Friday, July 13, 2018

Anchors "In Series"

Many climbers find the transition from top-roped climbing into leading to be daunting. This is especially daunting when the move is tinged with the possibility that you will have to build your own traditional anchor. It's scary because at first it's quite difficult to trust an anchor that you've built. It's scary because maybe there aren't that many pieces in the anchor or maybe the rock is bad.

One way to eliminate some of the fear and to build a more secure anchor is to build anchors "In Series."

In the past we've discussed SRENE and ERNEST anchors. The standard is that these anchors are built off of three or four pieces with a cordellete as in the following picture.

A Standard Pre-Equalized SRENE Anchor
The angles on this particular anchor are a bit wide between each of the outside pieces.

In an ideal three piece anchor all of the pieces are completely solid. In an ideal anchor each of the pieces can hold a tremendous amount of weight by themselves. In an ideal anchor, the powerpoint can easily hold ten times the weight of the two climbers on the route.

But what if it can't?

When the pieces aren't solid, you have to add more. To keep it simple, the best way to add more pieces is to add them in series. This is a method wherein one SRENE anchor is stacked on top of another SRENE Anchor. This system allows a climber to do a couple of things. First it allows one to add more pieces to the anchor. Second, it allows those pieces to be added in a simplistic way that makes sense with a cordellette or an extra sling. And third, it spreads out the weight at the powerpoint into more equalized pieces.

An Anchor In Series with a Magic X on the Left-Hand Leg

While the preceding picture may seem to tell the whole story, there is one thing to consider when building an anchor in series. One element that is terribly important to be aware of is that if a magic x (self-equalizing twist) is used in the system, it may not be as effective as a pre-equalized knot in the system.

In the picture above, the left hand leg of the cordellette terminates in a sling clipped to two pieces and equalized with a magic x. The problem with a magic x in this kind of system is that if one of those left hand pieces blows out, the sling will become limp and the weight will not automatically transfer to the other piece in the magic x. If this happens, then all of the weight will be placed on the two pieces on the right.

It's better to build two pre-equalized anchors on top of each other when working in series. However, occasionally this isn't possible and you're forced to work with a magic x. When that happens, make sure that the pieces that are not a part of the x are extremely strong.

An Anchor In Series with a Pre-Equalized Knot on the Right-Hand Leg
This anchor is essentially a three piece anchor that was linked together in series
because the climber only had two double-shoulder length runners to build an anchor.

It is quite possible to build a vast anchor with codellettes and slings in series. And sometimes -- when the rock is very bad -- that is exactly what you have to do.

There are many other ways to add additional pieces to an anchor and to keep it SRENE, but for many who are just dipping their toes into the world of leading, anchors in series make a lot of sense. Most guides recommend that beginning level leaders work with anchors in series for a significant period of time before experimenting with other systems. This will help lay a solid intellectual framework of what an anchor is supposed to look like and what it is supposed to do.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 7/12/18


--An injured climber was rescued off Oregon's Broken Top Mountain this week. It appears that a rock dislodged and the female climber fell approximately 25-feet on moderate angle terrain. The rock rolled over her. To read more, click here.

--A climber with a broken arm was rescued off Mt. Baker this week. To read more, click here.

--Objective hazards on the Disappointment Clever of Mt. Rainier seem to be growing. On Monday, there was a major icefall event on the route. To read more, click here.

--The people responsible for several trailhead break-ins in Mazama and near Washington Pass have been captured. To read more, click here.


--The Whitney Portal was evacuated this week due to a nearby wildfire. To read more, click here.

--Specifically, the Gorges Fire is threatening Whitney Portal. The most recent report shows it to be 30% contained. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Watch out for target shooters in the desert...

A climber on Johnny Vegas (5.7, II) in Red Rock Canyon.

--The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area has recently announced that it will accept online or phone reservations for single campsites. This will make it easier for people to plan trips to Red Rocks and know beforehand that they will have a campground. To read more, click here.


--The Denver Post is reporting that, "A 31-year-old Denver man fell to his death Saturday while climbing a boulder near Navajo Peak in the Brainard Lake Recreational Area, authorities say." To read more, click here.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "Two mountain goats were poached on Quandary Peak last week, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is offering a $1,000 reward for any information about who shot and killed the animals. The two young, male goats were found shot to death Tuesday afternoon about 2.8 miles up the Quandary Peak Trail, according to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release." To read more, click here.

--Fox 31 is reporting that, "A climber who went off-course while seeking a shortcut had to be rescued from Capitol Peak on Tuesday, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office said." To read more, click here.

--Teton Gravity Research notes that, "on June 21st, a jury reached the verdict that Vail Resorts was not responsible for the death of 13-year-old Taft Conlin in an in-bounds avalanche. The decision was based on courtroom testimonies from skiers and patrollers regarding closure of the Upper and Lower Prima Cornices. But yesterday, a former Vail ski patroller, Michael Beckley, stated that the entire cornice should have been closed, in an open letter published by Vail Daily. Beckley worked at the resort for years as a ski instructor, a snowcat driver, and finally as a ski patroller. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Twin Cities Pioneer Press is reporting that, "The St. Croix River cliffs at Taylors Falls, Minn., nearly claimed a life Monday when a 23-year-old man fell while rock climbing, according to the Chisago County sheriff’s office. Nicholas Walberg was listed in critical condition Tuesday night, according to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, after witnesses told authorities he slipped while attempting to climb the rocky gorge in Interstate State Park on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix." To read more, click here.

