Monday, July 29, 2019

Film Review: A Walk in the Woods

In 1998 the travel writer Bill Bryson published, A Walk in the Woods. This book recounts his real-life flawed and failed attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail with his friend Stephen Katz. In 2015, the book was adapted into a film with Robert Redford set to play Bryson.

Bryson's book is an incredibly funny and engaging narrative about a pair of friends that really aren't adequately capable of hiking a 2,200-mile trail. Bryson is woefully unprepared. And his ex-alcoholic and overweight friend is even more unprepared.

These guys are a mess. They literally don't know anything about backcountry travel, overpack and under-prepare for their adventure... And it's hilarious!

The screenplay, adapted by Michael Arndt, keeps much of the humor alive, but is played in a much more subtle way than the book. While the book often reads like a situation comedy, the film plays the comedy in a more straightforward way with character-based humor.

Nick Nolte plays the hapless Katz. He moves through the story like a man perpetually on the brink of a heart-attack. His flirtatious nature with plus-sized women, combined with his propensity for the crude make him an entertaining and adorable character. However, we never really get to know him and what makes him tick.

Robert Redford's Bryson is a different story. We know that the character is missing something from his life and that he is going to the wilderness in search of that missing something. At the end of the film, there are many indicators that he's found what was missing, but we never really understand what that is...

Like Cheryl Strayed's Wild, this is a story about people who are looking for themselves in the wilderness. But unlike Strayed's outstanding book, and the Reese Witherspoon film that followed, there simply aren't as many moments that allow the audience to feel the draw of the wild. The characters, while flawed, don't need the wilderness. And in the end, that's why they didn't make it on the trail...

There are some absolutely hilarious moments in the film though. Kristen Schaal -- one of the finest comic actresses out there -- plays Mary Ellen, a know-it-all backpacker that hikes with the pair for a few days. She follows along making fun of the of the pair, calling them names and putting them down until they literally hide from her.

And it's hard to forget the moment when a family of hungry bears invade the pair's dirty campsite. Bryson and Katz scare them away by... Trust me it's pretty funny.

A Walk in the Woods does not look at the deeper meaning of wilderness and backcountry travel and what it can do for an individual. It tries. But it never quite gets there. However, it does provide for a bit of backcountry comedy with some truly great actors... And for that, the film is well-worth watching...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, July 26, 2019

Now You're Cooking with Fire!

I used to hate campfires…

They’re dirty. They make your clothes smell bad. They’re a lot of work. And they’re kind of dangerous.

But then I started camping with my children and I rediscovered the fun, the warmth and the social value of a campfire. And indeed, after my daughter became a Girl Scout and went to a seminar on campfire cuisine, I once again became acquainted with the joy of cooking over an open fire.

It can be daunting though. The first time you actually push it and try to cook something even mildly complex over a fire, you’re likely to end up with a meal that’s raw on one side and burned on the other. But like anything else, campfire cooking takes practice, and to get really good at it, you’re going to have some minor disasters. If you bring a little bit extra of everything, then the inevitable mistake will not result in someone going hungry, but with a better final product.

Foil pans can be used to trap heat.

It should be noted that when we talk about cooking over a fire, what we’re really talking about is cooking over coals. A bonfire might be fun, but it’s too hot and too uncontrolled to effectively cook anything. The skilled campfire cook will build a fire and then let it burn down to coals with limited flames. Coals can be more easily manipulated than flames, and it’s much easier to control the heat.

If you intend to cook on a stick or on a grill, it’s not a bad idea to bring your own. Outdoor stores sell metal skewers for cooking and you can find a grill grate almost anywhere, though there are some available specifically for campfire cooking. When looking for metal skewers, select a brand that is long enough to keep your hand far away from the fire. There are several on the market that are quite short, placing your hand uncomfortably close to the coals.

You should avoid cooking on the pre-made grates attached to campground fire pits for two reasons. First, the bars are too far apart to easily cook on and things can easily fall through. And second, some people think it’s fun to put out fires with urine. This inevitably results in pee on the grates, which will likely give your food a little bit of spice, but it might not be the kind that you’re looking for.

Campfire cooking is dirty. The bottoms and sides of pots and pans become coated in black carbon, something that doesn’t easily wash off, but seems to get on everything. Consider using cast iron skillets, heavy-duty pots and dutch ovens that you designate for camping. I have a specific plastic box that I keep these in for travel so that they don’t get carbon on camping equipment that doesn’t need black camouflage.

