Friday, July 29, 2016

Triaxial Loading on Trees

Surprisingly, there is one mistake that both beginners and advanced climbers alike tend to make. Many people will wrap a tree with a sling and then clip the sling. Often the sling is wrapped around the tree in such a way that it is loading the carabiner improperly. A carabiner that is loaded from three directions is often referred to as being triaxally or tri-directionally loaded. This is very very bad...

In this photo the carabiner is radically tri-loaded.
An impact on such a carabiner could cause failure.

A tri-loaded carabiner is crossloaded. It will not hold a high impact fall. As such, it is important to use slings that are long enough to tie off. In the preceding example, there is not enough sling material to get all the way around the tree, but even if there was enough for the carabiner to hang more loosely, it could still triaxally load it.

One could tie the sling off with a pre-equalized knot, but this isn't required. The following photo shows one quick example of a tie-off that eliminates the possibility of triaxal loading.

Triaxal loading is a detail that a lot of climbers don't think about. But it is just these kinds of minor details that can get you in the end. The phrase, "the Devil's in the details," didn't come from nowhere.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 7/28/16


--A Vancouver climber has lost his life after a tragic fall on Monday near Revelstoke. According to Revelstoke RCMP, 61-year-old Carl Douglas was negotiating a steep incline in Glacier National Park when the piece of rock he was holding on to broke away from the rock face causing him to fall. To read more, click here.

--Bellingham Mountain Rescue had a busy weekend. First, they assisted a team that was lost in a whiteout on Mt. Baker. And second, they assisted an individual who had a lower leg injury on the same mountain...

--5Point Film Festival, Stone's Throw Brewery and the American Alpine Institute are hosting a mountain trivia event at Bellingham's Stone's Throw Brewery on August 2nd. There are some awesome prizes available. To learn more, click here.

--There will be a Climber's Coffee event at the Blue Lake Trailhead in Washington Pass this weekend. For more info, click here.

--A new Viggo Mortensen film features the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Many of the scenes of the new film were shot at Artist Point with Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker in the background. To read more, click here.


--Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, CA –The body of missing hiker John Lee, a 68-year-old male from Mentone, CA, was spotted by helicopter in Sequoia National Park at the base of the southwest slope of Mt. Whitney (approximately 12,500 feet in elevation) on Sunday, July 24, 2016, at approximately 1:35 p.m. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A dehydrated climber was rescued in Zion National Park this week. To read more, click here.

--Last weekend the Access Fund policy team, along with the Access Fund executive director and the Access Fund Native Lands coordinator, spent 3 days meeting with local climbers and elected officials, discussing climbing management with Secretary Jewell and other land managers, and listening to the spectrum of concerns shared by local stakeholders including the Native American community. This official Public Listening Session helped to further inform our understanding of the complex issues associated with protecting the Bears Ears region, and also provided Access Fund the opportunity to voice our ideas on climbing access and conservation to top-level policy makers. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

Gary with his wife and small children.

--Gary Falk, a well-known and well-respected climbing guide, died in a fall in the Tetons over the weekend. It appears that Gary was trying to retrieve a stuck rappel device when he fell. The device had been used by one of his participants and was being pulled back up. The device got stuck and Gary unclipped to get it. That's when he fell. To read more, click here. Tragically, Gary is survived by his wife and two young children. There is a go-fund-me site up to help support Gary's children, here.

--Authorities say a woman has died after a 60-foot fall in central Utah's Maple Canyon. There is limited additional information about this available. To read more, click here.

--There have been a couple of bear attacks in Alberta, Canada. To read more, click here.

--It can be tough to pinpoint the moment a burgeoning subculture makes the evolutionary leap to mainstream relevance. But in the rapidly expanding industry of high-end climbing gyms, anthropologists might one day look back and deduce that the moment arrived on August 25, 2015, the day Brooklyn Boulders inked an investment deal with New York private equity firm North Castle Partners. The amount: $48,750,000. "There’s only so many ways to grow a company. You can try and hold onto it yourself and go slowly or organically. Or you can try to make something crazy happen," says Lance Pinn, the 31-year-old co-founder and CEO of Brooklyn Boulders (BKB). Pinn won’t specify what the terms of the deal are—just that he’s working on building the first national climbing gym brand. "We wanted to take on investment that fits our growth timeline rather than waiting 20 years or however long it would take to expand in a meaningful way,” Pinn says. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cordillera Blanca (Peru) Research Expedition

