This is my second year on the Ortovox Athlete Team and it has been so awesome representing such a top tier outdoor clothing and gear company. As an avalanche educator I’ve relied on Ortovox beacons and shovels for almost a decade and over the last two years I’ve discovered the difference between run-of-the-mill outdoor clothing and Ortovox clothing. I won’t go into great detail here but suffice to say blending Merino wool in hard and soft shell outerwear was ingenious!
What I want to share today is another example of Ortovox’s continued commitment to safety and education. Some of your probably already know that Ortovox supports avalanche education with partnerships with AIARE and beyond. This past Spring Ortovox launched a free online training platform focused on alpine climbing. With over 30 video tutorials (in stunning climbing locations), educational modules that save your progress, quizzes, and four chapters this is an amazing resource to up your climbing game. Support was also provided by Petzl, another industry leader in climbing education!
It took me about 2 hours to go through the whole program. I definitely picked up some new tricks to add to my bag!
Here’s a breakdown from Ortovox of the four chapters:
From climbing park to large alpine rock faces: ORTOVOX provides an insight into the world of alpine climbing – starting from the subjective and objective dangers, to rock knowledge, through to the necessary materials.
Carefully considered and realistic tour planning is an essential part of alpine climbing. As part of this, various factors have to be taken into consideration: selecting the appropriate climbing tour, the area and weather conditions, correctly reading a topographical map and carefully packing a backpack.
ON THE ROCK FACE
From the ascent to the summit and back again safely. In the third chapter, ORTOVOX will familiarize you with fundamental knowledge about alpine climbing. Topics such as knot techniques, belaying and the use of anchors play a central role
If there is an accident in alpine terrain, climbers need to act quickly, correctly and in a considered manner. The final chapter explains how climbers handle emergency situations.
I’ve never seen such a broad amount of modern accurate information on climbing presented in such a cool online manner before and know a lot of my climbing friends will be going through this the next time rain cancels a climbing day! You can check it out here. I’m sure you’ll learn something new and be stoked to share it within your climbing circles!
I hope you have all been having a great winter so far. For me the early season ice climbing was great with a couple Black Dike ascents getting it off to a good start.
Then we got 82 inches of snow in December followed by another foot the first week of January and it appeared we were about to enjoy an epic snow year. Then between January 11th-13th we received 3 inches of rain and lost over two feet of our snow-pack.
A highlight of this event was a massive wet slab avalanche that was larger than one recently retired Snow Ranger saw in his 10+ years of service there! Standing out on the debris with students two days after the slide one could not help but be impressed by the power of Mother Nature. It made regional news headlines and I saw quite a few people trek up to the floor of the ravine just to get a first hand look at it!
January failed to recover our snow-pack finishing the month with a total of only 29 inches (12 of which were washed away during that rain event). That is less snow in January in more than 10 years!
While it seemed a bit devastating the bright side was we started seeing ice form in strange places and ephemeral routes like Gandolf the Great and Hard Rane came in FAT!
All this ice was great for the 25th annual Ice Fest and despite a burly cold first day of the event folks seemed to have a great three days at the event.
We’ve been having another great year for our avalanche courses with 6 AIARE 1 courses behind us, an Avalanche Rescue course, and an AIARE 2 course that just ended yesterday (with ski conditions that signaled ski season is definitely back!)
Here’s some footage showing our last day of our AIARE 2 course which should get you stoked for the rest of the ski season!
If you do book any of these courses be sure to use “DavidNEM” in the promo/notes box to be entered into a drawing for a free guided adventure.
I have been testing a ton of great new gear this season from companies like Petzl, Sterling, Black Diamond, Kailas, Arcteryx, DPS, Dynafit, and many more. Expect to see a lot of new gear reviews posting in March and April as I find time to give these products honest and detailed reviews.
Looks like another nice dumping of snow (totals up to 14″) is coming Wednesday so I’m really looking forward to this weekends avalanche course! Hope you get out and enjoy the snow and thanks for reading!
While I’m not super excited about how commercialized our holidays have become I do get stoked on seeing big discounts on gear that I own and love. I subscribe to quite a few gear companies emails and I’m combing them all for the best upcoming sales on specific items I have either reviewed or would love to own. I will also be specific on what the actual discount offered is! None of the “up to x percent off”… I hope you find this list more personal than your average marketing email, and if you have any questions about any of my suggested products please let me know in the comments!
Have a great Holiday tomorrow and be sure to #optoutside on Black Friday! I will be standing by REI’s great initiative on Friday and am pledging to myself and family that I will be 100% “radio” silent (and outdoors). I will continue this with Part 2 and be sharing deals I find around Cyber Monday and Tech Tuesday so stay tuned and…
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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The official start to winter may be over a month away but for many of us in the Northeast the proverbial snowball is rolling now! This past weekend is when I flip the switch from Fall rock climbing to thinking a lot about snow and ice starting with attending the 7th annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop (ESAW) this past weekend.
Word among the climbers in the crowd was how the Black Dike saw its first ascent of the season today by the insatiable Zac St. Jules and team.
On Saturday over 150 attended this gathering of avalanche professionals, educators, and recreationalists to learn more about managing risk in our beloved mountain ranges. All of the speakers gave great presentations and I’ll link Jonathan Shefftz’s detailed write-up for The Avalanche Review as soon as it is out of draft! After a solid day of presentations we continued to chat all things snow while mingling with the dozen vendor booths that help support ESAW’s mission.
While this was going on my Instagram feed showed me Fafnir, the Black Dike’s more burly neighbor went down to a couple of local climbers.
I also saw that Zac did not need a rest day after the Black Dike for he and three others including my friend Dave Dillon of Chase The Summit, bagged the first ascent of Pinnacle braving some really burly cold conditions during a 4 AM start! Both the Black Dike and Fafnir got subsequent ascents and I made plans to head up to Pinnacle early the next morning to attempt the second ascent of Pinnacle.
Assuming the cat was out of the bag we met at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center at 5:30 AM hoping to get a jump on other early season ice addicts. My friend Mike Leathum and Andrew Maver, both of IMCS, were all ready to hit the trail with Pinnacle as the objective but since we were a party of three we would probably not catch them since we were still in the gear organizing stage. We hit the trail by headlamp at about 5:45 and reached the base of Pinnacle right at 8 AM. Mike and Andrew had decided to head over to a tasty looking North Gully so we roped up and started up Pinnacle.
I lead in “parallel” and Benny² simul-ed with me a bit to reach the pin anchor. The ice was great and easily took 13 CM screws when needed.
I ran the second pitch together with the third and was soon sticking somewhat frozen turf shots as I pulled out onto the top of the buttress. By 10:10 AM we were all on top enjoying some sun and grub. I watched some other climbers start up Yale Gully and would only discover while writing this post (thanks Facebook) that they were my friends Joe Cormier and Andrew Blease! I also noticed Mike and Andrew had finished North Gully and were likely already heading across the Alpine Gardens.
We packed up and headed up, over, and down Lion’s Head Summer Route but first took a look into Tuckerman Ravine. Left of Left Gully looked good and there was ice all over the Headwall. We saw some climbers heading into the floor of the Ravine that were likely our fellow Northeast Mountaineering Guide Matty Bowman and Mike Pelchat who would climb the aesthetic “Open Book”.
Other reports of climbing from over in Vermont and the Adirondacks also appeared on NEIce and with no real warm temps in the next 10 days I’d say we are off to an EXCELLENT start! No doubt Dracula and Willard will see ascents by next weekend (or sooner?). Shoestring Gully is likely to get done this week. It’s time folks! Get your gear together and get out there!!!
After our successful summit of Mount Shuksan via the Fisher Chimney’s we took a rest day and camped at Douglas Fir Campground. The next day we drove to the ranger station in Marblemount to collect our back-country permit and then took the scenic Cascade River Road to the trail-head.
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak is one of the “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America” and is considered Grade II, YDS 5.6. After a half day approach into Boston Basin the route climbs a perennial snow field before ascending a moderate gully to one of the most spectacular ridge climbs you can imagine. Massive exposure with relatively good rock quality and a stunning summit make it easy to see why this route made the aforementioned list!
Location: 7280 Ranger Station Rd., Marblemount, WA 98267. Drive SR 20 toward Marblemount. Turn onto Ranger Station Road, which leaves SR 20 at milepost 105.3, just west of Marblemount, and drive 0.7 miles to the end of the road and the ranger station. Exhibits: Exhibits about wilderness and backcountry travel. Relief map. Sales of books, maps, and other items related to wilderness, hiking, and climbing.
Available Facilities: This center is the main backcountry permit office for North Cascades National Park and the adjacent Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. Information desk. Sales area with books, maps, videos, and other items related to the national park and adjacent national forests. Backcountry permits are required year-round and are available at an outdoor self-issue station when the station is closed during the winter season.
Marblemount, WA is just under two hours from Seattle. After obtaining your permit from the ranger station it’s about a twenty five minute drive to the unmarked trail-head.
We went for the second half of July and were lucky to nail a 12 day 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 Forbidden Peak go here:
The approach trail climbs about 3,300 feet in 3.75 miles and took us exactly three hours. We found some level tent sites at the “upper bivy” right at the toe of the snowfield that provided plenty of running water. A few brief showers came through and we were treated to some excellent “god rays” as the sun set and we turned in for an alpine start.
The next day we started out at about 4 AM.
Day 2 GPS Details
Easy climbing up through the snowfield brought us to the start of the gully that would allow access to the ridge. The “Heartstone” is a rock buttress directly above us in the photo that serves as a good landmark for finding the snow gully that is hidden from view. The route climbed up thinning snow just to the left of this feature. In the gully proper the snow climbing was straight forward until we hit a glide crack that required a big balance step to surmount. The snow ended about 200 feet from the ridge so we pitched out a few short 3rd-4th class pitches. This stretch was the only place on the ascent that had a decent amount of loose rock so care was needed.
We stashed our mountaineering boots, crampons, and ice axes and switched into approach shoes for the rest of the climb in the small col on the ridge. The exposure begins almost immediately with a airy step over a gap in the ridge with a chock-stone that perfectly frames the lower snow gully you just climbed up. You can see this spot clearly in the video I will link further below.
The climbing was enjoyable, the rock felt solid, the views were un-believe-able… For speed we mixed up our techniques between simul-climbing and short-pitching with only about 20 meters of rope between us. This made for easy communication and simplified rope management.
We made the summit in 7.5 hours after leaving our camp in Boston Basin having climbed 3.9 miles and over 2,500 feet in elevation. The small pointed summit of Forbidden is one of the most amazing places I have ever stood in the mountains. The terrain is so dramatic as you look back along the ridge you just traversed and see the thousand feet of air on each side.
After refueling we reversed direction and returned to the col to collect our snow gear. We then scrambled down to skiers right of the snow gully we had ascended and located the first rappel anchor in “Cat Scratch Gully”, an alternate 4th class ascent route to the snow gully. Five 30m rappels brought us to back to the snowfield where we enjoyed some decent boot glissading in the warming snow all the way back down to our camp.
We packed up camp and hiked back out to the trailhead in just under 2 hours.
I’ve had some time to reflect on this climb and I can say with certainty it will be one of the most memorable climbs of my life. I feel so fortunate to have not only had the opportunity to climb it but to do so with such great partners and friends and perfect weather and route conditions. I hope this trip report and guide might help you plan a trip to this incredible place someday!
If you are interested in the gear I used on this trip you can find a complete and comprehensive gear list here!
Here’s a four minute video I made of our climb, enjoy!
My friend and professional video producer created this amazing short film of our climb! Check it out!
A week ago I returned from a two week climbing trip in the Cascades of Washington State and ticked off three classic climbs. While I’ve had amazing climbing trips to Colorado, Nevada, and California this most recent trip has likely become my most memorable. I’ll share a trip report, GPS track, detailed gear list, pics and tips for each route. I hope that you find some of this useful in planning your own Cascade adventure!
