Tuesday, May 23, 2017

AAI Guide Class of 2017

The American Alpine Institute is incredibly well known for the quality of its internal guide training. Indeed, the American Mountain Guides Association based their alpine guide courses on AAI's three-week internal training.

Every year AAI hires guides, but usually the new guide staff consists of three to eight people. In 2017 the new guide staff busted the seams at 15 people.

It was certainly no small task to train so many people, but the curriculum held up and every individual had the opportunity to train under AAI's Tenured and Certified guide staff.

Class of 2017 (Click to Enlarge)
Left to Right-Back: Seth White, Jason Martin (Trainer), Mike McCartan, Elias Jordan, 
Kevin McGarity, Karl Henize, George Bieker, Mike Powers (Trainer), Sam Boyce, Calvin Morris, 
Will Nunez, Zak Krenzer, Ben Gardner (Trainer). Front Row: Eric Shaw, Alejandra Garces, 
Katie Griffith & Katlynne Schaumberg. Not Pictured: Lindsey Hamm

Historically, the entire AAI guide training has taken place in the Cascades. This year things were a bit different. The new guides first met in Las Vegas to practice their rock skills in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

  A pair of new guides work on their short-roping skills.

More short-rope/short pitch skills in Red Rock Canyon. 

Multi-Pitch Skills on Snake Charmer (5.7) 

Mike McCartan  belays Karl Henize on All That Jazz (5.8)

 Zak Krenzer and Calvin Morris at a belay on Big Bad Wolf (5.9)

After putting in some days in the desert, the team moved to the mountains. They continued their skills development around Mt. Baker.

Obviously a mountain guide has to be incredibly good at crevasse rescue, especially in the places where we operate. In order to use our time well, we often do some training just outside the Mt. Baker Ski Area. This isn't a glacier. Indeed, it is just a parking lot, but it allows the guides to practice their crevasse rescue skills prior to using them on a real glacier.

In the following video, the guides participate in a crevasse rescue race near the Mt. Baker Ski Area Parking Lot:

The weather for the training wasn't always perfect. It snowed hard on more than one occasion throughout the training. In the following video, the team is leaving the van on the north side of Mt. Baker to ski and walk into the mountain for additional training.

Once we were on the mountain, we began to train steep climbing and guiding skills.

Seth White practices a snow seat.

Alejandra Garces practices a "butt-axe" belay.

And there was some skiing and ski guide practice on the mountain as well.
In this photo, Ben Gardner is tearing it up!

Ice skills are a major component of guide training. In this 
photo the team works on basic ice skills on the Coleman Glacier.

In this photo, guides practice steep ice skills.

Toward the end of the guides first stint to Mt. Baker they climbed 
the Moustache and made an attempt on the North Ridge. 
This photo is from the Moustache.

Each guide must also work through multi-pitch rescue skills.
In this photo Elias Jordan practices these skills with Katlynne Schaumberg.

Kevin McGarity on Zig Zag/Springboard (5.8) at Mt. Erie.

George Bieker follows the Springboard Pitch at Mt. Erie.

Lindsey Hamm at Mt. Erie

The final test for the new guides is to complete a week of student teaching. The team works with real students on an Alpinism I or an AMTL I.

Conditions on Mt. Baker were tough for the student teaching week.
We got over two feet of snow when we arrived on the mountain.

White-outs and white-out navigation was the norm for the week.

Lead guide trainer, Mike Powers at the crater on Mt. Baker.
Mike has been running AAI guide trainings since the mid-nineties.

The summit of Mt. Baker at dawn on the final day of
student teaching.

Every member of AAI's new guide staff brings something special to the table. And I believe that all of those who have the chance to work with these guides will learn a great deal while having an excellent time...!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 22, 2017

In the Company of Ticks

As the weather warms, it feels surreal as I step out of my winter dreams of warmth and into a bright sunny reality. I love wearing shorts on approaches... But as it warms I cannot rid myself of the feeling that some little bloodsucker feels the same spring euphoria as I when he sees my bare white calves approaching.

Now I don’t want to sound like some kind of entomophobian (yes, there actually is a word for fear of insects), but lets be honest, nobody enjoys cavorting with these little monsters. So if you're like me and want to avoid ticks this summer, here are some tips, tricks and general info about these crazy arachnids.

Adult Deer Tick
Photo from Wikipedia

Ticks are viscous little creatures. They've figured out that since they can't jump or fly, the best way to get their vampire on is to wait in brush, tall grass, and bushes along deer and human trails. Some ticks have even developed the “oh-so-not-cool” move of falling out of trees and onto an unsuspecting host.

Once they have reached their delicious meal, ticks will insert a barbed feeding tube into the host to secure themselves in place while they feed. This blood feast can last from a few hours to several days. Once satiated the creepy little parasite will drop off and hide while it spends some time digesting your blood.

While the tick is stuck to the host it might feel guilty about taking so much away and thus want to give a small poisonous “present” in return. These presents are numerous as ticks are capable of transmitting a variety of diseases, the most common of which is a fun little thing called Lyme disease. If you are one of the lucky 1% of all tick bite recipients to contract Lyme disease, you will know in anywhere from 3 to 32 days after being targeted by the creature. The present will start off as a headache with fever, fatigue, depression and a bulls-eye shaped rash around the bite mark. If at this point you decide that you don’t want to keep this gift, you will not be able to return it to the tick, (besides that would be rude). Instead, you will need the help of a doctor and his antibiotics, which in most cases will rid you of the disease.

However, if you decide that you would rather keep the bloodsucker's gift, then you will begin to contract chronic problems as the disease attacks your organs, especially the brain, heart, and bone joints. The longer that you wait to get treated, the harder it will be to treat the disease. In an extreme case Lyme disease could lead to a permanent paralysis.

