Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Route Profile: NE Buttress, Johannesburg Mountain (V, 5.8, AI 2)

Johannesberg Mountain is massive. It is one big mountain and it literally towers above the popular Cascade Pass trailhead.

The Northeast Buttress is the longest line on the mountain on one of the biggest walls in the range. There is a long history of people suffering epics on this route, and it is not uncommon for people to return one to two days late from an ascent of the mountain.

This reputation has always scared me a bit. I've spent a lot of time looking at the mountain from Boston Basin and I've always thought, I should try that. But then figured it was a dumb idea, that the wall was too big, too bushy and too demanding.

But with the help of the internet, some of my fears dissipated. Steph Abegg has an awesome website devoted to climbing in the Cascades and everywhere else. Her excellent description gave us just enough to commit.

So in July of 2015, we climbed the line. And this is what we found...

Johannesberg Mountain Route Topo
Click to Enlarge

Johannesberg Mountain
Profile by Steph Abegg
Click to Enlarge


The route can be split into several sections:

Chossy Start

Climb up to the base of the slabs on steep snow. Climb up onto the slabs and work your way up to a place where you can cross the waterfalls.

These slabs look benign from below and they aren't really any harder than 5.5, but they are loose and there is very little protection. Knife-blade pitons can provide some extra security.


A typical lead low on the mountain.

Vertical Bushwacking

After the slabs, the goal is essentially to climb up and right toward the ridge. This sounds reasonable at first, but then you realize that to do this, you will have to make your way through a literal wall of brush. Climb up vertical and semi-vertical brush and trend right. You'll be doing a lot of tree climbing on this trip.

If you brought an ice axe or a picket or anything else, be sure to put them inside your pack. The trees will try to take them away. Rest assured, anything and everything on the outside of your pack will get caught on branches.

Steep Heather

Eventually you will break out of the trees on the buttress proper. The character of the route changes here. Now you will be working your way up steep heather slopes on the ridge. If you elect to simul-climb there will be marginal protection every 200-feet or so.

You may wish to use your ice axe and crampons in the heather to increase your security.

AAI Guide Will Gordon on the Buttress in the Heather

Moderate Rock

Eventually the heather begins to fade into rock. You'll reach a sharp ridge followed by a headwall.

Some parties elect to rappel down into the gully climber's right of the ridge. Apparently there is a piton rap station somewhere. From there they climb forty-degree snow. We elected to traverse to the left to a short chimney that was mostly 5.5, with a couple of 5.8 moves right off the deck.

Following the chimney follow moderate rock up to a bivy site at 7,100-feet, at the base of the glacier.

Bivy

For most parties it will take 8-12 hours from the base of the buttress to the bivy site. If summer, there will likely be running water at the site.


AAI Guide Will Gordon at the Bivy
with the Torment-Forbidden Traverse in the background.

Snow Arete

Following the bivy, climb up onto the glacier. Follow the steep snow arete up onto the broader glacier. The arete drops off steeply on both sides. Be prepared to take appropriate precautions here.

The snow arete.


Looking back down at the snow arete from above.

Glacier Travel and Ice Climbing

Continue up the glacier, trending toward the final steep headwall. There are reports online that the final headwall can be quite steep and icy. In July of 2015 we found it to be a single 200-foot ice pitch. Three ice screws were adequate to protect it and we didn't feel the need for a second tool.

Trending toward the ice pitch. The ice pitch can be seen up in the left-hand corner of the picture.

It should be noted that there are many low-angle and flat spots on the glacier that could be carved out for a higher bivy than the one found on the rocks below the glacier. However, due to sun cupping in the summer, you may have to do some work to create a platform.

Summit

Once on top of the ice pitch, there will be two notches in front of you. Climb up to the notch on the right and drop over to the west side. Scramble to a small notch and then up to the summit.

AAI Guide Will Gordon climbing up and through the right-hand notch
near the summit.

You may leave your packs at the snow if you want to move quickly. The summit is only a few minutes away.

It should take between 1 and 3 hours for most parties to get to the summit.

East Ridge Descent

Many of the descriptions on the internet do not give credit to the sketchiness of this descent. They often say things like, you can rappel or descend a loose third and fourth class gully. This is all true, but there is significant traversing along the southwest side (right) side of the ridge before you reach the gully and rappels.

