believe that the group of seismic events introduces any immediate danger to the Pacific Northwest (PNW), the weeks long shaking is bringing a renewed focus to the volcano danger that looms in the region. To read more, click here.

--A comprehensive package of proposals to increase water supply in the Icicle Creek Basin through water-storage automation in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and aggressive conservation was available for public comment through May 11. If implemented in full, the plan will support area population growth while also supplying fish and irrigators with the water they need through 2050. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--In early April, the Access Fund sponsored the Future of Fixed Anchors II conference. The Access Fund has just posted the proceedings. They can be read, here.

Notes from All Over:

--Emergency responders rescued a man Tuesday night in Ontario who got stuck after partially climbing the wall of the Niagara Gorge. Rescuers rappelled down the gorge wall near Thompson’s Point, south of the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, after receiving a call at about 7:25 p.m. about a distraught male, the Niagara Parks Police said. To read more, click here.

--The concept that National Parks are "America's Best Idea" is flawed. This strategy to promote the parks may actually be turning away diverse populations. To read more, click here.

--This is weird: Father-and-son tourists were ticketed and forced to release a baby bison they'd wrangled into the back of their SUV at Yellowstone National Park because they thought it was cold. The problem is that when the calf was returned to the herd, the mother rejected it and the calf was euthanized. To read more, click here.

--And this is weirder: A missing hiker was found alive and tied to a tree Thursday afternoon off a trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, according to a report. Rescuers began a search for the 64-year-old woman on Thursday afternoon when her friend called 911. The woman was found about an hour later and tied to a tree near Craggy Gardens Visitor Center in Buncombe County. National Park Service Rangers are investigating the incident as an assault. Investigators say it was believed to be an isolated incident. To read more, click here.

--In an insane decision, oil exploration is going to be allowed in Big Cypress National Park. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Quiver of Ice Axes

By definition, as an alpinist, I encounter extremely varied terrain and conditions during my mountain adventures.  Having a variety of gear allows me to match my equipment to the climb I'm attempting, so I can achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness.  Sometimes this means buying two of something that seemingly perform the same task, however may have slightly different specifications or purposes.

I'm sure many of you acquire multiple sleeping bags, harnesses, and other equipment, with the idea that "a friend could borrow it" if need be.  Lately, I have been trying to denounce this idea, and only have multiples of the same item if they truly serve a specific function that I find valuable.  This led me to think of the perfect quiver of ice axes, that would serve nearly every climb I would embark on.

Grivel Air Tech Racing Ice Axe

GENERAL MOUNTAINEERING AXE: This ice axe serves as your "everyday axe", and should be sized for comfort.  I'm 5' 10" and I prefer this axe to be around 55-60cm, which allows me to chop steps comfortably if need be.  It can or cannot have a slight bend in the head, but should have an adze and a positive clearance pick - suitable for self arrest.  This axe will serve the purpose of self-arrest tool, anchor, step-chopper, and balance tool, to name a few.  It will be ideal for 3-day Baker Climbs or a 21-day Denali West Buttress Expedition.  This is your workhorse axe, a classic piolet.

Camp Corsa - the World's lightest ice axe

ULTRA-LIGHTWEIGHT AXE: This ice axe serves as your skiing, "just in case," and "I'm only going to be on a glacier for 400 feet but still want something for self-arrest," ice axe.  It should be short, no longer than 50 cm, and is really for those short glacier jaunts or quick couloir climbs.  If you try and chop steps with it for an extended period of time, you'll probably blow out your shoulder or bend the adze.  It probably isn't that durable, but it doesn't need to be; the lighter the better is what you are going for here.  A great axe for approaching something like the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart, or while doing some extreme skiing in the backcountry.

Black Diamond Venoms: The adze has a positive clearance pick and the hammer has a recurve pick.

A PAIR OF HYBRID ICE AXES/TOOLS:  Are you going to be approaching on a glacier, and then climbing a 50-70 degree alpine ridge?  Will there be short sections of steep ice, or will you have to climb moderate rock with your tools?  If so, these are an excellent choice which bridge the gap between true ice tools and glacier axes.  Having the recurve pick is essential when it comes to feeling secure on steep terrain, however when you strap one tool on your pack and carry the other, the positive curve pick provides confidence in the self arrest position.  Sometimes if things get really steep, you can match this tool with an actual ice tool.  A pair of these tools will be extremely efficient and comfortable during a climb of the North Ridge of Mt. Baker, or Denali's West Rib.

Black Diamond Cobra Ice Tools - One with an adze, the other with a hammer

A PAIR OF WATER ICE/DIFFICULT ALPINE TOOLS:  These tools are made for steep water ice and challenging mixed alpine lines.  If climbing pure water ice, they should have two hammers; if set up for the alpine, one adze and one hammer works well.  Having the tools made out of carbon fiber is nice because it does not conduct heat as much, however they are less responsive than aluminum tools.  Keep these picks sharp!  You'll be using them for the most technical terrain you encounter, like Artesonraju in Peru, and the Ice Park in Ouray, CO.

If competition mixed climbing is up your alley then you'll likely need another pair of tools, however for your average alpinist this quiver should serve all their needs.  All tallied up, four significantly different types of climbing can be efficiently covered by 6 ice axes/tools total.  You can obviously mix and match if needed, and personal preference/ability could easily add or subtract tools from this list.

I would love to hear what your perfect quiver of ice tools looks like, and what you actually currently have.  Please leave us comments!

--Andrew Yasso
Instructor and Guide

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/5/16

Important Recall Notices:

--WARNING: Petzl has reported that a third party has been selling "modified" Petzl ASPIR harnesses on ebay. These harnesses have been modified in a way that makes them EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. If you own a Petzl ASPIR harness, click here to learn more...

--Black Diamond Equipment has issued another recall. They are recalling the Easy Rider and Iron Cruiser Via Ferrata lanyard sets, Index Ascenders, Camalots and Camalot Ultralights. This is in addition to previously announced recalls of select carabiners and nylon runners. To learn more and to see if your equipment has been affected by this recall, click here.


--A 26-year-old Seattle man died Tuesday (May 3) after falling more than 100 feet while climbing Goat Wall near Mazama, according to the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office. It appears that the fall resulted when a knot tying two climbing ropes together came undone, said Steve Brown, chief criminal deputy with the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office identified the victim as Ryan Kautz. Brown said Kautz was an experienced climber and was climbing with two other experienced climbers from Seattle, Keith Erps and Matt Jackson, on a multi-pitch sport route on Goat Wall called Prime Rib of Goat. To read more, click here.

--The Big Four Ice Caves reopened this week. There have been limited changes since last year's tragedy when a collapse killed a pair of adult siblings leaving behind seven children. In a related tragedy, a 7-year-old boy died this week after he was separated from his family and drowned near the Ice Caves. To read more, click here.

--It appears that a new line has been climbed on Dragontail Peak. The Direct North Buttress goes at WI5+, M4 and joins the Triple Couloirs route about a third of the way up. To read more, click here.

--Beware and park appropriately if you are hiking Mt. Si or climbing at Little Si. The no parking signs are being enforced and people are being towed with some frequency. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The climber who fell roughly 100 feet in Arizona's Echo Canyon last month has died. Makayla Castro, a freshman at Grand Canyon University, was climbing on Camelback Mountain April 20 when she fell an estimated 100 feet . Phoenix firefighters brought her out on foot and she was taken to the hospital in critical condition. To read more, click here.
--Here's a cool destination guide for climbing in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas!

--The 5Point Film Festival recently premiered, The Width of Life. This film honors the climbing legend, Dave Pegg, who took his own life in 2014. To read more, or to see the film, click here.


--The Alaska climbing season is afoot and AAI has teams on Denali. Check out our dispatches, here.

Notes from All Over:

--On April 27, alpinists Ueli Steck and David Goettler came across the remains of two climbers encased in ice, emerging from a glacier. The pair planned to climb the south face of Shishapangma and had been acclimatizing. Conrad Anker and Jennifer Lowe-Anker (Alex's widow), were in Nepal when they received a call from Goettler. After hearing a description of the clothing and packs of the climbers, Anker concluded that the climbers had to be Alex Lowe and David Bridges. To read more, click here.

--The most famous grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park was recently shot and killed. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How to Sharpen Crampons

After running a blog about sharpening ice screws, we had a request on how to sharpen crampons.

Mixed climbing, moving from an ice climb onto a rock climb and then back, can be very hard on technical crampons. Most mixed climbers who get out a long will need to sharpen their cramponsat least once a season. We found the following video from mixed climber Stephen Kotch on how to sharpen technical crampons for mixed terrain:

General mountaineering often also requires one to sharpen crampons. It's not uncommon for a mountaineer to walk from ice or snow onto a rock feature and then back onto the ice. In the short term, this has a minimal impact on one's equipment. However, in the long term crampons can become dangerously dull.

Following is a quick breakdown of how to sharpen your mountaineering crampons:

  1. Mountaineering crampons get beat up. You move over all kinds of terrain in them, so in addition to getting dull, they often get quite dirty. Before sharpening your "poons," you're going to want to rinse them down and clean them off.
  2. Some people will put the crampons into a vice while sharpening them. If you elect to do this, be sure not to place them in such a way that the vice-grip will warp the crampons. On many models, you can detach the toe from the heel and place each section in the vice without the threat of damaging them. However, this will be model-dependent. You'll notice that Stephen simply holds the crampons. He does this bare-handed, but you may want to wear leather gloves to protect your fingers.
  3. Be sure to file the edges down toward the point. Do not file the broad side of the crampon point as this will weaken the teeth. You should not be making the points "thinner."
  4. Once you've completed the process of sharpening, wash and wipe down your crampons. Make sure there are no burrs or chips in them.
  5. If your crampons have been sharpened many times and the points seem to be getting thin or weirdly shaped, then it might be time to replace them.

Final Tip:

When you come out of the mountains, make sure that your crampons are completely dry before storing them away. If you put them away before they dry out, next time you want to use them, you will find them covered in rust.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 2, 2016

Bringing Veggies in the Backcountry

Photo by Shelby Carpenter

It's a sad day when you dig into your food bag and pull out... Mountain House, or, Mountain House? for dinner. Don't get me wrong--I appreciate freeze-dried foods for their lightweight nature and the fact that they are so quick and easy to cook. But since I spend so much of my summer out in the mountains, I can't live on freeze-drieds alone--and you don't have to either.

If you're spending time in cool places on glaciers, it's actually quite easy to bring fruits and vegetables on your trip. You don't want to it be too warm--above 50 or 60 degrees--because then veggies will start to go bad, and if it's too cold (20 degrees or below at night) fresh produce will freeze and then thaw and get all funky. Fortunately, the Cascades is in a sweet spot where for much of the summer you live between those two temperature ranges and can bring fresh produce out into the field with you.

For dinner on the first day of our Alpinism 1 courses, I will typically bring in bagged salad and a little packet of salad dressing. I'll also bring a foil packet of salmon, tuna or chicken to add protein and make it more filling. Later in the trip, I'll cook Annie's Mac and Cheese but add peppers, snap peas, and some kind of protein to it too.

For snacks, I've brought pepper strips, pre-cut and cooked sweet potatoes, apples and oranges. You'll need more calories than what you can get from these for snacks, so I'll do bars too, but it feels good to add some real food into the mix.

As you get ready for your own trips this summer (either personal or guided), consider the food you're planning to bring. If you're someone who is used to eating a lot of fruit and veggies, it's often easy to fit them in on trips if you do a little advance planning. Get out there and enjoy!

--Shelby Carpenter, AAI Instructor and Guide