Monday, October 29, 2018

Film Review: A Lonely Place to Die

Climbing is used so poorly in so many films, it often makes me nervous to hear that it was used in a given storyline. Think big climbing moves like Vertical Limit or Cliffhanger. But also think smaller films where climbing is used for a few scenes, like Mission Impossible II or Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Inevitably, both genres of films are flops when it comes to climbing.  The weakness in the climbing sequences make the whole films hard to watch.

But then again, every now and then a movie comes around that gets climbing right...or at least a little bit right. Thus was the case for the British film, A Lonely Place to Die.

A group of intrepid mountain climbers travel up to a remote part of the Scottish Highlands in order to attempt a series of technical climbs during their vacation.  While approaching a climb through the woods, the team hears a faint voice.  They follow the voice to a black pipe sticking up out of the ground. And this is where the movie devolves from a your standard "climber-falls-and-dies-injuring-another-climber's-psyche-for-life" climbing film.

 It quickly becomes clear that someone -- a child -- has been buried alive and that the pipe is her only means of air. The team of climbers quickly dig up the the person buried only to discover that it is a young girl who has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. The remainder of the movie follows the climbers as they try to save the girl from gun-toting madmen who don't care who they kill as long as they get their ransom money.

There are some strange climbing scenes and cliches in the film.  The climbers don't appear to be very versed in anchor building, redundancy or the use of locking carabiners.  This leads to at least one near-miss (a very strange one at that) and another accident that results in a fatality. Though later in the movie we discover that the second incident wasn't necessarily an accident. And speaking of strange cliches, there is a moment where a woman must rappel off the end of her rope and traverse to a ledge, hundreds of feet off the deck...

The thing is that these weird sequences are so minor that they don't really harm the storyline.  I'm sure those of you that are sailors or police officers see these kinds of minor things in film all the time, but because they are not egregious, it's easy to suspend disbelief.  Something that cannot be done for some of the glossier blockbuster-style climbing movies.

A Lonely Place to die is actually quite a good action movie style ride. The climbers simply are in the wrong place at the wrong time and this puts them into the middle of a violent conflict.  The climbers don't just turn into action movie stars, they turn into victims.  Their climbing skills provide little comfort when it comes to men with guns, and this gives the whole film a somewhat realistic feel.  Climbers are not super-people, instead they are normal people with unusual interests.  Such interests may make them hardy in the woods, but don't make them anything special against hardened criminals.

Action movies tend to be a very generic form of entertainment. A Lonely Place to Die does have some moments that have that generic feel, but for the most part it travels new ground in both the climbing and the action genre...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 26, 2018

Rock Climbing Styles

Many beginning level climbers are confused by the terminology used to define different styles of climbing. This isn't too surprising because there are a lot of terms that get thrown around. The following is a quick discussion of the different types and styles of climbing and what they entail.

Toprope Climbing

When a climber uses the term "toprope," he is referring to a technique wherein an anchor is set at the top of the cliff. A rope runs from a belayerat the base of the cliff, up to the anchor and then back down to the climber. As the climber ascends the wall, the belayer takes in rope through hisbelay device. If the climber falls, the belayer merely locks off his device, arresting the fall. This system is designed to stop the climber's fall immediately.

Toproped climbing is very safe because no one is required to "lead." In most cases, climbers are simply able walk around to the top of a cliff in order to set-up the system.

Lead Climbing

The leader is the first person to climb a cliff. As the leader ascends the wall he drags a rope up that is tied to his harness. As he works his way up a wall he will put in rock protection. After the "pro" is in place, the leader may clip the rope into the gear while the follower belays from below. Should the leader fall, the follower will "catch" him in midair with the belay device.

Of course, if the leader falls 10 feet above the last piece of protection, he will actually fall 20 feet or more before the follower catches him. That makes the leader's job quite risky. Once the leader is on top, he may build an anchor, clip into it and put his partner on belay, essentially providing the follower a toprope.

Lead climbing may be done on both traditional and sport climbs.

Free Climbing

Free climbing does not mean, "without a rope." Conversely, free climbing absolutely requires a rope. The defining characteristic of free climbing is that it does not require an individual to pull on protection. The protection exists to keep a climber from hitting the ground should he fall, not to aid the climber on his ascent.

Aid Climbing

The polar opposite of free climbing is aid climbing. When an individual aid climbs, he places a piece of protection and then clips a nylon ladder to it. He then climbs up the ladder and places another piece, repeating the process over and over again. The climber is using direct aid to ascend the cliff face. This is often done when it is much too difficult to free climb.

Big routes in Zion National Park and in Yosemite National Park are commonly aided. These are the massive routes that sometimes requireportaledges or bivies on the wall. Big wall aid climbing is in many ways analogous to vertical backpacking. And while most big wall climbs require some free climbing, they tend to lean toward direct aid.

Free Soloing

Free soloing is the art of climbing without any ropes whatsoever. A fall under these circumstances will result in serious injury or death. Free soloing is incredibly dangerous and is only practiced by a small percentage of climbers.

Trad Climbing

Traditional climbing, or "trad" climbing, is a style of climbing that requires the leader to carry all of his protection with him. In other words, the leader carries an array of camming devices, wired nuts and other assorted odds and ends that might be used to protect the route. Traditionalists will not alter to rock in order to create protection for the leader. In other words, a true traditional route does not have any bolts on it.

Sport Climbing

Sport climbing is a style of climbing that requires significantly less equipment than trad climbing. A sport climb is a route manufactured with bolts. A true sport climb does not require any traditional gear at all.

Many consider sport climbing to be much safer than trad climbing because in most cases the routes have been manufactured in such a way that they are safe for a leader. As a result, this is an incredibly popular form of climbing.


Climbing is an incredibly varied sport and the preceding is only the most elemental breakdown of it from a stylistic perspective. That said, an understanding of this beginner level material will help the novice climber to understand the many conversations about style that take place in the climbing world every day.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Training: Injury Prevention

In this video, Climbing Coach Taylor Reed shows some of the techniques he teaches to the Columbus, Ohio climbing team.

Specifically, Reed deals with some of the most common injuries. First, he discusses crimping (something I've personally been injured doing several times). Second, he deals with shoulders. And then finally, he deals with fingers and wrists.

One thing he doesn't say, that he might just think is self-evident, is that when you climb hard, you should always, always warm up. If you don't, you will get injured.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 19, 2018

Extending Your Rappel

We have talked about extending a rappel in this blog before. However, to date we've been too lazy to make a video on the subject.  This is not the case with Climbing magazine's gear editor Julie Ellison. Julie made a very nice video on the subject of rappel extensions.

Following is the video:

There are a handful of additions that I'd like to make to Julie's notes.

Girth-Hitching the Sling

It is important that the sling is girth-hitched through the tie-in points on the harness. It should not be girth-hitched around the belay loop. This is because a girth-hitch crushes the loop and slowly wears it out.

Some choose to keep a PAS or a daisy chain attached to their belay-loop on a more or less permanent basis. This is very dangerous as it freezes the belay-loop in place, keeping it from rotating. The natural rotation of the gear-loop allows wear to disperse around the loop. When something is permanently girth-hitched to it, all the wear is focused into two places, wearing out the loop faster.  To avoid this, we recommend girth-hitching through the tie-in point.


Julie shows the clipping of the device inside the loop between the harness and the rope. To create additional redundancy in the system (at least while rappelling) it is possible to clip the device into both loops. That way, when you clip the end of the system back to yourself, you have a level of redundancy.

Type of Sling Used (Dynema)

In the video Julie is using a Dynema sling. These slings don't do well in a factor two fall.

A factor two fall could take place when you clip into your anchor above your anchor, and then slip. In tests completed by DMM, Dynema slings did much more poorly than nylon slings.  To see a video concerning this, click here.

Our recommendation is generally to use nylon slings in this application. But if you have to use Dynema, then you should be cognizant of this danger.

Third Hand - Autoblock

Julie shows clipping this into your belay loop, which is the correct place to clip the autoblock. However, many people clip it to their leg-loop when they extend the rappel. There is no reason to do this. If your belay loop is clear, why wouldn't you clip the autoblock to it? It's the strongest part of your harness.

Third Hand - Letting Go

Julie does make one off the cuff comment about how your autoblock will save you if you let go.  Indeed, that is the intent of the third hand. However, if the autoblock is loose or sloppy, it may not engage appropriately. As such, I generally still wrap the rope around my leg or tie a catastrophe knot below the autoblock in order to have some peace of mind when I have to go hands free.

Speed and Efficiency

One thing that was not mentioned in the video is that the use of extended rappels in a multi-pitch setting allows more than one person to clip in at the same time. This can significantly expedite a descent and also allows you to check one another to ensure that everything has been set-up right.

I personally tend to extend my rappels at every opportunity. There are some places where it's not terribly useful or realistic (like in a sport setting), but in trad and multi-pitch settings, it is definitely the way to go...down...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/18/18


--The 2018 Mid-Term Elections are fast approaching. The Outdoor Industry Association has released a comprehensive voters guide to help people across the country make informed choices about who cares about the outdoor industry, public lands and climate change. To read more, click here.


--At about 1:30am on October 11, AAI's Technical Rope Rescue Comprehensive program was awakened by Bellingham Mountain Rescue volunteers. Guides and participants sprung into action to help a shoeless hiker and his dog that were stuck mid-face on a rotting moraine. An AAI guide performed a pick-off to rescue the victim, while other rescue personnel retrieved the dog. Another AAI guide made shoes for the victim out of his ripped up sweatshirt, a cut-up z-pad and ace bandages. To read more, click here.


--A climber was severely injured after sustaining a 65-foot fall in the San Juan National Forest. Information about what lead to the accident and the victim's current condition is scarce. To read more, click here.

--Here are the projected opening dates for all the Colorado Ski Resorts.

Notes from All Over:

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "nine climbers died in an accident at the base of Gurja Himal (7,193 meters), Nepal, on Friday, October 12, in what was the greatest loss of life in Himalayan climbing since the 2015 avalanche that killed 18 people on Everest. The dead, all from the same expedition, numbered five South Korean climbers and four Nepali climbers. The expedition had hoped to forge a new route to the top of the infrequently attempted Gurja Himal, and to name the route 'One Korea — Unification of North and South Korea.'" To read more, click here.

--The Casper Star Tribune asks and then answers, "what’s the best way to celebrate the landmark of your 91st birthday? For Dr. Bill Weber of Florida, the obvious answer was to break a record and become the oldest known person ever to have climbed to the summit of Devils Tower." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund has identified several of our favorite places to climb as being under serious threat. They just produced their 10 Climbing Areas in Crisis report. To see it, click here.

--In other Access Fund news, they have recently selected several places for bolt replacement and have donated $10,000 to the fund. To read more, click here.

--This is a super engaging story about a little known part of NPS law enforcement, essentially, the FBI of the National Park Service...

AAI Guides enjoying beer and rainbows at the Red Rock Rendezvous 
in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

--Craft beer is a ubiquitous part of outdoor culture. But what about beer made from climbing chalk...? Yeah. Somebody did it. And Climbing has the story, here.

--The first ever Olympic medals were given out to climbers recently. The Youth Olympics included climbing in its Buenos Aires events. To read more, click here.

--And finally, Outside argues that you should let your kids participate in extreme sports. "Experts say intense outdoor activities can help children increase focus and develop a better awareness of their surroundings." To read more, click here.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Film Review: Backcountry

It was 1994 and a young medical student named Matthias Ruppert was pulled from his tent in the Bowron Lakes Provincial Park by an angry black bear. His girlfriend, Claudia Garschhammer, fought off the bear with a hatchet. The pair retreated to a ranger cabin, and that's when the bear attacked again...

The bear climbed up through the window. Garschhammer chopped at the angry animal with her hatchet until it retreated. It was then that she was able to close the shutters.

Ruppert survived. The bear did not.

It is very rare for a black bear to attack a person, and there are really no other stories out there about a bear that attacked people inside a tent. So after game wardens hunted down the animal and killed it, they performed an autopsy. Scientists could only come up with one conclusion about the aggressive nature of the animal. They believed that it was mating season and that the animal was...frustrated.

Throughout the 90s I spent a lot of time around bears, working in Alaska doing fish habitat surveys. I encountered literally hundreds of bears and luckily none of them were aggressive. They mostly ran away as soon as you yelled at them. That's not to say that I wasn't scared of them. Every bear I ever encountered seemed like a potential threat...

The Bowron Lakes story is horrific because -- while bear attacks occasionally happen -- this attack was vicious, ongoing and out-of-character. It seemed like something out of a horror movie. The Bowron Lakes incident is exactly the type of bear encounter that every backcountry traveler everywhere fears the most...

In 2014, writer/director Adam MacDonald loosely based his film Backcountry on the 1994 attack. The film, while not really a horror movie, provides the viewer with an intense and often terrifying roller-coaster of an experience.

A young urban couple travel deeply in the Canadian wilderness. Alex (Jeff Roop) is supposedly a seasoned backcountry traveler, while his girlfriend, Jenn (Missy Peregrym) is on her first camping trip. It turns out that Alex is not as seasoned as he thinks. He elects not to bring a map, which is a problem because the pair becomes seriously lost. Their problems are compounded by the loss of food, and then by an incredibly aggressive bear.

And yes, just like in real life. The bear attacks the couple in the tent, and it is both terrifying and incredibly gruesome. The scene makes it feel like a blood and guts slasher film instead of a backcountry thriller. It is a very hard scene to watch.

Throughout the film, there are several close-ups of the hatchet. But ultimately the woman doesn't fight the bear with it. I have a feeling that they shot some kind of final battle between Jenn and the bear, but cut it. Maybe the filmmakers felt that it would be too hokey, that it would be too unrealistic. And maybe they're right. Truth can be stranger than fiction. And it's likely that it's a better film for the fact that she didn't kill the bear...

Both Roop and Peregrym are completely believable as a young inexperienced backcountry duo. They are also completely believable as people. They make a lot of mistakes (no map, didn't try to scare the bear away, no communication device, poor food storage plan, etc.), but they're mistakes a lot of inexperienced backcountry travelers might make. You in no way feel that they deserve what happens to them. Instead, you are terrified by it and are rooting for them throughout the film.

This is an intense story that builds slowly. The stakes are constantly raised throughout the film; and indeed, the bear doesn't even make an appearance until about half-way through. This is a little bit odd because the film is packaged as a piece about a bear stalking a couple. But ultimately, that's not what it's about. Instead, it's about a couple on the verge of a major life decision seeing one another at both their worst and their best...

One thing that always drives me nuts about outdoor films are the packs. You can tell that there's nothing in them. Actors throw them around like they weigh nothing. One way to increase believability in all of these types of films is to put some actual weight inside the packs. Then the actors will actually look like they're carrying something.

Packs aside, this is a pretty good outdoors film. The bear attack is gratuitous, but I suppose that's reality. Bears don't attack people very often at all, but when they do it's a big deal. And when they are so aggressive that they actively pull someone from their tent, that's a really big deal.

Most outdoors, climbing and backcountry films designed for mainstream audiences tend to be fantastical. There are monsters or there are killers. They often don't deal with the real threats of the wilderness. Backcountry brings us those real threats and it does it in a way that is both engaging and intense. You can't ask for much more...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, October 12, 2018

Belay Glove Confession

A few years ago I was in a Nomad Ventures, the climbing shop near Joshua Tree National Park, when a question arose.

"Do you use these?" my partner asked.

I looked over and saw him holding a pair of hand jammies. Hand jammies are a pair of gimmicky gloves that supposedly take the place of hand tape. They cover the back of your hand with sticky rubber in order to protect the skin from the sharp innards of a crack

Hand jammies seem like a good idea, but there's a problem with them. The problem is not that they don't work. The problem is not that they're too expensive. And the problem definitely is not that they're difficult to use. No, instead the problem is one of style. To put it simply, hand jammies are dorky. So lets follow this syllogism to its natural conclusion.

A -- Hand jammies are dorky.
B -- Gunther wears hand jammies.
C -- Gunther is a dork.