--A stuck climber was rescued near Provo, Utah this week. To read more, click here.

--The Washington Post is reporting on the continued problems for recreation on public lands under the current administration. "The National Park Service does not have one. Neither does the Bureau of Land Management. Same goes for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. None of those three land management agencies, which together oversee more than 480 million acres of surface area nationwide, according to figures on their websites, have received a permanent director during the nearly 18 months since Donald Trump became president. Instead, those agencies are being run by temporary “acting” officials — people not formally nominated by President Trump and who do not require confirmation by the Senate." To read more, click here.

--Outdoor clothing companies don't do a good job representing people of all shapes and sizes. To read more, click here.

The Piolet d'Or

--The Lifetime Achievement Award for the prestigious Piolet d'Or award has never been presented to a woman. Gripped has a great article on five women who definitely deserve the award. To read more, click here.

--Holy sites are often sought out be recreationalists who don't understand the cultural meaning of an area. This can have a negative impact on local communities and on the recreationalist. To read more, click here.

--Apparently people are paying a premium to go glamping inside New York City. To read more, click here.

--And finally, Outside has a piece on a guy who got attacked by a bear, bit by a rattlesnake and bit by a shark, all within a three-year period. To read the piece, click here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

How to Safely Cross a River

Every year I attend several risk management conferences and events for outfitters and guides of all stripes, and every year it's the same. The greatest risk to the backcountry traveler tends to be water. The most common outfitter and guide concern is the possibility of a drowning while an individual swims recreationally. But another common and big concern is the ability to effectively cross a river.

I can't tell you how many thousands of rocks I've hopped while crossing small creeks. And I also can't tell you how many times I've helped people as they crossed these features in an unstable way. Obviously, the best way to manage small creeks is by using trekking poles and picking rocks to step on that don't appear to be too slippery. It's also a good idea to avoid crossings above hazards, such as waterfalls.

But what about bigger water obstacles?

The staff at Backpacker magazine have put together a nice video on this subject. Check it out below.

In review, here are some considerations:

Try to Avoid Deep Crossings - Try to avoid crossing anything that is deeper than your knees. You can check the depth by throwing a rock in the river where you intend to cross. If the rock makes a "ker-plunk" sound, the river is deep and may be too difficult to cross.

Look for Hazards Downstream - Don't cross above waterfalls, rapids or any other feature that could hurt you if you fall.

Look for Wider Areas to Cross and Avoid Bends  - Wider areas tend to be shallower. And the current tends to be faster around bends.

Look at Waves - Standing waves can indicate boulders and fast water. Washboard light waves indicate a more uniform bottom.

Extra Shoes - If you have extra shoes, it's best to wear them for crossings. It is not ideal to have wet boots and socks while hiking as that can lead to blisters.

Unbuckle Packs  - An unbuckled pack tends to be better because you can get out of it quickly if you fall.

Crossing Strategies - Use trekking poles or sturdy sticks to enhance stability. Face upstream and cross at a slight downstream angle. Sidestepping or shuffling across can also help with stability.

Link Arms  - If the water is deeper, or if someone doesn't feel as stable, partners might link arms to enhance stability.

Tripod Technique - This is a river crossing technique that requires three people. Each person puts their hands on the next person's shoulder in a circle. The tallest person is upstream. The team then shuffles across.

River crossings are dangerous. Take your time and find the right spot to cross...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 9, 2018

Breaking News: Whitney Portal Evacuated due to Fire!

AAI just received this email from Sequoia and King's Canyon National Park:

Due to increased activity on the southern flank of the Gorges Fire, the Whitney Portal area has been evacuated. This evacuation was done in coordination with the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office. This includes campgrounds, residents, and the Whitney Portal Store. The Hogback and Whitney Portal Roads are closed.

Hikers who exit at Whitney Portal that do not have a vehicle may call a shuttle service  to arrange to be picked up. Shuttle services will only be assisting exiting hikers as conditions permit. Additional road closures include the Foothill Road and Moffat Ranch Road as well as any other roads that enter the fire area. Please avoid the fire area for your safety and for our firefighters’ safety.

Picket Placements

There are three options for placing a picket. The first is in a t-trench, the second is a vertical placement, and the third is the mid-clip picket.

The strength of a snow picket, no matter how the picket is placed, is directly correlated to to the quality of the snow. The strongest is always going to be a picket placed in a t-trench with snow backfilling it. That snow backfilling should be packed down and work-hardened. The second strongest is going to be a t-trench without backfill. The third will be a mid-clip picket. And finally, the weakest -- but fastest picket placement -- is the vertical picket.

In the following video, AMGA instructor team member Emile Drinkwater, demonstrates how to place pickets in three different orientations.

It should be noted that with the vertical picket demonstration, if one can easily place the picket, without stomping on it or pounding it in, the picket is likely not very good. It should require some effort to place a vertical picket.

Picket placement is a craft. And as with any other craft, it takes practice to do it well. Put in some time and effort with these devices before using them for real...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, July 6, 2018

Film Review: Mountain

Mountain is an awesome film...! It opens with a tremendous quote. "Those who dance are considered those who cannot hear the music..."

