Top Ten Climbing Instruction Books

I recently saw a fellow guide post a picture of his climbing book library and thought it might be helpful to share some of my favorite books in my own personal collection. Early on in my climbing career I simply could not read enough about climbing. Not only did I read every book I could find on the subject I also read the two popular climbing magazines of the day religiously. Here’s a quick run-down of my top 10 climbing books.

Top Ten Climbing Instruction Books


Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills 8th Edition

Climbing Books
Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills 8th Edition

One of the first two books I purchased when I started climbing in 1994. Since then it has been updated 5 times and is currently in its 8th Edition. This book is often referred to as “the Bible of climbing” and while it is not the only book you’ll ever want it is encyclopedic in nature. The scope of the book is massive and it’s an excellent resource to start building your basic skills. This one belongs in every climber’s collection!


How to Rock Climb!

How to Rock Climb!
How to Rock Climb!

The second book that set me on a direct path to becoming a climber was this iconic piece by John Long, an author I would go on to read just about every book he ever published. John’s way of mixing humor with instruction made reading this book cover to cover multiple times really enjoyable.


Climbing Anchors

Climbing Anchors
Climbing Anchors

An essential skill that tends to mystify many new climbers is that of building quality anchors for climbing. This greatly illustrated book came in clutch during my formative years and helped lay a foundation for advanced understanding during further training and practice.


Advanced Rock Climbing: Expert Skills and Techniques

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The first book I am mentioning that is targeted to an intermediate to advanced audience. This book assumes you’ve been climbing for awhile and have the types of skills covered in the first three books pretty dialed. Great prose and inspirational photography in this one!


Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher

Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher
Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher

This was the first book that really started improving my efficiency in the mountains. While the first three books I’ve listed laid the foundation this work started me thinking more about optimizing systems and streamlining concepts to move farther and faster in the mountains.


Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, High, and Fast

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Another eye-opener that challenged a lot of conventional wisdom from previous works I still remember how this book really helped me update my clothing systems and speed up my transitions allowing to move more quickly and more comfortably in all types of winter conditions.


Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations

Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations
Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations

Another essential skill that can seem over-whelming to learn, this book is one of the best on the topic I have read. Many of the systems described can be quite complicated and occasionally there is a newer and often simpler way to execute some of techniques described in this book so I’d strongly encourage newer climbers combine a day or three of qualified instruction from a certified guide to go along with this book.


Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide To Glacier Travel And Crevasse Rescue

Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide To Glacier Travel And Crevasse Rescue
Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide To Glacier Travel And Crevasse Rescue

The authors take a complex topic then gracefully break it down with easy to follow explanations and light-hearted illustrations. A great primer before or after taking a glacier skills course.


Rock Climbing: The AMGA Single Pitch Manual

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For those contemplating getting into the guiding world this is a must have before you take your AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Course. Studying this text before the course will really help you get the most out of the program and having it for reference after will help commit skills learned to long-term memory.


The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference–From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue

The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference--From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue
The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference–From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue

The newest and arguably the most relevant addition to my library, this book is absolutely a must-have for aspiring and current guides and instructors. The authors assume the reader already has a fair amount of understanding (likely gleamed from the above books, previous instruction, and experience) but any climber will find skills in this book that can improve their climbing even if guiding is not the end-goal.


Did I miss one that would be in your top-ten? Let me know in the comments below! You can also purchase any of these books on Amazon by clicking the book below!


Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills 8th Edition

How to Rock Climb!

Climbing Anchors

Advanced Rock Climbing: Expert Skills and Techniques

Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher

Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, High, and Fast

Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations

Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide To Glacier Travel And Crevasse Rescue

Rock Climbing: The AMGA Single Pitch Manual

The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference–From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Eastern Snow Avalanche Workshop, Instructor Refresher Course, and the first signs of winter

Last week I attended two annual events that always get me stoked on the upcoming winter season. The first was the sixth annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop. I haven’t missed one yet and although this one wasn’t held at the grand Omni Mount Washington Resort like last year the venue was quite nice (and a lot closer to home, just over the Maine border in Fryeburg).

