Thursday, October 28, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/28/21


Two words: Bomb Cyclone.


--Outside is reporting that, "on October 21, 2021, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office announced its long-awaited conclusions about what had killed an active, outdoorsy family and their dog on a hiking trail in California’s Sierra National Forest on August 15. They determined that the family died of “hyperthermia and probable dehydration” on a day when temperatures hit 109 degrees. The cause of death of Oski, an eight-year-old Aussie-Akita mix, remains undetermined. Based on a veterinary examination of the dog’s remains and other evidence on the scene, Sheriff Jeremy Briese said Oski probably also died of heat-related issues." To read more, click here.

--Snowbrains is reporting that, "As the Caldor Fire tore through Sierra-at-Tahoe, CA, last month, we feared the worst––one of our favorite resorts was being razed to the ground. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and due to heroic work by firefighters and the use of snowguns to dampen the area, Sierra-at-Tahoe survived. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any damage. The resort, who are working round the clock to prepare for the upcoming season, offered an update on what terrain won’t open next season, which lifts were affected, and when opening day might be." To read more, click here.

--Alex Honnold's mom just climbed El Cap at the age of 70, becoming the oldest woman to do so. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The New York Post and others are reporting that, "a hiker lost on a mountain in Colorado ignored repeated calls from rescuers — later explaining that they had been unfamiliar with the phone number, authorities said. The person was reported missing after they didn’t return from an expedition Oct. 18 on Mount Elbert, the highest peak in the state, Lake County Search and Rescue said." To read more, click here.

--The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that, "Search and rescue crews led two climbers to safety early Saturday morning after they were stranded overnight in the Gate Buttress area of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Unified Police Department officials said. The climbers, a 26-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman, had ascended to the top of The Thumb climbing feature around 2 p.m. Friday, but headed in the wrong direction as they repelled down and became stuck on a ledge after running out of rope, UPD detective Kevin Mallory said." To read more, click here.

--The Colorado Sun is reporting that, "Sweetwater Lake - The newest federal land in Colorado will become the state’s 43rd state park in a first-of-its-kind partnership between the state and the U.S. Forest Service. What started as an effort to protect 488 acres surrounding Sweetwater Lake above the Colorado River from private development on Wednesday became the country’s first state park on Forest Service land." To read more, click here.

--Snowbrains is reporting that, "With ski season rapidly approaching, resorts are planning out the essential resources to make this ski season like no other. Unfortunately, Colorado ski resorts are facing an unexpected scarcity of employees. As thousands of positions remain unfilled, resorts are becoming frantic to hire employees in time for ski season." To read more, click here.

--Ski is reporting that, "Colorado’s Aspen Snowmass released its Covid-related guidelines for the coming season, including some vaccine requirements for close-contact, indoor spaces." To read more, click here.

--Snowbrains is reporting that, "Former pro-skier David Lesh has been found guilty of illegally riding a snowmobile at a terrain park in closed Keystone Resort on April 24, 2020, and undertaking an unauthorized commercial venture on national forestland. Lesh’s own social media pictures played a part in the conviction." To read more, click here.

--CBS Denver is reporting that, "it’s been another record year when it comes to call volume for the Summit County Rescue Group, a trend that’s showing no signs of slowing down. Last year, the SCRG handled 185 calls and so far this year it’s been 193. The increasing call volume is one of the the reasons the group was selected for a new pilot program to help them deal with the mental toll the load can create. 'This is a program that’s aimed at creating awareness and bringing processes to rescuers to help them recognize stress injuries, prevent it, mitigate it and have good processes available for the individual rescuer,' said Aaron Parmet, Medical Officer for Summit County Rescue Group." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A Russian boxer fought and killed a bear after it killed his friend. According to The Hill: "The boxer, who has participated in national championships, shot the animal four times. The bear managed to swipe the firearm away and attack the Russian fighter, but in the end, Medvedev stabbed the bear to death." To read more, click here.

