Friday, January 17, 2020

Route Profile: Denali - West Rib

Denali - 20,320 ft (6194 m)

Route: Complete West Rib

Our approach is to climb this line "alpine style." In other words, we climb the normal West Buttress route up to Camp III at 14,200 feet to acclimatize. Leaving a cache of food and fuel at Camp III, we descend back down to Camp I at 7,800 feet with light packs. This approach will allow us to efficiently climb the West Rib in a single push without the use of fixed ropes.
Climbing the entrance couloir to the West Rib.
Climbing the entrance couloir to the West Rib. AAI Collection
The following day we will travel up the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna and establish a Camp at 9,400 feet. From the base of our route at 11,100 feet, we face a rather spectacular beginning: a 2000-foot couloir of 45 to 55-degree snow and ice. Pitching out this steep section is important because it is very strenuous and there are no options for shelter before reaching West Rib Camp III at 12,800 feet.
Once comfortably established on the crest of the Rib, we are confronted with another ice dome that requires additional pitching and climbing on hard alpine ice up to 60 degrees. Above the ice dome the climbing eases some, with a mixture of 45-degree snow and rock climbing as we work our way to Camp IV at 14,700 feet and Camp V at 16,400 feet. On summit day we climb snow and ice couloirs and then easy mixed rock, which leads us to the summit plateau at 19,400 feet. From that point we turn east and climb gradually to the final summit ridge.
Besides offering high quality climbing, this entire line of ascent is aesthetically attractive and provides great views of surrounding peaks and routes. As soon as we reach the rib crest we have the impressive outline of the Cassin Ridge off to our east; as we climb higher we see the West Buttress route and then look down onto its 14,000-foot plateau camp; and finally as we ascend the high snow and ice couloirs, we are able to look out to all the major peaks of the Alaska Range. With a descent via the lower half of the West Buttress route, we enjoy varied and remarkably beautiful terrain from beginning to end of this expedition.
Advantages to Climbing the Complete West Rib
1. This is a highly aesthetic line on one of America's most beautiful mountains. Were it not for the extreme popularity of the West Buttress to the left of the route, and of the notoriety of the world-class Cassin Ridge to the right of the route, this line would be one of the most recognized and sought after on the mountain.
2. An ascent of the Upper West Rib misses nearly 5000 feet of interesting and engaging climbing on the crest of the Rib proper adjacent to the beautiful Cassin Ridge.
3. An ascent of the entire West Rib is significantly more committing than an ascent of the Upper West Rib. Many see mountain commitment as an attractive element and seek out trips with such an aesthetic.
4. Many find the exposed and complex terrain of the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier to be both exhilarating and frightening. An ascent of the complete West Rib requires late night/early morning travel through this well-known zone. 

Route: West Rib Cutoff

Many individuals are interested in climbing Denali via a route other than the West Buttress, but don't want to commit to something as serious as the complete West Rib.
The Upper West Rib provides for a fantastic adventure on a classic line while still providing you with many of the aesthetics found on the West Buttress. On this climb, out team will ascent the standard West Buttress route up to Camp III at 14,200 feet. From there, we will climb up the West Rib Cut-Off to join the upper Rib.
High camp on the West Rib
High camp on the West Rib.
Joe Stock
After arriving at Camp III, most teams will make an acclimatization climb up to the 17,200-foot West Buttress camp. There they will leave a cache set-up for their descent a few days later.
After waiting for an appropriate weather window at Camp III, the team will work its way up the Cut-Off to join the ridge crest at 15,700 feet. Once the crest is reached, the climbing is absolutely fantastic. The team will climb a steep and sustained couloir to a protected camp at 16,400 feet.
On summit day, we will climb a six-hundred foot steep and windy couloir with sections of sixty-degree terrain to a flat spot at the base of the last crux. From here the team has two options, a traverse across the top of the infamous Orient Express couloir or an ascent up another steep couloir to the east. Both options top out on the "Football Field," a flatish spot below the final summit ridge. From here, the route once again joins the West Buttress to the mountain's summit at 20,320 feet.
Our descent will take us back down the West Buttress route to the camp that we prepped on our acclimatization ascent at 17,200 feet. From there, we will make our way down the West Buttress and back to Base Camp.
Advantages of Climbing the Upper West Rib
1. Climbing the Upper West Rib allows for a lighter ascent. If you climb the complete route, you must carry multiple days worth of food and fuel on your back. If you only climb the Upper Rib, the ascent to 14,200 feet will be sled assisted.
2. After climbing all the way up to Camp III at 14,200 feet, it can be demoralizing to descend all the way back down to the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier to start your "real" ascent.
3. Though this is an incredibly physical climb, it is ultimately an easier ascent than the Complete West Rib.
4. An ascent of the Upper West Rib avoids the complexity and the objective danger that complete Rib climbers face in the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.
Climbers approaching the summit after a successful climb of the West Rib.
Climbers descending after a successful climb of the West Rib.
AAI Collection
Feel free to call or email for more information about the West Rib route!

Dylan Cembalski
Alaska Programs and 7 Summits Coordinator
AAI Guide

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 1/16/20

Climate Crisis:

--The National Environmental Policy Act is under attack from the Trump Administration. According to the New York Times: "Many of the changes to the law — the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, a landmark measure that touches nearly every significant construction project in the country — have been long sought by the oil and gas industry, whose members applauded the move and called it long overdue." Such changes will have an effect on both the climate, as well as public lands where we recreate, everywhere. To read more, click here.

--CNN is reporting that, "Grasses, shrubs and mosses are growing and expanding around Mount Everest and across the Himalayan region as the area continues to experience the consequences of global warming, researchers have found."  To read more, click here.

--REI is working to decrease the amount of single use plastic in the outdoor industry. They intend to charge industry partners who send polybags for recycling fees. To read more, click here.

--Many low altitude ski resorts will be closing in the coming decade due to climate change.


--A 19-year-old ski racer had a close call with a tree well at Oregon's Mt. Bachelor this week. To read more, click here.

--7KTVB is reporting that, "Officials say an eastern Oregon man died in an avalanche Saturday while he was snowmobiling in the Elkhorn Mountains." To read more, click here.

--In response to overcrowding, Crystal Mountain Ski Resort is no longer selling day passes at their ticket window on weekends. Instead, skiers will have to buy them ahead of time online. This will decrease the chances that you will drive up and find a full parking lot. To read more, click here.


--News 4 is reporting that, "A Reno native and local hotshot firefighter captain died after a skiing accident at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe in December, according to his wife. 37-year-old Damian Rivadeneyra passed away at Renown hospital on Dec. 28, 2019 after complications from hitting a tree while skiing the day before." To read more, click here.

--Rock and Ice is reporting that, "Lover’s Leap, outside Tahoe, California, has been deteriorating under a dramatic increase in climber traffic. This popular granite climbing area saw its first ascent in 1950 and is now home to over 180 climbing routes, including Travelers Buttress—one of the 50 classic climbs in America. The area draws droves of climbers from the San Francisco, Sacramento, and South Lake Tahoe climbing communities who appreciate the many traditional, multi-pitch routes in a beautiful forested setting. However, climber impacts have reached a tipping point." To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

Mt. Wilson in Red Rock Canyon
Thieves recently hit a climber car in the parking lot for the right hand side of this feature.

--We continue to hear reports about active thieves in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Be sure to hide your stuff in your car to ensure that it doesn't get stolen.

Colorado and Utah:

--A female ice climber was hit and injured by falling ice at Utah's Bridal Veil Falls (WI 4-5+ variation dependent) To read more, click here.

--An avalanche hit a car this week in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

--The first pitch of the ultra-classic Moab climb, Jah Man (5.10c, II+) collapsed at the beginning of the month. To read more, click here.

-Out There Colorado is reporting that, "Hibernation season is in full swing, but some bears are still very much awake in Colorado. According to the Aspen Police Department, garbage cans need to be secured, even in the winter months, where bear activity is still being reported. The department recently shared a video of two black bears wandering around a snowy residence just earlier this month – an unusual time for bears sightings in the high elevation town that rests at nearly 8,000 feet." To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Gripped is reporting that, "An avalanche on Mount Hector on the Icefields Parkways buried Canmore skier and family physician, Laura Koraskoski, for nearly an hour on Jan. 11. Her husband, Adam Campbell, and another skier were able to reach her and coordinate a rescue." To read more, click here.

--Sad news from Minnesota's Pioneer Press: "Hastings Middle School students and staff are struggling to cope with the sudden loss of a seventh-grader killed in a skiing accident this past weekend at Welch Village Ski Area in Welch." To read more, click here.

--The National Parks are under attack by the current administration. Their goal? To allow a dismantling of America's crown jewels for extractive industries. A former head of the NPS argues that it's time to disconnect the parks from the Department of the Interior to protect them from this kind of manipulation. To read more, click here.

--There is now an indoor ski area in a mall in New Jersey. It's essentially a bunny hill in a warehouse. What could possibly go wrong...?

--The News Tribune is reporting that, "men who were caught walking on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser at Yellowstone National Park have been sentenced to time behind bars, according to park rangers. The trespassing duo — 20-year-old Eric Schefflin of Lakewood, Colorado, and 25-year-old Ryan Goetz of Woodstock, New York — pleaded guilty to charges of thermal trespassing following the Sept. 10, 2019, incident at the iconic thermal spring in the park that spans Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park rangers said in a news release on Thursday." To read more, click here.

