Friday, February 28, 2020

Temporary Raptor Closures at Lumpy Ridge

AAI just received the following email from Rocky Mountain National Park:

Each year to protect raptor nesting sites, Rocky Mountain National Park officials initiate temporary closures in the Lumpy Ridge area of the park.  To ensure that these birds of prey can nest undisturbed, specific areas within the park are closed temporarily to public use during nesting season and monitored by wildlife managers.  All closures began on March 1 and will continue through July 31, if appropriate.  These closures may be extended longer or rescinded at an earlier date depending on nesting activity.  

Closures include Checkerboard Rock, Lightning Rock, Batman Rock, Batman Pinnacle, Sundance, Thunder Buttress, The Parish, and Twin Owls, Rock One.  These closures include the named formations.

Closures include all climbing routes, outcroppings, cliffs, faces, ascent and descent routes and climber access trails to the named rock formations.  Check the park’s website at for updated information on raptor closures.

The National Park Service is committed to preserving birds of prey.  The same cliffs that are critical for raptors also appeal to climbers.  The cooperation of climbing organizations and individuals continues to be essential to the successful nesting of raptors in the park.

For further information on Rocky Mountain National Park, please visit or call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206.

Leading with Beginners

The proceeding information is a mildly edited excerpt from Rock Climbing: The AMGA Single Pitch Manual, by Bob Gaines and Jason D. Martin.

It is not uncommon for an individual to take a friend climbing who has a limited climbing background. Many crags require one to lead in order to set-up the rope. This creates a potentially dangerous situation for the experienced person, since the newbie may not have the appropriate experience to belay a leader.

Lead Belay Training

If you take a beginner to a venue that requires a lead in order to access the anchors, it is important to teach the beginner how to lead belay in the lesson. Once the PBUS technique has been taught and the student demonstrates proficiency, then you may move into a lesson on lead belaying.

The orientation of the beginner’s hands while belaying a leader should reflect the posture taken in the break position of the PBUS. The student will pay out rope with a guide hand above the device, while the brake-hand remains in the same position below the device. If the beginner needs to bring rope back in, they simply revert back to the PBUS toproping technique.

To practice the lead belay, it is best to place a piece ten feet or so up, then run the rope through it. You can practice paying out rope and "taking falls" prior to actually getting onto the sharp end of the rope.

Lead Belay with an Assisted Breaking Device

There are guides who prefer to have students belay them with an assisted braking device. The advantage to these devices is that they reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic failure of the system. The problem with them is they are far from foolproof and require specialized instruction and technique.

There are a number of devices on the market and they all have their own idiosyncrasies. It’s important to read all associated instructions before using a new device, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, heed the manufacturer’s warnings, and practice with it prior to using in an institutional setting.

The Petzl GriGri is one of the more common devices on the market. As a result, lead belay technique with this device is demonstrated in the following video. This video shows both the "old style" of lead belaying, as well as the "new style."

Belaying a Leader with a GriGri - The "New Style"

The primary belaying position for the GriGri is the PBUS position, with a guide hand above the device on the rope and a brake-hand below. As a leader moves up the rock, the belayer slowly feeds rope through the device, gently pulling with the guide hand, while pushing rope through with the brake-hand. If the rope is fed at an appropriate speed, the cam in the GriGri will not engage.

In this principal belay position, the belayer’s brake-hand never leaves the rope. If there is a need to bring in slack, the belayer reverts to the PBUS technique.

AAI Guide Richard Riquelme belaying a leader using the principal belay position for a Grigri.

Because the cam automatically engages with a sudden acceleration of the rope, it can be difficult to pay out slack quickly. The simplest solution to this problem is to never allow the rope to suddenly accelerate. This may accomplished by the leader placing gear at chest level or lower and extending the protection with runners. Doing so allows the leader to clip into the protection without having to give a quick tug on the rope.

If the goal is to teach a student the finer points of lead belaying, then there are two ways to give slack to a climber who needs it quickly. The first and easiest way is to simply step in toward the wall. This will immediately put slack into the system and works well. However, this technique is not recommended for novice belayers.

The second way is to shift the brake-hand, sliding it up the rope to the device, bracing the index finger against the lip of the moving sideplate. Press the thumb of the brake-hand down on the cam where the handle is attached while continuing to hold the brake-strand of the rope. Pull slack with the guide-hand. Once finished, immediately return to the principal belay position.

The proper way to give slack quickly with a Petzl Grigri.

Petzl recommends that you:

1) Always keep the brake-strand in the brake hand. There is never a valid reason to let go of the brake-strand.

2) Never grip the device with the entire hand.

3) Anticipate the climber’s movement, including when additional rope is needed to make the clip.

In a toprope setting, a rope is generally set-up early in the day and may be used to practice belaying. In a lead setting, practicing this skill requires some creativity. One method is to clip the first bolt of a sport route, or to place a piece of gear about ten-feet up. Clip the rope and then have the student practice belaying a leader on this short mock set-up.

Student Belay Backups, Ground Anchors and Knots

In addition to using an assisted breaking device and placing a lot of protection, here are three other ways to increase instructor security during a lead. First, use a ground anchor. Second, employ a backup belayer. And third, tie knots in the rope behind the belayer and the backup belayer.

A ground anchor keeps the belayer under control. The belayer is fixed to a given spot. If the belayer is anchored, the opportunity to trip, fall over, and pull the instructor off is greatly reduced. They will remain in the designated stance.

With two or more beginners, a backup belayer will increase security. It is far less likely that both students will drop the leader. To add even greater security, put a friction hitch on the rope behind the belayer and attach to the backup belayer’s belay loop. Rather than being dependent on a hand belay, the backup belayer manages the rope with the assistance of a third hand.

Some instructors tie knots in the rope behind the belayer and the back-up belayer. As the instructor leads and the knots approach the belay team, either the backup belayer or, ideally, a third student unties them. Even if there are a series of mistakes, the leader will still have a reasonable margin of error.

No matter what steps are taken to increase your security, it remains important to regularly look down and check on the belayer. Make sure that the belay system is employed appropriately and communicate error corrections as needed.

Descent Options

If walking off or down climbing is not possible, the other descent options from the top of a route are either to rappel or lower.

The most secure method is to rappel. When being lowered the instructor is completely reliant on the belay system and at the greatest exposure to risk of system failure. If there are any doubts about the security of the system (i.e. the belayer,) rappel.

Jim Belanger lowers clipped to a friction hitch on the belay strand of the rope.

However, if your goal is to teach the beginner how to operate as an independent climber, then the he will have to learn how to lower. When faced with that situation a technique that can be used to help mitigate the risk is for you to back yourself up by placing a friction-hitch on the belay strand of the rope, clipping the friction hitch to a sling that is then clipped into the instructor’s belay loop with a locking carabiner. While being lowered, you manage the friction hitch, releasing it if the belayer loses control of the brake strand.

Leading is fun, but getting dropped isn't. Put in as much time as you need in belay training before getting onto the sharp end with a new leader...

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 2/27/2020

Climate Crisis:

--Adam Cramer at the Outdoor Alliance writes, "Recently, a handful of lawmakers led by Senator Udall (D-NM) and Senator Bennet (D-CO) introduced a resolution that the U.S. should establish a national goal of conserving at least 30% of the land and oceans of the United States by 2030. I like this. It's an ambitious yet achievable goal that will help protect the climate. Today, the resolution was introduced in the House by Rep. Haaland (D-NM). " To read more, click here.


--KGW8 and many others are reporting on a fatality on Mt. Hood: "A Portland Mountain Rescue climber called the sheriff's office at 12:12 p.m. Tuesday after finding a climber at Illumination Saddle, at 9,400 feet elevation on Mount Hood. The person who fell was wearing ski boots, according to the PMR climber." To read more, click here.

A climber on Diedre (5.8, II+)

--The approach trail at the lower Apron in Squamish is currently closed. Specifically, the "V-Groove" trail that is used to access Snake and Diedre. There is a bear denning in the area. Flagging tape has been placed over the trail. According to the Squamish Rock Climbing forum, "you can still approach via the old trail. It goes straight up from the farthest south (right hand) switchback on the regular trail. This will reconnect with the regular trail just before the last steep scramble to the base of Diedre."

--So, there's a WI 13 in British Columbia now...

--Oregon Live is reporting that there has been a reversal in the decision to dissolve Portland Mountain Rescue. "Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts on Wednesday abruptly reversed course and announced that he would allow Portland Mountain Rescue to continue to respond to search-and-rescue missions on Mount Hood after all. Roberts announced his change of heart after meeting with representatives of the elite rescue unit for two hours Wednesday morning." To read more, click here.

--A new bus company is offering tickets from Seattle to Snoqualmie Pass for $5. Check it out.

--KTVB is reporting that, "A doe pronghorn plunged to her death Tuesday afternoon after running full speed off a cliff near Boise, narrowly missing a group of rock climbers staging below, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said." To read more, click here.


--Dave McCoy, the founder of Mammoth Mountain, died two weeks ago at the age of 104. Dave was a famous and relentless advocate for one of the best ski resorts in California. The video below is a thank-you from the Mammoth community:

Desert Southwest:

--Joshua Tree's Whispering Wall area is closed due to nesting owls.

--The National Parks Traveler is reporting that, "in a move that could be compared to swimming against the tide, an advocacy group in New Mexico is urging the state's U.S. senators not to push for rebranding of Bandelier National Monument as a 'national park.' There have been a number of rebranding moves across the National Park System in recent years, turning Pinnacles National Monument, White Sands National Monument, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore into 'national parks.' A similar effort has been voiced for New River Gorge National River. But the board of directors of Caldera Action, a nonprofit organization focused on protection, access, and education on National Park Service lands in the Jemez Mountains and associated public lands, this week voted unanimously to oppose a bill introduced in the Senate that would change Bandelier's designation." To read more, click here.

AAI is sponsoring a Rock Warrior's Way Clinic in Red Rock for Combat Veterans
(Click to Enlarge for Details)

--The National Parks Traveler is reporting that, "Graffiti clowns have been frequent visitors this year to Joshua Tree National Park, where they wielded cans of spray paint and other tools to vandalize areas of the park. There have been a number of cases since January where graffiti has turned up in places such as Rattlesnake Canyon, the Skull Rock Nature Trail, and along Geo Tour Road." To read more, click here.

--The funding for a trail that would link Summerlin to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area visitor center has been approved.

--The Scenic Drive hours at Red Rock Canyon will shift on March 1st. The Drive will be open from 6am to 7pm.

Colorado and Utah:

--Two snowmobilers were partially caught in an avalanche in Colorado earlier in the month. The incident was caught on video. Everybody survived, but the video is certainly scary. To see it, click here.

--The Denver Post has an update on last week's ski lift suffocation report. "The New Jersey skier who suffocated to death after his coat became caught on a ski lift at Vail Mountain earlier this month may not have fallen through an opening in a chairlift seat as originally thought, Eagle County authorities said Monday. At least one witness told authorities that the chairlift’s folding seat was raised when Jason Varnish, 46, and another man loaded the lift in the resort’s Blue Sky Basin area on Feb. 13 — creating a gap where the seat should have been — but investigators aren’t sure whether Varnish fell, jumped or was pushed off the chairlift, Eagle County communications manager Justin Patrick said Tuesday." To read more, click here.

--A Denver man has been sentenced to two months in prison for spraying graffiti tags on tables, rocks and trees on the Hanging Lake Trail in the Rocky Mountains. To read more, click here.

--Summit Daily is reporting that, "Arapahoe Basin Ski Area Chief Operating Officer Al Henceroth wrote in his blog Friday morning that A-Basin plans to replace the popular Pallavicini chairlift at the end of the season. 'Pallavicini is an incredible chairlift,' Henceroth wrote. 'It is my favorite chairlift, anywhere. The new lift will be just as good and the spirit and culture and vibe of Pali will be as strong as ever.' To read more, click here.

--BusinessDen is reporting that, "Loveland Ski Area has a new twist coming for skiers who want fresh turns and no chairlifts. The ski area at the eastern end of the Eisenhower Tunnel, which currently ferries skiers along the Continental Divide in its “Ridge Cat,” has received preliminary permission from the U.S. Forest Service to offer guided snowcat skiing and snowboarding in Dry Gulch, which includes terrain outside Loveland’s boundaries." To read more, click here.

--The Outdoor Alliance has some much needed good news in Moab. "On February 21, BLM announced, citing recreation conflicts and public concerns, that the two most egregious parcels would be removed from an upcoming oil and gas lease sale. The parcels, identified as numbers 11 and 12 and shown in the map below, would have allowed for horizontal drilling into areas adjacent to the Slickrock trail and camping zones in the Sand Flats Special Recreation Management Area." To read more, click here.

--There are raptor closures in Arches and Canyonlands. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--WDIO is reporting that, "a skier who died at Lutsen Mountains Ski Resort Wednesday afternoon has been identified as 70-year old David Michael Skog of St. Paul." This resort is located in Minnesota. To read more, click here.

--Alaska's KUCB is reporting that, "An Unalaska man was killed in an avalanche Tuesday evening while he was snowmachining in the Unalaska Valley. Trey Henning, 21, was buried in the avalanche and later recovered from the site near the quarry on Overland Drive. In a statement, the Department of Public Safety said life-saving measures were unsuccessful." To read more, click here.

--This Supreme Court case being reported by NPR is more complex than it looks at first. "The Appalachian Trail – the 2,200-mile hiking stretch that goes from Georgia to Maine — is at the center of a legal battle that has risen to the Supreme Court. The case involves a proposed pipeline that would connect natural gas fracked in West Virginia to population centers in Virginia and North Carolina. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cross the Appalachian Trail within the George Washington National Forest in Virginia, and some environmental groups are challenging the legality of the permit the U.S. Forest Service issued allowing that to happen." To read more, click here.

--The New Yorker has published an article on Survivor's Guilt in the Mountains. “'Athletes have a particular calling we need to address,' said Tim Tate, a psychotherapist in Montana. 'It’s a calling they cannot refuse. They have it on a loudspeaker in their brains. They can’t help but do what they do.'" To read the article, click here.

--It is possible that the Covid 19 -- the "corona virus" -- will shut down the Tokyo Olympics, the first Olympic games to include cimbing. To read more, click here.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Skiing and Snowboarding Stereotypes

There are a lot of skiing and snowboarding stereotypes, really more than I actually realized. The following comic video hits on all of them.

Enjoy the ride!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 2/20/20


Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge

--Oregon Live is reporting on an extreme move made recently by the Clackamas County Sheriff. "For decades, people flocking to Mount Hood could rest easy knowing a crew from one of the country’s most elite mountain rescue units would scramble to respond if adventure turned to disaster as it sometimes does on Oregon’s iconic peak. But in a stunning shift, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts plans to end his agency’s use of outside search-and-rescue groups like Portland Mountain Rescue and replace them with one of his own." To read more, click here.

--A new multi-pitch mixed line has just gone up in Squamish. To read more, click here.

