Tech Tip: Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

I’ve been using the Girth Hitch Master Point (GHMP) Anchor System for a little over a year now having learned it from the great educational social media feeds of Dale Remsberg and Cody Bradford. Recent testing on the method was conducted by Derek DeBruin and John Sohl the Petzl facility in Salt Lake City and they published these results.

TL:DR Version:

“The girth hitch is a viable solution for the master point for anchor rigging, provided that;

1) Approximately 5cm of slip is within the climbing party’s risk tolerance

2) The girth hitch is cinched snugly by hand and body weight prior to use. This applies to a variety of rigging materials, such as HMPE or nylon slings or cord, as well as material conditions, whether new or used, dry or wet.” – Derek DeBruin

Best Uses:

There’s quite a few places this system could be well applied. It is primarily a solution for multi-pitch climbing. This isn’t a great option for constructing anchors that will be used for top-rope climbing. On a multi-pitch route with bolted belay stations I might even consider keeping a sling rigged with this system (much like how I keep a pre-tied mini-quad on my harness). Even if the bolts at the next station are not exactly the same distance apart you only need to loosen the hitch a bit to properly adjust it. On a multi-pitch route with traditional gear anchors a double-length Dyneema sling is a light & fast option for rigging this system. Multi-pitch ice climbing is where I see perhaps the greatest benefit as rigging this with gloves on will often be achievable with just an alpine-draw and good ice.

Here’s a video I created showing the method along with some suggestions, namely utilizing a full strength closed rappel ring as a master point instead of a locking carabiner, which adds security and saves a locking carabiner for other uses.

Summary

Because this is a material efficient and proven redundant glove friendly system I plan on keeping it in my growing “tool kit” of options. I still carry one mini-quad with me when I prefer independent master points (more comfortable for a party of three) and use it often as a glove friendly redundant rappel extension. The advantages over tying a more traditional old school pre-equalized cordelette anchor are great enough that I see less and less reason for ever taking my cordelette off the back of my harness. I still carry it for self-rescue purposes but newer anchor methods like the GHMP and mini-quad seem to solve most anchor problems more effectively. I’m stopping by REI today to pick up one a SMC Rigging Ring which is almost half the weight of the stainless steel one I used in the video. You should consider adding this to your tool kit!

Product Giveaways!

I’m running two giveaways at the moment. You can enter to win a SOL Emergency Bivvy Sack before the end of the month in the raffle at the bottom of this review of SOL survival products! You can also enter to win a camming device of your choice* by competing in an anchor building contest that ends at the end of October… rules for that contest are at this Instagram post.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous, you could die following any advice from this post. Seek qualified instruction and mentorship. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.

*cam will be selected by the winner from any in-stock cam at International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, NH. Free shipping within the US.

Gear Review- Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes

Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review

Black Diamond has released their most advanced approach shoes yet this past Spring, the Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes. I’ve been testing a pair for the last few weeks and am ready to share my take on their comfort and performance. First lets look at the manufacturer claims and specifications.

Manufacturer Description

Engineered for days when the word “approach” actually involves full-on climbing, the Fuel is our most technical performance shoe. The Fuel’s upper combines breathable EnduroKnit, a durable stretch woven lateral panel, and welded TPU film overlays for maximum durability and precision fit. The internally overlapping tongue allows for fewer seams and a sleek comfortable fit with minimal bulk, while the lace-to-toe construction features webbing and scalloped eyelets for variable, adjustable fit and tensioning to suit different conditions. A climbing-specific forefoot construction allows for exceptional edge control and our BlackLabel Mountain rubber is ultra-sticky for superior grip on rock. Finally, a tag-loop on the heel and tongue gives you the option to clip the Fuels to your harness once you rope up.

  • Capable of easy 5th class climbing with confidence and comfort.
  • Upper construction of Black Diamond developed knit and woven textiles with welded TPU film overlays for adaptable fit and maximum durability
  • Low profile molded collar padding and lining
  • Protected lateral laces and smooth upper construction
  • Overlap tongue means fewer internal seams for precision fit
  • Lace to toe with webbing and scalloped eyelets for adjustable fit and tension depending on conditions Functional climbing forefoot construction for edging control and durability
  • Tuned dual density EVA midsole with stiffness and comfort
  • Black Diamond BlackLabel Mountain is a high performance sticky rubber
  • Rubber toe protection
  • Multiple webbing loops for tagging options

Tech Specs

  • MaterialsPolyester Enduro Knit, EVA Midsole, BD BlackLabel-Mountain Rubber
  • Size RangeM’s US 6-14 1/2 sizes
  • WeightEACH: 312 g (11 oz)
Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review

My opinions…

Out of the box the first thing I noticed was the lightweight feel. My US Size 9 pair weighs 1 pound 5 ounces (600 grams) which is slightly lighter than the manufacturer claimed weight an about an ounce heavier than my LaSportiva TX 2’s. A fair comparison in terms of weight and support would be closer made to the LaSportiva TX Guide approach shoes.

The second most notable feature was the welded “TPU film overlays” especially on the upper around the heel. I’ve seen this technology used in high end waterproof jackets and using it on an approach shoe not only gives the shoe a very high tech look but also inspires confidence in the long term durability of the shoe.

Fit/Comfort

I went with a US Men’s size 9, EUR 42, and the fit was pretty spot on for my medium width regular arch foot. I probably could have sized down a half size but with a full length lacing system I was able to snug these up sufficiently for low 5th class climbing. I did notice some heel lift while wearing them around the house on Day one of testing but interestingly when hiking around Rumney NH I didn’t notice the heel lift. The heel cup could definitely be a little deeper. The wrap style tongue and padding was quite comfortable while testing with and without socks… something to consider in hot weather these actually felt pretty comfortable without socks. The EVA midsole provided plenty of under foot support and had noticeably more cushioning in the heel than other approach shoes in this category.

Performance

In class 2, 3, and 4 terrain these perform well as approach shoes. They definitely had adequate grip and comfort over 4-5 mile trips in New Hampshire’s rugged White Mountains. To test them in fifth class terrain I climbed a half dozen routes at Rumney, NH ranging from 5.3 to 5.7. They felt more secure while edging vs. smearing which I think may be in part to the rubber used in the outsole. The “BlackLabel Mountain rubber” feels a little stiffer than the compounds used in competing brands which makes these feel like the soles will have longevity with a small reduction in the coefficient of friction. As I’ve found with most approach shoes I’ve tested the friction can improve as the soles break in a bit. I usually have maximum confidence in my smear-ability once the “dots” on the soles have been worn down and the bottom of the approach shoe looks more like the bottom of a climbing shoe. Perhaps after a full season of use I’ll feel these smear a bit better.

Durability

It’s not easy to speak to much on durability when my testing window is only a few weeks long. That said a close look at the construction of these inspires confidence you will not wear through a pair of these in a couple seasons. They would certainly outlast some similar models with the futuristic welded seams and significant toe rand.

Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review

Summary

The Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes are a welcome addition to the growing list of approach shoes. The price and features puts them up against shoes like the LaSportiva TX Guide approach shoes and they certainly can compete. A slightly deeper heel cup would be nice and a softening and smoothing of the outsole over time will likely increase the security while heading up slabby terrain. I also think it is great that Black Diamond is producing a women’s version since options for women’s approach shoes haven’t always been there. If you are in need of some new approach shoes this is a model to consider, especially if you’ve worn Black Diamond climbing shoes before and know their sizing fits your feet!

Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review
Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog. Thank you.

Tech Tip- Snap Bowline with Yosemite Finish

The bowline is an excellent knot for securing your climbing rope around an object, most commonly a tree. You might be securing the bottom of a stacked rope while top-roping to “close the system” while also creating a handy ground anchor if needed, or fixing a rope for a single strand rappel while scrubbing your next project. In this short video I demonstrate the traditional “scouts” way of tying it as well as the alternative “snap” method (I refer to this also as the “handshake” method). I also demonstrate an alternative way of finishing the knot with a Yosemite finish. If you like this type of content please subscribe to the YouTube Channel and I’ll keep producing videos like this throughout the summer!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Gear Review: Wild Country Mosquito Climbing Harness

Wild Country Mosquito Harness Review

I’m really into lightweight climbing gear so when I saw the new Wild Country Mosquito Harness only weighed 220g I had to try it out. After a few months of use I’m ready to share and compare it with some of my other favorite lightweight climbing harnesses. First let’s get the manufacture description and tech specs out of the way:

Product Description

This is the lightest harness Wild Country has ever made. Engineered specifically for sport climbing, its precise fit delivers super-lightweight comfort, agility and freedom of movement. The advanced yet lightweight, laminated waistbelt construction features internal load-bearing webbing that distributes the load evenly across the entire harness structure. Combined with super-light mesh padding and a robust, fast-drying and abrasion-resistant covering with seamless edges, this harness is soft and smooth next to the skin. The Mosquito harness was built specifically with freedom of movement in mind. Its sleek, stripped-down construction adapts to your body for full, unhindered, flexibility as you climb. An important stand-out safety feature is the wear indicator on the reinforced lower tie-in point – a feature that has been used by Wild Country since the ’90s. The wear indicator clearly indicates when it is time to retire the harness, which is when its red threads become visible after excessive wear and abrasion.


The Mosquito is equipped with lightweight gear loops: two rigid front loops and two softer back loops, to prevent pressure points when climbing with a pack. All gear loops are designed specifically to hold your gear and draws away from the harness for smoother retrieval. There is also a decent-sized rear haul loop that also doubles as a chalk bag attachment point.


With a self-locking, aluminum slide block buckle on the waist belt to ensure a secure and comfortable fit plus lightweight, supportive leg loops with elasticated risers. The Mosquito packs down small and comes in a stylish, two-tone black and white design with a classic Wild Country tangerine orange buckle.

  • Ultra-lightweight: 220g (size XS)
  • Lightweight, smooth abrasion-resistant, ripstop fabric
  • Engineered for full freedom of movement and to evenly disperse load
  • Integrated wear indicator at lower tie-in point
  • Lightweight aluminum buckle for secure and comfortable fit
  • Four lightweight gear loops: two rigid front gear loops, two flexible, low-profile rear gear loops that won’t interfere with a pack 
  • Fixed leg loops with elasticated risers 
  • Rear haul/gear loop
  • Supplied with a lightweight protective storage bag
  • Unisex design

My opinions

Weight

The biggest selling point to me in this category of ultra-light harnesses is unsurprisingly weight. The Wild Country Mosquito Harness is one of three ultra-light harnesses I’ve now reviewed. It competes with the Black Diamond Airnet Harness and the Petzl Sitta Harness in the category. Here’s a breakdown of claimed weight and my home scale observations:

Manufacture Claimed Weights:

Wild Country Mosquito Harness 220g for XS 280g for L

Black Diamond Airnet Harness 235g (size not specified)

Petzl Sitta Harness 240g for S 300g for L

Home Scale Weights

Wild Country Mosquito Harness 280g size L

Black Diamond Airnet Harness 262g size L

Petzl Sitta Harness 300g size L

So for my size harness in all three models the Wild Country Mosquito Harness comes in right in the middle of a almost 40 gram spread with the Black Diamond Airnet Harness being the lightest of the three by 18 grams and the Petzl Sitta Harness being the heaviest by 20 grams. It’s important to note that all three come in under 11 ounces which is probably a few ounces lighter than what most climbers are used to.

Wild Country Mosquito Harness Review

Packability

The Wild Country Mosquito Harness packs up almost as small as the Black Diamond Airnet Harness and Petzl Sitta Harness. Oddly it comes with a large stretchy mesh storage bag that is more than double the size needed to store the harness. I like how the Petzl and Black Diamond storage bags are a snug fit which helps when packing low capacity climbing packs… I’d suggest Wild Country consider packing these in small bags or I’d use one of my ultralight Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Sacks.

Wild Country Mosquito Harness Review
The Wild Country Mosquito, Black Diamond AirNet, and Petzl Sitta in their storage sacks

Comfort

As far as ultralight harnesses go the Wild County Mosquito Harness is just as comfortable as the very similar styled Black Diamond AirNet Harness. While testing I hung in a no stance position during some rescue training for almost thirty minutes without much discomfort. To be honest though these are not rescue or aid-climbing harnesses… they are plenty comfortable for semi-hanging belays but don’t expect more comfort than is reasonable when considering ultralight harness. The exception I will say, is the Petzl Sitta Harness, which I find incredibly comfortable for the category (but with double the retail cost).

Wild Country Mosquito Harness Review

Features

Features wise the Wild County Mosquito Harness looks and feels very similar to the Black Diamond AirNet Harness. The rigid front gear loops are about a half inch bigger than the gear looks on the Black Diamond AirNet Harness. The soft rear gear loops are almost an inch bigger than the Black Diamond AirNet Harness, so this harness can probably handle oversized racks a bit better. I usually only climb with a regular rack without many doubles so this distinction isn’t as important to me as it might be for someone who is always wishing for more room on their gear loops.

The “floss” style butt straps that I’ve become a fan of are a bit more re-enforced on the Black Diamond AirNet Harness at their connection points leading me to think the Black Diamond AirNet Harness might resist wear/abrasion at the point longer, but that is conjecture as I’ve only been testing it for about 3 months now and they appear to be holding up fine. For context I had this point wear prematurely on an early model of the Petzl Sitta Harness which is now be more re-enforced at this potential wear point (Petzl replaced the harness at no cost).

Wild Country Mosquito Harness Review

While we are talking about wear I should point out one of the cooler features of the harness is the “wear down” indicator inside the belay loop. Inside the belay loop are red threads… when they become visible the belay loop has experienced enough wear and the harness should be retired. Since many climbers might not keep strict records of how old their harness is this is a nice safety addition in my opinion.

Summary

The Wild County Mosquito Harness enters the realm of ultra-light packable harnesses at a very competitive price point. Half the price of a Petzl Sitta Harness (my gold standard for a year round harnesses), $60 cheaper than the Black Diamond AirNet Harness, and able to hold its own in most comparisons. This harness is marketed for sport climbing, but I tested it for both sport and traditional climbing about 50/50 and I think it’s a great traditional harness as well as suited for sport climbing. This harness is not equipped for ice climbing just like the Black Diamond AirNet Harness (no slots for ice clippers), so if you’re looking for a year round harness that can handle ice climbing as well I’d point you back to the Petzl Sitta Harness. If you are looking for an affordable ultralight breathable sport and traditional climbing harness that packs up small and performs great, this would be a solid model to try!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog.

Route Guide- The Best 5.6 Pitch on Cathedral Ledge

Rock climbing Cathedral Ledge
Climber: Alexandra Roberts, Photo by Brent Doscher

You’ve probably never heard of the best 5.6 pitch on Cathedral Ledge. Better than Thin Air? Yes. Better than a version of Upper Refuse? Definitely? Better than Child’s Play? Of course!

After a few people asked me about the climb I was on yesterday I decided to post some details about it because frankly this climb deserves more traffic! We do not have many moderate trad pitches on Cathedral and this one is five stars and few people even know about it… I’m hoping to change that!

The climb in question, is the 2nd pitch of Goofer’s Delight. There’s a few reasons why this wasn’t getting climbed much. Here’s some history:

History

The first ascent was during the summer of 1970 by Henry Barber and Bill O’Connell. Henry returned to the climb and got the first free ascent in October of 1972 with Bob Anderson. As Ed Webster’s Rock Climbs in the White Mountains, 3rd Ed. describes the first pitch “A sustained and strenuous climb… thrash over the lip of the cave (5.9+)”. Take note that this climb was rated 5.9+ prior to 5.10 being a recognized new grade of difficulty. Anyone who wants to do the first pitch of this route should be thinking it will be hard 5.10.

Webster’s book also suggests that the 2nd pitch follows “a dirty, right-diagonalling [sic] crack (5.6) through the lichen to the top, or (a better choice), finish up Tabu (5.9 R).

Jerry Handren’s earlier guidebook, Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges shows some discrepancies in its description listing the route as 5.9, then the first pitch at 5.10a, followed by calling the second pitch both 5.8 (assuming this is if you finish up a corner to the right of Tabu) or 5.6 (assuming you finish up the dirty flake).

The most recent guidebook, North Conway Rock Climbs (2012), also by Jerry Handren, makes no mention of the 5.6 finish and only lists the 5.8 more direct corner finish.

Fast forward to 2016. Local climber Joe Comeau replaces the bolted anchor and protection bolt on Tabu, and spends a few days scrubbing the lichen on the 5.6 finish of Goofer’s Delight. What’s uncovered is one of the nicest wildly exposed moderate pitches in New Hampshire. The only catch is unless you are up for the first pitch burly (5.9+) “thrash” you’ll need to rap in for this one. To help with those logistics I provide the following topo and description.

Rock Climbing on Cathedral Ledge

Descent

You can rappel with a single 60 meter rope from an oak tree about 20-25 feet back from the edge (1). I was actually breaking in my new Sterling Velocity, a great 9.8 mm rope! I set my anchor quite high in this tree to aid with the pull after descending. Your ropes should hang to climbers left of the small pine near the edge. The ends will easily reach the bolted anchor below Tabu but double check your middle mark is accurate and close the system! I prefer to tie into one end before I start my rappel. That way as soon as I reach the station I am ready to clove-in to the bolted station (2) (I use a mini-quad here).

If the first climber down is leading the pitch have the second climber arrive on the left side of the station to make exiting the station easier. Once they are secured to the anchor the rope should pull smoothly and it’s a decent ledge for a ledge coil.

rock climbing Cathedral Ledge
Rap to the small birch, yellow highlighted route shows the 5.6 path, the large pine mid-way is partially obscuring the 5.8 direct finish

Leave the anchor and walk/traverse out right past a small pine and into a stellar hand-rail/crack. The feet are really good here despite it looking dirty in spots. Don’t forget to place something for your second despite the mellow traversing. You can sling the huge pine tree (3) mid-pitch with a double length sling. The second half of the pitch is 5 stars, if only it could go on for another 100 feet!

rock climbing Cathedral Ledge
Maury McKinney stopping to place his first piece after leaving the anchor… the large pine is mid-way, and the small notch to the left of the tree on skyline is the finish. It is hard to capture how stunning this feature is especially past the large pine

After pulling the wildly exposed final moves you have two options for an anchor. If you have the right sizes left (#1, #2 BD Camalots) you can get a great gear anchor in these cracks (4). If not you can go back to the trees (5). If you do I would suggest using a technique to extend yourself back towards the edge for better communication (and awesome photo ops). These trees are a bit “piney” so I don’t like to run my rope around them (use a cord and locker). A system that uses a “BHK” for a master point is great here.

Gear

If you are comfortable with the grade (it feels more 5.5 to me but the exposure might make it feel 5.6) a regular rack up to #2 is sufficient. If you want to sew it up I would double up on the .75, and #1. Tri-cams work well in a few places. It’s definitely a G-rated route when it comes to protecting it, just don’t leave your second with a huge swing potential.

Summary

This is an excellent end of day pitch after topping out Upper Refuse or Thin Air if you’re looking to get one more great pitch in before heading out. You can combine it with top-belaying both Tabu (or leading it if you are up for it), and Reverse Camber, or a lap on nearby Pine Tree Eliminate. Due to the traversing nature of the climb top-belaying it without leading it first is not feasible. So that’s it, best 5.6 pitch on the cliff! Check it out and let me know if you agree/disagree!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

References:

Rock Climbs in the White Mountains, East Volume, 3rd Edition by Ed Webster, pages 133-137

Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges, by Jerry Handren, page 64

North Conway Rock Climbs, by Jerry Handren, pages 211-212

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Tech Tip: Unweighted Passive Pro/Girth-Hitch Traditional Anchor

IMG_4890


Today’s tech tip is focused on multi-pitch traditional anchor efficiency. Of all the acronyms in circulation to help you evaluate an anchor (SERENE, RENE, ERNEST, NERDSS) I’ve always been partial to ERNEST as it addresses an often over looked part of traditional anchor building, namely “Timely”.

On a multi-pitch route efficiency is important and taking too long to construct or de-construct an anchor can cost a party valuable time that at best means they get less routes in during the day and at worst means they experience an unplanned bivouac.

When building traditional anchors on multi-pitch climbs most climbers build 3-piece anchors. It’s beneficial to the party to use some passive protection in the construction so that the next lead has more active protection (cams) available. In vertical crack systems I often try to find one or two passive pieces above a multi-directional active piece. Placing the passive pieces above the active piece makes it easier to create an anchor that can withstand an outward or even upward force if the belayer is lifted about the master-point while making a hard catch.

Cleaning passive pieces (nuts) that have been loaded can be time consuming and even impossible at times, so I look for opportunities to place passive pieces that are only seated with a light tug, and essentially backup other solid active pieces like the attached photo and video below demonstrate.

 

Combine arrangements like this with the low material cost time efficiency of a clove-hitch master carabiner anchor and you can create super fast efficient RENE, SERENE, ERNEST, NERDSS anchors in so many places! Give it a try!

Tech Tip: Girth Hitch Carabiner Master Point

Girth Hitch Carabiner Master Point


One of the things I love about climbing is how we keep finding better ways of doing things. Sure, we get into ruts where we resist trying something different (why fix it if it ain’t broke mindset), but every 5-10 years I notice we make another leap forward because someone decided to think outside the box and try something new.

Most people who climb with me know I have an affinity for the “mini-Quad” when constructing my anchors. If you are not familiar with the “mini-Quad” check out my post and video about it here. The mini-Quad is still my “go to” choice when climbing in a party of three or more (mostly multi-pitch guiding), simply because having two separate master points is more comfortable for guests and helps with keeping things organized.

If I am climbing in a more common party of two though, I’m going to be using the Girth Hitch Carabiner Master Point a lot more frequently. It has some great advantages to other methods like;

Advantages

  1. Does not require long sling/cord material. For a typical two point anchor (bolts) a single shoulder length (60 cm) sling is sufficient.
  2. It’s super fast to tie. Try it two or three times and you’ll see how fast you can build this.
  3. It’s super fast to break-down. Since it is a “hitch” and not a hard “knot” once you remove the carabiner it vanishes. No welded dyneema knot to work on!
  4. It’s redundant. Testing shows if one leg fails or gets cut (rockfall) the hitch will not slip! Compare this to a “sliding-x” anchor with the same length sling and this is definitely better if direction of load is close to uni-directional.
  5. It’s “equalized” to the limitations of the physics. Yes true “equalization” isn’t quite possible but close enough.
  6. It has zero extension should a leg fail.

All of this adds up to a great SERENE, RENE, ERNEST, NERDSS or whatever acronym you like when debating or evaluating the merits or flaws of an anchor.

Disadvantages

  1. It requires an extra locking carabiner to form a master point.
  2. It is a “pre-equalized” method, meaning of the load direction changes you’ll lose load distribution (just like a tied off bight).
  3. Every one is attaching to the same master-point, so for party’s of 3 I might more often opt for the mini-Quad

Considerations

I plan on using one of my Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron carabiners as the master point carabiner for a couple reasons. It’s a fast carabiner to deploy and it auto-locks, but I prefer the added security of the style of locking mechanism since I am clove hitching myself into a separate locker attached to this master point locker, and will be belaying off a plaquette as well. While it should go without saying care needs to be taken when introducing this method, especially to newer climbers. Since the master point is a carabiner it is crucial no one mistakes this carabiner as their own attachment and removes it when perhaps taking the next lead. This perhaps is even more reason to use a Magnetron as the master carabiner and screw gate carabiners for your personal tether/clove hitch with rope attachments.

Regardless of what locker you use as the master point I would recommend having your belay plaquette set along the spine of the carabiner vs your own tether attachment for maximum strength and security.

Vs. The Clove Hitch Master Point Carabiner Method

Another similar looking method uses a clove hitch instead of a girth hitch to achieve many of the same advantages, however I find the girth hitch slightly faster and easier to tie.

Summary

The Girth Hitch Master Point Carabiner is a slick new solution to add to your repertoire.  It is not a “solve-all” solution but based on context I can see this option being used efficiently and effectively in many situations. As with any new anchor skill practice on the ground first before you use it 100 feet off the deck. Seek proper instruction from qualified guides and instructors.

More info:

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Affiliate links support this blog.



Climbing in the Age of Covid-19

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus


I pulled into the parking lot below Whitehorse Ledge minutes before Bob pulled in. This was my first time coming back to climbing since an injury at the beginning of March followed by an on-going pandemic that generated stay at home orders and strong social pressure to not partake in riskier activities while the local medical centers braced for over-whelming traffic and struggled with sourcing enough PPE and ventilators if things got as bad as they might.

It had been a long and sometimes difficult two months. First, recovering from a painful injury that left me unable to do much more than walk slowly on flat ground. Second, once I felt like I might be able to turn a ski, deciding alpine Spring skiing would have to wait for 2021.

So it should go without saying I was excited to be tying in with one of my longest lifetime friends and climbing partners but it wasn’t without a little trepidation. My family had kept our circle very small and tight and a couple hours on a cliff with Bob was definitely a cautious step forward that I hoped would bring us more and more to normalcy as things evolve with the pandemic.



We had talked about how we would protect each other and manage not just our climbing risk but the risk of spreading a virus that has managed to bring the country to its knees with its ease of transmission combined with how many potential asymptomatic carriers could unknowingly start an outbreak.

When Bob got out of his truck we went without the typical firm handshake or bro hug while gearing up. My rope, his rack. We both used our own hand-sanitizer before shouldering our backpacks and hiking up to the cliff. We walked, almost without realizing it, about ten feet apart instead of shoulder to shoulder like we’d done for hundreds of days of climbing together.

I stacked the rope while Bob racked up slightly further away than normal. We decided Bob would lead the 9 pitch mellow slab route for a few reasons. He had been out climbing a few times already and was feeling pretty good. I didn’t know how I was feeling on rock post-injury and having such a long break from climbing. We also wanted to get back home to our families early and this route definitely climbs faster when not swapping leads. Perhaps I also thought this would mean less handling of gear… most of the pitches were run out slab climbing so I was only cleaning 4 or 5 pieces of protection per pitch, mostly just quick-draws.

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus
Bob starts up pitch 2 of the Cormier-Magness route

We reminded each other that no gear should go into our mouths. This is a natural habit for climbers when cleaning and leading climbs and a habit we wanted to be conscious to avoid. At each anchor I clove-hitched myself in a bit longer than normal, finding it easy to keep about 6 feet between us. Instead of directly handing Bob his gear back I would long-reach over and clip it to his end of the rope. We both reminded each other not to touch our faces.

At the third anchor I donned my disposable face-mask I was carrying. While I might believe both Bob and I are not spreading this virus we can’t be 100% certain at this point, neither of us have been tested for antibodies and even if we had been the jury is still out on exactly what any of those results would truly mean in terms of both immunity and potential to spread. The main reason I wanted to don the mask was to put myself into my potential clients shoes if I end up going back to work this summer.

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus
At the “smile” belay after linking into Beginner’s Route en-route to Standard Route Finish, a great-link up Bob suggested we do

Current CDC guidelines recommend masks or face coverings if you can’t stay at least 6 feet away from people. I’ve sat through a number of great webinars hosted by the American Alpine Club, The Access Fund, and the American Mountain Guide Association about how climbers and guides should move forward during this pandemic. Both the company I guide for, Northeast Mountaineering, and most guide services I know who are starting to operate again, will be requiring some type of face covering when social distancing is not possible (essentially at belay’s, fitting harnesses, etc).



Two hours after starting up the face we reached the top. I laid what gear I had cleaned from the last pitch on the ground for Bob to collect and stepped back to coil our rope. After stuffing the rope in my backpack and changing out of my climbing shoes we both used our hand-sanitizer again and started our hike back to the parking lot. We then jumped in our separate cars and drove a few minutes to the lower viewing area of Cathedral Ledge for a post climb beer (we brought our own) and to watch two parties getting after it on the cliff, one party on the Beast Flake and one on Camber, two of the cliffs classic hard routes. No one was on any of the easier trade routes.

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus
The view from the top of Whitehorse Ledge with Echo Lake below, Mount Kearsarge on the left, Cranmore Ski Mountain in the middle, the Green Hills Preserve to the right, and the beautiful Saco River Valley all around

After some great catching up and the cold refreshment we made tentative plans to start climbing together again once a week. We expressed gratitude to each other for an awesome morning of climbing and then parted ways. No high fives, no fist bumps, no bro hugs. Just a smile and a wave. When I got home I left my climbing gear and rope in the trunk of the car, changed my clothes, and showered, before hugging my kids. I waited a couple days before collecting my gear from the trunk and putting it back into my gear room. It felt good to be climbing again, even though I was doing things a bit differently than before.

Resources:

https://americanalpineclub.org/news/2020/5/1/climbing-in-the-covid-era

https://www.accessfund.org/open-gate-blog/climbing-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

https://amga.com/coronavirus-update/webinars-resources-members/

See you in the mountains (when they are local and mellow… for now),

Northeast Alpine Start

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Tech Tip: Optimizing your First Aid Kit

Adventure Medical Kits Wilderness First Aid


We all carry a first aid kit with us on our adventures right? For today’s Tech Tip I want to share what first aid kit I use and how I customize it with a few extra items. While you can go to a pharmacy and piece together your own kit I prefer to start with the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7 Medical Kit as it’s a solid foundation to build upon. Here’s the details on the kit:

  • Designed for life in the bottom of the pack, zippered rip-stop silicon nylon outer bag has 2 inner DryFlex™ watertight pouches to ensure contents are kept clean and dry
  • Wound care items: 3 butterfly closure strips, 2 triple antibiotic ointments, 3 antiseptic wipes and 1 pair of nitrile gloves
  • Bandages: 8 sterile dressings, 2 non-adherent sterile dressings, 2 conforming gauze bandages, 5 adhesive bandages and 3 knuckle bandages
  • 10 yards adhesive tape, 1 elastic bandage, 11 pre-cut and shaped moleskin pieces and 3 alcohol swabs
  • Medications: 6 ibuprofen, 2 aspirin, 2 antihistamine and 2 AfterBite® sting-relief wipes
  • Other equipment: splinter picker forceps, 3 safety pins and a 26 x 2 in. roll of duct tape

Adventure Medical Kits Wilderness First Aid
Manufacturer Image

Technical specs

Best Use
Hiking, Backpacking
Material(s)
Silicone nylon pouch
Dimensions
8.5 x 6.5 x 2 inches
Weight
8 ounces

This is a great start for only 8 ounces! AMK markets this as ideal for 1-2 people for 1-4 day trips. While I do find the suggestion a bit arbitrary I feel this is a great size for a group leader or guide to start from. There is a .5 version that weighs less than 4 ounces that would be good for trail running, casual hiking, or just to keep in the glove box. A very minimalist .3 version is better than carrying nothing.

Now let’s get into what I add to this kit to make it a bit more capable of handling any situation. The first thing I add is a Petzl Zipka Headlamp. This 2.5 ounce headlamp has great light output and the retractable cord keeps it from getting tangled with other things in the kit. I consider this a bit of a “back-up” headlamp. If I know I’ll be out after dark I bring my Petzl Actik Core Headlamp and have the Zipka available to loan to someone who forgets their headlamp.

Adventure Medical Kits Wilderness First Aid
Adventure Medical Kits .7 First Aid Kit and every else I squeeze in there!

I then add a simple small knife that can be used for cutting bandages, duct tape, and clothing to make slings & swathes if need be. Occasionally it might even have to cut some summer sausage and hard cheese.

Then I add a fire starter, usually just a small Bic lighter but you can go for a fancy windproof one if you want!

Next I drop in a little bottle of Potable Aqua Iodine Tablets. I use these to treat water in an emergency.

Then I have a small travel size Advil bottle that I carry extra Antihistamines (Benadryl) and pain/fever reducers (Advil). I prefer to use this bottle and refill it from home when needed and save the prepackaged medications for when I forget to refill this container. Don’t forget to check the expiration dates on the prepackaged medications!

I also squeeze in a small notebook with a pencil. This is important for writing SOAP notes or sending detailed information with someone. On longer trips I carry a Rite in the Rain Notebook separate from my first aid kit.

With still room to spare I now add my two EpiPens. While I haven’t been tested for a bee allergy I feel it is a good idea for me to carry Epi after getting swarmed and stung by over a dozen yellow jackets last year. There’s also the fact that some one in my care may have a unexpected severe reaction when we are over an hour away from definitive care and having Epi in the party could be a life-saver. I also add a super light disposable CPR Face Shield.

Finally I add about 3 extra pairs of Nitrile gloves in addition to the one pair that comes with the kit. It has been my experience on multiple rescues that one pair of gloves is never enough in the mountains as they will definitely tear while dealing with a patient, and bystanders who might be able to help often don’t have their own gloves.

These additions bring my first aid kit up to one pound 5 ounces. Considering that if I grab my first aid kit I have 5 of the “Ten Essentials” I’m more than ok with that weight! I also carry either my SOL Escape Bivy (summer) or my more durable Ortovox Single Bivy (winter or while on rescues).

Adventure Medical Kits First Aid Kits
Bigger more rugged bivy in the winter or when out on rescues… smaller lighter bivy for summer/day use…

I’ve also taken to sliding a Saywer SAM Splint down into the back panel of my pack. While I can improvise splints from my wilderness medicine training a real SAM splint is really nice to have for quick ankle/wrist fractures or as an effective neck collar.

I feel the above set-up is quite adequate for the amount of time I spend in the mountains both guiding and recreating. For expedition leaders or large outing club type groups I’d suggest looking at the Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight/Watertight PRO Medical Kit. It’s quite all inclusive with a SAM Splint, EMT Shears, precision forceps, and more.

Summary

Undoubtedly carrying a first aid kit in the mountains is a very good idea. Accidents will happen. The longer your recreate in the mountains the more likely you, someone in your party, or someone you come across, will need a touch of first aid. Hopefully it’s something minor like a blister or small scrape. Unfortunately we can’t remove all risk from our outdoor hobbies and will are going to break some bones, or worse. There’s two things YOU can do to make these situations better.

#1 Carry the right gear

#2 Get some training

Wilderness First Aid
Image from soloschools.com

Wilderness First Aid
Image from soloschools.com

Wilderness First Aid courses are offered all over the country! Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities (SOLO) teaches Wildness First Aid (16 hours), Wilderness First Responder (72+ hours), and Wilderness EMT (170+ hours). If you have zero medical training, and wish to play in the mountains for decades to come, do yourself a huge solid and sign up for one of these courses! You’ll be more prepared to handle what comes your way!

I hope you found this helpful. If you did please let me know in the comments below. If you carry something different or I missed a key item please let me know! Just so you are aware the links above (except for SOLO) are affiliate links. That means if you click on them, and make a purchase, a small commission is earned. That really helps keep this blog going, so if you do make a purchase thanks! If not maybe just share this article with someone you think could benefit from it!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



Which Belay Device For Which Use?

What belay device should I use?

“What belay device is that?” was the question that popped up from my friend @sammyspindel on a short Instagram story clip of my anchor while belaying a client up the last pitch of Upper Refuse on Cathedral Ledge a few days ago. The question generated some great back and forth conversation and ultimately provided the motivation for this post, so thank you for the question Sammy!

What belay device I use is largely determined on what type of climbing I am doing. In this post I’m going to explain the advantages, disadvantages, and helpful strategies of some of the most popular options out there. I will attempt to break it down based on type and style of climbing (gym, sport, trad, alpine, ice, top-rope, multi-pitch, party of 2, party of 3). My hope is you’re able to make some informed choices over what belay device(s) you decide to use. I’ll try to work through these options from simplest to most complex.

Here we go…

The Munter Hitch

Every climber should learn how to use a Munter Hitch. This incredible hitch has served climbers well for over a hundred years. This skill can save the day when your partner drops their shiny new flavor of the day belay device off the top of the 3rd pitch of a 7 pitch climb or when your ropes are two icy from a dripping ice pillar in below freezing temps and you can’t get them bent through your tube-style device. All you need is a pear shaped locking carabiner. I prefer the Petzl Attache or Petzl William Locking Screwgate. Avoid auto-locking carabiners to facilitate tying the hitch onto the carabiner, something I demonstrate in this first video. The second video shows how this can be converted into an auto-locking Munter!

Practice this skill at home. Practice while watching the news. Learn to tie it with your eyes closed. Learn to tie it with one hand. Learn to tie it onto the belay carabiner on the anchor with one hand. Advanced users/aspiring guides: Learn to tie it on to a carabiner so it is already in the “belay” orientation. Learn to it on a carabiner so it is already in the “lower” orientation. Then learn to tie it in both those orientations when the carabiner is on your belay loop (I still struggle with mastering this last step as looking down at the carabiner turns my head upside down).

Some key points about the Munter Hitch…. IT DOES NOT “TWIST” THE ROPE! Improper use of the hitch will introduce serious “twists” and kinks into your rope. The solution? Always keep the brake strand parallel with the load strand. In that orientation you can watch the way the rope moves through the hitch without creating twists. If you hold the brake strand anywhere but parallel you will introduce twists. This is quite un-intuitive when using this hitch to rappel as our muscle memory wants us to pull back or down with the brake hand while rappelling. The proper hand position (and maximum braking power) is obtained by holding the brake strand straight up and parallel with the loaded rope. I know, crazy right? Moving on…

Standard Tube-Style Belay Devices

Almost every climber everywhere has owned and used a classic “tube-style” belay device. It’s as standard as needing a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag. There are more options in this category then ever before. While there are subtle differences in weight and design they all function relatively the same. While a summer camp or outdoor club might opt for the cheapest option I’d suggest for the majority of recreational climbers to go for one of the most popular models in use that includes a “higher friction” side to assist with braking and rappelling. The two models I see the most of are the Black Diamond ATC-XP and the Petzl Verso.

Some notes on this style device. I no longer carry one opting instead for the more versatile models that can be used in “plaquette” mode (more on that in a minute). That said for top-rope and lead, single pitch, gym, sport, and trad climbing there is nothing inherently “wrong” about choosing one of these simple devices.

Tube Style Devices with “Plaquette” Mode

For little additional cost and weight you can carry a tube style belay device that can also serve in “plaquette” mode. This is ideal for lead climbers who wish to belay their partner directly off the anchor after leading a pitch. This European style of belaying has become much more prevalent in American climbing in the last few decades for good reason. At its core it is more comfortable for the belayer and much simpler should the second climber need assistance to pass a crux. The time tested choices here are the Black Diamond ATC Guide and the Petzl Reverso 4. Newer options that are gaining solid following’s are the DMM Pivot which makes direct lowered off the anchor while in “guide mode” easier and the Black Diamond ATC Alpine Guide that is optimized for working with skinny twin ropes.