--KTVH is reporting that, "The Helena Fire Department rescued a stranded climber Monday morning on Mount Helena and a hiker on Mount Ascension. Around 10:00 AM, Helena Fire received a report of an individual stranded cliff side on Mount Helena. Upon arrival, crews found a climber with no rope or harness approximately 150 feet off the ground." To read more, click here.

--The Hill is reporting that, "President Biden has nominated Martha Williams to lead the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) after she informally serving in the role since the start of the Biden administration. Williams was previously the director of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and has also previously served in the Interior Department during the Obama administration." To read more, click here.

--The Outside Business Journal is reporting that, "Guthook Guides announced it has rebranded as FarOut to better reflect the company’s current business model and plans for future growth. The company’s Bikepacking Guides app will also be consolidated in the FarOut app." To read more, click here.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 10/21/21


--It appears that a solo climber became stuck on Mt. Erie's Zig Zag route (5.7, II). The Navy rescued the climber with a helicopter. Mt. Erie is a small climbing area near the town of Anacortes, Washington. It is not clear if the climber was free-soloing or rope-soloing.

--Oregon's KATU 2 is reporting that, "Crews rescued a 23-year-old Hillsboro man on Saturday when he dropped his climbing gear and ended up getting stuck on Wolf Rock in Linn County. The 911 call came in shortly before 6 p.m. after Johnathan Takle, 23, of Hillsboro, was performing a technical climb when his gear fell to the ground." To read more, click here.


--The Sierra Wave is reporting that, "firefighter Layla Bradley, age 29, from Powell, Wyoming, died while on an assignment to the forest.  Layla was working as a member of a wildland fire engine from Dragon Fighters Inc, a company that works under contract with the US Forest Service. They were providing additional initial attack coverage for the forest during this difficult fire season." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Fox 21 News is reporting that, "The body of 29 year old experienced hiker Madeline Baharlou-Quivey has been located in Class 5 terrain on Kit Carson Peak after several days of rescue attempts in light of inclement weather. On Monday, Oct. 11, the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office received a report that a climber had gone off-route, cliffing out below the standard route on Kit Carson Peak. The individual who called the department said that they had received a text message from the hiker saying that they needed help from search and rescue." To read more, click here.

--Gephardt Daily is reporting that, "Crews assisted a climber who fell some 30 feet at the Egg in Little Cottonwood Canyon Sunday. Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue was called out at 6:15 p.m. and found the climber unconscious and not breathing." This individual was resuscitated and walked out on his own accord. To read more, click here.

--In a separate incident, a climber died after being struck by rockfall in Little Cottonwood Canyon. It's not clear if there's misreporting and this is the same as the last incident. To read a detailed account of this accident, click here.

--There is a bill out there to get rid of single use plastic bottles in national parks. Hopefully it passes!

--WDTV is reporting that, "a national park in West Virginia is telling visitors they need to stop throwing rocks down cliffs, saying it could kill climbers and hikers below. A Facebook post by the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve says a rock climber recently reported to park rangers that multiple people were throwing big rocks from the cliffs at Diamond Point on the Endless Wall trail to climbing areas more than 100 feet below." To read more, click here.

--Here are the books that won for climbing in the Banff Mountain Book Festival.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Do I need Climbing Chalk...?

Do I need chalk...?

This is a really common question for new climbers. And the answer isn't always obvious.

Climbers tend to use chalk to keep their hands dry while climbing. The primary reason that one's hands get wet is due to sweat. But humidity and natural water on a route can also make a climber's hands wet. Chalk can be used to counter these issues.

When we talk about chalk, we're not talking about the type you saw in elementary school. That type of chalk has a calcium carbonate base. Calcium carbonate crumbles and comes apart when it's wet, so it's not that great for climbing. Climbing chalk has a magnesium carbonate base, which absorbs water (or sweat).

There are three primary options for climbing chalk: liquid chalk, loose chalk and chalk balls.

Liquid Chalk

Liquid chalk has really found it's niche as it is the primary chalk now allowed in rock gyms, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Liquid chalk has a calcium carbonate base and is mixed with alcohol. When you put it on, the alcohol evaporates (and kills coronavirus!), leaving a thin layer of chalk on your hands.

The big upside to liquid chalk is that it tends to last awhile on your hands. The downside is that you can't really put it in a chalk bag, so it's hard to "chalk-up" mid-pitch. Additionally, if you have even the tiniest cut or nick on your hand, it will hurt a lot to use, as the alcohol will sting...

Loose Chalk

Loose chalk is primarily used by boulderers and is commonly put into a big chalk bucket. It is easy to spill and often shrouds a rock gym in a veil of chalky mist. I don't really use loose chalk that much, except to refill my chalk balls.

Some chalk comes as a brick that needs to be broken up into loose chalk. However, this tends to be a cheaper and less effective option.

Chalk Ball

Chalk balls are fabric balls filled with chalk that can be placed in a chalk bag. They often come filled, and can easily be refilled with loose chalk. As chalk balls aren't that messy and tend to last for awhile, this is my personal "go to" chalk.

The question as to whether you need chalk really depends on the type of climbing that you intend to do. 

Alpine Climbing

Most alpine climbing isn't that hard. The vast majority of the alpine routes that are regularly climbed in the world, are 5.7 or easier. And even when the routes are harder, the cruxes tend to be short. Chalk isn't really required on these kinds of climbs. You can usually get away without it.

If you are doing a harder alpine climb, you'll have to consider where you're going to hang your chalk bag. The standard spot, at your tailbone, will most likely be covered by a pack. Often alpine climbers that need chalk will offset their bag from their pack, on one hip or another. This usually means it's easier to reach with one hand or another. Chalk balls are easier in this setting, because the ball can be pulled out and used by either hand.

Other Climbing 

In most other climbing settings, chalk is a good idea. However, in some areas there are Leave No Trace considerations. Hikers and birdwatchers don't like to see chalk smeared all over a cliff face. That said, it is possible to buy colored chalk for certain areas. Make sure that you're aware of the local ethics before using any kind of chalk.

A classic chalk bag with a belt.

Finally, you should be aware that there are really two ways that chalk is carried. Boulderers often use chalk buckets, so that they don't have to carry the chalk. However, most other climbers use chalk bags, because they can be clipped to a harness or worn on a belt. If you're doing anything longer than an eight move boulder problem a chalk bag tends to be a better option.

Happy climbing!

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - October 8, 2021


--Outside is reporting that, "on September 28, a ruling by the British Columbia Supreme Court effectively removed police forces from the front lines of the Fairy Creek blockades, a 14-month-long act of civil disobedience dedicated to protecting old growth from logging in and around the Fairy Creek watershed on southwestern Vancouver Island. The court denied the application of the Teal Jones Ltd. timber company to extend an injunction order against protestors interfering with logging. The original injunction authorized the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to arrest and remove all demonstrators, peaceful or otherwise. Since enforcement began in May 2021, police have arrested more than 1,100 people, making this the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

Mt. Wilson in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

--The Access Fund is working to save Arizona's Oak Flat. "Right now, Congress is negotiating large scale investments in public lands through the budget reconciliation process—and climbing areas hang in the balance. How Congress will ultimately proceed, depends on what they hear from you in the coming days." To take action, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Huffpost is reporting that, "Tracy Stone-Manning was confirmed to lead the federal Bureau of Land Management on Thursday following a contentious confirmation process in which Republicans and conservative media labeled her an “eco-terrorist” and “violent extremist” for her connection to a tree-spiking incident in the late-1980s. Stone-Manning, a senior adviser for conservation policy at the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation and a former aide to Montana Democrats, will become the first confirmed director since Neil Kornze led the bureau under President Barack Obama. She’ll be charged with overseeing 245 million acres of federal land ― more than 10% of the entire U.S. landmass ―and 700 million subsurface mineral acres." To read more, click here.

--The Outside Business Journal is reporting that Maryland will have an office of outdoor recreation. "Last Friday, the state’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, announced the creation of the office within the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). He also announced that J. Daryl Anthony will serve as its first executive director." To read more, click here.

--Backpacker is reporting that, "three years after livestream viewers spotted them approach feeding bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve’s Brooks River, three men are facing federal charges, federal prosecutors have announced." To read more, click here.

--A couple and their dog were attacked by a bear in North Carolina. From Backpacker: "On September 29, a couple was having a picnic near the Folk Art Center along the Asheville stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway when their unleashed dog began barking at a nearby black bear and ran towards it. In response, National Park Service officials say, the bear began to attack both the dog and the couple over the following minutes, leading to minor injuries. Ultimately, the pair and their pet were able to escape to the safety of their car." To read more, click here.

--It appears that Canadian Ski Resorts will require vaccination of both employees and ski area guests. To read more, click here.

--IFL Science is reporting that, "the melting of an ice sheet in Norway has revealed a pair of incredibly well-preserved skis that have laid untouched for some 1,300 years. The archaeologists who stumbled upon this discovery believe they might be the best-preserved pair of skis from prehistory ever discovered." To read more, click here.

Monday, October 4, 2021

American Alpine Institute Guides Choice - 2021

The American Alpine Institute is pleased to announce the 2021 Guides Choice Award Winners! The Guides Choice has been a highly valued award for over 20 years and long coveted by manufacturers and industry insiders. A core group of AAI guides thoroughly test products in a variety of demanding conditions across 6 states and 16 countries. 

This year four winners have been selected.

Hilleberg Niak Tent

Guides need something that is reliable, since they go out constantly and not always in the best of conditions. So when you are selling a lot of one item to guides unprompted, you know that it is a good product. We do this constantly in the Shop. 

In comes the Hilleberg Niak! 

First introduced to the market back in 2016, this tent has brought rave reviews Before this tent came out the Unna was the go to for the overall mountaineering tent within our ranks. When the Niak came out everyone was making 'oogly' eyes due to the weight savings and packability. The question that needed answering though, since this new lighter weight used lighter materials, was what kind of weather can this thing hold up in? Additionally, we asked how durable the tent was; and how was this tent going to hold up in the long run?

The results are in! It turns out this tent can hold up in some pretty nasty weather. Even though it is deemed a 3-season tent, the Niak can still take on heavy wind and rain extremely well when pitched out correctly. That said, those that use it need to remember that the fly does not go all the way to the ground, so wind and rain blown sideways can sometimes make it inside. I should also not that the lighter material isn't going to work in the absolute worst conditions. Those conditions are where you will require a 4-season tent.

As far as durability goes, they hold up really well too. Quite a few of our guides have this tent and use it throughout the summer and winter, and I have not heard of any durability problems (Trust me I would hear about it if there was).

So the lighter and more packable categories have been checked off. Also on the list, you'll find that this has the versatility of a free standing tent. You get an 'actual' 2-person tent with a good amount of interior space, vestibule space and a low profile for mountain weather.

To sum up this tent is versatile and lightweight. The biggest con is it's durability in extreme conditions.  But if you are like me, and don't really plan to have an adventure in a hurricane, then your bases should be covered.

Guide James Pierson: I have the Niak, and I really love it. It's lighter than the Unna, just as roomy, and can stand up to all but the harshest of conditions. I had it on a Mt. Baker trip in June where we had 60mph sustained winds, with probably 70-80mph gusts and it survived. Admittedly, it may be heavier than some of the other 3-season tents out on the market, but I never have to worry about it standing up to the elements. I also love that it has a real vestibule. I purchased the extra pole holders and am able to set it up with either just the fly or just the inner if I want to go super light in good weather. I would highly recommend it.

