Friday, September 18, 2020

Film Review: Vertical Frontier

Mount Everest is deeply embedded in the minds of climbers and non-climbers alike all over the world. People think about it constantly.  We hear it all the time: "what do I need to do to climb Everest?"

Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world. But that's not what's made it such a household name. No, instead, it was the countless books and documentaries that have been produced over the years describing the gruesome details of expeditions gone wrong, and the heroic efforts of climbers on successful ascents. Popular culture lore helped to create the Everest that exists in our minds...

And while there are other mountains that the collective climbing psyche is fixated on, there are few that have seen so many popular culture references. And fewer yet that have hundreds of documentary films chronicling the tales on their flanks.  Mount Everest is an international household name.  It was the scene of many heroic alpine struggles...but there are other places that deserve such an honor.  One of those places is Yosemite Valley.

Like Mount Everest, Yosemite holds an important place in the history of climbing. It is where modern rock climbing evolved the furthest, the fastest.  And it is a place where technical skill and big wall proficiency is still at the cutting edge.  One great difference between Mount Everest and Yosemite is the fact that there simply have not been as many popular culture explorations of the place and its history to climbers.

Vertical Frontier, subtitled, "A History of the Art, Sport and Philosophy of Rock Climbing in Yosemite," is a Mount Everest style documentary built for the masses.  But unlike many of the Everest documentaries, Vertical Frontier caters to climbers as well as to non-climbers, making it one of the rare films that is entertaining to both audiences.

Vertical Frontier is a slick PBS-style feature documentary narrated by Tom Brokaw that tells the story of climbing in Yosemite from the first forays onto big features in the 1800s to a battle between climbers and the National Park Service at the turn of the century.  In between these two bookends, the film follows the development of climbing skill and technique by chronicling the important ascents over the last 100 years.

Much of the film is done in a standard documentary format; a format that easily allows the filmmakers to tell the story. And though engaging, climbing history is fraught with emotion and one-upsmanship. This, unfortunately, doesn't always penetrate the documentary style.

The capstone of Yosemite's story in the film is the "coming-together" of climbers after a flood seriously impacted the valley's tourist infrastructure in 1997. The National Park Service proposed a change in Camp 4, the campground used by generations of Yosemite Climbers. They wanted to build a new lodge at the historic site.  The last minutes of the film are quite different from the rest, as they are filled with emotion as decades worth of climbers pull together to save the place that provided them with such inspiration.

This 2002 documentary won the "Best Film on Climbing" at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 2002 and at the Kendall Mountain Film Festival in 2003. The film won first prize in the Mountaineering Category at the International Mountaineering Film Festival at Teplice nad Metuii in the Czech Republic in 2004.  Additionally, it won the "Viewer's Choice" award at the International Festival of Outdoor Films in 2004 and the "Best Cameraman" at the Tbilisi International Mountain Films Festival in Georgia in 2006. It may be one of the better-awarded documentaries of its type...

Many of the films we see on Youtube or at the Banff Film Festival today are about people pushing standards. They are often slickly produced and are extremely entertaining. But they don't usually give us a glimpse into what came before the climbers on screen demonstrating their acrobatic skills.  Vertical Frontier provides this and is extremely entertaining for it...

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 9/17/20


--Late last week there were several false reports that claimed Antifa members were starting wildfires in Oregon. Armed men met journalists of color and threatened them as a result. From the Oregonian: "No, anti-fascists have not been arrested in connection with wildfires ravaging Oregon, and public officials are asking people to stop spreading the various false rumors claiming this to be the case." To read more, click here.

Wildfire smoke in the North Cascades on Saturday, August 12th.

--Last year I was in Squamish when I heard what I thought was rockfall. Instead, it was the Sea-to-Sky Gondola. The cable had been cut at the middle of the night, and it collapsed. Well, it's happened again. From CBC: "The cable of the Sea-to-Sky Gondola has been deliberately cut in the middle of the night for the second year in a row, leaving the tourist attraction in shambles and staff at the company completely bewildered. The company and the RCMP confirmed the 55 millimetre-thick line of the gondola was severed overnight, sending cars crashing into the mountain." To read more, click here.