These cooking implements might seem heavy, but you shouldn’t have to worry about weight. Campfire cooking – and campfires for that matter – should be reserved for front-country campgrounds and designated fire pits. Camp stoves are far more appropriate for the backcountry.

Yummy - Cinnamon Rolls and other desserts.

It’s not uncommon to cook directly on the coals. A dutch oven can be placed directly in the coals, and so can root-based vegetables like potatoes and turnips (wrapped in foil). Dutch ovens are heavy enough that one can place coals on top of the oven as well as underneath it and on the sides.

There are three levels of skill to the art of campfire cooking. At the lowest level (beginner level), one cooks on sticks or maybe on a grill over the fire. We’ve all done this with hot dogs and marshmallows. Some of us have cooked hamburgers or steaks over an open fire. And a few of the more adventurous of us have experimented with shish kabobs and just about anything else that we can skewer or grill.

At the second level (intermediate), you discover tinfoil. Not for hats to keep the aliens out of your head, but for food to keep the heat and the. Here is where you start to cook potatoes or maybe processed food like hot pockets; perhaps you cook cinnamon rolls in foil containers. You might experiment with hamburgers or fish. Perhaps you might try corn on the cob, muffins or even some kind of stew. Tinfoil is your friend and a solid intermediate fire cook should be able to figure out a way to heat up just about anything in it.

At the third level (advanced) you’re actually cooking real food over a fire. You’re so dialed that people might not realize you didn’t have a full kitchen at your disposal during the food prep. What they may not realize as they watch you cook your gourmet camp dinner is that you did have a full kitchen to prep. The key to this highest level of campfire skill is pre-trip preparation. The more you do at home, the easier it will be in the field.

Advanced level cooks chop everything that needs to be chopped ahead of time. They pre-mix everything that needs to be mixed ahead of time. They marinade meats and pre-cook touchy elements of their meals ahead of time. Then they freeze everything that can be frozen ahead of time and put it in a cooler. In other words, they think ahead.

If cooking is an art, then cooking over fire is an ancient art. People have been cooking over fires since time immemorial. But they probably haven’t been cooking s’mores and marinated meats that long. And they probably weren’t drinking craft beer while they were doing it. This is where the ancient art of fire cooking becomes modern art. This is where we experiment with all the comfort foods we love from home and see what works and what doesn’t work. It’s where outdoor cooking becomes incredibly fun…

I can’t believe that I used to hate campfires…

Resources for Campfire Cooking Recipes: 

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 7/25/19


--Q13 Fox is reporting that. "A climber rescued from Tower Rock in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest more than 1,000 feet up was dangling in his harness for nearly 10 hours. Rescue volunteers say  it could have turned out very differently for the recreational climber." It appears that this individual was "sport rappelling." To read more, click here.

--Vista Outdoor and REI have made up. If you remember, REI dropped Camebak -- a subsidiary of Vista -- after the Parkland School Shooting. Vista has several gun and ammo type subsidiaries as well. To read more, click here.

Oregon's Smith Rock State Park

--Smith Rock is expanding! From Climbing: "Encompassing 651 acres, Smith Rock State Park is no small climbing area, and an unfolding land acquisition is about to expand the park by another 38 acres. This acquisition encompasses both sides of the Lower Gorge, a stretch of land surrounding the Crooked River adjacent to the eastern side of the park." To read more, click here.


--NPR and many others are reporting that, "The names of several major hotels and camp villages at Yosemite National Park in California are being restored, after a years-long trademark dispute. The Majestic Yosemite Hotel is back to its original name, The Ahwahnee. And a set of cabins that was temporarily called Half Dome Village now carries its historic name, Camp Curry." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--CBS Los Angeles is reporting that, "A large swarm of bees temporarily shut down a popular overlook point in Joshua Tree National Park. The Keys View overlook has been shut down until further notice because of “swarming bees,” according to park officials. It’s located in the Riverside County section of the park and gives visitors sweeping views of the Coachella Valley." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--A climber was killed in Colorado's Red Rock Open Space area this week. To read more, click here.

--Out There Colorado is reporting that, "According to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, a 47-year-old male climber was airlifted after tumbling 150-feet down a snowfield on Cathedral Peak near Aspen, Colorado." To read more, click here.