--National Parks Traveler is reporting that, "There will be no quick return to Mount Rainier National Park in Washington through the Nisqually Entrance, which has been blocked by a landslide since last weekend. Washington Department of Transportation officials say it could be mid-March before two-way traffic is allowed on State Route 706 that leads to the entrance." To read more, click here.

--Somebody stole a National Forest Service sign worth nearly $2000 from a trailhead near Enumclaw.

--The Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish has reopened. Six months ago, a cable on the gondola was cut by a vandal. To read more, click here.


--Chris Koppl and Vitaliy Musiyenko just made the first winter ascent of “Hairline” (V 5.10d C2+) on Mt. Whitney. To read about this awesome feat, click here.

Yosemite's El Capitan at Sunset

--Scoring pre-reserved campsites in Yosemite is no joke.

Desert Southwest:

--The Las Vegas Review Journal is reporting that, "Outdoor enthusiasts who want a safer outdoor option to travel to and from Red Rock Canyon could have a path to do just that. A $14.7 million, 5.5-mile trail from Sky Vista Drive in Summerlin to the visitor center at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is planned, pending approval Tuesday by the Clark County Commission." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Deseret News is reporting that, "A 33-year-old Washington, D.C., woman fell to her death while rappelling in a slot canyon near Hanksville, according to police. Fiona Heckscher was rappelling in Angel Point Cove Canyon about 9 a.m. Tuesday when she fell, according to a release from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office." To read more, click here.

--CNN is reporting that, "A skier in Colorado died after his coat became wrapped around his head and neck on the chair lift, according to the company that operates the chair lift. The 46-year-old man from New Jersey died in a 'serious incident' on February 13, Vail Mountain said in the statement." To read more, click here.

--The Aspen Daily News is reporting that, "A 36-year-old man was rescued Sunday after sustaining a head injury while skiing near Mount Yeckel, northeast of Aspen, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release Monday." To read more, click here.

--A 78-year-old Nordic skier died on Friday. Details surrounding this fatality have not been released. To read more, click here.

--The Journal is reporting that, "The 70-year-old Dallas man who hit a tree and died Saturday while skiing at Purgatory Resort was identified Sunday as Joel Eastman." To read more, click here.

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "An 83-year-old man died from injuries suffered in a skiing accident Monday at Aspen Snowmass in which officials believe he skied off the deck of a half-pipe." To read more, click here.

--The American Mountaineering Museum in Golden has an exhibit currently that celebrates Charles Crenchaw, the first African American to reach the summit of Denali. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Snews is reporting that, "a little less than a month after outdoor companies with Chinese supply chains got some relief from a preliminary trade deal, they’re now reeling from work stoppages caused by the coronavirus outbreak.  Large outdoor apparel companies VF Corp. and Columbia Sportswear are losing sales at retail stores that have been temporarily closed in China, where travel has been sharply curtailed to help stem the spread of the virus. But they aren’t saying much about the potential effect on their supply chains, which include manufacturing operations in China. Meanwhile, smaller companies told SNEWS their production remains halted even after the conclusion of the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended because of the outbreak." To read more, click here.

--Curious about how many skiers and snowboarders die in a resort each year? Unofficial Networks has the numbers.

--The New York Times is reporting on the rise in grizzly bear deaths in Montana. "The death rate of grizzlies in this region has been rising, attributed not only to trains, but to poaching, cars and the removal of troublesome bears. In 2018, a record number — 51 — were killed in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, millions of acres in and around Glacier Park. And last year, 51 bears were killed. In 2017, just 29 bears were killed or euthanized." To read more, click here.

--The New York Times and many others are reporting that, "The Boy Scouts of America, an iconic presence in the nation’s experience for more than a century, filed for bankruptcy protection early Tuesday, succumbing to financial pressures that included a surge in legal costs over its handling of sexual abuse allegations. Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts have long maintained internal files at their headquarters in Texas detailing decades of allegations involving nearly 8,000 “perpetrators,” according to an expert hired by the organization. Lawyers have said in recent months that former scouts have come forward to identify hundreds of other abusers not included in those files." To read more, click here.

--The Hill is reporting that, "it has been just over three years since President Trump took the oath of office, and the lack of permanent leaders in this administration remains alarming and unprecedented. No administration in recent history has had as many vacancies this far into a term. And it is not just Cabinet-level positions that remain vacant or filled with “acting” roles. For three years, the National Park Service has been without a Senate-confirmed director, an agency whose 20,000 employees oversee 419 of America’s most treasured places — national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails." To read more, click here.

--Unofficial Networks is reporting that, "The French ski resort Luchon-Superbagneres resort in the Pyrennees is facing backlash after using helicopters to transfer snow from the upper mountain to beginner areas near the base Friday and Saturday. Euro News reports in all 55 tons of snow were relocated over 60 trips." To read more, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "The Climbing Grief Fund (CGF) and the American Alpine Club (AAC) are pleased to announce that the Climbing Grief Grant is now open to the community. The Climbing Grief Grant offers financial support for individuals directly impacted by grief, loss and/or trauma related to climbing, ski mountaineering or alpinism." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Winter Backcountry Travel 101: Improvised Snow Shelters

What to do with spare time at 14,000ft camp on Denali?  
Build a 16-person igloo! (Photo Credit: Dylan Cembalski)

So you're getting ready to spend an overnight in the mountains in winter. Even seasoned summer backcountry campers will find significantly more difficult challenges in winter camping; shorter days, a harsher climate, harder-earned water sources, and a deep snowpack as the only available medium on which to camp. With a little know-how and practice however, the latter can become your friend.

Snow is an excellent insulator. Snow inherently has so much air inside of it that it traps up to 95% of heat transfer. Also, because of this very principle, the snow closer to the ground will be warmer than the snow at the surface. This is why snow caves can be so comfortable. I have dug many snow caves, and spent many nights 10 ft deep in a Pacific Northwest snowpack, and while snow caves are super warm, they are time consuming to create. With two people, the fastest I have been able to dig out a proper cave is about 2 hrs. These days, I pretty much always just dig what is known as an improvised snow shelter. The improvised snow shelter doesn't have quite the insulating ability of a proper cave, but can be dug in 30 minutes and, if sealed proper, can retain a lot of heat without the moisture associated with the dripping roof of a slept-in snow cave.

Improvised Snow Shelter

The gear needed for an improvised snow shelter is pretty minimal. The shelter can take many forms to match the terrain and weather constrictions. If you have a lee-side incline with safe snow conditions, this will provide the best coverage with the least amount of digging. All you will really need is an ultra-light tarp equipped with guy-lines and stakes, and a shovel. I find that adding an extra-large emergency blanket to my sleeping setup really makes a difference in staying warm and dry. The idea is simple- measure out the area you have to work with by spreading out the tarp over the spot you've chosen. Mark the boundaries, then dig out the area, going as deep into the snow as you can- at least 6 feet. Flatten out the bottom of your pit. I like to dig out an area in the pit heading into the hillside that will be used for my kitchen. Make sure to poke some good-sized holes through the snow above this area to allow for adequate ventilation.

 After the pit is dug, carve out an entryway in one of the downhill corners. At a minimum, I try to make my entryway two feet deeper than the floor of my pit. This will create a 'cold-sink' (a place for cold air to escape thus allowing more hot air into the enclosure), provide protection from the elements, and a comfortable seat to put boots on. I then make sure to put an angle or curve into the walkway to further block wind from entering the shelter. When this is all complete, I tension out the tarp over the pit. Once it is tight, seal off the pit by putting snow on top of the tarp's edges and corners. Voila! Improvised shelter, complete!

                  Laying the groundwork for an improvised snow       The final product. (A.Stephen)
                      shelter (A. Stephen)

Staying Dry and Warm

The hardest part about camping and sleeping directly on snow is staying dry and warm.  The first step in this process begins when you leave the car.  Throughout the day, including when you begin to dig out your shelter, be cognizant of keeping crucial layers dry.  Any items that are impossible to keep dry such as gloves and socks, you should double up on.  While down jackets and sleeping bags are warm and packable, consider bringing either a jacket or sleeping bag that is synthetically insulated, since these pieces will retain their warmth even if they get wet.  If anything you are wearing starts to get full-on soaked, switch it out or find a way to dry it out immediately.  Drying out clothing in your sleeping bag at night is possible, but keep in mind that anything that is completely soaked is highly unlikely to be dry by morning, and the more wet things you pack around you, the more potential there is to spend the night shivering instead of sleeping.

An emergency blanket will come in handy to line the floor of your shelter so as to provide a bit of reflective heat, as well as a barrier from the snow in case your bag slides off your pad in the night, or if you need to make a quick exit.  If you are religious about staying dry, chances are you will be able to escape being cold, but going to sleep with a nalgene filled with boiling water can go a long ways toward making sure of this.

As with most mountain travel principles, experience is an equal to knowledge.  So go out and practice before you put yourself in a situation where you are fully dependent on your shelter.  I recommend packing extra warm layers your first few times using an improvised snow shelter so you can dial in your sleeping system without worrying about the consequences of any missteps.  As always, the American Alpine Institute is available to teach these skills in a more comprehensive, hands-on manner, helping you gain the knowledge and experience to become a smart and self-reliant backcountry traveler, climber, and skier. 

-Andy Stephen, Instructor and Guide

Monday, February 17, 2020

Rachets for Rescue

As stated in the past, we love Mike Barter's videos. The Canadian guide is currently doing perhaps the best job at creating instructional videos for climbing...and usually they're pretty funny too!

Mike posted a video on ratchets for rescue. One major component of any hauling system in a crevasse or rock rescue scenario is the ratchet. This is essentially the element of the system that allows the rescuer to retain any advantage that he has gained in the rescue.

Mike's video discusses four different types of ratchets:

1) Autoblocking Device:

Examples of autoblocking devices include the Petzel Reverso, the Black Diamond Guide ATC, the Trango GiGi and the B52. Each of these devices allows one to pull rope up through the device, but won't allow the load line to release without a few shenanigans...more on the shenanigans in a different post.

2) Garda Hitch

Also known as the alpine clutch, this quick system is very effective. However, it is extremely important to check that the hitch has been tied properly before using it in a rescue scenario.

3) Self-Minding Prussik

If you have taken a basic course from the American Alpine Institute, you know that we don't usually teach a means to create a self-minding prussik hitch. In the system that we teach, we leave the prussik cord a bit longer so that the rescuer can mind it himself. This is not quite as effective as either having a pulley that is designed to mind the prussik or a tube-style belay device that will operate the same way.

In the video, Mike also quickly demonstrates a way to make this prussik load-releasable by adding a munter-mule into the shelf. A load-releasable system is desirable in all rescue applications.

4) GriGri

The Petzl GriGri and the Trango Cinch are both highly underutilized tools for rescue. In part, it's because they are heavy, so a lot of climbers don't take them on long routes or into the alpine, but they are very effective. They work as both a pulley and a ratchet simultaneously and are -- by their very nature -- load releasable.

This video is a little bit dated now, and there are a lot of other options out there for ratchets. But this is a good start.

It is imperative that anyone going into the mountains has a rudimentary understanding of ratcheting in rescue. If you haven't had the opportunity to take a class, it might be very valuable to watch this video a few times over and to practice each of the skills shown...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, February 14, 2020

Route Profile: Skiing the Shuksan Arm

Mt. Shuksan sits above the Mount Baker Ski area, a jagged jewel of rock and ice frosted in snow. The mountain is one of the most photographed mountains in the world, and for good reason. It is an absolutely stunning mountain.

Mt. Shuksan in the Winter

There are several ski tours that one can do out of the Mount Baker Ski Area. Some of them are quite easy, while others are more advanced. Skiing the Shuksan arm is one of the more aggressive ski days. Why? Because you cover quite a bit of ground. But the ground is absolutely awesome.

Here is a short photo essay from that tour:

 Skiers on the Shuksan Arm

A skier dropping down off the arm above Lake Ann 

The snow was literally like butter the day we were up nthere. 

 Okay, I admit it. I'm the one who screwed up the S turns by going straight.

The lower Curtis Glacier above Lake Ann

The American Alpine Institute runs private ski programs in the Cascades, the Sierra and in the San Juans every day throughout the winter. In the Cascades the ski programs run up to July...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 2/13/20


Ski patrollers and volunteers after the rescue at Mt. Baker Ski Area.

--A skier skiing the Mt. Baker Ski Area sidecountry became caught in an avalanche on Saturday in the Symphony Chutes. The female victim was washed into the Canyon area of the resort, buried and then quickly recovered. The victim survived and reported no injuries.

--Public News Service is reporting that, "The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act would fund repairs sorely needed in the country's national park system. Deferred maintenance costs are nearly $12 billion, according to the National Park Service. Executive Director of Recreation Northwest, Todd Elsworth, says Washington state is fortunate to have three parks, but overdue repairs are a roadblock." To read more, click here.


--A 209-mile-an-hour gust of wind was recorded in the Eastern Sierra on Sunday. To read more, click here. UPDATE: Maybe it wasn't 209-miles-per-hour after all...

Desert Southwest:

--A missing hiker in Red Rock Canyon's Oak Creek Canyon, has been found deceased. To read more, click here.

--Entry fees for Red Rock Canyon will be waived for President's Day on Monday. Expect it to be busy...

Colorado and Utah:

--A skier at Steamboat died in a tree well entrapment incident over the weekend. To read more, click here.

--A skier suffered a heart attack and died at Breckenridge last week. To read more, click here.

--St. George News is reporting that, "Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue personnel responded to their 16th call this year Saturday evening to rescue a climber who had injured himself at the top of the area known as Island in the Sky in Snow Canyon State Park." To read more, click here.

--Deseret News is reporting that, "The U.S. Department of Interior approved final management plans for the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante areas on Thursday, a move critics say will open former monument lands to drilling, mining and other industry activity but one praised by top Utah politicians that it rightly restores multiple use of public lands." To read more, click here.

--The American Alpine Club is looking for a new CEO.

--Little Cottonwood Canyon was locked up tight last week as the avalanche hazard spiked. An avalanche even ripped down next to the lodge at Alta. To see a video about this, click here.

--Images of the lift lines in Vail went viral over the weekend. The lines stretched further than you could imagine. Check it out. Or check out this video, below:

--Vail did offered both explanations and an apology late yesterday.

--Wolves may be reintroduced to Colorado.

Notes from All Over:

--Snews is reporting on a tragedy at the outdoor footwear and apparel company, Timberland. "A 20-year-old security guard, Robert Pavao, was charged with second-degree murder on Monday for the stabbing death of a 46-year-old woman at the headquarters of Timberland, in Stratham, New Hampshire. The incident occurred on Sunday afternoon, with multiple law enforcement agencies, including a local SWAT team, responding to an emergency call around 4 p.m. EST." To read more, click here.

--A skier died after colliding with a tree in South Dakota. To read more, click here.

--Anchroage Daily News is reporting that, "a snowmachiner was buried in an avalanche and died Monday afternoon near Cooper Lake on the Kenai Peninsula, troopers said." To read more, click here.

--A climber was severely injured in an ice climbing fall on Wyoming's Broken Heart Falls. To read more, click here.

--Wyoming's White Pine Ski Resort is for sale.

--Liftblog is reporting that, "New York’s state-owned Olympic Regional Development Authority plans to spend a whopping $147 million to upgrade its facilities during 2020 and 2021.  Those venues include Belleayre, Gore Mountain, the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex and Whiteface, which together saw three new lifts over the last three years.  On Friday, the agency issued a formal request for proposal for three more fixed-grip quad chairlifts to be built over two years." To read more, click here.

--Sophie Turner's first television show following the blockbuster Game of Thrones looks like a mountain and wilderness survival epic. Check out the trailer below:

--Acadia National Park is going to implement a reservation system for driving on the Park's roads. To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "German alpinist Fabi Buhl, 29, recently climbed the Ragni route up the west face of Cerro Torre and then paraglided off the summit. Buhl is the first climber to paraglide from the summit without using a helicopter to reach the top." To read more, click here.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 2/6/20

Climate Crisis:

--At the Outdoor Retailer Show last week, it was announced that the "Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) has announced the Climate Action Corps, an unprecedented, collaborative model for alignment, action and accountability to achieve industry-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions in accordance with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines." To read more, click here.


--An 11-year-old died after striking a tree at an Idaho ski resort last week. To read more, click here.

--KOBI 5 is reporting on an accident in Southern Oregon. "Firefighters rescued a woman Saturday after she injured herself while rock climbing near Emigrant Lake. Elena Bianchi, 35, spoke with NBC5 News and said she was attempting to put in her first bolt when she slipped and fell nearly ten feet. Due to the fall, she ended up breaking her tailbone after landing on a rock. For a moment, she remembered thinking she might not be able to walk." To read more, click here.

--King 5 News is reporting that, "Ancient human remains believed to be between 500 to 1,000 years old were discovered near a popular trail in Clallam County. The bones were first discovered on the Olympic Discovery Trail, just east of Port Angeles, on Jan. 15 and again on Jan. 18." To read more, click here.

I know. We put up a Bigfoot spoof last week. But this is funny.

--Liftblog is reporting that, "'At approximately 9:45 a.m. this morning (Feb 2), Seventh Heaven chairlift stopped operating,” read a statement from the mountain, which is operated by Vail Resorts.  'Ski patrol evacuated 26 guests, with no reported injuries.  The evacuation was safely completed at approximately 12:15 p.m.,' the statement continued.  'Stevens Pass extends its apologies to the guests who were inconvenienced by this event.  The safety of our guests and employees is our top priority.'" To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Outside wonders, "As red-rock meccas like Moab, Zion, and Arches become overrun with visitors, our writer wonders if Utah's celebrated Mighty Five ad campaign worked too well—and who gets to decide when a destination is 'at capacity.'" To read more, click here.

--NPR is reporting that, "the Colorado Department of Transportation has partnered with three ski resorts, including Loveland Ski Area, to run round-trip buses on weekends. Because buses are more efficient than cars at moving large numbers of people on a tight, winding two-lane highway, state officials hope they'll take enough cars off the road to alleviate some congestion." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A series of avalanches in Turkey killed at least 33-people including rescuers on Tuesday. To read more, click here.

--A 41-year-old climber was injured in a climbing fall near New York's Chapel Pond. To read more, click here.

--A hiker near LA got himself into some trouble when he moved into climbing terrain and had to be rescued. To read more, click here.

--Ancient tracks on a volcano near Mt. Vesuvius reveal that hominid cousins to humans made an ascent of an erupting volcano nearly 350,000 years ago. To read more, click here.

--Here is a great round-up of public lands issues to pay attention to in 2020, both the good and the bad...

--The number of people participating in outdoor activity decreased in 2019. Almost half of all Americans did not participate in outdoor activities at all last year. To read more, click here.

--Outdoor industry biases may have something to do with the falling numbers. For example, the outdoor industry has done a really poor job developing clothing for plus-sized people...

--Last year, Colin O'Brady claimed to have made the first solo unsupported crossing of Antarctica. In an era of social media stardom, it's easy to miss the problems with these claims. The truth is far more disappointing. To read about this crossing, click here.

--The International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW) is looking for snow scientists and avalanche educators that would like to present. To read more, click here.

--So this 2015 video just came across my feed. This dude soloed a WI 5 route in Valdez, pulling a sea kayak for some reason. It's not really news, but...I thought some of you might be interested in this:

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

True Vacation Climbing in Mexico: El Potrero Chico

The term "vacation climbing" can have a wide spectrum of meanings from sport climbing on the beach to an arctic first-ascent mission in the alpine. What if "actual" vacation climbing meant less stressful climbing, good food, and a pool sporting hammocks? Here's a profile on El Potrero Chico.

A climber walks into EPC
Spanish for "The little Corral", El Potrero Chico (EPC) is an incredible limestone destination in northern Mexico, near the large city of Monterrey. While trad routes exist, EPC is known predominantly as a sport climbing destination with one of the highest concentration of multi-pitch sport climbs outside of Europe (the Dolomites). The style of climbing can vary depending on the crag, but as a generality much of the climbing is vertical or near-vertical with thin holds and sometimes delicate movement with sharp limestone.

The Spires, EPC
Due to some extremely hot temperatures, the EPC season usually starts sometime in November and goes through February, with December and January being the peak climbing months. Classic routes exist in both the shade or the sun depending on when one can visit, so route choice can truly dial in the most comfy temps.

Getting There
Getting to EPC either involves a lengthy drive (depending on where you're driving from) or a flight to Monterrey, with several taxi services available to drive the 45 minutes to your lodging. Once you get to EPC itself, it is a short walk to the crags (no car needed) from any of the main lodges/camping areas. A taxi transport arrangement can be made beforehand with the motel one is staying at.

There are several different options for lodging depending on budget and what one is looking for. During our most recent trip we stayed at La Posada in a motel room with beautiful views of EPC, cheap but delicious food, and a poolside hangout. The camping at La Posada features an indoor common room with stoves, fridges, and wifi. La Pagoda, El Sendero, and Homero's are other fantastic options.

La Posada with EPC in the background
The Climbing...
At first glance, EPC may look intimidating for a newer sport climber with a 5.10 limit but many of the 5.10 routes here are amicable, well protected, and aren't too sustained. Even those looking for harder climbs might enjoy a day or two warming up on routes like Satori (7 pitches, 5.10) or Off the Couch (7 pitches, 5.10) which are both in the shade. For sunnier introductions, look at Estrellita (12 pitches, 5.10 or 5.11 with variations). Other more moderate multi-pitch routes do exist at the 5.8-5.9 level like Las Chimuelas or Ramsey's Shenanigans. At the 5.10 grade it feels like the multi-pitch offerings are endless and high quality.

A climber follows Pitch Black (6 pitches, 5.10+)
The Harder Climbing...
Stepping it up a notch or two in difficulty, EPC has a healthy selection of long and challenging routes. One of the most famous routes in EPC, Time Wave Zero, has been dubbed one of the longest sport routes in the world (2,300 feet, 5.11 A0 or 5.12-) and is truly unique...where else can one feel like they're "big wall free-climbing" at relatively modest grades on solely bolts. The 5.12- crux is one of the last pitches of the route, and may feel quite stout after climbing a few thousand feet and attempting 5.12 on thin holds in the sun. The classic testpiece of EPC is El Sendero Luminoso (youtube the video of Alex Honnold soloing it!) with 15 pitches and mostly 5.12-5.12+ climbing. Dozens (and dozens...and dozens...) of other routes offer grades from 5.11-5.13 (or harder) on single and multi pitch.

A climber rappels off Time Wave Zero after a successful ascent.
On one final note- those looking for areas to develop sport climbing...there is a great deal of potential here for new routes, some would say far less than half the area has been developed! For any climber, consider EPC for your next vacation, particularly when you are looking for an "actual" climbing vacation!


Monday, February 3, 2020

Route Profile: The Bastille Crack, Eldorado Canyon

The Bastille Crack is one of the most climbed routes in North America, and for good reason. The approach is all of 45 seconds (watch out for your belayer getting hit by a car) and 350 feet of crack climbing awaits. This climb is a favorite in summertime, with it's all day shade (or atleast most of all day) and it's moderate grade of 5.7+ (some argue it is 5.7, others argue it is "5.7++"). Historically, this was first climbed by a couple of soldiers in the 50's utilizing aid tactics. Over time it has become the classic and busy route we know it as today. Disclaimer: Do not rely on this information, it is no replacement for qualified experience and instruction. Climb at your own risk.

The Bastille Formation
Pitch 1
Many unnecessary ground falls happen on this pitch. Start on the climber's right flake and then step across to the main crack system. The step across does not always get protected (it's about ~25 feet into the pitch) though gear placements are available, so: protect the step across! This is the only pitch on the route with a bolted anchor (it is possible to top rope just this pitch). If one is top-roping, clip some pins as a directional and try out the Northcutt Start (5.10d) climber's left of the Bastille Crack. This direct start was arguably one of the first 5.10s in the country, established in 1959.

Pitch 2
A short chimney leads to more crack climbing- the outsides of the crack are relatively well featured with feet and handholds.

Climbers finishing the second pitch of the Bastille

Pitch 3
This pitch seems to catch many Eldorado Canyon initiates by surprise. Given a 5.6 rating- many are surprised by how steep it is- steep enough that missing the right handholds on this pitch could pump out both the leader and follower depending on their onsight grade (as a 5.6-5.7 climber).

Climbers on the third pitch of the Bastille Crack, as seen from Whale's Tail

Pitch 4
Traverse left into a series of rather insecure cracks and holds that don't quite face the right way. Utilize decent body position and mindful footing to get all up to a natural break, if you've made it this far, the final pitch will likely come easily!

Climbers at the 4th pitch belay

Pitch 5
Fun chimneying and stemming provides a little cherry on top for a scenic summit. There is an enticing block to sling as you finish the pitch, using that block is not recommended (it wobbles) and there are ample alternative anchor options.

Head South through a sort of horizontal chimney and continue across the same ledge system all the way to the trail. Guided parties will likely rope up here, while independent climbers usually solo. It is indeed moderate terrain but there are specific sections where an unroped fall would be fatal (or at the very least leave a mark).