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

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/29/18


--The North Cascades Highway (Highway 20) officially closed yesterday. It is closed between milepost 134 at Diablo Overlook, east of Newhalem and milepost 171 at Silver Star Creek west of Mazama. The highway typically reopens in early May. The highway usually closes once there is enough snow to warrant avalanche danger to the road around the Liberty Bell massif.

--King County is reporting that their pilot project which entailed providing transportation to trailheads was a success. "Hikers boarded Trailhead Direct for more than 10,000 round trips during the first full season of the transit-to-trails service, increasing the number of people who explored King County’s mountain forests without having to drive or park." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--There at it again. The developers continue to do whatever they can to try to develop Blue Diamond Hill across the street from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Las Vegas. This world class climbing area has been under threat for nearly two decades now. A group of Clark County commissioners promised to protect the Conservation Area. It now looks like they may have reneged  on that promise. To learn more and to sign a petition to save Red Rock, click here.

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

--Speaking of Red Rock, it was pretty busy there over the weekend. Black Friday was Red Rock Friday for many. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

-This is truly horrible. The Anchorage Daily News is reporting that, "A Whitehorse French immersion teacher and her infant are dead after a grizzly bear attack at their trapper’s cabin in a remote area of central Yukon, their bodies discovered by her partner as he returned home from a trapline." To read more, click here.

--This is spooky. A woman was ripping down the side of a Mexican volcano, sliding on her back, headfirst, when a dude tackled her to stop the fall. Had she slid into the rocks, she certainly would have been killed. To see dramatic video and to read more, click here.

--Here's a cool story about a legally blind climber from Oklahoma who has done extremely well in the world of competition climbing.

--A massive ice pillar called, The Real Big Drip, a direct ice variation to a classic line -- saw it's first ascent in Canada's Ghost River Valley recently. The 600-foot line clocks in at WI 7, M8. To read more, click here.

--Patagonia is donating the 10 million dollars they saved in President Trump's tax cuts to programs that are on the front line of fighting climate change! To read more, click here.

--Outside online is reporting on the changing image of the ski resort as large corporations buy them out. "Conglomerates aren’t killing off core skiers and riders. In fact, they’re throwing them a lifeline. Acquisitions come with downsides, of course, including overcrowding and excessive grooming. But by drastically reducing the cost of ski passes and offering some semblance of job security for locals, the corporations are giving the struggling industry a future." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Follow Through - Ski Mountaineer Caroline Gleich

Caroline Gleich is considered Utah's most controversial skier. This name is unfortunately a product of a misogynistic ski culture. She is a social media star and model that can be seen on billboards throughout Utah. This has caused "haters" to come out of the woodwork.

Caroline proved her prowess by being the first woman to complete every ski descent in the cult classic guidebook, The Chuting Gallery.

The following film is about Caroline and her quest to complete all the descents in The Chuting Gallery and to prove to both herself and the world, that she is not just a ski model, but that she is a world class ski mountaineer.

It should be noted that Caroline was mentored by AAI guide Liz Daley. Liz was tragically killed in an avalanche in Argentina in 2014. Liz makes an appearance in the video.

Outside magazine has looked closely at the culture of misogyny toward female adventure athletes. Indeed, they used some of the things that Caroline has dealt with as a jumping off point to try to understand online harassment. You can read the article about Caroline and cyberstalking, here.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 23, 2018

Book Review: Alone on the Ice

David Roberts is one of the best-known climbing writers working today. His books have included the likes of The Mountain of My Fear and Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative. And on this blog, we recently reviewed his book, The Sandstone Spine.

Roberts has always had an amazing knack for finding stories that resonate with climbers and outdoor adventurers. His books have taken us to the farthest corners of the Earth, to meet some of the most hearty men and women that ever lived.  With that in mind, Roberts has recently brought us his newest offering, Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration.

Alone on the Ice is the epic story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition that took place from 1911-1914. This aggressive expedition was one of the only to forego the point that seemed to drive explorers in the early part of the twentieth century. The team's goal was not to reach the South Pole, but instead to  explore the glaciers and mountains just inland from the Antarctic coast.

Unlike many of the heavily supported expeditions of the day, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition fielded a handful of small three man teams that would explore the continent from two separate coastal bases. One perched precariously near the ocean on an ice cliff, and the other at Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay, a place that by all accounts may be the windiest place on the planet. While one basecamp fretted about glacier movements, the other worried about the wind, a wind that in May of 1912 never dropped below 60 miles per hour for thirty-one straight days.

Douglas Mawson, a hearty geologist from Australia, was the expedition's leader. After establishing a base in the fall, from which to attack the interior in the spring, the team was required to "winter over." Mawson writes:

We dwelt on the fringe of an unspanned continent, where the chill breath of a vast, polar wilderness, quickening to the rushing might of eternal blizzards, surged to the northern seas. We had discovered an accursed country. We had found the Home of the Blizzard.

Roberts description of the men and their winter accommodations was certainly interesting, but the heart of the story lies in the expeditions that set-out from the bases. Each of them were designed to map the terrain and to collect samples, and each of them were wild adventures in and of themselves.  But the team that Mawson commanded was the team that suffered the most on the Southern continent.

Imagine first that you are literally alone on the ice with nothing more than your two companions, hundreds of miles from help, with absolutely no way to contact anyone. Now imagine losing one of your partners to a crevasse fall, and along with him all the food and equipment he carried. Now imagine losing your second partner, this time to sickness and starvation.  And now, you really are alone, with no food, no real shelter and you are weeks away from any help...

That is the situation that Mawson faced in 1913 during his foray onto the ice. And Edmund Hillary later said of Mawson, that his was the "greatest survival story in the history of exploration."

Roberts expertly weaves together the journals, diaries and writings of the different members of the expedition in order to paint a portrait of the lives the men lead in Antarctica, the adventures they faced, and the tragedies they suffered. We truly feel the angst and the heartache as members of the team struggle for food, shelter and dignity. We laugh with them when they play pranks on one another and we worry about their sanity when it's not clear whether they will ever get home.

Alone on the Ice is a fantastic survival story in a in an unforgiving land. The true story account provides every reader with a terrifying glimpse into the Antarctica which is the Home of the Blizzard, the Antarctica that crushed ships and swallowed men, an Antarctica that with all the modern convienences, barely exists anymore...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad -

Happy Turkey Day!!!

--As you well know, this is considered one of the most crowded weekends of the year at crags in dry climates. Smith Rock, Red Rock, Joshua Tree and Indian Creek tend to be the places most impacted over Thanksgiving Weekend. If you are already at the crag, good-on-you. If not, it is suggested that you have backup camping plans...


--Here's what's new with ski resorts around Mt. Hood this winter...

--Winter access off of Highway 20 will be reduced by four miles this year. In an article on the WSDOT blog, they try to make it sound good, stating that now there's more "room to roam;" but it will cut off easy access to some areas for backcountry skiers. To read more, click here.


--Fifteen-year-old Conner Herson became the youngest person to ever free the Nose (5.14a) on El Capitan in Yosemite this week. And while thousands of people have aided the route, Conner is only the sixth person to have freed it. To read more, click here.

--The New York Times went behind the scenes on the production of Free Solo. They made a short piece on the filmmakers and the morality of filming such an ascent. What if Alex were to fall? What if he were to fall because the filmmakers were there...? To see what the New York Times came up with check out the video below. It is well worth the watch.

Desert Southwest:

--Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area will have limited hours on Thanksgiving Day. Congestion should be expected throughout the weekend. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Patch is reporting that, "A climber who fell 50 feet from the Second Flatiron on Friday night was rescued by Boulder County personnel, according to a release from the county sheriff's office. The man had reportedly been climbing without a rope or safety equipment at the time of his fall." To read more, click here.

--The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that, "A group of 21 mayors and council members from around Utah have signed onto briefs with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in support of lawsuits filed against President Donald Trump’s shrinking of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The amicus friend-of-the-court briefs — filed Monday and drafted by the Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic and the Salt Lake City Attorney’s Office — contend that the process was flawed, with little input from local voices, and that the boundary reduction will have detrimental economic and environmental effects in the state." To read more, click here.

--Fees in Colorado State Parks are going up...!

Notes from All Over:

--Rock and Ice is reporting on a cool ascent of Mt. MacDonald in the Selkirks. Chris Wright and Graham Zimmerman "made the first ascent of a long, difficult mixed route on the North Face of Mount MacDonald at Roger’s Pass" They called their route The Indirect American ​(WI4+ M7, 1,000 meters). To read more, click here.

--The outdoor industry is trying hard to be inclusive, but things can be complex. Nothing is more indicative of this than the recent change within the Boy Scouts to include girls. What happens to the Girl Scouts -- a stand alone organization -- if the Boy Scouts change? And indeed, how does this impact the branding of the Girl Scouts. To read about this and a recent lawsuit, click here.

--Well this is depressing. The woman in charge of climate change adaptation for the National Parks has resigned because she has received no support from the current administration. To read more, click here.

--The Associated Press is reporting that Vicki Christiansen, the new chief of the Forest Service, is on a mission. She is spearheading a cultural change within the organization to root out sexual harassment and bullying. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Graffiti at the Crags

I've been climbing since 1992. That's just long enough to really feel like I've been able to watch trends change in both climbing and in outdoor recreation. The biggest change is a growing lack of respect for the land...

I know. I know. It's just another old guy complaining about the kids...get off my lawn and all that...

But it's true. There are more people recreating today than there were a few years ago. Indeed, a report in the Outdoor Foundation estimates that 1.6 percent of the American population participates in climbing either indoors or out. That's a whopping five million people!

Every year there are new climbers moving from the gym to the crag. As such, there have been a number of efforts to educate climbers making this transition. The American Alpine Club and the Access Fund have even built a curriculum around this transition called, Gym to Crag...

But even with these education efforts there are several problems. One of which, is graffiti at the crags. Obviously, a large percentage of those who participate in placing graffiti on crags are not climbers, but there are certainly a fair number who are...

Here is an example of a non-climber disrespecting Mother
Earth by scratching his ironic message onto the rocks in 
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

This second example is also from Red Rock Canyon. AAI Guide Andrew
Yasso took this picture on the third pitch of Purblind Pillar on the Angel Food Wall.
This image predicated a long thread on

It should be obvious that there is no difference between the first and the second examples. Both are inspriational messages that defaced the natural rock. Now every time someone looks at either spot, they have to deal with some random person's philisophical notions. The appropriate place for this kind of writing is in a summit register, not on the rock. If there's no summit register, then you should keep your philisophical thoughts to yourself...

Shortly after Andrew photographed the graffiti on Purblind Pillar, we posted about it on our facebook page. The following shows a couple of responses. I covered the names with green and red blocks to hide details about these posters:

The green poster understands the problems with graffiti, but points out that there's some hypocrisy when it comes to modern vs. historic graffiti. This isn't a terribly uncommon perspective. The thinking is that if ancient peoples did it, then why can't I...?

The protection of Native artificats is clearly definied in the 1906 Antiquities Act. This law was designed specifically to protect ancient Native American ruins. There was significant fear that people were destroying ancient artifacts by both taking them and by changing them -- often by making marks on them. The Act was further defined by the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act. These laws make it illegal to deface Native petroglyphs and pictographs. And further, they make it illegal to disturb or take Native artifacts off public lands.

These acts do not protect modern rock defacement. Indeed, recently an artist was found guilty of painting pictures on rocks in National Parks thoroughout the west. Casey Nocket of San Diego, traveled across the west painting pictures on rocks in protected areas. In June of 2016, Nocket pled guilty to seven misdemeanor counts for this defacement and was ordered to complete 200 hours of public service. It's not clear if she had to clean graffiti off rocks. 

There is no question about the modern laws as they apply to rock defacement. Nor is there any question about modern ethics in this area. Wilderness travelers are not permitted to deface rocks...

It's not terribly uncommon to find notes scratched into multi-pitch lines. I've found notes like, "No Bolts!" and "No!" scratched into terrain to notify a climber that there were missing bolts on a route or that they were going the wrong way. This type of message belongs on a local climbing forum, like, or It doesn't belong on the rock.

The trail to the 4 Stories Snowy Range Sport Climbing Area 
is marked by spray painted rocks. Such an obvious defacement on 
public lands can easily lead to climbing closures.
Photo Credit:

There are some sticky exceptions to the defacing of a rock face...

The world renowned mountain guide, Randall Grandstaff, died in a rappelling accident on the Great Red Book in Las Vegas on June 2, 2002. Shortly after his death, a dedication reading "Our Bro R.G." was scratched into the rock on the route. About two weeks after the dedication was scratched in, someone else tried to scratch it out.

Scratching a dedication into the rock was not really the right way to memorialize this individual. Indeed, it's been argued that Randall would not have liked this kind of memorial. However, Randall was an important person in the history of Red Rock Canyon and there are strong arguements both for the removal of the graffiti and against it. It's clear that something like this is different than the normal graffiti problem. And it's also clear that this type of conversation should take place at a local level and the removal should be weighted heavily by the area's climbers and the local ethic...

Though this last case is sticky now, it wasn't before it happened. It's never acceptable to deface rocks with graffiti. It's just not what real climbers do...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 19, 2018

Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon National Conservation Areas open limited hours on Thanksgiving

The American Alpine Institute just received the following from the BLM:

Southern Nevada District Office

FOR RELEASE:  November 19, 2018
CONTACT:  John Asselin (702) 515-5046;

Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon National Conservation Areas open limited hours on Thanksgiving

LAS VEGAS – Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon National Conservation Areas will have limited hours on Thanksgiving Day, November 22.

The Scenic Drive area at Red Rock Canyon will be open from 6 a.m. to noon, and the Visitor Center will be open 8 a.m. to noon. The fee gates will close at noon. The Visitor Contact Station at Sloan Canyon will be open from 8 a.m. to noon. Normal operating hours will resume November 23. More information and normal operating hours at Red Rock Canyon NCA is available at For more information and operating hours at Sloan Canyon NCA, please visit:

During the Thanksgiving weekend, visitation at Red Rock Canyon NCA increases, with the most congested time anticipated between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

To ensure a high-quality visitor experience and to allow access for emergency vehicles (if needed), the 13-Mile Scenic Drive at Red Rock Canyon may be temporarily closed during periods of high visitation. Road signs will be posted along State Route 159 if/when the Scenic Drive is closed. Visitors may call (702) 515-5350 to check if the Scenic Drive is open.


The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The agency’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. Diverse activities authorized on these lands generated $96 billion in sales of goods and services throughout the American economy in fiscal year 2017. These activities supported more than 468,000 jobs.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Counter Ascending a Rope to Perform a Climber Pick-Off

Imagine you are taking two friends out to the crag who have never climbed before. You meet at the trailhead and quickly make the approach. On the way in you spot a beautiful looking slab, perfect for introducing some simple movement skills.

You tell your buddies to hang out at the base as you scramble around, build a bomber anchor, and drop a rope to set up a base-managed tope rope site. Back at the bottom you run them through all the basic knot/belaying skills and before you know it, you all are ready to climb.

You have one of them climb, while the other one belays and you are ready to give a back up belay if necessary. The climber does an awesome job, just cruising all the way to the top, tagging the carabiners at the master point. The belayer tells them to lean back and starts to lower them, but about halfway down the pitch, they just freeze and grab the wall.

You try to talk them down, but they are not having it. You can tell they are getting more and more scared the longer they are up there. You do not want this to ruin their experience, especially after they just absolutely crushed it a few minutes earlier... so what do you do?

Counter-ascending a Rope to Perform a Climber Pickoff

One of the most interesting skills covered by American Alpine Institute (AAI) as part of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Single Pitch Instructor (SPI) curriculum is top-managed and based-managed assistance skills.

In the above situation, you have three climbers operating from a base-managed top rope site. In order for one of the people on the ground to assist the climber being lowered, they would need to counter-ascend the rope to perform a climber pickoff.

A "pickoff" is any situation where one member of a climbing party has to descend or ascend a rope in order to assist another member of the group who is experiencing difficulty on the pitch. Counter-ascending is a technique where the person ascending the rope uses the weight of the climber on the pitch as a counter-balance to help them maintain their progress as they move up the rope.

There are multiple scenarios you could encounter at the crag that would involve using variations of this skill. For the purposes of this post we are going to focus primarily on the situation above: Three climbers at a base-managed site with the belayer using either a tube style or assisted-braking style belay device and the most experience climber outside of the primary belay.

Building the Counter-Ascending System

Assuming you are playing the role of the experienced climber, the best way to think about building the counter-ascending system for this situation is in three steps:

Step 1.) Transition to the Primary Belay

Have the belayer pull and hold the climber tight. Now tie a backup knot in the brake strand of the rope about two arm’s lengths from the belayer’s brake hand. The backup knot can either be a figure-eight or overhand on a bight.

Pre-rig your assisted-braking belay device, a Grigri in this case, underneath the belayer’s belay device and clip it to your belay loop with a locking carabiner. If done correctly, the Grigri should be pre-rigged between the belayer’s brake hand and the backup knot you tied.

Reach over to the climber’s strand of the rope and use a friction hitch to attach a locking carabiner. An Autoblock was used in the picture above. Basket a double-length runner through the hard points on your harness and clip both ends to the locking carabiner on the climber’s strand of the rope.

Run through your carabiner and knot checks and then slide the Autoblock as high as you can along the rope. Now ask the belayer to slowly step forward as you slightly lean back. Up until this point all the climbers weight should have been on the belayer’s device. You should now start to feel the pull of the climber transition onto your harness as the Autoblock takes the weight.

If done correctly, there should be no weight on the belayer’s belay device and you can ask them to go off belay. As soon as they are out of the system, pull any slack through your Grigri and disengage the Autoblock. You should now be on belay just as if you were belaying from the beginning.

Step 2.) Counter-Ascend the Rope to the Climber

If there is an excessive amount of slack between the Grigri and the original backup knot, start by tying a new backup knot about one to two fist lengths away from the Grigri. Remove the double-length runner from your harness and just let it hang from the Autoblock.

To begin ascending, move as close to the wall as possible while pushing the Autoblock up. Make sure you keep the climber tight by taking in slack as you move forward.

Assuming your break hand is on the right side, put your left foot inside the runner and shift your weight above that foot. This will lock the Autoblock in place and allow you to stand up your left leg. As you thrust upward, use your left hand to pull down on the climber's side of the rope and your break hand to pull up on the break side of the rope.

Continue this motion until the Autoblock is about two fist lengths away from the Grigri, then sit back and weight the rope to re-engage the Grigri and capture your upward progress. At this point all your weight should be off your foot in the runner, which will allow you to move the Autoblock higher up the rope.

Repeat this process until you reach the climber and make sure to tie backup knots in the break strand every 8-10' as you ascend.

Step 3.) Transition Friction Hitch to Climbers Rope and Lower

Once you reach the climber, tie a final backup knot in the break strand and untie all of the backup knots below it. If the climber is distressed, this is your opportunity to assess the situation and provide whatever aid is necessary.

Once you decide to lower, remove the Autoblock from the strand above you and re-attach a locking carabiner to the strand above the climber with another friction hitch. I am using a Prusik in the picture above.

Again, basket a double-length runner through the hard points on your harness and clip both ends to the locking carabiner on the strand of the rope above the climber. Run through your carabiner and knot checks, then untie your back up knot and lower as you normally would on a Grigri.

This "tricks" the system and allows both the experienced climber who ascended and the distressed climber to lower simultaneously.

Some quick notes
- In situations like above, the best solution is usually the simplest and most efficient. Before getting into a complex belay transition with friction hitches and whatever, check if the climber can comfortably unweight the rope.

If they can... just tie your backup knot, pre-rig the Grigri, have the belayer remove themselves from the system, and go on belay like normal before they re-weight the rope—a much simpler solution. That said, for the purposes of this post we assumed the climber could not unweight the rope and we needed to use a hitch to transfer the load.

- For ascending, you can use an Autoblock, Prusik, or Klemheist, but I personally prefer to use an Autoblock. I like the Autoblock because in my experience, the Prusik and Klemheist proved to be very difficult to disengage and slide along the rope after putting my full bodyweight on the runner.

On the flipside, for lowering I tended to use a Prusik and Klemheist because I wanted a hitch that really "grabbed." This was important because I did not want to fumble around trying to get the hitch to stay in place, while dealing with the distressed climber.

- Depending on your preference, you can use a slipknot or tie an overhand/figure-eight in the bottom of the double-length runner to keep your foot from slipping out as you ascend. If you do end up tying a knot, lean toward a figure-eight because it is a little easier to untie after you get to the ground.

- When you get to the climber, it is a good idea to continue ascending until your feet are at about their hip to chest height. The reason you want to be above them if possible is because it is easier to offer assistance and avoids you both being right on top of each other as you lower. It also allows you to slide under their strand of rope and push them away from the wall if you need to maneuver around obstacles or roofs on the descent.

With regard to the story above, something similar actually happened to me a few weeks after I took the SPI while I was teaching a beginner class at the local climbing gym. Instead of yelling up at the stranded climber for ten minutes and making the situation worse, I quickly transitioned to the primary belay, counter-ascended and talked them through the whole lowering process, right next to them on the wall as we descend together.

I don't know if it made a difference in the climber's experience, but what I do know is that they came down with a smile on their face and got right back on the wall. To me, whether you are a climbing instructor, guide, or just a recreational climber taking friends out, that's what it is all about.

--Chris Casciola, Guest Blogger and Author of the Seeking Exposure Blog