Friday, April 29, 2022

Bear Hangs and Other Options

Hanging bear bags isn't always the best way to keep food and other smelly objects away from bears. This is primarily because most of the time, the bag isn't adequately hung. It's either too close to the tree or it's not high enough.

Another really common mistake is to throw a line over a tree branch, haul the bag up off the ground and then tie off the other end to another tree. (Full disclosure: I did this for years.) The bear may inadvertently release the bag and it will come down.

A Bear Vault Bear Canister

A few years ago, Andrew Skurka, a well-known backpacker and backpacking instructor, wrote a controversial article about why he doesn't do bear hangs. In his article, he identified six reasons not to hang bear bags. We've already hit one, you're probably terrible at it because you don't do it enough. He also notes that, (2) it's impossible if you don't have the right terrain. (3) It's time consuming to do it right. (4) You can get injured throwing a rock over a branch. (5) A determined bear will get it anyway. And (6) there are other alternatives.

Many backcountry travelers (and land managers) prefer hard-sided bear canisters, or soft-sided bear bags. Popular hard-sided canisters include things like the Bear Vault or the Bare Boxer. In the soft-sided world, the Ursack is by far the most popular product.

In the soft-sided world, some models come with an aluminum shield that can be placed inside the bag. There are a handful of land managers that prefer this to a straight soft-sided bag and will require them in the backcountry.

Several Ursack Models
Click to Enlarge

Most guides carry Ursacks. This is because the bear canisters take up so much room in one's pack that they are a somewhat unreasonable. But Ursacks are not fool-proof. They require a complex tie-off technique to close them adequately...and a bear might just leave with your sack anyway, leaving you without any food. As such, when possible, I will hang my Ursack from a tree. The following video demonstrates one clever bear hang technique.

The knots from the video can be found below:
Bear hangs with bags that are not bear resistant have to be really really good: 12 feet up. 5 feet out from the tree. And 5 feet below the branch.

And then there is another option, an option that is used by many guides in the high country and is suggested in Skurka's article under the right circumstances. It is possible to sleep with your food to protect it from bears. Most will be startled and run away if you wake up and start yelling while they're pawing around your camp.

The right circumstances are first, no bear canister requirements. Second, black bear country, not brown bear country. And third, a limited, or no history of bears in the area. Obviously, when you're well above tree-line, this may be the preferred option.

Bears are no joke. And food storage, wherever you are, should be carefully considered...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 4/28/22


I'm going to be in the field for the next few weeks. So you likely won't see a news round-up until the last week of May. -- Jason


--Cement blockades are being placed on Glacier Creek Road at mile 3.8 on Friday, April 28th. If you are beyond the blockades, you could get stuck.

--The Summit at Snoqualmie Ski Area is going through some changes. From Liftblog: "One of Washington’s most-visited resorts today announced Summit 2030, a multi-year capital improvement push to start this summer. Reimagining The Summit is just the latest initiative by Boyne Resorts to bring its ten ski resorts into the modern era. The vision for Snoqualmie includes eight new lifts across all four base areas, enhanced summer operations, expanded snowmaking, new lodges and more. The resort has a lot of work ahead just on lift renewal with 19 chairlifts averaging 35 years old." To read more, click here.

--KOMO is reporting that, "A woman who accidentally dropped her cellphone into the hole of a pit toilet and fell in while trying to retrieve it had to be rescued by firefighters in Washington state. Brinnon Fire Department Chief Tim Manly said the woman, who was at the top of Mount Walker northwest of Seattle, had been using her phone when it fell into the toilet on Tuesday, The Kitsap Sun reported." To read more, click here. is reporting that, "By 2070, the glaciers on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State will have largely disappeared, according to a new study. The loss will alter the region's ecosystems and shrink a critical source of summer water for local communities." To read more, click here.

--Snowbrains is reporting that, "Jack Kuenzle of Roxbury, CT, on Sunday set a new Fastest Known Time (FKT) for ascending Mount Hood, OR, by any means and also for Mount Hood round trip by any means. The endurance athlete smashed the previous ascent record of 1h23m set by Alex King, who ran, by seven minutes, completing his climb in 1h16m. From base to summit was a lung-busting 5,380-feet over just under seven miles." To read more, click here.


