Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Kiwi Coil

The Kiwi Coil is a technique that is used to bring in rope, in order to shorten the distance between two climbers. This technique is commonly used for simul-climbing on easy terrain, or in glacier travel.

Check out a video on how to do it, below:

One thing to be very careful about is the use of a Kiwi Coil on a glacier. It is important to add one additional element to tie off the rope. The climber should tie an overhand knot in the line and clip it to a carabiner. The reason one does this is to ensure that if your partner falls into a crevasse and you have to untie the Kiwi, you won't get strangled when it comes undone.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 30, 2021

Film Review: The Mountain Between Us

Hollywood doesn't do a very good job with climbing movies. We all remember the catastrophe that was Cliffhanger. And nobody can ever forget the horrific Vertical Limit. But there's something to be said about lost-in-the-mountains style movies. The characters don't need to be climbers with a capitol C. No, instead, they just need to be normal people dealing with a mountain environment. The Mountain Between Us provides that kind of experience, the kind of experience where normal people are lost in a mountainous environment and need to find a way to survive.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Brass (Idris Elba) and photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) become stuck at an Idaho airport as a storm approaches. Both have important appointments back home. Ben has to perform surgery on a child, and Alex is going home to get married. The only way to get home quickly is to charter a plane with Walter (Beau Bridges).

During the flight Walter has a stroke and crashes the plane in the mountains where they become stranded. They're either in the Sawtooths or the Colorado Rockies, or maybe somewhere else -- there's a glacier on a peak nearby, something that doesn't exist in either of those ranges -- but, regardless of which range they are in, one thing is certain: they are deep in the mountains in the heart of winter, with no civilization in site.

At it's heart, The Mountain Between Us is a romantic survival story about two people who have an intense relationship while trying to survive for weeks on end in the mountains. The pair make many mistakes during their attempt to escape, but they're mistakes that make sense. These really are theoretically normal people with no mountain training, caught deep in a mountain environment. As such, you might be yelling "no" at the film, while also feeling like the decision the person made makes sense.

One of the biggest criticisms of the film is that the story seems unlikely. The argument is that people are commonly found quickly after a plane crash. But, even in the 21st century, we know that not to be true. In July of 2015, a teenage girl walked out of the Cascades after surviving a plane crash. Her grandparents did not survive, and nobody was looking for the plane where it went down. Thankfully, this happened during the summer and the girl was only out for a couple of nights by herself.

People seem to be able to suspend their disbelief when it comes to dinosaurs or aliens, but when it comes to drama, every little thing drives certain viewers nuts. As such, the preceding paragraph was written specifically to address this issue of likelihood...

But even for those who don't think such a storyline is realistic, the performances by Kate Winslet and Idris Elba are so perfect, they are so believable, that it's easy to get sucked into the story. These individuals are master actors who have excellent chemistry with one another. I believe every line spoken.

The Mountain Between Us is neither a cinematic masterpiece, nor a masterful survival movie. But the combination of strong performances, a decent director and a adequate script make the film well worthwhile...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, August 27, 2021

Picket Placements

There are three options for placing a picket. The first is in a t-trench, the second is a vertical placement, and the third is the mid-clip picket.

The strength of a snow picket, no matter how the picket is placed, is directly correlated to to the quality of the snow. The strongest is always going to be a picket placed in a t-trench with snow backfilling it. That snow backfilling should be packed down and work-hardened. The second strongest is going to be a t-trench without backfill. The third will be a mid-clip picket. And finally, the weakest -- but fastest picket placement -- is the vertical picket.

In the following video, AMGA instructor team member Emile Drinkwater, demonstrates how to place pickets in three different orientations.

In addition to Emilie's demonstration, please check out this excellent video from SMC on their pro picket:

It should be noted that with the vertical picket demonstration, if one can easily place the picket, without stomping on it or pounding it in, the picket is likely not very good. It should require some effort to place a vertical picket.

Picket placement is a craft. And as with any other craft, it takes practice to do it well. Put in some time and effort with these devices before using them for real...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 8/26/21


--Pro Climber Sasha Digiulian has worked extensively with women climbers in Afghanistan. She recently wrote passionately in Climbing about what's happening to them in the country. "Right now, as you read this, thousands of people are desperately trying to escape from Afghanistan since the Taliban seized control of the country on Sunday. You’ve seen the chaos in the news. Among these would-be refugees are members of Ascend Athletics, Afghanistan’s first female mountaineering team, part of a program that has produced hundreds of strong female climbers since 2014. To save these young women from this oppressive regime, we need to raise our voices. We must lobby to ensure that these and other at-risk women are included in the United States’ evacuation plans." To read more, click here.


--King 5 is reporting that, "A second litter of wolverine offspring, called kits, has been born in Mount Rainier National Park, according to the National Park Service (NPS). This is only the third wolverine family documented in Washington's South Cascades in a century and the second family documented in Mount Rainier National Park, the NPS said. The first wolverine family was discovered in the park in August 2020." To read more, click here.

--Wilderness Search Investigations (WSI), a new nonprofit company that is looking at putting together volunteer search teams in Washington State. The team will continue searching for missing hikers after the County has suspended the search. They currently are seeking rescuers. Interested parties need to be comfortable hiking off trail, as most of our searching will be off trail, using a GPS and a map & compass as backup. Possible backpacking into search locations for three-day weekends, otherwise will be day hikes. Day hikers will require a 24 hour pack for the “What If” should happen. Day or overnight will depend on the location of the search. Please send an email with your interest to wldnsrchinves(at)gmail.com.


