Monday, June 27, 2022

Route Profile: Vesper Peak's True Grit (5.8, II)

The first year I worked as a mountain guide was the first year of the new millennium. I started guiding in June of the year 2000. And it was a busy busy season, full of things to learn. I didn't get to climb outside of work. I only had the opportunity to do that once.

In July of 2000, I climbed the North Face of Vesper Peak in Washington's Cascades with a long-time partner. It was a nice day out with a good friend, but the route itself didn't necessarily stick with me. 

Fast forward to the COVID summer of 2020. That was the second time I went to the mountain. I took the opportunity to climba newish route that my long-time friend Darrin Berdinka put up on Vesper.

 A climber clips a bolt on True Grit.

The route isn't that long -- only five pitches -- but it is high quality. The line is airy, exposed and beautiful. The crux fourth pitch climbs a perfect little crack right up the middle of the face. That particular pitch reminded me a lot of Birdland in Red Rock. The line was tremendously fun!

And it wasn't too far back in the backcountry. There are those that tend to camp near the mountain, but there's no reason to do so. It takes around three hours to get to the base. With a 7am start in the parking lot, we were at the base of the line by 10am.

Our intent was to climb both True Grit and Ragged Edge (a four-pitch 5.7 adjacent to True Grit), but when we were ready for our second line of the day, there were several parties on the route. It seems like the best way to do both climbs on the same day is to go to the mountain mid-week.

The hiking approach starts at the Sunrise Mine Trailhead off the Mountain Loop Highway. Directions to the trailhead can be found here, and a map can be found here. The drive takes between two and two-and-a-half hours from Seattle or Bellingham.

From the trailhead (2,500-feet), follow the trail, passing over several creeks (often with improvised bridges over them) until you emerge into the scenic Wirtz Basin, a cirque between the rocky flanks of Sperry and Morning Star Peak. Once in the basin, the trail peters and there are several sections where  you must follow carins. After the rocky section the trail reappears and switchbacks steeply up the right side of the basin to Headlee Pass (4,600-feet), at approximately the three-mile mark. 

From the pass, follow the trail to the northwest under Sperry Peak, eventually crossing a creek just below Vesper Lake. Continue up a climbers trail on the other side of the lake to approximately 5,700-feet. From there traverse north toward the pass between Vesper and an unnamed peak, but don't go all the way to the pass. There is a carin near at that elevation that indicates the climber's trail across the north face. 

From the carin traverse heather (or snow) to the base of the route. You may need an ice axe and crampons here, and maybe even snow pro, if it's early enough in the season.

Climbing Topo by Daren Berdinka

Pitch One: Start on a block and make your way up low fifth class to a belay below a chimney. (5.2, 200')

Pitch Two: Either climb directly up the squeeze chimney or climb the corner to the right. Eventually, you'll cross a heather ledge. Clip a bolt and then continue up, passing a few more bolts to an anchor on another heather ledge. (5.7, 100')

Pitch Three: Climb up the face, passing several bolts to an airy anchor. (90', 5.7)

Pitch Four: Launch up the finger crack. The crack is intermittent and there is a bolt here or there to connect it. Finish at another bolted anchor. (5.8, 120')

Pitch Five: Make a couple of harder moves, and then continue onto easier terrain to the end of the pitch, just below the summit. (5.8 then 5.5, 70')

Beautiful Views from the North Face of Vesper


The descent is embarrassingly easy. It is a simple 30-degree snow slope most of the year. It can be glissaded or walked down. If you're on the mountain in August or September, there may be more rock slabs to walk down, but there's no rappelling or shenanigans to get off this peak.

Vesper Peak will not disappoint. There is a fair bit of bang for your buck on this little peak, not far from the big cities.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 24, 2022

Technique: Frogging

Niel Gresham's Masterclass Youtube site is pretty darn good. He has a lot of quick snippets on there about technique that can help nearly anyone improve on the rock. In this particular segment, Neil talks about frogging, the technique where you use the inside of both feet in order to save energy...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/23/22


--News Channel 21 is reporting that, "A climber from New York apparently triggered a small avalanche that sent him tumbling down the north side of South Sister on Saturday, prompting a lengthy rescue effort that ended late Sunday morning, when he was hoisted aboard an Oregon Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter and flown to St. Charles Bend." To read more, click here.

--The Statesman Journal is reporting that, "climbing Oregon’s tallest mountain will likely require a new permit beginning in 2023. The U.S. Forest Service will propose a rule this month requiring anyone heading above 9,000 feet on Mount Hood to get a special permit that would cost around $20 per person, per climb, or $100 for a season, the agency told the Statesman Journal." To read more, click here.

--Some trail updates from Mt. Rainier National Park:


--Outside is reporting that, "Yosemite National Park officials are seeking the public’s help to track down the person or people responsible for spray-painting graffiti along one of the most popular trails in the park. On May 20, Yosemite officials received multiple calls alerting them to fresh graffiti on Yosemite Falls, and along one of the oldest trails in the park. Upon further investigation, rangers found 30 different areas tagged with blue and white spray paint. They also saw that rocks had been dislodged and strewn about. Photos released by the park showed writing including the word 'Fresno' and the number 559 (the city’s area code) written on the rock walls that line the trail. The resulting images varied in size from about one square foot to eight square feet in size." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Arizona's Snowbowl resort is sacred to native Hopi people. They have fought the resort since it's development in the 1930s, and now there are plans for expansion. From The Guardian, "the battle is emblematic of a vast cultural divide in the American west over public lands and how they should be managed. On one side are mostly financially well-off white people who recreate in national forests and parks; on the other are Indigenous Americans dispossessed from those lands who are struggling to protect their sacred sites. 'Nuva’tukya’ovi is our Mount Sinai. Why can’t the forest service understand that?,' asks Preston." To read  more, click here.

--It doesn't look like the iconic joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park will be designated as an endangered species. Climate change is a significant threat to this resident of the Mohave Desert. To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Denver Gazette is reporting that, "The family of Ronald LeMaster, a renowned Boulder ski instructor, is upset that prosecutors aren't pursuing manslaughter charges in LeMaster's skiing death. LeMaster died Nov. 30 in a violent collision with a snowboarder at Eldora Mountain Resort, on an intermediate run called Windmill Run, in what LeMaster considered his home ski area." To read more, click here.

--The New York Times is reporting that, "Bears Ears National Monument, whose red-rock landscape sprawls across more than 1.3 million acres in southeastern Utah, will be managed jointly by the federal government and Native American tribes in what administration officials said represents a “one-of-a-kind” model of cooperation." To read more, click here.

--St. George News is reporting that, "Two years following its original detection, the presence of toxic algal blooms in the northern part of the Virgin River and connecting water bodies continues to linger. Earlier this month the National Park Service reported that staff at Zion National Park continued to find evidence of the presence of toxic cyanobacteria in the North Fork of the Virgin River. The bacteria, which is produced by the algal blooms, has also continued to be detected in North Creek, and may also still persist in LaVerkin Creek." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Colorado Newsline is reporting that, "the U.S. Interior Department will create a health and wellbeing program for wildland firefighters and boost spending on firefighting efforts by $103 million in fiscal 2022, Secretary Deb Haaland said Friday. The additional funding, which Haaland announced at the National Interagency Fire Center, comes as part of the $1.5 billion in last year’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law signed into law by President Joe Biden that’s meant to address wildfires, which also directed the creation of mental health services for wildland firefighters." To read more, click here.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Route Profile: Aiguille de I'M - North Ridge

The Aiguille de I'M is an odd feature in Boston Basin in the North Cascades National Park. Often referred to as "The M," this feature actually looks like an "M." Found just south of the Torment Forbidden Traverse, the small peak splits Boston Basin from Torment Basin, with the Taboo Glacier on the west side and the Unnamed Glacier on the east...

Aiguille de I'M
(Click to Enlarge)

The Aiguille de I'M has two named routes on it. The first is the South Ridge, a cool 5.6 romp up an exposed ridge. And the second is the North Ridge, a 5.5 exposed ridge line.

(Click to Enlarge)

Approach: Approach as for Forbidden Peak in Boston Basin (see Selected Climbs in the Cascades, Volume I) and camp at either the lower or the upper bivy sites. From the bivy, make your way up toward the Forbidden Gully or the Cat Scratch Gullies (the two options commonly used to access Forbidden Peak.) Traverse toward the notch to the right of the North Ridge of Aiguille de I'M.

Classic Sharp Ridge Climbing on "The M."

Route: From the notch make three or four fourth class pitches to the base of a tower. Make a final forty-foot 5.5. pitch to the top of the tower. It is possible to climb further, but not recommended as the true summit looks like it's about to topple over.

A cllimber cruising up the sharp ridge.

Working up the Summit Tower. 

Looking back on the ridge from the summit tower.

Descent: Make one forty-foot rappel and then reverse the ridge climb.

The North Ridge is a very cool ridge line. It can easily be done as a half-day climb from Boston Basin. And it is far less committing than almost anything else in the Basin since it is so short.

There are dozens of these little gems in the Cascades that are often missed. The M is well worth your time...

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 17, 2022

AAC Universal Belay Standard - Belaying a Leader

The American Alpine Club has produced a handful of educational videos. The following video -- concerning lead belays -- is a follow up to their video on toprope belays. This video does an excellent job of going through all of the nuances of each of the following aspects of belaying a leader:
  1. Positioning the belay to avoid a clash of bodies.
  2. Consciously managing the slack.
  3. Securing a leader who is resting on the rope.
  4. Arresting falls with a solid, yet "soft" catch, or stopping the leader cold if obstacles are in the fall line.
  5. Hoisting a fallen leader back to their high point as needed.
This nine minute video is a must-watch for new belayers, as well as for those who have been belaying leaders for a long time. There is a tremendous amount of information within each chapter of the video.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, June 13, 2022

Route Profile - North Arête of Bear Creek Spire (5.8, III)

The approach to the North Arête, which is the first ridge to the left
of the large notch.  John Scripps.

Bear Creek Spire (13,720')
Route: North Arête
Difficulty: 5.8
Elevation Gain: 3460'


Rising above Little Lakes Valley in the eastern Sierra, Bear Creek Spire is the most popular climbing peak of the Rock Creek area. It claims three of the classic High Sierra climbs - the North Arête and the East Arête both weigh in at 5.8, while the less technical but no less aesthetic Northeast Ridge is usually considered 4th class with a few easy class 5 moves.

Most climbers consider the North Arête to be the most compelling line of the three. With lots of cracks, some face climbing, stemming, and hand jams, the route contains all the best of a typical Sierra route.
View from the Arête, with the approach in the background.
Dade Lake is in the bottom right of the photo,
while the four small lakes behind the climber
are Treasure Lakes.  AAI Collection.

The good news is that the trailhead is at 10,260 feet, the highest access point in the Sierra, making the approach only about 4 hours for most climbers with light packs. (The bad news? It’s called Mosquito Flat - bring your bug spray in summer). Rock Creek Road can be closed as late as June due to snow, so check road conditions before you head out.

From the trailhead, follow the Little Lakes Valley trail, which is the remnant old road and has the corresponding gradual grade. After 3.5 miles, you cross a creek. There used to be a wooden footbridge here, which you may read about in old trip reports and the first edition of Supertopo. That footbridge no longer exists, but you’ll see a signed and well-worn climber’s trail to Gem Lakes. Camping is possible at Gem Lakes, but most climbers push through to Dade Lake, which can be reached by climbing up and to the left across (sometimes large) talus from Gem Lakes. Dade Lake is more exposed to weather and lightning, but has a better view of the route and is also the last water on the approach. The area has lots of bear activity, so bear canisters are required. 

From Dade Lake, it takes about 1-2 hours to get to the base of the route. 

The Climb

As a north-facing route, the North Arête doesn’t get much sun, so bring your layers. Depending on season and snow, an ice axe and crampons may be necessary - you’ll be able to tell from the approach to Dade.

The North Arête starts just to the left
of the large flake above the first ledge. Graham Hamby. 
The route itself is a Sierra classic, with five or six pitches of great climbing followed by a long aesthetic section on a low 5th-class ridge. The first pitch involves a fun 5.7 crack, followed by some 5.7 flakes - but watch these flakes, as they may be expanding. Pitches 3 and 4 are a bit easier, generally 4th class or low 5th. The crux of the route is a series of steep 5.8 flakes in a chimney - the flakes can be awkward, so climbers tend to use the technique that feels right to them, whether that’s using some offwidth technique, chimneying between flakes, or stemming. It can be hard with a backpack, and be careful of pulling loose rocks above the crux onto climbers below.

The second half of the route involves 4th class climbing on an exposed ridge. The summit block is a 5.6 mantel.


Either downclimb the way you came up for use a rap down a 50-100 foot section. The head north to a saddle that looks down on the snowfields in the Dade Lake basin and the rest of the descent back to Dade Lake. The easiest descent begins past the notch, and may require an axe in early season. It takes about 3-5 hours to get back to Mosquito Flat from the summit.

Bear Creek Spire is one of our favorites for two or three-day guided alpine climbing trips. If you are interested in building your alpine rock skills on the North Arête or Northeast Ridge, give us a call at 360-671-1505 or email to set up a trip!

Friday, June 10, 2022

In Balance, Out-of-Balance

It seems simple, but the reality is that many serious falls take place in places that should not be that technical. Many falls take place in spots that could easily be negotiated with good technique.

When I started working at the Institute, I had quite a bit of experience. I intrinsically understood the techniques for walking on snow and on ice, but they weren't well defined in my head. Well defined techniques lead to better techniques.

The primary snow/ice-walking technique that I'm referring to is the in-balance vs. out-of-balance step. These steps are designed to be used on 30 degree to 50 degree terrain. And if they are used properly, a climber will be able to ascend a slope with a great deal of security.

In-balance and out-of-balance (the cross-over step) walking provides you with stability and a strong sense of when you are safe and when you are not. With practice it allows climbers to move effectively and safely over steepish terrain.

When one is in-balance, both feet are situated in such a way that if you stop, you will be completely stable. I shot the above photo looking down at my feet while I was in-balance. If you are carrying an ice-axe, it is best to move the axe from one placement into the next while you are still in-balance. The axe should never move while you are out-of-balance. If it stays stationary while out-of-balance, it will provide an extra point of security during less secure movements.

The above picture shows a climber taking an out-of-balance step in snow. Note that his left foot is directly above his right foot.

Clearly in the snow that the above climber is moving in, such a step is not required. One need only to move in-balance and out-of-balance in terrain that requires additional on steep ice...

The in-balance out-of-balance step is incredibly useful while wearing crampons. The cross-over step allows the ankles to bend in such a way that all of the crampon points on the bottom of the boot are engaged in the ice. You'll note in the above picture, that the climber's toe is nearly pointing down hill. This allows every point to engage.

The movements required for good in-balance and out-of-balance walking are not hard to master. And the reality is that most of the time that you are moving in the mountains, such steps are not required at all. It is only when the terrain becomes steep or dangerous that it really becomes important. Indeed, the important part is not just moving properly but being aware of your movement. In other words, always knowing when you are in-balance or out-of-balance leads to more security in the mountains.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/9/22


--The Herald and News is reporting that, "One climber died and four more were injured while climbing Mt. Shasta on Monday in three separate incidents, while a fourth injury-incident occurred Tuesday. According to the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, climbing guide Jillian Elizabeth Webster, 32, died after sliding 1,000 to 2,500 vertical feet through snow and ice while tethered to two other climbers." To read more, click here.

Mt. Hood

--USA Today is reporting that, "a male climber is lucky to be alive after losing his grip on his ice axe and plunging 600 feet while on his descent after summiting Mount Hood in Oregon." To read more, click here.

--A recent climbing festival in Skaha was extremely successful. Read about it, here.


--This is an older video that has recently started making the rounds on the internet. A bear is swimming in Yosemite when he gets sucked down a waterfall and into the rapids. The bear does survive this close call. Check out the video below, and read about it, here.

--The burn scar for the Caldor fire near Lake Tahoe is still smoldering after the winter season. This 

Desert Southwest:

--The AP is reporting that, "a popular hiking trail to an oasis in Joshua Tree National Park has been temporarily closed so bighorn sheep can get undisturbed access to water." The closure of the Fourtynine Palms Oasis Spring is closed due to extreme drought conditions. To read about it, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--After a period of closure, where the Park cleaned graffiti and fixed portions of the trail, Zion's Angels Landing Trail has reopened. To read more, click here.

Pride Month:

June is Pride Month for the LGBTQ community. We've noted several articles that celebrate the community that are worth sharing:

--How to Pride Outside - 2019 Article, some old but good info.
--Rock Warrior's Way Instructor and AAI Guide Lor Sabourin writes about the power of affinity spaces for the LGBTQ Community in climbing.
--Alex Johnson, professional climber, shares her coming out story, here.
--And of course, the biggest queer star in the outdoor sphere is Pattie Gonia. If you're not already following this outdoor activist/drag queen, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--A 48-year old climber died on Denali on Friday of a suspected heart attack. The climber died while attempting to summit and was near the Football Field at approximately 19,500-feet. To read more, click here.

--Though it's a bit of an advertisement, this is an excellent look at how the Outdoor Industry got to where it is on the outdoor tradeshow front.

--This is dumb. From Snowbrains: "Ski the East, a Facebook group with over 40k members and an online store selling ‘Ski the East’ merchandise, have sent Snowboard the East a Facebook group with over 15k members and an online store selling ‘Snowboard the East’ merchandise a cease and desist order for trademark infringement." To read more, click here.

--Carabiner News is reporting that, "a climber from Utah has been denied climbing Denali and fined $10,000 after making deceptive calls to get off a dangerous section of the Denali, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release to be rescued from the highest peak in North America. Dr. Jason Lance, 48, was fined by U.S. Judge Scott A. Oravec on Friday after pleading guilty to violating a lawful order during a crash investigation into the 2021 incident." To read more, click here.

--BCA is reporting that, "Backcountry Access (BCA), in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Health Canada, is issuing a voluntary recall of a small number of Tracker4 avalanche transceivers due to a switch plastics production issue." To read more, click here.

--Snowbrains is reporting that, "according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 93% of their life indoors. 87% of their life is inside buildings, then another 6% of their life is in automobiles. That’s only 7% of your entire life outdoors. That’s only one half of one day per week outdoors." To read more, click here.

--Climbing is reporting that, "Clint Helander and August Franzen, both of Alaska, have made a massive first ascent on Mt. Hunter’s West Buttress, finding some of the most difficult mixed climbing either of them have experienced while alpine climbing. The 14,537-foot Mt. Hunter (which is often referred to by its Dena’ina name, Begguya), has a striking, golden rock buttress found to the south of its west ridge. As Helander noted, finding unclimbed lines in the central Alaska range is quite challenging, and when you do find such a feature, there is usually a good reason why." To read more, click here.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Glacier Travel Ettiquete

Climbing etiquette is a weird and wiley thing. What is acceptable in one area may not be considered acceptable in another. What is common practice in one spot, may be looked upon with horror in another. In the larger climbing world, there are millions of etiquette questions, but on a glacier there only tends to be a few.

1) What is the etiquette for passing a rope team on a glaciated climb?

It is acceptable to pass a rope team on a glacier. However, this must be done without hindering the other team's progress that you're passing. If a team has a pace and continues to hold that pace, then they have a right to the boot-pack trail no matter how fast they're moving.

A team works its way up Mount Shuksan
Photo by Alasdair Turner

In order to pass the slower team, the faster team must step out of the boot-pack and pass the other team without slowing them in any way. This may take considerable energy if the snow outside the boot-pack is soft or deep. The passing team should not complain about having to pass as they didn't get up as early as the slower team.

If your rope team is walking in a boot-pack and needs to take a break, the polite thing to do is to step out of the trail. You should not take a break in a place that blocks others. If your team is slow and is taking a lot of standing mini-breaks (i.e. stopping for a few seconds or even a minute or so), then you should step out of the boot-pack and allow faster teams to pass in the trail without protest.

2) Who has the right to the steps that have been kicked in the slope?

There is a nice line of steps kicked into the slope going all the way up the mountain. Clearly, it is easier to use the steps that another team has put in than to create your own. As you're climbing up the mountain, you see another team descending in the steps. Their plunge-steps are completely destroying the steps as they descend. And while this may make things more difficult for your team, you didn't create the steps and as such, don't have any ownership over them.

A team camps on the Easton Glacier on Mount Baker
Photo by Alasdair Turner

If you create a series of steps up the mountain, you do have the right to use them on your descent. However, it is far more polite to leave these steps for others. I will almost universally try to leave my steps for other climbers, unless the snow is incredibly soft and difficult to move through. Occasionally, the snow is so deep that new downhill steps could cause a climber to hyper-extend his or her knee. When conditions are this severe, I use my uphill steps for downhill travel.

3) What should I do with my human waste? Should I leave it on the summit for all to see with a nice pile of toilet paper? Or should I do something else with it?

You should do something else with it.

On expeditions or on big mountains, sometimes you can put your waste in a crevasse, but you should pack out your toilet paper. On smaller glaciated peaks, you should use a Wag Bag or the equivalent and pack everything out. On mountains like Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier, all waste should always go out with you. If you are incapable of doing this, then you shouldn't be in the mountains.

If you have other etiquette questions, feel free to post them. This is such a large topic that a single Blog cannot do it justice.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, June 3, 2022

Quick Belay Techniques

In the world of climbing, it's not at all uncommon for one climber to be stronger and more experienced than his or her partner. In such a situation, many climbers elect to move together on easier terrain. In some cases, teams with this kind of make-up even choose to simul-climb. If there is a significant difference in strength and skill level, then moving together and simul-climbing should probably be avoided.

Instead of "simuling," the better option would be for the stronger climber to scramble up easier terrain in short 20 to 50 foot pitches and then situate himself in a good stance or seated position. Once he's stable, he could then employ a quick belay technique to bring up his partner.

The author uses a quick munter-hitch belay on Mount Russell in the High Sierra

Before employing a belay technique, it is incredibly important that the climber is in a very solid stance or seated position. If the position isn't safe and there is the possibility that the climber could be pulled from his position, then he should place a piece of gear and clip into it. If that's not enough and there is still danger, then this is not a quick belay situation and a true SERENE/ERNEST anchor must be built.

There are a number of belay techniques that may be used from a stance. Following is a quick breakdown of each of them in order of strength:

Hand Belay

It should be obvious to everyone that a hand belay is very weak. The hand belay should only be used to assist someone through an easy move. It should never really be thought of as something that could arrest a real fall and it should never be used to protect someone in a truly exposed area. That said, a simple hand belay can occasionally help a someone step up onto something tall or can create confidence in a climber as they step over an obstacle.

Carabiner Pinch

A carabiner pinch is a simple and quick belay wherein a carabiner is clipped to your harness or an anchor. The rope goes from the climber through the carabiner and is then redirected back toward the climber. The belayer can simply pinch the rope on either side of the carabiner to create more friction.

Clearly, this too is a very weak belay technique. As with a hand belay, this should only be used for minor assistance on terrain where there are little consequences to a fall.

Though many guides use the carabiner pinch for quick and simple belays, I personally believe that it is just as effective to turn the carabiner pinch into a munter-hitch. Such an adjustment requires almost no additional time, but adds a great deal more security.

Shoulder Belay

A shoulder belay is a very quick body belay. In this technique, the belayer turns his body to the side so that his profile is facing the cliff. If his right shoulder is oriented toward the drop, then the rope from the climber will run up from the edge, through his right hand, across his back, over his shoulder and into his left hand. The belay will then look a lot like a hip belay, but from a standing position, over the shoulder.

To make this technique work properly, the climber strand should be at approximately the same angle as the leg closest to the edge. Ideally, this strand parallels that leg.

The biggest problem with this technique is that the center of gravity is really high. If the leg is not parallel with the strand going to the climber, it's easy to get pulled out of position.

Following is a short video that was made during a Canadian guides course in 1996 which shows a guide trainer instructing junior guides on the use of this technique:

Hip Belay

The hip belay is perhaps one of the oldest belay techniques and has been used effectively in a variety of circumstances. Due to it's limitations, however, most modern climbers only use this technique on terrain up to low fifth class.

To implement a hip belay, the climber must first find a good seat. Ideally there will be some kind of feature to place one's feet on in order to create more stability. Once in position, the belayer puts a wrap of rope around his waist and then uses the "pull pinch slide" belay technique to bring in rope. If the climber falls, then the belayer will wrap the rope more radically around his body.

If the belay seat is not solid, the belayer may elect to put in a piece to back himself up. If he does this, then the piece should be on the same side as the end of the rope running to the climber. This will keep the belayer from getting twisted if the climber falls.

And finally, Any anchor piece should be on the same side of the belayer's body as the climber strand.

The following is a very good video on hip-belays from a snow seat.

Please note three things in the preceding video:

1) AAI doesn't recommend the rope twist on the arm as shown in the video.

2) AAI recommends that one kick the heels of their feet into the snow in addition to the bucket.

3) It's not ideal for one to belay a leader from a bucket/snow seat.


An extremely quick and effective technique is to place a carabiner on the belay loop and tie a munter-hitch into it. From a good stance or a seat, this is an incredibly useful means of creating a quick belay. The trick though, is to be able to build the munter-hitch in the carabiner.

Once you are able to easily build a munter-hitch on a carabiner, this particular technique can be faster and more secure then either a shoulder belay or a hip belay. It can also be easier to get it into place due to the fact that backpacks often hinder the other body belay styles.

Quick belays are an incredibly important part of a climber's arsenal. However, they will really only be quick and effective with practice. Once each of these are dialed, then belaying a second on easier terrain becomes far more quick and efficient.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 6/2/22


--A new 33-pitch bolted route in BC. Yes, please!