--Gripped is reporting that, "rench climber Soline Kentzel, 21, and S├ębastien Berthe, 28, have freed Golden Gate, a 36-pitch 5.13a on El Capitan’s southwest face. The route was first climbed in 2000 by Alex and Thomas Huber. Kentzel and Berthe swapped leads on the lower pitches up to 5.11 and both led the 5.12 and 5.13 pitches, including the Monster Offwidth. They reached the 5.12 down-climb on pitch 14 on day three then were forced to rest to wait out bad weather. The made their way through the upper cruxes and reached the A5 Traverse crux pitch on day nine. They reached the summit that afternoon." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--KTNV is reporting that, "If you go out exploring the beautiful peaks and valleys of Red Rock Canyon, you probably don't expect to see those views marred by graffiti. Despite ongoing prevention efforts by Friends of Red Rock Canyon and other organizations, vandalism continues. Cliff faces and boulders in the national conservation area are being defaced." To read more, click here.

--KTAR News is reporting that, "An Arizona man pleaded guilty to conducting backcountry guide operations without permits at Grand Canyon National Park, the National Park Service said Tuesday. William Woods of Flagstaff faces two years of supervised probation and is banned from Grand Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area for the next two years, according to an NPS press release. An investigation found that Woods organized a commercial guided backpacking trip on the Colorado Plateau without a permit in November 2020, the release said." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Graffiti is a problem everywhere. Here's a piece about graffiti on the rocks near St. George and in Zion.

--Vail Resorts has announced that you'll have to pay for parking at Park City next season. To read about it, click here.

--Rocky Mountain National Park will be raising prices car entry and camping with in the Park. To read about it, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The Hill is reporting that, "The bodies of a New Hampshire couple who went missing for days this week were discovered at a hiking trail, and their deaths have been ruled homicides. Stephen Reid, 67, and Djeswende Reid, 66, of Concord, N.H., went missing on April 18 after they went for a walk on the Broken Ground Trail, according to the New Hampshire attorney general’s office." To read more, click here.

--A new film featuring Alex Honnold is coming out from Disney Plus:

--The Boulder Daily Camera interviewed Kai Lightner about his Climbing for Change Organization. To read the article, click here.

--Snowbrains is reporting that after 33-years, Grand Targhee, WY is closing its cat skiing operation. To read about it, click here.

--Uphill travel is now allowed at all hours at Stowe Mountain, VT. To read more, click here.

--Outside is reporting that, "The outdoor industry is one of the worst offenders when it comes to using so-called “forever chemicals” in their products, a new study shows. The report, published by the Natural Resources Defense Council and two partner groups, analyzes 30 companies across multiple industries on their use of PFAS—dangerous chemicals that pollute drinking water and build up in the environment over time. Out of seven outdoor apparel brands studied, six of them—VF Corp., L.L.Bean, Columbia, REI, Wolverine Worldwide, and Academy Sports + Outdoors—got failing grades of D or F." To read more, click here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Rocky Mountain National Park Fee Increases

From Rocky Mountain National Park:

April 27, 2022
For Immediate Release
Kyle Patterson 970-586-1363
Rocky Mountain National Park Will Increase

1-Day Vehicle Pass Beginning May 27 - Camping Fees Will Increase October 12

Beginning, May 27, Rocky Mountain National Park will increase the one-day vehicle pass from $25 to $30. The fee increase is necessary for Rocky Mountain National Park to improve and maintain high-quality visitor services. While basic park operations are funded by direct appropriations from Congress, the recreation use fees collected by the park are used to support new projects and the ongoing maintenance of park facilities that directly enhance the visitor experience.

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of a few national parks that has a one-day vehicle entrance pass. This day pass was implemented in October 2015. All other park entrance fees including the RMNP seven-day pass ($35 per week), the RMNP annual pass ($70 per year) and any of the interagency America the Beautiful passes will remain the same.

Winter campground fees will increase from $20 to $30 per night beginning on October 12, 2022. Summer campground fees will increase from $30 to $35 per night beginning the summer of 2023. In addition, group site campground fees will raise $10 for each tier in group size to $50/$60/$70. Increased campground fees will address cost increases related to trash removal, vault toilet and custodial servicing, general site maintenance and snowplow operations in the winter. The Longs Peak Campground, open summers for tents only, will remain $30 per night because there are no flushable toilets and campers need to bring their own drinkable water.

In the fall of 2021, Rocky Mountain National Park staff solicited public input on the proposed fee increases. During the public comment period, the park received 264 formal comments that were related to the park’s proposed fee changes. Most commenters expressed support for the proposed changes to the one-day vehicle entrance pass and front-country campground overnight fees, often highlighting the importance of funding for park maintenance, operation, and resource protection. Commenters who opposed fee increases often cited socioeconomic concerns and affordability for all visitors.

Park staff are committed to keeping Rocky Mountain National Park affordable and providing all visitors with the best possible experience. This fee increase is still an incredible value when considering other comparable family and recreational experiences. These campground fee increases are based on comparable fees for similar services in nearby campgrounds. In addition, 80 percent of those funds stay right here in Rocky to benefit visitors.

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) is the legislation under which the park currently collects entrance and amenity fees. This law allows parks to retain 80 percent of the fees collected for use on projects that directly benefit visitors. The remaining 20 percent is distributed throughout the National Park System.

Some of the projects funded through the collection of entrance station and campground fees at Rocky Mountain National Park include:

--Hazard Tree Mitigation: The park is among many areas along the Rocky Mountains where trees have been dying from a beetle epidemic. Recreation fee monies have funded extensive mitigation of hazard trees in or near developed areas and other popular park facilities, such as campgrounds, parking lots, road corridors, housing areas and visitor centers.

--Hiking Trail Repairs and Improvements: Many hiking trail repair projects have been funded by recreation fee monies, such as repairing washed out sections of trail, the installation of bridges, and the installation of vault toilets at heavily used trailheads.

--Wilderness Campsites Improvements: Rocky Mountain National Parks wilderness campsites are used by thousands of backcountry campers each year. Recreation fee monies help fund the maintenance of these cherished campsites.

--Bear Management: Park entrance and campground fees help keep bears wild at Rocky Mountain National Park. Thanks in part to fee dollars collected over the past 20 years, 100% of the park’s garbage cans, recycling bins, and dumpsters are now bear-resistant. The park has also gone from zero food storage lockers to 352. Your recreation fees also help support visitor education programs focused on black bears.

--Restoration of Historic Rock Walls along Trail Ridge Road: The historic rock walls along Trail Ridge Road provide for visitor safety and a visually pleasant drive. Originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, recreation fee program funding allows for damaged sections of these rock walls to be restored by Rocky Mountain National Park staff who specialize in rock work.

In 2020, 3.3 million park visitors spent an estimated $224 million in local gateway regions while visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, despite the global Covid pandemic, historic wildfires, and the park’s first piloted timed entry permit reservation system. These expenditures supported a total of 3,190 jobs, $121 million in labor income, $208 million in value added, and $342 million in economic output in local gateway economies surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park. 2021 visitor spending data, tied to visitation of 4.4 million park visitors, will be available later this year.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Route Profile: Mt. Baker - Coleman Headwall

The Coleman Headwall is arguably the most complex route regularly climbed on Mt. Baker. The line is not as steep as the North Ridge and it doesn't have the fame of that route, but it is a two tool alpine climb that -- depending on conditions -- may have up to 14 pitches of climbing.

And it is awesome!

(Click to Enlarge)
1) Right-hand line. The standard climber's route
2) Left-hand line. A more dangerous (exposed to icefall) line.

The Coleman Headwall is steep, but not that steep. A large portion of the route is 45-50-degrees, though there are a few steeper steps. Depending on crevasse and bergshrund problems, the route may have a few very short vertical steps and depending on how you go near the top, the terrain may kick back to 55-degrees or more.

(Click to Enlarge)
1) Early Season Less Exposed Line
2) Late Season Line with more Icefall Exposure

Many parties do elect to simul-climb much of the route. Some even elect to unrope and solo large portions of it. These decisions need to be made based on the conditions at a given time. The route changes a lot every year and what one experiences one year may not be the same as an experience the following year.

There are two commonly climbed lines on the mountain. Both lines are shown in the picture above. The better line is the right-hand line. This is primarily because there is significantly less objective hazard. The left-hand line may also be climbed, but the first half of the route is threatened by icefall.

The right-hand safer option has a number of crevasses and bergshrunds on the route. Due to melt-out this line is generally out-of-condition by mid-summer. It is not recommended beyond July 1st.

Climbing through one of the bergshrunds on the Coleman Headwall

The route starts at approximately 8,500-feet left of the Roman Nose and slices up into the sky, starting to kick back again to a lower angle at 10,200-feet. The summit of Mt. Baker is at 10, 781-feet.

It is important to get on the route early. As the sun comes up, the upper mountain begins to shed. Small pieces of ice begin to rain down on climbers. And though the headwall isn't terribly steep, it is steep enough that a wrong move could be fatal. A marble sized piece of falling ice could have the potential to knock someone off the mountain.

