Monday, October 31, 2016

Super Munter and Zooper Munter

In this blog, we have covered the super munter before. This is a technique that is used to add more friction to a munter-hitch lower for seriously heavy loads.

The super-munter is a variation on the munter-hitch. It creates a tremendous amount of friction and doesn't have one of the main problems of the munter-hitch, it doesn't tangle the rope. Indeed, the action of the rope as it goes through the super-munter twists the rope and then twists it back.

There are very few applications for the super munter (also sometimes called the monster munter) in normal climbing. Instead, the applications are more rescue oriented. This particular hitch provides so much friction that it is possible to lower two climbers -- one cradeling the other -- or perhaps a litter and a liter attendant in a SAR operation.

Super munters on two separate legs of a mountain rescue system, backed up by tandem prussiks make for an excellent redundant lowering system with limited equipment. And indeed, such a system would also pass the "Whistle Test." (The Whistle Test is a concept used in mountain rescue. The idea is that if everyone let go of their given strands at the sound of a whistle, the system would stop on its own and no one would get hurt.)

The problem with the super munter is that you have to anticipate that you are going to add the additional friction at the beginning of the operation. In other words, you have to tie the munter with the appropriate position of function, so that you can easily cross the break-strand over the load-strand and then clip it into the carabiner. If you did not do this right then a second option is to make a zooper munter.

This essentially requires a second carabiner behind the first, with the gate facing the spine of the first carabiner. To build the zooper munter, just bring the rope around the back and clip the second carabiner. You can see this in the second video which is a bit shaky since I was holding the camera and tying the knot at the same time.

The zooper munter allows you to create additional fiction without pre-planning. In many ways, this is a far more useful version of the super munter because it doesn't have to be pre-planned and -- even if the carabiner is situated correctly, you wouldn't have to open the gate.

Large amounts of friction are important when it comes to SAR operations and indeed, are super important when you are in a mountain rescue setting with limited gear...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 28, 2016

Film Review: Backcountry

It was 1994 and a young medical student named Matthias Ruppert was pulled from his tent in the Bowron Lakes Provincial Park by an angry black bear. His girlfriend, Claudia Garschhammer, fought off the bear with a hatchet. The pair retreated to a ranger cabin, and that's when the bear attacked again...

The bear climbed up through the window. Garschhammer chopped at the angry animal with her hatchet until it retreated. It was then that she was able to close the shutters.

Ruppert survived. The bear did not.

It is very rare for a black bear to attack a person, and there are really no other stories out there about a bear that attacked people inside a tent. So after game wardens hunted down the animal and killed it, they performed an autopsy. Scientists could only come up with one conclusion about the aggressive nature of the animal. They believed that it was mating season and that the animal was...frustrated.

Throughout the 90s I spent a lot of time around bears, working in Alaska doing fish habitat surveys. I encountered literally hundreds of bears and luckily none of them were aggressive. They mostly ran away as soon as you yelled at them. That's not to say that I wasn't scared of them. Every bear I ever encountered seemed like a potential threat...

The Bowron Lakes story is horrific because -- while bear attacks occasionally happen -- this attack was vicious, ongoing and out-of-character. It seemed like something out of a horror movie. The Bowron Lakes incident is exactly the type of bear encounter that every backcountry traveler everywhere fears the most...

In 2014, writer/director Adam MacDonald loosely based his film Backcountry on the 1994 attack. The film, while not really a horror movie, provides the viewer with an intense and often terrifying roller-coaster of an experience.

A young urban couple travel deeply in the Canadian wilderness. Alex (Jeff Roop) is supposedly a seasoned backcountry traveler, while his girlfriend, Jenn (Missy Peregrym) is on her first camping trip. It turns out that Alex is not as seasoned as he thinks. He elects not to bring a map, which is a problem because the pair becomes seriously lost. Their problems are compounded by the loss of food, and then by an incredibly aggressive bear.

And yes, just like in real life. The bear attacks the couple in the tent, and it is both terrifying and incredibly gruesome. The scene makes it feel like a blood and guts slasher film instead of a backcountry thriller. It is a very hard scene to watch.

Throughout the film, there are several close-ups of the hatchet. But ultimately the woman doesn't fight the bear with it. I have a feeling that they shot some kind of final battle between Jenn and the bear, but cut it. Maybe the filmmakers felt that it would be too hokey, that it would be too unrealistic. And maybe they're right. Truth can be stranger than fiction. And it's likely that it's a better film for the fact that she didn't kill the bear...

Both Roop and Peregrym are completely believable as a young inexperienced backcountry duo. They are also completely believable as people. They make a lot of mistakes (no map, didn't try to scare the bear away, no communication device, poor food storage plan, etc.), but they're mistakes a lot of inexperienced backcountry travelers might make. You in no way feel that they deserve what happens to them. Instead, you are terrified by it and are rooting for them throughout the film.

This is an intense story that builds slowly. The stakes are constantly raised throughout the film; and indeed, the bear doesn't even make an appearance until about half-way through. This is a little bit odd because the film is packaged as a piece about a bear stalking a couple. But ultimately, that's not what it's about. Instead, it's about a couple on the verge of a major life decision seeing one another at both their worst and their best...

One thing that always drives me nuts about outdoor films are the packs. You can tell that there's nothing in them. Actors throw them around like they weigh nothing. One way to increase believability in all of these types of films is to put some actual weight inside the packs. Then the actors will actually look like they're carrying something.

Packs aside, this is a pretty good outdoors film. The bear attack is gratuitous, but I suppose that's reality. Bears don't attack people very often at all, but when they do it's a big deal. And when they are so aggressive that they actively pull someone from their tent, that's a really big deal.

Most outdoors, climbing and backcountry films designed for mainstream audiences tend to be fantastical. There are monsters or there are killers. They often don't deal with the real threats of the wilderness. Backcountry brings us those real threats and it does it in a way that is both engaging and intense. You can't ask for much more...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Training: Injury Prevention

In this video, Climbing Coach Taylor Reed shows some of the techniques he teaches to the Columbus, Ohio climbing team.

Specifically, Reed deals with some of the most common injuries. First, he discusses crimping (something I've personally been injured doing several times). Second, he deals with shoulders. And then finally, he deals with fingers and wrists.

One thing he doesn't say, that he might just think is self-evident, is that when you climb hard, you should always, always warm up. If you don't, you will get injured.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 24, 2016

Book Review: Climbing Self-Rescue

Most climbers are concerned about what might happen if there were an accident high on a steep face. Most climbers play-out some kind of heroic scenario in their heads where they get out of said accident. But most climbers don't spend the time required to learn how to deal with a serious situation. In other words, the reality vs. what plays out in a climber's head could be quite different. As such, all climbers need to invest some time in learning about rock rescue.

The best way to acquire the skills required to deal with an accident in a multi-pitch setting is to take a class on it. But for those who don't have the time or the money, the late Andy Tyson and Molly Loomis wrote an excellent textbook a few years ago on the subject entitled, Climbing Self-Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations.

Tyson and Loomis put together a book that starts with what one should do in the case of an accident and then goes into an overview of baseline knowledge. They discuss knots and hitches as well as ropes, webbing and carabiners. After this introduction, they present the alternatives available to a climber during a rescue. These are escaping the belay, rappelling, hauling and lowering. And though these sound like simple things, in reality they are quite difficult with a injured or unconscious patient. Each technique requires a series of steps that are outside the average climber's knowledge base.

The primary competitor to this book is A Falcon Guide: Self-Rescue by David J. Fasulo. While this book is also excellent and covers much of the same ground as Climbing Self-Rescue, Tyson and Loomis have one-upped the Fasulo book by adding a comprehensive series of scenarios at the end of their text which could be used in "practice rescues." The scenarios are complex and often require mastery of multiple rescue techniques in order for a climber to achieve success. And indeed, it is when one has mastery that one will actually be able to deal with a real situation. This element above all others makes Climbing Self-Rescue the better book.

Can you find the crossloaded carabiner in the photo
on the cover of this book?
There is no better way to learn any new technique than with a qualified guide, but for those looking for an introduction to self-rescue or for a supplement to their training, there is currently no better book on the market than Climbing Self-Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 21, 2016

Belay Glove Confession

A few years ago I was in a Nomad Ventures, the climbing shop near Joshua Tree National Park, when a question arose.

"Do you use these?" my partner asked.

I looked over and saw him holding a pair of hand jammies. Hand jammies are a pair of gimmicky gloves that supposedly take the place of hand tape. They cover the back of your hand with sticky rubber in order to protect the skin from the sharp innards of a crack

Hand jammies seem like a good idea, but there's a problem with them. The problem is not that they don't work. The problem is not that they're too expensive. And the problem definitely is not that they're difficult to use. No, instead the problem is one of style. To put it simply, hand jammies are dorky. So lets follow this syllogism to its natural conclusion.

A -- Hand jammies are dorky.
B -- Gunther wears hand jammies.
C -- Gunther is a dork.

So my response was simple. "No, I don't wear all."

My partner turned to the clerk behind the counter and asked the same question, "do you wear these?"

