Friday, June 26, 2020

Tips for Minimizing Rockfall in Loose Terrain

In the following video, AMGA Instructor Team member Emilie Drinkwater discusses a few techniques that can be used to decrease rockfall in loose terrain.

It's not brain surgery. But a lot of people don't accurately protect the belayer from rockfall. It should be easy though. Just place cams up above the loose rock to keep the rope from knocking stuff down onto the belayer.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/25/20


--A US Air Force Pararescueman was killed when his anchor failed while rappelling near Boise in October. The following article details what lead up to the service member's death. To read about it, click here.


--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "On June 9, Ray Warburton of Bishop, California, died while descending the North Couloir on Mount Humphreys, a prominent peak above the area that he’d summited several times through the years by multiple routes. Ray, 59, may have been struck by rockfall, which was heard by climbers on the nearby East Ridge. Ray leaves his wife, Lesley Allen, and their two children, Augie and Lacy, ages 9 and 8." To read more, click here.

El Capitan
Photo by Krista Eytchison

--The Fresno Bee is reporting that, "The man in charge of concession operations for Yosemite National Park had a short run in his new position after a video surfaced on social media of him teeing off at the edge of a protected meadow, aiming to strike Half Dome with a golf ball. 'That hit the rock,' said Michael Grisar at the end of a short video clip that’s since been removed but was captured by Yosemite employees and circulated widely on Thursday. Grisar was then vice president of operations for the park’s concessionaire, Yosemite Hospitality, a subsidiary of Aramark." To read more, click here.

--The Squaw Valley Ski Resort is considering a name change. The word "squaw" has long been considered derogatory, sexist and racist. Hopefully this happens. To read more, click here.

--The Reno Gazette Journal is reporting that, "a rockslide near the main parking lot of the Mt. Whitney trail closed the Whitney Portal Area and forced officials to evacuate campgrounds, according to a Facebook post from the Inyo County Sheriff's Office." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--St. George News is reporting that, "A rappelling accident in Kane County resulted in a man receiving traumatic injuries Tuesday. A climber in the Fat Man’s Misery slot canyon fell 20 feet after his rappel line snapped, Kane County, Utah, June 23, 2020 | Photo by Shawn King and Mica Steiner Church, courtesy of the Kane County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, St. George News The Kane County Sheriff’s Office received a report Tuesday that a 37-year-old man had fallen 20 feet while rappelling down the final stretch of 'Fat Man’s Misery,' a popular slot canyon just outside of Zion National Park that empties into the East Fork of the Virgin River in Kane County, according to a press release from the Kane County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team." To read more, click here.

--The Know Outdoors is reporting that, "Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits plummeted by 20 percent during a 2019-20 season shortened by the coronavirus crisis, the company announced Wednesday." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Gripped is reporting that, "missing scrambler has been found deceased on Mount Fable near Exshaw in the Bow Valley west of Calgary. Canmore RCMP said they received a call that Trina Ramanaden, 44, was overdue on June 21 at 8:30 p.m. She had been part of a large group when she chose to take a different, more difficult trail on her own." To read more, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "Michael “Mike” Flood, a longtime Southern California climber, remains in critical condition after a fall soloing the route Potholes (5.9) at Stoney Point, where he was a respected regular, on June 14. Climbers on the scene hastened to help, one phoning 911. Flood, 58, was helicoptered out and taken to the Intensive Care Unit at Northridge Hospital. He fell from near the top of the route, approximately 50 feet, according to a Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) report." To read more, click here

--Alaska Public Media is reporting that, "An Army National Guard heavy-lift helicopter has removed the old Fairbanks city bus from the spot near Denali National Park where it once housed Christopher McCandless, the subject of the popular nonfiction book “Into the Wild.” Photos posted to Facebook on Thursday show a twin-bladed Chinook helicopter carrying the bus away from the remote site it occupied near the Teklanika River, where it attracted numerous tourists who had to be rescued after the book’s publication." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund is reporting that, "the Texas Climbers Coalition (TCC) and Access Fund are pleased to announce the official opening of Medicine Wall in San Antonio to rock climbing. After nearly 20 years without legal access, TCC now owns Medicine Wall, and Access Fund holds a conservation and recreation easement to permanently protect the property for rock climbing. Medicine Wall is free and open to the public for climbing and other low-impact activities." To read more, click here.

--From the AAC: "The American Alpine Club (AAC) Board of Directors announced today that it has named Mitsu Iwasaki as the organization’s next Chief Executive Officer, effective August 3. Iwasaki is currently the Executive Director of the Mazamas in Portland, Oregon." To read more, click here.

--Climbing is reporting that, "in the wake of the recent racial justice discussions across the United States, local route developers have come together to rename several controversial routes within the sport climbing epicenter of Ten Sleep Canyon, Wyoming. Ten Sleep is no stranger to controversy. Over the years, the limestone wonderland has become a hot spot for discussions about route manufacturing and, more recently, about the process of naming—and renaming—routes." To read more, click here.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Film Review - The Ritual

Netflix is known for some quality television programming. Many shows the network has produced have been good, and in some cases they've been great. Think Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Stranger Things, Bloodline, Mindhunter, Black Mirror and on and on and on. Simultaneously, Netflix is also known for some real film flops. Think The Cloverfield Paradox, Bright, The Do-Over, The Ridiculous Six, and on and on and on.

Essentially, the network's original contents trends toward quality television, and away from quality film. Certainly there are exceptions to this rule. And indeed, the Netflix original film, The Ritual, is an exception. It's not a great movie. It doesn't stand out. But it's not bad either...

Four men from England journey into the hills of Sweden on what appears to be a popular high trail. When one member of the group becomes injured, the team decides to cut down off the ridgeline and into a thick ancient forest. The idea is that if they make their way through the forest, they will finish the trail faster. The problem is that the forest is haunted by some kind of inhuman monster, as well as by a death cult that worships the beast. The combination of these two things makes their shortcut mildly longer than expected...

I personally can't imagine taking someone who is injured off trail through a forest, even if it looked to be a shorter distance. In real life, once the team realized that going straight through the forest means climbing over and under logs all day, it's likely they would have given up on that strategy.

There are many problematic elements to The Ritual. It's not always a good movie, but it's creepy enough, with just enough of a Blair Witch style feel to it to keep you engaged. For example, Luke -- the film's lead character played by Rafe Spall -- lost a friend to a burglar at a convenience store, while he hid safely behind a rack of chips. Luke is haunted by this. And the monster in the woods torments him with memories of the robbery. Indeed, there are some incredible sequences where Luke is half in the primeval forest with some kind of horrible beast nearby and half under the garish lights of the store, dealing with the loss of a friend by the hand of a different kind of beast. These splits in the character's reality are nightmarish and provide the viewer with a creeping sense of dread.

It's unfortunate that the other characters aren't provided with a similar depth. We know they're also tormented by the monster. But we really don't know what their torments are.

For the outdoor adventurer, there are a handful of "don't-do-this" type lessons in the film. These lessons are exagerated. There is no question about it. If you read this blog, you probably wouldn't do what these guys do at the level they do it at. But you (and I) might do one or more of these things at a more subtle level and that makes it interesting...

The story starts with a major screw-up. A team of amature backpackers don't have any type of communication equipment that works in the backcountry, so after a minor injury, they leave the trail. Some weird stuff happens at night after they're in the woods; you know, stuff like one guy waking up to find that he's naked, covered in blood and worshiping a statue of a straw elk-man hybrid. A bunch of weird things happen to other people too, but instead of retreating back to the trail (which they should have done), or even continuing to follow their compass bearing (which isn't as good as retracing their way back to the trail, but better than what they do), the team decides to follow the least rational member of the party down a faint trail deeper into the forest. In the real world of outdoor adventure, we call this the consistency or commitment heuristic. Sometimes we make a bad mistake and then just go with it until there's an accident. Sometimes when someone seems to know what they're doing -- or in this case someone seems super committed to one action -- the rest of the team follows that person, even when they know it's the wrong thing to do.

In a horror movie, we expect people to die. It's worth remembering, that these heuristic traps can lead to real-life horror too. Committing to a mistake is unlikely to lead you into a haunted forest, but it could lead you into avalanche terrain. And blindly following a leader that is making a bad choice, could also lead you into a situation that requires a rescue...

I wish that filmmakers would put weight into prop backpacks, so that actors could feel what it's like to carry a pack. Instead, many movies that take place in the backcountry seem fake from the start. In this film, one character never buckled his waist belt. Another's pack rode so high that there was significant visible air between his shoulders and the straps. Actors in backcountry films are often supposed to look tired, but using packs full of newspapers or whatever is in there, makes them look goofy.

It's worth noting that the monster -- when we finally see it in this movie -- is pretty cool. Indeed, it might be one of the cooler movie monsters to come out recently. I don't want to describe it in detail. It is actually well worth waiting for, and could be a good reason to watch this film in and of itself.

The Ritual is a strong enough entry into the backcountry horror genre to get a thumbs up. But it's a weak thumbs up. I wouldn't recommend it if it were in the theatre. But it's well worth a watch on Netflix...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Pacific Crest Trail in Three Minutes

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,660-mile trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. It's on many people's bucket lists, including my own. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be able to do this until I retire.

That said, we can all enjoy this short film where I guy took two seconds of video every day and spliced it all together.

Check it out below!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 12, 2020

How Fire can Restore a Forest

It's that time of year again. The time when we see the Western United States go up in flames. It's often a depressing time because many of the massive fires we see every year reshape their environments dramatically. However, fires can have a rejuvenating effect on the forest.

In March 2013, photographer Rich Reid ( joined fireworkers as they conducted a controlled burn at Georgia's Moody Forest Preserve. He left his cameras rolling for nearly two months to capture the stunning regrowth of the longleaf pine habitat. What resulted was a really cool little video which shows forest floor regrowth.

The Nature Conservancy works to prevent the destructive megafires that are so common these days in the west. Learn more about their programs at

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Film Review: Sanctum

Outdoor adventure movies come and go, and unfortunately few of them are really very good. Sanctum fits squarely in the "not-very-good" category.

The film follows a team of cave-divers, climbers and cave explorers on their quest to drop down a deep hole in Papa New Guinea in order to find a cave system that connects to the ocean. While exploring the depths of the cave a cyclone settles on land far above the team. The team's exit is blocked and the water begins to rise. This forces the team to descend deeper into the cave system and to try to find a way out to the ocean.

The plot is fascinating and it could have been an excellent outdoor adventure film. But alas, the writing is quite poor. The characters are weak. And there are some sequences that are just plain bad...

The writing team for this film is made-up of people who haven't done much when it comes to narrative drama. Screenwriter Andrew Wight has a number of underwater documentary films to his credit, but no real narrative film-writing experience. And screenwriter John Garvin has no other screenplays to his name. Director Alister Grierson has a handful of other movie titles under his belt, but they all appear to be second-rate B films.

It is clear that the reason this movie was made was because super-director James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar, The Abyss) was behind the production team. It's well-known that Cameron enjoys working with an underwater environment. He has pioneered a number of underwater and deep-sea filming techniques for both his narrative blockbusters as well as for some of his lesser-known documentary works.

The underwater cave diving sequences in Sanctum are cool. Some of them are really cool. And this element of the film lends credence to the entire -- sometimes painful -- experience of watching the movie. It is clear that the focus of the film was to play with this type of cinemetagrophy instead of telling a story that has some value.

Supposedly the story is based on real life events. It appears that the real-life version of the story wasn't anywhere near dramatic enough for Hollywood. The problem with the real-life story was that, while dramatic, everybody survived and there were no cardboard villains twisting their mustaches.

In 1988 Sanctum screenwriter Andrew Wight was on an expedition that mirrored the one in the film. His team was exploring a deep cave when a cyclone arrived causing a flash-flood which cut-off their exit route. Wight and his companions were forced deeper into the cave system to find their exit.

The core of the story is really interesting, but the characters and the situations some of the characters put themselves in are somewhat ludicrous.

There is a tendency in Hollywood-style outdoor adventure films to paint one character as a gruff, hard, outdoor-type guy. Usually this kind of character has seen it all. And often there's a coldness or a latent level of violence in the character. Think Clint Eastwood in The Eiger Sanction, or Scott Glen in Vertical Limit, or even Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet. The character is so common in these types of movies, that he (and it usually is a he) is almost archetypal.

The problem with the gruff-outdoors-guy-who's-seen-it-all-and-is-an-ass because-of-it character is that he doesn't exist in real life. Yeah, there are a lot of anti-social climbers out there. And yeah, there are a lot of people who are obsessed with their objectives. And indeed, there are a lot of people out there who will push it to the limit and beyond to achieve their goals. But, you know what? Even when they're arrogant, most of these people are still nice. They want to talk about their passion and they want to bring you into it. And most of them don't see death on a daily basis the way these types of characters seem to.

The leader of the caving team, Frank (Richard Roxburgh) is just such a character. At one point in the movie a man is seriously injured and Frank decides that the best way to deal with him is to drown him instead of to try and get him out. This is absolutely crazy. And not only that, but dealing with an injured character that they're trying to keep alive would have been a whole lot more interesting than murdering him.

There is another archetypal outdoor adventure movie character as well. That's the billionaire playboy explorer, who is actually a coward. Ioan Gruffudd plays this character well because there's little to play. It's a boring and simplistic characterization that needs to disappear from adventure films.

This is a women and minorities die first movie. These types of films had their heyday with horror movies in the seventies, eighties and early nineties. I thought that modern filmmakers were done with such a terrible story arc, but I was wrong.

And from a climbing perspective, one woman dies after she gets her hair caught in a belay device and decides that she should try to cut it out...accidentally cutting the rope. She should have taken one of our classes...

Sanctum is not a good movie, but there are some interesting sequences and some moments where you're with the characters as they struggle to survive. But when they start to talk, things fall apart...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Climbing, Coronavirus and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/4/20


--A climber died after sustaining a 40-foot fall at the Little Si climbing area in North Bend last week. The 22-year old climber was at the British Aisles crag when the accident happened. It is not clear what lead to the accident. To read more, click here.

--This jogger spent hours in a tree in British Columbia after being chased and charged by a black bear.

--A climber got his knee stuck on the approach pitches to St. Vitus Dance in Squamish late last week. SAR assisted him. There have been no updates.

Desert Southwest:

--Taos News is reporting that, "A recovery team trekked into the West Basin of Taos Ski Valley on Wednesday (May 27) and recovered a set of human remains believed to be those of John McCoy, a 72-year-old skier who disappeared while skiing alone on Jan. 2." Top read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--It appears that the BLM is considering the closure of a large swath of desert near Moab to climbing. Here's a link to a mountainproject article about it. And here's a link to the BLM scoping of this proposal.

Notes from All Over:

--It's possible that the height of Mt. Everest will change. From Outside: "A group of eight researchers from China finally summited Mount Everest on Wednesday, May 27. One of only two climbing teams on the mountain this year, they were there for a very specific purpose—to take the most accurate measurement to date of the world’s tallest point." To read more, click here.

--The Outdoor Industry is responding the the violence against people of color in many different ways. Here is a round-up of what industry leaders are doing.

--Here is a breakdown of which national parks are now open for climbing.

--The headline from the article in Gripped says it all: "Canada’s First Reopened Climbing Gym: Closed
Toronto's The Rock Oasis closes a week after reopening. The Ontario Climbing Federation releases a statement the same day as the closure." To read the piece, click here.

--So in some good news, the coronavirus doesn't really like altitude.