That sums up our lives as climbers. But people still ask, "why do you climb?" Mountain does its part in answering that question. The movie explores mountains and mountain sports all over the world. The film features spectacular scenery and heart-stopping exposure. With little more than images, music and some narration by Willam Defoe, we see people climbing, mountaineering, skiing, base jumping and mountain biking in some of the most wild terrain imaginable. And it is beautiful. It explains why we climb without ever explaining why we climb...

There is no doubt that this is a film built from other films. There is footage from several years of Banff Film Festival World Tours and Reel Rock Film tours. But it is some of the most fantastic footage out there. We get to revisit some of the best scenes from films like Cold, Sketchy Andy, Ice Revolution, Alone on the Wall, The Swiss Machine, Honnold 3.0, Meru, A Line Across the Sky, and many many others.

One might argue that there is too much recycled footage in this film. And perhaps there is, for someone who sees a lot of mountain documentaries. But this footage has been completely repackaged. The film -- unlike those others -- was not made for a mountain audience. Instead, it was made for general consumption and was designed to be a visual feast.

Mountain doesn't do anything like other mountain films. It does not provide non-stop narration and interviews with climbers and skiers. Instead, it just provides us with non-stop beauty and action. It tries to be something different, and by that measure it succeeds.

Another piece of criticism of the film is that it doesn't have a story.

And to be honest, it doesn't.

But that's okay. The film was designed to be not only inspirational, but to be a compendium to a classical music concert performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. And it works... We are transported to the highest places on the planet while we float on every note.

The combination of films that provided the source material for this documentary have one thing in common: a climber named, Renan Ozturk. Renan is not a Hollywood guy by any means. He is a climber who, over the years, has built a reputation as a master cinematographer. Indeed, Renan gets the cinematography credit for the film.

We have all seen Renan's work -- in many cases, without realizing it -- and it's clear that he has an exceptional eye. Renan understands the power of mountain imagery. And he understands how to capture it and bring it to the masses in a way that allows us to feel like we are there with him.

And though Renan provided much of the footage, he wasn't the master mind behind the project. Instead it was the Australian Chamber Orchestra that commissioned Jennifer Preedom, who previously directed the acclaimed film Sherpa, to develop the documentary. As such, this was a very different type of process. Preedhom wasn't the only "director." The film was certainly overseen by her, but it was also put together by a combination of musicians and editors in order to create the right feel...

Mountain is a beautiful film and well-worth one's time, especially if you can see it on the biggest screen possible.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Red Rock Canyon Campground Single Sites to move to National Reservation System

From the BLM in Las Vegas:

LAS VEGAS – Visitors may reserve single campground sites at Red Rock Canyon Campground online or by phone for visits starting in 2019.

Beginning October 15, 2018, Red Rock Canyon Campsite reservations for camping dates from January 1, 2019, and beyond can be made at, or by calling the national reservation hotline 1-877-444-6777. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance but not less than 48 hours of the desired arrival date. Camping rates have not changed and are $20 per night for the standard and RV sites, $10 for the walk-to sites, and $60 for the group sites.

Currently, only the seven large group campsites at Red Rock Canyon Campground are on the online reservation system; however, 66 of the 80 single campsites will be available on the system for camping starting January 1, 2019. The remaining 14 campsites will be offered on a first-come first-served basis. is managed by National Recreation Reservation Service. The NRRS is a partnership between Federal Land Management Agencies to provide quality reservation services for facilities and activities on public lands. Additional information about recreation opportunities at BLM’s Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area can be found at:

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Cleaning an Anchor and Setting Up a Rappel

We have a few different videos on this blog that deal with cleaning an anchor and rigging a rappel. But this video, from Red Rock Rendezvous and featuring AAI Guide Doug Foust, is incredibly good. It is a very comprehensive look at this transition. Check it out:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Master Carabiner

The American Mountain Guides Association and Outdoor Research have teamed up to create several high quality climbing videos. In this video, AMGA Instructor Team Members Olivia Race and Dale Remsberg discuss the pros and cons of a master carabiner.

The concept is pretty simple. If two bolts are close enough together, you can use a large locking carabiner for a master point. Following are a few things to remember from the video:

1) Use when equalization has been created by the bolted anchor itself.
2) Quick to build and clean.
3) Avoid heavy off-axial loading directions.
4) Large pear-shaped auto-locking carabiners are ideal.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 29, 2018

Climbing Ethics: Spray

Spray is a derogatory term for a monologue wherein an individual describes his or her climbing in an arrogant, narcissistic and self-promoting manner. Those who engage in spray are usually trying to elevate themselves and their egos above whomever they are talking to. In other words, spray isn't just bragging, it's a form of put-down. The subtext to spray is that, "I'm so good, you could never dream to be as good as me..."

In a discussion of spray on, a poster named Tradguy provided a great definition and example of spray:

I guess I've always thought of spray as being given without having been asked for. Like if someone asked you what you climbed today, it would be expected that you name routes and grades and such. However, if you just walk up to someone and start talking smack, or throw out unneeded comparisons or references to other climbs or people, then it becomes spray. For example, I'm in Joshua Tree with a couple friends, one of whom is just starting to lead up a 5.8. Some random guy wanders up and starts chatting. Allow me to paraphrase: 

GUY: "So you guys are going to climb this route, huh?"
US: "Yep. Looks pretty cool."
GUY: "Yeah, it reminds me of this sick 5.14 crack climb I FA'd up in the valley."
US: "Ok. Cool."
GUY: "Yeah, the FA on this route here is by John Long."
US: "Yep, we read that... in the guidebook."
GUY: "Yeah, I was out climbing some stuff at a new area with him last summer. We put up some sick hard lines." 

etc, etc, etc. 