--Here is a map that shows real-time updates of the forest fires in Oregon.

--The REI headquarters that was built in Bellevue, Washington, but the company never moved into, was recently sold to Facebook.  To read more, click here.

--So a bunch of dudes are skateboarding and biking down climbing routes in Squamish. To read more, click here. To see a video of the first skateboard descent of the Apron, click below:

--If you're a user of the Mountain Loop Highway (Vesper Peak, Pilchuck, Big Four) in the Cascades, please take this survey. It will help dictate where trail building resources are focused.


--There have been two rattlesnake incidents in the last couple weeks in Yosemite. One snake bit a barefoot fisherman on the Tuolumne River. And the other bit a hiker on a steep slope. Both victims were in the hospital for several days. To read more, click here.

--Climbing is reporting that, "unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings and the wildfires currently burning in California, the 2020 Yosemite Facelift has been called off. However, in lieu of the Yosemite Facelift, the YCA is holding a Facelift: Act Local event from September 22-27, encouraging climbers to clean up their local crags and outdoor spaces." The Facelift is an annual Yosemite clean-up event. To read more, click here.

--And the most famous couple in American climbing just got married at Lake Tahoe. You probably already know who they are, but if you don't, check it out... Side note: This is the first post ever here from Brides Magazine.

Desert Southwest:

--KOLD News reported that, "following an investigation by Special Agents of the National Park Service and U.S. Park Rangers, a Flagstaff man pled guilty to misdemeanor violations for starting a wildland fire within Grand Canyon National Park. Thomas Grabarek, 71, pled guilty on Sept. 8, 2020 to misdemeanor violations for starting the Cottonwood Creek Fire which spread approximately 64 acres in the Inner Canyon along the Tonto Trail near Horseshoe Mesa." To read more, click here.

--Unofficial Networks is reporting that, "two trails at Taos Ski Valley’s Kachina Bowl will honor Matthew Zonghetti and Corey Borg-Massanari, both of whom died tragically in an avalanche in 2019. The trails will be known as Z-chute and She Gone. The Zonghetti and Borg-Massanari families selected the names." To read more, click here.

--This is a sad piece from the National Parks Conservation Association about a fire that destroyed thousands of joshua trees in the Mojave National Preserve.  The piece starts with the lines, "I lost the center of my world last week. I’m feeling a kind of vertigo of the soul." With the changing of the climate, it's unlikely those trees are coming back.

--It looks like we might start to have to make reservations to climb in Red Rock Canyon, near Las Vegas...

Colorado and Utah:

--Sophia Tang recently became the first woman to complete the 485-mile Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango, unsupported. In other words, she carried all her food for 21-days in one go. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--The National Parks Traveler is reporting that, "a black bear found scavenging human remains was put down at Great Smoky Mountains National Park early Saturday, leaving investigators to determine whether the man was killed by the bear. Backpackers Friday afternoon on the Hazel Creek Trail spotted what appeared to be human remains and a bear scavenging in the area near campsite 82, where there was an unoccupied tent, a park release said Saturday." To read more, click here.

--Climbing is asking whether the crags are an appropriate place for protests and demonstrations.

--Canada's iconic gear store, MEC has been sold. From Cision: "MEC's Board of Directors (the "Board") announced its unanimous support for an agreement with Kingswood Capital Management, LP ("Kingswood"), whereby Kingswood will acquire substantially all of MEC's assets through the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act ("CCAA") and ensure a thriving future for the Canadian retailer." To read more, click here.

--Unofficial Networks is reporting that, "in a move mirroring Sugar Bowl’s decision to suspend season pass sales, Jackson Hole’s portal to purchase season passes was updated yesterday showing a halt to sales. Jackson Hole News & Guide reports the resort announced a bevy of new COVID-19 protocols including limiting capacity at the mountain by capping the number of tickets that can be purchased daily, sanitization of Aerial Tram cabins and the Bridger and Sweetwater Gondola cars multiple times daily, placing thermal imaging cameras “in certain areas” to detect fevers among skiers, and limiting capacity on the tram." To read more, click here.

