Thursday, June 29, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/22/17


--A car fire near Squamish at Cat Lake may have taken the life of a Vancouver-based climber. Though the reports haven't been verified yet, it's believed that Jesse James was killed in the fire. Homicide detectives have been investigating the incident. To read more, click here.

--A skier was airlifted off Mt. Baker on Saturday. To read more, click here.

--Former AAI Guide Forest McBrian and his partner recently skied from Snoqualmie Pass to the Canadian Border. This was the largest Cascade link-up in history. To read about it, click here.

--Komo News is reporting that, "About 70 volunteers managed to get an injured climber down a mountain in eastern Snohomish County to a spot where he could be picked up by a helicopter. The climber, a 27-year-old Seattle man, was taking part in a climbing class Saturday when he fell and broke his ankle on Sloan Peak. A climbing instructor activated a personal locator beacon, sending GPS coordinates to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in Florida, the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office says." To read more, click here.

--Don't steal draws off of projects!

(Click to Enlarge)

--There are several crag cleanup events taking place this summer in Washington State. Check out the above poster to learn more. Check out a webpage on everything going on, here.

--The Washington Climbers Coalition and the Access Fund are reporting that, "Years of work by rock climbers culminated this week when Washington State Parks Director Don Hoch signed a new climbing management plan for Forks of the Sky State Park (Index Town Walls) and an updated plan for Beacon Rock State Park." To read more, click here.

--The road to Artist Point will open on Thursday. To read more, click here.


--There was a climber injury near Donner Pass on Saturday. There's limited information at this point. To read more, click here.

--There is a lot of snow in the Sierra this year. And the PCT is super busy this year. This combination has not been good for thru-hikers and there have been many rescues and close calls. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--There was a small brush fire in Joshua Tree National Park last week. To read more, click here.


--Fox 31 is reporting that, "An injured climber was rescued after falling 20 to 25 feet in Boulder Canyon on Wednesday night, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office said." To read more, click here.


--The Alaska Dispatch is reporting that, "An official with the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station identified the mountaineer who died Friday, June 16, on Denali as Sanjay Pandit, 28, of Kathmandu, Nepal, spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri wrote in a release. According to the release, Pandit died at 17,500 feet on Denali’s West Buttress route. The climber’s remains will be recovered from the 17,200-foot high camp when the cloudy and windy weather conditions improve. To read more, click here.

--AAI's final Denali team is approaching the summit. To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that Katie Bono recently set the women's speed record on Denali. With a time of 21:06 she ripped up and down the mountain. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Two people were killed by black bears in Alaska last week. One of the victims was a 16-year old in an adventure race. It has been reported that the maulings were predatory, which is incredibly unusual. To read more, click here.

--So a woman was attacked by a rabid raccoon in Maine. The attack ended with the raccoons death in a puddle... To read this weird news item, click here.

--Powder magazine is reporting that, "a study released in April by a group of scientists in Colorado underscores what many have already known will happen to the ski industry as a result of climate change. But their research paints a clearer picture of the future. The scientists ran five climate models under two different scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions for the years 2050 and 2090, and then monetized the impact by using average lift ticket prices." Their conclusions are grim for the ski industry... To read more, click here.

--The New York Times and others are reporting that, "after 42 years on the endangered species list, the Yellowstone grizzly bear — whose numbers have grown to more than 700 from fewer than 150 — will lose its protected status, the Interior Department announced on Thursday." To read more, click here.

--CBC is reporting that, "Martina Halik and her mother Tania have just completed a cross-country ski trip from Squamish to Skagway, Alaska, traversing the entire length of the Coast Mountains. It's a feat they say has only ever been accomplished once before." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Trip Report: Mt. Baker Ski Descent

I love those rare moments when you see an activity that sets your imagination alive and you say to yourself, “I want to do that.” It is the inspiration that drives most of us to start along the path to become climbers, skiers and skilled outdoor participants. 

