Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Avalanche Rescue: Patient Care

BCA has put together a nice series of instructional videos about avalanche safety and companion rescue.

In this video, avalanche instructor Sarah Carpenter talks about what to do after you have unburied your partner...

Once you've dug the patient out, do the following:
  1. Check the mouth and airway. Clear any snow plugs.
  2. Check the chest and lungs. Make sure that patient is breathing. If they're not breathing, stop and fix that! Provide CPR.
  3. Check for a pulse. If there's no pulse, commence with CPR.
  4. Check for bleeds. If there are any massive bleeds, stop and fix that.
  5. Check for spinal injury and check for that. Stabilize if needed.
  6. Can we stay and work on this problem? Or do we need a rapid evacuation.
  7. As soon as someone is dug up, they are exposed to the cold. Get the patient off the snow and bundled up. Treat for hypothermia.
  8. Do a complete patient assessment from head-to-toe to determine if there are other injuries.
  9. Carry and emergency kit that allows you to build a shelter, make a fire and make water.
--Jason D. Martin

Monday, January 29, 2018

Avalanche Airbags and You

It was February of 2012, and three skiers were dead just outside of the Stevens Pass Ski Area in the Tunnel Creek drainage. Five people were initially caught in the backcountry avalanche. One of the survivors became wedged between two trees while snow rushed over him. The other survivor – Elyse Saugstad – deployed an avalanche airbag, which kept her near the surface of the snow and allowed rescuers to find her quickly.

Saugstad’s survival created a great deal of interest in avalanche airbags. Our shop at the American Alpine Institute began to receive almost daily inquiries about these potentially lifesaving tools. And now today, these devices are standard for ski patrollers and backcountry ski guides.

The BCA Float 42 is a single balloon pack
with 42-liters of space.

But what are they?

In essence an avalanche airbag is a regular backpack with one or more large balloons stowed in the top and the side. The idea is that if there is an avalanche, the skier can pull a ripcord and deploy the rapid inflation balloons almost immediately. And then in theory, these balloons will keep your body near the surface of a moving avalanche, allowing for an easier rescue.

There are many aspects that must be taken into account prior to the purchase of one of these systems. First, of course, there's affordability. Second, there's the difficulty of refilling the cartridge. Third, there's the question of how easy it is to stow and retrieve the trigger. And lastly, one's perception of a given brand and indeed, even one's loyalty to it.

Before making any purchasing decisions, you must look at the advantages and disadvantages of three main aspects of this system.

  1. What type of gas is being used to inflate the balloon chamber?
  2. How many balloons are being inflated?
  3. What type of mechanism is being used to trigger the deployment of the balloon(s)?
To decide what kind of gas (compressed air or nitrogen) is the most appropriate for you, first and foremost, you must think about where you are going to use your pack. Air temperatures and altitude may have an effect on cartridge performance and in effect, the speed by which the gas moves from the cartridge to the balloon(s). It appears that the compressed air works a little better at lower altitudes – like those found in the PNW – while nitrogen works a little bit better up high, like those found in Colorado.

One additional concern that should be mentioned is the difficulty that some have had taking these backpacks abroad. For some reason the TSA doesn't like weird cartridges of gas stashed inside backpacks on their planes...

North Face Avalanche Airbag Pack
Note that this is a two balloon system.

The terrain that you're skiing is another factor to take into account. If you’re skiing in a place where there are lots of sharp trees and branches, or in a place where there are a lot of sharp rocks, there is the possibility that you are going to puncture a balloon. Some systems employ a two balloon pack with two valves for two reasons -- first, in case one of the valves malfunctions; and second, in case one of the balloons is punctured after deployment. Some brands have worked hard to develop a configuration that provides more "floatability" by playing with the volume and spatial adjustability of the balloons...

If you are going to be using the pack as a recreationalist you may have different needs than a ski patroller or a guide. Why? Because each group has different needs. The recreationalist needs affordability and functionality with a simple pull. Professionals often use packs with mini-explosives that (according to the respective marketing departments) will guarantee deployment above and beyond the minimum standards. And lastly, a guide may want a remote control triggering mechanism in case one of his or her participants is in a slide, but fails to trigger the system.

Now the real trick of these packs is not that they might "save" you from an avalanche. Instead, it's that they might trick you into a false sense of security. The pack will give you a better chance if you're in a slide (about 16% overall or about a bit more than half of those who would have otherwise died in an avalanche), but it won't save you from drop-offs or trees or boulders or any number of other terrible things that could happen to you if you're involved in a slide. The best tool that you have to avoid an avalanche is your own brain and your own ability to use it. If you haven't taken an avalanche course, then you're missing the key ingredient.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, January 26, 2018

Managing Your Sleep System: Pads and Padding

When thinking about what they will sleep in at night most climbers zero in on their sleeping bag. However, it's important to think of your bag and pad as a "sleep system" that works together to keep you warm and comfortable throughout the night. As with your sleeping bag, a number of adjustments to the pads you use can lighten your weight on the trail and increase your comfort at night.

For long, cold trips like Denali comfort and warmth are key--and worth a few sacrifices in terms of weight. For Denali I will therefore use a foam pad on the snow and then an inflatable pad like the Thermarest Neoair XTherm above that. This system works well because the inflatable pad provides warmth and the foam pad blocks the upper pad from the cold snow so that it can work its magic.

For shorter trips, I've ditched foam pads altogether because they're too bulky. For trips where I anticipate it getting below freezing at night, I will bring my full-length Neoair. To provide a barrier between the sleeping pad and the snow, I will remove the foam liner from my Cilogear backpack and put the rest of the backpack at my head and the foam at my feet. Obviously, a backpack like a Cilogear or Cold Cold World model with the removable foam in the back is necessary for this technique. Sometimes I will also bring the rope into my tent and flake it out and put that between the snow and my pad.

For trips where it is above freezing, I will do the same thing but use a 3/4-length Neoair XLite instead of the full-length to save on weight. Any time you are using the inflatable pads, you will want some sort of barrier between the pad and the ground. If you're camping on snow you want something that provides insulation, and if you're on rocks or dirt you will need just a tent footprint or Tyvek sheet so that your Neoair doesn't rub up against rocks and get punctured.

-Shelby Carpenter, AAI Instructor and Guide

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 1/25/18


--A 24-year-old snowboarder went missing on Sunday in the Mt. Baker Ski Area. Unfortunately, the search mission in steep cliffy area has been suspended due to blizzard conditions on the mountain. To read more, click here.

--Global News is reporting that, "the B.C. Coroners Service is investigating a death on Mount Washington after the Vancouver Island ski resort received record-breaking snowfall." To read more, click here.

--The Seattle Times is reporting that, "Warren A. Miller, the pioneering snow-sports filmmaker whose infectious zeal for the “pure freedom” associated with skiing, snowboarding and other pursuits inspired multiple generations of adventure-seekers around the globe, died Wednesday at his home on Orcas Island. He was 93." To read more, click here.

--Bellingham's Blanchard Mountain has been protected from clearcutting. To read more about the bill that did this, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The annual Red Rock Rendezvous is slated to take place in Las Vegas from March 16-19, 2018. This is one of the biggest climbing festivals in the country...and one of the most fun. The American Alpine Institute works with Mountain Gear to put on the festival every year and many AAI guides will be on hand for both instruction, as well as for hanging out at the evening parties. You might also consider booking a guide before or after the program, or even participating in an additional climbing class. To read more, click here.

--Alex Honnold was derided for posting pictures of the Women's March in Las Vegas on Social Media. Critics said things like, "stick to climbing!" And several other, not-so-nice things. His response was excellent. To see it, click here.


--ABC News is reporting that, "a backcountry skier died in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado Sunday, marking the state's first known avalanche fatality of the season, authorities said. The skier was 'caught, killed while in an area known locally as Sam’s Trees in San Miguel County, Colorado, about 300 miles southwest of Aspen, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC)." To read more, click here.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "A man visiting the Crystal River Valley got lost while backcountry skiing Saturday near Marble, spent the night in a snowstorm and skied out Sunday afternoon, according to Crested Butte Search and Rescue. 'He rescued himself, basically,' said Jeff Duke, vice president of Crested Butte Search and Rescue and one of its team leaders." To read more, click here.

--The Winter Outdoor Retail Show is in Denver this week. This is a big deal because it's the first show in Denver after the show pulled out from Salt Lake City. The show left Salt Lake because state politicians didn't share the values of the show and supported things like the cutting of Bear's Ears. It's also a big deal because the show is combining with the Snow Sports Industries show. The Denver Post is reporting that, "If all goes as planned this week, the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show will spark a political movement that establishes the industry as a major economic, cultural and political force." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund is hiring an Events and Outreach Manager. To see the job listing, click here.

--And finally, the Ouray Ice Festival was a huge success this year. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A 19-year-old was killed after she hit a tree at Coffee Mill Ski Area in Minnesota on Saturday. To read more, click here.

--A skier died after another skier collided with him at Blue Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania. It appears that Grygoriy Sologub, 53, had fallen when another skier ran into him. To read more, click here.

--During the Government Shutdown, we were allowed to operate in many places that we weren't during the last shutdown, and indeed, non-commercial climbers were too...but that may change if there's another shutdown, due to idiots like the ones profiled in a Washington Post article. Tourists on a commercial snowmobile broke park rules by driving too close to Yellowstone National Park’s iconic Old Faithful geyser Sunday, park officials confirmed, at a time when most staff was furloughed during the partial government shutdown. In an interview Monday, park superintendent Dan Wenk said one of the concession operators who is authorized to conduct snowmobile tours through Yellowstone — and was allowed to continue doing so even as most park employees stopped work this weekend — violated park rules." To read more, click here.

--Here's a #MeToo Guide for Outdoorsy Dudes who want to support outdoorsy women.

--The office of the Secretary of the Interior "went off" on the individuals who resigned from the National Parks System Advisory Council last week. To read more, click here.

--The New York Times has a great article this week on how climate change is affecting avalanches. To read more, click here.

--The Daily Mail in the UK is reporting on a climber who is being inundated with hate mail after leaving his dog to die in a storm. To read more, click here.

--The American Alpine Club has announced the winners of the Cutting Edge Grants. To read about the winners, click here.

--An all female team made a 62-day traverse of Antarctica. To read about it, click here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Visitation in Rocky Mountain National Park - 2017

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

Rocky Mountain National Park received 4,437,214 visitors in 2017. This was down slightly, 1.8 percent, from the park’s highest annual visitation in 2016, which was 4,517,584 visitors. This continues to represent a 40 percent increase in visitation since 2012. 

Determining visitation is a difficult and imprecise effort. Visitation statistics are reliably accurate estimates and help park managers see overall trends. Weather, especially during May and October, can change annual visitation significantly. The top ten busiest days in 2017 in order from first to tenth were: July 3, September 3, July 2, September 30, July 1, July 15, July 22, July 23, August 4 and September 2.

Rocky Mountain National Park celebrated its Centennial in 2015 followed by the National Park Service Centennial in 2016. Additional factors of the rise in visitation at Rocky include an increased population along the Front Range of Colorado.

Park managers will continue to address what effect this level of visitation is having on visitor and staff safety, resource protection, visitor experiences and operational capacity. This past summer and early fall, park staff continued to restrict vehicle access in three specific areas, the Bear Lake Road corridor, the Wild Basin area and the Alpine Visitor Center, when parking areas filled and heavy congestion warranted. This occurred from late June through September of 2017. These actions will again take place in 2018. Park staff are continuing to address day use for the long term and will be engaging stakeholders and the public on this planning effort later this year. 

For more information about Rocky Mountain National Park please visit www.nps.gov/romo or call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Backpack as Luggage

Air travel is a pain. And frankly, I'm sick of it. I sometimes think it would be better to drive eight hours than to take a short flight...

I used to really enjoy the process of flying...when I was eight or nine. But now as an adult, I find it to be an expensive, uncomfortable and nerve-racking process. It's a game. What will I have to pay for? Will I get to use the arm-rest? Have the others in my row elected to use deodorant? Will my neighbor's body fat "share" my seat? Will my luggage get there? How long will I have to sit on a plane that isn't moving?

I hate it.

But I also recognize that it is part of the process. To go anywhere really cool, you have to fly. And flying somewhere on a climbing trip means that you have to check baggage.

Obviously one of the key components to a flight is your backpack. There are a couple of ways to deal with this ever-so-important item.

A smaller pack (under 3500 cubic inches) can often be brought into the cabin with you. On foreign mountaineering trips, we often recommend that climbers stow their boots and hard-shells in the pack. These are things that you won't be able to replace if your luggage gets lost.

Some people suggest carrying a rock rack or harness in your carry-on. If you elect to do this, expect to spend significant time at the security check-point. If you have things on your harness, don't forget to check your harness knife, otherwise they'll take it away.

One thing that can be helpful if you're carrying a rack on a plane is to bring some climbing magazines. You might also consider having some pictures of your rack in use on your phone. The reason to do this is so that you can show a TSA agent how the devices within your pack are used.

This should be common sense, but don't even consider carrying an ice rack, ice tools or an ice axe in your carry-on. You can expect to have significant problems trying to get through security with such items...and an attempt to bring so many sharp things through, could lead to all kinds of additional problems (i.e. a "backroom" search).

If you intend on checking a backpack, it should be noted that pack-straps can cause significant issues on the different machines used in airports to maneuver luggage. It's important to pull the shoulder straps tight and to clip the waist belt around the body of the pack.

In this photo, note that the shoulder straps have been pulled as tightly as possible and 
that the waist belt has been clipped on the opposite side of the pack.

There are still a lot of straps that could get caught, but by pulling everything tight, 
there are a lot less loops that could get caught in airport machinery.

Some airlines will simply put a backpack in a large plastic sack. This would also be a perfectly acceptable way for you to ensure that nothing on your pack got stuck.

Airline travel is terrible...but to do what we love to do, it is often a necessary evil.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, January 22, 2018

Film Review: The Grey

A plane crash in the middle of the Alaskan winter? A pack of wolves hunting down the survivor's of the crash one by one?

Implausible? Sure...

Somewhat ludicrous? Of course, but aren't most of the outdoor survival movies out there...? And even if it is ludicrous I know that the adventurer within you is intrigued by the premise. I certainly was.

The plot of The Grey is ludicrous. A team of oil workers are involved in a serious plane crash in the middle of a snowstorm. John Ottway, played skillfully by Liam Neeson, quickly takes charge of the survivors, leading them away from the crash site toward perceived safety.

But there's a catch.

The team is being chased by a pack of viscous wolves, wolves that seem to enjoy killing people for fun instead of for food. Wolves that don't appear to be afraid of people or fire or anything else...

Liam Neeson likes to play the tough guy. He does a great job of this in literally dozens of films, from the likes of Taken to Rob Roy, from Clash of the Titans to The A-Team...but he has also been in a number of films where he has played softer characters like Oscar Schinder in Schindler's List, a writer in search of a soul mate in Love Actually, and Alfred Kinsey in Kinsey. So it's not a great stretch for Neeson to jump into the troubled persona of John Ottway in The Grey.

Ottway is troubled not because he is stranded deep in an Alaskan white-out with a number of foul-mouthed vagabonds, but instead because he has deep inner demons which haunt him throughout the film. And this is where the story steps away from your standard running and jumping thriller. The Alaskan winter and even the wolves are metaphors for Ottway's inner demons. As a result, the film doesn't truly fit in the action movie genre. Instead, it becomes a meditation on loss, death and letting go...

Joe Carnahan -- the film's director -- cowrote the screenplay with author Ian McKenzie Jeffers. The script is based on Jeffers' short story, The Ghost Walker. Director Joe Carnahan has been involved with a number of other action based films, such as Smokin' Aces and The A-Team. But this particular film feels different from his other efforts. There is more to the story than meets the eye. The script that Carnahan and Jeffers developed tries, sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully, to dig deeper into the human psyche and our fears about death and mortality.

From an outdoor adventurer perspective, the film leaves something to be desired. Characters make mistakes that normal outdoors people would never make. The worst of all is the moment when the team ties a bunch of clothing together in order to use as a rope to get across a chasm.  They shimmy across with little concern about the stitching or the fact that it's really hard to hang on a rope. The moment that they decide to do this, you just want to slap your hand on your forehead and ask the characters if they are trying to die...

In addition to the strange decisions that some of the characters make, there is the whole wolf hunting people thing. This is pretty unrealistic, but I'm somewhat willing to suspend my disbelief.  Though not everyone was impressed by this part of the story. Wikipedia states that there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the opening of the film:

On 19 January 2012, British Columbia's The Province featured an article about the movie's buying four wolf carcasses from a local trapper, two for props for the movie and two wolves for the cast to eat. This angered environmentalists and animal activists, who were already irate that the movie depicts wolves in a negative light, specifically at a time when gray wolves had recently been removed from the Endangered Species Act in many western American states. In response to the portrayal of wolves in the film, groups including PETA and WildEarth Guardians started drives to boycott the film. Open Road responded by placing a fact sheet about the gray wolf on the film's official website, with cooperation from the Sierra Club. Carnahan has responded by downplaying the significance of the violent wolves portrayed in the film, instead highlighting the significance of man's interior struggle for survival.

I doubt that a film like The Grey could ever have a real impact on the wolf population or on people's perspectives on the animals. This wasn't a major blockbuster like Jaws, a film which lead to the mindless killing of sharks. And there just aren't enough wolves out there for people to really spend a lot of time thinking about whether or not they're being stalked every time they're outside...

The Grey is a film that looks like an action movie on the surface, but has a lot more to say underneath. It doesn't actually get around to saying much about loss, death and the human condition -- subjects it attempts to address, but it tries to.  And while not perfect, there's something to be said for trying...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, January 19, 2018

Closing the System and Staying Alive

It was a short day in December of 2007 and I had to get at least one more route in. The climbers who'd come in to climb with me were supposed to do a multi-pitch the next day.  So I rushed to the top and moved the rope from one top-rope anchor to the next.

I didn't notice that the ends on the ground had become offset.

I rappelled the rope, until one end slid easily through my device and I fell.  It was a short fall, only six feet, but I still ended up in the hospital. It took three months to recover from my fractured pelvis.

When I think back on this accident, the thing that burns me the most is that it could have been easily prevented. All that I had to do was to put stopper knots in the end of the rope, then it wouldn't have mattered if the ends were offset.

Most people think of rappelling off the end of your rope as some kind of grand thing that only happens way up off the ground. The reality is that it happens all the time in much less dramatic circumstances. It happens exactly the way it happened to me, with one end that didn't quite touch the ground. Often times the injuries are minor, but sometimes they're not.

The thing is that it is very easy to protect yourself from this type of accident. The way to do it is to "close the system." In other words, make sure that what happened to me simply can't happen to you...

Single-Pitch Rappel

In a single-pitch setting it's very easy to put a stopper knot in both ends of the rope.  This works well as there are limited concerns about the rope getting stuck somehow below you. The best knot to use is the barrel knot, or stopper knot. This is essentially half of a double-fisherman's knot. Though any knot will do.

A Stopper Knot (Barrel Knot)


A second situation that is different, but related, is the possibility of dropping someone by lowering them  until the rope runs out.  In such a situation, the rope runs through an unsuspecting belayer's hands, and then it's gone...and the climber falls to the ground.

Once again, this is extremely preventable.  Every single time you climb, you should tie a stopper knot in the open end of the rope. It doesn't matter if there is a hundred feet of rope on the ground.  The idea is to make knotting the end of your rope part of your process, so that when something does happen, nothing happens...

Multi-Pitch Rappels

When I preach the gospel of tying knots in the ends of ropes, a lot of people bring up a very valid concern.  On multi-pitch rappels, it's not uncommon for the ends of the rope to fall past a rappel station. If there are knots in those ends below, they can get caught down there.

One simple way to avoid this is to tie an overhand or an eight on a bite at the ends of the ropes.  Clip these to your harness before tossing the line. Then when you are ready to pull your rope, you can untie them.  If you keep them clipped to your harness until the very last moment, there are three advantages:

  1. The first advantage was the point of all this. You won't rappel off the end of your rope.
  2. The second advantage is that the knots can't get stuck below you and you have the end of your rope.
  3. And lastly, if you keep these clipped to your harness until the very last moment, it will also help you to remember to untie the knot at the end of the rope before pulling it.
Rappelling off the end of your rope or dropping someone are both things that most of us would like to avoid.  Climbing is dangerous. Something as simple as tying a knot can make it less so...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, January 18, 2018

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


The Liberty Bell Massif hosts dozens of climbs, innumerable social trails and eroding approaches.

--The Liberty Bell Group has a trail construction project that is shovel ready. All they need are funds! To read more, click here.

--The Bellingham Herald is reporting that, "Whatcom County’s Mount Baker is the eighth most threatening volcano in the Pacific Northwest. It’s also the 11th most threatening volcano in the United States." To read more, click here.

--The massive Navigator Wall on Mt. Slesse saw a first winter ascent recently. To read more, click here.

--Spirit Lake, the lake that was buried by the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980, reformed two-hundred feet higher and is much bigger, but has no natural drainage. The lake could breach and the results of such a breach could be catastrophic. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Fees are going up in Red Rock Canyon. To read more, click here.

--Speaking of Red Rock, the Conservation Area reached its capacity on Monday -- a fee free day in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- and had to close until enough cars left the Scenic Drive for others to enter... To read more, click here.

--The annual Red Rock Rendezvous is slated to take place in Las Vegas from March 16-19, 2018. This is one of the biggest climbing festivals in the country...and one of the most fun. The American Alpine Institute works with Mountain Gear to put on the festival every year and many AAI guides will be on hand for both instruction, as well as for hanging out at the evening parties. You might also consider booking a guide before or after the program, or even participating in an additional climbing class. To read more, click here.

--Photographers can no longer use tripods in Zion National Park...

--A new film chronicles the journey of two journalists who hike the 750-mile length of the Grand Canyon. On their journey they look at natural wonders as well as threats to the iconic canyon. To see a trailer for Dust in the Blood, click below.


--The Denver Post is reporting that, "A skier riding a lift at Vail ski area spotted the body of a man lying face up in Gore Creek near Lionshead Tuesday morning. The Eagle County coroner will determine the cause of death and identify the man, who was found just after 9 a.m., Vail Police Department Det. Sgt. Luke Causey said." To read more, click here.

--Denver has an urban terrain park for skiers and snowboarders.

--BizWest is reporting that, "Skier visits to resorts under the Vail Resorts Inc. (NYSE: MTN) umbrella are down 10.8 percent through Jan. 8, compared with the same period a year ago. The downturn is attributed to “historic low snowfall,” according to a statement from Rob Katz, chief executive of Vail Resorts, which has its headquarters in Broomfield."To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Climbing magazine is reporting that, "Climbing pioneer Jim Bridwell is currently in the hospital for serious issues related to his kidneys and liver. To donate to his treatment, visit GoFundMe: Help Jim Bridwell With Medical Care." They have reprinted one of his best known articles, The Dance of the Woo-Li Mastershere.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "Frustration. That’s what led nine of the 12 members of the National Park System Advisory Board to resign this week, joining a chorus of irked panelists across the country who have spent the year waiting to advise the Trump administration on public lands." To read more, click here.

--WDRB is reporting that, "the parents of a Louisville boy killed on a Boy Scouts camping trip in eastern Kentucky have filed a lawsuit over his death. At the time of the incident, 11-year-old Jack Rose was alone in a tent at Chimney Top Rock at Red River Gorge in November 5, 2016, when a dead tree about 18 inches in diameter fell and hit the boy on his head." To read more, click here.

-- The New York Times has a great article on risk, mountain climbing and regulation. There are moves all over the place to regulate what climbers can and can't do in the mountains... "Mountains are inherently dangerous. But just as free speech makes a place for disgusting speech, wild places need to make a place for irresponsible activity. It is our life, after all. Right? Not really. Our right to life doesn’t always include our right to risk it. If that thought doesn’t feel strange to you, think about it again. It should." To read more, click here.

--So this guy has been faking injuries in the mountains so he can get get rescued -- usually a technical rescue that requires ropes and hauling systems -- in order to take selfies...

--The Conway Daily Sun is reporting that, "The U.S. Forest Service’s Mount Washington Avalanche Center reported that the the Lip area of the headwall in Tuckerman Ravine experienced a wet avalanche last Friday, Jan. 12. Thankfully, according to USFS Snow Rangers, no one was injured." To read more, click here.

--Is GoPro for sale?

--The application period for the Kyle Dempster Solo Adventure award is now open.

--A new film by the director of the acclaimed film Sherpa is coming out soon. Mountain is an exploration of the geographic features that we climb and ski, set to classical music by the Australian Chamber Orchestra and narrated by Willem Dafoe.  To learn more about the film, click on the trailer below:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Crampon Technique for Ice Climbing

It is said again and again in rock climbing, "use your feet." Unsuprisingly, it is also said over and over again in ice climbing. Good foot technique is the core to overall good climbing technique.

Ice climbers don't have as many options as rock climbers. When an ice climber is on a frozen waterfall, there are only a few things that she can do to use her feet. She can frontpoint (the German technique), she can use the American technique or she can use the French technique.

Following is a simple breakdown of these techniques as they pertain to ice climbing.


In mountaineering, we try to avoid frontpointing as much as possible. This is because it wears out the calves quickly. In waterfall ice climbing, it is incredibly difficult to avoid this technique. Indeed, most of the climbing that one will do on steep and vertical ice will require frontpointing.

In this photo, the author's feet are splayed out and he is frontpointing on steep ice.
Photo by Gene Pires

Proper frontpointing requires that not only the front two spikes are engaged, but that the second set of teeth are also engaged. To do this, a climber must drop her heels. This allows the secondary spikes to bite into the ice.

In this frontpointing photo, it is possible to see that the climber has dropped his heels.

Ice climbing requires a tremendous amount of calf strength. One of the best things that you can do to prepare for an ice trip is to train your calf muscles for extended periods of use. You could also do your best to limit the amount of time you spend on your frontpoints...

American Technique

The American Technique is a great way to rest your calves while ice climbing. It is quite common for people to get fixated on frontpointing and not to take rests. The American technique allows for rests.

American Technique Demonstrated on Glacier Ice

This technique, also referred to as Pied Troisieme, requires one foot to be placed with the frontpoints engaged while the other food is flat in a French position. French technique is essentially a technique wherein the spikes on the bottom of the crampons are fully engaged on the ice.

French Technique

Fully engaged crampons do not work the legs anywhere near as hard as techniques that require frontpoints to be engaged. As stated above, French technique is a way to avoid overuse of your calves.

The simplest way to explain French Technique is that the feet stay flat. All points are in the ice. If you can do this on steepish terrain, then this will really allow you to rest. Indeed, areas where you can employ this technique are also some of the best for placing ice screws. Never ignore an opportunity to rest if it allows you to get gear, this can be scarce on ice climbs sometimes...

Some time ago, we did an entire article on French Technique and the use of the Cross-Over Step. To read that article, click here.

Whenever you ice climb, think about your feet. But don't just think about them as cold lumps that might help you through the climb, but instead as a dynamic part of your body. If you always think of them as dynamic, it is far more likely that you will be able to use them in an effective way.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, January 15, 2018

Evolution of Dreams - Ski Film

There have been some really good ski films over the past few years. Amature filmmakeing doesn't feel very amaturish anymore. But even so, it's pretty uncommon for us to publish a trailer for a ski film that is incomplete. There just seems to be too much uncertainty. But holy moly, this movie looks good...

Jackie Paaso and Eva Walkner are putting together a film about their lives, their losses, their skiing goals and their passions...and the early seven minute trailer looks absolutely fantastic. The full film will be available in Fall of 2018. Check it out below:

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Untold Story of North Cascades National Park

Lauren Danner has been a national park lover for quite sometime. On her website, laurendanner.com, her About page reads “A lifetime of national park geekdom...”, if that gives you any idea of where her priorities lie. As a young New Jersey teenager, she visited national parks in the West and fell in love with the vast landscapes. She moved to Seattle for her graduate program and has stayed in Washington since. Danner is now a writer and historian based in Olympia, WA. When she realized no one had written a complete history on the establishment of North Cascades National Park, she did not hesitate to get started.

Danner’s book Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park, was published in September 2017, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the park in 2018.

In her book, Danner explains the differences between the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service and with them, the fundamental differences between preservation and conservation. The National Park Service valued preservation: keeping the landscape within park boundaries in its original, existing state for public enjoyment. The United States Forest Service valued conservation: managing the resources within the boundaries to maintain use and recreation for the public for years to come. Both valued accessibility, but the ways in which the public was to use this land was a point of contention.

The National Park Service wanted to provide ways for the public to delight in the scenery of the land without jeopardizing it, but they also wanted to establish more roads, easier access to the masses, and tourist attractions to make a profit. On the other hand, the United States Forest Service wanted to uphold their philosophy “the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run”. They sought to keep the land for resource conservation and, peripherally, provide a pure wilderness experience for the public. With these major differences, each entity had to make some sacrifices.

The sacrifices and compromises were pushed through government with the consistent work and unwavering dedication of a strong community of conservationists, activists and people who just loved being in nature. It was the people’s passion that made North Cascades National Park what it is today: a crown jewel wilderness.

“The North Cascades are a patchwork quilt of political compromise,” Danner says. “Everyone got a little of what they wanted, but no one got everything. The compromise gave the park a solid start that has endured for 50 years.”

View from Sahale Arm (note the trail in center right), North Cascades National Park. Lauren Danner photo.
Danner takes the reader on a historical journey through how public land usage was defined and how that still affects us today. She introduces many spirited, strong-willed people that did not give up on their goals and ideas for the land that is now North Cascades National Park.

Danner writes about people like Dr. Pat Goldsworthy who helped found the North Cascades Conservation Council (N3C) in 1957. “Meeting him was such an honor,” Danner says. Goldsworthy was a leading conservationist and held Washington’s wilderness in high regard. He was a medical researcher at the University of Washington by day and conservation activist by night. He was a key player in the passage of the North Cascades Act in 1968 and a persevering soul. He had an unstoppable nature about him. No matter what the obstacle, he fought the fight for North Cascades National Park.

Danner also introduces the reader to Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a native of Everett, Wa. As an individual and an elected official, he cared passionately about conservation issues. His integrity was strong and Danner says, “Jackson was a political genius.” He was stickler when it came to listening to witnesses on the stand. “Call me an uber-geek, but I loved reading through all the hearing records from Scoop’s time,” Danner says. “I read record after record where he dug down deep with every witness. When someone was giving their testimony, it was said that no one could get anything by Scoop.”

It is people like Goldsworthy and Sen. Jackson that make the story relatable and rich. Goldsworthy was just another citizen with a full-time job who put his time and energy into the aspects of life he valued. Sen. Jackson was a political figure who listened to the people and he helped create valuable change with his position.

It is an inspiring history to read and still be apart of.

View from Cascades Pass trail, North Cascades National Park. Lauren Danner photo.
“At this time in our political situation, I want to encourage people to contact their elected officials and congressional representatives. Stand up for what you want with public lands,” Danner says. You never know what you impact you can have.

Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park is a story of bargaining in good faith. The voices of the community held weight and can still uphold this good faith that runs deep in our history, no matter what the obstacle.

You can find Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park by Lauren Danner on sale at American Alpine Institute’s Gear Shop as well as other bookstores nationwide.

Photo of Lauren Danner by Sophie Danner.
--Sara Jung, AAI Administrator

Thursday, January 11, 2018

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


--The Surrey Now Leader is reporting that, "An avalanche near Fernie, which RCMP say was triggered by a group of backcountry skiers, has claimed the life of a 36-year-old Alberta man. RCMP say Elk Valley RCMP and Fernie Search and Rescue recovered the body of of the skier who was caught in an avalanche on Monday, Jan. 8. RCMP and Search and Rescue were notified of the fatal avalanche at about 6 pm Jan. 8, in the Lizard Mountain range east of Fernie Monday afternoon." To read more, click here.

--CBC News is reporting that, "North Shore Rescue says an injured skier has been safely taken to hospital after breaking his leg in an avalanche. Rescue crews were called to Mount Seymour Provincial Park (in British Columbia) to assist the skier Tuesday afternoon." To read more, click here.

--Forbes is reporting that, "since New Years Day Mount St. Helens has experienced 40 earthquakes within its vicinity as aftershocks continue every few hours. The most powerful earthquake was a magnitude 3.9 that occurred around midnight west coast time about 5 miles from Mount St. Helens and 23 miles from the town of Morton." To read more, click here.

--Some people believe that what looks like a natural phenomenon on a stratovolcano located on Mt. Adams is actually a multi-dimensional door that aliens use to...do something... And they think a pile of rocks is an alien... There's video! Check it out below. But note that we climbers are likely the aliens that these guys see all the time. Headlamps and illegal night snowmobilers going in and out of shadows in the dark are likely what started the UFO fascination with Mt. Adams.

--And there's a new seven-pitch mixed climb near Whistler. Read about it, here.


--Should there be a Starbucks in the Yosemite's food court? People are not happy about this proposal and there's currently a petition with 12,000 signatures that is trying to keep the coffee shop from opening in the National Park. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The annual Red Rock Rendezvous is slated to take place in Las Vegas from March 16-19, 2018. This is one of the biggest climbing festivals in the country...and one of the most fun. The American Alpine Institute works with Mountain Gear to put on the festival every year and many AAI guides will be on hand for both instruction, as well as for hanging out at the evening parties. You might also consider booking a guide before or after the program, or even participating in an additional climbing class. To read more, click here.

--Huffpo is reporting that, "For the second time in as many months, the House Committee on Natural Resources has taken a public swing at Patagonia. This time it’s after the outdoor retailer turned down an invitation to testify before the legislative body about its opposition to the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle national monuments." To read more, click here.


--The Daily Sentinel is reporting that, "A 20-year-old Grand Junction woman died Thursday night at St. Mary's Hospital after falling "from a significant height" while at an indoor recreation park, Grand Junction police said." It appears that this wasn't a rock gym, but instead, a rock wall in a amusement-style park. To read more, click here.

--The Winter Park Ski Resort is installing digital screens on several of their chairlift restraining bars. These table-style screens will provide information on runs, lift wait times, and other items that skiers might like to know. To read more, click here.

--Colorado is having a hard time with illegal campers on public lands that trash the area. This dynamic is not exclusive to the state. But one of the responses to the situation is. Read more, here.

Notes from All Over:

--Rock and Ice has published a tribute to climbers lost in 2017. To read it, click here.

--The Bomb Cyclone was good news for ice climbing on the East Coast! Read more, here.

--Alpinist is reporting that, "The American Alpine Club has announced the recipients of its 2018 Climbing Awards, given annually to distinguish individuals for their service, leadership and accomplishments. This year's honorees include John Roskelley, Alex Honnold, Ellen Lapham, Margo Hayes and Sally Jewell." To read more, click here.

--And finally, a Basque climber is trying to summit Mt. Everest this winter without oxygen. If he succeeds, he will be only the second person to complete an oxygenless ascent int the winter. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Climbing With Women

“It’s your lead.”

She told me this as we arrived at the base of the pitch. She was right. I had talked up this splitter finger crack all morning and passed the heady, adventurous lead to her earlier that day. I had followed this climb the year before, put up by a male friend, and I had to come back for the lead. A single pitch, the crux is a .3” crack with no feet. It was definitely one that would push me, one that maybe I would try to top-rope again first if that was an option. But it was my lead. Climbing with Amber, I couldn’t just talk about climbing this pitch all morning then expect her to put it up for me. I racked up, she flaked out the rope, and I hopped on.

Laura after our FAFMPA, or "First-All-Female-Multi-Pitch-Ascent."

“What happens when women climb together?”

A male climbing partner once asked this of another female friend. He was genuine in his curiosity, because he knew that there is something different, something special about it. What happened between me and Amber starts to get at the answer.

When I climb with women, I am held accountable to my own strength and abilities. When I climb with men, no matter how healthy our relationship, there is almost always the assumption that he will take a lead that scares me. This dynamic exists regardless of whether we are dating, just met, close friends, or of equal climbing ability. This dynamic even exists if I am a stronger climber than him, technically or physically. I’m using “him” in a universal sense here, because this so ubiquitous in my experience. It’s not necessarily an intentional dynamic on “his” part; many men I climb with encourage me to lead pitches and are great, supportive partners. I’m also sure that I perpetuate the dynamic when I accept the top-rope, but I didn’t create it.

Mountain guide and writer Charlotte Austin touched on this in her Alpinist article “Freedom in the Hills,” noting the confidence gap that exists between male and female climbers. “Girls are usually more sheltered and protected…rather than being prepared for independence, we learn to take a supporting role, which hinges upon reliance on others.” I feel this while climbing with men. I try to fight it, but it’s deep within. And between us.

Amber on the last pitch of Ginger Cracks in Red Rock Canyon

When asked what motivates them to take the sharp end, climbers say many different things. They seek the “flow,” the intense focus of leading, the mind-body connection, the adrenaline, the feeling of being alive. Since I usually just get a stomach ache instead of an adrenaline rush, my motivation has been different. I have realized that for me, leading defines self sufficiency as a climber. If I can put up a climb, I can climb the routes that draw me, without depending on someone else’s abilities. Of course, I depend on a climbing partner to belay or swing leads, but it can be a mutual dependence, rather than a leader-follower relationship. “Many women seek all-women’s expeditions to remind themselves and others of the female’s capacity for climbing hard,” noted Molly Loomis in her 2005 article for the American Alpine Journal. When I am climbing with another woman, I go to my limit, I get on the sharp end, I get scared and try hard, every time.

Kel below Eldorado's East Ridge

“Your hang-dogging is sexy as hell!”

She yelled this up at me, as I shook out my forearms and hung on my yellow cam. I first saw this climb last summer: three perfect corners against a sweeping granite wall. And it’s hard, with overhung wide hands, but I wanted to get on this climb badly enough that I would flail my way up it on lead. This may have been the last day of the season at Index for me, and it was a perfect fall day; carpets of orange leaves were hiding all of the trails, and Mt Index was dusted with snow. I made some hasty tape gloves while Tulin flaked out the rope for the first pitch, her lead. Before she went up, she told me, “I’m going to make an anchor with the rope and belay you up with a Gri-Gri, is that okay? I’ll also probably let you know to ‘watch me’ when I’m scared, even though you probably will be already watching me.” She let me know what she needed, then checked in with me again before I took over the lead on the next pitch.

Amber tossing ropes on Forbidden's West Ridge.

“We didn’t have to be so careful with what we said to each other, and we made decisions by consensus.”*

That’s something else that happens when I climb with women, whether I’m at a sunny “Ladies Crag Day” in Red Rocks, projecting a plastic boulder problem inside with my co-workers, or kicking steps on a snowy alpine climb in the North Cascades. We ask questions, we seek consensus, we communicate. I admittedly have grumbled about the stereotypical “women’s climb nights,” where it seems you have to own sparkly tights to participate. But if that creates a space where women can learn and ask questions with confidence, bring on the tutus! (Or not! Express your gender however you want, am I right?!) Almost all of my technical climbing training has been in male-dominated spaces, and all of my climbing instructors have been men. Questions can feel stifled by ego, and competition replaces vulnerability. “Watching a man do something bears no significance to a women - it simply does not apply to her,” said Abby Watkins, a certified Canadian Mountain Guide. I feel the difference when women teach one another, whether informally in tights at a ladies crag day or at official women’s only events like the Women's Climbing Festival. There is a model to follow, a dialed woman demonstrating the hard skills, and the glass ceiling cracks just a little bit.

Ladies Crag Day at Red Rocks!

So let’s all go climb together right away, and we’ll send all the things and have a super awesome time, right?! Why have I found it to be a little more complicated than that? For a while, I couldn’t find many women to climb with, and I ended up learning  most of my climbing skills from men. There was a scarcity of women in my early climbing. This scarcity of female climbers and mentors creates another, more destructive dynamic that I’ve witnessed more recently. Women often feel the need to prove that they can "hang" or "keep up" to keep their spot in the "boys' club." Rather than women lifting one another up, the scarcity causes competition. I want us to start talking about this more, both men and women. And I want us to reconcile with how this happens outside of our climbing bubble, in other male-dominated industries, because this is not just a women's problem, and it's not just a climbing problem. How do we create spaces that gain from the unique talents that women or minority groups offer? Is it possible to make change within established industries, or must we create something new? Do the climbing community, engineering industry, or firefighter's unions care about this? It's about time to find out.

*From Molly Loomis's article "Going Manless," published in the 2005 American Alpine Journal "Going Manless"

--Katie Griffith, Instructor and Guide

Monday, January 8, 2018

Red Rock Rendezvous - March 16-19, 2018!

This year our guides will be running multi-pitch climbing trips throughout the event and beginner to advanced climbing programs on March 16th. They will also be teaching a variety of programs on the March 17th and 18th; and will be running all day multi-pitch climbing programs on the 19th.