The event kicked off Friday night at International Mountain Equipment in North Conway with registration, vendor booths, and beer courtesy of Moat Mountain Brewery. I set up a vendor table for the American Institute of Research and Education and was quite excited to see many former students in attendance. Next to my booth was DPS Skis, an amazing ski company I just became an ambassador for. I’ll be ripping the Wailer 112RP Tour 1 skis this season and will definitely post up more info once I’ve gotten some runs ticked.

I did “Instagram Story” the whole event but forgot to actually save any of the pics from the day… so picture a bunch of people having a good time while checking our vendor booths from DPS Skis, LaSportiva, Petzl, Friends of Tuckerman Ravine, and Black Diamond and you get the idea.

Saturday started early at the beautiful Leura Hill Eastman Center for Performing Arts at Fryeburg Academy. I set up my AIARE booth again directly across from Ortovox, a company whose products I have been using for over a decade and also just became an ambassador for!

Ortovox, Voice of the Mountains
Ortovox, Voice of the Mountains

A couple years ago I reviewed the Ortovox Kodiak shovel here! Expect to hear a lot more about Ortovox products from me this winter!

Right at 8:15 the main event kicked off.

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6th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop

There were a lot of great topics & presenters this year. My friend and colleague Jonathan Shefftz is finishing edits of a write-up for the American Avalanche Associations publication “The Avalanche Review“, and when he is finished I’ll share his work (by permission) here. For now I’ll just mention my highlights:

USFS Snow Ranger Helon Hoffer got us excited about work being done to create sustainable (and legal) glades to increase our amount of available back-country ski terrain. Something near and dear to the recently formed Granite Backcountry Alliance. <– a great place to go if you are interested in what you can do to contribute!

After a quick break and some contacts at the AIARE booth I was back in my seat for Jaime Musnicki, the Executive Director of AAA, enlightening personal story of being caught in an avalanche and what she learned from this experience. This was followed by Jon Miller’s story via pre-recorded video of his life threatening fall down Hillman’s Highway late last winter and the impacts it has had on him and his friends and family.

Next up Dallas Glass, a climbing guide and former avalanche forecaster who is also in the AIARE Instructor Pool gave a very engaging talk on the role of luck in the mountains. Perhaps my favorite quote of the day, which he attributed to IMFGA guide Larry Goldie, was;

“Debrief the day… or Why Having A Beer At The End Of The Day Could Save Your Life”

We broke for lunch and had an afternoon filled with more great talks. Jaime (from AAA) once again took the stage and talked a bit about the upcoming split between the “Recreational and Professional Education Tracks”, more commonly referred to as the “Pro/Rec” split. This was a subject I was eager to learn more about and the following day I would have that chance during our AIARE Instructor Refresher Course.

Another round-table occurred, and Sam Colbeck, a true master of snow science, gave a highly technical talk with the simple name of “Why Skis Slide on Snow”… most importantly he answered the age old question are black ski bases faster than white ski bases? The definitive answer after breaking out a few technical terms that broke Google was… “maybe”. I hope Sam attends the next 10 ESAW’s… his talks are always the right mix of “wow I should try to be smarter” and “I hope I’m funny like that sometimes”.

Another break and then Frank Carus from the Mount Washington Avalanche Center gave us some insight of the difficulty of forecasting in terrain as dangerous as Mount Washington.

Following out going Lead Snow Ranger Christpher Joosen’s talk about his lifes work on the mountain (over 25 years!) we retired to our post-ESAW social hour and vendor booths.

I will link to Jonathan’s full report on the ESAW once it is finalized.

The next day a dozen avalanche educators from around the Northeast gathered at the Mount Washington Observatory’s conference room for an Instructor Refresher Course led by Dallas Glass.

AIARE Instructor Refresher Course
AIARE Instructor Refresher Course

This forum answered many of our questions about the upcoming Pro/Rec track splits and was a great opportunity to catch up with other educators. Towards the end we got a sneak peak of some of the bigger curriculum changes and were offered time to provide feedback and suggestions.

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A new Decision Making Framework?

Well the annual ESAW/IRC weekend always makes me desperate for some snow and ice so today I ran up to Hermit Lake to see how things were looking. Trail work on the Tuckerman Ravine trail currently creates about a mile detour via the Huntington Ravine Trail and Raymond path so plan accordingly. I will update this post once I hear the main trail is open again. There are pics on my Instagram from today if you are interested.

Finally if you are thinking about taking an avalanche course this winter might I suggest you think about booking your dates now? Most providers in the area fill up soon after Thanksgiving so if you want to have the best selection of dates now is a good time to nail it down. In addition if you book with Northeast Mountaineering before December 1st you can save 10% on the tuition. You also get 2 nights of lodging included. Oh and you get entered into a contest to win a free day of guiding for two people! So why wait? Use coupon code “davidNEM” at checkout to get both the 10% discount and be entered into the contest!

Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

AAC- Universal Belay Standard

The American Alpine Club recently released this video in relation to a “Universal Belay Standard”. It is really well done and will be included in my new “Skill Zone”. If you are a new or experienced climber it’s worth a quick watch.


Regarding the American Alpine Club I’ve been a member since 2004. A very worthwhile organization to join with a ton of benefits!

AIARE 2 Avalanche Course

Yesterday concluded our first AIARE 2 Avalanche Course of the season. Despite less than optimal field conditions the course was super productive in large part to the considerable amount of experience brought to the classroom discussions by the varied participants. We were fortunate to have 8000m veteran expeditionary leader Phil Crampton, owner and operator of Altitude Junkies, in attendance.

Phil’s resume of high altitude peaks is amazing and his personal experiences with massive Himalayan avalanches and vibrant story telling ability led to more than one topic derailment. These vivid first hand accounts were more than welcome however for both their educational real-life value and entertainment.

We also had Jerry Isaak, Chair Associate Professor of Expeditionary Studies at the University of Plattsburgh. He has worked as an expedition leader and guide in Canada, the USA, Morocco, Scotland, Austria and the Arctic. Personal climbing and skiing expeditions include journeys in Kenya, Nepal and throughout North America. He was here to observe the course as part of the requirements of becoming an AIARE Course Leader, but he did much more than observe. Throughout both classroom and field session Jerry took advantage of opportunities to share his extensive knowledge and experience and all of his contributions were greatly valued.

A graduate of Jerry’s program, a local professional sailboat racer turned back-country skier/mountaineer, and an EMS Climbing Guide/Electrician/EMT rounded out our class by staying fully engaged and generating thoughtful questions throughout.

EMS Schools AIARE Avalanche Course
Pretty shallow snow pack at the top of the Kancamagus Highway but it served its purpose for Full Profile Demo/Practice
EMS Schools AIARE Avalanche Course
Backside of Wildcat provided over 2 meters of snow for a round of Test Profiles and small & large column tests. We practiced Tilt Tests, Compression Tests, Extended Column Tests, Propagation Saw Tests, and a Rutschblock
EMS Schools AIARE Avalanche Course
The results of our investigation
EMS Schools AIARE Avalanche Course
Skinning up below Lunch Rocks
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Boot-packing up towards Sluice
EMS Schools AIARE Avalanche Course
Jeremy charging with some fractures/crowns that filled in a bit in the Lip area
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Our high point to the left of the mouth of Right Gully. From here we traversed into The Sluice for some decent turns.

There is a lot of information to cover in an AIARE 2 Course. Anyone that thinks an AIARE 1 is information overload will be amazed when they attend an AIARE 2. We managed it fairly well and for the most part stayed out of the weeds. Feedback at the end of the day yesterday seemed consistent that everyone had acquired the skills needed to become an quality avalanche, snow, and weather observer. All that was needed now was practice.

See you in the mountains.

-NEAlpineStart

 

 

Champney Fall Ice Climbing 2/9/16

Yesterday I had the opportunity to re-visit an area I haven’t been to in quite a few years. Champney Falls, (Pg 138, An Ice Climber’s Guide to Northern New England, 3rd Edition), a beautiful if not somewhat overly crowded top-rope area at times. On a Tuesday, after a busy IceFest weekend, we found some solitude on the mellow walk in while breaking trail in a few inches for very light powder that fell the night before.

EMS Climbing School
Quiet 40 minute walk in
EMS Climbing School
EMS Store Employees from New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
EMS Climbing School
Falls are in great shape with the 3+ line to the right of the falls ripe for some climbing
EMS Climbing School
A fun lead to set up our ropes
EMS Climbing School
Still had the place to ourselves for a few more minutes
EMS Climbing School
Thanks for the pics Mark!
EMS Climbing School
Gerald shakes it out while demoing a pair of Petzl Nomics
EMS Climbing School
Alan tries out the Petzl Quarks
EMS Climbing School
Alan almost topping out
EMS Climbing School
iPhone Panaroma

This was just the first day of a 2 day regional Eastern Mountain Sports training involving about 40 EMS store employees from over a dozen stores, organized in collaboration with EMS Schools and Dave Karl of Petzl/Sky Ambitions. More than just an “ice climbing lesson” discussions throughout the day were focused on what products were best for what customer. From crampons to helmets, experienced EMS Schools Guides shared their opinions on the best climbing equipment EMS sells in an effort to continue the tradition of having some of the most knowledgable and authentic outdoor retails sales staff in the country.

While I’m not joining the effort today I’m working on the final touches of my talk tonight at Salt Pump Climbing Co. in Scarborough, Maine. If you’re in the area tonight come on down if interested in “Avalanche Awareness for the Northeast Climber“.

Thanks for reading,

See you in the mountains,

-NEAlpineStart

 

Geo-spatial PDF’s, CalTopo, and pre-winter training!

My head is still spinning from some of the info I’ve been able to pick up this past weekend. It all started Saturday morning with Marc Chauvin’s, of Chauvin Guides, informative presentation on creating geo-spatial PDF’s that can be uploaded into a smartphone GPS app to supplement your outdoor navigation capabilities. This somewhat esoteric topic is right up my alley and while the content could seem a bit heavy at times Marc’s energetic & well timed presentation made it easy to stay fully engaged from one concept to the next.

Marc's presentation
Marc walks us through creating Geo-spatial PDF’s and importing them into GPS enable smartphone apps

I won’t go though the step by step process here but if you are interested I’ll make some suggestions. First, get to know http://www.caltopo.com. A colleague pointed me to this website a year ago and it took me awhile to give it a solid look. This seminar gave me the kick in the pants I needed to start playing around with it and I am simply amazed at what the free version of this website offers. It is hands down the best online mapping resource for outdoor recreationalists. The potential use & application of this program is so large I can only scratch the surface here, but to wet your appetite the first thing I did was create some routes down the popular ski routes in Tuckerman Ravine using satellite imagery, which, with the click of one button, could easily be imposed over USGS Topographic info:

Tuckerman Ravine Ski Routes
Tuckerman Ravine Ski Routes

This a more accurate way of measuring important drainage scale info than estimating off a topographic map, and the website easily displays information about each run, for example, Hillman’s Highway is .42 miles long and drops from 5179′ to 3923′, and total vert. of 1256′. You can also get “Terrain Statistics” for each route you created, for example, Right Gully:

Screen shot 2015-12-06 at 10.52.42 PM
It felt steeper than 36 degrees! This is excellent information to have when managing avalanche terrain choices!

What really got me excited was seeing the layering potential of the website. Being able to layer crowd based info (like unofficial mountain bike trails) on top of verified info (like USGS maps) is amazing, especially when you can make these maps GPS enabled on your Smartphone! To top it all off though you can have the software shade specific slopes based on info you specify.

For example, if your local avalanche bulletin suggests to avoid slopes NE-NW aspect above 7000 feet that are steeper than 35 degrees due to a Persistent Slab problem? You can actually enter this slope criteria and these areas will be shaded! It really is impressive. A short video of the developer that references this ability right at the end:

Marc has made an excellent video highlighting this feature. Check it out here:

Once you have a decent understanding of CalTopo you can use the website to print or export custom PDF maps. The fun doesn’t stop here though! The next step is to download the Avenza PDF Maps app. This free app lets you import your newly created PDF maps and make them “geo-spatial”? What does that mean? It means you can use these maps with the GPS chip of your smart phone to show your location. Marc has been getting into the mountain bike scene lately and there are many mountain bike trails that you won’t find on regular USGS or even hiking maps. With this two-shot combo you can upload any map, “sync” it with a base map, and voila, you can navigate and see your location on the hybrid creation!

For practice in the class we imported a Green Hills Preserve map that showed some popular mountain bike trails over your standard USPS map. After “geo-marking” two reference points on the map it scaled and aligned perfectly.

Green Hills Map
Green Hills Map

If I was still at the Grand Summit Hotel when I took this screenshot my location would have been pinpointed on this map with a little blue dot.

Finally this technology is easily shareable. The CalTopo website will create unique URLs of your creations that you can easily share with climbing & hiking partners. I’m planning on having a master map for our back-country skiing trips on Washington that guides can edit as they get more accurate GPS positions on first aid caches, drop points, bailout options, etc.

I planned to talk about our pre-winter EMS Schools training but I’ve run out of time so that will come later. Also, there’s been some healthy debate about whether one should trust their phone GPS over a dedicated unit. I’m writing a detailed post looking at some recent research and arguments for and against using your phone GPS for wilderness navigation. Please stay tuned for that!

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

Tuckerman Ravine Ski Routes
Tuckerman Ravine Ski Routes

 

 

Sterling Rope Factory Tour

Ever wonder what goes into making your climbing rope? Yesterday I had the opportunity to head over to Sterling Rope in Biddeford, ME with 6 other EMS Guides for a tour of their factory.

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It is one thing to read a companies credo in a catalog or on their website. It’s quite another to experience it in person.

We left EMS North Conway around 8 yesterday morning and arrived at the factory at 9:30 where Sterling’s Market Manager, Matt, and head of Research & Development, Josh, greeted us and gave us a quick briefing before passing out safety goggles and leading us out to the factory floor. The first two things you’ll notice when passing through the factory doors are the immense size of the factory and the constant loud drum of dozens of machines producing some of the best ropes in the world.

Sterling Rope Factory Tour
#sterlingselfie

We started on the far end where huge pallets held tons of spider-silk-thin nylon, dyneema, and polypropylene awaiting various treatments and processing before they would be braided into different styles of core for dynamic and static ropes. We were reminded to keep our hands away from machines since you would not see this thin material being spun at such high RPMs.

Sterling Rope Factory Tour
Lots of spinning & whizzing

I got to climb up a small ladder and watch as the rope cores were treated with Sterling’s proprietary DryCoat Treatment. Many rope manufacturer’s only treat the sheath of the rope. Sterling’s treatment of both the core and the sheath greatly increase the water resistance of your rope, which effects just about every property of the material from strength to durability.

Next we made our way over to one of the coolest machines, the “braider”. After all the work that goes into making the core of our climbing ropes is finished, these machines artfully braid the protective sheaths over the core at a mesmerizing speed. This machine is off while we are shown the core strands.

Sterling Rope Tour Braider
Sterling Rope Tour Braider

Then I captured some slow motion video on a nearby machine to see the process. You can see the final product sliding out inch by inch, at probably about an inch every 2 seconds in real time…

We then got to walk though the final product areas. Who needs 700 meters of the amazing Fusion Nano IX 9mm rope?

Sterling Rope Factory Tour
700 meters of 9mm? It would retail for over $2000 if cut to standard lengths.

After touring the distribution center we made our way over to the highly anticipated Sterling Drop Test tower. This tower allows Sterling ropes to pass rigorous UIAA tests that simulate a really bad fall onto a rope. Most climbers notice when purchasing a rope how many of these “worst case” scenario falls their rope is rated for. Off the top of my head I’d say I have owned and used ropes that passed anywhere from 6-12 of these falls. The fall imitates a fall factor around 1.77 with a 80Kn weight (about 176lbs).

And again in slow motion:

On the 7th drop the rope failed (and I was not ready with the camera). The snap was loud and impressive. It was interesting to feel how flat and warm to the touch the abused rope had become after multiple test falls, especially since we did not let the rope rest between drops.

After that we made our way to the Pull Test machine. This hydraulic beast can exert over 222Kn (50,000 pounds!) of force on ropes & gear in a measurable and controlled environment. We were encouraged to bring old slings and gear to destroy here in the name of science. Well, maybe in the name of pure fun. But science too.

Our school manager, Keith, had a plethora of slings and belay loops to test, with an emphasis on investigating the different rappel extension options we choose to use on such a regular basis while guiding and recreating. We also wanted to see if worn belay devices could pose a threat when pre-rigged on a rope. Ian had brought a damaged fixed quickdraw from the last bolt on the classic hard Predator route at Rumney NH. Jeff had a pine sap infused sling he wanted to test. Over the next hour or so we broke about 20 pieces of gear in the machine.

Sterling Factory Tour
Snapped Dyneema smells like burning nylon
Sterling Rope Tour
Ready to test
Sterling Rope Tour
That’s science son!

Some video of the tests:

The Results:

Sterling Rope Tour
The Results

So what were the main take home points?

Most methods of rappel extension are more than strong enough.

The single girth hitched dyneema sling actually broke at a slightly higher force than the nylon. While strength isn’t the biggest issue with this method I will often choose to girth-hitch the enforced tie-in point of the harness rather than the belay loop, namely to increase the life of the harness. While belay loops are incredibly strong one well documented fatality from a belay loop breaking after prolonged wear always lingers in the back of my head. I would also keep in mind the lower melting temperature of dyneema and watch those rappel speeds when the rope is passing close to the loaded dyneema sling.

A well used belay device that has developed a relatively sharper edge on the “outgoing” side significantly reduces the load needed to cause failure

Tthough still under a relatively high load (more than 10Kn). Even so while pre-rigging 3 people on a steep rappel it would be a bit more comforting to know belay devices where in good condition and not heavily worn. No need to be the “first” to draw attention to this potential catastrophic failure. Replace your belay device when it develops an edge on the out-going side.

The frayed quickdraw from Predator failed under 4Kn

This definitely draws attention to the quality of fixed draws that might be hanging on your project. Inspect fixed draws!

Thanks to Jeff Lea I also now know that sap does not weaken my slings. It’s still pretty messy so I’ll continue to avoid it when possible.

This visit to Sterling was highly educational and informative. I’ve been climbing almost exclusively on Sterling ropes for the last 3-4 years. I have regularly used the Sterling Evolution Velocity for cragging and top-roping and reserve my Sterling Fusion Nano for leading waterfall ice. Sterling also happens to be the official supplier of rope for EMS Schools. If you are in the market for a new rope this is a company you should be considering!

Do you own a Sterling rope? Which one and how do you like it? What other brands/models do you like? Let me know in the comments below!

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

Sterling Rope Factory Tour
#sterlingselfie