 In June of 1985, during staff training for the summer climbing season in the Cascades, ten of us ascended the south side of Mt. Baker. Alan Kearney and Kitty Calhoun slept in late and carried skis to the summit. Long after we had left the summit and were plunge stepping down the mountain, they came sweeping by on perfect corn snow, carving interlacing turns down the Easton Glacier below us until they disappeared from view, popping up a few minutes later as two tiny dots next to our campsite. 

 Both jealous at the ease of their descent and intrigued at the possibilities, I told myself that I would someday acquire the skills and equipment to accomplish the feat of skiing 5,000-feet or more off the summit of a Cascade volcano.

Over thirty-years later and with ski descents of most of the volcanoes of the western states and many seasons of backcounty skiing under my belt, ski mountaineering is now a very popular mountain sport. In June on Mt. Baker, the number of skiers ascending to the top nearly equals the number climbing to the summit. It would have been hard to imagine as I watched the rare sight of Alan and Kitty skiing down the mountain, that I would someday have the opportunity to guide parties on ski descents of Mt. Baker.

In May I was fortunate to guide two skiers on a three day Mt. Baker ski mountaineering trip. It was and exceptional experience for the quality of the skiing and the enjoyment I derived from helping two enthusiastic students learn the skills needed to ascend and ski off of a big mountain like Mt. Baker.

My skiers, Jared and Cindy were a couple with a storybook romance. After a solo voyage across the Pacific in his 30-foot sailboat, Jared met Cindy a few hours after making landfall in Hawaii. Cindy was a French woman on a week holiday. The Seattle residents have been married two years and share a love of the mountains, sailing in the summer and skiing in the winter. They were experienced winter campers and skilled skiers and wanted to take those skills into the alpine for new adventures.

Jared and Cindy, loaded up and excited for an adventure on the mountain.

Leaving the Grouse Creek Drainage and ascending the Coleman to High Camp

We spent day one, completing the pre-trip meeting and packing, driving to the trailhead and on the long climb to our high camp at the Black Buttes. The forecast for the three-day trip was not positive for an ascent of the mountain. Clouds, cold temps and the occasional snow squall backed up the forecast of mixed cloud and occasional snow. Cindy and Jared hunkered down in a pyramid tent while I pitched nearby in my first light and rested easily that night behind our snow walls.

 Jared and Cindy at our high camp after the second day attempt to reach the summit.

Day two was spent in a white ascending to Coleman Saddle and back to camp after giving up on an ascent of the mountain without visibility. The conditions gave us the opportunity to work on white out navigation, roped glacier travel and hazard evaluation. The skiing was excellent, 2-5 inches of fresh cold snow. The storm helped to underscore the importance of visibility when descending alpine terrain. Back at camp, we spent the remaining daylight hours practicing crevasse rescue skills.

At four am on our last morning I poked my head out of the tent in the early light to find a cloudless sky. The upper plug of Mt Baker was dark against the morning horizon. The thermometer read 21 degrees F inside my tent. Our feet crunched the cold snow as we packed excitedly for our departure.

With the help of the previous days skin track to the saddle, we took 90 minutes to reach the bottom of the pumice ridge where we shouldered our skis for the long boot pack to the summit. Roping up at the end of the pumice ridge we short roped to the summit slopes with the normal Roman Wall zig zag boot track. I was pleased to find excellent conditions on the upper face, dense wind buff snow with 5-10 inches of light powder. At the top of the Roman Wall the temperature inversion had us shedding winter layers in the warm sunshine without the normal bone chilling wind rolling over the top. We unclipped the skis from our packs and skinned the final few hundred feet to the summit.

 Top of the Roman Wall after short roping from the Pumice Ridge.

The Broad summit slopes of Mt. Baker.

Clicking into our skis after lunch in the rare warmth of windless Baker summit, we enjoyed the best ski conditions of my long experience with the mountain. Light powder on a wind buff surface on the Roman Wall transitioned to lovely settled powder lower down. A sea of clouds skirted the mountain as we dropped into one of the best ski descents in the Northwest, the long upper face of the Deming Glacier.

Fantastic powder skiing in May at the 8,000 foot level

Back at camp we loaded up our kit and continued down the mountain and out the road to the car. The clouds, so spectacular from above, preserved the cold temps and provided us with good snow all the way to the woods at the bottom of Grouse Creek. As with the best ski descents, walking in ski boots was limited to a five minute tramp down the pavement.

Sometimes those “I want to do that” moments provide a lifetime of satisfying experiences.

 Back at the car after an enjoyable time out.

Back at camp we loaded up our kit and continued down the mountain and out the road to the car. The clouds, so spectacular from above, preserved the cold temps and provided us with good snow all the way to the woods at the bottom of Grouse Creek. As with the best ski descents, walking in ski boots was limited to a five minute tramp down the pavement.

Sometimes those “I want to do that” moments provide a lifetime of satisfying experiences.

-Gregg Oliveri

Friday, June 16, 2017

Snow Climbing Techniques: The Butt-Axe Belay

In the past we've run an article about the stomper belay, a snow climbing belay technique.  In the vein of continuing to explore snow climbing belay techniques, we decided that we should spend some time on the butt-axe technique.

No.  Not the buttocks technique...the butt-axe technique. So wipe that smirk off your face!

Seriously, the butt-axe technique is a good secure snow belay for steep terrain.  This is an excellent technique for forty to fifty-degree steep snow.  Part of the reason that it is so good, is that it is extremely fast.

The reason that this is referred to as a butt-axe belay is because after the axe is placed vertically in the snow, and a bite of rope is clipped to the axe, the climber must sit down on the head of the tool.  After he sits, he will kick his heels in to create a better snow seat on top of the axe.

The climber is generally tied in directly to the end of the rope.  He measures one to two feet of rope out from his harness and then clips it into the head of the axe.  Once he's done this, he can sit down on it.  A loop of rope is created coming from his harness to the axe.  This loop becomes a new belay loop.

In the following picture you can see the loop coming out from the climber's knot to a carabiner with a munter-hitch on it.  The rope then contours back underneath him to the axe.

In the preceding picture, the climber is using a munter-hitch to belay.  It would also be possible to belay from the loop with a device.

The butt-axe belay is super fast, super simple, and super effective.  But like the other techniques described here, it's best to experiment with this belay on low-angle terrain with minimal consequences before employing it in a real setting.  You will want to know exactly how well this works in different kinds of snow prior to putting it to the test in the field.

Snow is one of the most variable mediums that we climb.  It constantly changes, providing us with many different experiences throughout the season.  The more techniques you have in your quiver, the more effective a snow climber you'll be!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/15/17


--There are some closures in Squamish. See below:

Click to Enlarge

--The Everett Herald is reporting that, "Researchers from two Texas universities plan to visit the Big Four Ice Caves this summer to study hikers’ risky behavior and how it might be averted. Options could include rerouting or redesigning the end of the trail, which draws tens of thousands of visitors each year. Posts on social media show that hikers already have been adventuring up into the shadow of Big Four Mountain this spring. A snow field stretches out around massive mounds of snow, ice and avalanche debris where the caves usually form, in a gully on the north side of the mountain. Snowmelt and warm air start to hollow out caverns as the weather heats up. The caves have not yet formed this year." To read more, click here.


--It appears that there's been a rockfall incident on the El Portal Road in Yosemite:

Click to Enlarge

--There was another big first on El Capitan this week. Leah Pappajohn and Jonathan Fleury became the first people to climb it naked... To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Outside magazine and many others are reporting that, "On Monday, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recommended that President Trump reduce the size of the controversial Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah, which Barack Obama created in December during the final days of his presidency. If Trump acts on the recommendation, the move to reduce the monument will almost certainly end up in court." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Here's a fun little article about some of the stupid things people do in our National Parks...