[Editor’s note:   The American Alpine Institute has teamed up with the American Climber Science Program to support a variety of important research projects in mountain environments.  High mountain regions – especially those with glaciers – are a treasure trove of important data that can reveal a lot about the functioning and health of alpine ecosystems and their individual components as well as inform upon large-scale phenomena like climate change.  Click on the link to read about the Institute’s commitment to alpine research and that research’s potential for helpful impact on social policy (e.g., land management) as well as more on the research to be done by the author.

Elsa Balton is a participant in the current research expedition in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca.  At the American Alpine Institute she has worked as executive assistant to the Institute’s president and as research assistant on green energy and carbon consumption offsets.  She is a senior molecular biology and Spanish major at Western Washington University.  During this, her first trip about 14,000 feet, she is posting narratives that describe some of the challenges and rewards she experiences while conducting research on microbes in a rugged environment at high altitude.  Her third posting describes her first week in the mountains and sums up the various research projects that are underway.

First Sampling Area:  Ulta Valley

Our first set of sampling points was located in the Ulta Valley of the Cordillera Blanca.  The valley is located at the feet of the Huascaran Glacier.  Twin-peaked Nevado Hauscaran is Peru's highest summit, rising to 22,205 feet (6,768 m).  We also enjoyed great views of Nevados Ulta, Chopicalqui, and Hualcan.  A glacier-fed river runs through the valley and is perfect for much of our water sampling.  

Our base camp in the Ulta Valley. Neha Malhan photo.

Since this is my first post talking in depth about the research side of our expedition, I thought it would be helpful to briefly describe what each group is studying to provide some context for the rest of the trip.

Kodner Lab – Snow algae and water microbes:  This is my project, and I've written an article on its context and goals here. I'm working under Robin Kodner, PhD, a professor in the Department of Biology, Western Washington University (WWU.)

Alpine environments are highly dynamic, and we realized when we arrived in the Ulta Valley that it would not be possible to take as many snow samples as we had panned because access to the snowfields we had in mind was extremely difficult.  Glacier retreat in this valley has created very broken and technical conditions at pints that used to provide easy access.

Fortunately the Ulta Valley is full of glacial rivers and alpine lakes, and we were able to modify our hypotheses to include water algae and microbes.  Sampling these microbes will provide us with a wealth of data about what types of organisms are present in the area and how they contribute to the ecosystem.  We also hope to get good snow samples from high elevations in the other two valleys in which we'll be doing research with help of the climbers who will be joining us there.

Dr. Kodner and I taking DNA samples of microbes found in glacial streams. 
We will take the samples back to WWU and perform a 
genome survey of them in the fall.   Penelope Kipps photo. 

Bird Photography and Identification:  I talked to Penelope Kipps (WWU) about her project on birds of the Cordillera Blanca's subalpine and alpine valleys.  The varieties of species living here seasonally and year round have not been tracked, and this group had a very good first week in the mountains  photographing and identifying the different species.  Once  identified, future researchers can determine what other areas may be included in their annual calendar of movement and potentially be in a position to identify methods and gain support for preserving these unique alpine species.

Survey of Aquatic Macroinvertebrates:  Katie Lewis (WWU) and a small team are working on sampling aquatic macroinvertebrates.  Since macroinvertebrates are a critical part of the freshwater food chain, monitoring their presence and abundance are good indicators of how the stream communities are changing.  They are very sensitive to water chemistry, temperature, and pollutants, and as a consequence, they are very useful in monitoring both climate change and human impacts.  Katie and her group will be comparing their data to past research to better understand the types and speeds of changes in stream communities. Katie's group is working under Ruth Soffield, PhD, professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Huxley College of the Environment (WWU).

Katie and Nicole collecting aquatic macroinvertebrates 
with help from John All, PhD.  Penelope Kipps photo.

Ethnoagricultural studies: Morgan Scott (WWU) is working with rural agriculturalists and hopefully also a student from the regional university in Huaraz to measure the impacts that state-sponsored development and climate change have on their daily lives.  A similar study was done in the area ten years ago, and Morgan plans to add to the data collected then, compare the findings, and determine the course of change over that ten-year period.

