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MARCH 2014
MARCH 25, 2014

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La Esnge 5325m| Cordillera Blanca | Peru

photo: keith ladzinski


Guiding Life
Rob Coppolillo details the
sometimes-grueling but alwaysrewarding process of becoming
a guide, from single-pitch rock
climbs to big alpine objectives.

A powerful wilderness experience, the companionship of
new friends, and a raw, powerful
adventure. Heres what has
gotten this pro climber addicted
to expeditions. Plus, more than
a dozen necessary skills to make
your big trip safe and successful.
By Mike Libecki

Built to Last?
We examine the what, how,
and why of failing bolts across
the worldfrom Thailand to
Washington stateand how the
unregulated practice of bolting is
about to change.
By Jeff Achey

Its Always Sunny In
Fight off the winter climbing
bluesand get out of the gym!
at these six cold-weather-friendly
destinations, complete with warm
temps and plentiful sunshine.
By Amanda Fox


Christine Balaz nds

maximum expansion on the
sought-afer, eight-pitch
Shunes Buttress (5.11c) in
the popular winter destination
of Zion National Park, Utah.
Mike Libecki jugs his way to
a big wall rst ascent in Xinjiang, China, right on the border
of Kyrgyzstan. With endless
route potential, China has
been the focus of six Libecki
Photo: Keith Ladzinski



issue 323


What differentiates a guide from
a really good climber? Hint: Its
not just about the technical skills.
Plus, ve cool tips to add to
your toolbox.

Editors Note



The Guide

Auto-Blocking Munter
Learn yet another use for this
versatile hitch: Put it in guide mode
with just one extra carabiner.




Safer Lowering
Prevent a potentially fatal lowering
accident with these best practices
for communication.


Relaxing Breath
Though your muscles are working
hard on a difcult route, slow down
your breathing to nab the send.

Opposite and Opposed
If youre up high and have run out
of locking carabiners, use two
non-lockers instead.

health and
Freaky Fit
CrossFit, yoga, running, and skiing
are all examples of how guides
stay in extraordinarily good shape.
Here are a few more ways to
train like a guideaccessible to
climbers of all levels.

Pro Fuel
Food is a crucial part of any major
ascent, from 10 pitches of sandstone to three days on a glacier.
Make sure you eat right with tips
from guides on what to pack.




Strength for Alpinism

Legs are the key to major climbing
objectives, but theyre neglected
by many climbers. Get in shape for
alpine season with this
simple program.

Super-Light Shells
With spring showers come
breathable, lightweight rain
shells. Here are Climbing
testers picks for the ve best
jackets of this season.

2 | march 2014

andrew burr

Just outside of Rapid City,

South Dakota, Victoria
Canyon is home to some of
the steepest limestone in
the state, and many of the
routes are belayed
from a boat.


One less decision

The new Alpine Houdini Jacket is a sub-7-oz waterproof shell that clips unobtrusively
to your harness, deploys when you need it to shed weather, and vanishes into its own
pocket when you dont. Whether you push on or bail, bringing it is the best decision
you dont have to make. of light
Trevor Hobbs makes a dash up (and down) the Beckey-Chouinard route. The Bugaboos, Canada. MIKEY SCHAEFER 2014 Patagonia, Inc.



Shannon daviS
Art Director
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Gear Editor
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Destinations Editor
amanda fox
Editor at Large
dougald macdonald
Senior Contributing
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Staff Photographer
Ben fullerton
Tablet Media Specialist
cryStal Sagan
claire rickS
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browse areas, routes,

photos, comments, etc
offline, at the crag, on
the rock.


Spring Ahead

Perhaps you call it stoke. Or

psych. Maybe passion. No
matter the tag, mine always spikes
just a tiny bit when I realize deep winter will
soon be in the rearview. Sure, I like me some
water ice and blower pow (I do live in Colorado, after all), but dammit if I dont love those
long, sunny, warm-but-not-hot days on rock a
whole lot more. Id take a T-shirt over 800-ll down any day.
During this psych bump, I nd myself assessing (nay, scrutinizing) the previous year. How did it stack up against the 35 that preceded it? How did I do as
a new dad? Did the garden kick out as many hot peppers as Id hoped? And, of
course, was I able to gram about things like my mangled digits with hashtags
like #climberhands often enough? This analysis provides a bar to surpass.
My grade on the last item is a little hit and miss to be honest (and so were the
peppers), but maybe Im too critical. After rehabbing from my rst-ever broken
bone, I did climb a grade harder than I ever had. And I topped out on some really
beautiful alpine and desert climbs.
Luckily, climbing is something that ofers unending opportunity for renewal
and improvement. And this issue ofers up an adult dose of that, too. Spring is at
our feet, and its time to plan a year full of big climbs, the kind that both deplete
and fortify you.
iphone anD


Here are ve things from this issue to kick-start your spring season:
1. Sunny crags you can pack your T-shirt for this weekend (p. 64). Top of my
list: Wyomings Guernsey State Park. Its south-facing single-pitch sport routes
get all-day sun on Utah-like rock.
2. Some of the best lightweight shells weve ever tested (p. 33). Stuf one of
these in your pack just in case.
3. Words of wisdom from some of Americas best mountain guides (p. 17).
Learn what it takes to be one, or just enjoy gleaning their hard-won knowledge
on tness, nutrition, and motivating climbing partners (like this nugget: Sometimes its looking people in the eyes and telling them You can do this. Other
times, its telling them to Man the f *** up!).
4. Contributing editor Brendan Leonards column about climbing like a kid
again. We all have goals and tick lists, but dont let those overshadow curiosity.
5. Mike Libeckis best tales from his life of expedition climbing. Precious few
people embrace life like Libecki. His story is a grand exploration of a climbers
need for adventure, a guaranteed stoke boost, and a lot of fun.


CLIMB WITH ME THIS SUMMER Find out how to join our week-long trip
DownloaD your local
areas, trip Destinations,
or all 100,000+ routes.
once DownloaDeD, you no
longer neeD to be online!

to Deep Lake Cirque in Wyomings Wind River Range this coming August at Then, check out reader essays about last years amazing trip at

JOIN OUR READER PANEL Vote on cover images, weigh in on story ideas,
and help us make the magazine you want by signing up at

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Lonnie Kauk

Too big to Flail (V10), bishop,


While spending fall and winter

of 2013 in the Buttermilks, Kauk
ticked several impressive highball
boulder problems, including this
massive 50-foot line, rst established in January 2012 by Alex
Honnold, who was protected by a
staggering 34 crashpads. Earlier
in the season, Kauk completed
Ambrosia, a 45-foot V11 put up by
Kevin Jorgeson on the enormous
Grandpa Peabody boulder in
2009. Kauk, who is also a professional snowboarder (They benet
each other perfectly, he says of
his chosen sports) and son of
climbing legend Ron Kauk, calls
this style of climbing big-wave
bouldering because of the associated risks and thrills, similar
to big-wave surng. It puts you
in a life-and-death situation, and
it humbles you to respect the
rock and yourself, to climb with
honor in your heart and mind, he
says. In the end, you have a deep
respect for the rock. Most elite
climbers accomplish these lines in
headpoint style, meaning they
practice on toprope before going
for the ascent, in order to gure
out beta and practice the moves.
Kauk keeps a positive conversation in his head on these stomachchurning ascents in order to stay
calm and enjoy the moment.



10 |

march 2014

Justin Ridgely

big baby buddha (V9), The

Arch, Hawaii

Just as alpinists check weather

reports for a window of good
conditions, boulderers in Hawaii
check surf forecasts with
hopes that the swell will be
low. To climb the Aloha States
trademark Arch, the North Shore
swell of Oahu must be small.
Photographer Forest Woodward
and Ridgely raced the morning
light through boulders and
potholes to nd the water level
just low enough to climb the
30-foot-tall feature. Local and
pro Ridgely discovered the Arch
a few years ago poking around
Google Earth, and its now home
to about 16 problems and ve
projects. Ridgely describes the
bouldering scene in Hawaii as
amazing, saying, Development
has been nonstop for the past
four years. Oahu has 41 bouldering zones now, and we havent
even explored the whole island
yet. The Arch and other nearby
areas are subject to closure,
so check with local authorities
before heading out.

Kris Irwin

Rainbow Serpent (Wi6),

ghost River Wilderness,
Alberta, canada

Although this freestanding pillar is described as two pitches,

there is a 200-foot WI4 pitch
called Aquarius plus some soloworthy WI2 terrain that guard
the base of this 330-foot route.
Photographer Tim Baneld
says, Sometimes just getting
to the climb is the crux. The
Ghost [area] requires a serious
four-wheel-drive approach and
can ofen shut you down before
you even leave your vehicle.
One must climb Aquarius to
even see if Rainbow Serpent
is in good condition since it is
located in a small amphitheater
named the Recital Hall (this
circular bowl is said to have
excellent acoustics), which
is also home to a challenging
route called Fearful Symmetry
(WI6 X). Both routes come in
rarely and early in the season.
The Serpent generally has
plenty of column climbing
separated by attached ice and
chandeliers in the middle that
provide strength and support to
the whole feature.

| 11


Peter Vintoniv

Out of the Question

(5.10b), Lone Peak
Wilderness, Utah

Salt Lake City is surrounded

by mountains, but the Lone
Peak Cirque is unique as an
oasis of granite in an alpine
setting. A ve-mile hike
with 5,000 feet of vertical
gain keeps most weekend
warriors out, but for those
willing to work for it, 500foot walls with climbs ranging from 5.4 to 5.12 on solid
rock are there for the taking.
The Question Mark Wall is
named for the near-perfect
question mark feature near
the top, and it has two
ultra-classics: Out of the
Question, where the last
pitch heads right through
the namesake feature,
and the Lowe Route (5.8),
rst climbed by luminaries
George and Jeff Lowe.
AndReW buRR

12 |

March 2014

| 13


Cody Scarpella
Buffalos in Space (5.13),
South Platte, Colorado

Cynical Pinnacle, home to the

famed Wunschs Dihedral, is one
of the most revered crags in the
South Platte area of Colorado.
But the west side of the 350foot granite formation had only a
single summit route, Buffalos in
Space, an aid climb established
in the 1980s. On January 3,
following a variation discovered
by Andy Donson, Denver climber
Cody Scarpella redpointed a
free version of Buffalos that
goes lef on small edges afer
a 5.12 crack. The crux of the
100-plus-foot pitch proves to be
hanging on through its multiple
delicate sequences, separated
by little to no rests, Scarpella
says. He redpointed the line afer
ve lead attempts. With out
of this world positioning, the
newly freed Buffalos has already
been called one of the best gearprotected 5.13s in Colorado.
DAve vuOnO

14 | marCh 2014

Simon Duverney

Trebenna (5.12d),
geyikbayiri, Turkey

As a member of the French National Ice Team, Duverney is primarily an ice and mixed climber,
but he still managed to ash a
hard variation of this powerful sport route up a long tufa
in Turkey. Duverney has many
impressive competition performances under his belt, including
winning the Elite Mixed Climbing
Competition at the 2013 Ouray
Ice Festival by topping out in
eight minutes, beating the only
other competitor to top out the
long, pumpy route by about 3.5
minutes. The Geyikbayiri area,
about 15 miles from the city of
Antalya, has the highest concentration of routes in Turkey,
with more than 600 established routes of all grades and
seemingly unlimited potential
for more. Check out the JoSiTo
Camp (climbingcamp-antalya.
com) that offers inexpensive
camping, small bungalows, and
larger chalets, with a centralized
restaurant and bar.

| 15

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Available at specialty outdoor retailers and REI stores nationwide.


Guiding is a sought-afer career for
many climbers. The legendary Chamonix climber and guide Gaston Rbuffat
summed it up well: With the inevitable repetition of the same ascents,
the work of the guide could become
tedious, but the guide is not just a machine to climb slopes of ice and walls
of rock, to know the weather and the
route. He does not climb for himself:
He opens the gates of his mountains
for his companion If the guide could
take pleasure only in his own climbing, he would quickly lose his appetite
for the mountains The guide gladly
climbs the same crack or the same
slab ve or 10 times in the summer,
but his happiness comes from a deeper
feeling, his feeling of kinship with the
mountain and the elements, his feeling
of responsibility toward a man who has
complete condence in him.

Bruno Schlppi and Ruth Meyer

make their way up the Rosenlaui
Horn in the Bernese Oberland,
or the Bernese Highlands, of
Switzerland. Mountain guiding has
been a highly regarded profession
for more than a century in Europe.



| 17

the guide

Exum Mountain guide Zahan

billimoria shows the way in
Wyomings teton range. its
Exum custom to have clients
lead the nal steps to the summit of the Grand teton.

By RoB Coppolillo

The Guiding

climbings challenging but highly rewarding career is a lifelong pursuit

18 |

March 2014

Butte sometime, and Ill

show you, the gentleman
swiss-French, slightly
built, mellow, self-assured,
and my neighbor on a
ight home to Colorado,
he wrote his name into
my journal in euro-cursive,
with a phone number, too:
Jean Pavillard.
Hed just spent a half
hour describing ridge
traverses in the Bernese
oberland, bottomless
powder lines in the rockies, and his little village
in the swiss Alps. He said
he was a professional
mountain guide. Id heard
of such a thing, but no
one had ever described
the job in detail. this guy
had just permanently
warped my 23-year-old
brain on the idea of helping others ski and climb,
and making a decent living
at it. the year was 1993, Id
just graduated from the
University of Colorado in
Boulder, and I had to make
a living right?
I fell into writing around
this time, for many of
the same reasons guiding
appealed: exibility, the
ability to travel for work,
and avoiding the cubicle.
making a living in the hills,
though, promised even
more. I grew up skiing and
climbing in Colorado, so I
preferred that landscape
more than the desert,
more than the ocean. Plus,
to be able to move condently and competently
through the mountains
on glaciers, up frozen
waterfalls, across endless
rock ridges, down snowy
couloirsseemed the
obvious result if I were to
pursue life and work in
the vertical. meanwhile,
giving others a lifetime
experience in that realm

andy bardon

Come down to Crested


the sun shines on the

Matterhorn in early
morning while two alpine
climbers ascend the
arbengrat route on
ober Gabelhorn above
Zermatt, Switzerland.

Well, that seemed like an

exceptional craft.
Over these ensuing
years Ive never crossed
paths with Pavillard again,
but hes remained a big
inuence, albeit indirectly.
Little did I know that
back in 1993, Pavillard,
along with many other
guides, was busy creating
the American Mountain Guides Association
(AMGA), the organization
through which Im currently pursuing certication
in the three disciplines
of guidingrock, ski, and
The AMGA came
together after a few false
starts in the 1970s and early 80s. By 1993, the efforts
of dozens of climbers and
guidesYvon Chouinard,
Doug Robinson, Peter Lev,
Jim Donini, John Fischer,
Allen Pietrasanta, Allan

Jolley, Bela Vadasz, to

name just a fewallowed
the AMGA to apply for
membership into the
International Federation of
Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA), an umbrella
organization that oversees
guiding worldwide. From
that point on, AMGA
guides traveled to other
countries to study various curricula, standards,
and exam procedures in
an effort to create the
American program. During
the same period, representatives from the IFMGA
visited the States and audited courses and offered
feedback, all to bring the
U.S. scene up to the elite
standards of Canada, New
Zealand, Switzerland,
France, Italy, Austria, and
the other member states.
By 1997, the U.S. was in,
the same year as Sweden.

i shadowed a
couple routes in
Eldorado canyon and didnt
offend the clients. by 2006,
beck told me to
either buck up
and do an AmgA
course, or go do
something else. i
took the bait.
Now it was possible to
study in the States and
still receive full international certication in
mountain guiding, just like
men and women from
Chamonix, Zermatt, and
Grindelwald had done for
a century or more.

