Friday, August 31, 2018

Book Review: The Cruel Peak

One of the great controversies in mountaineering history began in 1959, when Cesare Maestri claimed to have reached the summit of Patagonia's Cerro Torre with Toni Egger. While descending the mountain, Egger was swept off the mountain by an avalanche and killed. According to Maestri, the climber was carrying a camera with definitive proof of their summit success. But that was gone, along with Egger.

After many attempts, Ermanno Salvaterra, Rolando Garibotti and Alessandro Beltrami were successful on the line that Maestre claimed to have climbed, forty-six years after the purported first ascent. The problem was that there was no evidence of the previous party and the route was dramatically different from what Maestri described.

Most people in the climbing community felt that Maestri lied about his success. This nearly destroyed the man, so he went back to the mountain and completed a different line, and placed 400 bolts no more than a body-length apart for nearly 1,100 feet.

The mountaineer was severely criticized for his techniques, but never backed down. To this day he still claims to have summited his original route and argues that his Compressor Route (the bolted line) also provided a legitimate way to the mountain's summit.


Gil Hogg's intelligently written novel, The Cruel Peak, was clearly inspired by the reality of Cesare Maestri. In his book, the patriarch of a wealthy New Zealand family rose to fame and fortune after claiming that he reached the summit of Mt. Vogel, an incredibly dangerous fictional peak in the Southern Alps. Ernest Ashton won international fame after he wrote Fateful Snows, a book about his supposed success on the mountain and the loss of his climbing partner, Bill Stavely.

Many years after the climb, Ashton's son, Stuart became a celebrated mountaineer in his own right. While Stavely's son, Tom moved away to escape the dark shadow cast by the Ashton family, his ex-wife who is an Ashton, and his own family's historically subordinate status with the aristocratic family.

When Tom returns to New Zealand to celebrate the wedding of his estranged daughter, a rumor arises, a rumor about a notebook that appears to dispute Ernest Ashton's claim to the summit of Vogel. Together, Stuart and Tom make their way back to the mountain to learn the truth.

Unfortunately, the book doesn't spend a great deal of time in the mountains. Instead, the novel is a front-country story, with the ghosts of a long-ago backcountry drama haunting the present. The result is that most of the action takes place in a small New Zealand town, instead of on the cliffs and snows of Mt. Vogel.

With a somewhat slow beginning and a lot of different members of the Ashton family to follow, The Cruel Peak starts out as a bit of a cruel read. The first third of the book sets up the second two thirds slowly -- almost painfully slowly -- which can be challenging for the reader. However, the second two thirds of the book provide an excellent payoff for the patient and it is both explosive and exciting.

Gil Hogg has a slightly stilted writing style. You often feel as if he lets exposition get in the way of character and plot.  But this doesn't mean that Hogg can't write those things. Indeed, he's very good at them. And when he lets go of character history and launches into the way that the characters relate to one another in the present, the book takes off.

At the heart of the novel is a question about a climber who lies about his ascent. This is something that doesn't really matter to those who are on the outside of our sport. But in here, in the world of the climber, lying about a mountain achievement is a form of blasphemy.  It's common to hear climbers badmouth those whom they see as overstating their accomplishments. It's almost passe to talk down those who "spray" about how good they are. But that's nothing more than good natured ribbing compared to what happens when someone blatantly lies about an ascent. When it becomes clear that an individual has lied about an ascent, that's when the knives come out. The explosive rage that in online forums and in climbing magazines can be both astounding and a little bit scary.

The Cruel Peak has some weaknesses, but that doesn't mean it's not worth the climber's read. The idea of lying about an ascent strikes some as so unethical that Ernest Ashton lie turns him into an incredibly fascinating and vile character. It's likely that Hogg knew that we might have a reaction like this to the climber. It's also likely that our fascination with such a character is one of the reasons that we still talk about Cesare Maestri and his routes on Cerro Torre.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 8/30/18

--Friday was a sad day. Alpinist reports, "August 24, was a fateful day for the climbing world, as two of America's greatest climbing legends and icons passed away—Tom Frost and Jeff Lowe. Frost died of cancer at a hospice center in Oakdale, California, and Lowe died several hours later in Colorado after suffering from a prolonged illness that has been described as an "unknown neurodegenerative process" similar to MS and ALS. Frost was 81 and Lowe was 67.

