Monday, March 25, 2019

Sport Climbing Tips

I found the following video with a lot of good little tips for sport climbing on youtube. This film is in no way a complete overview of sport climbing, but definitely gives you a sample of the things that you need to think about when you are starting a pitch of sport climbing.

--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.

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

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.

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