A Year in Review, 2017

As usual New Year’s Eve has snuck up on me with uncanny stealth. My general lack of calendar awareness certainly helped with my last minute realization that another year has gone by. What hasn’t gone unnoticed is how amazing this year was and I’d like to share some of that here.


Without a doubt the biggest change of the year was leaving Eastern Mountain Sports after 24 years of service. Anyone close to me knows that this decision at the end of 2016 was one of the toughest I’ve ever had to make. Leaving a big corporation to work for a small, relatively young, guide service felt risky and uncertain. However within weeks of working for Northeast Mountaineering I discovered that the owners, Corey and Brett, had created a culture that celebrated mountain life, guiding, stewardship and social responsibility. It was the perfect place for me to land after a seemingly major career move.

Every guide and ambassador I would meet and get to know over my first year working for NEM seemed to share the best possible qualities you’d want in a co-worker, climbing partner, or friend. The encouragement, support, and positive stoke at just about every turn has made this past year as memorable as it is.

Avalanche Courses

Avalanche course in Tuckerman Ravine
Avalanche course in Tuckerman Ravine, photo by Alexandra Roberts

Despite being the first year that Northeast Mountaineering had an in-house avalanche course program we hit close to 100% capacity in the 9 courses we ran. A great snow year allowed us to do a ton of actual ski touring. Along with my excellent co-instructor Benny we had classes tour full length routes in Huntington and Tuckerman Ravines, Gulf of Slides, Ammonoosuc Ravine, and Monroe Brook. Personal highlights of the season were investigating the extent of the historic Gulf of Slides avalanche, seeing my first legit Rutschblock 2 result, and meeting the awe-inspiring Vern Tejas who observed and contributed to one of our mid-winter courses.

Ice Climbing

Drool of the Beast
Drool of the Beast, photo by Brent Doscher

2017 was a solid year for my personal ice climbing. I was able to climb more Grade 4 and Grade 5 routes then I’ve been able to get on in the last few years, partially due to fatherhood and a really busy avalanche course schedule. By the end of the season I felt I was climbing as well as I was pre-parenthood, and that accomplishment felt pretty darn good. I have a few lofty goals for 2018 and can’t wait to get after them (in-between teaching avalanche courses every weekend and family life!)

Skiing in Iceland

Skiing in Iceland
Skiing in Iceland, photo by Matt Baldelli

In April my first international trip in about a decade brought me to the beautiful country of Iceland where I spent just over a week touring and experiencing this amazing place with one of the best groups of people I could ever hope to spend time with. Visiting this country re-kindled my desire to travel after feeling somewhat sedated after experiencing so much of the world in my early twenties and I am really looking forward to repeated trips back there starting with teaching an avalanche course there this March!

Rock Climbing

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Guiding Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, photo by Peter Brandon

Cannon, Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle speed climb, Rumney, and a half dozen “Wednesday Sendsday’s” have re-ignited my passion for rock climbing that has always been there since I first tied into a rope in 1994, but getting to see others close to me fall in love with this sport on an almost weekly basis has fueled my desire to train and challenge myself to higher levels of performance above what my typical guiding requirements demanded.


West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

In July I was able to fulfill a climbing trip dream I’ve had for over ten years by guiding on Mount Shuksan and Forbidden Peak and climbing Rainer with a friend and intern guide, Peter Brandon. This trip is something I’ve been training clients for for so many years and to get to spend time in this terrain with so many cool people was pretty much the greatest opportunity I have had second to becoming a father in the last 20 years. Seriously mind-blowing conditions, weather, and climbing made this a life time memory for me.


Skiing Mount Washington
Best powder day I’ve had on the West Side, photo by @cfitzgerald

I am super excited to join DPS Skis, Ortovox, and Revo for a second year of ambassadorship. I still wonder how I was lucky enough to hook up with these amazing brands. I can go into product details in reviews and debate minutia fabric issues until the end of the internet but without any shame I can say these three companies “get it”. They make stuff that people like me want. Cutting edge ski design, forward thinking avalanche safety gear, virtually unmatched clothing design, and best eye wear, sunglasses and goggles, I have ever experienced. If you want top-notch gear, have a look!


It’s been a fantastic year to blog and share these adventures along with reviewing gear for some of the best companies out there. I love sharing my experiences and opinions and really want to focus on more travel guides, in-depth gear reviews, and how-to skill videos this upcoming year. If there is one thing I’m certain about it’s I love sharing my passion with everyone that shares these feelings in the mountains. Spending time in these places with good people is so vital to our sanity, and blogging gives me a slight escape when I’m not able to just head out the door on my next mountain adventure.

I’ve met quite a few readers in person over the past year. I’m so grateful for those of you who visit here, ask questions, post comments, click “like”, share, or even just mention briefly at the coffee shop you are happy with the boots you bought from my review. Keeping this blog going is a fantastic mix of fun, stress, guilt, reward, doubt, and confirmation.

I wish you all a fantastic 2018 and hope you have some amazing mountain adventures this year. I want to thank my family, especially my wife, for helping me experience my own adventures while still raising a family.

I hope to see you all out in the mountains soon shredding, sending, and tapping on shovels (and possibly tossing back a post epic pint at The Moat).

Happy New Year,

Northeast Alpine Start

Whitehorse Ledge and Self-Rescue

I spent the last two days with Katie and Chris, a couple from Mass who are quickly becoming more and more proficient in their climbing. Earlier this summer we spent a day together working on building quality top-rope anchors so that they could hit their local MA crags in style and this weekend they returned to be introduced to some multi-pitch climbing in addition to building upon their self-rescue skills.

rock climbing Whitehorse Ledge
Chris and Katie below 900 foot high Whitehorse Ledge

The forecast was for some potential early afternoon rain but we got an early start and were first on The Cormier-Magness Route around 9 AM. This relatively new addition to such a historic cliff really is the best 5.6 option on the Whitehorse slabs in my opinion… it really does live up to some of the Mountain Project hype… just be cool with typical Whitehorse run-outs and you will love this climb!

rock climbing Whitehorse Ledge
Katie following the classic “Wheat Thin” arete, which would be considered P2 after starting up Beginner’s Route…
rock climbing Whitehorse Ledge
Chris finishing P2 with Mount Kearsarge in the background
rock climbing Whitehorse Ledge
Hanging out at P2 belay
rock climbing Whitehorse Ledge
Colors were really starting to pop!


rock climbing Whitehorse Ledge
2nd to last pitch

We topped out at about 12:30 PM and relaxed with some lunch before heading down. It was great to see so many families and new hikers out enjoying the foliage… though it would have been nice to see them carrying a few basic essentials! Lots of “no-pack” hikers out there this weekend! Getting off my soap box and on to a different one our second day together was slated for self-rescue practice. This boded well because the weather forecast was pretty dismal with 70% chance of heavy rain by 10 AM.

The thing about practicing self-rescue skills is weather is irrelevant… we can practice rain or shine, often in the comfort of the indoors! While I have taught dozens of these courses I took a few minutes before Katie and Chris arrived to write down a rough outline of the skills I wanted us to cover. They arrived just after 8 AM and started with some discussions on what gear we should be carrying and looking at various examples of when these skills could be needed.

rock climbing self rescue
Rescue skill day rough topic outline…

We spent about 2 hours covering various knots, systems, and techniques involved in being able to problem solve your way out of a jam. By 11 AM we saw a break in the weather system and decided to grab a quick bite for lunch and head to the cliff for some more “real life” practice.

rock climbing self rescue
Katie stacks the rope while prepping for some rescue practice at Cathedral Ledge
rock climbing self rescue
One of our two anchors we used in our scenario
rock climbing self rescue
Chris learns about the initial awkwardness of rope ascension having already “Escape the Belay”
rock climbing self rescue
Katie has reached her “victim”, in this case Chris, and is getting ready to perform a Counter-Balance Rappel…

After running through this rescue scenario three times we still had some time and when I realized Katie hadn’t yet completed a full rappel I knew that was how we would wrap up our day. We went over to the Barber Wall and conducted a lower/belayed rappel followed by some short roping to cross the soaking wet slabs back to the climber trail but what I want to focus on right now is the fore-sight Katie and Chris have in their climbing career…

They are approaching climbing with the right mindset; enthusiastic, optimistic, and with due caution. Katie is a recently appointed AMC trip leader who has gained the skills needed to lead others on hikes in sometimes perilous places. Chris is confident and openly optimistic but willing to acknowledge quality practice and study is imperative to a solid grasp of mountain climbing skills. The two of them combined make a very powerful pair in my book, and I am really glad I was able to spend a couple more days with them on the journey to safer mountain-craft.

Katie, Chris… keep doing what you are doing. Read, climb, practice, climb, read some more, climb, ask questions, climb, and never stop improving! Thank you for keeping me involved in your climbing education and I look forward to our next day out!

Interested in some private instruction to improve your self-rescue skills? You can book a private course by using “DavidNEM” in the promo field when booking here. Please email me first at my contact link or at nealpinestart@gmail.com to make sure I have the date available and discuss personal goals and…

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Tech Tip- Flipping A Plaquette (And Giveaway!)

Climb long enough and eventually you will rappel past the next anchor and need to climb back up to it. Or you will rappel past a tangle in your ropes assuming it will untangle itself from those bushes when you are below (it didn’t). You might also end up needing to ascend the belay side of a top-rope to assist a nervous (or stuck) climber or rescue an injured lead climber. For these occasions you’ll be glad you know how to “flip a plaquette” from belay/rappel mode into “guide” mode. In this configuration your belay device functions as a reliable improvised ascender.


The first thing you’ll obviously need is a plaquette style belay device. There are many out there to chose from but these are my current favorites:

Petzl Reverso 4 Belay Device

Black Diamond ATC Guide Belay Device

DMM Pivot Belay Device

These and quite a few other suitable models can be found on Backcountry.com HERE.

The above short demonstration video shows the steps of flipping a plaquette while rappelling on an extension which happens to be the simplest situation. Let’s go over the more complex method first.

Flipping a plaquette when it is directly off your belay loop

There are a few scenarios where this might be a good solution. First, you are rappelling directly off your belay loop and realize you’ve passed your anchor. Second, you are belaying a climber on a top-rope system and they need assistance. Third, you’ve caught a leader fall but the leader is injured and needs assistance. So let’s break down the steps.

  1. While maintaining a brake-hand tie an over-hand bight a couple of feet below the device and clip this to your belay loop. This step is important because step 3 carries with it some risk if one is not careful.
  2. Clip a locking carabiner to the “ear” or “anchor point” of your plaquette and attach that to your belay loop.
  3. Carefully open the belay carabiner in a manner that traps the rope in the narrow side of the belay carabiner while removing the belay carabiner from the belay loop. This is best accomplished by rotating the belay carabiner so the narrower side is pointing away from you.
  4. On moderate low angle terrain you may be able to start walking/climbing back up while pulling the slack through your device which is essentially in “guide” mode now directly off your belay loop. If the terrain is steep you can add a friction hitch above your device and extend it to a foot loop.

Flipping a plaquette when it is extended off your belay loop

Since extending your rappel device away from you has lots of advantages more and more climbers are defaulting to this option. Yet one more advantage to extended rappel systems is the fact there is literally just one step to flipping the plaquette and you do not need to open the rappel carabiner at all!

  1. Clip a locking carabiner to the “ear” or “anchor point” of your plaquette and attach that to your belay loop.
  2. Ascend as in step 3 above.

So that’s it! You now know how to flip a plaquette and get yourself out of quite a few possible situations that undoubtedly will pop up over your long adventurous climbing career! Thanks for reading!


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References/More Info

The Mountain Guide Manual– pages 11-12

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Tying an Auto-Locking Munter Hitch

Continuing my almost weekly Tuesday (not always Tuesday) Tech Tip series this week I’m sharing how to build the Auto-Locking Munter (ALM) hitch. In last weeks post I shared how to tie a Munter Hitch (MH) directly onto a carabiner, a skill useful for any climber. This skill is a little more specialized and its usefulness can certainly be debated. I’m of the camp that believes more tools and options can be a good thing, if one is cautious as to when and why to apply such a skill. Let’s watch the video and then take a look at some scenarios where this skill can be useful and also address some of its limitations.

Now let’s take a closer look at this skill and where it might be helpful (or make matters worse). The first thing I’ll get out of the way is my mispronunciation of the hitch. “Munter” is correctly pronounced “Moon-Ter”. I apologize for my error and hope you’ll forgive me.

Another point that might seem important to some and minutiae to others is the lack of emphasis I place on tying the hitch with the load strand along the spine of the carabiner, which would essentially make the overall carabiner/hitch system able to withstand a larger amount of force. This author, along with some others whose comments can be found at the various referenced links I’ll include below, believe that the carabiner/hitch system will be able to withstand any potential load without carabiner failure. In fact I would argue if the system saw the amount of force that would make this load strand orientation important it would likely exceed the holding strength of a MH anyways, so I have decided to leave this out (except for this lengthy explanation as to “why”). By all means, if you strive for perfection you can spend some time mastering getting the load strand along the spine.

Carabiner Choice

We should mention that the MH, and therefore the ALM, work best with large pear shaped carabiners. My favorite two carabiners for this hitch are the Petzl William Screw Lock Carabiner and the Petzl Attache. I prefer screw gate lockers when building MH/ALM’s because various auto-locking carabiners’s can slightly slow down the process and I’ve always liked Petzl’s “red unlocked indicator”.


Next we should discuss the usefulness of the ALM, a skill some have claimed is more a “guiding” tool then something a recreational climber should employ. To that I argue if you’ve already been using the MH (because it’s a great tool) then I think it is not a far stretch to add this adaptation of a hitch you are already using to your tool belt… with some understanding of the problems it might create. Let’s start with the “good” first.

There are many situations where I’ll choose a MH over my plaquette belay device (Black Diamond Guide ATC, Petzl Reverso, GiGi, etc). Moving quickly in alpine terrain, converting a basic “biner” belay on low angle slab to a more secure option, iced up winter ropes; all can be good situations to use the MH. Generally speaking these are situations where I am not expecting a second to even take a fall. From here there are a few things that can occur that can make converting the MH into an ALM a handy skill to have.

The Un-Expected

Your new partner who said he could easily follow 5.x struggles hard at the crux and calls to you that he can’t get through the moves. You start regretting not using your plaquette so that you can quickly build a 3:1 raise and give him a little “help” through the crux moves. Luckily you know the ALM and have a 3:1 built in a few seconds giving him the tension he needs to get through the tougher moves and carry on with the climb. It should be noted you will lose some efficacy in the haul system as the ALM does create more friction then most plaquettes.

The Expected

Perhaps the pitch is 5.5 slab running up to a 5.9 thin bulge crux right at the end… you go with a quick moving MH and right before your parter starts moving through the crux you slip the 2nd locker into place and have just created a more secure belay… or maybe you just wanted to get a great shot of her stemming up the final corner and the ALM offers a bit more piece of mind while you lean out over the belay ledge to get the angle right…

The Improvised

You can use an ALM directly off your belay loop as part of a rope ascension system. A flipped plaquette, Petzl GriGri, Petzl Micro Traxion Pulley, or actual ascender will make rope ascension MUCH easier but this is a potential solution if you find yourself without any other tools. If you practice this at all IRL you’ll probably quickly decide to always carry a more efficient means of “progress capture” for rope ascension.


The biggest issue with the ALM is the complications that arise if you find yourself in need of lowering your partner after they have loaded the ALM. The worst case scenario would look something like this… You’re climbing an overhanging route and decide to use the ALM while your partner follows the last pitch. He botches a sequence under the roof and ends up hanging on the rope 5 feet from the wall due to the nature of the climb. The ALM has done its job and is easily holding the climber, but now what? There is a great ledge just 20 feet below the climber and if you had been using a classic MH you would simply lower him back to the ledge (or ground) to try the climb again. You could haul, but a 3:1 even with better efficiency than an ALM would be near impossible to hoist a 180 pound climber who is free hanging… a 5:1 might work but lowering seems so much quicker and less complicated. In this situation a quick block and tackle may take enough stress off the load strand to allow you to remove the 2nd carabiner that makes the MH an ALM allowing you to lower them back to the ledge. Even without a simple load transfer a small locking carabiner without a notched gate can likely be removed from a loaded ALM with some aggressive wiggling but an understanding of load-transfers (or the fore-sight to perhaps use a different option in overhanging terrain) would be prudent. A tested friction-hitch back up would be a wise addition here before removing the 2nd carabiner.


Like most climbing skills the Auto-Locking Munter is an option and not a solution for every situation. I find it useful a few times a season and think it’s a good tool to add to your kit. You should practice it quite a few times in non-life threatening situations before using it 600 feet up your next route.

Comment below! Was this Tech Tip new to you? Old news? Want to see more? Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

More Info/References/Reading:








Mountain Guide Manual Clinic

Since my copy arrived this past May I’ve been steadily devouring the massive amount of information contained in Marc Chauvin and Rob Coppolillo’s recently published book, The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference- From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue.

The Mountain Guide Manual

This past Wednesday I attended one of Marc Chauvin’s Mountain Guide Manual Clinic’s; the first of three he is currently offering. I’ve heard rumors he will offer this in a few other locales outside of our Mount Washington Valley home turf and if one is offered in your area I would highly suggest you try to attend! If you can’t make one of the scheduled dates consider hiring Marc for a private day. The “guide of guides” who wrote the book on guiding is sure to give you a mind expanding day!

A friend who saw my Instagram story asked me what they should expect in a brief recap of the day and the type of material covered so I thought I could share that here for those who might be curious or on the fence.

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic

First, if you are considering the clinic you absolutely need to buy the book first! A brief run through the first few chapters, especially the long chapters on various transition methods, will better prepare you for the day, but a solid understanding of any of it is not quite necessary (unless perhaps you are preparing for a guide exam and want to crush transitions). I’ll also say you don’t need to be or want to be a guide to benefit from this book or clinic. Two of my fellow clinic-mates where not guides and were there to become more proficient in their recreational climbing.

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic
AJ, Lovena, and Zach practice a transition to rappelling while leading “parallel” style with two seconds

Marc will challenge the way you’ve been “doing things” for years. He will help everyone in the group re-program their climbing brains and get them thinking about things like “rope-end equations” and “back-side of the clove-hitch” in ways that actually simplify and streamline our processes. A simple example was introduced early in the day. We dissected how two climbers might climb a single pitch route with a single rope and then rig to rappel. Basically the “climbing to rappelling transition”.

Most of us would imagine both climbers tether into the anchor with slings, PAS’s, etc. untie from both ends, thread the rope, and rappel one at a time. Marc demonstrates how we can pull this off with greater security and speed by using what is already built instead of deconstructing and re-building a whole new system. This method also allows the leader to stay tied in, removes the need to tie a “stopper knot” in both rope ends, and is really pretty darn slick. This isn’t “rope trickery” but classic “think big picture/outside the box” type stuff. I’m not going to describe it fully here but it might make it into a future Tech Tip!

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic
Marc can teach so much without ever putting on a harness!

I’ve heard from a couple guides, some close friends, that they are kind of avoiding these “new” techniques. They want to stick with what they know and kind of have the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” type mindsets. I’d encourage any and all of my climbing acquaintances, friends, and colleagues to try to stay open minded in their full climbing careers, from day 1 to your last.

Seek to get better, learn more, go faster, safer, simpler, when ever and where ever you can. The fact that there is always something more to learn is what drove me to a career in mountain guiding and avalanche education. It is thrilling to know there is no finish line!

Thank you Marc for continuing to inspire and challenge me from the first course I attended in 2002 to today!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

“Best Camping Mess Kits Here – https://www.globosurfer.com/best-camping-mess-kits/

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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 9th Edition

Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills 9th 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 9th 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


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


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


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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Cathedral & Whitehorse, Rumney & Huntington Ravine

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).

Anchor building clinic
Cathedral Ledge

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.

Cathedral Ledge Rock Climbing
Rappelling the Barber Wall, Cathedral Ledge, Echo Lake State Park, NH

We then took a quick trip up Upper Refuse with a focus on seconding proficiently and transition efficiency.

Cathedral Ledge Rock Climbing
Thumbs up
Cathedral Ledge Rock Climbing
Topping out Upper Refuse, Cathedral Ledge

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.

Whitehorse Ledge Rock Climbing
Whitehorse Ledge

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).

Rumney Rock Climbing
Brendan cleans “Rose Garden” at The Meadows

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.

Rumney Rock Climbing
Brendan reaching the first pitch belay ledge
Rumney Rock Climbing
Pretty scenic spot

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.

Rumney Rock Climbing
Clip a Dee Doo Dah
Rumney Rock Climbing
Brendan finishes the last climb of the day

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!

Mount Yu Shan
Mount Yu Shan, highest point in Taiwan: 3,952 metres (12,966 ft)

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!

See you in the mountains,


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!

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.


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

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,


Sterling Rope Factory Tour

Learn to Lead, Or Self Rescue? (And Gear Giveaway!)

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.

We systematically cover;

Passive Protection: Nuts, Tri-Cams, Natural Protection

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:

Echo Lake in the background, and Ken was eyeing Black Crack as a cool feature to climb!
Echo Lake in the background, and Ken was eyeing Black Crack as a cool feature to climb!

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:

I know I have a lot of these shots on my blog! I need to put a college together at some point!
I know I have a lot of these shots on my blog! I need to put a college together at some point!

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).

Classic climbing + outlandish exposure = FUN
Classic climbing + outlandish exposure = FUN

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.

Up next, a review on the Petzl Men’s Cordex Belay Gloves! Preview, they are pretty damn sweet (as far as belay gloves can be)!

PETZL Men's Cordex Belay Gloves
PETZL Men’s Cordex Belay Gloves

Thanks for reading! See you in the mountains!