Terrestrial Arthropod Survey:  I talked to Claire Bresnan (Colorado College) who is working with  Rebecca Cole, PhD (University of Hawaii).  Their research project involves the trapping of terrestrial arthropods from different locations in the valley both inside and outside the polylepus forests (a type of tree common in the Cordillera Blanca) where they are common.  Claire and Dr. Cole are creating a survey of arthropod species in different high altitude ecosystems with the goal of determining how they are being affected by deforestation.

Examining one of the insect specimens. The collection of samples is rather simple.
Claire places cups containing water in holes in the ground and in go the arthropods.  No bait required. Photo Penelope Kipps.

Measuring effects of over-grazing on biomass: Neha Malhan (WWU) also worked with Dr. Cole this past week on a different project.  They worked on taking biomass samples both inside and outside of grazing areas for non-native cows and looking at how much biomass is lost over what period of time due to grazing in alpine valleys.  Cattle exclusion zones from which cattle are physically barred from walking and grazing are key in making accurate determinations.

Water quality sampling:  Eli Merrell and Nick Woltkamp (WWU), working under the direction of Dr. Soffield, are taking water quality samples from both alpine streams and lakes to see how pollutants such as heavy metals (which have been washed into the waterways as a result of glacial retreat) have affected the water chemistry in alpine valleys.  They are also looking at levels of dissolved organic carbon in waterways.  They will compare their data with Dr. Soffield's research from previous years to determine the static or evolving health of alpine waterways.

The water quality team with members of the Kodner Lab taking 
samples from an iron seep in the Ulta Valley.  Penelope Kipps photo.

Lichen Sampling to track pollution:  Aaron Haddeland (WWU) is working on another of Dr. Soffield's projects which involves taking lichen samples from trees in alpine valleys. Since lichen gets 100% of its nutrients from the air, it is a great bioindicator of pollution.  Aaron's samples will help figure out which areas of the Cordillera Blanca are suffering from pollution and to what relative degrees.

Soil Sampling:  Another project directed by Dr. Soffield involves taking soil samples to check for carbon and nitrogen levels. The goal of this project is learn more about the effects of agriculture on soil environments.

Vegetation studies:  Gus Landefeld of WWU is working with John All, PhD (Research Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Huxley College of the Environment, WWU)  to survey vegetation in alpine valleys. Gus's research will help determine which types of vegetation are common in the Cordillera Blanca and can be used for applications such as geographic information systems.

Life in Ulta Valley

When not hiking and working on our research projects, we passed time by playing cards, enjoying the delicious food cooked by our local chefs, and taking in the incredible scenery surrounding us.  Some of us even learned a few words and sentences in Kichwa from our enthusiastic chef Joaquin.  Kichwa is an indigenous language that is a regional variety of Quechua which is spoken by about one million people in the central and northern Andes. 

One night, our chefs prepared our dinner in a pachamanca, which is a traditional Peruvian style of cooking food in a big hole in the ground. They first heat rocks over a wood fire, then line the hole with  the hot rocks, place the food over the rocks, and then cover everything with grass, dirt, and additional rocks to help keep the heat in.  The meal included corn, potatoes, chicken, and herbs and cooked for about  three hours.  It was delicious and fun to see it prepared in this traditional manner.  Photo Penelope Kipps.

We were not immune to the challenges of this type of expedition, including food-related illness, weather extremes, and overall exhaustion. This first valley provided us with a great opportunity to "practice" before heading out for longer periods of time, so what we learned about life in the alpine wilderness will serve us well for the remainder of the trip.

Bedtime view in the Ulta Valley.  Neha Malhan photo.

Everyone is looking forward to our next move back into the mountains which will take us to the beautiful Quilcayhuanca and Cayesh Valleys.

We'll be back the night of August 2nd, and I will plan to provide an update on our research and high valley experiences then.


--Elsa Balton, Kodner Laboratory and American Alpine Institute Research Assistant

Monday, July 25, 2016

Singles, Halves and Twins

To start with, all of those who found today's blog by typing in the word "single" while looking for a dating site are going to be disappointed. And those of you who found this blog after typing in the word "twins" are going to be doubly disappointed...

