Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Haunted Hut of Ecuador

The Whymper Hut on Chimborazo

The hut keepers won't sleep in the Whymper Hut on Chimborazo. For them it's not a myth or a legend. It's a fact.

The Whymper Hut is haunted.

The hut keepers all have ghost stories about the place. They've all seen something in there. They've all felt something. Maybe it was nothing more than a candle inexplicably blowing out. Maybe it was nothing more than a door blowing shut. Maybe it was nothing. Or maybe it actually was something. They're certainly convinced.

It's not terribly surprising. Chimborazo is a dangerous mountain. Since its first ascent in 1880, this mountain has seen thousands of ascents and hundreds of fatalities. Many of those who died on the mountain have been stored in the empty third story of the hut. South Americans are superstitious and for them ghosts are simply a part of life. For them, a place that has been used as a morgue is no place to be when it is dark.

One of the stories goes something like this. A hut keeper was alone in the kitchen. There were no climbers there. He was washing dishes. Suddenly he felt something. It was like someone was watching him. But when he looked around there was no one there.

He went back to washing his dishes.

A moment later, somebody slapped him on the back. Whomever it was slapped him hard...so hard that it left a red mark in the shape of a hand on his skin. But there was still no one there. The young man immediately ran from the hut. After he got outside and into the freezing wind, he fell to his knees.

And threw up.

A lot.
Memorial Stones on Chimborazo

Another story goes like this. A hut keeper was sleeping in a bunk. The bunks in the hut are nothing more than wooden platforms where people lay out their sleeping bags and pads. The hut keeper was sound asleep when somebody grabbed the foot of his sleeping bag and dragged him from his slumber and onto the ground. It couldn't have been comfortable... One moment you're asleep and the next you've been pulled from your bed and thrown onto the wooden floor.

I suppose that the hut keeper could have simply rolled over and fallen out of bed. I suppose that happens a lot. But if he supposed anything, he supposed that the ghost of a dead climber dragged him from his sleep and onto the floor. He supposed that the climber wished to bring him with him into the next world.

And my favorite story of the group, goes like this...

An Ecuadorian guide and his client were alone in the hut. The guide told the client that they would wake up at one in the morning to start their climb. At midnight, somebody wearing an old school yellow one-piece Gore-Tex suit quietly came over to the guide's bunk and sat down on it. The climber never looked at the guide. Instead, he began to put on his boots.

"What are you doing?" the guide asked. "It's only midnight. Go back to sleep."

Without looking at the guide, the climber got up and walked away.

An hour later, the guide's client appeared wearing black pants and a red jacket. "What happened to the one-piece suit?" the guide asked.

"What are you talking about? I don't have a one-piece suit."

"But you were wearing a yellow one-piece Gore-Tex suit when you got up an hour ago."

"I didn't get up an hour ago," the client responded. "I only just woke up."


--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 30, 2017

What's Up with Rock Shoes?

You've heard it before and you'll hear it again. It happens all over the country with a carbon copy of the same clueless individual at the climbing shop. "Dude, you need shoes that hurt," he tells you. "They should be at least two sizes too small for your feet!"

Two sizes too small...? Is there any truth to this?

The answer is yes and no. What the yahoo behind the counter forgot to do was to ask what you're going to do with your rock shoes. Are you going to boulder a lot? Are you trying to do hard sport climbs? Or are you headed out to do long multi-pitch trad routes? Each answer should lead the clerk to a different recommendation...not to the generic two sizes too small answer.

To understand rock shoes, one must understand that the shoes are tools. And different tools are constructed differently for a different job. There are two major styles of rock shoe: board-lasted and slip-lasted.

Board-Lasted
These are shoes that feel literally stiffer than the alternative. The midsole of these shoes are particularly stiff. This stiffness comes from an internal structure on the bottom of the shoe called a last. In this style of shoe the last is rigid, but it is important to note that this is not the case with all lasts.

Board-lasted models are excellent all-around shoes for two major reasons. First, they work equally well in all environments. They work well for edging and friction as well as for cracks. Second, they do not require a super tight fit to perform well. As a result, this style of shoe is recommended as an all day shoe for all levels of climbers and as a first shoe for beginners.

When it comes to fit, all shoes should be somewhat tight. I often buy board-lasted shoes that are a half size to a full size too small. A half size is good if you plan to wear them in the alpine with socks, and a full size is good if your plan is to go go barefoot in them. Don't forget that your shoes will stretch and that if your toes are moving around it will be hard focus force where you want it to be.

Slip-Lasted

These shoes are designed for sensitivity. They are built around a sock-like last that allows a climber to focus his foot strength on the smallest of edges. Slip-lasted shoes have little support, require a tight fit and are not recommended for those who have not yet developed the prerequisite foot strength.

Slip-lasted shoes were designed primarily for bouldering and sport climbing. In these endeavors a climber might only wear their shoes for a very short period of time and thus a tight fit is more tolerable. This is the type of shoe that an individual might get in an extra tight size. One to one and a half sizes too small is good for sport climbing...and for those who engage in bouldering, they are among the only ones that should consider wearing shoes that are two sizes too small...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Alpine Clutch

The Garda Hitch or the Alpine Clutch...

These are two names for a hitch that is sometimes used as a one-way ratchet in a variety of systems. In other words, when the hitch is tied correctly, the rope only moves in one direction. Following is a short video on how to tie the alpine clutch:



There are some downsides to the garda hitch. First, it cannot be tied well on locking carabiners. The locks sometimes separate the carabiners just enough to make the hitch slip. Second, if the carabiners somehow lose their orientation, the hitch can slip. Third, you must use similar style carabiners to tie the knot. The problem with similar carabiners is that those that work really well, D carabiners, can unclip themselves. Fourth, the hitch is difficult to release under load. Fifth, the garda hitch can never be used instead of a belay device as it can cut the rope. And sixth, the hitch creates a lot of friction in hauling systems.

It seems a little bit sketchy to put all of your eggs into a basket that doesn't allow for locking carabiners. It also seems a little bit sketchy that if the carabiners shift, the whole thing can come apart. And there is that thing about all those other problems.... So why do people use this?

The main reason is that the garda hitch is quick. The set-up takes mere seconds.

The most common uses of the hitch are in crevasse rescue systems, pack hauling systems and in rope climbing systems. If you elect to use the hitch in a situation where it is key to a person's security, it's important that you back-up the garda-hitch. This can be done in several ways if you experiment. The best security is to ensure that there is never more than six feet in a system.

If this particular hitch interests you, dial it in in non-essential systems before committing to it in a human style hauling system...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Alpine Quickdraw

There are two ways to stow a shoulder-length runner. The first way is to simply sling it over your shoulder; and the second is to "triple-it" or turn it into a an alpine quickdraw.

If you prefer to keep runners slung over your shoulder, you should keep them oriented the same direction so that they don't get tangled. You should also consider leaving one carabiner on each runner. If they are pre-rigged with carabiners, then it is easy to simply clip the other end directly into a cam. Cams should also all be racked with their own carabiners to make this a quick and simple operation.

I usually carry some of my slings over my shoulder and others on my harness. Those on my harness are set-up as alpine quickdraws so that I can easily extend them.

Michael Silitch worked as an AAI guide for many years in the Cascades and Alaska Range and now guides for the Institute part time in the French and Swiss Alps. He has put together a nice, short video on how to make an alpine quickdraw. Check it out below:

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Some climbing skills -- such as rope tricks and knots -- are best practiced on the ground. I like to refer to these skills as "TV watching skills." In other words, these are things you should practice while zoning out in front of the boob tube so that you have them completely dialed. The alpine quickdraw is just such a skill. Get it wired when it's not critical and it will be easy to make or open up when you are in cruxy situation on the sharp end of the rope...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Unsung Benefits of Outdoor Climbing

After years of climbing and never feeling fit enough when I hit the crag, I finally caved and started visiting the climbing gym. The gym, to me, felt like a totally different climbing culture than I was accustomed to. I'm into outdoor sports for the escape and the search for solitude, avoiding crowds is a major goal for me in my recreation activities. The climbing gym seemed like the antithesis of this philosophy. The gym seemed like a purely social endeavor. I adjusted alright, and now I must say, I don't mind brushing elbows with some folks, building community and getting regular exercise.

Two winters in a row now I've braved the crowds and hit the plastic during the wet pacific northwest winters. There is good value in maintaining your fitness and building strength during the off season, or even mid-season. Thanks to the gym I've been able to advance my lead climbing grades without having to drive 30 plus minutes to the crag 2 or 3 times a week. These days I might turn to the gym if I feel like my time frame isn't long enough. At one point my answer would inevitably have been, "Let's Rally!. Now, I might even tell myself "you'll get a better pump at the gym anyway."

Guide Doug Foust follows "On Eagles Wings," at Mt. Erie.

Yes, it's true, you can get a better pump in a short amount of time, however, in many ways the gym just can't compare to climbing outdoors. I've noticed in climbing gyms that "climbing outdoors" has become part of the climbing lexicon. It never occurred to me that one might make that distinction. In my mind a person either climbs or they don't. I can certainly understand the distinction now though; transitioning from indoor to outdoor climbing is challenging. You have to learn how to climb with you eyes. When you are climbing in the gym your path is pretty clearly laid out for you. When you first walk up to a rock wall it is not always easy to recognize what the route is going to be. So, I think one of the first skills you refine when you learn to climb outdoors is climbing with your eyes.

Of course this skill can't be learned any other way then getting on the stone and having a go at it. I also think there are a number of other benefits that outdoor cragging has to offer us.  Decision making is one, you have to pick your cragging area appropriately so the group can all finish the day satisfied. You also have to make decisions about where to build anchors, how to build anchors, where to stand while belaying and even what to wear or eat for the day.

Guide Doug Foust using a top-managed belay.
There is also a deeply physical nature to cragging that I find invigorating. The approach to the base of climbs is often a hefty workout; because climbers generally pick the steepest most direct path to their climbs. Coiling a rope exercises your biceps and forearms and, I think, is a good way to warm down after climbing hard. Other rope-work can be exercise too, a top-managed belay can call on a variety of muscle groups depending on where the belayer's stance is in relation to where the rope is running.

A climber enjoys some full body climbing.
Certain types of climbs like chimneys and off-widths seem to call on your full body in a way that the gym can't easily replicate. Slab climbing is sure to get your calf's screaming for days afterward. Even Carrying a rack can build shoulder strength and can also make moderate climbing into a little greater challenge. Managing a rack is definitely a skill in itself also.

My wife appreciating some cragging. 
Anyway, the point of all this is: don't forget to appreciate the value of the cragging experience. If you've been climbing outdoors for decades then be sure to appreciate how much you get out of every trip to the crag. If you are new to climbing and haven't left the gym yet then put a little more thought into what it's going to take to get outside and do some cragging. There's no time like the present to cash in on the full mind, body experience

--Tim Page



Friday, October 20, 2017

Replacing Anchor Cords for a Rappel

In cooperation with Outdoor Research, the American Mountain Guides Association has made several videos for beginning level climbers.

AMGA Instructor Team Member Margaret Wheeler demonstrates how to replace tat at an anchor.



Thread Cord Through:

Here are the stages of placing the cord as they are laid out in the video:

1) Cord through quick link
2) Through first bolt
3) Back through quick link
4) Through second bolt
5) Connect cord with double fisherman's knot
6) Equalize Strands
7) Tie Isolating Knot

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/19/17

Northwest:

On Sunday, there was a rescue on Snow Creek Wall.
(click to enlarge)

--On Sunday, a young climber suffered an injury on Snow Creek Wall. The Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team was able to pluck the injured climber from the feature. To read more, click here.

--All burn bans in the North Cascades National Park Complex have been cancelled. To read more, click here.

--Fifth graders ski for free at Steven's Pass and Mt. Baker Ski Area. To read more, click here.

Sierra:

--Squaw Valley is reporting that, "Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has invested $4 million in its snow safety program in a continued commitment to the efficiency of mountain operations and the safety of guests and staff. New to the resort, an Astar 350 B3 helicopter will be on site for a portion of the season and four new avalaunchers will enhance avalanche control abilities." To read more, click here.

--There's been more significant rockfall in Yosemite...

Desert Southwest:

--News Channel Three is reporting that, "The discovery of two embracing bodies in Joshua Tree National Park on Sunday may finally give some answers to the families of a pair hikers who have been missing for nearly three months." To read more, click here.

--Registration for Red Rock Rendezvous in Las Vegas is now open! Rendezvous will take place from March 16-19, 2018. To register, click here.

--First Tracks is reporting that, "the owners of Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff have announced their acquisition of the 37-acre Elk Ridge Ski Area near Williams." To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--Quinn Brett is a climbing ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park. She recently suffered a severe fall and a spinal injury. There are significant costs for her to get home. Her brother has set up a YouCaring site to help with the costs. To donate, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A climber was killed at Red River Gorge this week and when his partner tried to rappel down to him, his hair became entangled in his gear, scalping him. This is a pretty horrible story. To read more, click here.

--NH 1 is reporting that, "a Massachusetts rock climber was rescued from a ledge in New Hampshire after falling 50 feet on Saturday. 35-year-old Keith Rehermann, of Wakefield, Mass, was 50 feet up a cliff when he fell at Woodchuck Ledge. Several pieces of gear that Rehermann had placed to stop his fall failed, and he landed at the base of the climb. His climbing partner was able to call 911 for help." To read more, click here.

--Communication is important, especially concerning whether your are going to lower or rappel. This article concerning a fatality last month reiterates how important this is...

--Andy Kirkpatrick's book, PsychoVertical is an absolutely awesome piece of writing. It's funny and terrifying all at once. You can read our review of the book, here. And now, the book has been adapted into a film that will be shown at the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Check out the trailer below:



--The Access Fund has just released a list of those who won the Anchor Replacement Grant Fund awards for 2017. To see the list, click here.

--Speaking of the Access Fund, they're hiring.

--It should come as no surprise that this administration is bad for skiing and the ski industry. Read Outside magazine's report, here.

--And finally, here is one of those crazy nature videos. A wolf and a moose have a confrontation in the water, and it is made all that much more dramatic by intense action movie music.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Let's Do the Trucker's Hitch!!!

So the odd little band Ylvis, the same band that's responsible for "What's the Fox Say?" has a song out about nothing other than the Trucker's Hitch. And yeah, it's pretty funny.

Check it out, below:



--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Kaweah Traverse

Recently Kevin Burkhart and I climbed the Kaweah Traverse in Sequoia National Park. Ours was the third or maybe fourth ascent of the traverse and the first time (that I know of) that it's been guided.

Yours truly on the approach with most of the traverse in the background. Photo by Kevin Burkhart.
In a big mountain range full of fantastic alpine ridges, the Kaweahs are a bit of an anomaly. This group of 13,000 foot peaks are not, for the most part, made up of the granite for which the range is famous. Instead they are of a rock that is significantly lower in quality. The original Kaweah Traverse was accomplished by Andy Selters, Claude Fiddler, and Danny Whitmore in July of 1997. This trio traversed about two miles of ridge line, from Black Kaweah to Second Kaweah, taking on 6 other named 13'ers and a bunch of unnamed bumps and towers in between. Climbing California's High Sierra rates the traverse IV 5.9. There is minimal information available about the route.

I think Kevin first mentioned the Kaweahs to me when he, his wife Heather, and I did the Palisade Traverse (Thunderbolt to Sill) several years ago. As someone who is fond of Sierra ridges it was on my radar, and the fact that he brought it up piqued my interest. Here was somebody as interested in this obscure route as I was!

A year passed and Kevin returned to the Eastern Sierra last summer to climb the Sun Ribbon Arete on Temple Crag. Again the Kaweahs were spoken of. Then we had one of snowiest winters ever. I knew that we would need to bivy on the ridge to succeed, and that meant we would need snow to melt for water. As soon as it became clear to me that there would be no lack of snow, I reached out to Kevin and the planning began.

Kevin somewhere on the East Ridge of Black Kaweah.
I was up front with Kevin right from the start that not only had I not done the traverse, I had never even been in that part of the range before. Some climbers want their guide to be intimately familiar with the route and peak(s), but Kevin was fine with the fact that it would be an onsight for me. On a route of this nature that could mean backtracking or doing more or harder climbing. We had, I think, built some trust on our previous two trips, and I think he was looking forward to something with a few more unknowns than usual. Without the unknown, after all, there is no adventure.

A climb of this nature also required that I put some serious trust in Kevin. Though I brought guide skills, climbing experience (and alpine ridge experience in particular) to the table, this climb would need to be a real partnership to manage the risks posed by loose rock and unknown terrain. Kevin is an experienced trad climber, and has done a ton of 4th and low-5th class around the country. This somewhat rare pairing of skills was combined with some serious interest in this route. Kevin's research meant that not only did he get local beta for an approach that cut our hiking distance almost in half, but he also went in with eyes wide open about the loose rock, something that I think is necessary for success on the Kaweah Traverse. Though there were a number of surprises along the way, low quality rock was never one of them.

Looking north from Red Kaweah with Black Kaweah, Pyramidal Pinnacle, and Koontz Pinnacle in view.
We left Mineral King Trailhead a little after 9am. Kevin's route to the Big Arroyo, our basecamp, wound over Glacier and Hands and Knees Passes and through the Little Five Lakes Basin following trails, abandoned trails, and our noses. Towards the end of the day we shed our shoes for several creek crossings, some of them more than knee deep, fast, and cold. Near the old Big Arroyo ranger cabin we ran into a backcountry ranger who warned us that the Kaweahs had a lot of loose rock and that it could be snowy up there. We spent the night comfortably under my tarp.

The next morning there was no alarm. I thought we'd be working hard each day on the route and wanted to leave our basecamp well rested from the hike in. After a leisurely breakfast we started hiking northeast uphill through open woods and granite slabs. eventually we reached the treeline. That ranger was right, there was a lot of snow, and we were happy for it. The last mile or so of our approach to Black Kaweah would have been endless talus was it not covered in supportive snow.

We took the Southwest Face route to the summit. It was fairly straightforward and soon we were on top snacking and snapping photos of the peaks laid out ahead of us. From the summit we descended directly east on technical terrain and got onto the east ridge via a convenient ledge. The east ridge was exposed, loose, 4th to low 5th class...and surprisingly fun. Soon we were hiking up the northwest slopes of Pyramidal Pinnacle looking for a place to spend the night. There were a number of snow patches and many semi-flat sites, but for some reason I wanted to keep hiking. Before too long I saw it, a cave! With a shout I ran over to it, expecting the floor to be filled with sharp rocks or guano or both. Instead it was almost-completely-level sand and small gravel, a comfortable size for two grown men. A few moments of work from Kevin, the high-end custom carpenter, and it was perfect. Just a few steps away was a snowfield melting into liquid in the late afternoon sun. Excellent views back up the east ridge of Black Kaweah were the icing on the cake that is my new favorite bivy spot.

Soaking up the view from my new favorite bivy spot.
The following day we left the magnificent cave a little after 7am. We scrambled up to the summit of Pyramidal Pinnacle with ease, and soon found ourselves downclimbing exposed 4th and low 5th class. We could have gone back down the way we came and wrapped around to the other side of the Pinnacle on easier terrain, but we wanted to keep our traverse as true as we could, riding the skyline. A short rappel completed our descent to the notch with Koontz Pinnacle.

Some unnecessary but fun 5th class climbing brought us to the top of Koontz Pinnacle, which has a classic Sierra summit block. In his guidebook Peaks, Passes, and Trails RJ Secor mentions that Koontz Pinnacle is not shown on the USGS Triple Divide Peak 7.5 minute map. It seemed to us, after sitting up there with the gps on my phone, that in fact its Pyramidal Pinnacle that's not shown on the quad.

Me on top of Koontz Pinnacle. Photo by Kevin Burkhart.
Traveling along the ridge from Koontz was fun but became involved, eventually necessitating a long rappel. This was followed by a hike up Red Kaweah, one of the easier peaks on the traverse. There was some kind of butterfly migration happening and hundreds of orange and black butterflies led us along the ridge and up to the summit.

Climbing up the north side of Michael's Pinnacle was forgettable, but the summit register was not. Placed by Jim Koontz himself in 1953, it had a transcription from Charles Michael's original register and had been signed by a who's who of Kaweah climbers, including the only other parties we knew of who did the traverse. It's a piece of Sierra history. I'm not normally particularly excited to sign summit registers, but I was honored to sign this one. That is, until we discovered the pen didn't work. Kicking ourselves for not bringing a pen, we continued south in the dwindling daylight, eventually dropping off the crest a bit to a bivy overlooking Kaweah Basin.

The Michael's Pinnacle summit register. It could use a new pen and container.
Looking east towards Williamson and Whitney from our second bivy. Photo by Kevin Burkhart.
In the morning the towers seemed to go on and on, but eventually we found ourselves in front of Squaretop. We traversed onto the west side over at least one rib to get to the Northwest Face route which brought us quickly to the summit. 

A time consuming gully took us down to the col before Bilko Pinnacle. Here fun 4th class on a rib over to the west side of the col brought us to the summit and our first good views of Grey (aka Second, aka False) Kaweah.

Kevin sailing the seas of choss somewhere on the ridge.
Tales of a spat between the first ascensionists and 5.9 climbing had us wondering if one of the towers before us would contain the crux. Instead we found enjoyable 5.7 climbing on some of the best rock on the ridge. Before long we were fist bumping on top. I think both of us felt like we were getting away with something. 

We still had a lot of daylight left, and we thought it would make a lot of sense to include Mount Kaweah, the tallest of the Kaweah peaks. It was only a matter of some class 2 hiking, so we signed that summit register too. Our big winter had left snow still parked on the west face of the peak, and a 1500 foot standing glissade sped our descent and put smiles on our faces.

While Kevin and I both enjoyed this traverse neither of us feel a need to do it again. Climbers who are dying to send this one would be well-advised to do some of the other big (and higher quality) traverses first. Though this one isn't as long as the full Palisade or Evolution Traverses, the decision making and risk management is probably harder. Couple this with the low level but continuous loose rock and the Kaweah Traverse is likely as difficult as those longer ones. As Kevin put it, “this one is for the Sierra ridge 'choss-isseur'”.

Somewhere in the Kaweahs. Photo by Kevin Burkhart.

--Ian McEleney, AAI Instructor and Guide

Friday, October 13, 2017

So You Want to Climb in Alaska: Advanced Tips for Stepping Up to Bigger, More Remote Objectives

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You've been climbing for awhile and are solid leading both rock and ice. You have been to a lot of the destination climbing areas in the continental US and done a lot of the classic routes. You're excited about the mountains and want to take your climbing to the next level but you don't know where to start...  

You're not alone.

While many climbers dream of trips to the Ruth Gorge, Peru or the Himalaya – few actually go. It's too expensive, they say. I'm not ready. The logistics are too complicated. While it's true that a trip to Alaska or abroad has many risk factors (like the possibility of not climbing due to weather, for one) the rewards can be proportionally immense. What's more, you don't need to be Colin Haley speed-soloing the Infinite Spur to enjoy them! The following is a step by step guide for the rest of us. The skills you need (and misconceptions you don't) in order to take your passion to Alaska and beyond.

The Ruth Gorge at twilight.  From L to R: Mt. Church, Wake, and Johnson.  Photo Credit: Max Neale
Step 1: Get the Right Attitude

This might sound cliché but it's true. The first step towards becoming comfortable on bigger terrain is belief. My brother is a college professor and he once told me about a nearly universal phenomenon he encounters that he calls imposter syndrome. This is when first year graduate students in rigorous academic settings suffer from the delusion that they don't belong. They feel that the work is too hard, that everyone else is smarter than them, and that they must have gotten in to the program by mistake. The same can be true of climbers attempting a big peak for the first time. While there is wisdom in restraint, you will never push your level if you don't actively try things that are uncomfortable. Once you get there, Alaska is just like everywhere else. The judgement and skill you have honed in other ranges will still apply. What's more, your comfort zone will begin to expand as you put yourself in increasingly more challenging and complex situations. We all started somewhere. A simple willingness to give it a shot can ease a lot of the stigma associated with planning a big trip.

The author taking some ski laps on a rest day in the Ruth Gorge.  Photo Credit: Max Neale
Step 2: Get Comfortable on Glaciers

Most American climbers today tend to focus on technically challenging rock, ice and mixed objectives. Why would you hike a big pack uphill for two days to the summit of Mount Rainier when you could be sending WI5? That other thing sounds easy and boring! For many, this is unfortunately true. I say unfortunately because modern technical gear and the evolution of fast and light alpine style ascents has lead to some significant skill deficits among many technically gifted climbers.

This can become a problem when heading to Alaska. On a big expedition, for every hour you'll spend climbing that sick mixed pitch you'll probably spend ten hours slogging through ice falls, climbing steep snow slopes, and camping. If these skills aren't ones that you practice regularly then intentionally honing them before your trip will greatly increase your margin of safety.  So if you're one of those who thinks the hip belay hasn't been used since the 1950's and probably has no place in modern climbing anyway, I suggest you think again and get to work. Take a course, learn about crevasse rescue and haul systems; learn about roping up, body belays, how to place snow protection and get slogging (and no - starting and not finishing the snow climbing chapter in Freedom of the Hills for the umpteenth time doesn't count). When figuring out how to route-find on glaciers there is no substitute for experience. You'll thank me later.

The author on the east ridge of Mount Logan, YT, Canada.  Photo Credit: Dan Sandberg
Step 3: Get Planning

For many, this step is the most daunting. Where to begin? While it is much more complex overall, the beginning planning stages of a big expedition are the same as a trip to the local crag. Pick a route and get beta. For your first trip, it makes sense to pick an objective that is well below your technical skill level. That way, the additional stress of being in a large remote environment will seem more manageable. The Ruth Gorge is a great venue because there are several peaks within a few miles of each other that have great routes of relatively low technical difficulty (the west face of Mount Dickey or the Japanese Couloir on Mt. Barrill are two examples). It is also recommended to pick a few alternative objectives so you can adapt to changing conditions. If you plan to climb an ice and snow route, it's probably smart to have a rock or mixed climb in your back pocket in case your main objective is out of shape.

Once you have your route(s) picked out it's time to get scientific. Do lots of research and make lists. Google Docs is a great tool for this. You can start a multi-tab spread sheet that you and your partner can manage simultaneously from different locations. Make a gear list. Make a projected itinerary. Make a meal plan according to your projected caloric needs. List your expenses. The important thing is to focus on the details and write it all down. On multi-day climbing trips in the continental US it can be easy to wing it. Not this time.

Additionally, it's important to organize a communication and emergency plan. Is there someone who can send you weather reports? Will you bring a Sat phone or an In-reach? What will you do in case of emergency? Make sure you have the contact information for the park service and the flight service stored in your device and independently of it (i.e. in a notebook somewhere). It can also be useful to have a friend or family member serve as an emergency contact. Plan to check in with them on a regular basis. It is best if this person has some backcountry experience and intimate knowledge of your itinerary. That way, if you go missing or need to coordinate a rescue, someone will know sooner rather than later.

There is lots of information out there to help you. Both in guidebooks and on the internet. While the planning phase will probably seem like an obstacle at first (and it is undeniably a lot of work) it can actually be quite fun once you get into it.  Just think, you get to spend your days planning a dream trip to one of the Earth's great ranges and then actually do it! Amazing!

The author preparing for Alaska during a one day
winter ascent of the Gerber-Sink route on Dragontail Peak.
Photo Credit: Chris Simrell
Step 4: Get Training

I won't write much here since there are whole books on the subject (I'm sure all of you probably have an unread copy of Training for the New Alpinism sitting on your coffee table right now as a matter of fact...). Suffice it to say that physical and mental training is important. There can be a lot of deep snow up in Alaska and fitness is often the difference between victory and defeat. Speed is safety and whatever you get on, you want to try to get off of as soon as humanly possible to minimize your exposure to risk. Similarly, depending on your route, there are times when you might have to go for it, even if the protection and conditions aren't great. You should also expect to be extra stressed by the size and remoteness of your objective. As a result it pays to get your head in order before you go. That said, if the mental game is something you worry about, chose an easier route. There is no need to climb any ice or rock at all to enjoy the Alaska range! See previous route recommendations.

The author climbs typical mixed ground on the SW ridge of Peak 11,300.
Photo Credit: Will Dean
Step 5: Get Saving

So finally we come to it. The dreaded question. How much will this damn thing cost? I know you probably spent your last dime on a sick sprinter van but it's also not as expensive as you might think. If you're judicious and plan ahead, $1500 - $2000 is plenty to get you a two-week trip to the range. This might sound steep as that amount of money could buy you six months of van dwelling. It'll be up to each individual to set their own priorities. I know what mine are. The point is that you can probably do it if you want to. Maybe you have to adjust your lifestyle from climbing all the time to working and training most of the time and trying one or two serious objectives a year? Everybody's situation is different. As long as we're clear that you don't have to be a sponsored crusher or a climbing guide to enjoy the Alaskan backcountry.

The west ridge of the Moose's Tooth.  Photo Credit: Max Neale
So gear up, save up and get after it.  As the weather begins to turn cooler and fall sets in, it's the perfect time to plan a big adventure.  And in the spring, when the days lengthen, and new light sparkles on Alaskan granite; reflecting uncountable flows of untouched ice, I'll be there.  Will you?

--Eric Shaw, AAI Instructor and Guide

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/12/17

Northwest:

--The Bellingham Herald is reporting that a man died on Black Peak last week. They note that he was "hiking," but some photos that have made their way onto the internet appear to show a location that only climbers would go to. To read more, click here.

--The Times Colonist is reporting that, "A 24-year-old Nanaimo woman is recovering from a climbing accident, after volunteers hoisted her up a rock face in a high-angle rope rescue. B.C. Ambulance requested evacuation support from Nanaimo Search and Rescue at about 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, after the woman’s climbing partner called 9-1-1. 'She had been belaying her climbing partner. He took a fall and she was shot forward into the rocks and injured her knee quite badly,' Nanaimo SAR president Carly Trobridge said. The pair was climbing near the Nanaimo River in the “lower deck” section of the Sunnyside climbing area." To read more, click here.

--Komo News is reporting that, "a hiker who was stranded on the Pacific Crest Trail by high winds and snow was rescued from a knife-edge ridge by a Blackhawk helicopter. The Yakima County Sheriff's office received a call for help at about 6 a.m. Saturday from a hiker who was in the Goat Rocks Mountain range." To read more, click here.

Sierra:

--Rocky Mountain National Park climbing ranger, Quinn Brett was involved in a serious fall in Yosemite National Park on the Nose. It appears that she is alive and stable, but that she may have suffered some very serious injuries. To read more, click here.

--After the Yosemite rockfall incident, we have to ask...will climate change make rockfall events worse? They ask this terrifying question at The Atlantic. Check it out.

Desert Southwest:

--Supertopo is the type of place where people get riled up. It appears that there might be a bolt war brewing at Suicide Rock near Idyllwild. To read more, click here.


Colorado:

--A seventy-year old climber was injured last week in a fall off the Third Flatiron. It appears that this was a rappelling incident. To read more, click here.

--The Aspen Times is reporting that, "A Summit County man hiking one of the state's 14,000-foot mountains in Chaffee County was reported missing early Sunday morning when he failed to make it home the day before." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Many outlets are reporting on the tragic deaths of Hayden Kennedy and Inge Perkins. Following is an intro to a piece from Outside: "On Saturday, October 7, 27-year-old alpinist Hayden Kennedy was skiing with his girlfriend, Inge Perkins, 23, on Imp Peak south of Bozeman, Montana. The pair triggered a slide that buried and killed Perkins. Kennedy survived the slide, but returned home and took his own life." To read more from Outside, click here. Climbing has obituaries for each of the pair, here. Rock and Ice posted a remembrance here. Gear Junkie posted here. The Adventure Journal posted, here. And finally, Black Diamond, one of Kennedy's sponsors, posted an obituary and remembrance, here.

--CTV News is reporting that, "a Toronto man who fell from a rock face at a Clearview Township provincial park remains in hospital with serious injuries." To read more, click here.

--Caroline Gleich is a world-class skier who has been dealing with unrelenting harassment since the start of her career. People have made incredibly misogynistic attacks against Caroline. Why? Jealousy? Most likely. Outside has posted an excellent article about online harassment and about how Caroline and others have dealt with it. To read the article, click here.

-Jesse Huey and Maury Birdwell recently free-climbed Original Sin (V 5.12+, 1,800') on Wyoming's Mt. Hooker. To read about it, click here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Why Do I Need Trekking Poles...?

It's extremely uncommon to find a guide who doesn't use trekking poles when carrying a large pack on long approaches. A heavy pack and the lack of balance that comes with carrying a heavy pack creates instability and even danger. Falling is more likely, especially if a pack isn't packed well. And indeed, injury is more likely as well.

There are five main reasons people use trekking poles:
  1. Trekking poles help you stay up right when carrying a heavy pack.
  2. They increase stability on uneven ground.
  3. They make it easier to walk in deep snow.
  4. The increase stability on creek crossings.
  5. And most importantly, they reduce strain on the knees.
I've been guiding professionally since the year 2000 and climbing since 1992. I'm happy to say that today I still have strong knees. I absolutely credit this to the use of trekking poles.

Trekking poles can help stabilize an individual 
walking across a sketchy section with a big pack.

In 2016, I was walking down a steep trail in the Cascades when I stepped on a loose rock. I stumbled forward and tried to catch my balance on a second rock. That rock moved too. My trekking poles were the only thing that saved me from a bone breaking injury. I was able to use my pole to shift over onto my back, where I landed directly on my pack.

I definitely credit my trekking poles for saving me from serious injury on that trail...

There are a handful of criticisms concerning the use of trekking poles. The are as follows:


  1. The use of trekking poles can lead to tennis elbow. This can be exacerbated by a trekking pole leash over the wrist.
  2. If you have your hand through the leash with it wrapped over the thumb, a fall can lead to a thumb dislocation.
  3. If one hunches over the trekking poles, it can make it difficult for one to catch their breath.
  4. It's extra stuff to carry.
The tennis elbow issue may happen with or without the leash. But some people tend to be more prone to tennis elbow with a leash.

This particular use of a ski pole can lead to
thumb dislocation.

If you avoid the use of the leash, the thumb issue is not an issue. If you prefer to use the leash, then you should not put your thumb over the strap as shown in the photo above.

At altitude a trekking pole in one hand can be extremely helpful to keep you standing upright. One should never hunch over when it's hard to breath, that does close the lungs. The poles should be used to stand upright.

As noted above, most guides use trekking poles with heavy packs. They don't necessarily make sense with a light pack or a cragging pack, but I believe that they are a must on big trips...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Common Folk's Guide to Bears

Rustled Jimmies is a comic facebook page run by Sam Pratt. Recently he posted a comic that has been making the rounds on the internet about bears. Sam gave us permission to reprint that comic here:

(click to enlarge)

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 6, 2017

Adaptive Climbing Techniques

Oregon State University put together a good primer on how to manage adaptive climbers. They include three different systems in the following video:
  1. 5:1 System (for people who have limited strength)
  2. Pull-Up Bar Ascender (for people who don't have use of their legs)
  3. Wheelchair Transfer to a Rappel (for people who don't have use of their legs)
There's some specialized equipment used in this video, but most of it is reasonably priced.



Some side notes:
  1. An MMO is a munter-mule overhand.
  2. The 5:1 is set-up upside down, it's a 4:1. It should also be noted that with a 5:1 you have to belay 5-feet of rope for every foot the climber moves. That's why she's working so hard
  3. An Aztek Kit is a rope rescue tool that is exactly the same as the 5:1 she created earlier in the video. If it's set-up upside down, it's a 4:1.
This video isn't perfect. There are some things that could be done a little better here or there, but it is an excellent introduction to adaptive climbing and the way a few systems work in that world.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/5/17

Northwest:

--A climber was killed last week on a route on Crown Mountain just outside Vancouver last week. To read more, click here.

--Go Skagit is reporting that, "For more than 40 years, Madrene “Tootsie” Clark was a staple of the annual opening of the North Cascades Highway. Every year since 1972, Clark was the first person in line when state Department of Transportation crews opened the highway in the spring. And every year, she would come bearing gifts — coffee and the whiskey sauce-glazed cinnamon rolls with which she’d become synonymous. “They’re to die for,” Tootsie Clark’s son Don Clark said. “They’re unique and wonderful.” On Sunday, Tootsie Clark, lovingly referred to by many as the “Cinnamon Roll Lady,” died. She was 95." To read more, click here. And here is a very nice blog written by the Washington Department of Transportation about Tootsie...

--Renowned helicopter pilot Tony Reece has also passed away at the age of 81. Tony was heavily involved in rescue and recovery operations throughout his career as a pilot. To read his obituary, click here.

--Seattle Patch is reporting that, "The lives of mountain goats living in the Olympic National Park are now literally in hands of humans. The National Park Service this week extended its comment period for options to remove the sometimes dangerous non-native mountain goats from the park. The four options include: transporting some goats to the North Cascades National Park and then killing others; relocating all of them; killing all of them; or leaving them be. The public now has until Oct. 10 to comment on the options." To read more, click here.

Sierra:

--There's been a lot of news coming out about the rockfall incidents last week in Yosemite. Here is a first person account of the first rockfall incident from below the mountain. Here's a piece about the climber who was killed saving his wife. And here's a piece on the science of rockfall.

Desert Southwest:

--Here's an interesting story about a family that found a stuck desert tortoise in Joshua Tree National Park.

Colorado:

--US News is reporting that, "Officials say a climber has died after falling 50 feet (15 meters) in Rocky Mountain National Park. Park officials say 66-year-old Henry Gholz of Fort Collins was killed Saturday when he fell while climbing Batman Pinnacle in the Lumpy Ridge area." To read more, click here.

--A climber was rescued last week from the Lime Creek area near Durango with an injured ankle. To read more, click here.

--To celebrate Aspen's 50th Anniversary, the resort will sell lift tickets for $6.50 on December 15th. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The New York Times is reporting that, "Norman G. Dyhrenfurth, an explorer and filmmaker who in 1963 led the first expedition of Americans to reach the summit of Mount Everest, a feat that inspired generations of mountaineers, died on Sunday in Salzburg, Austria. He was 99." To read more, click here.

--During the month of October, donations to the American Safe Climbing Association will be matched by the Planet Granite climbing gym. To read more, click here.

--ABC News is reporting that, "Members of a Facebook hiking group are now calling into question the story of paralyzed hiker Stacey Kozel, who said recently that she'd completed the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada by herself. Kozel, 41, of Medina, Ohio, spoke with ABC News on Monday about the incredible feat, which was made all the more amazing because she is paralyzed from the waist down and because she says she hiked the trail with the help of braces." To read more, click here.

--Speaking of rockfall, some scientists rolled massiven red concrete blocks down a mountainside to study how rocks move down mountainsides. To see a video, click below. To read more, click here.



--Want to rent out an entire ski mountain? Here's what it would cost.

--The Banff Mountain Book Festival has announced it's finalists. To read about them, click here.

--And finally, an 87-year-old man has climbed Devil's Tower. To read about it, click here.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Climbing Technique: Heel Hooks and Toe Hooks

As the terrain gets steeper, it becomes harder and harder for a climber to hold on...and that's where heel hooks and toe hooks come into play. In the following video, professional climber Joe Kinder discusses how to effectively employ toe hooks and heel hooks in vertical and overhung terrain.


--Jason D. Martin