Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Film Review: Third Man on the Mountain

There really haven't been that many movies made about mountain guides. I mean, there have been some...

Sanaa Lathan plays a world class guide in Alien vs. Predator...and she clearly demonstrates that bloodthirsty extraterrestrials are no match for an experienced mountain guide. I would tend to concur.

Robin Tunney plays a mountain guide on K2 in the worst best climbing movie of all time, Vertical Limit. We all learned a valuable lesson about guides in that movie, the lesson that it's important to bring nitroglycerin on any and all mountain expeditions.

And then there's Third Man on the Mountain.

You'd be forgiven if you didn't know this 1959 Disney film. But you're probably aware of the Matterhorn ride in Disneyland. This film was the inspiration for that ride. And it's no wonder, because the iconic mountain plays a central role in the film, as an infamous peak known as the Citadel.

Third Man on the Mountain is a beautiful film set high in the Alps during the golden age of alpinism. In other words, it was a time when guides and their charges worked together to develop new lines on unclimbed peaks. 

Disney promotes the film with the following plot synopsis:

Rudi Matt, a young kitchen worker, is determined to conquer the Citadel – the jagged, snowcapped peak that claimed his father's life. Encouraged by both a famed English climber and the youth's devoted girlfriend, Rudi goes through a grueling training period before he is ready to face the incredible dangers of the killer mountain.

What they don't say in this short synopsis is that the character Rudi Matt is the son of a mountain guide. And they don't say that the young man has a great desire to become a guide himself...

There is a great deal of climbing in the film that doesn't seem realistic, but it can be forgiven. Why? Because the heart of the film is in the right place. It's a coming of age story about a climber who wants to make the mountains a permanent part of his life. It's the story of an imposing route that that young man looks at every day. And it's ultimately the story of the young man's journey to the mountain.

Most of us can relate to this story.

It's sometimes difficult for those of us who are used to high end special effects to watch older films. It's usually obvious when they shift from scenes that were shot on location to scenes that were shot in a studio. Occasionally you can tell that you're looking at a matte painting... But the story is so nicely portrayed that I was able to suspend my disbelief and live in the moment throughout the film.

Of particular note, Gaston Rebufatt directed the second unit film crew for all the mountain and climbing shots. Rebufatt was the French guide who wrote the iconic book, Starlight and Storm, and participated in the first ascent of Annapurna.

Third Man on the Mountain was based on the 1954 young adult novel Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ulmann. This award winning book was republished in 1988 by Harper Teen and is apparently used as a middle and high school reading assignment.

Though I haven't read Banner in the Sky, I'm glad to know that this story is being read and even taught to young adults. It's likely that most students have the opportunity to watch the film after they've completed the book. It's good to know that this film has a life somewhere... It deserves it. It really does...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 29, 2017

Route Profile: Liberty Bell - The Beckey Route (5.6, II)

When I was twenty-years-old, some friends and I made our way up toward Liberty Bell Mountain in the North Cascades. We had climbed a few multi-pitch routes prior to that, but this was going to be one of our first real alpine multi-pitch climbs.

We approached in the late afternoon with the intent to bivy. That was the night that a marmot tried to cuddle up with me in my sleeping bag. I awoke with a shout, just as scared as the little furry animal as it darted away into the night.

The next morning we made our way up to the Beckey Route. I remember thinking that it was hard for the grade, which is something that I still think over twenty years later. I remember my partner being terrified on the rappels, even though they're not that exposed. And that's about all I remember from that first ascent of the route.

Since then, I've climbed the route literally dozens of times. I'never camped below it again. The route is totally reasonable from the car and back in a day. But it remains an incredibly fun line.

Most of the time the approach to the base is trivial. But in the spring of 2013, we found
getting on the route to be the crux of the day. A snowstorm had plastered ice all over the 
base of the route. Luckily, we were able to climb past it and up into the sun.

 This is a photo of a climber leading the first pitch of the route.
As this is an easy photo to get, it is a popular spot to take an iconic photo.

 Climbing the chimney on the second pitch. This pitch is always easier
without a backpack.

 AAI Guides James Pierson and Jeremy Wilson high on the Beckey Route.
Jeremy is on a variation in this photo.

Climbers moving down the upper part of the mountain.

The AAI Guide Class of 2012, on the summit of Liberty Bell.
From left to right: Liz Daley, Everett Chamberlain, Tad McCrea, James Pierson, Jeremy Wilson

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 26, 2017

Self Arrest with Crampons

We teach self arrest a lot.

You could argue that we teach this skill more than any other. Every single course that goes out onto a glacier will spend at least some time covering this foundational skill. Some will spend all day, whereas others may only spend a short period of time. But it happens on just about every mountaineering trip...

There are a lot of different elements to a successful self-arrest and this particular post wasn't written to address them all. Instead, this post was written to discuss the one area of self-arrest where there is a fair bit of contention: toes up or toes down.

