Friday, March 31, 2017

Film Review: The Thing (2011)

A lot of AAI guides have spent time working in Antarctica over the years. These include Tom Kirby, Alasdair Turner, Dylan Taylor, Tim Connelly, and Danny Uhlmann, among others. Some guides have worked on Mt. Vinson, but most have spent time working at Antarctic bases.

One of the most popular films in all of Antarctica is the 1982 John Carpenter film, The Thing. People who work in Antarctica literally love that movie. They often watch it when they arrive on site. And those who winter down there always watch it right before the last plane leaves for the season.

The Thing has had a lot of lives on the big screen. First, there was the 1951 film, The Thing from Another World. Then there was the 1982 remake, where they dropped "from Another World," from the title. And then lastly, in 2011, they made a prequel to the Carpenter film, also entitled, The Thing.


If you're not familiar with the mythology behind The Thing, it goes like this. A crew of Norwegian scientists find ta massive spacecraft buried in the ice. They retrieve the body of something and bring it back to their base. The 1982 film starts with a crew of Americans finding the burned out remains of that base and also finding the thing that caused the death and destruction there.

The 2011 prequel tells the story of the Norwegian scientists who find the spacecraft and retrieve the body of an alien frozen in the ice. They bring it back home and realize -- much too late -- that it is not dead. And indeed, that not only is it not dead, but that it is a murderous thing that has the ability to mimic people. The scientists secluded in the Antarctic are picked off one by one by the monster, while never knowing whether their friends are still their friends, or whether they are monsters disguised as people.

The 2011 film is a fun B-movie style ride. It is not as tightly written as the super-popular 1982 film. And indeed, sometimes it feels a little bit too similar to that film. The storyline is quite similar: scientists, Antarctica, monsters, ice, impostors, everybody dies... And maybe that's what makes it fun.

The biggest difference between the 1982 film and the 2011 film is the protagonist. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays paleontologist, Kate Loyd. The character is smart and logical, which is exactly the opposite of what we tend to see of characters in most horror films. She doesn't panic. She doesn't explore weird dark rooms where she just heard a strange noise. She acts like we hope that we would act were we in such a situation...

Throughout the film we are treated to some great shots of high glaciers and peaks. It's not clear where these shots are from. It seems unlikely that it was filmed in Antarctica and a quick google search doesn't provide information beyond studio locations...

One of the most terrifying moments in the film for our readers is an early moment where a a large truck drops through a snow-bridge into a crevasse and gets wedged between the two walls. Unfortunately, the filmmakers decided to skip over the rescue of the truck's passengers, which is too bad, because regardless of the monsters running around, getting wedged into a crevasse is not a good thing and would have created more drama in the story.

These films are attractive to climbers because they take place in an environment that we are familiar with. While most of us haven't spent significant time in Antarctica, most of us have spent a lot of time secluded in the snowy mountains, somewhat cutoff from the rest of the world. As a result, of our experiences in these places, some of us might find them more spooky than our non-outdoorsy friends.

If you're not a The Thing fan, then this movie really isn't for you. But if you love the 1982 film, then you'll probably like the 2011 film...

I thought it might be fun to look at the trailers for all three versions of The Thing. First, we have the 1951 version. Second, we have the 1982 version. And then lastly, we have the prequel:





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--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How Those Bolts Got There...

The Canadian guide, Mike Barter, put up the following video on bolt placement. This is a rather rudimentary look at bolting. He gives the basics so that you know how that bolt actually got there, but there is a great deal more to placing bolts.



The best way to learn how to place a bolt properly is to work with an experienced bolter on replacing old bolts. This process will allow you to see where others have made mistakes. Understanding the most basic bolting mistakes is a great way to avoid making such mistakes.

The unfortunate reality is that most bolts are placed improperly. The fortunate reality is that most of these bolts that were placed improperly only have minor mistakes in their placement that make them unlikely to pull out most of the time. It's incredibly lucky that more people aren't injured or killed every year from poorly placed bolts.

If you decide to start bolting, it's important to do it right. Don't go out there and "just-figure-it-out." Seek out advice and guidance first...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 27, 2017

Training for the West Buttress of Denali


Sunrise over Denali (A. Stephen)
The West Buttress of Denali is definitely one of the most classic mountaineering routes up one of the most iconic mountains in the world.  From the beautiful position deep in the rugged Alaska Range to the chance to tag the tallest mountain in North America, an expedition to Denali is in no way easy, but the rewards vastly outweigh the effort.  I’ve guided the route three times, and I know from experience that nothing can fully prepare you for the West Buttress, but getting in good shape, and exercising your “suffering threshold” can help get you ready.  Here are some pages out of my training regimen for the Great One.


(A. Stephen)
Cold Weather

I think most experienced Alaska Range climbers would agree that you never really know what you are going to get.  As far as conditions and weather are concerned, the best thing you can do is try to have no expectations.  You can learn about trends in the weather, and conditions on the glacier via word of mouth or the internet, but considering that the average guided West Buttress trip takes 18-21 days, there is much that can happen once you’re fully committed.  An adage I find myself using a lot is that it is either “freeze or fry” out there- there is no middle ground.  While being too hot can be an issue, for most people being too cold is much more formidable.  You can train yourself to function in the cold pretty easily, however.  If you live in a cold-weather winter climate, go camping!  

Functioning in the cold isn’t ever too pleasant, but by gaining some experience with it you can gain the mental fortitude to make it work.  See one of my previous POSTS for some winter camping advice.  

If you don’t have access to a cold winter climate, one exercise that will help increase your cold threshold is to put your hands in ice water until you can’t stand it anymore, then try doing various activities such as tying knots, knitting, cooking dinner, etc.  This exercise is pretty limited however; the best thing you can do is either head to a cold climate for a winter camping excursion (at least one!).