This guy continued to spray like a firehose until we finished our climb and left. Kind of pathetic, really.

I had a similar encounter a few years ago. We were climbing at The Gallery in Red Rock Canyon when a guy approached a group adjacent to us. The guy was simply looking for a little bit of information, but the sport climber he approached was far more interested in derogatory spray. The guy asked a simple question, "hey man, is this a good route?"

The sport climber looked at him like a he was a piece of dirt and then spoke with an indistinguishable accent, "for you, zis is a good climb." He smiled, "but for me, maybe I do zis climb when I am sick or I am tired. But for you, zis is a good climb."

In three short sentences, this expert sprayer had not only proclaimed his skill, but completely and maliciously put down the person who asked him a question. Years later, I still jokingly imitate the man's spray...which is easy to do when it was so pronounced and vicious.

Indeed, both examples here are pronounced examples of spray. It isn't the pronounced spray that people have to be careful of. Instead, it's the subtle spray. It's the mild bragging that we all do when we finish a climb that we think is cool. A little mild bragging -- or storytelling -- can be fun and engaging for everybody involved. One just has to watch the line and be careful not to step over it into spray. The line should be's the point where you are no longer telling stories and sharing adventures, it's the point where it becomes a monologue where nobody else gets to share and you start to talk about how good you are and how many celebratory climbers you climb with...

Needless to say, spraying is poor etiquette.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/28/18


--A climber was killed while descending Mt. Stuart on Sunday. It appears that the individual slipped while descending the Cascadian Couloir. To read more, click here.

--An injured climber was airlifted off Mt. Borah in Idaho this week. To read more, click here.

--Two stranded climbers were rescued off Forbidden Peak last week. It's not clear why they were rescued or what lead to the operation. To read more, click here.

--Q13 Fox is reporting that, "The National Park Service said Tuesday it plans this summer to begin relocating hundreds of mountain goats from Olympic National Park to the North Cascades while killing others. The agency said it finalized a plan to remove about 625 mountain goats that have long posed an ecological problem in the park. The fatal goring of a hiker by a goat in 2010 raised new concerns about public safety." To read more, click here.


--Several speed records have gone down in Yosemite Valley in the last two months. Alpinist is reporting that, "Brandon Adams and Roger Putnam climbed the Shield in 8 hours, 55 minutes; Josie McKee and Diana Wendt established a female record on the Salathe, climbing the route in 16:24 on June 1; David Allfrey set the solo record of 10:52:50 on Zodiac on June 2; and and Alexa Flower, Jane Jackson and Gena Wood completed the fastest all-female ascent of Zodiac in 16:20 on June 15." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

Mt. Wilson in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

--A fire burned approximately 91 acres of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area last week in the Pine Creek area. To read more, click here.


--Out There Colorado is reporting that, "A jury ruled in favor of a Colorado ski resort company, saying it was not at fault in the death of a 13-year-old boy." To read more, click here.

--The 2019 World Cup Ice Climbing Competition will be in Denver. To read more, click here.


--AAI's final Denali program, Trip 7, has moved to high camp. They hope to make a summit bid in the coming days. To read more, click here.

--The Anchorage Daily News is reporting that, "A climber who fell more than 100 feet in a remote mountain range in Lake Clark National Park was flown to an Anchorage hospital in critical condition early Sunday after a risky, dramatic rescue by an Alaska Air National Guard crew." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that, National park rangers in western Wyoming have recovered the body of a climber who fell to his death. Grand Teton National Park officials say they believe 27-year-old Burak Akil of Wayne, New Jersey, was climbing alone Sunday on Teewinot Mountain." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Glacier Travel Ettiquete

Climbing etiquette is a weird and wiley thing. What is acceptable in one area may not be considered acceptable in another. What is common practice in one spot, may be looked upon with horror in another. In the larger climbing world, there are millions of etiquette questions, but on a glacier there only tends to be a few.

1) What is the etiquette for passing a rope team on a glaciated climb?

It is acceptable to pass a rope team on a glacier. However, this must be done without hindering the other team's progress that you're passing. If a team has a pace and continues to hold that pace, then they have a right to the boot-pack trail no matter how fast they're moving.

A team works its way up Mount Shuksan
Photo by Alasdair Turner

In order to pass the slower team, the faster team must step out of the boot-pack and pass the other team without slowing them in any way. This may take considerable energy if the snow outside the boot-pack is soft or deep. The passing team should not complain about having to pass as they didn't get up as early as the slower team.

If your rope team is walking in a boot-pack and needs to take a break, the polite thing to do is to step out of the trail. You should not take a break in a place that blocks others. If your team is slow and is taking a lot of standing mini-breaks (i.e. stopping for a few seconds or even a minute or so), then you should step out of the boot-pack and allow faster teams to pass in the trail without protest.

2) Who has the right to the steps that have been kicked in the slope?

There is a nice line of steps kicked into the slope going all the way up the mountain. Clearly, it is easier to use the steps that another team has put in than to create your own. As you're climbing up the mountain, you see another team descending in the steps. Their plunge-steps are completely destroying the steps as they descend. And while this may make things more difficult for your team, you didn't create the steps and as such, don't have any ownership over them.

