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

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 9/29/21


--Crystal Mountain Ski Resort will charge for parking this year. But cars that have four or more people in them will be free.


--A high speed lift is being added to Mt. Rose at Tahoe. 

--The Tahoe Daily Tribune is reporting that, "the cold front moving through the region Monday night into Tuesday brought high winds and dropped some rain on the Caldor Fire, and officials are planning aggressive mop up in and around the perimeter with improved weather conditions in the forecast." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--E and E News is reporting that, "Environmentalists won a notable victory this week with a federal judge’s order that the Fish and Wildlife Service reconsider extending Endangered Species Act protections to the iconic and stressed-out Joshua tree. In a sharply worded opinion, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II concluded the agency fumbled its analysis of a petition to list the desert species, calling the 2019 decision to deny protections 'arbitrary and capricious.' He directed the agency to undertake a do-over. 'The Service’s findings regarding threats posed by climate change and wildfire are unsupported, speculative, or irrational,' Wright declared in his opinion issued Monday." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--US News is reporting that, "Search and rescue crews have recovered the body of a Durango man who died while climbing Blanca Peak in southern Colorado. The Durango Herald reports 57-year-old Vaughn Fetzer was reported missing Sept. 20, and his body was found in treacherous terrain on the state's fourth highest peak Monday." To read more, click here.

--Fox 31 is reporting that, "A 44-year-old climber, who the Saguache County Coroner identified as Jeremy Fuerst, died in a fall between the Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle on Saturday. Division of Fire Protection and Control – Canon City Helitack and Custer County Search and Rescue personnel began a search around 1 p.m. after a call reporting an overdue climber was received. Fuerst was spotted in an aerial search about 300 feet below the traverse between the Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle." To read more, click here.

--Climbing is reporting that, "Donald Bearie, a recording engineer originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, was lowered off the end of a rope in South Platte, Colorado, last week. He fell roughly 25 feet and fractured his wrist, ankle, scapula, and two vertebrae. Bearie was between health insurances at the time of the accident and now is facing more than $100,000 dollars in medical bills. There’s a GoFundMe set up to help him get back on his feet and into the mountains." To read more, and to donate, click here.

--Vail Daily is reporting that, "A large die-off of fish in Mill Creek and Gore Creek over the weekend from a suspected accidental discharge from a tank used for snowmaking on Vail Mountain has caught the attention of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife department. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials visited Vail on Tuesday to investigate. Representatives from the town of Vail and Colorado Parks and Wildlife said Mill Creek had been visibly impacted by a blue-gray color Tuesday." To read more, click here.

--The Outside Business Journal is reporting that, "one of the most widely known and beloved indy gear shops in the outdoor industry, Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colo., has been acquired by another legacy shop, Ute Mountaineer in Aspen, the two businesses announced jointly this afternoon. The acquisition is set to finalize on Sept. 30." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Yahoo News is reporting that, "a California woman professing to be a shaman who was arrested and charged with igniting the wildfire that has thousands of homes under threat claimed the fire was started inadvertently while she was attempting to boil bear urine, authorities said. Alexandra Souverneva, 30, could be sentenced to up to nine years if convicted of starting the Fawn fire, according to officials." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Knots for Rappelling

There are two key knots for rappelling. The first is the overhand flat bend and the second is the barrel knot (sometimes referred to as the strangle knot). In the following video Climbing magazine's Jullie Ellison demonstrates these two important knots...

The overhand flat bend (also known as the Euro Death Knot) is the go to knot for tying two ropes together for rappelling. The primary reason we use this over another knot is because of the way it rides over the terrain when you pull the rope. The knot exists on one side of tied ropes which makes it less likely to get caught when you pull the ropes...

As Julie notes, some people are concerned that the overhand flat bend will roll over on itself and roll off the end of the ropes. In the video, she shows to tie the knot pretty far from the ends of the rope. This length makes it impossible for the knot to roll. There are a couple of other things you can do to keep the knot from rolling as well...

 In this first photo, I tied an extra overhand around both strands. 
This would decrease the liklihood of rolling.

In this second photo, I tied two overhand flat bends and seated themselves together.
This is my preferred style and I tie my cordelletes into loops with this as well as my ropes.

Some people think that if they tie two ropes together with a flat figure-eight that it will be stronger. Ironically, this is incredibly weak and can roll with as little as 2kN of force (under 500lbs). There have been fatalities from using the flat figure-eight to tie two ropes together.

