Friday, April 16, 2021

Natural Anchors

Okay, kids. The question for today is easy. What is a natural anchor?

The most straightforward definition is that a natural anchor is any simple anchor point that nature provides.

The class know-it-all in the front row raises her hand and asks, "but Mr. Martin, isn't a crack a natural anchor?"

A crack is a crack. We actually have to put something inside the crack before we have a piece. It is a natural spot to place an anchor, but it is not a natural anchor point. No, instead a natural anchor is anything that is already there. The most common examples of natural anchors are trees, bushes, boulders, pinches and thread-throughs.

This tree, found on the iconic Northwest route, Outer Space (III, 5.9), 
has little more than a few roots in the crack system keeping it in place.

Before you elect to use a tree as an anchor point, you should make sure that it is "Five-and-Alive." In other words, that it is at least five inches in diameter, five feet tall, has a good root-base and is alive. You should be wary of trees that could have a root-base in dirt or sand and on top of the rock. An anchor with this kind of structure could easily fail.

This photo shows a tensionless wrap with a static rope on a very large tree.

Bushes and Shrubs

In the mountains and in the desert, it is not uncommon to use bushes and shrubs that clearly don't meet the Five-and-Alive standard. These are primarily used as rappels to get down obscure gullies or to get off the backside of a peak, so the tendency is to try to avoid leaving too much gear. The tendency is to want to only leave webbing or cordage.

When you elect to use these less-than-stellar natural anchors, consider equalizing a number of them together. If you're tying your cord around a desert bush that is comprised of a number of finger-sized sticks, you'll probably want to equalize this with similar bushes. Depending on the size and density, I would want at least two of these, if not more.

And lastly, when it comes to bushes and shrubs as anchors, use common sense. Don't put your weight on something that might blow out. You could always back up the first person (usually the heavier person) on rappel with a loose gear anchor. If all goes well, the second person could tear down that anchor and then descend. If the equalized bush anchor didn't come apart during the first rappel with the heavier climber, it's reasonable to believe that it wouldn't come out with the second climber either.


Boulders can be absolutely fantastic natural anchors. But there are a few things to look at before committing to a boulder. First, make sure that it is in good contact with the ground. Boulders on sandy or sloping surfaces should be considered suspect. Second, make sure that it won't wobble or roll toward the edge. Every boulder should be checked by pushing and pulling on it to confirm it's position. And lastly, if there is any possibility of movement, don't use it. The last thing you need is a boulder falling down on top of you.

Pinches and Thread-Throughs

Pinches are places where two large boulders come together so tightly that you can wrap cordage or webbing around them. Thread-throughs are places where there is a hole in the rock that you can something through to tie-off.

It is not uncommon for people to simply miss these opportunities while trying to build an anchor. They simply aren't as intuitive for most people as the other natural anchors out there. If you can keep the fact that these exist in mind and you look for them, you'll find them.

Like boulders and trees and bushes, it's important to make sure that pinches and thread-throughs are sturdy enough to handle the stress of being an anchor. This is particularly important in sandstone or in other soft and friable rock-types.

Natural Chockstones

In the following video, the Canadian Mountain Guide, Mike Barter demonstrates a quick and dirty improvised anchor.

Ultimately, the great value to natural anchors is that they don't require much gear. And since they don't require much, you'll have plenty to use on your next lead.

Class dismissed. Now go build some natural anchors!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 4/15/21


--News 21 is reporting that, "a Beaverton man climbing South Sister alone called 911 for help Monday morning when he got stuck on a small, precarious ledge at 9,800 feet elevation, prompting a challenging, day-long rescue effort in which an Oregon Army National Guard helicopter crew hoisted him to safety, officials said. To read more, click here.


--The Tahoe Daily Tribune is reporting that, "a rock climber was reportedly severely injured last week when he fell about 100 feet down sharp rocks in a remote area off Silver Fork Road near Kyburz. The man was accompanied by another climber who called 911 but, according to California Highway Patrol Valley Division Air Operations, due to accessibility challenges rescue crews requested the assistance of a helicopter." To read more, click here.

--The Sierra Wave is reporting that, "Yosemite National Park to Re-Implement a Day-Use Reservation System Beginning on Friday, May 21, 2021. Yosemite National Park – Beginning Friday, May 21, visitors to Yosemite National Park will need a day-use reservation to enter the park. The temporary day-use reservation system will allow the park to manage visitation levels to reduce risks associated with exposure to COVID-19." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--AZ Central and many others are reporting on the death of a congressional staffer in Death Valley. "One of two missing campers from Tucson who were found on a remote, steep ledge in the Willow Creek area of Death Valley National Park died, officials said Friday afternoon. Alexander Lofgren, 32, was pronounced dead and Emily Henkel, 27, was hospitalized after the two were removed from the ledge at about noon on Friday, the Inyo County Sheriff's Office said on Facebook." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund needs your help to save Oak Flat! Please urge Congress to repeal the law that allows the transfer of Oak Flat in Arizona—an Apache ancestral territory, premier climbing destination, and national forest—to a foreign-owned mining company. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--This is unacceptable. Bolts should be nowhere near petroglyphs:

--In an update, the individual responsible has apologized and has stated that he's received death threats over this.

Notes from All Over:

--A woman faked her death at New River Gorge to avoid prison. "Last May, Rodney Wheeler dialed 911 with a frantic plea for help: His wife had just plunged hundreds of feet over a steep cliff in a West Virginia national park. Authorities quickly launched a massive search for Julie Wheeler, 44. For days, hundreds of volunteers, police, and professional rescuers trekked along the base of the New River where her husband said she had fallen, aided by helicopters and rescue dogs. But Julie Wheeler had never gone missing. Three days after she supposedly fell off a cliff, authorities found her hiding inside a closet in the couple’s Beaver, W.Va., home." To read more, click here.

--Climb United is a task force that has been put together by the American Alpine Club and a number of outdoor brands to look at diversity and inclusion in climbing. They are also looking carefully at the "offensive route name" issue. "The Guiding Principles will serve to establish an agreed-upon philosophy toward publishing climbing route names, while the Guidelines provide an evaluation and management system for addressing discriminatory route names. The AAC will host a public forum on the draft guidelines on April 21 at 6 p.m. MDT to engage the community and encourage questions and feedback." To read more, click here.

--Everybody is getting excited for climbing in the Olympics...even though it was supposed to happen last year. The Climbing Business Journal has a piece on the recent "reintroduction" of the American Olympic climbers to the media. Read it, here.

--Patagonia will no longer be adding logos to their clothing. From SGB media: "we’ve learned is that adding an additional non-removable logo reduces the life span of a garment, often by a lot, for trivial reasons. People change jobs, and the extra logo makes for an awkward re-gift. People tend not to pass logoed gear down to their kids, and not everyone wants to be an advertisement on weekends, even if they’re proud to go into work on weekdays. The result? Perfectly good gear ends up forgotten in the closet—or worse, gets tossed in the trash." To read more, click here.

--And finally, in a heartwarming video, we watch Jacob Smith at the age of 12, ski Big Sky Resort's Big Couloir. Oh yeah, and he's blind....

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How to Choose a Pair of Rock Climbing Shoes

Bryan from Oregon Outside has put together a great tutorial on rock shoes. In the following video he quickly goes through a number of different considerations that you might have when choosing a rock shoe.

Check it out below:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Appalachian Trail in Five Minutes

Thru-Hiker Kevin Gallagher hiked the 2,175 mile Appalachian Trail in six months. Numerous people complete the entire trail every years. But Gallagher did something a little bit different on his trip.

Every day of his trip, Gallagher took twenty-four slides of iconic portions of the trail. He recently put these slides together into a film, which condenses the entire journey into a single five minute segment. He titled the film, "The Green Tunnel."

Following is the product of his adventure:

To learn more about Gallagher and his work, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 9, 2021

Route Profile: Sultana Ridge - Mt. Foraker

Mount Foraker as seen from Denali. The Sultana Ridge is the prominent,
lighter colored ridge running up the center of the mountain.

Mount Foraker – 17,400 ft / 5303 m

Route: Northeast Ridge (Sultana Ridge)
Difficulty: Alaska Grade 3
Elevation Gain: 10,500 ft along 9 miles of ridge


Standing at 17,400 ft in the central Alaska Range, Mount Foraker is only 14 miles from Denali and provides a dramatic backdrop for climbers on the West Buttress route. Foraker is the second highest peak in the Alaska Range and the fourth highest in the United States. First climbed in August 1934, it rises directly above the base camp for Denali, but sees far fewer ascents each year.

Approaching Foraker on the Kahiltna glacier.

Setting up camp below Mount Crosson. 

An expedition on Foraker generally requires less acclimatization time than Denali because it is almost 3000 feet lower. The Sultana Ridge follows a pure and scenic ridge for seven miles. Climbing over several smaller peaks, including Mount Crosson, the ridge encompasses the crest of the Alaska Range. Similar in difficulty to the West Buttress of Denali, the Sultana Ridge of Foraker offers true remoteness for Alaskan mountaineering; retreat is more difficult, camps are more exposed, and there is no support network on the route. You will likely have the whole route to yourself!

After passing Crosson, climbers gain the true
Sultana Ridge.

After flying onto the Kahiltna glacier, we will set off towards advanced base camp at the base of Mount Crosson. Ascending the ridge using a couple camps, we will summit Crosson (12,800 ft) and descend 1100 ft to reach the col between Crosson and Point 12,472. If avalanche conditions are safe, we will likely bypass the summit of Pt. 12,472 and traverse it’s southeast face at 12,200 ft. The next three miles of the Sultana ridge are a long series of ups and downs with cornices and crevasses. Eventually, the ridge mellows as it links up with the upper Northeast Ridge of Foraker.

Moving along the corniced Sultana Ridge.

Looking up the Sultana Ridge
to the summit of Foraker.

Due to difficult camp options on the upper mountain, our high camp will be at 12,300 ft. The ridge becomes less steep around 14,000 ft and tops out on the summit plateau at 17,100 ft. Summit day is a 5100-foot push and will reward us with impressive views of the Alaskan tundra, Denali, and the breathtaking Alaska Range. After enjoying the summit of Mount Foraker, we will retrace our steps on the descent, crossing over the summit of Mount Crosson again and returning to the Kahiltna glacier. Our bush-pilot will bring us back to Talkeetna where we can share our stories with other climbers and begin the journey home.

Success! The summit of Foraker offers incredible
views of Denali and the Alaska Range.
Have you already climbed Denali and are looking for more Alaska adventures? Are the Big 3 (Denali, Hunter, and Foraker) on your tick list? Looking to summit a slightly lower mountain before taking on a full Denali expedition?

Mount Foraker is a great mountain and AAI is starting to gauge interest in a Foraker expedition in 2015. If this sounds like a climb you would like to join, please contact us for more information. Our well-known climbing programs can help you sharpen your skills and take your climbing to the next level.

Climb on!

Dylan Cembalski
Alaska Programs and 7 Summits Coordinator
AAI Guide

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Cold Weather Camping Tips

As we move into the spring, it is still winter in the mountains. And when you go mountaineering in the summer, it's always snowy!

So with that in mind, here are some helpful tips for winter (cold weather) camping:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 5, 2021

Miranda in the Wild - Trying Every Kind of Backpacking Stove

Miranda is at it again...with a great video on the different types of stoves out there. This is a really good survey on the stove types.

There are a couple of things to think about, especially with isopro stoves. As Miranda says, "these are most likely to be the best for most people."

1) It's important to note that really cold isobutane fuel canisters don't operate as well as those that are warm. You can keep them warm in your tent (or even sleeping bag) for early morning use. Don't put them directly on the snow when cooking, if you can avoid it.

2) Some of the higher-end isopro stoves (like the Jetboil or Reactor) are extremely efficient, compared to the "pocket rocket" style that she demonstrates.

There's no reason for most of our readers to use the solid fuel or alcohol stoves.

With the woodburning stoves, there are some models that you can charge your devices off, while cooking. This is the only good thing about these.

And though they're a pain, there are some real advantages to white gas stoves. They work well at altitude, and they work okay in the cold. In extreme cold, the gas may still need to be warmed to work well. I've had experiences on both Denali and in Peru where we had problems with how cold it was with these stoves.

I've found that I spend a lot of time tinkering and cleaning the white gas stoves, and really prefer isopro stoves...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 2, 2021

Considerations for Roping Up on a Glacier while Ski Mountaineering

The following video discusses some of the questions that you might consider around roping up for glacier travel. 

It is common to see skiers moving on glacial terrain, unroped. Anytime you are on a "wet" glacier -- a glacier with snow on it --  there is the possibility of a crevasse. That said, your skis do create less force on the snow than walking does, so you can get away with a little bit more than you can in spring and summer mountaineering on foot.

Ross Berg, a Canadian guide, talks about glaciers and what he considers before roping up on a ski mountaineering program.

Ross lists three considerations at the end of his video:

Familiarity -- Do you know the area? Have you seen it without snow on it? 

Visibility -- Can you see, or are you in a white-out? Everything is more dangerous when you cannot see.

Snowpack -- Do you have a good snowpack? Are the crevasses filled in or covered by a lot of snow?

He also notes that you should be conservative until you have more skill and knowledge at reading glaciers and understanding them...

--Jason D. Martin