--Snowbrains is reporting that, "the Dixie Fire, currently the second-largest wildfire in California’s history, has become the first known fire to burn across the Sierra Nevada mountain range." The fire started on the western slope and made it all the way over the range and down the eastern slope. To read more, click here.

--This headline is nice. From Fox 26 News: "Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep population thriving after decades of absence from Yosemite."

--Inyo National Forest has moved to Stage II Fire Restrictions. These restrictions are due to the overwhelming fire activity in the area and include things like "no smoking." To read the list of restrictions, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The Las Vegas Review Journal is reporting that, "Clark County lawmakers recently approved building homes on a gypsum mine overlooking Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which has been the subject of a yearslong debate about environmental impact and private development. But the project on Blue Diamond Hill approved Aug. 4 is not the same as developer Gypsum Resources’ controversial proposal to construct 3,000 houses that has faced fierce pushback from environmental advocates and been ensnared in a bitter legal battle. Instead the commission unanimously signed off on a slimmed-down project from the developer: a planned unit development and tentative map to construct 280 luxury homes across 563 acres." To read more, click here.

A climber rappels in Joshua Tree National Park.

--The Daily Bulletin is reporting that, "Overwhelming attendance at Joshua Tree National Park resulting from a desire for outdoor recreation due to the coronavirus pandemic is causing miles-long vehicle back-ups at the entrance and a parking crisis for visitors trying to enjoy hiking, camping and rock climbing at the desert park. The park is proposing two major projects as possible solutions to long entrance lines and a shortage of parking spaces inside the park. But the projects are extensive and in the early stages, requiring environmental reviews and public comments before they can move forward." To read more, click here.

--The National Park Service is reporting that, "Grand Canyon National Park Deputy Superintendent Louis Rowe has announced the selection of Angela Boyers as Chief Ranger for the Division of Visitor and Resource Protection. As chief ranger of Grand Canyon National Park, Boyers will manage a complex program that includes law enforcement, emergency services, wildland and structural fire, aviation, fee collection, backcountry operations, and a regional dispatch center. " To read more, click here.

--Outside Business Journal is reporting that, "this week, Taos Ski Valley announced a hike to its minimum wage—up to $15 per hour—in order to meet living-wage requirements of the county in which the business is located, company representatives announced in a release. The wage increase went into effect earlier this summer for housekeepers and dishwashers, according to Dawn Boulware, the company’s vice president of social and environmental responsibility. The remaining staff will see the change reflected in their first October paychecks, at the start of the company’s fiscal year." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Denver Gazette is reporting that, "a climber was rescued early Tuesday morning after she fell 20 feet from the Second Flatiron and injured her leg, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office said. The woman, 26, had scrambled the freeway route on the Second Flatiron and was preparing to descend back to the trail when she fell, deputies said. She slipped while attempting to climb around an obstacle at the top of the route." To read more, click here.

--Two women camping in the La Sal Mountains near Moab succumbed to gunshot wounds. The Grand County Sheriff's office has determined that the deaths were homicides, and there is an ongoing investigation. To read more, click here.

--From Rocky Mountain National Park: "Beginning this week, all paved roads and parking areas within Rocky Mountain National Park will be striped. Work is expected to last three weeks and should be completed by September 4, weather and resources permitting. During the day, when striping occurs on paved roads, travelers should expect rolling delays up to 30 minutes Monday through Friday. Most work for parking areas will be completed at night Sundays through Thursdays from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. When striping occurs in parking lots, those areas will be closed. Striping work will not occur on weekends."

--Backpacker is reporting that, "just three and a half months after reopening to the public, Colorado’s Hanging Lake is once again closed due to a mudslide that partially obliterated the trail to it, the U.S. Forest Service announced today. In a news conference, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said a mudslide in the burn area left by last year’s Grizzly Creek Fire’s left much of the trail to the popular lake under a debris field and damaged or completely washed out multiple bridges. As a result, he said, Hanging Lake would be 'closed for the foreseeable future.'" To read more, click here.

--Fox 31 is reporting that, "The group tasked with rescuing visitors in Rocky Mountain National Park needs a little help themselves. 'The vehicle that the park has been using almost as their mobile command center for search and rescue is really old,' Rocky Mountain Conservancy Executive Director Estee Rivera told FOX31. Now, RMC is trying to raise $75,000 for a new, modern search and rescue vehicle." To read more, click here.

--The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting on access issues for climbers in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The Salt Lake Climbers Alliance opposes both options being presented by the Utah Department of Transportation to alleviate parking issues in the canyon. To read more, click here.

--Climbing is reporting on a year-long bolt war on Pikes Peak. "Over the past few weeks, the Pikes Peak Bolt War has attracted the interest of land managers and mainstream local news outlets, and has driven the Colorado Springs climbing community into a collective uproar. So far, neither side is willing to budge. After all, it’s not just about a few bolts, they say. It’s a high-stakes tug-of-war between the past and future of climbing on Pikes Peak—and perhaps the past and future of American climbing at large." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Gripped and many others are reporting that, "David Roberts, who was often called the “dean of adventure writing” has died at the age of 78. He was one of the world’s most prolific mountain authors, with his well known books including Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative and The Mountain of My Fear." To read more, click here.

