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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
This past 3 day holiday weekend had me guiding Yu Chih Chieh from Taiwan as he finished up 8 days of climbing instruction. Yu Chih, who goes by Brendan in the US, is in doctorate level program at Brown University in Rhode Island and is a die-hard botanist (and motivated aspiring alpinist).
We started the morning with a brief anchor clinic and I show’d Brendan a couple options for extending top-rope anchor setups. Anchor theory is a hot topic with this guy’s scientific mind! We then hiked down to the Barber Wall for a quick rappel and discussed some of the finer points of the process.
We then took a quick trip up Upper Refuse with a focus on seconding proficiently and transition efficiency.
After we got a little heckled by the tourists at the top (the frat party was a bit offended I declined the beer they offered me for climbing the cliff, but I was working, and I do not drink Bud Lite) we made our way over to the quieter Airation Buttress for some lunch. Then a quick drive over to Whitehorse Ledge for 600 feet of slab ascent/descent.
After 4 pitches of Beginner’s Route we headed back to the shop to look at a quick demo/practice of a belay escape.
For Sunday, July 3rd, the weather forecast was the same as the whole weekend. Bluebird. Knowing every cliff would probably be a bit of a zoo I decided to do something rash and head to the biggest zoo of them all. Rumney.
It had been a few years since I last visited this mecca of sport climbing. We pulled into the lot right at 9:30am and spaces were starting to fill up. The Meadows wall wasn’t too busy and we grabbed “False Modesty” and “Rose Garden” while discussing sport climbing issues that crop up every year (rigging to lower, closed systems, belayer placement, clear communication, etc).
We then headed down the road and up the hill to the Main Cliff to check out some of the new 2 pitch moderates that have been getting talked up on Mountain Project lately. “Crowd Pleaser” had quite a long queue on it but an obvious local regular pointed out the nearby 2 pitch 5.8 called “Tipping Point” with no line on it. We hopped right on and greatly enjoyed this fun little route.
The next pitch was super fun 5.8 with a solid crux right at the end… felt a bit closer to 5.9 to me but I’m not that well calibrated to Rumney grades ATM.
We then headed across and up the hill once again passing hordes of climbers on the wildly overhanging and popular crags like Darth Vader & Waimea making our way up to the highest bluff, the Jimmy Cliff. Up here we did two 2 pitch cruiser routes and enjoyed a steady fresh breeze the whole time.
Brendan had quite a bit of lead climbing experience in the gym and no “second belaying” experience so we covered some of the multitude of ways to properly belay the second while enjoying the cool breeze and lack of crowds.
We stopped by the Black Crack Boulder on our hike out for yet another anchor building session (a critical trad climbing skill), then headed back across the Kanc to Mount Washington Valley. Despite some concerns about hitting the busiest cliffs on what might have been the busiest weekend we managed 5 climbs at 3 areas with 8 pitches total (plus that whole area is a botanist dream according to Brendan, who would often disappear while hiking behind me only to be found crouched at ground level camera in hand).
For July 4th, the last day of Brendan’s 8 day excursion, I picked an objective that I thought would be a suitable way to finish and also prepare him for his home country objective, Mount Yu Shan, the highest point in Taiwan!
We headed to Mount Washington with sights set on the Henderson Ridge. I had never climbed this route and found it to be fun outing. It took us 3.5 hours car to car with a leisurely pace and many stops to examine the unique flora that exists on Mount Washington (Alpine Garden Trail). We only saw one other climbing party of two on Pinnacle Ridge, and greatly enjoyed the cooler than valley temps!
After three days with Yu Chih Chieh I know he is well on his way to accomplishing whatever goals he sets for himself. An inquisitive scientific mind and desire will take him far in all aspects of his life and I look forward to the next time I share a rope with him.
Hope you all had a great Fourth of July weekend and spent a little time contemplating how lucky we are to have our freedoms!
Did you get out this past weekend? Let me know what you got on in the comments below!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Some video of the tests:
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!
EMS offers two courses in regards to the subject, a 3-Day Learn to Lead Course, and a 2-Day Self Rescue Course. However I most commonly provide this type of material in a one-day Private Course format. Yesterday, it was with three EMS Manchester Retail Store employees taking advantage of the excellent employee benefit of a few free lessons every year!
Today it was with a father of 2 young girls who had some experience taking them top-roping in Pawtuckaway State Park, but has yet to actually start leading. The truth is, most guide services offer this type of program, but the contents can vary from guide service to guide service, and even from guide to guide within a particular service. In this post I plan to “free flow spew” in detail how I approach this topic, and if you can stay with me to the end I’ll let you know how you can be the proud owner of a sweet new knife from Colonial Knives!
