Monday, December 31, 2018

Ice Climbing: How to Build an Ice Anchor

The American Mountain Guides Association, in conjunction with Petzl and Outdoor Research, have developed several instructional videos. In this particular video, AMGA Instructor Team Member Pat Ormond talks about how to build ice anchors.

Pat covers three anchors in the video. First, he builds a pre-equalized ice anchor with two pieces. Second, he builds a two piece ice anchor with a quad. And finally, he builds builds a pre-equalized anchor with three pieces...

It should be noted that Pat doesn't talk about building an anchor in a difficult location. The best way to do this is to pre-build a quad before you start climbing and stowe it tightly on your harness. Once you get two screws in, you can immediately clip into the quad with one hand and don't need both hands to tie it.

I noted that the pre-built quad will need to be stowed tightly on your harness because anything hanging down too far can get caught in your crampons. This is something that you should be aware of with any slings or cordelletes that you carry while ice climbing...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Santa and Parkour

So did you ever wonder how Santa got all those gifts into the house so fast...? Well, obviously he is a master of Parkour.

Happy Holidays from the American Alpine Institute!

--Jason D. Martin

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 12/19/18


--In a welcome piece of good news, it appears that avalanche deaths in the west are declining. In theory, there should be more, as more people participate in winter backcountry sports, but that's not what's happening... To read more, click here.


--The Sierra Wave is reporting that, "The Mono County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team is an all-volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to saving lives. When called by the Mono County Sheriff’s Office, the Team responds for searches and rescues at any time, in any weather, for as long as it takes, for free. The Team has responded to 37 calls this year so far and has volunteered 3,410 hours. Each year the Team holds an Awards Dinner to acknowledge the hard work its members have contributed and to honor members for their individual excellence and public service. The 2018 Awards Dinner was held on Saturday, December 8." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Eldora Mountain tried to implement $20 parking frees on skiers and snowboarders. It didn't work out so well. Check it out.
It's likely that a series of videos posted online depicting the 
destruction of a natural arch were fake.

--A series of videos were recently uploaded that depict the destruction of Utah hoodoos and arches. After the initial shock, experts were able to look at the videos critically and believe that they were fabrications. To read more, click here.

--The National Parks Traveler is reporting that, "After 19 years driving up and down Zion Canyon, it should be a surprise that the shuttle bus fleet at Zion National Park is beyond its expected life. What also shouldn't be surprising is that replacement parts for the fleet are getting harder to find, and funding to replace the buses is also hard to come by." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Well, Ryan Zinke is out as Secretary of the Interior. There's no question that he was terrible for public lands and for the environment. The problem is that his potential replacements don't look much better.

--Conditions are tough out there. Avalanches are taking place all over the west. In the following video a skier triggered an avalanche on Monday, December 17 on Montana's Bridger Peak:

--A climber suffered a 30+ foot fall at the Stone Summit Gym in Atlanta. It appears that person did not clip into the auto-belay. The person was shaken, but not injured in a way that required an ambulance. To read more, click here.

--The Wall Street Journal is reporting that, "the Boy Scouts of America is considering filing for bankruptcy protection as it faces dwindling membership and escalating legal costs related to lawsuits over how it handled allegations of sex abuse." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund is reporting that, "Texas Climbers Coalition (TCC) and Access Fund are pleased to announce the acquisition and permanent protection of Medicine Wall, a limestone bluff in San Antonio, Texas that provides an urban getaway for outdoor climbing." To read more, click here.

--Renowned winter climber Lonnie Dupree is gearing up for a solo winter ascent of Mt. Hunter in the Alaska Range. To read more, click here.

--The American Alpine Club has announced the 2019 Climbing Awards. To read more, click here.

--Rock and Ice magazine is looking for illustrators to do contract illustration work for the magazine. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Dangers of Tree-Wells

At the American Alpine Institute, we spend a lot of time talking about avalanches. We run dozens of avalanche courses a season and highlight avalanche near misses and fatalities on this blog. But we haven't spent much time talking about another major frontcountry and backcountry danger: tree-wells

Every year there are stories about people who have gone into a tree-well upside down and suffocated. Essentially, a skier or a snowboarder takes a fall and slides into a tree-well upside down. When this happens it's very difficult for one to extract him or herself. Indeed, struggling upside down in a well can actually cause an individual to slip down further. The result is very similar to an avalanche, an individual suffocates in the snow.

Occasionally we report on frontcountry avalanches, but they are rare. Tree-well accidents happen every year both in-bounds and out-of-bounds. The wells are particularly dangerous after a big snow storm that dropped a lot of powder.

The Tree-Well and Deep Snow Safety website indicates that, "the odds of surviving a deep snow immersion accident are low; especially if you are not with a partner. In two experiments conducted in the U.S. and Canada in which volunteers were temporarily placed in a tree well, 90% COULD NOT rescue themselves."

The following video portrays a shocking demonstration of just how dangerous tree-wells can be:

Following is a breakdown of what to do in the event of a tree-well accident:

Ski with a Partner

First and foremost, skiing with a partner is the most important part of staying safe on a powder day. And skiing with a partner means keeping track of him or her visually. If you speed ahead and are waiting at the bottom of the slope for your partner in the tree-well, then you have failed to truly ski with your partner. Many of those who have died as a result of a tree-well incident were with partners, but they did not actually witness the fall. Visual contact is important!

In addition to staying in visual contact, it is important to be close enough to your partner that you could dig him out if an accident occurs. How long does that person have? Well, about as long as you can hold your you should be close enough to perform a rescue quickly.

If your partner goes into a hole, don't leave to get help. Dig him or her out! Once you have reached the person's face, be sure to clear the airway as there might be snow in the mouth.

Carry Backcountry Equipment

Obviously digging requires a shovel. Be sure that you have a shovel, a beacon and a probe on any big snow days, in-bounds or out.

If you're a skier, remove your ski pole straps. People who go into tree-wells often have trouble removing these straps while in a hole.

Stay on Groomed Trails

On big powder days, groomed trails are always the safest. However, if you really want to enjoy the powder or you want to ski in the backcountry, you'll expose yourself to tree-well danger.

If you are off the groomed trails, stay away from the trees. There will not be a tree-well where there is no tree.

If You Fall in a Tree-Well

If you realize that you are falling into a tree-well, try to grab the tree and the tree-branches. Once you've fallen in, try to hold onto the tree or branches so that you don't fall in further.

Struggling in a tree-well often makes you sink more deeply. So if you're in the hole, think. Don't panic. Try to breathe calmly in order to conserve the little bit of air you might have while waiting for a rescue.

If you are in the hole, try to create a breathing space near your face. If you're secure, try to rock your body gently in order to increase this space. Over time, heat from your body, along with rocking motions, will compact the snow. The hardening of the snow around you might allow you to work your way out of the hole.


Following are a few great sites with information about tree-well related incidents:

Stevens Pass Tree-Wells
Tree-Well and Deep Snow Safety
How to Escape a Tree-Well

Tree-wells are dangerous, but they are a danger that can be mitigated and avoided. Pay attention to your surroundings and to your partners in order to stay safe while skiing or snowboarding.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 17, 2018

Film Review: Free Solo

On June 3rd, 2017, Alex Honnold did the unthinkable. He climbed Freerider (5.13a, VI) on El Capitan, without a rope. That's three-thousand feet of hard climbing, where even the most minor mistake, would result in death.

This has been described as an Olympic-level achievement, where if you didn't get a gold medal, the silver is death. It's been described as perhaps the most audacious achievement in sports history. And it has been described as "the hardest thing anyone has done, ever..."

I posted some of those thoughts online after Alex completed his route and was roundly attacked by people who didn't see it as that big a deal. Or thought that these comparisons lacked depth or thought. But I have to say that, this is a big deal. It is not the type of thing that just anybody is going to go out and do. It is an incredible achievement.

And here's the other thing...there was a film crew with him through the whole ascent.

Free Solo is a terrifying film. It chronicles everything that leads up to this insane ascent. We see him train. We see him climb and we see him fail, on the very wall he's going to free solo. We see him get injured. And we see him as he develops a relationship with a woman named Sanni McCandless.

The process of prepping for his ascent of Freerider is deeply impacted by his relationship with Sanni. Imagine your partner going off to war. That's bad. But now imagine that your parter is going to a war zone that no one has ever gone to before. And then imagine that the reason no one has ever gone to that war zone is because the likelihood of survival is nearly zero. And after imagining all that, imagine that your partner was choosing to go to this particular war zone that it's unlikely he'll return from...not to win a war or to stop an enemy, but because it was a personal goal to go that war zone...

How does Sanni deal with such a choice? How does Alex feel about falling in love, but still wanting this crazy dangerous thing?

And while you can never truly get into Alex's head, it is possible to see glimpses of his concern, particularly his concern for his friends and girlfriend if he were to fall. And we also see glimpses of the deep steely resolve that allows the climber to solo at such a high level and stay alive.

Though this film is quite good, it does drag a bit about three-quarters of the way through. There is a sequence within the film that really bogs it down and undermines the frenetic energy that existed within it previously. The story of Alex's relationship is deeply important to the film. But when they start looking at houses, and buying refrigerators, and talking about sleeping on the floor of the new house, it really starts to drag. There are ten to twelve minutes within this section that should have been cut in order to tighten up the movie. Once they get through this section, the film, once again, becomes an amazing ride.

Free Solo is an incredible experience with beautiful images and engaging characters throughout, but it is often hard to watch. My hands were slick with sweat through the bulk of the film. Additionally, they regularly showed the cameramen and how they were responding to the ascent. Mikey Schaefer, a well known climber and cameraman, spent a lot of time looking away from the camera during the ascent. His fear for Alex translated into our fear. And when he gets to the summit, we feel a deep sense of accomplishment.

Jimmy Chin -- one of the filmmakers -- meets Alex at the top, tears brimming in his eyes. Clearly, he was happy his friend was still alive. Clearly, it was a great release of tension to see him standing on the top.

Alex Honnold, on the other hand, simply smiled and said, "I feel delight, I'm delighted..."

And anybody who takes the opportunity to experience this film, will feel delight too.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 12/13/18


--A missing climber was found safe after an overnight rescue effort was made on Mt. St. Helens late last week. To read more, click here.


--A backcountry skier survived a massive fall in the Tahoe backcountry on Sunday. The skier reportedly fell nearly 300-feet. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Patch is reporting that, "A man was transported to a Boulder Community Heath location for evaluation after a fall in Eldorado Canyon on Sunday afternoon required a rescue. Officials responded to reports of a fallen climber near Wind Tower rock in Eldorado Canyon on Sunday at about 1:40 p.m." To read more, click here.

--A young skier collided who collided with a tree on Tuesday at Eldora Ski Area suffered a traumatic brain injury and is likely in a vegetative state. To read more, click here.

--SNEWS is reporting that, "The American Alpine Club (AAC), America’s oldest non-profit organization for climbers, is thrilled to announced the 2019 USA World Cup Ice Climbing Team. The team of 21 male and female athletes is set to compete at the upcoming UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing Finals, taking place in Denver, CO February 23 – 24, 2019." To read more, click here.

--Condie Nast Traveler has an article out about why Telluride continues to be ranked the number one ski town in America, year after year. To read it, click here.

A bolt being replaced in the Wilderness in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

--The Access Fund is reporting that they are, "attempting to legislate fixed anchors in Wilderness areas by writing it into federal law. The Emery County Public Land Management Act, introduced earlier this year, offered the first viable opportunity for this historic attempt. This bipartisan bill proposes well over 500,000 acres of Wilderness in the San Rafael Swell in Emery County, Utah—an area that includes more than 500 climbing routes, some with fixed anchors." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Gripped is reporting that the bodies of two climbers lost on Pumori in the Himalaya have been found. To read more, click here.

--The Bicycle Retailer is reporting that, "Outdoor Retailer said that all three of its shows in 2019 will be three days long. OR's Summer Market in June and Winter Market in November will be shortened from the original four-day plans. January's Snow Show remains three days as scheduled. All three shows will be held at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver." To read more, click here.

--It looks like there are some changes coming to the North Side of Mt. Everest. China has created several new rules, which include were designed to increase fees for environmental protection and to potentially keep teams formed in Nepal out. To read more, click here.

--The Guardian is reporting that, "twenty-four employees at an Amazon warehouse in New Jersey were taken to hospital after a robot accidentally punctured a can of bear repellant." To read more, click here.

--Time spent outside makes your kids smarter. Check it out.

--Applications for the Grit and Rock expedition grant for female alpinists are due on January 15th. To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "Mount Temple in the Canadian Rockies is one of Canada’s most iconic peaks with a number of classic alpine routes. Alik Berg recently climbed a potential new route up an obvious feature on the east-northeast aspect between Aemmer Couloir II and the East Ridge III 5.5." To read more, click here.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Film Review: The Dawn Wall

The year 2018 was a banner year for climbing films. It was the year that climbing documentaries became a thing that had a life in mainstream theaters across the country. Yes, Meru made a splash in 2015, and it certainly paved the way for 2018. But 2018 was the year that there were literally two climbing documentaries at the theater at the same time! Those documentaries were The Dawn Wall and Free Solo...