This is not to say Ive

been working on my cert,
or pin (because of the
pin many IFMGA guides
wear on their jackets), for
20 years. After meeting Pavillard, I burned up
almost a decade racing
bikes. By the time Id
grown tired of leg shaving
and manorexia, I was
30. I partied for a year,
and then one afternoon
I pedaled out of Burning
Mans Black Rock City and
thought, Whats next?
While on a bike ride
later that fall, I off-handedly mentioned the idea
of guiding to a buddy, who
said, I know a Swiss guy
looking for apprentices. I
could introduce you. Six
months later, Id managed
to con Markus Beck, an
IFMGA guide and founder
of Alpine World Ascents,
in Boulder, into letting me

apprentice. It was a far cry

from Monsieur Pavillard,
but it was a start.
I didnt ail too badly.
I managed to stay out of
the way at rst, and then
slowly I shadowed a few ski
days and a couple routes in
Eldorado Canyon outside
of Boulder. I helped out a
bit and didnt offend the
clients. By 2006, Beck told
me to either buck up and
do an AMGA course, or go
do something else. I took
the bait.
In January 2007, I took
an AMGA Ski Guides
Course in Aspen, taught
by Amos Whiting and
Vadasz, one of the pioneers of the ski program.
Vadasz was one of the
rst Americans to receive
his pin and was a ballbreaker on the details. Hes

| 19

the guide

20 |

March 2014

especially if you live on

the Front Range. We lack
true grade IV/V terrain in
rock and alpine and no
glaciers (a prerequisite
for the advanced alpine

consumers. Europeans
dont think twice about
hiring a guide, but here,
theres a block.
Permit issues are
another obstacle to

I worked through the

courses and eventually
took the initial exams in
each of the disciplines.
These three-day tests are
called aspirant exams,

aMGa courses are expensiveupwards of $2,000 a pop.

add to that missed work and travel expenses, and youre
looking at a $25,000 investment for that little silver pin.
and ski courses). Building
the rsum makes a nice
excuse to travel, though.
The Incredible Hulk in the
Sierra. Red Rock, Nevada.
Mont Blanc in France. (Yes,
my wife is a saint.)
Guiding work, too,
isnt so easy to come by,
for a couple of reasons.
Colorado has plenty of
independent, fairly competent skiers and climbers.
Most of these folks dont
consider hiring a guide
as a means to improve
or for tackling greater
objectives. Guiding, as a
product, just hasnt been
successfully and strategically marketed to outdoor

growing the profession. In

Rocky Mountain National
Park, for example, only
the Colorado Mountain
School (CMS) has the
concession to offer technical guiding (anything
with a rope). Unless you
work for my buddies at
CMS, forget taking clients
to Lumpy Ridge or up
the Petit Grepon. (This
could be changing in
2014. Stay tuned.) I hate
to make Europe sound
like Shangri-La, but over
there, once youre rocking
the pin, youre good to
go, anywhere, all the time
(with a bit of red tape, but
you get le drift).

after the French term for

an aspiring student. In
February 2014, my nals
begin with eight days on
skis in British Columbias
Rogers Pass, six days at
Red Rock in April, and
10 days in Washingtons
Cascades for the alpine
section in September.
It seems to be that for
now within the U.S., one
doesnt need an AMGA
certicationor any certicationto call oneself
a mountain guide. While
thats slowly changing as
land managers and insurance companies expect
some level of professional
training for guides, at the

moment your neighborhood barber requires

more documents to work
than a mountain guide.
Compare, too, the
prices for services in the
outdoor industry. It can
cost more than $700 for a
one-day private ski lesson
in Aspen (the instructor
might get $300 of that),
while were charging $375
per day (my take is $225)
for a trip up the Yellow
Spur (5.10) in Eldorado.
Heated gondola and
snowball ghts, or loose
rock and thunderstorms
on the East Slabs descent?
You do the math. Were
changing the industrys
and the publics perception of guidingslowly.
So lets talk standards.
When the IFMGA observed courses and exams
in the U.S., they were
conrming that our curriculum was up to speed.
Thats what you get with a
certied guidethe peace
of mind that he knows the
discipline inside and out.
Guides are expected to

American Mountain Guide (IFMGA) Chris

Simmons leads his clients through nearwhiteout conditions on 8,868-foot Eldorado
Peak, North Cascades, Washington.


a godfather of the AMGA,

and Im thankful I had the
opportunity to have him
critique me. Hes no longer
teaching courses, so it was
fun to study under him. I
To get further in the ski
program, and to enter the
alpine program, I had to
begin working toward an
AIARE 3, or the professional-level course offered by
the American Institute for
Avalanche Research and
Education. Lets just say I
dug more than a few snow
pits during those winters.
On the medical side, I
needed a Wilderness First
Responder (WFR). Check.
Unlike Europe, where
courses are often subsidized through regions like
the Aosta Valley in Italy,
AMGA courses are expensiveupwards of $2,000
a pop. Add to that missed
work and travel expenses,
and youre looking at more
than a $25,000 investment
for that little silver pin. I
was living cheap (read: before marriage and kids) at
the time, so it felt doable.
I put my head down and
kept moving.
The U.S. scene differs
from Europe in another
important way. Here, a
guide can pursue certication in only one discipline.
Because our terrain is so
spread out, a guide in
Joshua Tree, if hes only
working in Southern
California, doesnt need
alpine and ski experience.
In western Europe, you
can take the rst tram, do
a mixed route, make turns
back to town, and then
clip bolts in the afternoon
sun. Its a different scene.
Back to 2007. I began
ticking the courses, and
since then Ive completed
all of them in ski, alpine,
and rock. Between courses
I had to amass dozens
of days of climbing and
skiing on a variety of
routes and terrain, and
plenty of guiding, too. Its
not as easy as it sounds,



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the guide

kARsteN deLAp

AMGA-certied rock guide

Ron Funderburke belays his
clients on North Carolinas
Looking Glass Rock.

22 |

Marc h 2014

know how to coach and to teach

effectively, in a variety of different styles. Were graded on soft
skills, toodid we make the most
comfortable belay possible? Did
we transition somewhere appropriatein the sun, out of the wind,
away from icefall? Did we spend
our day efcientlyve-minute
changeovers at belays?
Over the years, Ive had good instructors and mentors, from Beck to
several of Pavillards protgsTim
Brown, Brian Lazar, and Vince Anderson. Luckily for me, all of them
have been through some, if not
all, of the AMGA curriculum and
exam process. (Lazar wised up, got a
masters degree in snow science, and
runs AIARE now.) This has saved me
a tremendous amount of stress and
has given me a good sense of whats
expected on my nal exams.
On the rock and alpine aspirant exams, candidates must pass
(among others) the 45-minute
rock-rescue drill. It goes like
this: The examiner starts the

perhaps a lower; again, he cant

help) and get both of you to the
groundin 45 minutes or less.
Its quite a mouthful, eh? Well,
hire a certied rock or alpine
guide, and hell know how to get
this done, as well as pass a knot
when lowering a climber (imagine
youve tied two ropes together to
lower a person a full 120 meters),
and have crevasse-rescue skills,
including digging an emergency
shelter and building a sled to
lower a victim down a steep slope.
When I started my courses in
winter 2007, I skied and climbed
at a respectable level. Along the
way, though, instructors like Doug
Nidever and Tom Hargis told me I
had to up my game on rock. Piolet
dOr winner Anderson said to me
in Alaska, You ski ne, but I want
to see you more comfortable on
the steeps. This was after skiing
the Cherry Couloir on Python
Peak, in wind-hammered conditions. Lets just say I wasnt relaxed
on the 45-degree drop-in, looking
at jagged rocks below. Heads up!

Once you get your pin, you havent hit the nish line. Its really just the beginning of perfecting the craft and trade of mountain guiding.
clock while youre belaying a
follower off your waist, from a
good stance above. The follower
falls and hangs on the rope. From
this point the follower cant help.
You must tie off the belay, escape, and then get to baseline,
meaning youve transferred the
belay line to the anchor and its
afxed with a releasable system.
Then youre free to go for help,
rappel, whatever. At this point in
the test, you either rappel to the
victim (to theoretically provide
rst aid or at least snag the ask
out of his pack) and re-ascend to
your original ledge, or raise the
victim up to where you are using
a 3:1, 5:1, or 6:1 haul system.
Lets assume you rappelled
rst. Once back at the ledge,
youll either haul or lower,
but youll have to do both at
some point. Once those steps
are complete, you prepare a
counterbalance rappel, rap to
the victim, pick him off, and
continue rappelling to the next
anchor. Transfer both of you (he
cant help!) onto the anchor, pull
your ropes, rig another rappel (or

I swallowed my pride, bugged an

instructor buddy for some ski
lessons, and rededicated myself to
Having kids along the way
doesnt make it easier. My wife
and I had identical-twin boys, Luca
and Dominic, in summer 2010, and
I knew I had to get more serious
with my strength and tness.
Short on time, I needed something efcient and hard.
Id bumped into Micah Dash
the year before. He stood
feebly and shook my hand,
and then had to use his arms
to lower himself back into his
chair. Whats wrong with you?
I asked, assuming hed banged
himself up climbing. No, man,
its this chick. She wasnt a
girlfriend; Connie Sciolino runs
Boulders Alpine Training Center
(ATC), which caters to climbers
and skiers, and shed put a hurtin
on tough Micah Dash. Sold.
My rst sessions at the ATC
included pain, ailing, a sweatsoaked mufn top, and jiggling

the guide

24 |

March 2014

for yourself.
Even if one could
sneak by to get his pin,
Im not sure hed want
to. Skiing in avalanche
terrain, guiding in Eldo,
short-roping loose gulleysif you dont stay
sharp, youll eventually
nd yourself as the guest
of honor at The Big Sleep.
Or maybe youll survive
and end up on YouTube.
But you get it. Oh, and
the punch line to all this?

Once you get your pin,

you havent hit the nish
line. Its really just the
beginning of perfecting the craft and trade
of mountain guiding. A
ticket to the big dance.
Managing stress, thats
the name of the game in
2014. Final exams, nerves,
relaxing, getting it done.
The guys and girls who
hiked the exams say managing stress is The Way, so
I am a disciple. Devoted,

prepared, practiced, and

humble. The Way.

To date, 83 men and

eight women have gotten
their IFMGA pin, with the
majority working in the
United States. Rob Coppolillo hopes to crack the
top 100. He also repeats
the words of a wise man:
Tips arent beer money;
theyre mortgage money.
Always remember to tip
your guide, friends!

IFMGa-certied guide Chris

simmons with two clients nearing the summit of austera peak
in Washingtons Cascades.

karsten delap

back fat. I hadnt yet

started my advanced
courses, and I knew
theyd be far harder than
the entry-level stuff. I
persevered, marrying the
ATC workouts with long
practice sessions in the
mountains and as many
guiding days as I could
get through Alpine World
Ascents. My game has improved; the movement
exams have become easier
for me. And did I mention
my wife is a frickin saint?
The movement standards (your climbing and
skiing skills) are attainable
for many (5.10+ trad, WI4,
5.6 in mountain boots),
but consider that youre
generally guiding two clients, meaning youre trailing two ropes (another
eight pounds on your harness). You probably have a
backpack on, too, so add
another ve to 10 pounds
to your back. Managing
hazards, hauling more
gear, constantly considering your clients comfort
and safetythese and all
the other soft skills of
guiding make onsighting
that much harder.
When I rst started in
the program, the idea of
traveling back and forth to
Europe sounded reasonable. My dads from Italy,
and if I wanted to guide
there, Id need my pin.
Well, after a couple kids,
a house, and a wife with
a job, the Euro timeshare
isnt looking so reasonable
anymore. I was also writing
a lot back then and even
sold a book, so the guiding
thing was as much a honeymoon gig as anything.
Having worked through the
courses, though, and seen
what it takes to pass the
nal exams, Ive changed
my perspective a bit.
Guiding isnt a hobby
or a lifestyle, and as my
colleague Tico Allulee,
a certied alpine and
rock guide, says, Im
not nding myself after
college or some shit.

Mountain guiding is a job.

A high-stakes job, as the
guide faces considerable
risks. Its one thing to be
a shitty lawyer or teacher;
being sub-standard wont
get you killed. Half-ass it
in the hills or at the sport
crag, and eventually the
actuarial table catches up
with you. Being a certied
guide means upholding the standards, as an
obligation to your clients
and as a survival strategy


How to Motivate
Sometimes it takes a carrot; sometimes, a whip.
By AmAndA Fox

Slogging up a snow-

eld, panting beneath a

heavy pack, with a couple
miles to the next camp.
Flaming forearms on the
rock, still three pitches
from the summit. These
moments are difcult to
break through on your
ownhow do you keep a
whole team moving? Even
if youre not an aspiring
guide, keep these useful
incentives in your head
next time you or your
partner starts struggling.
i often quote the great Barry Blanchard: Remember,
it doesnt have to be fun to
be fun! i also remind them
that they are paying me to
make them suffer, and they
may not like me now but
theyll thank me later!
Anna Keeling

andy bardon

its super psychological.

You have to read the person and make sure he is
in the right place and that
youre pushing him just the
right amount. Sometimes
its looking people in the
eyes and telling them,
You can do this. other
times its telling them to
Man the f*** up.
Margaret Wheeler
Early starts help prevent
the need to crack the whip.
positive reinforcement
goes a long way toward
keeping the stoke high.
Take good care of them;
make sure systems are safe
and they are fed, hydrated,
and comfortable.
Howie Schwartz

out-hiking your client

or partner is a fast way
to lose team condence.
its important to keep
the lines of communication open. i tend to
talk softly most of the
timethe Jedi mind trick
of whispering you can do
itbut sometimes ill set
a challenge out and give
them timed goals. They
get rewarded with a nice
chocolate treat or the like.
Marc Beverly
The aesthetics of climbing and the surroundings
tend to provide plenty
of motivation. Choosing
great objectives is about
understanding abilities and
enjoyment, and marrying
this with the right terrain
given the conditions. if
i do a good job setting
expectations and managing
exertion, i usually don't
ever get to the buttkicking phase. people
always have more capacity
to push themselves than
they know, but pushing them in a reasonable
way and providing good,
realistic opportunities is
the art of guiding. Setting
reachable expectations and
being clear about potential
cruxesbe it exertion,
movement, environmental,
or exposurelead to
successful outings.
Peter Doucette
i try to instill in my clients
the willingness to suffer.
Thats what gets most
people up mountains
that, and good weather.
Many people are not
used to feeling physically
uncomfortable. let them
know its oK to feel tired,
thirsty, hungry, hot, or cold;
its all part of the game.
Jeff Ward

Digital Extra! get more tips from Americas leading mountain

guides on developing other key soft skills such as empathy, condence, and passion in our ipad edition.

meet your guides

Anna Keeling hails from New Zealand and has been active in adventure sports most of her life. She has lived in the U.S. for 15 years but is also
a member of the New Zealand Mountain Guides Association, where she
works to help promote guiding in her native country.
Margaret Wheeler was the second U.S. woman to complete the IFMGA certication, in 2006. She currently guides in the Northwest and is a
board member and guide instructor for the AMGA.
Howie Schwartz is co-owner of Sierra Mountain Guides in California.

He co-designed the avalanche-course curriculum at the American Institute

for Avalanche Research and Education, and he currently teaches multiple
levels of seminars.
Marc Beverly owns Beverly Mountain Guides based in New Mexico,
and he authored a Santa Fe climbing guidebook. He has a Ph.D. in exercise
science from the University of New Mexico.
Peter Doucette has climbed all over the world, from Mt. Foraker in
Alaska to the Sichuan Province in China. He owns Mountain Sense Guides
in New Hampshire and takes clients all over the Northeast.
Jef Ward is co-owner of North Cascades Mountain Guides in Mazama,
Washington. He is an instructor for the AMGA and also works for the
Northwest Avalanche Center.

| 25



Freaky Fit

Stay in top shape and injury-free with these guide-approved exercises


guiding, and theyre active in the

off-season because theyre doing
their own climbing and activities.
Strength and mobility work are
key, says Sciolino. Below are common exercises and stretches that
Sciolino uses to keep her guides
strong and injury-free.
Do these workouts two to
three times a week during the
off-season, and once or twice a
week when climbing season is in
full swing.