The American Alpine Institute guides the Coleman Headwall regularly. Indeed, it was one of the first routes regularly guided by the company. Today, there are two options for climbing the route with AAI. First, you might climb it on an Alpine Ice Course. And second, you might choose to climb it on a private program.

Climbing steep snow high on the Coleman Headwall

Skiing the Coleman Headwall

The Coleman Headwall has become a popular extreme ski objective. Extreme, however, means extreme. If you fall on this route, you will likely die.

I've been on Mountain Rescue since 2011, and in that time I've responded to two incidents on the Coleman Headwall that included skiers. In the first instance it was a fatality and in the second instance it was a serious injury. And in both instances, the skiers didn't climb the route first. This is a very complex alpine line and if you do think you have what it takes to ski it, it's imperative that you climb it prior to committing to such a descent.

(Click to Enlarge)
A foreshortened view of a line I climbed in 2017.

Climbing Gear Suggestions for a Spring Ascent:
  • 2 tools per person - be sure that they can be pounded into the snow to be used as anchors. Radically curved shafts for steep waterfall ice and drytooling won't work on this alpine route.
  • 2-3 pickets
  • 3-4 ice screws
  • several slings and carabiners
If you elect to make the climb later in the season, then you should consider more ice screws.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 22, 2022

Tips for Women on AAI Courses

On climbing trips and courses, it is not the grand gestures that dictate success, but a series of small, diligent habits. These form by consistently making choices to take care of yourself.

In the backcountry, some of these choices and habits can be different for women than for men due to key differences in physiology. Here’s a quick overview of some issues women can face in the mountains, and some simple tips and tricks to help you have a fun, safe and successful course.


Women often feel colder than men in the mountains, especially in the hands and feet. There are several ways to deal with this difference.

The first is to regulate your overall body temperature by keeping your core warm. When your core is warm, your extremities will also be warmer. For women, making this happen can mean wearing a few more layers on your core than guys—perhaps carrying an extra lightweight puffy jacket or another thin, insulating layer like an R1. Move in lighter layers – you should be a bit chilly when you start out after a break – but keep a warm layer available in the top of your pack for when you stop.

For gloves, you’ll want to strike a balance between keeping your hands warm and making sure you have the dexterity required to hold an ice axe or clip carabiners. Make SURE you have a warm pair of gloves that you can comfortably handle carabiners with – a common cause of frostnip/bite is to take off gloves to mess with hardware.

Packs, boots and bags

Many women have smaller body sizes and do not have the same upper body strength as men. This does not mean they are unable to do certain things – they just need to figure out different ways to accomplish the same tasks without injury.

When carrying a heavy pack, make sure you understand proper lifting techniques. Grab the pack by the straps, lift it onto your knee, and then swing it onto your back. If you are using a new pack and you haven't carried a heavy load in it, put weight in it and go on a hike. Do all the adjustments you can to the waist belt, shoulder straps, etc. Adjust your straps so the majority of your load is on your hips and lower back and not your shoulders. Your hip belt should sit just on or above your hip bones. There are numerous packs on the market designed specifically for women, but ultimately choose the one that feels the most comfortable with your body type.

The climbing industry is catching onto the fact that women are climbing high, cold mountains, but many of the boot choices for these environments are still only offered in men’s sizes. Women’s heels can be skinnier than men’s, so if you’re a woman wearing men’s boots proper bootfitting is essential. If you can get to snow, go hiking/snowshoeing in your expedition boots, preferably with your pack. Then you will have time to get new footbeds or adjust your sock system before the trip. Small adjustments like this can make the difference between comfort and misery over the course of a trip.

Women’s sleeping bags are a good idea, as they tend to be shaped for women’s bodies and include more insulation in the footbed. The only downsides are that they are built specifically for women of short or average height (5’6’’ or smaller) so tall women need to either get a women’s long or a men’s bag. If you have to go with a men’s bag consider budgeting an extra 10 degrees (so if you need a bag that keeps you warm at 0, get a men’s -10 degree, etc.).

Pee Funnels

Pee funnels like the GoGirl or the Freshette provide a way for a woman to urinate while standing up. These are essentially funnels that you may press against yourself when you urinate.

There isn’t a tremendous amount of privacy on our mountaineering trips in the Cascades and elsewhere. On most days you will spend the majority of your time tied into a rope with your teammates. A pee funnel allows you a small modicum of privacy when you urinate.

Some female guides use these extensively whereas others prefer to simply have the team turn away while they squat to urinate. Ultimately the choice as to whether to use one of these devices is up to you.

If you choose to use a pee funnel it is recommended that you practice with it prior to the start of the expedition. In order to keep it from overflowing you will have to manage the rate at which you urinate.

The two most popular models are the Freshette and the GoGirl:

General Hygiene

Bring 1-2 pairs of synthetic or wool underpants and one pair of cotton underwear or boxers to sleep in. The cotton underwear can also help you feel cleaner if you have your period during the trip.

Bring a separate bottle to pee in at night (or in a storm) so you don’t have to get out of your tent. Collapsible Nalgene 1.5-2 L bottles work the best. Some women tell their tentmates 'I'm closing the bathroom door' or something similar so they know not to look. You can use the pee bottle with or without a pee funnel. Practice this at home in the shower so you know you’ll feel comfortable doing it in a tent later on.

Women are more prone to urinary tract and yeast infections if they don’t wipe regularly, so it’s a good idea to bring extra toilet paper or a bandana to wipe after peeing (even if you use a funnel). If you use a bandana (aka “pee rag”) you can tie it to your pack to dry out afterward as you continue to hike. Any used toilet paper should be placed in a Ziploc bag and packed out.

That Time Of The Month

And now for the big question for women on expeditions – how do I deal with that time of the month? Answer: it’s not that bad – read on for one Denali guide’s (quite specific) guide to dealing with it!  

For my period, I use a Diva Cup (the Keeper is another brand). I also use it in the rest of life when not on expeditions. I can carry one with me wherever I camp/hike/climb without worrying about running out of tampons, and if I don't have any tissues I can clean it with water from my water bottle or with snow. I don't use snow on the glacier because we use camps other parties use and I don't want to leave bloody snow for people to see. I take some toilet tissues and pour the blood from the cup into these. I clean the Diva Cup with more tissues. I wrap the bloody tissues in some more tissues and put it in the CMC (Clean Mountain Can, used on Denali) or other latrine. If I feel shy about putting this in a communal latrine I put the tissues in either a brown paper bag or an opaque plastic bag (this is better; it doesn't soak through) that I then carry with me. I clean myself with wet wipes, and sanitize my hands. Wet wipes freeze, but you can keep a travel packet inside your parka for bathroom time. If you want to use tampons, the method is very similar. Take the tampon out, wrap it up with tissue, put it in the opaque bag.  If the idea of using one bag for the whole trip is gross, you can bring a few bags set up this way.  

And obviously, if you choose to use tampons, it’s important to make sure that you have enough with you. You should pack out any used tampons in a Ziploc bag, and you can wrap the bag with duct tape ahead of time to conceal the contents for privacy. If you get menstrual cramps, bring whatever painkillers you usually use to help ease them.


The single most important muscle that a climber of any gender will use is between the ears. A positive attitude, good self-care, and the willingness to face and work with the realities you are presented by your body and environment are the best predictors of success. You will have good days and bad days. You and your teammates will take turns being the stronger or weaker members of the expedition, but it is your bond as a group that will get you up and back.

We strive to provide all our climbers with the best information and recommendations for our programs around the world. If you have any questions regarding the information in this document or would like to speak with a female AAI guide, please feel free to contact the AAI office.

Happy climbing!

--Shelby Carpenter, AAI Instructor and Guide

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 4/21/22


--An individual is planning security patrols at PNW trailheads. Want to join up? Read about it.


--Gripped is reporting that, "Belgian climber S├ębastien Berthe, a solid 5.15 climber, has put in an impressive 23 days projecting the world’s hardest big wall free climb. After weeks trying the most difficult pitch, he’s decided to wrap things up for this season on the Dawn Wall, a a 32-pitch 5.14d on El Capitan in Yosemite." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--The Denver Post is reporting that, "Authorities say a 41-year-old Colorado man died after falling about 70 feet during a rock climbing excursion in Utah. Steamboat Pilot & Today reports Arlo Lott Jr., of Steamboat Springs, fell when his rappel anchor broke loose in Farnsworth Canyon on Saturday." To read more, click here.

--Fox 13 is reporting that, "A man who survived a 30 foot fall while climbing a canyon outside Moab last week is facing numerous surgeries as he remains hospitalized following the accident. Dalton Freeman Snow was climbing on April 12 when a "fridge-sized chunk of rock" was displaced, sending him falling 30 feet on a ledge below. During the fall, the rock crushed Snow's right hand and 'nearly tore it off his arm,' according to a GoFundMe page set up to help pay his medical expenses." To read more, click here.

--Zion National Park seems to be seeing an uptick in graffiti issues. Read about it, here.

