Friday, July 20, 2018

First Piece in a Multi-Pitch Setting

We recently received a request to write about this subject:


I follow your climbing blog and really appreciate the humor and knowledge.

I was wondering if you could do a post on clipping the anchor on multi pitch climbs. I have heard a lot of back and forth on the merits of clipping the anchor or just climbing up a few moves and placing a gear. Here is a link to a video where some comments are concerned about the video persons not clipping the anchor. Here is another link to a post from Will Gadd who talks about some pros and cons. I am wonder where guides stand on this issue? Do they never, always or just depends on clipping the anchor?

Ironically, I found a couple of pictures that I took some time ago, thinking that I would eventually do an article on this subject. So, here we go!

To begin with, the concept the questioner eludes to has to do with the idea that clipping the anchor will decrease the likelihood of a factor two fall. In review, a factor two fall is the highest fall factor possible. It essentially means that the climber climbed up above the belayer without placing any gear, and then fell. He falls twice the distance of the rope out before the fall is arrested. In other words, it means that he fell past the belayer and placed tremendous force on the system.

If the concept of fall factors is new to you, check out this article from Petzl.

To decrease the likelihood of a factor two fall, many climbers clip one piece in the anchor, or clip the shelf.

 In this photo, the climber clipped a locking carabiner on the right leg of the anchor.
If one clips a carabiner in this application, it must be a locker. Please note that in
this photo the climber clipped the bolt on the right and then climbed up left. He 
probably should have clipped the bolt on the right.

The argument for clipping a piece to the anchor is twofold. First, the belayer will be pulled up instead of down. And second, a piece in the system will help dissipate some of the force. 

The main problem with clipping a single piece of the anchor is that a fall will double the force on the piece. In other words, you need a counter force equal to the force of the falling climber to arrest him. That counter force doubles the load. If the piece is not adequately placed or the rock is poor, the piece could blow out. 

The fact that a single piece could blow out doesn't mean that this technique is universally inappropriate. Instead, it's possible to clip a single piece if it's absolutely bomb-proof. If there's any possibility that the piece is poor or that the rock is poor, you should avoid clipping the single piece in the anchor.

Some climbers clip the anchor's shelf to put force on more than one piece.
The problem with this is that it puts the arresting piece closer to the belayer.
The anatomy of an anchor may be found, here.

Another -- and perhaps more crucial issue -- has to do with the force a fall puts on the belayer. The belayer could easily be pulled up into the first piece and potentially let go. Additionally, on a lower-angle climb, the belayer could get pulled into the wall and -- in an attempt to protect himself from getting slammed -- let go of the rope and put up his hands.

It should also be noted that clipping into the anchor doesn't completely mitigate the fall factor forces that you're trying to avoid. A fall onto a piece in the shelf or in the anchor will still put massive forces into the system.

So, what to do?

First and foremost, there is no reason to clip the anchor if you are not below it. In other words, if your anchor is at your feet and you clip it, it's not going to do anything. Similarly, there's no reason to clip a piece into the anchor if the climber will just fall onto a ledge anyway.

If the terrain is easy enough to avoid clipping the anchor, most guides will avoid it. However, if there are hard moves directly off the belay station, most guides will clip a carabiner or draw into the anchor. If a guide does clip into the anchor, he usually asks his belayer to unclip the anchor piece once the guide has placed adequate protection higher up on the route. This mitigates the problem of the belayer getting pulled up into the system as the guide gets higher. Though he certainly could get pulled up early in the lead...

Occasionally the terrain above an anchor is run-out or doesn't provide decent protection. If this is the case, it may be appropriate to use the anchor as a much more dynamic first piece. But if it's going to be a dynamic first piece there needs to be more rope in the system, so that there is more stretch in the event of a fall. The only way to do this is to place the belayer significantly (10+ feet) below the anchor. The idea is that if the belayer is significantly below the anchor, the anchor will act more like a normal bomb-proof piece in the lead system and none of the disadvantages listed earlier will apply.

