Occasionally cams will need some maintenance to continue to operate smoothly. If you find the trigger and springs in your cams getting “sticky” use a mild soap like Nikwax Tech Wash followed by a lubricant like Metolius Cam Lube to restore them to like new operation!
When using a plaquette style belay device (Black Diamond ATC Guide, Petzl Reverso, DMM Pivot) in Assisted-Braking Mode or Auto-Blocking Mode (to belay a follower directly off the anchor) there are some ways to reduce the amount of effort required to pull slack through the device. This can lead to a more efficient belay as well as save your elbows from over-use injuries like tendinitis (not uncommon in life long climbers and guides).
First make sure you are using an appropriate diameter rope for your device. Skinnier ropes will require less effort to pull slack then thicker diameters but make sure you are staying within the range the manufacture recommends! For reference here are the suggested ranges for some common devices:
The skinnier rope you use the less effort it will take to pull slack through the device. Currently my favorite single rope for multi-pitch ice and alpine rock climbing is the Sterling Fusion Nano IX DryXP, 70m. This rope pulls very smoothly through any of the above devices!
There are many situations in climbing where it makes sense to construct your anchor from the climbing rope you are already attached to versus reaching for a sling or cordelette; most notably when swinging leads or finishing a climb with a tree anchor followed by a walk-off. In recent years the Connecticut Tree Hitch (CTH) has gained popularity among both professional climbing guides and savvy recreational climbers.
The Buntline Hitch is also a suitable option that has a few distinct advantages over the CTH.
The hitch does not require a locking carabiner
The hitch forms a suitable master point for belaying your second (when using a CTH you must tie another bight knot to create a master point).
If tied incorrectly it forms either two half-hitches or a clove-hitch which have a high enough slip strength. The CTH tied incorrectly will catastrophically fail.
It is fast to tie and untie
Credit: Big thanks to Derek DeBruin for sharing this hitch with in the AMGA Professional Facebook Forum and for his continued work disseminating quality information. EDIT: Derek credits Richard Goldstone for teaching him this method.
Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous. Practice new skills on the ground and seek qualified instruction.
Rigging to lower from a sport climb is faster, more efficient, and safer than setting up a rappel. Here’s the why and the how!
Faster and More Efficient
When one rigs to lower one only needs to pull up enough rope to pass a bight through the fixed anchor and tie a bight knot that can be clipped to one’s belay loop. If one chooses to set up a rappel instead one needs to pull up at least half the rope (if the rope has an accurate middle mark) or the entire rope up (if the rope does not have an accurate middle mark). This is not only faster than setting a rappel, but safer!
As mentioned the fact that you do not need to locate the middle of the rope when being lowered leads to a reduction in risk. There are many examples of accidents that resulted from the two ends of a rope not being even during a rappel. When rigging to lower you also have the benefit of still being on belay. If you have led the route prior to rigging the lower the rope will still be traveling through quick draws below offering some protection against an unexpected slip. Finally this method keeps the climber attached to the rope in some form through out the process eliminating the risk of dropping the rope (it happens!).
The process isn’t too complicated but there are a few considerations and options.
The first of which is whether or not to tether into the anchor during the process. The best practice depends on the situation, more specifically, the stance. When you arrive at the anchor if there is a decent stance you can omit tethering into the anchor and doing so reduces clutter and speeds the process. If the unexpected slip occurs at this stage your rope is still through the anchor. If you have passed a bight through the anchor some security can be obtained by keeping tension on the bight as you bring it down to your belay loop and tie the bight knot. However if the stance is small and insecure it would be best to tether into the anchor so you can rig to lower more comfortably. While there are a few appropriate tether systems out there one of the best options is the CAMP USA Swing Dynamic Belay Lanyard.
Pull up some slack and thread a bight through the fixed rings on the anchor. Continue to lengthen this bight until it reaches your belay loop and pull it about 8 inches past (below) your belay loop.
Tie a bight knot here. There are a couple bight knots you could use to attach the rope back to your climbing rope. An overhand on a bight works, but is harder to untie then a figure-eight on a bight. I often tie a figure 8 on a bight with an extra wrap or two around the two strands. This makes a secure bight knot that is very easy to untie after it has been loaded (sometimes called a figure-9).
After the bight knot is tied connect it to your belay loop with a locking carabiner. Some climbers might chose to add a second reversed/opposed carabiner (locking or not). If only using a single locking carabiner make sure it is locked and properly orientated when you call for “take” and weight the new attachment. Best practice here is to get a little closer to the anchor so when your belayer “takes” you can weight the new attachment and verify everything looks correct the next step.
Untie your original tie in knot and pull the long tail through the anchor.
Remove the quick-draws (or whatever your top-rope anchor was), weight the rope, and ask to be lowered. Watch that you don’t get tripped up on the long tail coming from the backside of the bight knot! Once you are on the ground remove the locking carabiner and bight knot and retrieve your rope by pulling from the belayer side (less rope to pull). Move on to the next climb or head to happy hour (depending on time of day).
Close Your System!
One important caveat to this system, and almost all climbing systems, is to be sure to “close your system”. Essentially this means during your partner check (before anyone starts climbing) you ensure that the unused end of the rope either has a stopper knot tied near the end, is secured around a ground anchor, or tied into your partner. In order to explain the avoidable accident we are preventing I’ll share this simple example. You successfully lead a 35 meter tall route without realizing you are climbing on a 60 meter rope. After rigging to lower your belayer lower’s you and when you are about 10 meters from the ground the unsecured end of the climbing rope slips through the belayer’s brake hand and belay device and you fall to the ground. As unavoidable as this sounds it happens every single year! Close your system!
“I heard lowering through anchors is discouraged as it wears out the fixed gear?”
Professional mountain guides and climbing institutions around the country are actively trying to correct this common public misconception. It stems from the very real and modern ethic that active top-roping through fixed gear is discouraged. Over time, depending on the fixed hardware, this can lead to pre-mature wear on the fixed anchor. It’s easy enough if you plan on top-roping for a bit to use your own carabiners to save some wear on the fixed anchor. Only the last climber will lower through the fixed gear, and modern stainless steel rappel rings and “mussey hooks” can handle this type of use for many years to come. The gains in efficiency and reduction in rappelling accidents justify this technique, and the organizations that promote education and conservation are the same organizations promoting this technique, namely groups like the American Mountain Guide Association, The Access Fund, and The American Alpine Club. There may be some areas where locals are still resisting this modern technique. It’s possible their routes have more aluminum fixed anchors or they don’t have an organizing body that works to keep anchors updated like the Rumney Climbers Association. In those areas it’s best to check with local climbers on accepted practices, but hopefully these areas can be updated to better support lowering as an option.
All this said there are times where rappelling will be a better choice. The American Alpine Club created this video which covers the steps to rig a rappel from a sport anchor instead.
Rigging to lower from a sport climb is definitely faster and arguably safer than setting up a rappel. I hope this post has you thinking critically about your process while climbing and that it was clean and concise. At the end of the day double and triple check what ever system you are using especially during transitions and climb on!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous. Practice new skills at ground level and under the guidance of a qualified guide, instructor, or mentor. Climb at your own risk. Affiliate links above help support this blog.
I originally posted this tech tip back in 2017 but with any climbing skill a bit of repetition can’t hurt. Here’s the original YouTube video and a new one I posted this morning.
CONTEST- $200 Gift Card to IME, North Conway NH
I’m giving away a $200 gift certificate to International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, NH to a randomly selected YouTube subscriber on November 30th, 2021! This gift certificate can be used on anything in their retail shop like a new climbing rope, ice axes, crampons, clothing, etc, or on a climbing lesson or avalanche course with the International Mountain Climbing School! No purchase necessary, just hit that subscribe button on my YouTube channel to be sure you will be entered in the drawing!
I’ve been using the Girth Hitch Master Point (GHMP) Anchor System for a little over a year now having learned it from the great educational social media feeds of Dale Remsberg and Cody Bradford. Recent testing on the method was conducted by Derek DeBruin and John Sohl the Petzl facility in Salt Lake City and they published these results.
“The girth hitch is a viable solution for the master point for anchor rigging, provided that;
1) Approximately 5cm of slip is within the climbing party’s risk tolerance
2) The girth hitch is cinched snugly by hand and body weight prior to use. This applies to a variety of rigging materials, such as HMPE or nylon slings or cord, as well as material conditions, whether new or used, dry or wet.” – Derek DeBruin
There’s quite a few places this system could be well applied. It is primarily a solution for multi-pitch climbing. This isn’t a great option for constructing anchors that will be used for top-rope climbing. On a multi-pitch route with bolted belay stations I might even consider keeping a sling rigged with this system (much like how I keep a pre-tied mini-quad on my harness). Even if the bolts at the next station are not exactly the same distance apart you only need to loosen the hitch a bit to properly adjust it. On a multi-pitch route with traditional gear anchors a double-length Dyneema sling is a light & fast option for rigging this system. Multi-pitch ice climbing is where I see perhaps the greatest benefit as rigging this with gloves on will often be achievable with just an alpine-draw and good ice.
Here’s a video I created showing the method along with some suggestions, namely utilizing a full strength closed rappel ring as a master point instead of a locking carabiner, which adds security and saves a locking carabiner for other uses.
Because this is a material efficient and proven redundant glove friendly system I plan on keeping it in my growing “tool kit” of options. I still carry one mini-quad with me when I prefer independent master points (more comfortable for a party of three) and use it often as a glove friendly redundant rappel extension. The advantages over tying a more traditional old school pre-equalized cordelette anchor are great enough that I see less and less reason for ever taking my cordelette off the back of my harness. I still carry it for self-rescue purposes but newer anchor methods like the GHMP and mini-quad seem to solve most anchor problems more effectively. I’m stopping by REI today to pick up one a SMC Rigging Ring which is almost half the weight of the stainless steel one I used in the video. You should consider adding this to your tool kit!
I’m running two giveaways at the moment. You can enter to win a SOL Emergency Bivvy Sack before the end of the month in the raffle at the bottom of this review of SOL survival products! You can also enter to win a camming device of your choice* by competing in an anchor building contest that ends at the end of October… rules for that contest are at this Instagram post.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous, you could die following any advice from this post. Seek qualified instruction and mentorship. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.
*cam will be selected by the winner from any in-stock cam at International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, NH. Free shipping within the US.
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.
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
MaterialsPolyester Enduro Knit, EVA Midsole, BD BlackLabel-Mountain Rubber
Size RangeM’s US 6-14 1/2 sizes
WeightEACH: 312 g (11 oz)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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