Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Best Mountain Rescue Film Ever Made

So, this is awesome. Enjoy...!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, September 28, 2020

Leave No Trace: Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

The second principle of Leave No Trace is, "travel and camp on durable surfaces."

At the conceptual level, the idea is that travel over a weak surface does damage. And indeed, camping on a weak surface, or clearing an area for a camp, may create lasting damage...

To most seasoned backcountry travelers this principle seems obvious. They've seen the impacts and they understand. Walk on the trails. Don't cut switchbacks. And don't make new campsites when there are pre-impacted areas available. But this isn't always as obvious as it might seem.

For example, the desert can be fragile. Cryptobiotic soil -- a biological soil crust -- can take up top fifty-years to repair itself. Alpine heather is also fragile, but takes far less time to regenerate. So, while the two surfaces are fragile and appear similar, the strategy for traveling across them is different.

It makes sense to travel in a single file line in the desert so as to reduce impact on biologic soils. Spreading out might have more impact. While on alpine heather, it makes more sense to spread out. It will have less impact. One person stepping on heather won't damage it, while several people stepping on it in a line might kill it...

There are some specific things to think about on this topic when it comes to rock climbing:
  • It should be obvious, but you should never climb on petroglyphs or on other archeological artifacts.
  • Avoid the destruction of plants at the base of boulder problems by crushing them with your crash pad.
  • Don't deface the rock with graffiti.
  • Think about the impacts of approach trails before developing new routes.
  • Flake ropes and sort gear on durable surfaces.
  • Use existing anchors when possible
  • In the alpine, try to urinate on rocks. This will keep goats from tearing up the ground for the salt in your urine.
Following is a short quiz/tutorial from the Center for Outdoor Ethics and Leave No Trace on what constitutes a durable surface.

As outdoors people it's easy for us to take this material for granted. But we shouldn't. Leave No Trace is a philosophy that we need to live by in order to keep our public lands both public and wild...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 9/24/2020


--KOIN 6  is reporting that, "a climber was airlifted from Lewis and Clark State Park (near Portland) Sunday afternoon after he fell roughly 40 feet, according to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office." To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "across Canada, route developers and guidebook authors have been working to identify rock and ice climb names that their local communities have deemed racist, sexist or just simply offensive. The most recent example is in Squamish, where the new Squamish Select guidebook has published updates that include new route names for some old climbs." To read more, click here.

--There is an attempt amongst the members of the Canadian outdoor coop, MEC, to stop an investment firm from taking over the company. To read about it, click here. 

--This is a cool article about North Cascade mountain scenery used in films.

--A couple got married while climbing at Mt. Erie recently. Here are some photos from the day, including wedding dress ascents...


--Last week, Yosemite closed due to air quality. MyMotherLode is now reporting that, "While Yosemite National Park remains closed due to poor air quality, many of the major roads traveling through it are back open. They include El Portal, Wawona, Big Oak Flat and Tioga roads. Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove roads remain closed. All lodging, restaurants, campgrounds and visitor centers are also closed. Visitors should be prepared to drive through the park without stopping. It is prohibited to hike, cycle, camp and rock climb." To read more, click here. UPDATE: The park should reopen on Friday.

--The Cal Fire website is probably the best resource to watch when it comes to wildfires in California. It provides daily updates on the different fires.

Desert Southwest:

--There may have been some kind of climbing incident in Red Rock Canyon on Wednesday, but there is limited information. It might have been this very short report about a broken ankle on Frigid Air Buttress.

Colorado and Utah:

--A climber was rescued from Eldorado Canyon State Park near Boulder after breaking his leg on the Bastille Crack. For more information, click here.

--The Colorado Sun is reporting that, "as ski resorts announce plans to manage crowds, avalanche equipment sales are soaring, leaving search and rescue teams and land managers bracing for record crowds exploring snowy mountains." To read more, click here.

--The Aspen Times is reporting that, "a part-time Colorado resident with a history of ignoring backcountry rules may be temporarily banned from U.S. Forest Service land, a law enforcement official said Monday. The U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Grand Junction will ask that David Lesh, 34, 'be restrained from going on Forest Service lands' for the duration of the federal case filed against him last week that alleges illegal activities at Keystone Ski Area and Hanging Lake outside Glenwood Springs, said Peter Hautzinger, assistant U.S. attorney." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Concord Monitor is reporting that, "A Massachusetts climber died when a tumbling boulder severed his rope, causing him to fall 150 feet while climbing on Cannon Cliff in Franconia Notch State Park, conservation officers said." To read more, click here.

--The election is coming soon, and this may be the most important one of our lifetimes. Certainly, the future of our public lands and our climate are both on the ballot. Protect Our Winters has created an excellent tool to help you #MakeADamnPlan to vote. Check it out.

--Snews is reporting that, "Robert W. "Bob" Gore, the inventor of Gore-Tex and longtime CEO of W.L. Gore & Associates, passed away at his home in Earleville, Maryland, on September 17. The cause of death was not disclosed. He was 83." To read more, click here.

--So officials at Khao Yai National Park in Thailand were a bit sick of the litter problem brought on by thoughtless tourists. As a result, they picked up the litter and mailed it to the tourists. This is a tactic that should be employed in North America. To read more, click here.

--Outdoor Sportswire is reporting that, "the Outdoor Economy Conference, the nation’s premier event for those looking to grow the outdoor industry in their own regions, is thrilled to return for its third year, this time with an all-new virtual format. Split into five creatively crafted half- virtual workshops, the 2020 Outdoor Economy Conference will take place every Thursday in October from noon-4 p.m. EST." To read more, click here.

--Somebody hung a black bearskin over the sign for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with a cardboard sign saying, "from here to the lake, black lives don't matter." According to the Charlotte Observer, "a reward of up to $5,000 is offered for tips 'leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of those responsible.'"  To read more, click here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Film Review: Avalanche Sharks

So. Yeah.

Avalanche Sharks...

I really really really hoped that this B-film would be one of those B-films that relish in their Beeness. You know, a hokey horror film that is self-aware, like Sharknado or Zombeavers or Eight Legged Freaks. These are movies that are total trash. But you know what? They know their total trash and they relish in it... And as a result, you can relish in it too. A guy slicing a giant flying shark in half with a chainsaw...? If it's done right, it can be awesome and funny and fun. But if it's done wrong, it's just dumb.

Avalanche Sharks is a film that doesn't know it's dumb. And boy o' boy is it dumb...

Here's the write-up on the film from Wikipedia:

After a snowboarder inadvertently starts a major avalanche, the moving snowfield uncovers and wakes prehistoric "snow sharks" which had been trapped beneath. The sharks develop an appetite for human flesh and the staff at the Mammoth Ski Resort begins to get reports of missing people and strange finned creatures moving under the snow. Fearing financial loss on what is their busiest event day of the year, the Bikini Snow Day, the resort's management tries to hide news of the missing skiers and sightings of strange creatures. Disaster strikes as the bikini-clad snow bunnies one-by-one become meals for the shark. The local sheriff allies with snowboarders to track down the monster.

Okay. Where to start...? I don't think I can begin with what a stupid idea this is. You guys already know that. You're probably aware that it would be really difficult for sharks to travel through the anemic snowpack that exists in the eastern Sierra where the film is supposed to take place. You probably know that -- even if the sharks could travel through snow -- it would need to be a light and fluffy snowpack, not the hard-packed ice found in a ski area that makes its own snow. And you're probably aware that sharks don't have a preference for bikini clad snow bunnies over stinky snowboarder dudes...

Here's the thing. This movie is so poorly paced, I could leave the room get something to eat and then come back and sit down before a character finishes explaining a strange occurrence that we just witnessed. The film is full of exposition that doesn't move (and I use this word lightly) plot forward.

Every female character is an over-sexualized prop. They're often giggling and drunk and half-naked, apparently waiting for a shark to come and bite them in half. Male characters are not much better. The over-sexualized relationships between the characters are so severe that they are forced to define their relationships to one another within one sentence. There are two options here, "I'm so glad I have you as a cousin...!" Or, "come on soldier boy, it's time for your duty. Get your military ass over here and take care of me!"

Somewhere, someone thought that second line was good. They thought, "hey, I can use this line to sexualize this character and I can provide exposition that the guy was in the military." Ironically, the same writer seemed to feel that we didn't get it from that line. So he preceded to have the military character tell us he was in the marines several dozen times in case we forgot.

The acting in this film is atrocious. Imagine the worst high school production of Music Man that you can imagine. None of the kids know their lines. They're coming on stage too soon and leaving too early. They're so nervous that they can't stop pacing and they're talking like robots. They all have the flu and keep throwing up... And maybe somebody trips over somebody else on stage and knocks down half the set. But the show must go on, so the kids keep talking like robots and forgetting lines and tripping over each other and throwing up on the audience...

Nobody in Avalanche Sharks is that good. Watching the full production of Music Man I just described would be like sitting on a beautiful beach with a margarita compared to watching any of the acting in Avalanche Sharks.

This is a terribly written and terribly directed film. According to the credits, Quaid Brinker adapted the screenplay from a story by Keith Shaw. Brinker also directed the film. Shaw can be found on IMDB, but Brinker is nowhere to be seen. I suspect that whomever directed the film -- and it's quite possible that it was Shaw -- knew it was so bad that he made up a director so it wouldn't hurt his career...

I have to admit. I turned it off. I couldn't get to the end. I got about an hour into it and realized I still had twenty minutes to go. That's when I realized that I could be doing anything other than watching that film. Anything...

My suggestion? Don't even turn it on to begin with...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, September 21, 2020

Anchor Technique: The Quad

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

In the following video, AMGA Instructor Team Member Jeff Ward, demonstrates how to construct a Quad and then talks about the anchor's benefits.

The benefits listed at the end of the video include:

1) Self-Equalizing
2) Separate clip in points
3) No need to break it down
4) Limited extension if there is bolt failure
5) Limits belayer and second from pulling on one another

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, September 18, 2020

Film Review: Vertical Frontier

Mount Everest is deeply embedded in the minds of climbers and non-climbers alike all over the world. People think about it constantly.  We hear it all the time: "what do I need to do to climb Everest?"

Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world. But that's not what's made it such a household name. No, instead, it was the countless books and documentaries that have been produced over the years describing the gruesome details of expeditions gone wrong, and the heroic efforts of climbers on successful ascents. Popular culture lore helped to create the Everest that exists in our minds...

And while there are other mountains that the collective climbing psyche is fixated on, there are few that have seen so many popular culture references. And fewer yet that have hundreds of documentary films chronicling the tales on their flanks.  Mount Everest is an international household name.  It was the scene of many heroic alpine struggles...but there are other places that deserve such an honor.  One of those places is Yosemite Valley.

Like Mount Everest, Yosemite holds an important place in the history of climbing. It is where modern rock climbing evolved the furthest, the fastest.  And it is a place where technical skill and big wall proficiency is still at the cutting edge.  One great difference between Mount Everest and Yosemite is the fact that there simply have not been as many popular culture explorations of the place and its history to climbers.

Vertical Frontier, subtitled, "A History of the Art, Sport and Philosophy of Rock Climbing in Yosemite," is a Mount Everest style documentary built for the masses.  But unlike many of the Everest documentaries, Vertical Frontier caters to climbers as well as to non-climbers, making it one of the rare films that is entertaining to both audiences.

Vertical Frontier is a slick PBS-style feature documentary narrated by Tom Brokaw that tells the story of climbing in Yosemite from the first forays onto big features in the 1800s to a battle between climbers and the National Park Service at the turn of the century.  In between these two bookends, the film follows the development of climbing skill and technique by chronicling the important ascents over the last 100 years.

Much of the film is done in a standard documentary format; a format that easily allows the filmmakers to tell the story. And though engaging, climbing history is fraught with emotion and one-upsmanship. This, unfortunately, doesn't always penetrate the documentary style.

The capstone of Yosemite's story in the film is the "coming-together" of climbers after a flood seriously impacted the valley's tourist infrastructure in 1997. The National Park Service proposed a change in Camp 4, the campground used by generations of Yosemite Climbers. They wanted to build a new lodge at the historic site.  The last minutes of the film are quite different from the rest, as they are filled with emotion as decades worth of climbers pull together to save the place that provided them with such inspiration.

This 2002 documentary won the "Best Film on Climbing" at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 2002 and at the Kendall Mountain Film Festival in 2003. The film won first prize in the Mountaineering Category at the International Mountaineering Film Festival at Teplice nad Metuii in the Czech Republic in 2004.  Additionally, it won the "Viewer's Choice" award at the International Festival of Outdoor Films in 2004 and the "Best Cameraman" at the Tbilisi International Mountain Films Festival in Georgia in 2006. It may be one of the better-awarded documentaries of its type...

Many of the films we see on Youtube or at the Banff Film Festival today are about people pushing standards. They are often slickly produced and are extremely entertaining. But they don't usually give us a glimpse into what came before the climbers on screen demonstrating their acrobatic skills.  Vertical Frontier provides this and is extremely entertaining for it...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 9/17/20


--Late last week there were several false reports that claimed Antifa members were starting wildfires in Oregon. Armed men met journalists of color and threatened them as a result. From the Oregonian: "No, anti-fascists have not been arrested in connection with wildfires ravaging Oregon, and public officials are asking people to stop spreading the various false rumors claiming this to be the case." To read more, click here.

Wildfire smoke in the North Cascades on Saturday, August 12th.

--Last year I was in Squamish when I heard what I thought was rockfall. Instead, it was the Sea-to-Sky Gondola. The cable had been cut at the middle of the night, and it collapsed. Well, it's happened again. From CBC: "The cable of the Sea-to-Sky Gondola has been deliberately cut in the middle of the night for the second year in a row, leaving the tourist attraction in shambles and staff at the company completely bewildered. The company and the RCMP confirmed the 55 millimetre-thick line of the gondola was severed overnight, sending cars crashing into the mountain." To read more, click here.

--Here is a map that shows real-time updates of the forest fires in Oregon.

--The REI headquarters that was built in Bellevue, Washington, but the company never moved into, was recently sold to Facebook.  To read more, click here.

--So a bunch of dudes are skateboarding and biking down climbing routes in Squamish. To read more, click here. To see a video of the first skateboard descent of the Apron, click below:

--If you're a user of the Mountain Loop Highway (Vesper Peak, Pilchuck, Big Four) in the Cascades, please take this survey. It will help dictate where trail building resources are focused.


--There have been two rattlesnake incidents in the last couple weeks in Yosemite. One snake bit a barefoot fisherman on the Tuolumne River. And the other bit a hiker on a steep slope. Both victims were in the hospital for several days. To read more, click here.

--Climbing is reporting that, "unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings and the wildfires currently burning in California, the 2020 Yosemite Facelift has been called off. However, in lieu of the Yosemite Facelift, the YCA is holding a Facelift: Act Local event from September 22-27, encouraging climbers to clean up their local crags and outdoor spaces." The Facelift is an annual Yosemite clean-up event. To read more, click here.

--And the most famous couple in American climbing just got married at Lake Tahoe. You probably already know who they are, but if you don't, check it out... Side note: This is the first post ever here from Brides Magazine.

Desert Southwest:

--KOLD News reported that, "following an investigation by Special Agents of the National Park Service and U.S. Park Rangers, a Flagstaff man pled guilty to misdemeanor violations for starting a wildland fire within Grand Canyon National Park. Thomas Grabarek, 71, pled guilty on Sept. 8, 2020 to misdemeanor violations for starting the Cottonwood Creek Fire which spread approximately 64 acres in the Inner Canyon along the Tonto Trail near Horseshoe Mesa." To read more, click here.

--Unofficial Networks is reporting that, "two trails at Taos Ski Valley’s Kachina Bowl will honor Matthew Zonghetti and Corey Borg-Massanari, both of whom died tragically in an avalanche in 2019. The trails will be known as Z-chute and She Gone. The Zonghetti and Borg-Massanari families selected the names." To read more, click here.

--This is a sad piece from the National Parks Conservation Association about a fire that destroyed thousands of joshua trees in the Mojave National Preserve.  The piece starts with the lines, "I lost the center of my world last week. I’m feeling a kind of vertigo of the soul." With the changing of the climate, it's unlikely those trees are coming back.

--It looks like we might start to have to make reservations to climb in Red Rock Canyon, near Las Vegas...

Colorado and Utah:

--Sophia Tang recently became the first woman to complete the 485-mile Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango, unsupported. In other words, she carried all her food for 21-days in one go. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The National Parks Traveler is reporting that, "a black bear found scavenging human remains was put down at Great Smoky Mountains National Park early Saturday, leaving investigators to determine whether the man was killed by the bear. Backpackers Friday afternoon on the Hazel Creek Trail spotted what appeared to be human remains and a bear scavenging in the area near campsite 82, where there was an unoccupied tent, a park release said Saturday." To read more, click here.

--Climbing is asking whether the crags are an appropriate place for protests and demonstrations.

--Canada's iconic gear store, MEC has been sold. From Cision: "MEC's Board of Directors (the "Board") announced its unanimous support for an agreement with Kingswood Capital Management, LP ("Kingswood"), whereby Kingswood will acquire substantially all of MEC's assets through the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act ("CCAA") and ensure a thriving future for the Canadian retailer." To read more, click here.

--Unofficial Networks is reporting that, "in a move mirroring Sugar Bowl’s decision to suspend season pass sales, Jackson Hole’s portal to purchase season passes was updated yesterday showing a halt to sales. Jackson Hole News & Guide reports the resort announced a bevy of new COVID-19 protocols including limiting capacity at the mountain by capping the number of tickets that can be purchased daily, sanitization of Aerial Tram cabins and the Bridger and Sweetwater Gondola cars multiple times daily, placing thermal imaging cameras “in certain areas” to detect fevers among skiers, and limiting capacity on the tram." To read more, click here.

--The outdoor industry is in the process of recovering...

--And finally, on the upcoming election, Patagonia hid a message on some of their clothing: Vote the Assholes Out. To read about it at Backpacker, click here.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 9/10/20


--An individual died on Glacier Peak this week, after falling down a "glacier hole." Glacier hole is the term used in the news report. It's not clear if this was a crevasse or a moat. To read more, click here.

Mt. Baker and the Twin Sisters this morning, as seen through the wildfire smoke from the Chuckanut Mountains.

--Here's a piece on the slow process that Steven's Pass ski patrollers partook in to unionize after Vail Resorts bought the ski area.

--Trails near the Mt. Hood Meadows were shut down on Monday due to a wildfire.

--The Spokesman-Review is reporting that, "Mount Rainier National Park is now home to wolverines again after a more than 100-year hiatus. A reproducing female, named Joni, and her two babies, called kits, were discovered by scientists of the Cascades Carnivore Project in collaboration with the National Park Service, according to a recent announcement. To make the rare and historic discovery last week, scientists used camera stations designed to photograph the animals and identify them using their uniquely patterned chest markings." To read more, click here.

--The Downy Creek and Sulphur Creek trails are currently closed due wildfire. To read more, click here.

The fact that Mt. Rainier posted this on Twitter, makes me think that they're having problems there.


--KATU 2 is reporting that, "More than 200 people were airlifted to safety early Sunday after a fast-moving wildfire trapped them in a popular camping area in California’s Sierra National Forest, one several fires that broke out amid record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures that baked the state." To read more, click here.

--All National Forests in the Sierra are currently closed due to wildfire. This includes Stanislaus National Forest, Sierra National Forest, Sequoia National Forest, Inyo National Forest, Los Padres National Forest, Angeles National Forest, San Bernardino National Forest, and Cleveland National Forest. These areas may not reopen until October 1st. Additionally, there are campfire bans in most of California, both in established campgrounds and in the backcountry.

--Gripped is reporting that, "A wildfire in the Sierra National Forest trapped vacationers over the weekend and helicopter rescues were required. The fire sent billowing smoke into the Yosemite area and heaps of ash onto classic rock routes." To read more, and to see the entire Yosemite NPS instagram post, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The campground in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area has reopened

Colorado and Utah:

--There is at least one fire that has broken into the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park. Much of the access to the Park has been shut down or limited due to the Cameron Fire. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Rhea Dodd, a well known climber and a survivor of a major tragedy on Mt. Rainier in 1979, died this week after a long struggle with cancer. To read more, click here.

--A 35-year-old woman was killed in an accident on Wyoming's Pingora on Saturday. Information about the accident is still scarce. But what we do know can be found, here.

--A climber suffered a head injury on Maine's Bald Mountain this week. To read more, click here.

--The Tribune is reporting that, "Firefighters rescued an injured rock climber from Bishop Peak in San Luis Obispo on Monday morning after she sustained major injuries in a 30-foot fall, according to the San Luis Obispo City Fire Department." To read more, click here.

--You probably heard this one already. From EcoWatch: "A couple hosting a gender-reveal party on Saturday set off a smoke bomb to reveal the baby's gender when the device lit the nearby dry grass and sent partygoers scrambling. That mishap has now led to the El Dorado wildfire in Southern California's San Bernardino County." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The History of the Climbing Shoe

Albert OK is a YouTuber and climber. The bulk of Albert's channel is dedicated to competition climbing. And though that may not be your cup-a-tea, he's put together some really slick videos. The video featured here today is one of them. You will learn more in this 18-minute video about climbing shoe history, construction and purpose than perhaps anywhere else. 

It is well worth the watch:

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, September 4, 2020

Everest: Start to Summit in Three Minutes

This is a super inspiring little video of a guy who went to Mt. Everest in 2018. I'll spare you the suspense, he made it! But it's clearly the journey that is the most interesting...and his short video gives us a taste of that:

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 8/31/20


--An injured climber was airlifted this week from Mt. Townsend in the Olympic Mountains of Washington State. To read more, click here.

--A climber was injured in a fall in Index late last week. Little information is available about the accident. There have been reports that this was a 20-year-old woman and that there were head and spinal injuries, but these have not been confirmed. A bit more can be found, here. A video of the helicopter hoist of the victim can be found, here.

--A climber near Cutthroat Peak in the Cascades recently found a duffle bag with a mysterious white substance in it in a densely wooded area. It is believed that the duffle was ejected from a plane being chased by the Border Patrol in November. The bag does appear to have been dropped from a plane, but the substance was not drugs. To read more, click here.

A new via ferrata route has been installed in Smith Rock State Park in Oregon.

--There is some serious controversy over a new via ferrata route at Smith Rock State Park. To read about it, click here.

--Mount Rainier National Park is studying transportation and visitor use in the Nisqually to Paradise corridor. To share your input on this, click here.


--Here are some updates on the SQF Complex Fire in the Sierra. 

--And here is some road construction info on the road (South Lake Road) and trailhead to Bishop Pass.

--Also, bears in Tahoe have figured out automatic doors:

Desert Southwest:

--The Deseret Sun is reporting that, "Joshua Tree National Park officials announced on Friday that a body was found a day earlier within the park near a sedan along Black Eagle Mine Road." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Salt Lake Magazine is reporting that, "in an attempt to enhance skier safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Vail Resorts, owners of Park City Mountain, will require all guests to utilize an online reservation system in order to ski at their resorts during the upcoming 2020/2021 winter season. The reservation requirement applies to all skiers and snowboarders, including Epic Pass holders, in an attempt to make sure resorts do not exceed daily capacity to operate resorts safely during the pandemic. The move is sure to ruffle some feathers among locals and pass holders who are used to showing up to ski the country’s largest resort whenever and however they please, but executives at Vail feel it’s the only way to keep the mountain open while coronavirus still impacts everyday life." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Gail Bates, the very first employee of the American Alpine Club, died recently at the age of 103. To read an obituary on this pioneer, click here.

--Travel and Leisure is reporting that, "An American tourist who violated Canada’s coronavirus travel restrictions at least twice to sneak a visit to Banff National Park in June is now facing a six-figure fine and up to six months in jail." To read more, click here.

--A new thru-hike is being proposed in Alaska. The Alaska Long Trail will cover 500-miles and will go from Seward to Fairbanks. To read about it, click here.

--Outside has published an article about changing mountain names back to their native names: "Giving Mountains Back Their Indigenous Names. Navajo climber Len Necefer is using social media to remind us of our wild places' indigenous histories." To read the article, click here.

The aftermath of a recent forest fire in Washington State.

--We've long understood what leads to the types of insane wildfires that we've seen in California. But there's little political will to change. Check out this article on the subject from Mother Jones.

--And finally, if you haven't had the opportunity to watch Patagonia's phenomenal feature film about climbing and how it impacts our lives, check out Stone Locals, for free.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Route Profile: Cross Country Hiking - Welcome Pass to Yellow Aster Butte

The High Divide is a popular and physically demanding trail in Washington's Mt. Baker Ranger District that goes from the Excelsior Trailhead to the Welcome Pass Trailhead. And Yellow Aster Butte is a crazy popular trail up to a high viewpoint, while also providing access to Tomyhoi Peak.

Several years ago, I began to wonder what it might look like to travel "cross country" between Welcome Pass and Yellow Aster. I finally made the high country trek, and found it to be an excellent outing for a fit party with some mountaineering and map-reading skill.

Mt. Shuksan from low on the route.

This is a tremendously scenic route that I did solo in the summer of 2020. I placed a bicycle at the Yellow Aster Trailhead and left my car at the Welcome Pass Trailhead. I completed the trek, including the bike ridge between the two trailheads in just under six hours (five hours of hiking + 40 minutes of bike riding). The caveat to that time is that I was by myself and didn't take any breaks. I'm not a superman, but I am a guide. So I would expect most parties to take six to eight hours to complete the trek and ride (though you could put cars on either end).

Here's the weird thing. It's only about eight miles from trailhead to the other...but it is a tremendous amount of work to go between them.

The Green Line is the Welcome Pass Trail. The Pink Line is the link-up. And
the blue line is the standard Yellow Aster Butte trail to the Yellow Aster camp.
(Click to Enlarge)


From I-5, follow State Route 542 (Mt. Baker Highway) 46-miles (approximately 12 miles after the town of Glacier) and look for the WSDOT Shuksan Maintenance Facility. Turn left onto Twin Lakes Road (FR 3065) immediately following the DOT station. Drive 4.5 miles to the Tomyhoi Lake/Yellow Aster Butte Trailhead and parking area. And then either chain up a bike or leave a car.

Proceed back down to the DOT station and turn right (westbound) and drive approximately 1/2 mile. The very first right-hand turn will be the Welcome Pass Road (3060) and drive 1.5-miles to the parking area.

Section One: Welcome Pass

Hike steeply up the trail to Welcome Pass, completing sixty-six switchbacks in the process. This first 2.3 mile section is by far the hardest of the day. The bulk of your elevation gain for the day will be made here. The trailhead starts at 2480-feet, and Welcome Pass is at 5,200-feet.

Section Two: Welcome Pass to Yellow Aster Butte

This is what you came for and it won't disappoint. The easy beta is to follow intermittent trails, staying on the crest as much as possible, northeast to the Yellow Aster camp. Here are several beta photos:

Looking North Above Welcome Pass

Looking South Back to Welcome Pass

Looking North to the First Crux

The first crux on the northbound route is a section in the heather with mildly loose rock. There is some exposure and it's probably class 2. But you should take your time here, a fall would be catastophic.

Looking back south, after the first crux.

Continue to follow the ridge north, either on the crest or
just right of the crest. Be aware of potential cornices in the snow.

At the 5933 highpoint, as seen in the preceding photo, you will reach the second crux. Stay right. There are some small cliffs, but they can be negotiated by carefully picking your way down right of the crest. Take your time here.

It should be noted that depending on the snow coverage, there could be several cornices on the ridge. I didn't bring an ice axe on this trip, but I did bring a Black Diamond Whippet, which seemed appropriate given the snow coverage in late July.

Looking back south at the 5933 highpoint from the Yellow Aster Camp.

Like the first crux, the second crux is probably never more than class 2 and is near the summit. If you find yourself downclimbing something and using both hands, you probably screwed up. Look around for something less sketchy.

Looking north from the 5933 highpoint at the Yellow Aster Camp 
and trail out.

It is possible to click on any of the preceding photos to enlarge them.

Section 3: Yellow Aster Trail

Once in the Yellow Aster Camp zone, make a handful of switchbacks up to the Yellow Aster Trail. It is possible to continue up to Yellow Aster Butte from here, or simply walk 3.6 miles down to your bike or car.


It would certainly be possible to do this southbound, and if you did you could avoid some additional elevation gain. 

There are two issues with southbound. First, if you wish to use a bike, northbound is better because it's all downhill to the highway, with a little steep uphill trek back to  your car. Second, the Welcome Pass trail is steep enough going downhill that it might actually feel a bit sketchy at times.

Hikers on the Yellow Aster Butte Trail

This is a very cool and somewhat obscure high route.  It's certainly possible to take more than a day on it and to camp, but it's short enough that going light and moving quickly might be the best way to enjoy it.

This route isn't really kid friendly, or beginner friendly. It's not sketchy at all for seasoned climbers, but for those who have never negotiated snow - potentially steep snow - cornices, or easy rock loose rock climbing with exposure, a different route should be selected...

--Jason D. Martin