Julie goes on to talk about tying barrel knots in the end of the rope. She recommends triple barrel knots, but a double is fine, as long as it is pulled tight. A loosly tied double barrel knot can become untied.

A double barrel knot.

Historically climbers and guides didn't tie knots in the ends of their ropes. They were afraid that the ropes would get caught below. That is changing. There have been way too many accidents because there were no knots in the ropes. If you're worried that the ends will get caught below, simple tie an overhand or an eight in the end of the rope and clip it to your harness during the rappel...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, September 27, 2021

How to Sleep Warm while Camping

REI has a fairly good group of videos on entry level tips and techniques. In this video, they cover:
  • Sleeping Bag Selection
  • Air Pad and Closed Foam Pads
  • Sleeping Bag Liners
  • Clothing for Sleeping
  • Exercise in Your Sleeping Bag
  • Snacks and Beverages to keep You Warm
  • Hot Water Bottles

Staying warm in the backcountry is just as much of an art as anything else in the backcountry. It takes practice to do it well...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, September 24, 2021

How to Use and Autobelay

Many rock gyms have auto-belay devices. These devices allow you to do a roped climb without a climbing partner. They increase your ability to use your training time at the gym effectively because it's much easier to do laps or work a route, without putting someone else out.

In this short video, a rock gym employee discusses how to use an auto-belay device.

There are a couple of important things that he mentioned in the video:

First, remember to actually clip into the auto-belay carabiner. There's no one there to check you, so you have to check your harness and carabiner yourself. If you don't clip in properly -- or at all -- you may get hurt.

Most auto-belay accidents happen because the climber forgot to clip into the belay.

Second, if you accidentally let go of the carabiner, don't worry about it. Don't try to climb up and get it. Just tell a staff member. These things happen all the time.

Third, the first few times you use the auto-belay it will be very scary. It doesn't rally catch you until you've fully weighted it, and so it can feel like you're falling for a moment before it engages. There's value in getting used to this close to the ground.

Auto-belays are great. I personally really appreciate it when gyms have this option available...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 9/23/21


--Cascadia Weekly is reporting on the East Baker Lake Trail: "This trail area at the edge of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest complex is being recognized as Whatcom County’s representative in a national network of protected, publicly-accessible old-growth forests. The forest will be the first in Washington to be added to the network that includes 25 states. Other old forests in the state may soon join the list." To read more, click here.

--The campfire ban in Olympic National Park and National Forest has been lifted. North Cascades National Park has also lifted the ban.

--Due to summer heat, Mt. Shasta is nearly snowless.

--The Chronicle is asking questions about flightseeing over PNW National Parks: "Should visitors to Washington’s national parks hear only hooting owls and bugling elk, or are the sounds of low-flying aircraft also part of the experience? Administrators at Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks, along with the Federal Aviation Administration, are formulating policies to determine the future of commercial sightseeing flights over the two parks." To read more, click here.

--"The National Park Service (NPS) has selected Don Striker to serve as the superintendent of North Cascades NPS Complex starting in November. This position oversees North Cascades National Park and Ross Lake and Lake Chelan national recreation areas. Striker currently serves as the superintendent of Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska." To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting on the ongoing rockfall incidents in Squamish: "A huge rockfall that occurred from the North Walls on The Chief in Squamish after midnight on Sept. 20. A number of well-travelled routes were damaged or destroyed. A huge area has now been closed." To read more, click here.


--Large parts of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park are closed right now due to fires. To see a map of closures, click here.

--The Tahoe Daily Tribune is reporting on the impacts of the Caldor Fire: "he Caldor Fire burned hottest in decimated communities and the landscape has dramatically on the main highway leading to South Lake Tahoe. Blackened earth, scorched trees and burned homes are prominent alongside U.S. Highway 50 from Echo Summit to Kyburz. The USDA Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response Team recently completed data gathering and analysis of the Caldor burned area to produce a soil burn severity map of the 219,578-acre, 76% contained blaze." To read more and to see photos of the devastation, click here.

--The Squaw Valley Ski Resort will now and forever be known as Palisades Tahoe. Here's the official announcement:

--Speaking of Palisades Tahoe, a popular patroller there is battling cancer. His friends have set-up a go-fund-me.

--SnowBrains is reporting that, "Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe announced today that it has raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour for all positions that were previously below. The increase represents a 66% increase over the standard $9 per hour mandated minimum wage in Nevada. The resort will also require employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 ahead of the start of its 2021-22 winter season." To read more, click here. It should be noted that many more resorts will be required to vaccinate their employees due to the new Biden Executive Order concerning companies that employ more than 100-people. UPDATE: Liftblog and Snowbrains both keep reporting on more and more resorts that will require the vaccinations of employees.

Desert Southwest:

--The lodge at Mt. Charleston - a popular restaurant with climbers and skiers from Las Vegas - has burned down. To read about it, click here.

--An individual is facing federal charges for committing arson in Petroglyph National Park. To read about it, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Summit Daily is reporting that, "An injured climber was transported to a Front Range hospital via Flight for Life on Sunday, Sept. 19, after suffering a serious fall down a cliff face near Montezuma. At about 11 a.m., the rescue group was dispatched to a climbing area between Keystone and Montezuma known as Haus Rock, located a short drive down Montezuma Road off a pullout, according to Summit County Rescue Group Public Information Officer Anna DeBattiste." To read more, click here.

--The Bellingham Herald is reporting that, "A Pennsylvania man faces homicide charges after a Texas bow hunter was found shot and killed Friday in San Juan National Forest, Colorado cops say. First responders were dispatched to Kilpacker Trail Head on Friday morning for reports of a hunter who was accidentally shot, according to the Dolores County Sheriff’ Office. It took a search party 10 hours to come upon the body of 31-year-old Gregory Gabrisch, according to KDVR." To read more, click here. It is hunting season. Keep your eyes open and make sure hunters know you're human when bashing through the brush!

--Snowbrains is reporting that, "14er Mount Lindsey, located near Alamosa, Colorado, has been closed to public access due to liability concerns. Access to the summit block of the 14,048ft tall mountain is now prohibited, as stated by a sign placed by the landowners, the Trinchera-Blanca Ranch. While the closure doesn’t impact the surrounding peaks or most of the trail to the top, the summit and surrounding area have been placed off-limits to hikers. A forum post made by Lloyd Athearn, the Executive Director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, states that the closure was enacted out of a concern for legal liability based on a recent court case and exception in the Colorado Recreation Use Statue." To read more, click here.

--Outside is reporting that, "For the first time in its 75 years of operation, Aspen Skiing Company (Skico) will charge for an uphill ski pass. In recent years, Aspen, Colorado, has become a hot spot for uphilling enthusiasts, largely because, until now, Aspen Snowmass gave uphillers free access to skin up all four mountains, season pass or not." To read more, click here.

--The Colorado Sun is reporting that, "the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board on Thursday made its first recommendation: changing the name of Squaw Mountain in Clear Creek County to Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain. After a year of plodding procedural meetings, the board unanimously approved renaming the peak — referred to in debate as “S-Mountain” — after the influential Cheyenne translator known as Owl Woman, who facilitated relations between white settlers and Native Americans tribes in the early 1800s. Mestaa’ėhehe is pronounced mess-taw-HAY. (Click here for an audio clip of the pronunciation.)" To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Buckrail is reporting that, "Grand Teton National Park rangers responded today to a report from a climber ascending Teewinot Mountain of a deceased male at the base of the Black Chimney climbing route. Rangers arrived to the scene and recovered the remains of the deceased climber. The National Park Service is conducting an investigation into the accident." To read more, click here.

--Inform NY is reporting that, "A pair of climbers from Fort Drum were rescued last week after getting stranded in Lewis County. Around 8:30 p.m. on September 16, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Ray Brook Dispatch was notified of two climbers from Fort Drum that were in need of assistance. The climbers were located at Inman Gulf in the Tug Hill State Forest." To read more, click here.

--Those who wish to travel to Everest Basecamp this fall will be required to be vaccinated. Though their message was a bit muddled about this, it's likely climbers will have to be vaccinated in the spring as well. To read more, click here.

--A guy needed to be rescued off a cliff in New Hampshire, and now they want to bill him for it. Charging for rescue is a dangerous thing to do, even if the person deserves it. Why? Victims might hide from rescuers for fear of being charged. And they might not call for help until their situation is life threatening...

--CNN is reporting that, "The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) has apologized to Austrian climber Johanna Farber after inappropriate images of her were broadcast during the World Championships in Moscow. Multiple media outlets reported that the event's broadcaster aired a close-up replay of Farber's bottom during the boulder semifinals last week, prompting the sport's governing body to post an apology." To read more, click here.

--Climbing is reporting that the the AAC’s Catalyst grant winners for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ climbers have been announced. To see who won and what they'll use their grant for, click here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Don Striker Selected as Superintendent for North Cascades National Park Service Complex

The American Alpine Institute just received the following email from the National Park Service:

SAN FRANCISCO - The National Park Service (NPS) has selected Don Striker to serve as the superintendent of North Cascades NPS Complex starting in November. This position oversees North Cascades National Park and Ross Lake and Lake Chelan national recreation areas. Striker currently serves as the superintendent of Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. 


“With 28 years of experience in the National Park Service, Don has a proven history of visitor and resources management,” said Acting NPS Regional Director Cindy Orlando. “He brings extensive skills in managing vast natural areas and an ability to cultivate partnerships, which make him a great fit for this position.”

“I am excited to serve as the superintendent at the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, which is at the heart of nearly two million acres of interagency wilderness,” said Striker. “I look forward to joining an amazing team and working with the park’s world-class partners to conserve the scenic, natural and cultural values of this unique area.”

In his current role, which he has held since 2013, Striker manages six million acres of wilderness and mountain landscapes, including North America’s highest peak, and the traditional homeland of Alaska’s Athabascan and Dena Native people, where they continue to practice a subsistence way of life. He recently served for 18 months as the acting regional director for the NPS in Alaska, overseeing all NPS operations across 16 parks, two affiliated areas and 54.7 million acres. Striker has also served as the superintendent at New River Gorge National River and Mount Rushmore and Fort Clatsop national memorials.

In addition to several superintendent positions, Striker has served as a comptroller at Yellowstone National Park and held several high-level administrative positions representing the NPS on interagency teams within the Department of Interior.

Striker holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife Gretchen of 34 years have three children: Ryan (30), Bobby (28) and Kali (26). In his free time, Striker enjoys all things outdoors.

The North Cascades NPS Complex encompasses a “vast sea of peaks.” More than 300 glaciers are within the park – the largest single concentration of glaciers in the United States outside of Alaska. The NPS complex also preserves evidence of more than 9,000 years of human presence on the landscape including high elevation archeological sites. Park staff protect and interpret evidence of the early use of the landscape by Native Americans, homesteaders, miners, trappers, tourists, and industry as well as the conservation and management of forest lands by the federal government. Learn more at

At the American Alpine Institute, we have known Don Striker as Superintendent of Denali National Park and Preserve since 2012, and we are extremely pleased about his appointment to lead and manage North Cascades National Park.  At Denali, he has overseen our concession for mountaineering services which include six Denali expeditions each year and mountaineering courses and ascents on many other peaks within the park.  

AAI's president Dunham Gooding commented,  "This is a fairly dangerous and stressful operation, and Superintendent Striker has governed with respect and what might be called a light touch.  He has high expectations, but if one does what has been promised in one's contract, he respects the work and doesn't micro-manage (or second guess tough decisions on the mountain)."  

"More generally speaking, I would say he is progressive, easy to talk to, kind, and immensely caring about people, nature, and people in nature.  Colleagues believe he got the job as Denali Superintendent back in 2012 because he made a name for himself building partnerships, fostering extensive volunteerism in parks, and working effectively with state governments." 

Before taking charge of Denali, Striker was superintendent of New River Gorge and Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and comptroller at Yellowstone National Park.  His background is in economics (University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business) and the first half of his career was spent in financial management for both the NPS and the Department of the Interior.  He will be bringing an unusual array of skills and experience to the North Cascades.

The American Alpine Institute offers climbing courses and guided ascents in six states and sixteen countries, but our single biggest area of operation is in the North Cascades, and we are really looking forward to working under Superintendent Striker's leadership and management.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

An Alternative Classics Tour of Boulder, CO

Boulder and the surrounding areas are home to literally thousands of rock routes. From Dream Canyon's China Doll (II, 5.14-) to the Direct East Face of the First Flatiron (II, 5.6) there is an incredible spectrum of offerings...where does one even start? In this article we'll recommend climbs at each grade from 5.6 to 5.12 that you may not have heard of. Recommendations are made on the basis of quality, and not to be taken as routes that are necessarily the best protected climbs.

A climber follows March of Dimes in Eldorado Canyon

West Chimney to Icarus, Eldorado Canyon (4-5 pitches, 5.6R)

Two shorter "approach pitches" of 5.6 via the West Chimney (and yes, it is an actual chimney) takes climbers to a scrambling pitch to the base of Icarus. The three pitches of Icarus are fun, airy, and the final pitch is the same as the Yellow Spur- an incredible arete high above the Canyon floor. Climbers should be confident climbing 5.6 with poor protection (the final pitch is where the "R" rating comes from).

A climber enjoys the final arete pitch on Icarus
North Face Center, Boulder Canyon (2-3 pitches, 5.7+)

This shady climb is perfect for those hot summer days as it faces North. Take a fun tyrolean traverse across Boulder Creek to clean granite crack climbing for 2-3 pitches depending on how one pitches it out. The descent is a short and amicable walk-off.

Gambit, Eldorado Canyon (4 pitches, 5.8)

Gambit offers a variety of different climbing styles for 4 pitches up Shirttail peak- the highest point in Eldorado Canyon. It is indeed a further walk than other Eldorado canyon routes but 45 minutes is well worth this high quality climb.

A climber on the final moves of Gambit, Eldorado Canyon

Green Spur, Eldorado Canyon (4-5 pitches, 5.9)

The Yellow Spur gets a ton of attention, and rightfully so, but the Green Spur is also a high quality classic and rarely has the same crowds.

Outer Space, Eldorado Canyon (4 pitches, 5.10)

This undisputed classic protects (relatively) quite well with modern trad gear and should not be missed for competent 5.10 trad leaders. Start on the Bastille Crack for two pitches before busting right on a wild traverse to two pitches of extremely exposed climbing.

A party on Outerspace, Eldorado Canyon.

Vertigo, Eldorado Canyon (4 pitches, 5.11b)

This well-protected climb offers truly classic climbing in Eldorado Canyon with a beautiful dihedral and an imposing roof that offers unparalleled exposure.

Thunderdome, Boulder Canyon (1 pitch, 5.12-)
This one pitch classic offers quality granite crack climbing on trad gear and is a must for the grade.

One final recommendation!
Hands of Destiny, Boulder Canyon (2 pitches, 5.12+)

This gem was first climbed on trad gear and later retro-bolted, making it quite popular present day for those climbing at the grade.

This list is the tip of the tip of the iceberg- there are too many routes to climb in a single lifetime!

A climber enjoys the moderate second pitch of Wind Ridge, Eldorado Canyon. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Film Review: The Horn

Mountain rescue is a tough job.

People are lost. People are injured. People are dead. And the rescuers have to go out and try to deal with the situation in every condition imaginable. It is an incredibly difficult job. And in the United States most of the people involved in mountain rescue are volunteers.

In the Alps of Europe, things are different. People still get lost, people still get injured, and people still die, but those involved in mountain rescue are professionals. They have state of the art training, high-end helicopters and advanced rescue equipment. They are truly some of the best mountain rescuers in the world. And they have to be, because at the height of their season, a rescue team might see 20 calls in a day. It's no different than being a paramedic at a fire station in a small city!

This is where The Horn -- an awesome documentary series on Netflix -- starts, at a the home base of Air Zermatt, a high-end helicopter equipped mountain rescue unit.

Air Zermatt is composed of pilots, doctors, mountain rescue specialists, paramedics, helicopter technicians and mountain guides. They are based at the foot of the Matterhorn in the mountain village of Zermatt, a place where thousands of people every year, climb, ski, base jump and get hurt in the mountains.

The team fluctuates between high-end, high-risk mountain rescues and ski accidents. But regardless of how a person got hurt, or the terrain their in, the team operates like a Swiss clock, perfectly in tandem with one another. It is incredibly cool to see a mountain rescue operation like this.

The Horn is produced by Red Bull TV, an online television platform. The movement of this series from Red Bull's high octane streaming website to Netflix is another demonstration of how outdoor adventure sports are slowly making their way into our national consciousness. It also brings forward the issues of risk that surround adventure sports. These issues can lead to some hard questions from the outside of the adventure sport world.

Whenever there is an accident in the mountains, people ask, "who's paying for this?" They ask, "who's paying for the rescues?" Their concern is that taxpayers are footing the bill for adventure sports. The downside to a series like this is that it does show flashy helicopters run by a private company that provides rescue services in the Alps. I can imagine the uninformed believing that this series is also reflective of how things operate in the United States.

It's not.