A team camps on the Easton Glacier on Mount Baker
Photo by Alasdair Turner

If you create a series of steps up the mountain, you do have the right to use them on your descent. However, it is far more polite to leave these steps for others. I will almost universally try to leave my steps for other climbers, unless the snow is incredibly soft and difficult to move through. Occasionally, the snow is so deep that new downhill steps could cause a climber to hyper-extend his or her knee. When conditions are this severe, I use my uphill steps for downhill travel.

3) What should I do with my human waste? Should I leave it on the summit for all to see with a nice pile of toilet paper? Or should I do something else with it?

You should do something else with it.

On expeditions or on big mountains, sometimes you can put your waste in a crevasse, but you should pack out your toilet paper. On smaller glaciated peaks, you should use a Wag Bag or the equivalent and pack everything out. On mountains like Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier, all waste should always go out with you. If you are incapable of doing this, then you shouldn't be in the mountains.

If you have other etiquette questions, feel free to post them. This is such a large topic that a single Blog cannot do it justice.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Indespensibles

We all have them. They are the luxury items that you absolutely must have on every trip.

They are the indispensables.

In climbing, we always worry about weight. Every single item that we carry costs us energy, so every single item that we carry should be valuable to us.

I have a few items that are absolutely and utterly indispensable for longer trips. These aren't always the lightest items, but for me, they are completely indispensable. I always take the proceeding items:
  1. a book
  2. a jetboil/reactor and lots of tea
  3. a pee bottle
  4. down booties or flip flops
  5. good chocolate
I am terrified of tent time. I am terrified of knowing how many stitches are in my tent because I don't have anything but counting them to occupy my time. And as you know, sometimes the weather causes us to be trapped in a tent for anything from a few hours to a few days. As a result there are two items that I will always have with me. First, a book and second, a jetboil or reactor with lots of tea.

Books can be heavy, but they are literally worth their weight in gold when there is a storm. If you are in the middle of a novel, don't be afraid to cut a book in half in order to avoid carrying some of the weight.  I often slice books in half and then put duct tape on the remaining spine to ensure that it doesn't fall apart.

I bring a jetboil or a reactor with lots of tea because these stoves can easily be used in a tent's vestibule. When I'm sitting in my tent for hours on end, drinking tea not only keeps me warm, but helps to keep me hydrated and occupied. And it tastes good too...

At the ripe old age of 44, I've become lazy. I do not want to get out of my tent at the middle of the night to use the bathroom...indeed, I don't want to get out of my sleeping bag. As such, I carry a pee bottle on  most of my mountaineering trips. Men have it a little bit easier with pee bottles than women do. If men get really good at using them, they don't have to get out of their sleeping bags. Women usually require a pee funnel (something that most female guides consider an indispensable). The reality is, that I find a pee bottle so indispensable to my happiness on trips, that I would use one at home if my wife would let me. She doesn't...and has threatened divorce if I even think of trying to use a pee bottle in bed.

Early in the season I like to bring down booties. These provide a great way to get out of your boots when it's snowy. Later in the season, when I can camp on dry dirt, I like to bring a pair of flip flops for the same reason. These items provide my boots the opportunity to dry and my feet the opportunity to breathe.

And lastly, I find good chocolate to be indispensable in the mountains. Why? For two reasons. First, it tastes really good and I have a sweet tooth. And second, eating fat before going to bed can help you keep warm at night. When your metabolism is at work breaking down fatty foods, it warms your body in the same manner as light exercise. It's hard to sleep while exercising, but not so hard when you're just  digesting.

While I consider each of these items to be indispensable on multi-day mountaineering trips, I consider all of them to be completely dispensable on short, fast and light alpine climbing trips. On such trips, I carry as little as possible. And when I say as little as possible, I mean as little as possible. This may mean leaving everything from the toothbrush to the sleeping bag behind.

Everybody has luxuries that they consider to be indispensable. The goal in creating a list of indispensable items is to really think about things that you absolutely must have in order to be comfortable. And your indispensable list should be very very short...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 22, 2018

Quick Belay Techniques

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

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

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

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

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

Hand Belay

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

Carabiner Pinch

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

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

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

Shoulder Belay

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

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

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

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

Hip Belay

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

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

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

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

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

Please note three things in the preceding video:

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

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

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


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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Pacific Crest Trail in Three Minutes

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

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

Check it out below!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 18, 2018

Retrievable Fixed Line

Canyoneering tricks are often extremely applicable to rock and alpine climbing. The little trick featured in this video could easily be used by a party setting up a toprope on a sketchy edge or -- as in the video -- by a party rigging a rappel on a weird lip.

This technique is most applicable with a larger group that needs a fixed line. With a small group, the first climber could just belay the second climber down to him after building the anchor.

The crux of this trick is played out in the video very quickly. Watch closely at the 1:50 second mark.

I'm not sure I'm that excited about the ratty sling and the quicklink shown in the video. It is really important to make sure that your anchor is completely solid.

In review, the steps are as follows:
  1. Belayer belays climber out to edge.
  2. Climber at edge builds an anchor and fixes the line.
  3. The climber at the top converts the line by running it through the quicklink and clipping a carabiner to a clove-hitch on the backside. This could also be done by running the rope around a tree or a boulder. If you do it through a tree or a boulder, be sure that there isn't too much friction and that the line could still be retrieved.
  4. Once the line is fixed on both ends, a climber could clip in with a sling to a carabiner to descend or the climber could put a friction hitch on the rope. A friction hitch would provide a higher level of security.
  5. Only one person should move on the fixed line at once.
  6. The last person will bring down the backside of the fixed line, the end that is not running through the quicklink.
  7. Once the rope is released from the anchor, it will be able to be easily pulled down.
--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 15, 2018

AAC Universal Belay Standard - Belaying a Leader

The American Alpine Club has produced a handful of educational videos. The following video -- concerning lead belays -- is a follow up to their video on toprope belays. This video does an excellent job of going through all of the nuances of each of the following aspects of belaying a leader:
  1. Positioning the belay to avoid a clash of bodies.
  2. Consciously managing the slack.
  3. Securing a leader who is resting on the rope.
  4. Arresting falls with a solid, yet "soft" catch, or stopping the leader cold if obstacles are in the fall line.
  5. Hoisting a fallen leader back to their high point as needed.
This nine minute video is a must-watch for new belayers, as well as for those who have been belaying leaders for a long time. There is a tremendous amount of information within each chapter of the video.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/14/18

Desert Southwest:

--A climber required a helicopter rescue after sustaining an injury in Arizona's Sycamore Canyon on Sunday. To read more, click here.

--The Press-Enterprise is reporting that, "A Bureau of Land Management officer attempting to stop an off-road vehicle Sunday night in Joshua Tree National Park opened fire injuring a woman in the vehicle, according to Riverside County sheriff’s officials." To read more, click here.


--Out There Colorado is reporting that, "In a recent press release, the Forest Service announced that they will be closing the San Juan National Forest with an order set to be signed on June 12, 2018. The closure is an attempt to mitigate fire risk during an extremely dry season. Under this plan, Stage 3 fire restrictions will be implemented, which block public entry of an area." To read more, click here.


--Former AAI Guide Chantel Astorga and Anne Gilbert Chase just became the first all-woman team to complete the Slovak Direct on Denali. This is one of the most difficult climbs on the mountain, and the team was only the ninth to complete it... To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--There was a fatality on Tunnel Mountain near Banff on Friday. To read more, click here.

--A climber sustained a serious injury in Utah's Little Cottonwood Canyon this week. To read more, click here.

--Monique Richard recently became the first solo woman to summit Canada's Mt. Logan. Unfortunately, she had some problems on the descent and called for a rescue. To read more, click here.
--The way Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is choosing to treat NPS employees is incredibly disturbing. Here's a story about the forced removal of the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park.

--The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting on a measure that recently passed to get more people outside in California. "The measure authorizes the state to borrow $4.1 billion for investments in outdoor recreation, land conservation and water projects. It required a simple majority.The initiative was authored by state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, in response to what the U.S. Senate candidate called the “under-investment” in parks, wildlands and water systems in poorer communities. It focuses mostly on upgrading sites in Southern California." To read more, click here.

--The fashion industry loves carabiners.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How Fire can Restore a Forest

It's that time of year again. The time when we see the Western United States go up in flames. It's often a depressing time because many of the massive fires we see every year reshape their environments dramatically. However, fires can have a rejuvenating effect on the forest.

In March 2013, photographer Rich Reid ( joined fireworkers as they conducted a controlled burn at Georgia's Moody Forest Preserve. He left his cameras rolling for nearly two months to capture the stunning regrowth of the longleaf pine habitat. What resulted was a really cool little video which shows forest floor regrowth.

The Nature Conservancy works to prevent the destructive megafires that are so common these days in the west. Learn more about their programs at

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 11, 2018

Paying Attention to Navigation in the Mountains

It was 1997 and I was on a backpacking trip with the woman who would one day become my wife. We set-up camp in the fog and then went to explore. We weren't on a glacier, we were just above tree-line on the Pacific Crest trail, and we couldn't see anything.

We wandered around a little bit, just enough to get disoriented in the fog. There were lots of hints as to how we could have gone back to camp, but I wasn't paying attention. Instead it was my significant other who navigated us back. She had been watching land marks and paying attention.

The mountains are tricky. And not paying attention is an easy way to get hurt, lost, or even killed.  Obviously, you need to pay attention everywhere in the mountains, but here are a few thoughts about places where particular care needs to be taken.

The preceding photo is of a debris field below Colfax Peak on Mt. Baker. The humps in the snow are ice blocks which sheered off an ice cliff above the glacier. The boot pack goes right through the center of this field.  There are two things which bother me about this particular objective hazard area.

The first is that it's easy to go around the icefall zone. But it's shorter to go through it. The result is that no matter how many guides try to move the boot-pack to the outside of the debris field, people continue to go right through it.

The second is that climbers often don't look at where the debris came from, and they just sit down on the ice blocks to take a break or have a snack. There are icefalls all over the place that you have to go through. The danger is mitigated by moving fast, not by having lunch.

This second photo is also on Mount Baker on the summit plateau. You'll note that there are two boot-packs. One of these leads down the Coleman-Deming Route and the other leads down the Easton. It's incredibly common for people to get to the summit, turn around and to start walking down the wrong side of the mountain.  And this happens on crystal clear days... Imagine what happens when there's a whiteout.

Once again, this is a very simple thing. Pay attention to where you came from and it will be much easier to get back.

Obviously, paying attention isn't the only thing you need to do in order to navigate well. You should also know how to use a map, compass, altimeter, GPS and guidebook. But paying attention is a good start.

Baseline navigation in the mountains is simple. Look around. Take in your surroundings. Make sure there's no objective hazard above you. Make sure you know where you came from. All of this will help you to have a successful day in the mountains.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 8, 2018

American Alpine Institute Class of 2018

We have just completed the 2018 guide training and we have a great group of new guides. Below is a photo gallery from the training...

Ben Gardner (Trainer), Zack Wentz, Samuel Fletcher, Mike Powers (Trainer), Jules Holder, 
Jacky Thompson and Mike Riley. Not Shown: Josh Harris (click to enlarge)

Jules, Zack and Sam enjoying a meal on Mt. Baker. 

Jules, hanging out on the ice. 

Vertical ice training. 

Jacky, Sam and Zack enjoying another meal.

Lowering practice.

Messing around on Mt. Erie. 

Mike and Sam working on releasable rappels at Mt. Erie. 

Jules in Leavenworth. 

Mike, climbing in Leavenworth. 

Classroom time in Leavenworth, with professor Ben Gardner. 

Sam and Jules, playing in the mountains. 

Zack, on February Buttress. 

Jacky, on February Buttress. 

Jules, leading the first pitch of Heart of Gold, on Duty Dome in Leavenworth.

Zack, in Leavenworth. 

 Sam, working his way up a slab on Duty Dome.

Jacky, on Prime Rib. 

The famous Mike Powers, showing us how it's done on Mazama's Prime Rib (5.8, III). 

Parking lot "crevasses" at Mt. Baker Ski Area. 

Road cuts can be a good place for crevasse rescue practice. 

Snow training! 

Short-roping in the snow. 

 Skinning up to South Early Winter Spire.

 On South Early Winter Spire.

The Southeast Buttress of South Early Winter Spire (5.8, III). 

The "Whaleback" pitch on the South Arete of SEWS. 

Mike, on SEWS.

Skiing down Spire Gully.

"Good work, ladies and gentlemen."

The gully below the Beckey Route. 

The first pitch of the Beckey Route (5.6, II). 

Sam and Ben on Liberty Bell.

Sam, rappelling Liberty Bell.

AAI has a unique guide training program. There are two weeks of technical skills and one week of student teaching. During that final week the guides worked with several real climbing students at Mt. Erie and on Mt. Baker under the supervision of senior guides.

At the end of the program, one of the students told the new guides that they had to have a cartwheel contest to win some unused fuel. Jacky and Jules were all in...

I believe that they both won some fuel...

This was a very strong class of new guides. We are extremely excited to have every single one of them on staff. They each bring something special to AAI, and ultimately to you...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/7/18


--A Boy Scout group is lucky to be alive after a harrowing night on Mt. Baker. From the News Tribune: "Four members of a Boy Scouts climbing party were found safe about 9:30 a.m. Monday after a freezing night in a cave near the 10,781-foot summit of Mount Baker, officials said. A man, a woman and two 13-year-old Scouts were in serious condition with severe hypothermia Monday afternoon at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, and were later transferred to another hospital out of the area, according to hospital spokeswoman Hilary Andrade." To read more, click here.

--A new report indicates that the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is an economic powerhouse for the Pacific Northwest. As an asset it is worth nearly a trillion dollars. To read more, click here.

--It appears that Vail Resorts is going to purchase Stevens Pass Ski Area. To read more, click here.


--Climbing magazine is reporting that, "On the morning of June 2 at 8 a.m., while speed climbing on the lower pitches of the Salathé Wall on El Capitan—a section called Freeblast—two highly experienced climbers, Tim Klein and Jason Wells, were involved in a fatal accident. The team was simul-climbing through Pitch 9 or 10, 5.7 terrain approaching Mammoth Terraces, when the incident occurred. A scream was heard and both climbers fell, roped together, 1,000 feet to the ground." To read more, click here.

--After the death of two climbers in Yosemite this week, Outside is asking whether speed climbing is too dangerous. To read the article, click here.

--Speaking of speed climbing, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell set a sub 2-hour speed record on the Nose yesterday. This is akin to breaking the 4-minute mile. To read more, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "On June 2, a hammerless David Allfrey sent his first solo El Cap route, the 1,800 foot Zodiac, casually logging a speed record in just under 11 hours. The previous solo record for the 16-pitch route, listed on, was 11 hours 18 minutes by Nick Fowler, back in 2002." To read more, click here.


--Vail Resorts is buying Crested Butte Ski Area. To read more, click here.


--Team 4 going went to High Camp yesterday, Team 3 made a summit attempt on Monday, and Team 6 made a cache at 10,000-feet on Monday. To read more about AAI's Alaska adventures, click here.

--A 29-year-old woman was injured in a slide and crevasse fall this week on Denali. To read more, click here.

--The Anchorage Daily News is reporting that, "A remote stretch of Alaska mountains across Cook Inlet from Anchorage has become the center of a court fight between a heli-skiing company and the Trump administration. The company, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, is accusing federal land managers of jeopardizing clients' safety by issuing a permit to a competitor without proper review." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--High Country News is reporting that, "last year, about 330 million people visited the parks. That’s roughly 5 million more visits than the total U.S. population and almost 50 million more visits than in 2012. While visitation has increased, staffing levels have declined and the costs of overdue park infrastructure projects have ballooned to around $12 billion. As the national parks’ summer high season begins and the understaffed Park Service works to keep them clean and safe for the crowds, politicians are fighting over how to pay for the parks." To read more, click here.

--Ummm... You'd think he'd know better with all the NPS is going through and sexual harassment. From the Washington Post: The top-ranking official at the National Park Service has apologized for behaving “in an inappropriate manner in a public hallway” in the wake of an inspector general’s investigation into an anonymous allegation that the official had made a gesture involving his genitalia in front of other employees. In a staff-wide email to Park Service employees on Friday, P. Daniel Smith wrote that as “a leader, I must hold myself to the highest standard of behavior in the workplace. I take my responsibility to create and maintain a respectful, collegial work environment very seriously. Moving forward, I promise to do better.” To read more, click here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Improvised Rappels

The American Mountain Guides Association is continuing to put out some really good videos with Outdoor Research. In this video, AMGA Instructor Team Member, Olivia Race, demonstrates three different types of improvised rappels.

1) Six Non-Lockers

This is the classic "Freedom of the Hills" style system that every climber engaging in multi-pitch climbing should be aware of.

2) Double-Stranded Munter

This is a much simpler concept. But it can result in some significant twists in the rope.

3) Three Locker System

This final system is a more modern variation of the first system listed here.

It's important with each of these to ensure that nylon isn't rubbing nylon and that ropes are not running over gates.

Check out an in-depth breakdown of each system below:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 4, 2018

Film Review - The Ritual

Netflix is known for some quality television programming. Many shows the network has produced have been good, and in some cases they've been great. Think Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Stranger Things, Bloodline, Mindhunter, Black Mirror and on and on and on. Simultaneously, Netflix is also known for some real film flops. Think The Cloverfield Paradox, Bright, The Do-Over, The Ridiculous Six, and on and on and on.

Essentially, the network's original contents trends toward quality television, and away from quality film. Certainly there are exceptions to this rule. And indeed, the Netflix original film, The Ritual, is an exception. It's not a great movie. It doesn't stand out. But it's not bad either...

Four men from England journey into the hills of Sweden on what appears to be a popular high trail. When one member of the group becomes injured, the team decides to cut down off the ridgeline and into a thick ancient forest. The idea is that if they make their way through the forest, they will finish the trail faster. The problem is that the forest is haunted by some kind of inhuman monster, as well as by a death cult that worships the beast. The combination of these two things makes their shortcut mildly longer than expected...

I personally can't imagine taking someone who is injured off trail through a forest, even if it looked to be a shorter distance. In real life, once the team realized that going straight through the forest means climbing over and under logs all day, it's likely they would have given up on that strategy.

There are many problematic elements to The Ritual. It's not always a good movie, but it's creepy enough, with just enough of a Blair Witch style feel to it to keep you engaged. For example, Luke -- the film's lead character played by Rafe Spall -- lost a friend to a burglar at a convenience store, while he hid safely behind a rack of chips. Luke is haunted by this. And the monster in the woods torments him with memories of the robbery. Indeed, there are some incredible sequences where Luke is half in the primeval forest with some kind of horrible beast nearby and half under the garish lights of the store, dealing with the loss of a friend by the hand of a different kind of beast. These splits in the character's reality are nightmarish and provide the viewer with a creeping sense of dread.

It's unfortunate that the other characters aren't provided with a similar depth. We know they're also tormented by the monster. But we really don't know what their torments are.

For the outdoor adventurer, there are a handful of "don't-do-this" type lessons in the film. These lessons are exagerated. There is no question about it. If you read this blog, you probably wouldn't do what these guys do at the level they do it at. But you (and I) might do one or more of these things at a more subtle level and that makes it interesting...

The story starts with a major screw-up. A team of amature backpackers don't have any type of communication equipment that works in the backcountry, so after a minor injury, they leave the trail. Some weird stuff happens at night after they're in the woods; you know, stuff like one guy waking up to find that he's naked, covered in blood and worshiping a statue of a straw elk-man hybrid. A bunch of weird things happen to other people too, but instead of retreating back to the trail (which they should have done), or even continuing to follow their compass bearing (which isn't as good as retracing their way back to the trail, but better than what they do), the team decides to follow the least rational member of the party down a faint trail deeper into the forest. In the real world of outdoor adventure, we call this the consistency or commitment heuristic. Sometimes we make a bad mistake and then just go with it until there's an accident. Sometimes when someone seems to know what they're doing -- or in this case someone seems super committed to one action -- the rest of the team follows that person, even when they know it's the wrong thing to do.

In a horror movie, we expect people to die. It's worth remembering, that these heuristic traps can lead to real-life horror too. Committing to a mistake is unlikely to lead you into a haunted forest, but it could lead you into avalanche terrain. And blindly following a leader that is making a bad choice, could also lead you into a situation that requires a rescue...

I wish that filmmakers would put weight into prop backpacks, so that actors could feel what it's like to carry a pack. Instead, many movies that take place in the backcountry seem fake from the start. In this film, one character never buckled his waist belt. Another's pack rode so high that there was significant visible air between his shoulders and the straps. Actors in backcountry films are often supposed to look tired, but using packs full of newspapers or whatever is in there, makes them look goofy.

It's worth noting that the monster -- when we finally see it in this movie -- is pretty cool. Indeed, it might be one of the cooler movie monsters to come out recently. I don't want to describe it in detail. It is actually well worth waiting for, and could be a good reason to watch this film in and of itself.

The Ritual is a strong enough entry into the backcountry horror genre to get a thumbs up. But it's a weak thumbs up. I wouldn't recommend it if it were in the theatre. But it's well worth a watch on Netflix...

--Jason D. Martin