Friday, June 29, 2018

Climbing Ethics: Spray

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

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

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

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

etc, etc, etc. 

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

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

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

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

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

Needless to say, spraying is poor etiquette.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 28, 2018

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


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

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

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

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


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

Desert Southwest:

Mt. Wilson in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

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


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

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


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

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

Notes from All Over:

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

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Indespensibles

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

They are the indispensables.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 18, 2018

Retrievable Fixed Line

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 14, 2018

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

Desert Southwest:

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

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


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


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

Notes from All Over:

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

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

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

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

--The fashion industry loves carabiners.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Paying Attention to Navigation in the Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 8, 2018

American Alpine Institute Class of 2018

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

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

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

Jules, hanging out on the ice. 

Vertical ice training. 

Jacky, Sam and Zack enjoying another meal.

Lowering practice.

Messing around on Mt. Erie. 

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

Jules in Leavenworth. 

Mike, climbing in Leavenworth. 

Classroom time in Leavenworth, with professor Ben Gardner. 

Sam and Jules, playing in the mountains. 

Zack, on February Buttress. 

Jacky, on February Buttress. 

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

Zack, in Leavenworth. 

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

Jacky, on Prime Rib. 

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

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

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

Snow training! 

Short-roping in the snow. 

 Skinning up to South Early Winter Spire.

 On South Early Winter Spire.

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

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

Mike, on SEWS.

Skiing down Spire Gully.

"Good work, ladies and gentlemen."

The gully below the Beckey Route. 

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

Sam and Ben on Liberty Bell.

Sam, rappelling Liberty Bell.

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

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

I believe that they both won some fuel...

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

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 7, 2018

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Notes from All Over:

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

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