The clerk was a little less political in his answer. "No," he snorted. "I don't want to get beat up."

Sometime later, something happened to me. I didn't take up hand jammies. No, instead I started to wear something a bit worse. I started to wear belay gloves.

When you go out to the crag you'll notice that belay gloves are inot terribly common. The reason that they're uncommon is because most people don't see the need for them. Nobody really rappels or lowers anyone fast enough to burn their hands. And they certainly don't learn to wear them at the rock gym.

I don't wear them to avoid hand burns. I wear them to avoid the aluminum that inevitably gets transferred from the carabiners to the rope and then subsequently to my hands. Over the last few seasons I've found it harder and harder to wash the tiny fragments of metal out of the creases in my hands and as such it always looked like my hands were dirty.

I worked with a guide some time ago who was concerned that Alzheimer's disease comes from aluminum. As a result he always wore gloves whenever he handled a rope.

A short time after the guide told me about this, we had our first baby. My wife felt that when I got home from work I should play with the baby, which I gladly did. But she also felt that the black smudges I left all over the baby's clothes were a bit much.

And so, I began to wear belay gloves. Everybody made fun of me, but I still wore them...

A -- Belay gloves are dorky.
B -- Jason wear's belay gloves.
C -- Jason is a dork.

That's okay. I've embraced my inner dork and so now I can wear my belay gloves with pride. And I suppose that it's also kind of nice that when I get home I can pick up my kids and then put them back down without them looking like they've been rolling in the dirt...

(Jason and his daughter Holly in 2007, discussing the difference between hand jammies and baby jammies in Joshua Tree National Park.)

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/20/16


--The Idaho Statesman is reporting that, "A group of homeowners at Tamarack Resort has bought part of the financially troubled resort, ensuring it will be open to skiers this winter. The Tamarack Municipal Association also will control all skiing and summer and operations, including all six chairlifts and lodging, said the resort’s general manager, Brad Larsen." To read more, click here.

Read more here:

--Tom Evans, the longstanding photographer who regularly chronicaled what happened on El Capitan with his lens, has retired. Over the years Evans took thousands of photos of climbers on El Cap, including some of AAI guides. These were published on his site, El Cap Report. He will be missed. To read more, click here and here.

--There are two new accident reports up on ClimbingYosemite. To read the reports, click here.

--In inspiring news, a parapalegic climber recently made an ascent of Zodiac on El Capitan. Enoch Glidden and his partners took five days to climb the route. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Red Rock Canyon is still under threat. Here's an article about what's going on...

--The October Fire on Mt. Charleston near Las Vegas increased by two acres overnight and is now at 27 acres. The fire is located southeast of Mary Jane Falls near Big Falls on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest’s Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (SMNRA) near Las Vegas. The October Fire was reported at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14, and the cause has been determined to be an escaped illegal campfire. To read more, click here.

--Red Rock Rendezvous will take place from March 24 to 27. This is the premire climbing event of the year. Early registration is now open. Early registration allows you to save money and while also providing you with better clinic options than when you register closer to Rendezvous! To register for the event, click here.

--It is possible that Zion National Park will start to limit tourists. There is no word yet on how this will impact climbers. To read more, click here.

--So a random dude built a random monument to Woodrow Wilson behind his house in the desert. Randomly, it turns out that he built it inside Joshua Tree National Park. Weird. To read more, click here.


--Neptune Mountaineering, one of the staples of the climbing and skiing communities in Boulder, is facing eviction. The Daily Camera reports that the beloved outdoor retailer owes $70,000 in unpaid rent. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Access Fund and American Alpine Club are pleased to announce the 2016 Anchor Replacement Fund grant awards. Now in its second year, the Anchor Replacement Fund was launched to address the growing concerns of anchor failure and the access issues that could result from these incidents. Across the United States, bolts installed in the 80s and 90s are aging, and there is an immediate need to address inadequate fixed anchors and increase support for the growing number of local organizations and national partners that are tackling this problem. To read more, click here.

Bigfoot's hiding at the airport shoping mall in Seattle.
It is currently illegal to hunt at the airport.

--So apparently Bigfoot hunting is legal in Texas, but not California... To read more, click here.

--Are pay to climb resorts the future of climbing? We hope not. But here is an article by Climbing magazine on that topic.

--It's not a bad time to support the American Safe Climbing Association. Donations prior to November 1st will be matched by Planet Granite. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Giddy Climbing Balm Review

We do a handful of gear and equipment reviews on this blog, but we've never done one on any type of climbing balm or salve. Maybe that's because climbing balm has always seemed like lip balm or sunscreen. In other words, something you don't necessarily put a lot of thought into, but pick up occasionally...

However, a few months ago a guy at Giddy sent me some climbing salve to review. This caused me to think a little bit more about what is inside this kind of material.

But before I get into that, I want to make sure everybody is on the same page as to what this product is for...

Climbing can be really hard on your hands. The more time you spend gripping rock and dipping chalk the more dried out and callused your hands get. This doesn't bother everybody, and there are a lot of people out there that don't use any kind of salve to treat their calluses, cuts and splits in their skin. But some of us are bigger babies than others and we need some kind of lotion or salve to keep our hands from coming apart at the seams.

According to my research, the base ingredient in most climbing balms is beeswax. Here's a note on this from the Giddy website:

Beeswax, which is produced by female worker bees at a 10:1 honey to beeswax ratio (meaning it takes 10 pounds of honey to product 1 pound of beeswax), is primarily used in skin care products to bind, or emulsify, the oil components of cosmetic recipes. However, due to wax esthers found in beeswax that are similar to those found in human skin cells, beeswax has a wide variety of skin benefitting properties all on it’s own outside of the oils it binds together. First and foremost, similar to how beeswax is used as a protective agent for cloth, lining, and leathers, beeswax provides protective properties for your skin as well. Also, high in Vitamin A, beeswax helps penetrate skin and retain moisture without the risk of clogging pores.

Giddy adds a number of other ingredients to this base. They include things like almond oil, aloe vera gel, and apple cider vinegar. To see a complete list of ingredients, click here. Giddy states that each of the ingredients is organic or green. Indeed, one of their main marketing points is that their company is a green company...

My hands tend to get trashed in different ways, primarily based on the type of climbing I'm doing at any given time. My palms and finger pads get trashed when I'm sport climbing, and the backs of my hands and fingers get seriously beat up when I'm trad climbing. Occasionally, on longer climbing trips, my hands don't heal very well... There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Giddy Climbing Salve increased the speed at which my skin healed and decreased the pain of split skin.

There are several scents to the salve. They include cedar mint, cooling mint, lavender, sweet orange and unscented. The unscented version is also vegan friendly. And though some of the scents were quite nice, I didn't care for the sweet orange. I would recommend that you smell these, if possible, before ordering as this will be an issue of personal taste.

I didn't do any type of scientific comparison between different skin salves or balms. Instead, I just used this particular brand non-stop on a week-long climbing trip. There may be other good products out there, but Giddy works, and it works well...!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 17, 2016

Rack on the Shoulder or Shoot from the Hip?

I admit it...

I wore a shoulder rack until approximately 2013. Please don't judge me. I started climbing in 1992. It's hard to change and evolve. But after 21-years of shoulder slinging, I finally switched and began to shoot from the hip...

Why would you subject yourself to a shoulder sling, you might be asking?

The author in Red Rock Canyon (circa 2005)
sporting a shoulder rack on a multi-pitch climb.

Easy, there are a number of advantages to racking on a shoulder sling.

Shoulder Sling Advantages

1) It's easy to shift a shoulder sling from one side of your body to the other when climbing off-widths or chimneys.

2) When you climb sport routes, nothing changes on your harness.

3) It's very easy to swap leads by handing the rack to your partner. Indeed, on some speedy ascents, we actually used to hold the sling out so the climber following the pitch would climb right up into the sling and then keep going...!

4) It's easy to see the gear that you have on your rack. Nothing is hidden on a gear loop at the back of your harness.

5) In steep snow, with a lot of clothing, it may be easier to find gear on a shoulder sling.

But there are also a lot of disadvantages.

Shoulder Sling Disadvantages

1) A large rack rubs your shoulder and neck raw. It can be very painful to carry doubles or triples.

2) On low angle terrain, the rack constantly gets in your way. It's hard to see your feet.

3) The edges of cams commonly get caught on edges while you're climbing, making it difficult to move efficiently.

4) Shoulder slings with fixed loops tend to change positions on your shoulder. Heavier gear constantly pulls the rack into inopportune positions.

5) If you fall and flip upside down, it's possible to lose the entire rack.

If you look at the advantages and disadvantages of a shoulder sling, it starts to feel like it's about even. There are five advantages and five disadvantages. But choosing whether to use a shoulder sling or to "shoot from the hip" isn't so much about the advantages and disadvantages of the shoulder sling, it's also about the advantages and disadvantages of racking on your harness.

A climber with a rack on his harness.

Advantages of Racking on the Harness

1) Nothing is rubbing on your neck or shoulder.

2) You can see your feet. Additionally, there's nothing in front of you, so it's easier to see mid-level holds.

3) The edges of your cams are less likely to get caught.

4) Ice screw clippers work extremely well on a harness, but don't work at all on a shoulder rack.

5) Everything feels cleaner and more streamlined when it's on your harness.

6) Most climbers use this system. This makes it easier to work with lots of different partners while having similar systems.

Disadvantages to Racking on the Harness

1) Depending on the harness, gear may be hanging in awkward places. This is especially true with harnesses that have offset gear loops. It can be problematic when cams are hanging over the front of your thigh.

2) It's harder to swap gear between leads.

3) It can be hard to see which cam is which at your waist. I personally rack my cams with carabiners of corresponding color to easily find what I need on my gear loop.

4) There may not be enough space on the gear loops to accommodate all the gear required for a lead.


How you rack is ultimately a personal choice. But I do lean toward racking on the harness. The main reason for this is because I did rack on my shoulder for over twenty years. I didn't want to change. But when I finally committed to updating my system, I found it to be much more streamlined.

That said, I don't put everything on my harness. I still put some slings over my shoulder. So you could say that my technique is a bit of a hybrid...

If you're new to climbing, I would strongly suggest that you try both systems. There is value to being able to accommodate different systems for different kinds of climbing. But ultimately, you're going to lean toward one system that you use most of the time. These days, it's highly likely that you'll lean toward "shooting from the hip." However, if you decide that the shoulder sling is better, there's nothing wrong with that. How you climb is completely up to you...that's one of the cool things about this sport!

Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Climb - Videogame

Okay. Okay. So there is a virtual reality video game out there about climbing. And when I say virtual reality, I mean the type of game where you're wear a headset and look around and see what's behind  you.

It's kinda' cool!

Here's a trailer for the game:

And here is a really funny video with a guy who is clearly not a climber, testing out the game:

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/13/16


--Search and Rescue teams are frustrated that even after two high profile fatalities, people continue to venture into the Big Four Ice Caves. To read more, click here.

--It looks like it will be a snowier winter in the Pacific Northwest.

--The Washington State Department of Natural Resources is likely to regulate target shooting on its lands after several close calls around hikers and mountain bikers. To read more, click here.


--There is a petition to reintroduce grizzlies to the Sierra. To see a thread on the controversy and a link to the petition, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--There is once again a movement to build thousands of houses across the street from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. It is possible for climbers to fight this by becoming informed and signing a petition to stop this development. To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund has recently announced that an Inter-Tribal Coalition has come out in support of climbing at Bears Ears. This is the area that is currently under threat from extractive industries in southeastern Utah. To read more, click here.

--The Las Vegas Sun published an editorial about conservationalists working together on grassroots campaigns to defend and protect public lands from development. To read the editorial, click here.


--The Denver Post has an interesting piece this week on how social media plays into mistakes in avalanche terrain and how avalanche educators grapple with it. To read the story, click here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Film Review: A Lonely Place to Die

Climbing is used so poorly in so many films, it often makes me nervous to hear that it was used in a given storyline. Think big climbing moves like Vertical Limit or Cliffhanger. But also think smaller films where climbing is used for a few scenes, like Mission Impossible II or Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Inevitably, both genres of films are flops when it comes to climbing.  The weakness in the climbing sequences make the whole films hard to watch.

But then again, every now and then a movie comes around that gets climbing right...or at least a little bit right. Thus was the case for the British film, A Lonely Place to Die.

A group of intrepid mountain climbers travel up to a remote part of the Scottish Highlands in order to attempt a series of technical climbs during their vacation.  While approaching a climb through the woods, the team hears a faint voice.  They follow the voice to a black pipe sticking up out of the ground. And this is where the movie devolves from a your standard "climber-falls-and-dies-injuring-another-climber's-psyche-for-life" climbing film.

 It quickly becomes clear that someone -- a child -- has been buried alive and that the pipe is her only means of air. The team of climbers quickly dig up the the person buried only to discover that it is a young girl who has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. The remainder of the movie follows the climbers as they try to save the girl from gun-toting madmen who don't care who they kill as long as they get their ransom money.

There are some strange climbing scenes and cliches in the film.  The climbers don't appear to be very versed in anchor building, redundancy or the use of locking carabiners.  This leads to at least one near-miss (a very strange one at that) and another accident that results in a fatality. Though later in the movie we discover that the second incident wasn't necessarily an accident. And speaking of strange cliches, there is a moment where a woman must rappel off the end of her rope and traverse to a ledge, hundreds of feet off the deck...

The thing is that these weird sequences are so minor that they don't really harm the storyline.  I'm sure those of you that are sailors or police officers see these kinds of minor things in film all the time, but because they are not egregious, it's easy to suspend disbelief.  Something that cannot be done for some of the glossier blockbuster-style climbing movies.

A Lonely Place to die is actually quite a good action movie style ride. The climbers simply are in the wrong place at the wrong time and this puts them into the middle of a violent conflict.  The climbers don't just turn into action movie stars, they turn into victims.  Their climbing skills provide little comfort when it comes to men with guns, and this gives the whole film a somewhat realistic feel.  Climbers are not super-people, instead they are normal people with unusual interests.  Such interests may make them hardy in the woods, but don't make them anything special against hardened criminals.

Action movies tend to be a very generic form of entertainment. A Lonely Place to Die does have some moments that have that generic feel, but for the most part it travels new ground in both the climbing and the action genre...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 10, 2016

Extending Your Rappel

We have talked about extending a rappel in this blog before. However, to date we've been too lazy to make a video on the subject.  This is not the case with Climbing magazine's gear editor Julie Ellison. Julie made a very nice video on the subject of rappel extensions.

Following is the video:

There are a handful of additions that I'd like to make to Julie's notes.

Girth-Hitching the Sling

It is important that the sling is girth-hitched through the tie-in points on the harness. It should not be girth-hitched around the belay loop. This is because a girth-hitch crushes the loop and slowly wears it out.

Some choose to keep a PAS or a daisy chain attached to their belay-loop on a more or less permanent basis. This is very dangerous as it freezes the belay-loop in place, keeping it from rotating. The natural rotation of the gear-loop allows wear to disperse around the loop. When something is permanently girth-hitched to it, all the wear is focused into two places, wearing out the loop faster.  To avoid this, we recommend girth-hitching through the tie-in point.


Julie shows the clipping of the device inside the loop between the harness and the rope. To create additional redundancy in the system (at least while rappelling) it is possible to clip the device into both loops. That way, when you clip the end of the system back to yourself, you have a level of redundancy.

Type of Sling Used (Dynema)

In the video Julie is using a Dynema sling. These slings don't do well in a factor two fall.

A factor two fall could take place when you clip into your anchor above your anchor, and then slip. In tests completed by DMM, Dynema slings did much more poorly than nylon slings.  To see a video concerning this, click here.

Our recommendation is generally to use nylon slings in this application. But if you have to use Dynema, then you should be cognizant of this danger.

Third Hand - Autoblock

Julie shows clipping this into your belay loop, which is the correct place to clip the autoblock. However, many people clip it to their leg-loop when they extend the rappel. There is no reason to do this. If your belay loop is clear, why wouldn't you clip the autoblock to it? It's the strongest part of your harness.

Third Hand - Letting Go

Julie does make one off the cuff comment about how your autoblock will save you if you let go.  Indeed, that is the intent of the third hand. However, if the autoblock is loose or sloppy, it may not engage appropriately. As such, I generally still wrap the rope around my leg or tie a catastrophe knot below the autoblock in order to have some peace of mind when I have to go hands free.

Speed and Efficiency

One thing that was not mentioned in the video is that the use of extended rappels in a multi-pitch setting allows more than one person to clip in at the same time. This can significantly expedite a descent and also allows you to check one another to ensure that everything has been set-up right.

I personally tend to extend my rappels at every opportunity. There are some places where it's not terribly useful or realistic (like in a sport setting), but in trad and multi-pitch settings, it is definitely the way to go...down...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 7, 2016

Toproping Ettiquete

The following is a series of etiquette oriented questions that arise around toproped climbing at popular cragging destinations. The answers to these questions should be adhered to at North American Climbing destinations. Locations outside of North America may have different etiquette issues.

A Climber Lowers Off a Route in Leavenworth, Washington
Photo by Ruth Hennings

1) Where should I set-up my "camp" at a crag that I'm going to climb at all day?

Gear and equipment should not be placed directly under the wall. It's good to set-up a "safe" area away from the wall where you can relax without a helmet on and eat lunch. This will also keep the base of the wall from being crowded with gear and packs.

It's a good idea to consolodate your group's gear. Avoid allowing equipment and packs to be scattered around.

A Climber Leads Tonto (5.5) in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Jason Martin

2) What if I have a large group and want to "take-over" a crag for the day?

It is not appropriate for a group to "take-over" a crag. Climbing areas are public areas that are open to everyone. As such, it is incredibly rude for a group to hold an entire area -- or even a few routes -- hostage for the day.

If you have a large group, you have a large impact on both other users as well as the area. The best thing that you can to mitigate that impact is to keep a low profile, allow others to work in on the wall that you're using. Never leave a rope up that is not being used to "hold" a route.

