Friday, May 25, 2018

Film Review: Beyond the Edge

The first ascent of Everest...

Everyone knows the story of the first real attempt on Mt. Everest. Indeed, a tremendous amount of ink and a tremendous amount of film footage has been generated about the (possibly?) failed ascent of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine.

And of course, everyone knows the story of the first ascent. Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary made the first ascent of Mt. Everest on May 29th, 1953. News of the ascent reached London on June 2nd, the morning of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

Everyone knows that story. Right?

The answer is, kind of...

A lot more modern literature has been written about the Mallory-Irvine ascent than about the Hillary-Norgay ascent. And though the Hillary-Norgay ascent is recounted in volumes of different pieces on modern ascents of the mountain, a lot of the detail is missing.

And that's where the documentary Beyond the Edge comes into play.


Beyond the Edge tells the story of the 1953 expedition to Everest and the struggles that took place. The following is the synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes.

In 1953, the ascent of Everest remained the last of Earth's great challenges. Standing at over 29,000ft, the world's highest mountain posed a fearsome challenge and had already claimed thirteen lives in previous expeditions. Faced with treacherous winds, sub-zero temperatures and battling altitude sickness, Edmund Hillary, a modest bee-keeper and keen mountaineer from Auckland, New Zealand, and the experienced Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, of Nepal, finally achieved the impossible and became the first men to stand atop Everest. It was an event that stunned the world and defined an era. Hillary and Tenzing carried the hopes and dreams of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the people of the Himalayas and the entire British Empire on their shoulders. As the world slowly recovered from the horrors of World War II their efforts allowed people everywhere to believe a new age was dawning.

The story is told in a similar fashion to Touching the Void and The Summit. In other words, the tale is told using a blend of dramatizations, original footage and photographs. This provides one with the experience of reliving the expedition and all the drama that took place during it.



I consider myself to be a well-read climber. I've read all the historic and modern classics of mountaineering literature, but this documentary really made me feel like I didn't know that much about one of the most important ascents in mountaineering history. I mean, I suppose that I knew about all the hardships on the expedition. I suppose that I knew that they were on a razor thin timeline by the time they got high on the mountain, and I suppose I knew that Hillary and Tenzing were the second team to attempt the summit on the expedition...

But I didn't really know...

And that's where this film really fills in the gaps. For example, climbing the Hillary Step in 1953 was no different than committing to landing on the moon. You might not come back. In fact, it almost seemed more likely that they wouldn't come back than they would... Making those moves in such an exposed and inhospital place wearing all kinds of oxygen equipment was incredibly daring.

Beyond the Edge takes us into the minds of the Everest mountaineers. We live each of their struggles and fears on the mountain. And finally, we rejoice in their ascent to the summit.  Indeed, the film is so well done that I would hazard to say that no Everest history buff is complete without a viewing of Beyond the Edge.

As of this writing, Beyond the Edge is available streaming on Netflix.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Route Profile: Cutthroat Peak, S. Buttress (5.8, III+)

Every winter the Washington Department of Transportation turns a cold shoulder to a stretch of State Route 20 that winds its way through the Northern Cascades.  This area sees so much snow and crosses so many avalanche paths that it is not feasible for them to maintain the road and keep it plowed.  This stretch can see sometimes more than 60 or 70 feet of snow in some places.  Every spring, we eagerly await the reports from the DOT as they start the clearing process.  Depending on the snowfall and the avalanche conditions, this can take a few weeks, or a few months.  This year, the highway was cleared and open by May 8, and climbers and skiers alike have already started enjoying the numerous routes there.

The Liberty Bell Group from the East.  Dana Hickenbottom.
SR 20 cuts through the heart of the North Cascades National Park, and is the access for hundreds of peaks.  One of my favorite areas along there is known as Washington Pass.  This Pass is home to some of the best alpine rock climbing in the state.  The most notable formation there is the Liberty Bell Group, which includes Liberty Bell, Concord Tower, Lexington Tower, North Early Winters Spire and South Early Winters Spire.  Each of these peaks have numerous routes on them ranging from 5.6 beginner routes to 5.12 Grade V monsters.

However, the Liberty Bell Group isn't the only fine chunk of granite in the area.  Another great is Cutthroat Peak, which is just to the north of Liberty Bell, on the other side of the highway.  At 8050', it tops out at about 300' higher then anything in the Liberty Bell Group.  When viewed from the east or west, you can see the distinctive North and South Summits, which form the shape of the salmon that it is named after.

Climbers approaching through the grassy meadows to
the southwest of the peak.  James Pierson

There are a hand-full of routes on the peak, mostly in the moderate range, although there are a couple in the 5.10 and over range, as well as some alpine ice routes.  From the highway, you park at a broad pull-off south and just west of the peak, approximately 1.5 miles west of Washington Pass.  Drop down into the drainage and start the brushy hike up the other side towards the meadows on the southwest of the peak.  Ascend the northern-most notch of the Southwest Arm to get to the base of the South Buttress to start the real climbing.  The South Buttress, shown middle-center in the photo below, is a great 5.8 route that follows the crest of the feature, with a few short sections that venture to the east before returning back to the ridge.  If you find yourself getting sucked too far to the left, be sure to steer yourself back to the crest again.

View of Cutthroat Peak from the summit of Liberty Bell.  James Pierson

The majority of the route is easier climbing with a few short but well protected 5.6 - 5.7 spots.  The crux of the climb (5.8) comes near the top, just before you start the final easy scramble.  This takes you up to the first of the two summits.

Rock Ptarmigan trying to blend in. James Pierson
Mountain goat coming to say hello.  James Pierson


Above is a 360 deg. panorama from the summit of Cutthroat Peak.  From this vantage point, you have spectacular views of the Liberty Bell Massif, Big Kangaroo Peak, Silver Star Peak, the Wine Spires, in to British Columbia to the north, and on a good day you can even catch glimpses of Mt. Baker.

