Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Arresting a Crevasse Fall with a Rope

Over the last ten years it has become more and more popular for rope teams on glaciers to tie knots between one another. The idea is that should someone fall into a crevasse, the rope will cut into the lip and one of the knots will get stuck, thus arresting the fall.

We teach a lot of crevasse rescue at the American Alpine Institute and enjoy testing different theories while we're in the field. Most of our guides have done some level of testing on this particular glacier travel theory and amazingly enough, it works...sometimes.

What we have found is that there are two types of knots. There are knots that are flat on one side and knots that go around the rope. Knots that are flat on one side, like an overhand or a figure-eight on a bite, tend to slide over the lip more easily than knots that go around the rope, like a butterfly.

In our testing, what we've found is that early in the season, when there is more snow and the snow is softer, figure-eights and overhands will often bite the lip and hold. But as the season progresses and the lips become icier, the knots just slide right over. Butterfly knots are more likely to bite into the lip both early in the season as well as later.

The following video shows a demonstration of how to tie a butterfly knot:



There are some disadvantages to knots on the rope between climbers. When there are a lot of sastrugi formations or penitentes on the snow's surface, the knots can get caught and will hinder movement. It can be difficult to haul a person out of a crevasse who is being held by a knot as you will have to pass the knots. It can also be difficult for a climber to prusik out and deal with the knot welded in the lip.

I generally don't put knots in the rope on teams of four or more. There is so much weight in the system that it really isn't required. Three person teams are a little more difficult. If they are experienced, I usually don't put knots in the rope, but if they are novices, I'll usually put a couple knots in the rope. On two person teams, I always put butterflys in the center of the rope.

It's better not to put too many knots in the rope. If there really is a crevasse fall, they might arrest a victim, but that doesn't mean that it will be easy for the person to get out. Instead, most guides put one to three knots in the rope between themselves and the other climbers. More than that generally just creates more problems.

Knots in the rope are a nice additional safety measure, but they will not take the place of good technique and a solid set of skills.

--Jason D. Martin

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

Tent Melt-Out

When the spring is sprung and there is more rain and warmth than snow and cold, an odd thing starts to happen in the mountains around your tent. The bottom of the tent acts as an insulator or a blanket, keeping the snow cold. On overnight trips or short summit trips, you may not even notice this. But on longer trips, the warmer temperatures and the rain cause the snow to melt everywhere...everywhere except for under your tent.

Slowly your tent develops its own little pedestal. There are two problems with this. First, your tent-stakes will start to melt out and second, the edges of the insulated tent floor will begin to melt-out.In the snow, tent-stakes should be buried in a T-slot instead of buried vertically. Work-harden the snow to make sure that the stakes stay in place. If there is any metal showing from a stake, it becomes more likely that the stake will melt-out. Warmth radiates through metal. Making sure that a placement is solidly work-hardened will decrease the likelihood of a stake melting out in the short term.

When the snow underneath the tent starts to melt-out, it tends to do so from the edges. Over the course of a couple of days the melt-out will force the tent's occupants to cuddle more and more closely together. The sides of the tent become a trough, eating up all the extra equipment.

If you plan to camp in a given location for a longer period of time, the trick to avoiding problems is to pile snow all around your tent. Pile the snow heavily along the sides of the tent and over the snow-stakes. If the edges of the tent are well-covered, the problems that arise with longer camps become less prevalent.


A tent in the snow without additional snow piled-up to prevent melt-out

A tent that has a significant amount of snow piled around it 
so that it doesn't melt out on a warm day.

While this might not be the most technical tip that we've ever provided on this blog, stacking snow around your tent can certainly make your life a lot more pleasant.

--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.

Northwest:

--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.

Sierra:

--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.

Alaska:

--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 www.alasdairturner.com

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 haunted....by 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

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Ice Bollard

Steep snow or ice can be descended two ways. A climber could downclimb the terrain or he could rappel. Rappelling is always a dangerous option as a lot can go wrong...but in the mountains, sometimes the speed of rappelling is safer than downclimbing.



A Climber Rappels Off of an Ice Bollard

In hard frozen snow or on ice, one option is to create a bollard. A bollard is essentially a tear-drop shaped pillar that is cut into a frozen surface with an ice axe adze. The rope is then wrapped around the bollard for the rappel. Once the rappel is completed, the climber can simply pull the rope.

Bollards are not the strongest anchors available, but they are quick and effective. If you choose to use a bollard, it is important to do two things. Back them up and reset the rope after each rappel.


An Ice Bollard loosely Backed-Up by an Ice Screw

To back-up a bollard, create the bollard and then preset the rope. Place a piece of snow protection (e.g. a picket buried as a deadman) and then loosely clip a sling to both the piece and to the rope. Once this is set-up, the heaviest person with the heaviest pack should rappel first. The theory is that if the heaviest person with the heaviest pack doesn't blow out the bollard, then a lighter person should be able to remove the back-up piece and safely rappel.

To reset the rope after each rappel, simply treat the rope like dental floss. Pull on each end of the rope once your down. Resetting the rope like this will ensure that it doesn't freeze into place and get stuck.


An Ice Bollard backed-up by an Ice Screw

Snow and ice bollards are a quick and effective style of anchoring that avoids leaving trash -- or expensive gear -- behind. Practice with this style of rappel anchor will lead to a solid and safe understanding as to how one should employ them effectively...

--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.

Northwest:

--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 17, 2016

The Dangers of Glissading

Yep, you can find them in just about every issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering. They have unwieldy headlines like:

"Climber injured in Glissade Accident"
"Out of Control Glissade Leads to Fatality"
"Inexperience, Lack of Proper Clothing and Glissade with Crampons On"

Gissading is an incredibly fun endeavor. I've often felt that after achieving a somewhat physical summit that a good glassade run back down makes it all worth it. It's as if nature gave you something back for all of the work that you did to get up there. The desire to glissade though should be tempered by the reality...and the reality is that a lot of people get hurt glissading.

Most injuries take place because an individual breaks one of the cardinal rules. To stay safe, the best thing to do is to take these rules seriously.

The Cardinal Rules of Glissading 
  1. Never glissade with crampons on. If you're wearing crampons it means that you're probably on hard snow or ice. This means that should you glissade, you will slide really fast. If you slide really fast and you catch a crampon spike, your leg will snap like a dry twig. As such one should never glissade with crampons on. 
  2. Never glissade on a rope team. If one person loses control on a rope team, then others may do so as well. 
  3. Never glissade on a glacier. It's likely that you'll be roped up if you're on a glacier so if you do glissade, you will be breaking two rules at once. We don't glissade on glaciers because of the possibility of hidden crevasses. 
  4. Always make sure that you can see where you're going. This should make sense. If you can't see, then you could end up sliding into a talus field or off a cliff. 
  5. Make sure that there is a good run-out. A good run-out is imperative. One should certainly avoid glissading above dangerous edges, boulders or trees. 

These rules are quite black and white. There are few gray areas in glissading. If there is some question, then the best thing to do is to err on the side of caution. Though you might be tired, sometimes walking down the mountain is the safer alternative.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 16, 2016

Film Review: Beyond the Edge

The first ascent of Everest...

Everyone knows the story of the first real attempt on Mt. Everest. Indeed, a tremendous amount of ink and a tremendous amount of film footage has been generated about the (possibly?) failed ascent of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine.

And of course, everyone knows the story of the first ascent. Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary made the first ascent of Mt. Everest on May 29th, 1953. News of the ascent reached London on June 2nd, the morning of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

Everyone knows that story. Right?

The answer is, kind of...

A lot more modern literature has been written about the Mallory-Irvine ascent than about the Hillary-Norgay ascent. And though the Hillary-Norgay ascent is recounted in volumes of different pieces on modern ascents of the mountain, a lot of the detail is missing.

And that's where the documentary Beyond the Edge comes into play.


Beyond the Edge tells the story of the 1953 expedition to Everest and the struggles that took place. The following is the synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes.

In 1953, the ascent of Everest remained the last of Earth's great challenges. Standing at over 29,000ft, the world's highest mountain posed a fearsome challenge and had already claimed thirteen lives in previous expeditions. Faced with treacherous winds, sub-zero temperatures and battling altitude sickness, Edmund Hillary, a modest bee-keeper and keen mountaineer from Auckland, New Zealand, and the experienced Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, of Nepal, finally achieved the impossible and became the first men to stand atop Everest. It was an event that stunned the world and defined an era. Hillary and Tenzing carried the hopes and dreams of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the people of the Himalayas and the entire British Empire on their shoulders. As the world slowly recovered from the horrors of World War II their efforts allowed people everywhere to believe a new age was dawning.

The story is told in a similar fashion to Touching the Void and The Summit. In other words, the tale is told using a blend of dramatizations, original footage and photographs. This provides one with the experience of reliving the expedition and all the drama that took place during it.



I consider myself to be a well-read climber. I've read all the historic and modern classics of mountaineering literature, but this documentary really made me feel like I didn't know that much about one of the most important ascents in mountaineering history. I mean, I suppose that I knew about all the hardships on the expedition. I suppose that I knew that they were on a razor thin timeline by the time they got high on the mountain, and I suppose I knew that Hillary and Tenzing were the second team to attempt the summit on the expedition...

But I didn't really know...

And that's where this film really fills in the gaps. For example, climbing the Hillary Step in 1953 was no different than committing to landing on the moon. You might not come back. In fact, it almost seemed more likely that they wouldn't come back than they would... Making those moves in such an exposed and inhospital place wearing all kinds of oxygen equipment was incredibly daring.

Beyond the Edge takes us into the minds of the Everest mountaineers. We live each of their struggles and fears on the mountain. And finally, we rejoice in their ascent to the summit.  Indeed, the film is so well done that I would hazard to say that no Everest history buff is complete without a viewing of Beyond the Edge.

As of this writing, Beyond the Edge is available streaming on Netflix.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 13, 2016

Route Profile: Cutthroat Peak, S. Buttress (5.8, III+)

Every winter the Washington Department of Transportation turns a cold shoulder to a stretch of State Route 20 that winds its way through the Northern Cascades.  This area sees so much snow and crosses so many avalanche paths that it is not feasible for them to maintain the road and keep it plowed.  This stretch can see sometimes more than 60 or 70 feet of snow in some places.  Every spring, we eagerly await the reports from the DOT as they start the clearing process.  Depending on the snowfall and the avalanche conditions, this can take a few weeks, or a few months.  This year, the highway was cleared and open by May 8, and climbers and skiers alike have already started enjoying the numerous routes there.

The Liberty Bell Group from the East.  Dana Hickenbottom.
SR 20 cuts through the heart of the North Cascades National Park, and is the access for hundreds of peaks.  One of my favorite areas along there is known as Washington Pass.  This Pass is home to some of the best alpine rock climbing in the state.  The most notable formation there is the Liberty Bell Group, which includes Liberty Bell, Concord Tower, Lexington Tower, North Early Winters Spire and South Early Winters Spire.  Each of these peaks have numerous routes on them ranging from 5.6 beginner routes to 5.12 Grade V monsters.

However, the Liberty Bell Group isn't the only fine chunk of granite in the area.  Another great is Cutthroat Peak, which is just to the north of Liberty Bell, on the other side of the highway.  At 8050', it tops out at about 300' higher then anything in the Liberty Bell Group.  When viewed from the east or west, you can see the distinctive North and South Summits, which form the shape of the salmon that it is named after.

Climbers approaching through the grassy meadows to
the southwest of the peak.  James Pierson

There are a hand-full of routes on the peak, mostly in the moderate range, although there are a couple in the 5.10 and over range, as well as some alpine ice routes.  From the highway, you park at a broad pull-off south and just west of the peak, approximately 1.5 miles west of Washington Pass.  Drop down into the drainage and start the brushy hike up the other side towards the meadows on the southwest of the peak.  Ascend the northern-most notch of the Southwest Arm to get to the base of the South Buttress to start the real climbing.  The South Buttress, shown middle-center in the photo below, is a great 5.8 route that follows the crest of the feature, with a few short sections that venture to the east before returning back to the ridge.  If you find yourself getting sucked too far to the left, be sure to steer yourself back to the crest again.

View of Cutthroat Peak from the summit of Liberty Bell.  James Pierson

The majority of the route is easier climbing with a few short but well protected 5.6 - 5.7 spots.  The crux of the climb (5.8) comes near the top, just before you start the final easy scramble.  This takes you up to the first of the two summits.

Rock Ptarmigan trying to blend in. James Pierson
Mountain goat coming to say hello.  James Pierson


Above is a 360 deg. panorama from the summit of Cutthroat Peak.  From this vantage point, you have spectacular views of the Liberty Bell Massif, Big Kangaroo Peak, Silver Star Peak, the Wine Spires, in to British Columbia to the north, and on a good day you can even catch glimpses of Mt. Baker.

Climber starting to rappel down the
West Ridge. James Pierson
For the descent, you have two options.  If there are no other climbers behind you, you can rappel the route.  The other option is to continue scrambling and drop into the notch between the North and South Summits, ascend the North Summit and then rappel down the West Ridge route.  There are fewer rappels this way, but there is also some loose scree scrambling as you come off the West Ridge.

Cutthroat Peak is often overlooked by climbers since its neighbors on the other side of the highway have such easy access.  But with a little extra effort on the approach, you will find a great climb for anyone looking for a long, moderate climb with beautiful surroundings.

--James Pierson, Program Coordinator and Guide

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

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Mountaineers Rest Step

When I first started mountaineering it became clear to me that there were two things I needed to be successful. And no, I'm not talking about a lighter ice axe or more breathable clothing.

Nope. What I need were legs and lungs.

I realized that I needed to be able to walk uphill forever. And I realized that I needed to be able to breathe while I walked uphill forever.

The problem is that nobody can really walk uphill forever. Going up into the sky on a snowy peak really works the quads. Tired quads, plus walking uphill early in the morning, plus altitude, equals tired lungs.

There is a simplistic trick that can help you to preserve both your legs and your lungs. The Mountaineer's Rest Step is a technique that slows you down a bit -- which helps you keep your breath -- and allows you a micro-rest on every step. In the simplest terms, all that you have to do is lock your knee on every step. Locking your knee allows your body to rest on your skeletal system instead of on your muscles.

The Rest Step definitely slows you down. Some might say that this is far from ideal when trying to cover a lot of ground, but the reality is that slow and steady wins the race. It's always better to go slower and take less breaks than to go fast and have to stop a lot.

The Rest Step is a key mountaineering technique. On long summit days it doesn't get any better than taking a mini-rest with every step.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Ethics of Leaving Fixed Ropes, Caches and Draws

The ethics of leaving gear in the mountains or at the crag is complex. Some might consider anything left behind anywhere, akin to abandoning gear. Indeed, some National Parks and the Bureau of Land Management identify any gear left behind for any reason at all as abandoned.

So under these draconian policies, if you leave a tent up on a mountain, hike down to your car to do a resupply, and then bring your food back up, a ranger could decide that you've abandoned your tent. And while resupplying is not a common tactic, it definitely happens to some extent in every mountain range in the country.

There are three tactics that climbers regularly employ that require them to leave equipment unattended for -- potentially -- extended periods of time. These include fixed ropes, caches, and fixed draws. And unfortunately, not every climber is educated on the ethics of these issues, so sometimes gear is stolen.

Aid climbers commonly fix lines on big walls. They will climb as high as they can, fix ropes and then rappel to the ground and return to camp. Their ropes will remain fixed in position. The following day, they will climb up the rope with mechanical ascenders to reattain their high point. These lines are regularly unattended at night and sometimes during the day. Obviously, these climbers are trusting that the equipment will not only be there when they return, but also that nobody will have messed with it creating a dangerous situation.

Mountaineers fix lines on steep and exposed snow or ice slopes. These types of ropes tend to be set-up by guides or by large expeditions that need to get a lot of people through a dangerous section quickly. Fixed ropes in a mountaineering setting are almost always left on popular trade routes that require them. However, occasionally a person will leave a fixed line on a less popular route to help facilitate quick movement early in the morning.

A Fixed Hand-Line Employed by Guides to Assist Beginners on Exposed Terrain

There are numerous places throughout the country where fixed lines have been left permanently to help facilitate safe movement. Most of the areas where such ropes have been left don't provide many other alternatives. Some of these are employed on sketchy rock sections, but others are used to bypass steep mud

Occasionally, large groups will set short fixed lines at cragging areas to help beginners safely move up and down a sketchy section. Unlike the other examples, these lines are unlikely to ever be left unattended for more than a couple of hours.

Obviously in every example, the loss of a fixed line could result in a dangerous situation. It's pretty unlikely that somebody straight-out abandoned a rope in decent shape that is clearly tied off for a reason...

In many mountaineering and expeditionary settings, a food or gear cache is an important part of a team's strategy. Commonly these cache's are buried in the snow and marked with wands or an avalanche probe. If such a cache were to disappear, it could mean the end of an expedition...it could also be very dangerous for those who were expecting it to be in place.

It is the responsibility of those who employ the use of fixed lines and caches to clean them up when they are done. If they don't, this creates a negative impression about climbers with land managers and the public. If land managers know who abandoned a cache (in a place like Denali National Park), they will impose a fine. Additionally, climbers who permanently leave these types of things behind provide a better argument for the ethically challenged to steal your cache or your fixed line.

A Climber Confronts the Thief Responsible for Stealing Draws Off His Route in Smith Rock State Park

Photo by Ian Caldwell

Many high-end climbers (5.11-5.15 climbers) regularly employ the use of fixed draws on their projects. In other words, they leave draws fixed on hard bolted sport climbs so that they can easily come back in order to continue working on the ascent of their routes. Many sport climbers will come back to the same climb over and over again, sometimes logging weeks or even months, working to successfully complete their climbs.

This technique of "working" a climb used to be looked-down upon, but has become the norm for people trying to climb very difficult routes. The technically hardest rock climbs in the world are now regularly being climbed this way.

The issue with this technique is that it is now common for climbing draws to be almost permanently left on hard climbs. There are two problems with this. First, some land managers don't like the nearly permanent installation of these draws. And second, the fact that these draws have been left behind provides a major temptation to individuals who don't know any better and for thieves.

In the Winter of 2010, three climbers confronted an individual who was systematically stripping draws off of hard climbs at Smith Rock State Park. Instead of physically attacking the individual for stealing draws, the climbers kept level heads and educated the individual about what he was doing and how it affected them. Luckily for the climbing community, these climbers elected to film the confrontation for educational purposes. A video of the incident can be seen below:



There are many climbers out there who don't like the fact that there are bolts in the rock. And there are many climbers out there who really don't like the fact the bolts have draws permanently affixed to them. But when all is said and done, regardless of your beliefs about this issue, if you know that the draws have been set to assist in a climber's ascent, then taking them is stealing.

There is controversy around each of these three topics. But fixed lines, caches and fixed draws are an important part of many climbers experiences and it is important to respect those who choose to employ such tactics as long as they do it in a way that is in line with a local climbing area's ethics.

--Jason D. Martin

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.

Northwest:

--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!
Colorado:

--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.

Alaska:

--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