--SNews reprinted a scathing note from Jeremy Jones (Jones Snowboards and Protect Our Winters) to President Trump. The letter deals with climate change and the the lack of leadership on this issue by the United States. Jeremy asks, "what will we tell our kids?" To read the letter, click here.

--After a whole bunch of back-and-forth, American climbers have confirmed that the Hillary Step is actually gone. To read more, click here.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/8/17


The descent from Asgard Pass is dangerous. 
Click on this link to enlarge.
From Washington Climbers and Hikers on Facebook

--Komo News Four is reporting that, "A 19-year-old man from Mercer Island is missing and feared dead in an accident while hiking near Colchuck Peak Saturday afternoon, the Grant County Sheriff's Office said. The teen was with another person as they attempted to glissade down the snow field from the summit of Aasgard Pass at 7,800 feet elevation to the glacier area below around 5 p.m., according to Sheriff Brian Burnett." There have been several fatalities near Asgard Pass. People should not glissade there, really ever. There are a number of moats in the area. To read more, click here.

--The Bellingham Herald is reporting that, "A 58-year-old British Columbia man was flown from Mount Baker after falling into a deep crevasse while skiing the volcano’s western slopes Sunday afternoon, officials said. Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks said Monday that Ronald Veperts was descending the main climbing route on Coleman Glacier when he fell into a 60-foot crevasse. Veperts, who was skiing when the incident occurred, was treated Sunday at St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham and transferred to another facility. Hospital officials didn’t know where he was taken." To read more, click here.

Read more here:
--The Tacoma News Tribune is reporting that, "An experienced mountaineer was rescued by an Army helicopter Thursday after spending nearly 24 hours stranded near the summit of Mount Rainier after falling ill and leaving his climbing party, according to the National Park Service. Dennis Cui, a 27-year-old mountaineer who is also a member of Canada’s national police force, was climbing with two others." To read more, click here.

It's not clear where this photo came from, but it was making
it's way around Facebook last week. This is an previously unseen
photo of the Mt. St. Helens eruption on May 18, 1980.

Read more here:
--A new hard line has been put up in Squamish on the Apron near St. Vitus Dance. To read more, click here.

--There was a nice piece on KUOW NPR about Fred Beckey on Friday and his new film. To read the article -- or listen to it -- click here. Fred's film Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey opened at the Seattle International Film Festival over the weekend. Following is a trailer for the film:

--The Squamish Climber's Magazine is reporting that there have been cars towed that have been parked illegally or overnight near the Stawamus Chief. To read more, click here.


--So something big happened in Yosemite this week. Alex Honnold made a free solo ascent of Freerider (5.12d, VI, 3000') on El Capitan. This is arguably one of the most difficult things completed in sports history. It's been equated to the four-minute mile, but with one major difference. You won't die if you mess up a four minute mile. There's a lot of press about this now and if you read our blog, you've probably already seen a lot of it. But this piece, by Tommy Caldwell is the best. It's entitled, Why Alex Honnold's Free Solo of El Cap Scared Me...

Desert Southwest:

--Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval has vetoed a bill that would have given Red Rock Canyon more protection from development. There is now a move to try to get the veto overridden. To add your name to the override, please click here.


--The Denver Post is reporting that, "A 20-person search and rescue team safely brought an injured hiker down from Mount Royal near Frisco Saturday night after a 10-hour mission through rocky terrain. The rescue came at a busy time for the Summit County Rescue Group, which has been seeing its typical uptick in calls as spring starts to feel more like summer and high volumes of hikers and climbers head for the alpine." To read more, click here.

--The Charlotte Observer is reporting that, "A tourist from North Carolina helped save a fallen rock climber Sunday in Colorado. A 30-year-old resident of Boulder County, Colo., was in the Tornnere Tower climbing area when he fell 50 feet in Boulder Canyon, the sheriff’s office reported. The experienced climber’s fall was broken by a tree, the office said, but he injured his right shoulder." to read more, click here.

--A team of female journalists in the Boulder area recently took it upon themselves to improve Wikipedia. Specifically, the group focused on adding important women in the outdoor industry. To read more, click here.


--The Alaska Dispatch is reporting that, "In a grueling 14-hour operation, guides and mountaineering rangers on Denali pulled a critically injured climber out of a crevasse Monday, according to the National Park Service. At about 1:30 a.m., National Park Service rangers responded to a radio report that an unroped climber, 38-year-old Martin Takac of Slovakia, fell 40 feet down a crevasse at 7,800 feet on the mountain's popular West Buttress route." To read more, click here. The Seattle Times has an in-depth piece about this incident, here.

The 14,000-foot camp is in the flat bowl on the left-side of this picture of Denali.

--AAI Denali Team 3 is high on the mountain and as of this writing, may have already attempted the summit. Team 4 is is at Camp 3 at 14,000-feet. And Team 5 is at Camp 2 at 11,000-feet. To read all of AAI's Denali dispatches, click here.

--The Seattle Times is reporting that, "U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says the name forAmerica’s tallest mountain should remain Denali. The News-Miner reports that he spoke at the Fairbanks International Airport late Saturday on his way to a Memorial Day ceremony in Denali State Park. The peak was once called Mount McKinley, named after President William McKinley. President Barack Obama’s administration renamed the mountain Denali, which translates to “the great one,” in a symbolic gesture to Alaska Natives in 2015. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--It appears that a climber was killed on Wyoming's Devil's Tower this week. There is very little information about what happened available. To read more, click here.

--As the fact that President Trump abandoned the Paris Climate Treaty has been all over the news, it's unlikely that this is the first you've heard of it... At AAI we believe in anthropogenic climate change and constantly work to decrease our carbon imprint by buying carbon offsets and using solar energy. We work in an environment that has been severely impacted by climate change and will continue to be impacted. Here are some select responses from the outdoor industry: Snews, Outdoor Industry Association, Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Verde. And finally, some of the best all around reporting on this is actually coming from the weather channel...

--Rock climbing reduces depression!

--The Access Fund is reporting that, The Salt Lake Climbers Alliance (SLCA), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and Access Fund announce the signing of an unprecedented lease for 140 acres in Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC). The parcel, known as the Gate Buttress, is about one mile up LCC canyon and has been popular with generations of climbers because of its world-class granite." To read more, click here.

Friday, June 2, 2017

AMTL Part 1: A day in the life on South Early Winter Spire

Alpine climbing is about movement. Slow and steady upward progress on approach and climb - care and efficiency on descent. Breaks are short and weather fickle. Bolted anchors are few and far between.

 The dedicated alpine climber knows that every piece of gear must be scrutinized. Too heavy? Useful enough? Really necessary? Then carefully selected or discarded according to the variables of team, route and conditions. 

Yet for those of us lucky enough to experience the high peaks, the rewards are beyond words.

This past week, I was lucky enough to find myself part of a group of dedicated climbers and aspiring guides, working to take their alpine skills to the next level in the first installment in our four-part Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership series of courses. After spending the first half of the course learning glacier mountaineering and crevasse rescue skills on Mt. Baker, the group drove to Washington Pass for several days of alpine rock climbing and a student led attempt on the Silver Star Glacier route on Silver Star Peak. The following photos are from our successful attempt of South Early Winter Spire via the South Arete and Southwest Rib routes:

Hiking up spire gully at around 7 am.
Mike looking ready for that hot spring sun.
Dave sending the crux of the South Arete.
Ezra and Tom climbing up the middle of the Southwest Rib
Zak, Josh and Dave on the infamous whaleback pitch.
Zak belays Josh and Dave up the last few feet onto the summit plateau.
 Eric and Mike enjoy the sweet view atop SEWS.
The whole crew back at the car with the Early Winter Spires in the background.
Eric Shaw, Instructor and Guide

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/1/17


--It appears that a 20-year-old student was killed in a fall off the Goat Wall in Mazama on Monday. The fatality is believed to be due to a rappelling error while simul-rappelling. Reports indicate that the young climber was on Sisyphus (5.11a, III) and that he rappelled off the end of his rope. To read more, click here.

--There are some angry people out there...and sometimes they hang out at frontcountry campgrounds. The Tacoma News Tribune is reporting the tragic news that, "A 20-year-old man who was intentionally run over at a campground after an argument over a vehicle driving recklessly has died of his injuries, authorities said." To read more, click here. UPDATE: The News Tribune is reporting that, "James D. Walker was arrested Tuesday and booked into Grays Harbor County Jail. He appeared in Grays Harbor County court on Wednesday afternoon, and a judge set bail at $750,000." To read  more, click here.

Read more here:
--King TV is reporting that, "a climber is in the hospital after being rescued from a crevasse on Mount Rainier. Mount Rainier National Park officials say three people climbed the mountain on Saturday and were descending on skis and snowboards when a 24-year-old female fell about 100 feet (30 meters) into a crevasse on the Emmons Glacier on the mountain's east side at an elevation of about 12,300 feet (3,750 meters)." To read more, click here.

--Local Washington Climber Colin Haley may have set a new speed record on Mt. Rainier's Liberty Ridge. He and his partners completed the route in 9 hours and 11 minutes, car-to-car. To read more, click here.

Read more here:


--The Sierra Wave is reporting that, "The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved a long-term camping permit program for developed campgrounds in the Eastern Sierra. Under the program, visitors may purchase recreation use permits, which allow camping beyond the established 14 day stay limit for campgrounds managed by the Bishop Field Office. Long-term permits are now available for camping within the Tuttle Creek, Goodale Creek, Horton Creek, and Pleasant Valley Pit campgrounds in Inyo County, and the Crowley Lake Campground in Mono County." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Alpinist is reporting that Colorado Climbing Ranger, "Quinn Brett made what is likely the first female free ascent of Spaceshot (IV 5.13a, 9 pitches) on the Leaning Wall in Zion National Park, Utah, on May 1-2. She led all the pitches with Max Barlerin in support." To read more, click here.

--Apparently a UK-based parkour team representing sport clothing line Storror Parkour recently visited Joshua Tree National Park and broke...well, every rule they could think of to break. They use a drone in a national park, they run on Joshua Trees, they burn Joshua Trees, they build fires outside fire pits up against the rocks which leaves carbon all over them, and they pirate camp. Since the story broke, the team's video has been removed from YouTube. To read more, click here.


--The Denver Post is reporting that, "Colorado’s congressional representatives are trying to name two peaks in the southwestern part of the state after two local climbers who died in an avalanche in Asia. The state’s two senators, Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, and Rep. Scott Tipton have introduced a bill renaming the as yet unnamed 13,000-foot peaks after Charlie Fowler and Chris Boskoff. The two were killed in 2006 while climbing a remote massif on the border of China and Tibet." To read more, click here.


--AAI Denali Team 2 is at 14 camp, AAI Denali Team 3 is at 11,000-feet. And AAI Denali Team 4 is at Camp I. To read more about AAI's Denali Teams, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Gripped magazine is reporting that, Opal Ridge Traverse is a popular scramble in Kananaskis Country in the Canadian Rockies near Calgary. The ridge is around 10 kilometres long and is considered (or was considered) a difficult scramble. It appears that someone has bolted artificial gym climbing holds onto a steep section of the scramble and the internet is not happy." To read more, click here.

--Climbing has a good round-up of all the weird stuff going on on Everest this year. In short, there were record crowds. There was a speed record. And there were rumors of a missing Hillary Step. To read the round-up, click here.

--There's a new Hollywood produced mountain film coming out. The Mountain Between Us features big name actors like Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. It looks like it could be okay... But we don't generally trust Hollywood to get the mountains right. Check out the trailer below: