Friday, March 22, 2019

Lowering from a Loaded Belay Plate

In cooperation with Outdoor Research, the American Mountain Guides Association has made several videos for beginning level climbers.

In this video, AMGA Instructor Team Member Jeff Ward, demonstrates two techniques to lower a climber from a loaded autoblocking device (belay plate).

Following is a quick breakdown of the points made.

Technique 1 - Rocking the carabiner
--Good for lowering short distances
--Need an active break hand

Technique 2- Redirect the plate with a thin sling
--Better for slightly longer distance lowering
--Need hands free backup for break strand

There is actually a third technique that he didn't show. One can put a nut tool or the nose of a carabiner into the small hole on many of these devices and crank it backwards. This will allow the device to open. But like the first technique, it will be important to have an active break hand.

--Jason D.  Martin

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/21/19


--A snowboarder was found dead in a tree-well at the Northstar resort last week. To read more, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that there was a large rockfall incident in Yosemite over the weekend on El Cap in the vicinity of Dark Star and The Prophet. To read more, click here.

--The Onion posted an article entitled, "Woman’s Solo Hiking Trip Shockingly Doesn’t Have To Do With Inner Journey Or Anything." It starts with these lines, "Confusing her friends and colleagues as to what could possibly drive her to undertake such an expedition, sources confirmed Friday that aspiring explorer Jillian Greene’s solo hike through Yosemite National Park has evidently nothing to do with soul-searching, an inner journey, or any other form of self-discovery." To read more of this satire, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Outside is reporting that, "Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Christine Lehnertz notified park employees on March 14 that she was resigning, effective March 31. This comes weeks after a four-month investigation turned up no wrongdoing and found a series of 2018 allegations against her to be 'unfounded.'" To read more, click here.

--Graffiti in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is getting out of hand. Volunteers spend thousands of hours and thousands of dollars cleaning it up. So now, there's a reward for those who see people tagging the rocks. You can report graffiti at of find out more, here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Outside is reporting that, "the recent additions to the Epic Pass highlight, again, the massive consolidation occurring across the ski industry, which is driving up rents and turning mountain towns into company towns." To read more, click here.

--The Outdoor Alliance is reporting that, "on February 28, the State of Utah submitted its petition to the U.S. Forest Service requesting that the Forest Service implement a rulemaking to drastically roll back protections for National Forests under the 2001 Roadless Rule. The Roadless Rule has been important for protecting outdoor recreation. While roadless areas are protected from new development, their management is less restrictive than in Wilderness, which gives important middle ground for many kinds of recreation, from mountain biking to motorized use." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--As the team that attempted K2 in the winter returned to basecamp, Himalayan writer Alan Arnette asks whether it's even possible to summit K2 in the winter. To read the article, click here.

--Elizabeth Swaney was the American woman who competed for Hungry in the half-pipe competition at the last Olympics. She was roundly criticized for completing her run without doing any tricks. Unlike Olympians who have been hailed for their persistence even though they did poorly, Elizabeth was attacked. But her "back-way in" to the Olympics isn't the whole story. To read more, click here.

--If ski resorts were characters in Game of Thrones...

--And finally, rock gyms are a little bit of an afterthought on this blog. But that doesn't mean that they aren't an important part of a climber's training. And an important part of the gym experience is route-setting. Setters build routes for different body types. So it's a problem when the bulk of the setters come from one gender. Gripped asks, where are all the female route-setters...? To read the article, click here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Route Profile: Mount Shuksan, Sulphide Glacier

Mount Shuksan from the Northwest.
Photo by Coley Gentzel

If I had to pick one peak that would most completely and accurately represent alpine climbing in the Cascades, Mount Shuksan would be the one. Shuksan takes a striking form from any angle and every route on the peak can be considered a classic.

The most popular route on the peak is the Sulphide Glacier. The Fisher Chimneys and the North Face are also both popular routes that are among the best of their type in the range.

The Price Glacier route is listed in the 50 Classic Climbs book (Steck and Roper), but has fallen out of favor in recent years due to a dramatic change in the nature of the glaciers on the route. Once a classic ice face, the Price is now a jumbled mess with little aesthetic value to the climbing.

Shuksan's Price Glacier from the air.
Photo by Dunham Gooding

Mountaineering routes on Shuksan are unique in that all require a variety of skills to complete. Every route requires glacier travel, snow climbing, ice climbing and rock climbing to reach the top. All routes end at the dramatic summit pyramid, which by its easiest route requires primarily fourth class with a few 5th class moves.

The view from the summit of Shuksan is one of the best in the range. Sitting at the heart of the North Cascades, views of Mount Baker, the Pickett Range, and north to the Canadian Border peaks are completely unobstructed.

Mount Shuksan's Sulphide Glacier and summit pyramid.

The Sulphide glacier route starts at the Shannon Creek trailhead and follows an overgrown road bed for a few miles before winding through old growth forest eventually climbing into the craggy alpine forest and then finally talus fields.

Although the route is doable in one very long day for experienced and fit parties, most opt to go for a 2-3 day climb so that they might enjoy the setting on the way to and from the climb. There are great camping spots at the toe of the Sulphide glacier and at several spots along the route to the summit pyramid. The Sulphide is a gentle glacier, but not without crevasses. There have been numerous solo climber crevasse falls in the area.

An AAI team reaching the summit of Shuksan.
Photo by Alasdair Turner

The crux of the route is ascending and descending the summit pyramid which, by the standard route, involves about 500 feet of scrambling up a gully. Depending on the time of year, the gully can be nearly all snow, mixed, or completely rock. An alternate route to the summit and a good choice if the main gully is busy, is the southeast ridge of the summit pyramid which requires a bit more mid-fifth class climbing. There is some loose rock on both routes so you must choose your holds carefully!