A few common exercises you can
easily employ are the front squat,
deadlift, pull-up, pushup, and
forearm plank.
Do ve sets of 10 reps each of
pushups and pull-ups; do four sets
of four reps for the squats and
deadlifts at 80 percent of your

maximum, resting one to two minutes in between. Hold the forearm

plank for one minute, rest one
minute, and repeat for ve sets.
Front squat
Strengthen your quads and
stabilize your core to improve
posture and increase stamina
Stand with feet slightly wider than
shoulder-width apart, toes pointed
out about 30 to 45 degrees (but always pointing in the same direction
as your knees). Rest a barbell on
top of your shoulders, near your
collarbones, and just touching your
throat. Use a few ngers (palms up)
on each hand to support the bar;
your upper arm should be parallel
to the oor. Inhale and slowly bend
your knees, maintaining a straight
spine and forward gaze. Lower
all the way down until the angle
between the thigh and calves is

slightly less than 90 degrees (thighs

are below parallel to the oor).
Exhale and push up, straightening
the legs, keeping chest out and
elbows up.
Target your lower back and
hamstrings to ease pack stress
Stand with feet shoulder-width
apart, balls of the feet positioned
underneath a barbell. Point your
toes slightly outward for more balance. Bend your knees until your
thighs are nearly parallel to the
oor, keeping a straight spine; bend
from the hips, not the waist. Look
straight ahead, and dont tuck your
pelvis or arch your back. Grasp the
bar overhand, hands shoulderwidth apart. Exhale, push with your
legs, and stand up; keep your chest
lifted as you stand upright. Return
to starting position; repeat.



sometimes seems like superhuman tness. After all, they do
make daily runs up and down hills
like the 14,411-foot Mt. Rainier.
Many guides use a combination of
running, CrossFit, and recreational
climbing to stay in peak physical
condition, but its also important
to incorporate strength training
and injury prevention to avoid
missing days in the mountains.
Connie Sciolino knows a little
something about both. As the
owner and head coach at the
Alpine Training Center ( in Boulder,
Colorado, and a mountain guide,
Sciolino helps keep athletes of all
disciplines in great shapeincluding alpine, rock, and ski guides.
So many guides are active all the time, says Sciolino.
Theyre active during on-season

26 |

MARCH 2014

Forearm plank
Fortify your core
Start in pushup position. Bend
your elbows to 90 degrees, with
forearms at on the oor and
parallel to each other. (For an
easier variation, interlock your
ngers.) Your elbows should be
directly under your shoulders,
and your body should be in a
straight line from your head to
your heels. Keep your core tight
and engaged.

Prevent injuries by keeping joints
and muscles nice and loose
throughout the season. Do ve
Turkish getups, rest one minute,
and repeat for three sets. For
both the plank and shoulder
dislocates, do each exercise for
one minute, rest one minute, and
then repeat for ve sets.

Shoulder dislocate
Stretch the chest and deltoids
for better exibility
Use something light, like a broomstick, or stretchy, like a therapy
band. Flexible equipment allows
for more wrist angles, but use
whatever is comfortablejust not
anything heavy. Grip wider than
shoulder-width apart. The closer
the grip, the more intense the
stretch; start wide and gradually
decrease the width with more
practice. Lift the handle over your
head and back down behind you
until the stick reaches hip height.
Return and repeat for one minute.

Turkish getup
Work on thoracic spine, hip,
and shoulder exibility to prevent
pain while hiking and climbing
Lie on your back. Hold a
kettlebell in your right hand, arm
stretched straight toward the
ceilingit should stay skyward
throughout the exercise. Your
left leg is straight and pointing
slightly away from your midline.
Your left arm is on the oor,
about a foot away from your side.
Bend your right knee, crunch
up using your abs, and lean over
into your left forearm. Lead with
your chestdont hunch. Transition the weight from your left
forearm into your left hand. From
here, push off your right heel
and into a bridge with your hips
off the ground. Sweep your left
leg back so that your left knee
is on the oor under your hips.
Keep a neutral spine with a lifted
chest. In one smooth movement,
straighten out the lower left leg
so its in line with your right leg
and stand up on your left knee.
Then perform a split-squat to
stand upright with feet side by
side. Go back down the exact
opposite way you came up.
Straight-arm plank
Stabilize your shoulders and
strengthen your core for better
Same as the forearm plank before, but with arms straight and
wrists directly underneath the


| 27


Food can make

or break your ascent.
Packing and carrying
sustenance on a route
is crucial, whether its

on snow or rock. But it

starts before that, too.
The night before the
climb, eat a nutrientrich, carb-heavy dinner
consisting of whole
grains, beans, and fruits
to store glycogenyour
fuel source for climbing. For example, whole
wheat pasta with red
sauce and veggies or
chicken and avocado
provide an ideal blend
of protein, carbs, and
healthy fats. make sure
at least 60 percent of
your meal is derived

from carbs to amp up

the glycogen supply.
In the morning, eat
easy-to-digest carbs, like
oatmeal, fruit, pancakes,
or yogurt, and make sure
you get enough liquid on
board, including coffee.
If coffee isnt part of
your normal daily routine,
however, avoid it. Otherwise you might be desperate for the bathroom
sooner than usual.
On the climb, plan to
eat during every hour
of activity, especially

Pro Fuel
28 |

march 2014

carb-rich foods, which get

absorbed directly into the
bloodstream to help keep
muscles moving. Aim
for at least 200 calories
and about a quarter of a
Nalgene bottle of uid. A
few quick tips to go by:
Pack easy-to-eat snacks
so theyre accessible (i.e.,
in a chest or hand-warmer
pocket). By easy-to-eat,
we mean fast-open
packaging, tastes you
enjoy, and food that you
can munch on even while
youre moving.

Pack what you know

you like; this isnt the best
time to try anything new.
Dont skimp on the
calories. Youll be burning
a ton, so pack enough to
replenish those calories
burned, plus more.

Shopping list
A few tried-and-true,
durable snacks to power
your climb.
String cheese
Chocolate bars

Guides favorite snacks and

drinks to take on the rock and
up the mountain
By AmAndA fox

andrew bydlon


Dried fruit
Honey and banana

tortilla wraps
Energy and granola bars
Caffeinated gel packets
Mini burritos,


salami or sausage). Gummies are palatable and

easy to eat while walking
and breathing hard. And,
of course, a Snickers
bar for emergencies. Or
Margaret Wheeler

espresso beans
Nuts, like cashews and


From the pros

I try to get people to
understand their own fuel
needs. I prefer real food,
as opposed to bars and
gels, so I encourage others to eat what is familiar,
like chocolate and cheese.
Anna Keeling
I spend a lot of time
thinking about this.
Probably too much! Bring
protein and fat along with
sugar, like string cheese
and meat sticks (cured

People often eat too

much at once, thinking
they need to eat a lot
more when their days
are long and hard. I eat
little bits at a time: nuts,
trail mix, and whole-food
bars. Fruit is totally worth
the weight because the
moisture content helps
keep you hydrated. Drink
mixes are good to replace
electrolytes, but be careful with concentrations: A
common mistake is to mix
too many electrolyte-rich
foods together, and too
much sodium is a recipe
for physiological disaster.
Howie Schwartz

People who dont eat,

bonk. When they bonk,
they need simple sugars
because theyve used up
all their mitochondrial
glycogen stores. For a
long multi-pitch, Im fairly
insistent clients eat protein in the morning along
with complex carbs, like
apples. For alpine climbing and skiing, I advocate
for a 50 to 55 percent
carbohydrate diet.
Marc Beverly
Dont deviate too far
from the foods of daily
life. On multi-day outings,
variety is important; too
many of the same bars
and chews isnt appealing.
Pick foods that satisfy
you normally, like a tasty
sandwich or baked goods,
and then supplement
with chocolate, cheese,
nuts, dried fruit, etc. If
youre going to be in

sustained below-freezing
temps, consider what the
food will be like frozen.
On bigger single-day
outings, starting with a
good breakfast and truly
hydrating at the beginning
of the day are crucial. Remember to eat and drink
once you start; often
guests get so into it that
time ies by without eating, and thats when they
fall behind. Tuck snacks
into a pocket where they
are truly handy.
Peter Doucette
Food depends on the
person and the type of
climbing. On long rock
routes, bring something
that can be eaten easily at
the belay, like energy gels
and bars. The bulk of my
food on multi-day mountain routes is normal,
everyday food. Making
sure you get enough calo-

ries is much easier if your

lunch bag is stuffed full of
tasty food. Variety is also
important because you
never know what your
body is going to crave at
higher altitudes or during
that 2 a.m. alpine start.
Jeff Ward

get more
Download our
iPad app for
more nutrition
and training advice at climbing
.com/apps m

| 29



Professional Guiding:
By the numbers

91 24
78 97

Cost of IFMGA

# of IFMGA guides

# of IFMGA guides in U.S.

Number of international
guiding associations that
are IFMGA partners

1. Colorado

2. Washington

3. California

Total estimated cost

of becoming IFMGA

Approximate number
of days to become
IFMGA certied

AMGA alpine guides

ToP 3 STaTeS:




Do you have what it takes?

Rock Guide



Routes grade IV or longer,

led or shared lead

Level of ice you need to


Successful Rock Instructor

course completion

Alpine Guide



Days guiding in alpine


Level of free (trad and

sport) and aid climbing
you should be able to lead

Successful Rock Instructor course completion, 3

other alpine/ice-related
courses; 1 level III avalanche certication

Trad routes grade III
or longer you must
have guided; trad routes
rated 5.10+ or harder
you must have guided,

30 |

march 2014

Level you must lead (crack
and face climbs) in rock
shoes and mountaineering
boots, respectively

Alpine routes grade IV or
longer, led or shared lead

Alpine trad routes
5.10 or harder, led or
shared lead
Learn more at

Becoming a guide is challenging. Here

are a few tips from the pros.
Take professionalism seriously. Get AMGAcertied before you get too old and crusty and
miss the boat entirely. Most important: Just
get out there. Push yourself to climb, hard and
often. Get the most out of every day by keeping
a journal of your experiences and the lessons
learned. Formalize your planning process and
debrief each days decisions and events at the
end. Write everything down.
Howie Schwartz
Get as much training and shadowing of a
guide as possible in the discipline youre pursuing; showing up unprepared is not wise. Arrive
a week or two early for an exam so you can be
in tune with the local areas in which youre
being examined. Spend time in as many diferent environments as you can. Keep a running
rsum of all your personal climbing and skiing
endeavors. Record all of your trips, successful or
not. Make notes on why you were not successful
as learning points.
Marc Beverly
Diversify. Climb and work in as many diferent regions as possible, work on your teaching
skills, and seek good mentorship and training
for the type of guiding you aspire to. Guides and
climbers often play to their own strengths, but
being a well-rounded guide, having solid technical skills that balances great movement skills,
and showing savvy interpersonal ability are all
essential to helping a guest move well and enjoy
the mountains while mitigating inherent risks.
Peter Doucette
Try to land a job with a larger guide service
that gives you mileage with real clients and
allows you to dial in your client care. These
jobs tend to be a bit repetitive, but that allows
you to improve without having to be onsighting every day. Start AMGA training early, but
take your time to absorb the material so you
can introduce it into your guiding and climbing at appropriate times.
Jef Ward


Truth be told, there
are lots of great
jackets out thereits
a buyers market. But
what separates the
adequate from the
stellar, especially for
our nicky set, are
the bells and whistles
designed to t climbers
specic needs. From
top to bottom, we break
down what details you
should look for in a
shell, whether youre
climbing V5 boulders
or grade V routes. Then
ip the page for our
top ve picks that mix
and match these extras
for practical use in the
eldeach weighing in
at less than 14 ounces.

High hand pockets

Many jackets have low
hand pockets (near your
hips), but these become
useless when covered
by a climbing harness or
a packs hipbelt. For an
actual climbing scenario,
look for pockets that sit
high in front, around the
bottom of your rib cage.
Many ultralight jackets
eliminate these pockets
altogether, instead opting for a singular chest
pocket for sundries.

Stiff visor A oppy visor can be worse than

no visor at all, so designers include a layer of
more rigid material in a broad strip to fortify
the bill so it stands up to harsher precipitation.
This stiffened visor increases the amount of
protected space over your face, giving you more
mobility, so you can look up and side to side
without fear of water blasting you. Some visors
also incorporate a thin, pliable metal rod that
you can mold to t the shape of your dome.

Helmet-compatible hood You want to t the hood

over your helmet instead of under. Wearing the hood
underneath a helmet will keep you dry, but it can
be hard to see and hear. Adjustable elastic-cord
systems in the rear allow you to get big volume for
a brain bucket, or cinch down so your bare noggin
isnt swimming. Some simpler setups involve Velcro
or non-adjustable elastic that expand to t a helmet, but you cant ne-tune the size as well.

Immovable hem Nearly

all jackets have cordlocks
at the hem to keep
the shell in place. But
Arcteryx went one step
further for climbers with
its Harness Hemlock, a
six-inch-long foam tube
around the drawcord that
keeps the bottom from
riding up and out of your
harness. It works because it physically blocks
the hem from moving up
past the waistbelt of your


Stuffability Its important for a climbers jacket

to pack small. Many come with a stuff sack or
pocket that doubles as one. Patagonias Alpine
Houdini also has a webbing loop so you can clip
it right to your harness.



| 33


The Big review

Super-Light Shells
5 climber-friendly rain jackets under 14 ounces
By Julie ellison


Mountain Hardwear
Super Light Plasmic

Patagonia Alpine Houdini

$199; 6.4 oz.;

$200; 8 oz.;

Precipitation is
the enemy of the
rock climber, and
few things are
as disappointing as watching
your project
get drenched in
a spring squall.
Sport climbers
and boulderers
need an emergency shell for
surprise storms,
while ice and alpine climbers rely
on these jackets
to keep them
dry and warma
dire necessityin
their bad-weather
battleelds. No
matter your
poison, you need
a shell that lives
in your packairy
and compressible
enough that you
dont notice it sitting there, but resilient enough to
keep you dry. Our
testers set out
to nd the best
models on the
market, and after
a soaking-wet six
months throughout the Rockies,
Northeast, and
Northwest, they
emerged with ve
ideal pieces.

34 |

march 2014


Numerous pitches of chimneys and

offwidths on In Search of Suds (5.10+) on
Washer Woman Tower in Canyonlands, Utah,
were no match for the Super Light Plasmic.
This wispy jacket proved itself on the harsh
sandstone of Utah, one tester said of the
seemingly thin shell. It survived abrasion
that would shred other jackets. Not only is
proprietary Dry.Q EVAP fully waterproofit
kept users totally dry through drizzles and
downpoursbut it also stood out in the
breathability category: no overheating and
sweating out even as temps rose to the mid50s. Credit this to the spiderweb of channels
on the interior of the fabric; these pathways
disperse your perspiration across the inside
surface of the jacket, and this accelerates
evaporation. It is small enough (about the
size of a grapefruit) to always have in your
pack, which made it great for doubling as
a nice windproof layer for 25 mph gales in
the Utah desert. Users lauded the t, too,
saying it was athletic and moved well
while climbing; they also praised the supple
fabric, which didnt swish or crinkle like
other shells.

A few years ago, it was unheard of to have

a jacket this light be so extreme-weather
worthy; one seasoned tester called it the
best ultralight shell Ive used. Not many others reliably repel water like this one does.
To keep it light but still useful, designers
went with a tightly woven water-resistant
nylon shell with a DWR surface nish (see
First Defense above), and an ultralight
waterproof-breathable laminate membrane.
The result? An admirable weather-beating
shell that weighs less than a No. 3 Camalot.
And though its translucent, it wasnt so
feathery that it wrapped your torso like
tissue paper when it got wet; it stood up
solidly to heavy rains and substantial wind.
While this piece is bare-bones, there are still
plenty of useful features: an adjustable and
helmet-compatible hood, cinchable hem,
and interior Napoleon pocket that doubles
as a stuff sack. Rack it on your harness, and
it takes up less space than a cordelette, one
tester said who dragged it from Colorado to
California. It's easy to bust this out when
the wind is whipping or the rain and graupel
start to pelt you.


One tester found that the arm holes were

too narrow, so she had trouble layering
over a eece or a thick puffy. A long strand
of elastic cord hangs down from the waist
when cinched.

Beware in chimneys and offwidths. Its so

thin that it is susceptible to tears, as one
desert-tower tester found. Breathability,
while adequate, was limited compared to
others in our test.


Ive never even heard of another shell thats

totally waterproof, fully breathable, extremely
burly, and less than $400. Get the compressibility, durability, and versatility of a topnotch waterproof jacket at half the price.

This jacket ghts above its weight class; its

tough like a heavier shell but still packs small
and weighs almost nothing. Use this for
summer and milder weather, but bring along
a heavier hitter for serious alpine adventures.

Burly and Dry

Flyweight Champ

Bottom Line


While a membrane like gore-Tex does the heavy lifting in keeping you dry, many jackets also have a surface
treatment, causing water to bead and roll off the outer fabric. This frontline of water resistance is called durable water repellent (DWR). it consists of
a chemical webbing of miniscule spike-like structures that force the water into rounded, bead-like shapes (instead of at spots or streaks that seep
in easier). A DWR treatment weakens when contaminated by commonly found threats: dirt, body oils, perfume, sunscreen, lotion, and bug spray.
These contaminants leave behind water-attractive molecules that keep the liquid from beading. it is normal for DWR to break down over time, but
you can extend its life. Regularly wash your shell with suitable detergent (mild powder detergent or a specic soap like nikwax Tech Wash) and give
it a spin in the dryer for 10 to 15 minutes, as heat exposure is best at reviving DWR. Then try running a warm iron set on low steam over the jacket a
few times. if this doesnt x it, nd a good spray-on or wash-in DWR; we like nikwax TX.Direct Spray-on ($21.50, Devon barrow

The North Face Verto Storm

Arcteryx Alpha SL

Mountain Equipment Gryphon

$199; 7.1 oz.;

$275; 10.8 oz.;

$240; 13.6 oz.;

This is my new go-to summer jacket for

climbing, hiking, biking, and running, one
tester said. And airow is the name of the
game. Two high hand pockets open up to
huge mesh liners that extend from the belly
button to just below the collarbone, and
these channel air throughout the front of
your torso more effectively than pit zips.
One tester wore this for multiple long slogs
to Area A in Mt. Evans, Colorado, while another chose it repeatedly for full days in the
White Mountains of New Hampshireboth
in temps up to 60F. Our Northeast tester
never had to take it off between showers
thanks to the extremely thin and breathable 2.5 HyVent fabric. A narrow t allows
only thinner midlayers and slim pufes,
but without excess fabric dragging around,
climbers felt more secure when chimneying and scumming. It was nice not to have
a Michelin Man effect where the jacket
billows out and restricts vision down to my
harness, one user said, who chose this for a
questionable-weather day in City of Rocks,
Idaho. It also had a sleek t underneath a
gear sling and criss-crossing shoulder slings.

Three testers in the West gave this shell a

10 out of 10 for waterproofness after dragging it from the 1,500-foot granite dome
of Elephants Perch, Idaho, to the obscure
backcountry crags at Reese Mountain,
Wyoming, and experiencing both all-day
drizzles and what one called a crazy-big
storm. She says, This doesnt feel like an
ultralight shellit protects like a jacket
more than twice its weight. Its bombproof
in stormy weather but also ridiculously
light. Gore-Tex PacLite material throughout
the jacket kept testers dry, and it gave this
piece a more durable feeling than other
thinner jackets in the test. Its beyond an
emergency shell; I took this in the alpine
without a second thought, one tester said
who had it in Rocky Mountain National Park
and at Mt. Evans, Colorado. He also called
the adjustable-Velcro cuffs, easy-to-operate zippers, helmet-compatible hood, and
chest pocket superb. One unique feature
of the Alpha SL was a six-inch removable
foam tube sewn into the bottom hem,
which was designed to keep the jacket
from pulling up through your harness.

Stop-and-go movement when belaying and

climbing on the Cable Route of Longs Peak is
where this jacket shined, one tester said. It
repelled all precipitation from the outside
and managed moisture perfectly from the
inside; the interior was never clammy and
felt dry all the timeeven right next to
skin. New proprietary Drilite fabric moved
sweat vapor through the shell and away from
testers damp bodies, and large, two-way pit
zips maximized airow in a high-heat area
of the body. One tester called the venting
system as good as you can get for any price.
Plus, the inside lining of one hand pocket
(opposite side of the chest pocket) and the
chest pocket are made of mesh, so they act
as vents, allowing in cool air across the entire
torso. While a trim, athletic t was excellent
for large reaches and cross-throughs, testers
also praised the polyamide outer fabric, saying it felt and stretched more like a softshell.
A two-way front zipper made belaying
smoother without compromising weather
protection. A small piece of wire in the brim
allows you to shape the brim however necessary to optimize shielding your face.

It was difcult to pack into the dedicated

stuff sack/pocket, and there was no easy
way to rack it. A few hours of exposure to a
downpour left one user feeling chilled from
the thin fabric. Hood doesnt t a helmet.

Moisture built up in this jacket during steep

uphill hikes, and this limit in breathability left
some testers feeling swampy. Pricier than
others reviewed, and some testers would
have liked hand pockets.

Heaviest in the review, but you do get

plenty of extras that other shells dont have.
European zippers (with zipper pull on the
left side) took some getting used to, but it
wasnt a dealbreaker.

With the trimmest t and highest breathability of any jacket in the test, this shell is
ideal for moderate to warm climates when
youre not wearing much underneath and
you need maximum ventilation.

You get what you pay forin this case, a

full-protection, packable, and versatile shell
that has all the features you want for any
situation: For the weight, this is the best
rain jacket I have ever used in heavy rain.

Sacrice nothing on this fully featured,

lightweight but substantial shell. Fully waterproof, breathable, packable, and durable,
the Gryphon is ready for anything you can
throw at itall year long.

Keep Breathing

Alpine Ready

Quiver of One

| 35



For Those About

to Rock
Welcome spring sending season with these 4 picks
truly consistent t over the life of
the shoe; one tester has worn the
Oasi for six months and has seen
no change in shape or t. Vibram
XS Grip rubber on the outsole was
just as sticky as other premium
rubbers on all types of rock, and
the 3.5-millimeter thickness upped
sensitivity for delicate moves on
small holds. $165;



Restoring Americas
crags one bolt at a time.

In 2003, Climbing with the support of The North Face

and Petzl launched the Anchor Replacement Initiative
(ARI)a movement to replace worn-out xed hardware
at popular crags across the country. Leading into 2011,
we are proud to announce that nearly 500 routes
have received ARI support and more than 1,000 bolts
have been replacedthanks to dedicated climbers
who spend countless hours volunteering their time
replacing hardware.

Hometown: Pueblo, CO
Favorite local crag: Tanner Dome
Number of years youve been climbing: 18
Number of routes youve replaced as
part of ARI: 11
Here are a handful: Bam Bam, 5.10a, Wild Side;
Newlin Creek KC, 5.10c, Wild Side; Newlin Creek Tuff
Turf, 5.10d, Titanic, Hardscrabble I Did It My Way, 5.9,
Titanic, Hardscrabble
Learn more about the Anchor Replacement Initiative,
future projects and how to get involved at


Simply smart
Unlimited performance
High performance usually equates
to an extreme when it comes
to rock shoes: You either get
complete exibility or maximum
stiffness. By breaking that mold,
the Oasi offers a successful balance
of movement and rigidity to be
excellent for steeps and slabs alike.
If the La Sportiva Solution is on
the most rigid end of the stiffness
spectrum and the Five Ten Team
shoe is on the soft end, the Oasi is
right in the middlewith the same
level of performance, if not more
because of its additional uses,
one tester said. A stiff forefoot,
aggressive downturn, and chiseled toe gave testers precision
on micro-nubs, but an incredibly
exible midsole was more like a
rubber sock wrapped around my
foot for maximum torsion. One
tester chose these as her quiver of
one for Yosemite because theyre
aggressive enough for bouldering,
comfortable enough to jam into
cracks all day, and have more than
enough ex to smear on the Valleys plentiful slabs. Plus, the rubber
that extends up and over the
toe increased grip for foot jams.
Testers with feet of every size and
shape praised the Draxtor closure
system, which at rst looks like any
other Velcro strap setup. The key
difference is that each of the two
straps is adjustable in itself, so you
can lengthen them all the way out
for high-volume feet or tighten
them way down for low-volume
feet. A synthetic upper means a

Although your chosen rope-carrying system shouldnt make or
break your dayyou can survive
just ne without one, after all
over-complicated setups will
annoy you, while a spartan design
might not t all your needs. Enter
the Petzl Bolsa, a rope bag and
tarp that is thoughtfully designed
for sport climbers. The bag,
which has two shoulder straps so
you can carry it like a backpack,
is attached directly to the tarp,
with an opening in the center
of the sheet that allows you to
quickly grab the four corners of
the tarp and slide the rope right
in. It couldnt be simpler, one
user said after hopping between
a dozen climbs in one day at
Shelf Road, Colorado. Just pick

up the tarp, and boom, the rope

is already nestled neatly in the
bag. Unfurl it at the next route
and youre ready to go. A large
55 x 55 tarp holds an 80-meter
cord easily, and testers found it
durable and hearty: I give my
rope tarps hell, but this dragged
across sharp granite, gnarled
roots, and abrasive sandstone
slabs for four months of weekly
use without a single tear or pill,
one tester said. A at design
(instead of the long-tube or
rounded-disc shape) makes it
easier to pack in the bottom or
on top of a larger crag pack. $40;

early projecting sessions when

youre falling a lot and beating the crap out of your cord.
When you get close to sending,
tie into the 9mm side so you
cut weight and carry as little as
possible when pushing yourself
to the limit. Why has no one
thought of this before? said one
tester who sent her rst 5.12 in
Ten Sleep, Wyoming, while roped
up with the Opposite. I carried
one cord to the crag everyday, but
never questioned the durability
when I took fall after fall. Then
when I went for the send, I had
signicantly less weightno diet
needed! The rope only comes in
an 80-meter version, and its a bit
pricey, but its well worth it for the
versatility. $300;



Heavenly comfort

Two-in-one rope
Millet OppOsite 9/10
How many ropes does one
climber need? That answer
might depend on the day and
the discipline, but most sport
climbers have one burly fat
rope for toproping and working
projects and one skinny line for
send attempts. Millet has taken
those two cords and married
them to create one long rope
that serves both purposes. The
Opposite 9/10 has 50 meters of 9
millimeters on one end, while the
other 30 meters is 10 millimeters.
Tie into the fatter section for
days spent on toprope or the

Wild COuntry BOOst

Its like falling into the arms of a
million angels, one imaginative
tester said of the cushy Boost.
My other sport harnesses are so
slimmed down I feel like a roast
with the string cutting into my
esh, but this nails it. Wild Country calls it Load Spread Technology, which is a single piece of
two-inch webbing that splits into
two pieces as it wraps around the
backs of your waist and legs. This
disperses your weight throughout
a wide contact zone with the
harness. That means no more
pressure points, hotspots, or digging into your sensitive kidneys;
another tester took more than
a dozen falls in one day when
projecting in Clear Creek Canyon,
Colorado, and never felt discomfort. A large Ziplock buckle in the
waist closed and opened quickly,
and elastic in the leg loops were
snug but not tight, just enough
to keep them in place. And at just
over 13 ounces for the medium,
you wont feel weighed down
when redpointing. $55;

Tremendously strong, versatile and
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tent in our black label line.
Angus Hobson

or 40 years, Hilleberg has been making the

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the ideal balance of low weight, strength, and comfort.
Order our catalog for more information!

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follow us on


The Relentless Pursuit of 5.Fun

Like A
Kid Again
Brendan Leonard

I walked along the base of a

sandstone wall 30 feet from the
chocolate milklike water of the
Colorado River, looking up and
hoping to see a decent line that
went anywhere above 50 feet.
Alas, the Grand Canyon is a tough place for a
climbertons of rock everywhere for almost
a vertical mile above the river for 280 straight
river miles, and most of it pure chosswhich is
why most people dont go there to climb. But I
was on a 28-day raft trip, and Id be damned if I
was going to go an entire month without climbing. Before dinner at Parashant Camp, I grabbed
my shoes and walked downstream, looking for
some decent rock.

38 |

maRch 2014

I ran my hand along the wall, nding a crack in

an open-book corner. Seven feet up was a perfect
ngerlock, so I pulled myself up on it, nding two
footholds. Another perfect ngerlock above, and
then a jug underneath a huge roof. I had found
a perfect nger crack that was all of 11 feet tall.
I traversed out right and tentatively yanked on a
handhold, and it crumbled like a stack of Pringles. Bah. I stepped back into the crack and downclimbed until I could jump of into the sand below.
Walking along the base of yet another wall, I found a hole at
head height, a crimp four feet to the right of that, and decent
foot smears. I looked right and saw what looked like more holds,
if I could stay on and swing my way over. What is this? I started
to climb. I put together two moves, then two more, and then

jumped of. I found more holds, walked farther, and started to

see a 25-foot traverse. In the fading late November daylight, I
linked all the moves and gured it was around V2, with a couple
of tenuous balance moves. It wasnt very aesthetic, and it wasnt
a complete lineit just ended where the fun climbing ran out
but I had found a problem, discovered something.
I showed my friend Forest the traverse the next morning, and
he climbed it with almost no hesitation and a smile. It wasnt
groundbreaking, and it wouldnt go on Mountain Projectit
was at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, meaning the approach
was 199 miles of river running. It was the last of a dozen or so
boulder problems wed discovered on our raft trip, with almost
zero beta or knowledge of specic routes or grades.
It was the rst time Id approached rock climbing like a kid
approaches tree climbinglooking up and wondering if I could
climb something. My typical research of a climbing route follows this pattern: Find route online > read beta > read comments > psych self out > sleep tfully night before climbing >
worry on approach > nd out route isnt that bad or alternately,
Internet commenters were right about loose block/sandbagged
crux/runout > almost shit pants while leading route > maintain
bowel control > send.
At the bottom of the canyon, I had no ratings or beta to psych
myself out. When I started up something, it could be V1 or V5 or
nothing at all, and the only way to nd out was to start climbing
and either fall of or send. A strange thing happened, acting on
that childlike curiosity and exploringI had fun. I brushed dirt
and mouse droppings of jugs, blew sand of ledges, explored
dozens of possibilities that went absolutely nowhere, broke of
hundreds of handholds and footholds, and found a couple dozen
problems that may or may not have ever been climbed before.
Not that I sent any V5s. But I played, and I tried hard.
Lots of times, as climbers, we nd ourselves chasing a certain
grade or a specic climb that weve become obsessed withits a
classic, or a testpiece, or it marks a certain level of climbing weve
been working to attain. And sometimes we forget to have fun.
A few months before my Grand Canyon trip, I went climbing
with editor-at-large Dougald MacDonald. We spent a morning
at Golden Gate Canyon, a fairly under-visited area near Denver with a handful of one- and two-star routes. After climbing a
three-pitch 5.9+ on Mt. Thorodin, probably mostly on-route, we
sorted gear at the bottom and Dougald scoped an arte a pitch
and a half above the base.
I wonder what thats like, he said, scrambling up the lowangled rock at the bottom of the clif. I didnt. I had no beta in
the app on my phone. Five minutes later, he was leading a wandering pitch underneath the mystery arte, yelling down to me,
Theres a couple bolts up here! Then he led a 5.10b nger crack
to the bolts, and brought me up to a two-bolt anchor.
I marveled at the guys curiosity, climbing upward into who
knows what, with the enthusiasm of a kid exploring in the
woods. Hes been climbing for decades, and he still has this itch
for discovery in his backyard. And I wanted that itch myself, the
wonder at whats up there. In the Grand Canyon, I found it. And
now, I want to nd it again, to walk up to a line of bolts or a
dihedral and give it a shot, because who knows?

Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor for Climbing. His

rst book, The New American Road Trip Mixtape, is available

Mike Libecki and Freddie Wilkinson shuttle loads of gear afer their rst ascent
on Berthas Tower, an unclimbed tower that rises more than 2,000 feet in Queen
Maud Land, Antarctica. This was Libeckis fh visit to the continent. Berthas
Tower was named afer Libeckis grandmother, Bertha, who encouraged him to
drop out of college over 20 years ago and focus on climbing.

A neAr-fAtAl AttrAction to the worlds gnArliest climbs

By Mike LiBecki


Sixty feet up a shattered wall of basalt in

the Arctic, I just hoped to nd a place to
set up my portaledge, out of the reach of
polar bears. The rockfor lack of a better termwas shitty. But I was still headed up. A couple of soccer ballsize rocks
crashed onto the talus to my left, exploding like small bombs. As I hammered in
a knifeblade piton, a huge ake shattered
like a plate of glass. The fragments sounded like ceramic tiles as they hit the talus
below. I needed to nd a way up this wall,
but this line was death.
I downclimbed and peered through the
fog and rain for any sign of bears. Back on
the ground, I dragged all of my gear out of
the rockfall zone toward the nearby beach
and broke out my stove to make cofee. A
huge pile of polar bear feces mixed with
bird feathers sat between me and the
ocean. I had no rie. I needed to have a
little talk with myself about my next move.
For the past eight years, Id been dreaming of climbing a rock wall in Franz Josef

42 |

march 2014

Land, a Russian archipelago 1,000 miles

north of the Arctic Circlefarther north
than Alaska, Bafn Island, and all but the
northern tip of Greenland. If I succeeded,
it would be the northernmost rock climb
ever done. Now I had bailed less than one
pitch up.
Id only been permitted to climb on this
section of the wall because no seabirds
nested here, and suddenly I realized why:
The birds knew it was too dangerous. It
was time to wake up. I would not be safe in
a portaledge on this eroding-in-real-time
rock. On the ground, a polar bear encounter was almost guaranteed, and without a
gun I was just a fool. With hopes that a
bear could not follow, I climbed up a nearby ice couloir and called for a pick-up on
my satellite phone, and the next morning
the Russian sailboat I had hired returned.
The boats horn blared twicetheir signal that they had looked for polar bears
and it was safe to load my rafts. I paddled
out through the rain and wind. But as I

climbed into the boats sanctuary, I felt a

hollow feeling. Id made the right call, but
it felt like I was walking away with my tail
between my legs. Now I had unnished
business. I would need to go back.

It used to be somethIng I joked

about, sort of laughed of to my friends
and family. But now, at age 40, its time
to just come out and say it: Im obsessed
with expeditions. Maybe even addicted.
Each year I plan multiple exploratory
trips to unclimbed rock formations in remote and harsh environments. At some
point, theres always a personal choice:
go or dont go. And I always go. Knowing
there will be sufering. Knowing I could
die. Even knowing I have to leave my
10-year-old angel of a daughter, Lilliana,
for months at a time. I believe anything
worth doing in life takes compromise and
sacrice. So far this obsession has led to

cory richards (opener); keith ladzinski

libecki getting ready for real-deal survival conditions in

Queen Maud land, antarctica. the team lost three tents to
ferocious katabatic winds that reached 100 mph. on this
trip, his fh to antarctica, the winds were nonstop, and
libecki says this image perfectly captures an average day.

more than 50 expeditions in more than

30 countries. My goal is to complete 100
expeditions before I die. And it all dates
back to a day when I was just 6 years old.
It was 1979, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, less than an hours drive
from Yosemite National Park. My rst
expedition began on a normal Saturday
morning after hot chocolate, Honeycomb
cereal, and Bugs Bunny cartoons. I had
seen mountain lions sneak into the woods
more than once on my two-mile walk to
the school bus stop, and now I grabbed my
Red Bear bow and arrow and pump pellet gun, and went to nd one of these wild
catsI was going mountain lion hunting.
I headed of into the forest without telling
anyone where I was going.
Amazingly, I did see a mountain lion
that day, with two cubs. She stared me in
the eyes before following her babies into
the woods. That day I also had a run-in
with a ve-foot rattlesnake and shot it with

The expediTion-Junkie diaries (1 of 7)


Solo FirSt AScent oF the ShipS prow, BAFFin iSlAnd,

cAnAdA (1999)
on his first big solo expedition, libecki and a grandfather-grandson team of
local seal hunters spent five days driving dog sleds across the frozen sea to
reach the 2,000-foot northern prow on scott island. they left him there, and
he soloed the wall over the following weeks. this was the expedition when
the solo needle first stabbed into me and released its joy into my veins,
libecki says now.

From the AAJ: i remembered a day in high school when my biology class
tried a small experiment to demonstrate the sense of hearing. We closed our
eyes and, without making a noise, just listened. We heard breathing, cars in
the distance, the air conditioning, maybe a bird singing outside. that first
night at camp on my own, i did the experiment again. silence. For the first
time in my life, i heard no wind, no people, no voices, no cars, no airplanes,
no animalsnothing. in the end, in a great meditation, i could hear only one
thing: my pulse.

| 43


soLo fIrst ascents In Queen maud Land, antarctIca (2005)

all the solo expeditions i had done had been part of a staircase of training to
prepare for this journey, Libecki wrote of his five-week adventure among the
towering granite spires of Queen Maud Land, where the temperature hovered
around 0F and katabatic winds threatened frostbite and the possibility that
no plane could pick him up if he needed help.

from the aaJ: on a good stance, with bomber gear, i gently touched one of
the flakes, and they both went crashing toward the ground. i was expecting
the simple thrill of a wall trundle, but then a chain reaction started and pool
tablesize flakes in a dihedral about 10 feet to the right of me exploded and
roared with fury. Before my adrenaline had a chance to kick in, a truck load of
granite let loose, continuing the thunder and destruction. i tucked into a fetal
position. The Earth shook and screamed like King Kong. it sounded like the
entire wall was crumbling. doomsday.

my pellet gun. Where the pellets punched

holes in the snake, eel-like baby snakes
slithered out. These moments of connecting with wild nature started it all. I could
not have predicted what would happen
that day, and this is what still drives me
to go on expeditions. Not knowing what I
will see, touch, smell, taste, hear, and what
or who I will meet. I need to nd what I
dont know is waiting.

InsIde my home at the foot of LIttLe

Cottonwood Canyon in Utahs Wasatch
Range is a stack of metal USGS map
drawers lled with hundreds of maps collected over almost 20 years. They cover all
of the planet. I pore over these maps like
Sherlock Holmes, looking for clues that
will lead me to large, unclimbed rocks.
Fifteen years ago I started acquiring maps
of the northern Arctic: Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, Greenland. I called, faxed, and
emailed every polar institute or society I
could reach, requesting maps and information. This is how I came across one
of the most remote places on the planet,
Franz Josef Land, a 192-island archipelago in far-northern Russia.
After exhaustive research, I found no
clues about any climbing-specic exploration in Franz Josef Land, nor any evidence
of big, steep rock formations. Which is actually how I prefer it. That meant I would
have to nd a way to get there and have a
look for myself.

44 |

march 2014

In 2004, after receiving information

from famed Russian polar explorer Victor Boyarsky about a ship heading north,
I found myself standing on the bow of a
huge icebreaker, the Capitan Dranitsyn,
on its way to Franz Josef Land. My nose
hairs frosted from the Arctic wind as I
watched the half-meter-thick steel bow
of the impressive ship split the sea ice.
I spent two weeks in the Franz Josef archipelago, getting to know the Russian
crew and peering through the fog for rock
spires or walls that would be tempting to
climb. I knew some of the islands rose to
over 2,000 feet, so it seemed possible that
large clifs existed. I glimpsed one island
with appealing rock walls, but only from
a distancetoo far away to know if they
were worthy of climbing. The icebreaker
stayed on its planned course, and all I got
was a tease. But the magic, power, and
beauty of the area had entranced me.
Geographically and politically, Franz
Josef Land is one of the toughest places to
reach on the planet. This is where famed
Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen and
Hjalmar Johansen spent the winter of
189596 after retreating from an attempt
to reach the North Pole. There are rumors
of abandoned military bases and hidden
submarines among the islands. Travel for
reasons other than military or research
purposes is highly restricted. And even
if I did get permission from the Russian
government, how would I nd an island
with good climbing and safely get to the
clifs? For seven years I contacted anyone

once the saILboat was stocked wIth

vodka, porridge, pickled herring, beer,
drinkable water, and optimism, we sailed
north from the Russian mainland. It took
us seven days and nights of nonstop sailing, with everyone aboard manning the
helm in six-hour shifts, to sail more than
1,100 nautical miles to the rst of the islands. From my research and what Id
seen eight years earlier, I believed two
islands might have beautiful rock walls
to climb. But Id never seen them close
enough to be sure.
In 2004 we had needed an icebreaker
to pass through these islands, constantly
crushing through the sea ice to make our
path. So, I had prepared to be dropped of
at the edge of the sea ice, and then travel
with a combination of skis, small rafts,
and sleds to reach an island and climb. As
we sailed through the islands, however,
we encountered very little ice. Reaching
shore would be easier and faster than Id

cory richards

the expedition-Junkie diaries (2 of 7)

and everyone that could possibly have

information about permission to explore
and climb in Franz Josef Land. Every clue
eventually led to a dead end. But I am not
one to give up easily.
Year after year I contacted Arctic veteran Victor Boyarsky for any new information, and in 2011 he nally told me about
a couple of captains in Spitzbergen who
might be willing to make the trip. They
both were interestedfor a hefty price
but were unable to get permission. However, one of these sailors told me about
the young Russian captain of a 50-foot
sailboat that was supposedly heading to
Franz Josef Land. I contacted the captain,
and he responded the same day, saying,
I can take you to Franz Josef Land, no
problem, and I can get the permissions.
(The captain has requested anonymity.) Just like that, a new expedition was
in the works. Now began the usual planning, gear buying and packing, budgeting,
grant applications, and proposals to sponsors. With a visa in hand and a verbal nod
from the Russian captain that everything
was a go, I boarded a ight in July 2012
to Arkhangelsk, Russia, about 800 miles
north of Moscow by the Barents Sea, with
the same sense of excitement and curiosity Id had going mountain lion hunting at
6 years old.

Libecki leading the fourth pitch on

Berthas Tower, a previously unclimbed,
2000-foot tower in antarctica.

Here: Libecki and Freddie Wilkinson on

berthas Tower, during his fh expedition
to Antarctica. below: Libecki and ethan
Pringle, just before their 60-hour push
on a 3,500-foot rst ascent in east
greenland. It was the rst time the two
climbers had met or climbed together.

The expediTion-Junkie diaries (3 of 7)


Dodging the Taliban and encountering the worst rock hed ever seen, Libecki
climbed three crumbling limestone towers in the mountains 100 miles west
of Kabul. During his first trip, Libecki experienced his closest call ever when
a huge flake peeled off and damaged all of his ropes, just minutes after he
traversed beneath it. Two attempts on a spire called the Ibex Horn failed
in 2010, so he went back the next year on his way to China and bagged the
peak. After the climb, a band of horsemen rode into his basecamp and said he
should leave immediately because the Taliban were on the move in the next
valley over.

FroM the AAJ: I had come [up with] a rating system, which I reference as
Russian Roulette Rating, to quantify the looseness of the rock. On a 1 to 5
RRR system, the first climb I attempted had to be RRR4, while this second
tower was RRR3. The rock crumbled every few moves. Twenty feet below the
top I thought of turning back, but I moved slowly to the summit, touched it
with my hand (tag, youre it), and downclimbed.

46 |

march 2014


Solo FirSt AScentS, Koh-e-BABA MountAinS, AFghAniStAn

(2010 And 2011)

joSh hEllInG

I also hoped the lack of sea ice might

mean Id be less likely to run into bears.
During my previous visit to Franz Josef
Land, wed seen many polar bears among
the islands. With no indigenous people
living here, the bears may look at humans
the same way they view seals: as a tasty
meal. Two Russian scientists working at
a research base in Franz Josef Land had
been killed by bears the previous year. The
thought of being hunted and devoured
by this half-ton apex predator was just as
frightening as avoiding the Taliban during a solo expedition to Afghanistan the
previous year. I had had several polar bear
encounters in Bafn Island and Greenland, and ring a rie into the air had
always scared them away. But in Russia,
getting access to a rie proved to be very
difcult. The captain had assured me he
would supply one, but once we neared the
islands I was informed that the governments rules were too strict: I could not
take a rie with me. I had only ares. The
Russian crew laughed and said my ares
would be like birthday candles on a cake
as the bear ate me. I laughed, too, but
then felt that surge of emotion you get just
before crying. I was really fucking scared
about the polar bears.
Surrounded by fog, we motored around
icebergs as we neared the clifs I hoped to
explore. Only by radar could we see the
island in front of us. After eight years of
believing, of dedication, I was elated. After four hours the fog nally lifted, and I
could see the walls: beautiful seaside clifs,
perhaps 1,000 feet high. But as I prepared
to board my little raft train (one for me
and one to tow my gear) and head to the
island, I wondered about the real nature of
those beautiful rock walls. They appeared
to be columns of basalt, capped by an obvious band of rotten rock. Unfortunately I
knew all too well the dangers of rockfall.
In Antarctica I pulled of a few loose akes
that unleashed a landslide that crashed by
as I trembled in the fetal position. In Afghanistan I had to climb past a hanging
ake the size of a one-foot-thick garage
door. I carefully moved across the wall beneath the huge loose ake, and less than
10 minutes later, as I was making an anchor about 10 feet to the left, the ake let
go and exploded against the wall, cutting
into the cores of my ropes in three places.
I zipped up my dry-suit and PFD, loaded my haulbags into the second raft, and
said goodbye to the Russian crew. Less

libecki explores the intricacies

of east Greenland on his seventh
trip to the country.

Mike Libeckis expedition approach has been shaped by his more than
20 solo expeditions (out of a total of more than 50). When youre climbing many days from the nearest other person, where rescue may not be
an option, preparation and packing are not just the way to succeed on
expedition goals; they may be matters of life and death. Its just me,
myself, and I out there, so its full self-reliance, he says. Heres some of
Libeckis hard-won wisdom.

Prepare and repair.

Take the time to test your tent, portaledge, cams, stove, and other gear
before every trip. Find out what fuel you can buy at your destination. Pack
the tools needed for upkeep and repair: lube for cams that get doused in
saltwater or mud; a file for crampons and axes; tools to fix or clean your
stove; a repair kit with baling wire, zip ties, duct tape, tent-pole repairs,
and bomber sewing materials. Assume equipment will fail.

GPS and Maps.

You may need to come out a different way than you went in, so pack a range
of maps. Dont depend on just maps or just GPSlearn to use them both.


Depending on the area, I may have up to six different antibiotics with me,
but the minimum are Ciprofloxacin and Avelox.

Med kit.

You literally may need to save your own or your partners life, so take
classes, consult a savvy doctor, and pack a full kit: EpiPen, tooth care
(temporary fillings, etc.), serious pain meds, Super Glue, a stitch kit for human fleshthe list goes on and on. And know how to use them!

Water treatment.

Trust me, when its coming out both ends for 48 hours, youll wish you had
filtered or treated your water thoroughly. Same goes for exotic food (Ive

| 47

I have been on my own sInce I was 16

years old, when I rst had my own place.
Independence and responsibility not only
came fast as an adolescentthey were all I
knew. Still in high school, I was forced into
early adulthood, with obligations and bills
to pay, and to this day Ive never missed a
payment on a utility bill or credit card or
loan. Even in the years when I racked up
$45,000 or more on three credit cards or
took a second mortgage to pay for expeditions, I always came home and worked
nonstop to pay my bills.
Now, after the second expedition to
Franz Josef Land, I felt I had a new kind
of debt to repay. I felt an emotional obligation to somehow get back to those walls and
climb a good route. No one else on Earth
would care whether I returned to Franz Josef Land, and no one would blame me if I
didnt. What debt should be easier to forgive
than a self-imposed obligation? But I felt I
owed it to myself to nish what Id started.
Returning to Russia would ofer little
mysterythe main element that drives
me to plan expeditions. I knew exactly
where I was going. I knew the rock was
some of the worst I have ever climbed on.
I was terried of the bears. I always say its
the unknown that drives me. This time it
was something else. Did I need to prove
something to myself? As I neared 40, was

48 |

march 2014

the expedition-Junkie diaries (4 of 7)


fIrst ascent of the walker cItadel, baffIn Island,

canada (1998)
Libecki partnered with Josh Helling and Russ Mitrovich to climb the 4,200foot north face of Walker Citadel, one of the world s biggest walls. After
snowmobiling 60 miles across the frozen Arctic Ocean and fixing a few ropes,
the team spent 32 consecutive nights on the wall to complete the grade VII
route, including six days trapped in their three-man portaledge by a storm.

from the aaJ: With ropes frozen useless, the team was caged under their
storm fly like prisoners. Soon the wall could hold no more snow, and large
avalanches crashed down the massive cliff. The first large avalanche to bombard them ripped their zippered nylon doors down and filled their portaledge
with heavy snow. Hearts beating strongly, they endured more than a dozen
similar events.

this some kind of mid-life crisis? The expedition lifestyle is what I have known for
so longreally all I know, aside from being a father. Its how I dene myself, who
I am. I wondered if I could ever give it up.
When my daughters mother and I split
up eight years ago, we tried to work it out
again and again, until nally we had done
everything we could, exhausted every
angle, and realized it was over. There was
some consolation in the fact that we did
everything we could. And to this day we
are great friends. Maybe it was the same
thing with this third expedition to Franz
Josef Land: I had to try everything I could
before I could actually walk away.

I landed In arkhangelsk for my thIrd

trip to Franz Josef Land in early July.
It was like one big dja vu. As we sailed
north, I caught myself feeling like a fool.
These clifs were only about 1,000 feet
highmuch smaller and less technically
difcult than walls I had soloed throughout the world. My only goal this time was
to choose a diferent line and top out. As I
steered the sailboat, dolphins jumped out
of the ocean and two huge whales blew
gusts of breath, seeming to welcome us as
the rst of the islands of Franz Josef Land
came into view.

Libecki snaps a quick sele

from the crows nest of the
sailboat, with the tantalizing
walls of Franz Josef Land
looming in the background.

MIke LIbeCkI

than an hour later, I started shuttling

loads to the base of the wall. I watched
the boat disappear as fog encased the island and rain started to fall. Polar bear
tracks crossed the snow, but they were
not fresh. I carried two ares in my front
pockets, hoping to scare of a bear if it arrived. The plan was to call for a pick-up
by satellite phone once I was done climbing. If they didnt hear from me at all,
theyd be back in one week.
The thin basalt columns of the buttress
were packed together like pieces of uncooked spaghetti in a package. I chose a
line and started climbing, but when I was
60 feet up, the loose stone and rocks falling around me forced a decision: I had to
bail. Ive only backed of a few other routes
because they were too dangerous. Making
a decision like that can be difcult and
emotional. This time, though, I felt proud
of myself. I felt like I had absorbed all my
experiences and learned from them. I recognized death before it found me.

We sailed straight to the island I had

visited before, spotting only two bears
along the way. The sea was mostly calm
as we dodged mazes of icebergs. The plan
was the same as before: The Russians
would return in a week unless I called
earlier, sounding their horn twice if there
were no bears and it was safe to head for
the boat. Of course the promise of a rie
had not worked out. There was nothing
that could be done. I had the option of going or not going. I always go.
I pulled my packrafts ashore, and the
sailboat disappeared. I had stashed ares
in my front pockets again as bear defense.
All alonewhy do I love this so much?
The frozen air lled my lungs with a feeling of freedom and vulnerability, and despite the wind and gloomy mist, a smile
as wide as the Jokers stretched across my
face as I shuttled gear to the wall.
A couple of hours later, I started up a
line about 200 meters to the left of the
route I had attempted the year before.
Once again, my plan was to set a portaledge camp far enough of the ground to
be safe from bears. The climbing was wet,
mossy, and muddy. It was steep, but there
were great holds here and there. Soon after starting, I sent a big block crashing to
the ground. Just like last year. Huge sigh,
but no surprise. Rocks fell from above
up and down the clif line. Fuck. I slowly
I had been up for at least 20 hours
since my last shift on the sailboat, and
all I wanted was to get some sleep in a
safe place. I switched to crampons and
axes, stufed a pack full of bivy gear, and
quickly climbed up a nearby ice couloir to
a small rock perch about a hundred feet
up. It seemed unlikely a bear could reach
me here. I cooked some freeze-dried pad
Thai, had a couple Builders bars, drank
cold water, and curled into my sleeping
bag and bivy sack. I stared up the couloir
behind me, sandwiched between two big
rock walls that disappeared into the fog,
wondering if rock or ice would funnel
down the gully and onto my ledge. I felt
like a prehistoric man.
About eight hours later, I woke to wind
and high clouds, and got a boil going for
some instant cofee and oatmeal. I was only
a couple of hundred meters from the ocean,
and waves crashed heavy and loud on the
shore. I downclimbed the steep couloir to
my gear. I had one more idea for a route:
an arte leading into a chimney that split

had ox penis, raw seal liver, polar bear, possum intestine, various eyeballs)
that you might try in order to be respectful to the locals. Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands frequently.

Always with me kit.

I always carry prusiks, back-up slings, and a micro-kit containing a lighter,

knife, tape, a mini-headlamp, and a photo of my daughter for mental
strength during a hard bivy.

Self-rescue and emergency practice.

Go to your local cliff and have your partner play dead from the rock you just
pulled onto his headwhat do you do? What if you broke your arm or leg?
How would you gather rainwater in a portaledge or escape from a wall in a
storm? Can you improvise a haul, rescue, or rappel if you lose critical gear?
Can you communicate with your partner when hes out of sight or a storm is
too loud? (Consider two-way radios.) When its subzero and the wind is 40
mph and shit goes down, you will be happy you prepped for everything!

Satellite phone.

For the last-resort rescue possibility, if nothing else. (Also, invest in a

Global Rescue policy or the equivalent.) I understand the desire to cut ties
to the outside world, but having a satellite phone has likely saved my life
more than once, including calling a doctor to walk through emergency procedures. (What if your appendix bursts?) And calling loved ones is important for this lifestyle. As a father, being able to call my daughter has made
a world of differenceto me and to her.


Pack plenty of books, music/instrument, pencil/paper, games, etc. Especially when sitting out a storm for 10 days, these will better your chances
for not losing it. Also, bring great food and drink, at least for basecamp.
Sentimental or funny stuff can also lighten a dark mood. I like bringing
my Chinese zodiac masks for summit celebrations. (This is the Year of the
Horse!) I have two necklaces that never leave my neck: one from my mom
and one from my daughter, providing energy and inspiration.

Research the culture.

Study the language, history, and current events of the place youre going.
Try to speak the language, even a little. Research what it means to be polite or offensive in different cultures. Bring small gifts that represent you
and your culture well. Get the phone numbers of local emergency contacts.
Remember, without local support and camaraderie, nothing happens.

Stay positive.

Optimism. Patience. Belief. Focus on the now. The most intense and painful moments on expeditions often lead to the most wonderful moments.

Be thankful.

Be generous with appreciation and reciprocation before, during, and after

an expedition. Its not just you or your partners that made it to the summit;
its the family, friends, supporters of all kinds, and local people who make
it all possible.

Just go.

These beliefs never let me down: The time is now. What are you waiting
for? Dream big and climb those dreams. Death and/or old age is coming.
Why ration passion?

| 49

On his sixth expedition to China (2013),

libecki leads the third pitch of a big wall
rst ascent in the Western kokshaaltoo, tien shan Mountains, while ethan
Pringle belays.

50 |

march 2014

the expedition-Junkie diaries (5 of 7)

Horizontal Adventure

First traverse oF the taklamakan Desert, Xinjiang,

China (2001)

keith ladzinski

after an expedition to the Western kokshaal-too mountains along the border

of China and kyrgyzstan, libeckis liaison officer described the so-called sea
of death: the taklamakan desert. the desert had never been crossed from
west to east, a journey of 700 miles. libecki arranged for 20 camels to be fed
and trained, and then flew to Xinjiang the next year for an entirely new kind
of expedition. Just before starting the crossing, the local Uyghur people told
him another name for this desert: he who goes in does not come out.

From the eXplorers journal: everything was ready. the camels were
packed with thousands of pounds of supplies. Just a few last liters of water
needed to be boiled for drinking, and we would be off into the desert. Just as
the last of the water was being boiled, two liters spilled and doused my inner
right foot and ankle. When i pulled off my boot and sock, my foot was little
more than a mass of oozing flesh. a 3 x 8 section of my foot and ankle had
simply melted. Just what i needed before starting my walk across this desert.
the temperature was 117F.

the wall and seemed like it might be more

straightforward. This climb would have
nothing to do with ratings, movement, or
a beautiful line. I just wanted to climb up
safely, stand on the top with my Year of the
Snake mask, dance, sing, and rejoice. Why?
Its like asking me why I prefer chocolate
over vanilla. I just do. I cant explain it.
My plan was to climb the route in a
push and then descend the back side of
the wall, cross a big dry glacier, hike back
to my bivy, and wait for my pick-up. The
descent would put me in a position to encounter polar bears, which scared the hell
out of me. First things rst, though: I had
to get to the top.
The previous year the weather had
been mostly blue skies with warming
sun. Now the sky was gray and misty.
But once I started climbing, my psych
exploded and I was back in the moment
of tunnel-vision focus. Aside from the
loose rock, upward progress was pretty
straightforward. This was probably the
easiest route on this entire section of
steep wall, but I still self-belayed each
pitch, and then rappeled to clean the
gear on jumars. I moved slowly and meticulously. I couldnt seem to lose myself
in the moment like I usually did while
climbing. I was spooked.
I found a good anchor with several solid cams, quickly equalized them, rapped
down my trail line, grabbed my pack,
and jugged and cleaned the pitch. Just
getting a pitch done gave me some condence. Finally, I had some momentum.
Joy started to creep back in and clean
out the haunting webs in my brain. Organically, naturally, I was acclimatizing,
guring out this rock. I started to make
peace with these old mounds of stone.
Hammer-tapping here and there and
getting a good read on solid columns of
rock or detached blocks, I could start to
feel it and hear it. I had found some of the
keys to this castle.
It was just above freezing, and everything was wet, but the climbing continued
to be easy, and moving meant warmth. Lichen and choss. Deep, spongy pockets of
yellow and green moss. Good gear here and
there. My feet got soaked as I shoved toes
into dripping cracks. After three pitches,
the wind picked up, and I could feel the
wet cold setting in. My soloing philosophy
has always been slow is fast. Keep moving
and before you know it, you are there. Four
pitches. Rap, jug, clean, stack, go. I had to

52 |

march 2014

tighten up my harness as the sodden gear

and ropes dragged on my waist.
The chimney turned into a big gully
lled with moss and loose rocks, and I cut
right on a big ramp. Just an easy slab and
scramble to the top. I cleaned the gear and
jugged, realizing I was laughing out loud.
The Joker face was back. No more shitty
rock. It was windy and raining lightly, but
I was too red up to care. I took my GoPro from my pocket, put on my Year of the
Snake mask, and captured pictures and
video of my celebration on the summit.
The top looked like another planet, a
plateau of rock and lichen and small bits
of vegetation that disappeared into fog
and snow and glacier. The feeling of being only halfway set in, as it usually does
on a new summitthe true summit was
waiting back on the sailboat. I put both
ares in my front pockets again, stufed
my pack, coiled ropes, and started down.
As I walked toward the center of the island and then down a dry glacier, I never
stopped looking for bears. A snaking
stream of water had cut a runnel in the
ice; I scooped it up in my water bottle and
sipped to avoid an ice cream headache.
From the top, it took less than an hour to
return to the foot of the wall. I held a are
ready in one hand as I traversed the base
of the wall. An hour later, I had climbed
back up the couloir and onto my rock
perch. Into my bivy sack, down jacket on,
stove ring hot water. I was safe. It was
over. Or so it seemed.

my sAtellite phone hAd Full bArs As I

dialed the Russian sailboat. No answer. I
ate, rehydrated, and tried the sat phone
again. The captain answered and said he
would be able to pick me up in about 12
to 14 hours. Sweet! A few hours later, as I
lay curled up on the small ledge, the rain
stared to pitter-patter like a drum. Then
turned to snow. Then rain. Then freezing
rain. The wind gusted. I already had on
everything Id carried up to the ledge except my plastic boots. I stufed my phone
and a few Clif bars into the inside pocket
of my down jacket. Everything else was
in my pack behind me on a small ledge.
Huge gust of wind! Whoosh! I fell asleep,
in and out of dreams of polar bears and of
the sailboat picking me up.
When I woke up, a layer of ice glazed
the bivy sack and the rock around me.
It had been more than 15 hours since I
talked to the captain. Wind, WHOOSH!
I sat up. My pack had blown of and fallen
down the couloir with all my food, water,
and stove. The boat should be here anytime, I thought, so I settled back into halfsleep and semi-comfort. Twenty hours. I
called the captain again. Another sailboat
in the area had engine trouble and needed
help. It would be another 24 hours.
Thats when I started to experience
something Id rst heard described by the
Inuit: iktsuarpok. Its an immense feeling of
anticipation, leading you to keep looking

the expedition-Junkie diaries (6 of 7)

Sharing the Love

First Ascent, tombstone tower, western KoKshAAl-too,

chinA (2005)
For three of Libeckis expeditions, he invited along his younger brother,
Andy, who was not a climber. On the first, Andy helped shuttle loads. During
the second trip, to China, Andy joined Libecki and another partner for the
first ascent of a 1,500-foot granite tower. In Kyrgyzstan a year later, he and
Libecki did another new line. With optimism, belief, and focus, anything is
possible, Libecki says. My mom was pretty concerned about me dragging
the youngest brother out there, though.

From the AAJ: My younger brother is an amazing musician. When we first

talked about this expedition, we made a deal: I would show him the experience of a big wall first ascent, and he would teach me to play the banjo. My
brother got his experience, with thunderstorms, vertical toilets, plenty of
hanging in space hundreds of meters off the ground, and summiting a virgin
peak. By the time we got back home, I could play all of Dueling Banjos.

The Worlds Coolest Mike Libecki Quiz

You will not get a passing score, but itll be a blast.

1. worst food

4. Biggest Cost

Mike barfed for 48 hours after ingesting:

This much travel dont come cheap. What was Mikes most
expensive expedition?

A. Narwhal casserole in east Greenland

B. Raw jungle deer in Guyana
c. An ox penis in western china
d. Possum intestine in Papua New Guinea


2. worst injury

The most intense pain of Mikes life was due to:


Trenchfoot in Russia
Flesh melting off his foot in the Taklamakan Desert
Pulling ticks from his scrotum in Venezuela
Vomiting and defecating blood in kyrgyzstan

3. weirdest summit rituAl

Mike brings an animal mask (matching the Chinese zodiac) to

wear on every summit. How did this start?

A. When mikes daughter pranked him by stuffing a horse

mask in his expedition duffelduring the Year of the Horse
B. When his Denali partner brought tiger costumes in 1997
C. When he wore an ox mask to ward off lingering nausea
d. When he realized a dragon mask bewitches hot chicks

mike libecki

1. i have eaten all of these things (as well as polar

bear steaks, a boiled sheep head, seal liver, eyeballs,
many kinds of tongue, snake, rat, and unfortunately
dog and cat), but the grossest was a giant ox penis
in a Uyghur muslim town in Xinjiang, china, in
2000. it was slimy, half-cooked, and veiny. i only ate
a couple of bites. Hours later i threw it all up, and i
was sick for the next 48 hours. im convinced this
was not a physical sickness, rather a mental one.
i was that grossed out. To this day, if i think about
it enough, i could make myself hurl. eating a giant
slimy, veiny penis is not recommended.
2. im lucky. ive never broken a bone or been to the
eR. but my worst also happened at the worst possible
moment. Just an hour before heading into the Sea of
Deathchinas Taklamakan Desert, for the rst crossing from west to east. As we boiled the last of a few
hundred gallons of shitty water (literally) into potable
water, a raging pot spilled onto my ankle and foot.
by the time i got my boot and sock off, my esh was
melted. i continued on into the desert, and fortunately
my giant medical kit was stocked with major pain
meds. i medicated a few times a day for the next few
weeks (the worst pain of my life as it healed, burns
are sinister) as i rode one of my 20 camels. it nally
healed, and i walked across the desert.