Luckily though, there are ways to prevent ticks from getting to skin level. When playing in popular tick habitats (pretty much any wooded or forested area in the world), one should wear long sleeved shirts, pants, and a hat. Another trick is to tuck your pant legs into your sucks so as to look like such a dork that the tick will be embarrassed to be seen on you (it also will prevent them from crawling up your boots and socks into the promised land).

However, even with the best of defenses, the ticks still might find their way through and therefore it is good to do a thorough tick check a few times a day while paying special attention to the warm places of your armpits and groin. It's also a good idea to check your pets over to make sure that they haven’t become a blood buffet.

If a tick is found, then the best method of removal it is use tweezers. Pull in line with the creatures body and it's entrance hole while holding it its body as close to the head as possible. Be careful and move slowly; as much as you might hate these guys, the last thing that you need is for one's head to pop off while beneath your skin.

Following are two videos which show methods of tick removal. The first shows the use of a forceps and the second discusses a number of tick related issues before demonstrating removal.

Ticks are gross, but good prevention and treatment will keep them from being anything more than a major nuisance.

--AAI Staff

Friday, May 19, 2017

Diamox - The Wonder Drug?

Diamox is the trade name for a drug called Acetazolamide. This is a "altitude wonder drug" that many people take to increase the speed of their acclimatization. It is also a drug that some people put a little too much hope into instead of acclimitizing properly.

The reality is that Diamox is not a wonder drug. It is is a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor that is commonly used to treat glaucoma, epilepsy, hypertension, cystinuria, dural ectasia and of course, altitude sickness. The drug is designed to help your body make the chemical changes that it needs to make in order to function better at altitude.

We get a lot of questions about this drug from people who are planning a Denali climb or other high-altitude objective. But we also get them from people who are going to go on relatively low-altitude climbs.

Those who are climbing peaks that are less than 14,000 feet tall really shouldn't worry about any type of specialized drug to acclimatize. They should just take their time. Those who are climbing peaks that are between 14,000 and 16,000 feet should only take the drug if they've had problems in the past. And those climbing peaks that are 16,000 feet tall or more, should really see how their body reacts before filling it full of drugs.

The reason that we advise caution with this drug is that it has side-effects that can be difficult to deal with. Diamox is a diuretic. It causes you to urinate frequently. This, of course, can lead to dehydration, which is a contributing factor to altitude sickness. It can also cause a very unusual sensation in the fingers and toes. It feels like they have fallen asleep. This could be confusing or even scary in extremely cold environments.

Diamox - A Prophylactic?

Some climbers choose to take Diamox prophylactically, starting a few days before going to altitude. A percentage of climbers respond well to this, especially if they take between 125 milligrams (mg) to 500 mg per day before ascending rapidly to 10,000 feet or more.

What is rapidly? This is generally a fast one to two day ascent from sea level. Examples of rapid ascents might include Mount Rainier or Mount Whitney in two days...

Those who have a history of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) are urged to take Diamox prophylactically especially with plans for a rapid ascent or plans to ascend 2000 feet or more per day after reaching 10,000 feet.

Diamox forces the kidneys to excrete bicarbonate, the conjugate base of carbonic acid. The more bicarbonate excreted, the more acidic the blood gets. The more acidic the blood gets, the more that ventilation is stimulated. This will ultimately result in more oxygen in the blood.

Clearly the changes in the blood take time. It takes time for the body to catch up to your altitude. As such, Diamox cannot be seen as an immediate fix for AMS. If the symptoms are bad, then climbers are urged to immediately descend before the AMS devolves into a life-threatening cerebral or pulmonary edema.

When to Take Diamox

Many guides argue that the best time to take a drug like Diamox is right before bed. As I know that I don't tend to breathe as deeply at night as during the day, I will usually take Diamox before I go to bed when I'm at high camps on high altitude peaks.

On the one hand an evening dose of the drug may help you acclimatize better up high at night. It may also keep you from getting sick at night. But on the other, you are unlikely to sleep well due to the whole, "I have to pee every five minutes" thing.

Others feel that the morning is better because it doesn't interrupt your sleep.


There has been a lot of research over the last few years that indicate that Ginkgo Biloba may work extremely well in acclimatization. As this is easily attainable at health food stores and has few side effects in healthy people, it may be a much better alternative to Diamox.

On the other hand, those taking anticoagulants such as ibuprofen, aspirin, warfarin, or antidepressants should be wary of potentially dangerous side effects.

Altitude Research

Understanding altitude and its effects on the body is an extremely broad topic. This blog has only touched on the bare surface of the subject and indeed, only on the bare surface of the uses of Diamox. Those interested in learning more should check out Going Higher: Oxygen, Man and Mountains by Charles Houston or Altitude Illness: Prevention and Treatment by Stephen Bezruchka.

A Final Note

We are not doctors. We are climbers. And the advice here is just that, advice. All the information here is based on our experiences working at altitude and everyone's body reacts differently under such circumstances.

Diamox is a prescription drug. And it is extremely important that you get proper medical advice before self-medicating with any such drug. If you are on an expedition with a guide, it is also important to tell your guide whenever you take any drugs.

High altitude climbing is an awesome experience. Diamox is merely one tool that will help you to get up high. Another, and perhaps far more important tool, is to use good sense, good judgment and to acclimitize properly.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

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 15, 2017

Using Your Rope in Climbing Anchors

It's not uncommon for us to get up to an anchor point only to find that we've left our cordellete on our partner's harness or to find that it is impossible to hear.  Most people will just deal with these problems without thinking outside-the-box.  One outside the box thought though is to use your rope for these things.

This first photo was taken in Red Rock Canyon at the start of the "Tunnel Pitch" on Tunnel Vision (III, 5.7).  If you're not familiar with this route, it is an absolutely stellar ascent.  On the fourth pitch, one has the opportunity to actually climb through the mountain in a tunnel. In other words, the route requires a bit of vertical spelunking.

The top of the third pitch, at the start of the tunnel, it is difficult to see or hear the second.  The route follows a corner and chimney system up the wall.  In order to see my climber, I built an anchor and then, using the rope, extended the anchor to the edge where it was far less difficult to see and hear.

Some might argue that this system lacks redundancy.  I'm not too worried about that as I can see the whole anchor to ensure that there is no rubbing and we never have redundancy in the rope while we're climbing with a single line...

This second picture was taken in Leavenworth, Washington on one of our AMGA Single Pitch Instructor courses.  The assignment was for the student to create a fixed line across a catwalk on the slab shown.  This particular student didn't have the webbing or the cordellete to create a perfect SRENE anchor.  Instead, he built a pre-equalized anchor with his rope. In this application, this worked really well.

In this picture, another Single Pitch Instructor candidate built a top-rope anchor, wrapping a rope around a boulder and tying it off with a double-bowline.  In order to create some flexibility in the anchor he tied an figure-eight on a bite and clove-hitched it to the line going to the edge of his top-rope anchor.

This last picture shows a close-up of the figure-eight and the clove-hitch mentioned above.

One last thing to be aware of is that dynamic climbing ropes stretch 8-12%. Usually there isn't much rope in the anchor so there's not going to be that much stretch, but this should be taken into account before the system is loaded.

Flexibility and thinking outside the box are two major tenants of climbing efficiency.  One way to be efficient and to be flexible and to be outside-the-box is to use your rope for anchoring instead of other materials.  Your rope is always on you and as such, it definitely provides an option that really shouldn't feel like it's that far out-of-the-box...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 12, 2017

Intro to Aid Technique

Free climbing is the technique of ascending a route with equipment and climbing protection, but without directly using that equipment to assist one's ascent. Instead, the equipment is used solely for safety. In direct opposition to this, aid climbing is the direct use of climbing equipment to climb a wall.

A basic aid pitch requires one to place a piece of protection. Once the piece is secure, the climber will clip an etrier or aider to that piece of gear. An etrier (which some people refer to as an aider) is a nylon ladder. The climber will climb up the etrier until she is as high as possible. The climber will then place another piece of gear and clip another etrier to this. An aid pitch requires one to do this repeatedly as he or she works up the route.

A big wall climb is a route that is so big, that it generally takes more than a day to complete. Many walls require one to haul bags full of food, water and equipment as well as to use a portable ledge (a portaledge). This type of climbing can be equated to vertical backpacking.

Most big wall climbs require a great deal of aid climbing. Part of the reason that one must sleep on the wall is because aid climbing is incredibly slow. There has to be a piece of gear of some sort every six feet. If a climber is not quick with her system, then the time will add up very quickly and a Grade IV will turn into a Grade VI.

Aid climbing requires a lot of unusual gear. Following is a quick glossary of simple aid terms. There is a lot more to this aspect of climbing and this should simply be thought of as a quick intro:
  1. Hook -- This is literally a hook that one might use as a piece of protection. A climber will put a small metal hook over a rock lip and then clip the etrier to it in order to move up.
  2. Jumar -- The second (the follower) on an aid pitch is required to climb the rope instead of the rock. The second will usually do this with mechanical ascenders called jumars. The act of climbing up the rope with these is called jugging.
  3. A1-A5 -- The aid grade system. An A1 placement is perfect and could hold a bus. An A5 placement is really bad and will only hold bodyweight.
  4. Daisy Chain -- This is a personal anchor system with a series of loops sewn into it. A climber can place a hook (called a fifi hook) on her harness an hook the loops of the daisy to shorten it.
  5. Hauling -- The act of dragging a bag up the wall. This is the most miserable part of an aid climb.
  6. Copperhead -- A wire with a maleable copper top. These can be pounded into a crack and will usually hold bodyweight on high end aid climbs.
  7. Nailing -- A pitch that requires the use of pitons.
The following videos provide an introduction to aid technique with a focus on the methods required to climb a big wall.

At AAI we currently teach aid climbing in our Aid and Big Wall Seminar.  Additionally, we teach it in one of the Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Part III options.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Rock Climbing and Land Management

Madaleine Sorkin is a sponsored athlete and extremely strong climber, but in 2006 near the start of her career, it all almost ended. Madaleine had just climbed the Resolution Arete, a classic Grade V in Red Rock Canyon. While rappelling in the dark, one of her bolted anchors failed and she fell fifty feet to the ground.

Madaleine survived, but her story provides us an entry point into the complex reality of land management and rock climbing in the United States. Fixed anchors are extremely important to climbers, but their politics are anything but simple.

Following is a video that was produced by Outdoor Research and the Access Fund. The video starts with Madaleine's accident and then takes us into the world of the Access Fund and government policy...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 8, 2017

Rock Climbing with Kids

“Daddy,” my elementary-school son said. “Can we go to the rock gym today…?

“I don’t wanna go to the rock gym,” my elementary-school daughter replied. “ I wanna climb outside!”

As a mountain guide and a parent, I couldn’t have been happier. My kids were arguing about where to go climbing!

My children don’t remember a time when climbing wasn’t a part of their experience. By the time our first-born was three-months-old, she’d visited Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Joshua Tree National Park and Yosemite National Park. They’ve both been brought up to see climbing as a normal and expected part of life.

My daughter toproping a chimney.

Children take to climbing like a fish takes to swimming. They love it. They can’t wait to do it again. They dream about it. And in this day and age, there’s nothing better than getting children outdoors and involved in physical activity.

But climbing is dangerous. All forms of climbing—from bouldering to toproping—pose a risk of injury or death. Many climbers attempt to facilitate an outdoor climbing day for their friends or family before they’re ready, which can result in an accident. It is advised that those who wish to take children climbing seek out professional instruction first in order to ensure that they are managing a climbing site in a manner that reflects the best practices available.

Climbing with kids is different than climbing with adults. Small children and even some teenagers are not capable of managing their own safety. When you take kids climbing you have to constantly monitor them. Obviously, you want to keep them away from steep or exposed places, but you should also pay attention to what’s above them (climbers that might drop something on them are bad!) And you should watch where they play while your climbing (chasing rattlesnakes is also bad!). It’s important to be strict about where they can and can’t go and what they can and can’t do when they get to the crag.

At first glance, rock climbing with kids isn’t that different from rock climbing with adults. You find a climbing site, set-up and climb. And while the systems are essentially the same, there are a number of additional considerations.

Rock Gym

Perhaps the best way to introduce a child to climbing is through a rock gym. There are often two types of climbing at gyms, bouldering and roped climbing.

My daughter at the bouldering gym wearing "water shoes."
Note that she is very excited about using one of the gym brushes
to clean a hold. This additional activity helped her feel more 
comfortable up off the ground.

The entire focus of the bouldering area of a gym is climbing movement. You don’t have to worry about harnesses or ropes or anything else. All that you have to worry about is climbing.

In addition to providing a great place for a kid to experience climbing, a bouldering area is also an excellent place for parents without a climbing background to take their kids. A parent at a bouldering gym can manage the risks that their children take in much the same way that they might manage their child on a playground. There is no mystery about how high you feel your child should go in such an environment.

Roped climbing is also good. If you can get your kid on a rope in a gym setting, it will be much easier to take them outside. It's good for them to get used to climbing up, hanging on a rope and lowering down before taking them to an outdoor venue.

Children’s Equipment

There are three must-haves in outdoor roped climbing: a harness, a helmet and rock climbing shoes.

A standard rock climbing seat-harness is designed for teenagers and adults with a well-defined waist. Most small children don’t really have hips; the result is that they could fall out of a standard harness. Small children require a full-body harness with a tie-in point at the chest. Some standard harnesses will work on kids as young as six, while others will not. It depends on the specific body of each child.

My son wearing a full body-harness.
As you can see, he's very serious about climbing...

Many climbing equipment manufacturers have helmets on the market that were designed to fit kids. Climbing helmets are different from bike helmets in that they were designed for a different type of impact. However, it is not uncommon to see kids climbing in bike helmets, and certainly bike helmets are better than nothing. But it is preferred that children wear helmets that were designed for the activity that they are participating in.

When I take my children climbing outdoors, they put on their helmets when we get to the crag and they don’t take them off until it’s time to leave. Even if the cliff is relatively clean of potential rock-fall, you never know if someone’s going to accidently drop something from above.

Rock climbing shoes were designed with sticky rubber on the bottom. The rubber helps a climber’s foot stick to small holds. And while there is no requirement that anyone wear rock shoes while climbing, you will find that your child will perform better with them than without them.

Like everything else in climbing, rock shoes are expensive. It’s also frustrating as a parent to buy a costly pair of shoes only to see your child grow out of them a few months later. For very small children (ages 3-6) you might consider picking up a pair of cheap mesh “water shoes.” Many of these shoes have a supple rubber sole that, while not as sticky as real rock shoes, performs adequately on easy rock climbs.

Choosing an Appropriate Crag

The best way to manage risk in an outdoor setting is to choose an appropriate crag. There are two things that you’re looking for in a good crag: a reasonable staging area and routes that are appropriate for children.

The staging area at the base of the crag should be flat and there shouldn’t be anything there that a kid could fall off. If you can approach the crag from below as opposed to from above, that’s generally better. If you have to approach from above, be sure to avoid exposure on your descent to the base. If the only way to get there is exposed, then consider a different crag.

Toproping with Children

Even if your kid is a rock-star in the climbing gym, you should start her out on easy climbs outside before amping up the grade. Look for a crag with routes rated between 5.0 and 5.6 that aren’t too tall. Ideally you should find something that’s less than 50-feet tall and low-angled.

If the perfect crag doesn’t exist at your climbing area, don’t fret. You can often set-up a toprope on a big boulder with appropriate “routes” for kids. And even if it is just a boulder, they won’t care, they’ll think they’re on the biggest wall in the world.

Managing Your Kid Climber

A toprope set-up is the best way to introduce a child to climbing.

When a small child is ready to climb for the first time, it’s best to have him climb up no more than eight-feet off the ground and then practice lowering. On his second climb, try to have him go a little higher, and then lower him to the ground. Continue this until he’s at the top. The reason to do this is twofold. First, the child will get used to the system, understand what he has to do when he’s done, and then lower down without a problem. And second, the child will get to know the holds on the route, and will be able to climb it more confidently on every run.

In this photo my son is tied into both ends of the rope
and the climber on the ground is pulling down to increase the
weight so that he can lower effectively.

Sometimes a small child is too light to be lowered in a toprope system. The best way to manage this is to anticipate the problem ahead of time. Tie the other end of the rope to the child’s harness and gently pull down as the child is lowered. This will provide the additional weight needed to get the child to the ground.

Most kids won’t climb all day. In fact most small children will only climb for a little bit and then will want to hang on the rope and swing. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as it doesn’t get in anyone else’s way or tie up a route for a long time. Let the kids swing and enjoy it. This allows them to get used to the security of the rope and will give them confidence in the system.

As a general rule, small children shouldn’t belay or rappel. There are ways to mitigate the dangers implicit in these activities, but they are beyond the scope of this article.

I’ve been climbing since 1992 and I’ve had some great experiences in the mountains. I’ve had the opportunity to summit beautiful peaks and climb inspiring lines. I’ve been blessed with a job that’s allowed me to introduce climbing to hundreds of people. And my closest friendships have been forged from mountain partnerships… But I’ve never had as much fun or been more inspired than I have with my children in the mountains. There is something essential and beautiful in sharing your passions with your kids…

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 5, 2017

Revisiting the Famous Bear's Reach Video

Alex Honnold is the most famous free soloist in the world. We have seen him in some of the most precarious positions on the planet many hundreds of times in different film and photo shoots. But Alex was by no means first.

Dan Osman was the Alex Honnold of his day. Indeed, he was at the pinnacle of the sport when he died in 1998. Dano (as he was known in the climbing community) was particularly famous for his participation in the Masters of Stone movies, which were the rock climbing movies to watch at the time. They were heavy metal infused stoke films that we -- those who were climbing back then -- could never get enough of...

Dan Osman doing a human flag.
This photo was everywhere in the 90s.

There was one film in particular that was perhaps the most famous of all. The film featured Dano on the Bear's Reach (5.7, II) at Lover's Leap, literally flying up the route without a rope. Indeed, there is one particularly awesome moment where Dano lunges for a hold and nearly comes off, recovers and then keeps going. And there's another moment where he does a flying dyno to a hold. The movie is awesome and you can check out the film below:

Dano was a big deal in the eighties and nineties. He was the essence of the cool climber, working a few months a year, dirt bagging, doing BMX tricks and climbing wicked hard.

Tragically, Dano was killed in an accident in 1998. He was one of the few practitioners of a sport that some referred to as "rope free-flying." This was the BASE jumping of the day and was just as dangerous. In essence, a climber would jump the whole length of a dynamic rope. Sometimes practitioners would tie two or more ropes together. Dano did this and somewhere the system failed. Outside magazine put together an excellent story on this.

Alex Honnold is the Dan Osman of our day. And Alex is keenly aware of climbing's history and those who came before him. As such, he put together a tribute to Dan Osman and climbed the Bear's Reach in red shorts and a mullet wig with heavy metal raging in the background.

To be frank, the video is glorious.

Check it out below:

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/4/17

--The climbing world was shattered this week with the death of one of its heros. Ueli Steck was killed in an apparent fall. Alpinist reports that, "Ueli Steck, one of the most accomplished alpine climbers in history, was found dead April 30 at the base of the Nuptse Face near Mt. Everest's Camp II. Steck was known for high-altitude speed climbing without oxygen. The Himalayan Times reported that the 40-year-old Swiss climber was last seen at 4:30 a.m. going up Nuptse (7861m). The climb was to acclimatize for an attempt to climb Everest (8848m) by the seldom-attempted 1963 Hornbein-Unsoeld route on the West Ridge, descend the normal South Col route, traverse into Lohtse's normal route, climb to the summit of Lhotse (8516m) and then descend straight back down to Everest's Camp II to complete a loop of light and fast climbing." To read more, click here.


--The Lynden Tribune is reporting that, "The Mt. Baker Ski Area is closed now for the 2016-17 season after what may turn out to be the biggest snowfall up at Heather Meadows in at least 12 years. Total snowfall through April 16 stood at 855 inches, the ski area’s website reports." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A climber was seriously injured at Tahquitz this week, though there is limited information. To read more, click here.


--The Daily Camera is reporting that, "A Boulder man was found dead at the Loveland Ski Area in Clear Creek County on Friday. The man was identified by the Clear Creek County Coroner's Office as Kevin Edwards, 59, of Boulder." To read more, click here.

--We occasionally post requests for help with medical bills after an accident. But this is a bit different. A little girl -- the child of climbers -- in Boulder needs help to battle a unusual disease. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Glacier Hub is reporting that, The thought of being able to drive right up to a glacier seems strange to most people. However, that is how visitors have accessed Matanuska Glacier in Alaska thanks to a privately-owned road that leads to a parking area near the glacier’s debris-covered section." To read more, click here.

--The world's first deepwater soloing wall is open to the public in North Carolina. To read more, click here.

--The first climbers of the season have summited Denali.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Cleaning a Sport Anchor

There are a lot of ways to deal with a sport anchor. Jullie Ellison at Climbing magazine hosts the following video where a very simple and relatively safe way to do this is discussed.

It should be noted that climbing is not "safe" and if a mistake is made in this system, the results could be catastrophic.

Steps to Cleaning a Sport Anchor:

1) Once you reach the anchor, clip two draws into the anchor. Ideally, the gates of the draws are facing away from one another.

2) Clip the rope through one draw and clip the second draw directly into the belay loop. The belayer should keep you on belay the whole time.

3) Pull slack between yourself and the draw that the rope is running through and then tie an overhand or an eight.

3) Clip the loop in the overhand or the eight to your harness with a locker. This will allow you to have redundancy while transitioning.

4) Untie the figure eight that is tied into your harness and run it through the chains.

5) Retye the figure eight into your harness. Double and triple check that this has been done the right way.

6) Remove locking carabiner and knot.

7) Test the system by weighting the knot on the belayer before unclipping yourself from the draw.

8) Clean the draws and then lower to the ground...

Addditional Note:

There are a lot of ways to do this. Some people lower from the anchor, while others rappel. It's important to tell your belayer while you're still on the ground what your plan is; and if you plan to lower, there is never any reason to ask the belayer to take you off belay. There are several accidents a year due to miscommunication surrounding anchor cleaning...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 1, 2017

Route Profile: Dorado Needle - East Ridge

There is almost no information whatsoever about the east ridge of Dorado Needle. In the Cascade Alpine Guide, Beckey merely gives it a mention:

EAST RIDGE: This sharp crest leads from the col E of Dorado needle toward the summit. First ascent by Joan and Joe Firey, Hans Hoesli, Dave Knudson and Peter Renz on July 4, 1971. The route involves class 3-5, sound, granitic rock. Ascend the ridge to the eastern subsummit, then rappel into the notch beyond for completion to the summit. Rating: 5.5. Time 4 hours.

On an ascent of the route in 2016, we found this description to be... less than adequate. The route clocks in at about 5.7 and most parties will take eight to twelve hours from the Eldorado East Ridge camp (where there's a toilet) to the summit of Dorado and back. Additionally, the route presents many different alpine problems that make it an interesting and fun route to climb!

Approach: From the camp at the base of the east ridge of Eldorado Peak (see Selected Climbs in the Cascades, Volume I), traverse the Inspiration Glacier to the north avoiding crevasses until you reach the Inspriation-McAllister Col.

This is a good time to take a picture of the NW Ridge of Dorado Needle and the glacier below. On the descent you will not be able to see all the options and an early photo that you can reference later will help with your return trip.

Drop down the glacier until you reach the Dorado Needle Col.

Topo for the East Ridge of Dorado
(Click to Enlarge)

Route: From the Dorado Needle Col, climb one very loose, nearly unprotectable 5.5 pitch, to a stance. Approximately 100-feet up from the Col there is a large horn that had a sling on it when I climbed it. This is the best anchor if you start from the Col.

There is protection, but it is thin. Everything that you might consider for pro needs to be checked to ensure that it is attached to the mountain.

An alternative is to cross the moat to the right of the Col and climb straight up underneath a cannonball hole in the mountain. While we didn't go this way, it is reportedly better climbing. However, you may have to deal with a very dangerous moat. It should also be noted that the cannonball hole is hard to see on the approach.

At the top of the first pitch, scramble up toward the ridge crest on better rock. Continue for several rope lengths along or just below the ridge. The climbing here is anywhere from third class to easy fifth class. All the ridge climbing throughout the entire route is either on the ridge or below it on the right-hand side.

Eventually, you will come to a notch. Down-climb third and fourth class terrain to a spot where the glacier touches the notch.

From here, cross the glacier to the base of the continuation of the east ridge. The best place to access the ridge is at a ledge with two quartzite lines. Beware of the moat here as it is bottomless.

East Ridge Dorado Needle
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

Many parties may choose to skip the loose bottom of the east ridge and simply access the mountain after this notch. The rock is significantly better from here on out.

After you access the rock, continue up for several rope lengths on terrain that ranges from third to low-fifth class to the top of a tower.

Make two short rappels into the notch between the ridge and the summit pyramid.

Working up 5.7 Terrain toward the Summit.

Climb good rock for another two pitches. This terrain looks harder than it is as you approach it. The climbing is never harder than 5.7.

Climb one to two more easy pitches to the summit of the mountain.

Descent: This descent can be easy, or it can turn into a nightmare. Stay awake and pay attention. There is a lot of tat on this mountain that leads you to difficult moat crossings.

From the summit, ignore the tat around the summit block and continue down the ridge toward the Northwest Ridge. Eventually you will come to a block that is inconveniently wrapped with tat. It's inconvenient because you will have to climb over to the other side to rig it for a rappel.

One way to tell that you're in the right place is that you can see that you'll be about five to ten feet above a stance when you rig it.

There is a lot of tat on the north side of the mountain. If the moats are not too difficult, you might be able to use some of these. But if the moats look like they'll be a problem, then you shouldn't rap that way.

East Ridge from Eldorado Peak
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

We rapped easily down the southwest side to a stance that is exactly 30 meters (100-feet) below. From there we scrambled on easy ledges back to the NW Ridge and to an easy rap that took us to a moatless notch at the base of the NW Ridge.

From the base of the ridge, you will have to find a way down through steep crevasses in order to make your way back to the McAllister-Inspiration Col. In 2016, we found a good path down on the skier's right side of the glacier.

Dorado Needle is an excellent climb. This is an adventure climb in the purest sense. The peak is remote, big and incredibly cool. An ascent of Dorado Needle is an ascent of something at the very heart of the North Cascades!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 28, 2017

How to Make Tape Gloves

Professional climber Beth Rodden recently put out a video where she demos two different ways to make tape gloves. At the beginning of the video she says that she's going to show two tape glove techniques and one technique to tape a split finger. Unfortunately, she never goes into the split finger aspect in the video, but her tutorial on tape gloves is excellent.

The best way to really learn how to do this is to watch the video at home with tape. Try to make the gloves a couple of times until you have one of the styles mastered.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 4/27/2017


--The toilet at Vantage (Frenchman Coulee) needs our help. There is a movement to build a second toilet at this heavily used climbing area. To learn more or to contribute, click here.

--The Idaho Mountain Express is reporting that, "The Sun Valley Resort had 400,000 skier days this winter, an approximately 4 percent drop from the 419,000 it had in the winter of 2015-2016." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

Rainbow Wall can be seen in the center of this photo.

--So Alex Honnold soloed three major routes in Red Rock in a day. He started with the Original Route on Rainbow Wall (5.12b). Then drove over to Black Velvet and sent Prince of Darkness (5.10c), and then down-climbed Dream of Wild Turkeys (5.10a). To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Huffingtonpost is reporting that, "San Francisco rescue workers made a dramatic save from the air of a man clinging to a steep cliff over the sea on Friday. The man, who officials said was homeless, hiked to a frightening height on a cliff near China Beach in the northern end of the city and apparently became paralyzed with fear. Surfers saw the hiker clinging to the sheer rock face and called 911, the San Francisco Chronicle reported." To read more, click here.

--Vox is reporting that, "It’s no secret that oil and gas companies are on the hunt for new places to drill. But the quest for more fossil fuels could heat up in places you might not expect: our national parks.With President Donald Trump’s executive order on energy, federal agencies are now reviewing all rules that inhibit domestic energy production. And that includes regulations around drilling in national parks that, if overturned, could give oil and gas companies easier access to leases on federal lands they’ve long coveted." To read more, click here.

--In New York City, there's a Girl Scout Troop for homeless girls. To read more, click here.

--Killian Jornet is eyeing the Everest speed record. To read more, click here.

--Outside is reporting that, "On Tuesday, the Outdoor Industry Association made a bold announcement: according to research done by the trade association, outdoor recreation now contributes $887 billion in direct consumer spending to the U.S. economy every year—$200 billion more than the industry’s initial estimate. The new report bumps up several other numbers, too, estimating that outdoor rec generates 7.6 million jobs (up from 6.1 million) and $120.2 billion in tax revenue (up from $79.6 billion)." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Training: Deadhangs

The Climbing Movement Essential Training Series on Youtube is kind of awesome. The series is composed of a number of well produced videos that focus on different aspects of training for climbing.

This particular video focuses on deadhangs. A deadhang is essentially just hanging from a hold. The longer you can do a deadhang, the stronger you likely are.

In review:

  1. Select 5 hold types. And make sure that you can hang from them for 2 to 12 seconds.
  2. You will do one deadhang on each hold (each hand).
  3. There should be a 90-second rest between deadhangs.
  4. Failure should take place in 12 seconds or less. If you can hold on for longer than 12-seconds, then you should choose different holds.
  5. Keep track of your time and identify holds that are harder for you. Work on those and establish goals and benchmarks to measure your ability.
And as always, be sure to warm up before using a hangboard. Those things can be dangerous to your tendons!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 24, 2017

Route Profile: Dream of Wild Turkeys, 5.10a III

Dream of Wild Turkeys is an exceptional climb located on the Black Velvet Wall very near to the classic long Red Rock climb Epinephrine. I made it to Red Rock a week ago and after a couple days of sport climbing and bouldering I had the chance to get on this route with fellow AAI Guide Britt Ruegger. Britt is preparing for the AMGA Rock Instructor Course and we thought this route with 8 pitches of 5.9 or harder would be a good training ground for the course.

The beauty of this route is the sustained nature of the climbing combined with a comfortable amount of protection. Where the climbing follows cracks traditional protection is easily attainable, and when the cracks peter out bolts pop up to protect the face climbing. This casual mixed protection makes me feel warm and fuzzy and is a credit to the first ascentionists George and Joanne Urioste's dedication to putting up routes you want to repeat!

AAI Guide Britt Ruegger pulling past the first 5.10a crux on Pitch 3. 
The highlights of the route include pitch 2, a long right angling crack that eats up gear and is sustained at the 5.9 grade. Pitch 3 brings the crux and you go straight up a thin crack with small crimps on the face at 5.10a until you reach a bolted traverse to the right. This sets you up for the long fist to hand crack of pitch 4 that ends with a few tricky 5.10a bolt protected face moves to the anchors.

Britt demonstrating the delicate footwork necessary on this technical face climb.

The rest of the route continues on with endless face climbing mainly at the 5.9 grade. Ten pitches of fun sustained climbing make this a must do route!

The leader of another party climbs pitch 7.
Every belay is also a bolted rappel station, so you can go down at any point. This makes the route a great objective for folks just starting to climb longer routes that are not confident in their speed and efficiency.

Things to take into account on this route:

-Two ropes are required to rappel this route. We climbed with twin ropes but a single rope and tag line would work just fine as well. You end up going straight down with the rappels and utilize a couple anchors that are on variations to this route.

-This is a very popular route and you should get an early start if you want to be first! However, there are many great back-up routes close by if the route is taken.

-The road into the Black Velvet Canyon parking area is rough dirt and rock and requires a vehicle with a reasonable amount of clearance. Not impossible in a passenger car, just much quicker and enjoyable with a truck.

-There are many hanging belays on this route which leads some folks to nickname the route Dream of Belay Ledges! Its not that bad but worth noting in comparison to the more common comfortable Red Rock belays.

The Red Rock season is in full swing here in Vegas and I'm excited to be working with some folks next week on a Learn To Lead Course. If you're after some great desert sandstone climbing or want to improve your skills in traditional and multi-pitch terrain come visit us in Red Rock!

--Jeremy Devine, AAI Instructor and Guide

Friday, April 21, 2017

Natural Anchors

Okay, kids. The question for today is easy. What is a natural anchor?

The most straightforward definition is that a natural anchor is any simple anchor point that nature provides.

The class know-it-all in the front row raises her hand and asks, "but Mr. Martin, isn't a crack a natural anchor?"

A crack is a crack. We actually have to put something inside the crack before we have a piece. It is a natural spot to place an anchor, but it is not a natural anchor point. No, instead a natural anchor is anything that is already there. The most common examples of natural anchors are trees, bushes, boulders, pinches and thread-throughs.

This tree, found on the iconic Northwest route, Outer Space (III, 5.9), 
has little more than a few roots in the crack system keeping it in place.

Before you elect to use a tree as an anchor point, you should make sure that it is "Five-and-Alive." In other words, that it is at least five inches in diameter, five feet tall, has a good root-base and is alive. You should be wary of trees that could have a root-base in dirt or sand and on top of the rock. An anchor with this kind of structure could easily fail.

This photo shows a tensionless wrap with a static rope on a very large tree.

Bushes and Shrubs

In the mountains and in the desert, it is not uncommon to use bushes and shrubs that clearly don't meet the Five-and-Alive standard. These are primarily used as rappels to get down obscure gullies or to get off the backside of a peak, so the tendency is to try to avoid leaving too much gear. The tendency is to want to only leave webbing or cordage.

When you elect to use these less-than-stellar natural anchors, consider equalizing a number of them together. If you're tying your cord around a desert bush that is comprised of a number of finger-sized sticks, you'll probably want to equalize this with similar bushes. Depending on the size and density, I would want at least two of these, if not more.

And lastly, when it comes to bushes and shrubs as anchors, use common sense. Don't put your weight on something that might blow out. You could always back up the first person (usually the heavier person) on rappel with a loose gear anchor. If all goes well, the second person could tear down that anchor and then descend. If the equalized bush anchor didn't come apart during the first rappel with the heavier climber, it's reasonable to believe that it wouldn't come out with the second climber either.


Boulders can be absolutely fantastic natural anchors. But there are a few things to look at before committing to a boulder. First, make sure that it is in good contact with the ground. Boulders on sandy or sloping surfaces should be considered suspect. Second, make sure that it won't wobble or roll toward the edge. Every boulder should be checked by pushing and pulling on it to confirm it's position. And lastly, if there is any possibility of movement, don't use it. The last thing you need is a boulder falling down on top of you.

Pinches and Thread-Throughs

Pinches are places where two large boulders come together so tightly that you can wrap cordage or webbing around them. Thread-throughs are places where there is a hole in the rock that you can something through to tie-off.

It is not uncommon for people to simply miss these opportunities while trying to build an anchor. They simply aren't as intuitive for most people as the other natural anchors out there. If you can keep the fact that these exist in mind and you look for them, you'll find them.

Like boulders and trees and bushes, it's important to make sure that pinches and thread-throughs are sturdy enough to handle the stress of being an anchor. This is particularly important in sandstone or in other soft and friable rock-types.

Natural Chockstones

In the following video, the Canadian Mountain Guide, Mike Barter demonstrates a quick and dirty improvised anchor.

Ultimately, the great value to natural anchors is that they don't require much gear. And since they don't require much, you'll have plenty to use on your next lead.

Class dismissed. Now go build some natural anchors!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 4/20/17


--We post a lot of SAR and mountain rescue stories on our blog...especially here on the weekly news blog. It's important to remember that most people who are involved in wilderness search and rescue in the United States are unpaid volunteers. A recent video about King County Search and Rescue provides a taste of what Search and Rescue and Mountain Rescue units do, everywhere:

--Crystal Mountain Ski Resort has been sold.

Desert Southwest:

--The Las Vegas Sun is reporting that, "The fate of a planned housing development near Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area won’t be decided by the Nevada Legislature after a proposed bill that would have killed it was gutted and rewritten. But officials believe the revised bill still sets a foundation for responsible development of lands located near the state’s national conservation areas." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund is reporting that, "The US Forest Service (USFS) is back on track to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) this fall that will evaluate the feasibility of re-opening Williamson Rock to climbing in a way that protects the endangered Mountain Yellow Legged Frog and its surrounding habitat. Williamson Rock was Southern California’s premier summer sport climbing destination until it was closed in 2005 to protect the endangered Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog (MYLF). The Angeles National Forest restricted access to Williamson as a result of successful lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation organizations." To read more, click here.

--Pay attention for threatened desert tortoises in the desert. At least three died in Joshua Tree recently due to visitor impact. To read more, click here.

--The Las Vegas Review Journal is reporting on opposition to new oil and gas leases near Zion National Park. "At an auction in September, the Bureau of Land Management is planning to offer “fluid mineral leases” on three parcels totaling just over 4,700 acres near the iconic national park in Utah, 160 miles northeast of Las Vegas." To read more, click here.

--The Saint George News is reporting that, "Public comment is now open on a plan to reconfigure the south entrance to Zion National Park to help ease traffic congestion and make other improvements." To read more, click here.


--Aspen Times is reporting that, "A district court judge is leaving it to a jury to decide whether Vail Resorts properly closed an in-bounds expert ski run before an avalanche killed a local teenager in 2012. District Court Judge Fred Gannett also ruled that it will be up to a jury to rule if the resort company’s signs on Prima Cornice were sufficient. 'If a jury finds that Vail intended to close Prima Cornice or a portion thereof, and that Vail’s signage was insufficient or improper under the Skier Safety Act, a verdict in favor of plaintiffs may be possible,' Gannett wrote in a ruling issued Friday." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Climbing is reporting that, "Trango has elected to voluntarily recall all Trango Vergo belay devices in batch numbers 16159 and 16195 that were sold after 1 October 2016. Please IMMEDIATELY cease use of all such Vergos and return them to Trango for replacement as described below." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund has a great article out entitled "5 Things You Can do to Fight for Public Lands." To read the article, click here.

Click to Enlarge

--Treehugger is reporting on an artist's interesting take. Drawing upon the WPA’s classic National Parks posters, Hannah Rothstein’s new series envisions our natural treasures ravaged by climate change.With a wry and poignant twist, artist Hannah Rothstein has reimagined the great WPA posters once used to lure visitors to the splendors of U.S. National Parks. Where the original might have promised Yellowstone’s campfire programs and nature talks, the new version offers dying trout and starving grizzlies. Welcome to the National Parks of the year 2050 if climate change is allowed to stake its claim." To read more, click here.

--Alpinist is reporting that, "The Piolets d'Or jury is giving awards to two climbing teams this week, along with two honorable mentions, at the annual international ceremony that acknowledges exemplary alpine ascents from the previous year." To read about the winners, click here.

--Outside Magazine has an interesting article on all the people who have gone missing on public lands never to be found. Check it out, here.

--The votes are in. Black Diamond had one of the funniest April Fools day products. Check out the Honn Solo...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bigfoot Sightings

With many programs based in the Pacific Northwest, we occasionally get questions about the elusive Sasquatch, or Bigfoot. The first and most common question is, "do you believe in bigfoot?"

The near universal answer amongst the guide staff is, no. Most of us don't believe that there is a big hairy apeman in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.

The second question is often, "have you ever seen Bigfoot?"

Most guides would say no to this question. But that answer would be a lie. In the Pacific Northwest Bigfoot is everywhere. And contrary to popular belief, he -- or she -- isn't that hard to photograph. Bigfoot is a part of our culture here. The beast is everywhere. You just have to open your eyes...

A Native American female Sasquatch mask.
This Native American mask is often used in ceremonies.

This image of Bigfoot is in a mural in Larabee State Park, just outside of Bellingham. 

We all knew that Bigfoot was a snowboarder. 
This piece of chainsaw art is near Index at a coffee shop on the way up to Stevens Pass Ski Area.

Bigfoot lives in a lot of small towns throughout the Pacific Northwest.
This photo was taken in Marblemount, WA.

 Bigfoot is very popular at Seatac Airport. 
I think that this blurry image is of the mythical monster at a cafe.

It also seems important that Bigfoot goes shopping.

 More Bigfoot junk at the airport.

And they even have Bigfoot t-shirts there. 

Yep. In the Pacific Northwest, we see Bigfoot all the time!

--Jason D. Martin