Friday, March 23, 2018

Attaching an Ice Axe to a Pack

This morning I was putting away my rock rack in the garage when I noticed that one of my ice axes was lying on the floor. Both of my children appeared to still be intact and they both were each carrying around their favorite toys (an stuffed horse and a Minecraft Creeper). In other words, there had been no viscous ice axe attacks so that one might have the other's favorite toy...

The mystery was fleeting, but the idea of a blog wasn't. That ice axe lying on the floor reminded me that one question regularly arises when we are getting ready to go into the field: How do I attach my ice axe to my backpack?

Most backpacks have two loops that hang down off the back of the pack. To attach the ice axe, one must slide the shaft down into one of the loops with the pick facing in toward the center of the pack.

In this photo it is possible to see that the ice axe's pick
is facing toward the center. You can see that if the straps that hold it
in place were to fail, the axe would not fall off.

After the axe has been dropped down into the loop, rotate the spike up toward the top of the pack. Usually there is some kind of strap or buckle that can be fastened over the shaft so that the axe stays in place. The Black Diamond pack in the following picture has a special cord with a toggle to hold the axe in place.

A pack with an ice axe properly stowed.

After I took these pictures I found a nice hole in the backyard. It looked a little bit like somebody had been using a hoe to scrape up the grass. I immediately knew better. To me, it looked like an adze had been been at work.

After discovering that, I decided that it would probably be best if two little kids were not playing with an ice axe. There will be time enough for that when they're older...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Non-Event Feedback Loops

Many climbing and ski mountaineering accidents are the result of human error. There are a number of types of human error, but the most disconcerting and common type results from a non-event feedback loop.

--I've been doing it this this way for years and nothing bad has ever happened.

--We skied the slope all day and it was fine. How were we to know that it would slide?

--The boot-track went right under the ice cliff. I just went the way everybody else went.

The thinking process behind non-event feedback is predicated on the following belief: Nothing bad happened last time and nothing bad happened to someone else; therefore, nothing bad will happen this time to me. The psychology of non-event feedback is complex, but its very existence leads to following reality:

The crag that you climb the most, the slope that you ski the most, the mountain that you've been up the most times...these are the most dangerous places that you will ever go.

Non-event feedback takes on a new dimension with group dynamics. A beginner may follow a competent leader up a mountain. The leader may look at the conditions and decide that they're safe. If the leader doesn't go through his entire thinking process, the beginner may then make the assumption that the conditions are always safe.

Avalanche research indicates that the likelihood of skiers tackling a dangerous slope increases dramatically after one person successfully skis the slope first. In other words, once someone sees someone else get away with something, they subconsciously believe that they can get away with it too.

The only way to avoid getting stuck in non-event feedback loops is to constantly question yourself. Is this safe today? Am I just following the leader? And lastly, am I responding to the conditions as they are or as I wish they were?

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 19, 2018

Route Profile - Kautz Glacier

With a couple of pitches of steep climbing, an ascent of a broad glacier, and a bivy at the highest camp on Mount Rainier, the Kautz Glacier is thought to be the premier intermediate route on the mountain.

The Kautz Glacier Route
Photo by Mike Riley

In 1857, August Valentine and his party attempted to make the first recorded ascent of Mount Rainier via the Kautz. Unfortunately the party was turned away before they succeeded. The first documented ascent of the mountain would go to Hazard Stevens and Philemon Beecher Van Trump twelve years later in 1870 after they successfully climbed a line to the southeast of the Kautz.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that the Kautz was climbed by seven men and three women in 1913, but little more is known. The Kautz eventually received a documented climb in 1920, when Hans Fuhrer, Heinie Fuhrer, Roger Toll, and Harry Myers summited via the route.

In the early years of guided climbing on Mount Rainier, the Kautz became the standard route to the summit. Over time the line fell out of favor as people migrated toward the easier Disapointment Cleaver route, which is now the standard line of ascent. Unfortunately, this so-called "standard route" on the mountain has become a zoo. Thousands and thousands of climbers ascend the "DC" every year and as a result, the Kautz has reclaimed a bit of its wilderness character.

Climbers skirting crevasses on the Kautz Glacier
Photo by Alasdair Turner

The ascent of the Kautz starts in Paradise. From the parking lot, climbers hike up to Glacier Vista above the Nisqually Glacier. From there you drop down onto the the glacier proper. A short traverse across the lower glacier -- often skirting large crevasses -- brings you to "The Fan," a gully that takes you up off the glacier and onto a ridgeline. The ridge eventually leads to a series of moderate snowfields beneath Camp Hazard, known as "The Turtle." Most climbers will bivy as high as they can on The Turtle for a shorter summit day, often camping as high as 11,000 feet.

While there are established camp sites and blue bag receptical bins at Camp Hazard, most climbers avoid this camp. The Kautz ice cliffs above the camp often shed large seracs and the ice-fall danger in the camp is high.

Climbers descend the Kautz Glacier
Photo by Alasdair Turner

On summit day, most climbers will start very early. The short trek up to Camp Hazard must be done quickly to avoid ice-fall. Once at the camp, climbers drop down to the Kautz Glacier proper. There are two steepish pitches of ice climbing below Camp Hazard. Depending on the way that a climber goes, the difficulty can reach up to 60 degrees.

Above the ice pitches, the angle decreases significantly. The remainder of the climb to the summit requires standard mountaineering skills.

Climbers from around the world come to Rainier because of its beauty and granduer. The Kautz Glacier provides an excellent adventure for those looking for an intermediate level route on one of the most spectacular mountains in the world.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 16, 2018

"Gripped" - The Film

When I first watched this trailer, I fully thought it was a joke. Seriously, I thought some climbers had made this to make fun of climbing movies. Imagine my surprise when I found out that this is a real film with a website and everything...

I'm looking forward to seeing this film!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/15/18


--A snowmobiler was killed in an avalanche near Park Butte, close to Mt. Baker on Saturday. This marks the 7th avalanche fatality in the Pacific Northwest this season. To read more, click here.

--A snowshoer that went missing on Monday on Mt. Rainier was found dead on Tuesday. To read more, click here.

--The Fremont Brewery in Seattle is sponsoring avalanche awareness course scholarships to 24 women next season. These scholarships will be funded by the Snowpack Ale. So if you're a beer drinker, this is a good investment in women's avalanche education. To read more, click here.


--An elderly woman died after a ski accident at Big Bear Mountain over the weekend. To read more, click here.

--A five-year-old skier lost consciousness while hanging off the side of a chairlift at Bear Mountain Ski Resort. The girl was rescued and will recover fully. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "U.S. scientists studying the effects of uranium mining around the Grand Canyon say they are lacking information on whether the radioactive element is hurting plants, animals and a water source for more than 30 million people. And they would not get to fully gather it if President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal is approved." 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.


--A skier died after hitting a tree in Breckenridge over the weekend. To read more, click here.

--Hesperus Ski Area has suspended operations due to lack of snow. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Marc-Andre Leclerc and Ryan Johnson were killed while trying to climb a new line on the Mendenhall Towers in Alaska. The pair were reported missing on Friday. Over the next several days teams searched for the pair before they finally found them. There is no information available yet about what happened. To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "Four ice climbers survived an avalanche early Saturday afternoon on the route Kitty Hawk on David Thompson Highway in Alberta. Mounties in Rocky Mountain House were notified of an emergency locator beacon signal coming from an area near the classic WI5 ice route on Mount Elliot on Highway 11 about 50 km southwest of Nordegg and 250 km northwest of Calgary." To read more, click here.

--Deanne Buck just became the second woman to become president of the American Alpine Club. To read more, click here.

--There have been far too many avalanche and tree-well fatalities this year. Gripped addressed this trend in an article last week.

--NPR is reporting that, "Tony Tooke, the head of the U.S. Forest Service, resigned on last week following accusations of sexual harassment." To read more, click here.

--On a related note, the Forest Service is on the hot seat for issues of sexual harassment. This article, by a woman who spent 32-years with the service, takes a deep look at the agency and its culture.

--Imagine a ski that uses smart technology to give you feedback like a coach. It's coming!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Route Profile: Skiing the Shuksan Arm

Mt. Shuksan sits above the Mount Baker Ski area, a jagged jewel of rock and ice frosted in snow. The mountain is one of the most photographed mountains in the world, and for good reason. It is an absolutely stunning mountain.

Mt. Shuksan in the Winter

There are several ski tours that one can do out of the Mount Baker Ski Area. Some of them are quite easy, while others are more advanced. Skiing the Shuksan arm is one of the more aggressive ski days. Why? Because you cover quite a bit of ground. But the ground is absolutely awesome.

Here is a short photo essay from that tour:

 Skiers on the Shuksan Arm

A skier dropping down off the arm above Lake Ann 

The snow was literally like butter the day we were up nthere. 

 Okay, I admit it. I'm the one who screwed up the S turns by going straight.

The lower Curtis Glacier above Lake Ann

The American Alpine Institute runs private ski programs in the Cascades, the Sierra and in the San Juans every day throughout the winter. In the Cascades the ski programs run up to July...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 12, 2018

Route Profile: Diedre - 5.7, II+

Between Vancouver, British Columbia and the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort lies one of the best rock climbing playgrounds in North America. Squamish, sometimes referred to as the "Yosemite of the Northwest," is home to hundreds - if not thousands - of spectacular routes, many of them moderate, and most of them easily accessible.

In the early nineties as I learned to climb, I spent a lot of time on the cliffs and crags of Squamish. When I was twenty years old I climbed Diedre (5.7, II+) for the very first time. And at that point in my climbing career, the ascent was life-changing. I had never really done anything longer than two pitches prior to that, and so the completion of a six pitch moderate route was a major achievement.

Diedra was put up in the early sixties on a formation in Squamish called "The Apron." There are a number of moderate routes on The Apron as it is a lower-angled formation. Diedre climbs through some slabs to attain a beautiful corner crack, which you follow for three pitches.

The climbing is never terribly hard, but it is exhilarating. The views of Howe Sound, the Stawamus Chief and nearby Mt. Garabalidi are absolutely stellar.

 AAI Guide and Program Coordinator James Pierson on Pitch 2.

James, approaching the belay station on moderate ground.

AAI Guide Tad McCrea, being a doofus, on moderate ground.

AAI Guide Mike Powers making his way up the fantastic finger crack on pitch 3.
 Another shot of pitch 3.

 James, leading pitch 3.

James, getting after it!

A mother and daughter team following pitch 4. 

 Near the anchors at the top of pitch 4.

 I have climbed Diedre at least twenty times over a timeframe exceeding twenty years. And I never get tired of it. The route seems fresh every time. Writing this today makes me wistful for the route. I can't wait to go back and climb it again...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 9, 2018

Backcountry Skiing: Effective Transitions

Backcountry skiing is one of the most fun mountain adventures out there. But it is gear intensive and there is no more gear intensive moment in a backcountry skiers day than the transition from climbing to skiing or from skiing to climbing.

AMGA Instructor Team Member Jeff Ward and Outdoor Research came together to do a video on this subject. Check it out below:

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/8/18

There were a lot of snow related fatalities over this last week. Yes, some of them were avalanches. But there were also tree-well immersions and a roof slide at a ski resort. Be careful out there. Always be aware of your surroundings and be extremely conservative in new snow conditions...


--It's been a tough couple of weeks in the mountains. The Tacoma New Tribune is reporting that, "The state of Washington averages five avalanche deaths every two years. This year, there have been six avalanche deaths here in just over a week." To read more, click here.

--The Associated Press is reporting that, "Authorities are trying to recover the body of a skier killed in an avalanche in the Methow Valley. Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers says four skiers were caught in the slide Sunday afternoon. The other three were able to locate the fourth using his avalanche beacon, but they couldn't recover his body." To read more, click here.

--Two snowmobilers were killed on Sunday near Esmeralda Peak in Eastern Washington in an avalanche. To read more, click here.

--There were two tree well fatalities at Mt. Bachelor over the weekend. Gear Junkie reports that. "In separate incidents Friday, a 24-year-old Bend, Ore., man and 19-year-old Eugene, Ore., woman fell into 6-foot-deep wells and suffocated. The deaths mark the first tree-well fatalities in 16 years at the resort, with roughly 8 million visits since the last occurrence." To read more, click here.

--MEC and REI are both dropping brands from Vista Outdoors. From the Adventure Journal: "REI announced that is suspending future purchases of brands owned by Vista Outdoor, which manufactures guns and ammunition, including semi-automatic weapons through its Savage Arms brand. Vista owns Bell, Blackburn, BollĂ©, Bushnell, CamelBak, Camp Chef, Giro, and Jimmy Styks, among others. This morning, Canadian retail chain MEC CEO David Labistour said in a statement that effective immediately, MEC will cease ordering any Vista Outdoor products. It will continue to sell inventory in stock until it’s sold out." To read more, click here.

--This is a really nice piece on Whatcom County Search and Rescue and the Bellingham Mountain Rescue Council.

--A nice new wall has been developed right next to the Smoke Bluff Parking Lot in Squamish. To read more about it, click here.


--Two ski resorts suffered in bounds avalanches over the weekend in the Sierra. The first was a controlled slide at Mammoth Mountain, that got out of control. But no one was injured. The second was at Squaw Valley and buried five people, though there were no reported fatalities. The following video is of a snowboarder rescued inside the ski areas boundaries:

--The Reno Gazette Journal reported on two fatalities from a roof avalanche. "A mother and son from San Francisco died Sunday while skiing to a slope-side condominium at Kirkwood Mountain Resort. According to the Alpine County Sheriff’s Office Olga Perkovic, 50, and her son, Aaron Goodstein, 7, died after snow falling from a rooftop buried them." To read more, click here.

--The National Park Service is now taking applications for climbing stewards in Yosemite National Park. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--An individual was found dead in Red Rock this week. It appears that the person died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. To read more, click here.

--The desert near Joshua Tree may soon be open to energy development. A number of locals are fighting against this move. 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.


--The Denver Channel is reporting that, "The sons of former Broncos player Ed McCaffrey are being credited with helping to save the life of a 72-year-old climber who fell in Castle Rock. On Saturday afternoon, Dan Smoker was with his 13-year-old grandson descending the massive rock formation called Castle Rock when the elderly climber slipped and fell." To read more, click here.

--So there's a movie out about a dog on ski patrol in Vail. Check it out, here.

Notes from All Over:

--There was another tree-well fatality at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana. To read more, click here.

--Please please please please, don't try this at home!

--Climbing and politics DO converge...especially when it comes to issues of public lands and climate change. I would also argue that gender and racial equality in the outdoors are also important political issues in our chosen sports. Check out Climbing magazine's editorial on this topic.

 Google Earth Image People Believe Shows Spaceship in Antarctica
(click to enlarge)

--So some of the same yahoos who think there are aliens on Mt. Adams think that an alien spacecraft crashed on South Georgia Island in Antarctica. They note the shape of the "craft" and the trail behind it. They don't seem to account for why the crash trail is still there and the "ship" is covered in snow. To me it looks a lot like a serac collapsed off the ice cliff above and slid down the slope. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Using Trees and Bushes for Anchors

All types of climbing requires all types of anchors. One commonly used anchor in top-roped climbing as well as in multi-pitch climbing is the ubiquitous tree. Trees and bushes are everywhere. You can find solid trees sticking out of cracks in the middle of a route and you can find weak trees sitting on top of a crag. As a result it is very important to look carefully at a tree before using it.

In traditional anchors, we often use the acronym SERENE to determine whether an anchor is good or not. The letters in SERENE stand for the following:

S -- Solid -- Are all the pieces in the anchor solid?
E -- Equalized -- Are all the pieces equalized?
R -- Redundant -- Is there redundancy throughout the sysytem?
E -- Effective -- Was the anchor construction simple and quick with no fuss?
NE -- No Extension -- Will the system be shock-loaded if a piece blows?

All anchors should pass the SERENE test or come extremely close to passing this test.

When we find a big fat tree that we elect to use as an anchor, the tree generally will not pass this test. Why? Because a single tree is not redundant. However, if the tree is giant and has a good root-base, redundancy doesn't matter as much. All the other letters in the acronym will be satisfied.

The SERENE acronym becomes significantly more important when the tree or bush that you wish to use in your anchor isn't very good. Occasionally, we have to link together a series of shrubs in order to create a SERENE anchor. It's important to use as many as you need to use in order to make the anchor as strong as it needs to be.

Following is a video about what to look for in a good tree anchor:


--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 5, 2018

Rappelling - The Basics

The American Alpine Club produced a nice piece on rappelling. The following video looks at both considerations and techniques for a successful rappel.

Following is a review of the video:

Counterweight Rappelling vs. Fixed Line Rappelling

This is a standard rappel technique. Both strands of the rope are threaded through a tube style device. The fact that both strands are threaded allows the climber to counterweight herself.

In fixed line rappelling, the rope is tied off and the climber descends a single strand. This can be done with a tube style device or with an assisted braking device.

Why Do Climbers Rappel?

The first reason a climber might rappel is because the climber ascended a multi-pitch route that requires multi-stage rappels. The second reason may be to clean anchors in a single pitch setting. And finally they rappel in emergencies.

Four Key Principles of Rappelling

1) Climbers must be secured during the setup.
2) Climbers must use a backup.
3) Rope ends should be managed and systems should be closed.
4) Avoid entanglements - keep hair and clothes out of devices.

The remainder of the video addresses how these fundamentals are managed by a climber. It also addresses anchor cleaning and fireman's belays.

Rappelling Accidents Happen Because:

1) A climber didn't understand how a rappel worked.
2) A climber didn't double-check everything carefully.
3) A climber didn't have an adequate backup.
4) A climber didn't manage the ends of the rope.

Rappelling can be super dangerous. It's important that you manage your rappels adequately.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 2, 2018

Training and Technique: How to Climb Overhangs

Overhangs are tough. They are one of the great banes of the "weak" climber's existence. But there are ways to get better at attacking these obstacles. Mani the Monkey has put together a great video on how to do it. But he warns that...

There isn't really one single key technique which is going to solve all overhanging problems easily. Rather there's a conglomerate of different techniques and physical capabilities which, when used appropriately, will make climbing overhangs easier. Important techniques are amongst others the Backstep and Hooks, while important physical capabilities are Body Strength/Core and Upper Body Strength.

Check out his video below:

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/1/18


--Two teenage snowshoers were killed by an avalanche near Snoqualmie Pass over the weekend, and a 32-year-old snowmobiler was killed in an avalanche near Stampede Pass. Avalanche conditions in the Pacific Northwest have been severe over the last several days. It is not recommended that people travel in the backcountry when avalanche danger is high. Be sure to check the avalanche forecast before making backcountry trips in the winter.

--A skier died near Kelowna, BC after falling into a tree well on Monday. To read more, click here.

The "Baker Backcountry" from the
Mt. Baker Ski Area

--The Bellingham Herald is reporting that, "A Seattle backcountry expert is lucky to be alive after members of Bellingham Mountain Rescue found him in a remote area of the Mount Baker wilderness Sunday. Dave Drulard, 46, had been missing for 21 hours when he was found about noon Sunday near Barometer Mountain by two members of a Bellingham Mountain Rescue Council search and rescue team who coincidentally were training nearby." To read more, click here.

--The Canadian version of REI, Mountain Equipment Co-op -- or MEC -- is thinking about the National Rifle Association. BikeBiz is reporting that they are discussing, "bike and outdoor brands owned by gun-and-ammo company Vista Outdoor. The brands – such as Giro, Bell and Camelbak – are being boycotted by some consumers thanks to Vista's support of the US National Rifle Association." The article was updated and notes that no decision has yet been made. To read more, click here.

--The Adventure-Journal has more on Vista Outdoor.

Desert Southwest:

--The Sun is reporting that, "Joshua Tree National Park, a place of otherworldly rock formations, unique plants and iridescent wildflowers, smashed yet another attendance record last year in luring twice as many tourists as visited just four years earlier. The popular desert wilderness park drew 2,853,619 visitors in 2017, a jump of nearly 340,000 from the year before, when a record also was set, federal officials said. As recently as 2013, total attendance was about 1.4 million." 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.


--A skier was killed after hitting a tree at Keystone Ski Resort on Sunday. To read more, click here.

--A 47-year-old snowboarder was killed in the Telluride backcountry over the weekend. It appears that he may have hit a rock in the shallow snowpack while traveling at a high rate of speed. To read more, click here.

--Ski resorts are not doing too well this year. Anthropogenic climate change is having a significant impact and could cost the winter industry one billion dollars. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A snowboarder was killed in an avalanche in Alaska on Monday on Dude Mountain near Ketchikan. To read more, click here.

--A Canadian man was killed in a skiing accident at Camelback Mountain in Pennsylvania. To read more, click here.

--A climber suffered a 100-foot fall near Jackson last week. Though he fell 100-feet, the climber will survive. To read more, click here.

--WCAX 3 is reporting that, "New Hampshire Fish and Game says an ice climber was injured when he fell while climbing on Mount Willard in Crawford Notch. Officers and rescue crews responded at about 2:30 p.m. Friday after receiving a report that 64-year-old Tom Boydston, of Center Conway, New Hampshire, had suffered multiple injuries in a fall of about 20 feet." To read more, click here.

--In the Snow is reporting that, "the number of ski areas in China has passed 700 according to the new edition of the China Ski Industry White Book. The 2017 edition of the Annual Report by Chinese ski industry expert Benny Wu puts the total number of ski areas in the country at the end of last year at 703, an increase of 56 on a year previously.  At least 50 more ski areas are reported to be under construction. China’s ski industry is by far the fastest growing in the world, with support right up to china’s president encouraging hundreds of millions of Chinese to try wintersports ahead of the country hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics." To read more, click here.