Monday, April 6, 2020

Alpine Rescue: A Theatrical Production

Many of you are aware that I have a background in playwriting and directing. I used to be a high school drama teacher and have an MFA in Theatre Arts. As such, nothing touches me as much as fun, funny theatrical productions that combine my passions for the outdoors and the mountains.

This short play, written and performed by Kurt Quinn at The Groundlings in Los Angeles as part of Advanced Lab, is awesome, and very funny. It is well-worth the five minutes it will take to watch it:

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 3, 2020

Accessible Alpine Rock Classics in Rocky Mountain National Park

There are only a few peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park that offer both relatively short approaches and "classic" (read: trade route) climbing: Hallett Peak and Notchtop. Both approaches offer modest elevation change at ~1,600-1,700 feet of gain from the Bear Lake Trailhead (same trailhead for both peaks). Mileage is also modest, especially when compared to 12-16 mile days for objectives on Longs or in Glacier Gorge.

Descending from Hallett Peak, the peak on the left side of the photo. Photo Chris Brinlee
Hallett Peak 

Hallett Peak has several routes of 3-4 star quality from 5.7-5.9. When paired with the 1.8 mile approach and 1,600 feet of elevation gain, the North Face of Hallett Peak is undisputedly the lowest hanging fruit for alpine rock in the area. Routes range from 850 to 1,000+ feet and even includes the mega-classic Culp-Bossier (III, 5.8+).

A climber on pitch 4 of the Culp-Bossier on Hallett Peak

The North Face of Hallett Peak is gneiss, and as such its crack systems aren't continuous (especially when compared to other parts of RMNP like the Diamond, or California's Sierra granite) so protection is variable. For trade routes like Culp-Bossier, the 5.8 climbing has great protection but runouts are substantial at 5.6. Additionally, route-finding on the upper face can also be challenging, though many stretches of the wall offer positive edges as a reprieve from the runouts and route-finding difficulties. Trad leaders who are used to multi-pitch routes in more amicable venues such as Red Rock will want to be cautious about selecting this wall as their first alpine rock route in the area.

A climber on the final pitch of the Culp-Bossier, Hallett Peak

Notchtop offers numerous classics at a variety of grades from Spiral Route (II, 5.4-5.6) to Direct South Buttress (III, 5.9). It's a slightly longer approach than Hallett, with just over 3 miles and 1,700 feet of gain but many of the routes will go quicker than Hallett, offering a similar length of day for competent parties climbing at or below their comfort grade.

Direct South Buttress (III, 5.9) is a favorite at the grade, for many RMNP climbers. It's steep, exposed, and offers quality crack climbing in a heroic position, what more can you ask for! The route goes up the peak's prow in the photo below.

A climber looking up at Notchtop from the base
Spiral Route gets overlooked by climbers seeking more sustained 5th class, but for those looking for a fun and moderate alpine day, this route is a must with 3-5 pitches from 5.0-5.4 interspersed with 2nd-4th class terrain. Near the top, one can tack on "Morning" (two pitches, 5.7) to add more technical climbing to the day. 

A climber low on Spiral Route, Notchtop
The descent off Notchtop has two common options: the 4th class ridge descent or three 60m double rope rappels. The ridge descent is engaging and can be time consuming for parties new to traveling in traversing ridge terrain. The rappels are relatively straightforward, though one will need to bring a second 60 meter rope.

Several other routes exist on both peaks described in this post at a variety of grades. Both peaks also offer incredible winter recreation opportunities. Hallett Peak (and Tyndall Gorge, where it is located) gifts climbers with challenging ice and mixed routes like the Great Dihedral (III, M5) and snow couloir climbing like Dragontail Couloir, which also serves as a popular ski mountaineering objective in the spring. Notchtop's aforementioned "Spiral Route" also makes for a challenging yet fun winter climb, making these "short-approach" destinations a year-round gift for climbers, skiers, and snowshoers. Regardless of the season, these peaks are not to be missed by any climber visiting RMNP (who has the requisite experience).    

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Climbing, Coronavirus and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 4/2/20

If you have an old pair of ski goggles and want to help with the coronavirus fight, click here. Some health care workers still don't have eye protection.


--A teenage Canadian climber was rescued after falling on Mt. Hood this week. To read more, click here.

--They have stopped clearing the North Cascades Highway. From the Washington State Department of Transportation, "On March 26, Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar suspended most maintenance work due to COVID-19 safety concerns, and implemented an “Essential Maintenance” approach to further comply with the state’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order to safeguard public health. Under these guidelines, we have paused most maintenance across the state, including work to reopen the North Cascades Highway. Similar work pauses are occurring on Cayuse and Chinook Passes." To read more, click here.

--Mt. Hood National Forest is closing, everything. From OregonLive: "Closures will affect all trailheads, sno-parks, day-use areas, campgrounds, fire lookouts and cabins within the national forest." To read more, click here.

--Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has closed facilities and campgrounds, but the forest remains open.

--The Summit at Snoqualmie has closed uphill skiing.

--Washington State Parks are now completely closed. Early in the crisis, they only closed the campgrounds. To read more, click here.


--A couple of Yosemite locals are making coronavirus masks...

--Medium is reporting that, "Mono County, home of Mammoth Mountain, has the highest per capita COVID-19 rate in California; Data shows counties with ski resorts have higher rates than urban areas." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Rescue crews were forced to respond to a skier triggered avalanche near Colorado's Telescope Mountain on Tuesday. To read more, click here.

--From March 27th:

--The National Parks Traveler is reporting that, "Though visitation to Zion National Park reportedly has fallen greatly since the park's campgrounds and lodge were closed, rangers on Thursday had to rescue two area residents who suffered injuries in the park." To read more, click here.

--Arches and Canyonlands are closed.

Notes from All Over:

--Jackson Hole News and Guide is reporting that, "Rescuers have yet to find the man who was buried in an avalanche on Taylor Mountain. The search will continue early Thursday morning. Members of the public are asked to avoid the Coal Creek parking area as it will be closed for search efforts. Skiers are asked to avoid Teton Pass altogether on Thursday." To read more, click here.

--The Billings Gazette is reporting on a climbing accident in Montana: "A man injured after an approximately 50-foot fall while rappelling in a remote area near the Stillwater River Trail was rescued over the weekend after about 12 hours of work from multiple first responder groups." To read more, click here.

--Snowking Mountain in Jackson is still open to skinners who keep their social distance. They have done a fundraiser to keep the groomer going. To read more, click here.

--But the reality is that regular operations in North American ski resorts are over, likely for the season.

--Here is an updated list of climbing area closures.

--Northern Michigan's Shaggy Skis has switched outdoor gear to medical mask production. To read more, click here. So has Outdoor Research. And others...!

--Teton Gravity Research is reporting that, "the section of trail leading up Tuckerman Ravine's Headwall is now closed to all use according to the Mt. Washington Avalanche Center. According to a press release,the section 'extends from Lunch Rocks to the top of the Headwall, where it meets the Alpine Garden Trail. The closure includes skiing and riding the Lip and Sluice.' If you don't know what any of those things are, then you probably should avoid Tuckerman Ravine." Over 400 people were trying to ski this over the weekend. To read more, click here.

--The Tokyo Olympics and climbing's big debut on the world stage has been postponed until 2021. To read more, click here.

--And finally, climbers in France are being fined for breaking quarantine and climbing.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Ski Crampons

Ski crampons: Sometimes they are a necessary evil to move over firm snow. They are generally one of those devices that you carry and hope you don't have to use. Simultaneously, they are one of those devices that you know you really need when you need them...

In the following video, AMGA Instructor Team Members Margaret Wheeler and Jeff Ward demonstrate the use of ski crampons and when it is appropriate to attach and remove them.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 30, 2020

Leave No Trace: Doing Your Dishes in the Backcountry

There are a tremendous number of skills to learn for the backcountry traveler, but washing dishes? This is something that a lot of people don't think about adequately until they are in the backcountry. How do I manage my food scraps and dish soap without polluting my water source? These are important questions, and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has the answers:

In review:

1) Dishes should be done 200-feet or at least seventy steps away from your water source.

2) You will need your dirty dishes, a scraper, soap, a towel, a sponge, a backcountry wash basin, and a trash bag.

3) Filter water before starting dishes. You may also heat the water to boiling and then let it cool. But you will need hot water anyway.

4) Scrape your dishes into the garbage bag.

5) Use minimal soap on the sponge to scrub your dishes clean.

6) Rinse your dishes in warm water and dry to eliminate any soapy residue.

7) Dispose of waste water (gray water) 200-feet from camp. Be sure to strain out food scraps.

8) The gray water may be splashed over a large area or disposed of in a cat hole.

9) The soap, scraper and sponge and anything else that smells should be kept in your food storage system.

Animals are attracted to the areas where you eat and wash. By eliminating a lot of food byproducts, you can decrease your interaction with rodents, raccoons and bears.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 27, 2020

Rock Climbing Technique: Clipping

As people progress into leading, they think about many elements of the sport. They think about how to place gear. They think about falling. They think about where they might stand while they get a piece. What many new leaders -- and some seasoned climbers -- forget to think about is how they're going to clip the rope to the protection.

This skill seems simple, but there's more to it than meets the eye...

In the following video Climbing magazine's Julie Ellison discusses how to appropriately clip the rope into a draw and explains some of the dangers that you should be aware of while clipping.

There are a couple of things in this video that Julie discusses quite quickly. Following is some additional information on these topics.

Carabiners Oriented in the Same Direction:

A quickdraw should aways be clipped away from the direction of the climb. In other words, both the gate on the bolt and the gate on the bottom carabiner should be oriented away from where you are actually climbing. If you are clipping to the right of your body and will be climbing up left, then the gates should face right. If you are clipping left of your body and you are climbing up right, then the gates should be facing left.
A draw with the carabiners facing the same direction.

Occasionally, you can't tell where the climb is going. In these cases, you just have to make your best guess.

There are two reasons for why we orient the gates away from the climb.

First, we want the rope to run over the spine of the bottom carabiner. This will keep the rope from accidently coming unclipped in the event of a fall. Occasionally, the rope will run over the gate perfectly during a fall and become unclipped, which could have catastrophic consequences.

Second, there have been occasions when the carabiner on the bolt has become unclipped. While rare, orienting the carabiner away from the line of the climb decreases the likelihood of this happening. If you poke around online, you'll find several of occasions where this has happened.

Loose Carabiner and Carabiner in Rubber Gasket:

The loose carabiner should always be on the side that you intend to clip to the bolt. The carabiner in the tight side of the draw should always be the carabiner you clip your rope to.

It's not a bad idea to use the same carabiners every time in the same positions. Carabiners that are bolt carabiners develop tiny groves and inconsistencies in the metal. These can damage your rope.

Carabiners that are rope carabiners are in the tight spot so that it's easier to clip them. The lack of rotation in the draw makes it easier to clip while at a funky stance.

A Final Note On Clipping:

Julie describes two orientations from which you clip carabiners. It's not a bad idea to practice both clipping styles when you're on the ground. This is the type of skill that you can do over and over again while watching tv. Clipping quickly and effectively should be second nature...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Climbing, Coronavirus and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/26/20


--Mt. Rainier National Park has closed.

--The Washington Department of Natural Resources closed trails and campgrounds.

--Campgrounds in Washington State Parks are closed. And Oregon State Parks are completely shuttered.

A large glide avalanche in the Mt. Baker Backcountry.

--The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center has suspended operations.


--Yosemite is closed. As is Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Desert Southwest:

--Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is "closed." In other words, all the facilities and the scenic drive are closed, but it is still possible to hike on trails. Keep your social distance though!

--Joshua Tree National Park is closed to all but foot and bike traffic. But it is still crowded.

Colorado and Utah:

--Out There Colorado is reporting that, "a rock climber was rescued after dark on a steep slope near Morrison, Colorado on Thursday. The West Metro Fire Rescue responded using a complicated, multi-tiered rope system to reach the climber who took a fall from a rock face about a mile up the trail." To read more, click here.

--Unofficial Networks is reporting that, "San Juan County, Colorado has banned all forms of backcountry recreation including skiing. The ban comes following huge numbers of skiers and riders taking to popular backcountry locations across Colorado." To read more, click here.

--Eight people have been caught in avalanches this week in Colorado. To read more, click here.

--This is really not the time to be calling on Search and Rescue. Nearly 40 SAR volunteers were required in an avalanche rescue in Colorado this week. To read more, click here.

--Rocky Mountain National Park is closed until further notice.

--Over the weekend the Colorado sun reported on a flurry of people accessing closed resorts on touring skis: "Across Colorado, the sudden shuttering of resorts has spurred a run on uphill ski equipment. Forget toilet paper. The hottest commodity in Colorado high-country right now is alpine-touring skis. Ski resorts across the state may not be spinning lifts, but the skiers are still skiing. Hundreds, if not thousands of skiers are regularly climbing resort slopes. Breckenridge and Keystone were allowing uphill all week until Vail Resorts on Friday pulled the plug on access at its two Summit County hills, plus Vail, Beaver Creek and Crested Butte." To read more, click here. In an update, not everyone is happy about all the up-hill skiing.

--The Summer Outdoor Retailer show is still on, for now.

--BLM Campgrounds in Indian Creek have been shut down.

Notes from All Over:

--An ice climber died last week climbing in Valdez, Alaska. To read more, click here.

--Climbing permits for Denali for the 2020 climbing season were suspended by the National Park Service last weekend. To read more, click here.

--Avalanche Canada has shut down for the remainder of the season.

--The Olympics will be delayed until 2021. This is a good thing as teams began to report that they weren't going to attend. In part this has to due with the difficulty of training during the COVID-19 crisis. To read more, click here.

--The thru-hiking season on the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail have effectively been shut down.

--On the other hand, there might actually be climbers on Everest this year after all. From the Katmandu Times: "China is all set to allow its nationals to attempt to climb the world’s highest peak from Tibet side in the spring season, according to sources. This season, no foreigners would be allowed to climb Mt Everest from the northern route but Chinese teams could easily get permit for Everest expedition, a high-level source at the China Tibet Mountaineering Association said." To read more, click here.

--ABC News is reporting that, "three of America's best-known national parks — Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Great Smoky Mountains — closed their gates Tuesday as parks struggle to keep popular recreation areas open while heeding warnings from officials urging them to prevent spreading the coronavirus at congested sites." To read more, click here.

--Canada closed all of its national parks yesterday.

--And finally, as always, here is the American Alpine Institute's Coronavirus Cancellation Policy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Training: Throws and Deadpoints

The Climbing Movement Essential Training Series on Youtube is kind of awesome. The series is composed of a number of well produced videos that focus on different aspects of training for climbing.

A dynamic throw is a move that allows you to get to a hold that is out of your reach. This particular video will help you train for big moves.

In the video they use a system board for the training. If you don't have a system board you can always find moves at the rock gym that will still allow for this training.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 23, 2020

Rocky Mountain National Park is Closed until Further Notice

The American Alpine Institute just received this press release:

Rocky Mountain National Park Is Modifying Operations to Implement Latest Health Guidance

Rocky Mountain National Park is announcing modifications to operations at the request of the local health department. As of 7 pm today, Friday, March 20, 2020, Rocky Mountain National Park is closed to all park visitors until further notice. This closure will be in effect 24-hours a day/7-days a week and there will be no access permitted to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Park visitors are encouraged to take advantage of the many digital tools already available to explore Rocky Mountain National Park. Visitors are encouraged to learn about park resources and stories through the many multimedia presentations currently available on the park’s website and continue to enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park through the park’s webcams. There are many wonderful resources available for all ages to remotely explore Rocky Mountain National Park.

The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners at Rocky Mountain National Park is our number one priority. The National Park Service (NPS) is working with the federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. We will notify the public when we resume full operations and provide updates on our website and social media channels.

The NPS urges visitors to do their part when visiting a park and to follow CDC guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by maintaining a safe distance between yourself and other groups; washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; and most importantly, staying home if you feel sick.

For high-risk populations, such as the elderly and people with underlying conditions, we ask that they take extra caution and follow CDC guidance for those at higher risk of serious illness.

Film Review: Mount St. Elias

Mount Saint Elias (18,008') is a massive peak with huge ridge lines, monster glaciers and steep terrain. There are no easy routes up -- or down the mountain.

From Wikipedia: 

Mount Saint Elias, also designated Boundary Peak 186, is the second highest mountain in both Canada and the United States, being situated on the Yukon and Alaska border. It lies about 40 kilometres (25 mi) southwest of Mount Logan, the highest mountain in Canada. The Canadian side is part of Kluane National Park, while the U.S. side of the mountain is located within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

Its name in Tlingit is Yaas'éit'aa Shaa, meaning "mountain behind Icy Bay", and is occasionally called Shaa Tléin "Big Mountain" by the Yakutat Tlingit. It is one of the most important crests of the Kwaashk'khwáan clan since they used it as a guide during their journey down the Copper RiverMount Fairweather at the apex of the British Columbia and Alaska borders at the head of the Alaska Panhandle is known as Tsalxhaan, it is said this mountain and Yaas'éit'aa Shaa (Mt. St. Elias) were originally next to each other but had an argument and separated. Their children, the mountains in between the two peaks, are called Tsalxhaan Yatx'i ("Children of Tsalxaan").

In 2007 a team of Austrian filmmakers went to the mountain to make a movie entitled Mount St. Elias, about the world's greatest ski descent. The goal was to ski from the summit all the way to the bay, which would make it an 18,000-foot ski line!!!

This particular objective had been tried before, with tragic consequence. The terrain is steep and
dangerous. It's one thing to make steep jump turns with serious consequences for a few hundred feet, but to do it for thousands upon thousands of feet is a different story. In 2002, Aaron Martin and Reed Sanders attmepted to ski down the mountain. Both men were killed in falls during the attempt.

This history provides a backdrop for the ski descent made by Axel Naglich and Peter Ressmann. The result is a gripping film about a serious undertaking by two world class skiers.

Throughout the film Naglich becomes the primary narrator. His Austrian accent is reminicent of Werner Hertzog's narration in Grizzly Man or Encounters at the End of the World. I found Naglich's accent easy to understand and endearing. This is probably because of my fondness for Hertzog's movies.

The ski descent doesn't exactly go as planned. The team is forced to ski the bottom portion of the mountain on a different trip from the top portion of the mountain. Some might argue that such a thing doesn't constitute a complete descent. I'm not one for such arguements...

Mount St. Elias is an awesome movie with fantastic cinematography and a fascinating story. And while the film doesn't exactly make me want to go out and ski Mount St. Elias, it certainly psyches me up for both skiing and climbing. I certainly wouldn't be opposed to climbing the mountain...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 20, 2020

Route Profile: Diedre - 5.7, II+

Between Vancouver, British Columbia and the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort lies one of the best rock climbing playgrounds in North America. Squamish, sometimes referred to as the "Yosemite of the Northwest," is home to hundreds - if not thousands - of spectacular routes, many of them moderate, and most of them easily accessible.

In the early nineties as I learned to climb, I spent a lot of time on the cliffs and crags of Squamish. When I was twenty years old I climbed Diedre (5.7, II+) for the very first time. And at that point in my climbing career, the ascent was life-changing. I had never really done anything longer than two pitches prior to that, and so the completion of a six pitch moderate route was a major achievement.

Diedra was put up in the early sixties on a formation in Squamish called "The Apron." There are a number of moderate routes on The Apron as it is a lower-angled formation. Diedre climbs through some slabs to attain a beautiful corner crack, which you follow for three pitches.

The climbing is never terribly hard, but it is exhilarating. The views of Howe Sound, the Stawamus Chief and nearby Mt. Garabalidi are absolutely stellar.

 AAI Guide and Program Coordinator James Pierson on Pitch 2.

James, approaching the belay station on moderate ground.

AAI Guide Tad McCrea, being a doofus, on moderate ground.

AAI Guide Mike Powers making his way up the fantastic finger crack on pitch 3.
 Another shot of pitch 3.

 James, leading pitch 3.

James, getting after it!

A mother and daughter team following pitch 4. 

 Near the anchors at the top of pitch 4.

 I have climbed Diedre at least twenty times over a timeframe exceeding twenty years. And I never get tired of it. The route seems fresh every time. Writing this today makes me wistful for the route. I can't wait to go back and climb it again...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/12/20

COVID-19 and the Outdoor World:

Things have gotten pretty crazy with the Coronavirus. It's pretty hard to cut through it all and report on anything else. As such, this week's climbing and outdoor news will look at how this pandemic is impacting the outdoor world...

--REI is closed. MEC has closed too. Our equipment shop at AAI is currently closed to the public.

--Most American Ski Resorts have been closed by COVID-19. This may lead many to the backcountry as conditions are still good. But if you do go in the backcountry, be cautious. Our system doesn't need more people in hospital beds. To read more, click here. Additionally, here's a piece from Outside on the unprecedented early closing of the ski areas.

--The financial impact of closed resorts is huge...

--Here are some podcasts from the ski industry on the impact.

--Climbing gyms are closing across the United States and Canada. And speaking of Canada, the border's closed too.

--No one will get COVID-19 on Mt. Everest this year, the mountain is closed, both in Tibet and in Nepal. The Everest closure will have a massive economic impact on those that work on the mountain.

--Here is how the crisis is impacting the Access Fund. They also have some thoughts on how to climb (or not climb) responsibly during the outbreak.

--Protect Our Winters is cancelling all events until the end of April.

--Rocky Mountain National Park has issued a statement about COVID-19.

--Here's how to disinfect your rope from COVID-19.

--The International Federation of Sport Climbing is postponing several events. It's not yet clear how this will impact the Olympics. To read about it, click here.

--Suddenly, there are a lot of people camping...

--Miguel's Pizza, a staple of the Red River Gorge, has shut down due to Coronavirus concerns. To read more, click here.

--The National Parks are free right now.

--There is a small silver lining to all this. The Corona Virus has had a positive impact on the environment in the short term. Here's Venice. Here's China. But it could be an uphill fight after all this.

--And finally, of course, here is the American Alpine Institute's COVID-19 policy for programs this spring and summer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Rocky Mountain National Park Is Modifying Operations to Implement Latest Health Guidance

The American Alpine Institute just received the following from Rocky Mountain National Park:

Rocky Mountain National Park is modifying operations to implement the latest guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and local and state authorities to promote social distancing. As of today, March 17, 2020, the park is still open however, park visitor centers including Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, Fall River Visitor Center and Kawuneeche Visitor Center are closed until further notice. At this time, restroom facilities are still available at Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and Kawuneeche Visitor Center.

Any programs that were previously scheduled including snowshoe walks, full moon walks, field trips and Earth Day events have been cancelled.

The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners is our number one priority. The National Park Service (NPS) is working with the federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. We will notify the public when we resume full operations and provide updates on our website and social media channels. Please visit and follow us on social media @RockyNPS.

If planning to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, in order to minimize contact with our entrance station staff, please purchase your entrance pass online ahead of your visit at and follow the prompts. Your email confirmation will serve as your pass. Take a screen shot of your email if you are concerned about your cellular coverage.

If you choose to recreate in the park be extra cautious and follow responsible and safe practices. Now is not the time to engage in extreme winter mountaineering activities or to travel solo into the park’s wilderness. “Spring” in the Colorado Rockies is “winter” elsewhere. Prepare and plan for dramatically changing weather. Advise someone where you are going, your intended route, when you will be back. Don’t rely on your cell phone. Park resources are limited, and staff may be slow to respond to emergency incidents.

The NPS urges visitors to do their part when visiting a park and to follow CDC guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by most importantly, staying home if you feel sick. Please maintain a safe distance of six feet between yourself and other groups; wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

For high-risk populations, such as the elderly and people with underlying conditions, we ask that they take extra caution and follow CDC guidance for those at higher risk of serious illness.

If you have no intention to travel given current events or you are ill, research shows that even photographs of nature help ease stress and anxiety. Virtually visit Rocky on to view webcams and soak up beautiful photographs on Instagram and Facebook @RockyNPS we’ll be sharing even more gorgeous images in the days to come. Breathe deeply in the comfort of your home and plan for your next visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. You’ll enjoy it more than ever!


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Backcountry Skiing: Effective Transitions

Backcountry skiing is one of the most fun mountain adventures out there. But it is gear intensive and there is no more gear intensive moment in a backcountry skiers day than the transition from climbing to skiing or from skiing to climbing.

AMGA Instructor Team Member Jeff Ward and Outdoor Research came together to do a video on this subject. Check it out below:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 16, 2020

Using Trees and Bushes for Anchors

All types of climbing requires all types of anchors. One commonly used anchor in top-roped climbing as well as in multi-pitch climbing is the ubiquitous tree. Trees and bushes are everywhere. You can find solid trees sticking out of cracks in the middle of a route and you can find weak trees sitting on top of a crag. As a result it is very important to look carefully at a tree before using it.

In traditional anchors, we often use the acronym SERENE to determine whether an anchor is good or not. The letters in SERENE stand for the following:

S -- Solid -- Are all the pieces in the anchor solid?
E -- Equalized -- Are all the pieces equalized?
R -- Redundant -- Is there redundancy throughout the sysytem?
E -- Effective -- Was the anchor construction simple and quick with no fuss?
NE -- No Extension -- Will the system be shock-loaded if a piece blows?

All anchors should pass the SERENE test or come extremely close to passing this test.

When we find a big fat tree that we elect to use as an anchor, the tree generally will not pass this test. Why? Because a single tree is not redundant. However, if the tree is giant and has a good root-base, redundancy doesn't matter as much. All the other letters in the acronym will be satisfied.

The SERENE acronym becomes significantly more important when the tree or bush that you wish to use in your anchor isn't very good. Occasionally, we have to link together a series of shrubs in order to create a SERENE anchor. It's important to use as many as you need to use in order to make the anchor as strong as it needs to be.

Following is a video about what to look for in a good tree anchor:


--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 9, 2020

Lydia Bradley: The First Woman to Summit Everest without Oxygen

In 1988, Lydia Bradley became the first woman to summit Mt. Everest without oxygen. Two other New Zealanders were unable to summit the day before. As a result, they sewed doubt about Lydia's ground-breaking ascent. After some time, a Spanish climber confirmed her ascent and the ascent was recorded in the history books as an important first.

In the following video, Lydia discusses both her ascent, as well as the controversy around it.

--Jason  D. Martin

Friday, March 6, 2020

Official Trailer: Dundee

What happens when two women spot a line that nobody else ever noticed? What happens when they apply an unconventional technique to climb that line...? The impossible...

This is funny. Watch the whole thing.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - March 5, 2020


--KOMO News is reporting that, "A woman who went missing while hiking at the 9,000-foot level of Mount Rainier has been found alive, park officials said. The 34-year-old woman was reported missing by her husband Sunday when she did not return from her hike and he could see her car still parked at Paradise on the web cam, said Mount Rainier National Park spokesperson Patty Wold." To read more, click here.

--An injured climber used a fire to notify rescuers of his whereabouts last week. To read more, click here.

--The Bulletin is reporting on a tree well lawsuit. "Mt. Bachelor ski area allegedly failed 11 different ways to protect a skier and snowboarder who died on the same day two years ago after falling into tree wells, according to a $30 million lawsuit filed in Deschutes County Circuit Court. On the day Nicole Panet-Raymond, 19, of Portland, and Alfonso Braun, 24, of Bend, were killed in separate incidents, the lawsuit claims the ski area failed to close parts of the mountain where tree wells were a hazard and failed to clearly mark areas to avoid them." To read more, click here.

--Outdoor Sportswire is reporting that, "National Park Trust today announced the acquisition of one of the last remaining private properties inside of a remote area of Lassen Volcanic National Park, California. Using the Park Trust’s newly established Treasure Forever Fund, the National Park Service was able to purchase the land. As a result, a small but important .6 acre section of old-growth forest will now be accessible to the public and permanently protected in its natural state, preventing the land from being developed. This acquisition also helps to protect a segment of the historic Nobles Emigrant Trail, a western migration route pioneered by William H. Noble in the early 1850s." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah: is reporting on an increase in graffiti and vandalism on Utah's public lands. "In April 2018, archaeologists joined several local and state agencies on a tour of Coalville Ledge in Summit County, where graffiti was threatening to destroy art created by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. Just last year, someone dug a tunnel under a gate to break into Danger Cave State Park Heritage Site, vandalized it and stole historic items from it. During a presentation about the vandalism, archaeologist Ron Rood estimated the cost of the repair was at least $10,000. Bureau of Land Management officials also reported that someone used spray paint vandalize Shinob Kibe, a sacred site to Paiute Indians local to the area in Washington County." To read more, click here.

--The Colorado Sun is reporting that, "it’s been 23 years since Colorado lawmakers last crafted legislation to help the state’s now 2,800 search and rescue volunteers. And with increasing calls stressing overwhelmed volunteers, they could use a bit of help. Help could come with a bipartisan bill making its way through the Capitol that would explore potential funding options to better equip and train search and rescue teams. The proposed legislation would also develop programs to support the mental health of volunteers who respond to all calls for help from Colorado’s backcountry." To read more, click here.

--Out There Colorado has a piece on why avalanche fatalities are so high in Colorado. "A staggering 287 people have died in Colorado due to avalanches over the past 70 years. To put that number into perspective, that’s nearly twice the number of fatalities that have occurred in the state with the second highest avalanche-related death toll – Alaska (158). States like Washington (130), Utah (120), Montana (119), and California (66) have similar alpine topography, but land nowhere near Colorado’s number of fatalities. This begs the question – why are Colorado’s Rocky Mountains seemingly that much more dangerous?" To read more, click here.

--The Coalition of American Canyoneers has put together some rescue grants. "Technical canyoneering continues to grow in popularity dramatically each year.  As a result, the number of canyon rescues is growing too. The Coalition of American Canyoneers would like to provide seed capital to three SAR teams in 2020 to conduct fundraising activities to support canyon specific SAR team rescue and training efforts." To read more, click here.

--Outdoor Sportswire is reporting that, "The 1Climb Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by professional rock climber Kevin Jorgeson, is partnering with one of the largest operators of indoor climbing facilities in the U.S., El Cap, to bring climbing to kids across the country. Marking the beginning of the new partnership, El Cap and 1Climb opened a rock wall at Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver on December 17." To read more, click here.

--The Know Outdoors is reporting that, "Arapahoe Basin Ski Area said its skier visits have been down 35% this season after leaving the Epic Pass, fulfilling its goal of reducing crowds on the slopes." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--An 11-year-old ice climber has died in a fall in New York's Catskill Mountains. According to ABC News 10, "The boy was climbing with a group including his father, three other adults, and two other children aged 13 and 15. Walking out on a portion of the trail that had a hand line, the 11-year-old victim lost his footing, slipped, and fell." To read more, click here.

--There was a skier fatality in a backcountry zone of Vermont's Stowe Mountain Resort. It appears that one individual fell from a cliff. To read more, click here.

--As a remembrance for Jake Burton, one of the biggest influencers in modern snowboarding, several ski resorts will  have a free day on March 13th. But you will have to register. The resorts include:
  • Absolut Park, Austria
  • Avoriaz, France
  • Bear Mountain, CA
  • Big Sky, MT
  • Boreal Mountain, CA
  • Boyne Mountain, MI
  • Copper Mountain, CO
  • Cypress Mountain, BC
  • Laax, Switzerland
  • Madonna Di Campiglio, Italy
  • Seki Onsen Resort, Japan
  • Stratton Mountain, VT
  • Summit at Snoqualmie, WA
--The Access Fund is reporting that, "Rumney Climbers’ Association (RCA) and Access Fund are pleased to announce the successful transfer of Rumney’s Northwest Crags in central New Hampshire to White Mountain National Forest for long-term management and climbing access. Also known as the Final Frontier, this land transfer marks the final step in a multiyear campaign to purchase and permanently protect the final set of privately owned cliffs at Rumney Rocks." To read more, click here.

--Hopefully, we'll have an Olympics and COVID-19 doesn't screw it up, so we can see people climbing on these cool walls in Tokyo:

--21 WFMJ is reporting that, "Grand Teton National Park officials planned to begin having contractors shoot nonnative mountain goats from a helicopter as part of a disputed effort to help native bighorn sheep." To read more, click here.

--Skiing is really expensive, but if you plan ahead, it doesn't have to be. The Intelligencer reports that, "Of course, a key phrase in that sentence is “sticker price.” Like with so many things, few skiers actually pay list price for access to the mountain. Last year, when Vail’s maximum one-day ticket price was $209, the average effective ticket price charged by Vail Resorts for nearly 15 million skier days was just $68.89 per day. Partly, this is because Vail Resorts is the largest American ski operator, owning dozens of resorts, many of which cost less than the Vail flagship. But it’s also because tickets are far cheaper if you buy in advance, or if you buy a pass that allows you extensive access to the mountains over many days or the whole season." To read more, click here.

--The Adventure Journal is reporting on the tiff in the polar explorer community. "Nearly 50 of the world’s most accomplished and respected polar explorers penned a statement today in support of Aaron Teasdale’s article in National Geographic that called into question Colin O’Brady’s claim to be the first to cross Antarctica solo and unassisted. Since the Nat Geo piece, an army of detractors, many spurred by O’Brady’s February 20 appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast, have criticized Teasdale and his reporting, arguing that the article defamed O’Brady. O’Brady himself wrote a multi-page detraction of the article, demanding that Nat Geo retract it, which they have, so far, refused to do." To read more, click here.

--Outside is reporting on coronavirus fears. "Coronavirus Is Causing a Freeze-Dried Food Freak-Out:
Backpacking food company Mountain House has taken the unusual step of temporarily shutting down its website in order to deal with skyrocketing demand in the wake of pandemic fears." To read more, click here.

--COVID-19 reporting is everywhere. And now Mt. Everest might close because of it.

--A blind climber has developed a way for blind people to access climbing objectives. He used Legos! Check it out, below:

Monday, March 2, 2020

Classic Desert Tower Routes from 5.10-5.12

Eastern Utah and Western CO is an internationally recognized destination for desert towers. For those of you looking for which towers to get started on- read our other blogpost entitled "Which Desert Tower Should Be My First?". This post goes outside of introductory towers and none of these should be considered "safe" as any tower has inherent risk associated with climbing them. With that being said, here are some incredible options at more challenging grades (keep in mind this is no where close to being exhaustive, there are alot of classics!):

A climber ontop of The Rectory in Castle Valley, UT
Jah Man, Sister Superior (II/III, 5.10c)
This tower is an incredible, though rather short classic that offers a fun variety of techniques. This is climbed in as many as 5 pitches or as little as 2 (using extensions, a 70 meter rope, and running it out). All in ~350 feet enjoy a squeeze chimney, exposed face climbing, traverses (though short), and thin handcracks. (UPDATE: Part of this route fell down, and it is much harder now.)

A climber follows the final pitch of Jah Man.
Fine Jade, The Rectory (III, 5.11)
The must-climb classic of the classics. Virtually every pitch on this climb, if they were each independent pitches, would be heavily repeated at a crag. The common argument on this route is whether the first or the second pitch is actually the crux. The final pitch has a highly recommended sport climbing finish (that goes at 5.11) instead of the moderate corner climber's left.

Infrared, Big Bend Butte (III, 5.11c)
This line was first established by two greats: Jay Smith and Conrad Anker. This is a definite modern day classic, with an incredible final pitch that is partly bolted and weaves through a roof that looks substantially harder than it truly is. The original rating of this climb was 5.12- and has since been downgraded to 5.11+ (which we certainly agreed with).

A climber follows the crux pitch of Infrared. Dolomite Spire is seen below the climber.
Medicine Man, Sentinel Spire (III, 5.12)
A personal favorite, Medicine Man, is actually located in western CO near Independence Monument. The second and third pitches are where the route derives its quality, with the third pitch being truly world-class; imagine a perfect laser-cut splitter crack a few hundred feet off the ground in a beautiful canyon. Even the approach/descent to and from this climb is unique, rappelling over the canyon rim and then jugging back out the same rope to return to the car. Depending on one's handsize, this climb may not feel like 5.12.

Racking up at the base of Medicine Man

Friday, February 28, 2020

Temporary Raptor Closures at Lumpy Ridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading with Beginners

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

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

Lead Belay Training

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

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

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

Lead Belay with an Assisted Breaking Device

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petzl recommends that you:

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

2) Never grip the device with the entire hand.

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

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

Student Belay Backups, Ground Anchors and Knots

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

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

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

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

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

Descent Options

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

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

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

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

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