Queen maud land, Antarctica

Papua New Guinea

5. fArthest Afield

There are 196 countries in the world. Mike has been to 33% of
them and climbed in 25%. Whats been his longest commute?


Queen maud land, Antarctica

Franz Josef land, Russia
crossing of the Taklamakan Desert in Western china

6. Best good -luCk ChArm

Mike never leaves home without:



small buddhism book

necklace his mother gave him
lucky crystal
carving of his daughter he wears on his neck

3. This started in 1997 when a Japanese friend

and i climbed Denali (in seven days plane to plane).
From 17,000 camp all the way to the summit, we
wore full tiger outts, in honor of the coming Year
of the Tiger. We lef later than a few other parties
and ended up passing all of them that day. Of course
we got laughter, and also mockery. Wearing those
costumes reminded us (and other climbers i hope)
not to take big climbs and expeditions and such too
seriously, to have fun, laugh, and be the professional
kids that we have all grown up to be. i mean, afer all,
every human was a climber at some point when they
were a kid. Some of us just never stopped. i wear
the current chinese zodiac animal mask on every
expedition and summit now.
4. Queen maud land, Antarctica. it takes an incredible
amount of work, dedication, sacrice, and compromise
to make these expeditions and this lifestyle happen.
its been such an amazing ride so far on more than
50 expeditions, that my goal is 50 more. Theres no
trust fund or family money here. i have at-out worked
for everything i have. Anything worth doing will take
compromise and sacrice. Working with amazing
companies has made a world of difference; without the
outdoor industry, i could never have made these dreams
come true. Some call them sponsorshipsi call them

reciprocal relationships. i have had more than $45,000

in credit card debt for expeditions. i have risked my
home and taken mortgage loans for expeditions. i have
committed completely.
5. From dog sledding hundreds of miles over the
frozen ocean in bafn to get to big walls, to walking
hundreds of miles across a desert just to reach the
other side, to sailing over 1,000 miles in the Arctic
to reach remote islands, every expedition is a long,
wonderful journey with a mystery at every turn. if
you measure by mental strife, my longest commute
was to Afghanistan. by miles, Antarctica.
6. Twenty years ago, my mom gave me a necklace.
She said that if i wear it, i will not die while climbing
or on my expeditions. She told me to believe itnot
99 percent, but 100 percent. She said if i truly believe
in this necklace as she does, it will always keep me
safe. my mom is very religious, and had it blessed by
her priest; its a medallion of St. michael. i replaced
the chain with 3mm cord and have not taken it off
one time in 20 years. i also have a small carving of
my daughter that i wear as a necklace. i have had it on
for 10 years, and have never taken that one off either.
i believe my daughter is always with me, and i am
always with her, even when i am on expeditions.

| 53

not exactly a tropical paradise, but

socotra island of Yemen holds tons of
rock and route potential. here, libecki
works on a rst ascent on mashanigs
Daughter tower.

outside to see if anyone, or anything, is coming. Whenever I opened the lid of my bivy
sack, I peered down to the talus and the
ocean below, and I kept expecting to see a
bear. I couldnt get it out of my mind. Could
a bear climb up the ice to reach me? Back
in my bivy sack. Instantly back to looking
around. In and out of sleep. Iktsuarpok,
again and again. I was soaked from rain
and perspiration; my hands were wrinkled and numb. I was hungry and out of
water, but I didnt want to move until the
sailboat arrived.
I called the captain. No answer. Called
again. He said the weather was very bad,
and he hoped to be able to pick me up
by the next day, but not to worry. Hoped?
Another 24 hours? Bear paranoia had
possessed me, and I didnt want to move.
I imagined a bear pouncing on my bivy
sack and tearing my esh apart as I
screamed in agony. I shrank into my bivy
sack and ate my last Clif bar. Toes numb.
Sleep. Awake. No bears. Wait, what is
that? Just ice. Iktsuarpok. Another call
to the captain. No answer. Again. No answer. Cold, wet, cramping. I kept looking
at my watch. I pictured getting on the
boat, going home, and seeing my daughter. Twenty more hours passed. Waves
crashed on the shoreline. Then Rrrrrt!
Rrrrrt! Two high-pitched blasts from a

Libecki and his daughter, Lilliana, at age 10.

Libecki is taking her on a rst ascent/descent ski expedition this year to Antarctica.
she has traveled the world with him, with
plans to visit all the continents by age 12.

horn. I sat up. Was it real? I couldnt see

anything through the fog and rain. Two
more short bursts Rrrrt! Rrrrt! It had
been almost 70 hours since I climbed
onto the perch.
My muscles felt stif and atrophied, and

the expedition-Junkie diaries (7 of 7)

Jungle Suffering

First Ascent, MorAngMA, guyAnA (2010)

Josh heLLing (opposiTe); Mike sChiRf

After a botched TV-sponsored expedition left his gear stranded in the jungles
of guyana, Libecki returned alone five months later to retrieve the equipment
and climb a new route on a sandstone tepui. he befriended three local men
and, after teaching them to belay and jumar, invited them along for an adventurous multi-pitch first ascent.

FroM the AAJ: some vines were strong enough to hold my weight when i
equalized two or three limbs like an insect. At one point, run out 90 feet, i
was so pumped i had to wrap my right arm around a vine and grab my wrist
with my left hand. Darkness encroached as i continued up near-vertical vines
and treesso many, i did not even touch stone. finally, with headlamps, we
all climbed wet, slippery 5.5 vines to the top, and then sat out the night
under a small rock overhang. My feet throbbed from being wet for several
days. When we got down and i finally took off my climbing shoes, i noticed
something attached to the bottoms of my ankles: foot-shaped clumps of cauliflower, white with a blue hue.
The AAJ (American Alpine Journal) is published annually by the American Alpine
Club: $35, free to AAC members. (Members also get rescue insurance.) Read all of
Mike Libeckis AAJ stories at .

I could barely move, but as quickly as I

could, I rolled my wet sleeping bag and
bivy sack into a ball and crammed my feet
into my plastic boots, put on crampons,
and grabbed my axes. I downclimbed to
the talus and began dragging and trundling my haulbags toward the shoreline.
Half an hour after I reached the ship, we
were sailing away from the island. The
crew had baked a cake to celebrate the fact
that I didnt become a polar bear meal.
When I told them Id made it to the top,
they pressed vodka shots on me. But my
body was devastated. I felt something like
heart palpitations and couldnt breathe
right. Scared, I drank more tea and told
the Russians I had to sleep. Thirty hours
passed before I rose from my bunk.
My toes and feet throbbed in horric
pain as we sailed back toward the mainland. One of my big toes turned black,
and the nail eventually fell of. I had lost
15 pounds. Id gotten schooled. The expedition that I had obsessed over for years,
sacriced for, compromised for, was over.
Now it had become a training trip for the
next. And then that next trip would eventually lead into the one after. When would
it end?
I turned my mind away from such
thoughts and began to focus on logistics.
I was due to meet my partners in less than
10 days for an unclimbed wall in China. m

| 55

Ph o

d co

s an

r y
cho Ache Burr
g an By Jeff Andrew

Cody Roth trusts the seaside bolts on the rst

ascent of Presidente de la Sol (5.13), Parque
Nacional Los Haitises, Dominican Republic.

Two climbers headed up a two-pitch sport route on

the Fire Wall, above Tonsai Beach on the Phra Nang
Peninsula of Thailand. At the two-bolt anchor, the
leader pulled up slack to belay his partner, and as
an afterthought, he reached up to clip the rst bolt
of the next pitch as a redirect to belay his partner.
When the second reached the belay, both climbers
leaned out on the anchor to inspect the next pitch.
Immediately both anchor bolts broke. The pair swung
of their stance and hung suspended, 90 feet of the
ground, by the single second-pitch bolt the leader had
clipped as a redirect. That bolt didnt break.
A climber on the Upper Town Wall at Index, Washington, was tackling a seldom-climbed 5.12 route
named Calling Wolfgang. After climbing through some
gear-protected terrain, he continued past several bolts.
Now about 65 feet up, he clipped the third bolt he encountered, intending to hang and clean some holds. As
he leaned back on the bolt, however, it broke. He fell
about 15 feet until his weight came onto the bolt below, which also broke. Fortunately, the next bolt held,
arresting the climbers fall only 15 feet of the ground.
What caused these accidents? When new, these anchors could hold thousands of pounds, but now they
had failed under body weight. None of the failed bolts
looked all that bad, at least at rst glance, and one was
almost new. The story behind these near-catastrophic
bolt failures is more complicatedand more commonthan you might expect.

Free-for-all engineering

You read it all the time: The climber is responsible

for his own safety and should evaluate every protection bolt he clips. True in theory, but in practice, most
climbers dont. Unless a bolt is so rusted that it looks
like a relic, its generally considered good.
Yet bolting sport routes is a completely unregulated
practice, carried out mostly by practitioners who are not
only untrained, but often are functioning on dangerously tight budgets. Skimping on materials can save $100
or more per routea weeks living expenses at Miguels
or Rie Mountain Park. At the same crag, some anchors
will be by the book, while others are creative combinations of bolts, chains, and hangers chosen to save cost,
and some are poorly placed due to lack of knowledge.
Some anchors are exposed to unusual corrosive forces
that have surprised even trained specialists.
The result is a high degree of variability in
strength and lifespan of the anchors out there, says
Bill Belcourt, Director of Research and Develop-

58 |

march 2014

ment at Black Diamond Equipment. It is apparent there is no

standard practice or training for placing bolts, and this is a big
problem that is compounding daily as more routes are being developed and existing anchors age. Many feel we have outgrown
the wing-it phase in our equipping and should become a little
more standardized and responsible.
Alan Jarvis of the UIAA Climbing Anchors Working Group,
certainly feels that way and compares climbing to other instances
where bolt failures can cause dangerous accidents. The construction and oil and gas industries use a lot of fasteners, as they call
bolts, says Jarvis. The engineers specify what anchors to use and
plan for a dened lifetime. Fifty years is considered normal. On
big projects they have a quality-control system in place to inspect
critical anchors after installation, as well as during their lifespan.
In climbing, however, quite often the person who decides on
the anchor doesnt know that much about materials or corrosion.
They are not materials specialists. They are not certied or specially trained, as welders on pipelines, etc., are. Nobody inspects
the bolts after or during installation, or during their lifetime. And
there is no pre-determined lifetime, or replacement program.
Now, just over 20 years since bolt-protected climbing took
hold in the U.S., the rst-generation routes in most parts of the
country have become unsafe. Many crags have already begun
re-equipping, and the hardware is well into its second round of
wear. In remote locations lie classic routes that are unclimbable
due to inadequate hardware. It doesnt have to be this way.
Should climbers be inspecting the bolts they clip? Of course.
But how? Can you tell by looking at a bolt if its safe? Perhaps
more importantly, how can a route developer or anchor-replacement volunteer choose a bolt that will be good for 50 years?


Its easy to spot a very rusty bolt, but the most dangerous kinds
of corrosion are less obvious. Inexpensive carbon-steel bolts rust
predictablyquickly or slowly depending on the environment
and get weaker and weaker as the steel gradually akes away as
rust. On the other hand, corrosion-resistant hardware such as
stainless steel, doesnt rust as noticeably. But it can be attacked
in other wayssometimes rapidly.
Most anchor hardware is made of steel, which mainly consists of iron, plus a mix of other things. Iron rusts when it reacts
with oxygen. Water speeds up the process, too: Oxygen in dry
air tends to stay in the air, while oxygen plus water plus iron
equals rust.

Saltwater accelerates rust even more. Dissolved salts become

positive and negative ions, so they make saltwater a much better conductor of electricity than freshwater, which speeds up the
chemical reactions of corrosion. Heat also increases the speed of
corrosion. All else being equal, climbing bolts will rust faster in
Alabama than in New Hampshire. Acidseven mild ones such as
acid rain near industrial areaswill signicantly increase corrosion. Groundwater afected by decaying vegetation becomes acidic, like vinegar, and will rust bolts fastersometimes much faster.
There are many kinds of steel, but the simplest ones are over
95 percent iron, plus a small percentage of carbon. Pure iron is
actually softer than aluminum, and carbon gives carbon steel
its strength and hardness.
Of the hundreds of kinds of steel, some are designed to hold a
sharp cutting edge, some to be malleable, others made to ex and
spring back into shape. You can completely alter the properties of
steel by changing the carbon content, heating and then cooling it
in a certain way, or by mixing it with other metals. Steel is amazingly versatile, but its main drawback is and always has been its
susceptibility to rust. Its the only metal that corrodes so badly in
typical environmental conditions.
The main reason is that rustsiron oxideshave the unusual
property of being soft and powdery. They ake of, taking the
metal with them, so the surface just dissolves away. Rust is oxygen-permeable, so the inner metal continues to oxidize. This is
unusual for metal oxides, as most others form a hard, resilient

Brittany Grifth climbs in Playa Fronton,

Dominican Republic, an area very affected
by the rapid degradation of metal hardware.

lm on the surface that protects the base metal from

corrosion. Fortunately, by mixing other metals into
the steel, you can create alloys that will form a much
more protective surface layer.
The best-known steels of this type are stainless
steels, a large family of over 100 alloys that share the
characteristic of containing at least 10.5 percent chromium. Somewhat counterintuitively, chromium makes
steel stainless because it is even more reactive with
oxygen than iron. But instead of forming a akey rust,
stainless steel develops a thin surface layer of chromium
oxide that keeps the steel from rusting. Its self-healingif you scratch or gouge the steel, new chromium
oxide forms to protect it.
Chromium makes steel brittle, however, so most
stainless also contains nickel, which counteracts
chromiums brittleness and adds its own corrosion
resistance. Nickel is also what makes stainless signicantly more expensive than carbon steel.
There are many grades of stainless, but the most
common one for climbing-anchor hardware in the
U.S. is SAE 304, sometimes called 18/8 because it
contains 18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel.
Marine-grade or SAE 316 stainless is similar, but in
addition contains 2 percent molybdenum, a pricey
metal that makes 316 more resistant to the crevice
and pitting types of corrosion that can plague stainless steel in aggressive (highly corrosive) environments. In the U.S., 316 stainless costs 35 to 40 percent
more than 304, but in Europe, where 316 is favored,
the cost diference is less. Many European-made
stainless hangers, including those donated by Petzl to
Climbings Anchor Replacement Initiative program
(, are 316.
There are other steels with signicantly more corrosion resistance than 304 and 316. Some are prohibitively expensive, but some could be viable for
climbing anchors. One such group are the so-called
HCR (high corrosion resistance) steels, which contain
more molybdenum and nickel, and their molecular
structure is enhanced by other elements such as nitrogen. One widely used HCR steel is 254 SMO. With
6 percent molybdenum and 18 percent nickel, 254
SMO is signicantly more expensive than 316, but
it is very resistant to the special kinds of corrosion
pitting, crevice corrosion, and SCCthat can plague
climbing anchors in aggressive environments.
In the construction industry in Europe, outdoor
safetycritical steel anchors must be either 316 or
HCR; the less expensive 304 is not considered adequately corrosion-resistant.
Nickel and molybdenum make stainless steels expensive, and there is a cheaper way to keep steel from
rusting: plate it with zinc, a process sometimes called
galvanizing. This can be done either by dipping the
steel in molten zinc, or, more appropriate for climbing-anchor hardware, applying the zinc through an
electrical process. Zinc costs about the same as aluminum (one-eighth as much as nickel), and electroplat- m

| 59

ing requires little zinc anyway. Like the chromium in

stainless steel, zinc oxidizes readily, forming a protective layer that keeps oxygen away from the iron.
Stainless steel has its corrosion resistance built in,
but plated steel doesnt: Zinc-plated steel will slowly
lose its zinc to oxidation. In wet climates, it doesnt
take long for the zinc to be used up. No zinc, no corrosion-resistant veneer.
Most of the carbon-steel bolts still used at U.S.
climbing areasthe Rawl/Powers 5-piece sleeve
bolts, for exampleare zinc-electroplated. Platedsteel bolt hangers are signicantly less expensive than
stainless and are widely used in the western U.S.
Of course, no discussion of corrosion-resistant metals would be complete without mentioning titanium,
metal of the Titans. Titanium is pricey, but not obscenely so, and has a higher strength-to-weight ratio
than steel, as well as excellent corrosion-, fatigue-,

or negative pole of an electric couple. If the potential of two adjacent metals isnt the same, a small current, carried by electrons,
ows between them. Seeking a sort of equilibrium, the metal donating the negatively charged electrons will also begin to lose positively charged metal ions, causing the metal to dissolve.
Galvanic corrosion wont occur in dry conditions or in distilled
water; to complete the circuit you need an electrolyte such as
saltwater. In climbing anchors, any mineralized water trapped between a bolt and its hanger will function as the electrolyte.
Various combinations of mild steel, zinc-plate, aluminum, and
stainless can experience galvanic corrosion. Installing a stainless
hanger on a carbon-steel bolt will compromise the bolt itself, while
a zinc-plated hanger on a stainless bolt will compromise the hanger.
Crevice corrosion is also relevant to climbing anchors. It is
caused by the concentration of corrosive minerals, especially
chlorides. Crevices in or around the metal tend to trap mineralized moisture. If the crevice periodically dries out, it can concentrate dissolved chlorides and create a microenvironment so

From the sea stacks of Scotland (images one, two, and four) to the beaches of the Dominican Republic (image three), saltwater accelerates the rusting of all types of metals,
including aluminum and various kinds of steel.

and crack-resistance. Titanium bolts are becoming

the standard at tropical climbing areas, and the rst
UIAA-certied titanium anchor is now on the market.