--A 30-year-old woman died in a rock climbing fall at North Carolina's Pilot Mountain. Information on the accident is still scant. To read about it, click here.

--RMO Today is reporting that, "32-year-old man fell more than 1,000 feet to his death in a climbing accident on Mount Hungabee in Yoho National Park on the weekend. Parks Canada rescuers recovered the body of the man on Sunday (Aug. 15) after a getting a satellite communication device message from the two distressed surviving climbers on the west ridge of the 3,492-metre peak in Yoho National Park near the boundary with Banff National Park." To read more, click here.

--As the Delta Variant rages through the country, the National Park Service is once again requiring masks in public buildings.

--The Texas-based Crux Climbing Centre has just hosted North America's first nonbinary inclusive climbing competition. To read more, click here.

--Outside is reporting that, "Lyme-carrying ticks are a bigger threat than ever. A promising new antibody treatment looks to stop infection—even after a tick bite." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Outhouse Etiquette

We spend a lot of time on this blog talking about different techniques for climbing. We talk about mountain ethics, land management advocacy and Leave No Trace. Indeed, we have several leave no trace articles in the blog, including one about how to deal with human waste in the backcountry...

But what about the front-country?

What about the outhouse?

Many of us car camp at front-country campgrounds. Some of us spend a significant amount of time these campgrounds. In most cases, the campground hosts work very hard to keep the outhouses clean, but they are public toilets and with public toilets come people who have toilet issues...

There is nothing worse than walking into an outhouse to find that someone who had to "go number two" missed. How in God's name do you miss the toilet and splatter everything around it...?

My assumption is that these individuals who miss are afraid of sitting down on a public toilet. But the irony of that is that these individuals -- those who miss -- are the reason someone might not want to sit on a public toilet.

So if you need to go to the bathroom and you're afraid to sit down on a public outhouse seat, get over it. If you can't get over it, then have the decency of putting the seat up before squatting.

There are a few more rules about outhouses:
  1. Don't throw garbage, diapers or feminine hygiene products into the outhouse toilet. They must be removed during service and as you can imagine, that is a very dirty and unpleasant job.
  2. There's also no reason to throw garbage all over the floor.
  3. Put the seat down when you are done, it will help keep the critters out and the smell down.
  4. Close the door when you're finished. This will also help to keep the animals out.
  5. Don't steal the toilet paper...
  6. And lastly, if you do miss your target, please please please, wipe the seat down...
--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 23, 2021

Route Profile: Ecuador's Cayambe

Found forty-miles northeast of Quito, Cayambe stands at 18,997 feet and is Ecuador's third highest peak. The views from the mountain are stunning as it looks out over Reventador ("The Exploder", one of South America's most consistently active volcanoes) and over the Amazon Basin. Cayambe's glaciers are large, complex and among the most active of all equatorial ice flows, and the varied glacial terrain provides an excellent training ground and a rewarding summit climb. At 15,387 ft on the mountain's south slope is the highest point in the world crossed by the Equator and the only point on the Equator with snow cover.

And while our Ecuador programs make their way up the slopes of Cayambe before any other mountain, I personally find it to be the most fun climb of the trip. The mountain is mostly gentle, but toward the top you do have to navigate through some seracs and crevasses. The climb finishes by making its way up a fifty-degree pitch to the summit.

Cayambe is only a few hours drive from Quito.

Cayambe from one of the many surrounding valleys.

The Cayambe Hut above a serac field. We train for the climb on the field down below the hut.

An AAI Team checks out the mountain shortly after arriving at the hut.

The view the night before a summit ascent.

The final pitch to the summit.

The author on the summit of Cayambe.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, August 20, 2021

The Pain and the Pleasure of Crampons on Approach Shoes

Whoa! Crampons on approach shoes? That's crazy talk. Crampons belong on boots!

Most of us couldn't agree more with this sentiment. But most of us also don't want to walk across a short section of ice wearing boots for an alpine rock climb and then carry said boots in our backpacks when we put on our rock shoes.

Sometimes it makes a lot of sense to wear crampons on approach shoes. It's not comfortable and it's not fun. Indeed, half the time that you're doing this, it feels like your foot is going to come right out of the shoe. On every step the crampons stick in the ice and have a nearly imperceptible hold your foot. It feels a little bit like you're walking in sticky mud.

Approach shoes were not designed for such a use. They bend easily and it is difficult to walk up steeper terrain while wearing them. The strap-connectors on many crampons are hard plastic and these commonly dig into your ankles.

There are some crampon styles that work more effectively with approach shoes. Aluminum crampons are not really designed for standard mountaineering where you are going to wear your crampons all day. Instead, such crampons are light, have a low profile and often fit well on approach shoes. Aluminum crampons like the Black Diamond Neve Strap Aluminum Crampons and the Stubai Ultralight Universal Crampons are perfect for this type of use.

The pain of crampons on approach shoes is at least somewhat worth it. As with so many other things in climbing, the pleasure comes after the pain. And in this case, the pleasure is no heavy boots in your pack while working your way up a massive alpine rock climb.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 8/19/21


--The Bellingham Herald is reporting that, "Backcountry hikers have easier access to several trails in the Mount Baker wilderness and sightseers will be able to watch alpenglow across the North Cascades at sunset, now that the road to Artist Point is open. State Department of Transportation crews finished repairs on a crumbling section of road above Heather Meadows and opened the last 1.8 miles of Mount Baker Highway that leads to the popular scenic vista on Tuesday, Aug. 17." To read more, click here.