Climber starting to rappel down the
West Ridge. James Pierson
For the descent, you have two options.  If there are no other climbers behind you, you can rappel the route.  The other option is to continue scrambling and drop into the notch between the North and South Summits, ascend the North Summit and then rappel down the West Ridge route.  There are fewer rappels this way, but there is also some loose scree scrambling as you come off the West Ridge.

Cutthroat Peak is often overlooked by climbers since its neighbors on the other side of the highway have such easy access.  But with a little extra effort on the approach, you will find a great climb for anyone looking for a long, moderate climb with beautiful surroundings.

--James Pierson, Program Coordinator and Guide

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Ice Bollard

Steep snow or ice can be descended two ways. A climber could downclimb the terrain or he could rappel. Rappelling is always a dangerous option as a lot can go wrong...but in the mountains, sometimes the speed of rappelling is safer than downclimbing.



A Climber Rappels Off of an Ice Bollard

In hard frozen snow or on ice, one option is to create a bollard. A bollard is essentially a tear-drop shaped pillar that is cut into a frozen surface with an ice axe adze. The rope is then wrapped around the bollard for the rappel. Once the rappel is completed, the climber can simply pull the rope.

Bollards are not the strongest anchors available, but they are quick and effective. If you choose to use a bollard, it is important to do two things. Back them up and reset the rope after each rappel.


An Ice Bollard loosely Backed-Up by an Ice Screw

To back-up a bollard, create the bollard and then preset the rope. Place a piece of snow protection (e.g. a picket buried as a deadman) and then loosely clip a sling to both the piece and to the rope. Once this is set-up, the heaviest person with the heaviest pack should rappel first. The theory is that if the heaviest person with the heaviest pack doesn't blow out the bollard, then a lighter person should be able to remove the back-up piece and safely rappel.

To reset the rope after each rappel, simply treat the rope like dental floss. Pull on each end of the rope once your down. Resetting the rope like this will ensure that it doesn't freeze into place and get stuck.


An Ice Bollard backed-up by an Ice Screw

Snow and ice bollards are a quick and effective style of anchoring that avoids leaving trash -- or expensive gear -- behind. Practice with this style of rappel anchor will lead to a solid and safe understanding as to how one should employ them effectively...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Dangers of Glissading

Yep, you can find them in just about every issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering. They have unwieldy headlines like:

"Climber injured in Glissade Accident"
"Out of Control Glissade Leads to Fatality"
"Inexperience, Lack of Proper Clothing and Glissade with Crampons On"

Gissading is an incredibly fun endeavor. I've often felt that after achieving a somewhat physical summit that a good glassade run back down makes it all worth it. It's as if nature gave you something back for all of the work that you did to get up there. The desire to glissade though should be tempered by the reality...and the reality is that a lot of people get hurt glissading.

Most injuries take place because an individual breaks one of the cardinal rules. To stay safe, the best thing to do is to take these rules seriously.

The Cardinal Rules of Glissading 
  1. Never glissade with crampons on. If you're wearing crampons it means that you're probably on hard snow or ice. This means that should you glissade, you will slide really fast. If you slide really fast and you catch a crampon spike, your leg will snap like a dry twig. As such one should never glissade with crampons on. 
  2. Never glissade on a rope team. If one person loses control on a rope team, then others may do so as well. 
  3. Never glissade on a glacier. It's likely that you'll be roped up if you're on a glacier so if you do glissade, you will be breaking two rules at once. We don't glissade on glaciers because of the possibility of hidden crevasses. 
  4. Always make sure that you can see where you're going. This should make sense. If you can't see, then you could end up sliding into a talus field or off a cliff. 
  5. Make sure that there is a good run-out. A good run-out is imperative. One should certainly avoid glissading above dangerous edges, boulders or trees. 

These rules are quite black and white. There are few gray areas in glissading. If there is some question, then the best thing to do is to err on the side of caution. Though you might be tired, sometimes walking down the mountain is the safer alternative.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Mountaineers Rest Step

When I first started mountaineering it became clear to me that there were two things I needed to be successful. And no, I'm not talking about a lighter ice axe or more breathable clothing.

Nope. What I need were legs and lungs.

I realized that I needed to be able to walk uphill forever. And I realized that I needed to be able to breathe while I walked uphill forever.

The problem is that nobody can really walk uphill forever. Going up into the sky on a snowy peak really works the quads. Tired quads, plus walking uphill early in the morning, plus altitude, equals tired lungs.

There is a simplistic trick that can help you to preserve both your legs and your lungs. The Mountaineer's Rest Step is a technique that slows you down a bit -- which helps you keep your breath -- and allows you a micro-rest on every step. In the simplest terms, all that you have to do is lock your knee on every step. Locking your knee allows your body to rest on your skeletal system instead of on your muscles.

The Rest Step definitely slows you down. Some might say that this is far from ideal when trying to cover a lot of ground, but the reality is that slow and steady wins the race. It's always better to go slower and take less breaks than to go fast and have to stop a lot.

The Rest Step is a key mountaineering technique. On long summit days it doesn't get any better than taking a mini-rest with every step.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 14, 2018

Two Nineteen Forty Four - The Fastest Time on the Nose

The following video chronicles Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds fastest time on the Nose in Yosemite. And the film is both awesome visually and inspiring. This is from the Vimeo page:

On a cold, misty morning in late October 2017, after 11 previous attempts, Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds broke the standing speed record on The Nose (formerly held by Alex Honnold and Hans Florine) with an unbelievable new time of 2 hours, 19 minutes, and 44 seconds. Watching this as it happened was one of the more incredible spectacles I've ever witnessed; an amazing display of superhuman mastery unlike anything I've seen before...

Make this film as big as you can on your screen. It's worth it...



--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 11, 2018

First Female Ascent of Necessary Evil (5.14c)

Necessary Evil (5.14c) is a mythic route in hard sport climbing. The route is located in the Virgin River Gorge in the extreme northwest corner of Arizona right off the Interstate 15 Highway. The route was first completed by Chris Sharma in 1997 and never saw a female ascent...until Michaela Kiersch began to work the route. This is her story...



--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Gate Direction on Quickdraws

The question about gate direction on quickdraws comes up pretty regularly on courses. There are two perspectives. The first is that it doesn't matter, place the carabiners on the dogbone however you like. And the second is that it matters and that not doing it right could be dangerous.

Kolin Powick -- the individual who runs Black Diamond's Quality Control Lab -- addressed this in the following video:



Kolin notes that there is a "better" way to put your carabiners on your dogbone. And that better way is to have the gates facing the same direction. He notes that there are two reasons for this:

1) The carabiner gates can easily be oriented away from you when you climb.

Ideally, the spine of the carabiner is oriented toward the direction you're climbing and the gates are oriented away. When you climb with the carabiners facing opposite directions it's harder to remember which way to clip in order to make sure that the spine is facing the climbing direction.

2) The gate can get caught up on the bolt hanger.

If you have set-up your draws with the gates facing opposite directions and you clip the draws appropriately, the gate and nose of the carabiner can ride up onto the bolt hanger. This makes it more likely that a fall will damage or break the carabiner.

As a side-note, the most common way that carabiners break in a climbing application is when they are "nose-clipped." In other words, the nose of the carabiner gets stuck on the bolt with the gate holding it in place. When climbers take falls on a carabiner clipped like this, the carabiner almost universally breaks.

The way you clip and how you have your clips set-up are important. It's easy to see sport climbing as a "safer" form of climbing...but that's not always the case. It's important to do things the right way in order to avoid catastrophe.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Unquenchable Thirst - Dry-Throat in the Mountains

In the mountains, the air can be incredibly dry.

We all know that cold air tends to be dry air. And we all know that there is cold air in the mountains. So the logical conclusion is that the air in the mountains is dry...

Of course, those of us who spend time in the Cascades hiding from rain storms might dispute this. But I digress. Mostly, cold air in the mountains is dry...even high in the Cascades...

Most mountaineers tend to breath through their mouths. It's hard climbing up steep terrain with a big pack. The combination of stressing your body, sweating and breathing through your mouth can lead to dry-throat, a feeling like there's sandpaper in your throat.

The feeling of dry-throat can be so intense that an attempt to swallow will lead to a gag reflex. And a gag reflex will lead to vomit. And vomit usually means it's time to turn around and go home.

Healthgrades defines dry-throat as:

...a rough, scratchy, sometimes itchy feeling in the throat. The most common cause of dry throat is drying out of the mucus membranes, often as a result of exercise, sleeping with your mouth open, breathing through your mouth, living in a dry environment, or simply not drinking enough fluids.

Dry throat is also caused by tobacco or marijuana use, voice strain, vomiting, excessive coughing, throat inflammation, allergies, and, in rare cases, cancers of the throat and esophagus.

The article goes on to suggest that one seek medical treatment for this. But -- unless this is a condition that you are experiencing when you're not in the mountains -- you should be able to remedy it yourself. If these remedies don't work, or you're experiencing dry-throat in environments other than in cold mountains, then you might want to seek out medical advice.

There are two ways to manage dry-throat in the mountains. First, you can hydrate.

You could carry an easily accessible water bottle, or even use a hydration bladder. Taking regular sips of water will keep your throat intact, while also helping with your hydration.

The downside is that when the air is dry, water often freezes easily. It is possible to keep a water bottle inside your jacket to keep it from freezing. But if your dry-throat is chronic, you may have to take it out to take a sip every few minutes. This isn't super realistic when you're trying to move quickly in the mountains.

It can be difficult to keep a hydration bladder from freezing. One has to constantly think about it and do several things in order to ensure that the water stays liquid:

  1. Use a tube insulator. 
  2. Keep the bite valve in your collar. The bite valve is often the first thing to freeze. It's also the easiest thing to unfreeze by putting it back in your collar.
  3. Blow water out of the tube and back into the bladder after every use.
  4. On extremely cold trips, consider using a hydration bladder backpack. Put this under your jacket and under your pack. It's uncomfortable, but the bladder won't freeze.

Obviously, these things take time and energy. If you are not an organized person and you can't remember to put the valve back in your collar or blow the water out of the tube, a hydration bladder won't work for you.

A hard candy can keep your throat from turning to sandpaper in dry air.

A second option is to suck on a hard candy or a throat lozenge. I find this to work extremely well in super dry environments. The candy ensures that saliva continues to drip down your throat throughout the day. This will keep your throat moist, but it certainly will not hydrate you.

The idea with a hard candy or throat lozenge is that you keep it in your cheek for a long time. You shouldn't actively suck on it, as that will cause it to melt faster. Ideally, a single candy should last for 30 to 45 minutes.

Having a candy in your cheek for hours on end for a series of days probably isn't the best thing in the world for your teeth...but it does work. If this is something that is problematic for you, consider one of the water options, or some kind of hybrid option.

Dry-throat can be a debilitating issue for a mountaineer. If this is a real problem for you -- as it has been for me in the past -- experiment with these ideas and find what works best for you...

--Jason D. Martin


Friday, May 4, 2018

Grip and Hold Technique for Rock Climbers

Mani the Monkey -- the youtube climbing coach -- notes that many people use inefficient or inappropriate grip techniques throughout their early climbing careers. As a result, he notes that it's incredibly important for beginning climbers to "incorporate the whole spectrum of climbing grips as early as possible in a climbing career." This will allow one to avoid injury and continue to grow in strength.



In review, Mani notes that there is always a "least aggressive way" to take a certain hold, and a "most aggressive way" to take a hold. Taking a hold via the most aggressive way may lead to injury. And the most aggressive type of movement is the full crimp.

The full crimp takes force away from your muscles and puts it into your tendons and joints. Deferring this force away from the muscles and into the joints and tendons can lead to injury. Indeed, Mani says that, "unless you're a competition climber, you should never crimp fully indoors."

The video also reviews several other types of holds and grip types. The take-away is that you should work on all styles in order to be more effective on the rock...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/3/18

Northwest:

--With 70-feet, Mt. Baker just had the third highest snowfall recorded this century. Read more, here.

--A multi-agency operation recently took place to find and convict thieves in Olympic National Park. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A couple were stranded in Red Rock Canyon overnight this week. It's not clear why. To read more, click here.

Alaska:

--The Alaska season is underway. A team just completed a hard first ascent in the Revelation Range. To read more, click here.


Denali

--The NPS is requiring people to carry a lot more of their waste off Denali now. Check it out.

Notes from All Over:

--The New York Times has a nice piece on that "other" Penn State scandal: "Nature is unscripted and hard to predict. Having recently discovered this reality, Penn State has decided that its 98-year-old, student-led Outing Club shall no longer be allowed to go on outings. Citing the high risk of remote environments and poor cellphone service, the university is recommending that the club restrict its offerings to films and speakers. Students are being funneled into engaging only in previously vetted human constructions. The students of the Outing Club are fighting back — and good for them. Driven to explore both nature and risk, they are well on their way to adulthood, which means knowing how to resist injunctions that are more protection against future lawsuits than they are in service of the students themselves." To read more, click here.

--Vista Outdoors was the centerpiece of a boycott this year when many companies, including MEC and REI dropped them because of the fact that they own a company that makes assault style weapons. They also own CamelBak and Giro. Vista has decided to sell off Savage Arms, the controversial part of the company. But they say it has nothing to do with the boycott... To read more, click here.

--Want to race from Portland, Oregon to Hudson Bay in Canada, with nothing more than paper maps and compasses? There's a reality show looking for people to do that. Check it out.

--There have been several high profile incidents over the last couple years in the Himalaya. In many of these cases families and friends of the missing people used the internet to crowdfund for rescue. Is that a sustainable model for rescue insurance? Probably not...

--Ryan Zinke. The dude doesn't know how to wear an NPS ranger hat...and people are not happy about it.

--Speaking of Ryan Zinke and the NPS. It looks like the Secretary of the Interior is shuffling people around in the Park Service. The idea is that if you make them move, they might quit. It appears that those who don't agree with Zinke on climate change and public lands policy are being shuffled the most. To read more, click here.

--Interested in outdoor writing? A writing competition might be a great way to start. Learn more, here.

--It looks like 3D printing is coming to your local rock gym. Imagine taking pictures of the route you're working and then replicating it indoors. Check it out.

--35.8 billion dollars has been added to the economy due to National Park visitation. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Crevasse Falls - Do Knots Work to Decrease Fall Potential?

In 2012, the French National Mountain Guide School (ENSA) began to research how knots in climbing ropes decrease the impact of a fall on a climber. Guides have been testing this for years in unscientific ways and have always come up with the same result. Mostly it works.

The difference between a guide does in a training and what ENSA did is that ENSA took a scientific approach to the question. They used a load cell to measure the force...and what they found wasn't terribly surprising. Knots do help...

Check out the following video for more:


In review, they found that bulky knots are better. They recommend that you use a figure-eight on a bight rethreaded through itself. Most American guides have been using butterfly knots, but this video may have a long term impact on that methodology.

They found that in icy conditions, knots don't help that much.

And they recommended the following distances for rope between knots:


It should be noted that they style in which you elect to haul someone out of a crevasse may be determined by whether or not you have knots in your system. If you intend to use prusiks and a single haul system, knots may hinder these things. It's important to make sure you have a plan for extraction (a drop loop works well) if you put knots in your rope.

--Jason D. Martin



Monday, April 30, 2018

Technical Rescue: Webbing Storage

Technical rescuers use a lot of webbing. And there are a lot of ways to stow that webbing. Tom Evans of SAR3 has put together a nice video on two techniques that are commonly used to stow webbing...



Coincidentally, the second style that Tom demonstrates is used by guides in a completely different application. Guides commonly use something similar to the Lobster Tail in short rappels. They wrap the rope around a tree or object and then macrame the line together. They then rappel on one end. Once down, they pull back and forth on the rope to get it to drop down as a loop. The hitch used -- which is quite similar -- is referred to as the equivocation hitch...

The short description above provides nowhere near enough information to merit the use of an equivocation hitch. That is certainly a technique that if done wrong, could result in injury or fatality. I bring it up here, merely as a note to those out there that already use the equivocation hitch to help them understand the Lobster Tail.

In addition to the Daisy Chain and the Lobster Tail, there is a third technique that you may use. It is also possible to simply roll the webbing up into a spool.


This technique is good if you have a nice way to store it. If you're just throwing it in a box, it's likely to come unrolled. But if you're putting it into a bag with little zipper pockets and storage areas, it will likely stay as is...

There are a lot of ways to stow webbing. The best thing for you to do on your rescue team is to experiment with each of the styles.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 27, 2018

Tips for Women on AAI Courses

On climbing trips and courses, it is not the grand gestures that dictate success, but a series of small, diligent habits. These form by consistently making choices to take care of yourself.

In the backcountry, some of these choices and habits can be different for women than for men due to key differences in physiology. Here’s a quick overview of some issues women can face in the mountains, and some simple tips and tricks to help you have a fun, safe and successful course.

Warmth

Women often feel colder than men in the mountains, especially in the hands and feet. There are several ways to deal with this difference.

The first is to regulate your overall body temperature by keeping your core warm. When your core is warm, your extremities will also be warmer. For women, making this happen can mean wearing a few more layers on your core than guys—perhaps carrying an extra lightweight puffy jacket or another thin, insulating layer like an R1. Move in lighter layers – you should be a bit chilly when you start out after a break – but keep a warm layer available in the top of your pack for when you stop.

For gloves, you’ll want to strike a balance between keeping your hands warm and making sure you have the dexterity required to hold an ice axe or clip carabiners. Make SURE you have a warm pair of gloves that you can comfortably handle carabiners with – a common cause of frostnip/bite is to take off gloves to mess with hardware.

Packs, boots and bags

Many women have smaller body sizes and do not have the same upper body strength as men. This does not mean they are unable to do certain things – they just need to figure out different ways to accomplish the same tasks without injury.

When carrying a heavy pack, make sure you understand proper lifting techniques. Grab the pack by the straps, lift it onto your knee, and then swing it onto your back. If you are using a new pack and you haven't carried a heavy load in it, put weight in it and go on a hike. Do all the adjustments you can to the waist belt, shoulder straps, etc. Adjust your straps so the majority of your load is on your hips and lower back and not your shoulders. Your hip belt should sit just on or above your hip bones. There are numerous packs on the market designed specifically for women, but ultimately choose the one that feels the most comfortable with your body type.

The climbing industry is catching onto the fact that women are climbing high, cold mountains, but many of the boot choices for these environments are still only offered in men’s sizes. Women’s heels can be skinnier than men’s, so if you’re a woman wearing men’s boots proper bootfitting is essential. If you can get to snow, go hiking/snowshoeing in your expedition boots, preferably with your pack. Then you will have time to get new footbeds or adjust your sock system before the trip. Small adjustments like this can make the difference between comfort and misery over the course of a trip.

Women’s sleeping bags are a good idea, as they tend to be shaped for women’s bodies and include more insulation in the footbed. The only downsides are that they are built specifically for women of short or average height (5’6’’ or smaller) so tall women need to either get a women’s long or a men’s bag. If you have to go with a men’s bag consider budgeting an extra 10 degrees (so if you need a bag that keeps you warm at 0, get a men’s -10 degree, etc.).

Pee Funnels

Pee funnels like the GoGirl or the Freshette provide a way for a woman to urinate while standing up. These are essentially funnels that you may press against yourself when you urinate.

There isn’t a tremendous amount of privacy on our mountaineering trips in the Cascades and elsewhere. On most days you will spend the majority of your time tied into a rope with your teammates. A pee funnel allows you a small modicum of privacy when you urinate.

Some female guides use these extensively whereas others prefer to simply have the team turn away while they squat to urinate. Ultimately the choice as to whether to use one of these devices is up to you.

If you choose to use a pee funnel it is recommended that you practice with it prior to the start of the expedition. In order to keep it from overflowing you will have to manage the rate at which you urinate.

The two most popular models are the Freshette and the GoGirl:



General Hygiene

Bring 1-2 pairs of synthetic or wool underpants and one pair of cotton underwear or boxers to sleep in. The cotton underwear can also help you feel cleaner if you have your period during the trip.

Bring a separate bottle to pee in at night (or in a storm) so you don’t have to get out of your tent. Collapsible Nalgene 1.5-2 L bottles work the best. Some women tell their tentmates 'I'm closing the bathroom door' or something similar so they know not to look. You can use the pee bottle with or without a pee funnel. Practice this at home in the shower so you know you’ll feel comfortable doing it in a tent later on.

Women are more prone to urinary tract and yeast infections if they don’t wipe regularly, so it’s a good idea to bring extra toilet paper or a bandana to wipe after peeing (even if you use a funnel). If you use a bandana (aka “pee rag”) you can tie it to your pack to dry out afterward as you continue to hike. Any used toilet paper should be placed in a Ziploc bag and packed out.

That Time Of The Month

And now for the big question for women on expeditions – how do I deal with that time of the month? Answer: it’s not that bad – read on for one Denali guide’s (quite specific) guide to dealing with it!  

For my period, I use a Diva Cup (the Keeper is another brand). I also use it in the rest of life when not on expeditions. I can carry one with me wherever I camp/hike/climb without worrying about running out of tampons, and if I don't have any tissues I can clean it with water from my water bottle or with snow. I don't use snow on the glacier because we use camps other parties use and I don't want to leave bloody snow for people to see. I take some toilet tissues and pour the blood from the cup into these. I clean the Diva Cup with more tissues. I wrap the bloody tissues in some more tissues and put it in the CMC (Clean Mountain Can, used on Denali) or other latrine. If I feel shy about putting this in a communal latrine I put the tissues in either a brown paper bag or an opaque plastic bag (this is better; it doesn't soak through) that I then carry with me. I clean myself with wet wipes, and sanitize my hands. Wet wipes freeze, but you can keep a travel packet inside your parka for bathroom time. If you want to use tampons, the method is very similar. Take the tampon out, wrap it up with tissue, put it in the opaque bag.  If the idea of using one bag for the whole trip is gross, you can bring a few bags set up this way.  

And obviously, if you choose to use tampons, it’s important to make sure that you have enough with you. You should pack out any used tampons in a Ziploc bag, and you can wrap the bag with duct tape ahead of time to conceal the contents for privacy. If you get menstrual cramps, bring whatever painkillers you usually use to help ease them.

Attitude

The single most important muscle that a climber of any gender will use is between the ears. A positive attitude, good self-care, and the willingness to face and work with the realities you are presented by your body and environment are the best predictors of success. You will have good days and bad days. You and your teammates will take turns being the stronger or weaker members of the expedition, but it is your bond as a group that will get you up and back.

We strive to provide all our climbers with the best information and recommendations for our programs around the world. If you have any questions regarding the information in this document or would like to speak with a female AAI guide, please feel free to contact the AAI office.

Happy climbing!

--Shelby Carpenter, AAI Instructor and Guide


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Universal Standard Belay - Toprope

Belaying is the baseline for everything that we do at the crags and in the mountains. The American Alpine Club, the Climbing Wall Association and the American Mountain Guides Association have been working hard over the last few years to try to develop a universal standard for belays in the United States.

Recently, the American Alpine Club produced a video that shows several belay variations. They demonstrate two versions of the PBUS (Pull. Brake. Under. Slide), one version of the two handed technique (a terrible and uncomfortable technique) and the shuffle technique (something that beginners should never do).

The universal part of the universal standard is that all belays should follow three baseline rules:
  1. The brake-hand should never leave the rope.
  2. Hands should only slide when the rope is in the braking position.
  3. Hands should be in a position of strength.
The video goes quickly through the belay commands. Unfortunately, the commands shown do use the word "take," which is a single syllable word and can be confused with slack, rock, or safe. At AAI, we prefer the term, "tension."

The video demonstrates a quick safety check, allows the two models to perform some of the worst line readings of "on belay" and "belay on" in history, and then launches into the belay technique for toprope climbers.

Check out the video below:



I am definitely not a fan of the shuffle technique. It is an acceptable technique, but I don't think it's appropriate for people learning to belay. If you are someone who has the opportunity to teach belaying, I would cut this from any training for beginners.

It's good to see that the AAC is putting these videos together. There are far too many people out there still using archaic belay techniques...and as a result, there are still too many accidents from inadequate belays.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 23, 2018

Rope Rescue: Radium Release Hitch

At the American Alpine Institute, we teach two kinds of rescue programs. The first are self-rescue programs. These are programs and lessons that will allow a technical climber to perform a rescue of himself or his partner with the tools he is carrying. The second kind are team rescue programs. These are program where a team of rescue volunteers or professionals work together with specialized gear to perform a rescue. We also call this "rope rescue."

In self-rescue the most common releasable hitch is the munter-mule. In rope rescue - a place where the loads are much greater - the most common load releasable hitch is the radium release.

Like most hitches, there are several ways to tie them. The radium release is no different. But the following video provides you with a basic understanding of how to tie this hitch.



At the end of the video, the demonstrator puts the hitch into a bag. It's interesting that certain populations in the rescue community feel the need to pre-tie everything. It is our belief that a rescuer should have the essential knots and hitches so dialed that they can put them together upside down, wet, or whatever...

--Jason D. Martin


Friday, April 20, 2018

Placing Protection: Wires

Passive protection is protection with no moving parts. The most common type of passive pro -- and the cheapest -- are wires (often referred to as nuts). These most popular wires are Wild Country Rocks and Black Diamond Stoppers.

Those new to traditional climbing often start their careers working with wires. On easier rock climbs where there are a lot of stances, it's reasonable to take your time and place these well.

In the following video Jullie Ellison from Climbing magazine discusses how to place wires.



In the video Julie uses the mnemonic Running Dogs Chase Squirrels. Following is a breakdown of that saying:

Running - Rock Quality - Is the rock good? What kind of rock is it? Will it break? Are you placing your protection in a crack in the rock or a crack in the earth? If it's a crack in the rock, is it acceptable?

Dogs - Direction of Pull - Is the direction of pull appropriate for the piece. If the climber falls is the piece oriented appropriately to catch it? If the piece is part of an anchor, is the piece oriented properly for that?

As a sidenote, it's not uncommon for a draw to pull a wire out of its placement. It's often better to use a sling or an alpine draw on this type of protection.

Chase - Constriction - Is there a good constriction for the piece? Have you put it in the perfect spot to ensure that when it's pulled on, it will be pulled into a tighter position?

Squirrels - Surface Contact - Does each side of the wire have good contact? Or is it only marginally in the crack?

Cleaning the Wire:

Julie also mentioned ways to clean a wire. She started with pulling upward on it, and then jumped to using a nut tool. There is a mid-level technique as well. If you place your fingers right below the head of the wire and push up on it, this will often allow you to clean it.

If you elect to use a nut tool, it's always a good idea to keep the draw clipped to the rope and then clip the nut tool to the piece. This way, when the piece pops out, you won't lose your piece or your nut tool.

There is a tendency amongst those who have the money to buy a full rack early in their climbing careers and to neglect nutcraft. I would argue strongly that, even if you have a thousand dollars to lay out on cams, you shouldn't do that. Instead, you should spend some real time learning to climb with wires. This will radically increase your long term skills as a traditional climber. Cams are great, but they should be the second stage of your learning...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 4/19/18

Data Collection - Sexual Harassment/Assault

--Several organizations are working together to collect data on sexual harassment and assault in the climbing community. Participation in a survey on this will help our outdoor organizations understand how big the problem is in order to better address it. To read more and to take the survey, click here.

Northwest:

A climber on the Powerline Wall at Mt. Erie.

--The Annual Dallas Kloke Work Party will take place on April 21st at 9am at Mt. Erie. Participants should meet at 9am at the base of Ray Auld Drive (the bottom of the Mt. Erie Road) at 8:45 to get assignments. Parties will work together to clean up Mt. Erie and do trail work. This is a great volunteer opportunity.

Sierra:

--A skier was killed at Alpine Meadows last week after he lost control. To read more, click here.

--The New Yorker has a nice piece on Jeremy Jones -- of Jones Snowboards -- and about the organization he started, Protect Our Winters. To read the piece, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The Access Fund Conservation Team helped build a trail to Scarface in Indian Creek recently. To read more, and see some photos, click here.

Colorado:

--The Aspen Times is reporting that there was chaos on closing day at Copper Mountain. A skier tried to jump over the crowd during the event...and missed. Several people were injured. To read more, click here. There's also video of the crash.

--The Aspen Times is reporting that, "Snowmass Village police arrested three men on (last) Sunday for skiing in an area that was closed because of avalanche danger just an hour and a half before a Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteer died in an avalanche in Maroon Bowl, police said Thursday." To read more, click here.

--The Outdoor Retailer Show Winter Market and Snow Sports Show dates are shifting around for 2019. To read more, click here.

--It looks like there are going to be some campground closures this year in the White River National Forest. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--KHQ Q6 is reporting that, "a 39-year-old Bozeman man has died after being caught in an avalanche while skiing in southwest Montana." To read more, click here.

--Thankfully the plan to raise national park fees to $70 per car is now unlikely to happen. However, park fees will go up in at least 117 parks this summer. To read more, click here.

--USA Today is reporting that, "one of the USA's tallest glaciers is melting at the fastest pace in 400 years, a new study reports. The study said melting on Mount Hunter in Alaska’s Denali National Park can be linked mainly to rising summer temperatures in the region." To read more, click here.

--A snowboarder triggered an avalanche last week which closed Teton Pass for several hours. To read more, click here.

--The Outdoor Industry Association has broken down how much money is spent on Outdoor Recreation per Congressional district. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

3:1 Haul with a GriGri

A lot of climbers get really wrapped up in using a GriGri on the ground, either for top-roping or for belaying a leader. But a GriGri can also be used effectively at the top of a crag, for belaying a second.

One very nice aspect to using a GriGri as your top-of-the-crag belay device, is that it can easily be converted to a hauling system. If your partner can't follow the pitch, you can help him through the difficulties, by quickly switching the GriGri from belay mode to hauling mode.

In this photo, a climber hauls a climber using a 3:1 system 
with a GriGri as a ratchet.

To swap your GriGri from belay mode to haul mode, you must simply:
  1. To start, belay directly off the anchor with your GriGri. Make sure that it is loaded properly so that the climber strand is going to the climber. It is also good to make sure that the handle to the GriGri is facing away from the rock.
  2. As you belay, make sure not to take your brake-hand off the brake-strand.
  3. When the person gets stuck, tie a catastrophe knot on the brake-strand. This could be an overhand or a figure-eight on a bight.
  4. Take a short loop of cord and tie a friction-hitch to the load strand. This can be a prussik-hitch, a kliemheist, or an autoblock hitch.
  5. Clip a carabiner to the loop and then clip the brake-strand to the carabiner.
  6. Take the catastrophe knot out.
  7. Yell down to the climber to climb, in order to help you.
  8. Then haul on the haul strand.
This is essentially a z-pulley system and so there is a mechanical advantage of 3:1. In other words, you're pulling a third of the person's weight, plus friction. This isn't really enough mechanical advantage to haul a person a significant distance, but it is more than enough to help a person pull a move or two.

Following is a video that I took of AAI Guide Andrew Yasso using this system:



We should note that a Trango Cinch will work exactly the same way, as will autoblocking devices like the Reverso and the Guide XP.

The GriGri is often overlooked as a tool by people who spend a lot of time on multi-pitch terrain or in the mountains, but it is an excellent device for single-pitch climbing. This application of it's use is only one of the many tricks that this device and others like it are able to perform.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 16, 2018

Climbing Tips: Mental Preparation

Jerry Moffatt is a world class climber. In this video, he talks about the mental preparation that he goes through in order to climb a route. To illustrate the process he uses a boulder problem as an example, but this type of thinking could easily be applied to a sport route or even a multi-pitch traditional line.



--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 13, 2018

Mountain Film: A Higher Crawling

Eric Becker has put together perhaps the most important climbing video of our time. It's about two major rivals and their work to outdo each other in the mountains. But there's a catch... They're babies...!


--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 4/12/18

Northwest:

--A climber hiking at Smith Rock fell off of an approach trail and was killed. There is limited information about this incident at this time. To read more, click here.

--Busses are going to start running from Seattle to Mt. Si. To read more, click here.

--Speaking of Mt. Si, it appears that there have been some vandals in the parking lot there. To read more, click here.

--The News Tribune is reporting that, "Washington state's three national parks are planning upgrades thanks to a $1 million donation from the estate of a woman who loved the outdoors, according to Washington's National Park Fund." To read more, click here.

--It is possible that the reintroduction of grizzlies to the North Cascades National Park could happen. This movement appeared to have died approximately a year ago, but the idea has been rekindled. To read more, click here.

--AAI Director of Operations talked about shrinking glaciers and how climate change is affecting climbing in this podcast...

Desert Southwest:

--Actor Jared Leto went on television to talk about a close call with a core shot in Red Rock Canyon. To see the clip, click here.

Colorado:

--There have been two avalanche fatalities over the last week in Colorado, one was a skier and the other was a snowmobiler. To read more, click here.

--A boulder struck two female climbers in the Florida River Canyon near Durango on Saturday. Both women are in stable condition. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Deluth News Tribune is reporting that, "A 20-year-old man died Sunday as a result of injuries suffered in a snowboarding accident at Spirit Mountain Recreation Area in Duluth." To read more, click here.

--REI is planning a major shift. Every brand they carry will have to meet sustainable standards -- environmental, health and worker -- by 2020. Read more, here.

--USA Today is reporting that, "a 7-year-old Texas girl made history last month when she became the youngest girl to ever climb Mount Kilimanjaro, according to a guide website that tracks Kilimanjaro records." To read more, click here.

--Climbing has gone mainstream and climbers are backed by studies that show how much economic clout they have. To read more, click here.

--A New York skier claims he was left on a ski lift overnight at Gore Mountain Ski Area. To read more, click here.

--SGB Media is reporting that, "REI, celebrating its 80th year, reported sales of $2.62 billion in 2017, a gain of 2.3 percent from $2.56 billion in 2016. The co-op also welcomed nearly 1 million new members and reinvested nearly 70 percent of profits into outdoor communities in 2017." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Route Profile: Armatron (5.9) II


Armatron is a super fun and unique route on the Brownstone wall at Red Rocks.  In an area that is known for immaculate sandstone and outrageous rock formations, Armatron is definitely one of the finest examples of the iron-hard stone the canyon is known for.

The amazing chocolatey goodness! The Brownstone wall from high on Jackrabbit
Buttress.  Armatron takes a line on the far right side of the formation (A. Stephen)
Armatron can either be approached by a 1 hr hike (long by Red Rocks standards) or you can climb one of the awesome routes on the lower apron of the Brownstone wall, known as Jackrabbit Buttress. Most people do Myster Z, a classic 5.6 that ascends the Jackrabbit buttress and drops you off right at the base of Armatron, but fellow AAI guides and Red Rocks locals Andrew Yasso and Doug Foust recently put up a route on Jackrabbit buttress called Saddle Up, which comes highly recommended!

However you decide to approach the Brownstone Wall, Armatron is easily recognizable as a 400 foot wall of black desert varnish with a "tortoise-shell" pattern.

The start of Armatron (A. Stephen)
The first 2 pitches climb through amazing juggy holds
on excellent rock (A. Stephen)
The first pitch is the crux of the four pitches, but is very well protected by several shiny new bolts and good small cam placements.  The climbing is steep, on great holds, and only gets better as you make your way through the second pitch and end up at a small belay stance below 250 feet of perfect, grid-like patina plates.

The patina on the upper headwall.
Slotting bomber stoppers behind the patina plates (A. Stephen)


Climb the patina plates using some amazingly thin and fun face climbing techniques for the grade all the way to the top of the buttress. Classic!

--Andy Stephen, Instructor and Guide



Monday, April 9, 2018

The Appalachian Trail in Five Minutes

Thru-Hiker Kevin Gallagher hiked the 2,175 mile Appalachian Trail in six months. Numerous people complete the entire trail every years. But Gallagher did something a little bit different on his trip.

Every day of his trip, Gallagher took twenty-four slides of iconic portions of the trail. He recently put these slides together into a film, which condenses the entire journey into a single five minute segment. He titled the film, "The Green Tunnel."

Following is the product of his adventure:



To learn more about Gallagher and his work, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Double-Fisherman's Knot

Arguably, the most difficult knot to teach is the double-fisherman's knot. It is normal for our guides to spend a significant amount of time with students on this particular knot. And even with a lot of time spent focusing on it, some still don't come away with a master's level knowledge of it.

If you have this knot completely wired, then congratulations. If you don't, then this blogpost is just for you...!

The Double-Fisherman's Knot

The double-fisherman's knot is a knot that may be used to join two ropes together. The ropes may be of similar or dissimilar diameters. It is a very secure knot. Indeed, it is so secure, that it is often recommended for cords that will be permanently tied together such as prussik loops.

The biggest problem with the double-fisherman's is that it is very difficult to untie once it has been loaded. As a result, it is not recommended for quick situations where you want to tie two ropes together, such as in rappels.

The Canadian Guide, Mike Barter has put together the following video on how to tie a double-fisherman's knot:

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--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Bowline

The Canadian Guide Mike Barter is a funny dude. In this video, he talks about a tying the bowline...while dressed as a cowboy.

Perhaps the best line of this video is when he says that a bowline is "strong enough to pull a snowboarder off his sister."

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There are a couple of things that I'd like to add to this excellent video.

In addition to what Mike demonstrated, we are now teaching the double-bowline in the curriculum for the AMGA Single Pitch Instructor course. This knot is quite a bit stronger than a single bowline and not as easily untied due to cyclic loading.

Mike repeatedly states that he doesn't want to see people tie-in with a bowline. You may be aware that there is a trend in the sport climbing community wherein people tie in with a double-bowline. There are two big problems with this. The first is that many climbers don't use this technique to tie-in and will not be able to check their partner adequately. And second, if there is a problem in the knot, it is far more likely to fail than a figure-eight follow-through.

There have been a few high-profile accidents with people using a double-bowline for their tie-in. These accidents could have been avoided if the individuals simply used the industry standard figure-eight and checked each other out...

The bowline is a very important knot. And as Mike said in the video, it could even be considered a king of the knots. But when all is said and done, it really should only be used for anchoring to boulders and trees.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 2, 2018

Route Profile: Mt. Baker - Coleman Headwall

The Coleman Headwall is arguably the most complex route regularly climbed on Mt. Baker. The line is not as steep as the North Ridge and it doesn't have the fame of that route, but it is a two tool alpine climb that -- depending on conditions -- may have up to 14 pitches of climbing.

And it is awesome!

(Click to Enlarge)
1) Right-hand line. The standard climber's route
2) Left-hand line. A more dangerous (exposed to icefall) line.

The Coleman Headwall is steep, but not that steep. A large portion of the route is 45-50-degrees, though there are a few steeper steps. Depending on crevasse and bergshrund problems, the route may have a few very short vertical steps and depending on how you go near the top, the terrain may kick back to 55-degrees or more.

(Click to Enlarge)
1) Early Season Less Exposed Line
2) Late Season Line with more Icefall Exposure

Many parties do elect to simul-climb much of the route. Some even elect to unrope and solo large portions of it. These decisions need to be made based on the conditions at a given time. The route changes a lot every year and what one experiences one year may not be the same as an experience the following year.

There are two commonly climbed lines on the mountain. Both lines are shown in the picture above. The better line is the right-hand line. This is primarily because there is significantly less objective hazard. The left-hand line may also be climbed, but the first half of the route is threatened by icefall.

The right-hand safer option has a number of crevasses and bergshrunds on the route. Due to melt-out this line is generally out-of-condition by mid-summer. It is not recommended beyond July 1st.

Climbing through one of the bergshrunds on the Coleman Headwall

The route starts at approximately 8,500-feet left of the Roman Nose and slices up into the sky, starting to kick back again to a lower angle at 10,200-feet. The summit of Mt. Baker is at 10, 781-feet.

It is important to get on the route early. As the sun comes up, the upper mountain begins to shed. Small pieces of ice begin to rain down on climbers. And though the headwall isn't terribly steep, it is steep enough that a wrong move could be fatal. A marble sized piece of falling ice could have the potential to knock someone off the mountain.

The American Alpine Institute guides the Coleman Headwall regularly. Indeed, it was one of the first routes regularly guided by the company. Today, there are two options for climbing the route with AAI. First, you might climb it on an Alpine Ice Course. And second, you might choose to climb it on a private program.

Climbing steep snow high on the Coleman Headwall

Skiing the Coleman Headwall

The Coleman Headwall has become a popular extreme ski objective. Extreme, however, means extreme. If you fall on this route, you will likely die.

I've been on Mountain Rescue since 2011, and in that time I've responded to two incidents on the Coleman Headwall that included skiers. In the first instance it was a fatality and in the second instance it was a serious injury. And in both instances, the skiers didn't climb the route first. This is a very complex alpine line and if you do think you have what it takes to ski it, it's imperative that you climb it prior to committing to such a descent.

(Click to Enlarge)
A foreshortened view of a line I climbed in 2017.

Climbing Gear Suggestions for a Spring Ascent:
  • 2 tools per person - be sure that they can be pounded into the snow to be used as anchors. Radically curved shafts for steep waterfall ice and drytooling won't work on this alpine route.
  • 2-3 pickets
  • 3-4 ice screws
  • several slings and carabiners
If you elect to make the climb later in the season, then you should consider more ice screws.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 30, 2018

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