It is said that Mount Shuksan is the most photographed mountain in the United States, and that is not hard to believe. The Mount Baker ski area provides a perfect view of and easy access to the north side of Shuksan. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see a line of tripods pointed at the peak on clear days. Whether you are looking for an easier ramble in a spectacular setting, or a challenging long rock or ice route, Shuksan has something to offer for every mountaineer.

Shuksan's Summit Pyramid above the Sulphide Glacier

AAI climb's Mount Shuksan as part of their Classic Guided Climbs in the Pacific Northwest Program on Part 1 of their Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership series and on group courses throughout the summer season.

--Coley Gentzel, Former AAI Program Coordinator and Guide

Monday, March 18, 2019

Film Review: The Summit

K2 is often considered to be the most dangerous mountain in the world. One out of every four people who climb to the summit of the mountain perishes on the descent. So it is no surprise that one of the most terrible mountaineering incidents of all time happened on the mountain.

In 2008, the news trickled out of Pakistan slowly. There had been yet another tragedy in the Himalaya that made headlines around the world; and when the dust settled 11 people were dead. The main culprit? A combination of things, but perhaps of most importance, ignoring turn-around times at altitude and the destruction of the fixed lines by serac-fall in a feature known as the Bottleneck.

We have previously written about this incident in our review of the excellent book, Buried in the Sky. But now a new film which combines, interviews, footage from the expeditions in 2008, and actors portraying real people has come to video and streaming. The Summit is a powerful film that will keep you from ever considering an ascent of K2.

Nick Ryan's stunning film tells the story of a series of climbing teams who came together on K2 on August 1st of 2008 to make an attempt at the summit. The problem was that there were twenty-five people from several countries with several different types of climbing styles trying to get up the mountain that day.

The film is built much like Touching the Void. Ryan uses actors when necessary, emotional interviews and real video to weave together a complex web in order to tell a complicated story.

In most tragic mountaineering stories, there is one incident that acts as a catalyst for everything else that goes wrong. While that exists in The Summit, there are so many complicating factors to the story that it is hard to finger one thing. Instead, the film feels like a real-life horror movie. People make mistakes and die. People trip and die. People are hit by icefall and die. People try to save others and die...

You get the picture.

The film is hard to watch. It's a true story with real footage of people on a mountain. And many of those you're watching are gone, their bodies still up on the mountain.

Perhaps the greatest flaw in the film is that the story of what happened that day on K2 is complex. It's so complex that you leave the film without a complete understanding of what happened in the tragedy. None of the people who lived it tell the same story. As such, there is no unified version where armchair mountaineers can sit back and say, "that's where it all went wrong."

The Summit is a beautiful movie about a horrible day in the mountains. And while it is often hard to watch, it is a gripping story that I personally have not been able to stop thinking about...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 15, 2019

Non-Event Feedback Loops

Many climbing and ski mountaineering accidents are the result of human error. There are a number of types of human error, but the most disconcerting and common type results from a non-event feedback loop.

--I've been doing it this this way for years and nothing bad has ever happened.

--We skied the slope all day and it was fine. How were we to know that it would slide?

--The boot-track went right under the ice cliff. I just went the way everybody else went.

The thinking process behind non-event feedback is predicated on the following belief: Nothing bad happened last time and nothing bad happened to someone else; therefore, nothing bad will happen this time to me. The psychology of non-event feedback is complex, but its very existence leads to following reality:

The crag that you climb the most, the slope that you ski the most, the mountain that you've been up the most times...these are the most dangerous places that you will ever go.

A Climber Leads Up the Mustache on Mt. Baker

Non-event feedback takes on a new dimension with group dynamics. A beginner may follow a competent leader up a mountain. The leader may look at the conditions and decide that they're safe. If the leader doesn't go through his entire thinking process, the beginner may then make the assumption that the conditions are always safe.

Avalanche research indicates that the likelihood of skiers tackling a dangerous slope increases dramatically after one person successfully skis the slope first. In other words, once someone sees someone else get away with something, they subconsciously believe that they can get away with it too.

The only way to avoid getting stuck in non-event feedback loops is to constantly question yourself. Is this safe today? Am I just following the leader? And lastly, am I responding to the conditions as they are or as I wish they were?

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/14/19

Climate Advocacy:

--What anthropogenic climate change means to the future of ice read about it, click here.


--An ice climber was killed in an avalanche near Field, British Columbia on Monday. To read more, click here.

--News Channel 1 is reporting on this tragedy near Bend, Oregon. "One of two cross-country skiers rescued by volunteers who tracked them in the snow northwest of Tumalo Falls last week has died in the hospital, Deschutes County sheriff’s deputies said Monday. To read more, click here.


--Gripped is reporting that a classic ice climb has seen a 2019 ascent. "Widow’s Tears in Yosemite doesn’t always form, but when it does, it’s the longest continuous ice climb in the lower 48 and it hasn’t seen many ascents. First climbed in 1975 by Mark Chapman and Kevin Worral, it’s a seven-pitch classic near the Inspiration Point trail." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--It's weird that single use plastic water bottles are used at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Denver, when the outdoor industry has so many options for real high quality multi-use plastic bottles. To read more, click here.

--The American Alpine Club has a policy internship available. To learn more, click here.

March 7 Instagram Post from the Friends of CAIC
Click to Enlarge

--Last week, Colorado had something really strange happen. The avalanche hazard in at least four zones was marked as extreme. To read more, click here.

--And now this week, Colorado's Red Mountain Pass is closed indefinitely due to avalanche hazard. To read more, click here.

--The Aspen Times is reporting that, "A massive slide that swept down from Highlands Ridge into Conundrum Creek Valley last weekend was probably a 300-year event, a leading avalanche consultant said Tuesday while touring the site." To read more, click here.

--Graffiti on the rocks in Moab have had a major effect on the off road vehicle community. The incident has lead to a lot of online battles, including death threats. To read more, click here.

--In four minutes of pure unadulterated fun, here's the song Let it Go from Disney's Frozen, performed in Aspen...on snowshoes and drag!

