Monday, November 19, 2018

Cleaning Toprope Anchors

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 Margaret Wheeler demonstrates how to clean a toprope anchor.

Critical Points
--Always double check yourself
--Maintain good communication with your belayer
--Do not rush
--Keep baggy clothing out of the way
--Always double check yourself

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 16, 2018

Counter Ascending a Rope to Perform a Climber Pick-Off

Imagine you are taking two friends out to the crag who have never climbed before. You meet at the trailhead and quickly make the approach. On the way in you spot a beautiful looking slab, perfect for introducing some simple movement skills.

You tell your buddies to hang out at the base as you scramble around, build a bomber anchor, and drop a rope to set up a base-managed tope rope site. Back at the bottom you run them through all the basic knot/belaying skills and before you know it, you all are ready to climb.

You have one of them climb, while the other one belays and you are ready to give a back up belay if necessary. The climber does an awesome job, just cruising all the way to the top, tagging the carabiners at the master point. The belayer tells them to lean back and starts to lower them, but about halfway down the pitch, they just freeze and grab the wall.

You try to talk them down, but they are not having it. You can tell they are getting more and more scared the longer they are up there. You do not want this to ruin their experience, especially after they just absolutely crushed it a few minutes earlier... so what do you do?

Counter-ascending a Rope to Perform a Climber Pickoff

One of the most interesting skills covered by American Alpine Institute (AAI) as part of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Single Pitch Instructor (SPI) curriculum is top-managed and based-managed assistance skills.

In the above situation, you have three climbers operating from a base-managed top rope site. In order for one of the people on the ground to assist the climber being lowered, they would need to counter-ascend the rope to perform a climber pickoff.

A "pickoff" is any situation where one member of a climbing party has to descend or ascend a rope in order to assist another member of the group who is experiencing difficulty on the pitch. Counter-ascending is a technique where the person ascending the rope uses the weight of the climber on the pitch as a counter-balance to help them maintain their progress as they move up the rope.

There are multiple scenarios you could encounter at the crag that would involve using variations of this skill. For the purposes of this post we are going to focus primarily on the situation above: Three climbers at a base-managed site with the belayer using either a tube style or assisted-braking style belay device and the most experience climber outside of the primary belay.

Building the Counter-Ascending System

Assuming you are playing the role of the experienced climber, the best way to think about building the counter-ascending system for this situation is in three steps:

Step 1.) Transition to the Primary Belay

Have the belayer pull and hold the climber tight. Now tie a backup knot in the brake strand of the rope about two arm’s lengths from the belayer’s brake hand. The backup knot can either be a figure-eight or overhand on a bight.

Pre-rig your assisted-braking belay device, a Grigri in this case, underneath the belayer’s belay device and clip it to your belay loop with a locking carabiner. If done correctly, the Grigri should be pre-rigged between the belayer’s brake hand and the backup knot you tied.

Reach over to the climber’s strand of the rope and use a friction hitch to attach a locking carabiner. An Autoblock was used in the picture above. Basket a double-length runner through the hard points on your harness and clip both ends to the locking carabiner on the climber’s strand of the rope.

Run through your carabiner and knot checks and then slide the Autoblock as high as you can along the rope. Now ask the belayer to slowly step forward as you slightly lean back. Up until this point all the climbers weight should have been on the belayer’s device. You should now start to feel the pull of the climber transition onto your harness as the Autoblock takes the weight.

If done correctly, there should be no weight on the belayer’s belay device and you can ask them to go off belay. As soon as they are out of the system, pull any slack through your Grigri and disengage the Autoblock. You should now be on belay just as if you were belaying from the beginning.

Step 2.) Counter-Ascend the Rope to the Climber

If there is an excessive amount of slack between the Grigri and the original backup knot, start by tying a new backup knot about one to two fist lengths away from the Grigri. Remove the double-length runner from your harness and just let it hang from the Autoblock.

To begin ascending, move as close to the wall as possible while pushing the Autoblock up. Make sure you keep the climber tight by taking in slack as you move forward.

Assuming your break hand is on the right side, put your left foot inside the runner and shift your weight above that foot. This will lock the Autoblock in place and allow you to stand up your left leg. As you thrust upward, use your left hand to pull down on the climber's side of the rope and your break hand to pull up on the break side of the rope.

Continue this motion until the Autoblock is about two fist lengths away from the Grigri, then sit back and weight the rope to re-engage the Grigri and capture your upward progress. At this point all your weight should be off your foot in the runner, which will allow you to move the Autoblock higher up the rope.

Repeat this process until you reach the climber and make sure to tie backup knots in the break strand every 8-10' as you ascend.

Step 3.) Transition Friction Hitch to Climbers Rope and Lower

Once you reach the climber, tie a final backup knot in the break strand and untie all of the backup knots below it. If the climber is distressed, this is your opportunity to assess the situation and provide whatever aid is necessary.

Once you decide to lower, remove the Autoblock from the strand above you and re-attach a locking carabiner to the strand above the climber with another friction hitch. I am using a Prusik in the picture above.

Again, basket a double-length runner through the hard points on your harness and clip both ends to the locking carabiner on the strand of the rope above the climber. Run through your carabiner and knot checks, then untie your back up knot and lower as you normally would on a Grigri.

This "tricks" the system and allows both the experienced climber who ascended and the distressed climber to lower simultaneously.

Some quick notes
- In situations like above, the best solution is usually the simplest and most efficient. Before getting into a complex belay transition with friction hitches and whatever, check if the climber can comfortably unweight the rope.

If they can... just tie your backup knot, pre-rig the Grigri, have the belayer remove themselves from the system, and go on belay like normal before they re-weight the rope—a much simpler solution. That said, for the purposes of this post we assumed the climber could not unweight the rope and we needed to use a hitch to transfer the load.

- For ascending, you can use an Autoblock, Prusik, or Klemheist, but I personally prefer to use an Autoblock. I like the Autoblock because in my experience, the Prusik and Klemheist proved to be very difficult to disengage and slide along the rope after putting my full bodyweight on the runner.

On the flipside, for lowering I tended to use a Prusik and Klemheist because I wanted a hitch that really "grabbed." This was important because I did not want to fumble around trying to get the hitch to stay in place, while dealing with the distressed climber.

- Depending on your preference, you can use a slipknot or tie an overhand/figure-eight in the bottom of the double-length runner to keep your foot from slipping out as you ascend. If you do end up tying a knot, lean toward a figure-eight because it is a little easier to untie after you get to the ground.

- When you get to the climber, it is a good idea to continue ascending until your feet are at about their hip to chest height. The reason you want to be above them if possible is because it is easier to offer assistance and avoids you both being right on top of each other as you lower. It also allows you to slide under their strand of rope and push them away from the wall if you need to maneuver around obstacles or roofs on the descent.

With regard to the story above, something similar actually happened to me a few weeks after I took the SPI while I was teaching a beginner class at the local climbing gym. Instead of yelling up at the stranded climber for ten minutes and making the situation worse, I quickly transitioned to the primary belay, counter-ascended and talked them through the whole lowering process, right next to them on the wall as we descend together.

I don't know if it made a difference in the climber's experience, but what I do know is that they came down with a smile on their face and got right back on the wall. To me, whether you are a climbing instructor, guide, or just a recreational climber taking friends out, that's what it is all about.

--Chris Casciola, Guest Blogger and Author of the Seeking Exposure Blog

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/15/18


Smith Rock State Park

--Adam Ondra just did the unthinkable. He onsighted Just Do It (5.14c) in Smith Rocks State Park in Oregon. Onsighting is when one completes a route on the first try. It's crazy that this guy is climbing so hard. To read more, click here.

--Somebody appears to be chipping and torching holds on Squamish boulders. To read more, click here.


--Somebody took it upon themselves to chop DOA (5.11c/d) at Lover's Leap. This route reportedly was put up on lead, ground up. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The Arizona Daily Sun is reporting that, "Multiple agencies responded to a call about a 34-year-old climber who fell 40 feet at a popular climbing spot near Oak Creek Vista off of State Route 89A Saturday afternoon. The Phoenix woman sustained multiple serious injuries when she fell while rappelling, including a back injury." To read more, click here.

--The Las Vegas Review Journal is reporting that, "The Nevada State Historic Preservation Office will host a training session Saturday in Mesquite for volunteers interested in protecting the state’s archaeological treasures. State and federal land managers are looking for site stewards to serve as the 'eyes and ears' for dozens of historic and prehistoric cultural sites across the state." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Access Fund has some exciting news! "Access Fund, the national non-profit organization that keeps climbing areas open and protected, is thrilled to announce that Chris Winter will join the organization as Executive Director this January. He replaces Brady Robinson, who stepped down in June after leading the climbing advocacy organization for eleven years." To read more, click here.

--It looks like Colorado ski resorts are going to open early. Check it out!

--Avalanche mitigation is starting. Following is a recent video from Loveland Pass:

--The National Parks Traveler is reporting that, "The Trust for Public Land has finalized the donation to the National Park Service of a 35-acre inholding inside Zion National Park. The land, known as Firepit Knoll, will be incorporated into the park and protected from future development. The donation was made possible thanks to support from the National Park Foundation, the National Park Trust and the the George S. and Dolores DorĂ© Eccles Foundation of Salt Lake City." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--What do the election results mean for climbing? The Access Fund has the answer, here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "GRIT&ROCK announced a launch of an annual international First Ascent Expedition Prize to enable female first ascents. Now in its third annual installment, the award, the largest of its kind globally, funds projects of female-led expedition teams up to the amount of USD 10,000." It appears that the application period is open. To read more, click here.

--So that "cute" video of the bear cub trying to climb to it's mother...yeah, those bears were reacting to the drone chasing them. At one point, the bear cub slides all the way down the slope into the rocks. It's horrible. They're terrified... From Slate, " Many Twitter users found the video to be inspiring, in a way: Look, that baby bear never gave up! Many wildlife biologists, however, saw something rather different. They saw a disturbing example of how some irresponsible drone pilots are happy to harass wildlife to get a perfect picture, putting animals at risk and tarnishing the reputation of all users of the technology." To read more, click here.

--And finally, there is a cool little line on Mount McGillivray in the Canadian Rockies called Arterial Spurt. This three-pitch WI3 is seldom climbed due to avalanche danger. A couple of guys were able to sneak it in in mid-November before there was much snow. Check out their climb for some stoke, below!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Update on Eden Fire in Sequoia National Park

The American Alpine Institute just received the following from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park:

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, Calif. November 14, 2018 - The Eden Fire continues to grow and is now 343 acres as mapped via the parks’ helicopter. Fire has slowed its progress in the Eden Creek drainage on the western edge of the fire. Fire however has established itself on the east side of the eastern branch of Eden Creek drainage. One spot fire was observed on the east flank approximately 200 feet off the main fire and burning actively. Fire does not appear to be moving up-slope (south) towards Homers Nose.

Continued positive fire behavior is occurring with consumption of brush and downed logs. Some standing dead trees, called snags, may have been the source of some spotting. Numerous snags are present in the area from tree mortality and the lack of modern fire history. The parks will continue to monitor the fire via helicopter while scouting for natural barriers along the rocky ridge (Homer's Nose) to the south. Additionally the parks will actively track any new growth downhill toward the Kaweah drainage.

Smoke is visible from the western side of Sequoia National Park. Most of it is coming from a trio of fires in Sequoia National Forest with some smoke contribution from the Eden Fire. Other smoke in the area is from the larger fires currently burning in California. For more information on non-NPS fires, visits or

“The parks take air quality concerns very seriously,” said Sequoia National Park Fire Management Officer Kelly Singer. “However, as this fire burns in designated wilderness, taking valuable firefighting resources away from the larger more dangerous fires in California to suppress this ecologically beneficial fire would be a mistake.”

There is a low pressure trough that's forecasted to come in the middle of next week, possibly Wednesday or Thursday. It may or may not have precipitation but it will help in clearing out the air. If you are sensitive to smoke please refer to one of the following links for recommendations on reducing your exposure to fine particulates. or 

Another thing to keep in mind is that in addition to the smoke from wildland fires, daily activities in the valley (vehicles, agricultural activities, industry) are also contributing to these particulates that are trapped in this region. It's an unfortunate meteorological condition during some extreme fire events that we're experiencing.

All areas of Sequoia National Park remain open as previously scheduled. Additionally, there are no impacts to any of the normal operations in the Mineral King section of Sequoia National Park.

Pictures, videos, and maps of the Eden Fire, please visit the official website:

The Eden Fire continues to move with moderate to low intensity restoring fire to the Eden Creek Grove of giant sequoias. - NPS Photo.

- NPS -

Monday, November 12, 2018

Climbing Commands

One of the most inconsistent things in the entire world of climbing are climbing commands. Climbers commonly hook up for a day of climbing with little knowledge of how to communicate with one another at the crag. It is always important to review your climbing commands with a new partner so that no mistakes are made.

The most common mistakes in a command series tend to come around the word "take." Climbers often use the word in two different ways. Some will say "take" in lieu of the command, "up-rope." Whereas others will say "take" to mean "take my weight." A much larger problem arises out of the nature of a word that only has one syllable. "Take" could also be mistaken for the words, "safe" or "slack." Either of these mistakes could have tragic consequences. The result is that at the American Alpine Institute, we try to teach people not to use the word.

A climber on Angel's Crest (5.10c, IV) in Squamish, BC.

The following sets of commands reflect what AAI guides are teaching in the field.

Toprope Commands:

Climber: On-belay?

Belayer: (After checking that everyone's double-backed, that knots are correct and that the belay device is threaded appropriately.) Belay-on.

Climber: Climbing.

Belayer: Climb-on.

Once the climber reaches the top, the following discourse should take place:

Climber: Tension.

Belayer: (After pulling the stretch out of the rope and locking it off.) Tension-on.

Climber: Ready to lower.

Belayer: Lowering.

It's important to close out the commands at the end. People often get lazy about the next set. Once the climber is back on the ground the following commands should take place.

Climber: Off-belay.

Belayer: Thank-you. (Then after removing the device from the rope:) Belay-off.

The "thank-you" exists in this series to get individuals ready for multi-pitch climbing where the words are used a great deal.

A climber on Myster Z (5.7, II+) in Red Rock Canyon.

Multi-Pitch Commands:

You'll notice that the words "thank-you" are used heavily throughout this command series. We use the words to acknowledge that an individual heard the last command. For those who don't normally use the words "thank-you" as part of your personal series, I would recommend trying it. A lot of stress melts away on multi-pitch climbs when you know that your partner heard you.

Following are the commands that we teach in a multi-pitch setting:

Climber: On-belay?

Belayer: (After checking that everyone's double-backed, that knots are correct and that the belay device is threaded appropriately.) Belay-on.

Climber: Climbing.

Belayer: Climb on.

Once the climber has reached the top, built an anchor and tied-in, the following commands should take place:

Climber: Off belay!

Belayer: Thank-you! (The belayer will then take the rope out of his device.) Belay-off!

Climber: Thank-you! (The climber will then pull up all the slack.)

Belayer: That's me!

Climber: Thank-you! (The climber will then put the belayer on belay.) Belay-on!

Belayer: Thank-you! (The belayer will break down the anchor and then yell just before he is about to climb.) Climbing!

Climber: Climb-on!

Ancillary Commands:

These are commands that are not necessarily said on every single climb. These are only said if there is a need. The commands are as follows:

Rock -- This should be yelled whenever anything falls. If you hear this, press your body against the wall and do not look up. Your helmet will provide some protection. Unfortunately, sometimes people yell "stick" or "camera." Such unusual commands often result in inappropriate reactions. In other words a person may not immediately attempt to get out of the way.

Watch me -- Climber will say this to a belayer if he is nervous and thinks he might fall.

Falling -- The appropriate command if you actually fall.

Up-rope -- When a climber says this, he is asking that slack be eliminated from the system.

Slack -- The climber needs slack.

Tension -- Anytime a climber wants to sit back on the rope and rest they should use this command.

Clipping -- Periodically a leader will need more rope to clip a piece of protection. When a leader says this he's actually asking for a few feet of slack.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 9, 2018

Staying Found

Here's a nice little video on some baseline trail and backcountry safety...

Please note that Satellite Messaging Systems like the InReach or the SPOT can be triggered on accident. It's not a bad idea to store these devices in a hard-sided box. If you accidentally trigger one of these devices, make sure to notify the authorities that it was a mistake.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/8/18


--The Access Fund and all Northwest Climbers want your help. "The Methow Headwaters is home to some of the most outstanding climbing and mountaineering in Washington state, including the sport climbs up the Chewack River, the massive multi-pitch climbing on the Goat Wall, alpine rock climbing and glacier mountaineering around the Silver Star Massif, cragging near Robinson Creek, and mountaineering and long alpine rock climbs along the Pacific Crest Trail. Several years ago, a mining company filed for permits to conduct exploratory drilling for copper on Goat Peak at the north end of the Methow Valley. This kind of exploratory drilling is the first step to developing a large-scale mine that would devastate the upper Methow region. Access Fund is working with a coalition of stakeholders on several advocacy efforts to protect this incredible region and its climbing resources.To read more and to take action, click here.

--Outside is reporting on one of the deadliest climbing disasters in US history. "About an hour before midnight on Mother’s Day in 1986, a group of teenagers assembled at an Episcopal high school in Portland, Oregon, to embark on an expedition. Their goal was to summit Mount Hood, completing an adventure program that was required for all sophomores. What followed was a story of tragedy and loss that is commemorated annually at the institution it changed forever." To read more, click here.

--So they're blindfolding goats in the Olympics to keep them from freaking out when they get helicoptered to the Cascades. To read more, click here.


--A climber in Yosemite sustained a 50-foot fall last week on Mt. Watkins. Following is dramatic helicopter footage of the rescue that ensued. To read more about the accident, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Sketchy Andy is at it again. In the following video, Andy Lewis BASE jumps off a cliff, lands on a tiny tower, repacks and jumps again. Crazy...!

Notes from All Over:

--Pique is reporting that, "Juneau Mountain Rescue and the Alaska State Troopers have suspended efforts to recover the remains of Squamish climber Marc-André Leclerc, 25, and fellow climber Ryan Johnson, 34. The two men were reported missing on March 7 after they were late returning from a climb in the Mendenhall Ice Field in Juneau." To read more, click here.

--A scientist in the Antarctic stabbed a co-worker because he kept telling him how the books he was reading were going to end. This is not okay. But you still shouldn't tell people how books end when you're on an expedition in a remote region. To read more, click here.

--The American Alpine Club is now accepting applications for their Cutting Edge Grant. To read more, click here.

--Here are some major takeaways from this week's elections and the outdoor industry.

--The Guardian is reporting that, "the Girl Scouts of the United States of America have filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America after the Boy Scouts decided to drop “Boy” from its program and start welcoming older girls. According to the complaint filed on Tuesday, the Boy Scouts do not have a monopoly over such terms as “scouts” or “scouting”, and its decision to rebrand its program Scouts BSA will erode the Girl Scouts brand and “marginalize” their activities." To read more, click here.

--As of this writing, it appears that Democrat Katie Hill won the 25th Congressional District in California. We'd like to believe that the following ad certainly helped her candidacy...

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Alex Honnold - TED Talk

When Alex Honnold climbed Freerider on El Capitan, it was an important moment in climbing history. But it didn't come easily to Honnold. It was the culmination of years of preparation.

Check out the video about this event below:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 5, 2018

How to Belay with a Munter-Hitch

Outdoor Research and the American Mountain Guides have produced quite a few excellent videos. If you haven't checked them out yet, log onto youtube and go to the AMGA Tutorials page.

The following video -- featuring Elaina Arenz, AMGA Certified Rock Guide and occasional AAI Guide -- demonstrates several iterations of how one might use a munter-hitch to belay. The video covers belaying with a munter-hitch, tying off a munter-hitch and lowering with a munter-hitch.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 2, 2018

How to Belay a Leader with an Assisted Braking Device

Over the last dozen years or so, the assisted braking device has become a major component of a climber's kit. There are several of these devices on the market now. And each of them has their advantages and disadvantages. That said, the two most popular tend to be the Petzl GriGri and the Trango Cinch.

It should be noted that as the technology improves, more and more designs for assisted braking devices are appearing. Many of these new designs don't have a "moving side plate" with a "rope channel" like the GriGri or the Cinch. As those designs are so different from these, this blog will focus specifically on the GriGri and the Cinch.

The primary belaying position for the GriGri is the PBUS position, with a guide hand above the device on the rope and a brake hand below. As the leader moves up the rock, the belayer slowly feeds rope through the device, gently pulling with guide hand, while pushing through with the brake hand. If the rope is fed at an appropriate speed, the cam in the GriGri will not engage.

In this principle belay position, the belayer's brake hand never leaves the rope. If there is a need to bring in slack, the belayer reverts to the PBUS toproping technique.

Because the cam automatically engages with a sudden acceleration of the rope, it can be difficult to pay out slack quickly. The simplest solution to this problem is to never allow the rope to suddenly accelerate. This may be accomplished by the leader placing gear at chest level or lower and extending the protection with runners. Doing so allows the leader to clip into the protection without having to give a quick tug on the rope.

The second way is to shift the brake hand, sliding it up the rope to the device, and brace the index finger against the lip of the moving sideplate. Press the thumb of the brake hand down on the cam where the handle is attached while continuing to hold the brake strand of the rope. Pull slack with the guide hand. Once finished, immediately return to the principle belay position.

Petzl recommends that you:

  1. Always keep the brake strand in the brake hand. There is never a valid reason to let go of the brake strand.
  2. Never grip the device with the entire hand.
  3. Anticipate the climber's movement, including when additional rope is needed to make a clip.

Many of the preceding principles also apply to the Trango Cinch. The biggest difference is that when one pays out slack, they should hold the hole in the device with two fingers, while keeping the rope in the other three. From there, they will pull slack out sideways.

Assisted braking devices are awesome, but only if they are used the right way. Be sure to read all technical notices on any equipment you choose to purchase.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/1/18


--ABC News is reporting that, "A phone call from a concerned woman likely saved the life of a hiker from Germany who was attempting to travel through the Cascade Mountains to the Canadian border without proper gear as snow and cold hit the region, authorities said." To read more, click here.

--Crosscut is reporting that, "climate change could spell double trouble for national parks: A new study, published last week in the journal Environmental Research Letters, says that these areas are heating up twice as fast than the U.S. as a whole. This includes high-mountain parks like those in the Pacific Northwest, where the loss of glaciers creates a ripple effect across ecosystems, which compounds warming and threats to wildlife and plant communities." To read more, click here.


--The Sierra Wave has printed a "State of the Inyo Forest" article. The article breaks down all the campgrounds that are now closed and road closures. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Starting today, November 1st, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Scenic Drive will be on it's winter schedule and will be open from 6am to 5pm. To read more, click here.

--The boardwalk area in Red Springs in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is closed and will be rebuilt this fall. To read more, click here.

A climber rappelling off the Panty Wall in Red Rock Canyon.

--The Las Vegas Review Journal is reporting that, "An environmental nonprofit can proceed to trial with its lawsuit aimed at stopping the Clark County Commission from approving the development of thousands of homes overlooking the Red Rock Canyon, a judge has ruled." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--An early desert tower climber, Huntly Ingalls, has died at the age of 90. Ingalls was on the first ascents of classics like the Castleton Tower, the Titan, Standing Rock, and North Six Shooter. To read more, check out

--The St. George News is reporting that the Lava Point Road in Zion National Park will be closed for repairs. This will likely have an impact on other roads entering the Park. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Rocky Mountain Outlook is reporting on one of the first avalanches of the season. "Three backcountry skiers had a lucky escape after an avalanche carried them 100 metres down a gully on Mount Patterson in Banff National Park on Monday (Oct. 29). One of the skiers, Cam McLellan, sustained a head injury and was taken by ambulance to Banff’s Mineral Springs Hospital, while his two buddies Noah Bangle and Jeremy Laporte sustained minor injuries." To read more, click here.

--A climber was injured at the Linville Gorge area of North Carolina this week. To read more, click here.

--GearJunkie is reporting that, "The north face of Grandes Jorasses offers 3,937 feet of rock climbing. Dani Arnold broke the speed record this summer, completing the Cassin route in 2 hours 4 minutes without a rope." To read more, click here. To see a video about the ascent, click below:

--Gripped is reporting on a cool new four pitch 5.9 near Canmore. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Film Review: Blood Glacier

Happy Halloween!

I really wanted to do something fun for the Halloween blog today, but couldn't think of anything too unique, so I decided to watch a "Climbing Horror Movie."

You probably didn't think that was a genre. But I found one. And it was a doozy...

I really really wanted to like Blood Glacier. It's a horror movie that was actually shot in the mountains, with people who appear to know something about the mountains. It's a film where a climber could have suspended their disbelief...

...but the horror elements were so bad and the story was so hokey, that nobody else possibly could have.

There were several indicators that this film experience might not work out.

I know. I know.

The first and most obvious indicator was the title.  But there were several other indicators in the first couple minutes of the movie. It was produced by IFC Midnight, which essentially is an indicator that it's going to be a B-level film from the get-go. Additionally, as the film opened, they showed glaciers and mountains, which would suddenly go from pristine to a filtered red at the same time they played jarring music.

Oh yeah, and the film was dubbed too. I think it might have been made by Germans...or something. It's hard to tell while watching it. But it was indeed shot in the Alps.

The bloody glacier in Blood Glacier.
Click on the photo to expand it in its awful gory bloody glacierness.

A group of climate scientists are studying glaciers in a remote corner of the Alps. They discover that a glacier appears to bleeding. Unbeknownst to them, the "blood" coming from the glacier is mutating the local wildlife. Essentially the bacteria in the substance creates hybrid animals. If an animal ate something, the new hybrid would have characteristics of both the host and the thing the animal ate. And of course the hybrid is born the same way an alien from the Alien franchise is born, by bursting out of the host's body.

This presents a bit of a problem for the scientists. You know, because for some reason the prime minister is on her way up to the hut with the hero's ex-girlfriend and lots of other people to get attacked by hybrid blood glacier monsters.

This movie was bad enough that I don't really expect many of you to see it. So I'm going to spoil it for you. If you don't want it spoiled. Don't read another word.

It turns out that the hero and his girlfriend were going to have a baby. She had an abortion and regretted it. She wanted a baby with him...

Which is good because an infected dog licked the hero's blood and had a hyrbid dog-baby-thing burst out of it's stomach which the pair adopted as their own.

For some reason this doesn't seem very plausible.

My favorite line of the entire movie takes place when a woman who is sobbing is also eating a banana. The Prime Minister screams at her, "stop eating that banana while you're crying!" I did in fact laugh quite hard at that moment of the film...

So the story and the dialogue are both pretty laughable, but so are the monsters. It seems like we've been spoiled with monsters for several years on the big screen that look real. Some of these are done with CGI and others are done with puppetry and make-up. The most believable looking monsters actually use a combination of both.

The monsters in this movie are so bad that it's hard not to laugh at them. They look like something that a high school drama scene shop with no budget might produce for a teenage haunted house. They're terrible...and kind of funny.

I really really wanted to like Blood Glacier, but I didn't. The hokiness provided some laughs, but it wasn't really worth an hour and a half of my time...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 29, 2018

Film Review: A Lonely Place to Die

Climbing is used so poorly in so many films, it often makes me nervous to hear that it was used in a given storyline. Think big climbing moves like Vertical Limit or Cliffhanger. But also think smaller films where climbing is used for a few scenes, like Mission Impossible II or Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Inevitably, both genres of films are flops when it comes to climbing.  The weakness in the climbing sequences make the whole films hard to watch.

But then again, every now and then a movie comes around that gets climbing right...or at least a little bit right. Thus was the case for the British film, A Lonely Place to Die.

A group of intrepid mountain climbers travel up to a remote part of the Scottish Highlands in order to attempt a series of technical climbs during their vacation.  While approaching a climb through the woods, the team hears a faint voice.  They follow the voice to a black pipe sticking up out of the ground. And this is where the movie devolves from a your standard "climber-falls-and-dies-injuring-another-climber's-psyche-for-life" climbing film.

 It quickly becomes clear that someone -- a child -- has been buried alive and that the pipe is her only means of air. The team of climbers quickly dig up the the person buried only to discover that it is a young girl who has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. The remainder of the movie follows the climbers as they try to save the girl from gun-toting madmen who don't care who they kill as long as they get their ransom money.

There are some strange climbing scenes and cliches in the film.  The climbers don't appear to be very versed in anchor building, redundancy or the use of locking carabiners.  This leads to at least one near-miss (a very strange one at that) and another accident that results in a fatality. Though later in the movie we discover that the second incident wasn't necessarily an accident. And speaking of strange cliches, there is a moment where a woman must rappel off the end of her rope and traverse to a ledge, hundreds of feet off the deck...

The thing is that these weird sequences are so minor that they don't really harm the storyline.  I'm sure those of you that are sailors or police officers see these kinds of minor things in film all the time, but because they are not egregious, it's easy to suspend disbelief.  Something that cannot be done for some of the glossier blockbuster-style climbing movies.

A Lonely Place to die is actually quite a good action movie style ride. The climbers simply are in the wrong place at the wrong time and this puts them into the middle of a violent conflict.  The climbers don't just turn into action movie stars, they turn into victims.  Their climbing skills provide little comfort when it comes to men with guns, and this gives the whole film a somewhat realistic feel.  Climbers are not super-people, instead they are normal people with unusual interests.  Such interests may make them hardy in the woods, but don't make them anything special against hardened criminals.

Action movies tend to be a very generic form of entertainment. A Lonely Place to Die does have some moments that have that generic feel, but for the most part it travels new ground in both the climbing and the action genre...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 26, 2018

Rock Climbing Styles

Many beginning level climbers are confused by the terminology used to define different styles of climbing. This isn't too surprising because there are a lot of terms that get thrown around. The following is a quick discussion of the different types and styles of climbing and what they entail.

Toprope Climbing

When a climber uses the term "toprope," he is referring to a technique wherein an anchor is set at the top of the cliff. A rope runs from a belayerat the base of the cliff, up to the anchor and then back down to the climber. As the climber ascends the wall, the belayer takes in rope through hisbelay device. If the climber falls, the belayer merely locks off his device, arresting the fall. This system is designed to stop the climber's fall immediately.

Toproped climbing is very safe because no one is required to "lead." In most cases, climbers are simply able walk around to the top of a cliff in order to set-up the system.

Lead Climbing

The leader is the first person to climb a cliff. As the leader ascends the wall he drags a rope up that is tied to his harness. As he works his way up a wall he will put in rock protection. After the "pro" is in place, the leader may clip the rope into the gear while the follower belays from below. Should the leader fall, the follower will "catch" him in midair with the belay device.

Of course, if the leader falls 10 feet above the last piece of protection, he will actually fall 20 feet or more before the follower catches him. That makes the leader's job quite risky. Once the leader is on top, he may build an anchor, clip into it and put his partner on belay, essentially providing the follower a toprope.

Lead climbing may be done on both traditional and sport climbs.

Free Climbing

Free climbing does not mean, "without a rope." Conversely, free climbing absolutely requires a rope. The defining characteristic of free climbing is that it does not require an individual to pull on protection. The protection exists to keep a climber from hitting the ground should he fall, not to aid the climber on his ascent.

Aid Climbing

The polar opposite of free climbing is aid climbing. When an individual aid climbs, he places a piece of protection and then clips a nylon ladder to it. He then climbs up the ladder and places another piece, repeating the process over and over again. The climber is using direct aid to ascend the cliff face. This is often done when it is much too difficult to free climb.

Big routes in Zion National Park and in Yosemite National Park are commonly aided. These are the massive routes that sometimes requireportaledges or bivies on the wall. Big wall aid climbing is in many ways analogous to vertical backpacking. And while most big wall climbs require some free climbing, they tend to lean toward direct aid.

Free Soloing

Free soloing is the art of climbing without any ropes whatsoever. A fall under these circumstances will result in serious injury or death. Free soloing is incredibly dangerous and is only practiced by a small percentage of climbers.

Trad Climbing

Traditional climbing, or "trad" climbing, is a style of climbing that requires the leader to carry all of his protection with him. In other words, the leader carries an array of camming devices, wired nuts and other assorted odds and ends that might be used to protect the route. Traditionalists will not alter to rock in order to create protection for the leader. In other words, a true traditional route does not have any bolts on it.

Sport Climbing

Sport climbing is a style of climbing that requires significantly less equipment than trad climbing. A sport climb is a route manufactured with bolts. A true sport climb does not require any traditional gear at all.

Many consider sport climbing to be much safer than trad climbing because in most cases the routes have been manufactured in such a way that they are safe for a leader. As a result, this is an incredibly popular form of climbing.


Climbing is an incredibly varied sport and the preceding is only the most elemental breakdown of it from a stylistic perspective. That said, an understanding of this beginner level material will help the novice climber to understand the many conversations about style that take place in the climbing world every day.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Training: Injury Prevention

In this video, Climbing Coach Taylor Reed shows some of the techniques he teaches to the Columbus, Ohio climbing team.

Specifically, Reed deals with some of the most common injuries. First, he discusses crimping (something I've personally been injured doing several times). Second, he deals with shoulders. And then finally, he deals with fingers and wrists.

One thing he doesn't say, that he might just think is self-evident, is that when you climb hard, you should always, always warm up. If you don't, you will get injured.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, October 22, 2018

Toproping Etiquette

The following is a series of etiquette oriented questions that arise around toproped climbing at popular cragging destinations. The answers to these questions should be adhered to at North American Climbing destinations. Locations outside of North America may have different etiquette issues.

A Climber Lowers Off a Route in Leavenworth, Washington
Photo by Ruth Hennings

1) Where should I set-up my "camp" at a crag that I'm going to climb at all day?

Gear and equipment should not be placed directly under the wall. It's good to set-up a "safe" area away from the wall where you can relax without a helmet on and eat lunch. This will also keep the base of the wall from being crowded with gear and packs.

It's a good idea to consolodate your group's gear. Avoid allowing equipment and packs to be scattered around.

A Climber Leads Tonto (5.5) in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Jason Martin

2) What if I have a large group and want to "take-over" a crag for the day?

It is not appropriate for a group to "take-over" a crag. Climbing areas are public areas that are open to everyone. As such, it is incredibly rude for a group to hold an entire area -- or even a few routes -- hostage for the day.

If you have a large group, you have a large impact on both other users as well as the area. The best thing that you can to mitigate that impact is to keep a low profile, allow others to work in on the wall that you're using. Never leave a rope up that is not being used to "hold" a route.

If you do have a lot of ropes up and other users wish to climb routes that you have ropes on, it is okay to allow people to use your ropes if they look like they know what they're doing. If they don't appear knowlegable and they are climbing on your gear, you could become legally liable if something happens to one of the climbers that aren't with your group.

A group climbs at the Cowlick Co. Crag in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Jason Martin

3) What if a large group is using a crag and refuses to give up a climb to my small group?

If you've got moves, then offer to have a dance-off for the climb. Seriously, joking with people will often loosen them up. In most cases, people that have had a good laugh will be more polite and more open to allowing people to climb.

If the large group is very rude and refuses to give up a climb, then politely find another place to go. It's not worth lecturing an ignorant climber about crag ettiquete. More often than not, a lecture will just reinforce negative behavior.

4) Is it okay to use the same anchor bolts as the person on an adjacent route?

Yes and no. Will this cause the person next door problems? If so, they were there first. If not, then be sure to ask them before clipping in next to their carabiners. If they say yes, then clip the bolts, but be sure not to do anything that changes their set-up in any way.

5) Where should I go to the bathroom when I'm cragging?

If there is an outhouse nearby, always use that first. Avoid urinating at the base of the wall and always avoid urinating in cracks on a wall as this causes the smell to linger.

If you have to defecate, know the rules of the area. Some areas require the use of WAG Bags, while other areas require you to dig a cat hole and pack out your toilet paper. Never go to the bathroom on the ground, stack the toilet paper on it and then put a rock on top.

6) When should I say something to a person who is doing something dangerous?

This is up to you. I usually don't say anything unless there is real and iminent danger. If there is mild danger, I will usually chat with the people for awhile in a non-threatening way before providing any unsolicieted beta.

7) Is it okay to toprope the first pitch of a multi-pitch climb?

More often than not, the answer is no. This is a more complex issue than the others and it does depend on the route and the route's history. People who are doing multi-pitch climbs always have the right of way over those who will TR a climb.

Some climbs are multi-pitch climbs, but nobody does anything but the first pitch. In this case, all the other ettiquete rules apply. Other climbs are commonly climbed as multi-pitch routes and are seldom done as single pitch routes. Such climbs should not be toproped.

8) It it okay to yell beta at people who didn't ask for it that I don't know?

No, many climbers like figure out the moves on their own.

Climbers who keep these concepts of etiquette in mind will almost universally have a much better time with a lot less conflict at the crags. And climbing isn't about conflict. It's about having fun...!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 19, 2018

Extending Your Rappel

We have talked about extending a rappel in this blog before. However, to date we've been too lazy to make a video on the subject.  This is not the case with Climbing magazine's gear editor Julie Ellison. Julie made a very nice video on the subject of rappel extensions.

Following is the video:

There are a handful of additions that I'd like to make to Julie's notes.

Girth-Hitching the Sling

It is important that the sling is girth-hitched through the tie-in points on the harness. It should not be girth-hitched around the belay loop. This is because a girth-hitch crushes the loop and slowly wears it out.

Some choose to keep a PAS or a daisy chain attached to their belay-loop on a more or less permanent basis. This is very dangerous as it freezes the belay-loop in place, keeping it from rotating. The natural rotation of the gear-loop allows wear to disperse around the loop. When something is permanently girth-hitched to it, all the wear is focused into two places, wearing out the loop faster.  To avoid this, we recommend girth-hitching through the tie-in point.


Julie shows the clipping of the device inside the loop between the harness and the rope. To create additional redundancy in the system (at least while rappelling) it is possible to clip the device into both loops. That way, when you clip the end of the system back to yourself, you have a level of redundancy.

Type of Sling Used (Dynema)

In the video Julie is using a Dynema sling. These slings don't do well in a factor two fall.

A factor two fall could take place when you clip into your anchor above your anchor, and then slip. In tests completed by DMM, Dynema slings did much more poorly than nylon slings.  To see a video concerning this, click here.

Our recommendation is generally to use nylon slings in this application. But if you have to use Dynema, then you should be cognizant of this danger.

Third Hand - Autoblock

Julie shows clipping this into your belay loop, which is the correct place to clip the autoblock. However, many people clip it to their leg-loop when they extend the rappel. There is no reason to do this. If your belay loop is clear, why wouldn't you clip the autoblock to it? It's the strongest part of your harness.

Third Hand - Letting Go

Julie does make one off the cuff comment about how your autoblock will save you if you let go.  Indeed, that is the intent of the third hand. However, if the autoblock is loose or sloppy, it may not engage appropriately. As such, I generally still wrap the rope around my leg or tie a catastrophe knot below the autoblock in order to have some peace of mind when I have to go hands free.

Speed and Efficiency

One thing that was not mentioned in the video is that the use of extended rappels in a multi-pitch setting allows more than one person to clip in at the same time. This can significantly expedite a descent and also allows you to check one another to ensure that everything has been set-up right.

I personally tend to extend my rappels at every opportunity. There are some places where it's not terribly useful or realistic (like in a sport setting), but in trad and multi-pitch settings, it is definitely the way to go...down...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/18/18


--The 2018 Mid-Term Elections are fast approaching. The Outdoor Industry Association has released a comprehensive voters guide to help people across the country make informed choices about who cares about the outdoor industry, public lands and climate change. To read more, click here.


--At about 1:30am on October 11, AAI's Technical Rope Rescue Comprehensive program was awakened by Bellingham Mountain Rescue volunteers. Guides and participants sprung into action to help a shoeless hiker and his dog that were stuck mid-face on a rotting moraine. An AAI guide performed a pick-off to rescue the victim, while other rescue personnel retrieved the dog. Another AAI guide made shoes for the victim out of his ripped up sweatshirt, a cut-up z-pad and ace bandages. To read more, click here.


--A climber was severely injured after sustaining a 65-foot fall in the San Juan National Forest. Information about what lead to the accident and the victim's current condition is scarce. To read more, click here.

--Here are the projected opening dates for all the Colorado Ski Resorts.

Notes from All Over:

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "nine climbers died in an accident at the base of Gurja Himal (7,193 meters), Nepal, on Friday, October 12, in what was the greatest loss of life in Himalayan climbing since the 2015 avalanche that killed 18 people on Everest. The dead, all from the same expedition, numbered five South Korean climbers and four Nepali climbers. The expedition had hoped to forge a new route to the top of the infrequently attempted Gurja Himal, and to name the route 'One Korea — Unification of North and South Korea.'" To read more, click here.

--The Casper Star Tribune asks and then answers, "what’s the best way to celebrate the landmark of your 91st birthday? For Dr. Bill Weber of Florida, the obvious answer was to break a record and become the oldest known person ever to have climbed to the summit of Devils Tower." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund has identified several of our favorite places to climb as being under serious threat. They just produced their 10 Climbing Areas in Crisis report. To see it, click here.

--In other Access Fund news, they have recently selected several places for bolt replacement and have donated $10,000 to the fund. To read more, click here.

--This is a super engaging story about a little known part of NPS law enforcement, essentially, the FBI of the National Park Service...

AAI Guides enjoying beer and rainbows at the Red Rock Rendezvous 
in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

--Craft beer is a ubiquitous part of outdoor culture. But what about beer made from climbing chalk...? Yeah. Somebody did it. And Climbing has the story, here.

--The first ever Olympic medals were given out to climbers recently. The Youth Olympics included climbing in its Buenos Aires events. To read more, click here.

--And finally, Outside argues that you should let your kids participate in extreme sports. "Experts say intense outdoor activities can help children increase focus and develop a better awareness of their surroundings." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rack on the Shoulder or Shoot from the Hip?

I admit it...

I wore a shoulder rack until approximately 2013. Please don't judge me. I started climbing in 1992. It's hard to change and evolve. But after 21-years of shoulder slinging, I finally switched and began to shoot from the hip...

Why would you subject yourself to a shoulder sling, you might be asking?

The author in Red Rock Canyon (circa 2005)
sporting a shoulder rack on a multi-pitch climb.

Easy, there are a number of advantages to racking on a shoulder sling.

Shoulder Sling Advantages

1) It's easy to shift a shoulder sling from one side of your body to the other when climbing off-widths or chimneys.

2) When you climb sport routes, nothing changes on your harness.

3) It's very easy to swap leads by handing the rack to your partner. Indeed, on some speedy ascents, we actually used to hold the sling out so the climber following the pitch would climb right up into the sling and then keep going...!

4) It's easy to see the gear that you have on your rack. Nothing is hidden on a gear loop at the back of your harness.

5) In steep snow, with a lot of clothing, it may be easier to find gear on a shoulder sling.

But there are also a lot of disadvantages.

Shoulder Sling Disadvantages

1) A large rack rubs your shoulder and neck raw. It can be very painful to carry doubles or triples.

2) On low angle terrain, the rack constantly gets in your way. It's hard to see your feet.

3) The edges of cams commonly get caught on edges while you're climbing, making it difficult to move efficiently.

4) Shoulder slings with fixed loops tend to change positions on your shoulder. Heavier gear constantly pulls the rack into inopportune positions.

5) If you fall and flip upside down, it's possible to lose the entire rack.

If you look at the advantages and disadvantages of a shoulder sling, it starts to feel like it's about even. There are five advantages and five disadvantages. But choosing whether to use a shoulder sling or to "shoot from the hip" isn't so much about the advantages and disadvantages of the shoulder sling, it's also about the advantages and disadvantages of racking on your harness.

A climber with a rack on his harness.

Advantages of Racking on the Harness

1) Nothing is rubbing on your neck or shoulder.

2) You can see your feet. Additionally, there's nothing in front of you, so it's easier to see mid-level holds.

3) The edges of your cams are less likely to get caught.

4) Ice screw clippers work extremely well on a harness, but don't work at all on a shoulder rack.

5) Everything feels cleaner and more streamlined when it's on your harness.

6) Most climbers use this system. This makes it easier to work with lots of different partners while having similar systems.

Disadvantages to Racking on the Harness

1) Depending on the harness, gear may be hanging in awkward places. This is especially true with harnesses that have offset gear loops. It can be problematic when cams are hanging over the front of your thigh.

2) It's harder to swap gear between leads.

3) It can be hard to see which cam is which at your waist. I personally rack my cams with carabiners of corresponding color to easily find what I need on my gear loop.

4) There may not be enough space on the gear loops to accommodate all the gear required for a lead.


How you rack is ultimately a personal choice. But I do lean toward racking on the harness. The main reason for this is because I did rack on my shoulder for over twenty years. I didn't want to change. But when I finally committed to updating my system, I found it to be much more streamlined.

That said, I don't put everything on my harness. I still put some slings over my shoulder. So you could say that my technique is a bit of a hybrid...

If you're new to climbing, I would strongly suggest that you try both systems. There is value to being able to accommodate different systems for different kinds of climbing. But ultimately, you're going to lean toward one system that you use most of the time. These days, it's highly likely that you'll lean toward "shooting from the hip." However, if you decide that the shoulder sling is better, there's nothing wrong with that. How you climb is completely up to you...that's one of the cool things about this sport!

--Jason D. Martin