Fellow Institute guide Nate Furman checking out the view on the upper
 mountain (A. Stephen)
Physical Training

As far as physical exertion goes, you should expect to carry packs weighing up to 70 lbs, while hauling a sled loaded with up to 80 lbs of gear.  Fortunately most programs will work off of a double carry system wherein the majority of days up to 16,000ft will only require carrying a fraction of that weight (an average of 50 lbs).  While the lower half of the route is at a fairly moderate pitch, the upper half can be quite steep, requiring precise footwork and a steady pace at altitude in order to stay warm.  No day's gain is more than around 3000ft in elevation, but climbers should be prepared to be moving 2 or 3 days in a row in between rest days.  I have tried to ask most of the guests I’ve had on the West Buttress what training program they used to get in shape.  I’ve heard everything from pulling tires around the cul-de-sac to a steady diet of mountaineering and backpacking to “nothing in particular.”   What we generally tell people at the Institute is that any regular physical activity focusing on cardio is decent, but there are some specific activities that are better than others.


Climbers using french cramponing technique to ascend a steep hill
with loaded sleds (A. Stephen)
One of the best things you can do to train is hiking with a weighted pack.  If you can find a hike in your area that steadily gains 3000ft in 3 or 4 miles, this is an ideal place to train.  Start by hiking the trail with very little weight or none at all.  I try to carry most of my weight in water, that way I can dump it out at the top and save my knees on the descent.  Every week, add a little bit at a time (no more than a 5% increase per week) until you have reached up to 70 lbs.  The rigors of pulling a sled involve muscles that even experienced climbers aren’t used to using, but if you can hike for 5 or 6 miles gaining 3000 ft of elevation or more in 4 hours without getting totally worked, this will be sufficient to develop the extra strong back and leg muscles needed to contend with an weighted and unruly sled.  The other benefit to hiking with a heavy pack as training is that it helps you prepare your mental muscles for carrying a heavy pack day after day.  Try to do the hike 3 times a week, with adequate rest days in between.  As with any training program, make sure you listen to your body and only attempt the hike when you are feeling fully rested.  You can get more details on creating a successful training program from a great book by former Institute employee and prolific climber Steve House, entitled “Training For The New Alpinism.” 


"Training for the New Alpinism", by Steve House and Scott Johnson is by far the best training manual I've come across.  Unlike others in its genre, it isn't too heavy on technical jargon, and written in a way that laymen can understand.  While it is written with the cutting edge, high-altitude athlete in mind, the book is very helpful for the basic level alpinist as well, and the training plans and exercises outlined are easily transferred for easier objectives (such as the West Buttress) than Steve House and company attempt.  Picking up a copy of this book should definitely be the first step for the prospective Denali climber.

The West Buttress also requires a decent amount of upper body and core strength.  I recommend doing a separate routine for each, twice a week.  Again, start slow (1 set per session, and add reps per week)!  You aren’t going for max strength here, instead building endurance for the long haul (up the section of fixed lines that is!).  The routines I use can be found in “Training For The New Alpinism,”  or many variations can be found online- but try to find a mountaineering-specific one.


Psyched climbers on the summit of Denali (A. Stephen)

Altitude

One of the benefits of spending the extended time required for a double-carry strategy on the West Buttress is that it allows most people a chance to acclimatize as much as possible before we head to the upper mountain.  By doing “double-carries” (ferrying loads higher on the mountain while returning to a lower camp to sleep), you can maximize your acclimatization time.  So, theoretically, you can just show up in Talkeetna without getting any acclimatization experience.  

In fact, unless you are consistently living at 10,000ft, there really isn’t much you can do that will gain you the high altitude experience needed, since any acclimatization built through periods at altitude quickly disappears upon returning to sea-level.  The best thing you can do to be ready for high altitude is to make sure you are in good cardiovascular shape.  Supplementing your weighted pack training with an activity such as swimming, running, or biking is a great way to increase your cardio and lung capacity.  I find mountaineering-specific benefit in trail running, as you are not only building cardio fitness, but also training your leg muscles to handle stress.  I repeat: start slow and don’t overdo it!  Listen to your body first and foremost; it is always better to skip training days if you still feel tired than overdo it and risk injury.


Heading up the iconic ridgeline between 14k and 17k camps in less than
splitter conditions (A. Stephen)
Mountaineering Experience

An expedition to the Alaska Range, whether guided or not, should never be attempted without at least a basic level of mountaineering knowledge or experience.  The Range is home to some huge glaciers and unforgiving terrain.  Walking and climbing in crampons, ice-axe arrest, roped travel, and crevasse-rescue techniques should all be very familiar to the prospective West Buttress climber.  There is no substitute for actual glaciated travel here in my opinion.  Basic mountaineering routes on any of the Cascade volcanoes are great pre-requisites, and my favorite has to be Mt Baker, where you can get a wide variety of easily-accessible training and climbing in.  By far the best way to gain specific experience for the West Buttress is to take the Denali Prep Course offered by the Institute, which will provide broad mountaineering instruction, as well as winter camping and backcountry travel skills.


Fruits of the labor: A climber enjoying the view from 17k (A. Stephen) 
Peak season is fast approaching for climbing the West Buttress, so if you are planning on heading north, now is the time to make sure you are in the best shape possible. I highly recommend picking up a copy of “Training for the New Alpinism” and entering into the training program the book outlines. If you have any specific questions, or would like help designing a program that tailors to your specific goals and time constraints, feel free to contact usat the Institute.

-Andy Stephen, AAI Instructor and Guide

Friday, March 24, 2017

Lowering from a Loaded Belay Plate

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

In this video, AMGA Instructor Team Member Jeff Ward, demonstrates two techniques to lower a climber from a loaded autoblocking device (belay plate).



Following is a quick breakdown of the points made.

Technique 1 - Rocking the carabiner
--Good for lowering short distances
--Need an active break hand

Technique 2- Redirect the plate with a thin sling
--Better for slightly longer distance lowering
--Need hands free backup for break strand

There is actually a third technique that he didn't show. One can put a nut tool or the nose of a carabiner into the small hole on many of these devices and crank it backwards. This will allow the device to open. But like the first technique, it will be important to have an active break hand.

--Jason D.  Martin

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/23/17

Desert Southwest:

--The Las Vegas Review Journal is reporting that, "Save Red Rock, in an effort to halt progress on a proposed development near the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, has accused the Clark County Commission of violating open meeting laws. Save Red Rock attorney Justin Jones made the allegation in a counterclaim filed in Clark County District Court on Monday. It’s the latest development in an ongoing lawsuit between the environmental nonprofit, the County and mining company Gypsum Resources, which wants to build 5,025 homes on Blue Diamond Hill." To read more, click here.


--Red Rock Rendezvous is a world-class climbing event. There will be climbing instruction, competitions, slideshows, games and parties. This is one event that just gets better every year. AAI guides will be there to support the event and will be available for guided climbs or instructional programs both before and after the Red Rock Rendezvous. To learn more, click here.

Colorado:

--The Associated Press is reporting that, "The body of a climber missing on Longs Peak has been found. Rocky Mountain National Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson says the body of the 39-year-old man from Thornton was discovered by searchers on Sunday and flown down by helicopter." To read more, click here.

--The Gazette is reporting that "a 48-year-old Colorado Springs woman who fell while skiing on Pikes Peak died Sunday, the Teller County Sheriff's Office said, the latest death on a mountain whose steep chutes, ice and avalanches can make it extremely dangerous even for experts. Rachel A. Dewey, a middle school social studies teacher with Banning Lewis Ranch Academy and adjunct professor at Pikes Peak Community College, was skiing in an area known as Little Italy Couloir near Glen Cove with her husband and three teenage sons Sunday morning when she lost control and fell about 1,000 feet, the Sheriff's Office said." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Finger Board Excercises

The Climbing Movement Essential Training Series on Youtube is kind of awesome. The series is composed of a number of well produced videos that focus on different aspects of training for climbing.

In this particular video, the fingerboard is shown. The workout they describe is really good, but leaves one thing out. You should always, always warm up before using a fingerboard. I have definitely hurt myself on those things...

This is a power and endurance workout. The idea is simple. Create a thirty move sequence with clipping as one move.



--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 20, 2017

Climbing Class and Grade

One of the most confusing elements for a new climber is how the climbing class and grade systems work in the United States. Many individuals go to the rock gym and feel like they understand what a 5.7 feels like, but seldom understand where that grade came from. Many wonder why it's not simply a 2 or a 3 instead of a 5.7.

In North America we use the Yosemite Decimal System to define the class of a climb. This system provides a class number and then a specific grade. Following is a breakdown of the classes:

Class 1 - Hiking on a maintained trail.
Class 2 - Easy scrambling. Some may occasionally need their hands.Class 3 - Moderate scrambling. Hands may be employed more often.
Class 4 - Easy climbing. Hands are used all the time. Many will climb at this level without a rope.
Class 5 - Where real rock climbing begins. Technical equipment is employed at this level.

At Class 5 we add a decimal and a number to the system. Periodically a plus or a minus will be used in conjunction with the class identification (i.e. 5.6+ or 5.8-). Once the system hits 5.10, a letter grade is added. There are four letter grades before the number grade changes. (i.e. 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, 5.10d, 5.11a, 511b...). Following is a breakdown of this system;

5.0-5.6 - Beginner level climber
5.7-5.9 - Intermediate level climber
5.10a-5.11c - Advanced level climber
5.11d-5.13d - Professional climber
5.14a-5.15b - World class climber

Currently 5.15b is the hardest grade climbed in the world. However, the system is open-ended and one day somebody will climb something that is 5.15c.

Though climbers strive for consistency in grades, this breakdown is often quite subjective. In other words, a 5.10a in Red Rock Canyon might be the equivalent of a 5.8 in Joshua Tree National Park. It's important for climbers to get a feel for how the grades work in every new area they visit before pushing themselves too hard.

Many long rock and alpine climbs also employ a Roman Numeral commitment grade. This grade gives the "average climber" an overview of how long the route will take, how many pitches are technical, how difficult the routefinding on the route might be, and in some cases it will also take into account the remoteness of the climb. The commitment grades are as follows:

Grade I - A very short route requiring one to two hours.
Grade II - A route that takes two to four hours.
Grade III - A route that takes the better part of a day. For slower parties a Grade III will be an all day endeavor.
Grade IV - A route that takes all day. Generally a day that requires in excess of 12 hours. The technical difficulties are more pronounced.
Grade V - Generally takes more that a day. There are clear technical difficulties to be overcome.
Grade VI - A multi-day climb that requires solid technical skills and often requires both aid and free climbing techniques.

As with the Yosemite Decimal System, the commitment grade system is not without problems. It is incredibly subjective. The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite is a Grade VI. When it was first climbed in 1958, it took 45 days. The speed record is currently under three hours and many parties complete the route in a day. So the question must then be asked, what is an "average" climber? How should these grades be set? Most guidebook authors will look for some kind of consensus. The real average party on the Nose still takes about four days. As such, the Grade VI will remain for the time being.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 17, 2017

To Wag or Not to Wag...

In many climbing areas and mountaineering destinations around the country, Wag Bags are required.

What's a Wag Bag?

A Wag Bag is a simple system for human waste disposal in the backcountry. These are essentially sanitary bags for human waste removal. They're not complex and there's no mystery. They're plastic bags that you poop in.

Wag Bags are a brand name. These are actually waste bags. And there are several brands on the market, including Biffy Bags and Restop.

Access to places like Mount Rainier, Mount Whitney and the desert are threatened by an overabundance of human waste. In some of these locations you are required to use a Wag Bag or the equivalent. Of course, part of the pack-it-in pack-it-out philosophy is not just using such a bag, but also bringing it back out with you. These areas are also threatened by an overabundance of used and discarded Wag Bags.

Timmy O'Neil is often considered the "funniest man in climbing." A few years ago, Timmy put together the following video about wag bags in the Utah desert.



--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/16/17

Northwest:

--Hood River News is reporting that, "The search for a missing skier, Steve Leavitt from The Dalles, has been dialed back and termed a recovery effort. Leavitt, 57, has been missing at Mt. Hood Meadows since last Tuesday." To read more, click here.

--The Everett Herald posted an editorial on the return of grizzly bears to the North Cascades. To read it, click here.


--The American Alpine Institute will be working with the Liz Rocks campaign to provide a scholarship for our Leaders of Tomorrow program for youth who come from a diverse background or who face significant hardship. The Leaders of Tomorrow program is the American Alpine Institute's premiere program for young people who wish to become climbers and mountaineers between the ages of 14 and 17. To learn more, click here.

--Leif Whittaker is a mountain climber, photographer, and writer whose work has appeared in various media worldwide, including Powder, Backcountry and The Ski Journal. His first book, My Old Man and the Mountain, was published by Mountaineers Books in October, 2016. In this presentation on March 30th in Bellingham, Whittaker, son of the first American to summit Mount Everest, will shed light on growing up in the shadow of a famous father, and how that journey helped shape a unique view of his own relationship with a mountain and a dad. Whittaker will be available after the presentation to sign books. Coffee and cookies will be served. Registration for this event closes on March 27, 2017. To learn more, click here.

Sierra:

AAI's Director Dunham Gooding and Royal Robbins
at the 2009 Outdoor Retailer

--On Wednesday night, Climbing magazine posted an obituary for one of the greatest rock climbers of all time. "On Tuesday, March 14, California rock-climbing and big-wall pioneer Royal Robbins passed away at age 82. Born February 3, 1935, Robbins ushered in the development of many modern free- and aid-climbing techniques and standards. In 1952, Robbins made the first free ascent of the Open Book in Tahquitz, California, pushing free climbing standards to 5.9. Five years later, he, Jerry Galwas, and Mike Sherrick completed the first ascent of the Northwest Face of Half Dome over five days." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--It appears that there was a fatal climbing accident in Arches National Park on March 5th. There is limited information about what happened. To read more, click here.

--This could be good news in the ongoing fight to stop development near Red Rock Canyon. The Nevada Independent is reporting that, "In the wake of controversy surrounding a proposed development within eyesight of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada lawmakers have reintroduced a bill that would essentially freeze any private development within a five-mile radius of a national conservation area. Democratic Assemblyman Steve Yeager introduced AB277 on Friday, with a large number of Democrats and two Republicans — Sen. Becky Harris and Assemblyman James Oscarson — signed on as sponsors." To read more, click here.


--Red Rock Rendezvous is a world-class climbing event. There will be climbing instruction, competitions, slideshows, games and parties. This is one event that just gets better every year. AAI guides will be there to support the event and will be available for guided climbs or instructional programs both before and after the Red Rock Rendezvous. To learn more, click here.

--In preparation for the Red Rock Rendezvous, Climbing magazine posted this article about belay extensions by Jason Martin, AAI's director of operations...

Colorado:

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park finished off 2016 as the nation’s fourth most popular national park with more than 4.5 million visitors.": To read more, click here.

--A death due to a ski lift malfunction has heightened awareness of ski area infrastructure needs in Colorado. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--CBC News is reporting that, "A 34-year-old man who died Sunday while skiing at Canada's Lake Louise was wearing a helmet when he crashed into a tree, RCMP said Monday." To read more, click here.

--Fox 13 Salt Lake City is reporting that, " Search and rescue crews responded to Little Cottonwood Canyon after a rock climber fell about 50 feet while rappelling Saturday." To read more, click here.

--Boston.com is reporting that, "Authorities are investigating the death of a skier who was found unresponsive near an intermediate trail at the Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire." To read more, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "The Access Fund has announced its 2016 Menocal Lifetime Achievement Award, Bebie Leadership Award and Sharp End Awards. These annual awards recognize individuals, organizations, and businesses that "go above and beyond to volunteer their time and efforts to protecting America's climbing." To read more, click here.

--A moose in Alaska had to be shot because it charged a ski area lift line! To read more, click here.

--If you haven't seen this awesome clip from Bollywood, you should drop everything and watch it right now.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Film Review: The Summit

K2 is often considered to be the most dangerous mountain in the world. One out of every four people who climb to the summit of the mountain perishes on the descent. So it is no surprise that one of the most terrible mountaineering incidents of all time happened on the mountain.


In 2008, the news trickled out of Pakistan slowly. There had been yet another tragedy in the Himalaya that made headlines around the world; and when the dust settled 11 people were dead. The main culprit? A combination of things, but perhaps of most importance, ignoring turn-around times at altitude and the destruction of the fixed lines by serac-fall in a feature known as the Bottleneck.

We have previously written about this incident in our review of the excellent book, Buried in the Sky. But now a new film which combines, interviews, footage from the expeditions in 2008, and actors portraying real people has come to video and streaming. The Summit is a powerful film that will keep you from ever considering an ascent of K2.

Nick Ryan's stunning film tells the story of a series of climbing teams who came together on K2 on August 1st of 2008 to make an attempt at the summit. The problem was that there were twenty-five people from several countries with several different types of climbing styles trying to get up the mountain that day.

The film is built much like Touching the Void. Ryan uses actors when necessary, emotional interviews and real video to weave together a complex web in order to tell a complicated story.



In most tragic mountaineering stories, there is one incident that acts as a catalyst for everything else that goes wrong. While that exists in The Summit, there are so many complicating factors to the story that it is hard to finger one thing. Instead, the film feels like a real-life horror movie. People make mistakes and die. People trip and die. People are hit by icefall and die. People try to save others and die...

You get the picture.

The film is hard to watch. It's a true story with real footage of people on a mountain. And many of those you're watching are gone, their bodies still up on the mountain.

Perhaps the greatest flaw in the film is that the story of what happened that day on K2 is complex. It's so complex that you leave the film without a complete understanding of what happened in the tragedy. None of the people who lived it tell the same story. As such, there is no unified version where armchair mountaineers can sit back and say, "that's where it all went wrong."

The Summit is a beautiful movie about a horrible day in the mountains. And while it is often hard to watch, it is a gripping story that I personally have not been able to stop thinking about...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Super Munter

In a serious rescue situation, it might be possible that you would have to lower an extreme weight down a rock face. For example, there is the possibility that you might have to lower two climbers, one cradling another one, or you might have to lower a climber and a litter. There are many ways to do this, but there is one really smooth technique.

The super-munter is a variation on the munter-hitch. It creates a tremendous amount of friction and doesn't have one of the main problems of the munter-hitch, it doesn't tangle the rope. Indeed, the action of the rope as it goes through the super-munter twists the rope and then twists it back.

Following is a short video on how to make a super-munter:


The super-munter creates a great deal of friction. I have never used this for a rescue, but occasionally I have lowered two climbers together with this who didn't feel comfortable rappelling. I've always found it to provide more than enough friction to deal with 400+ lbs of dead weight.

While it is unlikely that you will use this particular hitch very often, it is a valuable rescue tool to have in your back-pocket.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 10, 2017

Route Profile: Pequeno Alpamayo

Bolivia's Pequeno Alpamayo is one of the prettiest little peaks in the Cordillera Real. The mountain looks a great deal like Peru's Alpamayo, but doesn't have the objective danger or the size of it's namesake. Instead, Pequeno Alpamayo is a striking and accessible peak that can easily be done in a day from the Condoriri basecamp.

There are two major routes on the mountain. The moderate Southwest Ridge and the more difficult Southeast Face. Both lines require four to five pitches of climbing. The Southwest Ridge is primarily forty to fifty degree snow and ice climbing, while the Southeast Face is a bit steeper with terrain that ranges from sixty to seventy degrees.

In 1990, an AAI team established the steeper of the two routes. During the 80s and 90s American Alpine Institute expeditions were responsible for dozens of new routes in the Cordillera Real.

The route selection on Pequeno Alpamayo often takes place based on how one feels. The mountain's summit rises to 17,618 feet above sea level, so the oxygen is a bit thin. Many who might see the Southeast Face as a quick jog will find it to be somewhat more difficult due to the altitude. Climbing steep terrain at 17,000 feet often requires one to take a bit more time on each pitch. This is primarily because climbers tend to take a few breaths between each tool placement.

Both routes are accessed by traversing an adjacent peak. Tarija is 16,601 feet and is often considered an objective in and of itself. This approach to the mountain provides for an excellent view of the potential routes. Many of the striking photos of Pequeno Alpamayo have been taken from Tarija's summit.

Following is a photo essay from a series of ascents of Pequeno Alpamayo:

The classic shot taken from the summit of Tarija.
The Southwest Ridge climbs the obvious ridge.
The Southeast face ascends the steeper terrain to the left of the rocks.
Photo by Miles Newby

A group of climbers descend the Southwest Ridge
Photo by Jason Martin

Two AAI Climbers take a break in the middle of the Southwest Ridge
Photo by Jason Martin

Pequeno Alpamayo from nearby Chachapamapa
The Southeast Face route climbs up to the left of the rocks
Photo by Jason Martin

To learn more about the American Alpine Institute's expeditions to Bolivia, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/9/17

Northwest:

--The CBC is reporting that, "A 52-year-old tourist from Austria has been killed in an avalanche north of Revelstoke, B.C. The man was with a heli-skiing outfit about 100 kilometres north of Revelstoke in the North Columbia region of east-central British Columbia." To read more, click here.

--CTV New Vancouver is reporting that, "The man who died in an avalanche near Whistler on Saturday is being identified in a memorial group on Facebook as Corey Lynam. Friends and family members are sharing pictures and memories of Lynam, his wife, and young son on the page. A GoFundMe page has also been set up to build a “legacy fund” for Lynam’s son. The page had raised more than $11,000 as of Sunday night. To read more, click here.

--TV News Vancouver is reporting on a backcountry avalanche that took place near Cypress Mountain. "A pair of backcountry skiers were caught in an avalanche on Saturday afternoon, and rescuers said one was taken to hospital after spending roughly five minutes buried under the snow. North Shore Rescue Team Leader Mike Danks told CTV News only one of the pair was buried. The other was able to dig him out with the help of another group of skiers that happened to be nearby." To read more, click here.

--There was a snowmobile avalanche fatality on the east side of the Cascades this week at Hawkins Mountain near Cle Elum.

--A skier broke his leg in an avalanche on Saturday near Alpental Ski Area in Snqualmie Pass. To read more, click here.

Sierra:

--The Mono County Search and Rescue team is looking for new members. To learn more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

AAI Guide Andrew Yasso talking about Red Rock Canyon to The Guardian.

--The Guardian recently did a piece on Red Rock Canyon. AAI Guide Andrew Yasso is featured in the video just over a minute into it. To see the video, click here.


--Red Rock Rendezvous is a world-class climbing event. There will be climbing instruction, competitions, slideshows, games and parties. This is one event that just gets better every year. AAI guides will be there to support the event and will be available for guided climbs or instructional programs both before and after the Red Rock Rendezvous. To learn more, click here.

--Patagonia and Google 360 teamed up to make an awesome interactive video about Bears Ears National Monument. To see it, click here.

Colorado:

--The Aspen Times is reporting that, "A 23-year-old mountaineer missing for two days after attempting to climb Pyramid Peak and falling nearly 1,500 feet was found alive late Tuesday afternoon, authorities said." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A father and son were caught in an avalanche while cross country skiing near Helena, Montana on Monday. To read more, click here.

--A snowboarder in Alaska is lucky to be alive after triggering an avalanche in the sidecountry at Eaglecrest Ski Area. To read more, click here.

--The AP is reporting that, "Six people have died on Vermont's ski slopes this season, an increase over previous years. Three of the deaths involved resort visitors who were killed in accidents: two in crashes into trees, and one after falling into deep snow, according to a review of public records by the Burlington Free Press. Two other skiers died of natural causes on the mountain, and a resort employee was killed in a workplace accident." To read more, click here.

--The Idaho State Journal is reporting that, "Emergency responders were able to rescue a 61-year-old Idaho Falls man who suffered a heart attack while backcountry skiing in Grand Teton National Park on Friday. Mike Connolly was skiing with family members and friends when he began experiencing significant chest pains. He was listed in good condition at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls on Monday." To read more, click here.

--USA Today is reporting that, "Forest Service law enforcement officer Brad Treat was fatally mauled by a grizzly bear after accidentally surprising and colliding with the animal while mountain biking, the Board of Review Report has determined." To read more, click here.

"In the past 18 months, over 50 bills attacking federal management 
of our public lands have been introduced to Congress." Climbing.

--Climbing magazine has published a great article on how we can help defend our public lands. To read the article, click here.

--Jeff Lowe -- the inspirational climber that made the first ascent of classics as varied as Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride, to Moonlight Buttress in Zion -- has received the 2017 Piolet d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award. To read more, click here.

--The newly confirmed Secretary of the Interior has a mixed record on public lands. To read an article on this topic from the Access Fund, click here.

--Outside Magazine has an article up about snow making machines that emit less greenhouse gasses and operate when the temperature is above freezing: "Climate change is ravaging the $12 billion ski industry. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates reduced snowfall has cost businesses a full $1 billion in the last decade. Snow machines, as a result, have become a necessary stopgap. But manmade snow is a bankrupt solution for this anthropogenic problem. Not only is the process weather-dependent—temperatures must be freezing for machines to work—but, critically, the thousands of snow machines that buzz all winter long use a tremendous amount of energy. Up to half of all the energy consumed by ski resorts now goes to making snow, NRDC estimates." To read more, click here.

--The Tacoma News Tribune has run an interesting article about a ski instructor who impaled his face on a tree. To see the article, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "Canadian climber Nathan Kutcher has established what is likely the hardest mixed route in Alaska and a contender for the most difficult mixed climb in North America. His new route, Contra, ascends a near featureless, overhanging rock face in Keystone Canyon outside of Valdez." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Book Review: The Adventure Gap

In the mid-nineties when I was teaching high school and trying to climb every weekend, I began to notice something. I was teaching at an inner city school with an incredibly diverse classroom, but then I was recreating in a place that wasn't diverse at all.

It's no secret that the bulk of those who participate in outdoor adventure sports are caucasian. And while most of us know a few minorities that participate in climbing and skiing, the percentage of those who participate in these sports are miniscule... There just aren't that many minorities playing in the mountains. And that's where James Edward Mills starts in his excellent book, The Adventure Gap.


The "adventure gap" is a term Mills coined for this lack of diversity in outdoor adventure sports. As a black man and a writer for several outdoor magazines and newspapers, he has spent a large part of his professional career writing about this gap.  And though Mills profiles several African American outdoor adventurers, the bulk of the book focuses on a single expedition.

In 2013 a group of African Americans set out to be the first all black Denali summit team. Their expedition was aptly named, Expedition Denali.

At 20, 320 feet above sea level, Denali, also called Mount McKinley, is the loftiest perch in the United States. As one of the so-called Seven Summits -- the tallest peak on each continent -- Denali is a much-valued prize on most climbers' bucket lists. Both physically and metaphorically: if you can succeed on Denali, you can likely succeed anywhere.

By summiting this high mountain, the members of the Expedition Denali team wanted to show that people of color -- African Americans in particular -- do in fact have a place in outdoor recreation. The objective was to inspire a new generation of minority youth to seek out and enjoy a relationship with the natural world where they might come to play, pursue career opportunities, and fight for its long-term preservation. Like most climbing expeditions the summit was not the sole goal. And for this expedition in particular, the ascent to the summit would be only the first step. The journey would continue for climbers back home in their communities, where each team member would be responsible for sharing their experience and offering encouragement to those around them who aspire to a life of adventure. 

The expedition was composed of a number of people from different backgrounds. Some of those on the trip had significantly more mountain experience than others. But they all were aware that putting together a team of African Americans for a Denali climb was something different, something that had not been done before.

A point aptly made in the book's narrative is that the opportunity for people of color to participate in mountain sports often simply isn't there. Perhaps the best anecdote in the book revolves around a young climber on the team by the name of Erica Wynn. The story picks up as she pokes around in a library full of mountaineering books.

As she perused the volumes before her, Erica was reminded that many of these stories were dominated almost exclusively by the adventures and exploits of white men.

Young people are exposed to many narratives, and Erica felt strongly that these stories shape our expectations of ourselves and of our lives. It's problematic if we're exposed to a single story and we can't identify ourselves in that story. Like so many young children, Erica had grown up in a culture heavily influenced by Disney movies and found herself unable to relate to the characters in those stories. The white woman in those movies always gets the happy ending and she rides off with her Prince Charming, she thought. Where is my place? My happy ending?

Erica thought of what little black girls would make of the mountaineering stories like those in the library. They'd think they didn't have a place, or that the odds were stacked against them. She knew that Expedition Denali could help change that. It could add a new story and in that way, help women identify themselves in the outdoors in a way they were unable to in the past. 

Racial minorities aren't the only ones that have dealt with this perception. Certainly women have dealt with this as well, but female climbers and outdoor adventurers have made great strides in this arena. And where young women had only few outdoor role models thirty years ago, now they have dozens upon dozens of female sponsored athletes and guides to look up to...

Obviously one expedition is unlikely to change an embedded preconception of who gets to go into the mountains. But every change in perception has to start somewhere. Programs like the one set up to put together Expedition Denali are a great start, but they are just a start. All of us have to be more accommodating to opening up access to the outdoors and to adventure sports for those who don't look like us. It just takes a few programs like this in order to start a trend that might change things; and then perhaps in a few years, there will be a lot of people of color who will be role models for young minority aspiring outdoor adventurers...

Some might say, "but the places where I play are already crowded. I don't want more people there. I want less." This is a valid point, and as an advocate for solitude in the wilderness I hear you...but this is important. It's bigger than our own personal desire to be alone. This issue matters...

The question some may ask is, why does this matter? Mills does an excellent job of answering that question:

African American comprise only a small percentage of people who routinely spend time in nature. Low rates of participation among people of color in adventure sports such as backpacking, rock climbing, downhill skiing, and mountaineering suggest troubling prospects for the future. Very few blacks join environmental protection groups such as the Sierra Club or The Wilderness Society. And an even smaller number can be counted among the corps of professionals in careers dedicated to the preservation and conservation of nature, including national park rangers, foresters or environmental scientists.

 It's estimated that by 2042, the majority of US citizens will be nonwhite. Which begs the question: What happens when a majority of the population has neither the affinity for, nor a relationship with the natural world? At the very least, it becomes less likely that future generations will advocate for legislation or federal funding to protect wild places, or seek out job prospects that seek to protect it.

What happens indeed? It seems to me that Mills has thrown down the gauntlet for those of us who love the wilderness. How will we promote outdoor adventure to people of color? How can we get more diverse people into the mountains? How can we protect the future of the lands that we love...?

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Euro Death Knot

There is a commonly used knot out there that many people use regularly to join two ropes together that is totally misrepresented by its name. The Euro death knot (EDK) is not dangerous and it is not a death knot. It is likely that American climbers gave the knot this name when they saw Europeans use it because it looked sketchy.

The EDK is officially known as an overhand bend or an overhand flat knot. It would be far better to refer to this knot by one of these names as they do not strike fear into those that use the knot.

The Overhand Bend (AKA Overhand Flat Knot/Euro Death Knot)
In this photo the tail is very short and there is no back-up to the Overhand Bend.
Photo from Wikepedia

Most people like the overhand bend for two reasons. First, because of the knot's asymmetrical profile, it tends to pull smoothly over edges and doesn't get caught as easily. And second, it is very easy to untie.

To tie the knot, lay both ends of the rope together. Make sure that they are pointed in the same direction and then make an overhand knot in both ropes at the same time. This is the overhand bend. Most guides tie a backup by adding a second overhand bend next to the first. This will keep the knot from rolling if there are unexpected high loads.

In the past, most climbers tied the overhand bend alone. If the knot is tied by itself without a backup, there must be a significant tail. It is not recommended to tie the overhand bend by itself.

Some people tie an overhand eight in lieu of an overhand bend. This is far more likely to roll than a unbacked-up overhand bend and is not recommended.

Most of our guides tend to tie not only their rappel ropes together with an overhand bend, but their cordelletes as well. Guides tie their cordelletes with this knot because it is easy to untie. A cordellete that may be opened has a great deal more flexibility. It can easily be opened up and used like a webolette. Some like the ability to open up a cordellete because an open cordellete without a welded double-fisherman's knot can be cut up more effectively for anchor material.

Following is a short video from the Canadian guide, Mike Barter, on how to tie a overhand bend.

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--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 3, 2017

Rock Climbing Technique: Clipping

As people progress into leading, they think about many elements of the sport. They think about how to place gear. They think about falling. They think about where they might stand while they get a piece. What many new leaders -- and some seasoned climbers -- forget to think about is how they're going to clip the rope to the protection.

This skill seems simple, but there's more to it than meets the eye...

In the following video Climbing magazine's Julie Ellison discusses how to appropriately clip the rope into a draw and explains some of the dangers that you should be aware of while clipping.



There are a couple of things in this video that Julie discusses quite quickly. Following is some additional information on these topics.

Carabiners Oriented in the Same Direction:

A quickdraw should aways be clipped away from the direction of the climb. In other words, both the gate on the bolt and the gate on the bottom carabiner should be oriented away from where you are actually climbing. If you are clipping to the right of your body and will be climbing up left, then the gates should face right. If you are clipping left of your body and you are climbing up right, then the gates should be facing left.
A draw with the carabiners facing the same direction.

Occasionally, you can't tell where the climb is going. In these cases, you just have to make your best guess.

There are two reasons for why we orient the gates away from the climb.

First, we want the rope to run over the spine of the bottom carabiner. This will keep the rope from accidently coming unclipped in the event of a fall. Occasionally, the rope will run over the gate perfectly during a fall and become unclipped, which could have catastrophic consequences.

Second, there have been occasions when the carabiner on the bolt has become unclipped. While rare, orienting the carabiner away from the line of the climb decreases the likelihood of this happening. If you poke around online, you'll find several of occasions where this has happened.

Loose Carabiner and Carabiner in Rubber Gasket:

The loose carabiner should always be on the side that you intend to clip to the bolt. The carabiner in the tight side of the draw should always be the carabiner you clip your rope to.

It's not a bad idea to use the same carabiners every time in the same positions. Carabiners that are bolt carabiners develop tiny groves and inconsistencies in the metal. These can damage your rope.

