I’ve been using the Girth Hitch Master Point (GHMP) Anchor System for a little over a year now having learned it from the great educational social media feeds of Dale Remsberg and Cody Bradford. Recent testing on the method was conducted by Derek DeBruin and John Sohl the Petzl facility in Salt Lake City and they published these results.
“The girth hitch is a viable solution for the master point for anchor rigging, provided that;
1) Approximately 5cm of slip is within the climbing party’s risk tolerance
2) The girth hitch is cinched snugly by hand and body weight prior to use. This applies to a variety of rigging materials, such as HMPE or nylon slings or cord, as well as material conditions, whether new or used, dry or wet.” – Derek DeBruin
There’s quite a few places this system could be well applied. It is primarily a solution for multi-pitch climbing. This isn’t a great option for constructing anchors that will be used for top-rope climbing. On a multi-pitch route with bolted belay stations I might even consider keeping a sling rigged with this system (much like how I keep a pre-tied mini-quad on my harness). Even if the bolts at the next station are not exactly the same distance apart you only need to loosen the hitch a bit to properly adjust it. On a multi-pitch route with traditional gear anchors a double-length Dyneema sling is a light & fast option for rigging this system. Multi-pitch ice climbing is where I see perhaps the greatest benefit as rigging this with gloves on will often be achievable with just an alpine-draw and good ice.
Here’s a video I created showing the method along with some suggestions, namely utilizing a full strength closed rappel ring as a master point instead of a locking carabiner, which adds security and saves a locking carabiner for other uses.
Because this is a material efficient and proven redundant glove friendly system I plan on keeping it in my growing “tool kit” of options. I still carry one mini-quad with me when I prefer independent master points (more comfortable for a party of three) and use it often as a glove friendly redundant rappel extension. The advantages over tying a more traditional old school pre-equalized cordelette anchor are great enough that I see less and less reason for ever taking my cordelette off the back of my harness. I still carry it for self-rescue purposes but newer anchor methods like the GHMP and mini-quad seem to solve most anchor problems more effectively. I’m stopping by REI today to pick up one a SMC Rigging Ring which is almost half the weight of the stainless steel one I used in the video. You should consider adding this to your tool kit!
I’m running two giveaways at the moment. You can enter to win a SOL Emergency Bivvy Sack before the end of the month in the raffle at the bottom of this review of SOL survival products! You can also enter to win a camming device of your choice* by competing in an anchor building contest that ends at the end of October… rules for that contest are at this Instagram post.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous, you could die following any advice from this post. Seek qualified instruction and mentorship. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.
*cam will be selected by the winner from any in-stock cam at International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, NH. Free shipping within the US.
I pulled into the parking lot below Whitehorse Ledge minutes before Bob pulled in. This was my first time coming back to climbing since an injury at the beginning of March followed by an on-going pandemic that generated stay at home orders and strong social pressure to not partake in riskier activities while the local medical centers braced for over-whelming traffic and struggled with sourcing enough PPE and ventilators if things got as bad as they might.
It had been a long and sometimes difficult two months. First, recovering from a painful injury that left me unable to do much more than walk slowly on flat ground. Second, once I felt like I might be able to turn a ski, deciding alpine Spring skiing would have to wait for 2021.
So it should go without saying I was excited to be tying in with one of my longest lifetime friends and climbing partners but it wasn’t without a little trepidation. My family had kept our circle very small and tight and a couple hours on a cliff with Bob was definitely a cautious step forward that I hoped would bring us more and more to normalcy as things evolve with the pandemic.
We had talked about how we would protect each other and manage not just our climbing risk but the risk of spreading a virus that has managed to bring the country to its knees with its ease of transmission combined with how many potential asymptomatic carriers could unknowingly start an outbreak.
When Bob got out of his truck we went without the typical firm handshake or bro hug while gearing up. My rope, his rack. We both used our own hand-sanitizer before shouldering our backpacks and hiking up to the cliff. We walked, almost without realizing it, about ten feet apart instead of shoulder to shoulder like we’d done for hundreds of days of climbing together.
I stacked the rope while Bob racked up slightly further away than normal. We decided Bob would lead the 9 pitch mellow slab route for a few reasons. He had been out climbing a few times already and was feeling pretty good. I didn’t know how I was feeling on rock post-injury and having such a long break from climbing. We also wanted to get back home to our families early and this route definitely climbs faster when not swapping leads. Perhaps I also thought this would mean less handling of gear… most of the pitches were run out slab climbing so I was only cleaning 4 or 5 pieces of protection per pitch, mostly just quick-draws.
We reminded each other that no gear should go into our mouths. This is a natural habit for climbers when cleaning and leading climbs and a habit we wanted to be conscious to avoid. At each anchor I clove-hitched myself in a bit longer than normal, finding it easy to keep about 6 feet between us. Instead of directly handing Bob his gear back I would long-reach over and clip it to his end of the rope. We both reminded each other not to touch our faces.
At the third anchor I donned my disposable face-mask I was carrying. While I might believe both Bob and I are not spreading this virus we can’t be 100% certain at this point, neither of us have been tested for antibodies and even if we had been the jury is still out on exactly what any of those results would truly mean in terms of both immunity and potential to spread. The main reason I wanted to don the mask was to put myself into my potential clients shoes if I end up going back to work this summer.
Current CDC guidelines recommend masks or face coverings if you can’t stay at least 6 feet away from people. I’ve sat through a number of great webinars hosted by the American Alpine Club, The Access Fund, and the American Mountain Guide Association about how climbers and guides should move forward during this pandemic. Both the company I guide for, Northeast Mountaineering, and most guide services I know who are starting to operate again, will be requiring some type of face covering when social distancing is not possible (essentially at belay’s, fitting harnesses, etc).
Two hours after starting up the face we reached the top. I laid what gear I had cleaned from the last pitch on the ground for Bob to collect and stepped back to coil our rope. After stuffing the rope in my backpack and changing out of my climbing shoes we both used our hand-sanitizer again and started our hike back to the parking lot. We then jumped in our separate cars and drove a few minutes to the lower viewing area of Cathedral Ledge for a post climb beer (we brought our own) and to watch two parties getting after it on the cliff, one party on the Beast Flake and one on Camber, two of the cliffs classic hard routes. No one was on any of the easier trade routes.
After some great catching up and the cold refreshment we made tentative plans to start climbing together again once a week. We expressed gratitude to each other for an awesome morning of climbing and then parted ways. No high fives, no fist bumps, no bro hugs. Just a smile and a wave. When I got home I left my climbing gear and rope in the trunk of the car, changed my clothes, and showered, before hugging my kids. I waited a couple days before collecting my gear from the trunk and putting it back into my gear room. It felt good to be climbing again, even though I was doing things a bit differently than before.
This summer I received the Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15 backpack to review and I’ve since logged about 25 days of multi-pitch rock climbing and guiding and a half dozen hikes with it. Weighing less than a pound but able to carry my full summer guiding kit I found this to be a great multi-pitch climbing pack and only have a couple small tweaks I’d love to see Black Diamond make.
UPDATE: Contest over! Congrats to Chris B. and Forrest for identifying the climbs!
Let’s start with the manufacturer description:
A worthy addition to any multi-pitch kit, the Rock Blitz 15 is designed to move with you pitch after pitch, carrying all the essentials to the summit. Featuring our signature Blitz-style main opening and a side zip pocket for quick on-route access to a phone, topo, or camera, this pack also has a stripped-down profile for moving fast on big lines. The top closure strap doubles as a rope carry once you summit, and external H2O hose routing gives you the option of staying hydrated on the send. The pack’s EVA padded shoulder straps and back panel make for all-day comfort, while the sternum strap and waist belt are fully removable to save weight on fast and light pushes.
Blitz-style main opening for ease of access while on route
External side zip pocket for quick access to guide book / phone / camera
Stripped down pack silhouette for moving fast on multi-pitch missions
Top strap also doubles as rope carry
External H2O hose routing
EVA Padded shoulder straps and back panel
Height adjustable waist belt for better fit above a climbing harness
Fully removable sternum strap and waist belt to shave weight when necessary
Volume : 15 L (915.4 cu in)
Average Stock Weight : 403 g (14.2 oz)
Materials : 840 D Nylon
The Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15 only comes in one size. Like most climbing packs designed to be worn while leading multiple-pitch rock it rides high on my 5’9″ build, 16 inch torso. The thin waist belt easily rides above my harness and helps secure the pack from swinging around when moving over terrain. The contoured EVA foam shoulder straps easily distribute the weight of a full kit. My only wish is the sternum strap used a more traditional slide adjust system vs the girth-hitched attachment points it currently uses and that the sternum strap buckle had the built in whistle that most climbing packs use these days.
For a simple pack there is some definite stand out features that made me really enjoy this pack. First off is the 15 liter volume. With careful packing I could fit a full guiding kit in here. For reference this is what I fit inside the pack:
This much gear was a snug fit and I’d either carry or just wear my Black Diamond Vapor helmet to the wall. The 840 denier ballistic nylon held up great to a full season of guiding. While I never hauled the bag up a pitch I did wear it through multiple squeeze chimney’s and the pack still looks quite new. The external side zip pocket is advertised to carry your phone, guidebook, or topo. I actually fit my first aid kit and my phone in it for easy access!
Here’s a quick look at the pack after finishing a day of climbing at Cathedral Ledge.
Black Diamond also produced a sweet little video showcasing this pack and a couple other products. I especially liked how they used the “guidebook/phone” pocket… skip to 1:58 to see the 11th “essential”…
This is a great little rugged multi-pitch backpack! Not a lot of thrills but simple and effective for what it was designed for! While it’s main end-use is multi-pitch trad climbing I found it great for quick trail hikes around the White Mountains and along the Maine seacoast. It was also quite useful on a family vacation when were walking around multiple seacoast towns. If you’re in the market for such a pack take a good look at this one!
For those who want a little extra room (and the option to carry ice axes) Black Diamond makes a 20 liter and 28 liter version!
Could you figure out what climbs the two “anchor” pics were? The first who answers either one correctly win a Black Diamond Pearbiner Screwgate Locking Carabiner. If the first person gets both right first they win both carabiners! Bonus cool points if you can also name what pitch I was on!
UPDATE: Contest over! Congrats to Chris B. and Forrest for identifying the climbs!
See you in the mountains!
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: A media sample was provided for purpose of review. All opinions are my own. Affiliate links above support the content created here at no additional cost to you. When you shop through these link a small commission is earned. Northeast Alpine Start is an Amazon Associate. Thank you.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
915 g, 32.3 oz
Volume: 22 L
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to make sure I have the date available and discuss personal goals and…
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.
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!
Week with Pete
Crowd Pleaser Pitch 1
Crowd Pleaser Pitch 2
Clip-A-Dee-Dah Pitch 1
Taking it all in towards the top of Jimmy Cliff
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.
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.
Despite it lightly raining a few times on the approach the rock stayed relative dry and the climbing went well.
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!
I took advantage of this 4th class descent trail to practice some short-rope technique.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 NorthAmerican 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…
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…
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.
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.
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?
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
“I’m planning to go in direct, call off belay, and rig to rappel” – climber
“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
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:
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!
Accidents in North American Mountaineering, 2013, pages 9-12
Accidents in North American Climbing, 2016, page 125