Part 2: The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

Part 2 of this three part Cascade climbing series will cover The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak.

Part 2: The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak with Moraine Lake far below

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

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 Route

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!


Registration Details (from NPS.gov)

WILDERNESS INFORMATION CENTER

Wilderness Information Center
Click here for current hours

Phone: 360-854-7245
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.


Getting There

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.

Forbidden Peak Map
I’ve highlighted the ranger station and the objective

Weather

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:

Mountain Weather Forecast- Forbidden Peak


Day 1 GPS Details

Approach to Boston Basin
You can download this GPS track 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 Upper Bivy in Boston Basin, Forbidden Peak
The Upper Bivy in Boston Basin, Forbidden Peak

The next day we started out at about 4 AM.

Alpine start, Boston Basin, Forbidden Peak
Alpine start, Boston Basin, Forbidden Peak

Day 2 GPS Details

West Ridge Forbidden Peak Ascent
Download this GPX file here
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Heading to “the Heartstone”, a good landmark feature, the steeper snow climbing begins on the left side of this feature a couple hundred feet above us. Photo from @mattbaldeli

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 West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Working our way along this classic alpine ridge

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.

The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
The author at the 5.6 crux
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Two parties behind us on the ridge, photo by Matty Bowman
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Close to summit selfies?
The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Summit! The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak

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.

West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
Looking back along the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak from the summit with Moraine Lake far below
West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
West Ridge of Forbidden Peak- photo by Matt Baldelli Photography
West Ridge of Forbidden Peak
The author descending from summit- photo by Matt Baldelli Photography

Descent

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.

Summary

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!

Gear List

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

Videos

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!

Forbidden Peak from Jon Mercer on Vimeo.


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

Affiliate links help support this blog.

Part 1 Cascades Climbing Trip: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

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!

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier


Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
The south side of Mount Shuksan from Lake Ann with the Upper and Lower Curtis Glacier’s. Fisher Chimney’s works up a weakness visible 1/3 from left

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.

  1. You like 4th class climbing
  2. You have three days for your climb (can be done in two very long days)
  3. You know about one of the most scenic bivy sites above the Chimneys to spend a night

Registration Details

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.

Weather

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:

Mountain Weather Forecast- Shuksan

GPS Details Day 1

Download this GPX track file here!

Approach to Lake Ann, Mount Shuksan
Approach to Lake Ann, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Approach to Lake Ann for Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan, Cascades- CalTopo USFS 2016 Map Data

Download this GPX track file 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.

Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Descending Lake Ann Trail enroute to Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

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.

Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Ascending snowfield portion of Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

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.

Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Lake Ann, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
My tent spot near Lake Ann

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.

Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Northeast Mountaineering Guide Jordan talks to the group about building various snow anchors with our route and the Upper Curtis Glacier and Shuksan summit in the background

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.

GPS Details Day 2

Download the GPX track file here!

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Download the GPX track file here!

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.

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan
Lake Ann Trail, Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Just before starting some switch backs to gain the snowfield that allows a traverse to the start of the Chimney’s
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
The route climbs up shallow gully’s and the thin snow strip roughly straight up from my right shoulder in this pic before crossing the Upper Curtis
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Just before getting to the Chimney’s proper… the route is fairly easy to follow if you get into the right feature
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
The orange dots are rough approximations of some of our short pitches. For scale the stripe of snow as almost a full 200 feet from bottom to the first bottleneck

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.

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
There was about 250 feet of snow climbing left on the Chimney’s as of July 17th, 2017
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
My favorite view from the Fisher Chimney’s with Mount Baker in the background
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
White Salmon Glacier, Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

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.

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Our camp above Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan
Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Definitely one of my best moments in the mountains to date!

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”.

Fisher Chimney's, Mount Shuksan
Alpine Start
Crossing the Upper Curtis Glacier, Mount Shuksan
Crossing the Upper Curtis Glacier, Mount Shuksan

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.

Last steeper pitch before gaining the Sulfide Glacier, Mount Shuksan
Last steeper pitch before gaining the Sulfide Glacier, Mount Shuksan

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.

Summit of Mount Shuksan
Summit of Mount Shuksan

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:

Descent

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!

Gear List

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

Summary

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!



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

Affiliate links help support this blog.

Gear Review- Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket

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.

Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket Review
Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket Review- Photo by Brent Doscher Photography

Let’s start with the most important feature:

Warmth

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:



Shell

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.

Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket Review
Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket Review- photo from http://www.bigagnes.com

Weight/Compress-ability

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.


Fit

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!

Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket Review


Features

  • 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

Summary

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.

Intro to Ice Climbing

This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to introduce four guests of Northeast Mountaineering to the joys of ice climbing. The North End of Cathedral is in great shape for early season climbing and we had a full day climbing on the North End Slab and the Pillars.

Yesterday I got out to Frankenstein for the first time this season and enjoyed an excellent condition Pegasus Rock Finish.

This is quickly shaping up to be one of the best ice climbing seasons in recent memory. If you’d like to book a lesson with me let me know, I still have some mid-week dates available.

http://www.nemountaineering.com/ice-climbing/guided-ice-climbing-1-day/

If you book online use coupon code “DavidNEM” to have a chance at winning a free guided day!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Eastern Snow Avalanche Workshop

A couple weeks ago I attended the sixth annual Eastern Snow & Avalanche Workshop and wrote a brief summary of the event with a few photos. Here, with permission, is a special sneak preview of the more detailed report my friend and colleague Jonathan Shefftz has written for The Avalanche Review before it goes to print! Enjoy!

6th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop
6th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop

Sixth Annual Eastern Snow & Avalanche Workshop (“ESAW”)

by Jonathan S. Shefftz

The sixth annual Eastern Snow & Avalanche Workshop (“ESAW”) on November 5 attracted approximately 150 attendees at Fryeburg Academy, just across the state border from New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in the White Mountains’ Presidential Range.

This year’s ESAW was as always a collaborative effort.  The organizing partners included the Snow Rangers of the USFS Mount Washington Avalanche Center (“MWAC”) and the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol (“MWVSP”).  ESAW once again relied on a grant from our lead sponsor the American Avalanche Association (“AAA”), to be led here soon by Eastern Representative-elect Mark Renson, with your faithful correspondent as AAA Member Representative.  Additional support came from our headline industry sponsor Outdoor Research.  Registration fee proceeds over and above hosting costs benefitted the White Mountain Avalanche Education Fund, which provides avalanche education to youth of the Northeast.

ESAW kicked off the prior Friday evening with a social event hosted by the Friends of MWAC and fueled by Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing at the International Mountain Equipment shop and guide service.  Then Saturday morning the avalanche presentations started up at Fryeburg Academy.

Chris Joosen, MWAC former Lead Snow Ranger (only the third since its 1951 formation) and outgoing AAA Eastern Representative, flew back East from his new Oregon home to serve yet again as our MC.  Also flying out East was our first presenter, Simon Trautman of the National Avalanche Center (“NAC”), who introduced us to “Avalanche Danger Scales and How Forecasters Use Them” including data to compare/contrast ratings distributions across the forecast centers of different nations.

We then retreated well below treeline as Tyler Ray of the newly formed Granite Backcountry Alliance (i.e., for the “Granite State” of New Hampshire) joined MWAC Snow Ranger Helon Hoffer for “Backcountry Skiing on Public Lands: The Creation of Legitimate and Sustainable Glades.”  Although New England backcountry skiing guidebooks reference only official ski trails (many cut by the famed Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression) plus the avalanche terrain at and above treeline, much of the backcountry skiing here actually takes place on the “down low”:  glades illicitly cut on public lands for “forest fire prevention” and other in-the-know euphemisms.  This was brought into the open in 2007 when two would-be Vermont backcountry skiers were criminally charged with felony-level violations for chainsawing a prominent line (aka “Jailhouse Chute”).  But recent collaboration in Vermont with the USFS between non-profit groups has created glades that are both nicely skiable and legitimately accessible.  The increasing availability of such terrain can offer a safe alternative to skiing at and above treeline when avalanche danger is elevated.  And fortuitously for the Granite Backcountry Alliance, the off-season position for Snow Ranger Hoffer is the USFS Trails Manager for much of the Presidentials Range.

Next, AAA’s Executive Director Jaime Musnicki returned to her native New England to make good on her plan to attend as many regional SAWs as possible, and also to present on “Personal Reflections:  Making Sense of Our Own Close Calls in Avalanche Terrain.” As if the incident she described in detail weren’t already harrowing enough, her partner had been her new boyfriend at the time, out on their first ski tour together.  And not only did Jaime come out on top of the debris, four years later the two of them are still together.

On a similar note, Jon Miller, of Dogy Down Films, although unable to attend in person, presented to us on “Risk, Rewards, and the Balancing of Mountain Experiences and Goals” via a tailored video introduction and debriefing for us to sandwich his film “Season on the Brink.”  His life-threatening fall this past spring in a Mount Washington couloir was extensively written up at the time, but the video footage he showed us — from both a partner and his own helmet cam — was especially terrifying.  Just as memorable were the assessments from the party members of “What really sticks with me is that we just shouldn’t have been there” and “A series of little details and little errors that added up.”  After a helicopter airlift, Jon spent a month in hospital care before regaining the ability to talk and walk normally.

Dallas Glass, our fourth Western presenter of the morning, here to lead the avalanche instructor training the following day for the American Avalanche Institute for Research and Education (“AIARE”), presented on “Blue Skies, Powder Days, and Las Vegas: Minimizing the Role of Luck in Avalanche Terrain.”  For ESAW regulars over the years, Dallas’s presentation was the perfect follow-up to the 2012 presentation to us by Blase Reardon (then of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center, and now of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center).  Back then, Blase had emphasized that the backcountry snowpack does not provide a consistent environment with regular feedback, but rather its feedback is inconsistent and often fatal.  (Remember Bruce Tremper’s analogy of playing soccer in a mine field.)  “Experts” are often just those who have gotten lucky over time, like many stock pickers who have beaten the market over a selected time period.  This year, Dallas explained how debriefing your day is the feedback loop that completes the risk management process.  Professional guides always hold a debriefing as part of their standard operating procedures.  To help recreationalists aspire toward this goal, Dallas quoted an incentivizing line from his fellow Pacific Northwest guide Larry Goldie:  “Why having a beer at the end of the day could save your life.”  It (the debriefing, not necessarily the alcoholic content!) allows us to identify when we got lucky and thereby recalibrate, so that on future trips we aren’t relying on “luck” to stay safe.  We have all gotten lucky in the mountains, but we need to recognize when that occurs so that we don’t need an incident to provide us feedback, and instead we can use “no event” days to learn from and grow as backcounty travelers.

After lunch, Jaime Musnicki explained the upcoming split between recreational versus professional tracks in U.S. avalanche training.  Fortunately the details need not be reiterated here, since you the dear reader have of course already carefully read every single prior TAR article on this subject.  (Right?)  This fed into a panel discussion on avalanche education with Jaime Musnicki, Jeff Lane (previously a MWAC Snow Ranger for ten years), Simon Trautman, and Dallas Glass, moderated by MWAC Snow Ranger Frank Carus.

Thus far we had been getting off lightly on the technical side.  To ratchet everything up several notches, as always we could rely on Dr. Sam Colbeck, retired from the U.S. Army’s Cold Region Research and Engineering Laboratory (in Hanover, NH) after three decades of groundbreaking cold lab and field research in snow crystal bonding and wet grain relationships.  In his fifth year of ESAW presentations, this time Sam explained “Why Skis Slide on Snow.”  The answer is not simply “because it’s fun” since that’s why we use skis to slide on snow, as opposed to why they are actually able to slide so well.

And those skis slide especially well on very steep terrain with lots of blown-in snow, which was the focus of the presentation by Frank Carus on “Forecasting Avalanche Danger in Inherently Dangerous Terrain” regarding the couloirs in the at-treeline glacial cirques on our Mount Washingon.  Next, Simon Trautman presented on “What are we doing now?” at the NAC, following up on the presentation at the 2014 ESAW by the NAC’s Director Karl Birkeland.

And finally, Chris Joosen wrapped up with “Reflecting on a Life with Avalanches” incorporating his 26 years working on Mount Washington.  His conclusion was followed by a standing ovation from all attendees.  And from all us who have depended for so many years on Chris’s work and his direction of the MWAC Snow Rangers, thank you!

We concluded with our annual expo, including rep displays for AAA, AIARE, Backcountry Access, Black Diamond / Pieps, Catamount Trail Association, Bryce & Ronnie Athlete Safety & Security (“BRASS”) Foundation, DPS Skis, Friends of MWAC, Granite Backcountry Alliance, La Sportiva, Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation, Mammut / Barryvox, MWVSP, Mount Washington Weather Observatory, Petzl & Adventure Medical, Salomon, Northeast Mountaineering guides, Ortovox / Deuter, and Outdoor Research.  Throughout the day we had raffled off and auctioned donations from these sponsors plus ARVA, Dynafit, Hagan, MSR, Pomoca, Ski the East, and Toko.  

Jonathan Shefftz patrols at Northfield Mountain and Mount Greylock in Western Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and daughter (who notched her first-ever October ski outing this season). He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and AAA governing board member. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England or “coaching” his daughter’s skiing (i.e., picking her up off the snow), he works as a financial economics consultant and has been qualified as an expert witness in state and federal courts. He can be reached at JShefftz@post.harvard.edu or just look for the lycra-clad skinner training for his NE Rando Race Series.

 

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review

This Spring & Summer I climbed almost exclusively in the Petzl Hirundos and would like to share my opinion on this well received harness by Petzl. The Hirundos is a solid option for any climber looking to shed a couple ounces and gain a bit of comfort. Let’s have a look.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Stock photo from Petzl.com
Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Exploring Middle Sugarloaf whilst wearing the Petzl Hirundos harness- May 2016

WEIGHT/PACK-ABILITY:

I prefer lightweight weight harnesses that pack up small. My home scale weighs my size XL Hirundos in at just over 11 ounces.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
11 1/4 ounces

This is a full pound lighter than my Petzl Corax that I used last winter and if there is a slight loss of comfort in the design I have not noticed. I also prefer harnesses that collapse neatly and fit easily inside my climbing helmet as I usually pack my helmet towards the top of my climbing pack. Since I usually don my helmet as soon as I get to the cliff it is most convenient to pack my harness with it.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Efficient use of space

SIZING:

According to the official size chart I would have fit a large with 6 cms to spare but a similarly built co-worker suggested I purchase an XL and his advice was spot on.  My 5’9″ 180 lb frame with a 34 inch waist and thicker thighs definitely needed the XL despite the Petzl size chart.

References C36AO XS C36AO S C36AO M C36AO L C36AO XL
Color(s) orange orange orange orange orange
Size XS S M L XL
Waist belt 65-71 cm 71-77 cm 77-84 cm 84-92 cm 92-100 cm
Leg loops 48-53 cm 48-53 cm 52-57 cm 55-60 cm 57-62 cm
Weight 250 g 270 g 280 g 300 g 315 g

While this harness is marketed towards sport climbing (and alpine climbing) I would suggest anyone that has muscular thighs to consider sizing up if you can’t get to a gear shop to try it on. If you have more than a 36 inch waist you will want to look at other options.

COMFORT:

The Hirundos uses something called “Fuseframe” technology. A fancy word for a pretty straight forward idea. Instead of just adding padding around the structural strength of the waist belt Petzl splits the support with “thermo-formed foam” in a way that reduces pressure points and aids in weight distribution. It is extremely comfortable for a harness that weighs less than a pound! I also found the mesh to be breathable and quick drying even when the humidity was high.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
A day in July on Cathedral Ledge

The stretchy fitted leg loop material is more comfortable to me than any “adjustable” metal buckled leg loops I have ever used, and has enough range of movement that I have no concerns about adding some long underwear and some soft-shell ice climbing pants to this outfit for some ice climbing this winter (is it winter yet?).

Features:

The “DoubleBack HD” buckle provides quick secure on/off adjustment of the harness. While double-back  buckles have become standard in this category this small profile buckle adjusts more smoothly than larger style buckles that are in common use.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Slim buckle- stock photo from Petzl.com

As typical of this style harness there are 4 gear loops but Petzl has put more thought into them then just adding 4 loops. The front two are rigid, allowing easier clipping and un-clipping of quick-draws and protection. The rear two are flexible and soft which makes wearing a full size backpack a bit more comfortable (and aids in the compress-ability of the harness for packing).

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Well designed gear loops- photo from Petzl.com

There are two integrated CARITOOL screw/tool holder slots so I’ll definitely be using this harness once the ice season starts (is it here yet?) If you ice climb you should definitely pick a couple of these up:

Rounding out the features are detachable rear buckles that can help with sorting a tangled harness (and answering nature’s call) and the inclusion of high-tenacity polyethylene (instead of just regular nylon) at the tie-in points that helps reduce abrasion and wear at a high stress point.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Detachable butt straps- photo from Petzl.com

 

CONCLUSION:

After 4 months of climbing sport, trad, and alpine I can give this harness a hearty endorsement. It’s light, pack-able, comfortable, and well thought out. If you’re looking for a new rig check this harness out on Amazon here!

 

If you liked this review or want to plug YOUR favorite harness please do so in the comments below!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: David Lottmann bought this harness with his own money. This post contains affiliate links.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Cannon Cliff

Cathedral & Whitehorse, Rumney & Huntington Ravine

This past 3 day holiday weekend had me guiding Yu Chih Chieh from Taiwan as he finished up 8 days of climbing instruction. Yu Chih, who goes by Brendan in the US, is in doctorate level program at Brown University in Rhode Island and is a die-hard botanist (and motivated aspiring alpinist).

Anchor building clinic
Cathedral Ledge

We started the morning with a brief anchor clinic and I show’d Brendan a couple options for extending top-rope anchor setups. Anchor theory is a hot topic with this guy’s scientific mind! We then hiked down to the Barber Wall for a quick rappel and discussed some of the finer points of the process.

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

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

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

After we got a little heckled by the tourists at the top (the frat party was a bit offended I declined the beer they offered me for climbing the cliff, but I was working, and I do not drink Bud Lite) we made our way over to the quieter Airation Buttress for some lunch. Then a quick drive over to Whitehorse Ledge for 600 feet of slab ascent/descent.

Whitehorse Ledge Rock Climbing
Whitehorse Ledge

After 4 pitches of Beginner’s Route we headed back to the shop to look at a quick demo/practice of a belay escape.

For Sunday, July 3rd, the weather forecast was the same as the whole weekend. Bluebird. Knowing every cliff would probably be a bit of a zoo I decided to do something rash and head to the biggest zoo of them all. Rumney.

It had been a few years since I last visited this mecca of sport climbing. We pulled into the lot right at 9:30am and spaces were starting to fill up. The Meadows wall wasn’t too busy and we grabbed “False Modesty” and “Rose Garden” while discussing sport climbing issues that crop up every year (rigging to lower, closed systems, belayer placement, clear communication, etc).

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

We then headed down the road and up the hill to the Main Cliff to check out some of the new 2 pitch moderates that have been getting talked up on Mountain Project lately. “Crowd Pleaser” had quite a long queue on it but an obvious local regular pointed out the nearby 2 pitch 5.8 called “Tipping Point” with no line on it. We hopped right on and greatly enjoyed this fun little route.

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

The next pitch was super fun 5.8 with a solid crux right at the end… felt a bit closer to 5.9 to me but I’m not that well calibrated to Rumney grades ATM.

We then headed across and up the hill once again passing hordes of climbers on the wildly overhanging and popular crags like Darth Vader & Waimea making our way up to the highest bluff, the Jimmy Cliff. Up here we did two 2 pitch cruiser routes and enjoyed a steady fresh breeze the whole time.

Brendan had quite a bit of lead climbing experience in the gym and no “second belaying” experience so we covered some of the multitude of ways to properly belay the second while enjoying the cool breeze and lack of crowds.

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

We stopped by the Black Crack Boulder on our hike out for yet another anchor building session (a critical trad climbing skill), then headed back across the Kanc to Mount Washington Valley. Despite some concerns about hitting the busiest cliffs on what might have been the busiest weekend we managed 5 climbs at 3 areas with 8 pitches total (plus that whole area is a botanist dream according to Brendan, who would often disappear while hiking behind me only to be found crouched at ground level camera in hand).

For July 4th, the last day of Brendan’s 8 day excursion, I picked an objective that I thought would be a suitable way to finish and also prepare him for his home country objective, Mount Yu Shan, the highest point in Taiwan!

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

We headed to Mount Washington with sights set on the Henderson Ridge. I had never climbed this route and found it to be fun outing. It took us 3.5 hours car to car with a leisurely pace and many stops to examine the unique flora that exists on Mount Washington (Alpine Garden Trail). We only saw one other climbing party of two on Pinnacle Ridge, and greatly enjoyed the cooler than valley temps!

After three days with Yu Chih Chieh I know he is well on his way to accomplishing whatever goals he sets for himself. An inquisitive scientific mind and desire will take him far in all aspects of his life and I look forward to the next time I share a rope with him.

Hope you all had a great Fourth of July weekend and spent a little time contemplating how lucky we are to have our freedoms!

Did you get out this past weekend? Let me know what you got on in the comments below!

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart