Friday, June 30, 2017

Quick Belay Techniques

In the world of climbing, it's not at all uncommon for one climber to be stronger and more experienced than his or her partner. In such a situation, many climbers elect to move together on easier terrain. In some cases, teams with this kind of make-up even choose to simul-climb. If there is a significant difference in strength and skill level, then moving together and simul-climbing should probably be avoided.

Instead of "simuling," the better option would be for the stronger climber to scramble up easier terrain in short 20 to 50 foot pitches and then situate himself in a good stance or seated position. Once he's stable, he could then employ a quick belay technique to bring up his partner.

The author uses a quick munter-hitch belay on Mount Russell in the High Sierra

Before employing a belay technique, it is incredibly important that the climber is in a very solid stance or seated position. If the position isn't safe and there is the possibility that the climber could be pulled from his position, then he should place a piece of gear and clip into it. If that's not enough and there is still danger, then this is not a quick belay situation and a true SERENE/ERNEST anchor must be built.

There are a number of belay techniques that may be used from a stance. Following is a quick breakdown of each of them in order of strength:

Hand Belay

It should be obvious to everyone that a hand belay is very weak. The hand belay should only be used to assist someone through an easy move. It should never really be thought of as something that could arrest a real fall and it should never be used to protect someone in a truly exposed area. That said, a simple hand belay can occasionally help a someone step up onto something tall or can create confidence in a climber as they step over an obstacle.

Carabiner Pinch

A carabiner pinch is a simple and quick belay wherein a carabiner is clipped to your harness or an anchor. The rope goes from the climber through the carabiner and is then redirected back toward the climber. The belayer can simply pinch the rope on either side of the carabiner to create more friction.

Clearly, this too is a very weak belay technique. As with a hand belay, this should only be used for minor assistance on terrain where there are little consequences to a fall.

Though many guides use the carabiner pinch for quick and simple belays, I personally believe that it is just as effective to turn the carabiner pinch into a munter-hitch. Such an adjustment requires almost no additional time, but adds a great deal more security.

Shoulder Belay

A shoulder belay is a very quick body belay. In this technique, the belayer turns his body to the side so that his profile is facing the cliff. If his right shoulder is oriented toward the drop, then the rope from the climber will run up from the edge, through his right hand, across his back, over his shoulder and into his left hand. The belay will then look a lot like a hip belay, but from a standing position, over the shoulder.

To make this technique work properly, the climber strand should be at approximately the same angle as the leg closest to the edge. Ideally, this strand parallels that leg.

The biggest problem with this technique is that the center of gravity is really high. If the leg is not parallel with the strand going to the climber, it's easy to get pulled out of position.

Following is a short video that was made during a Canadian guides course in 1996 which shows a guide trainer instructing junior guides on the use of this technique:



Hip Belay

The hip belay is perhaps one of the oldest belay techniques and has been used effectively in a variety of circumstances. Due to it's limitations, however, most modern climbers only use this technique on terrain up to low fifth class.

To implement a hip belay, the climber must first find a good seat. Ideally there will be some kind of feature to place one's feet on in order to create more stability. Once in position, the belayer puts a wrap of rope around his waist and then uses the "pull pinch slide" belay technique to bring in rope. If the climber falls, then the belayer will wrap the rope more radically around his body.

If the belay seat is not solid, the belayer may elect to put in a piece to back himself up. If he does this, then the piece should be on the same side as the end of the rope running to the climber. This will keep the belayer from getting twisted if the climber falls.

And finally, Any anchor piece should be on the same side of the belayer's body as the climber strand.

The following is a very good video on hip-belays from a snow seat.



Please note three things in the preceding video:

1) AAI doesn't recommend the rope twist on the arm as shown in the video.

2) AAI recommends that one kick the heels of their feet into the snow in addition to the bucket.

3) It's not ideal for one to belay a leader from a bucket/snow seat.

Munter-Hitch

An extremely quick and effective technique is to place a carabiner on the belay loop and tie a munter-hitch into it. From a good stance or a seat, this is an incredibly useful means of creating a quick belay. The trick though, is to be able to build the munter-hitch in the carabiner.


Once you are able to easily build a munter-hitch on a carabiner, this particular technique can be faster and more secure then either a shoulder belay or a hip belay. It can also be easier to get it into place due to the fact that backpacks often hinder the other body belay styles.

Quick belays are an incredibly important part of a climber's arsenal. However, they will really only be quick and effective with practice. Once each of these are dialed, then belaying a second on easier terrain becomes far more quick and efficient.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 29, 2017

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

Northwest:

--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.

Sierra:

--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.

Colorado:

--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.

Alaska:

--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 27, 2017

How it's Made: Climbing Ropes

The Discovery Channel used to have a wonderfully engaging television show entitled, How it's Made. Some time ago, they ran an episode on how ropes are made with a focus on climbing ropes and yachting ropes.

Check out the video below:



Sterling Ropes also produced a video on how climbing ropes are made. Though the production values of this video are a little bit lower than that of the Discovery Channel show, there is a great deal more specific information about climbing rope construction. There are also a few goofy jokes that make this video fun to watch.

See the Sterling video below:


--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 26, 2017

Self-Arrest Techniques

Self-arrest is perhaps the most important skill that we practice in snow school. The British Mountaineering Council put together a nice video on the self-arrest techniques that one should practice.



Though this video is quite good, there are a couple of things that we teach differently:
  1. It is breezed over in the video, but the best way to self-arrest is to avoid falling. Good snow climbing technique should be practiced on low-angle slopes so that when you are on high-angle slopes it comes as second nature.
  2. We teach the piolet canne (cane) position as the baseline position. We only hold the piolet in the self-arrest position when it appears that a fall is likely. As the piolet canne position is the most stable walking position and it provides the most security, we like to see people move up the mountain in this position. One should practice self-arrest starting from the piolet canne position.
  3. There is some debate on whether you should put your feet up or not. The concern -- as the guide in the video points out -- is that if you put your feet down and your crampon points catch, that you might flip head-over-heels. On the other hand, it might stop you more quickly. We teach people to put their toes into the snow to arrest the fall.
There is some controversy about whether to use a leash on an ice axe or not. Most of our guides choose not to use a leash on standard mountaineering routes like the Coleman/Deming on Mount Baker or on the Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier.

Many people like wrist-leashes because they limit the possibility of dropping the axe. Our guides prefer them for steep terrain. There are two downsides to the constant use of a leash. First, it adds time to a turn, because the axe must be on the uphill side of your body. Moving the wrist-leash from one hand to the other many hundreds of times throughout the day adds time to the clock. Second, if you fall and lose control of the axe, it may become a liability. The last thing that you want in a fall is to be punctured by the axe.

Some people like to attach the ice-axe leash to their harness. This is a very bad place to attach a leash. Any loss of control during a fall could lead to a catastrophic torso puncture injury.

People are very adamant about wanting to use a wrist-leash while climbing for fear of dropping the axe. But really, how common is it for a climber to drop an axe? Not common at all. An ice axe is like a mountaineer's weapon. How many soldiers in the heat of battle drop their weapons? While mountain climbing is definitely not as intense as a war, it can be a dangerous pursuit and most climbers are unlikely to drop the most important tool they carry.

In preparing this blog, I watched a number of videos about self-arrest techniques. There were quite a few bad examples and indeed, some that were just flat dangerous. If you practice self-arrest, always wear a helmet and do not attach the leash of the axe to yourself. Always practice in a place where there is a good run-out. And be conservative in your practice of the head-first/stomach technique as this is a very easy one to get hurt practicing.

Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 23, 2017

Route Profile: Mt Triumph - Northeast Ridge (5.6, III+)

Mt. Triumph is one of those mountains that looks both incredible and incredibly hard to climb. It is a sharp tooth sticking up above the town or Marblemount that begs to be climbed.

The Northeast Ridge is a reasonable route to the summit. It's only about 5.6, but that doesn't mean any of the climbing on the route should be taken for granted. It is a full-on alpine experience that includes some loose and scratchy rock, some moss and giant snow blocks. The mountain is not that far back, but the approach is extremely physical.

Though the route can be done in two days, it is a far more comfortable ascent in three...

Here's a write-up on the mountain from Summitpost.org:

Mt. Triumph is an important mountain in North Cascades National Park. It is located about six miles WNW of the town of Newhalem, WA. It lies entirely within the Skagit River drainage. The peak is not as high as a lot of the other important peaks of the park, yet it possesses just as much chutzpah. Certainly, on the whole, it is more precipitous than most of those peaks. You can see the very top of the peak from Marblemount as it rises over the nearer summit of Oakes Peak. This extra rise hints at its prominence above peaks immediately to the south. Mt. Triumph is connected via Triumph Pass to a slightly higher Mt. Despair--an aptly named tandem if their ever was one. Although Despair is an easier climb than Triumph (at least in terms of the climbing on the mountain itself; Despair requires a longer approach) maybe the peaks should be named in reverse. But then, one feels triumphant to have climbed Triumph, for there is no easy way up it.

Yes, Mt. Triumph is characterized by verticality and sharpness. It is rugged on all flanks. On a topo or from directly overhead, the peak has the appearance of a three-bladed propeller. Evenly spaced Northeast, Northwest, and South Ridges divide evenly spaced East, North, and West Faces. The mountain cradles two rapidly declining glaciers below the East and North Faces. In particular, the eastside glacier is very sickly. It is much reduced from that depicted on topographic maps. A veritable pool table slate of slabs below the glacier makes for quite the tumbling ground for billiard cubes of ice excising themselves from the glacier's lower terminus. The northside glacier isn't faring much better. On both of these we often heard blocks of ice careening down the slabs.

A note about the name: Triumph was named by Lage Wernstedt, the famous surveyor of the North Cascades (namely, in the Pasayten region) in the early part of the 20th Century. In addition, Wernstedt was responsible for the naming of Mt. Despair, Mt. Fury, Mt. Terror, Mt. Challenger, Inspiration Peak, and the "Picket Range." It should be noted that Wernstedt did not climb any of these peaks. Information courtesy of Harry Majors.

Following is a photo essay from a recent ascent of Mt. Triumph:

The approach passes by a series of beautiful alpine lakes.

 The approach is very physical. 
Camping options are at the top of the pass shown in the picture.

Mt. Triumph: The Northeast Ridge is the right-hand skyline. 

The final approach to the ridge requires a traverse across steep snow. 

 The Southern Picket Range

Mt. Triumph 

Looking back at the col where most people camp. 

Climbing the Northeast Ridge






 The obligatory summit selfie.

Looking back at Triumph on the way out.

--Jason D. Martin

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.

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

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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.

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 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.

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

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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.

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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.

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 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

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Art of the Plunge Step

The plunge step is a simple technique for walking downhill in the snow. However, it is one of those techniques that seems relatively straight-forward in certain snow types, while difficult in others.

To do a standard plunge step, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees and drop your rear end. As you step down the hill during your descent, be sure to lead with the heel of your foot. The heel of your boot should be like a dagger, the pointy section of the heel slicing into the snow first.

In soft snow, this technique is relatively easy to understand. On our courses, we will often play games of Red Light/Green Light with students racing down the hill. In soft snow, everybody tends to stay on their feet and in control when we say red light. Hard snow is a different story. It's not uncommon to see people slip and fall trying to plunge step in such conditions. And sometimes it can be quite amusing to play Red Light/Green Light in such conditions...

The main reason that plunge stepping becomes more difficult in firm snow conditions is because your heel doesn't penetrate the snow as easily. Indeed, you have to be incredibly aggressive to get your heel into the snow.

In hard conditions, it's not uncommon for people to become tentative in their steps. Such movement can cause an individual to be more likely to slip as opposed to less likely. Occasionally this develops into a dangerous and frustrating cycle. A climber slips once, becomes more tentative, slips again, and becomes even more tentative, creating yet even a higher likelihood of slipping. The only way to kill this potentially hazardous cycle is to become more aggressive, stabbing your foot deeply into the snow no matter how hard it is.

Moving effectively in the snow is one of the most important things that climbers do. And learning to employ a solid plunge step in all the different kinds of conditions that you might encounter can only help you to become a faster and more solid climber.

--Jason D. Martin

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

Northwest:

--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.

Sierra:

--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.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Route Profile: Aiguille de I'M - North Ridge

The Aiguille de I'M is an odd feature in Boston Basin in the North Cascades National Park. Often referred to as "The M," this feature actually looks like an "M." Found just south of the Torment Forbidden Traverse, the small peak splits Boston Basin from Torment Basin, with the Taboo Glacier on the west side and the Unnamed Glacier on the east...

Aiguille de I'M
(Click to Enlarge)

The Aiguille de I'M has two named routes on it. The first is the South Ridge, a cool 5.6 romp up an exposed ridge. And the second is the North Ridge, a 5.5 exposed ridge line.

(Click to Enlarge)

Approach: Approach as for Forbidden Peak in Boston Basin (see Selected Climbs in the Cascades, Volume I) and camp at either the lower or the upper bivy sites. From the bivy, make your way up toward the Forbidden Gully or the Cat Scratch Gullies (the two options commonly used to access Forbidden Peak.) Traverse toward the notch to the right of the North Ridge of Aiguille de I'M.

Classic Sharp Ridge Climbing on "The M."

Route: From the notch make three or four fourth class pitches to the base of a tower. Make a final forty-foot 5.5. pitch to the top of the tower. It is possible to climb further, but not recommended as the true summit looks like it's about to topple over.

A cllimber cruising up the sharp ridge.

Working up the Summit Tower. 

Looking back on the ridge from the summit tower.

Descent: Make one forty-foot rappel and then reverse the ridge climb.

The North Ridge is a very cool ridge line. It can easily be done as a half-day climb from Boston Basin. And it is far less committing than almost anything else in the Basin since it is so short.

There are dozens of these little gems in the Cascades that are often missed. The M is well worth your time...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 12, 2017

Leave No Trace: Respect Wildlife

In the spring of 2017, a video started to make the rounds. A little girl was sitting on the edge of a dock in Vancouver, British Columbia, "playing" with a sea lion. It appears that the girl and the family of the girl had been feeding the animal prior to what happened next:



The girl was pulled into the water by the animal. Thankfully, she was quickly rescued.

So why did the animal attack the girl...?

The answer is easy. The family had been feeding the sea lion. The sea lion wanted more and grabbed the girl to get more.

This is not a new story. Bears in many US states and in Canada have become habituated to humans and human food. The result is twofold. 1) There are more bear maulings where bears are habituated to human food and 2) more bears need to be put down because of this desire for human food.

It's no different with other animals. Squirrels fed in the Grand Canyon have to be killed or removed because they tend to bite people. Burros in Red Rock Canyon approach the road looking for food only to bite and kick people...while occasionally also causing serious car accidents. Gray Jay's -- also known as camp robber birds -- will land on people in the hopes of getting food, and thus unlearn how to find food themselves.

And the mice... Dear God, the mice. How many campgrounds and camp areas are overrun by mice because people have left food out or have been careless with their crumbs...?

The desert tortoise is incredibly fragile. Touching a tortoise can have a major 
impact on the animal. It may get scared and pee itself, which is a very big problem
for an animal with limited access to water.

Wild animals simply shouldn't be fed, whether on purpose or by accident. A animal that's been fed is a problem for people who might be around the animal...it might bite or harass them. And it's a problem for the animal. The animal might no longer be able to find food itself.

Food is only one problem with wild animals. Another is the idea that people can pet them or take pictures with them or touch them. None of these things are good ideas. There are many stories of people trying to treat a wild animal like a pet, and then being hurt or killed as a result.

The sixth principle of Leave No Trace is to Respect Wildlife. Following is a write-up from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics page on this subject.

Learn about wildlife through quiet observation. Do not disturb wildlife or plants just for a "better look". Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee. Large groups often cause more damage to the environment and can disturb wildlife so keep your group small. If you have a larger group, divide into smaller groups if possible to minimize your impacts.

Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Travel quietly and do not pursue, feed or force animals to flee. (One exception is in bear country where it is good to make a little noise so as not to startle the bears) In hot or cold weather, disturbance can affect an animals ability to withstand the rigorous environment. Do not touch, get close to, feed or pick up wild animals. It is stressful to the animal, and it is possible that the animal may harbor rabies or other diseases. Sick or wounded animals can bite, peck or scratch and send you to the hospital. Young animals removed or touched by well-meaning people may cause the animals parents to abandon them. If you find sick animals or animal in trouble, notify a game warden.

Considerate campers observe wildlife from afar, give animals a wide berth, store food securely, and keep garbage and food scraps away from animals. Remember that you are a visitor to their home.

Allow animals free access to water sources by giving them the buffer space they need to feel secure. Ideally, camps should be located 200 feet or more from existing water sources. This will minimize disturbance to wildlife and ensure that animals have access to their precious drinking water. By avoiding water holes at night, you will be less likely to frighten animals because desert dwellers are usually most active after dark. With limited water in arid lands, desert travelers must strive to reduce their impact on the animals struggling for survival.

Washing and human waste disposal must be done carefully so the environment is not polluted, and animals and aquatic life are not injured. Swimming in lakes or streams is OK in most instances but in desert areas, leave scarce water holes undisturbed and unpolluted so animals may drink from them.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 9, 2017

Film Review: Blindsight

Our culture has evolved to a point where we are very accommodating to people with disabilities. There are special parking areas for people who have trouble walking or are in wheelchairs. Computer systems help the deaf to speak on the phone. And many crosswalk signals use a series of clicks and vocal announcements to help the blind determine when to cross the street.  And indeed, these are just a few examples of many hundreds of things that we do in a first world culture to accomodate the disabled.

In the developing world things are very different. People who have lost limbs, who can't walk or who can't see, must often resort to begging on the street. In Tibet, the problems that come with a disability like blindness are compounded by the fact that many Buddhists believe that the reason that a person is blind is because they have done something terrible in a previous life. The result is that blind people are often treated like pariahs, or half-humans...


In 2004, acclaimed climber, Erik Weihenmayer was asked to lead an expedition of blind Tibetan youth up a 23,000-foot peak adjacent to Mount Everest. Why? Because Weihenmayer was the first blind man to summit the tallest mountain in the world.

Sabriye Tenberken, a blind German woman, runs the only school for the blind in Lhasa. It was at her school, Braille without Boarders, that she learned of Weihenmayer's successful ascent of Mount Everest. The mountaineer became an instant hero to the children of the school. Tenberken wrote a letter to the man, that started with the following lines:

After you reached the top of the world our Tibetan neighbor rushed into our center and told the kids about your success. Some of them first didn't believe it, but then there was a mutual understanding: if you could climb to the top of the world, we also can overcome our boarders and show to the world that the blind can equally participate in society and are able to accomplish great things.

She finished her letter with the question, "I wanted to ask if you would like to come to Tibet, maybe even to do a small climbing workshop with our kids."

Weihenmayer agreed and subsequently put together an expedition for the kids to climb Lhakpa-Ri, a 23,000-foot satellite peak of Mount Everest. Indeed, the trek to the base of the climb follows the same course that Everest climbers attempting the North Ridge tend to take. The Advanced Base Camp is the same as it is for Everest.


Weihenmayer put together a group of guides and filmmakers to show the inspirational story of these kids, their plight in Tibet, and their adventure on a mountain. The result is an amazing and inspirational story.

The DVD of this film that I received from Netflix was a bit unusual though. It was designed for both sighted and unsighted viewers. That may sound weird to readers of this blog. I wasn't aware that some films were designed to be "viewed" by the blind.  A narrator explains what is being shown on the screen throughout the film.  One might think that you could turn this feature off through your DVD player, but for whatever reason (likely my basic lack of technical prowess with such things) I was unable to do this.

With that in mind, I watched the film with this extra element. And I found it to be a very enlightening thing.  Of course, the film is about blind people, but by watching the film and hearing it the way a blind person might I had a different -- and very positive -- experience with the film than I might have otherwise.

Additionally, I watched the film with my four-year-old and my five-year-old. Being my kids, they're very familiar with mountain climbing films. But also being young kids, they haven't been exposed to many people with disabilities. It was very cool to watch them first come to an understanding that there are blind people out there. But then second, to also come to the conclusion that if the kids can go rock climbing, mountain climbing and skiing, then they're really no different than anyone else...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 8, 2017

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

Northwest:

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: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/news/local/article154517854.html#storylink=cpy
--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: http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article153996854.html#storylink=cpy
--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.

Sierra:

--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.

Colorado:

--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.

Alaska:

--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.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Pacific Crest Trail in Three Minutes

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,660-mile trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. It's on many people's bucket lists, including my own. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be able to do this until I retire.

That said, we can all enjoy this short film where I guy took two seconds of video every day and spliced it all together.

Check it out below!



--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 5, 2017

Traditional Climbing: Placing Cams

Placing cams is an art that takes a lot of practice. Ideally you will spend a fair bit of time playing with cams at the base of a wall and following a lot of traditional pitches before placing cams on lead.

The following video introduces the core basics of placing cams. However, it is a very basic video. It's important for you to get a lot of assessment on cams that you place from a guide or from experienced friends.


--Jason D. Martin


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