--The outdoor industry is in the process of recovering...

--And finally, on the upcoming election, Patagonia hid a message on some of their clothing: Vote the Assholes Out. To read about it at Backpacker, click here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Finger Injuries in Climbing

The hangboard.

It sits above the doorway in the office, taunting me. It sits above the doorway, daring me to train. It sits above the doorway, and stares me down. It sits above the doorway...

I can't help it. I'm a climber. It's in my genes. I have to hang on it. I have to do pull-ups on it. I have to climb.

But the reality is that hanging on a hangboard is not climbing. Hangboards are supposed to be for training. In truth hangboards are one of the best ways climbers have devised to obtain sports injuries.

I know only too well. One day I succumbed to the devious taunts of the board and began to train on it. I succumbed and pulled something in my ring finger.

A climber on the Boy Scout Wall in Red Rock Canyon
Photo by Jason Martin

After doing a little research I discovered that I probably injured one of the pulleys in my finger. A great website called climbinginjuries.comprovided me with everything that I needed to know in order to get better. They indicated that I had a pulley injury in my finger and they identified three levels of pulley injury.

  • Grade III: A grade three injury usually involves a complete rupture of the pulley creating bowstringing of the tendon. Symptoms of this severe soft tissue injury includes local pain in the pulley, swelling or even bruising, pain when squeezing, pain when extending the finger, and most disturbingly those who get this injury often hear a pop inside their finger.
  • Grade II: A grade two injury is identified by a partial rupture of the pulley tendon. This injury is characterized by local pain at the pulley, pain when squeezing and occasionally pain when extending a finger.
  • Grade I: A grade one injury is characterized by local pain at the pulley, pain when squeezing and a sprain of the finger ligaments (collateral ligaments).


These injuries can be quite serious. Some people may require months to recover from a Grade III pulley rupture. has a prescribed method for treatment:

Go buy some TheraPutty! All orthopedic doctors and physical therapists will recommend putty as a tool for successful recovery.(2) The fingers generally receive poor blood flow so getting blood to the injured area is important. Contrast baths have had mixed results in the literature, but it wouldn't hurt to try. To do a contrast bath, get a bowl of warm water, and cold water. Put injured finger in cold water for a few minutes, then place it immediately in the warm water for a few minutes. Repeat 3-5 times. Finish with the cold water. This could be done after squeezing the putty ball to "flush out" the injured joint. Massaging the effected area can be effective as well. Start out lightly and gradually increase the pressure.

  • Grade III: - Immediately- Stop climbing Apply ice or cold immediately, no more than 15 minutes at a time (1-2 days) Take ibuprofen for 1- 2 day Keep the hand elevated Week 1-2 Don't climb! Don't immobilize the finger. Unless there is a lot of pain, open and close your hand often VERY light massage at the site of the injury. Concentrate on other aspects of your life. Week 4-8 Warm the hands by use of a bath or an electric blanket, then squeeze the yellow (softest) putty. Don't push it, if there's pain…stop. Repeat a few times per day. Go to Grade II Treatment.
  • Grade II: (Week 1-2) No climbing Warm the hands by use of a bath or an electric blanket, then squeeze the red putty. Don't push it, if there's pain…stop. Repeat a few times per day. Lubricate and lightly massage at the site of the injury. (Week 3-6) Tape the injured finger, stretch your forearms (this relieves the stress on the finger tendons) and climb thebiggest holds you can find. Start easy, this will be the quickest way to recovery. If you climb too hard, too fast, then return to the start of Grade 2 and do not collect $200. Always stretch your forearms after warming up and prior to climbing. Start squeezing the medium to firm putty. Lubricate and massage the finger at the site of the injury a couple of times/day. Start lightly and gradually increase the intensity using very short strokes on the injured site. Go to Grade I Treatment
  • Grade I (Week 1) Tape the injured finger and continue to climb at a level well below your normal level. Gradually increase the stresses on the fingers. Stretch your forearms after warming up and prior to climbing. This relieves the stress on the finger tendons. Squeeze the medium to firm putty a few times per day. Lubricate and massage the finger at the site of the injury. Start light and gradually increase intensity. Very short strokes on the injured site. Expected outcome Take advice from a practitioner who specializes in climbing. However, if treated early and effectively, with an appropriately graded return to activity, recovery will usually take 3-8 weeks. However, if the injury is pushed beyond its stage of recovery, re-injury will occur and may result in a chronic injury that will require a much more protracted rehabilitation period.

The best way to recover from a finger injury is to avoid getting hurt in the first place. Here are a few rules to live by:

  • Always warm up on easy climbs. Don't jump straight onto the hardest thing you can get up. 
  • Stretch your fingers. 
  • Don't overtrain. If you are climbing hard then you should probably avoid climbing every day. Strong sport climbers will often climb every other day. 
  • Stretch your fingers again. 
  • Massage your forearms between burns. 
  • Stretch your fingers more.

Sooner or later my finger will heal up and when it does I'll train more consciously. The hangboard definitely requires a bit more care. The last thing I need is another finger injury to crimp my crimping style!

--Jason D. Martin

Monday, September 14, 2020

Snake Bites: First Aid and Prevention

As most of the programs we run in the Southwest are in the desert, we are often asked about venomous snakes. Are there snakes in Red Rock? Are there snakes in Joshua Tree? Are they dangerous?

The answer to all three questions is yes...and no. There are rattlesnakes in both Red Rock and Joshua Tree, but they are uncommon in both venues. Large populations of predatory birds help keep the snake populations low. It is unlikely that you will encounter a snake in either location. And even if you do, the likelihood of a problem with a snake is very low.

Many rattlesnakes blend in with their surroundings.

Statistically the mostly likely group of individuals to be bitten by a snake are between the ages of 15 and 25 years-old and are male. Most of these bites take place on the hands or forearms. I couldn't find any statistics about the involvement of alcohol in snake bites.

Based on my last sentence, what do you suppose such statistics suggest?

Yep, you guessed it. They're messing with them.

Millions of people live, work and play in the same places where snakes live, work and play. In the continental United States less than 8,000 people are bitten by snakes every year and as stated above, a large percentage of them are literally asking for it.

In the unlikely event that somebody in your party does receive a snakebite, don't panic and try to keep the victim calm. Many snakebites happen because the snake is defending itself. When a snake bites out of defense it is less likely to envenomate. So there is the possibility that there is no venom in the bite. So there may be nothing to panic about.

If there is venom in the bite, panicking will only raise one's heart-rate and allow the venom to move more quickly through the system. It is incredibly important to keep the victim calm. Remove any jewelry or rings from any extremity that has been bitten. If there is venom in the bite, there will be significant swelling -- so much that a ring could become stuck, cutting off blood flow and ultimately causing the loss of a finger.

In the old movies, John Wayne loved to cut open a snakebite to suck out the venom. John Wayne was apparently unaware of hepatitis, HIV, cytomegalovirus or any of a number of other blood-borne dangers. Doctors and nurses don't wear latex gloves for nothing. Sucking venom out of a wound flies in the face of a basic tenant of first aid, body substance isolation.

Obviously if someone is bitten by a snake, call for emergency assistance immediately. Responding quickly is crucial. While waiting for emergency assistance:
  • Wash the bite with soap and water.
  • Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart.
  • Cover the area with a clean, cool compress or a moist dressing to minimize swelling and discomfort.
  • Monitor vital signs.
If a victim is unable to reach medical care within 30 minutes, the American Red Cross recommends:
  • Apply a bandage, wrapped two to four inches above the bite, to help slow the venom. This should not cut off the flow of blood from a vein or artery - the band should be loose enough to slip a finger under it.
  • It is possible to place a suction deviceover the bite to help draw venom out of the wound without making cuts. These devices are often included in commercial snake bite kits. However, the value of these devices is debatable.
Physicians often use antivenin -- an antidote to snake venom -- to treat serious snake bites. Antivenin is derived from antibodies created in a sheep's blood serum when the animal is injected with snake venom. Because antivenin is obtained from horses, snake bite victims sensitive to horse products must be carefully managed.

