Monday, November 30, 2020

Tech Tips: How To Choose an Avalanche Probe

Avalanche probes aren't glamorous. Sure, you have choices between different materials like steel, aluminum, and carbon, but they're basic compared with other avalanche safety gear in your kit. I mean, when is the last time you were hyped on the release of a new probe? For most backcountry users, the probe simply lives in the pack, serving only as an emergency tool for locating a buried victim under the snow. But, aren't you just a little bit curious about what else your probe can do? For instance, why does it have a color coded mark at 30cm or a change in color at 200cm? Why are there different lengths? Understanding your probe can make it one of the most useful tools in your backcountry kit.

Avalanche Probes: Ortovox on the top. Black Diamond in the middle. Mammut on the bottom.

In this examination, we will look specifically at 3 of our favorite probes:

Ortovox Alu 320+ PFA
Black Diamond Quick Draw Carbon 320
Mammut 320 Speed Lock

Length: Probes vary in length, from 240cm to 330cm. In the Northwest, our snowpack can be well over 100 inches (254cm) in the winter, so having a long probe is essential. A long probe (320cm and above) is not only your best bet at a probe strike in the deepest snow, it will reduce the need to bend over as much to probe all the way to the ground. Short and mid-length probes (240cm and 280cm) can be excellent choices in shallower snow packs, or in the early or late season when the snow is firm and the risk of avalanches is low.

Materials: The Ortovox and Mammut probes in this exam are made up of aluminum, while the Black Diamond probe is made of carbon. All have steel tips. Materials play into both price and weight, but another thing to consider is longevity. Most of our guides use aluminum probes, as they tend to withstand a bit more wear and tear than the carbon versions. That being said, all the segments of a probe are tensioned with a cable or cord that creates rigidity and strength when probing firm snow. A 320cm probe is generally stronger than a 240cm probe, due to larger diameter segments.

Numbers and Markers: This is where it gets interesting. I will do my best to breakdown and explain each probe, and it's markings. All the probes in this exam are 320cm in length.

Ortovox Alu 320+ PFA
Marked in neon orange from the tip to 40cm
Marked in blue from 40cm to 80cm
Neon orange mark at 100cm

Black Diamond Quick Draw Carbon 320
Marked in red at 30cm, 90cm, and 200cm

Mammut 320 Speed Lock
Marked in neon orange from the tip to 40cm
Neon orange mark at 150cm
Color change from silver to black around 200cm

What do all these numbers mean? Let's first look at the Ortovox and Mammut probes, as they both have neon orange from the tip to 40cm. This coloration is a safety indicator that you are close to your victim (essentially within a single shovel head). The Ortovox probe has another coloration (blue) from 40cm to 80cm, as another color indication of depth. Think of this as a gradient: 80cm/blue means you're getting close, and 40cm/orange means you're within a shovel blade length of the victim. Next, the Ortovox probe has a neon orange mark at 100cm to mark the average burial depth of a victim. I'm not sure why this is significant, because studies have shown that most victims rescued alive are within 1.5m of the snow surface. For this reason, the Mammut Speed Lock probe has a neon orange mark at 150cm. In other words, this can be used as a quick depth indication when rapidly probing for that first strike. 

Now, we haven't looked at the Black Diamond Quick Draw yet, because most of it's markings are setup with a different purpose in mind. Rather than rescue focused marks, the Quick Draw probe has marks that are more useful in snow pits. The 30cm and 90cm marks are quick reference when isolating a column, or extended column. Both the Black Diamond probe and the Mammut probe have marks at 200cm, which can be used for the long portion of a Rutschblock test (200cm x 150cm), as well as a maximum probing distance marker. The chance of survival below 2m is less than 5% (Swiss statistics, 1993), which is why most rescuers do not probe beyond this depth.

Other Considerations: My favorite thing about an avalanche probe is the pull handle + assembly action. When selecting a probe, I want to make sure the handle is easy to use with gloves on, and the segments don't jam up when assembling. All three probes in this post are excellent in these aspects. When touring, make sure your handle is accessible from outside the bag. Another aspect of the probe is it's locking mechanism. Make sure the probe locks AND unlocks easily. From time to time, examine your avalanche probe's locking mechanism to make sure it is in working order.

Handles and locks

Conclusion: While it's certainly more fun to practice with your avalanche beacon and shovel, I encourage you to evaluate your own avalanche probe, and learn what all of it's markings mean. If you're looking at getting a new probe, thinking about what features are important to you. At the end of the day, the price and weight differences are negligible, so choose the one that fits your needs the best.

Knowledge is speed, and speed saves lives.

Charlie Lane
Retail Shop Manager

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/26/2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

As it is Thanksgiving weekend, we can expect large crowds at major desert crags and other areas that haven't cooled down too much. Please respect each state's COVID-19 protocols and try to avoid being too close to those who are not in your "climbing trip pod."

Many ski areas are also open early this year. You may need to make reservations to park or to ski. Check with your local resort for more information...and be sure to follow resort COVID protocols...


--The Squamish Chief is reporting that, "Squamish Search and Rescue — along with rescuers across the province — are gearing up for what’s anticipated to be an unusually busy winter. With COVID-19 numbers climbing and B.C. issuing partial lockdown almost two weeks ago, many are bracing themselves for limited indoor entertainment options this season. As a result, rescue crews around the province are expecting many people to continue venturing outside and into the backcountry, creating the possibility of a deluge of rescue calls." To read more, click here.

Most Pacific Northwest ski resorts have opened prior to Thanksgiving. 
Photo taken in the Mt. Baker Ski Area on November 21st.


--It's not super common for snow to fall in Yosemite, while there are still fall leaves on the trees. Check out these beautiful photos of "snowliage."

--Climbing is reporting that, "On Monday, November 16, Jordan Cannon completed a free, in-a-day ascent of Golden Gate on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California. Cannon's ascent was the route's fifth of its kind. Before him Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold, Brad Gobright, and Emily Harrington each freed the route in a day. Harringon's ascent, the route's fourth, just this month on November 4." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--KTNV Las Vegas is reporting that, "Monday marks 30-years to the day since Red Rock Canyon was designated as Nevada’s first National Conservation Area." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

Somebody left this ugly thing in the Utah desert and a lot of people on line think it's cool.
The concern is that whomever put this here will feel empowered to leave more trash in the desert.
Photo by Utah Highway Patrol.

--The New York Times is reporting that, "At the base of a barren slot canyon in Utah’s Red Rock Country, a team that was counting bighorn sheep by helicopter spotted something odd and landed to take a closer look. It was not a sheep. It was a three-sided metal monolith, about 10 to 12 feet tall, planted firmly in the ground with no clear sign of where it came from or why it was there. The Utah Department of Public Safety, revealing its existence to the wider world on Monday, said the team found the 'unusual object' last week in southeastern Utah, during a survey with the state wildlife agency." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Adventure Blog is reporting that, "The mountaineering community marked the passing of an era late last week. On Friday, November 20 pioneering adventure and travel writer Jan Morris passed away at the age of 94 after leading a life that included adventure, groundbreaking writing, and pushing the envelope in terms of gender roles. She also happened to be the last remaining member of the 1953 British Everest expedition, which was the first to actually find success on the world’s tallest peak." To read more, click here.

--Berkeleyside is reporting that, "Dave Altman, a longtime Berkeley climber who had been called the 'Mayor of Indian Rock,' died early Tuesday morning after his SUV caught fire in the Berkeley Ironworks climbing gym parking lot where he lived on Potter Street. Described by Ironworks in 2012 as a “living legend” who could “do pull-ups with just his finger tips hanging from bolts,” Altman and his friend and climbing partner Ray Jardine made a name for themselves in the Bay Area rock climbing scene with their numerous early ascents in Yosemite National Park in the 1970s." To read more, click here.

--Dr. Hamish MacInnes, often referred to as Scotland's greatest climber of all time, recently died at the age of 90. Explorer's Web notes that his "notable climbs include the first British ascent of the Bonatti Pillar (sadly destroyed by a 2005 rockslide) on Aiguille du Dru in the Alps, the first ascent of the imposing prow of Mount Roraima, deep in the Guyana jungle, and four expeditions to Everest." To read more, click here.

The cover of Powder's final issue.

--Powder magazine has ceased operations. Check out the editor's final note to readers

--Climbing is reporting that, "a survey conducted by the Climbing Wall Association (CWA) of over 100 gyms shows that one-third of gym owners are not worried about going out of business, one-third are unsure of whether or not they are in imminent danger, and the remaining third believe that they will go out of business within the next several months to a year." To read more, click here.

--Canada's Rogers Pass has a new permit system for backcountry skiers. These are to keep people away from avalanche mitigation areas above the highway or train tracks. Failure to carry a valid winter permit in a restricted zone can result in a fine of up to $25,000. Learn more, here.

Fifty-percent of proceeds from sales of this chalk bag go to the 
global children's empowerment charity, Right to Play.

--Pro climber, Sasha DeGiulian recently designed a new chalk bag. There's nothing special about that...but what is special is that 50% of proceeds from chalk bag sales will go to Right to Play, a organization that focuses on protecting children around the globe. To purchase a bag, click here.

--Climbing is reporting that, "the Climbing Resource Access Group of Vermont (CRAG-VT) and Access Fund recorded a permanent easement this month to strengthen conservation and recreation protections at Bolton Dome, while simultaneously forging agreements with local indigenous groups to allow access to the land." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

No Shortcuts - Ski Training Video

It takes a tremendous amount of dedication to become one of the top big mountain skiers in the world. Pro skier Dane Tudor is at the top of his game. The following video shows what it takes to get there...

I think that there's something to be said about the name "no shortcuts." The reality for every mountain athlete is that they have to work incredibly hard to get to where they are. There really are no shortcuts to being as good as you can be...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, November 20, 2020

Book Review: Cold Wars by Andy Kirkpatrick

A few weeks ago we reviewed Andy Kirkpatrick's amazing book, Psychovertical. That piece humorously chronicles Kirkpatrick's obsession with climbing. That first piece was so well-written that I quickly picked up Kirkpatrick's second book, Cold Wars.

One might ask how an individual who is approximately forty-years old could write an autobiography and then follow it up with yet more autobiographical material. This would be a legitimate question if we were talking about a politician or a musician or an actor. Your every day person worships these types of  people because they appear to be doing something with their lives. Those who live for outdoor adventure are doing something with their lives every day...and it's almost always interesting. So Kirkpatrick's second book is just as engaging as his first. But he addresses this question nonetheless...

Psychovertical was a book about a man who is struggling: against the wall, against himself, but who wins through. The story is a hundred thousand word answer to the question: 'Why do you climb?'

Cold Wars asks a different question: 'What is the price?'

Kirkpatrick is married and has two children. The routes that he chooses are almost universally "high end" and are incredibly dangerous. He has a penchant for winter alpinism and for second ascents of serious lines. He aslo sometimes goes months without climbing. Cold Wars is a humorous and often tender book about the life of a climber and about what we give up to be in the mountains. Kirkpatrick regularly writes about the strange irony that many climbers feel. When they are at home, they can't wait to be away. But, when they are in the mountains, they wish they were home.

We've all felt this way at one point or another. In the following passage we see this tension as Kirkpatrick pines over his young daughter while sitting before one of those incredible views at one of those incredible moments that only climbers in the high mountains get to experience.

'I can't get Ella crying out of my head. Every time I do anything I keep thinking that I have to get home to her, that she means more to me than this.'

I switched on my phone, to see if I had any messages. It beeped.


I showed it to Ian.

'Maybe you're falling out of love with climbing,' said Ian, switching off his headtorch to save the battery as the sky towards Chamonix turned red, and the rising sun lit up the spires of the Aiguilles, one by one.

'I really hope so,' I said.

While this book appears to be more serious with a heavier question than the simplistic "why do you climb," it is still chalked full of Kirkpatrick's humorous climbing anecdotes. Indeed, as this book is structured more anecdotally than his first book, it could be argued that it is a funnier tome. Here is one great example of an experience the author had in the Alps shortly after losing a ski.

Now I was really in trouble, as the snow was too deep to walk in, and skiing on a single board was beyond me.

I took off my remaining ski and sat on it bum-shuffling down the slope, knowing full well that there had never been a more pathetic sight in the history of ski mountianeering. To make matters worse, a French guide swooshed down to me, looking like skiing's answer to Mikhail Baryshnikov, asking if I was alright.

'I'm British,' I said looking at the floor, trying hard not to burst into tears.

'I understand,' he said, no doubt embarrassed for me, and then skied off. 

Perhaps part of the reason I enjoy Kirkpatrick's writing so much is because I recognize myself in it.  He is absolutely obsessed with climbing, as am I. He loves writing, but hates doing it, as do I. He has a family that keeps him grounded, as do I. And he lives in two worlds, the first is a world where he has a wife and two kids and they all live normal lives and do normal things. The second is a world where he "hangs it out," on high end alpine climbs and extreme big walls. I don't generally push the bounds of safety too far, but a few times a year I definitely push the limits. As a forty-two year-old mountain guide with a family, I really understand and appreciate his work. And I think that anybody who spends a lot of time on the sharp end and feels like they have something to lose will understand his writing too.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Climbing Commands

One of the most inconsistent things in the entire world of climbing are climbing commands. Climbers commonly hook up for a day of climbing with little knowledge of how to communicate with one another at the crag. It is always important to review your climbing commands with a new partner so that no mistakes are made.

The most common mistakes in a command series tend to come around the word "take." Climbers often use the word in two different ways. Some will say "take" in lieu of the command, "up-rope." Whereas others will say "take" to mean "take my weight." A much larger problem arises out of the nature of a word that only has one syllable. "Take" could also be mistaken for the words, "safe" or "slack." Either of these mistakes could have tragic consequences. The result is that at the American Alpine Institute, we try to teach people not to use the word.

A climber on Angel's Crest (5.10c, IV) in Squamish, BC.

The following sets of commands reflect what AAI guides are teaching in the field.

Toprope Commands:

Climber: On-belay?

Belayer: (After checking that everyone's double-backed, that knots are correct and that the belay device is threaded appropriately.) Belay-on.

Climber: Climbing.

Belayer: Climb-on.

Once the climber reaches the top, the following discourse should take place:

Climber: Tension.

Belayer: (After pulling the stretch out of the rope and locking it off.) Tension-on.

Climber: Ready to lower.

Belayer: Lowering.

It's important to close out the commands at the end. People often get lazy about the next set. Once the climber is back on the ground the following commands should take place.

Climber: Off-belay.

Belayer: Thank-you. (Then after removing the device from the rope:) Belay-off.

The "thank-you" exists in this series to get individuals ready for multi-pitch climbing where the words are used a great deal.

A climber on Myster Z (5.7, II+) in Red Rock Canyon.

Multi-Pitch Commands:

You'll notice that the words "thank-you" are used heavily throughout this command series. We use the words to acknowledge that an individual heard the last command. For those who don't normally use the words "thank-you" as part of your personal series, I would recommend trying it. A lot of stress melts away on multi-pitch climbs when you know that your partner heard you.

Following are the commands that we teach in a multi-pitch setting:

Climber: On-belay?

Belayer: (After checking that everyone's double-backed, that knots are correct and that the belay device is threaded appropriately.) Belay-on.

Climber: Climbing.

Belayer: Climb on.

Once the climber has reached the top, built an anchor and tied-in, the following commands should take place:

Climber: Off belay!

Belayer: Thank-you! (The belayer will then take the rope out of his device.) Belay-off!

Climber: Thank-you! (The climber will then pull up all the slack.)

Belayer: That's me!

Climber: Thank-you! (The climber will then put the belayer on belay.) Belay-on!

Belayer: Thank-you! (The belayer will break down the anchor and then yell just before he is about to climb.) Climbing!

Climber: Climb-on!

Ancillary Commands:

These are commands that are not necessarily said on every single climb. These are only said if there is a need. The commands are as follows:

Rock -- This should be yelled whenever anything falls. If you hear this, press your body against the wall and do not look up. Your helmet will provide some protection. Unfortunately, sometimes people yell "stick" or "camera." Such unusual commands often result in inappropriate reactions. In other words a person may not immediately attempt to get out of the way.

Watch me -- Climber will say this to a belayer if he is nervous and thinks he might fall.

Falling -- The appropriate command if you actually fall.

Up-rope -- When a climber says this, he is asking that slack be eliminated from the system.

Slack -- The climber needs slack.

Tension -- Anytime a climber wants to sit back on the rope and rest they should use this command.

Clipping -- Periodically a leader will need more rope to clip a piece of protection. When a leader says this he's actually asking for a few feet of slack.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 16, 2020

Getting Rid of the Funk: How to Clean Your Climbing Shoes

I sat down on the bench next to my partner. We'd just finished a dawn patrol at the climbing gym.  And though it was cool outside and even a bit cool in the gym, my feet were shriveled pickles inside my tight shoes. But I ignored it and stripped off my shoes.

"Whoa!," my partner said, dramatically waiving his hand in front of his face with one hand, while plugging his nose with the other. "Dude," he said dramatically. "You're feet stink."

And they did. Or more accurately, my climbing shoes stunk. It was time to give them a wash.

Recently climber Joe Ho, posted a great video on his blog about techniques for washing and cleaning climbing shoes. Please see the video below:

The quick and the dirty of it is that Joe washes his shoes in a washing machine. He fastens the velcro straps down and washes them on warm with soap. When he is done, he lays them out to dry.

I used the techniques shown in the video to wash a pair of shoes, and there was still a little bit of a scent in them, but it was no longer overpowering...

Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/12/20


--Mt. Rainier National Park is reporting that, "On Sunday, November 8th, a snowshoer who had been missing overnight was located and rescued from the Nisqually River drainage below Paradise. The snowshoer was last seen on Saturday November 7th at 1:45 pm, when he and his partner separated below the Muir Snowfield at an elevation of 9,500’. The missing party intended to descend on snowshoes to Paradise, while his partner continued on skis to Camp Muir. When he did not return to the Paradise parking lot, his partner reported him missing to park rangers. Three National Park Service (NPS) teams conducted an initial search for the missing snowshoer until early morning in winter conditions that minimized visibility. The overnight low at Paradise dropped to 16 degrees Fahrenheit with five inches of new snow." To read more, click here.

--AAI guide Katie Griffith wrote a piece about guiding and wildfire smoke that appeared in the Mt. Baker Experience this week. To read the article, click here.

--An older unnamed route in Squamish was rebolted this week by the first ascentionist and renamed Riden' with Biden (5.9). The route can be found just right of The Zip (5.10a), a super popular route. To read more, click here.


--Emily Harrington just became the first woman to free Golden Gate (5.13a, VI) on El Capitan in a 24-hour period. This awesome achievement was wildly misreported by the mainstream press. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

AAI Guide Alex Fletcher encountered some very large 
mountain lion tracks in the Spring Mountains above Las Vegas this week.

Colorado and Utah:

--CBS 4 Denver is reporting on a fatality on North Maroon Peak last week: "A craft brewing company in Denver is remembering one of its brewers — Jason Buehler, the 43-year-old who fell and died in a mountain climbing accident near Aspen late last week. Buehler was head brewer at Denver Beer Company taproom and was a resident of Niwot." To read more, click here.

--Out There Colorado is reporting that, "In recent weeks, a number of incidents have occurred on the Second Flatiron in Boulder, Colorado that have required a response from search and rescue teams. According to the Boulder County Sheriff's Office, a 31-year-old female climber required rescue on Sunday afternoon after getting stuck while scrambling on the Second Flatiron in Boulder County. The climber reached a section of the climb in which she was unable to safely move up or down the rock formation. Members of Rocky Mountain Rescue Group were able to reach the stuck climber via technical gear before lowering her down the mountain. She was uninjured and able to hike back to the trailhead." To read more, click here.

--The Journal of Emergency Medical Services is reporting that, "A 23-year-old man fell about fifteen feet while scrambling on Mount Sanitas near Boulder around 2 p.m. Sunday, according to the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office." To read more, click here.

--A skier triggered an avalanche near Independence Pass this week, on a north facing slope in Mountain Boy Basin. This is the first videotaped avalanche of the 2020-2021 season that we're aware of. There were no injuries. Following is the video:

--Kimberly Kelly, a single mother in Utah, suffered a serious climbing accident two weeks ago and cannot work. A Go-Fund-Me site has been set-up to help her pay her bills while she recovers. Check it out, here.

--Wolves will be reintroduced in the Front Range. From the Colorado Sun: "Proposition 114 passed as a flurry of Front Range-votes widened the initiative’s margin of victory, paving the way for the animals’ return to the Western Slope." To read more, click here.

--Well here's something interesting from the Colorado Sun: "Are Colorado’s backcountry skiing stashes “trade secrets”? A snowcat outfitter suing a former guide claims they are. Steamboat Powdercats has sued a former employee, Stephen Bass, to stop his book from hitting shelves. They say it has to do with safety. The publisher says it has to do with access to 'fresh pow.'" To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A climber was injured at New Hampshire's Rumney on Monday. He was able to walk out on his own, but -- due to his injuries -- needed the trail cleared by a leaf blower as he walked with assistance. The dry leaves covered treacherous footing. To read more, click here.

--Outside Online is reporting that, "the Department of the Interior failed to meet (last) Tuesday’s deadline to submit a list of projects it wants to fund in fiscal year 2021 with money earmarked by the Great American Outdoors Act. Not only does the missed proposal threaten the success of a huge variety of conservation projects, but advocacy groups warn it could be an attempt by the Trump administration to undermine the act’s goals. The move coincided with the election, even as vulnerable Republican senators who supported the GAOA campaigned on its passage." To read more, click here.

--An Idaho man tried to cook chicken in one of the geysers at Yellowstone National Park. Thankfully, he got caught. Now he will have to pay a $600 fine and will have two years of probation. To read more, click here.

--In related news, ABC is reporting that, "the importance of nature and the environment was evident this election as voters across the country approved more than two dozen conservation ballot measures. The initiatives include nearly $3.7 billion in new funding for land conservation, parks, climate resiliency and habitat, according to The Trust for Public Land Action Fund." To read more, click here.

--Interested in competing in a freeride skiing tournament? You can find out how, here.

--The New York Times is reporting that, "At 6,288 feet above sea level, Mount Washington in northern New Hampshire is known to countless travelers and bumper-sticker aficionados as the highest point in the Northeast and, according to the meteorologists who work there, 'home of the world’s worst weather.' And for nearly nine decades, there has always been a cat in residence. The latest one, a black Maine coon named Marty who arrived at the summit in 2008, died on Saturday of an 'unexpected illness,' Rebecca Scholand, an official at the Mount Washington Observatory, said Monday night. Marty was 14, she said. Or 15." To read more, click here.

--NPR is reporting that, "the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced U.S. military veterans and Gold Star families will be granted a lifetime of free access to national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund and Climbing are reporting that, "Gunks Climbers Coalition (GCC) and Access Fund are pleased to announce the purchase and opening of a new section of cliffline in the Shawangunk Mountains of New York. This acquisition adds a new, backcountry climbing area to the Gunks, offering a uniquely remote experience that boasts traditional climbing, top roping, overhangs, vertical faces, and even a little crack climbing—ranging from 5.5 to 5.13." To read more, click here.

Friday, November 6, 2020

The Business of Ski Resorts

This is a fascinating look at why ski tickets are so expensive. It looks at the both the business of the ski resort, as well as how a town supports resort infrastructure. The video also looks at why large companies are buying up ski resorts and creating multi-resort passes. 

If you enjoy inbounds skiing, there probably isn't a better video out there to understand what's happening in the big picture of the ski industry.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 11/5/20


--The New York Post is reporting that, "The body of an accomplished Oregon mountain climber who was reported missing on Mount Hood was found in a crevasse about 9,400 feet up the state’s tallest peak, authorities said. The search for Austin Mishler, a 27-year-old wilderness guide from Bend, ended Thursday, two days after he failed to return from a planned climb of Eliot Glacier on the mountain’s northeastern slopes, according to the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office." To read more, click here.

--The Seattle PI is reporting that, "rangers at Mount Rainier National Park have recovered the bodies of two men from Tolmie Peak in the northwest corner of the park, officials said. Park officials said Monday the bodies were discovered on Saturday by hikers. An investigation so far suggests the people died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the previous few days, according to park officials." To read more, click here.

--The Vancouver Sun is reporting that, "a man found shot dead in a burnt-out vehicle on a logging road near Squamish in 2017 is now believed to be a U.S. man who started neo-Nazi groups and owed millions of dollars as an internet spammer." It's been reported that 38-year-old Davis Wolfgang Hawke, a U.S. resident, was a climber who never wanted his photo taken. The entire homicide is shrouded in mystery. To read more, click here.


--The Tahoe Daily Tribune is reporting on an expected massive shift toward the backcountry this winter. "When the pandemic hit Lake Tahoe last spring, most businesses closed, including ski resorts. Many were upset, frustrated and confused to have the season cut short, especially with feet of new snow in the forecast. However, along with snowmobilers and snowshoers, many avid skiers and riders turned to human-powered ways of getting their turns in on the mountain. Sales for backcountry equipment has skyrocketed and local shops are seeing a new wave of people wanting to get their hands on gear." To read more, click here.

--The Sierra Wave is reporting that, "the Inyo National Forest is reopening the majority of the John Muir Wilderness and a segment of the Ansel Adams Wilderness as the risk from wildfires is decreasing." To read more, click here.

--The Sierra Wave is also reporting that, "The Inyo National Forest has implemented 05-04-50-200-21, effective November 3. This opens the Inyo portions of the South Sierra, parts of the Golden Trout, most of the John Muir, parts of the Ansel Adams and all the Owens River Headwaters, and Hoover Wilderness Areas." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Red Rock Canyon has started their reservation system for those who wish to enter the Scenic Drive. You can make a reservation at There have been and continue to be a lot of complaints about the system. Check those out, here.

A climber high on Epinephrine (5.9, IV).
Photo by Rich Draves

--Climbing is reporting that, "Last week, Alex Honnold reported that he has broken the speed record on Epinephrine (5.9, IV), a 15-pitch route in Red Rock, Nevada. He soloed the 15-pitch route in 34 minutes and 51 seconds, beating out the late Brad Gobright’s record by nearly four minutes. Including the approach and descent, Honnold completed the outing in a mere 1:59:57. The average party spends 7-10 hours on the sustained route, which follows a network of airy chimneys." To read more, click here.

--It appears that Atman (5.10b), a short crack route in Red Rock Canyon, was bolted recently. The bolts were subsequently removed. This is the second time this has happened on the Yin Yang wall. 

--A dehydrated abandoned dog was rescued in Joshua Tree this week...

Colorado and Utah:

--The climber that fell free soloing the Second Flatiron last week has died. To read more, click here.

--Out There Colorado is reporting that, "A Colorado county just tightened their COVID-19-related restrictions to make gathering in a group of more than five a misdemeanor, carrying a possible fine of up to $5,000. Pitkin County, home to the mountain towns of Aspen and Basalt, is cracking down on social gatherings ahead of Halloween weekend due to the "quick and steady" climb in COVID-19 cases. The mountain county announced stricter guidelines for personal gatherings on Friday, limiting gatherings to five people with no more than two separate households." To read more, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "San Luis Valley Climbers Alliance (SLVCA), a local nonprofit organization of dedicated climbers, and Access Fund, the national advocacy organization that protects America’s climbing, are pleased to announce they have secured permanent access to Denny’s, the go-to crag for steep sport climbing in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. SLVCA now needs help to ensure the area remains stewarded and protected forever." To read more, click here.

--Teton Gravity Research is reporting that, "a federal judge has banned Virtika founder and social media personality David Lesh from entering U.S. Forest Service lands following numerous flagrant rule violations that most recently included posting a picture of defecating in Colorado’s famous Maroon Lake. As of this past Friday, 35-year-old Lesh will no longer be allowed to enter any U.S. Forest Service lands for the foreseeable future. On top of the ban, Lesh will be prohibited from posting any content on social media of himself or anyone else violating state or federal laws on any federal lands under the jurisdiction of the court, including National Forests, National Monuments, Bureau of Land Management land and other federal property." To read more, click here.

--The first human triggered avalanche took place over the weekend on Bald Mountain near Breckenridge. No injuries or burials were reported. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Bozeman Daily Chronicle is reporting that, "A skier died Tuesday afternoon after a crash in the Bridger Mountains near Sacajawea Peak, according to a news release from the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office. Caroline Lupori, a Bozeman resident originally from Colorado, and another woman hiked in from Fairy Lake to ski the Great One on Tuesday afternoon. Lupori fell and sustained “traumatic injuries” while skiing the run." To read more, click here.

--We knew that camping was popular this year with the pandemic and all, but the reports out of Canada are crazy. Calgary CTV News reports on the numbers in Alberta: "Numbers from the province show a massive jump in provincial park campsite reservations in recent months, going from 5,209 in September 2019 to 286,657 in September 2020. That's an increase of more than 5,400 per cent." To read more, click here.

--InformNY Now is reporting that, Fifth grade students now have free admission to National Parks in the United States. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt officially signed a Secretary’s Order on October 28 that will waive entrance fees to national parks. This order will allow fifth grade students to have free admission to all United States national parks, wildlife refuges and public lands and waters." To read more, click here.

--The Sierra Club is reporting that, "On October 29, in a move that seems aimed at appeasing ranchers and hunters just days ahead of the presidential election, the Trump administration finalized a controversial rule which removes Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for all gray wolves in the lower 48 states, excepting Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. The move, long in the making, turns over management of this imperiled species to states and tribal governments." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Film Review: Downhill

The Will Ferrell/Julia Louis Dreyfus black comedy, Downhill, is an engaging, but not-terribly-funny sketch of a married couple with children on a ski vacation in Austria. The film delves into the complexity of a long term relationship that has been strained by each person's response to a "close call" in the mountains.

Pete (Will Ferrell) and Billie Stanton (Julia Louis-Dryfus) are in the midst of a fun family vacation, skiing in the Alps. The pair start the film with normal family vacation issues -- the kids don't really want to be there, they're in the adult-oriented hotel instead of the kid-oriented one, etc. -- but all seems well until a fateful lunch.

The family is sitting on an open deck below the ski slope, when a charge explodes triggering a controlled avalanche. At first, the family watches as the snow slides down the mountain, but as it gets closer to their open-air restaurant, they panic. Pete grabs his phone and runs, whereas, Billie grabs her children and tries to cover them with her body. As a light powder cloud below the avalanche wafts over the deck, everyone discovers that they're fine, that there was nothing to worry about...

Downhill, an American remake of the 2014 Swedish Film Force Majeure, follows the couple as they both try to make sense of how Pete reacted to the avalanche. The fact that he ran and left his family behind, has a profound impact on Billie and the children, and a monumental impact on the couple's marriage.

Interestingly, this is the first film to explore a mountain version of something that has been talked about a lot recently in the climbing community, traumatic stress injuries. Laura McGladrey has been promoting her ideas about this widely for the last few years. She writes:

There is growing recognition of traumatic stress injuries in climbers, mountaineers, and rescuers who experience overwhelming events such as the death of a climbing partner or a near miss in an avalanche. When a climber watches a partner rappel off the end of the rope, their own life is forever changed.

Critical incidents and near misses share similar characteristics that overwhelm one’s response system, establish a connection to the injured person, or create a profound sense of helplessness.

This is exactly what happens in the film. And as such, we get to watch two of our favorite comic actors try to reconcile their feelings. The quality of the performances and the love we all share for these individuals in all of their roles, deeply impacts us. We want them to be successful in the recovery of their relationship, and we want them to avoid the pitfalls that appear as a result of their injuries.

Most of us have had something explode within a relationship, something that seemed like a small bomb at first, but then grew, like an avalanche, to consume it. This is only one of the metaphors that they embrace in the film. Indeed, Downhill is filled with images/metaphors that are meant to indicate where the couple is in relation to one another. When they're close, they stand next to one another brushing their teeth at the same sink, and when their relationship is damaged, they stand behind a bathroom partition with a sink on each side, brushing...

The script by Jim Rash and Jessie Armstrong does have a handful of comic moments built into it. For example, Miranda Otto as Lady Bobo is a hilariously inappropriate supporting character, that is both sex-crazed and oddly unaware of personal boundaries. But one clownish character doesn't really make the film feel like a rip-roaring comedy. The film feels a lot more like A Marriage Story, than any of these other two actors film or television vehicles. It's better to think of this as a "dramedy" instead of a "comedy."

It's always refreshing to see stories set in the places where many of us like to recreate. These types of stories help bring a film home. Occasionally, a mountain set-piece makes a story feel more real to outdoors people. That is certainly the case with, Downhill...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, November 2, 2020

Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings

Miranda in the Wild from REI is at it again. Here she is with a short video on how temperature ratings on sleeping  bags work.

--Jason D. Martin