Friday, May 18, 2018

The Dangers of Glissading

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Mountaineers Rest Step

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

Nope. What I need were legs and lungs.

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 14, 2018

Two Nineteen Forty Four - The Fastest Time on the Nose

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 11, 2018

First Female Ascent of Necessary Evil (5.14c)

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

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Gate Direction on Quickdraws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Unquenchable Thirst - Dry-Throat in the Mountains

In the mountains, the air can be incredibly dry.

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

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

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

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

Healthgrades defines dry-throat as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 4, 2018

Grip and Hold Technique for Rock Climbers

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 3, 2018

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


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

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

Desert Southwest:

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


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


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

Notes from All Over:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Crevasse Falls - Do Knots Work to Decrease Fall Potential?

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

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

Check out the following video for more:

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

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

And they recommended the following distances for rope between knots:

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

--Jason D. Martin