Tuesday, December 24, 2019

First Light - A Holiday Climbing Film

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

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

Check it out below:

Have a Great Holiday!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 19, 2019

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

Climate Crisis:

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


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

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


El Capitan
Photo by Krista Eytchison

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

Colorado and Utah:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes from All Over:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Failed Ski Lift Rescue

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

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

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

Anyway, here are some thoughts:

1) Use an Anchor or get beneath the Victim!

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Counterbalance Situation

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

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

Rescue Strategy

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 12, 2019

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

Climate Crisis:

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


--North Cascades Highway is officially closed.

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

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


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

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

Desert Southwest:

Mt. Wilson in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

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

Colorado and Utah:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes from All Over:

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

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

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

--State outdoor recreation offices are popping up everywhere!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

North Cascades Highway Closing for the Winter!

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

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

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

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

Road closure points 

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

Winter recreation on SR 20

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

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

Spring reopening

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

Monday, December 9, 2019

Moderate Snow Climbs in the Alaska Range: Ruth Gorge

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

Basecamp in the Ruth Gorge, AK

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

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

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

A climber on the Direct West Ridge, Mt. Dickey

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

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

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


Friday, December 6, 2019

Ski and Snowboard Stoke: We Heard You Need Gloves

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

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, December 5, 2019

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


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

Colorado and Utah:

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

Notes from All Over:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Black Art of Headpointing

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin