Monday, May 31, 2021

Don't be a Crag Hole...!

So, this funny video about crag etiquette is making its way around the internet. The message of the video is that there are certain things that are acceptable at the crag and certain things that aren't.

Check out the video for a little bit of education and a laugh:



--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 28, 2021

Route Profile: Dorado Needle - East Ridge

There is almost no information whatsoever about the east ridge of Dorado Needle. In the Cascade Alpine Guide, Beckey merely gives it a mention:

EAST RIDGE: This sharp crest leads from the col E of Dorado needle toward the summit. First ascent by Joan and Joe Firey, Hans Hoesli, Dave Knudson and Peter Renz on July 4, 1971. The route involves class 3-5, sound, granitic rock. Ascend the ridge to the eastern subsummit, then rappel into the notch beyond for completion to the summit. Rating: 5.5. Time 4 hours.

On an ascent of the route in 2016, we found this description to be... less than adequate. The route clocks in at about 5.7 and most parties will take eight to twelve hours from the Eldorado East Ridge camp (where there's a toilet) to the summit of Dorado and back. Additionally, the route presents many different alpine problems that make it an interesting and fun route to climb!


Approach: From the camp at the base of the east ridge of Eldorado Peak (see Selected Climbs in the Cascades, Volume I), traverse the Inspiration Glacier to the north avoiding crevasses until you reach the Inspriation-McAllister Col.

This is a good time to take a picture of the NW Ridge of Dorado Needle and the glacier below. On the descent you will not be able to see all the options and an early photo that you can reference later will help with your return trip.

Drop down the glacier until you reach the Dorado Needle Col.

Topo for the East Ridge of Dorado
(Click to Enlarge)

Route: From the Dorado Needle Col, climb one very loose, nearly unprotectable 5.5 pitch, to a stance. Approximately 100-feet up from the Col there is a large horn that had a sling on it when I climbed it. This is the best anchor if you start from the Col.

There is protection, but it is thin. Everything that you might consider for pro needs to be checked to ensure that it is attached to the mountain.

An alternative is to cross the moat to the right of the Col and climb straight up underneath a cannonball hole in the mountain. While we didn't go this way, it is reportedly better climbing. However, you may have to deal with a very dangerous moat. It should also be noted that the cannonball hole is hard to see on the approach.

At the top of the first pitch, scramble up toward the ridge crest on better rock. Continue for several rope lengths along or just below the ridge. The climbing here is anywhere from third class to easy fifth class. All the ridge climbing throughout the entire route is either on the ridge or below it on the right-hand side.

Eventually, you will come to a notch. Down-climb third and fourth class terrain to a spot where the glacier touches the notch.

From here, cross the glacier to the base of the continuation of the east ridge. The best place to access the ridge is at a ledge with two quartzite lines. Beware of the moat here as it is bottomless.

East Ridge Dorado Needle
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

Many parties may choose to skip the loose bottom of the east ridge and simply access the mountain after this notch. The rock is significantly better from here on out.

After you access the rock, continue up for several rope lengths on terrain that ranges from third to low-fifth class to the top of a tower.

Make two short rappels into the notch between the ridge and the summit pyramid.

Working up 5.7 Terrain toward the Summit.

Climb good rock for another two pitches. This terrain looks harder than it is as you approach it. The climbing is never harder than 5.7.

Climb one to two more easy pitches to the summit of the mountain.

Descent: This descent can be easy, or it can turn into a nightmare. Stay awake and pay attention. There is a lot of tat on this mountain that leads you to difficult moat crossings.

From the summit, ignore the tat around the summit block and continue down the ridge toward the Northwest Ridge. Eventually you will come to a block that is inconveniently wrapped with tat. It's inconvenient because you will have to climb over to the other side to rig it for a rappel.

One way to tell that you're in the right place is that you can see that you'll be about five to ten feet above a stance when you rig it.

There is a lot of tat on the north side of the mountain. If the moats are not too difficult, you might be able to use some of these. But if the moats look like they'll be a problem, then you shouldn't rap that way.

East Ridge from Eldorado Peak
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

We rapped easily down the southwest side to a stance that is exactly 30 meters (100-feet) below. From there we scrambled on easy ledges back to the NW Ridge and to an easy rap that took us to a moatless notch at the base of the NW Ridge.

From the base of the ridge, you will have to find a way down through steep crevasses in order to make your way back to the McAllister-Inspiration Col. In 2016, we found a good path down on the skier's right side of the glacier.

Dorado Needle is an excellent climb. This is an adventure climb in the purest sense. The peak is remote, big and incredibly cool. An ascent of Dorado Needle is an ascent of something at the very heart of the North Cascades!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/27/21

Northwest:

--A climber was killed after slipping on steep snow on The Brothers in the Olympic mountains on Sunday. To read more, click here.

--The East Baker Lake Trail has been closed due to some unusual interactions with a cougar. From the Forest Service: "The reports were of minimal response by the cougar in breaking off interaction
after efforts by hikers with shouts and arm waving to discourage the cougar from remaining in the area." To read more, click here.


Sierra:

--The National Park Service is reporting that, "A high-elevation search and rescue operation ended happily on Sunday when ground searchers successfully located missing hiker Edward Lee Alderman in the vicinity of Timberline Lake, several miles west of the summit of Mount Whitney. Mr. Alderman is reported to be alert, despite injuries, fatigue, and exposure to sub-freezing temperatures. Mr. Alderman was reported missing on Friday, after failing to return from his hike to the summit of Mount Whitney on Thursday, May 20. Helicopters searched the area from the air on Saturday, and ground searchers were deployed on Sunday, once a late-season winter storm cleared the area." To read more, click here.

--Tioga Pass should open today.

Colorado and Utah:

--There were two incidents in the Wasatch outside Salt Lake over the weekend. The first was the unfortunate death of a hiker on Mt. Superior. And the second, was the rescue of a pair of climbers on Mt. Olympus. To read more, click here.

--SnowBrains is reporting that, "David Lesh has been denied having two criminal charges dropped for alleged illegal activity on national forest lands by a Federal judge. The former pro-skier will still face trial. The charges are that Lesh operated a snowmobile in a closed Keystone ski area and that he used forest lands to promote his clothing brand without the required permit. The ruling judge has set a trial date for July 22-23, 2021." To read more, click here.

Alaska:

--A 31-year-old climber suffered a major fall from Denali Pass on Denali on Monday. The climber was recovered and is in critical condition. To read more, click here.

--An individual suffered a mauling from a brown bear in Northeast Alaska last week. Though he survived, he was left with significant injuries. To read about it, click here.

Mt. Foraker from Denali

--Follow AAI's climbs in Alaska at our Dispatches Blog.

Notes from All Over:

--HV1 is reporting that, "On Saturday, May 22 at approximately 3.30 p.m. state police from the Highland barracks responded to the Mohonk Preserve (New York) in the vicinity of Undercliff Trail for a report of a male with a head injury. New Paltz EMS and Mohonk Preserve Rangers were on the scene when troopers arrived. EMS were attempting life-saving measures. Initial investigation revealed that Evrim Cabuk, 31 from Brooklyn, was retrieving a piece of hiking equipment when he lost his footing and fell approximately 20 feet striking his head on a rock. Fellow hikers immediately began first aid and contacted 911." To read more, click here.

--New Hampshire Fish and Game is reporting that, "On May 23, 2021, at 1:23 p.m., Mountain Rescue Service, Bartlett-Jackson Ambulance, North Conway Fire-Rescue, Bartlett Fire Department and New Hampshire Fish and Game Conservation Officers responded to a report of an injured climber in Bartlett on the Cathedral Ledge. Sheri Li, 27, of Baltimore, MD, was lead climbing Airation Buttress on Cathedral Ledge when she fell approximately 40 feet sustaining multiple injuries. Mountain Rescue Service extracted her from her location and she was then carried in a litter to an awaiting ambulance. Li was transported to Memorial Hospital in North Conway for evaluation and treatment." To read more, click here.

--Does a stump hidden by newly fallen snow fall into the "inherent risks" column inside a ski resort? A Wyoming judge says, "yes." To read about it, click here.

--Outside has published an interesting article on the need for more campsites throughout the country. To read the piece, click here.

--On a related note, it sounds like consumer demand for camping equipment is at an all time high...

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Untold Story of North Cascades National Park

Lauren Danner has been a national park lover for quite sometime. On her website, laurendanner.com, her About page reads “A lifetime of national park geekdom...”, if that gives you any idea of where her priorities lie. As a young New Jersey teenager, she visited national parks in the West and fell in love with the vast landscapes. She moved to Seattle for her graduate program and has stayed in Washington since. Danner is now a writer and historian based in Olympia, WA. When she realized no one had written a complete history on the establishment of North Cascades National Park, she did not hesitate to get started.


Danner’s book Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park, was published in September 2017, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the park in 2018.

In her book, Danner explains the differences between the National Park Service and the United States Forest Service and with them, the fundamental differences between preservation and conservation. The National Park Service valued preservation: keeping the landscape within park boundaries in its original, existing state for public enjoyment. The United States Forest Service valued conservation: managing the resources within the boundaries to maintain use and recreation for the public for years to come. Both valued accessibility, but the ways in which the public was to use this land was a point of contention.

The National Park Service wanted to provide ways for the public to delight in the scenery of the land without jeopardizing it, but they also wanted to establish more roads, easier access to the masses, and tourist attractions to make a profit. On the other hand, the United States Forest Service wanted to uphold their philosophy “the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run”. They sought to keep the land for resource conservation and, peripherally, provide a pure wilderness experience for the public. With these major differences, each entity had to make some sacrifices.

The sacrifices and compromises were pushed through government with the consistent work and unwavering dedication of a strong community of conservationists, activists and people who just loved being in nature. It was the people’s passion that made North Cascades National Park what it is today: a crown jewel wilderness.

“The North Cascades are a patchwork quilt of political compromise,” Danner says. “Everyone got a little of what they wanted, but no one got everything. The compromise gave the park a solid start that has endured for 50 years.”

View from Sahale Arm (note the trail in center right), North Cascades National Park. Lauren Danner photo.
Danner takes the reader on a historical journey through how public land usage was defined and how that still affects us today. She introduces many spirited, strong-willed people that did not give up on their goals and ideas for the land that is now North Cascades National Park.

Danner writes about people like Dr. Pat Goldsworthy who helped found the North Cascades Conservation Council (N3C) in 1957. “Meeting him was such an honor,” Danner says. Goldsworthy was a leading conservationist and held Washington’s wilderness in high regard. He was a medical researcher at the University of Washington by day and conservation activist by night. He was a key player in the passage of the North Cascades Act in 1968 and a persevering soul. He had an unstoppable nature about him. No matter what the obstacle, he fought the fight for North Cascades National Park.

Danner also introduces the reader to Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a native of Everett, Wa. As an individual and an elected official, he cared passionately about conservation issues. His integrity was strong and Danner says, “Jackson was a political genius.” He was stickler when it came to listening to witnesses on the stand. “Call me an uber-geek, but I loved reading through all the hearing records from Scoop’s time,” Danner says. “I read record after record where he dug down deep with every witness. When someone was giving their testimony, it was said that no one could get anything by Scoop.”

It is people like Goldsworthy and Sen. Jackson that make the story relatable and rich. Goldsworthy was just another citizen with a full-time job who put his time and energy into the aspects of life he valued. Sen. Jackson was a political figure who listened to the people and he helped create valuable change with his position.


It is an inspiring history to read and still be apart of.

View from Cascades Pass trail, North Cascades National Park. Lauren Danner photo.
“At this time in our political situation, I want to encourage people to contact their elected officials and congressional representatives. Stand up for what you want with public lands,” Danner says. You never know what you impact you can have.

Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park is a story of bargaining in good faith. The voices of the community held weight and can still uphold this good faith that runs deep in our history, no matter what the obstacle.

You can find Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park by Lauren Danner on sale at American Alpine Institute’s Gear Shop as well as other bookstores nationwide.

Photo of Lauren Danner by Sophie Danner.
--Sara Jung, AAI Administrator

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Unquenchable Thirst - Dry-Throat in the Mountains

In the mountains, the air can be incredibly dry.

We all know that cold air tends to be dry air. And we all know that there is cold air in the mountains. So the logical conclusion is that the air in the mountains is dry...

Of course, those of us who spend time in the Cascades hiding from rain storms might dispute this. But I digress. Mostly, cold air in the mountains is dry...even high in the Cascades...

Most mountaineers tend to breath through their mouths. It's hard climbing up steep terrain with a big pack. The combination of stressing your body, sweating and breathing through your mouth can lead to dry-throat, a feeling like there's sandpaper in your throat.

The feeling of dry-throat can be so intense that an attempt to swallow will lead to a gag reflex. And a gag reflex will lead to vomit. And vomit usually means it's time to turn around and go home.

Healthgrades defines dry-throat as:

...a rough, scratchy, sometimes itchy feeling in the throat. The most common cause of dry throat is drying out of the mucus membranes, often as a result of exercise, sleeping with your mouth open, breathing through your mouth, living in a dry environment, or simply not drinking enough fluids.

Dry throat is also caused by tobacco or marijuana use, voice strain, vomiting, excessive coughing, throat inflammation, allergies, and, in rare cases, cancers of the throat and esophagus.

The article goes on to suggest that one seek medical treatment for this. But -- unless this is a condition that you are experiencing when you're not in the mountains -- you should be able to remedy it yourself. If these remedies don't work, or you're experiencing dry-throat in environments other than in cold mountains, then you might want to seek out medical advice.

There are two ways to manage dry-throat in the mountains. First, you can hydrate.

You could carry an easily accessible water bottle, or even use a hydration bladder. Taking regular sips of water will keep your throat intact, while also helping with your hydration.

The downside is that when the air is dry, water often freezes easily. It is possible to keep a water bottle inside your jacket to keep it from freezing. But if your dry-throat is chronic, you may have to take it out to take a sip every few minutes. This isn't super realistic when you're trying to move quickly in the mountains.

It can be difficult to keep a hydration bladder from freezing. One has to constantly think about it and do several things in order to ensure that the water stays liquid:

  1. Use a tube insulator. 
  2. Keep the bite valve in your collar. The bite valve is often the first thing to freeze. It's also the easiest thing to unfreeze by putting it back in your collar.
  3. Blow water out of the tube and back into the bladder after every use.
  4. On extremely cold trips, consider using a hydration bladder backpack. Put this under your jacket and under your pack. It's uncomfortable, but the bladder won't freeze.

Obviously, these things take time and energy. If you are not an organized person and you can't remember to put the valve back in your collar or blow the water out of the tube, a hydration bladder won't work for you.

A hard candy can keep your throat from turning to sandpaper in dry air.

A second option is to suck on a hard candy or a throat lozenge. I find this to work extremely well in super dry environments. The candy ensures that saliva continues to drip down your throat throughout the day. This will keep your throat moist, but it certainly will not hydrate you.

The idea with a hard candy or throat lozenge is that you keep it in your cheek for a long time. You shouldn't actively suck on it, as that will cause it to melt faster. Ideally, a single candy should last for 30 to 45 minutes.

Having a candy in your cheek for hours on end for a series of days probably isn't the best thing in the world for your teeth...but it does work. If this is something that is problematic for you, consider one of the water options, or some kind of hybrid option.

Dry-throat can be a debilitating issue for a mountaineer. If this is a real problem for you -- as it has been for me in the past -- experiment with these ideas and find what works best for you...

--Jason D. Martin


Thursday, May 20, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/20/21

Northwest:

--The San Juan Islander is reporting that, "A Search and Rescue (SAR) team from Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island rescued an injured skier near Snoqualmie Mountain in the afternoon on May 15, 2021. The SAR crew launched at from NAS Whidbey Island at about 2:40 p.m. after receiving a request to rescue a 64-year-old skier who had fallen 30 feet and had a possible head injury." To read more, click here.

--On May 16th, two skiers were caught in an avalanche in the gully separating the Price and Nooksack glaciers on Mt. Shuksan. Both skiers were carried over 1000-feet down. Both suffered injuries, but survived and were helicoptered out. There haven't been any news reports on this as of yet. A video concerning the incident may be found below:


--An obscure big wall aid climb in Squamish just got its third ascent. Gripped is reporting on the A4 line: "Neil Chelton, Chris Trull and Jon Rigg just climbed Bald Egos over five days for the third ascent this past week. The first ascent was by Conny Amelunxen and Adam Diamond in 2000, and it was repeated by Matt Maddaloni and Susie Beliveau in 2009." To read more, click here.

Sierra:

--Wilderness climbing permits will now be required for big walls in Yosemite. To learn more about them, click here. Lots of people are upset about this, which is dumb. We'd rather have a reasonable experience on a wall. To read about those who are upset, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--KLSA TV is reporting that, "A climber was rescued after he fell approximately 70 feet in Big Cottonwood Canyon, suffering severe injuries. The incident happened around 10:11 p.m. Friday at Narcolepsy Wall." To read more, click here.

--Out There Colorado is reporting that, "Several dispersed camping areas in Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest will temporarily close due to overuse, abandoned campfires, littered trails, trampled vegetation, and polluted waters. 'National Forest visitors created thousands of new campsites as they pulled off roads and damaged resources, trampling vegetation and compacting soils with tents, campers and vehicles," stated K. “Reid” Armstrong Public Affairs Specialist. "Visitors built hundreds of new rock campfire rings and negatively impacted municipal water supplies with human waste and trash.'" To read more, click here.