Carabiners that are rope carabiners are in the tight spot so that it's easier to clip them. The lack of rotation in the draw makes it easier to clip while at a funky stance.

A Final Note On Clipping:

Julie describes two orientations from which you clip carabiners. It's not a bad idea to practice both clipping styles when you're on the ground. This is the type of skill that you can do over and over again while watching tv. Clipping quickly and effectively should be second nature...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Temporary Closures to Protect Nesting Raptors in Rocky Mountain National Park

The American Alpine Institute just received the following email from Rocky Mountain National Park:

Each year to protect raptor nesting sites, Rocky Mountain National Park officials initiate temporary closures in the Lumpy Ridge and Sheep Mountain areas of the park. To ensure that these birds of prey can nest undisturbed, specific areas within the park are closed temporarily to public use during nesting season and monitored by wildlife managers. All closures began on March 1 and will continue throughJuly 31, if appropriate. These closures may be extended longer or rescinded at an earlier date depending on nesting activity.


Closures include Checkerboard Rock, Lightning Rock, Batman Rock, Batman Pinnacle, Sundance, Thunder Buttress, The Parish, Alligator Rock, Sheep Mountain, and Twin Owls, Rock One. These closures include the named formations. Closures include all climbing routes, outcroppings, cliffs, faces, ascent and descent routes and climber access trails to the named rock formations. Check the park’s website at www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/area_closures.htm for updated information on raptor closures.

The National Park Service is committed to preserving birds of prey. The same cliffs that are critical for raptors also appeal to climbers. The cooperation of climbing organizations and individuals continues to be essential to the successful nesting of raptors in the park.

For further information on Rocky Mountain National Park, please call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206.

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/2/17

Northwest:

--Yesterday was the anniversary of the deadliest avalanche in US history. An avalanche came down on Stevens Pass and knocked two trains off their tracks. Ninety-six people died in the incident and it became known as the White Horror. To read about this historic avalanche, click here.

Sierra:

--A hunter was attacked by a mountain lion near Mono Lake this week. The mountain lion was ultimately killed in the incident. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--In a piece of terrible news, it is looking more and more like 5000 houses will be built across the street from Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas. To read an article about the next step that was recently taken toward this development, click here.


--Red Rock Rendezvous is a world-class climbing event. There will be climbing instruction, competitions, slideshows, games and parties. This is one event that just gets better every year. AAI guides will be there to support the event and will be available for guided climbs or instructional programs both before and after the Red Rock Rendezvous. To learn more, click here.

--Mountain Gear and Latino Outdoors, a national, non-profit organization committed to connecting Latinos to outdoor spaces, are hosting an Instagram contest to support increasing diversity in the outdoors and access to rock climbing. Red Rock Rendezvous sponsor, Mountain Gear, is generously donating five UClimb registrations to the festival, which will be held at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area just outside of Las Vegas, from March 24 to March 27, 2017. To read more, click here.

--The Las Vegas Review Journal is reporting that, "Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area officials say visitors can expect unusually long delays on the park’s 13-mile scenic drive as a construction project gets underway. Crews will begin pulverizing and repaving the loop in roughly one-mile increments Sunday evening after the gates close. The entire one-way road will be resurfaced over the course of the project, which expected to last into summer." To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--The Durango Herald is reporting that, "a 34-year-old woman who struck a tree and died while skiing at Purgatory Resort on Saturday has been identified as Farmington resident Kressyda Ming, according to La Plata County coroner Jann Smith." To read more, click here.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "Vail police are again warning skiers and snowboarders of a growing trend of fraudulent lift ticket sales this season that has cost visitors thousands of dollars. So far this winter, there have been 39 such cases reported to police, an 875 percent increase over the 4 cases during the same period last year." To read more, click here.

--The Aspen Times is reporting that, "a dog named Snoopy received 66 stitches during the course of a three-hour surgery Monday, but his injuries weren't because of a brawl with another canine, an attack by a wild animal or being struck by a vehicle. Instead the 50-pound cattle dog was, according to his owner, kicked by a skier in the Tiehack area of Buttermilk about one minute after Snoopy snapped loose from a leash. Three of Snoopy's ligaments were severed and the violent encounter left what owner Danny Brown called a "bloody mess" on the slopes of Tiehack." To read more, click here.

--The Star Tribune is reporting that, "More than a dozen climbing routes on rocky cliffs in southern Utah's Zion National Park have been temporarily closed to help protect peregrine falcons." To read more, click here.

--The Durango Herald is reporting that, "Hesperus Ski Area has been shut down since Tuesday after the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board performed a routine inspection and found maintenance and operational issues that must be addressed." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Denver 7 is reporting that, "a Colorado man who went missing while skiing in Japan earlier this week died in an avalanche, his wife confirmed through a GoFundMe page set up to pay for search and rescue efforts. 'After an exhaustive search, I am devastated to report that Mat will not be returning home at this time,” reads the message posted Saturday. “The search and rescue teams have determined that he perished in an avalanche, and due to the extreme conditions, we will be unable to recover him until Japan’s long winter season has passed.'" To read more, click here.

--On Monday, Unofficial Networks was reporting that, "An avalanche hit the main employee parking lot at Snowbird around 5:25pm, burying 3 to 4 cars belonging to resort guests. The lot is called the Superior Lot and is just east of the Cliff Lodge. Fox New 13 is reporting at least 25 ski patrollers were on scene searching for victims but have not yet found anyone injured or buried by the slide." To read more, click here.

--Apparently over 150 soldiers were killed during World War I in the high Alps. And now with glaciers receding due to anthropogenic climate change, the corpses -- perfectly preserved in the ice for nearly 100-years -- are revealing themselves. To read about it, click here.

--AAI Guide Jim Mediatore worked in Antarctica this winter and helped recover a scientific balloon sent up by NASA. Check out the video below to learn more: