Thursday, April 15, 2021

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


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


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

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

Desert Southwest:

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

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

Colorado and Utah:

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

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

Notes from All Over:

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How to Choose a Pair of Rock Climbing Shoes

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

Check it out below:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Appalachian Trail in Five Minutes

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

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

Following is the product of his adventure:

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

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 9, 2021

Route Profile: Sultana Ridge - Mt. Foraker

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

Mount Foraker – 17,400 ft / 5303 m

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


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

Approaching Foraker on the Kahiltna glacier.

Setting up camp below Mount Crosson. 

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

After passing Crosson, climbers gain the true
Sultana Ridge.

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

Moving along the corniced Sultana Ridge.

Looking up the Sultana Ridge
to the summit of Foraker.

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

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

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

Climb on!

Dylan Cembalski
Alaska Programs and 7 Summits Coordinator
AAI Guide

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Cold Weather Camping Tips

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 5, 2021

Miranda in the Wild - Trying Every Kind of Backpacking Stove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 2, 2021

Considerations for Roping Up on a Glacier while Ski Mountaineering

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

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

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

Ross lists three considerations at the end of his video:

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Route Profile: Mount Shuksan, Sulphide Glacier

Mount Shuksan from the Northwest.
Photo by Coley Gentzel

If I had to pick one peak that would most completely and accurately represent alpine climbing in the Cascades, Mount Shuksan would be the one. Shuksan takes a striking form from any angle and every route on the peak can be considered a classic.

The most popular route on the peak is the Sulphide Glacier. The Fisher Chimneys and the North Face are also both popular routes that are among the best of their type in the range.

The Price Glacier route is listed in the 50 Classic Climbs book (Steck and Roper), but has fallen out of favor in recent years due to a dramatic change in the nature of the glaciers on the route. Once a classic ice face, the Price is now a jumbled mess with little aesthetic value to the climbing.

Shuksan's Price Glacier from the air.
Photo by Dunham Gooding

Mountaineering routes on Shuksan are unique in that all require a variety of skills to complete. Every route requires glacier travel, snow climbing, ice climbing and rock climbing to reach the top. All routes end at the dramatic summit pyramid, which by its easiest route requires primarily fourth class with a few 5th class moves.

The view from the summit of Shuksan is one of the best in the range. Sitting at the heart of the North Cascades, views of Mount Baker, the Pickett Range, and north to the Canadian Border peaks are completely unobstructed.

Mount Shuksan's Sulphide Glacier and summit pyramid.

The Sulphide glacier route starts at the Shannon Creek trailhead and follows an overgrown road bed for a few miles before winding through old growth forest eventually climbing into the craggy alpine forest and then finally talus fields.

Although the route is doable in one very long day for experienced and fit parties, most opt to go for a 2-3 day climb so that they might enjoy the setting on the way to and from the climb. There are great camping spots at the toe of the Sulphide glacier and at several spots along the route to the summit pyramid. The Sulphide is a gentle glacier, but not without crevasses. There have been numerous solo climber crevasse falls in the area.

An AAI team reaching the summit of Shuksan.
Photo by Alasdair Turner

The crux of the route is ascending and descending the summit pyramid which, by the standard route, involves about 500 feet of scrambling up a gully. Depending on the time of year, the gully can be nearly all snow, mixed, or completely rock. An alternate route to the summit and a good choice if the main gully is busy, is the southeast ridge of the summit pyramid which requires a bit more mid-fifth class climbing. There is some loose rock on both routes so you must choose your holds carefully!

It is said that Mount Shuksan is the most photographed mountain in the United States, and that is not hard to believe. The Mount Baker ski area provides a perfect view of and easy access to the north side of Shuksan. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see a line of tripods pointed at the peak on clear days. Whether you are looking for an easier ramble in a spectacular setting, or a challenging long rock or ice route, Shuksan has something to offer for every mountaineer.

Shuksan's Summit Pyramid above the Sulphide Glacier

AAI climb's Mount Shuksan as part of their Classic Guided Climbs in the Pacific Northwest Program on Part 1 of their Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership series and on group courses throughout the summer season.

--Coley Gentzel, Former AAI Program Coordinator and Guide

Monday, March 29, 2021

To Wag or Not to Wag...

In many climbing areas and mountaineering destinations around the country, Wag Bags are required.

What's a Wag Bag?

A Wag Bag is a simple system for human waste disposal in the backcountry. These are essentially sanitary bags for human waste removal. They're not complex and there's no mystery. They're plastic bags that you poop in.

Wag Bags are a brand name. These are actually waste bags. And there are several brands on the market, including Biffy Bags and Restop.

Access to places like Mount Rainier, Mount Whitney and the desert are threatened by an overabundance of human waste. In some of these locations you are required to use a Wag Bag or the equivalent. Of course, part of the pack-it-in pack-it-out philosophy is not just using such a bag, but also bringing it back out with you. These areas are also threatened by an overabundance of used and discarded Wag Bags.

Timmy O'Neil is often considered the "funniest man in climbing." A few years ago, Timmy put together the following video about wag bags in the Utah desert.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 26, 2021

Lydia Bradley: The First Woman to Summit Everest without Oxygen

In 1988, Lydia Bradley became the first woman to summit Mt. Everest without oxygen. Two other New Zealanders were unable to summit the day before. As a result, they sewed doubt about Lydia's ground-breaking ascent. After some time, a Spanish climber confirmed her ascent and the ascent was recorded in the history books as an important first.

In the following video, Lydia discusses both her ascent, as well as the controversy around it.

--Jason  D. Martin

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/25/2021


--The Vancouver Sun is reporting that, "A helicopter extracted a snowboarder and skier trapped in Tony Baker Gully, east of Cypress Mountain (in British Columbia), on Sunday just before nightfall. North Shore Rescue coordinator Peter Haigh said the pair were spotted by helicopter at 4:30 p.m. Sunday — after last being seen early Saturday afternoon on a ski lift at Cypress." To read more, click here.


--There's a trail system in the works to connect the Sierra to the Cascades. Dubbed the Lost Sierra Trail, this will be a trail system open to multi-use including mountain bikes and horses. To read more, click here.

--The US Park Service Investigative Service is reporting that, "US Park Rangers of Yosemite National Park and Special Agents with the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch (ISB) are investigating a sexual assault that occurred in April 2020 within the park." They're looking for additional information. To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--If you work for the National Park Service and you think you can charge your personal stuff on a Park credit card, you're wrong. From the National Park Services Investigative Services at Grand Canyon: "At a recent court hearing, Dante J. Fowler, age 33, was ordered to serve four years of supervised probation and is banned from the park for the duration of his probation. Fowler, a former park employee, must also pay restitution of $3,939.57 for fraudulent purchases made on government charge cards." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--9 News is reporting that, "a skier died Monday after he or she was caught in an avalanche just outside the boundary of the Beaver Creek Ski Area, according to a Facebook post from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC)." To read more, click here.

--Out There Colorado is reporting that, "A 25-year-old climber was rescued Saturday after he was injured falling from the First Flatiron, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office said. Deputies said the climber was scrambling behind the First Flatiron when he fell about 10:15 a.m. The climber fell approximately 20 feet and injured his lower leg, leaving him unable to walk." To read more, click here.

--The Colorado Sun is reporting that, "Ski patrollers at Keystone, Breckenridge and Big Sky plan votes to join six other ski area unions as labor advocates predict a revival of collective bargaining for resort workers." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Snowbrains is reporting that, "A settlement has been agreed upon between the family of a boy who suffered life-altering injuries at a pond skim event at Snow King Mountain Resort, WY, and the resort. The agreement came just hours after both sides completed unsuccessful mediation, and just as Teton County District Court was preparing to select a jury for the trial." To read more, click here.

--Snowbrains is reporting that, "Vail Resorts appears to have done a u-turn and is preparing to offer credits to Epic Pass holders affected by individual state’s quarantine rules meaning they couldn’t ski this season." To read more, click here.

--Snowbrains is reporting that, "a group of up to thirty Whitefish Mountain Resort, MT employees, and Flathead Valley residents staged a peaceful protest at the resort on Sunday to address diversity and racial inclusion." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Lowering from a Loaded Belay Plate

In cooperation with Outdoor Research, the American Mountain Guides Association has made several videos for beginning level climbers.

In this video, AMGA Instructor Team Member Jeff Ward, demonstrates two techniques to lower a climber from a loaded autoblocking device (belay plate).

Following is a quick breakdown of the points made.

Technique 1 - Rocking the carabiner
--Good for lowering short distances
--Need an active break hand

Technique 2- Redirect the plate with a thin sling
--Better for slightly longer distance lowering
--Need hands free backup for break strand

There is actually a third technique that he didn't show. One can put a nut tool or the nose of a carabiner into the small hole on many of these devices and crank it backwards. This will allow the device to open. But like the first technique, it will be important to have an active break hand.

--Jason D.  Martin

Friday, March 19, 2021

Training for the West Buttress of Denali

Sunrise over Denali (A. Stephen)

The West Buttress of Denali is definitely one of the most classic mountaineering routes up one of the most iconic mountains in the world.  From the beautiful position deep in the rugged Alaska Range to the chance to tag the tallest mountain in North America, an expedition to Denali is in no way easy, but the rewards vastly outweigh the effort.  I’ve guided the route three times, and I know from experience that nothing can fully prepare you for the West Buttress, but getting in good shape, and exercising your “suffering threshold” can help get you ready.  Here are some pages out of my training regimen for the Great One.

(A. Stephen)
Cold Weather

I think most experienced Alaska Range climbers would agree that you never really know what you are going to get.  As far as conditions and weather are concerned, the best thing you can do is try to have no expectations.  You can learn about trends in the weather, and conditions on the glacier via word of mouth or the internet, but considering that the average guided West Buttress trip takes 18-21 days, there is much that can happen once you’re fully committed.  An adage I find myself using a lot is that it is either “freeze or fry” out there- there is no middle ground.  While being too hot can be an issue, for most people being too cold is much more formidable.  You can train yourself to function in the cold pretty easily, however.  If you live in a cold-weather winter climate, go camping!  

Functioning in the cold isn’t ever too pleasant, but by gaining some experience with it you can gain the mental fortitude to make it work.  See one of my previous POSTS for some winter camping advice.  

If you don’t have access to a cold winter climate, one exercise that will help increase your cold threshold is to put your hands in ice water until you can’t stand it anymore, then try doing various activities such as tying knots, knitting, cooking dinner, etc.  This exercise is pretty limited however; the best thing you can do is either head to a cold climate for a winter camping excursion (at least one!).

Fellow Institute guide Nate Furman checking out the view on the upper
 mountain (A. Stephen)
Physical Training

As far as physical exertion goes, you should expect to carry packs weighing up to 70 lbs, while hauling a sled loaded with up to 80 lbs of gear.  Fortunately most programs will work off of a double carry system wherein the majority of days up to 16,000ft will only require carrying a fraction of that weight (an average of 50 lbs).  While the lower half of the route is at a fairly moderate pitch, the upper half can be quite steep, requiring precise footwork and a steady pace at altitude in order to stay warm.  No day's gain is more than around 3000ft in elevation, but climbers should be prepared to be moving 2 or 3 days in a row in between rest days.  I have tried to ask most of the guests I’ve had on the West Buttress what training program they used to get in shape.  I’ve heard everything from pulling tires around the cul-de-sac to a steady diet of mountaineering and backpacking to “nothing in particular.”   What we generally tell people at the Institute is that any regular physical activity focusing on cardio is decent, but there are some specific activities that are better than others.

Climbers using french cramponing technique to ascend a steep hill
with loaded sleds (A. Stephen)
One of the best things you can do to train is hiking with a weighted pack.  If you can find a hike in your area that steadily gains 3000ft in 3 or 4 miles, this is an ideal place to train.  Start by hiking the trail with very little weight or none at all.  I try to carry most of my weight in water, that way I can dump it out at the top and save my knees on the descent.  Every week, add a little bit at a time (no more than a 5% increase per week) until you have reached up to 70 lbs.  The rigors of pulling a sled involve muscles that even experienced climbers aren’t used to using, but if you can hike for 5 or 6 miles gaining 3000 ft of elevation or more in 4 hours without getting totally worked, this will be sufficient to develop the extra strong back and leg muscles needed to contend with an weighted and unruly sled.  The other benefit to hiking with a heavy pack as training is that it helps you prepare your mental muscles for carrying a heavy pack day after day.  Try to do the hike 3 times a week, with adequate rest days in between.  As with any training program, make sure you listen to your body and only attempt the hike when you are feeling fully rested.  You can get more details on creating a successful training program from a great book by former Institute employee and prolific climber Steve House, entitled “Training For The New Alpinism.” 

"Training for the New Alpinism", by Steve House and Scott Johnson is by far the best training manual I've come across.  Unlike others in its genre, it isn't too heavy on technical jargon, and written in a way that laymen can understand.  While it is written with the cutting edge, high-altitude athlete in mind, the book is very helpful for the basic level alpinist as well, and the training plans and exercises outlined are easily transferred for easier objectives (such as the West Buttress) than Steve House and company attempt.  Picking up a copy of this book should definitely be the first step for the prospective Denali climber.

The West Buttress also requires a decent amount of upper body and core strength.  I recommend doing a separate routine for each, twice a week.  Again, start slow (1 set per session, and add reps per week)!  You aren’t going for max strength here, instead building endurance for the long haul (up the section of fixed lines that is!).  The routines I use can be found in “Training For The New Alpinism,”  or many variations can be found online- but try to find a mountaineering-specific one.

Psyched climbers on the summit of Denali (A. Stephen)


One of the benefits of spending the extended time required for a double-carry strategy on the West Buttress is that it allows most people a chance to acclimatize as much as possible before we head to the upper mountain.  By doing “double-carries” (ferrying loads higher on the mountain while returning to a lower camp to sleep), you can maximize your acclimatization time.  So, theoretically, you can just show up in Talkeetna without getting any acclimatization experience.  

In fact, unless you are consistently living at 10,000ft, there really isn’t much you can do that will gain you the high altitude experience needed, since any acclimatization built through periods at altitude quickly disappears upon returning to sea-level.  The best thing you can do to be ready for high altitude is to make sure you are in good cardiovascular shape.  Supplementing your weighted pack training with an activity such as swimming, running, or biking is a great way to increase your cardio and lung capacity.  I find mountaineering-specific benefit in trail running, as you are not only building cardio fitness, but also training your leg muscles to handle stress.  I repeat: start slow and don’t overdo it!  Listen to your body first and foremost; it is always better to skip training days if you still feel tired than overdo it and risk injury.

Heading up the iconic ridgeline between 14k and 17k camps in less than
splitter conditions (A. Stephen)
Mountaineering Experience

An expedition to the Alaska Range, whether guided or not, should never be attempted without at least a basic level of mountaineering knowledge or experience.  The Range is home to some huge glaciers and unforgiving terrain.  Walking and climbing in crampons, ice-axe arrest, roped travel, and crevasse-rescue techniques should all be very familiar to the prospective West Buttress climber.  There is no substitute for actual glaciated travel here in my opinion.  Basic mountaineering routes on any of the Cascade volcanoes are great pre-requisites, and my favorite has to be Mt Baker, where you can get a wide variety of easily-accessible training and climbing in.  By far the best way to gain specific experience for the West Buttress is to take the Denali Prep Course offered by the Institute, which will provide broad mountaineering instruction, as well as winter camping and backcountry travel skills.

Fruits of the labor: A climber enjoying the view from 17k (A. Stephen) 
Peak season is fast approaching for climbing the West Buttress, so if you are planning on heading north, now is the time to make sure you are in the best shape possible. I highly recommend picking up a copy of “Training for the New Alpinism” and entering into the training program the book outlines. If you have any specific questions, or would like help designing a program that tailors to your specific goals and time constraints, feel free to contact usat the Institute.

-Andy Stephen, AAI Instructor and Guide

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/18/21


--A skier died after an incident at Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Idaho. Articles about the accident don't provide much detail.

--Women owned, outdoor clothing brand, Nuu-Muu is hosting a virtual fundraiser on March 31st for the Brave Space Project and their documentary: Expedition Reclamation. Expedition Reclamation is a short documentary seeking to redefine “outdoorsy” and reclaim belonging in the outdoors for Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color by highlighting their joyful, resilient, & transformative relationships to outdoor recreation. This will take place on Wednesday, March 31st from 5:00-6:00pm PST. And you can register at:


--A 58-year-old female climber was injured in a fall while ice climbing in Lee Vining this week. There is limited additional information.

--The Reno Gazette Journal is reporting that, "Heavenly Mountain, Northstar California and Kirkwood Mountain resorts have announced they will extend their seasons by one additional week. New closing dates for the resorts are April 11 for Kirkwood and April 18 for Northstar and Heavenly." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Durango Herald is reporting that, "A man who skied out of bounds in Telluride Sunday afternoon was rescued in the Bear Creek area, according to the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office. He was with a ski instructor and guided group when he became separated and was stranded above a cliff and unable to climb out, the Sheriff’s Office reported on Facebook." To read more, click here.

--The Daily Beast is reporting that, "Fans and enthusiasts of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are at war with environmentalists in Utah. And the National Park Service is in the middle of all of it. This battle has been going on across the state for more than a decade, and it’s flared up in plenty of places in Utah, especially the hotspot ATV hub of Moab. But in 2018 the battle took a new turn when the National Park Service (NPS) decided to open up several existing trails in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area for the use of off-highway vehicles (OHV), a category of off-road-capable vehicles that includes 4x4s, Jeeps, Side by Sides, and ATVs." To read more, click here.

--KOAA News is reporting that, "a new measure starts this week to better protect the iconic Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs. “Really it’s an effort to help preserve our environment,” said Garden of the Gods, Park Manager John Stark. Technical climbers are no longer allowed to use any type of chalk or chalk substitute while scaling the red rock formations." To read more, click here.

--A judge is forcing a leader at the Colorado Avalanche Center to testify in a criminal case. From the Colorado Sun: "Attorney General Phil Weiser did not want avalanche center director Ethan Greene to testify in the case against backcountry snowboarders Evan Hannibal and Tyler DeWitt, who are facing charges of reckless endangerment and $168,000 in restitution stemming from a March 2020 avalanche above Interstate 70. The avalanche, captured on their helmet cam video, did not injure anyone, but it did destroy an avalanche mitigation device and bury a service road. Weiser feared that forcing Greene to testify in the prosecution of backcountry travelers would hinder the ability of the avalanche forecasting organization to gather information from backcountry users." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Reuters (and every other news outlet) is reporting that, "U.S. Representative Deb Haaland was confirmed on Monday as Secretary of the Interior, becoming the first Native American to lead a cabinet agency and securing a central role in President Joe Biden’s sweeping plans to fight climate change." As Haaland will oversee the National Parks, she will have a massive impact on the outdoor recreation community. To read more, click here.

--As women only make up a small percentage of wildfire crews, REI and the National Parks Foundation are working together to fund all women fire crews. To read more, click here.

--For the Win is reporting that, "A ski instructor intent on luring a brown bear away from a group of skiers began skiing downhill, prompting the bear to charge after him in a full sprint, much like another bear did at the same Romanian ski resort in January." To read more, click here. To watch the video, click below:

--So there's a kid out there who has climbed 5.14+ and run a sub four-minute mile. And now he wants to be the first person to run a sub 4-minute mile and climb 5.15 and V15. To read more, click here.

--So Nepal says it's illegal for climbers to share pictures of other climbers on Mt. Everest. Good luck with that...

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Finger Board Excercises

The Climbing Movement Essential Training Series on Youtube is kind of awesome. The series is composed of a number of well produced videos that focus on different aspects of training for climbing.

In this particular video, the fingerboard is shown. The workout they describe is really good, but leaves one thing out. You should always, always warm up before using a fingerboard. I have definitely hurt myself on those things...

This is a power and endurance workout. The idea is simple. Create a thirty move sequence with clipping as one move.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 15, 2021

Desert Winds and Camping

I love camping and climbing in the desert. There's something beautiful about the desert landscape. I lived in Las Vegas for nearly a decade and guided there.  Now I spend about six weeks a year in the desert, camping, guiding and climbing.  When I'm camping there, I love the beauty at night and I love the beauty in the morning.

What I don't love is the wind.

The desert wind can be incredibly viscous.  Forty, fifty and even sixty mile an hour winds arrive in the desert with an alarming frequency.  If you camp in the desert for more than seven days, you will definitely experience a wind storm.

The wind seldom has an impact on climbing. You can usually find a crag that is sheltered.  Camping, however, is another story.

Tents in a wind storm in Red Rock Canyon 

Our booth in Red Rock Canyon during 
Red Rock Rendezvous after a major wind storm.
Our pop up was attached to our neighbor's, and both were ripped up
by the wind and blown out across the desert.

A tent in the barb wire after a wind storm.

I have climbed and guided all over the place, including on many large mountaineering expeditions. But I have to say that the worst winds that I have encountered are in the desert.  There are a few differences with the desert and a mountaineering trip. First, on a mountaineering trip you can often dig in and build wind breaks. And second, you generally have a mountaineering tent in the mountains, which tend to be tougher.  And third, you don't have to deal with sand.

If you plan to do a desert trip, you should plan to bring a mountaineering tent. These can deal with the wind more adequately and they don't have as many places for sand to get into the tent during a storm.

If you intend to leave your camp for the day during a storm, it's not a bad idea to collapse your tent. Just take the poles out of the base and lay the whole thing down. Put a few rocks on top of it so it doesn't blow away. The last thing you need is to come back to camp to find that you have broken poles, or worse, that your tent is gone.

It's good to tie your tent down to solid items, whether you intend to leave it up or collapse it. Sometimes wind storms arrive unexpectedly.

 A tent with the guy lines tied to large rocks.

 If you use stakes, make sure to get them in all the way...

 ...and then place large rocks over the stakes.

 Every guy line should be attached to rocks. 
Even small rocks will keep your tent from drifting.

I think that the most difficult part of my long desert trips is the wind. When I do a trip with no wind storms or only one or two, I always feel like I got away with something.

You can always go and hope for no wind...but my feeling is that it's always best to be prepared...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 12, 2021

Non-Event Feedback Loops

Many climbing and ski mountaineering accidents are the result of human error. There are a number of types of human error, but the most disconcerting and common type results from a non-event feedback loop.

--I've been doing it this this way for years and nothing bad has ever happened.

--We skied the slope all day and it was fine. How were we to know that it would slide?

--The boot-track went right under the ice cliff. I just went the way everybody else went.

The thinking process behind non-event feedback is predicated on the following belief: Nothing bad happened last time and nothing bad happened to someone else; therefore, nothing bad will happen this time to me. The psychology of non-event feedback is complex, but its very existence leads to following reality:

The crag that you climb the most, the slope that you ski the most, the mountain that you've been up the most times...these are the most dangerous places that you will ever go.

A Climber Leads Up the Mustache on Mt. Baker

Non-event feedback takes on a new dimension with group dynamics. A beginner may follow a competent leader up a mountain. The leader may look at the conditions and decide that they're safe. If the leader doesn't go through his entire thinking process, the beginner may then make the assumption that the conditions are always safe.

Avalanche research indicates that the likelihood of skiers tackling a dangerous slope increases dramatically after one person successfully skis the slope first. In other words, once someone sees someone else get away with something, they subconsciously believe that they can get away with it too.

The only way to avoid getting stuck in non-event feedback loops is to constantly question yourself. Is this safe today? Am I just following the leader? And lastly, am I responding to the conditions as they are or as I wish they were?

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/11/21


--The snowpack in the North Cascades is 130% of normal. From the Bellingham Herald: "Deep mountain snowpack and a cool, wet spring could shorten the summer hiking season in the mountains by two weeks or more, according to long-range weather forecasts and historical data." To read more, click here.

--This is really cool. From Snowbrains: "Tamarack Resort, located in Idaho, announced on March 3rd that they would provide free year-round passes to students K-12 who are enrolled in the surrounding Valley County and New Meadows schools. Hosting skiing during the winter and mountain biking during the summer, these free passes to Tamarack Resort will enhance accessibility while fostering inclusivity in the outdoor sports world." To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "On March 4, Christina Lusti and Ian McIntosh made the first descent of the east face of Mount Nelson west of Invermere in southeastern B.C. The 3,313-metre peak’s massive eastern aspect was skied for 750 metres down 50- to 55-degree slopes." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The body of a man and a motorcycle were recently recovered from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. To read more, click here.

--There's currently legislation out there to increase the size of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area by 50,000-acres. From Save Red Rock: The Southern Nevada Economic Development and Conservation Act will protect critical wildlife habitat and cultural sites within the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--A part of Highway 6 through Clear Creek Canyon was closed on March 5th, while fire crews performed a high angle rescue on a injured climber. To read more, click here. Here's a little more technical information about the accident.

--An inebriated skier injured an 11-year-old girl in a collision at Snowmass on Saturday. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--An 18-year-old was seriously injured in a collision with a building in Massachusetts:

--Gear Junkie is  reporting that, "PIEPS and Black Diamond are issuing an immediate recall for the PIEPS DSP avalanche transceivers in Europe. The brand will also issue a North American recall soon." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Euro Death Knot

There is a commonly used knot out there that many people use regularly to join two ropes together that is totally misrepresented by its name. The Euro death knot (EDK) is not dangerous and it is not a death knot. It is likely that American climbers gave the knot this name when they saw Europeans use it because it looked sketchy.

The EDK is officially known as an overhand bend or an overhand flat knot. It would be far better to refer to this knot by one of these names as they do not strike fear into those that use the knot.

The Overhand Bend (AKA Overhand Flat Knot/Euro Death Knot)
In this photo the tail is very short and there is no back-up to the Overhand Bend.
Photo from Wikepedia

Most people like the overhand bend for two reasons. First, because of the knot's asymmetrical profile, it tends to pull smoothly over edges and doesn't get caught as easily. And second, it is very easy to untie.

To tie the knot, lay both ends of the rope together. Make sure that they are pointed in the same direction and then make an overhand knot in both ropes at the same time. This is the overhand bend. Most guides tie a backup by adding a second overhand bend next to the first. This will keep the knot from rolling if there are unexpected high loads.

In the past, most climbers tied the overhand bend alone. If the knot is tied by itself without a backup, there must be a significant tail. It is not recommended to tie the overhand bend by itself.

Some people tie an overhand eight in lieu of an overhand bend. This is far more likely to roll than a unbacked-up overhand bend and is not recommended.

Most of our guides tend to tie not only their rappel ropes together with an overhand bend, but their cordelletes as well. Guides tie their cordelletes with this knot because it is easy to untie. A cordellete that may be opened has a great deal more flexibility. It can easily be opened up and used like a webolette. Some like the ability to open up a cordellete because an open cordellete without a welded double-fisherman's knot can be cut up more effectively for anchor material.

Following is a short video from the Canadian guide, Mike Barter, on how to tie a overhand bend.


--Jason D. Martin

Friday, March 5, 2021

Secrets, Nuances and Selecting Ski Bindings.

Cody Townsend is a well-known pro skier. His profile has really taken off recently as he has released several videos about his attempts to ski the Fifty Classic Ski Lines in North America. His YouTube series entitled, The Fifty, is well worth watching.

But you know what else is worth watching...?

This video. I have now watched it three times. The knowledge about ski bindings here is insane. If you're a backcountry skier, then this 13-minute video is an essential thing to watch:

I know I missed something. I think I need to watch this again...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 3/4/2021


--An 11-year-old girl was struck by a skier, who ran over her face, on a Whistler access trail on February 19th. The skier screamed obscenities at the injured girl before skiing away. To read more, click here.

--There's a new community sourced ice climbing guidebook online for the Cascades. Check it out, here.

Desert Southwest:

Popular Routes on the Angel Food Wall in Red Rock Canyon
(1) Tunnel Vision, 5.7; (2) Group Therapy, 5.7; (3) Purblind Pillar, 5.8

--A climber was injured on the Angel Food Wall in Red Rock Canyon this week. It appears that the individual suffered a 30-foot fall that resulted in a seriously broken ankle. For limited information on this event, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--A 16-year-old skier died from his injuries after striking a tree at Eldora Mountain in Colorado on Monday. To read more, click here.

--Gephardt Daily is reporting that, "A climber who was injured Saturday in a 20-foot fall in Long Canyon (near Moab) required extrication from a hard-to-reach area, and multiple agencies worked in concert to pull off the difficult rescue. The climber, a 26-year-old woman from Steamboat Springs, Colo., fell in the Deadman’s Buttress climbing area and landed at the base of the Wingate sandstone wall, Grand County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue said in a Facebook post." To read more, click here.

--A ten-year-old boy was seriously injured in a hit-and-run snowboard colliding with skier incident at Vail Mountain. The snowboarder allegedly said, "he's fine," to the screaming child's coach, before riding away. To read more, click here.

--This seems bad. From SnowBrains: "When asked by an employee to pull up his facemask, a man in a lift-line at Vail Resort told the employee ‘I have a gun’, prompting a 911 call, an arrest, and an extra long lift-line." To read more, click here.

--The Colorado Sun is reporting that, "avalanche forecasting has come a long way since the 1950s, when forecasters relied solely on weather to predict when and where snow might slide. But it still requires scientists skiing and digging into the snowpack. That’s changing as satellites, aircraft-mounted sensors and ground-based remote monitoring fast-track the evolution of snow science, giving experts comprehensive insight into the uncanny nature of avalanches." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A bill has been introduced to Hawaii's state senate to charge hikers for SAR related incidents. There are a few other places where this happens, but most Search and Rescue/Mountain Rescue is free in the United States. The biggest issue with charging for rescue is that rescue subjects will either wait much longer to call for a rescue, or will actively hide from rescuers. This is bad. To read about it, click here.

--The Guardian and many others are reporting that, "the US House of Representatives has passed a historic public lands preservation bill that pledges to protect nearly 3m acres of federal lands in Colorado, California, Washington and Arizona. The act combines various bills that languished without Senate approval during the Trump administration. Key provisions include permanently banning new uranium mining on land surrounding the Grand Canyon, giving wilderness designation to 1.5m acres of federal land, and preserving 1,000 river miles by adding them to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System." To read more, click here.

--Is it possible that many of those who believe that they've climbed all the 8000-meter peaks in the world, might be mistaken. Damien Gildea thinks so. He believes that it's possible that many of these climbers climbed to false summits on Annapurna, Manaslu, and Dhaulagiri. To read more, click here.

--Gear Junkie is reporting that, "for the first time in recent memory, REI Co-op members will not receive their annual dividend. That’s because, for the first time in a very long time, the co-op failed to turn a profit." To read more, click here.

--SNEWS, the outdoor industry business journal has rebranded itself as -- you guessed it! -- the Outside Business Journal. To read more, click here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Math of Rock Climbing

Math and's like peanut butter and jelly, or milk and cereal.

We've talked about fall factors and ape index here before, but this math professor does a pretty good job. Check it out:

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, March 1, 2021

Miranda in the Wild - Coffee in the Mountains

I admit it. I don't drink coffee...

I know. I know. I know. How do I survive...? I'm not really sure. 

But I do know that most of you out there do drink coffee. And not only that, but coffee is an important part of your day, even in the backcountry. I'm afraid that I don't have the skills to give you what  you need to get your fix. So, with that in mind, I've found two excellent Miranda in the Wild videos for you. Miranda in the Wild is a web series sponsored by REI that goes deep into all kinds of tricks and tips for backpacking. In each of the following videos, Miranda talks coffee, what works best and how to do it...

In this first video, Miranda tests all the different backcountry coffee options.

And in this second video, Miranda shows us how to make some fancy coffee drinks in the field.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, February 26, 2021

Film Review: The Snow Walker

Not every film I review for this blog is completely connected to the mountains.  Occasionally, I post reviews of books and films that are only marginally linked to mountain culture.  Usually these are connected to our mission of bringing you the most interesting mountain content by some small thread.  The 2003 film, The Snow Walker is one of these.  No, it's not about climbing or skiing, but it is about indigenous culture and adventure, two things that we at the American Alpine Institute care about a great deal.

The Snow Walker is an interesting study of cultural understanding.  The story takes place in the fifties in a world where there is little tolerance for individuals who are not white and male.  Charlie Halliday (Barry Pepper) is a brash young pilot in Canada's Northern Territories who is enlisted to fly a sick Inuit woman (Annabella Piugattuk) who speaks very little English to a hospital in Yellowknife.  In the process of bringing her to safety across the barren tundra, Halliday crashes his plane.  The arrogant pilot must learn modesty, trust and understanding as the only way to stay alive in the barren arctic wastes is to put his faith in Inuit survival techniques.

Most of the stranger-in-a-strange-land culture-clash films have two elements to "make them exciting."  First, they tend to take place in a violent setting.  In other words, there is some kind of war or conflict, often between the cultures portrayed.  And second, there is usually a romance.  Sometimes the romance is between members of the same culture and sometimes it's cross-cultural.  Some excellent examples of these types of films include Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves, Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai, last year's ubber-blockbuster Avatar, and even Disney's Pocahontas.  The Snow Walker breaks away from these cliche models and does something completely different.  There is no war between cultures and there is no romance between the two lead characters.  Instead, the film documents a story of trust and friendship deep in the wilderness and in many ways, the simplicity of the story creates a far more powerful message than some of the other films that have dealt with this theme.

Barry Pepper -- the film's lead -- is one of those actors you know you've seen before, but often can't place.  He's the guy that's in every movie, but when it comes right down to it, you can't name a single one.  Well, let me do it for you.  Pepper has been in big Hollywood productions like Seven Pounds, Flags of Our Fathers, 25th Hour, We Were Soldiers, Knockaround Guys, The Green Mile, Enemy of the State, and Saving Private Ryan.  He has also played leading and secondary roles in a variety of television shows and lesser known Hollywood and independent films.  The actor has even performed a feature role in a "live action" video game.

Pepper's performance in The Snow Walker makes me wonder why this particular actor has been typed as a supporting character in most of the work that he has done.  The actor has a breadth of range that has been ignored by big Hollywood directors and producers.  As most of us only have the slightest knowledge of Inuit culture, we first empathize with Pepper's character, lost in the wilderness. And then as he begins to connect with his Inuit companion, so too do we.

The Snow Walker is not a film that will blow you away with its originality.  You've seen this story before.  Maybe you haven't seen it with this particular culture being explored, but you've likely seen it with everything from aliens to Samurai. However, it is unlikely that you've seen this type of cultural-understanding story done before in such a tender and "un-Hollywood" way.

--Jason D. Martin