Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Uncoil a New Rope

You've just bought your brand new rope and you are extremely excited to pull it out and get some use out of it. You notice that it is bundled up in a nice tight little coil, and you think, "hey, this is perfect for my pack!" So you take it to the crag.

It's a beautiful day and you're itching to get on a route. You pull the plastic wraps off the coil, you release the initial wraps, and then...you drop the coils on the ground.

Opps.

Party foul.

Now the whole coil looks like spaghetti, and you spend the next hour trying to untangle the mess.

Sound familiar?

It's certainly happened to me. And it's certainly happened to a lot of people I know. And if it hasn't happened to you, it certainly can...

When you uncoil a new rope, you have to be very careful. Essentially, you have to unspool the coil. The most ideal way to do this is with a partner. One person puts his arms inside the coil, while the other carefully unspools the rest onto the ground.

This can certainly be done by an individual, but you have to be much more careful.

Following is a video (unfortunately not in English) which shows a technique for uncoiling a new rope.



Happy climbing!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 11, 2017

How to Remove Your Skins with Your Skis On

The first time I saw someone remove their skins without removing their skis, I remember being flabbergasted. My first thought was, "that was awesome." It is incredibly efficient to remove your skins without taking off your skis, but it takes some practice.

In the following video World Cup Ski Mountaineering Racer Melanie Bernier demos a few easy techniques that will help with quick skin removal.



--Jason D. Martin

Friday, December 8, 2017

The World's Best Belayer

So, apparently there's a guy out there who is the best of the best of the best of the best at belaying. Petzl has made a very funny video about this individual with all kinds of superstar climbers.

Check it out:



It does look like this video was inspired by a section of a 2012 film called Almost Alpine where they have a very similar sequence. To see the video, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 12/7/17

Northwest:

--An out-of-bounds skier had to be rescued from a steep slope near British Columbia's Mt. Seymoure on Sunday. To read more, click here.

--The Mountaineers are looking for volunteer ski instructors for Meany Lodge at Stampede Pass. To learn more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The Desert Trail is reporting that, "a San Diego woman who was left dangling 150 feet above the ground while climbing in Joshua Tree National Park was rescued by helicopter Saturday, Dec. 2. The entire hoist rescue was performed in darkness with the use of Night Vision Goggles." To read more, click here.

--There was a second incident in Joshua Tree as well. To read more, click here.


--Red Rock Rendezvous will take place between March 16 and 19, 2018. This is a great chance to rub elbows with guides and athletes and to learn all kinds of new skills. For more information, click here.  Please also consider climbing with an AAI guide before or after the event!

--Zion National Park has a human waste problem. Check it out...

Colorado:

--A snowboarder was killed after hitting a tree in the Monarch Ski Resort. To read more, click here.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "The U.S. House voted Tuesday to name two peaks in Colorado after local mountaineers Christine Boskoff and Charlie Fowler, both of whom died in 2006 during a climb of Genyen Peak in southwestern China." Christine was an important figure in the guiding world and owned the guide service, Mountain Madness. To read more, click here.

--The Durango Herald is reporting that, "a Durango woman is suing Silverton Mountain on claims that the ski area recklessly disregarded safety protocols after she fell off the top of a high-altitude chairlift platform in March 2016, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down." To read more, click here.

--Rocky Mountain National Park will be having a informational jobs fair next week.

Notes from All Over:


After the decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument
Patagonia placed this image on their website.

--In a press release, the Access Fund notes, "President Trump issued a proclamation that attempts to dismantle Bears Ears National Monument by 85%, and the impacts to climbing are far-reaching. The President does not have the legal authority to modify or rescind a National Monument. And we are fighting this in court. This fight is about more than just protecting the incredible climbing at Bears Ears. Nearly 60% of our climbing areas are on federal public lands, and if this presidential proclamation stands, it threatens the very foundation of our public lands system. Bears Ears is a crucial battle in the greater fight for America's public lands." Click here to support the Access Fund and other organizations in a lawsuit to protect Bears Ears.

A map showing the change in size to Bears Ears.
Click to Enlarge

--Here's a depressing piece on how little the outdoor industry was able to do to stop the Bears Ears size reduction.

--John Krakauer sued Outside magazine for republishing his article, Into Thin Air. The piece was later turned into the best-selling book about the 1996 Everest Tragedy. Outside placed the article online. To read more, click here.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Job Information Session for Rocky Mountain National Park

The American Alpine Institute just received the following email from Rocky Mountain National Park:

Rocky Mountain National Park will be hosting a Job Information Session on Tuesday, December 12, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.  Come learn about the job application process for Rocky Mountain National Park and how to apply online for specific jobs at the park.  Information will also be available regarding park volunteer opportunities as well as fellowship positions with Rocky Mountain Conservancy.  Short presentations by park staff describing the jobs will begin at 5 pm. 

Beginning in mid-December the park will be accepting online applications for work in campgrounds and entrance stations for this summer.  In January, online applications will be accepted for custodial workers and in February, for general maintenance workers.  Individuals interested in seasonal positions at the park should regularly review the USAjobs website.  All Federal job announcements for Rocky Mountain National Park are posted on www.usajobs.gov 

For further information about Rocky Mountain National Park please visit www.nps.gov/romo or call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206.
-NPS-

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Pamela Shanti Pack: "The Kill Artist"

Pamela Shanti Pack is one of the best off-width climbers in the world. This video chronicles her battle with  the "Mental Block," an off-width detached block on the second pitch of Kill Artist (5.13) in Long Canyon, Utah. The off-width section on the Mental Block is incredibly dangerous because the block could come off during an ascent. Additionally, climbing the Mental Block requires inverted off-width movement.

This film does feature a cameo by Scott Massey. Scott was an AAI Instructor and Guide for several years.

Please note that there is profanity in this film.



--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 4, 2017

Gifts for the Backcountry Skier in Your Life

Tis the season to be thinking about holiday gifts. And boy-oh-boy, if there's one person who needs a lot of stuff, it's the backcountry skier in your life.

Backcountry skiing is an expensive sport. Skis, boots and bindings are all extremely expensive. A thousand dollar purchase is not uncommon for an individual outfitting themselves with a mere part of the backcountry kit. So it may come as a surprise to find out that there are many inexpensive items that a backcountry skier could certainly use.

Following is a list of not-to-crazy-expensive gift ideas for a backcountry skier:

Ski Straps ($4-$8)



This is one of those items that skiers lose all the time. They are also one of those items that skiers can use to fix a myriad of backcountry problems. They are a very nice thing to have. We recommend the Voile Ski Straps.

Glop Stopper Skin Wax ($12-$15)


Nothing is more frustrating that having snow glop up on your skins during a spring tour. This inexpensive wax can quickly be placed on the skins to eliminate the problem. It is a must have... We recommend, the Black Diamond Glop Stopper.

Warm Socks ($8-$30)

Darn Tough Hike/Trek Boot Sock

Who doesn't need a new pair of warm wool or synthetic socks.  Look for a pair that is tall and will protect the skier's shin from the boot. I am personally a big fan of Darn Tough socks.

Lightweight Gloves ($20-$40)

OR PL Base Glove

Skiers often wear heavy thick gloves for their descents. But a good chunk of a backcountry skier's day is spent going up hill. No one wants to wear super heavy gloves while skinning up. Most want light gloves that breath, but still keep their fingers protected from the cold.

There are several options out there, but we recommend the OR PL Base Glove.

Brooks-Range Field Organizer ($20)


At this point I don't think I know any guides who don't have one of these protective book covers for their avalanche "blue books." This inexpensive piece of gear is a well-loved part of my everyday backcountry kit! I'm not sure if anyone but Brooks-Range makes these...

Buff ($10-$25)


A Buff is a tube of fabric that can be worn over the face, head, ears or neck. There are several companies making these accessories, but Buff is still the original and best.

The first time I ever saw a buff, I thought it was goofy. But now I wear one in the snow, in the desert and in the summer on the rock. This essential piece of equipment protects me from the sun, but also can protect my face from stinging snow. Nearly every AAI guide regularly wears a Buff in some form or another...

Portable Battery Charger ($25-$100)


As smartphone technology has improved, most skiers have begun to use their phones throughout their tours. That means that they're also using up battery power. Portable chargers have become a key piece of equipment, just in case one's battery starts to run low. The Goal Zero Flip Series works well and there are several sizes available with different charging abilities.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, December 1, 2017

Backcountry Skiing - How to Start!

The words skiing and fun are essentially synonymous with one another. The art of skiing is one of the most pleasurable pastimes in the world. There is nothing quite like sliding on the snow at a beautifully maintained ski area—

Except – that is – skiing the backcountry

But skiing in the backcountry can be intimidating. Indeed, assuming one has easy black diamond movement skills, there are three elements that might keep a skier from venturing into the backcountry: equipment, avalanche danger, and navigation. Once an individual has been introduced to each of these elements, a journey into the winter backcountry seems far more reasonable.

Equipment:


There are two major types of touring skis, telemark and alpine touring. Telemark skis are designed with a free heel that is never clamped down. This is in direct opposition to alpine touring skis. These skis are designed to have a free heel when moving uphill and a fixed heel for downhill skiing.

Unless you are already a telemark skier, it is not recommended that you venture into the backcountry with a telemark ski. Most resort skiers will have a much better time transitioning to alpine touring skis.

A backcountry skier rips down a clean line on a beautiful slope.

There are dozens upon dozens of touring skis on the market. Each ski is designed with a different thing in mind. Some are designed to be super lightweight, whereas others are heavier, but are designed for better performance skiing downhill. Most of those that are new to backcountry skiing should use heavier skis to start with. While this adds weight for uphill travel, it will make the downhill portion of the day much easier to deal with, especially if the conditions are variable or difficult.

There are two major types of backcountry alpine touring bindings on the market. The first is the standard AT set-up, which allows for a skier to easily step into the binding. And the second is the super lightweight tech binding. The first type of binding (Fritschi Diamir, Marker Duke, Atomic Tracker, etc.) will be easier for the standard resort skier to adapt to, but most people these days ski on the second kind of binding (Dynafit, G3, BD Plum, etc.).

Like the skis, there are dozens of different boot options for AT skiers. The biggest difference between alpine ski boots and AT boots is that AT boots are designed to have both an uphill and a downhill mode. In other words, they flex forward and backward for good uphill movement. Ideally a new AT skier will be able to find a boot that works well for both uphill and downhill movement. Ski shop employees can help you find a model that works well for you.

AT skis are designed to go both uphill and downhill, but they need assistance going uphill. You will need to purchase a good set of climbing skins to place on the bottom of the skis for uphill travel. These will then be removed for downhill action.

A skier skins up a slope.

And finally, you will need to carry four essential pieces of avalanche safety equipment. You will need an avalanche transceiver, an avalanche probe, a shovel and formal avalanche education. Nobody should ever travel in the winter backcountry without these essential items.

Avalanche Danger:

The final equipment items on the list are an avalanche transceiver, an avalanche probe and a shovel. These items are for the worst-case scenario. They are in your kit so that you can rescue your partner after an avalanche. They are not avalanche repellant.

An average of 27 people die in avalanches every year. Avalanches are a real threat and they kill people.

There is really only one way for the new backcountry skier to adequately address avalanche danger. He or she will need to take a full 3-day Level I Avalanche Safety course. The best avalanche safety programs conform to American Avalanche Association standards. Locally, these are identified as American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) compliant programs. The American Alpine Institute provides AIARE Level I courses at Mt. Baker every weekend.

Backcountry Navigation:

Skiers regularly enjoy resort skiing in flat light buried in a fog bank. This marginally dangerous resort activity provides significant additional danger in the backcountry. Obstacles with difficult visibility are only the beginning of the problem. You also need to know where you are and how to get home.

There are four additional tools that the backcountry skier should learn to use. These are a topographical map, a compass, an altimeter and a GPS. These are all tools that you can learn to use by playing with them in the frontcountry; and you can find numerous resources online to help you understand these tools in order to use them effectively.

Historically GPS units have been very expensive. However, today there are a number of apps that can be used on your phone in airplane mode. My personal favorite is Gaia, but there are several others out there as well. These apps are not super intuitive though and will take time and practice to perfect before using them in the field.

Courses:

The fastest way to get dialed into all of this is to take a course. The American Alpine Institute has several courses available. To learn more, check out our list of backcountry skiingsplitboarding, and avalanche safety programs.

Resort skiing is great, but in a straight-up comparison, backcountry skiing is just more fun. There is a lot more that you have to know. Your skiing skill has to be a great deal higher and earning your turns just feels more rewarding. It is well worth any resort skier’s time to step off piste and to explore the world of backcountry skiing.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/30/17

Desert Southwest:

--The Washington Post and many others are reporting that, "President Trump will travel to Utah on Monday to lay out his plans to cut the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, according to individuals briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it had not been formally announced." To read more, click here.


--Red Rock Rendezvous will take place between March 16 and 19, 2018. This is a great chance to rub elbows with guides and athletes and to learn all kinds of new skills. For more information, click here.  Please also consider climbing with an AAI guide before or after the event!

Notes from All Over:

--A skier died in an avalanche near Alaska's Hatcher Pass last week. There is still limited information about this event. To read more, click here.

--The Associated Press is reporting that, "Mexican authorities said Sunday that they had rescued nine climbers from Mexico’s tallest mountain in recent days, and one mountaineer from the United States had died." To read more, click here.

--Outside recently published an incredibly interesting article about a conman named Jeff Caldwell, who posed as a thru-hiker. He would commonly become friends with a sympathetic person, sometimes appear to be a good potential suitor, and then he would scam them. Brendon Borrell writes, "as I learned about Caldwell’s exploits, I wondered if there was something about the outdoor community and our sympathy for such wanderers that may make us especially easy marks. When we see a man with a trail-worn Gore-Tex jacket and a decade-old Dana Designs backpack, we instinctively trust him. We can’t help but envy his authenticity, his freedom. He’s not just a weekend warrior—he’s living the life we want." To read this incredibly interesting article, click here.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "much of Utah is seeing balmy weather, and unseasonably warm temperatures have prompted the Snowbird ski resort to suspend skiing and related winter activities just days after opening the season." To read more, click here.

A recent photo of the Yeti from the Himalaya.

--The Yeti is a Himalayan legend similar to the legend of Bigfoot in the United States and Canada. However, unlike the Bigfoot, there are a lot of Yeti relics that people in the region have. This includes hair and bone fragments. IFLScience is reporting on a team that took these Yeti samples to a lab to have them analyzed. "The DNA, however, suggests that this is unlikely the case. One of the samples was from a humble canine, while the other eight all came from one of three species of living bear still found meandering the high mountain passes and plateaus: the Asian black bear, the Himalayan brown bear, and the Tibetan brown bear. No ape, polar bear, or yeti to speak of." To read more, click here.

--Nice job, Outside. We agree...!

Equipment Recalls:



--Omega Pacific is recalling some carabiners. "This recall involves six models of Omega Pacific G-FIRST series aluminum carabiners. They are typically used to allow ropes and harnesses to be linked together. “Omega-17 UL Classified USA” is printed on the front and 'Meets NFPA 1983 17ED MBS kN 40 G' statement is located on the back side. The 2-digit lot code 'OD' is embedded on the bottom side of the carabiner spine. They were sold individually in silver, black and red colors." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Route Profile: Bloodline (5.11a, II+)

The splitter crux pitch on Bloodline.  Mega Classic!
(A. Stephen)
In the quest to find awesome forgotten routes in Red Rocks, sometimes you have to travel off the beaten path. Other times, that classic line is less than half an hour from the parking lot.  Bloodline is a classic 4-pitch 5.11a at the top of "the cone"on the northwestern side of Mescalito.  The first two pitches ascend the left side of this cone and up to the base of the cavernous chimney that is a route known as Deep Space.

Looking down at the top of the stellar first pitch (A. Stephen)
The really fun climbing begins on the left side of the chimney, with a long(150 ft.) bolted face climb which both my partner and I thought was fun, engaging, and sustained enough to deserve a 5.10c rating.  The rock on this pitch was excellent and varied, providing some unusual and extremely fun movement.  Rad!

So Good!!!! (V.Portillo)
The next and final pitch of Bloodline is the crux finger crack.  The crack is very thin- only big enough for me to get the first knuckle of my fingers in. Most of the climbing felt like 5.10, with some difficult moves to good rests. The crux is a short 5.11a section where the feet disappear and the crack is really all you have to work with. A couple hard moves with great gear puts you underneath a hand-crack bulge which guards the anchor. There was a tiny bit of loose rock on this bulge, so be careful with your protection and make sure your belayer is alert, since they are anchored in the potential line of fire.  
Vanessa getting her first 11a TR on-site! (A. Stephen)
We continued on to try for the summit of Mescalito after this pitch, and after some scary, loose climbing, found ourselves below the Red Chimney, which guards the summit of Mescalito from Cat in the Hat buttress.  I definitely would recommend rapping the route from the top of the crux pitch! 

Bloodline is an amazing climb, and very approachable for the grade.  It is in the shade all day so if you are looking for something to climb when it is hot, give this one a try!

Can you feel the stoke!?  (A. Stephen)
-Andy Stephen, Instructor and Guide

Monday, November 27, 2017

Film Review: The Way Back

In our culture -- the climbing and outdoor culture that is -- there is an amazing appetite for epic adventure stories.  People love films like Seven Years in Tibet, Alive, Lawrence of Arabia, or even less realistic films like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Three Kings.

What do all of these films have in common?

In each of them there is a an epic adventure that is uniquely connected to the environment. There is often cultural conflict and usually there is extended travel by difficult means.  These types of films tend strike a cord among outdoor adventurers.  They affect us because we intentionally seek out struggle and strife in far off places.

The Way Back is an absolutely stellar adventure movie.  It is exactly the type of film that engages the outdoor adventurist the most.  The story -- inspired by a true story -- deals with an epic journey, minor cultural conflict and significant wilderness travel.


Janusz, a young Polish officer played by Jim Sturgess, is held for interrogation by the Soviet Secret Police.  When he will not admit to working as a foreign spy, they torture his wife into revealing him as such and send him to a POW camp in Siberia.  Conditions in the camp are absolutely atrocious and Janusz isn't sure that he will survive one year, much less the twenty years of his sentence.

Before long, Janusz creates alliances with a number of other prisoners including the hardened criminal Valka (Colin Farrell), Polish artist Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean), a Latvian priest Voss (Gustaf SkarsgĂ„rd), a Pole suffering from night blindness Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky), and an accountant from Yugoslavia Zoran (Dragos Bucur). Together the ragtag crew of misfit prisoners escape the prison and lead by Janusz, they begin to travel on foot overland to freedom.  The problem and the central storyline of the movie is that true freedom is nowhere nearby.  The team must travel across Siberia, Mongolia, and Tibet to find freedom in India.  In other words, they must walk 4000 miles through the wilderness including a traverse of both the Gobi Desert and the Himalaya before they can say they truly escaped.

Director Peter Weir hasn't been heavily involved in filmmaking since his 2003 epic, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but he clearly has a love for the adventure genre.  He is also responsible for films like The Mosquito Coast, Witness, and Gallipoli.  Additionally he has been the directoral mind behind dramas such as Dead Poet's Society and the Truman Show.

In The Way Back, one can see a director late in his career with a long filmography as a complete master of his craft. The film is never an edge of your seat thriller, but it is still hard to look away. Weir has created a beautiful adventure that inspires tension from the opening shot to the closing sequence.  This masterful storytelling combined with beautiful natural images keeps the audience thoroughly engaged with the characters throughout every second of the film.

The Way Back is a grand movie on a grand campus about grand people. It is exactly the type of film that you should put on your movies to see list right way...

Following is a trailer for The Way Back:



--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 24, 2017

Fixed-Point Belay Techniques

There has been a lot of talk in the industry lately about fixed-point belay techniques. Many guides are beginning to employ these techniques on ice climbs and on sketchy alpine climbs.

Essentially a fixed-point belay is a lead belay directly off the anchor, as opposed to the more standard belay technique of operating a device off one's harness. The idea is that a lead fall simply doesn't impact  the belayer the same way that a lead fall impacts him or her in a normal setting.

At a guide training in 2008, a number of our guides experimented with this technique, finding mixed results.  We found that both a tube style device and a munter-hitch worked well, but not so much for a GriGri.  Assisted locking devices seem to transfer a lot more force into the falling person and without movement in the anchor, this resulted in a painful fall for our leader.

The Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) has put out a video on this particular technique.  It is a long and comprehensive video on the subject, but it is very good. Please see it below:


The French Guide Training organization, ENSA has also put out a comprehensive video:



At a 2014 AMGA training we experimented with this technique some more and decided that using a tube-style device wasn't appropriate at all. The best application appeared to incorporate the use of a munter-hitch.


In the photo above, we built a separate anchor from the anchor the climber was belaying on. We found that when an individual took a leader fall, it was easier to manage if your hands were far away from the munter-hitch. If your hands were close, you got pulled up into the anchor more easily. Additionally, the fall was greater because the anchor moved up substantially before catching the falling climber.


In the photo above the belayer has just held a fall on a fixed-point system. This system with a piece designed specifically to deal with the upward pull was easier to manage.

So why would you use this system?

It is a very guidey thing to do and it does require one to learn a new belay technique, so it doesn't make much sense...unless you're working with significant weight differences in a multipitch setting. If you intend to take children or small teens up a multi-pitch route, a leader fall may be so dramatic that they get pulled into the anchor and let go. This negates that possibility.

And while there aren't that many uses for a fixed-point anchor, it is one of those things that when you need it...you really need it...

 --Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/23/17


--This is a tough weekend for camping in the desert. Make plans accordingly.

--Over at Semi-Rad they have the perfect chart comparing skiing to the holidays. You can check that out, here!

Northwest:

--AAI was featured in an article this week about ice climbing. Check it out!

--The Seattle Times is reporting that, "A forgotten easement could have severed the Pacific Crest Trail, which extends from Mexico to Canada along the crests of several mountain ranges, including the Cascades in Washington. Most of the trail weaves through public lands, but about 10 percent of it is owned privately." To read more, click here.

Sierra:

--It appears that Niels Tietze died in a rappelling accident on FiFi Buttress in Yosemite on Friday. Niels was a well-known Yosemite climber. Here is a short film in which he and his partner complete a big link-up in Yosemite. To read more, click here.

--SF Gate is reporting that, "A San Diego man is recovering after being seriously injured in a fall while climbing Yosemite's Half Dome earlier this month. Alex Doria told ABC 10 KGTV that his foot slipped, sending him tumbling 50 feet down a sheer granite face on the iconic crag. The fall broke his back, foot, wrist and ribs." To read more, click here.

