Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Book Review: Psycovertical

I became aware of Andy Kirkpatrick some years ago when I was an avid reader of every climbing magazine out there. Kirkpatrick has written for the American magazines Climbing and Alpinist as well as for the UK magazines Climb and Climber. His articles were always engaging, often funny, and even more often, terrifying.

Recently Kirkpatrick's award winning autobiography, Psychovertical, made it's way across the pond and was reprinted by Mountaineers Books. And like his shorter work Kirkpatrick's stories from the mountains of his life are always entertaining and enlightening.

I'm well aware that a large percentage of our blog readers are Americans and are far more interested in tales from Alaska and Yosemite than stories from the Alps. And I also know that some of you might already be turned off to this book because it was written by a Brit. But rest assured, Kirkpatrick's sense of humor has a flair that we Americans can appreciate, and he even writes about the Sierra...extensively...

I don't believe in God, and intelligent design is only for those who know nothing about either, but when I stand beneath El Cap I always have second thoughts. How could nature be so brash and showy? And if there is a God, he must be an American, or the road wouldn't be so close to this glorious wall.

Kirkpatrick frames the story of his life around a solo climb of the Reticent Wall (VI, 5.9, A5) in Yosemite Valley, an incredibly committing and dangerous climb. The book is written as if from the climb. Kirkpatrick tells us the story of his life and his obsession with high end alpine climbing in a series of vignettes, always returning to the pinnacle of his climbing career on the solo climb of the Reticent.

Early in my climbing career, I become obsessed with big wall climbing. The idea of vertical backpacking was extremely attractive. And as such, I poured over articles about big wall routes throughout the world and found many of them to be...dull. This is not at all the case with Kirkpatrick's wall adventures. Even as he describes individual moves, which in the hands of a lesser writer would be incredibly boring, we are engaged. And we are never more engaged with this type of climbing than we are when he is relating comic stories from living on the wall:

For breakfast we had a big tin of fruit to share, and every day he would eat his half, then in the same motion as he passed the tin to me, pull out a paper bag, pull down his pants, and have a dump. It's not surprising that more often than not I would lose my appetite, the sight, smell and sound unconductive to keeping a mouth full of pineapple and grapes.

Many of us learn the art of climbing with a little bit of trial by fire. Some of us end up running out of food. Others spend unplanned nights in the mountains. And a few of us even get hurt. But almost none of us jump out of bed one day and right into high end climbing. Kirkpatrick was one of those who did just such a thing. He learned the art of alpinism as most of us do, by climbing local rocks and then graduating to the mountains. But most our graduation climbs do not include travel to a new range in the winter for our very first alpine climb...

Early in his life, Kirkpatrick threw himself at his climbing and became totally enamored with winter ascents in the Alps and in Patagonia. Psychovertical chronicles a number of these in his trademark comic, self-deprecating style. The winter ascents are incredibly engaging in part because so many of them turn epic, with dangerous descents in massive storms, rappels off terrible anchors into the unknown and freezing bivys in tiny snow caves...

After an hour we'd dug a coffin-shaped cave, just big enough as long as we left almost everything outside. I was putting the finishing touches to our temporary home, scraping any irregular lumps in the roof so water wouldn't build up on them and drip onto us, when, as I was leaning against one wall, my hand shot through and I fell onto my shoulder. I rolled away and realized we'd dug through into the side of a crevasse. It was so late that I just filled in the gap and climbed back out into the storm. I said to Aaron that he could sleep on that side, neglecting to tell him why. He was lighter anyway.

And while the book is chalked full of intermittent intensity and comedy, the heart of the book is in Kirkpatrick's obsession with high end climbing and the guilt he feels when he leaves his family for climbing trips. This is a theme that many climbers deal with. Most of our spouses understand that we need to climb in order to be who we are, but our kids don't understand that. Instead, they just see us as not being there. Kirkpatrick describes significant anguish around his lifestyle and how he feels when he's in the mountains that he should be home with his family; and conversely that when he's at home with his family, he wants to be in the mountains.

Late in the book, he makes this point more eloquently than any other climbing writer ever has, and by doing so places himself in the top tier of mountaineering authors:

I thought about talking to Ella, imagined her voice, what she would say.

She would ask when I was coming home. 

I often wondered about writing her a letter, to tell her who I was, why I climbed, and why I left her, even though she was the greatest gift I had ever been given. But every time I started, my words sounded like the excuses they were. The only thing I had to give were the photos I had taken of her, boxes full. Through them you could see my love for her. And her love for me.

One day, I would write a book and hope she would then understand that fathers are only children too.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 30, 2019

How to Remove Your Skins with Your Skis On

The first time I saw someone remove their skins without removing their skis, I remember being flabbergasted. My first thought was, "that was awesome." It is incredibly efficient to remove your skins without taking off your skis, but it takes some practice.

In the following video World Cup Ski Mountaineering Racer Melanie Bernier demos a few easy techniques that will help with quick skin removal.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, December 27, 2019

Backcountry Skiing - How to Start!

The words skiing and fun are essentially synonymous with one another. The art of skiing is one of the most pleasurable pastimes in the world. There is nothing quite like sliding on the snow at a beautifully maintained ski area—

Except – that is – skiing the backcountry

But skiing in the backcountry can be intimidating. Indeed, assuming one has easy black diamond movement skills, there are three elements that might keep a skier from venturing into the backcountry: equipment, avalanche danger, and navigation. Once an individual has been introduced to each of these elements, a journey into the winter backcountry seems far more reasonable.


There are two major types of touring skis, telemark and alpine touring. Telemark skis are designed with a free heel that is never clamped down. This is in direct opposition to alpine touring skis. These skis are designed to have a free heel when moving uphill and a fixed heel for downhill skiing.

Unless you are already a telemark skier, it is not recommended that you venture into the backcountry with a telemark ski. Most resort skiers will have a much better time transitioning to alpine touring skis.

A backcountry skier rips down a clean line on a beautiful slope.

There are dozens upon dozens of touring skis on the market. Each ski is designed with a different thing in mind. Some are designed to be super lightweight, whereas others are heavier, but are designed for better performance skiing downhill. Most of those that are new to backcountry skiing should use heavier skis to start with. While this adds weight for uphill travel, it will make the downhill portion of the day much easier to deal with, especially if the conditions are variable or difficult.

There are two major types of backcountry alpine touring bindings on the market. The first is the standard AT set-up, which allows for a skier to easily step into the binding. And the second is the super lightweight tech binding. The first type of binding (Fritschi Diamir, Marker Duke, Atomic Tracker, etc.) will be easier for the standard resort skier to adapt to, but most people these days ski on the second kind of binding (Dynafit, G3, BD Plum, etc.).

Like the skis, there are dozens of different boot options for AT skiers. The biggest difference between alpine ski boots and AT boots is that AT boots are designed to have both an uphill and a downhill mode. In other words, they flex forward and backward for good uphill movement. Ideally a new AT skier will be able to find a boot that works well for both uphill and downhill movement. Ski shop employees can help you find a model that works well for you.

AT skis are designed to go both uphill and downhill, but they need assistance going uphill. You will need to purchase a good set of climbing skins to place on the bottom of the skis for uphill travel. These will then be removed for downhill action.

A skier skins up a slope.

And finally, you will need to carry four essential pieces of avalanche safety equipment. You will need an avalanche transceiver, an avalanche probe, a shovel and formal avalanche education. Nobody should ever travel in the winter backcountry without these essential items.

Avalanche Danger:

The final equipment items on the list are an avalanche transceiver, an avalanche probe and a shovel. These items are for the worst-case scenario. They are in your kit so that you can rescue your partner after an avalanche. They are not avalanche repellant.

An average of 27 people die in avalanches every year. Avalanches are a real threat and they kill people.

There is really only one way for the new backcountry skier to adequately address avalanche danger. He or she will need to take a full 3-day Level I Avalanche Safety course. The best avalanche safety programs conform to American Avalanche Association standards. Locally, these are identified as American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) compliant programs. The American Alpine Institute provides AIARE Level I courses at Mt. Baker every weekend.

Backcountry Navigation:

Skiers regularly enjoy resort skiing in flat light buried in a fog bank. This marginally dangerous resort activity provides significant additional danger in the backcountry. Obstacles with difficult visibility are only the beginning of the problem. You also need to know where you are and how to get home.

There are four additional tools that the backcountry skier should learn to use. These are a topographical map, a compass, an altimeter and a GPS. These are all tools that you can learn to use by playing with them in the frontcountry; and you can find numerous resources online to help you understand these tools in order to use them effectively.

Historically GPS units have been very expensive. However, today there are a number of apps that can be used on your phone in airplane mode. My personal favorite is Gaia, but there are several others out there as well. These apps are not super intuitive though and will take time and practice to perfect before using them in the field.


The fastest way to get dialed into all of this is to take a course. The American Alpine Institute has several courses available. To learn more, check out our list of backcountry skiingsplitboarding, and avalanche safety programs.

Resort skiing is great, but in a straight-up comparison, backcountry skiing is just more fun. There is a lot more that you have to know. Your skiing skill has to be a great deal higher and earning your turns just feels more rewarding. It is well worth any resort skier’s time to step off piste and to explore the world of backcountry skiing.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

First Light - A Holiday Climbing Film

Sooo... This is the funniest Christmas climbing film that we've come across so far. Here's the promo material:

"It's visionary. It's truly on the edge of what we could call climbing," says Arc'Teryx athlete Jesse Huey. "You can train for the Karakoram, for Alaska, but nothing can prepare you for this." This winter, Huey and his team of elite alpine climbers will journey to the roof of the world. When darkness falls, there will be light.

Check it out below:

Have a Great Holiday!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 23, 2019

Avalanche Awareness: Proper Probing Technique

The following video is the second in a three-part series put together by backcountry access.

Once again, I'd like to state the importance of having proper avalanche training before traveling into the winter backcountry. And proper training doesn't come from a two-minute video.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, December 20, 2019

Downhill Stationary Kickturn

There is one area that can be very sketchy. Imagine that you are on steep terrain wearing your skis and you have a cliff below you. You need to make a turn to get out of the terrain. The best option is a downhill stationary kickturn.

Outdoor Research and the American Mountain Guides Association teamed up to bring you this video of AMGA Instructor Team Member, Margaret Wheeler, demonstrating the turn.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 19, 2019

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

Climate Crisis:

--Gizmodo is reporting on some really good news: "Money talks, and that’s why environmental activists—and, more specifically, indigenous peoples—have been pressuring banks for years to stop throwing their money toward fossil fuel extraction projects. Finally, major banks are starting to listen. Goldman Sachs announced Sunday that it’s finally listening and won’t fund new coal projects globally or any extraction projects in the Arctic, including in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." To read more, click here.


--So a drug smuggling pilot near the border with Canada was pursued by Border Patrol. During the pilot's attempted escape, pursuing agents watched as he threw several bags out of the plane and into the North Cascade wilderness. It is presumed that these bags were filled with some kind of drugs. The pilot was arrested when he landed. To read more, click here.

--Four people have been killed in the Big Four Ice Caves that exist in base of the avalanche cone at the bottom of Big Four's North Face. The Everett Herald is reporting that, "Baylor University professors Kelli McMahan and Chris Wynveen visited the caves in the summer of 2017 to observe how visitors behaved and interviewed those who got too close. Along with Texas A&M staff, they recommended some changes to the trail. The researchers spent four days watching visitors. They approached those who got too close to the caves and asked the red-handed hikers what it might take to keep them from climbing on or going in the ice structures." To read more, click here.


El Capitan
Photo by Krista Eytchison

--The Yosemite Facelift continues to grow in popularity. Over sixteen-thousand pounds of trash was picked up, and over eighty percent of that trash was recycled. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--CNN and others are reporting that, "A snowboarder was killed after unintentionally triggering an avalanche near a Utah ski resort on Sunday morning. The snowboarder, identified by the Summit County Sheriff's Office as 45-year-old Raymond M. Tauszik of Salt Lake City, was 'caught, carried and killed' by the avalanche when he was skiing down a slope, according to the Utah Avalanche Center." To read more, click here.

--CBS 4 Denver is reporting that, "A 21-year-old man was buried in an avalanche at the Steamboat Ski Resort on Sunday afternoon, but was quickly dug out." To read more, click here.

--A 65-year old skier passed away at the Keystone Ski Resort this week. The skier was found unresponsive with no signs of trauma. To read more, click here.

--KCBW, an NPR affiliate in Utah, is reporting that, "Local law enforcement officers were dispatched out to Conehead on the Park City Ridgeline again after a man triggered an avalanche in the same area that killed a 45-year-old Salt Lake City man on Sunday. Summit County Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright reports Tuesday’s avalanche was triggered by a parachute skier." To read more, click hereHere is more info about the earlier avalanche that resulted in a fatality.

--Snowbrains is reporting that, "Vail Resorts, Inc. yesterday announced a series of major capital improvements across its resorts that are designed to make getting on and around its mountains faster and easier through terrain expansions, new lifts, and expanded restaurant experiences. The new projects are part of the company’s calendar year 2020 capital plan of approximately $210 million to $215 million to enhance the guest experience and scale the company’s growing business. This investment builds on the approximately $190 million to $195 million that Vail Resorts is planning to spend on capital improvement projects in the calendar year 2019." To read more, click here.

--The Colorado Sun is reporting that, "the Brazilian owner of Granby Ranch is walking away from the 5,000-acre ski and golf community after 24 years, handing a lender the title to the Grand County property where she once planned a $600 million mega-resort." To read more, click here.

--The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that, "No one will ever see “no trespassing” signs in Zion Narrows, thanks to a complicated land deal tapping money from myriad federal, state and private sources that will keep a historic property in a farming family’s hands, while preserving public access to one of the nation’s finest hiking destinations." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

Tim Staples, a school teacher and rescue volunteer, died in a 
fall while searching for a missing hiker on on Mt. Baldy on Saturday.

--KTLA 5 and many others are reporting that, "A search and rescue team member volunteer and schoolteacher was found dead Saturday amid the search for a 52-year-old hiker from Irvine who went missing near Mount Baldy nearly a week ago, authorities said." To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "Ken Wallator was a leading climber in the Canadian Rockies during the 1980s and 90s, having made a number of bold first ascents and hard repeats. He was recently in the Bow Valley climbing with his good friend Will Gadd, who Wallator knew growing up. On Dec. 14, Wallator posted an alarming message on Facebook that implied that it could be his last post. Wallator’s message came after a hard few years and similar posts from the previous weeks, but none so dire." Wallator is currently missing, and is presumed to be somewhere in the Canadian Rockies. There is a photo of his truck in this report, and anyone who sees it is encouraged to report it. To read more, click here.

--Politico has published a piece entitled, "the Stealth Plan to Erode Public Control of Public Lands." The piece talks about the recent decision to move BLM headquarters, and how this is undermining the dedicated employees. "Our view is that the plan is a poorly disguised attempt to destroy the agency from the inside. BLM state directors and field managers in the West already have the authority to make land-use, leasing and permitting decisions and facilitate coordination with state, tribal and local governments. The 3 percent in Washington focuses on policy, oversight and coordination at the national level with other federal agencies, Congress and national public interest groups. This is work that must be done in Washington to be effective." To read more, click here.

--Here are the top ten advocacy victories by the Access Fund in 2019!

--Looks like there's another Vertical Limit or Cliffhanger getting ready to be made out there. Deadline is reporting that, "In a last fevered auction before the holidays, Netflix prevailed and paid high six figures for First Ascent, a genre script by Colin Bannon with a female lead set in the world of mountain climbing. The project injects a genre element to a dangerous sport and was likened to The Shining meets Free Solo. Jake Scott is attached to direct a script that will be featured on The Black List, the annual tally of best screenplays that will be revealed later today." To read more, click here.

--Backpacker has put a video game online about surviving in a blizzard. Check it out.

--Uber is developing a service that will take you to a ski resort. To read more, click here.

--Here's a video of someone doing a flip off a gondola, something we don't recommend:

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Failed Ski Lift Rescue

One of the many jobs that ski patrollers are responsible for is ski lift evacuation. In other words, when the ski lift stalls, they lower people off the lift to the ground. This is generally a relatively simple task that any climber with baseline skills would be able to accomplish. Unfortunately for a snowboarder at (ski area name redacted), the ski patrol there aren't very dialed into basic climbing skills.

Before launching into this...full disclosure. I have never been a ski patroller. I am coming at this from the perspective of a guide with self-rescue skills, and as a instructor for team-based technical rescue. This blog isn't meant to be a discussion of ski patrol specific skills, but more of a what-can-we-learn-from-this-as-climbers discussion.

So there are a handful of takeaways from this, not-the-least-of-which is to avoid being rescued by a ski patroller in (state name redacted). Why would you be skiing in (state name redacted) anyway? Did you see what kind of snow they have in the video...?

Anyway, here are some thoughts:

1) Use an Anchor or get beneath the Victim!

In the video, the ski patroller on the left is at a wide angle. Occasionally we are forced in a climbing setting to place a belayer far from the base of the crag. This happens in any top-roped climbing when situation where it is not possible to be close to the base of the crag. When there is a wide angle like the one in the video, the belayer is always pulled in.

There are two ways to mitigate this problem. The first way is to anchor yourself down and the second way is to eliminate the angle.

At the end of the video, the guy on the ground says to his hanging buddy, "you know next time...Ima' gonna have to get up there and hold ya'." Holding the other ski patroller wouldn't work. He could clip himself to the patroller to increase the weight, essentially creating a "meat anchor," but the best thing of all would simply be to tie the belayer down.

However, if the belayer was wearing a normal harness and wasn't using a "what-the-!%&@-is-he-doing strap," he might have been able to get directly beneath the snowboarder and probably wouldn't have needed an anchor at all.

2) Use a Climbing Harness or a Rescue Harness for Rescue Work

Ahhh...this one seems a little obvious. If the strap had slipped off the ski patroller's legs, the victim would have fallen to the ground.

3) Counterbalance Situation

This is more in response to something that shouldn't have happened in the first place, but once both the ski patroller and the snowboarder are both hanging, they are essentially counterbalancing each other. If the ski patroller rappels, the snowboarder will remain where he is. Once the ski patroller is on the ground and continues to lower the snowboarder will come down.

Had this situation been a bit different, the ski patroller might have had to counterbalance rappel with the snowboarder. In other words, the only way for the two of them to move together is for the ski patroller to clip something to the snowboarder and then rappel. As the patroller lowers, he would pull the snowbarder to the ground.  Due to the lack of harness' and competence in this arena, this would not have been realistic for this team.

Rescue Strategy

These guys made some mistakes and they learned from them. Certainly, they won't do this this way in the future.

The reality is that a rescue is always the victim's emergency. The last thing you want to do is to make something worse. If you're in a rescue scenario, don't rush. Think about consequences of any systems you build and mitigate the dangers...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, December 16, 2019

How to Uncoil a New Rope

You've just bought your brand new rope and you are extremely excited to pull it out and get some use out of it. You notice that it is bundled up in a nice tight little coil, and you think, "hey, this is perfect for my pack!" So you take it to the crag.

It's a beautiful day and you're itching to get on a route. You pull the plastic wraps off the coil, you release the initial wraps, and then...you drop the coils on the ground.


Party foul.

Now the whole coil looks like spaghetti, and you spend the next hour trying to untangle the mess.

Sound familiar?

It's certainly happened to me. And it's certainly happened to a lot of people I know. And if it hasn't happened to you, it certainly can...

When you uncoil a new rope, you have to be very careful. Essentially, you have to unspool the coil. The most ideal way to do this is with a partner. One person puts his arms inside the coil, while the other carefully unspools the rest onto the ground.

This can certainly be done by an individual, but you have to be much more careful.

Following is a video (unfortunately not in English) which shows a technique for uncoiling a new rope.

Happy climbing!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, December 13, 2019

Rock Rescue: The Munter Mule

In the following clip, a climber demonstrates two things. First, he shows us how to tie a munter hitch on a carabiner clipped to a harness. And second, he shows us how to mule off a munter hitch that is clipped to a locker on a pre-equalized anchor.

The munter-mule is one of the most useful combination's that one can employ in any rock rescue scenario. It provides the basis for load transfers and for a number of other rescue techniques.

In the video, the climber refers to the mule knot as a slip knot...which it is, but the official name for what he is doing is the "mule."

It is important to watch how the climber releases the mule. He never takes his hand off the brake  strand. I believe that the most common mistake that people make in this particular setting is that they completely let go of the brake strand as they jump their brake hand up the strand and closer to the hitch. When you practice, be aware of this and be careful to avoid letting go of the brake strand.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 12, 2019

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

Climate Crisis:

--The teenage climate advocate Greta Thunberg is Time's person of the year. The 16-year-old is a leader in the youth climate movement. To read more, click here.


--North Cascades Highway is officially closed.

--Capitol Press is reporting that, "The U.S. Department of Interior probably will decide in the first quarter of 2020 whether to import grizzly bears into Washington’s North Cascades, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash, says." To read more, click here.

--Here is an awesome video that promotes Portland Mountain Rescue. These folks are dialed!


--A snowboarder was injured in an avalanche on the north side of Castle Peak this week. To read more, click here.

--The Sierra Wave is reporting that, "The Bishop Area Climbers Coalition, Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association (ESIA), and Friends of the Inyo in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management Bishop Field Office, and the Inyo National Forest have hired two climbing rangers to patrol the increasingly popular climbing and bouldering areas in the Bishop area. The Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce, Geraldine C. and Emory M. Ford Foundation, Touchstone Climbing Inc., along with individual organization fundraising events have contributed funds to help support the two climbing ranger positions." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

Mt. Wilson in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

--Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas is changing the late exit procedures for the Scenic Drive. "Starting January 1, 2020, late exit climbing and high-country backpacking permit requests at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area will move to Recreation.gov. At that time, permits will not be available by calling the phone line that was used previously (702-515-5050). When the move happens on the first of the year, people can request a permit by clicking the “Buy a Pass” button on the website. Late exit permits are free, but a 50-cent processing fee will be charged." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Coloradoan is reporting on the first avalanche fatality of the season. "The 29-year-old backcountry skier who died in an avalanche near Cameron Pass on Sunday has been identified as Michelle Lindsay of Fort Collins." To read more, click here.

Are some areas about to hit "peak" rock gym?

--The question that some are starting to wonder about is, how many rock gyms are too many? Some cities in Colorado may find out. To read about it, click here.

--The Gazette is reporting that, "Avalanches hit backcountry regions across the state over the weekend after a series of storms dumped snow on Colorado late last week. About 50 avalanches were reported Saturday and Sunday after the holiday snowfall, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center." To read more, click here.

--Snews is reporting that, "The Big Gear Show, a concept by longtime retailers Sutton Bacon and Darren Bush, the team behind Paddlesports Retailer, is slated for July 22 to 25, 2020, in Salt Lake City. The hardgoods-only buying show will focus on camping, climbing, paddling, and biking, with a consumer day and pre-show outfitting and excursion." To read more, click here.

--The Know Outdoors is reporting that, "On Monday, Dec. 9, Vail Resorts announced $210 million to $215 million in capital investment projects for the 2020-21 season. For Colorado, this means a new chairlift on Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Peak 7 and a replacement of Keystone Resort’s Peru Express Lift. Beaver Creek Ski Resort also is getting an additional 250 skiable acres." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Former AAI Guide, Chantel Astorga, has received some love from Rock and Ice online. Last night, they posted her profile with a Q and A. To read it, click here.

--There are some new rules for those climbing Canada's tallest mountain, Mt. Logan. Teams have to be composed of at least two people, and expeditions have to have insurance. To read more, click here.

--Outside has published an interesting piece on social media shaming: "When the founder of the Instagram account Public Lands Hate You first began calling out influencers for their bad habits online, he did not anticipate how many friends—and adversaries—he’d make along the way. Frustrated by the things he saw on some hikes with his friends, the 31-year-old engineer, who goes under the alias of Steve, created the Instagram account to show how people will trample flowers on public lands, wander off designated trails, and use drones where they’re not allowed—sometimes simply out of a lack of outdoors knowledge but often to also promote products or take photos that would be popular with an influencer’s audience." To read more, click here.

--State outdoor recreation offices are popping up everywhere!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

North Cascades Highway Closing for the Winter!

The American Alpine Institute just received the following from the Washington State Department of Transportation:

SR 20 North Cascades Highway, between Diablo and Mazama, closing to vehicles until 2020 Crews will work to reopen the highway to bicycles, vehicles next spring

DIABLO – A snowy forecast means State Route 20 North Cascades Highway will close for the season at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 11. This is the latest road closure date in more than a decade.

Washington State Department of Transportation crews close this stretch of SR 20 every year once snow fills the avalanche chutes that line the highway, which poses a safety risk to travelers and road crews.

Road closure points 

The closure points are at milepost 134/Ross Dam Trailhead and at milepost 177/Silver Star Gate. When significant snow begins to fall, WSDOT crews will move the western closure point back to milepost 130/Colonial Creek Campground and the eastern closure point to milepost 168/Early Winters Campground. These weather-dependent changes usually happen in January. Signs along SR 20 are posted in advance of the closure point and updates on the WSDOT website will reflect where the road is closed.

Winter recreation on SR 20

Hikers, skiers, snowmobilers and other recreationalists can access the closed portion of highway during the winter season. Users should park in designated parking areas to allow plow drivers the space they need to clear snow around the closed stretch’s access gates.

WSDOT closes this stretch of highway due to avalanche risk, so anyone using this area should check forecasts and be aware of quickly changing conditions in the mountains. Travelers can also check conditions with North Cascades National Park before trips to this area.

Spring reopening

In late winter/spring 2020, WSDOT avalanche and maintenance crews, including Mazama the Avalanche Rescue Goat, will assess conditions and begin clearing work to reopen this cross-state route through the Cascade Mountains.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Moderate Snow Climbs in the Alaska Range: Ruth Gorge

Perusing Alpinist Magazine or the American Alpine Journal, one might be intimidated by the Alaska Range and its incredible volume of difficult routes, but there are indeed options for the more moderate climber. As with any climbing expedition in Alaska, none of these options below should be considered "safe" and involve significant objective hazard including rock, ice, and snowfall. Careful conditions evaluation (including snowpack) is paramount for a successful trip.

Basecamp in the Ruth Gorge, AK

Mount Dickey, West Face (II, 40 degrees- 4,500 ft)

This climb is done in one to three days and is among the most spectacular moderates in the AK range with minimal technical difficulties and memorable views. Start from the Ruth Gorge and ascend moderate snow ramps to 747 Pass, this is a beautiful place to camp if climbing the route in multiple days. Depending on where your base camp is, this involves ~3 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain.

From 747 pass, moderate snow slopes continue and several options exist depending on your desired level of adventure. The West Face and the West Ridge are relatively similar (and are even commonly skied) and rarely exceed 30-40 degrees. The "Direct" west ridge is a fun way (though contrived at times) to turn up the climbing difficulty and exposure quite dramatically (though this is much more serious than the standard options). Simply staying on the "true" west ridge involves steeper snow and moderate mixed climbing on rock (~60 degrees with short steps of easy mixed). The direct option of these three will require a different set of gear, experiences, and skills.

A climber on the Direct West Ridge, Mt. Dickey

Mount Barrille, Japanese Couloir (III, 55-70 degrees- 3,000 feet of elevation gain)

This climb lacks any great camping locations and thus is commonly done in one day. While it is shorter and less elevation gain than Mount Dickey, it offers much more technical climbing relatively speaking. Depending on the basecamp location, the approach can be as little as 30 minutes but the crevasse route-finding getting to the base can be involved.

A climber reversing the summit ridge of Mt. Barrille
The couloir itself makes up the majority of the climb's elevation gain (~2,000 feet) with an ever steepening couloir that varies greatly in steepness depending on time of year. At the top of the couloir, a heroic traverse on snow leads to the upper summit slopes. The position is incredible throughout the upper stretch of the climb and is an absolute gift to the moderate climber- being able to experience the grandeur of the Alaska Range without climbing on a cutting edge route.    


Friday, December 6, 2019

Ski and Snowboard Stoke: We Heard You Need Gloves

Here is an awesome little film about some hardcore ladies getting it on in the Mt. Baker backcountry. If this doesn't get you stoked for the upcoming season, I don't know what will:

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 12/5/19


--The Seattle Times is reporting on a lawsuit against The Mountaineers: The former Mountaineers Foundation is suing the original Mountaineers over who gets to use the name “The Mountaineers” in a court case that could be hard to follow for anyone not familiar with the legacy of The Mountaineers. mThe lawsuit outlines a rift between the two outdoors education and conservation-oriented organizations and marks the end of a long partnership. Seattle-based The Mountaineers was founded in 1906 by 151 outdoors enthusiasts who wanted to explore the Pacific Northwest’s wild places." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Craig Press is reporting that, "Steamboat Springs resident Tom Steinberg was skiing on the northeast slope of Walton Peak on Rabbit Ears Pass when an avalanche, triggered remotely from his ski track, collapsed a layer of snow. No one was injured, but Steinberg reported the incident to the Avalanche Information Center." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Jon Waterman wrote an excellent piece on our struggling National Parks for the New York Times: "I also discovered was an operation in deep trouble, with some parks degraded by ruinous overcrowding; invasions of nonnative plants and animals that are upending delicate ecological balances; and a warming climate that is melting glaciers and withering away the rare yuccas that give their name to Joshua Tree National Park. Adding to these woes, the system is badly underfunded and suffering from neglect. This is not a new problem, but it is getting worse, with deferred maintenance that mostly predates the Trump administration now topping $11 billion. But President Trump isn’t helping. He wants to cut the National Park Service’s budget by $481 million next year and is reportedly considering privatizing campgrounds and commercializing the parks in ways that contradict the agency’s goal of harmonizing with nature." To read more, click here.

--The French Guide school is world renowned. Outside has produced an excellent article on the tests used to assess those who wish to attend the school. To read about it, click here.

--China is building ski resorts at a record pace...!

--Many ski resorts and ski towns go out-of-their-way to be welcoming to LGBTQ+ folks. Outside has published a list of resorts, passes and events. To read about it, click here.

--Netflix has put out an open casting call for someone to play Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who first made the summit of Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. To read more, click here.

--Two more Americans have qualified for the Olympic Climbing Team. Nathanial Coleman and Kyra Condie have been offered Olympic berths. The American women's quota is now full, which means that popular well-known climbers like Ashima Shiraishi and Margo Hayes are unlikely to make the Olympics. To read more, click here.

--Climbing is reporting that, "Western Massachusetts Climbers Coalition (WMCC), Ragged Mountain Foundation (RMF), and Access Fund are pleased to announce the acquisition of Hanging Mountain, a new climbing area in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. Situated on 14 acres, Hanging Mountain may be the biggest find in Northeastern climbing in decades. Once fully established, this hidden gem will provide climbers with approximately 150 - 200 traditional and sport routes, some up to two pitches." To read more, click here.

--Backcountry.com is trying to make amends...

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Black Art of Headpointing

Headpointing is the process of toproping a route into submission prior to leading. This can be an excellent technique for a beginning level leader that is worried about taking a fall. However, it is far more often used by high end climbers that wish to ascend something that is incredibly run-out.

In Great Britain, there is an entire culture of climbing on gritstone, a compact stone with few cracks and an ethic that doesn't allow for bolting. This is where headpointing was first developed as a technique to "safely" climb hard and exposed lines. But, just because you rehearsed the route over and over again, that doesn't mean that you won't fall and hit the deck. As Neil Gresham says, "unless the will to do the route surpasses all, you shouldn't be there..." Headpointing is just one tool, but if it doesn't work out, the consequences could be severe.

In this video, Neil talks about "the black art of headpointing" while demonstrating his use of it on a dangerous 5.12+ gritstone climb. This is definitely one of those climbing videos where your hands are going to sweat...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 29, 2019

How to Belay with a Munter-Hitch

Outdoor Research and the American Mountain Guides have produced quite a few excellent videos. If you haven't checked them out yet, log onto youtube and go to the AMGA Tutorials page.

The following video -- featuring Elaina Arenz, AMGA Certified Rock Guide and occasional AAI Guide -- demonstrates several iterations of how one might use a munter-hitch to belay. The video covers belaying with a munter-hitch, tying off a munter-hitch and lowering with a munter-hitch.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/28/19

Happy Turkey Day!


--The glaciers of Mt. Rainier are under serious threat. The REI blog has published a piece on this: "'From 1913 to 1994, for example, Rainier lost 25 percent of all its ice. And since 2003, they’ve lost an additional about 20 percent. So it’s accelerated.' This is part of a larger trend across the globe, with glaciers shrinking faster than before—and faster than previously thought—from the peaks of the Himalaya to ice sheets that terminate in the ocean, like in Alaska’s tidewater glaciers." To read more, click here. Another story about this topic appeared in the Seattle Times.

--Here's another take on the handover of a popular climbing area to the Squamish Nation...


--Elite climber Emily Harrington took a big fall on El Cap this week. She was simul-climbing with Alex Honnold when the incident took place on Freeblast (5.11, 10 pitches). See the Instagram post below, and read a comprehensive account, here.

--Bicycle Retailer is reporting that, "A group of trail and forest advocates filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for allowing Class 1 e-bikes on non-motorized trails in the Tahoe National Forest without first conducting a public study." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Here's an update on the helicopter that crashed in Red Rock Canyon on October 23rd. The crash resulted in two fatalities.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Hill is reporting that, "A new internal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website designed to answer employees’ questions about the agency’s upcoming relocation out West says staffers should expect a drop in their overall pay. The information was included in an internal page available to staff seen by The Hill that contained questions and answers about the controversial plan to move most D.C.-based BLM employees and establish a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado." It is believed that this process of moving the BLM headquarters is an attempt to gut the agency. To read more, click here.

--Apparently Eldora Ski Area was a zoo this week.

--Alta is now closed to uphill traffic.

Notes from All Over:

--In late breaking news last night, Rock and Ice and many other publications are reporting that, "Brad Gobright, one of the most accomplished free solo climbers in the world, died today, Wednesday, November 27, in an accident in El Potrero Chico, Mexico. He was 31, and raised in Orange County, CA." This appears to be a rappelling accident. To read more, click here.

--Outside magazine and many other outlets are reporting that, Jake Burton Carpenter, the founder of Burton Snowboards and one of the pioneers of the sport of snowboarding, died Wednesday night. Carpenter had announced early in the month that he was battling cancer for a second time. He was 65 and leaves behind his wife Donna and three sons, Timi, George, and Taylor." To read more, click here.

--A 21-year-old college student was killed in a rappelling accident in Louisiana this week. To read more, click here.

--The Hill is reporting that, "A key Senate panel has voted to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a move that conservation groups see as a significant victory." To read more, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "Western Massachusetts Climbers Coalition (WMCC), Ragged Mountain Foundation (RMF), and Access Fund are pleased to announce the acquisition of Hanging Mountain, a new climbing area in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. Situated on 14 acres, Hanging Mountain may be the biggest find in Northeastern climbing in decades. Once fully established, this hidden gem will provide climbers with approximately 150 – 200 traditional and sport routes, some up to two pitches." To read more, click here.

--USA Today is reporting that, "The Trump administration has ordered rangers from national parks around the country to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border to fight illegal immigration and drug traffickers. It's an effort that comes as the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has refused to fund President Donald Trump's border security plan, which calls for more barriers and beefed-up law enforcement along the border." To read more, click here.

--Jackson Hole has put together an awesome video on the life of their women ski patrollers. Check it out:

--The new Call of the Wild movie is a little heavy on CGI, but also looks like a great outdoor adventure movie. Check out the trailer, below:

--Speaking of CGI heavy films, there's also this thing from China that I posted a trailer from below. The Climbers is a film about climbers on a super CGI-looking mountain that appear to have some Vertical Limit-style problems :

--It sounds like there have been some serious problems with the Olympic qualification process. Many of  these problems appear to stem from the fact that Japan, as the country sponsoring the games, is responsible for a large part of the qualification process. It appears that Japan is reluctant to make final decisions for fear of choosing their own athletes poorly. This is a bit of an oversimplification of the problem, to really understand it, click here.

--One-hundred-and-ninety people were stranded on a Vermont Ski Resort for several hours on opening weekend. The skiers needed to be rescued. To read more, click here.

--So Big Sky Ski Resort is going to start showing triple black runs, to denote high consequence terrain. To read more, click here.

--Speaking of ski resorts, here is a list of the most visited resorts in the country.

--The Register-Herald is reporting that, "West Virginia Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., introduced legislation in September to change the federal designation of the New River Gorge National River into a New River Gorge National Park and Preserve." To read more, click here.

--And finally, is it time for a backpack tax? Hunters and fishermen pay a tax on their licensees to support public lands, but the number of hunters and fishermen is diminishing. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Tips and Techniques for Organizing your Climbing Rack

This video collaboration between the American Mountain Guides Association and Outdoor Research provides yet another excellent entry into their joint video catalog. In this particular video, AMGA Instructor Team Members Dale Remsberg and Olivia Race talk about some of the techniques they use to ensure that their racks are organized.

Generally, I too will rack from big to small, back to front. One difference is that I often place the Stoppers and extremely large cams on the back loops of my harness.

I started my career using a shoulder sling for all of my gear. I put all my draws on my harness. The theory was that my draws were going to be the same, no matter the route (sport or trad).

It took awhile. It seemed like everyone else changed over to racking on their harness before me. But I eventually switched too. And I find it much easier. A sling gets in the way a lot. Indeed, when you're on low angle terrain, there's always gear hanging right where you want to find hand or foot-holds...

Regardless of which way you rack, the most important thing is consistency. Everything should have a place, and it should always go back to that same place when you're done with it. This will increase your efficiency in gear placement...which is important, especially when you're run out and a bit scared...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 25, 2019

Static vs. Dynamic Climbing Technique

Mani the Monkey has some great training videos on Youtube. His videos are well-produced and offer a tremendous amount of information in a short period of time.

Mani created the following video about the advantages and disadvantages of static and dynamic climbing styles. The static style of climbing is to move slowly and carefully, often locking off and carefully finding the next hold. The dynamic style is to move more fluidly with a lot more swing to the body's movement.

Many gym climbers find dynamic movement more effective. While outdoor climbers tend to lean toward static movement due to a greater fear of falling and getting hurt. The reality is that each of these movement techniques has advantages and disadvantages. Check out the following video for more!

In review, here are the pros and cons of each technique:

Static Pros:

  • Low Acceleration Effort
  • Control over the Gripping Process
Static Cons:
  • High Effort when Reaching Over
  • Slower Climbing Style
Dynamic Pros:
  • Low Effort when Reaching Over
  • Takes Little Time
Dynamic Cons:
  • Higher Effort during Acceleration
  • High Effort when Gripping the Target

Everybody leans toward one style of climbing or another. The trick to becoming a better climber is to not only understand which style you fall in, but to learn how to effectively use the style that you're less comfortable with...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/20/19


--It appears that there was a robbery by knife-point on the Cable Line Trail on Issaquah's Tiger Mountain. To read more, click here.

--The Snoqualmie Summit ski area may begin to offer lift-served mountain biking operations. To read more, click here. As climate change continues to impact ski areas and resorts, this type of summer operation is becoming more common.


--Unofficial Networks is reporting that, "With ski resorts open from Colorado to Vermont, the 2019/20 ski season is underway. But Tahoe has been stuck in an Indian Summer that just won’t break. The snowpack in Tahoe is currently sitting at just 5% of the average for this time of year." To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "The Xue Way is a new 5.11+ A0 up the south face of Half Dome, one of the world’s most iconic mountains. The first ascent of Half Dome was by George Anderson in 1875. Chris Koppl, Brian Pence and Vitaliy Musiyenko worked on the new mostly free route, with the exception of 10 A0 moves, for the past few years." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--This is cool. There's a new physical therapist in Las Vegas that focuses on climber related sports injuries. To read more, click here.

A climber rappels in Joshua Tree National Park.

--Don't forget that next week is Thanksgiving, and one of the busiest times in places like Red Rock and Joshua Tree. If you're planning on camping and don't have a reservation, you should look into that immediately. It's also not a bad idea to have a backup plan.

Colorado and Utah:

--Fox 13 is reporting that, "Grand County Search and Rescue responded twice in 24 hours to the same place to rescue fallen rock climbers on Thursday and Friday. Two climbers fell while climbing routes on “Sister Superior,” a sandstone summit near Moab. Both were taken by medical helicopter from a narrow ridge at the base of a vertical sandstone wall. One was able to walk to a waiting helicopter, and the other had to be lowered to an area accessible to the helicopter." To read more, click here.

--Snews is reporting that, "Backcountry CEO Jonathan Nielsen said he received an online threat from someone last week after he released a public letter of apology regarding the company's trademark-enforcement strategy." To read more, click here.

--The Outdoor Industry Association is reporting that, "The outdoor industry has been hit hard by a tax “avalanche” as new tariff data from Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) indicates that American outdoor businesses have paid an additional $2.6 billion in punitive tariffs over last year, as the trade war with China rages on with no definitive end in sight. Additionally, total tariffs paid by American outdoor businesses in a single month on imports from China exceeded $1 billion for the first time ever in September." To read more, click here.

--Brighton Ski Resort is open...

Notes from All Over:

--A climber was injured in Arkansas when he suffered a 25-foot fall atYellow Rock Bluff in Devil's Den State Park. To read more, click here.

--There are apparently several reports of sexual assault in Mexico's El Portrero Chico. There is a thread on mountainproject that discusses this at some length, and it's worth reading if you plan to visit. To read more, click here.

--Reckless behavior in the mountains can have catastrophic consequences. Twelve-years-ago, Pete Absolon was killed when a hiker threw a rock off a cliff. Pete was climbing below. A pair of teenagers recently threw a log off a waterfall. A photographer was killed below. And skiers near Teton Pass have triggered several avalanches that rained down on the highway. Molly Absolon, Pete's widow, has some great thoughts about this in an editorial you can read, here.

--Ski resorts are struggling to find employees...

--SGB Media is reporting that, "Alterra Mountain Co. announced that it has entered into an agreement to purchase Sugarbush Resort in Vermont, which will bring the company’s total to 15 year-round mountain destinations throughout North America, including the world’s largest heli-skiing operation. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed." To read more, click here.

--The Burlington Free Press is reporting that, "Sugarbush Resort in the Mad River Valley has been sold to Denver-based Alterra Mountain Company, which also owns Stratton Mountain Resort. 'Sugarbush Resort is a premier East Coast mountain destination and we are excited to expand the Alterra Mountain Company family in the Northeast, with Sugarbush joining Stratton in Vermont,' said Rusty Gregory, CEO of Alterra, in a statement." To read more, click here.

--A group of Kuwaiti climbers unfurled a giant flag from their home country on Ama Dablam. The flag was big enough that it could be seen for miles. Controversy followed. To read about it, click here.

--Could National Parks be the best place to recycle your propane canisters? Maybe.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Route Profile: North Face Chair Peak

As winter descends on the Cascades, I find myself thinking about one of my favorite winter alpine climbs in the Pacific Northwest. The North Face of Chair Peak is a classic winter ascent that can easily be done in a day. It has a beautiful alpine face that gets covered in snow. The freeze thaw cycle turns the face from powder on rock to a spectacular three pitch alpine line.

The route is moderate and with the exception of one ten foot step, the bulk of it is between fifty and sixty-five degrees. That one step is perhaps eighty degrees, but it is very short and sometimes isn't even iced up. The first time I climbed the peak, that last section was 5.6 rock.

Chair Peak Approach Route
Click on map to enlarge.

 Approaching Chair Peak. The face in the center is the east face
To get to the north face, you must drop over the saddle on the right.

The approach to this climb is relatively straight forward. You simply park at the Alpental Ski Area and then make your way up the Alpental Valley to the end, where Chair Peak oversees the bowl beneath it.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)
This photo shows the north face on the righthand side and the
two variations that one can take on the northeast buttress which
is a route of a similar grade to the north face.

There are two routes that should be considered on the mountain. The north face is the obvious one, but the northeast buttress is just as good. However, the northeast buttress often requires a bit more mixed climbing than the north face.

Approaching the north face. 

The first pitch of the route climbs up a cool corner and gully on thin alpine ground.

The second pitch works it way up steep snow and ice to a tree belay.

 A climber approaching the tree belay.

The third pitch makes its way up more thin terrain to another belay, before the last pitch goes over the aforementioned step up to the summit.

The descent off the mountain is straightforward. A couple of rappels bring you down a gully on the south side of the east face.

On a short winter day, you really can't beat an outing on Chair Peak!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 18, 2019

Fall: From Glory to Grace

The well-regarded Canadian climber and athlete, Will Gadd, has one of the most informative climbing and training blogs on the net. Through Gravsports, Gadd brings us an array of tips, techniques, and commentary on the world of climbing.

It was through his blog that we that we became aware of the video, Fall: From Glory to Grace. In this film, we watch a man take a very serious ice climbing fall and then we watch him walk away from it. The video production is well-done, but the team's assessment of the fall and what lead to it and how to avoid such a situation in the future is poorly thought out.

On Gadd's blog, he analyzes each of the elements that lead to the accident. We have done a round-up of these points below the video.

Here is a breakdown of the mistakes made:

  • First and foremost, ice climbing is a sport where falling is NOT acceptable. Sure, it's okay to fall on top-rope, but it is definitely not okay to fall on lead. In some rock climbing situations, it's okay to fall on lead, but even there one can get hurt. With twenty-four sharp points on your feet, and five sharp points in your hands, there is a lot that can puncture you or catch on the ice, forcing a limb to bend in a way that it wasn't meant to bend. 
  • The placement of gear in ice climbing is meant to keep you from taking a ground fall. It is not meant to keep you safe in a small fall. 
  • Leaders should be comfortable on the terrain that they are leading prior to climbing a given pitch. There is nothing wrong with top-roping at the grade until you're comfortable. Leading adds a lot of extra stressors. One has to place screws, think about where the route's going, etc. 
  • Top-roping will also help with technique. Gadd points out that many of the climber's tool placements are subpar and that his footwork is terrible. 
  • One should practice clipping into the tool. There are many ways to do this. At one point in the video, we can see one of the climbers that assisted the injured showing them how to deal with such a situation. If you can clip into the tool, then you will have the ability to place a screw. In Gadd's response the video, he writes, "stop before you get super pumped, put in a good screw, reset, maybe back off if you can't climb the pitch without getting super pumped. Or, climb it in five-foot sections putting in a screw and hanging; I have FAR more respect for someone who does that than gets pumped and falls off. If you're super pumped stop, reset. No "free" pitch is worth getting injured for." 
  • The belayer talks about putting slack in his anchor system so that he can easily move out of the way if there's icefall. He should have built his belay in a place where there was no icefall to begin with. In a single pitch setting, this is very easy to do. 
  • The belayer is also belaying the leader with a GiGi. This device is not designed to belay leaders. 
  • The climber is wearing a Black Diamond Bod Harness. It appears that the harness is not double-backed. He is very lucky that he didn't simply slide right out of his harness after the fall. 

People make mistakes in the mountains. I've made them and you've made them, too. We all have. But if you're reading this right now, you got away with your mistake. This guy was also able to walk away from his. And indeed, it is likely that this video's existence on the internet will help him to grow as a climber.

I hope that re-posting this will help everyone in their growth and in their self assessment. I think that it is important to look at every day of climbing as a learning experience. There is no doubt that this is a dangerous sport. And it could be argued that the only way to keep playing the game is to constantly self assess and to constantly learn from every mistake, big and small...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 15, 2019

Fixed-Point Belay Techniques

There has been a lot of talk in the industry lately about fixed-point belay techniques. Many guides are beginning to employ these techniques on ice climbs and on sketchy alpine climbs.

Essentially a fixed-point belay is a lead belay directly off the anchor, as opposed to the more standard belay technique of operating a device off one's harness. The idea is that a lead fall simply doesn't impact  the belayer the same way that a lead fall impacts him or her in a normal setting.

At a guide training in 2008, a number of our guides experimented with this technique, finding mixed results.  We found that both a tube style device and a munter-hitch worked well, but not so much for a GriGri.  Assisted locking devices seem to transfer a lot more force into the falling person and without movement in the anchor, this resulted in a painful fall for our leader.

The Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) has put out a video on this particular technique.  It is a long and comprehensive video on the subject, but it is very good. Please see it below:

The French Guide Training organization, ENSA has also put out a comprehensive video:

At a 2014 AMGA training we experimented with this technique some more and decided that using a tube-style device wasn't appropriate at all. The best application appeared to incorporate the use of a munter-hitch.

In the photo above, we built a separate anchor from the anchor the climber was belaying on. We found that when an individual took a leader fall, it was easier to manage if your hands were far away from the munter-hitch. If your hands were close, you got pulled up into the anchor more easily. Additionally, the fall was greater because the anchor moved up substantially before catching the falling climber.

In the photo above the belayer has just held a fall on a fixed-point system. This system with a piece designed specifically to deal with the upward pull was easier to manage.

So why would you use this system?

It is a very guidey thing to do and it does require one to learn a new belay technique, so it doesn't make much sense...unless you're working with significant weight differences in a multipitch setting. If you intend to take children or small teens up a multi-pitch route, a leader fall may be so dramatic that they get pulled into the anchor and let go. This negates that possibility.

And while there aren't that many uses for a fixed-point anchor, it is one of those things that when you need it...you really need it...

 --Jason D. Martin