--There are some fire closures on the Mountain Loop Highway, and an AAI Guide was turned around attempting to get to Vesper Peak. No official info has been produced on this.

A smoky northwest day.

--Mt. Baker-Snoqulmie National Forest has stated that, "As of 8/16/21 FS road #49, will be closed due to wildfire at Penders Canyon, approximately mile 2. No access to North Fork Sauk, Lost Creek Ridge, Bald Eagle, Sloan Peak or Harold Engles trailheads."

--There's a significant wildfire under BC's Yak Peak.

Colorado and Utah:

--KSL.com is reporting that, "Hikers may soon need to win a lottery to use one of Utah's most iconic trails. Cass Bromley, chief of resource management at Zion National Park told the Springdale Town Council that the park is looking into using a reservation system at Angels Landing." To read more, click here.

--I might have posted this before...but there's a dating app for climbers.

Notes from All Over:

--Gripped is reporting that, "32-year-old man is dead following a climbing accident on Mount Hungabee in Yoho National Park on Aug. 15.  Details on the incident remain limited. The climber was originally from Quebec, but was recently living in Banff." To read more, click here.

--There's limited information right now, but it appears a climber's body was recently recovered in the Wind River Range. Early reports indicate that it was probably Thor Hallingbye, 41, on Gannett Peak.

--Climbing is reporting that, "the revered Canadian alpinist Barry Blanchard has suffered a serious head injury while on vacation in Saskatchewan, Canada. On August 8, Blanchard, 62, slipped on some stairs, hitting a concrete floor and sustaining skull fractures and brain bleeding. His guiding employer, Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, has set up a GoFundMe page to aid what is expected to be a long recovery process." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Backpacking with Kids

This is a repost from a 2011 article. My kids are quite a bit older now...

So here's the deal...  I'm an outdoor enthusiast and a mountain guide.  I'm also the father of a three year-old and a four year-old.  I don't really care if my kids are climbers or skiers, but I really do want them to love the outdoors and to cherish the types of outdoor experiences that have colored my life.

With that in mind, the kids have been on numerous car camping trips and hikes...but we've been hesitant to push to the next level, to take the kids backpacking.  We've been hesitant until now.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, my wife and I took Holly and Caden on their first backpacking trip.  The objective was nothing less than a whopping 1.8 miles along a wide and heavily used trail with a minimal amount of elevation gain and loss, to a camp on Baker Lake.

Holly on her first backpacking trip.

This might not be rocket science, but the first step to backpacking with kids is camping with them. Car camping with small children is pretty easy.  It's a little more difficult to get them to go to sleep, since they're in a tent.  And there is the constant concern of the campfire, and the campground roads (which have signs that say 5mph that are ignored). But the rest of it isn't much more difficult than anything else you might do with kids.

The second step is to take them hiking.  Lots of outdoorsy parents get after it with their kids in child carriers on their backs...and we have too, but that doesn't train the kids to walk for themselves.  Hiking on easy trails where the kids can make their own way, pick up sticks and toss rocks into the bushes, is a surefire way to prep them for something more aggressive.  It also gets them excited to be near the ground, where they can stop and check out things that they might find interesting.

I gave the kids each a pole to assist with their hike, but that didn't really work.
They wanted to hit the bushes with them more than to use them for assistance.

Hiking with the kids before backpacking will also prep you for another issue. Do the kids have appropriate footwear?  They don't really need boots or anything like that if you've done a good job with both trail selection and weather.  But you should know if their feet are going to blister and you should take steps to circumvent that before it starts on a real trip.

Caden with his "backpacking" backpack.

As you might have guessed, the trick to backpacking with two small children is for them to carry a minimal amount, while the adults are loaded down.  You want the kids to be able to walk a distance without complaining too much.  But they should also respect the fact that on a backpacking trip, one has to carry everything in and out.

My kids each carried their own backpacks, which were packed with water, a sweatshirt, one toy (a tractor for my son, a stuffed butterfly for my daughter), a plastic shovel, and their "snuggle blankies." Additionally, my son -- who is on-again/off-again potty-trained -- carried his clean diapers in, while I carried the dirty version out.  In my pack, I hauled a tent, two sleeping bags, three pads, food and my personal equipment.  My wife carried, one pad, two sleeping bags, food, kid clothes, and her personal equipment.

The tent that we elected to use was a Hilleberg Keron 4 GT. At the American Alpine Institute, we tend to use these tents for Denali expeditions.  This is commonly the Guide Tent on such trips because there is a lot of storage room and tons of space cook in the vestibule.  I've been using this tent for car camping with the kids quite a bit, and I was a little worried about how it would carry in a family backpacking setting, but it worked like a dream.

Be wary of creek crossings.  
Don't hesitate to hold onto your kid if anything looks sketchy at all.

It's incredibly important to get the kinks out of any tent system that you might use in a front-country camping situation first. The last thing you want to realize with the whole family out in the woods, is that the tent you were going to use is a bit on the tight side, so everybody is getting wet from condensation.