If you have never attended Red Rock Rendezvous before, you are missing out. This is considered by many to be the best climbing event of the year. Everybody meets in the desert for three-days of climbing instruction, clinics, food, and fun. It's a great place to rub elbows with the biggest names in climbing. But it is also a great place to just sit back and soak up climbing culture. Following is a video that was made at the event:

Every year the event just gets better and I have to say that last year's was the most fun so far. Here is a blog with a number of photos and videos from the 2015 Red Rock Rendezvous.

Major climbing athletes make their way out to the Mojave Desert for the Rendezvous every year. Big names at the event include the likes of Beth Rodden, Peter Croft, Katie Brown, and Andreas Marin. But some of our best guides will also be on hand. These include people like Mike Powers, Richard Riquelme, Alasdair Turner, Ian McEleney, Paul Rosser, Andrew Yasso, Chad Cochran, Dustin Byrne, Ben Gardner, Tad McCrea, Doug Foust, Quino Gonzalez, Britt Ruegger, Jeremy Devine, Jared Drapala, Will Gordon, Justin Moynihan, Jenny Merian, Zach Lovell, Will Gordon, Katie Griffith, Alejandra Garces, Kevin McGarity, Steve Johnson, Zak Krenzer, Lindsey Hamm, Katlynne Schaumberg, George Bieker, Calvin Morris, Jim Mediatore, and Dave Richards....and more!

AAI Guides at Red Rock Rendezvous
Photo by Eric Odenthal

AAI will have several programs running after the event. Check them out below:

March 16-March 19 - Red Rock Rendezvous
March 19-March 22 - Outdoor Rock Climbing - Intensive Introduction
March 19-March 22 - Learn to Lead: An Intro to Trad Climbing
March 20-March 23 - Big Wall and Aid Climbing
March 22-March 23 - AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Assessment

In addition to all of the courses going on around Red Rock Rendezvous, don't forget that AAI will have all of our best guides available for private guiding and instruction in Red Rock Canyon. To learn more, send us an email at info@alpineinstitute.com or give us a call at 360-671-1505.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Shadow Campaign: Apex Predators of the Northern Deep

It just feels like a good day to watch a cool video about skiers ripping down crazy steep lines.

Here is the film's synopsis:

A tranquil day of ice fishing goes suddenly awry when natural selection rears its ferocious head. Something lurks in the depths of the great lonesome mountains of the North-- a land where if you are not the predator, you WILL be the prey. But four skiers will not go down without a fight.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 1/4/18


--The Everett Herald is reporting that, "a team tasked with studying recreation fees is recommending that lawmakers decide on a broader source of money for state lands and get rid of user passes, such as the Discover Pass." The Discover Pass is used for state parks and can be used for some associated state agency parking lots like the Department of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife, but not all. One of the things being considered is a mandatory license plate fee. To read more, click here.


--A skier died in a medical incident at Heavenly Ski Resort at Lake Tahoe over the weekend. To read more, click here.

--An ice climber suffered an injury in Lee Vining Canyon on Monday. It appears that the 64-year-old climber fell approximately 40-feet off Chouinard Falls. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A pair of filmmakers were in the right place at the right time when there was a full-cloud inversion in the Grand Canyon. The following time-lapse film is the result of their work on a perfect day. The canyon looks like a sharp shore and the clouds look like waves ebbing and flowing. It's awesome and well-worth a watch...

Notes from All Over:

--Daily Interlake is reporting on two snowboard fatalities in Montana. "Two snowboarders died in separate incidents in Flathead County on Saturday, one near Blacktail Mountain and the other at Whitefish Mountain Resort." The Whitefish fatality was the result of a tree well. To learn how to avoid this danger, click here. To read more, click here.

--Montana's Bozeman Daily Chronicle is reporting that, "an avalanche injured a skier on the west side of the Bridger Mountains late Friday afternoon. According to the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, at about 4 p.m., a 39-year-old Bozeman man skied off the ridge from Bridger Bowl into Truman Gulch and triggered an avalanche." To read more, click here.

--A snowmobiler was killed in an avalanche this week in Montana. And a snowmobiler survived an avalanche in Idaho

--An unresponsive skier was found at the Whitetail Resort in Pennsylvania. The skier was later pronounced dead. There is no information as to what lead to this, whether medical or trauma. To read more, click here.

--Solo climbers are no longer allowed on the South Col route of Mt. Everest. To read more, click here.

--A Polish team is attempting to be the first to climb K2 in the winter. It is likely that they will encounter temperatures of up to minus 80-degrees Fahrenheit...while climbing what is arguably the most dangerous mountain in the world. To read more, click here.

--The Adventure-Journal is reporting on an amazing individual. "Craig Fowler is a 45-year-old professional doer of big, big things. He recently completed the hiking and bikepacking triple crowns. Yes, he walked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. Yes, then he biked the Tour Divide, the Colorado Trail Race, and the Arizona Trail Race. Yes, that’s 7,574 miles on foot and over 4,000 miles in the saddle. No, there’s no evidence suggesting Fowler is a robot. But there’s also no evidence refuting that." To read more, click here.

--The Jackson Hole News and Guide is reporting that, "legislation that would amend the Wyoming Wilderness Act to allow more heli-skiing in the highly protected Snake River Range was crafted without the say of local officials. U.S. Rep Liz Cheney’s attempt to legislate Teton County wilderness issues from Washington, D.C., in the absence of county government input breaks from the long history of consultation and deference to local voices, longtime conservationist and former Jackson resident Phil Hocker said." To read more, click here.

--The Adventure-Journal is asking an important question in our climate addled times. What happens to a ski town when it doesn't snow? Find out, here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Multiple Burial Avalanche Search

Backcountry Access (or BCA) is a leader in avalanche technology. In the following video, BCA's Bruce Edgerly demonstrates advanced avalanche transceiver search techniques that can be used for  multiple avalanche burials.

This is a dense video with a lot of information. It is well worth watching several times...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, January 1, 2018

Life Coach - Renan Ozturk and Alex Honnold

In this film produced by the North Face, Alex Honnold and Renan Ozturk go to Alaska's Ruth Gorge and make a first ascent. This film isn't just about the first ascent though. Instead, it's about finding your passions and dealing with the loss of previous passion.

--Jason D. Martin