--There appears to be a significant increase in accidents and SAR missions on Mt. Hood this year. To read an article in Outside about this, 
click here.

Desert Southwest:

--A portion of the Bureau of Land Management has voted to unionize. From Yahoo News: "Federal workers who help oversee hundreds of millions of acres of federal land have formed a union. Headquarters employees of the Bureau of Land Management voted 116 to 20 in favor of joining the National Treasury Employees Union in a ballot count held Wednesday, the union said. The new union would include roughly 200 workers based in Washington and regional offices around the country." To read more, click here.

--The Hill is reporting that, "The Forest Service says it was responsible for both the blazes that merged late last month and created the largest fire in New Mexico history. The agency said Friday that its fire investigators determined the Calf Canyon Fire was started by a holdover fire, or sleeper fire, from a federal pile burn that concluded Jan. 29." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--A tram being installed at Snowbird off the crane on Saturday.

Notes from All Over:

--Old news now, but I was in the field when it was reported. From Alpinist: "Full Circle Everest—the first all-Black expedition team (with with Sherpa and other Nepali support) to attempt Chomolungma (Everest, 8849m*)—attained success when several members stood on the highest point of the world before sunrise on May 12." To read more, click here.

--The Trek is reporting that, "Backpacker Magazine is one of several publications owned by Outside, Inc. that will reportedly end monthly print publications this year. The move accompanies dramatic layoffs at Outside that will reduce the media group’s 580-member staff by 15%. Outside used to be called Pocket Outdoor Media. CEO Robin Thurston bought the company in 2019 and has since added dozens of outdoor brands to its lineup. These include Backpacker, Rock and Ice, and Fastest Known Time. In February 2021, Pocket purchased Outside Magazine from longtime owner Larry Burke and rebranded to Outside, Inc." To read more, click here.

--WyoFile is reporting that, "the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names Wednesday denied a proposal to dub a red-rock promontory near Cody 'Mount Jackson Pollock.' Gregory Constantine, a Michigan painter and retired professor, submitted the application. After glimpsing the 6,621-foot butte on a trip to Wyoming and painting a series of artworks inspired by it, Constantine discovered it didn’t have a formal name and set out to change that through an official naming process. He proposed 'Mount Jackson Pollock' to pay homage to the world-famous abstract artist, who was born in nearby Cody." To read more, click here.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Cutting Steps in the Snow or on Ice

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 27, 2022

Flemish Bend

The flemish bend, also commonly referred to as a figure-eight bend, is a knot commonly used to tie two ropes together.

Why might we tie two ropes together?

The most common reason is for a rappel. And this knot can be used for that application, but it is not the preferred knot. Instead, the preferred knot is the overhand flat bend (often called the Euro death knot or EDK).

There are two common applications for the flemish bend. (1) It is used to tie a cordalette into a loop. And (2) it is used to tie two ropes together for long topropes. In both applications, climbers use the bend because it is easy to untie. A word of warning though...if you elect to toprope with two ropes tied together, be sure to consider the rope-stretch implications of having so much rope in the system.

The flemish bend is very easy to tie. It is simply a standard figure-eight follow-though, threaded by a new rope in the opposite direction. To see an example, click below:

In this particular video, the bend is not dressed at the end. I always prefer dressed knots to undressed knots. Undressed knots are not bad, they won't fail. But dressed knots are easier to quickly check to ensure that they're tied properly.

(Side-note: a bend is a term from a family of knots used to connect two ropes.)

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 5/26/22


--SnowBrains is reporting that, "a report on Avalanche Canada describes how five backcountry skiers were lucky to survive an avalanche on Mount Pattison in the Whistler backcountry on Thursday, May 19." To read more, click here.

--The Seattle Times is reporting that, "two climbers were rescued by helicopter Friday after one fell into a crevasse the day before on Mount Rainier, officials say. The climbers had been in contact with the National Park Service beginning Wednesday evening, when they stopped their summit bid at 12,800 feet because of adverse weather, according to the NPS. They didn’t initially ask for assistance." To read more, click here.

--An injured snowmobiler was rescued off Mt. Baker this week. Check out this video of the rescue:


--The Record Courier is reporting that, "a 43-year-old male climber was killed on Friday after he fell 75 feet from a rock wall in Woodfords Canyon. Alpine County Sheriff’s Office responded around 2:45 p.m. to the a report of a climbing accident." To read more, click here.

JB Brown

UPDATE on PREVIOUS ARTICLE: I didn't recognize this person's name because he commonly used the initials JB. JB Brown was a mountain guide and an exceptional person. He will be missed.

--The Tahoe Daily Tribune is reporting that, "Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe announced that Greg Gavrilets has been hired as its General Manager, replacing long-time ski area leader Paul Senft, who retired after a 42-year career with the resort." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Daily Camera is reporting that, "A climber fell in Eldorado State Park on Monday and had to be rescued after suffering injuries. At 3:05 p.m., the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a climber who had fallen between 25 and 30 feet in the area of Redgarden Wall and alerted responders to the incident. Rescuers from the Mountain View Fire Protection District, already in the state park on a training exercise, were the first to arrive at the 25-year-old climber’s location and rendered first aid. Additional rescuers from the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group hiked to the scene and helped stabilize the victim." To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "one of the longest running climbing magazines of all time will no longer be available in print. Climbing was first published in 1970. Purchased in 2007 by Skram Media, the publisher of Urban Climber, Climbing was published up to nine times a year. In 2021, Outside Inc, purchased Climbing, Ascent, Rock & Ice and Gym Climber and combined them under the title Climbing. Outside Inc. was reportedly recently purchased by a firm backed by venture capitalists." To read more, click here.