Notes from All Over:

--A collision between two skiers left one man dead at Cannon Mountain Ski Resort in New Hampshire. To read more, click here.

--"Luis Benitez became the face of government’s interest in the outdoor recreation industry, one that’s larger than both the auto and oil and gas exploration industries. He sat down with 'Outside' to discuss the industry’s expanding role in politics and his own future." To read more, click here.

--Camber Outdoors got in all kinds of trouble when they presented their diversity pledge in January at the Outdoor Retailer Show. But there were a lot of lessons to be learned. Check out Outside's story on how to move forward with diversity in the outdoor industry.

--The family of a teenager who died in January of 2017 is suing a Pennsylvania ski resort. To read more, click here

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Best Snow Cave Ever was at Mt. Baker!

A handful of skiers and snowboarders put the time and effort in to create the absolute best snow cave of all time near the Mt. Baker Ski Area in the Mt. Baker Backcountry.

Check it out:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 11, 2019

Route Profile: Huayna Potosi - Normal Route (PD/AD-)

Huayna Potosi (19,974ft, 6088m) is the closest “high-altitude” mountain to La Paz Bolivia, located only about 15 miles to the north of the city.

AAI Executive Director Jason Martin
crossing the bergshrund on Huayna Potosi in 2003.
Photo by Phil Highfill

Though La Paz maybe isn't one of the top climbing towns in South America, it sits right at the foot of the Andes Mountains, and it has access to some of the best alpine climbs in the world, such as Ancohuma and Illampu, Illimani, and of course, Huayna Potosi. Without a doubt, Huayna Potosi is the most popular of these destinations, and it is, by many, considered to be the “easiest” of the 6000+ meter peaks in the world.

Map Of Bolivia

The French Alpine system gives the Normal Route a grade of “PD” (though some sources give it a AD-) due to a few sections of exposed ridges and moderately steep glaciers with crevasses. However, whether or not it is the “easiest” 6000m peak is a debatable statement, as there are other mountains of similar altitude which have a equal or slightly lower difficulty grade.

Huayna Potosi is, however, one of the most accessible 6000+ meter peaks in the world. You can arrive at the base of the mountain by car, and it has two base camps that you can use to assist your climb. Furthermore, the second base camp is located at an altitude of 5130m, only about 1000m lower than the summit. The nearby city of La Paz itself sits at 3640m, making acclimatization, gathering supplies, and obtaining other amenities relatively easy.

Normal Route

Click to Enlarge

There are a handful of established routes to reach the summit. But the least technical and by far the the most popular is the Normal Route.

Advantages of Climbing the Normal Route
  • Easy access, as the first base camp can be reached by car, and the second with a straightforward 2-hour hike
  • The route isn’t highly technical (PD/AD- grade), meaning the barriers of entry regarding cost, gear, and skills required are lower when compared to many peaks at this altitude. Conditions are always at play though, and occasionally there are pitches of steep ice on the route.
  • This route is highly traveled, and for that reason, it is easy to find information on the route and it's current conditions
  • It avoids some of the complexity and danger compared to other routes on the mountain such as the West Face
A topo of commonly climbed routes on Huayna Potosi can be seen here
Click to Enlarge

The Normal Route was first climbed in 1919 by Rudolf Dienst and Adolf Schulze. Since then it has been climbed by thousands, and in the peak season (May-September) it sees regular summits.

This route can usually be climbed with relatively minimal alpine skills -- especially if you access the route with a guide -- and it only has a few exposed sections near the top. In addition, the standard high camp (Campo Alto) is located about 1000 vertical meters from the summit, meaning that you can reach the summit and then return back to camp in one push relatively easily, depending on climbers’ fitness levels and acclimatization.
Campo Alto at the foot of the Zongo Glacier

However, “easy” should not be be confused with “safe”. Alpine climbing is inherently dangerous, and there have been many deaths over the years by climbers attempting to summit. Now-a-days, incidents are uncommon, but it is still highly advisable to go with a guide, especially if you are an inexperienced high-altitude alpine climber.
A Cemetery At Huayna Potosi’s Base

The Normal Route has a relatively straightforward approach. In addition, there are two base camps on the way where you can stay the night and buy very basic supplies (food, water, etc…).

The lower base camp, called “Refugio Casa Blanca” can be accessed by taxi directly from La Paz. From here you can spend a day or two acclimatize and explore the beautiful surroundings. Once ready, the second base camp, called “Campo Alto” is located after a relatively steep two hour hike on a very well marked trail. From this camp you will be able to make the ascent toward the summit.

A View of Zongo Pass Seen From Camp Alto

For our ascent, we first arrived at the lower base camp to acclimatize for an extra day. We explored some of the surrounding lakes, and even went out for a few quick rock climbs at the nearby Zongo Pass area.

After spending the night at the refugio, we woke early, and headed up the well marked trail to the high camp. Here we took the opportunity to practice glacier navigation and ice anchor construction. After spending the second day out exploring, we returned back the high base camp to prepare our packs for that evening’s assent.

Laguna Milluni
We explored this area while preparing for our ascent.

If you have a good weather window, most groups will start their ascent between 11pm and 2am, and will climb through the night in order to reach the summit near sunrise (around 6am). From here you will experience stunning views of the surrounding Andean peaks, an experience which few will ever get to live themselves.

The Summit

It is advisable to reach the summit near dawn, as the intense South American sun quickly softens the glacier, not only making walking more dangerous, but it also increases avalanche danger and causes consistent rock fall.

The route itself is flat for about the first 4 or so hours. There are a number of crevasses that you must cross, which means that glacier navigation and rescue knowledge is essential. The end of the route is by far the most difficult, as it has about one hour of steep climbing up a sometimes exposed ridge. 

A Few Parties Descending After Reaching the Summit

The summit itself is a large glaciated ridge. Here you will have excellent views of the surrounding mountains, and will even be able to see the glow of nearby La Paz. For the descent, you simply follow the path you took, taking extra care on the steepest part of the descent.

Once arriving at Camp Alto, most groups continue down to base camp as soon as possible, especially if any party members are experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness. Though the time of ascent can vary dramtically, most groups will be able to make it to the summit and return back to the first basecamp in 8 to 12 hours.
Returning to Campo Alto

Huayna Potosi is excellent intro to high altitude climbing. It requires a mix of glacier travel and crevasse navigation skills, and it is a good place test yourself at 6000m. After successfully completing Huayna Potosi, many climbers return to La Paz, rest a few days, and then go off to enjoy some of the other climbing near the city, or take their new skills and acclimatization to attempt higher and more difficult mountains nearby such as Illimani or Ancohuma and Illampu.

--Jacob Bushmaker: Avid Climber, Professional Traveler and Founder of The Wandering Climber. He has climbed in over 20 countries across 4 continents, and is an expert on South American climbing destinations. (Go here now and get tons of information on where he’s been, and plan your next journey).

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Burrito: Hypothermia Wrap

Perhaps one of the most common and most dangerous ailments to affect the outdoor traveler is hypothermia.  And though many factors may lead to hypothermia, it is most commonly the result of wet clothing, a cold environment or improper clothing.

Most climbers encounter the onset of mild hypothermia at one point or another during their careers. Many of us have certainly hung at a belay station, shivering, and wondering why we didn't bring that extra jacket. But for most of us, things never get any worse than that.

The Mayo Clinic has an excellent description online of hypothermia and its treatment. As most of us will never encounter hypothermia in a context where a patient could be warmed in a hospital, some of the information on the site does not pertain to us. However the following description of what to look for is incredibly pertinent to the backcountry traveler.

Hypothermia usually occurs gradually. Often, people aren't aware that they need help, much less medical attention.

Common signs to look for are shivering, which is your body's attempt to generate heat through muscle activity, and the "-umbles":

* Stumbles
* Mumbles
* Fumbles
* Grumbles

These behaviors may be a result of changes in consciousness and motor coordination caused by hypothermia. Other hypothermia symptoms may include:

* Slurred speech
* Abnormally slow rate of breathing
* Cold, pale skin
* Fatigue, lethargy or apathy

The severity of hypothermia can vary, depending on how low your core body temperature goes. Severe hypothermia eventually leads to cardiac and respiratory failure, then death.

Severe hypothermia in the field requires immediate attention. Wilderness medicine providers have devised a simple treatment which relies on a variety of materials that most backcountry travelers normally carry. They use these pieces of equipment to create a "themal burrito" or a "hypo-wrap."

Thermal Burrito or Hypo-Wrap
  1. Lay out a tarp on the ground.
  2. Place 1 or 2 pads down on top of the tarp. Two pads are always better than one.
  3. Stack three sleeping bags on top of the pads.
  4. Place the victim inside the sleeping bag in the middle.
  5. Wrap the victim in the tarp.
  6. Provide the victim with hot water bottles. These should be placed under the arms and at the crotch. Additional bottles may be held or placed at the victim's feet.
A Thermal Burrito
From the Wilderness Medicine Institute 

This technique is featured in WMI Wilderness First Responder Courses.

Hypothermia is a dangerous and often hidden predator in the backcountry. There is no question that the best way to deal with it is to completely avoid it. The best way to completely avoid it is to pay attention to yourself as well as to those around you. Wear appropriate clothing for your environment and try to keep things dry.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/7/19


--There's been another ski well death in the PNW. This time at Mt. Bachelor. To read more, click here.

--A group of young skiers saved a boy dangling from a chairlift on Grouse Mountain last week. The teen skiers used a out-of-bounds net to catch the skier as he fell. To see a video of this, watch below:

--Gripped has a nice editorial out now about place names and how patently offensive names should change. To read the article, click here.

--There are some peregrine nesting closures in Newhalem. To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "top ice climber Will Gadd, West Coast local Chris Jensen and photographer Peter Hoang have made the first ascent of Della Falls in Strathcona Park on Vancouver Island. Della Falls is considered the highest waterfall in Canada at 440 metres and has been the talk of focus of many conversations among climbers as to whether it completely freezes." To read more, click here.


--The lottery for Half Dome Hiking permits will be available on March 13th. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park was put on paid leave after there were several complaints about the way she was operating in her position. She has been cleared of wrongdoing, but isn't back at work yet. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--7 abc is reporting on an avalanche that killed a backcountry skier. "Search and rescue crews have recovered the body of a backcountry skier who went missing near Telluride. Deputies with San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office, search and rescue personnel and Telluride Helitrax launched a ground and air search Sunday evening for an unidentified overdue skier in the Matterhorn area, south of Telluride. The sheriff's office confirmed there had been avalanche activity in the area." To read more, click here.

--Bloomberg is reporting that, "For the past 100 years, Colorado’s Grand Valley rode the wave of commodity prices—from uranium to oil shale to natural gas. Now, the region is staking its survival on another natural resource: the great outdoors." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--This is a very interesting piece on PTSD in climbing rangers in Grand Teton National Park...

--CNBC is reporting that, ""he most visited national park in the nation will now be run by a woman for the first time in its 85-year history. Tennessee native Lisa Hendy will become the Great Smokey Mountains National Park's chief ranger in April and help look after the 522,419 acres of protected land that runs between Tennessee and North Carolina." To read more, click here.

--The UIAA is now accepting applications for the Mountain Protection Award. From the UIAA: Since 2013, the UIAA Mountain Protection Award has showcased 106 projects from over 30 countries. The platform has enabled initiatives to receive international recognition and much-needed funding. It has provided an opportunity to exchange ideas and share best practices. Investment generated by the Award has helped projects advance in meeting key targets such as building infrastructures to improve the lives and conditions of mountain people and communities." To read more, click here. Following is a short video about the award:

--A skier near Jackson Hole triggered an avalanche that went over the road last week. To read the skier's account, click here. Here's an editorial about the toxic ski culture on Teton Pass.

--And finally, a dog made an ascent of a 7000-meter Himalayan peak. Before you judge, read the article. Nobody forced the dog to do it. To check it out, click here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Alex Honnold Reviews Classic Climbing Scenes in Movies

We have run several articles about how ludicrous some of the scenes are in different climbing movies. But it's still fun to hear someone one else's perspective, especially if that someone is Alex Honnold.

In the following video, Alex talks about several climbing scenes, including scenes from Mission Impossible 2, Point Break, Star Trek V, Failure to Launch, The Dark Knight Rises, Vertical Limit, and Cliffhanger.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 4, 2019

Film Review: Mountain Men

There are a lot of outdoor films on Netflix these days. Some are good and some are bad, but most of them are just, mediocre. This seems to be a trend in outdoor narrative films. There seems to be a belief that if you throw a few people into the outdoors and give them a challenge, that the result will be a gripping film. But, it just doesn't work that way.

This is the issue with Mountain Men, a 2014 film written and directed by Cameron Labine. The dramady/survival story never really finds its tone or pace. It's watchable enough, but ultimately a bit...forgettable.

The movie tells the story of two brothers that have not spoken to one another for several years.  Cooper (Chase Crawford) returns home from New York City to the Canadian mountain town of Revelstoke for his mother's wedding. Toph (Tyler Labine), Cooper's offbeat brother has just discovered that his girlfriend is pregnant. He wants to reconnect with his brother by spending time at a remote cabin with him. The film uses a couple of comic devices to lead the pair out of their comfortable family story and into a fight-for-survival story.

Over the course of the film we see the pair make several significant mistakes as they try to escape from the backcountry. Each of these increases their peril, while simultaneously taking us away from the comic elements that started their journey.

The overall structure of the film works. Two flawed individuals who don't know one another anymore have to come together to survive an ordeal. They each learn something about themselves and about each other along the way. They become tighter and more understanding of one another. The problem is that the comic elements within the script kept me from believing that they were really in danger. I never once thought that one of the brother's would not make it back.

If you're on track to watch all of the outdoor adventure movies that Netflix offers, then this is far from the worst offering. You'll laugh a little bit, and you'll be critical of some of the character choices. You'll root for the brothers' relationship, and it'll pass the time...

...But then you'll be onto the next one. Never to think of Mountain Men again...

Friday, March 1, 2019

Pull: A Story about Lead Climbing

Climbing spoofs are the rage right now. This particular film documents an individual's goal to become a lead climber, with no mentorship other than what he sees in Sylvester Stallone's Cliffhanger.

It should go without saying that we do not endorse -- well, really -- anything, in this film...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 2/22/19


--A 42-year-old man died in a tree-well on Saturday at Mt. Hood. To read more, click here.

--Last week an article made the rounds about the glory of being a ski instructor in Aspen. This week, things got a little more real, and an outside writer posted a piece about being an instructor at Mt. Baker Ski Area. Check it out, here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "Paul McSorley and Joshua Lavigne have climbed an esthetic new mixed route in the North Walls on The Chief in Squamish. The 250-metre M5 mixed route climbs a long treed ramp to the base of two steep pitches of ice that have formed in the recent cold coastal weather." To read more, click here.


--Yosemite National Park is reporting that, "At approximately 12:30 p.m. on Sunday February 24, 2019, a park visitor was killed in an incident on the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park. Xuan Wang, 56, from Cupertino, California was hiking on the trail when she was struck by falling rock and ice and she succumbed to her injuries soon thereafter." To read more, click here.

The team behind Free Solo accepting their awards at the Oscars.

--Free Solo won the academy award for Best Documentary. This is a huge deal for the climbing community because it's the first time a climbing film has been accepted at such a level by the mainstream audience. To read more, click here. Also, Alex Honnold wore a custom tuxedo made out of stretchy North Face fabric...

Desert Southwest:

--Here's an interesting piece on the Taos Ski Resort in New Mexico, it's history and culture.

--The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Scenic Drive will be open until 7pm starting on March 1st.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Vail Daily is reporting that, "A 62-year-old man died at Winter Park Resort Saturday morning after apparently suffering a medical episode." To read more, click here.

--Here is an update on a February 16th avalanche that killed two men near Crested Butte.

--Outdoor Sportswire is reporting that, "On its inaugural stage in downtown Denver, CO, the 2019 UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing Finals broke international records with the largest-ever live audience for a World Cup Ice Climbing event and received a record number of online views with hundreds of thousands of viewers watching the competition’s live stream worldwide. The two-day World Cup Ice Climbing Finals held in Civic Center Park, February 23 – 24, recorded a live crowd of more than 25,000, making the Denver World Cup Finals not only the most watched World Cup Ice Climbing event in the Tour’s history, but also one of the most well-spectated climbing events of all time." To read more, click here. Following is a video highlight reel from the event:

--The Boulder Climbing Community, a Boulder-based stewardship organization, has several board seats open. To read more, click here.

--The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) is looking for a new Executive Director. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Billings Gazette is reporting that, "One man is dead after being caught in an avalanche while skiing on the west side of the Bridger Mountain Range Tuesday, according to a press release." To read more, click here.

--A 9-year-old boy died after he struck a tree at Big Sky Ski Resort in Montana. To read more, click here.

--A climber was injured on Sunday near Santa Barbara on the Cold Spring Trail. To read more, click here.

--Maureen Beck, a one-armed climber and the star of the Reel Rock film, Stumped, was just named one of National Geographic's Adventurer's of the Year. To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund is reporting that, "Access Fund is thrilled to announce that it has secured critical protections for Wilderness climbing within the landmark Natural Resource Management Act that just passed Congress. Access Fund also celebrates the role of climbers in getting this historic, bipartisan public lands package through Congress. With the passing of the Natural Resources Management Act, Wilderness climbing protections are poised to be written into law for the first time, creating a legal precedent that will make it easier for Access Fund and its local affiliates to protect Wilderness climbing activities across the country. The bill now sits on the President’s desk, and he has indicated that he plans to sign this bipartisan bill it into law." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund is reporting that, "on December 28th, the Department of Interior (DOI) proposed new regulations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that would make it much harder for Americans to get basic information from the government—and Access Fund and our partners at Outdoor Alliance are pushing back. The DOI oversees the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, which oversee many of our most iconic climbing destinations. As a government agency, DOI must comply with FOIA, the critical law that allows the public to investigate and understand our federal government’s actions and decisions. Access Fund uses FOIA to request records from land management agencies in order to evaluate decisions that affect our public climbing areas and develop well-informed advocacy strategies. FOIA is vital to the functioning of a democratic society and critical to Access Fund’s work to protect public lands." To read more, click here.

--Currently the Olympic climbing event will be a combined event with bouldering, lead climbing and speed climbing all mixed together. The goal is to separate these things for the 2024 Olympics. And it just might happen. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Nordic Snowboarding....?

Video offered without comment...


--Jason D. Martin

Monday, February 25, 2019

Mixed Climbing Training

I really like mixed climbing. It's tremendously fun. But it's also tremendously pumpy. Clearly to do it well, you should train a lot.  And while I haven't built any special training walls or anything yet, I certainly love seeing what other people have built to train for this particularly odd type of climbing...

In the following video, a farmworker without easy access to the mountains demos several of his training contraptions while talking about mixed climbing.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, February 22, 2019

Kilian Jornet Skis the Troll Wall

So, Alex Honnold's Free Solo makes my hands sweat. While inspirational, it's still often hard to watch. The same can be said for a short film that was produced by Salomon about Kilian Jornet's ski descent of Norway's Troll Wall.

The Troll Wall is a famous big wall alpine climb that is notoriously loose, notoriously cold and notoriously is not and has never been considered, a ski line...

Big wall climber John Middendorf writes, "in the 1960's and 1970's, as Yosemite's great walls were being climbed, similar feats of big wall endurance were being performed on an arena quite removed from the temperate California scene, on the 1100 meter Trollrygen (Troll Wall), Norway's monster north facing big wall. At first sight, the wall seems just another buttress of rock along a high and majestic granite canyon. Then the "trolls" are spotted: a unique series of spires and pinnacles formed along the summit rim of the Trollrygen. Legend varies, but possibly the trolls that once inhabited this coastal mountain region (and still part of area's lore), were petrified forever for their sins. Each of the dozen- or-so 300 foot spires has its own name, such as Trollkjerringa, which translates directly to 'Troll's wife', but locally conjures up an image of a troll hag armed with evil spells and potions. After a moment, the size of the shadowed wall below the formations becomes evident: huge corners, concave roofs, and crack systems appear in the broken and foreboding rock face, which, if you happen to be a big route climber, is soon followed by a self-destructive impulse to approach the wall and thrust oneself onto the vertical."

Most of the routes on the wall are standard big wall climbs with aid grades, free climbing grades and commitment grades. But there is one steep snow and ice line, the Fiva Route. This is what Jornet decided to ski.

Some of the following video is in French, but most is in English. It is an amazing and heart pounding thing to watch:

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 2/21/19

Climate Advocacy:

--Protect Our Winters is leading the charge to get the head of the International Ski Federation to resign. Why? Gian-Franco Kasper is a climate denier and loves dictators...two things that are not in line with the ethics of the snow sports community at large. To join POW in their effort to get Kasper to resign, click here.


--A snowboarder in Idaho that was hit by a vehicle after attempting to jump a road has died. To read more, click here.

--Here's another deep snow immersion tree well fatality in Oregon. News 10 is reporting that, "An autopsy preformed Monday has confirmed that Johnathan Patrick Likeke Walker, 23, died of suffocation following a skiing accident on Mt. Ashland on Saturday, according to a statement released by the Jackson County Sheriff's Office." To read more, click here.

--British Columbia's Terrance Standard is reporting on a helicopter evacuation. "Two experienced climbers were rappelling at a waterfall in the Oliver Creek area, northeast of Terrace, when one of the men slipped and injured his leg. Using their inReach device, which is a tool that is used to send text via satellite, they initiated a 911 call with their coordinates to the RCMP who then contacted Terrace Search and Rescue (SAR) at approximately 4:12 p.m. Monday." To read more, click here.

--The Washington Climber's Coalition is reporting that, "Starting March 1, 2019, a seasonal raptor closure will be in place for select Newhalem climbing areas to protect nesting Peregrine falcons in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area of North Cascades National Park." To read more, click here.

--GoSkagit is reporting that, "Washington’s National Park Fund announced this week it has given $1.6 million to the state’s three national parks, including the North Cascades National Park Service Complex." To read more, click here.

--Here's a blog about the glacial retreat of Mt. Baker's Boulder Glacier from 1980 to 2018. It is certainly grim news.

--There was a big avalanche on Mt. Shasta this week.

--A skier is suing Stevens Pass Ski Resort because he claims he ran into a rope. There is video in this article and there doesn't appear to be ropes anywhere.  To read more, click here.


--The Tahoe Daily Tribune is reporting that, "Ski patrollers with the help of a search dog found the body of missing skier Brett Herrick at about 10 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office." It's not yet clear, but this could have been a deep snow immersion fatality. To read more, click here.

--Mammoth Mountain has the most snow in the hemisphere with 446-inches. Washington's Mt. Baker is in second place with 399". To read more, click here.

--The Mt. Whitney Lottery opens on February 22nd. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--After a snowstorm last night in Las Vegas, AAI guide Andrew Yasso may have just become the first person to "backcountry ski" -- or at least skin -- in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

--Eco Watch and many others are reporting that, "On Jan. 14, 103-year-old Rose Torphy visited the Grand Canyon with her daughter. While there, she stopped in at the park store and learned about the junior ranger program, then decided to become a junior ranger herself." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Fox News is reporting that, "Two backcountry skiers were killed over the weekend in an avalanche in an area of Colorado known as 'Death Pass,' officials said. Crested Butte Search and Rescue said in a Facebook post the two backcountry skiers were reported missing on Saturday night near the town of Crested Butte, and tracks were discovered leading into a fresh avalanche field near the area known as 'Death Pass.'" To read more, click here.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "A backcountry skier went missing Tuesday and is believed to be a victim of an avalanche near Telluride, authorities say." To read more, click here.

--WDSU 6 is reporting that, "A near-death experience was caught on camera after an avalanche in Utah over the weekend buried a skier. The skier who was trapped in the avalanche doesn't want to be identified. But the two friends who rescued him are sharing their harrowing story." Video of the incident can be found, here.

--2KUTV is reporting that, "Zion National Park search and rescue crews spent the night in a snowstorm after rescuing a man who got stuck in quicksand. On Saturday, Zion dispatchers received a report of a 34-year-old man from Arizona who got his leg stuck in quicksand." To read more, click here.

--Here's a piece on the runner who killed a mountain lion with his bare hands...!

--This is a fun story about what it's like to be a ski instructor in Aspen.

--Ski areas throughout the United States are struggling with parking. Snowbird in Utah has come up with a solution, a ride app that people can use to coordinate their drive. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Three people in two separate incidents were involved in avalanches at the same time over the weekend near Wyoming's Teton Pass. Everybody survived, though one person had to be resuscitated. To read more, click here.

--PBS News Hour is reporting that,"the Senate on Tuesday approved a major public lands bill that revives a popular conservation program, adds 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, expands several national parks and creates four new national monuments. The measure, the largest public lands bill considered by Congress in a decade, combines more than 100 separate bills that designate more than 350 miles of river as wild and scenic, create 2,600 miles of new federal trails and add nearly 700,000 acres of new recreation and conservation areas. The bill also withdraws 370,000 acres in Montana and Washington state from mineral development." To read more, click here.

--Outside online is reporting that, "Camber Outdoors CEO Deanne Buck has announced that she will step down effective immediately. The resignation came after backlash Camber received over its CEO Outdoor Equity Pledge. At Outdoor Retailer last month, Camber launched its new initiative for increased diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoor industry, calling on brand executives and CEOs to make concerted efforts to support people of diverse backgrounds in leadership roles. The only problem: in wording on its website, and in Buck’s oral remarks at the trade-show announcement, Camber called the program the first of its kind. As critics have pointed out, that’s not true." To read more, click here. UPDATE: The resignation of REI's CEO may have been connected to Buck. To read more, click here.

--Climbers bring a tremendous amount of money into the New River Gorge region.

--If you want to know how climbers are going to be chosen for the Olympics, check this out.

--The Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Ski Patrol set off an avalanche this week that left a huge crown at the top. Check it out:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Avalanche Awareness: Beacon Check

The American Mountain Guides Association and Outdoor Research have come together to create a video on avalanche beacons and the morning beacon check. Arguably, this check is one of the most important parts of the day. If your beacon doesn't work, you're not going to be found if you get avalanched, and you certainly won't be able to find your friend if he gets avalanched...

Check out the video below:

Here is a good process for completing a beacon check:

1) Turn on the beacons and confirm that there is power. Each individual should state their battery life. Batteries that are at less than 80% should be changed out. Rechargeable batteries are not as good as off-the-shelf batteries as they appear to have a lot of power but then lose it quickly.

2) Everybody accept for one person (the leader) should switch their beacons to search mode. They should see if they can "see" the person in transmit mode and the distance on their beacons. Don't touch beacons together when you practice this as direct contact can fry the circuits.

3) The team should turn their beacons back to transmit. The leader can then switch his beacon to search and have the members of the team file by as he checks that he can "see" them with his beacon.

4) Once this is complete, one person should watch as the leader turns his beacon back to transmit.

5) Beacons can be stored in the beacon harness or in a pocket. If in a pocket, the pocket should be integrated (so that it can't tear off) and it should have a zipper.

6) Note that cell phones, Go Pros, radios, or other electronic devices may adversely impact the effectiveness of a beacon. These devices should be stored away from the beacon.

Your avalanche beacon is your life. Make sure that it's on and that it has been adequately checked before going out to ski!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, February 18, 2019

Body Position and Finger Strength Training

The Climbing Movement Essential Training Series on Youtube is kind of awesome. The series is composed of a number of well produced videos that focus on different aspects of training for climbing.

The following video is specifically oriented toward training for body position and strength. Essentially, you will put yourself into some difficult climbing postures and hold yourself there to build up strength.

Following is a breakdown of the workout from the video:

--12 Climbing Postures
--3 Times Each
--30-45 Minutes
  1. Set a variety of climbing positions using 3 points of contact.
  2. Choose 3 holds (2 arms, 1 foot)
  3. "Freeze" and balance your weight with the points of contact.
  4. Time each posture.
  5. For strength training, muscle failure should occur before 10-12 seconds.
  6. Recreate postures that you encounter in your climbing projects.
  7. Work with higher footholds and harder handholds.
  8. Increase the intensity and pressure as you progress.
  9. The key is to maintain a static contraction without momentum or movement.
  10. Repeat each posture 3 times.
--Jason D. Martin

Friday, February 15, 2019

How To Wrap a Cordellete

A few years ago I was guiding a multi-pitch line in Red Rock Canyon. Before we launched off the ground, I showed the climbers that I was working with how to wrap up a cordellete.

Their response?

"Oh, it's a Codyball."

"A what?" I responded.

"A Codyball," one of the climbers said. "When we were in the Gunks, we had a guide named Cody who showed us this technique. We didn't know what to call it, so we started to call it a Codyball."

So Cody, wherever you are...thank-you. For I too have started to call this technique of wrapping up a cordellete a Codyball.

Before launching into how to tie a Codyball, I'd like to point out that there are many ways to stow a cordellete. The two most popular ways are 1) to simply triple up the cordellete and then tie an eight into it and 2) to tie a Codyball.

It is easier, albeit sloppier to simply tie the cordellete into an eight. In addition to this, it is quite long. A long cordellete -- or anything long hanging off your harness -- can be dangerous when you are mountaineering or ice climbing. Things can get stuck in your crampons when you are not paying attention.

A cordellete tied as an eight.

A Codyball is a little bit harder to make. It requires you to spend a bit of time wrapping up the cord and it can also hang down too far if you are not careful. If you're wearing crampons, always be very careful about how far down things hang.

To make a Codyball:

1) Start with the end of the cordellete in your hand.

2) Wrap the cord around your hand until there is only about two feet left.

3) Take your hand out of the wrap and squeeze that section of cord together.

4) Wrap the remaining cord around the squeezed section. Be sure to capture the strand coming out of the squeezed section so that it all doesn't come unraveled.

5) Once there is almost no additional cord left, take the remaining line and push it through the eye of the Codyball.

A finished Codyball.

6) When the Codyball is finished, you may clip it to your harness. If it hangs down too much, simply add a couple more twists with the cord around the ball until the tail is at the desired length.

Codyballs provide a great way to stow your cordellete, but like everything else in this blog, they take some practice. When you're sitting around watching movies on your laptop, keep a cordellete in your hand. It will probably only take one or two viewings of The Eiger Sanction before you'll have it completely dialed.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 2/14/19

Climate Advocacy:

--So, the head of the International Ski Federation is both a climate denier, as well as a guy who loves to work with dictators. It seems like he should get a new job, or at least lose the one he currently has. Maybe these tone deaf comments will help with that. To read more, click here.


--Outside is reporting that the CEO of REI is stepping down due to a undisclosed personal relationship with the leader of another outdoor brand. To read more, click here.

--The Washington Beer Blog is reporting that, "Rainier Beer and Aslan Brewing teamed up to create a beer to benefit Protect Our Winters, an organization of winter athletes and forward-thinking business leaders working toward systemic political solutions to climate change. In addition to being a benefit beer, it celebrates a legendary event at Mount Baker. Here is the press release with all the information. Rainier and Aslan teamed up to create King of the Mountain, a limited release pilsner." The event is the Legendary Banked Slalom, which took place over the weekend. To read more, click here.


--The Tahoe Daily Tribune is reporting that, "a snowboarder who went outside the boundaries at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows ski resort made it out of the snowbound backcountry thanks to efforts by a local search and rescue team. The rescue occurred in the bitter cold morning hours of Feb. 1, according to a press release form the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team." To read more, click here.

--Free Solo has won a British Film Award (Bafta) for Best Documentary. This is a stepping stone toward an Oscar. The Oscars will be on Sunday, February 24th, and Free Solo is up for Best Documentary:

Desert Southwest:

--The National Parks Traveler is reporting that, "Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Christine Lehnertz, who was removed from her job last fall after undisclosed allegations were made against her, has been cleared of any wrongdoing and is returning to the park. In an email to Grand Canyon staff, acting National Park Service Director Dan Smith on Thursday said an investigation into the allegations concluded they lacked credence." To read more, click here.

--Is access to the outdoors a basic human right? We think so, and so do lawmakers in New Mexico. Outside ran an editorial last week about an outdoor equity fund being put together in that state. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--KCRA 3 is reporting that, "Authorities have identified a 30-year-old California man who died in a skiing accident over the weekend at a resort near Lake Tahoe. The Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office in Reno said Andrew McDowell of Tahoe City, California died at a Reno hospital Sunday from injuries he suffered at Northstar California resort near Truckee, California." To read more, click here.

--Utah's Park Record is reporting that, "A 49-year-old man from Mona died Saturday in an avalanche in the eastern part of Summit County, according to the Summit County Sheriff's Office." To read more, click here.

--And here's another close call from Utah:

--The Vail Daily Press is reporting that, "Seeking to restore the landscape and teach the importance of respecting the land, a group of rock climbing enthusiasts scrubbed 400 graffiti markings from hills adjacent to Horseman’s Center Park this weekend. The “Apple Valley Rally Vol. 2 Graffiti Clean-Up” was the High Desert Climbers’ second such event." To read more, click here.

--Here's a strong argument for the abolition of outdoor trade shows.

--A skier struck by a snowboarder at Snowmass is filing a lawsuit. To read more, click here.

--Utah's congressman Rob Bishop appears to be blaming the clothing manufacturer Patagonia for climate change. Bishop was one of the forces behind the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A climber survived a major fall in North Carolina last week. The climber reportedly fell 100 to 150-feet at Looking Glass Rock. To read more, click here.

--There was a fatality this week at Blue Mountain Ski Resort in Pennsylvania. To read more, click here.

--A 68-year-old died at Vermont's Jay Peak resort after hitting a tree. To read more, click here.

--The UK Women's "Grit and Rock" climbing awards have been announced. Among the winners is Chantel Astorga, a former AAI Guide. To read about all the winners, click here.

--After a big dust-up over competing diversity initiatives at the Winter Outdoor Retailer Show, we have the opportunity to learn. And this editorial is a good place to start.

--The Access Fund is reporting that it is, "is excited to announce that we will increase our Climbing Conservation Grant Program from $40,000 a year to $55,000 a year to meet the growing need for climbing area conservation and strengthen local climbing advocates." To read more, click here.

--Prana is in trouble with, well, everybody after posting the preceding photo on Instagram. If you've ever been caving, then you know that the very first rule is not to touch delicate structures, like stalactites and stalagmites. Touching one of these features can impact hundreds, or even thousands, of years of growth. Naturally, people were up in arms after this photo was posted. To read more, click here.

--And finally, bear hangs might not be the best way to keep your food away from hungry animals. To read more, click here.