There haven't really been that many mainstream media circuses around positive things in climbing. Most commonly the media is fixated on tragedies. But that changed in January of 2015. That was when Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson spent nineteen days on El Cap, attempting to free climb the Dawn Wall. At some point during their adventure, the media outside the outdoor media, found out what they were doing...and that's when all hell broke loose. They were on the news every single night...

But The Dawn Wall isn't just about the first free ascent of a Yosemite big wall. Instead, it is about Tommy Caldwell, the film's unlikely protagonist, his life and his friendship with Kevin Jorgeson.

The film delves deeply into Tommy's life. It looks at how he became a climber. It looks at his courtship with Beth Rodden. And perhaps, most importantly, it discusses the events surrounding Tommy, his friends and their kidnapping by Islamic militants in Kyrgyzstan in 2000.

In August of 2000, Tommy, Beth, John Dickey and Jason Smith were climbing a big wall in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. A group of militants on the ground began to shoot at them, forcing them down. Following that, the team was held for several days while Kyryzstani soldiers searched for them. The only reason they escaped is because Tommy was forced to push one of the militants off a cliff so that they could escape...

This is a central part of the climber's life, and indeed a central part of The Dawn Wall documentary. Tommy's experience lead him to marry Beth. That same experience was partly to blame for their divorce. The divorce drove Tommy to find an impossible project...and that project was the Dawn Wall on El Cap.

The film chronicles all of these different features. But there is one thing that stands out above the rest. It is the fact that Tommy places his partnership with Kevin above all things. He sees his climbing partnership as something that is almost holy. And as Kevin's falters on the wall, Tommy can't imagine finishing the project without him. They worked too hard together to allow one of them to fail.

People often ask the question, "why do you climb?"

The answer isn't, "because it's there." The answer is exactly what The Dawn Wall is about. It's a film that celebrates athleticism, natural beauty, the human spirit, and perhaps most importantly, friendship. These are the reasons most people climb. And these are the central subjects of the Dawn Wall film...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, December 7, 2018

Off Piste: Tragedy in the Alps

In January of 2015, two young skiers ventured off trail in the Alps. They were unaware of the difference between skiing in North America and in Europe. Off piste in Europe is essentially out-of-bounds and there was no avalanche mitigation.

Unfortunately, the two young men -- rising stars on the US Ski Team and Olympic hopefuls -- were caught in an avalanche...and both were killed...

The US Ski and Snowboard blog posted the following about the two skiers after the accident:

Killed in the avalanche were Ronnie Berlack, 20 (Franconia, NH and Burke Mountain, VT) and Bryce Astle, 19 (Sandy, UT).

“Ronnie and Bryce were both outstanding ski racers who were passionate about their sport – both on the race course and skiing the mountain,” said U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Tiger Shaw. “Our hearts go out to the Berlack and Astle families, as well as to their extended sport family. Both of them loved what they did and conveyed that to those around them.”

Berlack grew up racing in New Hampshire and had been a student-athlete at Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy. He was named to the U.S. Ski Team’s Development Team following two top-20s at the 2013 U.S. Alpine Championships and a spring tryout camp.

Astle raced at Snowbird and was invited to train with the development team trip this season. He had posted strong early season results, including two top-10 NorAm Cup races last month in Canada.

The Brass Foundation is an organization that promotes avalanche awareness amongst ski racers and coaches. They have produced an excellent film about the accident that took these two ski racers lives, and educational material about avalanche avoidance. To see the video, click below.

To learn more about the Brass Foundation, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 12/6/18


--Go Skagit is reporting that, "Six fishers — medium-sized, furry carnivores — will be released into the North Cascades this morning near the visitor center in Newhalem. The stocky, dark brown critters are related to weasels and are about the size of a house cat. The release today within the North Cascades National Park Service Complex is the latest step in an ongoing effort to restore populations of the native carnivore to the state's forests, according to a news release from the National Park Service." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--In what feels like a never-ending war with those who would like to develop Blue Diamond Hill across the street from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, conservationists and climbers have won the most recent battle. Save Red Rock is reporting that, "Clark County Commissioner, Susan Brager, today informed Save Red Rock that the Gypsum Resources development request will not be heard on tomorrow’s agenda. Susan Brager is the Commissioner over District F which includes the Red Rock Canyon area. 'We are so grateful to Commissioner Brager for listening to her constituents,' said Heather Fisher, President of Save Red Rock, adding, 'Thousands of phone calls and emails were sent to all the Commissioners asking them to keep their promises and protect Red Rock Canyon, and today Susan Brager said she would stand true to her word.'" To read more, click here.

A climber rappelling in Joshua Tree National Park.

--Jumbo Rocks Campground in Joshua Tree National Park is now reservation only. This could be a very good thing for those planning road trips well in advance. Historically, it's been hard to just show up in Joshua Tree during the high season and get a campsite. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Between November 28th and December 2nd, there were 54 recorded avalanches in Colorado. To read more, click here.

--The extremely popular Narrows Trail in Zion National Park is under threat. There is a dispute between the NPS and a private land owner about the trail. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Jackson Hole News and Guide is reporting that, "Five people caught in an in-bounds avalanche at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Saturday morning all survived the slide. At least one skier triggered the slide around 9:55 a.m. The avalanche’s crown was roughly 2 feet deep and 150 feet wide on the southern end of the Expert Chutes, resort spokesperson Anna Cole said." To read more, click here.

--The Ithica Voice is reporting on two individuals that were lost in the New York State wilderness. "Two cross-country skiers were lost for several hours Saturday in Hammond Hill State Forest. As it grew dark and the weather changed, the skiers' situation became increasingly dangerous. While the two skiers were wandering and looking for help, more than 70 volunteers from dozens of local agencies were searching the forest and finally linked up with the women after nine hours." To read more, click here.

--There were several avalanches in the Canadian Rockies and Selkirks over the last week. To read more, click here.

Arlene Blum has authored several books, including
Annapurna: A Woman's Place.

--Arlene Blum, a noted author, climber and expedition leader, has been accepted into the California Hall of Fame. To read more, click here.

--The Calgary Herald is reporting that, "a world-renowned Alberta ski resort has been fined just over $2 million for cutting down endangered trees five years ago. Judge Heather Lamoureux has given Lake Louise resort in Banff National Park one year to pay the fine. The resort pleaded guilty last December to taking down a stand of trees, including 38 whitebark pine, along a ski run in 2013." To read more, click here.

--There's a new drytool crag in the Canadian Rockies. To read more, click here.

--Stone stacking is a thing. You see them all over: precariously balanced stone towers. They look cool, but they are not a good example of Leave No Trace. To read more, click here.

--This is wild, it looks like you can rent ski apparel now. To read more, click here.

--Wyoming Public Media is reporting that. The outdoor recreation industry makes up an important part of the Mountain West economy and it’s feeling relieved right now after President Trump and President Xi of China have agreed to pause their escalating trade wars for now. That pause is in effect for 90 days. It means products that would have been subjected to a tariff increase by the end of the year will now be spared, at least temporarily." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Climbing Out - A Film about the Power of the Mountains in Recovery

Wikipedia defines wilderness therapy as, "an adventure-based therapy treatment modality for behavior modification and interpersonal self-improvement, combining experiential education, individual and group therapy in a wilderness setting." What they're referring to is a style of therapy that is supported by individuals trained to help a person overcome personal demons by using the wilderness or wilderness adventure as a backdrop.

But there's another model of wilderness therapy. It's the self-imposed model. It's a model that many people use to, "get away from the world." Or to "discover yourself." Or to "deal with something."

There is a long history of climbers and skiers, backpackers and explorers, sailors and adventurers, using the wilderness as a self-imposed form of wilderness therapy. There is also a long history of those who have had difficulties in their lives using wilderness adventure or a goal in the wilderness to show themselves, and the world, that they have overcome the thing that held them back.

This last thought brings us to the mountain as a metaphor. I have a personal history with cancer. As a teenager, I overcame brain cancer. Climbing mountains was a way to show myself that I was back, that I had beat my disease. I've met literally hundreds of people over the years that have used mountain climbing or the ascent of a single mountain as a goal to show that they've overcome a disease.

There's another disease that -- when overcome, or when in recovery -- is often a reason that people give to climb a hard mountain.  And that disease is addiction...

The mountain climb is a ubiquitous metaphor. It is commonly stated that one climbs a mountain to overcome a disease. Therefore it shouldn't be a surprise that so many people want to climb a mountain when they feel that they are close to defeating a disease, or at least are successful in resisting it...

REI has put together a very nice short film about a woman who is literally climbing out of addiction on Mt. Rainier. You can view this excellent film below...

--Jason D. Martin