--CNN is reporting that, "A Japanese mountain climber is presumed dead after falling into a crevasse in Alaska's Denali National Park, officials said. The 43-year-old from Kanagawa, Japan -- who was not named by officials -- was un-roped from his teammates and "fell through a weak ice bridge near their camp at approximately 8,000 feet on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier," according to a Wednesday release from the Denali National Park and Preserve. He was at the base of Mount Hunter's North Buttress." To read more, click here.

--Alaska Public Media is reporting that, "Three men were sentenced Monday for leaving a popular bear viewing platform in Katmai National Park and Preserve and wading into the river toward brown bears feeding on salmon, according to federal prosecutors. The incident took place at the iconic Brooks Falls. The park’s rules are pretty simple: Humans have to stay on the viewing platform, which is elevated and looks out across the rushing water, where bears feed. There are also specific regulations against hazing wildlife or getting too close." To read more, click here.

--Gripped is reporting that, "op alpinists Matt Cornell, Jackson Marvell and Alan Rousseau have climbed the Slovak Direct on Denali in 21 hours and 35 minutes. The 2,700-metre route is graded VI 5.9X M6 WI6." The route's previous record was 60-hours. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

Dr. Nina Roberts

--College professor and outdoor advocate Dr. Nina Roberts died recently of cancer. Nina was a well-known advocate for diversity and inclusion in outdoor spaces. San Francisco State University is in the process of establishing an endowment fund for scholarships in the Parks and Rec field. To read more and to make a donation, click here.

--VT Digger is reporting that, "failures by Vail Resorts contributed to the death of a Stowe Mountain Resort employee last fall, the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found. The state agency cited Vail Resorts for not providing a place of employment free from recognized hazards 'likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees' in connection with the death of Scott Lewis, 53, a Stowe Mountain Resort employee who crashed and died while riding a zipline in September, a report obtained by VTDigger reveals." To read more, click here.

--Unofficial Networks has published a video from somewhere in Europe that shows a drone nearly hit a skier.  After the near miss and some words (very bad words) with the drone operator, the skier slaps the drone out of the sky with his pole. It's kinda what the drone and the drone operator deserve and it's also why drones aren't allowed in ski resorts. Check it out.

--The fantastic documentary, The Alpinist, recently won an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Long Form Documentary. To read about it, click here.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Route Profile: Northwest Rib, Mt. Shuksan (5.7, III)

Mt. Shuksan is one of the most photographed mountains in the world. The peak is draped in hanging glaciers and beautiful rock buttresses. But most people stick to one of three routes, the Sulphide Glacier, the Fisher Chimneys or the North Face. But the reality is that there are several more interesting lines and variations on the peak. The Northwest Rib is one such feature.

Fisher Chimneys and Sulphide Routes on Mt. Shuksan.
(Click to Enlarge)

Fred Beckey doesn't give much information about this route. He notes the following:

This is the narrow rock spur that separates the White Salmon and Hanging Glaciers; the route crosses the 1939 ascent line. First ascent by Pat Cruver and Dave Davis in July, 1974. Use the White Salmon approach (see the Fisher Chimneys route). The original party kept mostly on the rib's crest, but many variations are possible. The climb joined the Northwest Face route at the summit pyramid and was completed by the 1939 finish. Grade III; class 5.7 (one pitch); the climb is mostly class-4, easy class 5 on firm rock.

It should be noted that the concept of "firm rock" is a bit in the eye of the beholder. There are definitely sections of this line that are very loose. That said, if you are interested in some adventure climbing and can handle some areas of looseness, the rest of the route is well-worth the time.

 The NW Rib from the bottom of White Salmon Glacier.
(Click to Enlarge)

The NW Rib essentially links the White Salmon Glacier with the Upper Curtis. The line climbs up just to the right of the Hanging Glacier. Indeed, it also provides access to the upper Hanging Glacier above the seracs, if that is a line that you're interested in.

The NW Rib from the top of the Fisher Chimneys.
(Click to Enlarge)

The route can be broken into several sections.

Section 1: Approach

The standard approach is via the Fisher Chimneys. At the top of the Chimneys and below Winnie's Slide there are a few areas to bivy. Above Winnie's Slide there are a few more. After the beginning of July, there is often running water near camp where you access the upper Curtis Glacier. Sometimes this is available earlier.

The route could be done from Lake Ann and back in a day, but that would be a very big day and would likely not include a summit. Indeed, the best way to do this line and include a summit would be to climb the Fisher Chimneys on Day 1. Climb the route and the summit on Day 2, and then descend the Fisher Chimneys and go out on Day 3. If you elect to do this as a two day adventure, it's unlikely you'll have time to summit and go out on the same day...but it is possible to complete the route, and then descend the Fisher Chimneys on a two day itinerary as the top of the route is only thirty or forty minutes away from the bivys between the Curtis Glacier and Fisher Chimneys.

Most parties require anywhere from five to eight hours to get from the car to the top of the Chimneys. It takes four to six hours to get back to the car from the top of the Chimneys.

Approximate line of ascent.
(Click to Enlarge)

Section 2: Descend the White Salmon Glacier

Drop down skier's left on the White Salmon Glacier to avoid crevasses. Traverse to the base of the route at approximately 5500-feet (this is lower than the maps seem to indicate and could have been due to a faulty altimeter.). The route starts at a prominent loose gully with a large chalkstone in it. (Approximately 1 hour to the base of the route from the bivys.)

Section 3: Transition and Ascend the Choss Gully and Heather

Transition out of glacier travel mode and into climbing mode and then make your way up. We climbed up left of the chalkstone on loose rock to heather climbing, left of a steep heather chimney.

Chimney Start - This looks somewhat intimidating from the glacier, but it is 
not as steep as it looks. It is one of the crux loose sections of the route though.
(Click to Enlarge)

Go out left, avoiding the heather chimney and then work back right to better climbing. This will be two to four pitches or simul-climbing, depending on what you do. Things will stepen at the end of the heather for the next section.

Section 4: Climbing!

Continue up a slightly loose mid-fifth class section toward a beautiful handcrack that cuts through a roof. Once below the handcrack, you have three options:
  1. Go straight up through the handcrack to the top of a tower. (5.7-5.8, appx. 100 feet from base.)
  2. Climb out left to a -- hidden around the left corner -- more consistent handcrack. (5.7, appx 100 feet from base.)
  3. Or continue up the gully to the right on third, fourth and low fifth class terrain. If you choose to do this, aim for the crest when you can to get out of the loose.
Regardless of which way you go, continue on the ridge or just left it. There will be a few hundred feet of climbing with many variations, until you are forced to traverse to the left above the bottom of the Hanging Glacier.

Section 5: Better Climbing!

You will make your traverse below a series of cool slabs. Work up these fourth and low-fifth class slabs, avoiding loose rock. You may want to place pro to keep the rope away from looseness. Your goal is to work up toward the obvious notch.

As you get closer to the notch, the climbing gets better. The notch brings you back onto the ridge. Some easy climbing will eventually get you to the base of a nice handcrack. Climb the 5.6 crack. Above the handcrack pitch, there's another nice crack, but it can be avoided on the right with easier climbing.

Section 6: The Choss Apron

As you work through good climbing, a finger will appear above you on the ridge. Aim for that. Eventually you will get out of the good climbing and find yourself on the "Choss Apron." This is really the last challenge. Work up and right on the apron. Eventually you'll find a giant cave behind a tower. Go right at that wall and work up through easy terrain to the top of the route.

Top of the Route:

You made it. Now you're looking at the Upper Curtis Glacier! Negotiate the moat and then decide if you're going to climb the rest of the mountain via the upper Fisher Chimneys Route, or via the NE Ridge of the Summit Pyramid (5.7).

NW Rib of Mt. Shuksan from the White Salmon Glacier
Photo by Ben Gardner
(Click to Enlarge)

Final Thoughts:

How many pitches is this? Who knows. It depends on how you do it. The route is approximately 1300-feet long. There are definitely sections where you could simul-climb. There are also definitely sections where pro is scarce and simul-climbing could be very dangerous. Additionally, there are loose area throughout the route, so maybe silmuling isn't such a good idea. You have to decide for yourself.

There are variations everywhere on this route. As such, I gave some big brushstrokes in this description. It's okay to take them for a grain of salt. 

All that said, it took my party five hours from the base to the top of the route. It took eleven hours to descend to the climb, climb the route, descend to camp and then descend back down to the car. We did not go to the summit, but we had a grand adventure on an obscure Shuksan route...

--Jason D. Martin

Gate Direction on Quickdraws

The question about gate direction on quickdraws comes up pretty regularly on courses. There are two perspectives. The first is that it doesn't matter, place the carabiners on the dogbone however you like. And the second is that it matters and that not doing it right could be dangerous.

Kolin Powick -- the individual who runs Black Diamond's Quality Control Lab -- addressed this in the following video:

Kolin notes that there is a "better" way to put your carabiners on your dogbone. And that better way is to have the gates facing the same direction. He notes that there are two reasons for this:

1) The carabiner gates can easily be oriented away from you when you climb.

Ideally, the spine of the carabiner is oriented toward the direction you're climbing and the gates are oriented away. When you climb with the carabiners facing opposite directions it's harder to remember which way to clip in order to make sure that the spine is facing the climbing direction.

2) The gate can get caught up on the bolt hanger.

If you have set-up your draws with the gates facing opposite directions and you clip the draws appropriately, the gate and nose of the carabiner can ride up onto the bolt hanger. This makes it more likely that a fall will damage or break the carabiner.

As a side-note, the most common way that carabiners break in a climbing application is when they are "nose-clipped." In other words, the nose of the carabiner gets stuck on the bolt with the gate holding it in place. When climbers take falls on a carabiner clipped like this, the carabiner almost universally breaks.

The way you clip and how you have your clips set-up are important. It's easy to see sport climbing as a "safer" form of climbing...but that's not always the case. It's important to do things the right way in order to avoid catastrophe.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, May 20, 2022

Route Profile: Dorado Needle - East Ridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East Ridge Dorado Needle
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

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

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

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

Working up 5.7 Terrain toward the Summit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Jason D. Martin