--The Access Fund is reporting that it "is thrilled to announce that the Hell’s Kitchen bouldering area outside Chattanooga, Tennessee is now permanently protected as part of Cumberland Trail State Park." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Skis - Baseline Knowledge

When you start to talk about skis, it's important that you have a working knowledge of the different parts and each skiers different needs. This blog provides you with a baseline of understanding, so that you can hold your own in a conversation about what ski is best for what use...


Skis are measured in centimeters. Most adults skis are between 160cm and 200cm in length. The length of the ski that you purchase should be in line with your height and weight...but those that are new to skiing may want a shorter ski for better control.

Here's a baseline size chart:

Waist and Turn Radius

The waist is the area directly underfoot. This is often where the width of the ski is measured. Wider skis are best for powder, but they are also harder to handle for beginners.

The wider a ski, the longer the turn radius. Here's a short video about how this works:

Ski Profile: Camber vs. Rocker vs. Early Rise

Click to Enlarge

Camber is a concave profile that allows for better snow contact and more pop coming out of turns. The rocker, on the other hand, is a ski profile with a more upturned tip and tail for deep snow conditions.

A flat or early rise ski, is a ski profile that has a flatter bottom with upturned tips. This is good for deep snow.

The following video delves into camber, flat/early rise and rockered skis:

Din Setting

The DIN setting, short for Deutsches Institut für Normung (German Institute for Standardization), is a ski setting that determines the amount of force that can be placed on a binding before it releases. This is set based on your weight, height and ability level. The DIN setting is usually adjusted by a ski shop professional, because if the ski doesn't release when you need it to, you will break your leg.

Touring Bindings

There are two standard types of bindings for the backcountry, frame bindings and tech bindings. Frame bindings are a heavier binding that aren't as good for touring, but perform exceptionally well in downhill terrain. They also operate better as crossover in-bounds/out-ofbounds bindings.

Tech bindings (or pin bindings) have a pin and hole system and attach directly to the boot. These are the go to bindings for ski touring and ski mountaineering. They don't operate as well in an in-bounds setting.

Frame and tech bindings release differently, so when people have a release malfunction, the injuries look different. Frame bindings tend to lead to knee injuries (meniscus, ACL, MCL, etc.), while tech bindings tend to lead to broken bones.


Skiing and backcountry skiing are equipment heavy sports, and we could talk tech all day. And while this isn't a comprehensive list of terms and concepts, it is a solid introduction.

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, January 13, 2020

Munter-Hitch to Clove-Hitch

The ability to turn a munter-hitch into a clove-hitch quickly is extremely valuable, especially when you choose to belay with a munter-hitch.

Check out this quick video on how to do it!

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, January 10, 2020

Ten Tips for Powder Skiing in the Backcountry

One of the primary reasons that people wish to ski the backcountry is because they want to ski powder. The problem is that the first time people go out-of-bounds, it can be really difficult. Skiing powder is hard, until you understand some of the tricks and techniques.

This video provides ten excellent tricks to dial in your powder skiing.

In review:
  1. Make sure you have the right kind of skis. The should be at least 100mm underfoot.
  2. Ski dust on crust. Thin powder cover can help you develop your powder skills.
  3. Skiing Position. When you practice on light powder, think about your stance.
  4. Skis should be closer together than they are on the slope normally.
  5. Start out your powder tours on short runs or small sections of powder, where you have the energy to hold your stance and do a good job.
  6. Practice pumping up and down on a mellow pitch of terrain while going slow. This will help when you move on to turns. Transition to turns with the pump on easy terrain.
  7. After you practice pumping in the snow, practice turning when the skis are on top of the snowpack.
  8. Pole Planting. Keep the poles out front. Plant right after finished with turn to rotate around pole into the next turn.
  9. Turn with the terrain. For example, if you're on top of a roller, take advantage and make a turn.
  10. Do big turns. This decreases the amount of work you have to do on each turn.
--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 1/9/20

Climate Crisis:

--Futurism is reporting that, "The wildfires currently raging in Australia have already killed more than half a billion animals and at least 20 people. And now we know that more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away from the blazes lies another potential victim: New Zealand’s glaciers." To read more, click here.


--The Spokesman-Review is reporting on an inbounds avalanche in Idaho: "Two skiers died and five were rescued after an avalanche swept down two inbounds ski runs on Wardner Peak at Silver Mountain Tuesday morning. While much of the search-and-rescue was completed by the afternoon, Silver Mountain Ski Patrol found an additional person buried in the avalanche later in the evening. That skier was transported to Shoshone Medical Center in an unknown condition, but the Shoshone News-Press later reported that skier died." To read more, click here.

An avalanche crown just outside Mt. Baker Ski Area last year.
Photo by Caden Martin

--Castanet is reporting that, "Two men have been killed in an avalanche in northwestern British Columbia's Tatshenshini-Alsek Park. The BC Coroners Service says the men, who were in their early 20s, were with a third man snowboarding in the area when the avalanche hit last Monday afternoon." To read more, click here.

--A BC skier is recovering after being lost for two days in the Red Mountain area. To read more, click here.

--Two teenage snowboarders lost near Nelson, BC, burned their homework to stay alive overnight, while awaiting rescue. To read more, click here.


--The remains of a Japanese-American internment camp prisoner were recently found near Mt. Williamson. The New York Times is reporting that, "In 1945, Giichi Matsumura left the infamous Japanese-American internment camp to paint in the Sierra Nevada and never returned." To read more, click here.

--Summit Daily is reporting that, "Many were upset in October when Northstar California Resort announced that guests would have to pay to park in the Village View lot. Two Northstar regulars were so upset they filed a lawsuit on Dec. 6 against the resort’s owner, Vail Resorts. 'I was surprised as everybody had to be in discovering, after having purchased my season ticket for Northstar that one of the main attractions was not there anymore,” said attorney Steven Kroll, 79, who filed the suit along with fellow Crystal Bay, Nev., resident Ronald Code, 77. “I believe people can change rules in advance, they can’t do it retrospectively.'" To read more, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--Two individuals got in over their heads on Epinephrine (5.9, IV) in Red Rock Canyon on New Year's Eve. The got high enough on snow covered and icy terrain that they were unable to bail and had to call a rescue. To read more, click here.

--The Las Vegas Review Journal is reporting that, "a recent Facebook post about traps being used in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is drawing interest of Nevada officials, but not for the usual reasons. 'They were hidden and then covered with raw meat, this person is clearly trying to harm animals or kill coyotes,' part of the post said." To read more, click here.

Colorado and Utah:

--Out-There-Colorado is reporting that, "A 55-year-old skier has died following an accident at Eldora Mountain Resort on December 30. According to a Facebook post from Boulder-based Backpacker’s Pantry, the deceased was their owner and president, Rodney Smith." To read more, click here.

--A skier was killed in an accident at Alta Ski Resort on January 2nd. It appears that this was a tree-well, deep snow immersion incident. To read more, click here.

--The Times-Independent is reporting that, "In order to protect critical wildlife habitat for raptors and desert bighorn sheep, a number of climbing routes in Canyonlands and Arches national parks will close for up to six months each year, according to a statement from the National Park Service." To read more, click here.

--The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that, "Starting with the new year, permits will be required for climbing, bouldering and canyoneering at Capitol Reef, highlighting the growing popularity — and impacts — of these activities in one of Utah’s quieter national parks." To read more, click here.

--Don't go too fast in Keystone, or they'll make you take a safety class. This video was recently posted on Unofficial Networks. A snowboarder is cited by a patroller for speeding and then told he'll have to take a safety class if he wants to continue to ride Keystone. He's moving fast in the video, but is under control. It does seem a bit extreme to make him take a class without a warning.

Notes from All Over:

--Rock and Ice posted the article, Climbers We Lost in 2019, this week.

--A skier died in an accident at Whiteface Mountain in New York over the holidays. To read more, click here.

--Three skiers were caught in a large avalanche just outside the Grand-Targhee resort in Wyoming this week. A buried skier was rescued. To read more, click here.

--Climbing has been in the Olympics before, and medals have been handed out. But it wasn't indoor climbing. To read more, click here.

--A chairlift malfunctioned in Montana and dropped to the ground. Several riders then had to be rescued last week. To read more, click here.

--Bear Grylls and Alex Honnold teamed up to climb a 5.4 route, a few feet from a road, for television. This is a very dramatic video considering the route:

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Average Age of People Dying in Avalanches is Rising

The Sawtooth Avalanche Center posted a video of a talk by Erich Peitzsch about the age of avalanche victims. Here's an abstract of the talk:

Erich Peitzsch, a doctoral student at Montana State University and researcher for the United States Geological Survey, sought to explore the question, “how old are the people that die in avalanches?” Erich’s research was inspired by a hunch that the average age of avalanche victims is increasing. During his talk, Erich showed that this is, in fact, the case. The average age of avalanche victims has increased from 27.6 years old between 1950-1989 to 34.3 from 1990-2018. The average age of fatalities among avalanche professionals was shown to be even higher at 37.7 years.

There are a bunch of questions that exist with this. Is this the age group, or the cohort? In other words, is the avalanche hazard following one group as they get older because they are bigger risk takers...? Or is this about the economic comfort of older people...? Is it a societal thing...? Or is it something else completely...?

This 30-minute talk is a deep dive into why avalanche fatalities appear to be increasing for older people in the backcountry.

--Jason D. Martin