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

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

Part 3 of this three part Cascade climbing series will cover climbing the Disappointment Cleaver Route on Mount Rainier.

Part 3: The Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Looking down towards our camp at the Ingraham Flats from above “the Cleaver” photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier


Getting There/Lodging

To finish off our hat trick of Cascade climbs we left the northern Cascades and returned to Seattle to pick up some friends before heading to Ashford, WA, the gateway to Mount Rainier National Park. The drive to Ashford from Seattle takes just under two hours. Most of our group had reserved cabins at the Stone Creek Lodge just minutes from the park entrance. My climbing partner and I had space reserved at the Cougar Rock Campground about 20 minutes within the park boundary.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Overview map of Ashford, park entrance, Paradise and lodging

Weather

We went for the second half of July and were lucky to nail a stretch of excellent weather. June, July, and August can all offer great summer alpine climbing conditions with June being a bit colder and wetter and August opening up a bit more crevasses on the glaciers. For mountain specific weather forecasts on Mount Rainier go here:

Mountain Weather Forecast- Mount Rainier


Day 1: Paradise to Moon Rocks

After a very hearty breakfast at the highly recommended Copper Creek Restaurant we made the scenic drive up to Paradise, the launch pad of adventures on the south side of Mount Rainier. Paradise is a very busy hub of mountain recreation with apparently thousands of visitors a day. We had picked up our permit the day before so we got right on the trail and started our ascent. While I forgot to run my GPS app or watch this day I’ve created a GPX file on CalTopo of the most common route and used the GuidePace App to calculate average times for each leg.

First Leg

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
First leg from Paradise to Pebble Creek Trail via Skyline Trail

Distance 1.55 miles, elevation (+1300), time estimate 1 hour 37 minutes

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Looking back towards Alta Vista and Paradise

Be warned this first section of “trail” is quite congested with day visitors from all over the world. The trail is actually paved for the first mile and a heavy ranger presence tries as best as possible to keep visitors from trampling the beautiful alpine meadows here. Once you reach the Pebble Creek trail the crowd will thin a little…

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Peter just before reaching the Pebble Creek Trail

Second leg

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Second leg from Pebble Creek Trail to the creek (last flowing water)

Distance .55 miles, elevation (+530), time estimate 38 minutes

Third leg

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Third leg, Pebble Creek to Moon Rocks camp

Distance 1.28 miles, elevation (+1680), time estimate 1 hour 48 minutes

Shortly after gaining the Pebble Creek Trail you’ll come to the actual creek which was a reliable source of water for us to top off our bottles. Right after crossing the creek you start the long slog up the Muir Snowfield. This leg can drag on a little but eventually we reached our camp. After digging some level tent platforms at about 8800 feet we kicked back and soaked in a gorgeous sunset.

Climbing Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier
Climbing Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier with Mount Adams in the distance
Climbing Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainier
The Northeast Mountaineering team arrives at camp
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Setting up camp below Anvil Rock at 8,800 feet on the Muir Snowfield- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Soaking in the last of the days sun

Day 2: Moon Rocks to Ingraham Flats

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
The sun rises on our second day on the mountain- photo by Cait Bourgault Photography
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Moon Rocks to Ingraham Flats

We broke camp mid-morning and started our climb up to Ingraham Flats. The day before I had found a trickle of running water in rocks a few hundred feet above our site and I was happy to see it was still running enough in the morning to top off our bottles, greatly reducing the amount of fuel/snow melting we would need. We reached Camp Muir in just over an hour. We relaxed for a bit before roping up to cross the Cowlitz Glacier.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Roping up at Camp Muir- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

Crossing the upper Cowlitz Glacier was straightforward and we were soon scrambling up the ridge that separates the Cowlitz from the Ingraham glacier.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Looking back towards Camp Muir, Cowlitz Glacier
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Reaching Ingraham Flats. “The Cleaver” for which the route is named is the rocky ridge to the right

Total climbing time to Ingraham was about 3 hours from our camp at Moon Rocks so we had plenty of time to level sites and dig a privy before settling in.


Day 3- Acclimatization and Crevasse Rescue Practice

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Sunrise over Little Tahoma Peak- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

Our third day on the peak was set aside for acclimatizing and a little crevasse rescue practice. Late in the morning we made our way down to the giant crevasses just below our camp and set to building snow anchors and lowering each other into the crevasse. This would certainly be a highlight for many on the trip!

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Setting anchors for crevasse rescue practice- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography
Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
My climbing partner Peter climbs out of crevasse- photo by @cfphotography

Later that afternoon before turning in we got to watch a pretty spectacular natural rockfall from Gilbratar Rock!

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Natural rockfall on Gilbratar Rock funnels towards “Cadaver Gap”- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

After hydrating and eating as much as I could we turned in well before sunset as our summit day start time was 2300 (11 PM)!  Everyone was feeling pretty strong after a full rest day at 11,000 feet but we knew the following day would be a long one!


Day 4: Summit and Out!

We rallied at 11 PM and quickly got on the trail by 11:30 PM. A couple of groups had passed through on their summit attempts from Camp Muir and I was eager to not get behind more parties.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Our summit route

We made good time up the cleaver and entered the mythical looking sastrugi above the ridge.

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Mystical looking snow formations- photo by Cait Bourgault Photography

The route the rangers and guides had selected greatly reduced exposure to objective hazards but required dropping 400 feet of elevation after getting above the Cleaver and then far to the north eventually joining up with the Emmon’s Glacier route before turning and gaining the summit crater on the far north side. Despite the extra mileage and elevation we managed to pass the few parties that had gotten out ahead of us. We were the first group on the mountain to summit about 15 minutes before sunrise, about 6 hours after leaving our high camp!

Climbing Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier
Reaching the summit crater of Mount Rainier just before sunrise- photo by Cait Bourgault Photography
Climbing Mount Rainier
An amazing group of people to share this adventure with!- photo by @cfphotography
Climbing Mount Rainier
Sunrise from the summit crater Rainier- photo by Cait Bourgault Photography

One of the best things about summiting a peak in the dark is the views on the descent are all unseen and we were treated to stunning clear skies and under-cast for days!

Climbing Mount Rainier
Descending back to Ingraham Flats- photo by @cfphotography

After climbing back down the Cleaver we arrived at Ingraham Flats exactly 9.5 hours from the start of our climb, about 9 AM. We broke down camp and rested for a bit before descending to Muir Camp and all the way out to Paradise.

Summary

Rainier has been on my bucket list for a very long time. I’ve helped east coast climbers prep for this mountain for over a decade and it was great to finally experience this peak with such great people and in such great conditions. I hope this trip report and guide might help you plan a trip to this incredible place someday!

More info coming!

I will be uploading GPX files and some video of our climb in the very near future!

Gear List

If you are interested in the exact gear I used on this trip you can find a complete and comprehensive gear list here!

Information on Guided Trips: www.nemmountaineering.com. Click on “Mountaineering” to see all Cascade Climbing Trips.

Affiliate links help support this blog.

Gear Review- Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack

I’ve been hoping to test a Mountain Tools pack for a couple of years now and early this summer I finally got my hands on one of this California companies new models, the ultra-light sleek and streamlined Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack.

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review- photo from mtntools.com

After multiple cragging days on Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges, some fast & light missions in Huntington Ravine, and some excellent alpine climbing in the northern Cascades, I’m ready to share my opinions of this pack. As usual I like to start with the obvious and work through the minutiae later on in the review.


Weight

Weighing in at only 11 ounces (310 grams) this pack seems to accomplish a lot with its design. For comparison one of the most popular similar styles from a competitor weighs 8 ounces more! The foam back pad is removable if one wishes to save yet another ounce but I prefer the padding stay intact when carrying an alpine rack with a few cams that might otherwise prod your back a little. Because this pack is so light I’ve been able to comfortably strap it to the outside of my Hyperlight Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack for multi-day alpine climbs when I wanted to have a smaller summit pack along.

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle- photo by Benny Allen

Durability

Made of 210 denier nylon with a polyester grid the material feels quite bomb-proof and abrasion resistant in hand. A “PET” laminate and hydrophobic webbing makes this pack highly water-resistant if not completely waterproof. After about 20 days of use the only noticeable wear is a small tear on the bottom, smaller than a dime, from a razor sharp rock I didn’t see during a quick “butt scoot” move while running down the Huntington Ravine trail. I’m certainly not disappointed that the material ripped on this feature and actually quite impressed with how fast the “rip-stop” material halted the tear. A lesser pack fabric would have probably ended in a much larger tear.

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
The author on the summit of Forbidden Peak, north Cascades

Comfort

This pack is designed to ride close and high on the torso for optimum climbing performance. As I mentioned I find the removable thin foam back pad to be a boon in comfort so I leave it intact. The shoulder straps have thin foam padding and contour nicely around my shoulders. The sternum strap easily adjusts to the proper height and has my often praised feature, the built-in whistle. The waist belt is very thin and easily rides above my harness. A “V” connection of the waist-belt to the pack body helps draw the pack in closer to the body further making this pack ride as if it were part of you. Considering the light loads you are likely to be hauling in this pack it is more than enough comfortable!

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
Author on the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak- photo by Matty Bowman

Storage

At 1,450 cubic inches (24 liters) one does have to consider what they will be carrying. I can easily fit the following gear inside the pack (and generally pack it in this order):

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket

AMK .7 First Aid Kit

SOL Emergency Bivy Sack

Nalgene Tritan 32 oz water bottle

Standard Trad Rack (set of Wallnuts, BD X4’s .1-.4, BD C4’s .4-#2)

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
Light climbing rack

Set of 5 alpine quick-draws and 2 mini-quads

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
Alpine Draws and Mini-Quads!

Personal Climbing Gear

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
Personal Climbing Gear

Five Ten Rogue Climbing Shoes

AMK .7 First Aid Kit

Inside the zippered mesh pocket I keep my Petzl Zipka Headlamp, some lip-balm, and my energy gels/bars.

Full length daisy chains on the outside of the pack allow easy attachment of my Petzl Sirocco Helmet (review here)and chalk bag. The two compression straps allow securing of a climbing rope.

Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review
Mountain Tools Slipstream Pack Review

Accessories/Hydration

It would be great if Mountain Tools could add a single ice axe loop. There is an accessory offered for $7.95, “Ice Tool Straps” that probably addresses this desire but I think a single sewn loop at the bottom would be a great addition. The foam back panel sleeve does have room for a 2-3L hydration bladder but there is no hydration port so you would have to run the tube through the main zipper. For this reason I like to stick with a collapsible water bottle like the new Vapur Eclipse 1L water bottle I’ve been using. “Speed Racks” are also available for an additional $29.95 though I did not get a chance to demo that accessory.


Summary

While at first look this pack doesn’t seem to be that complicated its design reveals simplicity, functionality, and durability. It is an almost ideal summit pack, light enough to “piggy back” on your overnight pack, compressible enough to double as a sleeping bag stuff sack, durable enough to scum up countless chimneys, and balanced enough to skip down many more descents. If you are in need of a fast & light summit pack this one deserves some consideration!

About Mountain Tools: Mountain Tools is a family owned business serving climbers and mountaineers since 1980. We represent a comprehensive selection of gear from the best manufacturers and ship to our customers world wide and design and manufacture over 100 products – with the Mountain Tools label – to improve our climbing efficiency – including our  Packs for Climbers, Web Gear and Climbers Luggage.  Our experience includes outfitting expeditions, big wall climbing, guiding rock, ice and alpine treks plus volunteer search management and technical rescue. 

Disclaimer: This sample was provided to the author for purpose of review. Affiliate links help support this blog.


16 pitches on Cathedral Ledge!

Yesterday I met Antonio from Madrid, Spain at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse close to Jackson, NH. Antonio had decades of climbing experience from Yosemite to the Andes & Alps and was super excited to sample some of the granite climbing of New Hampshire. The weather forecast called for rain by 2pm so we wasted no time getting to the cliff and started up our first route at 8:30am, Funhouse.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Starting pitch one of Funhouse

Antonio’s experience and ability was apparent from the start as he climbed with skill and grace.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Finishing pitch 2 of Funhouse

We made our way from Funhouse up to Upper Refuse and quickly dispatched it in 2 pitches.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Finishing Upper Refuse

With us both at the fence at the top of the cliff I checked my watch… 10AM. That is probably the fastest I have climbed Cathedral via Funhouse to Upper Refuse while guiding ever! Antonio hadn’t broken a sweat yet so I decided to let him sample some of the great cliff top climbing we have before we headed down for more multi-pitch fun.

Within an hour Antonio ticked off The Lookout Crack (5.9), last pitch of Recompense (5.9) Little Feat (5.9), and the last pitch of The Prow (5.10a).

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
The Lookout Crack- Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Little Feat
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Last pitch of The Prow
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Classic jams on the last pitch of The Prow

By North Conway Rock Climbs Antonio had climbed 10 pitches by the time we meandered over for a snack atop Airation Buttress. We then headed down to the top of the Thin Air Face and I short pitched us to the Saigon anchor. Antonio took a quick lap on the last pitch of Still in Saigon (5.8+) (historically called Miss Saigon).

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Last few moves (the crux) of Miss Saigon

We then did three quick single rope raps using Rapid Transit anchors and found ourselves at the base of an empty and open Thin Air right at noon. After another quick snack session we combined the first two pitches and topped out Thin Air at about 1pm.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Antonio on the pitch 2 traverse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Belay stance selfie
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Just above pitch 4 crux

Finishing up the 5.8 finish that brought the pitch total to 15… but it wasn’t raining yet… and Antonio still had energy to spare! Even though my radar app showed some stuff coming within an hour we squeezed in a quick top-belay of Pine Tree Eliminate (5.8+) to finish our tour de force of some of Cathedral Ledge’s best rock climbing.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Finishing strong

We hustled down the descent trail reaching the cars right at 2 PM as the rain overtook the area.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
My Radar App

In 5.5 hours we climbed Cathedral Ledge twice. Antonio racked up 1,110 feet of technical climbing according to North Conway Rock Climbs. It was definitely a fun day of moving quickly and efficiently on the cliff. It was great to get to practice some transition skills from the previous day’s Mountain Guide Manual Clinic all for the purpose of giving my client the best possible day I could during his short visit. I shot some video during the day that I edited and uploaded here:

We are climbing again this upcoming Monday when the weather settles. I’m picturing something alpine. I can’t wait!

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Antonio ready for more after 16 pitches of climbing on Cathedral Ledge!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog

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



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Pinnacle in 2 hours! Wilderness Navigation! Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge!

Two weeks ago I wrote about my personal goal to climb the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle in under 2 hours car to car after doing it in 2:37. Last Thursday weather and a partner lined up for another attempt. We managed to shave about 10 minutes from the descent and some more time on the route by not swinging leads (I led the whole route via the 5.8 variation and Fairy Tale Traverse). After coiling the rope I checked the watch and was a little dismayed to see we only have 19 minutes left. I was pretty sure it would take me at least 25 minutes to reach the car at my pace. We started scrambling up the boulder field as fast as my lungs could handle. As we got closer I started to think we might make it. Then I started to get nervous that I would miss it by 2 minutes and have to try this whole thing over again. That prospect helped me dig down a little harder despite feeling like I would be dry-heaving from the effort. I was so stoked to make it with a minute and a half to spare! Here’s some action from our climb!


Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
The author clips his first piece of protection on the exposed and beautiful “Fairy Tale Traverse”, a variation last pitch of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle photo by Matt Milone, @nightmutephoto

I’m happy to have checked this personal goal off my list. Quite a few have asked “why rush so much… enjoy the route… using the road is cheating… etc. etc.” To them say I have climbed this route at a more typical pace over a dozen times, I enjoyed this made up challenge, and I don’t think you can cheat on something that is 100% for you and not recognized by anyone else. I’m very thankful for all those who provided encouragement and especially Benny Allen and Matt Milone for the belays and hustle!


Over the weekend I had the opportunity to teach my Wilderness Navigation Course to 11 participants for the Appalachian Mountain Club. I really have a blast teaching this course and this group seemed to really enjoy the bushwhacking we did during our afternoon session.

Wilderness Navigation Course
A beaver dam on our way to our field session- Wilderness Navigation Course

Yesterday I had the pleasure of introducing Kellie of Exeter, NH to outdoor rock climbing. Kellie had been climbing indoors for almost two years and was quite enthusiastic to try the sport out on some real rock. Her natural ability and focus had her climbing close to 600 feet of climbing up to 5.8 without hardly breaking a sweat. I’m really looking forward to our next climb together!

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Kellie starts up Upper Refuse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Topping out Upper Refuse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Lay-backing on Kiddy Crack
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Sending the Mantle-shelf Problem 1st try!

Coming up!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Tuesday Tech Tip! A whole new round of gear reviews is en-route as well!

Book any course at Northeast Mountaineering and use promo code “DavidNEM” at checkout. This will enter you into a monthly raffle to win a free guided day of your choosing!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Review: Petzl Sitta Harness

Reblogging this review from last Fall after noticing it on a strong sale price online! If you’re looking to upgrade your harness this rock season you should take a look!

Northeast Alpine Start

The Petzl Sitta (pronounced SEE-Tah) is a stand-out harness in the very small and exclusive class of high-end technical harnesses. I bought my first top-of-the-line harness back in 1995 when I realized I was addicted to climbing. The Petzl Guru was a stand out at that time both for its notice-able rescue orange color and its high price point (it was double what most harnesses cost in the 90’s).

Petzl Sitta Review Petzl Sitta Review

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Despite the price tag I never regretted the purchase as it was really comfortable for the era and served me well for the start of my climbing career from Red Rocks to the Rockies and back East. Since I retired it around 2000 I’ve gone through a steady stream of harnesses, almost always Petzl; Adajama, Corax, Calidris, Sama, another Adajama, then a Hirundos (review), and now the Petzl Sitta.

Let’s…

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