Trail selection is key.  The trail should be short, scenic, and there shouldn't be a lot of elevation gain.  The trail that we selected was on the east bank of Baker Lake.  It had each of these attributes.  It took us about an hour-and-a-half each way to travel on the 1.8 mile stretch from car to camp.

I would strongly recommend researching your trail online before committing completely to it.  Sometimes there are factors that might make it difficult for little kids that aren't really detailed in a guidebook.  Are there any weird creek crossings?  Are there any steep drop-offs?  What's the mosquito scene?  What's the bee scene?  Is the terrain open and hot?  Or is there a good canopy above?  Is the trail clear of snow...?

The kids in camp - Note that I told my daughter to smile.

The weather on a backpacking trip is always important, but it's never more important than on a trip like this.  If the kids end up cold and wet, then it's going to be difficult to get them psyched up for the next trip.  There's no reason to push it with small children.  If the weekend you selected is going to be marginal, then pick another time...your kids and your spouse will appreciate it, a lot.  And ultimately, you'll appreciate it more because you'll be able to do it again...

Backpacking with little ones is a bit more work than backpacking with friends.  Okay, it's a lot more work.  But the reward is greater too.  I mean, think about it.  You're creating great memories, while prepping your kids to have all kinds of adventures with you in the future.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 16, 2021

Book Review: The Cruel Peak

One of the great controversies in mountaineering history began in 1959, when Cesare Maestri claimed to have reached the summit of Patagonia's Cerro Torre with Toni Egger. While descending the mountain, Egger was swept off the mountain by an avalanche and killed. According to Maestri, the climber was carrying a camera with definitive proof of their summit success. But that was gone, along with Egger.

After many attempts, Ermanno Salvaterra, Rolando Garibotti and Alessandro Beltrami were successful on the line that Maestre claimed to have climbed, forty-six years after the purported first ascent. The problem was that there was no evidence of the previous party and the route was dramatically different from what Maestri described.

Most people in the climbing community felt that Maestri lied about his success. This nearly destroyed the man, so he went back to the mountain and completed a different line, and placed 400 bolts no more than a body-length apart for nearly 1,100 feet.

The mountaineer was severely criticized for his techniques, but never backed down. To this day he still claims to have summited his original route and argues that his Compressor Route (the bolted line) also provided a legitimate way to the mountain's summit.

Gil Hogg's intelligently written novel, The Cruel Peak, was clearly inspired by the reality of Cesare Maestri. In his book, the patriarch of a wealthy New Zealand family rose to fame and fortune after claiming that he reached the summit of Mt. Vogel, an incredibly dangerous fictional peak in the Southern Alps. Ernest Ashton won international fame after he wrote Fateful Snows, a book about his supposed success on the mountain and the loss of his climbing partner, Bill Stavely.

Many years after the climb, Ashton's son, Stuart became a celebrated mountaineer in his own right. While Stavely's son, Tom moved away to escape the dark shadow cast by the Ashton family, his ex-wife who is an Ashton, and his own family's historically subordinate status with the aristocratic family.

When Tom returns to New Zealand to celebrate the wedding of his estranged daughter, a rumor arises, a rumor about a notebook that appears to dispute Ernest Ashton's claim to the summit of Vogel. Together, Stuart and Tom make their way back to the mountain to learn the truth.

Unfortunately, the book doesn't spend a great deal of time in the mountains. Instead, the novel is a front-country story, with the ghosts of a long-ago backcountry drama haunting the present. The result is that most of the action takes place in a small New Zealand town, instead of on the cliffs and snows of Mt. Vogel.

With a somewhat slow beginning and a lot of different members of the Ashton family to follow, The Cruel Peak starts out as a bit of a cruel read. The first third of the book sets up the second two thirds slowly -- almost painfully slowly -- which can be challenging for the reader. However, the second two thirds of the book provide an excellent payoff for the patient and it is both explosive and exciting.

Gil Hogg has a slightly stilted writing style. You often feel as if he lets exposition get in the way of character and plot.  But this doesn't mean that Hogg can't write those things. Indeed, he's very good at them. And when he lets go of character history and launches into the way that the characters relate to one another in the present, the book takes off.

At the heart of the novel is a question about a climber who lies about his ascent. This is something that doesn't really matter to those who are on the outside of our sport. But in here, in the world of the climber, lying about a mountain achievement is a form of blasphemy.  It's common to hear climbers badmouth those whom they see as overstating their accomplishments. It's almost passe to talk down those who "spray" about how good they are. But that's nothing more than good natured ribbing compared to what happens when someone blatantly lies about an ascent. When it becomes clear that an individual has lied about an ascent, that's when the knives come out. The explosive rage that in online forums and in climbing magazines can be both astounding and a little bit scary.

The Cruel Peak has some weaknesses, but that doesn't mean it's not worth the climber's read. The idea of lying about an ascent strikes some as so unethical that Ernest Ashton lie turns him into an incredibly fascinating and vile character. It's likely that Hogg knew that we might have a reaction like this to the climber. It's also likely that our fascination with such a character is one of the reasons that we still talk about Cesare Maestri and his routes on Cerro Torre.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, August 13, 2021

Your Food Vs. Alpine Animals

Picture this. You are on the second day of your trip up into the mountains. It’s hot. You’re hungry. The bag of potato chips you have stashed in your tent is sounding mouth-wateringly good right about now. You’re just coming off the Deming Glacier, practically dragging your ice axe as you stumble, mind in a haze, towards the alluring potato chips ­– your post summit prize food. You unzip your tent, fingers trembling, and find to your horror a pile of confetti in the corner next to a scraggily looking hole, sunshine filtering through the tatters of your tent.

