Friday, June 29, 2018

Climbing Ethics: Spray

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

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

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

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

etc, etc, etc. 

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

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

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

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

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

Needless to say, spraying is poor etiquette.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 28, 2018

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


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

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

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

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


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

Desert Southwest:

Mt. Wilson in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

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


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

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


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

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

Notes from All Over:

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Glacier Travel Ettiquete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You should do something else with it.

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Indespensibles

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

They are the indispensables.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Pacific Crest Trail in Three Minutes

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

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

Check it out below!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 18, 2018

Retrievable Fixed Line

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 15, 2018

AAC Universal Belay Standard - Belaying a Leader

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

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 14, 2018

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

Desert Southwest:

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

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


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


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

Notes from All Over:

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

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

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

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

--The fashion industry loves carabiners.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How Fire can Restore a Forest

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 11, 2018

Paying Attention to Navigation in the Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 8, 2018

American Alpine Institute Class of 2018

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

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

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

Jules, hanging out on the ice. 

Vertical ice training. 

Jacky, Sam and Zack enjoying another meal.

Lowering practice.

Messing around on Mt. Erie. 

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

Jules in Leavenworth. 

Mike, climbing in Leavenworth. 

Classroom time in Leavenworth, with professor Ben Gardner. 

Sam and Jules, playing in the mountains. 

Zack, on February Buttress. 

Jacky, on February Buttress. 

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

Zack, in Leavenworth. 

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

Jacky, on Prime Rib. 

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

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

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

Snow training! 

Short-roping in the snow. 

 Skinning up to South Early Winter Spire.

 On South Early Winter Spire.

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

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

Mike, on SEWS.

Skiing down Spire Gully.

"Good work, ladies and gentlemen."

The gully below the Beckey Route. 

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

Sam and Ben on Liberty Bell.

Sam, rappelling Liberty Bell.

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

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

I believe that they both won some fuel...

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

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 7, 2018

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Notes from All Over:

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

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

Monday, June 4, 2018

Film Review - The Ritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin