Friday, December 13, 2019

Rock Rescue: The Munter Mule

In the following clip, a climber demonstrates two things. First, he shows us how to tie a munter hitch on a carabiner clipped to a harness. And second, he shows us how to mule off a munter hitch that is clipped to a locker on a pre-equalized anchor.

The munter-mule is one of the most useful combination's that one can employ in any rock rescue scenario. It provides the basis for load transfers and for a number of other rescue techniques.

In the video, the climber refers to the mule knot as a slip knot...which it is, but the official name for what he is doing is the "mule."

It is important to watch how the climber releases the mule. He never takes his hand off the break strand. I believe that the most common mistake that people make in this particular setting is that they completely let go of the break strand as they jump their break hand up the strand and closer to the hitch. When you practice, be aware of this and be careful to avoid letting go of the break strand.

--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 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.

Cheap Gifts for Climbers

My sister-in-law recently asked me what I wanted for Christmas. As usual, I had no idea what I wanted. So I poked around the internet to look for articles on gifts for climbers. The problem is that a lot of the lists included expensive outerwear or equipment. It also required the buyer to understand something about climbing. That said, there was one list I liked. I thought the Mojo Gear list was pretty good. But other than that...

So here are some things that climbers might like that mostly won't break the bank.

Battery Packs ($20-$50) and/or Solar Panels ($90+)

One of the biggest problems with being in the backcountry is the ability to recharge your devices. You should never plug a device directly into a solar panel. This will drain the device unless you have perfect light. Instead, you should consider charging a battery pack (sometimes called  a battery bank). Then charge your device from this.

A battery pack alone might be enough to get you through a day or two. A solar panel might not even be necessary.

Goal Zero has several battery pack and solar panel options available. Check them out, here.

Chalk Bags ($10-$30) and Chalk ($2-$15)

Last year my mother bought me a chalk bag and chalk. She doesn't really understand what I do or why. And my chalk bag was absolutely falling apart. This was one of the best gifts ever. I was super psyched that my mother was supporting my climbing and it was also something that I really needed that I didn't want to buy for myself.

Chalk bags come in all types. You can get cool kitschy bags, and you can get plain jane bags. If you poke around on the net, you will find every kind you can imagine.

Skin Salve ($6-$20)

Skin Salve is one of those things that a lot of climbers don't buy, but they need. It's especially useful when people go on climbing trips where there is an intensive amount of climbing over a short period of time.

The are lots of salves available. These include brands like Giddy,  Joshua Tree Healing Salve, Burt's Bees and Metolius.

Kitschy Climbing Shirts ($15-$30)

There are a lot of funny climbing shirts out there. Cafe Press usually has a handful that are fun. Look Human has some good ones. And of course, there's always Etsy.

Harness Knife ($20-$40)

Multi-pitch climbers generally carry a knife to cut cord and webbing for rappels, but there are only a few out there that are climber specific. The Petzl Spatha is a great knife with a carabiner hole. The Trango Shark Nut tool is both a nut tool and a knife. And the Trango Piranha Climbing Knife is a nice compact knife for a climber.

Hot and Cold Water Bottle/Thermos ($15-$50)

A wide-mouth water bottle that also acts as a hot and cold thermos is an awesome gift. Hydroflask provides the most popular model right now, but there are a lot of others out there.

Subscription to a Climbing Magazine ($30-$60)

There are four major magazines that climbers read in North America. They are Alpinist, Climbing, Rock and Ice and Gripped. Alpinist is probably the best magazine for the alpine climber. Climbing and Rock and Ice are very similar to one another and cover everything from bouldering to big wall climbing. And Gripped is a Canadian oriented magazine.

Membership to Access Fund or American Alpine Club ($35-$75)

The Access Fund is an organization that lobbies for climbers. Their primary mission is to keep public lands open for climbing. This is an excellent organization to support.

The American Alpine Club lobbies for climbers, but also supports them in other ways. They provide two yearly publications: The American Alpine Journal and Accidents in North American Mountaineering. They also provide rescue insurance, lodging discounts in certain climbing areas, and grants for climbers.

Gift Card for the American Alpine Institute ($100-Whatever)

If you're reading this blog, you probably already know that the American Alpine Institute is a climbing school and guide service that operates in six states and sixteen countries. The organization's mission is to provide world class mountain education, exceptional guided experiences and to inspire natural preservation. We have programs for all levels of climber's and skiers, from rank beginners to extremely advanced... We know that this doesn't exactly count as a "cheap gift for a climber," but it is -- without a doubt -- the best gift on this list... Check us out!

--Jason D. Martin

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. 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

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Best Mountain Rescue Film Ever Made

So, this is awesome. Enjoy...!

--Jason D. Martin