So my response was simple. "No, I don't wear all."

My partner turned to the clerk behind the counter and asked the same question, "do you wear these?"

The clerk was a little less political in his answer. "No," he snorted. "I don't want to get beat up."

Sometime later, something happened to me. I didn't take up hand jammies. No, instead I started to wear something a bit worse. I started to wear belay gloves.

When you go out to the crag you'll notice that belay gloves are inot terribly common. The reason that they're uncommon is because most people don't see the need for them. Nobody really rappels or lowers anyone fast enough to burn their hands. And they certainly don't learn to wear them at the rock gym.

I don't wear them to avoid hand burns. I wear them to avoid the aluminum that inevitably gets transferred from the carabiners to the rope and then subsequently to my hands. Over the last few seasons I've found it harder and harder to wash the tiny fragments of metal out of the creases in my hands and as such it always looked like my hands were dirty.

I worked with a guide some time ago who was concerned that Alzheimer's disease comes from aluminum. As a result he always wore gloves whenever he handled a rope.

A short time after the guide told me about this, we had our first baby. My wife felt that when I got home from work I should play with the baby, which I gladly did. But she also felt that the black smudges I left all over the baby's clothes were a bit much.

And so, I began to wear belay gloves. Everybody made fun of me, but I still wore them...

A -- Belay gloves are dorky.
B -- Jason wear's belay gloves.
C -- Jason is a dork.

That's okay. I've embraced my inner dork and so now I can wear my belay gloves with pride. And I suppose that it's also kind of nice that when I get home I can pick up my kids and then put them back down without them looking like they've been rolling in the dirt...

(Jason and his daughter Holly in 2007, discussing the difference between hand jammies and baby jammies in Joshua Tree National Park.)

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/11/18


--The biggest news this week is that we need to get serious about climate change. Things could be extremely ugly by 2040 if we don't do anything. To read more, click here.


--The North Cascades was designated a National Park fifty years ago! To read more, click here.

--Newsradio 560KPQ is reporting that, "Far from being a future threat, climate change already is making national parks hotter and the effects could get much worse, according to a first-of-its-kind study. Researchers went back to 1895 to chart temperatures and found they’re rising twice as fast in the country’s national parks as they are in the rest of America. The co-author of the study, a climate change scientist at Cal Berkeley, Patrick Gonzalez, says while the study makes stunning predictions for parks in the future, national parks like the North Cascades in Washington are in the midst of climate change right now." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--CNN is reporting that, "A California man was sentenced to five years in prison Monday for illegally starting a fire that burned nearly 10,000 square feet of historic trees and other vegetation in the Joshua Tree National Park." To read more, click here.


--The search for a missing climber on Longs Peak was suspended yesterday due to weather. To read more, click here.

--Quinn Brett, the Colorado based climber who was severely injured in a fall in Yosemite last year, is doing everything she can to get back to normal. The former climbing ranger is "working for the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, she is writing for Patagonia, making instructional Yoga videos for people with Spinal cord injuries, and as she did before her injury, helping with high alpine rescues." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The LA Times is reporting that, "Williamson Rock is a sheer granite wall that rises from chaparral in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. Crisscrossed with 300 routes, it has been a proving ground for Southern California rock climbers since the 1960s. But in a move that outraged many in the climbing community, the area was shut down in 2005 to protect an isolated colony of federally endangered Southern California mountain yellow-legged frogs from being trampled." To read more, click here.

--A climber was bitten by a copperhead in Kentucky this week. To read more, click here.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Keeping it Light - Toothpaste Refills!

Most of us carry small travel sized toothpaste tubes for personal tooth hygiene in the mountains. However, these little tubes do tend to run out of toothpaste quickly and they aren't always available when you need them.

Here's a little tip. Refill your toothpaste tube.

It's easy. Once your travel sized tube is out, simply place the nozzle of a normal sized tube up against the nozzle for the empty tube and squeeze...!

Voila! Your tiny travel sized tube is full again. You can stay light and fast, while also keeping up on your dental health!

Check out the example below:

--Jason D. Martin