The Alps and rescue services there are completely different. As noted above, in the United States, rescues are primarily facilitated by volunteers. There are professional rescuers in the Untied States, and depending on the organization, some tax dollars may go to them. But even then, the bulk of the hours spent in rescues are still done by volunteers.

Regardless of the politics around rescue, one thing is clear. The Horn is a beautifully produced television series. The views of the mountains around Zermatt are incredible. The stories of the rescuers are incredibly engaging. And the tension around some of the things that the Air Zermatt team has to deal with is palpable. This is an incredible show, and well worth the time!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, September 17, 2021

Leave No Trace: Dispose of Waste Properly

The third principal of Leave No Trace is to Dispose of Waste Properly. When discussing LNT, most people immediately jump to human waste disposal when talking about this. But that's not the only consideration when it comes to disposing of waste properly.

First, it's important to make a plan to pack out all trash and waste. Occasionally there is waste that is difficult to pack out, think gray water or toothpaste, but there are ways to deal with that...

Gray Water

This is what is generated when you wash your dishes in the backcountry. There is almost universally bits of food waste left in your pots and pans. As such, there are a couple of ways to deal with this.

Drink It - The most extreme practitioners of LNT will drink their gray water. If you can do this without throwing up, you're a better person than I am.

Strain It - The more common technique is to strain your water to get all the food fragments out of it. You can easily pack these out after cleaning your dishes.

Scatter It - While straining or drinking the water is preferred, there are some areas where it is recommended that you scatter your dishwater in the gravel on the roadway. These are most commonly front-country campgrounds.


Most people don't like to swallow their toothpaste, though that is one option when it comes to this kind of waste. The other option is to "raspberry" it. In other words, spit with your mouth shut, allowing the toothpaste to scatter and speckle the ground.

Human Waste

So what about human waste disposal?

As we all know, human waste comes in two main forms: urine and fecal matter. However, occasionally it comes in other forms too. This may include sanitary napkins, condoms and vomit.

In a wooded area, urine can usually be left anywhere. However, in the alpine one should try to urinate on rocks away from fragile heather. Mountain goats like the salt in human urine and will tear up the ground to get at it.

Climbers should avoid peeing in cracks on multi-pitch climbs. It's better to pee out on the face of the rock so that the urine breaks down. When one pees in a crack, it often doesn't break down and makes everything stink.

There are several ways to deal with solid human waste. The two most commonly accepted techniques are to dig a cathole or to pack it all out.


Catholes are the most commonly used method of human waste disposal in the backcountry. The idea is simple, you dig a hole and bury your poop. Once completed you pack out your toilet paper in a ziplock bag.

Following is a short description of catholes from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:

Catholes are the most widely accepted method of waste disposal. Locate catholes at least 200 feet (about 70 adult steps) from water, trails and camp. Select an inconspicuous site where other people will be unlikely to walk or camp. With a small garden trowel, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. The cathole should be covered and disguised with natural materials when finished. If camping in the area for more than one night, or if camping with a large group, cathole sites should be widely dispersed.

Waste Bags

These are commercial bags that are used to haul out human waste. Commonly used brands include the WAG Bag, Rest Stop and the Biffy Bag. The idea is simple.

You poop in the bag...

Most waste bags come with toilet paper, a wet wipe and a double bagging system.

In heavily used areas where it's hard to dig, waste bags are the best option for human waste disposal. These bags are also commonly used in alpine and winter environments. And finally, these can also be used to dispose of other human waste products like tampons and condoms. These types of items should always be packed out, no matter how far back you are...

Other Techniques and Thoughts

There is no question that catholes and waste bags are the most commonly used and likely the best option for the disposal of fecal matter. But there are a few other techniques that may be used in areas that are not popular where there are very few people.

When I think about these techniques, I think of extremely obscure mountains or big traverses that are uncommon and take too long (over four days) to carry all of the waste out. If any of these techniques were used in popular areas, they would have an immediate effect on visitor experiences and water quality; and would likely make it an unpleasant place to visit.

Smear Technique - With this technique, fecal matter is smeared thinly on a rock in the sun. The idea is that the waste will dry out and blow away. But for this to work, the waste has to be spread so thinly that it is no more thick than the width of the side of a coin.

The smear technique is overused. It is commonly employed in areas with too large a user group for the fecal matter to break down before others encounter it. And sometimes people use this technique in shady areas where the waste never breaks down.

Crevassing - In this technique, waste is thrown into a crevasse. Obviously, this eventually makes its way into the watershed below the glacier. On obscure glaciers, this isn't that big a deal. But if you see others on the glacier or you're following a bootpack, it's likely not a remote enough glacier to use this technique.

The Poop Bird - This one's pretty simple. You poop on a rock and throw it off a cliff or moraine, the idea being that it will splatter and spread everywhere so that it will break down quickly. It goes without saying that this is for extremely remote places.

Burning Toilet Paper - Some people like to burn their toilet paper and bury it in a cathole or allow the ashes to scatter. This is not a recommended technique as the toilet paper never really completely burns down, and it also creates a forest fire hazard. That said, if you are completely adverse to carrying out your toilet paper, this is likely a better option than leaving it lying around. If you choose to employ this technique, please please please make sure that the toilet paper has completely gone out and that there are no cinders or glowing bits left over.

And finally, I did mention vomit. In the event of a an incident where vomit is generated, it should be immediately buried. Vomit attracts all kinds of animals.

There is no doubt that the best way to keep the places where we recreate clean and beautiful, it is imperative that we Dispose of Waste Properly.

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Film Review: The Alpinist

Sender Films has long been a leader in the documentary filmmaking of climbers and climbing. They were originally responsible for the Reel Rock Film Tour, Valley Uprising and The Dawn Wall. All of these have had a deep impact on climbing culture, the way we see the leaders in the climbing world, and the way we see ourselves.

The Alpinist joins the ranks of the other films within their portfolio. This profile of the iconic Canadian climber, Marc-André Leclerc takes us into the mind of one of the world's leading young alpine soloists as he makes extreme ascent after extreme ascent.

Like The Dawn Wall or Free Solo, the film explores not just the serious side of this individual, but the quirky elements of a climber. It covers the weirdness of Marc-André's dirtbag lifestyle, living in a stairwell. It covers his experimental drug phase. And it covers his obsession with soloing hard and very serious alpine climbs, things that anyone would be proud of completing with a partner. And finally, it covers the young man's untimely death...

This is an engaging, funny and often scary, film. We are certainly transported into a different world, a world that is a throwback to climbers of old. Marc-André didn't post on social media, he didn't have a following aside from inside some internet forums, and he didn't even have a phone. We got to see an old-school adventurer taking on things in a way that was -- at least in his mind -- very pure.

The psychology of Marc-André in the film was a bit tough though. And maybe this is my age and my experience managing people, but there is a moment in the film, where the filmmakers can't find the young climber. They have no idea where he is. And he certainly doesn't pick up his phone. They're frustrated, and in some ways, it's easier to get into the minds of these people who are managing a project, than into the mind of an early-twenties individual that doesn't believe in social media or phones...

And this is a weakness in the film. We think we know who Marc-André is, but just barely. I'm not sure we got as deeply into his mind as we got into the minds of people like Tommy Caldwell or Alex Honnold in similar films. But I'm not sure this is the fault of the filmmakers. Marc-André was a tough subject.

There is a piece of adventure documentary filmmaking that has become a little overdone with these types of films, and that's the outside commentary. The filmmakers find well-respected members of a given community and have them talk about the documentary subject's adventures. Inevitably, someone will say, "who is this guy?" They'll say what the person is doing is "groundbreaking," or the "future of the sport." And then -- like with Free Solo -- they'll talk about the danger that the person is facing while completing his adventures.

It's a bit of a contradiction to say, in one paragraph that we didn't get to know Marc-André well enough, while in the next to say that there was too much outside commentary on him. And this really gets to the heart of the difficulty of making a film about someone like this. We want to know this person. We want to know their motivations and who they are. But their motivations and who they are are obscured by the fact that they're not totally interested in our interest in them...which is not something we're used to in the 21st Century.

Criticism aside, this is a good film. And it's a hard film.

When Marc-André death is presented late in the film, there wasn't a dry eye in the theater. No. Maybe we didn't know him as well as we could have. We wanted to know him better. We wanted to understand him and see him continue to succeed in the mountains.

But now he's gone...

And in his passing, we are left with what we're always left with when a person dies in the mountains: Deep feelings of grief. Grief for the loss of a special person. As well as grief for that person's family and friends. 

The documentary film crew gave us a glimpse into this person's life. And for that, I feel gratitude. We all got to know somebody who left us far too early. In many ways, The Alpinist film was a beautiful and thoughtful memorial to Marc-André Leclerc...

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, September 13, 2021

Pro Tip: How to Eat Your Climbing Partner if You're Starving

Backpacker Magazine did a poll recently. They asked their readers if they would be willing to eat their partners in the event of an emergency. A large percentage of those who responded said, yes! Yes! Of course I would eat my partner!!!

So what did Backpacker magazine do about it? What any responsible outdoor magazine would do. They put together a somewhat perverse video on how to eat your partner.

And what did we do about that...? What any responsible guide service blog would do. We reposted the video below for your -- clearly -- perverse viewing pleasure...

I do think it is important to note that the meat in a mountain guide's body is much worse than any other meat...anywhere.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, September 10, 2021

Film Review: High Lane

There are a lot of horror-style movies out there that involve climbing in some way. Most of them are not just bad, but are really bad. It's actually somewhat uncommon to come across one that is...mediocre.

The reality of most film of all genres is that it's mediocre. You're often not totally bored. You find some engagement with the characters and then when the movie is over, you quickly forget it. Surprisingly, really bad films tend to stay with you a bit longer.

High Lane (2009) is one of those mediocre films that will likely drop out of my brain shortly after I write this blog. But that doesn't mean that I wasn't engaged by it. For a "horror-thriller" style film, set in the mountains, it was much better than most of its competitors, but that's not really saying much.

Five friends decide to go on a trip to Croatia where they will take a via ferrata route up into the mountains. For those who are uninitiated, via ferrata is a form of climbing where one wears a harness rigged with lobster claws. The via ferrata routes follow cables and ladders -- many of which were set during World War II -- through the mountains. If you fall, the lobster claws attached to your harness will catch you.

In any case the friends are composed of two women and three men. One of the women, Chloé (Fanny Valette), previously dated one of the men, Loïc (Johan Libéreau) and is currently dating one of the other men, Guillaume, (Raphaël Lenglet). This provides a bit of tension throughout the story, and indeed, is one of the subplots that raises this film above many of its competitors.

The group is lead by Fred (Nicolas Giraud), an accomplished climber who is sure that he can bring the group up into the mountains on a via ferreta route that is rusty and falling apart. Needless to say, he doesn't do a good job and the team gets caught in the mountains. And of course, the fact that they're caught is compounded by the fact that there is a delusional psychopath in the mountains that has set traps all over the place and might be a cannibal...or something. All of this leads to where most horror movies lead to, a combination of blood and guts and edge-of-your-seat tension.

There is one scene that is particularly interesting for climbers. The via ferrata completely falls apart and the climbers are stuck with two injured people in the forest above the cliffs. They have a rope, but pretty much nothing else: no gear, no extra clothes, nothing.

One of the great values of a film like this is that we tend to put ourselves in the characters shoes...and I have to admit that this was one time where I wasn't sure what I would do. The situation was incredibly difficult. Especially with the lack of equipment to rig anything. It's scenes like this that make this type of film worth watching. What would you do...?

High Lane is a French film that has been dubbed. This is a bit disconcerting at the start. I generally prefer films that have subtitles. But the dubbing is doubly disconcerting because there are sections in English where the characters lips line up, but then they start speaking in French again. This is annoying. However, the plot is just interesting enough to allow you to forget about the dubbing.

A second larger problem with this film is the way that the director (Abel Ferry) elected to cut together footage that was designed to raise tension.

Here's an example: A character is running. Another character is loading a crossbow. A character is running. Another character is still loading the crossbow. The first character is still running and the music is intense so he must be in danger, but the other character is still loading the crossbow.

Most directors would make three cuts where Ferry elected to make six or seven. The intent to create tension goes on for so long that there is no tension anymore...

Early in this review I noted that there is tension between two male characters over a female character. Though the characters actions are sometimes stupid (like fighting with one another while being hunted by a madman), this little subplot provides a small amount of depth to otherwise flat characters. It also provides a few plot twists that allow for a more interesting story.

The via ferreta sequences are mostly true to the way they would actually be...minus cables randomly breaking. That's a given in this kind of film, and I'm willing to suspend my disbelief. Indeed though, if nothing else, this film gets viewers psyched for cool via ferrata routes

High Lane is an engaging ride that explores some places that other similar mountain thrill-horror movies do not. But that doesn't mean it's a good movie...but if you've got nothing else to do, it might be worth an hour and a half of your time...

--Jason D. Martin