Our first objective for this two week trip was the glaciated 9,131 foot massif often claimed to be the most photographed mountain in the Cascades. The easiest route up this idyllic peak is via the Sulphide Glacier Route, a mostly glacier/snow climb that has some 3rd class scrambling on the “Summit Pyramid”. We opted for the Fisher Chimney’s route. One might choose the more technical Fisher Chimney’s Route for a few reasons.
You like 4th class climbing
You have three days for your climb (can be done in two very long days)
You know about one of the most scenic bivy sites above the Chimneys to spend a night
Before hitting the trail you need to register at the Glacier Public Service Center. From northern Bellingham off of Interstate 5, drive east 34 miles on the Mount Baker Highway (State Route 542). From Seattle this is about a 2 hour drive. From the service center it’s about another 30 minutes to the Lake Ann Trailhead.
We went for the second half of July and were lucky to nail a 12 day 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 Shuksan go here:
We started our hike around noon on day 1. After leaving the parking lot a series of switchbacks lead us down almost 1,400 feet into a scenic valley with a crystal clear stream that runs southeast.
After a second noticeable stream crossing the trail gains some elevation and contours at about 4040 feet before descending again to the Swift Creek Trail junction and the last river crossing before ascending up to Lake Ann on a relatively nondescript snow field.
It appears many can lose the trail here so following the GPS track or having an established boot pack through the snowfield will be helpful. We reached our first camp at Lake Ann in just under 3 hours from leaving the trailhead. There were plenty of nice places to shovel out a level tent platform around the southeast side of the lake close to some small dirt/forest openings that made for convenient gathering spots for cooking and hanging out.
Day 2- Fisher Chimney’s
The following morning we took our time breaking camp. We spent a couple hours covering crampon and ice technique along with a clinic on building snow anchors and moving together in a rope team.
Around 11am we started our approach to the Fisher Chimney’s. After a half dozen switchbacks through forest we traversed a long snowfield to the base of the more technical climbing.
You’ll notice if you look carefully on the above map that where the USFS labeled “Fisher Chimney” is WAY off from the actual route. You can also see this well defined gully in the satellite imagery on the pic just above, just after the switchbacks. This gully IS NOT the actual route. Follow the GPS track I uploaded or study the below pictures carefully.
Here we negotiated a small moat then started short-roping and short-pitching our way up about 1,000 feet of great 4th class climbing. Full overnight packs do make this scrambling a bit more “real” so don’t put your sleeping pad/bag on the top of your pack. Head clearance to look up will make the climbing much more enjoyable.
Above the chimneys we moved through a notch of the “Shuksan Arm” and briefly traveled on the top of the “White Salmon Glacier” before reaching the most scenic bivy site I have ever seen. A small pool of melt water a hundred yards downhill from our camp provided water which allowed minimal use of our stoves and we settled in for one of the best sunsets I’ve experienced in my life.
Day 3- Summit and Out!
Our alpine start was at 3:30am. A quick climb up “Winnie’s Slide” brought us past an occupied higher bivy option (consistent water source here) then up along the left side of the Upper Curtis glacier and “Hell’s Highway”.
After one more steep snow pitch we joined the Sulfide Glacier route just ahead of some parties that were making their way up from lower down the mountain. We were glad to be in position for first on the summit, and more importantly up the 3rd class gullies leading to the summit.
Gentle climbing as the sun rose led us to the base of the summit pyramid where we converted from glacier travel back to short-roping and short-pitching for the 600 foot 3rd class scramble to the top. There is quite a bit of loose rock on this final stretch that required due caution. Even with care one of our party took a decent sized rock to their helmet. I was quite happy we were the first group to reach this section due to the amount of loose rock. Next time I will certainly check out the “Southeast Ridge” variation that has some easy 5th class bits but reportedly has much less objective danger on it based on both personal referrals and online posts.
We summited just under 6 hours from leaving our high camp.
GPS Info… unfortunately I discovered I had left the Bluetooth setting on with my Garmin 3 HR watch and killed the battery pre-maturely. Close to the summit I decided to fire up my Suunto Movescount iPhone App and got a decent track of our final push:
To descend from the summit we short-roped down the southwest ridge until we reached a rap station. From here it was about three to four 30m rappels back down to the Sulfide Glacier and a relatively quick walk back to our high camp. We broke down camp then descended the Fisher Chimney’s via short rappels, belayed down-climbing, and short-roping, arriving at Lake Ann around 4pm. After a short break we pushed down into the scenic valley and then back up towards the car. After climbing back up the 3 switch-backs that started our trip we reached the cars about 17 hours after starting our summit climb… a long but incredibly memorable day in the mountains!
If you are interested in the gear I used on this trip you can find a complete and comprehensive gear list here!
This was my first glaciated climb. My first 9,000 foot peak. My first “blue bag” experience. I was ecstatic to get to use skills I have read about, practiced, and even taught over the last 15 years in a successful group climb of this peak. Below I’ll list the exact gear I carried on this adventure with comments on what worked and what didn’t. I hope some will find this a useful resource for planning their own climb of Mount Shuksan. Feel free to ask me questions in the comments below, I’d be happy to elaborate on anything!
Here’s a 4 minute video of some stills and video clips of the climb!
The Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket is the lightest synthetic belay jacket I have tested this season that also competes well in the heat retention department. I previewed this jacket back in November and now that I have tested it above treeline on Mount Washington and while hanging at icy cold belays while ice climbing throughout the White Mountains I am ready to share some more first hand opinions on this piece.
Let’s start with the most important feature:
The Big Agnes Dunkley Hooded Belay Jacket uses 120g of Pinneco Core™ fill in the body and 80g in the sleeves. This “feels” warmer and puffier than the Primaloft ECO insulation used in other jackets I am testing and has decent compress-ability. I wore this over my typical soft-shell and Merino wool layers on Mount Washington in 60+mph winds with wind chills hovering around -40 degrees and was very pleased with the protection it offered. Yesterday after topping out a remote back-country Grade 5 route off the Kancamagus Highway I was grateful for the full enclosure insulated hood while I was stationary and exposed belaying both a photographer and my partner for the better part of a windy hour. Here’s some video from that climb:
Big Agnes does not list much detail in relation to the shell fabric, just: “100% recycled polyester shell is wind-proof and water resistant”. I have reached out to Big Agnes for more info and will update this as soon as I hear back! That said I found it fully windproof. It is likely there is a DWR treatment on the fabric as climbing under a drippy chandelier of ice a week ago the jacket did not take on any moisture.
24.5 oz. / 695 grams. The lightest option in this seasons line up of synthetic belay jackets this piece easily stuffs into an included high quality 10 x 7 stuff-sack. Oddly the manufacturer’s website description references an interior chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack but I believe this must be a web error as there is no interior chest pockets and the exterior chest pocket is far to small to function as a reversible stuff sack.
I went with a size large for my 42 inch chest and it fits great over my typical load out. The adjustable hood is the perfect size for my helmeted head. Arm length is slightly shorter than similar models and the back length feels slightly shorter, which works well over my climbing harness. If in doubt consult the manufacturer’s size chart!
Center front zipper includes interior no-draft flap and a zipper garage at chin
Features YKK Reverse coil zippers
Textured zipper pulls are easy to use with gloves
Adjustable drawcord at hem seals out wind
Two zippered hand-warmer pockets with zipper garages
Large interior mesh pockets for extra stash space
Exterior check pocket
Separate stuff sack included
120g Pinneco Core™ synthetic insulation in body, 80g in the sleeves
Insotect Tubic™ construction provides supreme loft and thermal efficiency
100% recycled polyester shell is wind-proof and water resistant
Jacket weight, size Medium – 24.5oz/ 695g
The Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket is a solid choice for a synthetic belay jacket, a must have item in every ice climber/mountaineer’s kit. I like the high visibility yellow but it also comes in a visible bright blue if yellow isn’t your thing. It comes in black too but I would not recommend that color for a belay jacket (bright colors are happy colors when you are freezing your tuchus off). If you’re in the market for a solid performer in the belay jacket you can pick this one up here at a great price.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Big Agnes provided Northeast Alpine Start a sample for this review and the product has been returned to the manufacturer. All opinions stated above are my own. Affiliate links above support this blog.