--Snowbrains is reporting that, "According to the Sierra Avalanche Center, 3 backcountry skiers triggered and were caught in an avalanche in Hourglass Bowl on Tamarack Peak in the Mt. Rose area of Lake Tahoe, NV yesterday. It’s being reported that the skiers caught in the avalanche were slammed against rocks and trees and that one of the skiers may have broke his ankle." To read more, click here.

--A herd of nearly deer appears to have fallen near Bishop Pass. They appear to have slipped on ice while making their way to their winter grounds. Most of the animals were seriously injured or killed. It's not clear why this happened. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:


(click to enlarge)


--The Friends of Indian Creek are looking for the people who placed this graffiti...

--The Scenic Drive and the Red Springs Parking areas will close at 12:00pm on Thanksgiving in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Those already inside the Scenic Drive may stay until the Conservation Area closes at 5pm.

Colorado:

--Here's a piece on all that's new in the Colorado ski industry, from new lifts to new programs, to better transportation options.

Notes from All Over:

--There is a bill in Congress to gut the Antiquities Act. This is the act that allows for the creation of National Monuments. To take action against this congressional action, click here.

--Access to a popular climbing area in Austin is under threat. To read more, click here.

--The Battleboro Reformer is reporting that, "a Connecticut woman is suing Mount Snow after her husband died during a snowboarding trip there early last year. Arthur David Deacon III was 56 when he fell and hit a tree while snowboarding at Mount Snow on Jan. 24, 2016, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. That morning, the Simsbury, Conn., resident took a chairlift at the resort to access Ripcord, the "steepest and most difficult trail on Mount Snow," the complaint states. He had snowboarded down the trail several times before, according to the complaint." To read more, click here.

--The UIAA has recently published an article entitled, "What You Need to Know about the UIAA Ice Climbing European Cups." This is a breakdown of the upcoming events. To read the article, click here.

--Here's a cool story on the Mt. Everest Biogas Project...essentially a project that allows solar toilets to change human waste into fertilizer.

--There are now six states with Official Outdoor Recreation Industry State Offices...!

--And finally, here's your link to the perfect Thanksgiving meal at the campfire...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Fall: From Glory to Grace

The well-regarded Canadian climber and athlete, Will Gadd, has one of the most informative climbing and training blogs on the net. Through Gravsports, Gadd brings us an array of tips, techniques, and commentary on the world of climbing.

It was through his blog that we that we became aware of the video, Fall: From Glory to Grace. In this film, we watch a man take a very serious ice climbing fall and then we watch him walk away from it. The video production is well-done, but the team's assessment of the fall and what lead to it and how to avoid such a situation in the future is poorly thought out.

On Gadd's blog, he analyzes each of the elements that lead to the accident. We have done a round-up of these points below the video.


Here is a breakdown of the mistakes made:

  • First and foremost, ice climbing is a sport where falling is NOT acceptable. Sure, it's okay to fall on top-rope, but it is definitely not okay to fall on lead. In some rock climbing situations, it's okay to fall on lead, but even there one can get hurt. With twenty-four sharp points on your feet, and five sharp points in your hands, there is a lot that can puncture you or catch on the ice, forcing a limb to bend in a way that it wasn't meant to bend. 
  • The placement of gear in ice climbing is meant to keep you from taking a ground fall. It is not meant to keep you safe in a small fall. 
  • Leaders should be comfortable on the terrain that they are leading prior to climbing a given pitch. There is nothing wrong with top-roping at the grade until you're comfortable. Leading adds a lot of extra stressors. One has to place screws, think about where the route's going, etc. 
  • Top-roping will also help with technique. Gadd points out that many of the climber's tool placements are subpar and that his footwork is terrible. 
  • One should practice clipping into the tool. There are many ways to do this. At one point in the video, we can see one of the climbers that assisted the injured showing them how to deal with such a situation. If you can clip into the tool, then you will have the ability to place a screw. In Gadd's response the video, he writes, "stop before you get super pumped, put in a good screw, reset, maybe back off if you can't climb the pitch without getting super pumped. Or, climb it in five-foot sections putting in a screw and hanging; I have FAR more respect for someone who does that than gets pumped and falls off. If you're super pumped stop, reset. No "free" pitch is worth getting injured for." 
  • The belayer talks about putting slack in his anchor system so that he can easily move out of the way if there's icefall. He should have built his belay in a place where there was no icefall to begin with. In a single pitch setting, this is very easy to do. 
  • The belayer is also belaying the leader with a GiGi. This device is not designed to belay leaders. 
  • The climber is wearing a Black Diamond Bod Harness. It appears that the harness is not double-backed. He is very lucky that he didn't simply slide right out of his harness after the fall. 

People make mistakes in the mountains. I've made them and you've made them, too. We all have. But if you're reading this right now, you got away with your mistake. This guy was also able to walk away from his. And indeed, it is likely that this video's existence on the internet will help him to grow as a climber.

I hope that re-posting this will help everyone in their growth and in their self assessment. I think that it is important to look at every day of climbing as a learning experience. There is no doubt that this is a dangerous sport. And it could be argued that the only way to keep playing the game is to constantly self assess and to constantly learn from every mistake, big and small...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Most Dangerous GoPro Footage Ever Shot!!!!!

It's pretty common for us to post videos of extreme ski lines. But I have to say that this is the most extreme ski line anyone has ever seen anywhere.

Put on your seatbelts, because things are about to get very very real...



--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 17, 2017

Stick Clipping

I was in Red Rock Canyon, just below the first bolt, when my foot smeared off. My stance was somewhat sideways and if I didn't have a rope on, I would have fallen eight feet directly on my side, likely breaking my arm...

But how could I have a rope prior to the first bolt?

Easy. I stick clipped it. And that stick clip saved me from a hospital visit.

Stick clips are an important part of sport climbing. These are specially designed poles that may be used to clip the first bolt with a rope prior to climbing the route. These devices may be purchased from many different climbing companies, they may be made out of homemade supplies or they may be "McGyvered."

The concept behind a stick clip is simple. You have a pole that allows you to clip the first draw to the first bolt with the rope prerigged through the bottom carabiner on the draw. Then you may be toproped through the starting moves of the climb.

There are several manufactured stick clips available on the market. Following are a couple of examples:

Trango Beta Stick Clip

Epic Sport Epic Stick Clip

Homemade stick clips are relatively easy to make. I bought a painters pole and a placed a spring clamp a the end. I duct taped this securely on to keep the spring clamp in place. Alternately, some people use hose clamps to keep the spring clamp in place at the end of the pole.

My well-loved homemade stick clip.

My stick clip wasn't designed with a means to keep the carabiner open. Instead, I just push the carabiner against the bolt until it clips.

There are going to be occasions when you don't have access to a stick clip. On these occasions, you may wish to McGyver something. Climbing magazine put together and excellent video on this topic with the now Executive Editor of the magazine, Julie Ellison, describing how to do this:



I used to be a little wary about carrying stick clips. A lot of my friends made fun of me for carrying it around. But the fact that I didn't hurt myself in that short fall before the first bolt made up for every last joke made by my trad climber buddies...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/16/17

Northwest:

--Two snowboarders went missing on Sunday just outside the Mt. Baker Ski area. Bellingham Mountain Rescue worked with the Sheriff's department to search for the two men, identified as Jake Amancio and Drew Lenz. Storm conditions have made searching difficult. To read more, click here.

--In honor of AAI guide and splitboard athlete Liz Daley, AAI worked with the Liz Rocks foundation to provide a scholarship to a young woman over the summer on one of our Leaders of Tomorrow programs. On Friday, November 17th, there will be a fundraiser to help get more disadvanted youth out into the mountains and to help make them future outdoor leaders. To learn more about the fundraiser, click here. To see a video of last year's recipient, click below.



--Lowell Skoog is well-known for his climbing and skiing exploits. But he is perhaps even better known as a mountain historian. The Seattle Times wrote an excellent profile of Lowell, touching on not-just his adventures, but the tragedy he's lived through... To read the article, click here.

--The Mountaineers are reporting that, "Last month, we invited you to join us in contributing funds to save a section of the Lake Serene Trail from logging. This month we’re happy to report we met our goal! Together we raised $275,000 to purchase the land from the timber company, ensuring that the area is conserved and recreational access is never again restricted." To read more, click here.

Sierra:

--Mammoth has been selected as a town that will receive additional assistance in the management of wildfires in the 2018 fire season. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A lead climber took a fall on Eagle Dance (5.10c, IV) in Red Rock Canyon last week and suffered a broken ankle. High winds kept him from an immediate helicopter evacuation, though he was eventually plucked off the route. To read more, click here.

--The New York Times has an opinion about Bears Ears. "President Trump, ever intent on expunging the legacy of Barack Obama, is on the verge of undermining the priceless conservation vision of Theodore Roosevelt as well. After ordering a review of 27 national monuments last spring, Mr. Trump is reported to have decided to greatly shrink two monuments covering millions of acres in Utah, weakening strict federal protections and reopening vast areas to possible commercial use." To read more, click here.

AAI Guide and Lead Guide Trainer Michael Powers
Teaches Self-Rescue at Red Rock Rendezvous

--AAI will once again have a large presence at the biggest and best climbing festival in America. Check out the Red Rock Rendezvous, running from March 16-19, 2018. Learn from our world-class climbing instructors and from the athletes you watch in the climbing movies and read about in the magazines...! To register, click here.

Colorado:

--One-handed rock climber Maureen Beck is beginning to make a name for herself. She was featured in a Reel Rock film entitled, Stumped and was -- this week -- featured in an ESPN article. Maureen has successfully climbed 5.12 and her Reel Rock film tells the story of her struggles to work up to that grade.

--Arapahoe Basin is opening a new area this winter. The 371 acre expansion will reportedly challenge steep skiers. To read about it, click here.

--The Know Outdoors is reporting that, "Marise Cipriani, the 22-year owner of Granby Ranch, is listing her 5,000-acre Grand County–ski and golf resort community for sale." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--AAI Guide Lindsey Fixmer made a successful trip to India's Zanskar Range on an all women's expedition. To read more, click here.

--There is a bill in Congress to gut the Antiquities Act. This is the act that allows for the creation of National Monuments. To take action against this congressional action, click here.

--Stacy Bare, a major advocate for veterans in the outdoors, wrote an interesting editorial about the outdoor industry and veterans. Stacy argues that many in the outdoor industry have made a lot of money by selling clothing and equipment to the military. Then he argues that outdoor brands owe veterans. To read his editorial, click here.

--Mara Johnson-Groh at Rock and Ice took a look at what's in store for climbers as the climate changes. Check out her excellent article, here.

--Chris Sharma is getting some flak for doing a commercial for a Ralph Lauren cologne. John Burgman at Climbing looks at the complex relationship that climbers have with their history and "selling out," here. Personally, I think this is a pretty good commercial and have wouldn't have even known what they were selling if someone didn't tell me. Check it out below:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: The Alchemy of Action by Doug Robinson

In 2001, I attended my first American Mountain Guides Association Annual Meeting in Yosemite Valley. I was standing at the campfire, looking for someone to talk to. I didn't really know anyone as I hadn't been guiding very long.

Suddenly, a small-statured man with white hair and muscular forearms offered me a beer. I accepted and was quickly stunned to find out that the man was a living legend:

Doug Robinson

Doug welcomed me to the meeting and I spent the evening talking to him. I was still a young guide and had a lot to learn. The wise old guide had a lot to say and I found it to be a very enjoyable night...

Doug is an incredibly well-known and respected climber and guide. He was at the forefront of the "clean climbing" movement in the early 1970s. He pushed back against the use of rock-altering pitons in favor of equipment that didn't damage the rock. In his essay, “The Whole Natural Art of Protection,” he argued for the use of "chalks" or what we refer to now as wired nuts in lieu of pins.

Doug did more than lecture his contemporaries. He practiced what he preached. In 1973, he made the first clean ascent of Half Dome. This and the subsequent article in National Geographic magazine cemented his place in climbing history.

Doug Robinson

In addition to leading the clean climbing revolution, Doug has been responsible for dozens of first ascents in the Sierra. Most notably, he made the first ascent of Dark Star on Temple Crag, made the first ice ascent of V-Notch Couloir, made numerous first ice ascents in Lee Vining Canyon, made the first ascent of Ice Nine, and finally he made the second ascent of Ama Dablam (22,495') in Nepal.

As a mountain guide, there may be no one more prolific. He was the first president of the American Mountain Guides Association and has been working as a rock and alpine guide for over fifty-years...

In addition to being a climber and a guide, Doug is a writer. And his most recent offering is a book that explores climbing in a very different way than anybody has previously. The question as to why people climb is as old as the sport; and people answer it in lots of different ways. Doug takes on the question and answers it in a completely new way. In his book, The Alchemy of Action, Doug argues that people climb because the activity releases a series of complex brain chemicals, which provide a feeling of euphoria. Indeed, the cover of his book reads:

Why do people climb mountains?
Because it gets us high.
But adrenaline junkies we are not,
and beta-endorphin isn't behind the runner's high either.
The surprising answer reveals natural psychedelic transformations
at work deep in the brains of adventure athletes.

The book is an exploration of brain chemistry through the lens of adventure sports. Doug looks at skiers and runners and climbers and delves into the complex cocktail of brain drugs that induce feelings of euphoria when climbing or the "runner's high."

There are five hormones that are released into the brain to create the feelings that we strive for in the mountains. They are noradrenaline, anandamine, serotonin, DMT, and dopamine.  Each of these are released for different reasons.

Note that adrenaline was not one of the hormones on the list. Adrenaline is a "fight-or-flight" chemical. It generally comes in a rush when something very dangerous almost happens. It is not really what people strive for in their mountain sports, the idea that climbers are "adrenaline junkies" is completely false.

Doug's book delves deeply into each of the chemicals and then discusses how they interact with an athlete and make him feel. He explores these through a mix of chapters on brain chemistry and active adventure stories, bringing us on a complex journey to understand why we actually climb mountains...

The Alchemy of Action is a little dense at times. There is a lot of science packed into the book. But there is also a lot of adventure in there. And while there are a few sections that take a lot of focus for someone who isn't "science-brained" to get through, it's well worth it. Doug's anecdotes and his take on what makes us do what we do is well worth the time...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 13, 2017

Route Profile: North Face Chair Peak

As winter descends on the Cascades, I find myself thinking about one of my favorite winter alpine climbs in the Pacific Northwest. The North Face of Chair Peak is a classic winter ascent that can easily be done in a day. It has a beautiful alpine face that gets covered in snow. The freeze thaw cycle turns the face from powder on rock to a spectacular three pitch alpine line.

The route is moderate and with the exception of one ten foot step, the bulk of it is between fifty and sixty-five degrees. That one step is perhaps eighty degrees, but it is very short and sometimes isn't even iced up. The first time I climbed the peak, that last section was 5.6 rock.

Chair Peak Approach Route
Click on map to enlarge.

 Approaching Chair Peak. The face in the center is the east face
To get to the north face, you must drop over the saddle on the right.

The approach to this climb is relatively straight forward. You simply park at the Alpental Ski Area and then make your way up the Alpental Valley to the end, where Chair Peak oversees the bowl beneath it.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)
This photo shows the north face on the righthand side and the
two variations that one can take on the northeast buttress which
is a route of a similar grade to the north face.

There are two routes that should be considered on the mountain. The north face is the obvious one, but the northeast buttress is just as good. However, the northeast buttress often requires a bit more mixed climbing than the north face.

Approaching the north face. 


The first pitch of the route climbs up a cool corner and gully on thin alpine ground.


The second pitch works it way up steep snow and ice to a tree belay.

 A climber approaching the tree belay.


The third pitch makes its way up more thin terrain to another belay, before the last pitch goes over the aforementioned step up to the summit.

The descent off the mountain is straightforward. A couple of rappels bring you down a gully on the south side of the east face.

On a short winter day, you really can't beat an outing on Chair Peak!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ascending Systems

There are a million ascending systems out there. On this blog we have previously discussed jugging with mechanical ascenders, the prusik hitch and climbing the rope with an autoblocking device. These are all excellent techniques for climbing up a rope...but it doesn't mean that they're the only techniques.

Climbers are ultimately artists and part of the art of climbing is picking the right tool at the right time to get up or down something. As a result, the more things that you know, the more tools that you have in your toolbox. And the more things that you know, the more improvisational you can be in any type of climbing situation.

This blog will provide you with another option for climbing up a rope. To set-up this system, you will need a mechanical ascender, a GriGri and a double-shoulder length sling. The following photo shows how each of these components will be used.


Following are the steps that you will need to complete in order to make this system work:

Clip the mechanical ascender to the rope.
Clip a double-shoulder length sling to the base of the ascender. This will become your be for your foot.
Clip a carabiner to the top of the ascender, trapping the rope inside the ascender.
Run the rope through your GriGri below the ascender.
Redirect the rope from the break-hand of the GriGri up through the clip that is trapping the ascender on the rope.Once this is set-up you're ready to jug. Put your foot into the foot-sling and then stand up. Once you are standing, pull the backside of the rope through the GriGri. Sit back on the GriGri, kick you knee up to your chest and push the jug up the rope. Repeat until you're at the top.