The first thing I’ll say about “Learn to Lead” curriculum as the topic is massive in scope, and for most aspiring lead climbers there is quite a bit of ground work that should be laid before tying into the “sharp end” and taking responsibility for someone else’s security. In fact there are skills that one should be moderately proficient at even if one only intends to set up top-ropes for family & friends. Without further ado I’ll start prescribing how I typically approach a day like this…
After traveling to Cathedral Ledge we drive to the top of the cliff. A short hike brings us to the scenic “Classroom”, where we review the basics of placing traditional gear in cracks.
Active Protection: Tri-Cams (actively placed), Cams
Then we cover anchoring strategies. Single point anchors. Dual point anchors. Tri-point anchors. Joining methods;
Magic-X “aka Sliding X”. Limiting knots. Pre-equalized. Combination anchors. The still popular pre-equalized cordelette method. The newer and sweet “Quad” method.
At this point it’s time to demonstrate a great method for extending a top-rope anchor 40 feet out over the edge to get the rope hanging perfect. Scene safety strategies are discussed. Easy ways to use your static rope with a clove-hitch, belay device, Gri-Gri, or just a friction hitch, to safe guard you near the cliff edge.
Then the “BHK“, or Big Honking Knot, is introduced as we extend our “Master Point” out over the edge and make it redundant while never having to get close to the edge. Tips & tricks of the trade here are abundant.
Now that we have a sweet TR over the 40 foot Classroom Ledge we hike down to the base to cover:
Bottom top-rope site considerations. Belayer position/anchoring strategies. Direct belay off ground anchors, the “how’s & why’s”.
At this point it is important to introduce some real life motivation as to why one should be able to “Escape the Belay“. Skills introduced and practiced:
“Muleing” off a plate style belay device to go “hands free” (Black Diamond ATC, Petzl Reverso)
Transferring the load to a ground anchor via a friction hitch & Munter-Mule.
After practice getting proficient at that I introduce “Ascending a loaded line” and “plucking” a climber off the wall via a Counter-Balance Rappel.
At this point some readers, especially some with vast amounts of climbing experience, might question why are these skills necessary? When would I need to do this?
This type of training is preparing for quite a few “worst case” scenarios. A climber on top-rope gets their <insert body part> completely stuck in a crack. You can’t lower them, and you must go up the rope in order to assist.
Perhaps more likely, especially for more experience climbers who wish to be competent “seconds” on multi-pitch traditional rock climbs… what if that experienced climber who is taking you up Moby Grape whips, catches the rope behind his leg, and knocks himself out? Can you escape the belay and ascend the loaded rope quickly to provide potentially life saving first aid? Can you get that injured climber down 4 pitches?
This type of skill self-improvement is not over the top. The annual Accidents in North American Mountaineering publication has quite a fair amount of accidents where the belayer was left feeling helpless while they could do nothing more than hold the brake strand and call 911…. then…. wait.
As climbers who choose to put themselves in a high-risk environment we owe it to our families and friends to learn basic skills to get ourselves off a cliff after an unfortunate event.
Ok, off my soap box and back to our day…
After another belay escape & leader rescue we hike back up to the anchors. A little time is spent looking at ways one can “anchor in” on a multi-pitch climb;
A girth-hitched sling, a Metolius PAS, using the climbing rope; Overhand on a bight, Figure-8, Clove Hitch.
Throughout we discuss the advantages & disadvantages of each strategy. An example of how to “thread to lower”, a great method of cleaning & lowering off of a sport climb is demonstrated.
Then we go over techniques for belaying a second; Direct off the harness. Re-directs through the anchor. Direct off the anchor; munter-hitch, BD ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso. Then the all important “How to lower a climber off an auto-locking plate device“.
By now, it is time for lunch, so we retreat to the scenic Airation Buttress for some grub and less techno-bauble chat.
For the afternoon I wanted to demonstrate some multi-pitch efficiency, but first a look a rappelling efficiency is in order. We hike down to the top of the Barber Wall. Here we discuss the inspection of rappel anchors. Systematically; tree, slingage, linkage, middle-points, rope-management “back-stacking”, etiquette in tossing ropes, pre-rigging, back-ups, all discussed, demo’d, and practiced… and down the wall we go.
At the base of the Barber Wall we review the difference between 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th class climbing… “Oh, so that’s why it is a 5.8″! We then short-rope ourselves over to Upper Refuse, happy to have a rope on for the short 4th class step just before our destination climb.
Now, at 1pm, we actually start to climb. Discussion on the when & why of placing gear, the mental components, and efficiency in cleaning gear is covered. We arrive at the first belay ledge, and the first photo of the day is finally taken:
Here we look at using “fixed” protection to anchor in with. Two pitons, and a cam I placed, form a perfect “combination anchor” employing the use of both the “Magic-X” and the pre-equalized double length sling.
Belay transitions slow more climbers down than almost any other skill so we talk about what can happen to make these transitions smoother, and then I’m off on the next two pitches. The required great shot at the top of the Upper Refuse ramp:
After topping out Ken had plenty of energy to burn so we took a run up The Lookout Crack (5.9), a short but fun & technical finger crack. We had about a half-hour left to squeeze something more out of our day, and since Ken was up for a burn I decided to lower him down the last pitch of The Prow (5.10a).
It goes without saying we covered a tremendous amount of technical material today. It was clear within our first hour on the cliff Ken was picking up information that would help him take his daughters rock climbing in a more efficient, and possibly even safer, manner after our day together. I had the feeling at the end of the day, back at the shop, while I helped Ken pick out a few pieces here & there to flush out “his kit”, that I’d see him again. He has the desire to improve, the determination to gain confidence, and an all around easy-going nature that would see him do well in anything he strives to do. I’m looking forward to climbing with him again, whether on the rock, or this winter for a taste of ice.
Now that that recap is over lets look at potentially winning a sweet new knife to hang off the back of your harness!
We will keep this competition super simple! No Facebook likes needed, (though you can still like NEAlpineStart here if you want). All you need to do to get an entry for this $70 MRSP knife I reviewed here is comment below on how you “learned to lead”. If you haven’t learned to lead yet comment on why you haven’t. Or just comment. One comment = one entry. One entry per person. Comment by 11:59PM on 7/24/15. Drawing held on 7/25/15 and announced on this blog and via email.
This past Thursday and Friday I passed a 2-day SPI assessment to renew my Single Pitch Instructor certification. The course was run by EMS Schools Guide Charlie Townsend and Kevin Johnson from Alpine Endeavors. 4 other students who took the Single Pitch Instructor Course last year made great classmates as we were examined for the skills required to hold an SPI certification. I’m looking forward to continuing with the AMGA Rock Guide program in the future.
We had great weather for both days and it was good to see what other aspiring guides and outdoor professionals are doing. I picked up a couple new ways to think about things, like Trish’s “4 Essentials vrs. the commonly known 10 Essentials, Christopher’s descriptive talk on waste management (especially how it relates to running a cadaver dog), Andrew’s participant engaged approach to coaching climbing movement, and Eileen’s discussion of some of the finer points of building anchors. While I’ve been immersed in this material for the last decade I’m never surprised that there is always something else to learn, or at-least a different way to think about a topic, or explain an idea… The learning really never stops!
I know I blogged last week about the cool commitment EMS has to training its store employees though the new “Schools to Stores” initiative. That initiative is more of an on-going effort, like the 10 free employee lessons our store guides get to take every year. However one of the largest annual training events of the year happened to land right behind it, so bear with me while I chat about how awesome this company is yet again…
On Monday 50+ employees from across the EMS’s chain of 68 stores, from Virginia to Maine, traveled to Mount Washington Valley for 3 days of camping, rock climbing, vendor villages, product demos, free swag, and slideshows from some of the country’s greatest climbers! That same day 3 small groups split off to backpack the Northern Presidentials while the rest settled in at Great Glen for the next couple days of cliff-side training.
On Tuesday reps from Petzl, Black Diamond, CAMP, Five-Ten, and Sterling, La Sportiva, and Scarpa, ran round-robin clinics at Cathedral Ledge educating the store guides on product use and giving everyone a chance to get hands on. From climbing shoes to advanced hauling systems and fixed line ascension everyone got involved.
After a full day of knowledge saturation the store guides returned to the evening festivities at Great Glen with a vendor village, scrumptious catered BBQ from the Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewery, and slideshow from world famous climber Cedar Wright!
On Wednesday EMS Climbing Guides from North Conway NH, Lake Placid & New Paltz NY, Boston MA, and West Hartford CT gave clinics on advanced anchor building, climbing movement, multi-pitch skills, and fixed rope climbing (LOL improvised Lhotse-face on Whitehorse) at 7 different stations. That evening wrapped up with another great slideshow from one of MWV’s own famous climbers, Janet Bergman.
While the Convergence ended for our store guides this was the first time in years we had just about our entire Climbing School staff in the same town so Charlie, Keith, and Eric organized a great climbing guide training day the next day.
I got a lot out of this entire week. I got to see yet again how committed EMS is to it’s mission statement. I got to see old friends from around the industry from store guides to gear reps, pro-climbers, and retired climbing guides. I learned 2 more ways to tie a clove hitch (I now know 5). I learned a great short-rope trick that involves a tree. But I think best of all I got to know some of my fellow climbing guides who work in other locales a bit better. Coming together, sharing ideas, a pitch or two, a quick lap up a classic climb at lunch time, a trail run I would later regret, some guide tricks, a mug (or three) at The Moat, a few funny stories, fewer scary stories, and a healthy bit of debate on gear preferences made for an awesome couple days of guide related work in an otherwise pretty slow time of year. La vie est belle!