Instead, this article will describe the different types of dynamic climbing ropes available to climbers and their uses. As the title indicates there are three types of ropes that are regularly used for rock, ice and alpine climbing. Following is a brief description of each type of rope and their uses:

Single Ropes: The single rope system is the most commonly used system in all of climbing. Most climbers will start with a single rope which is adequate for pretty much everything. As a result these are used on ice, rock and in mountaineering settings.

Single ropes are designed to be used alone. A leader doesn't need a second rope to ensure security. When leading, he will only clip the single strand that he is tied to into the protection.

Single rope diameters range from 9.2 mm to 11 mms and vary in length. Most climbers currently use 60-meter ropes. The greater the diameter of the rope, the more wear and tear the rope can handle. However, though alpine ropes tend to wear out the fastest, it's probably not a good idea to get the heaviest rope that you can find for glacier travel.

Most climbers will try to buy a light single rope that can be used in a variety of functions. Heavy 11 mm ropes really only exist for two reasons, search and rescue teams and big wall climbers. Most people  purchase ropes that range from 9.5-10.3.

Single ropes will have this insignia on the end.

Single ropes are the least expensive alternative. Each of the other systems described here require two ropes to be functional.

Half Ropes:

Half ropes -- often called Double Ropes -- have a smaller diameter (8-9 mm) and are designed to be used in pairs. As a climber leads, he is supposed to clip each rope independently, swapping ropes as he passes each piece of protection.

Half ropes will have this insignia on the end of the rope.

The concept behind half ropes is excellent. They provide a number of advantages. First, if the route wanders up the crag, clipping the opposite rope each time you move up will reduce drag. Second, you will always have two ropes for double rope rappels. Third, you can share the weight of the ropes on the  approach with your partner. Fourth, in the event of an emergency you have double the length to get down quickly. And fifth, in the event of a bad leader fall if one rope is severed, the other rope will still catch the falling climber.
While the concept is excellent, in practice half ropes can be difficult to manage. It will take most climbers a fair bit of time to completely wire all the idiosyncrasies of working with two ropes simultaneously.

Some climbers do elect to use half-ropes for glacier travel. However, one should be very careful when doing this. Stepping on a half-rope with crampons will do a lot more damage than in a single rope. It should go without saying that ropes that see damage from crampons, regardless of diameter, should be retired.

Twin Ropes:

The twin rope system employs two small diameter ropes (usually 7-8 mm) together as if they are one rope. In other words, both ropes go through every piece of protection.

Twin ropes will have this insignia on the end of the rope.

The advantages to the twin rope system are quite similar to the advantages of the single rope system. The exception is that because of the fact that the twin ropes are being used the same way as a single rope, the same type of drag you encounter with single ropes will be apparent.

It is not possible to use twin ropes like half ropes, clipping one rope to one piece and the other rope to the next. The stretch in twin ropes is significantly greater than in half ropes and using them like this could lead to a significant leader fall.

Another problem that some climbers encounter with twin ropes revolves around belay devices. Not all autoblocking belay devices will work with twin ropes. If you elect to use this system, make sure that the ropes will not slip while belaying.

The question has come up in the past as to whether a twin rope should be used on a glacier. The answer is no. There is too much stretch in these ropes for this application and the likelihood of hitting something at the bottom of the crevasse or getting "corked" is too high.

It's good for climbers to be aware of a number of different rope systems. Ideally, you become familiar enough and experienced enough with each of these that you will be able to use the system that works the best for each and every climb that you plan.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Problem with Rappel Backups Off Modern Leg-Loops

Innovation in climbing equipment almost always leads to better and more effective gear. But it also leads to problems. This is why it is important for every climber to educate themselves about new equipment and gear as it comes out.

I recently was shocked to find a somewhat major problem with my brand new harness. I bought a harness with "fast-buckle" systems. These systems have been around for five years or so, but are becoming an increasingly popular system on harnesses. The fast-buckle is essentially a system that allows you climb into your harness and tighten it up. You don't need to double it back or anything, once it's been tightened, it's supposedly good.