--Snews is reporting that, "Black Diamond laid off 70 employees last week in its manufacturing division of the Salt Lake City, Utah, headquarters, a 22 percent reduction of the Utah workforce and 53 percent of the manufacturing division. News spread quickly on Reddit. A screenshot of a Facebook post—with the original poster’s name blacked out—received nearly 450 comments. It read in part: 'Black Diamond announced to its manufacturing crew that it was being sent overseas. They’re out of a job come September.'" To read more, click here.

--Bloomberg is reporting that, "Two former Bureau of Land Management directors say plans to move the agency’s headquarters to Colorado are an early step toward abolishing the entire agency and transferring millions of acres of federal land to the states." To read more, click here.

--SGB Media is reporting that, "n the ongoing and escalating ski area arms race, Vail Resorts Inc.’s most recent move has clearly raised the stakes. The Broomfield, CO-based ski resort and real estate behemoth grew even bigger Monday morning with the (estimated) $264 million acquisition of Wildwood, MO-based Peak Resorts Inc. The purchase adds 17 ski areas to Vail’s already massive portfolio and dwarfs recent deals taking place in the rapidly evolving ski industry." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Penn Live and others are reporting that, "Officials with the Appalachian Trail have warned hikers to be on the lookout for a Pennsylvania man who is wanted on charges that include rape. Court records show a bench warrant is out for Craig York, 35, of Tamaqua, who is facing 15 charges that include rape and involuntary indecent assault of a person under 16." To read more and to see a photo of the suspect, click here.

--Holy moley! "Climbing as a whole contributed $12,450,000,000 to the economy in 2017, with more than 87% (10.8B) coming from trips and travel. While you need some gear to take part in the sport, it’s clear that providing climbers with a place to play has a much larger ROI. You don’t have to be Yosemite; towns such as Castle Dale Utah (Joe’s Valley), Lander Wyoming and Sandrock Alabama are all benefiting from the growth of climbing." To read more, check out the State of Climbing.

--Rock and Ice is reporting on a closure in Wyoming: "The controversy surrounding manufactured routes and route-development ethics in Ten Sleep Canyon—newly reinvigorated following actions taken by 18 climbers to remove some manufactured routes on July 1 and 2—has resulted in swift action from U.S. Forest Service: Effective immediately, there is a moratorium on the development of all new routes in Ten Sleep Canyon." To read more, click here.

--Wisconsin has established an office of outdoor recreation and tourism! And so has Virginia!

--Can climbing help people become better entrepreneurs? Alex Honnold and the New Yorker wanted to find out...


--Outside magazine is reporting that, "on June 22, Clay Hughes and Cody James confirmed on Instagram that they’d summited Denali, completing an 81-day quest to climb the highest peak in North America using human power alone." To see the article, click here. It should be noted that the article says something about this being the first human powered ascent of Denali. That's incorrect.
Erden Eruç completed a round-trip human powered summit of Denali in 2003.

--Endurance Sportswire is reporting that, "the Outdoor Economy Conference will return to Western North Carolina (WNC) for a second year on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. After selling out in its inaugural year, the conference has doubled in size and grown in scope with the help of the new Growing Outdoors Partnership, a regional economic development initiative focused on the outdoors sector. This year’s event will be hosted at the Crowne Plaza Resort in Asheville, naturally adjacent to zip lines, mountain bike trails, and other outdoor amenities, and is poised to draw more than 500 industry influencers." To read more, click here.

--A woman tried to climb Mt. Rushmore...shoeless. To read more, click here.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Free Solo Parody: Expensive Membership

So, by now many of you have seen Alex Honnold's film, Free Solo. It's awesome and well worth viewing. And films that are awesome and well worth viewing are also well worth parodying. Welcome to Expensive Membership, a parody of Free Solo about gym climbing.


--Jason D. Martin

Monday, July 15, 2019

Trip Report: Winter Ascent of the Diamond

The Diamond on Longs Peak is one of the most recognized alpine walls in the world. While this wall is extremely popular as an arena for summer alpine rock, winter ascents of the Diamond are few and far between, requiring a wider breadth of climbing techniques and "acceptable" levels of comfort. Finding a partner for missions that promise to be arduous, cold, and snowy can be difficult but fortunately a longtime friend of mine enjoys such pursuits as much as I do so we waited for conditions to align for an attempt together.

We finally were gifted a window in February and had the opportunity to climb the Diamond in a single 22 hour push car to car via “D7”, the classic choice for a winter ascent. “D7” is a relatively direct line with straightforward aid and minimal traversing besides getting on and off the wall, making it the preferred line in the winter.   

At approximately 3:00 am we left the Longs Peak Trailhead and made our way to the base of the east face of Longs over the course of two and a half hours, with an incredible sunrise rewarding us for an early start. It became apparent that conditions on the North Chimney were sub-optimal for fast climbing, with a mostly faceted snowpack causing us to punch through the snow to our waist. After 600-700 feet of snow and mixed climbing we arrived at the base of the Diamond proper, grateful to get a reprieve from the snow wallowing onto steep rock. 

Once we began "D7" we switched our lens to a "climb by any means" style. Free any moves one can, aid everything else. Moves up to 5.9/5.10 were freed, but the minute free climbing caused a substantial slow of movement, french-freeing and direct aid was employed. As night fell, we reached the end of "D7" and found what would be the crux: exiting the Diamond on "junky" snow. While it was slow-moving, we found ourselves awe-struck with surreal views of city lights over 8,000 feet below us. 

Our descent route took the shortest technical option via the North Face (also known as the Cables Route) with a few rappels and a 6 mile "zombie walk" back to the trailhead, arriving at 1:00 am the following day- grateful for an incredible trip and to be able to finally sleep.   

Looking down the first few pitches of D7 and the entirety of North Chimney, in the left hand corner of the photo. 

Arriving at Broadway ledge after climbing North Chimney. 

Leading the final pitch off the Diamond and onto upper Kiener's

Leading high on "D7". 

Friday, July 12, 2019

How to Prepare for the Keyhole on Longs Peak, CO

Longs Peak, located within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park, is among the most popular "14ers" (peaks at or above 14,000 feet) in Colorado. Longs is also one of the most difficult 14ers to climb, particularly when compared to other 14ers in the state that offer second class hiking routes to their summits. Climbers seeking the least technical route on Longs will want to set their sites on the "Keyhole Route" and be well-prepared, both physically and mentally. This article is written specifically for hikers and scramblers aspiring to engage third class terrain at altitude.

The "Keyhole Route" is over 14 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gained/lost to and from the Longs Peak trailhead. This route also includes serious hazards such as exposure, loose/falling rock, altitude, lightning storms, "no fall zone" scrambling, and crowds. So, what does this mean for preparation? Here are a few tips to help you be successful on this route:

1) Find a specific mountain workout program that works for you, and stick to it

There are many workout programs available in the modern era that are specific to mountain fitness. Programs like those available on cater to a variety of different mountain objectives and can help you get more targeted training. Given the Keyhole Route has no 4th or 5th class climbing, seek programs that focus on cardio and moderate intensity workouts for longer periods of time.

A hiker enjoying the early morning sun on Longs Peak.

2) Progress gradually into climbing Longs

There are a plethora of moderate peaks from 12-14,000 feet in Colorado that are shorter and require less elevation gain/descent than the Keyhole, start smaller and work into Longs. 14ers such as Grays and Torrey's Peak offer routes about half the hiking distance of the Keyhole Route and don't engage any third class terrain. Getting comfortable with exposure and 3rd class scrambling is best done through a progression at lower altitudes in less consequential terrain before engaging the Keyhole. There are certain sections of the Keyhole route where an unroped fall would be fatal.

Peaks like Hallett (in the upper left of the photo) offer hiking routes that are great preparation for Longs. Photo Chris Brinlee.

3) Acclimatize

Some would argue acclimatizing before you climb a 14er is a no brainer, but Colorado's easy road access to higher elevations can make acclimatizing an after thought. If you live near sea-level, consider spending a minimum of 3-5 days gradually increasing the altitude you are sleeping and hiking at. There is no golden rule regarding the exact timeline needed, everyone acclimatizes at different rates, so make sure to check in with yourself and your hiking partners with symptoms of acute mountain sickness and HAPE (HACE is less likely at and below 14,000 feet). As always, DESCENT is the only treatment for altitude illness.

An AAI climber enjoys the summit of Longs Peak at 14,259 feet above sea level after climbing the North Face. This was after a full week of hiking and climbing at lower elevations.

4) Plan for the right time of year

The Keyhole is dramatically different depending on the time of year. Late summer is the only recommended time of year for people looking to keep the difficulties of the route at third class, with August and September generally being best. The Keyhole is much more serious route in the fall, winter, and spring involving crampons and an ice axe. The late summer timeframe presents a heightened hazard from lightning storms, so check the weather forecast! Conditions of the Keyhole route are posted and shared online through the National Park Service.

August on Longs Peak, offering dry, less snowy conditions.

4) Bring the right gear

I commonly see two extremes on the Keyhole: people bringing too little and people bringing too much. The crucial items are:

-2+ liters of water (you can and should refill your water at the Boulderfields later in the summer, bring water purification tablets as well.)
-1,200+ calories worth of food (most people will have a caloric deficit by the end of their Longs trip- bring LOTS of food!)
-Cell phone with a gps app such as GAIA (a paper map is always welcomed too)
-Synthetic (no cotton) pants and shirt
-Lightweight and medium weight insulation
-Hardshell waterproof jacket
-Medical Kit
-Sunglasses and Sunscreen
-Trekking pole(s)
-Climbing Helmet (you will see very few people wearing one, but there is significant hazard of rockfall, etc. especially from other scramblers)
-SOS beacon (verizon cell signal is great for some of the climb, but there are several areas where cell service is unreliable).
5) Start your preparation ASAP

Somebody new to long days at altitude should think about physically and mentally preparing for Longs 6 to 12 months in advance, at a minimum. Many people will want to start even earlier. The better prepared one is for a climb like this, the more they will enjoy it. This is a serious endeavor so if you're in doubt of the hazards, choose a smaller objective or consider hiring a guide. Preparation also includes, RESEARCHING the specifics of the Keyhole Route, many resources are available providing photos and details regarding the route.

The Keyhole Route is a classic route that most would argue is a must-do for anyone- whether you identify as a hiker, scrambler, and/or a climber. Be patient with your preparation and never push into terrain you do not feel comfortable with.

Longs Peak as seen from lower Chasm in June. 


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Guide Like Liz Scholarship Winner: Brooke Warren

Brooke Warren has recreated in the outdoors since she was a little girl. Growing up in Crested Butte, Colorado it’s easy to understand why. Surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, Brooke was able to ski right outside her door. Her parents taught her to climb in places like Taylor Canyon outside of Gunnison. They also took her to other areas such as Indian Creek and El Potrero Chico.

“I am super fortunate to have a family that has impacted my mindset and goals throughout my life,” Brooke said.

Climbing and skiing were a part of Brooke’s family routine growing up, but it was in college that she adopted these sports as her own passion. She was a trip leader for her college’s outdoor program, Western Washington University Outdoor Excursions and she started climbing as much as she could while attending WWU.

Brooke waits out a storm on Mt. Rainer. Brooke Warren collection
Her mountaineering and skiing resume is extensive. She has had the opportunity to climb in the ranges of the North Cascades, the Elk Mountains, the San Juans, and the Lillooet in British Columbia. She has also rock climbed at beautiful locations such as Wild Iris, Eldorado Canyon, and Squamish.

After graduating with her Bachelors of Arts in visual journalism in 2014, Brooke obtained a job as a photo editor for High Country News, a magazine focused on issues in the western United States. But within the past year, Brooke transitioned out of that job into exploring guiding and outdoor education as her career.

In May 2018, she started working as an instructor for Colorado Outward Bound School in Leadville where she teaches students backcountry skills, lessons on natural history, and human impact. She also guides technical terrain on Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier with Alpine Ascents International.

Brooke (front) climbs Castle Peak for spring skiing in 2018. Brooke Warren collection.
In October 2018, she had the opportunity to volunteer and be a lead guide for Afghan Ascend: Leadership Through Athletics in Kabul, Afghanistan. Through this non-profit, whose focus is to empower young Afghan women through mountaineering, Brooke guided and instructed a team of Afghan girls in the Panjshir Valley.

“Soon I hope to be regularly guiding on all kinds of mountainous terrain to give people experiences that will leave them in awe of the natural world as well as in awe of their own physical feats,” Brooke wrote in her 2019 Guide Like Liz Scholarship application. “I’m excited to bolster my guiding experience with my recreational skiing experience in order to expand my instructional skillset to include more mountaineering objectives.”

Brooke photographs a team member of the Afghan Ascend team in Afghanistan, where she volunteered leading a backcountry rock climbing and mountaineering training expedition in October 2018. Brooke Warren collection.
Brooke is taking AAI’s Technical Rope Rescue Comprehensive (TRRC) course with her scholarship. The TRRC is a 15-day course designed for competent technical climbers and mountaineers. Most of the course is spent on "high-end" technical rescue scenarios and the main focus of the program is on light backcountry scenarios. Heavy front-country roadside and industrial rescues are addressed as well.

“I’m excited to learn and practice complex rope systems and mechanical advantages so I can use the tools without reference and improvise when a situation calls for it. I’m interested specifically in the high angle rescue systems that apply to AMGA courses. Plus, I’m hoping I’ll be an asset to SAR teams with these additional skills.”

Brooke climbs Orion in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon. Brooke Warren collection.
Brooke’s climbing and mountaineering background combined with her interest in guiding as a career makes the TRRC a perfect stepping stone in her journey. This course will help her gain a high level of skill in all forms of technical rope rescue.

I asked Brooke if she had a motto or a quote that she lives by:

“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action,’ by Walter Anderson. I’ve so often found myself wondering how something would go, rather than just doing it. To me, taking action, reaching out, or fixing a problem is so much more effective than pondering the problem. Yes, thinking things through is also important, but that comes naturally to me, so I like to remind myself to just do it before I overthink things.”

And I asked if she could give another woman or young aspiring female climber/mountaineer a piece of advice either that she was given or she wishes she was given, what would it be...

“You know more than you think; you do/you’re more capable than you believe. When I began this journey I had a lot of unconscious competence and I’ve been grateful for people who made me aware of the skills I was shy about or didn’t know were important. As a woman, society makes it easy for us to be aware of where we fall short, but it’s important to also know where you excel. So figuring out how to name your knowledge or skills (and practicing) helps build the confidence that tells you, you are capable.” 

Brooke (framed by the tent) makes water for clients on Mt. Rainer. Brooke Warren collection.
Congratulations, Brooke! We are thrilled you chose the American Alpine Institute to be a part of your continuing outdoor education and we look forward to having you attend our Technical Rope Rescue Comprehensive course.

--Sara Umstead, School Certifying Official

Monday, July 8, 2019

Guide Like Liz Scholarship Winner: Jillian Strobel

Jillian Strobel, one of our 2019 Guide Like Liz Scholarship winners, grew up in rural, flat Kansas where she says, “only the rich kids went skiing, and climbing only took place in books.” She did not grow up skiing or climbing, but she did bike. She biked all the time.

“I guess how I really got into outdoor recreation all started from the seat of a bicycle. I was always on my bike. I was in one of those neighborhood bike gangs growing up,” Jillian laughs.

“When I went to college, I started bike commuting everywhere. Over time, I started doing a weekly ride with college friends and then that lead me to get into organized racing.”

Jillian lived 90 miles from her mom’s house when she was in college. After riding in longer bike races it occurred to her that she could probably ride 90 miles on a Saturday to visit her mom for the weekend and just ride back on Sunday.

“So I rode to visit my mom. And then I thought if I could ride to my mom’s, then I can ride to a hotel. If I could ride there, then I could probably ride with my tent and camp and stay where I want. That turned into bikepacking.”

Jillian has completed multiple long self-contained bike tours throughout the country. And from the seat of her bicycle, she opened up a whole new world for herself. Challenging herself on her bike translated well to other outdoor adventure sports.

Jillian climbs her first 5.10 onsight route in Nevada. Jaymie Shearer photo.
While completing her bachelor's degree in Spanish, she studied abroad in Costa Rica. She was introduced to bouldering in a gym there.

“My fingers were not fully covered in skin again until I returned to flat and (at the time) gym-less, Lawrence, Kansas,” Jillian wrote in her Guide Like Liz Scholarship application. She took to climbing like a fish to water.

Once she got back to Kansas, she didn’t have the opportunity to climb much. But a few years later, while on a bike trip from Tucson to San Fransisco, she was able to go to Joshua Tree National Park and toprope. While she was toproping, she met her life partner.

Since meeting and traveling together, they have river guided in Leavenworth, Washington, where Jillian learned to lead climb. They got jobs in Park City, Utah, where she learned to ski. And subsequently learned that she does not love skiing and says she belongs “in the heat of the desert.”

Then she and her partner, Nathan, moved to and got jobs in Springdale, Utah.

Her first trip to Yosemite Valley! Jaymie Shearer photo.
“Soon after that, I was leading trad and climbing chossy peaks in Zion where I had just landed a job at a local guide service. Now I am on my fifth year guiding canyoneering, backpacking, and hiking around Zion National Park.”

To say the least, Jillian is a go-getter. She is one of those people who sets her sights on a goal and sees it through to the very end to the best of her ability. She is all about quality in her work. And now she has added climbing to her guiding resume.

“In an effort to be the best guide I can and to lend some credibility to my guiding habits, I plan to take the AMGA SPI course. My hope is that when clients go on a guided rock climbing trip with me, the technical aspects of the day will go almost unnoticed by them and the mental and physical aspects will have the space to shine,” she wrote in her application.

With the Guide Like Liz scholarship, Jillian was able to take the AMGA Single Pitch Instructor course with us this past March.

“I really loved the course. I figured it would all be technical training, which was most of it. But I was surprised to learn about writing a lesson plan and having more structure. I was not expecting to spend time on teaching someone how to interact with the rock. I really liked that aspect of it.”

With the AMGA SPI course, Jillian has more technical training, some new skills and teaching techniques to help her in her climbing guiding endeavors and goals.

Jillian climbing in Joshua Tree National Park. Jaymie Shearer photo
“I have received minimal coaching in my personal climbing career. We have a new gym going in near my home, and I’m looking forward to learning from the coaches there, both to improve my own climbing and to improve my teaching for my clients.”

I asked if she could give another woman or young aspiring female climber/mountaineer a piece of advice either that she was given or she wishes she was given, what would it be, she responded:

“I wish that when I learned to lead, I had found partners who trained me to fall often and to catch falls.

Surround yourself with people who are more talented than you.

It’s cliche but never say never. I used to admire this dreamy climb at a local crag. I would walk by it with guests and talk about how beautiful and inspiring it is. The way I talked about it always led them to ask if I had ever done it. I would tell them it was way too hard for me. Ya’ll - I had literally never even touched it. I finally decided to try it, despite the fact that it was several grades harder than any route I had even top roped. I was shy to tell people I was working on it. I thought it was absurd. If you’re inspired, it doesn’t matter what the grade is or what is in your way. If you’re inspired, you’ll work around those hang-ups. I learned to use a stick clip to hang the top rope for myself and practiced the moves for months with extremely generous and patient climbing partners. I sent it last summer, with a crew of probably 10 friends and a handful of dogs on the ground cheering me on.”

Jillian on her first big wall aid lead. Nathan Mielke photo

One last note Jillian added on her application:

“Culturally, we value a clean finished product, but we hide the messy learning process. We tailor our social media so that we look like gods and model perfection. I strive to remove myself from that unrealistic headspace and to embrace my imperfections. The vibe I create both in my day to day life and in my guiding holds space for failure. When we go out of cell phone service, we go into ourselves and get in touch with our humanness. We have the opportunity to face ourselves and notice the things we love and, equally as important, the things we’re not so proud of about ourselves. Together in the outdoors, we will grow, we will challenge ourselves, we will fail, and we’ll have a great time doing it.”

Congratulations on being a 2019 Guide Like Liz Scholarship winner, Jillian! Thank you for choosing the American Alpine Institute to be a part of your climbing journey and we look forward to seeing your progress as a guide and climber!

--Sara Umstead, AAI School Certifying Officer

Friday, July 5, 2019

Traditional Climbing: Placing Cams

Placing cams is an art that takes a lot of practice. Ideally you will spend a fair bit of time playing with cams at the base of a wall and following a lot of traditional pitches before placing cams on lead.

The following video introduces the core basics of placing cams. However, it is a very basic video. It's important for you to get a lot of assessment on cams that you place from a guide or from experienced friends.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - Fourth of July Edition!


--The Squamish Access Society is reporting that, "The BC provincial government is in the process of transferring several crown land parcels to Squamish Nation as part of the Squamish Nation’s agreement with Woodfibre LNG. An agreement between the parties was reached in March 2019. In May 2019, SAS learned that one of the land parcels (the “Watts Point parcel”) includes approximately half of the climbing routes and hiking trails at Murrin. The land parcel includes Petrifying (“Pet”) Wall, which is one of North America’s finest single-pitch cliffs." To read more, click here.

--Last week there was a spate of car break-ins at the Heliotrope Trailhead for Mt. Baker. Be careful with your valuables at all trailheads...!

--So a guy in BC was attacked by a bear. The bear is dead. The guy survived. All thanks to a hatchet that he was carrying in his vest... To read the harrowing tale, click here.


--Apparently June 21st was Hike Naked Day...

Desert Southwest: is reporting that, "Federal land managers are considering several ways to address overcrowding at a scenic natural area about a 30-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip. Entrance fee station upgrades, a dedicated entrance and exit for taxis and ride-hailing services and a cutoff road to return motorists to the visitor center without driving an entire 13-mile (21-kilometer) one-way loop are among options being studied, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "The Boulder County Coroner’s Office has identified the climber who died at Boulder Falls on Friday as Charlie Liebman, 21, of Poway, Calif. An emergency call for a fallen climber was reported to the sheriff’s office around 6:25 p.m. Friday at Boulder Falls off of Boulder Canyon Drive, according to release." To read more, click here.

--Arapahoe Basin is open today!

--Speaking of skiing, it's possible that a year-round ski area will open 30-minutes from Denver. Check out the video below for more:

Notes from All Over:

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "Austin Howell, widely known in the climbing community through his Instagram account “Freesoloist,” died after a fall while free soloing at Shortoff Mountain, Linville Gorge, North Carolina, on June 30." To read more, click here.

--A climber was killed in the Mendenhall Towers near Juneau last week. To read more, click here.

--There are some ticks that we don't know that much about. It's especially scary that some of these are coming from far off lands. Here's an interesting piece about an invasive tick species in the Northeast.

--The weather modeling system that is used throughout the United States is getting an upgrade. To read more, click here. But the move to 5g might screw it up anyway. For that story, go here.

--Bloomberg is reporting that, "the Trump administration wants to clear 11,000 miles of fire fuel breaks across public lands in six Western states as a way to control giant wildfires. But wildfire experts are mixed on the viability of the plan, the government’s own scientific agency calls it a “grand experiment,” and environment groups are strongly opposed." To read more, click here.

--Some yahoo is upset that people are wearing backpacks to the office.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Book Review: The Abominable

Dan Simmons is a well regarded science fiction, horror and historical fiction author. Indeed, I have read several of his novels and have recommended them to dozens of people. In the science fiction realm, the Hyperion Cantos stands out as one of the best series' of novels that I've ever read (and I'm a voracious reader). I was also enthralled by Simmons' Illium/Olympos series... Both sets of novels are deeply intelligent, wildly imaginative and utterly gripping.

In addition to his science fiction work, Simmons has written several pieces of historical fiction, each of which have some kind of fantastical element. These include works like Drood, a piece about the last five years of the life of Charles Dickens; and The Terror, a piece about a lost expedition to Arctic in the 1840s.

The Terror, which was adapted into a 10-episode miniseries on AMC, is a book that many of this blog's readers might find interesting as well. The novel tells the story of two lost ships at a time when the North Pole was an unexplored frozen seascape. The ships become entrapped in the ice and story quickly becomes a survival narrative with fantastical overtures.

But we're not here to talk about The Terror. Instead, we're here to review The Abominable, a fantastic work of historical fiction that includes a secret expedition to Mt. Everest in the 1920s, spies, Nazis, and even yetis. The book offers the reader a wild ride through not just an action-packed tale, but also through pre-war mountaineering history.

The Abominable tells the story of Jacob Perry, a 23-year-old American climber that gets tagged to join a secret expedition to Mt. Everest, a year after Mallory and Irvine disappear. Perry joins two of his partners, plus a wealthy benefactor and an Indian doctor to investigate the disappearance of a third individual on the mountain. The third climber's disappearance is a much greater mystery than that of Mallory or Irvine, as he wasn't supposed to be on the mountain in the first place, and may have been carrying a document that would have a profound impact on the fledgling Nazi party in Germany.

In many ways, The Abominable is the book that I had been waiting for for several years without realizing it. I have read a lot of mountaineering non-fiction, and a suprisingly large amount of mountaineering fiction. The non-fiction is as good as its author, as is the fiction. The problem is that mountaineering fiction tends to be...well, to put it mildly...pretty bad. The authors seldom know what they're talking about. The mountain becomes -- yeah, you guessed it -- a metaphor for something.

Dan Simmons knows what he's talking about. He has meticulously researched, not just Everest, or climbing and mountaineering history, but climbing and expeditionary technique. The book is supposed to be a transcription of hand written journals made by Perry. For most writers this would be no small task, but Simmons effortlessly builds a level of detail that makes it feel right. The tale is engrossing and could have easily really been written by an early twentieth century expeditionary climber.

The mountaineering history, as well as the climbing and expeditionary details, don't sit well with all readers. In a quick survey of other reviews, many readers really disliked the level of detail in the story. Ironically, this is exactly the type of dish that most Alpine Institute blog readers might find the most delicious...

The Abominable is an awesome tale that takes us not only to the limits of human endurance on Mt. Everest, but deep into a international mystery. Full of history and adventure, it is a novel that is not to be missed!

--Jason D. Martin