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, 
 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

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.