Most mountaineers out there are looking for versatility. Cool. This product does the job it's designed to do, but can it do more...? In other words, how can I be more efficient? For example, I have a down puffy that I am using as a down jacket, but can I also implement it in my sleep system, so I can take a lighter sleeping bag to save weight and bulk?

Versatility was the deciding factor in giving the Rap Line the award for 2021. We have an assortment of 6mm static lines for guides to choose from, but there are not an assortment of static lines going out the door. Guides only want to use the Rap Line .

There are many options out there for thin static cords, and if you have a really specific set of needs for a rope like this, then maybe there are other better options out there for you. If weight is your main priority then consider the Petzl RAD Line. If the maximal strength rating is a priority, then consider the Sterling 6mm TRC Cord. Or if the only priority is that you need a tag line, then you can consider the Petzl PUR Line...But for overall versatility, the Edelrid Rap Line takes the cake.

The Edelrid Rap Line has a pretty good feel as well, meaning that it is more supple and is nicer to manage with your hands. The sheath is grippy and the rope itself has a good shape to it. This is important because it gives you the ability to use prusiks on the rope when hauling, rappelling, or climbing out of a crevasse.

The thing that really sets the Rap Line apart from the others is its dynamic reserve, meaning that it has enough stretch (relative to a ‘static’ line) that it makes the rating of two falls from the EN 892 test when being used as a twin rope. Edelrid was able to accomplish this in a really clever manner, implementing Aramid fibers into the rope. These fibers will break under a certain amount of force allowing for the stretch that this rope offers. Due to this particular property of the rope, it's important to inspect it on a frequent basis, as well as after a fall.

The stretch is designed to absorb some of the forces generated from a fall. This can decrease the force applied to you, your anchor, or a piece of protection. This does not mean that you should lead climb on this rope (and that is emphasized in the instruction manual). This rope has some stretch, but not enough to safely use it as a lead line. That said, it can give you the flexibility to belay someone up on an anchor, or to provide a body belay. That is the big takeaway here, the Edelrid Rap Line can do all the things you might need of a 6mm static line.

One other thing to consider for lines like these is belay/rappel device compatibility. Since they are so thin, if you are rappelling off this cord only and not using it as a tagline or partnering it with a thicker rope, make sure that you have a compatible device with you. One option is the Edelrid Mago 8 device, which is tailored to handle thinner cords such as the Rap Line. Always practice and get a feeling for things before actually using them in a 'real' situation. If you plan on using this cord for ski mountaineering, practice rappelling at a crag with heavy gloves on. This will give you a feel for what it is actually going to be like.

NOTE: The use of thin static cords is an advanced technique, and it is highly recommended that you have  proper knowledge of crevasse rescue, rappelling, and mountaineering before including a thin static cord in your system. Always read the instruction manual of the manufacturer and adhere to their recommendations.

If you want to know if a piece of equipment has been seismic in its impact on the climbing sphere, take a look at the average rack around Camp 4.

Where Chouinard’s hardened steel pins had once been the buzz of the Valley, the Totem Cam is now emblematic of the bleeding edge. Friends, Camalots, Aliens: the lineage of camming devices that have moved the needle in free and aid climbing need make room for one more.

Totem understands that the world isn’t perfectly splitter, and where most cams work most of the time, Totems excel in the weird, the untrue and the uneasy placements. The smaller end of the available spectrum has been the most impressive, fitting and holding where other cams dare not go, which has created an almost cult-like following.

Whereas the Aliens used a softer 6061-T6 alloy cam lobe to achieve their signature stick, Totems crank up the engineering and employ a fully flexible stemless design that ensures equal load to distribution to all of the lobes, even allowing for a climber to load just two lobes on marginal aid climbing placements (body weight only). This trademarked Direct Loading System also allows for the cams to be placed in horizontal cracks without worry of being over-leveraged or working their way out.

Our only quibble lies with the racking, which splays the cams widest side out along our harnesses due to the sling design. But we can forgive this given their undeniable function, you just wouldn’t want to rack up with triples. The weight of Totem cams is also a wee bit on the heavier side, but again given their ability we are willing to get a bit stronger (or make our partners carry the rack).

With the capacity to act like offset cams, combined with a larger camming angle as well as a more svelte head width, Totem Cams have taken to not only filling the blanks left by other camming units, but surmounted them on many fronts. As an aid climbing piece they are revolutionary, and for trad climbing they significantly punch above their weight class in terms of sheer utility, which easily lands the Totem Cam a Guides Choice Award.

Guide Ian McEleney: I was skeptical about the Totems at first; there was a lot of hype around them and they looked heavy and bulky. I was quickly won over, however, on an ascent on El Cap where they proved to be incredibly useful, and quickly became gear that I saved for particularly tricky sections. Now a double set of Totems (and maybe triple of the coveted black size) are mandatory for any wall climbing I'm doing. I think the narrow head size and super flexible body let these cams stick in weird flaring placements where other cams will just rip out. Despite their added weight and bulk, they come along any time I'm on unclimbed terrain or on funky rock like limestone.

As a class of protection, nuts often get the backside of the harness. You can’t much blame them, however. They lack the flash of active pro, and there’s only so far you can stray from the old railroad nuts before you end up with something completely foreign. With cams becoming the pro-du-jour on pitches the world over, passive protection has become more refined and specialized. 

Enter the Offset Nut.

Produced from the original Hugh Banner design (there’s something undeniably fulfilling about a pedigree) the DMM Offset Nut leans fully into its roots and understands that constrictions rarely exist in only two planes. Flares, pin scars and awkward pods that would otherwise spit traditionally shaped nuts out receive Offsets handily.

Tuned like a gem, DMM’s Offset Nuts display a variety of facets that taper downward, producing a far more plug-shaped nut that nestles into constrictions with ease. By employing different angles on each face, the nuts can be rotated until the prime placement is achieved. When surface-area contact is the name of the game, having a number of different options greatly increases your ability to place solid protection.

As a set, from 12mm to 30mm, the Offsets are an excellent supplement to your existing traditional nuts, and you may often find reaching for them more often. Being rated at 12kN each and slung with a swaged steel cable will ensure they’ll be able to stand up to multiple seasons of abuse.

Almost comically, the only trouble we have with Offset Nuts is also why they are so good: they can occasionally be tough to get out! Because of their offset profile, the old rip and go style of removal doesn’t yield an extraction as often as we’d like, and fiddling with a nut tool is often the best way to clean.

The Offset Nut has nudged its way onto many of our guide’s harnesses and seems liable to stay put for a while, earning it a Guides Choice Award in 2021.

A Note from the Judges:

In choosing our award winners this year, we opted to do a bit of cleaning up. We awarded some well deserving products that have been on our minds for a number of years. Indeed, the DMM Alloy Offsets in particular, have been on the market in some form or another for years, and were an easy choice in making an award winner. Their shape has made them the nut to have on harnesses across the globe, many even opting to carry only a set of Offsets and supplementing with a few extra in the middle sizes. If that’s not proof of superior use-ability, I don’t know what is.

The Totem Cam, too, has had a long time coming in becoming a Guides Choice award winner. While our guides racks are always changing, we’re beginning to see a new standard forming: a single rack of Camalots, and a single rack in Totems. This speaks volumes about Totems as not only being the specialty pieces you might bring for a couple difficult placements, but rather as a full-fledged and well-developed line of cams that can stand on their own on anyone’s trad rack.

On the new and exciting side of the spectrum, the Edelrid Rap Line is a cord that we are particularly enthusiastic about. As a pull cord it functions just about as well as most on the market, but where the Rap Line truly shines is in its almost off-label uses: as a glacier-travel cord and in navigating quickly changing alpine terrain. These cords have seen wide use on glaciers, and particularly with ski mountaineers who are keen on trimming weight on anything that’ll slow them down on the ascent. We are excited to see companies like Edelrid push the bleeding edge, and believe that the Rap Line is well deserving of a Guides Choice award.

And finally, while we have given many awards to designs by Hilleberg the Tentmaker in the past, the Niak simply couldn’t be denied. It is a testament to the ‘built for the worst’ philosophy that we’ve come to enjoy about Hilleberg tents, and would easily call this a 3+/4- season tent, where Hilleberg only calls it a 3. It’s this hedging against the worst-case scenario that’s baked into the Niak, and what places it above almost any 3-season tent on the market today. On any given weekend, you’re likely to see American Alpine Institute guides unfurling their Niaks on any number of North Cascades peaks.

This year’s equipment choices are all examples of excellence in their respective niches, and we are excited to be bringing them into the spotlight with the honor of the American Alpine Institute Guides Choice Award.

--Christian Schraegle and Nick Belcaster, AAI Shop Management

Friday, October 1, 2021

Tree Ratings in kN

At one of the American Mountain Guides Association Single Pitch Instructor Provider continuing education programs, we discussed the strength of trees. One SPI provider noted that he had pull tested a tree to failure with a load cell and found that the tree had a 17kN value.

17kN is a decently high value. A kilonewton (kN) is worth approximately 225lbs. And most carabiners and slings are rated at 21-24kN. 17kN isn't quite high enough for a stand-alone anchor, but it is plenty high enough for a rappel or for an anchor component.

Just how good is that tree in the crack?

As soon as the provider finished speaking, several people challenged him. "That rating was only good for that tree at that spot," one person said. "It's all about the root system," another said. "You can't tell anything with one test," a third said.

All three of the people who challenged the provider were right. One test on one tree in one area doesn't really provide you with any real data. You need something more...

A few weeks later I attended the International Technical Rescue Symposium. The symposium brings together some of he best minds in rope rescue. Many participants do research and present papers at the event. At this particular symposium John Morton, a rescue technician from Everett Mountain Rescue and the Snohomish Helicopter Rescue Team, presented a paper on the kN value of trees.

Morton started working on determing the values of trees some years earlier with Mark Miller, a mountain guide and rescue instructor who was tragically killed in an accident early in 2015. After Mark's death, Morton continued to work on this project.

Essentially, he came at this problem in a new way. He looked at trees as anchors that have already been the wind.

When there is a windstorm, trees are seriously stressed. Indeed, they are tested just like any other piece of rescue or climbing equipment. They act almost like a sail and capture a tremendous amount of wind. If they don't fall over, then they've been tested to a certain level of kN.

Morton took this and developed a formula based on a combination of tree species profile and how windstorms impact those trees. In the process he further refined his formula to accommodate for trees on the lee side of hills. And when he was done... He had a means to actively give every tree everywhere a kN rating.

Click to Enlarge

The preceding shows the circumference of several trees in the Pacific Northwest and their kN rating based on Morton's formula.

For a rappel anchor, we probably want something that has a minimum value of at least 8kN. Leader falls are often given a value of approximately 7.5kN, so while a rappel shouldn't provide that kind of impact, we should be prepared for it.

For a climbing anchor, we want something with a minimum of 20kN. And for a rescue anchor, we should probably have at least 30kN.

By these figures, every tree in the PNW that is at least 22-inches in circumference is adequate for a climbing anchor. And every tree that is at least 25-inches in circumference is adequate for a rescue anchor.

For SAR personnel, Morton recommends carrying a field guide so that you might be able to look specifically at a given tree species and determine how small you can go.

This is really cool work. To see Morton's complete paper, please log onto and search for John Morton, "What if Trees had Ratings in kN? Tree Anchor Ratings Based on Wind Loading."

--Jason D. Martin