--The Colorado Sun is reporting that, "backcountry snowboarders Evan Hannibal and Tyler Dewitt will not have to pay $168,000 for damage that resulted when an avalanche they reported buried a service road above Interstate 70 in March 2020. The two also were facing misdemeanor charges related to the March 25 slide that damaged avalanche mitigation devices above the west portal of the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels." The pair will have to complete community service. To read more, click here.

--The Durango Herald is reporting that, "At least 11 skiers were killed in traumatic crashes at Colorado’s 26 ski areas this season. That is about the average number for a ski season – “about” because it’s difficult to learn when and how skiers and snowboarders die in bounds at the state’s ski areas. Ski areas are not required to share information about deaths that occur on ski runs, just as they don’t have to share details about accidents or injuries. (A recent legislative effort to require ski areas to report annual fatalities and injury data, as well as provide skiers with detailed safety plans, failed in a committee vote in April.)" To read more, click here.

--Sky-Hi News is reporting that, "Rocky Mountain National Park officials are investigating an incident where a man ran down the Gem Lake Trail yelling that he was being chased by someone with a rifle. On Thursday afternoon, park rangers responded to visitor reports of this incident near the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead parking area, according to a release from the park. While responding, rangers received an additional report about a woman who had been knocked down on the Gem Lake Trail by a man running down the trail." To read more, click here.

Alaska:

--Gripped and others are reporting that, "climber from Idaho was killed and another was seriously injured when they were hit by ice from a collapsing serac in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve, an official said Friday. The accident happened Thursday as they were starting up Reality Ridge at the southern flank of Denali, said park spokesperson Maureen Gualtieri. The accident happened at 5 a.m. One climber, described by park officials as a 31-year-old man from Logan, Utah, was knocked unconscious. When he woke up, he found his climbing partner, a 32-year-old man from Rigby, Idaho, dead from the accident." To read more, click here.

--Dispatches from AAI's trip to Denali can be found here.

Notes from All Over:

--SnowBrains is reporting that, "comedian Jake Adams, who unexpectedly found himself in hot water over his successful mission to hit a golf ball in every state in thirty days, has issued a video apology on his Instagram channel. Several law enforcement officers are investigating the videos of him hitting golf balls in national parks. Videos of him teeing off in Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and Grand Canyon national parks have since been removed." To read more, click here.

--There are a number of COVID cases at Everest basecamp. Outside has been reporting on this for awhile. Many sources say that the outbreak may not be as severe as reported. To read the Outside article, click here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Top Ten Tips for Beginner Bouldering

We don't really spend much time on bouldering on this blog. Our focus tends to be bigger climbs, alpine routes and ski objectives. But bouldering shouldn't be shunned. It can really help you improve as a climber.

With that said, the following video from Boulderning Bobat provides you with some thoughts on how to start bouldering indoors and how to improve. Check it out:



1) Use Your Toes - This will increase your efficiency of movement. Standing on a hold midsole will restrict your movement. With the toe on the hold, it's easier to pivot.

2) Use Your Legs - These are big muscles and they don't wear out as quickly as your arms.

3) Climb with Straight Arms - Hang on your skeleton. Use your legs to push yourself up and out, instead of pulling down and burning muscle.

4) Read Your Route - Preplan your movement before you get on the route.

5) Don't Use Too Much Chalk - If you use too much, it can have a detrimental impact on your ability to grip the holds. Liquid chalk can take too long to dry for it to work well. Too much loose chalk can make it feel like you're climbing up sloping holds with tiny marbles under your fingers...

6) Don't be Afraid to Fail - Falling is a good thing. It means that you're trying hard. If you never fall, you never improve.

7) Climb with as Many Different People as Possible - When you watch others work routes, you can learn from both their successes and failures. Indeed, there is great value to watching how someone with a different body type takes on a problem. And there's always value in climbing with people who are better than you.

8) Beginner Climbers Shouldn't Worry about Muscle Specific Training - New climbers should just get time on the rock. This will help them improve more than anything else.

9) Invest in a Pair of Shoes that Fit Well - They shouldn't be too small so their painful, and they shouldn't be too big so they don't provide precision.

10) Have Fun! - Alex Lowe famously said that the best climber is the one that is having the most fun.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Alpine Butterfly

In fourteenth episode of the seventh season of The Walking Dead, Rosita is sitting with Sasha in an abandoned building tying knots. Sasha says, "I know a lot of knots, but I don't know that one. Can you show me?"

Rosita proceeds to show Sasha how to tie a butterfly knot. The problem? She doesn't explain the knot's application, or how it will help them survive the zombie apocalypse.

The alpine butterfly is known by a number of names: the butterfly knot, the lineman's loop, the alpine middleman's knot, or the lineman's rider. The construction of the knot allows it to be weighted in multiple directions, the same way an in-line knot might be weighted in a single direction. Additionally, it is a relatively easy knot to untie after loading.

The most common view of the Butterfly Knot.

An alternate view.

There are three common climbing applications for the knot:

Isolation of a Damaged Section of Rope

If you have a core-shot in a rope and need to continue to use it in order to finish your climb or get down, a butterfly knot is often the best way to isolate the damaged section of the rope. The in-line feature of the knot, and the ease of untying, both make this the best option in such a scenario.

Mid-Point Tie-In on a Glacier

Due to the knot's ability to be "in-line" regardless of the load direction, this is a commonly used knot for climber's clipped into the middle of a rope on a glacier. Personally, I don't think it matters that much. The loads in a crevasse fall are small enough that an overhand or a figure-eight-on-a-bight are adequate.

Stopper Knot on a Glacier

The best use of the butterfly is as a stopper knot between climbers on a glacier. Essentially, a climber falls through a bridge, and the rope slices into the lip of the crevasse. The knot wedges, and the climber stops falling, even -- in some cases -- without the other climber dropping into self-arrest.

Due to the fact that the butterfly knot has bulk on both sides of the rope, it is the most likely of the knot options to get stuck in the lip of a crevasse and stop you from falling to the bottom. We have tested this at AAI several times with several different types of knots, and the butterfly ranks as the most likely to stick. Indeed, during a guide training, I once had a guide drop into a hidden crevasse for real, and the knot stopped her instantly.

There are two considerations to this application. First, there should be two to four knots between climbers on a rope team. And second, the team should expect to use a drop-loop style crevasse rescue system if someone falls in, as neither a direct haul, nor a self-rescue with prussic-hitches will easily work.

Tying the Alpine Butterfly

Here is a quick tutorial on the most common way to tie the knot, "the hand wrap method."



The following video shows some other tying options:


Rosita was right to show Sasha the butterfly knot in The Walking Dead. Because if there's one place where you could probably escape the zombie apocalypse, it's on a glacier on a high alpine peak...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 14, 2021

Film Review: Blindsight

Our culture has evolved to a point where we are very accommodating to people with disabilities. There are special parking areas for people who have trouble walking or are in wheelchairs. Computer systems help the deaf to speak on the phone. And many crosswalk signals use a series of clicks and vocal announcements to help the blind determine when to cross the street.  And indeed, these are just a few examples of many hundreds of things that we do in a first world culture to accomodate the disabled.

In the developing world things are very different. People who have lost limbs, who can't walk or who can't see, must often resort to begging on the street. In Tibet, the problems that come with a disability like blindness are compounded by the fact that many Buddhists believe that the reason that a person is blind is because they have done something terrible in a previous life. The result is that blind people are often treated like pariahs, or half-humans...


In 2004, acclaimed climber, Erik Weihenmayer was asked to lead an expedition of blind Tibetan youth up a 23,000-foot peak adjacent to Mount Everest. Why? Because Weihenmayer was the first blind man to summit the tallest mountain in the world.

Sabriye Tenberken, a blind German woman, runs the only school for the blind in Lhasa. It was at her school, Braille without Boarders, that she learned of Weihenmayer's successful ascent of Mount Everest. The mountaineer became an instant hero to the children of the school. Tenberken wrote a letter to the man, that started with the following lines:

After you reached the top of the world our Tibetan neighbor rushed into our center and told the kids about your success. Some of them first didn't believe it, but then there was a mutual understanding: if you could climb to the top of the world, we also can overcome our boarders and show to the world that the blind can equally participate in society and are able to accomplish great things.

She finished her letter with the question, "I wanted to ask if you would like to come to Tibet, maybe even to do a small climbing workshop with our kids."

Weihenmayer agreed and subsequently put together an expedition for the kids to climb Lhakpa-Ri, a 23,000-foot satellite peak of Mount Everest. Indeed, the trek to the base of the climb follows the same course that Everest climbers attempting the North Ridge tend to take. The Advanced Base Camp is the same as it is for Everest.


Weihenmayer put together a group of guides and filmmakers to show the inspirational story of these kids, their plight in Tibet, and their adventure on a mountain. The result is an amazing and inspirational story.

The DVD of this film that I received from Netflix was a bit unusual though. It was designed for both sighted and unsighted viewers. That may sound weird to readers of this blog. I wasn't aware that some films were designed to be "viewed" by the blind.  A narrator explains what is being shown on the screen throughout the film.  One might think that you could turn this feature off through your DVD player, but for whatever reason (likely my basic lack of technical prowess with such things) I was unable to do this.

With that in mind, I watched the film with this extra element. And I found it to be a very enlightening thing.  Of course, the film is about blind people, but by watching the film and hearing it the way a blind person might I had a different -- and very positive -- experience with the film than I might have otherwise.

Additionally, I watched the film with my four-year-old and my five-year-old. Being my kids, they're very familiar with mountain climbing films. But also being young kids, they haven't been exposed to many people with disabilities. It was very cool to watch them first come to an understanding that there are blind people out there. But then second, to also come to the conclusion that if the kids can go rock climbing, mountain climbing and skiing, then they're really no different than anyone else...

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

In the Company of Ticks

As the weather warms, it feels surreal as I step out of my winter dreams of warmth and into a bright sunny reality. I love wearing shorts on approaches... But as it warms I cannot rid myself of the feeling that some little bloodsucker feels the same spring euphoria as I when he sees my bare white calves approaching.

Now I don’t want to sound like some kind of entomophobian (yes, there actually is a word for fear of insects), but lets be honest, nobody enjoys cavorting with these little monsters. So if you're like me and want to avoid ticks this summer, here are some tips, tricks and general info about these crazy arachnids.

Adult Deer Tick
Photo from Wikipedia

Ticks are viscous little creatures. They've figured out that since they can't jump or fly, the best way to get their vampire on is to wait in brush, tall grass, and bushes along deer and human trails. Some ticks have even developed the “oh-so-not-cool” move of falling out of trees and onto an unsuspecting host.

Once they have reached their delicious meal, ticks will insert a barbed feeding tube into the host to secure themselves in place while they feed. This blood feast can last from a few hours to several days. Once satiated the creepy little parasite will drop off and hide while it spends some time digesting your blood.

While the tick is stuck to the host it might feel guilty about taking so much away and thus want to give a small poisonous “present” in return. These presents are numerous as ticks are capable of transmitting a variety of diseases, the most common of which is a fun little thing called Lyme disease. If you are one of the lucky 1% of all tick bite recipients to contract Lyme disease, you will know in anywhere from 3 to 32 days after being targeted by the creature. The present will start off as a headache with fever, fatigue, depression and a bulls-eye shaped rash around the bite mark. If at this point you decide that you don’t want to keep this gift, you will not be able to return it to the tick, (besides that would be rude). Instead, you will need the help of a doctor and his antibiotics, which in most cases will rid you of the disease.

However, if you decide that you would rather keep the bloodsucker's gift, then you will begin to contract chronic problems as the disease attacks your organs, especially the brain, heart, and bone joints. The longer that you wait to get treated, the harder it will be to treat the disease. In an extreme case Lyme disease could lead to a permanent paralysis.

Luckily though, there are ways to prevent ticks from getting to skin level. When playing in popular tick habitats (pretty much any wooded or forested area in the world), one should wear long sleeved shirts, pants, and a hat. Another trick is to tuck your pant legs into your sucks so as to look like such a dork that the tick will be embarrassed to be seen on you (it also will prevent them from crawling up your boots and socks into the promised land).

However, even with the best of defenses, the ticks still might find their way through and therefore it is good to do a thorough tick check a few times a day while paying special attention to the warm places of your armpits and groin. It's also a good idea to check your pets over to make sure that they haven’t become a blood buffet.

If a tick is found, then the best method of removal it is use tweezers. Pull in line with the creatures body and it's entrance hole while holding it its body as close to the head as possible. Be careful and move slowly; as much as you might hate these guys, the last thing that you need is for one's head to pop off while beneath your skin.

Following are two videos which show methods of tick removal. The first shows the use of a forceps and the second discusses a number of tick related issues before demonstrating removal.



Ticks are gross, but good prevention and treatment will keep them from being anything more than a major nuisance.

--AAI Staff

Monday, May 10, 2021

Arresting a Crevasse Fall with a Rope

Over the last ten years it has become more and more popular for rope teams on glaciers to tie knots between one another. The idea is that should someone fall into a crevasse, the rope will cut into the lip and one of the knots will get stuck, thus arresting the fall.

We teach a lot of crevasse rescue at the American Alpine Institute and enjoy testing different theories while we're in the field. Most of our guides have done some level of testing on this particular glacier travel theory and amazingly enough, it works...sometimes.

What we have found is that there are two types of knots. There are knots that are flat on one side and knots that go around the rope. Knots that are flat on one side, like an overhand or a figure-eight on a bite, tend to slide over the lip more easily than knots that go around the rope, like a butterfly.

In our testing, what we've found is that early in the season, when there is more snow and the snow is softer, figure-eights and overhands will often bite the lip and hold. But as the season progresses and the lips become icier, the knots just slide right over. Butterfly knots are more likely to bite into the lip both early in the season as well as later.

The following video shows a demonstration of how to tie a butterfly knot:



There are some disadvantages to knots on the rope between climbers. When there are a lot of sastrugi formations or penitentes on the snow's surface, the knots can get caught and will hinder movement. It can be difficult to haul a person out of a crevasse who is being held by a knot as you will have to pass the knots. It can also be difficult for a climber to prusik out and deal with the knot welded in the lip.

I generally don't put knots in the rope on teams of four or more. There is so much weight in the system that it really isn't required. Three person teams are a little more difficult. If they are experienced, I usually don't put knots in the rope, but if they are novices, I'll usually put a couple knots in the rope. On two person teams, I always put butterflys in the center of the rope.

It's better not to put too many knots in the rope. If there really is a crevasse fall, they might arrest a victim, but that doesn't mean that it will be easy for the person to get out. Instead, most guides put one to three knots in the rope between themselves and the other climbers. More than that generally just creates more problems.

Knots in the rope are a nice additional safety measure, but they will not take the place of good technique and a solid set of skills.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 7, 2021

Rappelling with a GriGri

The GriGri is often considered the single pitch climber's favorite tool. It makes it easy to belay for long periods of time. It makes it easy to climb the rope. And it can be an easy tool for a beginning climber to learn.

However, where many find the GriGri lacking is in it's ability to be easily used for a rappel. There are a handful of ways to make a this style of assisted breaking device work exceptionally well in such an application. In this video, East Coast guide, Karsten Delap, discusses a couple of different options for rappels with a GriGri:



In review, first he shows how to counterbalance oneself with a GriGri. And second, he demonstrates how to use a GriGri with a blocker.

Both of these techniques are dangerous if performed incorrectly. It's not a bad idea to take some real time when practicing these for the first time.

--Jason D. Martin



Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Cutting Steps in the Snow or on Ice

The art of step cutting is a bit of a lost art. We tend to put on crampons most of the time, instead of cutting steps. However, sometimes it's easier to cut steps than to put on crampons. A really good example of  this is when you're in soft snow on a glacier, and you come to a few feet of ice. It doesn't make sense to put on crampons for that...

In this video, the art of step cutting is discussed at length.


I have personally made a couple of bad decisions when it comes to step cutting. I've cut steps when it seemed like that would be faster than putting on crampons, but in the end it wasn't. I've also cut steps when I didn't have crampons with me, when I should have had them. 

The decision as to when to cut steps is strategic. We should cut them when it makes sense, it seems faster, and it doesn't significantly increase the hazard...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, May 3, 2021

Miranda in the Wild - Water Treatment Options

Miranda in the Wild is at it again with one of her REI videos. These are great instructional videos for entry level backcountry users, but we do have to ask: what's up with that gear storage/work space. There are random ice axes everywhere, Christmas lights, strategically placed handkerchiefs and hats, it feels like a very "dressed" set, and not a gear room...

But that doesn't mean Miranda's videos aren't awesome. They are...

In this one, she goes over several ways to purify water. It is well-worth your time.


From a mountaineering/climbing perspective, obviously chemical treatment is the easiest and lightest way to treat water. But it doesn't taste great.

Some ask whether they can just drink snowmelt directly from the snow. The answer is, sometimes. The higher you are on the mountain, the less likely it is that there will be human or animal waste in the water coming from the snow. However, if you are at a popular camp on a popular mountain, there's likely a lot more human waste around than you think. We recommend purification or boiling in this kind of setting.

While I tend to use tablets or boiling on mountaineering trips, I lean toward gravity purifiers for backpacking trips. In this video, she actually didn't set up the filter right. It needed to be flushed at the beginning of the process (hold the receptacle bag above the feeding back and allow it to backwash into itself for a moment). If you flush it, the system is really fast.

Drink up!

--Jason D. Martin