The best way to avoid a snakebite is to avoid a snake. If you see one, don't mess with it. Both you and the snake will be much happier in the long-run.

--Jason D. Martin

Friday, September 11, 2020

How to Sleep Warm while Camping

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

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

--Jason D. Martin

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Climbing and Outdoor News from Here and Abroad - 9/10/20


--An individual died on Glacier Peak this week, after falling down a "glacier hole." Glacier hole is the term used in the news report. It's not clear if this was a crevasse or a moat. To read more, click here.

Mt. Baker and the Twin Sisters this morning, as seen through the wildfire smoke from the Chuckanut Mountains.

--Here's a piece on the slow process that Steven's Pass ski patrollers partook in to unionize after Vail Resorts bought the ski area.

--Trails near the Mt. Hood Meadows were shut down on Monday due to a wildfire.

--The Spokesman-Review is reporting that, "Mount Rainier National Park is now home to wolverines again after a more than 100-year hiatus. A reproducing female, named Joni, and her two babies, called kits, were discovered by scientists of the Cascades Carnivore Project in collaboration with the National Park Service, according to a recent announcement. To make the rare and historic discovery last week, scientists used camera stations designed to photograph the animals and identify them using their uniquely patterned chest markings." To read more, click here.

--The Downy Creek and Sulphur Creek trails are currently closed due wildfire. To read more, click here.

The fact that Mt. Rainier posted this on Twitter, makes me think that they're having problems there.


--KATU 2 is reporting that, "More than 200 people were airlifted to safety early Sunday after a fast-moving wildfire trapped them in a popular camping area in California’s Sierra National Forest, one several fires that broke out amid record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures that baked the state." To read more, click here.

--All National Forests in the Sierra are currently closed due to wildfire. This includes Stanislaus National Forest, Sierra National Forest, Sequoia National Forest, Inyo National Forest, Los Padres National Forest, Angeles National Forest, San Bernardino National Forest, and Cleveland National Forest. These areas may not reopen until October 1st. Additionally, there are campfire bans in most of California, both in established campgrounds and in the backcountry.

--Gripped is reporting that, "A wildfire in the Sierra National Forest trapped vacationers over the weekend and helicopter rescues were required. The fire sent billowing smoke into the Yosemite area and heaps of ash onto classic rock routes." To read more, and to see the entire Yosemite NPS instagram post, click here.

Desert Southwest:

--The campground in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area has reopened

Colorado and Utah:

--There is at least one fire that has broken into the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park. Much of the access to the Park has been shut down or limited due to the Cameron Fire. To read more, click here.

Notes from All Over:

--Rhea Dodd, a well known climber and a survivor of a major tragedy on Mt. Rainier in 1979, died this week after a long struggle with cancer. To read more, click here.

--A 35-year-old woman was killed in an accident on Wyoming's Pingora on Saturday. Information about the accident is still scarce. But what we do know can be found, here.

--A climber suffered a head injury on Maine's Bald Mountain this week. To read more, click here.

--The Tribune is reporting that, "Firefighters rescued an injured rock climber from Bishop Peak in San Luis Obispo on Monday morning after she sustained major injuries in a 30-foot fall, according to the San Luis Obispo City Fire Department." To read more, click here.

--You probably heard this one already. From EcoWatch: "A couple hosting a gender-reveal party on Saturday set off a smoke bomb to reveal the baby's gender when the device lit the nearby dry grass and sent partygoers scrambling. That mishap has now led to the El Dorado wildfire in Southern California's San Bernardino County." To read more, click here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The History of the Climbing Shoe

Albert OK is a YouTuber and climber. The bulk of Albert's channel is dedicated to competition climbing. And though that may not be your cup-a-tea, he's put together some really slick videos. The video featured here today is one of them. You will learn more in this 18-minute video about climbing shoe history, construction and purpose than perhaps anywhere else. 

It is well worth the watch:

--Jason D. Martin