Notes from All Over:

--SnowBrains is reporting that, "A 28-year-old woman was killed after an avalanche carried her 1,000-feet down a steep mountain face on Mount des Poulis in Yoho National Park, AB, last week. Five people were boot-hiking up a ridge near the summit of 10,387-foot Mount des Poilus last Wednesday, April 13th. The woman was ahead of the group when a cornice, estimated to be between 200-260-feet wide, collapsed and triggered a class 3 avalanche." To read more, click here.

--The Climbing Business Journal is reporting that, "workers at Movement Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia, recently announced the imminent certification of their climbing gym union, reportedly the first in the United States. The process was overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent federal agency that enforces the National Labor Relations Act and 'protects the rights of most private sector employees to join together, with or without a union, to improve their wages and working conditions.'" To read more, click here.

--Ski magazine has compiled a multi-pass buyers guide to help you make the right multi-pass decision next winter. Check it out, here.

--The former president of Vermont's Jay Peak is going to jail. From the Outside Business Journal: "After pleading guilty in 2021 to providing false statements to federal investigators, Stenger appeared before a federal judge earlier this week and expressed contrition over his part in the crime. He will serve 18 months in a federal prison and pay $250,000 in fines." To read more, click here.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Technical Rescue: Webbing Storage

Technical rescuers use a lot of webbing. And there are a lot of ways to stow that webbing. Tom Evans of SAR3 has put together a nice video on two techniques that are commonly used to stow webbing...

Coincidentally, the second style that Tom demonstrates is used by guides in a completely different application. Guides commonly use something similar to the Lobster Tail in short rappels. They wrap the rope around a tree or object and then macrame the line together. They then rappel on one end. Once down, they pull back and forth on the rope to get it to drop down as a loop. The hitch used -- which is quite similar -- is referred to as the equivocation hitch...

The short description above provides nowhere near enough information to merit the use of an equivocation hitch. That is certainly a technique that if done wrong, could result in injury or fatality. I bring it up here, merely as a note to those out there that already use the equivocation hitch to help them understand the Lobster Tail.

In addition to the Daisy Chain and the Lobster Tail, there is a third technique that you may use. It is also possible to simply roll the webbing up into a spool.

This technique is good if you have a nice way to store it. If you're just throwing it in a box, it's likely to come unrolled. But if you're putting it into a bag with little zipper pockets and storage areas, it will likely stay as is...

There are a lot of ways to stow webbing. The best thing for you to do on your rescue team is to experiment with each of the styles.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 15, 2022

Universal Standard Belay - Toprope

Belaying is the baseline for everything that we do at the crags and in the mountains. The American Alpine Club, the Climbing Wall Association and the American Mountain Guides Association have been working hard over the last few years to try to develop a universal standard for belays in the United States.

Recently, the American Alpine Club produced a video that shows several belay variations. They demonstrate two versions of the PBUS (Pull. Brake. Under. Slide), one version of the two handed technique (a terrible and uncomfortable technique) and the shuffle technique (something that beginners should never do).

The universal part of the universal standard is that all belays should follow three baseline rules:
  1. The brake-hand should never leave the rope.
  2. Hands should only slide when the rope is in the braking position.
  3. Hands should be in a position of strength.
The video goes quickly through the belay commands. Unfortunately, the commands shown do use the word "take," which is a single syllable word and can be confused with slack, rock, or safe. At AAI, we prefer the term, "tension."

The video demonstrates a quick safety check, allows the two models to perform some of the worst line readings of "on belay" and "belay on" in history, and then launches into the belay technique for toprope climbers.

Check out the video below:

I am definitely not a fan of the shuffle technique. It is an acceptable technique, but I don't think it's appropriate for people learning to belay. If you are someone who has the opportunity to teach belaying, I would cut this from any training for beginners.

It's good to see that the AAC is putting these videos together. There are far too many people out there still using archaic belay techniques...and as a result, there are still too many accidents from inadequate belays.

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 4/14/22


--The CBC is reporting on an avalanche last week: "A 34-year-old Whistler, B.C., man was killed last Tuesday in an avalanche within the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort boundary. According to Vail Resorts, the company that owns Whistler Blackcomb, the "ski incident" happened on Whistler Mountain in the West Ridge area and was attended by ski patrol members. 'We can confirm there was a Size 1 in-bounds avalanche involved — an investigation is underway,' said a Vail spokesperson in an email." To read more, click here.

--No news yet on when North Cascades Highway will open, but they are actively working on it. Last year, it opened on May 5th. Here's the most recent report.

Notes from All Over:

--Gear Junkie is reporting that, "On March 31, the U.S. Forest Service issued a final directive to clarify the use and management of electric mountain bikes on National Forest System lands. This new ruling could mean the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) reclassifying certain National Forest System (NFS) trails and roads as motorized instead of carving out an exception that would grant electric mountain bikes (eMTBs) access. This is a significant and problematic difference, according to some experts. The directive provides more explicit e-bike guidance but also floats the possibility of granting e-bike access to traditionally motor-free trails on a case-by-case basis. Regional authorities, environmental analysis, and public input will all be necessary to determine whether expanded eMTB access is desirable at the local level." To read more, click here.

--Shop, Eat, Surf is reporting that, "Vail Resorts announced four investments to provide accessible and affordable housing for its employees at Park City Mountain in Utah, Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Vail Mountain in Colorado, and Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont as part of the company’s strategic focus on investing in the employee experience. Collectively, the four investments will provide new affordable housing to more than 875 Vail Resorts employees, marking a more than 10 percent increase in affordable employee housing offered by the company across its resorts." To read more, click here.

--Andres Marin and Clint Helander made the first serious ascent in Alaska's Revelation Mountains this year. From Climbing: "The Shaft of the Abyss (VI AI 5R M5 A0 90° snow; 4,000 feet) follows an obvious, direct line up the East Face of Golgotha (8,937 feet), a line which Helander had schemed and dreamed about since he first saw the mountain in 2008." To read more, click here.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Route Profile: Armatron (5.9) II

Armatron is a super fun and unique route on the Brownstone wall at Red Rocks.  In an area that is known for immaculate sandstone and outrageous rock formations, Armatron is definitely one of the finest examples of the iron-hard stone the canyon is known for.

The amazing chocolatey goodness! The Brownstone wall from high on Jackrabbit
Buttress.  Armatron takes a line on the far right side of the formation (A. Stephen)

Armatron can either be approached by a 1 hr hike (long by Red Rocks standards) or you can climb one of the awesome routes on the lower apron of the Brownstone wall, known as Jackrabbit Buttress. Most people do Myster Z, a classic 5.6 that ascends the Jackrabbit buttress and drops you off right at the base of Armatron, but fellow AAI guides and Red Rocks locals Andrew Yasso and Doug Foust recently put up a route on Jackrabbit buttress called Saddle Up, which comes highly recommended!

However you decide to approach the Brownstone Wall, Armatron is easily recognizable as a 400 foot wall of black desert varnish with a "tortoise-shell" pattern.

The start of Armatron (A. Stephen)
The first 2 pitches climb through amazing juggy holds
on excellent rock (A. Stephen)
The first pitch is the crux of the four pitches, but is very well protected by several shiny new bolts and good small cam placements.  The climbing is steep, on great holds, and only gets better as you make your way through the second pitch and end up at a small belay stance below 250 feet of perfect, grid-like patina plates.

The patina on the upper headwall.
Slotting bomber stoppers behind the patina plates (A. Stephen)

Climb the patina plates using some amazingly thin and fun face climbing techniques for the grade all the way to the top of the buttress. Classic!

--Andy Stephen, Instructor and Guide

Friday, April 8, 2022

Top Managed Belays

Most leaders will do one of two things at the top of a route. They'll either build an anchor and lower off or they'll bring up a second to clean the route. It makes a lot of sense to bring up a second if you're going to continue up a multi-pitch line or if it isn't possible to rappel off.

In essence the leader who is stationed above the climber is working at a top-managed site. He is belaying the climber from above and is not top-roping. Most people only belay from above after they have lead a climb, but there are a number of situations where it is advantageous to actually top-rope from the top of a climb.

A Climber Belays from the Top

Acadia and Ouray are both popular places where many routes require top-managment, climbers literally have little to no choice in many parts of these parks. Acadia is a climbing area situated on a series of sea cliffs. One can only access the crags by lowering down or rappelling down. Ouray is an ice park in Colorado. All of the routes are accessed from the top and most people lower in and then climb back out on a top-rope.

Most places don't require a top-managed set-up like the preceding examples. But there are many advantages to managing a crag from the top.

Value of a Top-Managed Site:
  1. There is no chance that rocks or other debris will strike a belayer or another climber below. This is particularly nice in ice climbing. In Ouray, it is common for climbers to lower one another into a canyon to climb back out. There are very few people at the base that might be hit by falling ice.
  2. There is fifty percent less rope in the system. Less rope in the system allows for less elongation in a dynamic rope when a climber falls on a top-rope. This is a great advantage if there are a lot of ledges on a climb that someone might twist their ankle on if they take a short dynamic fall.
  3. If a climb is over a half of a rope length, it is often easier to manage the route from the top than to deal with two ropes tied together. 
  4. This provides you with the ability to easily monitor the anchor system.
  5. Smaller loads are placed on the anchor than in a traditional top-rope set-up. In a traditional set-up, the physics of the system make it so that both the climber and the belayer's weight are on the anchor whenever a climber falls or is lowered.
  6. Occasionally, the bottom of the crag is dangerous. Perhaps you are working on sea cliffs or in another medium that makes the base of the climb hazardous. Numerous crags have parking lots above the routes. In many scenarios the bottom of the climbs are steep and vegetated. In some cases, they are simply hard to access via a trail.
  7. If you know any quick hauling systems, it's nice to manage from the top because you can assist a person if they get stuck climbing.
  8. If you want to get a lot of top-rope routes in without leading, it may be fastest to top-manage the climbing area.
A Climber Lowers his Partner from a Top-Managed Site

Disadvantages to a Top-Managed Site:

  1. It is difficult to see and to coach the climber that has been lowered down. Sometimes it is also difficult to hear.
  2. The climber's rope is more likely to go over edges when managed from the top.
  3. There may be more impact on a fragile cliff-top ecosystem.
  4. If there are many climbers waiting to climb, it may be more dangerous to manage the route from the top. There is more exposure and more opportunities to make a mistake near a cliff-edge.
  5. It can be difficult to figure out where the route is from the top of the crag.
  6. People are unused to it and often don't want to try something new.
The most common way to access climbs in a top-managed situation is for the climber to lower down and then climb back up. Occasionally, a climber will rappel to the bottom and then climb back up, but this is not quite as safe as lowering. Lowering is safer because the belayer can check the climber's knot before he leaves.

This blog isn't to say that top-management is better. While it may be better in some situations, this article was actually designed to give you a quick taste of an alternative to regular top-roping. The best way to understand the strengths and weaknesses of such a technique is to experiment. Try top-managing at a crag you are familiar with for a day. It will be a very educational experience and will definately put another tool into your climber's toolbox.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, April 4, 2022

The Double-Fisherman's Knot

Arguably, the most difficult knot to teach is the double-fisherman's knot. It is normal for our guides to spend a significant amount of time with students on this particular knot. And even with a lot of time spent focusing on it, some still don't come away with a master's level knowledge of it.

If you have this knot completely wired, then congratulations. If you don't, then this blogpost is just for you...!

The Double-Fisherman's Knot

The double-fisherman's knot is a knot that may be used to join two ropes together. The ropes may be of similar or dissimilar diameters. It is a very secure knot. Indeed, it is so secure, that it is often recommended for cords that will be permanently tied together such as prussik loops.

The biggest problem with the double-fisherman's is that it is very difficult to untie once it has been loaded. As a result, it is not recommended for quick situations where you want to tie two ropes together, such as in rappels.

The Canadian Guide, Mike Barter has put together the following video on how to tie a double-fisherman's knot:


As a side-note, while we call this the double-fisherman's knot, that's not exactly right. It is a "bend," instead of a knot. In knot parlance, a bend is a knot that joins two cords or two ropes together.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, April 1, 2022

The Bowline

The Canadian Guide Mike Barter is a funny dude. In this video, he talks about a tying the bowline...while dressed as a cowboy.

Perhaps the best line of this video is when he says that a bowline is "strong enough to pull a snowboarder off his sister."

There are a couple of things that I'd like to add to this excellent video.

In addition to what Mike demonstrated, we teach the double-bowline in the curriculum for the AMGA Single Pitch Instructor course. This knot is quite a bit stronger than a single bowline and not as easily untied due to cyclic loading.

Mike repeatedly states that he doesn't want to see people tie-in with a bowline. You may be aware that there is a trend in the sport climbing community wherein people tie in with a double-bowline. There are two big problems with this. The first is that many climbers don't use this technique to tie-in and will not be able to check their partner adequately. And second, if there is a problem in the knot, it is far more likely to fail than a figure-eight follow-through.

There have been a few high-profile accidents with people using a double-bowline for their tie-in. These accidents could have been avoided if the individuals simply used the industry standard figure-eight and checked each other out...

The bowline is a very important knot. And as Mike said in the video, it could even be considered a king of the knots. But when all is said and done, it really should only be used for anchoring to boulders and trees.

--Jason D. Martin