I've always been concerned that these harnesses might cause people to forget to double themselves back if they use a "normal" harness after using a fast-buckle for a period of time. But such a concern is nowhere near as disturbing as what I found when playing with my new fast-buckle harness.

I discovered that the leg-loop can actually unbuckle itself if you clip your rappel back-up friction-hitch directly into it near the buckle. See the following picture for what not to do with your carabiner on your leg-loop.

Note the location of the carabiner on the buckle. If you actually had to use a rappel back-up
clipped to this carabiner, it could potentially cause the buckle to release. Do not do this.

The best thing to do with the friction-hitch back-up in order to avoid an unintentional unbuckling, is to clip it to the leg-loop near the crotch. The strap that goes up to the belay-loop will isolate the carabiner from the buckle and will not allow it to unbuckle.

A carabiner clipped into the appropriate place on a fast-buckle harness for a rappel back-up.

A climber set up to rappel properly with the carabiner to the back-up friction-hitch
clipped near the crotch.

Every new piece of equipment has a few bugs to work out and the fast-buckle harnesses are no exception. The problem is that a lack of knowledge on this particular issue could lead to an injury or a fatality. So spread the word far and wide. This is a great invention, but it's really only great if everyone knows its limitations.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 7/21/16


--To prep for the 5Point Film Festival, the American Alpine Institute and Stone's Throw Brewing are going to have a trivia night on August 2nd in Bellingham. To learn more, click here.

--An AAI Guide had a pile of guidebooks stolen from his car this week. If you've come upon some screaming deals in the PNW, check out this list of stolen books.


--It appears that the memorial to free soloist John Bachar was defaced. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Zion National Park is one of the recipients of a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express. The grant was determined by a popular vote. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A Bristow, Virginia, man was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison for killing his rock-climbing companion at the Carderock Climbing Area in Montgomery County, Maryland, in December 2014. To read more, click here.

--Earlier this year, under pressure from local anti-climbing activists, the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana expanded a generally accepted, one-year bolt moratorium at a developed front country crag to the entire Mill Creek Canyon drainage area, which includes incredible potential for backcountry first ascents. To read more, click here.

--Moss Rock Preserve is home to a collection of giant sandstone blocks hidden in the woods of Hoover, Alabama outside of Birmingham. It has long been one of the Deep South's best and most historic climbing areas. However, when the Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team rolled into Moss Rock in late May, they were shocked at what they found. “The park was in really bad shape. There was graffiti on nearly every rock, trash throughout, broken glass, remnants of illegal campfires, and evidence of severe erosion and soil loss,” says Lindsay Anderson of the Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team. “It was alarming, and it took a while to get past the eye sores and see the former glory of the place underneath.” To read more, click here.

--Denali National Park officials are planning a “soft opening” next week of areas that had been closed because of a problem grizzly bear. The bear near Savage River last month charged vehicles along the park road and on June 22 obtained food from a daypack that a visitor threw to district it. Park officials closed the area to private vehicles, bicycles and hikers for five days. To read more, click here.

--The New Yorker published a nice article on getting lost in the woods. Check it out, here.

--A bill floated Wednesday that would allow mountain biking — and the use of some motorized tools — in wilderness areas is already raising hopes. And hackles. The Human Powered Travel in Wilderness Act, offered by Utah’s Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, would allow local land managers to decide whether to permit bicycles in wilderness areas. It also would allow those land managers to decide when it’s OK to use modern tools, like wheelbarrows and chainsaws, for wilderness-area trail maintenance. To read more, click here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Mountain Trivia in Bellingham - August 2, 2016

5Point Film Festival, Stone's Throw Brewery and the American Alpine Institute are teaming up to provide an evening of mountain trivia at Bellingham's Stone's Throw Brewery.

Mountain Trivia Night!
August 2, 2016 - 7pm
Stone's Throw Brewery
1009 Larabee Avenue 
Bellingham, WA 98225


Do you or your friends know the native name of Mt. Baker? Do you know the difference between a locker and a non-locker? Have you heard of Fred Beckey? Do you know what skins do for skis...?

If you answered yes to any one of the preceding questions, then you are a perfect candidate for the Mountain Trivia Night at Stone's Throw Brewing.