From the summit go back to the snow and climb through the left-hand notch. You will now be on the right-hand side of the ridge. Descend along this side of the ridge, staying below the ridge crest until the final two small ridge summits come into view. There may be a few carins along the ridge to help you along your way. When you see the final two mini-ridge summits, climb back up onto the ridge onto better rock.

At this point you will be looking down a sketchy gully. Note that on the left-hand side of the gully, approximately 200-feet down there will be a little tower. In 2015 there was a carin on this tower next to the first rap anchors.

Scramble down to the rap anchors and make one rope stretcher rap or two shorter rappels to a big block. Make two or three more rappels down until you are in the heather once more. Climb down through heather to another slightly hidden rap station and then make two more rappels down to the CJ Col. This could require up to seven rappels.

Many of the rappels are around large blocks. Be sure to bring lots of cord to backup sketchy anchors. And double check the boulders that are wrapped, some of them are suspect.

In theory, one could descend the loose gully instead of rappelling, but that looks sketchy.

It will take 3-5 hours for most parties to negotiate the ridge descent.

Doug's Direct

There are three ways that you could get back to the Cascade Pass parking lot. The first is to descend the CJ Col, which would be super sketchy. The second is to traverse below the Cascade Peak, the Triplets and Mixup Peak to join the Ptarmigan Traverse Trail and to drop over Cache Col. And the third, and perhaps quickest way is to use Doug's Direct.

To use the Doug's Direct Route, traverse under the south faces of Cascade Peak and the Triplets and then ascend up the North Ridge of Mixup Peak. The crossover is not obvious, and it's not a bad idea to have a waypoint or the awesome picture that Steph Abegg took below.


Doug's Direct
Overlay by Steph Abegg
Click to Enlarge

The other side of Mixup is composed of slightly better 3rd and 4th class rock, that steps down. Drop down on the steps and contour right into steep heather and 3rd class terrain. Be careful here as a fall would be deadly.

Eventually you will find a heather filled gully that will drop you down onto the Cache Glacier.

Personally, I found the steep heather to be a bit much when dehydrated on day two of the climb and would probably opt for the Cache Col option if I were to do the route again.

It will take most parties 4-6 hours to complete the Doug's Direct descent and make their way back to the parking lot.

Note

People go a lot of different ways on this mountain. Amazingly, trip reports vary from people finding literally vertical ice at the top, to people finding a way to avoid roping up for most of the ascent. If these notes don't make sense to you, follow your nose... You'll get there.

Gear

--Small single rack up to a #2 Camelot
--3 ice screws
--1-2 snow pickets
--2-3 knife blade pitons (optional)
--Ice Axe (with a hammer if you have pitons)
--Crampons
--60-meter rope

Times

It took AAI Guide Will Gordon and I, the following to get to each area:

--Base to Bivy - 9 hours, 15 minutes - we took one 15 minute break, but spent a lot of time in the brush. Upon later reflection it's likely that we weren't on the best line. It took Steph Abbeg about 8 hours. It was also 90-degrees on the day we climbed and we ran out of water. This slowed us down a bit.

--Bivy to Summit - 2 hours, 30 minutes - Others report two hours, some report more. We had one ice pitch and a little poking around to find the actual summit. If you have to climb an overhung bergshrund, this could be a lot longer.

--Summit to Base of East Ridge - 5 hours - Another complex area. This would be a lot faster with better beta. Hopefully, I've given that to you above.

--Base of Ridge to Car via Doug's Direct - 6 hours - This was at least two hours longer than it needed to be. We were definitely slow due to dehydration again and it was ninety degrees out again. But we spent some time trying to figure out where Doug's Direct was...

In the summit register it shows a well known sponsored climber's name who has since passed away as being 11-hours, car to summit. Our total time was 11:45 car-to-summit. So this seemed good. However, AAI guide and super-athlete Chad Cochran and AAI Guide Mike Pond, did the route car-to-car in 11-hours...!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 13, 2018

Saddlebags for Rappelling

Rappelling is always tricky. It is the most dangerous thing that we do in the mountains and there are a lot of things to worry about. Are the ropes touching the ground? Are you clipped in properly? How many rappels do you have to do? Should you knot the ends of the rope or not? Are there people coming up below? And will the rope hang up when you throw it?

This particular article is about the last two issues. Are there people climbing up from below and will the rope get hung up when it's thrown? If there are people below or the rope looks like its going to get hung up, then the best means of descent might be with saddlebags.
Saddlebags are essentially a means by which you can stack your rope in a sling and clip it to yourself so that it will easily feed out as you rappel down.

A climber sets up his saddlebag on the side of his harness.

In order to create a saddlebag for your rope:
  1. Center your rope on the rappel anchor.
  2. Coil the rope from the ends to the middle.
  3. Clip a single shoulder-length sling to your harness.
  4. Center the rope on the sling.
  5. Clip the other end of the sling to the carabiner already clipped to your harness.
  6. Put an extension on your rappel device.
  7. Add a back-up friction hitch to the double-ropes going through your device. This can be clipped directly to your belay loop if you are using an extension or to your leg-loop if you are rappelling directly off your harness.
  8. Rappel.
  9. If the rope gets tangled, unclip the carabiner that isn't clipped to your harness and allow the rope to fall down the cliff-face.
A climber rappels on an extension with a single saddlebag.

One of the best uses of this technique is to navigate low-angled terrain
where it might be difficult to throw the rope to the ground.

The term "saddlebags" is plural because you might have to manage a great deal of rope in a rappel. If you have to tie two ropes together to do a full-length rappel, then you should place one coil on one side of your body and the other coil on the other side of your body. In such a situation, you will have to rappel on an extension in order to effectively deal with the amount of rope on your body.

I regularly use this technique to deal with climbers below, low-angled terrain or wind. It is an easy and effective way to keep the rope from knocking someone down or becoming a mess...but like everything else, it takes practice to get it to work properly...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Problem with Rappel Backups Off Modern Leg-Loops

Innovation in climbing equipment almost always leads to better and more effective gear. But it also leads to problems. This is why it is important for every climber to educate themselves about new equipment and gear as it comes out.

I recently was shocked to find a somewhat major problem with my brand new harness. I bought a harness with "fast-buckle" systems. These systems have been around for five years or so, but are becoming an increasingly popular system on harnesses. The fast-buckle is essentially a system that allows you climb into your harness and tighten it up. You don't need to double it back or anything, once it's been tightened, it's supposedly good.

I've always been concerned that these harnesses might cause people to forget to double themselves back if they use a "normal" harness after using a fast-buckle for a period of time. But such a concern is nowhere near as disturbing as what I found when playing with my new fast-buckle harness.

I discovered that the leg-loop can actually unbuckle itself if you clip your rappel back-up friction-hitch directly into it near the buckle. See the following picture for what not to do with your carabiner on your leg-loop.


Note the location of the carabiner on the buckle. If you actually had to use a rappel back-up
clipped to this carabiner, it could potentially cause the buckle to release. Do not do this.

The best thing to do with the friction-hitch back-up in order to avoid an unintentional unbuckling, is to clip it to the leg-loop near the crotch. The strap that goes up to the belay-loop will isolate the carabiner from the buckle and will not allow it to unbuckle.

A carabiner clipped into the appropriate place on a fast-buckle harness for a rappel back-up.

A climber set up to rappel properly with the carabiner to the back-up friction-hitch
clipped near the crotch.

Every new piece of equipment has a few bugs to work out and the fast-buckle harnesses are no exception. The problem is that a lack of knowledge on this particular issue could lead to an injury or a fatality. So spread the word far and wide. This is a great invention, but it's really only great if everyone knows its limitations.

--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


Monday, August 6, 2018

Rappelling into a Crevasse and Climbing Out

Following a crevasse fall, it is possible that the person in the crevasse will be injured or unconscious and upside down. If the person in the crevasse needs help, then you have to make a decision. Is it better to haul the person out? Or is it better to rappel down into the crevasse to help them...?

Outdoor Research and the American Mountain Guides Association have put together an excellent video on how to rappel into the crevasse and climb back out. Check it out, below:



In the video, Jeff doesn't give enough credit to the fact that this was shot in a late season snowpack. This means that the lip of the crevasse is relatively well consolidated and that it is easy to pad. That is not always the case. Indeed, sometimes climbing back out of the crevasse with a tiny lip is incredibly difficult. It is important to practice that element.

At AAI, it's not uncommon for us to use road cuts early in the season to practice crevasse rescue. This eliminates long hikes and wet gear. If there is a road cut near you that is snowy and doesn't have any traffic, this can be an excellent place for winter or early season crevasse rescue practice.

Climbing in and out of a crevasse is hard. Jeff makes it look easy. But it's not. You'll likely need a lot of practice to dial this in...

--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.