Tuesday, June 28, 2016

How Fire can Restore a Forest

It's that time of year again. The time when we see the Western United States go up in flames. It's often a depressing time because many of the massive fires we see every year reshape their environments dramatically. However, fires can have a rejuvenating effect on the forest.

In March 2013, photographer Rich Reid (http://richreid.photoshelter.com/) joined fireworkers as they conducted a controlled burn at Georgia's Moody Forest Preserve. He left his cameras rolling for nearly two months to capture the stunning regrowth of the longleaf pine habitat. What resulted was a really cool little video which shows forest floor regrowth.



The Nature Conservancy works to prevent the destructive megafires that are so common these days in the west. Learn more about their programs at Nature.org/adoptfireworker.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 27, 2016

Film Review: North Face

While mountaineering history is chalked full of stories of triumph and tragedy, there are a few that stand out. These stories are our collective heritage and they have built the foundation of our sport. And while some of these are inspirational, others are heartbreaking.  And some are so terrible that they chill you to the bone.



I had long avoided the North Face, a German film about one of the many early attempts on the Eiger's North Face. 

Why? 

Because I know how it ends. The story of Toni Kurtz, Andy Hinterstoisser, Willy Angerer, and Edi Rainer is one of those stories that is told and retold.  Most of us have read the story in books like The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer or in Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer, or in any one of a number of other books or magazine articles that chronicle the tragedy.

In 1936, teams were lining up for a chance at the "last great problem of the Alps," the Eiger's imposing north face. Attempts on the face were a media sensation for two reasons. First, because it was a terribly dangerous wall that constantly resulted in fatalities. And second, because the whole wall may be viewed from the deck of a nearby hotel through telescopes.

After a number of failures two separate teams attempted the north face at the same time. They were composed of the Germans, Toni Kurtz and Andy Hinterstoisser and the Austrians, Willy Angerer and Edi Rainier. As the two teams moved up the wall they eventually combined forces, creating one team that didn't necessarily mesh well.  When the weather broke and tragedy struck, the team descended together, and ultimately died together.

And while the deaths were horrible, there was one in particular that stands out in mountaineering history. Toni Kurtz became stranded at the end of a rope, mere feet from his rescuers, as he slowly froze to death...

The North Face film is a dramatization of this ascent and the tragedy that followed.  And while some mainstream critics were not terribly enamored by the film, it is an excellent piece that was designed without the stupidity of mainstream American climbing films. There are moments in the film that could have been lifted from something like Vertical Limit or Cliffhanger, but don't seem Hollywoodish at all. For example, in Vertical Limit a cam begins sliding down a crack, threatening to pop out. This is something that simply doesn't happen. Whereas in North Face, a piton starts coming out, while the climber frantically pounds it back in. This is something that could happen, and as such, is absolutely terrifying.


There are a lot of differences between the North Face and Hollywood climbing films. The example above is only one of them.  The production values are another. The reality of the situation and the historical elements of the film are yet another. And then of course, there is the script...

Director Philipp Stolzl uses a wide array of elements to keep us in the mountain world.  Early in the film I thought that the sound of the pitons was rather odd. They didn't sound quite right when they were being driven in. But then I realized that Stolzl used the sound of the pitons as a static beat in the music, a technique that I've only witnessed one other time, in an a Academy Award nominated film called Atonement where they use a typewriter the same way. And while this little musical element may not seem significant, it provides the perfect example of the level of care put into the film.

The music and the beautiful shots of the mountain's norwand work together to build a framework that underlies a tightly written and intense script.  The characters are all engaging and real. The world, Germany under Hitler, feels dangerous and alive. And even ancillary characters throw out memorable lines.  Indeed, as climbers arrive in a train, a fieldworker makes the observation, "they come in a train and leave in a coffin."It is lines like these and the difficult and very real relationships between the characters that make a story tick...



The one criticism that I have of the story is something that served as a break from both history and reality. Late in the film, Toni Kurtz's girlfriend takes a train up to the gallery window on the Eiger. From there she climbs out on the north face and spends the night trying to be with her boyfriend.

I don't think anything like that happened. However, it is understandable that the filmmakers would like to raise the stakes by developing a love interest who has enough of a climbing background that she could spend the night out on the mountain. And while it is a little bit of a difficult moment to swallow, it does help to dramatize the death of the climber.

At one moment, a character in the movie explains that there is a legend about the Eiger. He says that a great ogre lives inside the mountain and devours anyone who gets close. In 1936 the ogre devoured Kurtz and his partners, creating another legend, one that very few climbers can forget.  The North Face is an incredibly well-produced film that tells what is ultimately a sad and tragic story about that ogre and his victims.  But it is also an important story. As I stated earlier, these stories are part of our heritage as climbers and mountaineers. And it is important for each of us to remember and understand these stories from our heritage...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 24, 2016

Film Review: Sanctum

Outdoor adventure movies come and go, and unfortunately few of them are really very good. Sanctum fits squarely in the "not-very-good" category.

The film follows a team of cave-divers, climbers and cave explorers on their quest to drop down a deep hole in Papa New Guinea in order to find a cave system that connects to the ocean. While exploring the depths of the cave a cyclone settles on land far above the team. The team's exit is blocked and the water begins to rise. This forces the team to descend deeper into the cave system and to try to find a way out to the ocean.




The plot is fascinating and it could have been an excellent outdoor adventure film. But alas, the writing is quite poor. The characters are weak. And there are some sequences that are just plain bad...

The writing team for this film is made-up of people who haven't done much when it comes to narrative drama. Screenwriter Andrew Wight has a number of underwater documentary films to his credit, but no real narrative film-writing experience. And screenwriter John Garvin has no other screenplays to his name. Director Alister Grierson has a handful of other movie titles under his belt, but they all appear to be second-rate B films.

It is clear that the reason this movie was made was because super-director James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar, The Abyss) was behind the production team. It's well-known that Cameron enjoys working with an underwater environment. He has pioneered a number of underwater and deep-sea filming techniques for both his narrative blockbusters as well as for some of his lesser-known documentary works.

The underwater cave diving sequences in Sanctum are cool. Some of them are really cool. And this element of the film lends credence to the entire -- sometimes painful -- experience of watching the movie. It is clear that the focus of the film was to play with this type of cinemetagrophy instead of telling a story that has some value.

Supposedly the story is based on real life events. It appears that the real-life version of the story wasn't anywhere near dramatic enough for Hollywood. The problem with the real-life story was that, while dramatic, everybody survived and there were no cardboard villains twisting their mustaches.

In 1988 Sanctum screenwriter Andrew Wight was on an expedition that mirrored the one in the film. His team was exploring a deep cave when a cyclone arrived causing a flash-flood which cut-off their exit route. Wight and his companions were forced deeper into the cave system to find their exit.

The core of the story is really interesting, but the characters and the situations some of the characters put themselves in are somewhat ludicrous.

There is a tendency in Hollywood-style outdoor adventure films to paint one character as a gruff, hard, outdoor-type guy. Usually this kind of character has seen it all. And often there's a coldness or a latent level of violence in the character. Think Clint Eastwood in The Eiger Sanction, or Scott Glen in Vertical Limit, or even Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet. The character is so common in these types of movies, that he (and it usually is a he) is almost archetypal.

The problem with the gruff-outdoors-guy-who's-seen-it-all-and-is-an-ass because-of-it character is that he doesn't exist in real life. Yeah, there are a lot of anti-social climbers out there. And yeah, there are a lot of people who are obsessed with their objectives. And indeed, there are a lot of people out there who will push it to the limit and beyond to achieve their goals. But, you know what? Even when they're arrogant, most of these people are still nice. They want to talk about their passion and they want to bring you into it. And most of them don't see death on a daily basis the way these types of characters seem to.

The leader of the caving team, Frank (Richard Roxburgh) is just such a character. At one point in the movie a man is seriously injured and Frank decides that the best way to deal with him is to drown him instead of to try and get him out. This is absolutely crazy. And not only that, but dealing with an injured character that they're trying to keep alive would have been a whole lot more interesting than murdering him.

There is another archetypal outdoor adventure movie character as well. That's the billionaire playboy explorer, who is actually a coward. Ioan Gruffudd plays this character well because there's little to play. It's a boring and simplistic characterization that needs to disappear from adventure films.

This is a women and minorities die first movie. These types of films had their heyday with horror movies in the seventies, eighties and early nineties. I thought that modern filmmakers were done with such a terrible story arc, but I was wrong.

And from a climbing perspective, one woman dies after she gets her hair caught in a belay device and decides that she should try to cut it out...accidentally cutting the rope. She should have taken one of our classes...

Sanctum is not a good movie, but there are some interesting sequences and some moments where you're with the characters as they struggle to survive. But when they start to talk, things fall apart...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Travel Safety in Developing Countries

Many of our guides spend a great deal of time traveling in developing nations. As tourists with expensive climbing and photography equipment, we are definitely seen as targets. Most of us who have spent significant amounts of time in South America or Asia have encountered some petty crime.

We spend time in cities as well as in open camps near the mountains. Each of the two environments have their own circumstances. In order to be safe and avoid theft, one must "follow the rules" in each of these environments. Following is a list of precautions that should be undertaken in any foreign environment:
  1. Many guides make a photocopy of their passports and carry it around the city. They put the passport itself in a hotel safe that they feel comfortable with.
  2. Use a money belt or money necklace. If you don't feel comfortable with the hotel safe, carry your passport in the money belt/necklace.
  3. When you first arrive in a country, be sure that you know what the currency looks like. One of our guides was once given change in play money shortly after he got off the plane in Bolivia.
  4. If you elect to wear a small backpack around the city, place luggage locks on the zippers. In crowds, wear the backpack on the front of your body so that you can see it. People will often try to open zippers when you are still. In extreme cases they may even attempt to cut open the bottom of the pack with a knife.
  5. As ATMs become more popular throughout the world, it has become easier to obtain money in developing countries with a debit card. This keeps one from carrying massive amounts of cash or hard-to-convert travelers checks. If you do choose to go this route, talk to your bank first. They may give you a list of "safe" ATMs in a city. If you don't have such a list, make sure that you use an ATM attached to a bank and be sure that you are aware of your surroundings before putting your card into the machine. Do not use a machine if there are any suspicious characters around.
  6. Beware of fake police and fake taxis. If someone flashes you a badge and then wants to see your money, be suspicious. If a taxi doesn't have appropriate documentation in the window, be suspicious.
  7. No matter how much you trust it, do not leave expensive items out in your hotel room.
  8. Do not wear expensive looking jewelry in public.
  9. You may choose to wear a "decoy wallet." In other words, you have a wallet that distracts a potential thief from going for the real thing. Never put your wallet in your back pocket. Even zippered pockets can be opened or cut by experienced thieves.
  10. Women should try not to respond to local men that approach them for no apparent reason in foreign countries, especially in patriarchal cultures. Even a curt "no" may be construed as the start of a conversation.
  11. Be wary of new romantic relationships with people in developing countries.
  12. If you pay for your hotel room in advance, be sure to obtain receipts.
  13. Beware of circumstances where people need help or are trying to help you. In other words, if somebody is trying to hand you a baby for some reason or is trying to help remove bird dung from your shoulder, be suspicious and watch your bags closely.
  14. Do not wander around a city in a developing country at the middle of the night while intoxicated.
  15. When camping underneath the mountains in a developing country, hire a cook. If you can, try to get one from a local outfitter. The cook will double as a camp guard while you are in the mountains.
  16. Be sure to bring all of you gear inside the vestibule of your tent at night. Do not leave anything of value outside.
  17. If you use animals to carry gear on your expedition, be sure that they are loaded appropriately. Don't let them put a sleeping bag on one animal and a tent on another so that they can charge you for more animals. In addition to this, make sure you know how many animals you hired. Sometimes locals don't keep track and round up in their estimations.
On AAI trips, the guides will always orient you to the particular dangers of a given city or camp. If you elect to climb in foriegn countries without a guide who is "in-the-know," then be sure to research the tourist oriented scams of your destination before you leave.

Traveling and climbing in developing countries can be incredibly exciting. But the excitement dissipates when something is stolen. Always keep your eyes open and be smart. This is the best way to keep your vacation on the right track.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 20, 2016

Down vs. Synthetic

On big expeditions a good sleeping bag is perhaps the most important piece of equipment that you carry. A sleeping bag does a great deal more than to simply keep you warm at night. It becomes a means to keep water bottles from freezing and provides a way to dry out damp clothing and boots. And indeed, in an emergency it might be the last shield between you and hypothermia or even death.

So what kind of sleeping bag should you invest in? Down or synthetic? Synthetic or down?

Advantages of a Down Sleeping Bag:
  1. Many would argue that nature does it best. Down (either goose or duck) tends to be significantly warmer than a synthetic alternative. Ounce per ounce, down tends to be approximately three times warmer than synthetic.
  2. If you take care of it, down retains its shape and loft. With proper care a down bag can last a lifetime.
  3. Down tends to wick body moisture away which can make for a far more comfortable night's sleep.
  4. Down is far more compressible and lightweight.
  5. The nature of down is that it keeps you warm in the cold and cool in the warmth.

AAI Guide Justin Wood enjoying a book in a down bag on Denali.

Disadvantages of a Down Sleeping Bag:
  1. The largest disadvantage to a down bag is how poorly it deals with water. A wet down bag is close to useless. Those who elect to use down in a wetter climate need to have all of their systems dialed. In other words they need to be very good at protecting their bag from the elements.
  2. Once wet, down bags don't dry easily.
  3. Down can be difficult to clean. If it is improperly cleaned it may break down and lose its loft. Be sure to read and follow all washing directions on your down bag.
  4. Some people have allergic reactions to down.
  5. Down is expensive.
Advantages to a Synthetic Sleeping Bag:
  1. Synthetics are more weather resistant and dry more quickly.
  2. Synthetics are easier to care for.
  3. Synthetics are hypoallergenic.
  4. There is a lot of variety out there and it tends to be less expensive than the alternative.
Disadvantages to a Synthetic Sleeping Bag:
  1. Synthetics tend to be heavier and bulkier than down.
  2. Many synthetics don't pack down as tightly as down.
  3. Synthetics tend to breakdown and perform poorly over time.
  4. Some of the lower end products may not fit well.
So which is better? Most guides use down bags, but they know that they have to be hyper-aware when it comes to getting them wet. If you don't think that you can do this, then a synthetic bag is the way to go.

The purchase of a sleeping bag is a big financial decision, but that shouldn't be the deciding factor. Instead, it should be based on where you think you're going to use it and what type of conditions you think you're going to encounter the most.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 17, 2016

Glacier Travel Ettiquete

Climbing etiquette is a weird and wiley thing. What is acceptable in one area may not be considered acceptable in another. What is common practice in one spot, may be looked upon with horror in another. In the larger climbing world, there are millions of etiquette questions, but on a glacier there only tends to be a few.

1) What is the etiquette for passing a rope team on a glaciated climb?

It is acceptable to pass a rope team on a glacier. However, this must be done without hindering the other team's progress that you're passing. If a team has a pace and continues to hold that pace, then they have a right to the boot-pack trail no matter how fast they're moving.

A team works its way up Mount Shuksan
Photo by Alasdair Turner


In order to pass the slower team, the faster team must step out of the boot-pack and pass the other team without slowing them in any way. This may take considerable energy if the snow outside the boot-pack is soft or deep. The passing team should not complain about having to pass as they didn't get up as early as the slower team.

If your rope team is walking in a boot-pack and needs to take a break, the polite thing to do is to step out of the trail. You should not take a break in a place that blocks others. If your team is slow and is taking a lot of standing mini-breaks (i.e. stopping for a few seconds or even a minute or so), then you should step out of the boot-pack and allow faster teams to pass in the trail without protest.

2) Who has the right to the steps that have been kicked in the slope?

There is a nice line of steps kicked into the slope going all the way up the mountain. Clearly, it is easier to use the steps that another team has put in than to create your own. As you're climbing up the mountain, you see another team descending in the steps. Their plunge-steps are completely destroying the steps as they descend. And while this may make things more difficult for your team, you didn't create the steps and as such, don't have any ownership over them.

A team camps on the Easton Glacier on Mount Baker
Photo by Alasdair Turner


If you create a series of steps up the mountain, you do have the right to use them on your descent. However, it is far more polite to leave these steps for others. I will almost universally try to leave my steps for other climbers, unless the snow is incredibly soft and difficult to move through. Occasionally, the snow is so deep that new downhill steps could cause a climber to hyper-extend his or her knee. When conditions are this severe, I use my uphill steps for downhill travel.

3) What should I do with my human waste? Should I leave it on the summit for all to see with a nice pile of toilet paper? Or should I do something else with it?

You should do something else with it.

On expeditions or on big mountains, sometimes you can put your waste in a crevasse, but you should pack out your toilet paper. On smaller glaciated peaks, you should use a Wag Bag or the equivalent and pack everything out.

If you have other etiquette questions, feel free to post them. This is such a large topic that a single Blog cannot do it justice.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 16, 2016

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

Northwest:

--Saving grizzly bears in the North Cascades is widely supported among Washington state voters, according to survey results released Monday, June 6. That includes voters, like those in Whatcom County, who live around the ecosystem. California-based Tulchin Research conducted the survey May 19-22 of 600 registered voters in six different parts of the state, including east and west of the Cascades, where the mountain range seems to separate the state politically. To read more, click here.


--Climbers on Mount Baker photographed a recent debris flow across Boulder Glacier on the volcano’s eastern flank in early June — but the barrage of ice and rock was more a geologic curiosity than a real threat to most people. Such debris flows occur occasionally and are not a concern to anyone except mountaineers, a Western Washington University geologist said. But observers will notice what resembles a river of gray on the 10,781-foot summit that’s about 30 miles east of Bellingham. To read more, click here.



Alaska:

--An adult cow moose with three-week-old calves was found shot dead inside Denali National Park Wednesday morning, the National Parks Service says. The moose was discovered near the Denali Post office, NPS wrote in a press release. Park officials determined that it had been killed one or two days prior. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Here's an interesting article about innate sexism in action sports and in the promotion of women's action sports...

--So there's been a lot of news recently about people messing around with animals and dangerous natural features in Yellowstone National Park. A fishing guide named Hank Patterson has created a funny and poignant video for those who would visit Yellowstone:



--Children under 14 would be required to wear helmets while skiing or snowboarding under a bill the New York State Senate has passed. But the legislation could die in the state Assembly, where every year for the past 15 years similar bills have died without being voted upon. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

AAC Universal Belay Standard - Belaying a Leader

The American Alpine Club has produced a handful of educational videos. The following video -- concerning lead belays -- is a follow up to their video on toprope belays. This video does an excellent job of going through all of the nuances of each of the following aspects of belaying a leader:
  1. Positioning the belay to avoid a clash of bodies.
  2. Consciously managing the slack.
  3. Securing a leader who is resting on the rope.
  4. Arresting falls with a solid, yet "soft" catch, or stopping the leader cold if obstacles are in the fall line.
  5. Hoisting a fallen leader back to their high point as needed.
This nine minute video is a must-watch for new belayers, as well as for those who have been belaying leaders for a long time. There is a tremendous amount of information within each chapter of the video.



--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 10, 2016

In Balance, Out-of-Balance


It seems simple, but the reality is that many serious falls take place in places that should not be that technical. Many falls take place in spots that could easily be negotiated with good technique.

When I started working at the Institute, I had quite a bit of experience. I intrinsically understood the techniques for walking on snow and on ice, but they weren't well defined in my head. Well defined techniques lead to better techniques.

The primary snow/ice-walking technique that I'm referring to is the in-balance vs. out-of-balance step. These steps are designed to be used on 30 degree to 50 degree terrain. And if they are used properly, a climber will be able to ascend a slope with a great deal of security.

In-balance and out-of-balance (the cross-over step) walking provides you with stability and a strong sense of when you are safe and when you are not. With practice it allows climbers to move effectively and safely over steepish terrain.


When one is in-balance, both feet are situated in such a way that if you stop, you will be completely stable. I shot the above photo looking down at my feet while I was in-balance. If you are carrying an ice-axe, it is best to move the axe from one placement into the next while you are still in-balance. The axe should never move while you are out-of-balance. If it stays stationary while out-of-balance, it will provide an extra point of security during less secure movements.


The above picture shows a climber taking an out-of-balance step in snow. Note that his left foot is directly above his right foot.

Clearly in the snow that the above climber is moving in, such a step is not required. One need only to move in-balance and out-of-balance in terrain that requires additional security...like on steep ice...


The in-balance out-of-balance step is incredibly useful while wearing crampons. The cross-over step allows the ankles to bend in such a way that all of the crampon points on the bottom of the boot are engaged in the ice. You'll note in the above picture, that the climber's toe is nearly pointing down hill. This allows every point to engage.

The movements required for good in-balance and out-of-balance walking are not hard to master. And the reality is that most of the time that you are moving in the mountains, such steps are not required at all. It is only when the terrain becomes steep or dangerous that it really becomes important. Indeed, the important part is not just moving properly but being aware of your movement. In other words, always knowing when you are in-balance or out-of-balance leads to more security in the mountains.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/9/16

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 24-year-old man is missing after he fell into a waterfall hole while sliding down Asgaard Pass near Dragontail Peak in Chelan County. A group of people were "glissading" on the snow on Aasgard Pass on Sunday night when the man, who was in front of the others, slid over the edge of a waterfall house and into the rushing water, the Chelan County Sheriff's Office reports. Glissading is a technique for sliding down a slope of snow or ice while using an ax for support. To read more, click here.

--The Skamania County Sheriff’s Office says a climber on Mount St. Helens had to be rescued after he slid 100 yards down the mountain and fractured his ankle. The sheriff’s office says 19-year-old Andrew Maris was climbing up the mountain with his three brothers on Thursday afternoon and had started his descent ahead of the others. To read more, click here.

--Teams began clearing the road to Artist Point last week. To read more, click here.


--Here's an interesting article about a day in the life of a law enforcement ranger.

--There is no climber more iconic than Fred Beckey. That is actually not a controversial statement. Fred is what many climbers strive to be. And now, with the old bold climber in his 90s, a documentary film is slated to come out about him. Check out the trailer below:


Sierra:

--A rock climber has been rescued after falling in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains near Donner Summit. The 33-year-old from Truckee fell Friday on Snowshed Wall, sustaining major injuries. California Highway Patrol officials say they were able to extract the climber with help from Truckee Fire personnel. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

Can you help identify these two vandals in Grand Canyon National Park?
Photo: National Park Service

--ISB Special Agents and US Park Rangers of Grand Canyon National Park are seeking information about two people who may have vandalized rocks near the Yavapai Geology Museum. On May 22, 2016, a visitor at the South Rim of the park observed a couple spray painting graffiti, and was able to capture images of the people and the vandalism. To read more, click here.

--Joshua Tree National Park needs your help to secure grant funding, and all you have to do is sign up on the National Geographic website, and then start voting from a list of 20 national parks, historic sites and monuments. To read more, click here.

--A black Labrador retriever died and one of its two owners showed signs of heat sickness last weekend while hiking a 7-mile desert trail where pets are not allowed in Joshua Tree National Park, according to a park news release. To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing, ending a contentious debate over a ski area’s liability when a skier is killed by avalanche inside a resort boundary. The ruling delivered Tuesday morning found resorts are p--rotected from avalanche-related lawsuits under the Ski Safety Act, which was created in 1979 and amended in 1990 and 2004. The act shields resort operators from liability when the death or injury of skiers and snowboarders can be attributed to difficult-to-mitigate threats, such as terrain and weather. To read more, click here.

Alaska:

A Czech mountaineer died after falling about 1,500 feet while skiing down Denali, officials said Sunday. Pavel Michut, 45, fell while doing a ski descent of Denali’s Messner Couloir, a steep gully that connects the basin with the upper mountain of the famed Alaska peak, the National Park Service said. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton released a plan yesterday that lays out a vision for the future of outdoor recreation, a commitment to conservation, clean energy and water, and collaborative stewardship of America’s public lands and waters. Included in this plan is the goal of doubling the outdoor recreation economy in ten years! To read more, click here.

--There are still ski resorts open in North America...and yes, you could go skiing in-bounds this weekend. To learn more, click here.

--Drones are illegal in both US and Canadian national parks. But that doesn't mean that the footage isn't awesome. This is not an endorsement of breaking the rules, merely a link to a video.

--Speaking of drones, check out the following video for footage of a climber's drone crashing, from the drone's perspective. To read more, click here.



--This week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board supported a proposal to add five new sports to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Climbing, skateboarding, surfing, baseball/softball, and karate are all in the package under consideration. The final decision will be made in August, when the IOC meets in Rio de Janeiro. To read more, click here.

--A 7-year-old Japanese boy who disappeared nearly a week ago after his parents left him on the side of a mountain road to discipline him was found unharmed on Friday, the Japanese authorities said. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Indespensibles

We all have them. They are the luxury items that you absolutely must have on every trip.

They are the indispensables.

In climbing, we always worry about weight. Every single item that we carry costs us energy, so every single item that we carry should be valuable to us.

I have a few items that are absolutely and utterly indispensable for longer trips. These aren't always the lightest items, but for me, they are completely indispensable. I always take the proceeding items:
  1. a book
  2. a jetboil/reactor and lots of tea
  3. a pee bottle
  4. down booties or flip flops
  5. good chocolate
I am terrified of tent time. I am terrified of knowing how many stitches are in my tent because I don't have anything but counting them to occupy my time. And as you know, sometimes the weather causes us to be trapped in a tent for anything from a few hours to a few days. As a result there are two items that I will always have with me. First, a book and second, a jetboil or reactor with lots of tea.

Books can be heavy, but they are literally worth their weight in gold when there is a storm. If you are in the middle of a novel, don't be afraid to cut a book in half in order to avoid carrying some of the weight.  I often slice books in half and then put duct tape on the remaining spine to ensure that it doesn't fall apart.

I bring a jetboil or a reactor with lots of tea because these stoves can easily be used in a tent's vestibule. When I'm sitting in my tent for hours on end, drinking tea not only keeps me warm, but helps to keep me hydrated and occupied. And it tastes good too...

At the ripe old age of 44, I've become lazy. I do not want to get out of my tent at the middle of the night to use the bathroom...indeed, I don't want to get out of my sleeping bag. As such, I carry a pee bottle on  most of my mountaineering trips. Men have it a little bit easier with pee bottles than women do. If men get really good at using them, they don't have to get out of their sleeping bags. Women usually require a pee funnel (something that most female guides consider an indispensable). The reality is, that I find a pee bottle so indispensable to my happiness on trips, that I would use one at home if my wife would let me. She doesn't...and has threatened divorce if I even think of trying to use a pee bottle in bed.

Early in the season I like to bring down booties. These provide a great way to get out of your boots when it's snowy. Later in the season, when I can camp on dry dirt, I like to bring a pair of flip flops for the same reason. These items provide my boots the opportunity to dry and my feet the opportunity to breathe.

And lastly, I find good chocolate to be indispensable in the mountains. Why? For two reasons. First, it tastes really good and I have a sweet tooth. And second, eating fat before going to bed can help you keep warm at night. When your metabolism is at work breaking down fatty foods, it warms your body in the same manner as light exercise. It's hard to sleep while exercising, but not so hard when you're just  digesting.

While I consider each of these items to be indispensable on multi-day mountaineering trips, I consider all of them to be completely dispensable on short, fast and light alpine climbing trips. On such trips, I carry as little as possible. And when I say as little as possible, I mean as little as possible. This may mean leaving everything from the toothbrush to the sleeping bag behind.

Everybody has luxuries that they consider to be indispensable. The goal in creating a list of indispensable items is to really think about things that you absolutely must have in order to be comfortable. And your indispensable list should be very very short...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 6, 2016

Retrievable Fixed Line

Canyoneering tricks are often extremely applicable to rock and alpine climbing. The little trick featured in this video could easily be used by a party setting up a toprope on a sketchy edge or -- as in the video -- by a party rigging a rappel on a weird lip.

This technique is most applicable with a larger group that needs a fixed line. With a small group, the first climber could just belay the second climber down to him after building the anchor.

The crux of this trick is played out in the video very quickly. Watch closely at the 1:50 second mark.


I'm not sure I'm that excited about the ratty sling and the quicklink shown in the video. It is really important to make sure that your anchor is completely solid.

In review, the steps are as follows:
  1. Belayer belays climber out to edge.
  2. Climber at edge builds an anchor and fixes the line.
  3. The climber at the top converts the line by running it through the quicklink and clipping a carabiner to a clove-hitch on the backside. This could also be done by running the rope around a tree or a boulder. If you do it through a tree or a boulder, be sure that there isn't too much friction and that the line could still be retrieved.
  4. Once the line is fixed on both ends, a climber could clip in with a sling to a carabiner to descend or the climber could put a friction hitch on the rope. A friction hitch would provide a higher level of security.
  5. Only one person should move on the fixed line at once.
  6. The last person will bring down the backside of the fixed line, the end that is not running through the quicklink.
  7. Once the rope is released from the anchor, it will be able to be easily pulled down.
--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/2/16

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:

--There was a large rescue mission on Guye Peak over the weekend. Check out Seattle Mountain Rescue's blog to learn more.

--The Methow Valley is a climber and skier's paradise. A Canadian company has filed for permits to conduct exploratory drilling for copper on Flagg Mountain, which sits on U.S. Forest Service land. In response, the Methow Headwaters Campaign proposes to secure a “mineral withdrawal”from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. This action would prohibit mining on the Methow watershed’s federal lands—approximately 340,000 acres in total. To read more, click here.
 

--The western region mountains were greeted with plenty of snow and lower than expected freezing levels from late November through early January that created strong snow bases. This created a banner year for ski resorts. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Two hikers were killed in a fall over the weekend in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Tragically, one of the hikers was trying to save the other, when they were both killed. It appears that the party was scrambling somewhere above Pine Creek's Fern Canyon when the incident took place. To read more, click here.

--We often forget that most of the bees in the southwest are killer bees. Don't mess with swarming bees or beehives: A 23-year-old Louisiana man died after being attacked by bees Thursday morning as he and a friend were hiking within Usery Mountain Park in Mesa, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said. A medical exam determined the man had been stung more than 1,000 times. To read more, click here.
Colorado:

--Rocky Mountain National Park's Trail Ridge Road is open...

Alaska:

--See where all AAI teams are on Denali this week... To read their dispatches, click here.

--Twelve-year-old Romanian climber Dor Geta Popescu reached the top of Denali last week, and can now join Alaskan Merrick Johnston as the youngest women to reach North America's tallest peak. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--In a tragic turn of events, authorities recently found the body of a woman who got lost on the Appalachian Trail. It appears that she was lost long enough to starve. To read more, click here.

--New Hampshire Fish and Game officials say they rescued an injured Massachusetts rock climber from Humphrey's Ledge in Bartlett Sunday. Officials say 33-year-old Philip Giampietro of Boston lost his handhold at about 10:40 a.m. while climbing the steep ledge and fell 30 feet before the rope stopped his fall. To read more, click here.

--A rock climber was flown to a Vermont hospital after suffering severe injuries in a 60-foot fall from a cliff on Pitchoff Mountain on Monday afternoon. State Police identified the victim as Kyle R. Ciarletta, 22, of Eagleville, PA. To read more, click here.