There are two ways to do this:

1) The belayer can clip the rope through the carabiner at the master-point. He can then lower himself down the wall a given distance and then clip the backside of the rope to his belay loop. The advantage to this style is that when the leader gets to the next belay station and he puts the belayer on belay, the belayer can unclip from the clove-hitch and the leader can quickly pull up the slack, decreasing the likelihood of a hard fall.

2) The belayer may also simply clip himself into the anchor long. The problem with this is that his clove-hitch will be high above him and the belayer will have to solo up to it before unclipping it when it's his turn to climb.

While using an anchor as the first piece in a multi-pitch lead is common, one should think through the advantages and disadvantages on every single pitch. This is not a system that should be universally applied to this type of climbing...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 7/19/18


--The Seattle Times is reporting that, "Recent icefall on Mount Rainier has rattled seismographs, and perhaps the nerves of a few climbers, after collapses on the Ingraham Glacier beginning last Friday. Ice blocks and debris tumbled at least 1,000 vertical feet and across the popular Disappointment Cleaver climbing route, according to Mount Rainier climbing rangers. 'The large ice block tumbled in the middle of the night when no parties were on the route,” according to rangers’ blog post, cautioning climbers about remaining hazards. “… Simply put, this would have been an unsurvivable event.'" To read more, click here.

--A woman fell 300-feet down the side of Mt. St. Helens on Saturday and survived. To read about it, click here.

--A climber suffered a serious injury on the side of Mt. Thompson near Snoqualmie Pass this week. To read more, click here.

--GGW8 is reporting that, "A Chinook helicopter crew lifted seven people - six rescuers and a climber who planned to end his life - from the summit of Mount Hood Friday afternoon. 'The Clackamas County Sheriff notified us that [the climber] had gone to the summit of Mount Hood because he was going to end his life up there, and then he changed his mind,' said Scott Lucas with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management."

--It looks like Cascade River Road is going to stay closed for two or three more weeks. To read more, click here.

--The draft plan to remove mountain goats from the Olympic Mountains is up for comment. To read more, click here.


--A climber was killed on Center Peak in Kings Canyon National Park. There is very little additional information at this time. To read more, click here.

--Here's an update on the Gorges Fire.

Desert Southwest:

--Several trails have been closed indefinitely due to flash flooding in Zion National Park. The trails  include Angels Landing, Upper Emerald Pools and the Kayenta trail. To read more, click here.


--These are some insane wildfire shots...

Notes from All Over:

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "Charles David Cole III, founder of Five Ten and the inventor of Stealth Rubber, passed away on Saturday, July 14, at the age of 63." To read more, click here.

--Nearly 20,000 avalanche transceivers have been recalled from Ortovox. Click here for details.

--Low atmospheric pressure (the situation you're in when you're at high altitude) could cause depression. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Route Profile: Mt. Erie's Zig Zag Route (5.7 or 5.8 II)

Mount Erie is a beautiful lone summit just off the ocean with beautiful views of the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. The peak stands 1,273-feet above sea-level, which is quite high considering there are no other substantial hills or mountains in the immediate area.

The South Face of Mt. Erie

The south side of Mt. Erie is comprised of steep and exposed cliffs and crags. The American Alpine Institute regularly uses the area to teach all of our introductory rock programs. And though there is a lot of rock, there aren't that many multi-pitch lines. There is one though, that stands out as an outstanding outing.

The Zig Zag route with the Springboard finish is an awesome line. It starts with two beautiful 5.7 pitches and then finishes with a very exposed 5.8 that requires one to walk out on a "diving board" dead snag to climb up a crack system.

The route is absolutely phenomenal...and the views can't be beat either.

A climber makes his way up the last few moves of the second pitch.

The climbing is always fun and engaging.

And the views cannot be beat.

The final 5.8 pitch is steep, exposed and fun.

Sunsets on Mt. Erie are astounding!
Final Photo by Andy Bourne

I found the following video on YouTube. It's a little bit redundant, but it really gives you an idea about how cool the Zig Zag route can be.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 16, 2018

Triaxial Loading on Trees

Surprisingly, there is one mistake that both beginners and advanced climbers alike tend to make. Many people will wrap a tree with a sling and then clip the sling. Often the sling is wrapped around the tree in such a way that it is loading the carabiner improperly. A carabiner that is loaded from three directions is often referred to as being triaxally or tri-directionally loaded. This is very very bad...

In this photo the carabiner is radically tri-loaded.
An impact on such a carabiner could cause failure.

A tri-loaded carabiner is crossloaded. It will not hold a high impact fall. As such, it is important to use slings that are long enough to tie off. In the preceding example, there is not enough sling material to get all the way around the tree, but even if there was enough for the carabiner to hang more loosely, it could still triaxally load it.

One could tie the sling off with a pre-equalized knot, but this isn't required. The following photo shows one quick example of a tie-off that eliminates the possibility of triaxal loading.

Triaxal loading is a detail that a lot of climbers don't think about. But it is just these kinds of minor details that can get you in the end. The phrase, "the Devil's in the details," didn't come from nowhere.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, July 13, 2018

Anchors "In Series"

Many climbers find the transition from top-roped climbing into leading to be daunting. This is especially daunting when the move is tinged with the possibility that you will have to build your own traditional anchor. It's scary because at first it's quite difficult to trust an anchor that you've built. It's scary because maybe there aren't that many pieces in the anchor or maybe the rock is bad.

One way to eliminate some of the fear and to build a more secure anchor is to build anchors "In Series."

In the past we've discussed SRENE and ERNEST anchors. The standard is that these anchors are built off of three or four pieces with a cordellete as in the following picture.

A Standard Pre-Equalized SRENE Anchor
The angles on this particular anchor are a bit wide between each of the outside pieces.

In an ideal three piece anchor all of the pieces are completely solid. In an ideal anchor each of the pieces can hold a tremendous amount of weight by themselves. In an ideal anchor, the powerpoint can easily hold ten times the weight of the two climbers on the route.

But what if it can't?

When the pieces aren't solid, you have to add more. To keep it simple, the best way to add more pieces is to add them in series. This is a method wherein one SRENE anchor is stacked on top of another SRENE Anchor. This system allows a climber to do a couple of things. First it allows one to add more pieces to the anchor. Second, it allows those pieces to be added in a simplistic way that makes sense with a cordellette or an extra sling. And third, it spreads out the weight at the powerpoint into more equalized pieces.

An Anchor In Series with a Magic X on the Left-Hand Leg

While the preceding picture may seem to tell the whole story, there is one thing to consider when building an anchor in series. One element that is terribly important to be aware of is that if a magic x (self-equalizing twist) is used in the system, it may not be as effective as a pre-equalized knot in the system.

In the picture above, the left hand leg of the cordellette terminates in a sling clipped to two pieces and equalized with a magic x. The problem with a magic x in this kind of system is that if one of those left hand pieces blows out, the sling will become limp and the weight will not automatically transfer to the other piece in the magic x. If this happens, then all of the weight will be placed on the two pieces on the right.

It's better to build two pre-equalized anchors on top of each other when working in series. However, occasionally this isn't possible and you're forced to work with a magic x. When that happens, make sure that the pieces that are not a part of the x are extremely strong.

An Anchor In Series with a Pre-Equalized Knot on the Right-Hand Leg
This anchor is essentially a three piece anchor that was linked together in series
because the climber only had two double-shoulder length runners to build an anchor.

It is quite possible to build a vast anchor with codellettes and slings in series. And sometimes -- when the rock is very bad -- that is exactly what you have to do.

There are many other ways to add additional pieces to an anchor and to keep it SRENE, but for many who are just dipping their toes into the world of leading, anchors in series make a lot of sense. Most guides recommend that beginning level leaders work with anchors in series for a significant period of time before experimenting with other systems. This will help lay a solid intellectual framework of what an anchor is supposed to look like and what it is supposed to do.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 7/12/18


--An injured climber was rescued off Oregon's Broken Top Mountain this week. It appears that a rock dislodged and the female climber fell approximately 25-feet on moderate angle terrain. The rock rolled over her. To read more, click here.

--A climber with a broken arm was rescued off Mt. Baker this week. To read more, click here.

--Objective hazards on the Disappointment Clever of Mt. Rainier seem to be growing. On Monday, there was a major icefall event on the route. To read more, click here.

--The people responsible for several trailhead break-ins in Mazama and near Washington Pass have been captured. To read more, click here.


--The Whitney Portal was evacuated this week due to a nearby wildfire. To read more, click here.

--Specifically, the Gorges Fire is threatening Whitney Portal. The most recent report shows it to be 30% contained. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Watch out for target shooters in the desert...

A climber on Johnny Vegas (5.7, II) in Red Rock Canyon.

--The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area has recently announced that it will accept online or phone reservations for single campsites. This will make it easier for people to plan trips to Red Rocks and know beforehand that they will have a campground. To read more, click here.


--The Denver Post is reporting that, "A 31-year-old Denver man fell to his death Saturday while climbing a boulder near Navajo Peak in the Brainard Lake Recreational Area, authorities say." To read more, click here.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "Two mountain goats were poached on Quandary Peak last week, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is offering a $1,000 reward for any information about who shot and killed the animals. The two young, male goats were found shot to death Tuesday afternoon about 2.8 miles up the Quandary Peak Trail, according to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release." To read more, click here.

--Fox 31 is reporting that, "A climber who went off-course while seeking a shortcut had to be rescued from Capitol Peak on Tuesday, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office said." To read more, click here.

--Teton Gravity Research notes that, "on June 21st, a jury reached the verdict that Vail Resorts was not responsible for the death of 13-year-old Taft Conlin in an in-bounds avalanche. The decision was based on courtroom testimonies from skiers and patrollers regarding closure of the Upper and Lower Prima Cornices. But yesterday, a former Vail ski patroller, Michael Beckley, stated that the entire cornice should have been closed, in an open letter published by Vail Daily. Beckley worked at the resort for years as a ski instructor, a snowcat driver, and finally as a ski patroller. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Twin Cities Pioneer Press is reporting that, "The St. Croix River cliffs at Taylors Falls, Minn., nearly claimed a life Monday when a 23-year-old man fell while rock climbing, according to the Chisago County sheriff’s office. Nicholas Walberg was listed in critical condition Tuesday night, according to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, after witnesses told authorities he slipped while attempting to climb the rocky gorge in Interstate State Park on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix." To read more, click here.

--A stuck climber was rescued near Provo, Utah this week. To read more, click here.

--The Washington Post is reporting on the continued problems for recreation on public lands under the current administration. "The National Park Service does not have one. Neither does the Bureau of Land Management. Same goes for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. None of those three land management agencies, which together oversee more than 480 million acres of surface area nationwide, according to figures on their websites, have received a permanent director during the nearly 18 months since Donald Trump became president. Instead, those agencies are being run by temporary “acting” officials — people not formally nominated by President Trump and who do not require confirmation by the Senate." To read more, click here.

--Outdoor clothing companies don't do a good job representing people of all shapes and sizes. To read more, click here.

The Piolet d'Or

--The Lifetime Achievement Award for the prestigious Piolet d'Or award has never been presented to a woman. Gripped has a great article on five women who definitely deserve the award. To read more, click here.

--Holy sites are often sought out be recreationalists who don't understand the cultural meaning of an area. This can have a negative impact on local communities and on the recreationalist. To read more, click here.

--Apparently people are paying a premium to go glamping inside New York City. To read more, click here.

--And finally, Outside has a piece on a guy who got attacked by a bear, bit by a rattlesnake and bit by a shark, all within a three-year period. To read the piece, click here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

How to Safely Cross a River

Every year I attend several risk management conferences and events for outfitters and guides of all stripes, and every year it's the same. The greatest risk to the backcountry traveler tends to be water. The most common outfitter and guide concern is the possibility of a drowning while an individual swims recreationally. But another common and big concern is the ability to effectively cross a river.

I can't tell you how many thousands of rocks I've hopped while crossing small creeks. And I also can't tell you how many times I've helped people as they crossed these features in an unstable way. Obviously, the best way to manage small creeks is by using trekking poles and picking rocks to step on that don't appear to be too slippery. It's also a good idea to avoid crossings above hazards, such as waterfalls.

But what about bigger water obstacles?

The staff at Backpacker magazine have put together a nice video on this subject. Check it out below.

In review, here are some considerations:

Try to Avoid Deep Crossings - Try to avoid crossing anything that is deeper than your knees. You can check the depth by throwing a rock in the river where you intend to cross. If the rock makes a "ker-plunk" sound, the river is deep and may be too difficult to cross.

Look for Hazards Downstream - Don't cross above waterfalls, rapids or any other feature that could hurt you if you fall.

Look for Wider Areas to Cross and Avoid Bends  - Wider areas tend to be shallower. And the current tends to be faster around bends.

Look at Waves - Standing waves can indicate boulders and fast water. Washboard light waves indicate a more uniform bottom.

Extra Shoes - If you have extra shoes, it's best to wear them for crossings. It is not ideal to have wet boots and socks while hiking as that can lead to blisters.

Unbuckle Packs  - An unbuckled pack tends to be better because you can get out of it quickly if you fall.

Crossing Strategies - Use trekking poles or sturdy sticks to enhance stability. Face upstream and cross at a slight downstream angle. Sidestepping or shuffling across can also help with stability.

Link Arms  - If the water is deeper, or if someone doesn't feel as stable, partners might link arms to enhance stability.

Tripod Technique - This is a river crossing technique that requires three people. Each person puts their hands on the next person's shoulder in a circle. The tallest person is upstream. The team then shuffles across.

River crossings are dangerous. Take your time and find the right spot to cross...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 9, 2018

Breaking News: Whitney Portal Evacuated due to Fire!

AAI just received this email from Sequoia and King's Canyon National Park:

Due to increased activity on the southern flank of the Gorges Fire, the Whitney Portal area has been evacuated. This evacuation was done in coordination with the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office. This includes campgrounds, residents, and the Whitney Portal Store. The Hogback and Whitney Portal Roads are closed.

Hikers who exit at Whitney Portal that do not have a vehicle may call a shuttle service  to arrange to be picked up. Shuttle services will only be assisting exiting hikers as conditions permit. Additional road closures include the Foothill Road and Moffat Ranch Road as well as any other roads that enter the fire area. Please avoid the fire area for your safety and for our firefighters’ safety.

Picket Placements

There are three options for placing a picket. The first is in a t-trench, the second is a vertical placement, and the third is the mid-clip picket.

The strength of a snow picket, no matter how the picket is placed, is directly correlated to to the quality of the snow. The strongest is always going to be a picket placed in a t-trench with snow backfilling it. That snow backfilling should be packed down and work-hardened. The second strongest is going to be a t-trench without backfill. The third will be a mid-clip picket. And finally, the weakest -- but fastest picket placement -- is the vertical picket.

In the following video, AMGA instructor team member Emile Drinkwater, demonstrates how to place pickets in three different orientations.

It should be noted that with the vertical picket demonstration, if one can easily place the picket, without stomping on it or pounding it in, the picket is likely not very good. It should require some effort to place a vertical picket.

Picket placement is a craft. And as with any other craft, it takes practice to do it well. Put in some time and effort with these devices before using them for real...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, July 6, 2018

Film Review: Mountain

Mountain is an awesome film...! It opens with a tremendous quote. "Those who dance are considered those who cannot hear the music..."

That sums up our lives as climbers. But people still ask, "why do you climb?" Mountain does its part in answering that question. The movie explores mountains and mountain sports all over the world. The film features spectacular scenery and heart-stopping exposure. With little more than images, music and some narration by Willam Defoe, we see people climbing, mountaineering, skiing, base jumping and mountain biking in some of the most wild terrain imaginable. And it is beautiful. It explains why we climb without ever explaining why we climb...

