GrandyOats Granola Review- And Contest!

Honestly I’ve never been a fan of granola, GORP (Good Ole’ Raisins and Peanuts), or trail mix preferring an eclectic mix of cured meats, hard cheeses, left over Flatbread, and home-made trail sushi. That is to say until I met some folks from GrandyOats during this past April’s Wild Corn event. They handed me a sample as I passed their vendor table and while chatting with other attendees and munching on my sample I discovered what good granola really is.

GrandyOats Review

Since 1979 these real life Granola’s have been making wholesome organic hand mixed food in Western Maine. Their business philosophy is rooted in a sustainable life-style where good business is just not profitable but environmentally and socially responsible.  You can read more on their story here.

Having been convinced that this quality of granola was changing my long held belief that granola is bland and boring I swung back around to their vendor table for a conversation and asked for a larger sample to take with us on our upcoming Iceland trip. They obliged with a 6-pack of Chocolate Chunk Coconola- Coconut Granola.

GrandyOats Review
Photo by Erik Howes

Here’s the official description of this tasty blend of goodness:

Chocolate Chunk Coconola is the delicious evolution of granola. This paleo, gluten-free, organic granola is vegan and loaded with coconut chips, seeds, nuts and dark chocolate. It’s made by hand in small batches at our solar-powered bakery and just like the sun, Coconola provides you with sustained energy to power your adventures.

  • Certified Organic
  • Certified Gluten-Free
  • Grain-Free & Certified Paleo Friendly
  • Non-GMO Verified
  • Kosher
  • Made in Small Batches at a Solar-Powered Baker

Ingredients: Organic Unsweetened Coconut, Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Sunflower Seeds, Organic Coconut Nectar, Organic Dark Chocolate (organic cane sugar, organic cocoa liquor, organic cocoa butter), Organic Sesame Seeds, Organic Pecans, Organic Cashews, Organic Maple Syrup and Organic Vanilla.


What struck me as different from the admittedly low amounts of granola I have eaten over the years is how light this granola feels while munching. This is not only impart due to GrandyOats using the highest quality ingredients they can source but also the perfect level of minimal process baking. With other granola’s I would need to mix them with yogurt, drown in milk, or constantly wash down each bite with some water. This granola goes down easily handful after handful with out feeling heavy or too dry.

While I’ve already admitted I’m not a granola connoisseur quite a few of my friends and fellow mountain guides are. Each time I’ve shared some of my stash with them the feedback is consistent. They love it. I’ve also been able to share this tasty snack with multiple guests while out guiding and I have yet to find someone who didn’t take that first bite and pause before saying something like “That’s good granola!”.

The 9 ounce bags have 8 servings, 170 calories per serving (1,360 total), and cost $8 each when bought in a 6-pack from their website. That’s 1$ a serving for something that was literally hand-crafted, sourced ethically, baked and mixed perfectly! It doesn’t just stop at granola though. GrandyOats has a while line of trail mixes, roasted nuts (Organic Turmeric Ginger Cashews!), and hot cereal.

If you are a granola or trail mix fan you got to try these guys out. I am grateful I got to discover I actually do like granola, especially when it is made like this!


CONTEST

Win a free 9 ounce bag of Chocolate Chunk Granola! Just click the Rafflecopter link below for ways to enter the drawing and you might find yourself munching on some seriously good granola soon! Contest ends 6/30.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

GrandyOats Review

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Product samples were provided for purpose of review. All opinions are my own. Affiliate links help support the content created at this blog at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

 

Climbing Cams Comparison Review (and Giveaway!)

This post originally published in Fall 2016. In Spring of 2017 I added a set of Black Diamond Ultralights to my kit and now with a year of testing it was time to update my findings. New contest for a free cam as well!

For the last two decades Black Diamond Camalots have been a mainstay of my rack. When the new C4’s came out in 2005 I upgraded my whole rack and saved over a pound in the process. While I’d been aware of the DMM Dragon Cams for a few years it wasn’t until I needed to replace a few well loved cams on my rack that I decided to give them a try. Note that this original review compares the previous version of the Dragons. The DMM Dragon 2’s are now available and have slightly wider cam lobes (more contact) and a textured thumb press for better grip.


C4’s vs DMM Dragon Cams

DMM Dragon Cams Review
DMM Dragon Cams Review

I picked up the 2, 3, 4, and 5, which is equivalent to the Black Diamond C4 .75, 1, 2, and 3.

Since the numbers the manufacturers assigned for the sizes do not correlate well we will be happier if we refer to them by color (which thankfully correlates). So I picked up the green, red, yellow, and blue size.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
A welcome addition to the rack

While they felt light in hand manufacturer specs and my home scale confirmed they are almost identical in weight to the Black Diamond C4’s. A full set of each weighs within one ounce of the other, with the Dragons coming in a hair lighter. When you consider the amount of quick-draws you could reduce from your kit while using the DMM Dragons (because of the built in extendable sling) the DMM Dragons are definitely a lighter option than a set of the Black Diamond C4’s.

However investing in the Black Diamond Ultralights one would save about 8 ounces, half a pound, over either the DMM Dragons or the Black Diamond C4’s for a full rack.  That weight savings comes at considerable cost, about $200 more for a full rack. The weight savings are noticeable throughout the size range but the largest gains are made in the biggest sizes.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
Breaking down the numbers

When comparing weight savings we have to take a look at probably the most noticeable feature of the DMM Dragons, the inclusion of an extendable dyneema sling.

DMM Dragon Cam Review
Expandable sling not extended
DMM Dragon Cam Review
Expandable sling extended

The advantages & disadvantages to this unique feature are a bit specific to the route & type of climbing you predominantly do, but lets take a look. First, you can gain 12-14cm of “free” extension on your placement without having to carry an extra quickdraw. How much weight can that save? Well 7-8 average quick-draws like the Petzl Djinns weigh close to 2 pounds, so that’s significant. On a straight up route where the gear is in-line this advantage is less pronounced as you’ll be clipping the sling un-extended, just like the sling on a C4. On a wandering line or alpine route this feature could probably save you a few draws and slings further reducing total pack weight.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
Hot forged thumb press

There are a few considerations with this design. First, the “thumb loop” found on the Black Diamond C4’s is considered to be one of the easiest to manipulate when pumped or trying to surgically get the best possible placement in a weird situation. Personally I feel the thump press on the DMM Dragons is plenty sufficient to keep control of the cam while making difficult placements (and has since be improved with the DMM Dragon 2’s). The thumb loop does provide a higher clip point on the protection, which should only be used for aid climbing applications, so this point is quite obscure for non-aid climbing applications. The last concern is the more complex cleaning process for the second. If the sling is extended it can be tricky to re-rack the cam one handed without it hanging low off the harness. With a little practice it can be done, but it is definitely not as easy as re-racking an un-extended sling.

As for holding power there has been anecdotal comments since they were released in 2010 that the slightly thinner surface area might be a concern in softer rock (sandstone). I have not seen any evidence of DMM Dragons failing in softer sandstone conditions when a thicker cam head may have held, so I think that theory can be debunked at this point. (Update the newer DMM Dragon 2’s have increased their cam head by 1.5 – 2 mm in size).

DMM Dragon Cams Review
DMM Dragon Cams Review

Black Diamond Ultralights

As mentioned above I picked up a set of Black Diamond Ultralights during Spring of 2017 and now have one full year climbing on them. I guided over 40 days of rock in the East with them and took them on a two week trip to the Cascades. They are holding up extremely well for the amount of use they see and have become my most reached for set whether I’m heading to the local crag to guide or off on a Cascades climbing trip.

Black Diamond Ultralight Cam Review
Still looking great after a full year of guiding and trips!

I’m hoping the above spreadsheet is helpful for some when deciding if the additional weight savings is worth the additional moo-lah. For some it will be a resounding yes, and others will be happier with the flexibility of the DMM Dragons (especially with the improvement made to the DMM Dragon 2’s), or the time-tested standby of the C4’s (especially if also aid climbing).


Where to Buy

First shop local! You can find most of these items at the following retailers in Mount Washington Valley!

International Mountain Equipment

Ragged Mountain Equipment

Eastern Mountain Sports, North Conway

You can also find them online at the following merchants:

Backcountry has all Black Diamond Cams 10% OFF!

You can also find them at Bentgate, EMS, Moosejaw, Mountain Gear, and REI!


Contest/Giveaway

I’m giving away one DMM Dragon Size 5 (equivalent to a Black Diamond #3), a $70 value!

To enter click the link HERE!

DMM Dragon Cam Size 5 Giveaway
DMM Dragon Cam Size 5 Giveaway

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: David Lottmann bought all the items referred to in this review with his own money. This post contains affiliate links.

How To: “Belaying in the Gym” by PETZL

Petzl is a well known industry leader in climbing gear and safety. When I first started climbing over 20 years ago I looked forward to each annual Petzl catalog for the wealth of technical information they would include, along with some of the most stunning and inspirational photos! I probably learned as much about climbing from these catalogs back in the day as I learned from that timeless classic Freedom of the Hills!

Petzl Gear Review
The author on the summit of Forbidden Peak, North Cascades, wearing the Petzl Sirocco Helmet and Petzl Sitta Harness

Now Petzl has just launched a new series of downloadable “ACCESS BOOKS”, basically a collection of technical tips centered around one particular aspect of climbing. In their first PDF “booklet” Petzl focuses on indoor climbing.

Petzl Access Books
Petzl Access Books- Download your own copy here.

As always the illustrations are clear and to the point. The techniques described are considered “best practices” throughout the industry. Whether you are a new climber or a salty veteran a little review of the basics never hurts!

Download your own copy here

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

P.S. Speaking of Petzl here are some recent reviews I’ve posted of some of my favorite Petzl gear!

Petzl Sirocco Helmet (2017 model)

Petzl GriGri+

Petzl Sitta Harness

Petzl Hirundos Harness

Petzl Ice Screws (comparison review)

Petzl Bug Backpack

All links are affiliate links and making a purchase through one of them supports Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!

Gear Review: Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack

This past September I was excited to receive the new Cassin Eghen 22 backpack to review. This alpine style pack had won “Editor’s Choice 2017” from Climbing Magazine who called it a “super tech summit pack”. Indeed this relatively small pack has a long list of features designed with both practicality and convenience in mind.

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Huntington Ravine Trail, Mount Washington New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli

Buy on Amazon


How I tested

Over the Fall I took this pack rock climbing in both crag settings and alpine. I was able to get over 30 pitches of climbing in with it before switching gears to ice climbing and have since tested this pack in Huntington Ravine (Pinnacle Gully), Mount Willard, and Cannon (Black Dike). I’ll share the manufacture specs and description then get into my personal test results.


Specifications

  • 22-liter technical pack for rock, ice and mixed mountain ascents
  • Very strong fabric with reinforced Cordura bottom
  • Technical ice axe holders with a head-locker system on the bottom and Velcro straps on top
  • External helmet carrying system can be stowed away when not in use
  • Frameless back is lined with a removable 6 mm rigid pad that can be used as an emergency bivy pad
  • Connection points for the bottoms of the shoulder straps is higher for better weight distribution while climbing
  • External rope carrying system
  • Innovative new fast pull cord closure system has been optimized for use with gloves
  • External waterproof pocket for maps, phones and other essentials
  • Zippered inner pocket for valuables
  • Inner gear loop for organizing
  • Fixed daisy chains with compression straps for securing gear to the outside of the pack
  • Buckles are optimized for use with gloves
  • Removable waist belt with two adjustment points
  • Removable chest strap is height adjustable
  • Burly handle on top for hauling and clipping
  • Hydration compatible
  • WEIGHT

    915 g, 32.3 oz

    SPECS

    ID: 2446
    Volume: 22 L

    Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
    Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine Mount Washington, New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli

Description

Pizzo d’Eghen is the wildest and most remote mountain in the Grigne group in the Central Alps above the town of Lecco, the home of Riccardo Cassin. In 1932, Cassin first climbed one of his great routes on the Pizzo d’Eghen, ascending the huge chimney in the middle of the wall. The Eghen 22 is a tribute to this historic climb, the very kind of adventures it has been designed for. Elite alpinists and multi-pitch climbers have long been asking us for a purpose-built pack with the Cassin touch. It is here with the Eghen 22. The Eghen 22 is designed for fast and light missions on multi-pitch rock and ice routes. The bottom is constructed from super strong Cordura 500D and the side walls are constructed from strong, lightweight PU coated 210D HD Ripstop nylon. Maxed out, the Eghen 22 has 22 liters of capacity. When not full, the pack is designed to be compressed so it maintains a trim profile. The frameless back gets some rigidity from the removable 6mm rigid foam pad that doubles as an emergency bivy pad. Other cold weather features include a new fast pull cord closure system and new buckles all designed for ffective use with gloves, and streamlined technical ice tool holders that can be stowed away when not in use. Essential multi-pitch climbing features include a removable waist belt, external waterproof pockets for the route map, an external rope carrying system that allows the rope to be carried on the top or bottom of the lid and an external helmet carrying system that stows away when not in use.

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Fairy Tale Traverse, Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle , Huntington Ravine Mount Washington New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli

Review

Durability: While difficult to gauge long-term durability when I’ve only put about 20 field days on the pack I can attest that some of those days were quite rugged with tight chimney squeezes and others had plenty of exposure to sharp pointy things (ice axes, screws, crampons). As mentioned in the description the bottom is built from a strong Cordura but not called out is the added durability gained from the innovative external waterproof pocket on the top “lid” of the pack. This favorite feature of mine makes the top of the pack feel as durable as the bottom and gives me a bit of confidence if I need to haul this pack up through a tight chimney. At the end of the test period the pack still looks great with no punctures, abrasions, lose seams, etc.

Comfort: For a 2 pound summit tech pack this one rides really well. That’s due in part to the nicely contoured gel-like shoulder straps and the 6 mm removable foam back pad that doubles as an emergency bivy pad (or a great splinting aid). Since this is a frame-less pack I wouldn’t chose to remove the back pad for any reason other than a first aid/bivy need as you would feel and rigid objects quite acutely. The thin waist belt (also removable) helps keep the pack centered when rock hopping the shifting talus field below Cannon cliff, and the sternum strap fully stabilizes the load.

Features: For a pack this size the list of features is incredibly long. I won’t relist everything already mentioned in the specifications and description but want to draw attention to both my favorite features, and what I feel might be missing or need improvement.

Waterproof Pocket

High on my list of favorites is the waterproof pocket. Interestingly Cassin calls this “external” but it is only accessible through the top draw-cord closure system so I think it should be considered “internal”. Regardless I don’t always carry my iPhone in a waterproof case and having this pocket that easily fits my phone, field book, headlamp, and lighter, has provided a nice bit of assurance that stuff that shouldn’t get wet won’t. If they made it accessible from the outside it would be even better and could actually be called “external”.

Helmet/Ice Tools Lashing

With multiple options for strapping on this equipment it took me a couple trips with my Cassin X Dream ice axes to figure out how to properly use the bottom straps. If you don’t run the straps through the “eye” on the head of the ice axe they can feel a little awkward when attached. However the redundancy of both a Velcro and a shock cord fastener for my ice axes assures even if I don’t use the bottom attachment correctly I am unlikely to lose my axe while glissading down off a climb. The shock cord fasteners also make a quick helmet attachment as the stoppers easily fit through the ventilation holes on my Petzl Sirocco helmet for quick securing.

Pack Closing System/Access

There is only one entry point to this pack and that is through the top via a type of “fold over” lid that covers a draw-cord “tube” style entrance. The draw-cord closure works well with gloves on both while opening and closing. Where I could see improvement would be the fastening strap that secures the “fold over” type lid. It’s upper attachment is at the bottom of this lid so if you strap a rope under this lid it carries pretty far away from you. If this strap was attached closer to the back panel I could carry the rope closer to my body, where I prefer.

UPDATE: Soon after posting a reader clued me in to the fact that the internal strap that I hadn’t found a use for could be threaded through the hydration port hole and provide an excellent way to keep the rope closer to the back, and directly over the waterproof pocket. I can now see this works great and wish there was more instruction either included with the product or available online!

Compression/Bells & Whistles

The pack comes with two compression straps and a helmet strap not installed and the literature with the pack provided no instructions on how to install these straps so they have sat unused in my gear room. None of the manufacture photos show these straps in use and I could not find any direction on their website, so that could be addressed! And while I don’t like “bells” on my backpacks I certainly like having a sternum strap whistle on all my technical backpacks. It’s come in handy to often to not always look for it!

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon
Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
The Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon

Summary

The Cassin Eghen 22 is a remarkable backpack. It’s not a true “bullet” pack and is more featured than your typical minimalist “summit” pack making it quite versatile. Designed for “alpinism, rock climbing, multi-pitch climbing, and ice climbing” this pack certainly performed well when tested during all these endeavors. If you are in the market for an advanced technical climbing pack take a close look at this one!

 Buy on Amazon

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above help support this blog at no cost to you!

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

Rumney, Whitney-Gilman, Pinnacle!

I hope everyone is out there enjoying the best rock climbing weather of the year! Yesterday I finished three solid days of guiding for Northeast Mountaineering starting with a fun Friday at Rumney Rocks with Jennifer.

Rumney Rocks


Jennifer used to rock and ice climb all over the west before moving East and focusing on her career in Boston for the last decade but as the saying goes, once a climber, always a climber! The mountains were calling and after booking an upcoming 4 day climbing trip to Red Rocks she wanted to come up north and refresh her climbing skills and I was lucky enough to get to re-introduce her to the sport!

I can’t wait to hear about your Red Rocks adventure Jennifer and I look forward to climbing some ice with you this winter!


Whitney-Gilman Ridge, Cannon Cliff

Saturday I got to meet up with my good buddy and regular client Larry for his first taste of NH alpine climbing. Larry started his mountain adventures about 20 months ago when I led him and a group on a winter ascent of Mount Washington. We hit it off and he returned multiple times to ice climb with me before going out and sampling other climbing areas all around the country. We planned to tick off both of New Hampshire’s classic alpine ridge climbs starting with the Whitney-Gilman Ridge.

There were a few parties in the climber lot when I pulled in at 8:10 AM. A couple from Canada was heading off for Whitney Gilman and a party of three was heading for Lakeview. I filled out a climber sheet then hopped back in the car and drove down to Lafayette Campground, in my opinion the preferred approach for a Whitney-Gilman day. Larry arrived on time at 8:30 and we were heading up the trail by 8:40 AM.

Whitney-Gilman Ridge
Approach to Whitney-Gilman Ridge

As we got closer to the ridge I could see the Canadian couple finishing the 1st pitch and confirmed when we reached the alternate starting ledge there was no one else on route. Our timing was perfect as while we climbed the first two pitches right behind the Canadian couple no less than 3 or 4 parties arrived below. Some headed towards Duet/Reppy’s and two parties of two got on route behind us.

Whitney-Gilman Ridge
Larry following the 2nd pitch

Despite it lightly raining a few times on the approach the rock stayed relative dry and the climbing went well.

Whitney-Gilman Ridge
Larry halfway up the third pitch with a party on the 2nd pitch
Whitney-Gilman Ridge
Larry after just topping out the 4th pitch, the famously exposed “Pipe Pitch”
Whitney-Gilman Ridge
Larry tops out the Whitney-Gilman Ridge

We topped out a little before 2 PM and were back down to the car by 3 PM. While Larry has only been rock climbing a short time he has climbed in quite a few areas and he was certainly impressed with “New England 5.7″… to think of this route being first climbed in 1929 with hemp ropes and no pitons is quite awe inspiring! We parted ways for the evening but would meet up at 8 AM the following day for a trip into Huntington Ravine!


Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle

For our second day we headed high up Mount Washington for a super fun day on the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle. Since I have a season pass to the Auto Road we skipped the long approach from Pinkham and were hiking down the Huntington Ravine trail a little before 9 AM. Luckily we had Northeast Mountaineering intern and super talented photographer Peter Brandon join us for the day and all images below are his!

Descending to Huntington Ravine
Descending to Huntington Ravine-
Most dangerous trail in New Hampshire!
Most dangerous trail in New Hampshire!

I took advantage of this 4th class descent trail to practice some short-rope technique.

Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail

There was no one route yet when we arrived and one couple also using the “Euro” approach still making their way down the Huntington trail but with it being a beautiful weekend day I knew more folks would be arriving soon so we got racked up and moving.

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Gear up and go!

I’ve been practicing transitions from The Mountain Guide Manual and decided to lead the first two pitches in “parallel” so I could belay both Larry and Peter at the same time. We cruised up the first two pitches in no time and I then switched us to “caterpillar” for the 5.8 crux pitch.

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine
Starting up the third pitch
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine
Thanks for the solid belays Larry!
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine
Third pitch

While Larry was working the the crux moves a fast moving party of two, Micky and Ben, caught up to us. We let them play through and leap-frogged them once when we headed for the “Fairy Tale Traverse”. We held up here and let them pass again so we could get Peter in position to shoot this awesome last pitch.

Great meeting you Micky and Ben, your positive vibe was contagious and the wine & cheese spread you had waiting for your better halves at the top was most impressive!

After Peter led the last pitch we freed his rope and he pulled it up to get into a good position to shoot this last pitch. I then started out across this easy but exhilarating traverse.

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Heading out on the “Fairy Tale” traverse last pitch of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
The feet are really good! Just don’t expect much pro or hand-holds… SPOILER that’s a pretty solid Black Diamond .2 X4 providing some decent pro halfway across the traverse
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Topping out the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Larry starts out along the traverse while I belay… I just gotta say Peter this shot is killer!
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Another amazing capture by Peter Brandon
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Larry two moves from finishing his second NH alpine rock climb

We soaked in some sun and coiled our ropes to hike back up to the car but first we had to look down in the abysmal Pinnacle Gully, a route Larry had ice climbed with me just last winter!

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Looking down into the abyss of Pinnacle Gully

And so Larry ticked off two NH greats in two days, but he isn’t done yet. As I type this he is en-route to climb in Acadia National Park where I am sure he will continue to gain knowledge and technique that will serve him well on all his climbing adventures. It is always awesome climbing with you Larry and I’m really looking forward to hitting the ice with you this winter!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Improved Belay Check

A tragic rock climber fatality this past weekend at a crag in Vermont has motivated this post. The exact events leading up to the accident are still not public but what is clear is the young woman fell 90 feet while trying to descend, presumably while being lowered.

UPDATE 9/22/2017: An official summary of the accident has been posted from the VT Search & Rescue Coordinator, Vermont Dept. of Public Safety. I now include it here before my original post below:


Following is a summary of the incident.

Three climbers (#1, #2, #3) were finishing up their day top roping on Harvest Moon. Climber #1 was making the final ascent of the day. Both #2 and #3 believed that the plan was for #1 to ascend, clean the anchor, and rappel down. The actual wording of this conversation is not entirely clear. #2 remembers #1 saying she would “probably” rappel, but “might” be lowered. #3 only remembers the use of the term “rappel”.

Climber #1 finished the climb, called “off belay” and #2 removed  the belay and took their harness off believing that #1 would clean the anchor then rappel down.  About 5 minutes later #1 called “are you ready to lower?”. Both #2 and #3 shouted “no” back, and #2 rushed to put their harness back on. Less than a minute later Climber #1 was observed in an uncontrolled fall down the face which she did not survive. She was tied into her harness and the rope was threaded through the bolts at the top anchor, with the free end ending up just a few inches above the ground.

Further investigation discovered that climber #1 did not have a rappel device on her harness. It was later found to have been in a pile of gear at the base of the climb.

The most likely scenario is the climber #1 had intended to rappel after cleaning the anchor, but discovered that she had left her ATC behind.  The communication of this change to a different plan was not clear.  While it seems most likely that #1 did not clearly hear the “no” and “no- wait” shouts from #2 and #3 and leaned back expecting to be lowered, it cannot be ruled out that she slipped or tripped while waiting for the lower or perhaps tried to move closer to the edge to improve communication. There is simply no way to know for certain whether #1 was expecting to be lowered at the time of the accident, or unintentionally tripped or fell while waiting to be lowered.


It seems lowering/rappelling accidents are on the rise. The 2013 Accidents in North American Mountaineering publication looked at lowering accidents from the previous 10 years and determined 34% where due to belayer error and/or miscommunication. During 2016 we had 24 accidents caused by rappelling and lowering errors. Twice this past week I witnessed miscommunication between belayers and climbers at Rumney Rocks, NH that almost resulted in a climber being taken off belay when they were still climbing.

I believe our standard “belay check” that we perform before climbing could be improved in an effort to reduce a large amount of similar accidents.

Let’s start by taking a look at the standard belay check most climbers perform before climbing. The rope is stacked and the climber is ready to leave the ground, whether it be on lead or top-rope. The climber looks at the belayer and asks…

“On Belay?”

The belayer, before responding, checks to make sure the climber’s harness is on properly, looks closely at the climber’s tie-in knot to make sure it is tied correctly and in the proper place on the harness, then checks that the belay device is installed on the rope correctly, and that the belay system is closed (knot or tied-in to the other end of the rope). At this point the belayer signals with…

“Belay on!”

From this point on the climber is free to ascend whether leading or top-roping with the belayer providing critical security should the climber fall.

The American Alpine Club has produced a quality video demonstrating these steps as part of the “Universal Belay Standard”. I’ve embedded their video below to start at this belay check.


 

But every year climbers die or get seriously injured when the belay gets dis-mantled when the climber is at the top of the route.

Let’s look at how this has can occur and how we can might best mitigate the risk.


Misinterpretation

Likely the most common factor is misinterpretation of what is happening when the climber gets to the top of the climb and needs to break down the team’s personal gear before being lowered or rappelling off of fixed gear. Essentially the climber arrives at the anchor and signals to the belayer. The belayer interprets this signal to mean the climber no longer needs a belay, and dismantles the system. The climber, expecting to be lowered, leans back on the rope and soon finds themselves falling.


Miscommunication

When the climber arrives at the anchor they signal with a non-standard signal that could have multiple interpretations. I often teach students that “OK” is a dangerous word in climbing. It can mean so many things and undoubtedly has lead to belayers believing one thing while the climber meant something else. Does OK mean you are in-direct to the anchor? Does it mean you are hiking down? Setting up a rappel?


Solutions

First we need to add a final step to our belay check when climbing in a single-pitch environment. Essentially our belay check should look like this.

“On Belay?” – climber

“Belay on.” – belayer

“What are you going to do at the top?” – belayer

“I’m planning to have you lower me through the fixed gear”- climber

or

“I’m planning to go in direct, call off belay, and rig to rappel” – climber

or

“I’m going to come off belay toss the rope down and hike back down” – climber

This communication, referred to as an “action plan” by the AAC, prior to leaving the ground would certainly help prevent many of the close calls and likely some of the serious accidents that occur. It is much easier to communicate with your partner during the belay check then when you are 90 feet above them at the anchor.

Stick to standard commands. “On belay, take, tension, slack, lower, off belay”. At busy crags use names and space out the sylables to be clearly understood by your belayer.

“John….  Off……  Belay” -climber

As a belayer make sure the command you heard was from your partner.

“Jane… Was… That… You?”- belayer

“John…. Yes…. Off….. Belay” – climber

Rock Climbing Belay Check
A busy day at the crag requires solid communication between belayer and climber- photo by @alexandraroberts

When the option exists chose to be lowered over rappelling. Lowering is often faster than setting up a rappel and argue-ably safer as the climber never needs to come off belay. The belayer knows the belay must stay intact until the climber is back on the ground. The AAC does a great job of explaining this skill here and in this video:


Summary

Climbing IS dangerous. Even with all the high quality safety gear and available training and knowledge we will continue to see tragic loss of life to seemingly easily preventable accidents. But…

We can see a reduction in accidents if we continually challenge ourselves and the climbing community at large to make small improvements in our methodology. Make sharing your “action plan” part of every belay check!

References

Accidents in North American Mountaineering, 2013, pages 9-12

Accidents in North American Climbing, 2016, page 125

Mountain Project Accident Forum

Book Review Coming Soon!

Vertical Aid: Essential Wilderness Medicine for Climbers, Trekkers, and Mountaineers

Vertical Aid: Essential Wilderness Medicine for Climbers, Trekkers, and Mountaineers
Vertical Aid: Essential Wilderness Medicine for Climbers, Trekkers, and Mountaineers