One important thing to always remember is that you will need to tie back-up "catastrophe knots" in the rope as you climb. This should happen every ten feet or so. One should never forget to do this, as occasionally GriGris slip.

Obviously, the only way to really dial in this system is to practice it. The best way to work through this system is to print this blog out, bring it out into the field and then make it happen!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/9/17

Northwest:

--The Forest Service has a number of entry level jobs available in Washington and Oregon. To read more, click here.

--In other jobs news, the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center is hiring avalanche forecasters. To read more, click here.

Sierra:


--The legendary High Sierra guidebook author, R.J. Secor has passed away. There is limited information right now, but it appears to be from natural causes. To read some remembrances, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that Yosemite, "now has a plan to expand Camp 4 by nearly double its size. Funded by the Recreational Fee Program, the expansion will include 25 new campsites, more parking spaces and a comfort station with showers, according to a Yosemite National Park press release." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A hiker took a 40-foot fall in Red Rock Canyon last week. To read more, click here.

--The Wilderness Society is reporting that the Trump Administration is recommending the opening of oil and gas mining around Grand Canyon National Park. "The report calls for lifting the ban on uranium mining on national forest lands around Grand Canyon National Park, which would destroy crucial wildlife habitat, devastate the tourism-based economy and put drinking water for regional tribes and wildlife at grave risk. The Grand Canyon watershed contributes drinking water for 25 million people. The recommendation is one of 15 others that affect national forests across America." To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--The Coloradoan is reporting on a rescue in Rocky Mountain National Park that took place on Sunday. "Megan Kies, 31, was climbing the Martha's Couloir route on Mount Lady Washington about 11 a.m. when she was struck by a rock dislodged from above, according to an RMNP press release." To read more, click here.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "A reservation and permit-fee system for the popular backcountry destination Conundrum Hot Springs is the Forest Service’s first concrete step toward managing record crowds in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A party in the Brooks Range of Alaska had a close call with an avalanche last week. To read more, click here.

--The Antiquities Act -- the act used to protect public lands -- is under attack. Please take a few minutes using the Access Fund Action Alert page to write to your congressman about this situation. To read more, click here.

--We've spent a lot of time wringing our hands at the American Alpine Institute, worrying about a dramatic increase in NPS entrance fees. James Edward Mills at Outside points out that that's not the only thing to worry about in the new National Park Service dynamic. "hat’s most striking about the leaked 2018–2022 strategic plan for the U.S. Department of the Interior isn’t what this 50-page document has to say—it’s what it leaves out. While much of the conservation community decried the proposed increase in admission price at the busiest national parks, few took notice that the new administration has deleted the entire diversity, equity, and inclusion mandate from its plan." To read more, click here.

--US Ski Team racers are learning avalanche awareness in Vermont. This is certainly a good thing. To read more, click here.

--A new WI 5 has gone up in the Canadian Rockies already. To read more, click here.

--Outside is reporting that, "After hiking for more than seven months, 82-year-old Dale Sanders completed the Appalachian Trail on Thursday, October 26, officially becoming the oldest person to finish the 2,190-mile trek. Sanders, known on the trail as “Greybeard,” broke a record previously held by Lee Barry, who set the mark in 2004 at age 81." To read more, click here.

--And Outside is also reporting that an 87-year-old just climbed Devil's Tower. To read more, click here.

--And finally, this dude is hiking from Patagonia to Alaska...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Route Profile: Johnny Vegas, 5.7, II+

Johnny Vegas is an extremely popular, extremely cool little route that can be found on the lower tier of the Solar Slab Wall in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This phenomenal 5.6 or 5.7 route (depending on who you talk to) climbs up through three enjoyable pitches, all of which are in a spectacular position.

A father and daughter team low on Johnny Vegas.
Photo by Jason Martin

This is a slightly older route. It was put up in 1994, but didn't make it into a guidebook until 2000. The result is that this super classic line was overlooked for six full years.

In 1999, I was climbing Beulah's Book, a classic 5.9 found just to the left, when I saw a rock jock leading a 5.10 variation to Johnny Vegas. I looked down to see an older man with a very small frame encouraging his much younger partner on. The belayer was none-other than the iconic Red Rock climber, George Uriosite.

A happy climber on the second pitch.
Photo by Jason Martin

George and his ex-wife Joanne were Red Rock pioneers. They were responsible for dozens and dozens of classic lines throughout the park. It was very cool to meet such an important person in the history of Red Rock. And everytime I've run into him since has been just as great.

It was also cool to see those guys on a route that I knew nothing about. So I thought it was important as a Vegas local to get on that thing as soon as possible. The very next day my partner and I returned to the Solar Slab area to make an ascent of Johnny Vegas. And we were incredibly happy that we did.

A climber nearing the top of the route.
Photo by Jason Martin

Since that first time on the route, I've climbed the line dozens and dozens of times. There are a few little things that people should know before sending Johnny Vegas:


  1. Purists will say that the route is four pitches, not three. Indeed, super purists might even call it five pitches. It is three real pitches. Sometimes people make a tiny pitch to attain the base of the route. And there is a long stretch of 5.0 climbing at the top of the route.
  2. Some guidebooks say to rappel this route. It is a rope eating nightmare. It is far better to rappel the nearby Solar Slab Gully.
  3. There are two starts to the bottom of the route. If a party is going very slow on the right hand start, some may elect to pass them on the left.
  4. The bottom of the route goes into the shade in the winter from approximately 10am to noon. When it's cold in the shade, this can make the route very very chilly.


This has become a super popular route. Make sure to get up early!

--Jason D. Martin