There is no doubt that this is a film built from other films. There is footage from several years of Banff Film Festival World Tours and Reel Rock Film tours. But it is some of the most fantastic footage out there. We get to revisit some of the best scenes from films like Cold, Sketchy Andy, Ice Revolution, Alone on the Wall, The Swiss Machine, Honnold 3.0, Meru, A Line Across the Sky, and many many others.

One might argue that there is too much recycled footage in this film. And perhaps there is, for someone who sees a lot of mountain documentaries. But this footage has been completely repackaged. The film -- unlike those others -- was not made for a mountain audience. Instead, it was made for general consumption and was designed to be a visual feast.

Mountain doesn't do anything like other mountain films. It does not provide non-stop narration and interviews with climbers and skiers. Instead, it just provides us with non-stop beauty and action. It tries to be something different, and by that measure it succeeds.

Another piece of criticism of the film is that it doesn't have a story.

And to be honest, it doesn't.

But that's okay. The film was designed to be not only inspirational, but to be a compendium to a classical music concert performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. And it works... We are transported to the highest places on the planet while we float on every note.

The combination of films that provided the source material for this documentary have one thing in common: a climber named, Renan Ozturk. Renan is not a Hollywood guy by any means. He is a climber who, over the years, has built a reputation as a master cinematographer. Indeed, Renan gets the cinematography credit for the film.

We have all seen Renan's work -- in many cases, without realizing it -- and it's clear that he has an exceptional eye. Renan understands the power of mountain imagery. And he understands how to capture it and bring it to the masses in a way that allows us to feel like we are there with him.

And though Renan provided much of the footage, he wasn't the master mind behind the project. Instead it was the Australian Chamber Orchestra that commissioned Jennifer Preedom, who previously directed the acclaimed film Sherpa, to develop the documentary. As such, this was a very different type of process. Preedhom wasn't the only "director." The film was certainly overseen by her, but it was also put together by a combination of musicians and editors in order to create the right feel...

Mountain is a beautiful film and well-worth one's time, especially if you can see it on the biggest screen possible.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Red Rock Canyon Campground Single Sites to move to National Reservation System

From the BLM in Las Vegas:

LAS VEGAS – Visitors may reserve single campground sites at Red Rock Canyon Campground online or by phone for visits starting in 2019.

Beginning October 15, 2018, Red Rock Canyon Campsite reservations for camping dates from January 1, 2019, and beyond can be made at, or by calling the national reservation hotline 1-877-444-6777. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance but not less than 48 hours of the desired arrival date. Camping rates have not changed and are $20 per night for the standard and RV sites, $10 for the walk-to sites, and $60 for the group sites.

Currently, only the seven large group campsites at Red Rock Canyon Campground are on the online reservation system; however, 66 of the 80 single campsites will be available on the system for camping starting January 1, 2019. The remaining 14 campsites will be offered on a first-come first-served basis. is managed by National Recreation Reservation Service. The NRRS is a partnership between Federal Land Management Agencies to provide quality reservation services for facilities and activities on public lands. Additional information about recreation opportunities at BLM’s Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area can be found at:

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Cleaning an Anchor and Setting Up a Rappel

We have a few different videos on this blog that deal with cleaning an anchor and rigging a rappel. But this video, from Red Rock Rendezvous and featuring AAI Guide Doug Foust, is incredibly good. It is a very comprehensive look at this transition. Check it out:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Master Carabiner

The American Mountain Guides Association and Outdoor Research have teamed up to create several high quality climbing videos. In this video, AMGA Instructor Team Members Olivia Race and Dale Remsberg discuss the pros and cons of a master carabiner.

The concept is pretty simple. If two bolts are close enough together, you can use a large locking carabiner for a master point. Following are a few things to remember from the video:

1) Use when equalization has been created by the bolted anchor itself.
2) Quick to build and clean.
3) Avoid heavy off-axial loading directions.
4) Large pear-shaped auto-locking carabiners are ideal.

--Jason D. Martin