One school of thought is that when you arrest, you need to kick your toes up off the ground. This is so that if you are wearing crampons, they won't catch and flip you over.

The second school of thought is that you should kick your toes into the snow to help arrest the fall. In this school of thought, your toes should go in immediately to provide more resistance to the slide. However, this school also believes that you should only do this if you are not wearing crampons. This school believes that you should not kick your toes in if you are wearing crampons for fear of injury or flipping over.

The third school of thought is that you should always kick your toes into the snow, regardless of whether or not you are wearing crampons. The theory here is that stopping is the most important thing and that it's worth the risk of getting flipped over or injuring your ankles to stop.

Most AAI guides teach a combination of the second and third schools of thought. Programs that teach the first concept are definitely in the minority these days. The number one focus of any self-arrest activity is to stop a slide and most of the time, that means using your feet as part of the arresting system.

The real question comes when we look at the most obvious break between the second and third schools of thought. In the second, you kick your feet up while wearing crampons and in the third, you put them into the snow no matter what. Each of these styles of thinking are a little bit too rigid. In alpine climbing there are seldom absolutes. Both concepts have validity in one venue or in another. The problem is that it depends on snow conditions.

If you are on hard, solid ice or neve, then it's usually better to kick your feet up into the air. If you are on semi-solid terrain with occasional harder sections, then it's probably better to kick your toes in. This "it depends" approach isn't what most people want to hear. They want to hear a black and white answer; in part because a black and white answer is easier to remember in the heat of the moment.

Strategical thinking when moving in the mountains, in any kind of terrain, should always be composed of two questions. What is is the likelhood of a fall? And, what are the consequences of a fall? If these questions are always at the forefront of your thinking, then a black-and-white answer may not be so important. If you are constantly strategizing what you'll do in the event of a fall, then it is likely that you will react appropriately when the right skill is needed.

There is no easy closure on this question. There will always be people who argue vehemently for one of the three schools of thought. When all is said and done, none of the arguments matter. All that matters is that you can stop yourself when you fall.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/25/17


--A man was attacked by a bear in Squamish this week. It is believed that the attack was unprovoked but that the bear charged because she was protecting a cub. To read more, click here.


--The Sierra Wave is reporting that, "At noon Tuesday Dongying “Cindy” Qiu was located deceased at the base of a frozen waterfall near Outpost Camp. It is believed that she fell approximately 60 feet through a snow chute at the top of the waterfall (located on the southwest side of Outpost Camp, about a quarter mile off trail)." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Tom Beck, a well-known Red Rock and Joshua Tree climber, has passed away. To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund plans to work with the BLM to do a complete inventory of all the trails in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. To read more, click here.


--It is quite likely that the Outdoor Retailer show is going to move to Denver. To read more, click here.

The Aspen Times is reporting that, "Aspen Skiing Co., the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans are among the five parties a Snowmass Village man has assigned blame to for a skiing collision that has put him on the defense in Denver federal court. Michael Sura is being sued for negligent skiing by Santa Fe, New Mexico, resident Stuart Pendleton. Pendleton's civil complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court of Denver in December. It accuses Sura of skiing negligently when he collided with Pendleton on the Mick's Gully run at Snowmass ski area April 7, 2016." To read more, click here.


AAI West Buttress Team 2

--AAI West Buttress Team 2 has made it to Camp 3 at 14,200-feet. Team 3 is working to move a cache up to 10,000-feet. To read all of AAI's Denali dispatches, click here.

--Super Alpinist, Colin Haley recently soloed the North Buttress of Mt. Hunter in a 17-hour round trip. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Early this week, there were several reports stating that the Hillary Step on Mt. Everest had collapsed. That no longer appears to be the case. It's just covered in snow. To read more, click here.

--I'm not sure how I feel about the Go Pro awards. They do seem to feature a lot of people who made mistakes and got in over their heads. The following video is of a guy who wipes out on a glacier in the Alps, slides down the slope, falls in a crevasse and then later gets rescued. Pretty epic really...

--Many news sources have been saying that a climber was nearly killed by a major rockfall event in Spain as seen in the following video. What they don't say is that the climber appears to be cleaning a new route and that the rockfall was instigated by a prybar. Check out the video below to see for yourself:

--Speed climber Killian Jornet has made the Everest speed record without the use of oxygen or fixed ropes. To read more, click here.

There's climbing in the new Alien film.
This shot was from Alien vs. Predator.

--So there's a sequence in the new science fiction/horror film, "Alien Covenant" where a character watches her now deceased husband free solo in the snow, somewhere...wearing shorts. It should be noted, that this is the second time a climbing sequence was used in the Alien franchise. In the first Alien vs. Predator film, the protagonist is a female mountain guide. Just saying...

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

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

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