Northwest:

--Freesoloing is incredibly dangerous. "A Lewis & Clark College sophomore survived a 150-foot fall during a "free solo" climb Sunday at Smith Rock State Park, according to authorities and the man's family. Benjamin Schulman, 21, was using no safety ropes or equipment as he scaled a rock face not typically known as a climbing route in the southern section of the park, the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office told The Oregonian/OregonLive."According to the report, this individual was an indoor climbing instructor at his college. To read more, click here.

--KATU News is reporting that, "A Portland Police Officer, former KATU News photographer, and volunteer with Mountain Wave Search & Rescue died on Friday while on Mount Hood." To read more, click here.

Sierra:


El Capitan in Yosemite
Photo by Krista Eytchison

--The headline from this Ouside online article, says it all: "Yosemite Finally Reckons with Its Discriminatory Past: Pioneers, the government, even John Muir helped kick out Native Americans from their homes on national parks. But in Yosemite, the Miwuk Tribe is getting its village back." This is an engaging look at the dark side of our National Parks. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The Spectrum is reporting that, "Rescue crews had to fly out a group of hikers by helicopter on Tuesday after a rockfall forced Zion National Park to close its popular Hidden Canyon trail. It was the third time in a little more than a month that the park has had to close the trail, which winds between towering red rock cliff sides just a few miles up from the park's main roadway. In some areas, the hike requires visitors to grasp chains as they scale the canyon walls." To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--The Stanley Hotel is famous for being the hotel where Stephen King's "The Shining" was shot. All the interiors were done at the Stanley, the exteriors were done at Timberline Lodge in Oregon. Last week the Stanley had a visitor that was not a ghost or a kid with ESP... See the video below, or read more, here.




--The Aspen Skiing Company can't hire enough people. As such, they are raising their starting wage to $13.50, up from $12 last season. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Outside online is reporting that, "For decades, women in the Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture have been trying to bring justice to those who have discriminated against them. A new investigation reveals that the inaction is due to a much larger problem: a system set up to make their complaints go away." To read more, click here.

--Jackson Hole News and Guide is reporting that, "a teenager has permanent injuries from an accident he was in during a pond skim event at Wyoming's Snow King Mountain, according to a complaint filed by his parents." Pond skimming is usually a late season thing that skiers do. They try to water ski across small pools, some of which are made by ski resorts. It appears that one skier skimmed on the water over the other skier's legs, slicing deeply into them, causing tendon and nerve damage. To read more, click here.

--In the French Alps, glaciers are melting so fast from anthropogenic climate change, that they're losing up to 130-feet of ice per year. To read more, click here.

--Outside magazine is asking if climbing Mt. Everest changes your genetic code? Twin studies have the answer. To read the story, click here.

--A pair of hikers who threw rocks down a popular climbing route in Canmore, have apologized. The pair posted a widely viewed video that generated hundreds of comments. To read more, click here.

--So Walmart is opening an outdoor gear store to sell high end gear... Here's the story.

--And in related news, Black Diamond is not happy. Outside is reporting that, "ne day after Walmart announced the launch of a new Premium Outdoor Store, Black Diamond has issued a cease and desist order, demanding that the big-box retailer remove all Black Diamond trademarks, logos, and copyrighted product photos from its website. The climbing- and ski-gear maker says Walmart’s use of brand logos and product images were “likely to confuse consumers into believing that Walmart is an authorized dealer of Black Diamond or that the new outdoor Walmart.com site is otherwise associated with or sponsored by Black Diamond.” In fact, Black Diamond says it has never sold through Walmart, never signed a dealer agreement with Walmart, and has no plans to sell through Walmart in the future." To read more, click here.

--The American Alpine Club has launched their #SafeOutside initiative. This is a response to sexual harassment and sexual assault in the climbing world. To read more, click here.

--There were 563 summits of Mt. Everest this year. To read more, click here.

--Metro is reporting that, The frozen body of a mountaineer has been discovered on Europe’s highest peak – 31 years after she vanished. Elena Basykina’s ‘wax doll-looking’ remains were brought down from Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus this week. Her body was encased in ice when she was discovered by a group of tourists 18,510 feet up the mountain." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Coiling a Rope

Coiling a rope is both a skill and an art. First, it's a skill because no matter how you coil the rope, you should be proficient and it should be easy to uncoil the rope for use. Second, it's an art, because each of us have our own little tricks that we throw into coiling that make a given coil our own.

Mike Barter, the prolific climbing instructional video-maker, has a handful of different rope coiling techniques posted on his youtube channel. The one thing that he neglects to say though, is that before you start in any rope coiling endeavor, you should flake the rope. This first video of an individual doing a butterfly coil in his hand is a great example of someone who skipped the flaking part of the process.



Butterfly coils -- or lap coils, if that's what you prefer -- can be bulky and difficult to deal with when they are in your hand, particularly if you have small hands. In the next video, we will have the opportunity to see the same type of system done over the neck.

Mike calls coiling over the neck the Brit Style, or something like that. I might refer to this instead as simply a butterfly coil over the neck... And I have to say that this is also the way that most American guides coil their ropes. It's very fast and it's very easy once you've put in a bit of practice. The biggest downside is when you have a heavy and wet rope from glacier travel. When that happens it's never fun to coil over your neck...



In each of the preceding videos, it would be easy to convert the ropes, the way that the climbers coiled them, into backpacks. You must simply wrap the two ends of the rope over your shoulders, wrap them around your waist -- capturing the rope behind you -- and then tie them together in front of you. Generally a square knot tends to be the easiest and quickest knot to tie in that position that won't come undone.

Some climbers elect to butterfly a rope as a single strand. This style, sometimes referred to as a French coil, is nice for quick use of the rope. Many will do this when they are sport climbing because if you're good, the rope doesn't necessarily need to be flaked.

In the third video, Mike demonstrates the mountaineers coil. This particular style can be very nice for traveling with a rope. But where it is not nice is in uncoiling it. If you coil or store your rope in this particular fashion, it's very important to remember to uncoil the rope one strand at a time, otherwise things will get very messy.



Unless you always put your rope into a rope bag, coiling is a very important part of climbing. As I say on this blog a lot, practice makes perfect!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 8/23/18

Northwest:

--The Seattle Times is reporting that, "A climber died this week while rappelling off a peak in Mount Rainier National Park, officials said. Stephen Kornbluth, 35, of Seattle, summited 6,710-foot Dewey Peak with two friends Tuesday after climbing the mountain’s west face. To read more, click here.

--Tim Auger, a prolific Squamish climber, recently died at the age of 72. To read more, click here.

--GoSkagit is reporting that, "Federal agencies will begin moving mountain goats from the Olympic Mountains to the North Cascades in September." To read more, click here.

--Can technology decrease the number of people on a given trail? One group is trying to make that happen through social media data mining. To read more, click here.

--A new big wall with a lot of potential has been discovered in British Columbia. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Supposedly Ryan Zinke had no idea that his agency was going to sell off a chunk of The Grand Staircase. He says that when he found out, he cancelled the deal. To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--The Gazette is reporting that, "A climber was hospitalized Thursday after falling 40 to 50 feet from the Three Graces rock formation in Garden of the Gods, said Colorado Springs Fire Capt. Brian Vaughan." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--KUTV is reporting that, "The Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter made a middle-of-the-night rescue on Mt. Olympus in Salt Lake County as a search and rescue team worked to reach an injured hiker." To read more and see a video, click here.

--Reveal is reporting that, the Trump administration wants to slash federal funding for wildfire science, at a time when forest and brush fires are getting bigger, happening year-round and becoming increasingly erratic. Federally funded scientists have been seeking new methods and technologies to predict, prepare and respond – critical for safeguarding people and property. They have discovered ways to reduce risks before fires and restore land and waterways afterward. And they explore how fuels, flames, terrain, smoke and weather interact. Defunding those efforts will endanger lives, researchers told Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting." To read more, click here.

--An African-American woman tells her story -- a story of racism, sexism and sexual assault -- in the Forest Service in an article for the Mountain Journal. To read the piece, click here.

--The New York Times has an opinion piece out this week about "the coming Green Wave." This is a reference to those who support public lands and how they're likely to vote in the coming years. To read more, click here.

--Local officials are trying to restrict inexperienced climbers and thrill seekers from climbing Mont Blanc. To read more, click here.

--So apparently the carabiner is a fashion item. Check out this article in Fashonista!

A climber pulls through a steep boulder problem
at Origin Climbing Gym in Nevada.

--Rock and Ice will be distributing a new magazine, Gym Climber, to rock gyms around the country. To read more, click here.

--Alpinist is reporting that a new route was put up in Alaska. "Gus Barber, Lang Van Dommelen and Chris Williams recently established a 2,500-foot first ascent of a Grade IV+ 5.11 on the east face of Caliban (ca. 6,400') in the Arrigetch Peaks in Gates of the Arctic National Park." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Route Profile: Tunnel Vision 5.7+

Tunnel Vision
Location: Angel Food Wall, Red Rock Canyon, NV
Difficulty: 5.7+
Elevation gain: 750'

Here at AAI our programs are starting to ramp up for the fall, winter and spring and many guides are beginning to make plans to head south after the summer weather comes to an end in the Northwest. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area's pleasant winter weather and proximity to Las Vegas make it a popular destination for climbers. But while smaller climbing areas would be overrun by climbers, Red Rock has so many routes that the crowds can thin out - and climbers are often left with the feeling of being in a desert wilderness only 30 minutes from Vegas!

A climber exits the tunnel pitch of Tunnel Vision. Jason Martin.
One of these routes is Tunnel Vision, a fun route on Angel Food Wall, which graces the northeast face of White Rock Springs Peak. While the main attraction on Tunnel Vision is the namesake tunnel pitch - in which climbers actually climb through a hole in the mountain! - the route as a whole includes six pitches of varied moderate terrain, including lots of chimneys and cracks. A couple of variations on this route can make it harder or easier as well.

Tunnel Vision has 6 pitches of fun moderate climbing. Jason Martin.

Check out this video made from stills shot by a climber's husband from the parking lot. Jason Martin is the guide.


A climber on Eigerwand, one route over from Tunnel Vision on Angel Food Wall. You can really get a sense of scale! Jason Martin.  
Mount Wilson, a prominant peak south of White Rock Springs Peak. The scenic beauty of the area draws many non-climbers as well. Dana Hickenbottom.
If you want to check out Tunnel Vision or some of the hundreds of other climbs in Red Rock this year, email us at info@alpineinstitute.com or give us a call at (360) 671-1505.

-Hillary Schwirtlich, American Southwest and International Programs Coordinator

Friday, August 17, 2018

Rappel Technique: Throwing Ropes

In cooperation with Outdoor Research, the American Mountain Guides Association has made several videos for beginning level climbers.

In this video, AMGA Instructor Team Member, Jeff Ward, demonstrates several techniques for throwing ropes down a pitch for a rappel.



Torpedo

In his first demonstration, Jeff shows a technique wherein you stack the rope carefully and then wrap up an end. You throw this end down and it pulls the rest of the pile down with it.

Stages

Mark Twight referred to the second technique as "staging" in his book Extreme Alpinism. In other words you throw the rope down in separate stages. In the video, Jeff throws the rope down in two stages, starting from the middle. This often allows the rope to get down further and to get hung up on less items.

Saddlebags

And finally Jeff demonstrated the Saddlebag technique. This is the technique where you lap coil the rope and then hang it off of slings on either side of your body. The rope then feeds out from the slings. This allows you to rappel into the wind or to avoid dropping a rope on top of someone.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Film Review: The Mountain Between Us

Hollywood doesn't do a very good job with climbing movies. We all remember the catastrophe that was Cliffhanger. And nobody can ever forget the horrific Vertical Limit. But there's something to be said about lost-in-the-mountains style movies. The characters don't need to be climbers with a capitol C. No, instead, they just need to be normal people dealing with a mountain environment. The Mountain Between Us provides that kind of experience, the kind of experience where normal people are lost in a mountainous environment and need to find a way to survive.


Neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Brass (Idris Elba) and photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) become stuck at an Idaho airport as a storm approaches. Both have important appointments back home. Ben has to perform surgery on a child, and Alex is going home to get married. The only way to get home quickly is to charter a plane with Walter (Beau Bridges).

During the flight Walter has a stroke and crashes the plane in the mountains where they become stranded. They're either in the Sawtooths or the Colorado Rockies, or maybe somewhere else -- there's a glacier on a peak nearby, something that doesn't exist in either of those ranges -- but, regardless of which range they are in, one thing is certain: they are deep in the mountains in the heart of winter, with no civilization in site.

At it's heart, The Mountain Between Us is a romantic survival story about two people who have an intense relationship while trying to survive for weeks on end in the mountains. The pair make many mistakes during their attempt to escape, but they're mistakes that make sense. These really are theoretically normal people with no mountain training, caught deep in a mountain environment. As such, you might be yelling "no" at the film, while also feeling like the decision the person made makes sense.



One of the biggest criticisms of the film is that the story seems unlikely. The argument is that people are commonly found quickly after a plane crash. But, even in the 21st century, we know that not to be true. In July of 2015, a teenage girl walked out of the Cascades after surviving a plane crash. Her grandparents did not survive, and nobody was looking for the plane where it went down. Thankfully, this happened during the summer and the girl was only out for a couple of nights by herself.

People seem to be able to suspend their disbelief when it comes to dinosaurs or aliens, but when it comes to drama, every little thing drives certain viewers nuts. As such, the preceding paragraph was written specifically to address this issue of likelihood...

But even for those who don't think such a storyline is realistic, the performances by Kate Winslet and Idris Elba are so perfect, they are so believable, that it's easy to get sucked into the story. These individuals are master actors who have excellent chemistry with one another. I believe every line spoken.

The Mountain Between Us is neither a cinematic masterpiece, nor a masterful survival movie. But the combination of strong performances, a decent director and a adequate script make the film well worthwhile...

--Jason D. Martin


Friday, August 3, 2018

How to Ascend a Climbing Rope

The American Mountain Guides Association and Outdoor Research put together a nice video on several techniques that guides use to climb a rope.

The techniques covered in this video include the following:

--Standard Prusik
--Assisted Breaking Device
--Autoblocking Device and Mini-Traxion
--Mini-Traxion and Garda Hitch

View the video, below:



--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - August 2, 2018

Northwest:

--Speed climber Scott Bennett recently visited the Pacific Northwest and ripped up both the Complete North Ridge of Mt. Stuart (5.9, V) as well as the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak. He made speed records on both ascents, respectively 5 hours and 57 minutes and 4 hours and 54 minutes car-to-car. To read more, click here. To see a video of his Stuart ascent, click below:



Sierra:

--A solo climber was rescued this week after he got his foot stuck between two granite slabs on Mt. Conness. One of the boulders was reported to be as big as 2.5 tons! To read more, click here.

--So when is it okay to call someone out who is misrepresenting him or herself on social media? When is it bullying? Should you even care? Apparently an individual posted fake pictures of himself free soloing on Crystal Crag on Instagram. He was called out on Mountainproject and then things got heated. The post was removed because people became abusive. There's a new thread discussing this, here.

Desert Southwest:

--There were two rescues in Zion National Park this week, including one that took place after a group leader mocked a ranger's recommendations. To read more, click here.

Colorado:

--The Inertia is reporting that, "Vail Resorts is receiving serious blowback from viewers after refusing to refund the pass payment of Michael Cookson, an Arvada, Colorado resident who was diagnosed with prostate cancer which then metastasized into bone cancer. He’s currently undergoing treatments and won’t have the strength to ski this season, he fears." To read more, click here.

--Outdoor industry events are drenched in alcohol. So it was nice that this year at the Outdoor Retailer show there was an event that promoted sobriety. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A climber was killed in a fall from Mt. Yaminuska near Canmore, Alberta this week. Information on the accident is scarce. To read more, click here.

--Jackson Hole News and Guide is reporting that an improperly threaded ATC was likely to blame for a climber's death last week at Storm Point. It's important to note that an autoblock backup would likely stop a mistake like this from being fatal. To read more, click here.

--Do outdoor brands use Native American imagery in a way that is disrespectful? There's certainly a case for that. To read more, click here.

--Outside had an awesome article this week on guides and athletes and the additional pressure of being a mom. To read more, click here.

--CNN is reporting that, "Italian police have identified the remains of a French skier more than half a century after he was lost in the Alps, thanks to social media. In 2005, police in Italy's Aosta region found human remains and ski equipment 3,000 meters (10,000 ft) up in the mountains near the Swiss-Italian border. They thought the man died during a ski descent, but were unable to identify the body at the time." To read more, click here.

Non-Pornographic Bigfoot Chainsaw Art in Greenwater, Washington.
Apparently, there are artistic renderings that might be deemed pornographic...

--So we often post things about Bigfoot in a tongue-in-cheek way. But this one was a bit too much. The New York Times and others are reporting that Denver Riggleman, a Republican candidate for Congress in Virginia, is involved in Bigfoot erotica. Yeah... So here's an article about it.