Friday, November 29, 2019

How to Belay with a Munter-Hitch

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

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



--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 28, 2019

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

Happy Turkey Day!


Northwest:

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

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

Sierra:

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


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

Desert Southwest:

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

Colorado and Utah:

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

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

--Alta is now closed to uphill traffic.

Notes from All Over:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Tips and Techniques for Organizing your Climbing Rack

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



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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 25, 2019

Static vs. Dynamic Climbing Technique

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

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

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



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

Static Pros:

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 22, 2019

Stick Clipping

I was in Red Rock Canyon, just below the first bolt, when my foot smeared off. My stance was somewhat sideways and if I didn't have a rope on, I would have fallen eight feet directly on my side, likely breaking my arm...

But how could I have a rope prior to the first bolt?

Easy. I stick clipped it. And that stick clip saved me from a hospital visit.

Stick clips are an important part of sport climbing. These are specially designed poles that may be used to clip the first bolt with a rope prior to climbing the route. These devices may be purchased from many different climbing companies, they may be made out of homemade supplies or they may be "McGyvered."

The concept behind a stick clip is simple. You have a pole that allows you to clip the first draw to the first bolt with the rope prerigged through the bottom carabiner on the draw. Then you may be toproped through the starting moves of the climb.

There are several manufactured stick clips available on the market. Following are a couple of examples:

Trango Beta Stick Clip

Epic Sport Epic Stick Clip

Homemade stick clips are relatively easy to make. I bought a painters pole and a placed a spring clamp a the end. I duct taped this securely on to keep the spring clamp in place. Alternately, some people use hose clamps to keep the spring clamp in place at the end of the pole.

My well-loved homemade stick clip.

My stick clip wasn't designed with a means to keep the carabiner open. Instead, I just push the carabiner against the bolt until it clips.

There are going to be occasions when you don't have access to a stick clip. On these occasions, you may wish to McGyver something. Climbing magazine put together and excellent video on this topic with the now Executive Editor of the magazine, Julie Ellison, describing how to do this:



I used to be a little wary about carrying stick clips. A lot of my friends made fun of me for carrying it around. But the fact that I didn't hurt myself in that short fall before the first bolt made up for every last joke made by my trad climber buddies...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 21, 2019

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

Northwest:

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

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

Sierra:

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

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

Desert Southwest:

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

A climber rappels in Joshua Tree National Park.

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

Colorado and Utah:

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

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


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

--Brighton Ski Resort is open...

Notes from All Over:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Route Profile: North Face Chair Peak

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

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

Chair Peak Approach Route
Click on map to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

Approaching the north face. 


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


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

 A climber approaching the tree belay.


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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 18, 2019

Fall: From Glory to Grace

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

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

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



Here is a breakdown of the mistakes made:

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 15, 2019

Fixed-Point Belay Techniques

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

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

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

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


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



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


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


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

So why would you use this system?

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

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

 --Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/14/19

Northwest:

--The Cosley-Houston Route on Colfax Peak is in shape. But beware, it's always thinner and harder in the fall than in the spring...

Sierra:

--Gripped is reporting that, "Jennifer Shedden, 34, of Mammoth Lakes, and Michelle Xue, 22, of Los Angeles, were killed in a rockfall accident while climbing the North Couloir on Red Slate Mountain earlier (last week). Friends reported the two women were overdue and Mono County Search and Rescue sent a team along with a helicopter from the the California Highway Patrol. The women were found midway up a steep couloir at 3,700 metres on Monday. 'Based on observations from both teams, their positioning and lack of response they were presumed deceased.'" To read more, click here. Here's a piece from Rock and Ice about this accident.

--It looks like Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold, Kevin Jorgeson and Austin Siadak just completed a new free line El Cap. Check it out.

--Gripped is reporting that, "Belgian climber Seb Berthe has freed The Nose on El Cap after an eight-day push. Climbing with partner Loic Debry." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

A climber rappels down the Panty Wall.

--It appears that there was an accident on the Panty Wall in Red Rock Canyon over the weekend. It's likely that the climber rappelled off the end of his rope. The Panty Wall has been the site of several rappelling accidents over the years, including two separate accidents that involved guides rappelling off the ends of their ropes. To read more, click here.

--The Desert Sun is reporting that, "as attendance soars at Joshua Tree National Park, plans to ease wait times and add visitor centers on the table." To read more, click here.

--Taking pictures near an edge is extremely dangerous. My rule of thumb is that you should never turn your back to the edge unless you're clipped in, if you're less than a body-length from the edge. Check out this close call at the Grand Canyon.



Colorado and Utah:

--Out There Colorado is reporting that, "A climber took a fall in Clear Creek Canyon over the weekend, on November 9, closing down US 6 while technical rescue crews preformed an extraction between US 40 and Colorado 119. While the condition of the fallen climber was not initially known, the climber was reported to be alert and mobile while on the trip to the hospital. The road reopened following the rescue." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Backcountry.com is in trouble. Big Trouble. They tried to sue several companies that used the word "backcountry" in their names, and the outdoor community went nuts... SNEWS probably has the best breakdown of what's happened with the Backcountry.com mess. The most recent update from SNEWS is that, "Circulating a letter of apology was the first step. Now, Backcountry CEO Jonathan Nielsen says he is making personal calls and visits to repair relationships with companies hurt in the online retailer's trademark litigation over use of the word 'backcountry.'" To read more, click here.

--Here is another perspective on the Backcountry.com debacle. This one looks at it from a "business" perspective.

--NPR is reporting that, "The number of people using goats to pack gear, game and food into the backcountry is rising rapidly, and national forests in at least 10 western states have proposed partial pack goat bans to prevent the spread of pathogens that could prove deadly to the west's iconic populations of bighorn sheep." To read more, click here.

--Elevation Outdoors is running a piece on the Roadless Rule, which is under attack. "Public lands management is almost always a contentious subject, but there are values that Americans overwhelmingly agree upon, at least at their broadest level: We care about conservation, and we care, as well, about opportunities to enjoy the places we all own in common. Despite these shared values, there are actually relatively few tools for land managers to protect these values in tandem. One of the most important–and least known–is the Forest Service’s 2001 Roadless Rule." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Film Review: The Way Back

In our culture -- the climbing and outdoor culture that is -- there is an amazing appetite for epic adventure stories.  People love films like Seven Years in Tibet, Alive, Lawrence of Arabia, or even less realistic films like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Three Kings.

What do all of these films have in common?

In each of them there is a an epic adventure that is uniquely connected to the environment. There is often cultural conflict and usually there is extended travel by difficult means.  These types of films tend strike a cord among outdoor adventurers.  They affect us because we intentionally seek out struggle and strife in far off places.

The Way Back is an absolutely stellar adventure movie.  It is exactly the type of film that engages the outdoor adventurist the most.  The story -- inspired by a true story -- deals with an epic journey, minor cultural conflict and significant wilderness travel.


Janusz, a young Polish officer played by Jim Sturgess, is held for interrogation by the Soviet Secret Police.  When he will not admit to working as a foreign spy, they torture his wife into revealing him as such and send him to a POW camp in Siberia.  Conditions in the camp are absolutely atrocious and Janusz isn't sure that he will survive one year, much less the twenty years of his sentence.

Before long, Janusz creates alliances with a number of other prisoners including the hardened criminal Valka (Colin Farrell), Polish artist Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean), a Latvian priest Voss (Gustaf SkarsgĂ„rd), a Pole suffering from night blindness Kazik (Sebastian Urzendowsky), and an accountant from Yugoslavia Zoran (Dragos Bucur). Together the ragtag crew of misfit prisoners escape the prison and lead by Janusz, they begin to travel on foot overland to freedom.  The problem and the central storyline of the movie is that true freedom is nowhere nearby.  The team must travel across Siberia, Mongolia, and Tibet to find freedom in India.  In other words, they must walk 4000 miles through the wilderness including a traverse of both the Gobi Desert and the Himalaya before they can say they truly escaped.

Director Peter Weir hasn't been heavily involved in filmmaking since his 2003 epic, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but he clearly has a love for the adventure genre.  He is also responsible for films like The Mosquito Coast, Witness, and Gallipoli.  Additionally he has been the directoral mind behind dramas such as Dead Poet's Society and the Truman Show.

In The Way Back, one can see a director late in his career with a long filmography as a complete master of his craft. The film is never an edge of your seat thriller, but it is still hard to look away. Weir has created a beautiful adventure that inspires tension from the opening shot to the closing sequence.  This masterful storytelling combined with beautiful natural images keeps the audience thoroughly engaged with the characters throughout every second of the film.

The Way Back is a grand movie on a grand campus about grand people. It is exactly the type of film that you should put on your movies to see list right way...

Following is a trailer for The Way Back:



--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 11, 2019

Tag Lines for Rappels - Reepschnur Hitch

It is not uncommon for climbers to have to carry two ropes for rappel. Unless you're on a team of three, having an extra line can be heavy. As such, many people elect to use a tag line with a "reepschnur hitch."

The following video from Outdoor Research and the AMGA show how to do this technique...



In review, the process is:

1) Tie a blocker knot and clip it to the single rated climbing rope with a locker.
2) Tie the tag line to the backside of the blocker knot.
3) Thread both ropes through your belay device. You're rappelling on the "main line," but by threading both, you can decrease the amount the tag line gets hung up.
4) At the bottom, Dale clipped the line through his carabiner to help him remember to take out the blocker knot at the bottom of the system.

It should be noted that super skinny tag lines can easily become a tangled mess. It is strongly recommended that you practice this on smaller climbs, before employing it on a large wall where a tangle might get you stuck out in the dark...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 8, 2019

Setting Up an Toprope on a Two-Bolt Anchor

This video, produced by the AMGA and Outdoor Research, covers several techniques that one might use to set-up a toprope.

The techniques included are:

  • Two Draws
  • One Draw, One Locker Draw
  • Pre-Equalized Anchor (Mono-Directional Anchor)
  • Quad
  • Mussey Hooks
  • Pre-Threaded No-Impact Anchor
Check it out:



At the end of the video, it notes that people should not lower off of fixed hardware when toproping. And that if they do wish to lower, then they should lower once. While I generally agree with this, there are certainly some areas where the local ethic allows for toproping off fixed gear. That said, it's important to know if something like that is acceptable before committing to it...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Route Profile: Johnny Vegas, 5.7, II+

Johnny Vegas is an extremely popular, extremely cool little route that can be found on the lower tier of the Solar Slab Wall in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This phenomenal 5.6 or 5.7 route (depending on who you talk to) climbs up through three enjoyable pitches, all of which are in a spectacular position.

A father and daughter team low on Johnny Vegas.
Photo by Jason Martin

This is a slightly older route. It was put up in 1994, but didn't make it into a guidebook until 2000. The result is that this super classic line was overlooked for six full years.

In 1999, I was climbing Beulah's Book, a classic 5.9 found just to the left, when I saw a rock jock leading a 5.10 variation to Johnny Vegas. I looked down to see an older man with a very small frame encouraging his much younger partner on. The belayer was none-other than the iconic Red Rock climber, George Uriosite.

A happy climber on the second pitch.
Photo by Jason Martin

George and his ex-wife Joanne were Red Rock pioneers. They were responsible for dozens and dozens of classic lines throughout the park. It was very cool to meet such an important person in the history of Red Rock. And everytime I've run into him since has been just as great.

It was also cool to see those guys on a route that I knew nothing about. So I thought it was important as a Vegas local to get on that thing as soon as possible. The very next day my partner and I returned to the Solar Slab area to make an ascent of Johnny Vegas. And we were incredibly happy that we did.

A climber nearing the top of the route.
Photo by Jason Martin

Since that first time on the route, I've climbed the line dozens and dozens of times. There are a few little things that people should know before sending Johnny Vegas:


  1. Purists will say that the route is four pitches, not three. Indeed, super purists might even call it five pitches. It is three real pitches. Sometimes people make a tiny pitch to attain the base of the route. And there is a long stretch of 5.0 climbing at the top of the route.
  2. Some guidebooks say to rappel this route. It is a rope eating nightmare. It is far better to rappel the nearby Solar Slab Gully.
  3. There are two starts to the bottom of the route. If a party is going very slow on the right hand start, some may elect to pass them on the left.
  4. The bottom of the route goes into the shade in the winter from approximately 10am to noon. When it's cold in the shade, this can make the route very very chilly.


This has become a super popular route. Make sure to get up early!

--Jason D. Martin

Technique: Frogging

Niel Gresham's Masterclass Youtube site is pretty darn good. He has a lot of quick snippets on there about technique that can help nearly anyone improve on the rock. In this particular segment, Neil talks about frogging, the technique where you use the inside of both feet in order to save energy...



--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 4, 2019

Route Profile: Kiener's Route

Longs Peak is an incredibly popular peak to climb, and for good reason. Kiener's Route is the easiest option up Longs' east face, weaving together weaknesses to make it as amicable as possible and keeping the grade at 5.4 and 50 degree snow. Having said that, this is an entry level route into intermediate alpine climbing and should not be taken lightly. Disclaimer: This information should not be relied upon and is not a substitute for requisite knowledge, experience, and more detailed information.

Looking at the East Face of Longs Peak. The Purple line marks the Causal Route on the Diamond, Orange Line: Lamb's Slide, Red Line: Broadway Traverse, Blue Line: Upper Kiener's.

Approach
Whether done in one or two days, one will start at the Longs Peak TH and hike past Chasm Lake to the base of Lamb's slide with 4.5 miles of distance and 3,200 feet of elevation gain. Lamb's slide is the most common way to climb Kiener's though there are alternative rock climbing options (atleast in the summer) to accessing the rest of the route. For bivies, it is recommended to stay at the Hilton or Cave bivies.

Approaching the East Face of Longs.

Lamb's Slide
Depending on time of year, Lamb's slide is a snow or ice climb up to 50 degrees. In early to mid-summer (which is many climber's preferred timeframe) it will likely be snow, and later season it'll shift to ice. Some years Lamb's slide can melt-out to the point that the objective hazard of falling rock isn't worth an attempt. Regardless of conditions, this stretch of climbing is approximately 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

Looking up Lamb's Slide, in snowy but firm conditions.


Broadway Ledge
The 1,000 foot traverse of Broadway Ledge is many people's favorite part of this climb, with incredible exposure and unique positions. Difficulties never exceed 4th class but conditions vary greatly from steep snow to ledge walking depending on time of year. If climbers are new to exposure this section can be quite daunting, but with rock/snow protection and a few fixed pitons the protection is relatively reasonable.

A climber on Broadway in early-summer conditions.
Upper Kiener's
The final section of the climb is what is formally considered Kiener's. A few initial pitches of ~5.4/5.5 lead to long stretches of 3rd and 4th class climbing. This ramp flanks the Diamond, but typically one wouldn't flirt with the absolute edge of the wall given it's more difficult nature. the final few hundred feet ease to 2nd/3rd class to the summit.

A climber leads on Upper Kiener's 

Descent: North Face
The preferred method of descent is the North Face (Cables Route) and involves 3rd/4th class downclimbing and ~3 rappels. Once off the rappels its 6 miles approximately back to Longs Peak Trailhead. One could descent the Keyhole but this is both slower and longer. If one is bivying, after the rappels it is recommended to cut over to the Camel Gully to descend back to Chasm Lake to grab the overnight gear before exiting. (if taking the Boulderfields back to the trail, it will involve a considerable amount of backtracking to get to the bivies). 

Looking at the North Face of Longs Peak from the start of the Boulder Fields.

A very *approximate* map of Kiener's. The red line marks the up approach from Chasm and the route. Green line: North Face Descent. Blue line: Camel Gully descent after the N face raps.  







Friday, November 1, 2019

The Alaska Range: A Skier's Destination

The Alaska Range has been the stage for World-Class alpinism for several decades, but what about ski mountaineering? If one were to fly over the entirety of the 600+ miles of the Alaska Range climbing lines would certainly be eyed, but for skiing potential...it is endless. Here is some inspiration for skier's out there looking for another expedition venue.

The Pika Glacier is the classic destination in the Alaska Range for skiers. As with most expeditions, you'll be launching from the village of Talkeetna via bush plane for a ~30 minute flight (which is worth the trip itself) and likely spend the remainder of the day setting up camp. Subsequent days are typically spent assessing conditions/snowpack before skiing anything consequential (and assessment of snowpack should be continuously done throughout the expedition).

Basecamp on the Pika Glacier, AK
Every ski destination has it's own flavor of terrain characteristics, and the Pika is no different. Rather than chasing large lines, much of the Pika area offers options from 500-2,000 vertical feet- especially chutes/couloirs. Depending on the ambitions of a team, getting in a significant amount of vertical will require ascending multiple chutes in a day. Some would argue this area is a "quality over quantity" venue. While all ski destinations are pretty...the Pika glacier is particularly scenic. The weather in the Alaska Range can indeed be pretty unpleasant but when the snow conditions and the weather aligns...it's as good as it gets!

Skinning on the north side of the Trolls, AK
skinning back to basecamp with the Crown Jewel's chutes visible. Ski tracks off the Munchkin are also visible on the right side of the frame.
Skiing a chute in the AK Range on a mostly clear day, AK