Teams and Buy-In:

Teams may include up to six players, but may be as small as a team of one. You will need to pick a ridiculous name for your team as that is part of Bellingham beer trivia culture.

The buy-in for each player will be $2.


The team that wins the event will win the pot as well as six AAI T-shirts.

In addition to the team prizes, we will also have a raffle where we will give away one $300 gift certificate to any group AAI program. And we will also give away an OR Levitator Pack!

5Point Film Festival

This event is the kick-off for the 5Point Film Festival ticket sales. 5Point is a celebration of outdoor film, outdoor community, outdoor books and mountain arts that will take place in Bellingham from August 25-27. 

Tickets will be available at the Mountain Trivia Night!

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cordillera Blanca (Peru) Research Expedition

[Editor’s note:   The American Alpine Institute has teamed up with the American Climber Science Program to support a variety of important research projects in mountain environments.  High mountain regions – especially those with glaciers – are a treasure trove of important data that can reveal a lot about the functioning and health alpine ecosystems and their individual components as well as inform upon large-scale phenomena like climate change.  Click here to read about the Institute’s commitment to alpine research and that research’s potential for helpful impact on social policy (e.g., land management) as well as more on the research to be done by the author.

Elsa Balton is a participant in the current research expedition in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca.  She has worked as executive assistant to the Institute’s president and is a senior molecular biology and Spanish major at Western Washington University.  This is her first trip to high altitude, and is posting narratives describing some of her experiences, challenges, and rewards while conducting research on microbes at high altitude and in a challenging environment.  Her second posting describes acclimatization during her first week on the current expedition.]

Acclimatization: Huaraz, Peru

After 12 hours on two airplanes and 8 hours on a bus, my group of approximately twenty students and two professors made it to Huaraz!  There we met up with some volunteers from the American Climber Science Program as well as several researchers from other universities who will be working with us.

We stayed at a cozy hotel called Familia Meza for our acclimatization days, during which we explored Huaraz and surrounding areas while getting used to the elevation (3,050 meters or 10,010 feet).  The highest elevation we reached during our acclimatization was 4,450 meters / 14,600 feet, and following the "climb high, sleep low" rule, we returned to Huaraz for the night.  Our first base camp, in the Ulta Valley, will be at about 4,200 meters / 13,780 feet.

Some of our group, including myself, struggled a bit with altitude sickness.  We learned the importance of rest, hydration, and positive pressure breathing exercises, and the usefulness and effectiveness of using Diamox (acetazolamide) when experiencing symptoms of acute mountain sickness (e.g., general malaise, loss of appetite, headache).

We have a six-member medical group within our expedition (including myself, three other students, and two professors) all of whom have a Wilderness First Responder certification or higher.  One of our jobs is to check everyone's blood oxygen saturation, heart rate, and blood pressure every morning and night to identify anyone having an abnormally hard time acclimating.

Our first two days in Huaraz were "take it easy" days, during which we alternatively explored the town and hung out at the hotel.  We went on a short, slow-paced hike on the Cordillera Negra (a range parallel and to the west of the Cordillera Blanca) on our third day to get used to hiking at altitude.

On the fourth day, we visited the Lazy Dog Inn and Centro Yurac Yacu.  The Inn is a sustainable bed and breakfast/Ecological Inn that was started by a Canadian environmental scientist named Wayne and his wife Diane.  With the help of neighbors, they built the entire place by hand and are now entirely self-sustaining in terms of both energy and food – and they generate zero waste.

Additionally, they started the grassroots organization Andean Alliance, which is involved in local community development.  We saw this organization at work at the Centro Yurac Yacu, which includes a school, a restaurant, and a textile shop.  During our visit, the women at Yurac Yacu made us a Peruvian lunch which was by far the best meal I've had yet on this trip. It helped that every ingredient came from their farm! It was really inspiring and refreshing to see how smoothly and effectively they operate in keeping with their goal of environmental stewardship and super-low-impact community development.

Lunch at Yurac Yacu: chicken, potatoes, tubers, zucchini, quinoa salad, cabbage salad, and chicha (a purple corn drink) all fresh from the farm and homemade!

Later that day, we checked out some nearby pre-Incan ruins at Wilcahuain National Monument which were constructed during the Wari Empire (600-900 a.d.).

Checking out the tiny rooms inside the Wilcahuain ruins.  
We had to crawl through 3-4 foot tall doors to get in.

For our last day while based in Huaraz, we went on a high altitude hike up to Lagos Churup, where we reached a final elevation of 4,450 meters / 14,600 feet.   It was, as our trip leader John calls it, a "lung crusher," but reaching the top was more satisfying for me than a much longer and steeper hike at sea level.

On our way up to the lake we were treated to close-up views of Churup Peak. 
Photo by Nick Sturman. 

We spent the rest of the day resting, replenishing lost calories, and preparing our science gear for departure in the morning.  We head to the Ulta Valley on Monday morning where my research group will be taking water samples of streams and lakes.  I am looking forward to sleeping in my tent and using some of our new science gear such as the field microscope.

Group members Gus and Morgan help the Kodner Lab (my project!) get ready
for sampling in the field.  We are sorting all the water sampling supplies into small,
travel-sized baggies to make hiking to high altitude sampling sites possible.

Bill, retired Astrophysics professor and seasoned mountaineer, who is volunteering on our expedition,
 teaches group members some knots and procedures for glacier travel.  Photo by Penelope Kipps.

Almuerzo at Centro Yurac Yacu is served!  The women who cooked the meal were excited to practice 
their English with us just as we wanted to practice our Spanish with them.  Photo by Penelope Kipps.

The beginning of the hike up to Lago Churup.  Photo by Penelope Kipps. 
My next post will be a report on our first five days in the field.


--Elsa Balton, Kodner Laboratory and American Alpine Institute Research Assistant

Monday, July 18, 2016

First Piece in a Multi-Pitch Setting

We recently received a request to write about this subject:


I follow your climbing blog and really appreciate the humor and knowledge.

I was wondering if you could do a post on clipping the anchor on multi pitch climbs. I have heard a lot of back and forth on the merits of clipping the anchor or just climbing up a few moves and placing a gear. Here is a link to a video where some comments are concerned about the video persons not clipping the anchor. Here is another link to a post from Will Gadd who talks about some pros and cons. I am wonder where guides stand on this issue? Do they never, always or just depends on clipping the anchor?

Ironically, I found a couple of pictures that I took some time ago, thinking that I would eventually do an article on this subject. So, here we go!

To begin with, the concept the questioner eludes to has to do with the idea that clipping the anchor will decrease the likelihood of a factor two fall. In review, a factor two fall is the highest fall factor possible. It essentially means that the climber climbed up above the belayer without placing any gear, and then fell. He falls twice the distance of the rope out before the fall is arrested. In other words, it means that he fell past the belayer and placed tremendous force on the system.

If the concept of fall factors is new to you, check out this article from Petzl.

To decrease the likelihood of a factor two fall, many climbers clip one piece in the anchor, or clip the shelf.

 In this photo, the climber clipped a locking carabiner on the right leg of the anchor.
If one clips a carabiner in this application, it must be a locker. Please note that in
this photo the climber clipped the bolt on the right and then climbed up left. He 
probably should have clipped the bolt on the right.

The argument for clipping a piece to the anchor is twofold. First, the belayer will be pulled up instead of down. And second, a piece in the system will help dissipate some of the force. 

The main problem with clipping a single piece of the anchor is that a fall will double the force on the piece. In other words, you need a counter force equal to the force of the falling climber to arrest him. That counter force doubles the load. If the piece is not adequately placed or the rock is poor, the piece could blow out. 

The fact that a single piece could blow out doesn't mean that this technique is universally inappropriate. Instead, it's possible to clip a single piece if it's absolutely bomb-proof. If there's any possibility that the piece is poor or that the rock is poor, you should avoid clipping the single piece in the anchor.

Some climbers clip the anchor's shelf to put force on more than one piece.
The problem with this is that it puts the arresting piece closer to the belayer.
The anatomy of an anchor may be found, here.

Another -- and perhaps more crucial issue -- has to do with the force a fall puts on the belayer. The belayer could easily be pulled up into the first piece and potentially let go. Additionally, on a lower-angle climb, the belayer could get pulled into the wall and -- in an attempt to protect himself from getting slammed -- let go of the rope and put up his hands.

It should also be noted that clipping into the anchor doesn't completely mitigate the fall factor forces that you're trying to avoid. A fall onto a piece in the shelf or in the anchor will still put massive forces into the system.

So, what to do?

First and foremost, there is no reason to clip the anchor if you are not below it. In other words, if your anchor is at your feet and you clip it, it's not going to do anything. Similarly, there's no reason to clip a piece into the anchor if the climber will just fall onto a ledge anyway.

If the terrain is easy enough to avoid clipping the anchor, most guides will avoid it. However, if there are hard moves directly off the belay station, most guides will clip a carabiner or draw into the anchor. If a guide does clip into the anchor, he usually asks his belayer to unclip the anchor piece once the guide has placed adequate protection higher up on the route. This mitigates the problem of the belayer getting pulled up into the system as the guide gets higher. Though he certainly could get pulled up early in the lead...

Occasionally the terrain above an anchor is run-out or doesn't provide decent protection. If this is the case, it may be appropriate to use the anchor as a much more dynamic first piece. But if it's going to be a dynamic first piece there needs to be more rope in the system, so that there is more stretch in the event of a fall. The only way to do this is to place the belayer significantly (10+ feet) below the anchor. The idea is that if the belayer is significantly below the anchor, the anchor will act more like a normal bomb-proof piece in the lead system and none of the disadvantages listed earlier will apply.

There are two ways to do this:

1) The belayer can clip the rope through the carabiner at the master-point. He can then lower himself down the wall a given distance and then clip the backside of the rope to his belay loop. The advantage to this style is that when the leader gets to the next belay station and he puts the belayer on belay, the belayer can unclip from the clove-hitch and the leader can quickly pull up the slack, decreasing the likelihood of a hard fall.

2) The belayer may also simply clip himself into the anchor long. The problem with this is that his clove-hitch will be high above him and the belayer will have to solo up to it before unclipping it when it's his turn to climb.

While using an anchor as the first piece in a multi-pitch lead is common, one should think through the advantages and disadvantages on every single pitch. This is not a system that should be universally applied to this type of climbing...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, July 15, 2016

Climbing in Little Switzerland.

In June I spent a month in Alaska, working two separate climbing trips in Denali National Park. The second trip was a ten day climbing course in the Pika Glacier area. You can read about the first trip on the Ruth Glacier Here. Little Switzerland is know for its good quality rock climbing objectives. Our trip was successful despite a delay getting to the glacier and several days stuck in camp due to poor weather. We were able to climb numerous objectives including two longer climbs ending on summits of peaks that surround the glacier. Below are some images of the trip.

Our plane takes off after unloading us and all our gear on the glacier.

The first day of climbing was kept fairly short so we could get used to the rock and familiarize ourselves with the area. This short line up the west side of The Munchkin was a fun way to start our trip.

Climbing on very high quality rock.

The descent.
The following day we headed over to the Middle Troll to climb the most popular route in the area. Up the face of the peak to the summit. This climb is written about as an area classic, but in no way meets this high praise. It turned out to be covered in loose rock that had constant danger from self inflicted rock fall. Closer to the summit did contain several nice pitches of very good rock, but it is questionable if they were worth the approach pitches. It did make for a very good (although stressful) learning day.

The following days weather was not cooporative and we spend much of it tent bound. Luckily we were heavy on the electronic gagets which made the time go a bit faster.

One way to pass the time on a weather day is drawing. 
Katlynn doing some cooking in the cook tent.
The next day in still unsettled weather we headed up to climb a small two pich objective called The Plunger. Unfortunately after we finished the first pitch the rumbling of thunder in the distance told us that it was time to bail and not risk getting stuck on the top of a peak in a thunderstorm.


The next day the AAI Alaska logistics corrdiator Katylynn flew out and let Jim and I to climb the Lost Marsupial route on The Throne. It was a much better route than the Middle Troll and made for an amazing day out in the mountains.

The two following days were tent bound due to bad weather and with a forecast for another week of rain we decided to call our trip and headed back to Talkeetna after what we both considered was a pretty successful trip.
Waiting for our flight.
--Alasdair Turner AAI Tenured Guide
Additional photos from this trip can be found Here.
You can also find me on Instagram @alasdairturner