Monday, August 31, 2020

Film Review: Arctic

There are a lot of wilderness survival films out there. In most of them, you can't help but yell at the screen when someone is doing something really dumb that no one would ever do. For example, if you're stuck on a ski lift in sub-zero temperatures in Frozen, then you should probably put up your hood and put your hands in your pockets...! If the dude at the local gear shop recommends that you bring a map in Backcountry, then you probably shouldn't scoff at it...! And if your "guide" is under the age of twenty-five and says he's climbed pretty much every mountain in the United States in Devil's Pass, for the love of God, find a qualified guide before you commit to going somewhere where there have been several fatalities...

You simply don't have this kind of feeling in the film Arctic! Instead of yelling at the screen during the film, I was dragged along by a powerful performance from Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal Lecter in NBC's Hannibal, and Galen Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Overgård. The character barely talks and the film is mostly about this individual fighting for his life, mostly alone, somewhere inside the Arctic Circle.


Arctic doesn't start with a dramatic plane crash. Instead, at the start of the film we meet Overgård, a man who is stranded and alone at his downed plane. He's been there for some time. His entire life revolves around a series of daily tasks (fishing, maintaining a giant SOS sign, using a hand crank to run a survival transceiver). He lives a quiet life on a barren arctic landscape, eating raw fish and living in the husk of his downed plane, while he waits for a rescue.

Finally, a rescue helicopter arrives. But in a dramatic windstorm the aircraft crashes, killing the pilot and severely injuring a twenty-something female passenger (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir). The woman is barely conscious throughout the film, and her wound becomes infected.

As the woman begins to deteriorate, Overgård must change everything. He has to act. He can no longer wait passively for a rescue. The only way the woman will survive is if he hauls her across the mountains to a base that appears to be several days away...



Arctic was the directoral debut for the musician Joe Penna. In addition to directing the film, he co-authored the tightly written script with film editor Ryan Morrison. The duo clearly work well together, as every scene of the film is tightly wound, making it mostly impossible for the viewer to step away and armchair quarterback the decisions made by the protagonist.

I say mostly because there is one sequence that might irk those with rescue training. Overgård tries to haul a sled up a slope using a hip belay. The terrain is steep, likely over fifty-degrees, capped by several overhung boulders. Inevitably the character cannot pull the sled up. He has the equipment to rig a system, but doesn't know how to use it...which is realistic too. Your average climber without rope rescue training would find this to be a difficult proposition, much less a person with no mountain skills.

In many ways Overgård's ignorance of mountain skill and his innovation at survival is exactly what makes this film worth watching. This is a movie about a normal guy in a uniquely abnormal circumstance. It's a piece about how this normal guy deals with significant adversity. And it is awesome...!

There are a lot of wilderness survival movies out there. It's a genre within itself. And when we dig deeply into these movies, we find that mostly they're not that good. But if we dig long enough, eventually -- sometimes -- we find a gem. Arctic is definitely one of those rare finds, and should be high on your list of must-see outdoor films...!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, August 28, 2020

Saddlebags for Rappelling

Rappelling is always tricky. It is the most dangerous thing that we do in the mountains and there are a lot of things to worry about. Are the ropes touching the ground? Are you clipped in properly? How many rappels do you have to do? Should you knot the ends of the rope or not? Are there people coming up below? And will the rope hang up when you throw it?

This particular article is about the last two issues. Are there people climbing up from below and will the rope get hung up when it's thrown? If there are people below or the rope looks like its going to get hung up, then the best means of descent might be with saddlebags.
Saddlebags are essentially a means by which you can stack your rope in a sling and clip it to yourself so that it will easily feed out as you rappel down.

A climber sets up his saddlebag on the side of his harness.

In order to create a saddlebag for your rope:
  1. Center your rope on the rappel anchor.
  2. Coil the rope from the ends to the middle.
  3. Clip a single shoulder-length sling to your harness.
  4. Center the rope on the sling.
  5. Clip the other end of the sling to the carabiner already clipped to your harness.
  6. Put an extension on your rappel device.
  7. Add a back-up friction hitch to the double-ropes going through your device. This can be clipped directly to your belay loop if you are using an extension or to your leg-loop if you are rappelling directly off your harness.
  8. Rappel.
  9. If the rope gets tangled, unclip the carabiner that isn't clipped to your harness and allow the rope to fall down the cliff-face.
A climber rappels on an extension with a single saddlebag.

One of the best uses of this technique is to navigate low-angled terrain
where it might be difficult to throw the rope to the ground.

The term "saddlebags" is plural because you might have to manage a great deal of rope in a rappel. If you have to tie two ropes together to do a full-length rappel, then you should place one coil on one side of your body and the other coil on the other side of your body. In such a situation, you will have to rappel on an extension in order to effectively deal with the amount of rope on your body.

I regularly use this technique to deal with climbers below, low-angled terrain or wind. It is an easy and effective way to keep the rope from knocking someone down or becoming a mess...but like everything else, it takes practice to get it to work properly...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 8/27/2020

 Northwest:

--A Eugene-based woman set the Oregon Pacific Crest Trail speed record by completing all 455-miles of the trail in just seven days. To read more, click here.

--And speaking of fast, an ultrarunner ran the 93-mile Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier in under 17-hours. To read about it, click here.

--Global News is reporting on a wildfire in British Columbia: "A large area of land to the east and south of Penticton is now restricted to essential travel until mid-October. The B.C. Wildfire Service issued a restriction order at noon on Friday to protect public safety and avoid interference with fire control." To read more, click here.

Sierra:

--From Squaw Valley: "After extensive research into the etymology and history of the term “squaw,” both generally and specifically with respect to Squaw Valley, outreach to Native American groups, including the local Washoe Tribe, and outreach to the local and extended community, company leadership has decided it is time to drop the derogatory and offensive term “squaw” from the destination’s name. Work to determine a new name will begin immediately and will culminate with an announcement of a new name in early 2021. Implementation of the name change will occur after the winter season concludes in 2021." To read more, click here.

--The Sierra Wave is reporting that, "On three separate days (July 24, August 18, and August 19) the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), U.S. Air Force National Guard Unit, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Department of Justice (DOJ) CAMP Team # 3 and 4 eradicated 42,306 illegal marijuana plants from three locations off public lands within Inyo County. Street value is estimated to be between $84,612,000 and $169,224,000." These backcountry grow operations are sometimes boobytrapped. Climbers and hikers are encouraged to stay away from them. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--3 News Las Vegas is reporting that, "A reward is available to catch the vandals who painted graffiti on a gateway sign at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area last week. Black paint was found on the sandstone gateway sign the morning of Thursday, Aug. 13, said a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management." To read more, click here.



--8 News Now is reporting that, "Advocates for Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area are working to secure funds to pay for projects — and to say 'thank you' at the same time. Save Red Rock’s 'Attitude of Gratitude' campaign allows anyone to send thank-you notes to Nevada’s US senators and representatives, who unanimously supported the Great American Outdoors Act." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:


--The Associated Press is reporting on how some redwoods survived wildfires in a California state park. Check it out, here.

--The Rapid City Journal is reporting that, "a Michigan man admitted to illegally climbing Mount Rushmore after he was found “on top of George Washington’s head,” court records show. Ayman Doppke was fined $1,500 after pleading guilty Thursday at the federal courthouse in Rapid City. Prosecutors dismissed charges of disorderly conduct and violating an area closure." To read more, click here.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Route Profile: NE Buttress, Johannesburg Mountain (V, 5.8, AI 2)

Johannesberg Mountain is massive. It is one big mountain and it literally towers above the popular Cascade Pass trailhead.

The Northeast Buttress is the longest line on the mountain on one of the biggest walls in the range. There is a long history of people suffering epics on this route, and it is not uncommon for people to return one to two days late from an ascent of the mountain.

This reputation has always scared me a bit. I've spent a lot of time looking at the mountain from Boston Basin and I've always thought, I should try that. But then figured it was a dumb idea, that the wall was too big, too bushy and too demanding.

But with the help of the internet, some of my fears dissipated. Steph Abegg has an awesome website devoted to climbing in the Cascades and everywhere else. Her excellent description gave us just enough to commit.

So in July of 2015, we climbed the line. And this is what we found...

Johannesberg Mountain Route Topo
Click to Enlarge

Johannesberg Mountain
Profile by Steph Abegg
Click to Enlarge


The route can be split into several sections:

Chossy Start

Climb up to the base of the slabs on steep snow. Climb up onto the slabs and work your way up to a place where you can cross the waterfalls.

These slabs look benign from below and they aren't really any harder than 5.5, but they are loose and there is very little protection. Knife-blade pitons can provide some extra security.


A typical lead low on the mountain.

Vertical Bushwacking

After the slabs, the goal is essentially to climb up and right toward the ridge. This sounds reasonable at first, but then you realize that to do this, you will have to make your way through a literal wall of brush. Climb up vertical and semi-vertical brush and trend right. You'll be doing a lot of tree climbing on this trip.

If you brought an ice axe or a picket or anything else, be sure to put them inside your pack. The trees will try to take them away. Rest assured, anything and everything on the outside of your pack will get caught on branches.

Steep Heather

Eventually you will break out of the trees on the buttress proper. The character of the route changes here. Now you will be working your way up steep heather slopes on the ridge. If you elect to simul-climb there will be marginal protection every 200-feet or so.

You may wish to use your ice axe and crampons in the heather to increase your security.

AAI Guide Will Gordon on the Buttress in the Heather

Moderate Rock

Eventually the heather begins to fade into rock. You'll reach a sharp ridge followed by a headwall.

Some parties elect to rappel down into the gully climber's right of the ridge. Apparently there is a piton rap station somewhere. From there they climb forty-degree snow. We elected to traverse to the left to a short chimney that was mostly 5.5, with a couple of 5.8 moves right off the deck.

Following the chimney follow moderate rock up to a bivy site at 7,100-feet, at the base of the glacier.

Bivy

For most parties it will take 8-12 hours from the base of the buttress to the bivy site. If summer, there will likely be running water at the site.


AAI Guide Will Gordon at the Bivy
with the Torment-Forbidden Traverse in the background.

Snow Arete

Following the bivy, climb up onto the glacier. Follow the steep snow arete up onto the broader glacier. The arete drops off steeply on both sides. Be prepared to take appropriate precautions here.

The snow arete.


Looking back down at the snow arete from above.

Glacier Travel and Ice Climbing

Continue up the glacier, trending toward the final steep headwall. There are reports online that the final headwall can be quite steep and icy. In July of 2015 we found it to be a single 200-foot ice pitch. Three ice screws were adequate to protect it and we didn't feel the need for a second tool.

Trending toward the ice pitch. The ice pitch can be seen up in the left-hand corner of the picture.

It should be noted that there are many low-angle and flat spots on the glacier that could be carved out for a higher bivy than the one found on the rocks below the glacier. However, due to sun cupping in the summer, you may have to do some work to create a platform.

Summit

Once on top of the ice pitch, there will be two notches in front of you. Climb up to the notch on the right and drop over to the west side. Scramble to a small notch and then up to the summit.

AAI Guide Will Gordon climbing up and through the right-hand notch
near the summit.

You may leave your packs at the snow if you want to move quickly. The summit is only a few minutes away.

It should take between 1 and 3 hours for most parties to get to the summit.

East Ridge Descent

Many of the descriptions on the internet do not give credit to the sketchiness of this descent. They often say things like, you can rappel or descend a loose third and fourth class gully. This is all true, but there is significant traversing along the southwest side (right) side of the ridge before you reach the gully and rappels.

From the summit go back to the snow and climb through the left-hand notch. You will now be on the right-hand side of the ridge. Descend along this side of the ridge, staying below the ridge crest until the final two small ridge summits come into view. There may be a few carins along the ridge to help you along your way. When you see the final two mini-ridge summits, climb back up onto the ridge onto better rock.

At this point you will be looking down a sketchy gully. Note that on the left-hand side of the gully, approximately 200-feet down there will be a little tower. In 2015 there was a carin on this tower next to the first rap anchors.

Scramble down to the rap anchors and make one rope stretcher rap or two shorter rappels to a big block. Make two or three more rappels down until you are in the heather once more. Climb down through heather to another slightly hidden rap station and then make two more rappels down to the CJ Col. This could require up to seven rappels.

Many of the rappels are around large blocks. Be sure to bring lots of cord to backup sketchy anchors. And double check the boulders that are wrapped, some of them are suspect.

In theory, one could descend the loose gully instead of rappelling, but that looks sketchy.

It will take 3-5 hours for most parties to negotiate the ridge descent.

Doug's Direct

There are three ways that you could get back to the Cascade Pass parking lot. The first is to descend the CJ Col, which would be super sketchy. The second is to traverse below the Cascade Peak, the Triplets and Mixup Peak to join the Ptarmigan Traverse Trail and to drop over Cache Col. And the third, and perhaps quickest way is to use Doug's Direct.

To use the Doug's Direct Route, traverse under the south faces of Cascade Peak and the Triplets and then ascend up the North Ridge of Mixup Peak. The crossover is not obvious, and it's not a bad idea to have a waypoint or the awesome picture that Steph Abegg took below.


Doug's Direct
Overlay by Steph Abegg
Click to Enlarge

The other side of Mixup is composed of slightly better 3rd and 4th class rock, that steps down. Drop down on the steps and contour right into steep heather and 3rd class terrain. Be careful here as a fall would be deadly.

Eventually you will find a heather filled gully that will drop you down onto the Cache Glacier.

Personally, I found the steep heather to be a bit much when dehydrated on day two of the climb and would probably opt for the Cache Col option if I were to do the route again.

It will take most parties 4-6 hours to complete the Doug's Direct descent and make their way back to the parking lot.

Note

People go a lot of different ways on this mountain. Amazingly, trip reports vary from people finding literally vertical ice at the top, to people finding a way to avoid roping up for most of the ascent. If these notes don't make sense to you, follow your nose... You'll get there.

Gear

--Small single rack up to a #2 Camelot
--3 ice screws
--1-2 snow pickets
--2-3 knife blade pitons (optional)
--Ice Axe (with a hammer if you have pitons)
--Crampons
--60-meter rope

Times

It took AAI Guide Will Gordon and I, the following to get to each area:

--Base to Bivy - 9 hours, 15 minutes - we took one 15 minute break, but spent a lot of time in the brush. Upon later reflection it's likely that we weren't on the best line. It took Steph Abbeg about 8 hours. It was also 90-degrees on the day we climbed and we ran out of water. This slowed us down a bit.

--Bivy to Summit - 2 hours, 30 minutes - Others report two hours, some report more. We had one ice pitch and a little poking around to find the actual summit. If you have to climb an overhung bergshrund, this could be a lot longer.

--Summit to Base of East Ridge - 5 hours - Another complex area. This would be a lot faster with better beta. Hopefully, I've given that to you above.

--Base of Ridge to Car via Doug's Direct - 6 hours - This was at least two hours longer than it needed to be. We were definitely slow due to dehydration again and it was ninety degrees out again. But we spent some time trying to figure out where Doug's Direct was...

In the summit register it shows a well known sponsored climber's name who has since passed away as being 11-hours, car to summit. Our total time was 11:45 car-to-summit. So this seemed good. However, AAI guide and super-athlete Chad Cochran and AAI Guide Mike Pond, did the route car-to-car in 11-hours...!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, August 21, 2020

Equalizing Three Pieces with Two Slings

In cooperation with Outdoor Research, the American Mountain Guides Association has made several videos for beginning level climbers.

In this video, AMGA Instructor Team Member  and former AAI Guide Angela Hawse demonstrates how to equalize two slings off three pieces.



The technique that she uses in the video is often referred to as an "anchor in-series." The reason for this is because she has essentially just built an anchor on top of an anchor.

It's important to note that one piece in this configuration is receiving half the weight of the system, while the other two are only receiving a quarter each. This may not matter...but then again, it might...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 8/20/20

Northwest:

--It appears that an individual suffered a broken leg after falling from the Catscratch Gullies on Forbidden Peak on Friday. Limited information is currently available, but we do know he was extracted via helicopter.

--On Friday August 7th at 8:13pm a large earthquake dislodged Baron Spire (AKA Old Smoothie), causing a massive landslide in the Sawtooth Mountains. Here's an article about the incident. The following incredible video was taken at Baron Lake:



--Snews is reporting on REI's decision to abandon it's new eight-acre headquarters: "After a pandemic-prompted trial run, the retailer will deconstruct the traditional idea of "headquarters" in favor of remote, flexible work." To read more, click here.

--Speaking of REI, it's being sued for selling an alternative hand sanitizer that doesn't have alcohol in it. The sanitizer appears to be ineffective against COVID-19. To read the story, click here.

--Idaho's Soldier Mountain Ski Resort is for sale, again.

Desert Southwest:


Colorado and Utah:

--A woman at Sugarloaf in Utah was rescued by a football team (Seriously!) after her hair got caught in a mechanical ascender. It sounds like she was stuck like that for at least 45-minutes before the Dixie State University Football Team came to her rescue. Here's a video of the rescue on August 7th:


--The Access Fund is reporting that, "After sustained advocacy from the climbing community over the last several weeks, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced today that it has canceled its plans to auction more than 85,000 acres of recreation-rich land around Moab, Utah for oil and gas leasing." To read more, click here.

--Here's a great guide from Outside on adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Notes from All Over:

--Liquid chalk kills coronavirus. Climbing is reporting that, "a team at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus tested 80-percent ethanol liquid chalk on SARS-CoV-2 and found that it cleared 100-percent of the virus within five minutes." To read more, click here.

--And you know what doesn't kill coronavirus, a buff-style mask. It appears that these masks are worse than no mask at all. To read more, click here.

--August 4th is now going to be an NPS fee free day, forever!

--The Hill is reporting that, "Michigan officials on Thursday said that a bald eagle attacked a government drone, sending the aircraft to the bottom of a lake. The incident occurred on July 21 when the eagle took down the Phantom 4 Pro Advanced quadcopter drone at around 162 feet, "tearing off a propeller and sending the aircraft to the bottom of Lake Michigan," the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy told NBC." To read more, click here.

--From NPR: "Amid pressure from Democrats and some Republicans, the Trump administration is planning to withdraw its controversial nominee to head the federal Bureau of Land Management. The sprawling public lands agency, which manages roughly a tenth of the landmass of the United States, has not had a permanent, Senate-confirmed director for the entire Trump era." To read more, click here.

--From Anchorage Daily News: "The Trump administration on Monday took another step to opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for oil and gas, potentially fulfilling a decades-long dream for Republicans. Environmentalists, however, promised to fight opening up the coast plain of the refuge, a 1.56-million acre swath of land along Alaska's northern Beaufort Sea coast, home to polar bears, caribous and other wildlife, after the Department of the Interior approved an oil and gas leasing program." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

How to Safely Cross a River

Every year I attend several risk management conferences and events for outfitters and guides of all stripes, and every year it's the same. The greatest risk to the backcountry traveler tends to be water. The most common outfitter and guide concern is the possibility of a drowning while an individual swims recreationally. But another common and big concern is the ability to effectively cross a river.

I can't tell you how many thousands of rocks I've hopped while crossing small creeks. And I also can't tell you how many times I've helped people as they crossed these features in an unstable way. Obviously, the best way to manage small creeks is by using trekking poles and picking rocks to step on that don't appear to be too slippery. It's also a good idea to avoid crossings above hazards, such as waterfalls.

But what about bigger water obstacles?

The staff at Backpacker magazine have put together a nice video on this subject. Check it out below.



In review, here are some considerations:

Try to Avoid Deep Crossings - Try to avoid crossing anything that is deeper than your knees. You can check the depth by throwing a rock in the river where you intend to cross. If the rock makes a "ker-plunk" sound, the river is deep and may be too difficult to cross.

Look for Hazards Downstream - Don't cross above waterfalls, rapids or any other feature that could hurt you if you fall.

Look for Wider Areas to Cross and Avoid Bends  - Wider areas tend to be shallower. And the current tends to be faster around bends.

Look at Waves - Standing waves can indicate boulders and fast water. Washboard light waves indicate a more uniform bottom.

Extra Shoes - If you have extra shoes, it's best to wear them for crossings. It is not ideal to have wet boots and socks while hiking as that can lead to blisters.

Unbuckle Packs  - An unbuckled pack tends to be better because you can get out of it quickly if you fall.

Crossing Strategies - Use trekking poles or sturdy sticks to enhance stability. Face upstream and cross at a slight downstream angle. Sidestepping or shuffling across can also help with stability.

Link Arms  - If the water is deeper, or if someone doesn't feel as stable, partners might link arms to enhance stability.

Tripod Technique - This is a river crossing technique that requires three people. Each person puts their hands on the next person's shoulder in a circle. The tallest person is upstream. The team then shuffles across.

River crossings are dangerous. Take your time and find the right spot to cross...

--Jason D. Martin


Monday, August 17, 2020

Rappelling into a Crevasse and Climbing Out

Following a crevasse fall, it is possible that the person in the crevasse will be injured or unconscious and upside down. If the person in the crevasse needs help, then you have to make a decision. Is it better to haul the person out? Or is it better to rappel down into the crevasse to help them...?

Outdoor Research and the American Mountain Guides Association have put together an excellent video on how to rappel into the crevasse and climb back out. Check it out, below:



In the video, Jeff doesn't give enough credit to the fact that this was shot in a late season snowpack. This means that the lip of the crevasse is relatively well consolidated and that it is easy to pad. That is not always the case. Indeed, sometimes climbing back out of the crevasse with a tiny lip is incredibly difficult. It is important to practice that element.

At AAI, it's not uncommon for us to use road cuts early in the season to practice crevasse rescue. This eliminates long hikes and wet gear. If there is a road cut near you that is snowy and doesn't have any traffic, this can be an excellent place for winter or early season crevasse rescue practice.

Climbing in and out of a crevasse is hard. Jeff makes it look easy. But it's not. You'll likely need a lot of practice to dial this in...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, August 14, 2020

Marking Your Gear

The Facebook post was incredibly embarrassing. "It looked like a crime scene," my wife wrote. "An entire bottle of blood red nail polish spilled from the kitchen counter top, all down the cabinet door, and ending in a 3-foot spray across the tile floor. Who could have created such a mess? My 4-year old? My 5-year old?"

I could imagine her smile as she typed the next line for all of her friends to see. "No...it was my husband! And it was HIS nail polish."

Yes, I admit it.

It was MY nail polish. And yes, I did spill it everywhere. But in my defense, I was using it to mark my climbing gear...which is exactly what I wrote in response to her post. But that didn't stop the good-natured ribbing.

When the accident took place, I was trying to update all of my gear with the latest in gear marking technology, nail polish. Most of my climbing friends and nearly all of the guides at the American Alpine Institute long ago moved away from multi-colored tape on hardware and toward the use of nail polish.


Both of the carabiners in this photo have been marked for about the same amount of time.
The carabiner on the left has nail polish painted in strategic location. Whereas the carabiner
on the right has electrical tape on the spine. Clearly the tape did not hold up as well as the polish.

In the past, each of my carabiners had two strips of electrical tape around the spine. One strip was black and one was red. The dual colors helped to keep them from getting mixed up with other people's gear. The problem with the tape though is that it wears off. It starts to fall off in a sticky mess, creating micro-trash in the mountains.

To keep the nail polish from rubbing off, I try to paint it on near the hinge at the base of the gate and next to the nose. Because these areas are mildly inset, ropes and rocks don't tend to rub as much and the paint markings stays on for a long time.

It is also possible to mark cams and stoppers with nail polish dots in strategic locations. Look for a spot where your dots will not be easily scraped off, but where you can see them without too much trouble.

I put two dots on each of my cams. My colors are red and black. It's always
good to mark your gear with more than one color.

It is important to note that I still have multi-colored electrical tape on my slings, over the stitching. You definitely would NOT want to put nail polish onto a soft good like a sling. While I don't know exactly what's inside nail polish, I can only assume that the chemicals would have a negative and perhaps even dangerous impact on the material.

Those who swap partners a lot should really play it safe. Protect yourself. Mark it carefully and you'll lose less of it. Mark it poorly and your gear will slowly migrate away to your partners racks...

Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Route Profile: Vesper Peak's True Grit (5.8, II)

The first year I worked as a mountain guide was the first year of the new millennium. I started guiding in June of the year 2000. And it was a busy busy season, full of things to learn. I didn't get to climb outside of work. I only had the opportunity to do that once.

In July of 2000, I climbed the North Face of Vesper Peak in Washington's Cascades with a long-time partner. It was a nice day out with a good friend, but the route itself didn't necessarily stick with me. 

Fast forward to the COVID summer of 2020. That was the second time I went to the mountain. I took the opportunity to climba newish route that my long-time friend Darrin Berdinka put up on Vesper.

 A climber clips a bolt on True Grit.

The route isn't that long -- only five pitches -- but it is high quality. The line is airy, exposed and beautiful. The crux fourth pitch climbs a perfect little crack right up the middle of the face. That particular pitch reminded me a lot of Birdland in Red Rock. The line was tremendously fun!

And it wasn't too far back in the backcountry. There are those that tend to camp near the mountain, but there's no reason to do so. It takes around three hours to get to the base. With a 7am start in the parking lot, we were at the base of the line by 10am.

Our intent was to climb both True Grit and Ragged Edge (a four-pitch 5.7 adjacent to True Grit), but when we were ready for our second line of the day, there were several parties on the route. It seems like the best way to do both climbs on the same day is to go to the mountain mid-week.
Approach:

The hiking approach starts at the Sunrise Mine Trailhead off the Mountain Loop Highway. Directions to the trailhead can be found here, and a map can be found here. The drive takes between two and two-and-a-half hours from Seattle or Bellingham.

From the trailhead (2,500-feet), follow the trail, passing over several creeks (often with improvised bridges over them) until you emerge into the scenic Wirtz Basin, a cirque between the rocky flanks of Sperry and Morning Star Peak. Once in the basin, the trail peters and there are several sections where  you must follow carins. After the rocky section the trail reappears and switchbacks steeply up the right side of the basin to Headlee Pass (4,600-feet), at approximately the three-mile mark. 

From the pass, follow the trail to the northwest under Sperry Peak, eventually crossing a creek just below Vesper Lake. Continue up a climbers trail on the other side of the lake to approximately 5,700-feet. From there traverse north toward the pass between Vesper and an unnamed peak, but don't go all the way to the pass. There is a carin near at that elevation that indicates the climber's trail across the north face. 

From the carin traverse heather (or snow) to the base of the route. You may need an ice axe and crampons here, and maybe even snow pro, if it's early enough in the season.

Climbing Topo by Daren Berdinka

Pitch One: Start on a block and make your way up low fifth class to a belay below a chimney. (5.2, 200')

Pitch Two: Either climb directly up the squeeze chimney or climb the corner to the right. Eventually, you'll cross a heather ledge. Clip a bolt and then continue up, passing a few more bolts to an anchor on another heather ledge. (5.7, 100')

Pitch Three: Climb up the face, passing several bolts to an airy anchor. (90', 5.7)

Pitch Four: Launch up the finger crack. The crack is intermittent and there is a bolt here or there to connect it. Finish at another bolted anchor. (5.8, 120')

Pitch Five: Make a couple of harder moves, and then continue onto easier terrain to the end of the pitch, just below the summit. (5.8 then 5.5, 70')

Beautiful Views from the North Face of Vesper

Descent

The descent is embarrassingly easy. It is a simple 30-degree snow slope most of the year. It can be glissaded or walked down. If you're on the mountain in August or September, there may be more rock slabs to walk down, but there's no rappelling or shenanigans to get off this peak.

Vesper Peak will not disappoint. There is a fair bit of bang for your buck on this little peak, not far from the big cities.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 10, 2020

Traditional Anchoring Options with a Rope

It's not terribly uncommon to be short on slings or cordelletes at anchor. Maybe they were left at the last anchor. Maybe you used them. Regardless, if you get to the top and you don't have any soft goods to work with, then the key will be to work with the rope

In the following videos, AMGA Rock Guide Lyra Pierotti demonstrates two quick and easy methods to build an anchor without any slings or cords. 

In this first video, the concept could be thought of as stacking. She stacks three cams on top of one another, then clove-hitches the rope to each of them. She places a figure-eight-on-a-bight on the bottom of the stack and uses that for her master point.


The biggest problem with this technique is that Lyra's end of the rope is tied to the anchor. This makes it difficult if she wants to continue leading. This system works much better when leads are swapped.

In this second video, Lyra uses the rope again. This time, it looks a lot more like a traditional pre-equalized anchor, but built with the rope instead of a cordellete.


As with the preceding video, Lyra is still stuck in the system, and will have to do a lot of messing around if she wants to continue to lead.

Using the rope in the system isn't the most elegant technique, but it can certainly help you out in a pinch!

--Jason D. Martin



Friday, August 7, 2020

The Kiwi Coil

The Kiwi Coil is a technique that is used to bring in rope, in order to shorten the distance between two climbers. This technique is commonly used for simul-climbing on easy terrain, or in glacier travel.

Check out a video on how to do it, below:


One thing to be very careful about is the use of a Kiwi Coil on a glacier. It is important to add one additional element to tie off the rope. The climber should tie an overhand knot in the line and clip it to a carabiner. The reason one does this is to ensure that if your partner falls into a crevasse and you have to untie the Kiwi, you won't get strangled when it comes undone.

--Jason D. Martin



Thursday, August 6, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 8/6/20

Northwest:

Early morning on Mt. Rainier.

--Mount Rainier National Park noted that a body was recovered this week: "Park rangers recovered a body of a deceased person from an off-trail drainage near Paradise on Monday, August 3, 2020. The body is believed to be that of Talal Sabbagh, a hiker who went missing in late June." To read more, click here.

--KATU 2 is reporting that, "The body of a Kennewick climber who died in a fall from Mount Jefferson in central Oregon has been recovered. The Tri-City Herald reports 68-year-old David Freepons was climbing July 25 with a group at the mountain when he slipped on a glacier and fell several hundred feet to his death." To read more, click here.

--A major technical rescue took place last week on Mt. Stuart. An individual was lowered pitch after pitch down the northwest face of the mountain in a litter. 

Sierra:

--The Fresno Bee is reporting that, "A mountain climber who died while scaling Mount Humphreys in the remote Sierra Nevada has been identified as Paul Sheykhzadeh, 52, of Reno. Sheykhzadeh’s body was recovered on Monday with assistance from the California Air National Guard and its CH-47 Chinook helicopter due to the high elevation, Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti said." To read more, click here. Paul was an active member of the SAR community.

--It's not a good sign for our National Parks that the president doesn't know how to pronounce the word, Yosemite.

Desert Southwest:

--It's possible that the chemicals that a New Mexico ski area is using are having a chilling downstream effect, and might be killing the soil. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--A 26-year-old climber suffered a fatal fall on Longs Peak last week. From Rock and Ice: "Dillon Blanksma of Golden, Colorado died following an unroped fall from Broadway, the ledge a third of the way way up the East Face—also known as the Diamond—of Longs Peak (14,259 feet), in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Colorado." To read more, click here.

--Unofficial Networks is reporting that, "Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Mike Kaplan wrote a letter to passholders to give them an idea of what to expect during the upcoming ski season in the midst of a global pandemic. In the letter Kaplan acknowledged some of the new procedures would be “annoying” but things like decreased uphill capacity of chairlifts and gondolas would foster 'more of an old school experience, but that could also translate to less noise, fewer distractions and, hopefully, more meaning.'" To read more, click here.

Due to the Pandemic, the OR Show was done virtually two weeks ago.

--The Outdoor Retailer Show online didn't really draw the numbers they were hoping for. From SNEWS: "OR's 2019 Summer Market drew 1,400 brands and nearly 25,000 attendees. It was, according OR's parent company Emerald, the largest outdoor B2B show in history. Before this week, those figures had people hoping that OR Online would set some records, too.  Unfortunately, that didn't quite pan out. When OR Online opened on July 21, a total of 100 brands had signed up to exhibit, with slightly more than 1,100 retailers, working media, and designers registered to attend. In terms of actual participation, the figures weren't much better. Over the course of the show's three days, retail buyer attendance was down 70 percent compared to the 2019 Summer Market's numbers; designer attendance came in at 67 percent compared to last year." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A climber was injured near Whitefish, Montana on Sunday. Limited information is available. To read more, click here.


--Time is reporting on some of the additional impacts that have taken place in the National Parks due to the Pandemic: "Many of these spaces, supposed to be untouched swaths of time-proof wilderness, have been overrun by first-time visitors seeking refuge from quarantine, joblessness, or the inability to take far-flung vacations. And as people have flooded into the parks, new crises have arisen for rangers and nearby communities, including indigenous populations who were already particularly susceptible to the virus. To read more, click here.

--Antartica is the only continent not to have any cases of COVID-19, but research stations are sparsely populated during the winter in the southern hemisphere. That will start to change as more researchers and adventurers travel south in September, October and November. Outside is asking how the continent can keep the Coronavirus at bay. 

--It's not currently clear how many wildland firefighters have the coronavirus. And as fire season is ramping up, the Forest Service is trying to figure out what to do. To read more, click here.

--Should climbing in the Canadian Rockies be more regulated? This author, writing for the Calgary Herald, thinks so. "This spring and summer have been unforgiving for climbers and hikers and unrelenting for rescue teams. A skier tumbled 400 metres and died in Banff National Park on July 18. Other recent deaths include a climber on Mount Andromeda and scramblers on Mount Fable and Yamnuska. Kananaskis Public Safety set a record when they were called out to more than 20 rescues over a three-day stretch from July 9 to 11. Will these deaths and rescues compel the climbing community and planners to cross the Rubicon and fundamentally change the way climbing is undertaken in parks?"

--Climbing is reporting that, "on July 31, Kai Lightner launched the nonprofit Climbing for Change, which will partner with brands, climbing gyms, and existing organizations to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the climbing community." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

How to Pay Out Slack with Multiple Belay Devices

Petzl's "How To" video on paying out slack is quite good. It looks at the issues surrounding inattentive partners, while also demonstrating good belay technique. 

Check it out!


--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 3, 2020

How To: Partner Check

In this video, Julia Chanourdie goes through all the elements of a partner check before climbing:


The elements of the partner check are as follows:

Harness
  • The harness should be well-adjusted and above the hips.
  • Ensure that the buckles are threaded properly.
  • If the harness requires a double-back, confirm that it is doubled-back.
Knot
  • Confirm that the knot is properly tied.
  • Confirm that it has been tightened.
  • Confirm that it is through both tie-in loops.
Belay System
  • If using a assisted breaking device (GriGri), confirm that the rope is threaded properly.
  • If using a tube-style device, confirm that the carabiner has captured the rope.
  • Confirm that the carabiner is connected to the belay loop.
  • Confirm that the carabiner is locked.
  • If using an assisted breaking device, confirm the function of the device by pulling on the rope.
Rope
  • Confirm that there is a knot in the end of the rope to close the system.
--Jason D. Martin