Black Diamond Alpine ATC Guide
Black Diamond Alpine ATC Guide

DMM Pivot Belay Device
DMM Pivot Belay Device

Single Strand Brake Assisting Devices

This category covers devices like the Petzl GriGri, Petzl GriGri+, Black Diamond Pilot, and the new to the scene Wild Country Revo. While noticeably heavier (and pricier, except for the BD Pilot) than simpler tube style device than these devices have more applications then I think most people realize. Devices like the Petzl GriGri are just at home in the climbing gym as they are on large sandstone big walls (especially given the additional durability of the GriGri+). Some climbers may avoid using one of these devices due to needing to carry a second belay device for rappelling. Well, two things… first you can rappel with these (blocked-rappel options), but more importantly and something I will get into towards the end, what’s wrong with carrying two devices? It opens up a lot of options and solutions to potential climbing issues!

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review
Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review

Improved Belay Check
Petzl Grigri+ – photo by Alexandra Roberts

Wild Country Revo Belay Device
Wild Country Revo Belay Device

Wild Country Revo Belay Device
Wild Country Revo Belay Device

You can see my full review of the Petzl Grigri+ HERE!

You can see my full review of the Black Diamond ATC Pilot HERE!

Double Strand Brake Assisting Devices

This covers some more niche options like the Edelrid Mega Jul,  Mega Jul Sport, and Mammut Smart Alpine Belay Device. These have the added benefit of brake assistance when lead belaying but can still allow for smooth double rope rappels. These are not as ideal for direct belaying off a top anchor like in a multi-pitch setting so I do reach for this option very often preferring my DMM Pivot or the standard Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4.

Lowest Friction Plates

Now we get to the device that sparked this whole post. My Kong Gi-Gi. This device’s most notable quality is that when used in plaquette mode it takes the least amount of force to belay two single rated ropes at the same time. I’ve found no device that comes close to the ease of belaying two single ropes when climbing with two seconds and using “parallel” technique, a common guiding tactic to belay two seconds at the same time.

Kong Gi-Gi Belay Device

While belaying directly off the anchor shouldn’t seem tiring I’ve known many guides who developed elbow tendinitis from the repetition of pulling two ropes through plaquettes up thousands of feet of moderate climbing over a decade or so of guiding. It can serve as a rappel device if needed, though that requires an extra locking carabiner and is a relatively low-friction rappel device (third hand back-up strongly recommended).

So what should you carry?

I guess it makes sense to break this down by end-use… there are so many tools available to us these days but here’s my take on optimizing your belay device load out:

Gym/Top-Rope Only

If you’re really not sure you even like climbing but want your own belay device you can keep it simple an pick up a simple tube style belay device like the Black Diamond ATC-XP or Petzl Verso. I think the higher friction side is worth the extra cost. If you are addicted to climbing you might as well invest in a single strand brake-assisting device like the Black Diamond Pilot, Petzl GriGri, or Wild Country Revo.

Outdoor Sport/Single Pitch Climbing

At this point I think owning two devices makes sense. The Black Diamond ATC XP or Petzl Verso plus a a single strand brake-assisting device like the Black Diamond Pilot, Petzl GriGri, or Wild Country Revo will make weekend trips to Rumney or your local sport crag quite enjoyable!

Multi-pitch Trad

If you’re going more than one pitch off the deck a plaquette device like the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4 is an easy pick. I’ve started carrying my Petzl GriGri on multi-pitch trad routes for a multitude of reasons since it greatly simplifies rope ascension in a rescue scenario but also works great for hauling bags on big wall. “Lifer’s” with big wall aspirations should seriously consider the added durability of the Petzl GriGri+.

Multi-pitch Ice

Here I’d go with the standard plaquette device like the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4 and the knowledge of the Munter Hitch mentioned at the beginning to help deal with icy ropes. I leave single strand brake-assisting devices home when ice climbing as they tend to not work as well on ice ropes and weight is a premium. If you climb on really skinny floss like 7.7mm twin ropes you should look at the new Black Diamond ATC Alpine Guide!

Climbing in a party of 3 (Guiding-Style)

Parties of three typically climb in either “Caterpillar” or “Parallel” style. Basically “Caterpillar” is the leader climbs, then belays the first second, after the second arrives with the 2nd rope belays the 3rd climber. It’s slower but a better choice for harder routes and newer climbers as the other option “Parallel” means the leader takes both ropes and belays both seconds simultaneously. A lot of issues can crop up to make this a mini-epic. However for skilled leaders and guides this is often a method that can see a three person party move as fast as a two person party.

Combos

As I mentioned earlier carrying two belay devices can make sense in a lot of situations. These are the combos I find myself using most as a climbing guide:

Multi-pitch rock with one guest

Petzl GriGri + Petzl Reverso 4

or

Petzl GriGri + Black Diamond ATC Guide

Group Top-Roping

Wild Country Revo, Petzl GriGri (or Petzl GriGri+), Black Diamond Pilot, or the new Wild Country Revo

Guiding Multi-pitch Ice

Kong Gi-Gi + Petzl Reverso 4

or

Kong Gi-Gi + Black Diamond ATC Guide

Summary

At the end of the day there are an amazing array of belay devices to chose from. The above suggestions are just my personal experience with what has worked well for me. When I started this post I thought I would cover every device out there but there are just way to many options! Hopefully the suggestions and comments I’ve made help you pick a system that works for you! Let me know in the comments if I left out your favorite belay device or if you found any of this useful and…

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

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