If you do have a lot of ropes up and other users wish to climb routes that you have ropes on, it is okay to allow people to use your ropes if they look like they know what they're doing. If they don't appear knowlegable and they are climbing on your gear, you could become legally liable if something happens to one of the climbers that aren't with your group.

A group climbs at the Cowlick Co. Crag in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Jason Martin

3) What if a large group is using a crag and refuses to give up a climb to my small group?

If you've got moves, then offer to have a dance-off for the climb. Seriously, joking with people will often loosen them up. In most cases, people that have had a good laugh will be more polite and more open to allowing people to climb.

If the large group is very rude and refuses to give up a climb, then politely find another place to go. It's not worth lecturing an ignorant climber about crag ettiquete. More often than not, a lecture will just reinforce negative behavior.

4) Is it okay to use the same anchor bolts as the person on an adjacent route?

Yes and no. Will this cause the person next door problems? If so, they were there first. If not, then be sure to ask them before clipping in next to their carabiners. If they say yes, then clip the bolts, but be sure not to do anything that changes their set-up in any way.

5) Where should I go to the bathroom when I'm cragging?

If there is an outhouse nearby, always use that first. Avoid urinating at the base of the wall and always avoid urinating in cracks on a wall as this causes the smell to linger.

If you have to defeicate, know the rules of the area. Some areas require the use of WAG Bags, while other areas require you to dig a cat hole and pack out your toilet paper. Never go to the bathroom on the ground, stack the toilet paper on it and then put a rock on top.

6) When should I say something to a person who is doing something dangerous?

This is up to you. I usually don't say anything unless there is real and iminent danger. If there is mild danger, I will usually chat with the people for awhile in a non-threatening way before providing any unsolicieted beta.

7) Is it okay to toprope the first pitch of a multi-pitch climb?

More often than not, the answer is no. This is a more complex issue than the others and it does depend on the route and the route's history. People who are doing multi-pitch climbs always have the right of way over those who will TR a climb.

Some climbs are multi-pitch climbs, but nobody does anything but the first pitch. In this case, all the other ettiquete rules apply. Other climbs are commonly climbed as multi-pitch routes and are seldom done as single pitch routes. Such climbs should not be toproped.

8) It it okay to yell beta at people who didn't ask for it that I don't know?

No, many climbers like figure out the moves on their own.

Climbers who keep these concepts of etiquette in mind will almost universally have a much better time with a lot less conflict at the crags. And climbing isn't about conflict. It's about having fun...!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/6/16


--The Bellingham Mountain Rescue Council announces its annual fundraising slideshow at Backcountry Essentials (214 West Holly Street, Bellingham, WA) with Washington-based photographer and ski mountaineer Jason Hummel. The slideshow will take place on October 7th at 7:30pm.

Ashima Shiraishi and Kai Lightner examine a climbing problem 
in the Reel Rock Film Festival.

--The Reel Rock Film Festival will take place tonight at Western Washington University. To read more, click here.


--The Yosemite Climbing Rangers have posted an accident report concerning a fatality that took place on the East Ledges descent of El Capitan. To read the report, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The BLM is doing the best that it can to undermine historic racism in the area. They have renamed a trail that used to have a racist name. But it took just a few days for vandals to steal the trailhead's new sign. To read more, click here.

--Spooky - haunted Joshua Tree campsite?

--Speaking of Joshua Tree National Park, there's actually an asteroid named after it.


--A 61-year-old man was killed in a climbing accident on Longs Peak this week. It appears that the individual slipped on ice in "The Narrows" section of the Keyhole Route. To read more, click here.

--Aspen Daily News is reporting, "Friends and family of missing New Mexico climber David Cook are asking for help in pouring over thousands of images of the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak taken during the official search, which was suspended on Thursday, hoping that someone will notice something that will bring the efforts to a conclusion." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Canadian climber Anna Smith passed away unexpectedly on an expedition to the Indian Himalaya. The 31-year old complained of headaches prior to going to bed at advanced basecamp near 15,000-feet. The woman did not wake up the next morning. An autopsy will be performed in India. To read more, click here.

--A hiker in Montana was attacked twice by a grizzly bear. After surviving the attack Todd Orr decided that the best thing to do next was to videotape himself covered in blood. To read the story and to see the graphic video he made, click here.

--If you haven't signed the Land and Conservation Fund Coalition letter, you should consider signing it. This legislation created in 1965 requires that a percentage of royalties from oil and gas drilling be used to preserve natural areas. Unfortunately, Congress often breaks it's promise to the American people and sends the funds to other places. If you'd like to see those funds used for what they were intended for, click here to sign a petition.

--Is you're local chairlift a deathtrap?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Parkour and Art

Steve Casimiro at The Adventure Life posted the following video a couple of weeks ago. If you haven't checked out The Adventure Life, it's definitely time to take a look. They have a very good blog.

Parkour is the urban climbing, bouldering, gymnastic movement that has become popular in some circles. The Urban Dictionary defines Parkour as:

Parkour can be thought of as being chased by someone. You want to get away as fast as possible, right? But lets say you begin running into rails or walls or other obstacles as such. If you go around them you're only wasting time and energy.

The trick of parkour is to use as little wasted movementt while going past an obstacle. This is why most consider tricking and flips "not parkour" as they simply aren't necessary and will most likely slow you down in someway.

To parkour is to be able to control your body and mind into one being, so that you can find a path quickly, and move your body in a way that the path can be followed into the next path you're given. If you're running towards and obstacle and start to slow down in order to maneuver around it, most likely you need to practice more.

In the following video an artist has developed a cartoon of sorts showing parkour movement...and it is awesome. Check it out below:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 3, 2016

Rappelling Safety

There is no doubt that rappelling is one of the most dangerous things that we regularly do in this sport. There are more climber injuries and fatalities from mistakes rappelling than from any other place in all of climbing. However, there are some things that every climber can do to make rappelling safer.

First, if it is possible to safely walk off from the top of a climb, simply walk off. Limiting the amount of time that you spend rappelling is a surefire way to limit the amount of exposure that you have to potential mistakes.

Second, climbers should always try to tie off the ends of their ropes in order to close the system. This is a simple thing to do that is often overlooked. Some climbers are afraid that their ropes will get stuck after they throw them...which is a legitimate fear. Closing the system should be a default tactic. But if there are extenuating circumstances, then perhaps the system should be intentionally left open.

I have recently started to experiment with tying the ends of the ropes off and clipping them to my harness. In a multi-pitch rappel setting this decreases the likelihood of ropes getting stuck below the next belay station, as well as providing the security of a closed system.

People seldom think about tying knots in the end of the rope in single pitch terrain, but ironically, that's where most people accidentally rappel off of a single end of the rope. All that it takes is a minor rope offset to ruin your day. Knots in the rope will keep such a thing from being anything more than another minor element to fix.

Rappelling with a Prussik above the Device

And third, climbers should use some kind of rappel backup.

A Prussik Hitch on a Rope

There are two friction hitch backup options that are commonly used. Some people like to put a prussik hitch above their rappel device, whereas others prefer to put an autoblock hitch below the device. There are advantages and disadvantages to rappelling both ways. The biggest advantage to either of these options is that you are less likely to die if you make a mistake. The biggest disadvantage is that it takes extra time to put these things together...

Note the autoblock coming off the climber's leg-loop.

Most people will put their hand on the autoblock hitch while rappelling.
You might notice that the backup in this scenario is on a non-locker. Generally, you don't need a locking carabiner for a back-up, but if you want more security, you can certainly use one.

Rappelling with a friction hitch above the device has gone a bit out of fashion. One advantage to rappelling with a prussik hitch above is that it is easy to switch a rappel system into a rope ascending system. The prussik is already attached to the climber's belay loop, so all that he has to do is to add a second friction hitch for his feet below the first friction hitch.

Most climbers now rappel with a friction hitch (usually an autoblock hitch) below the device, attached to a leg loop. This allows both hands to hold the rope below the device which provides for more redundancy in the rappel.

An Autoblock Hitch

A friction hitch works well below the device...most of the time. It is, however, imperative that climbers who employ this technique be extremely careful. If a climber elects to hang from the rope by nothing more than his device and a friction hitch, it is possible that the hitch could be disengaged if it touches the device. Such a thing would result in catastrophic failure. This usually happens when one twists his body away from the friction hitch. If a climber needs to mess around with ropes or something else while hanging from a device and a hitch, he should definitely put a catastrophe knot in below the hitch. This will ensure that should something happen, the climber will not fall to the ground.

Rappelling is the most dangerous thing that we do. So why not create more security by trying to walk off when you can? Or by tying knots in the end of the ropes? Or by putting a friction hitch into the system? Any one of these simple techniques could save your life...


AAI Guide Andrew Yasso recently received the following text from a student that he taught this material:

Sup Andrew! 
It's ******, ***** *****'s nephew, the kid you took climbing and lent a crash pad too. Hope all is well.

Anyway, just wanted to share some photos!

That knot you showed me saved a 4 foot fall due to miss judging how much rope i need for a rappel!

This is a great example of why we should always close systems and use friction hitches to back up rappels!

--Jason D. Martin