Do not, dear reader, become this sad climber.

Marmots, mice, and ravens are a real hazard when it comes to food in the backcountry and I wager, have had years more experience thieving than you have likely had in protecting your food from their greedy little mouths.  I myself woke up recently to not one, but two mice in my tent having a nice little feast on my food bars, which I had set aside for the summit the next day. One even had the audacity to run over my face. This was not fun. 

That being said, here are some things to do and some things not to do with your food in the alpine.

-       Do not hang your food from rocks in an attempt to mimic food protection from bears in lower country. This seems to be a common recommendation on the Internet at the moment. However, I personally see a few flaws in the system. Firstly, marmots can climb rocks and so a small boulder simply wouldn’t do. This means you would need to hang your food over a cliff and a) that sounds like a lot of effort/potentially sketchy and b) ravens, being birds, can in fact fly and they will get it even if the rodents don’t. So, nix the “marmot bag” option.

-       The best option I know of is to store your food inside your tent. You might be wondering why I would suggest such a thing when we have already learned about the confetti threat but there are ways to store it properly and ways to store it improperly. For starters don’t leave your food along the walls of your tent. You would be significantly increasing the risk of an animal chewing its way inside. What you can do though is put your food in your sleeping bag (which reduces smells) and place the sleeping bag as centrally in the tent as possible. So far, I have not had any issues while employing this technique and it is one that seems popular among the crowds that frequent the mountain slopes.

Note: at night you still should try to keep your food away from your tent walls and zip the door closed at the bottom.

-       You can also dig a cash in the snow and burry your food there if you are concerned with the possibility of animals chewing into your tent. This is a perfectly reasonable option when there is snow at the camp. However, if you employ this technique be sure that you dig down fairly deep. A foot simply doesn’t cut it. Three feet would be a minimum depth for proper storage, but even that might be too shallow. Four to six feet is best. Don’t forget to mark the location of your cash. Losing your food would be just about as bad as it being eaten.

Good luck with the food ventures! Remember, don’t be the sad climber with out his potato chips. 

Yellow Bellied Marmot
Photo Credit: Alasdair Turner AAI Instructor and Guide

--Jess Lewis, Instructor and Guide

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Forearm Exercises to Make You Strong

There's no question about it. When your forearms are fried, the dishes are done. You're going to fall off your route.

Technique is important for climbing and it can save your strength. Indeed, on routes with a rating below 5.8, strength may not even be an issue if your technique is adequate. But as you start to push up through the grades, you'll find that forearm strength becomes more and more important.

The more you train your forearms, the stronger you'll be. And the more you train your forearms, the more likely it is that you will be able to rest them quickly and adequately by shaking out or finding a stance on which to take a break.

There are a handful of exercises that work to build forearm strength and endurance. Following is a quick breakdown of some of these exercises:

Static Hangs

You probably remember from your days of lifting weights in the high school weight room that muscle is most effectively built when you workout until muscle failure. Commonly, an athlete will work a specific muscle group by lifting a weight a number of times (referred to as reps) until the muscle fails. Most will know that with a given weight, the muscle will begin to fail after a given number of reps.

A static hang works the muscle in much the same way. For this to work effectively, you have to hang until your muscles fail. This doesn't mean that you have to hang until it hurts or even until it hurts a lot. You have to go beyond those thresholds to the point of complete muscle failure.

After failure, allow the muscles to rest for five minutes or so and then try again. Ideally, you will do this exercise three or four times in order to get the most out of it.

Endurance Static Hangs

Hang on a bar or a hangboard with both hands. Drop one hand and shake it out while still hanging on the other. Hang for at lease five seconds on one arm before switching.

This particular exercise is great for climbers because of the way it imitates real life!

Forearm Curls

There are two effective ways to do forearm curls. One may use a regular barbell or a dumbell.

To use a barbell, you will need to lay your forearms across a weight bench holding the barbell. Your hands should hang over the edge, palms up. All the bar to roll toward your fingers and then flex, bringing it up into your palm.

With a dumbell, the system is almost the same. Allow the dumbell to roll out toward your fingers and then flex, allowing int to roll back into your palm.

With both of these exercises, it tends to be more effective to work toward a combination of strength and endurance by working on time as opposed to reps. Try to do as many curls as possible in a minute and then work up from there. Remember most sport routes take five to ten minutes to climb, so that should be a goal in the exercise.

Indoor Gym Exercise

One of the best ways to build forearm strength and endurance is to traverse around the climbing gym on easy holds. Try to stay on the wall for at least twenty minutes. Another version of this same exercise is to try to down-climb the routes after you reach the top.

As with other excercises, a series of these twenty minute sessions will be more effective than a one time run at them.

Forearm Exerciser

There are a number of different commercial forearm exercising devices out there. Perhaps the most popular is the blue latex rubber doughnut. The value of these devices is that they work out both fingers and forearms. This should be used like any weight device. Do a series of reps until failure, rest and then repeat two more times.

Additional ResourcesYou can find more on forearm workouts here. For information about why forearms pump out and about lactic acid buildup in forearms, click here.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 9, 2021

Sibling Rivalry - Mount Adams vs. Mount Hood

The Klickitat tribe of Washington and Oregon has a fantastic legend about an ancient dispute between two brothers that we now know as the Cascade volcanoes, Mount Adams and Mount Hood.

Long ago, Tyhee Saghalie, the chief of all the gods traveled down the Columbia river with his two sons in search of a place to settle. The sons, Pahto and Wy'east, had a difficult relationship and so when they finally came to a beautiful area where they wanted to live, the sons quarrelled. Each of them wanted the land for himself.

Mount Adams

To settle this dispute, their father shot two arrows from his bow. He shot the first one to the north and the second to the south and then told the boys that they would have to live in the place where each of the arrows landed. Pahto followed the arrow to the north and settled. Wy'east followed the arrow to the south and did the same.

Saghalie wanted his family to be content, so he built a bridge between the north and the south. This bridge became known as the Bridge of the Gods. And for many years the family used the bridge to meet.

But there was a problem...

Both of the sons fell in love with a beautiful young woman named Loowit. And this young woman was indecisive. She could not choose between the two chiefs.

So Pahto and Wy'east went to war with one another. They threw fire at each other and destroyed the Bridge of the Gods. When the bridge fell the earth was devestated. Villages and forests were destroyed and indeed, the collapse of the bridge created a massive rift between the north and the south which we now know as the Columbia River Gorge.

Mount Hood

The devastation from this war was so great that Saghalie was offended by his sons and their violence. So for punishment he transformed all three of the lovers into great mountains. Wy'east, with his head lifted in pride, became Mount Hood. Pahto, with his head bent in shame, became Mount Adams. And the maiden Loowit, became Mount Saint Helens.

Mount Saint Helens

In recent decades, it seems that the biggest hothead of the three was Loowit. Pahto and Wy'east should have treated her better so that she didn't blow her top!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 8/5/21


--Early this morning, the men's combined finished, and the medals were awarded:
  • Alberto Gines Lopez (SPA) - Gold
  • Nathaniel Coleman (USA) - Silver
  • Jakob Schubert (AUS) - Bronze

American Brooke Rabotou also made the finals and will compete in the women's combined tomorrow. For more info, click here.


--Fox 12 Oregon is reporting that, "The search for climber who has been missing on Mount Jefferson since last week has been suspended, according to the Linn County Sheriff's Office. Just after 11: 30 a.m., on July 23, the sheriff's office received information about a climber, identified as Steven Van Pelt, 33, of Salem, who had fallen during his descent on the mountain. Deputies learned the climber had fallen among 'extreme mountain terrain.' A witness described losing sight of him after he fell several hundred feet." To read more, click here.

--City News 1130 is reporting that, "A climber was transferred to hospital Sunday afternoon after taking a serious fall near Squamish. Tyler Duncan with Squamish Search and Rescue says the climber suffered significant injuries to their head, arm and chest. 'We had a climber take a bit of a slip and fall down a 65-foot gully. He had a tumbling fall at an area called ‘Area 44’ which is a climbing area just north of Squamish, in the Chek Canyon.'" To read more, click here.

--The Cascade River Road was briefly open, but storms this week closed it again...

--There's a guy in the PNW that's trying to do the fastest known time on the Bulger List. This is the list of top one hundred peaks in Washington by altitude. Kind of interesting...

--And here's some mountain trivia for you!


--Here's an older rescue story about a guy who got hit by a rock while bivying on El Cap. This piece covers the rock hitting Matthew Alexander, rupturing his orbital lobe and exposing his brain, and the following rescue. 

Colorado and Utah:

--Snowbrains is reporting on the closure of I-70: "Implications from the Grizzly Creek Fire are still being felt today and are impacting commerce, tourism, and residential living in Colorado. Constant rainfall has led to the 'rainiest July in 10 years' in many parts of Colorado, and in turn, there have been countless mudslides, especially in Glenwood Canyon on the burn scar of the Grizzly Fire. 'There are areas that are under 10 feet or more of mud at this point,' said Governor Polis, and he does not expect the Interstate to be fully functioning again until ski season." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A female climber suffered a 20-foot fall followed by serious injuries at Summerville's Lake, West Virginia. There is currently limited information about the fall. To read more, click here.

--The International Olympic Committee has announced that ski mountaineering will be an event starting in 2026! To read more, click here.

--From Gear Junkie: "The portal between worlds has opened; a global celebrity will officially produce a primetime TV show about rock climbing. If you’re a rock climber (or a celebrity) and you never thought this would happen, well, the future is now. Jason Momoa joins forces with Chris Sharma to introduce The Climb, which will air in eight episodes on HBO Max. In its official description, the streaming service even sounds like Sharma: 'a visually arresting and life-changing adventure that represents the foundations of rock climbing and the exploration of the human spirit.'" To read more, click here.

--Outside is reporting that, "fifty-two days, eight hours, and twenty-five minutes. As of Thursday evening, that’s the record Timothy Olson appears to have beat running from border to border, Mexico to Canada, on the Pacific Crest Trail. Once Olson’s own time is confirmed, he will have completed the PCT faster than anyone ever before. According to his Instagram account, his unconfirmed time is 51 days, 16 hours, and 55 minutes." To read more, click here.

--And finally, this looks really good:

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Route Profile: Angel's Crest (5.10b, IV)

The Angel's Crest is likely the most beautiful route of its grade in Squamish. The line takes you up a perfect ridge from low on the Stawamus Chief all the way up to its summit. The bulk of the climbing is moderate and most of the cruxes are short...but you have to be on your A game. The route is incredibly long and early morning crowds at the base are common!

Angel's Crest
Click to Enlarge

Approach: Park at the climber's parking area below the Apron in Squamish. Exit the parking lot and walk along the dirt road for about ten minutes. You will pass a couple of trails before you get to the right one. The trail that you will use to access the route is on the right side of the road and is near where many people park and pirate camp. There is a sign just up the trail that says, "Angel's Crest." Follow the trail up, passing a few trees with an "AC" on them. Eventually you will come to a boulder field with a drainage. You can climb the 5.10b variation at the foot of the buttress (bolts visible) or walk up the drainage to where a tree touches the rock. Most people climb the tree on the first pitch. The approach should take about 35 minutes.

Pitch One: Climb up the tree - which is suprisingly cruxy near the ground - to terrain where it's easy to access the rock. Traverse right along an easy ledge system. Scramble up to bolts at the end of the pitch. If you climb up anything that's mossy or weird, you climbed up too early. Stay on the ledge until you find a simple way up to the anchor. (5.7, 150')

The Tree Pitch

Pitch Two: Angle up the beautiful Angel Crack. The crack gets harder as you get higher, but the crux is short. Remember to protect your second at the crux as a fall could unravel the rope. (5.10b, 60')

Climbing out onto Angel's Crack

Pitch Three: Continue up a slab passing two bolts. Continue up a short crack and then traverse to a tree and slung boulder. (5.10b, 60')

Pitch Four: Lieback up a 5.7 corner to easy climbing and a belay. (5.7, 100')

Pitch Five: Continue up a right facing corner to easer climbing and a ledge. (5.10a, 100')

Pitch Six: Ramble up the easiest line to a bushy ledge. (5.7, 150') Once both you and your partner are up, move the belay to the base of the next steep groove.

NOTE: You can escape climber's left into the gully from this point with two rappels.

Pitch Seven: This is a harder-than-it-looks pitch. Work up the climb moving over a small bulge on the left. Continue up into a corner and belay in the trees above. (5.10a, 100')

Move the belay up through the trees to either the base of the offwidth crack or the bottom of another groove on the right. This ledge is called Sasquatch Ledge.

Pitch Eight: There are two options here. Climb the 7-inch wide offwidth (5.10b, 100') or climb the groove to the right. (5.9, 100'). Either way, you'll belay in the trees above.

Hike up through the trees to the next pitch. Take time to notice the Totem Pole on the ledge. This was made by local climbers to honor the memory of Ben DeMenech, a climber who died in a fall in 2001.

The totem in the woods for Ben DeMenech.

Pitch Nine: Climb up the easy terrain into the Acrophobe Towers. Work up and right to a bolted belay that hangs above the opposite side of the towers. This is an awesome pitch! (5.6, 175')

Hidden in the shade on the Acrophobe Towers.

Rappel: Make a thirty-foot rappel to a good stance directly below the tower.

Pitch 10: Climb through a notch out to the right and up to the another notch and a bolt with a rope hanging down the other side. (5.6, 60') Use the rope to climb down approximately 30-feet. At the time of this writing, the rope was damaged and was in need of replacement. It would be possible to downclimb the terrain below at 5.8. It would also be possible to leave a carabiner on the bolt to protect the leader and the follower. The carabiner could be left for the next party if needed.

Pitch 11: Climb up past a tree to easier terrain and a large boulder. Build an anchor. (5.6, 50').

Pitch 12: Climb a small tree and then work through steep terrain to easier climbing on the "Whaleback Arete." Continue past a tree and onto the right side of the feature. Build a trad belay anchor just down and left of the crack system with a piton in it. (5.8, 100')

At the top of the Whaleback Arete.

Pitch 13: Climb up and right passing a piton in the crack. As of this writing, the piton was cracked and shouldn't be thought of as acceptable protection. Note that there are good holds and another crack system up and left of the crack with the piton in it. Continue up the crack system into a wide offwidth section (crux). Squirm up the offwidth onto easier, but still steep 5.9 terrain above. Build an anchor on a nice ledge with two bolts. (5.10b, 100') This pitch is sustained and is likely the crux of the route.

Pitch 14: Worm your way under an overhang and behind a tree to an intimidating squeeze chimney. Slither up the chimney. The terrain gets easier as you get higher. Belay off trees on the summit! (5.8, 100')

Descent: Walk southwest across the summit. Follow your nose down trails that will become busier with more steps the lower you go. At the base of the chief, follow the trail to the right through the campground to a large parking lot. Continue right on another trail under the Apron to the Apron Parking Lot and your car. The descent will take between and hour and an hour-and-a-half, depending on how tired you are...!

Click to Enlarge

Topos for this route appear to be all over the place. But I tried my hand at it as well. Enjoy!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, August 2, 2021

Miranda in the Wild - Defining Hiking and Backpacking Terms

In this video, Miranda goes through dozens of terms that are used in backcountry settings. I started to make a list to just do an online glossary from this, but the list got quite long. Instead, it's probably just easiest for beginners in the backcountry to check out this video...

--Jason D. Martin