Currents, crevices, and

cracksspecial types of
Not all corrosion is as gradual or easy to detect as rust.
One equipping mistake that speeds up corrosion is to
mix two kinds of metal in the same anchora stainless steel hanger on a carbon-steel bolt, for example.
Such setups may sufer from galvanic corrosion.
As the name implies, galvanic corrosion involves an
electric current. Metals each have their own electrode
potentialsthe potential to become either a positive

60 |

march 2014

aggressive that it can overwhelm the oxides on stainless steel.

Its commonly believed that only crags near the ocean are at
risk for aggressive corrosion because of the chlorides carried by
seawater. In fact, chlorides are also carried by rain and especially
groundwater. The initial amounts may be small, but evaporation
can concentrate chlorides within crevices.
Climbing anchors are rife with crevices, including the threads,
sleeves, and wedging collars, behind washers, and where the
hanger bears on the bolt stud. Bolt holes themselves create crevice-like conditions quite unlike those on the rock surface. Water
soaks into sandstone, percolates through limestone, and even in
dry climates like Colorado, the shafts of rock climbing bolts typically live out their years in a state of dampness. If they dry out
completely once in a while, thats actually worse, since it serves
to concentrate corrosive salts. This highlights advantages to gluein bolts: 1) they have no crevices, and 2) the epoxy protects the
metal from the corrosive microenvironment inside a bolt hole.

Crevice corrosion afects all steels, but it is particularly disturbing in stainless steel. A stainless steel bolt/hanger combination
will almost never show surface rust. The bolt may look ne, yet
be badly corroded in critical, invisible areas such as the threads.
Pitting is another special kind of corrosion. This one you often
can see, since it takes place on exposed surfaces such as the face
of a bolt hanger. It is essentially a microscopic version of crevice
corrosion. Stainless steels chromium oxide layer contains minute
aws that can become tiny pits. Once a pit starts, it can create its
own microenvironment with an aggressive chemistry that allows
corrosion to proceed.
Pitting is still an active eld of study among metallurgists, but
it is denitely linked to mineral inclusions. Sulfur, for example,
is often purposely added to stainless steel to make it easier to
machine (SAE 303 is one exampleavoid it!). Sulfur inclusions,
however, when exposed on the surface of the steel, create a break
in the chromium oxide layer where pitting can begin.
One nal kind of corrosion of real consequence to climbers is

stress corrosion cracking. SCC is technically more than just corrosion. Its a double-whammy interaction between chemical corrosion and mechanical stress. In the wrong conditions, SCC can
rapidly destroy stainless steel climbing hardware.
SCC is a devious, hard-to-predict process with a history of making
catastrophic surprise appearances. Beginning in the early 1990s, it
has been responsible for an epidemic of climbing-anchor failures at
tropical crags worldwide.
If a metal is susceptibleand stainless steel isseveral factors
must be present for SCC to occur. One is stress within the metal.
This is universal in climbing anchors. Mechanical bolts are put
under tension when they are tightened. The bolt/hanger metal
retains internal stresses from the cold-working processes of
manufacturingpunching the hole and putting in the bend, for
The last necessary ingredient for SCC is an aggressive environment. Heres where prediction gets complicated, because the
microenvironments within and around a climbing anchor can become aggressive in many subtle ways. SCC was originally associ-

ated with industrial sites such as boilers and desalination plants. High heat, lots of salts. Yet SCC was later
found to occur at much lower temperaturesaround
indoor swimming pools, for example.
SCC is only associated with very high concentrations of chlorides. Unfortunately, both the geology of
certain clifs and the microenvironments within bolt
holes can help create the aggressive conditions needed for SCC to occur. It can make the face of a stainless
steel bolt hanger look like shattered glass.

The incidents analyzed

If you hadnt guessed already, the incident in Thailand relayed at the beginning of this story was a case
of SCC. One of the anchors that broke was a -inch
stainless steel bolt that had been placed only 18
months before.

This was just one of many stories climber Sam

Lightner recalls from the early daysthe mid to
late 1990sof chronic anchor failures in the tropical climbing paradise of Thailand. It was a strange
thing, says Lightner. Some walls seemed OK, and
some were eating the steel fast. We now realize it had
to do with temperature. The walls that face the sun
for a good bit of the day get incredibly hot, increasing the speed of the chemical reaction. Some of the
walls that never saw the sun took many years to visibly show the problem.
Climbing-anchor SCC was also later discovered to
involve factors that had never been documented by
materials specialists. The mechanism was discussed
in detail in a 2008 paper by climber and metallurgist
Angele Sjong, published in the widely read Journal of
Failure Analysis and Prevention.
At that time, Sjong (wife of the well-known climbing athlete and coach Justen Sjong) worked at the re-

| 61

nowned engineering consulting rm Exponent, in the

steel make a very active galvanic couple. With almost 70 inches
California Bay Area. Though she had never been to
of rain per year, Index is wet enough to keep the galvanic batThailand, she had heard from climbing friends about
tery going, dissolving enough aluminum near the hanger/bolt
the terrible corrosion problems there. When Greg
attachment point that the hanger sheared of under body weight.
Barnes of the American Safe Climbing Association
But there is also a social factor. The route was established
brought her a broken bolt hanger, she
around 1990, amid the rst generation of sportagreed to do a quick analysis.
style bolting that swept across the U.S. During those
When Sjong looked at the specimen
Lycra-clad days, bolting wisdom was all over the
Learn how deunder the scope, she couldnt believe
map, and with angry trad climbers often ready to
velopers in the
the severity of the corrosion. It was a
chop the routes, the whole concept of bolt longevity
tropical climbcrowded day in the lab, she says, and
was basically of the radar. The equippers were funcing paradise of
I said, Hey, check this out! Everyone
tioning at the normal standard of the day: Routes
was stunned. Exponent is one of the
were equipped with random hardware that was
Cayman Brac
most respected failure-analysis rms
either imported, purchased at the local hardware
have worked
in the world, but none of the experts
store, or homemadesometimes all of the above
successfully to
had seen ambient-temperature SCC
and mixed and mismatched.
like this. One senior analyst said, We
overcome anshould look into this. Sjong launched a
chor corrosion
literature review and a battery of tests
at climbing.
An improvisational, skimp-and-save philosophy linthat culminated in the journal paper.
gers to this day, and there is still a dangerously lean
The incident at Index could be
knowledge base about climbing-anchor longevity.
blamed on several factors. From a maEven among knowledgeable route developers dediterials perspective, galvanic corrosion
cated to best practices, there is still plenty of disagreement. Is
was responsible for the incident: The route featured
stainless steel necessary in drier environments such as Lander,
aluminum hangers on steel bolts, which had been in
Wyoming, or Indian Creek, Utah? Coastal climbing areas obviplace for almost 20 years at the time of the incident.
ously need corrosion-resistant hardware, but how resistant: Is titaAluminum hangers are still availablePetzl makes
nium necessary for non-tropical areas such as Kalymnos, Greece,
someand are favored for deep cave exploration for
or Mickeys Beach, California? Open questions, all of them.
their strength and light weight, but aluminum and

The human side

James Garrett gets high off the ground on the

Original Route (5.10b/E1 5b), Old Man of Hoy,
Scotland, where plenty of fully rusted hardware
can be found (see p. 60 and 61).

In November 2012, the Access Fund held a conference in Red

Rock, Nevada, called the Future of Fixed Anchors. One reason
was the amount of time and money now going into re-bolting
eforts. The old bolts from the beginning of the sport climbing
era are in need of replacement, says Brady Robinson, the AFs
Executive Director. Some people are doing a great job replacing
them, and others are, frankly, botching it.
Kenny Parker is chairman of the Anchor Committee for the New
River Alliance of Climbers (NRAC) in West Virginia, one of the
earliest and most efective anchor-replacement eforts in the country. Yet Parker claims that money and man-hours havent been
the biggest hurdles. Even more than doing the actual work, says
Parker, the biggest challenge has been pulling together the community around a process and a plan. In other words, consensus.
Parker suggests that the average original sport route in the New
River Gorge (annual rainfall about 50 inches) proved to have a life
expectancy of about 10 years. In drier areas such as Rie, Colorado, most routes lasted 10 to 15 years. Its clear that our original
attempts to create sport routes in the U.S. also created a massive
maintenance problem just a few years down the road.
In 100 years, I for one dont want every popular route to have ve
holes at every clip, says Robinson, evidence of generations of climbers eforts to upgrade the anchors with the times. We can do better.
Alan Jarvis of the UIAA agrees. I think that the most important thing here is to establish a specic lifetime for anchors, he
says, strongly suggesting 50 years as a baseline. It doesnt have
to be 50 years, but it needs to be specied. Once you agree on a
specied working life, then everything else falls into place.

International standards for

corrosion resistance

So lets say youre an equipper and buy into the concept that rebolting a route every 15 or 20 years doesnt cut it. How can you
know what hardware to use at your area to get a 50-year lifetime?
The UIAA is in the process of rolling out guidelines that will help.
Lets say youve heard that Bolt A is more corrosion-resistant
than Bolt B, says Jarvis. Is it even true? And do you really need
that? Who knows? The UIAA is working to have a classication
system based on the corrosion resistance of an anchor.
The specic tests will be some version of standard tests used in
other industries. Signicantly, only complete anchorsone-piece
glue-ins or complete bolt/hanger combinationswill be tested.
A bolt or a hanger alone will not be eligible for classication. In a
nutshell, heres what the system will look like:
Class 1 anchors will have to endure severe testing conditions
and prove themselves extremely resistant to normal corrosion,
crevice corrosion, pitting, and stress corrosion cracking. Anchors
in this class are what places like Thailand will need. The UIAA
safety commission decided on the specic tests for this class during their meeting in Chamonix in June 2013.
Class 2 means moderate to high corrosion resistance. This is
likely what other coastal areas need, says Jarvis, where there is
some risk of SCC, but not as extreme as in tropical areas. It will
be interesting to see what tests the UIAA comes up with for this
class, and what metals will pass, since, despite its susceptibility to
SCC, 316 stainless is widely used for anchor replacement in such
areas, and there is signicant resistance to upgrading to much
more expensive alternatives such as titanium.

Class 3 anchors will have moderate corrosion resistance. There will be no tests for SCC. Anchors in this
class should be suitable for the bulk of climbing areas
that have no special corrosion concerns, and it will be
the minimum level of corrosion resistance recommended for outdoor climbing. Since this standard is being
generated in Europe, it seems very likely that anchors
in this category will have to show corrosion resistance
equal to 304, and possibly 316 stainless. If so, this requirement is sure to cause some controversy in the U.S.
Class 4 anchors will have no specied corrosion resistance and be aimed at indoor use.
Manufacturers will not give any specic lifespan
warranty after these tests. Rather, it is a tool for consumers. If one matches the right anchor class with a
given climbing environment, says Jarvis, then a 50year (or more) lifetime should be achievable.

The future

We are nearing the end of seat-of-the-pants bolting.

If the UIAA stays on course, it will soon have standards for climbing anchors thatbarring placement
errors or mismatches between hardware type and
environmentshould allow us to choose anchors
that will last 50 years. The Access Fund is currently
assembling a web page of best practices for anchor
placement. The question is, how quickly will bolters
upgrade their habits?
Land managers are beginning to move toward telling climbers how to place or replace bolts, and which
kinds to use, says Robinson. If we dont have any consensus in our community and without hard science to
back up our actions, how are we going to prevent bureaucrats from dictating bolting practices?
Historically, cost has been a very important criterion for choosing climbing anchors. That will probably never change. But actually, it doesnt need to.
Anchors made from corrosion-resistant metals cost
more up front, but if they last three times as long as
cheaper anchors, in 50 years the climbing community
will have saved moneyand a lot of re-bolting efort.
That logic works well for community-funded rebolting eforts, but not so well for rst ascensionists,
who, in the U.S. at least, almost always buy bolts with
their own money. Spending to ensure 50 years of service can seriously slow down their efort.
The Access Fund cant just step in and tell people
what to do, says Robinson. The hope is that longlived bolts, and bolts that can be replaced without
drilling new holes, will become more and more common. Great technologies are here or are on the horizon, but it only helps us if people use them.
Special thanks to Greg Barnes, Bill Belcourt, John
Byrnes, Steve Gladieux, Alan Jarvis, Sam Lightner,
Josh Lyons of the Thai-tanium Project, Kenny Parker,
Martin Roberts of Titan Climbing, Brady Robinson,
and Angele Sjong for technical and factual assistance.

| 63



Rob Pizem samples Baby Ruth in

the Pool (5.13-), in The Narrows,
Zion National Park, Utah.

Spring is so close, yet so far. Youve spent session after session in the gym, getting strong. But youre tired of waiting in
line for the steep wall, wafting in that special gym-shoe aroma. So now what? Head outside! Thats rightyou can enjoy
sunshine and mild temps, even in the grips of the fourth season. Here are our favorite crags with near-guaranteed T-shirt
weather, sunny days, and fun winter rock climbing.

Fin d s un -d ren c he d, dese rt- like c limbing

in the c owboy stat e
Climbing in Wyoming ofen evokes images of the imposing Tetons, the
looming Devils Tower, or the streaked limestone of Ten Sleep. But if you
dont want to climb ice up big mountains or be blown off the rock by high
winds, head to Guernsey State Park instead. Located about an hour and
a half northeast of Laramie, Guernseys one-pitch sport climbs offer sunshine and warmth when temps and conditions elsewhere warrant staying
inside and drinking whiskey, because some of the areas best walls face
south and receive all-day sun.
The rock, red orthoquartzite and gray dolomite, looks like it was
plucked out of Utah. The surface has great friction and lends itself to
pockets, roofs, and even intermittent cracks; most everything is wellbolted. The majority of climbing falls in the 5.10 range, but there are
plenty of warm-ups, and even a few 5.12s awaiting the redpointer.
On a windless, sunny day, the temperatures near the wall have measured up to 20 degrees warmer than the ambient temps. Why? Local
Guernsey expert Dennis Horning reckons that warm air gets trapped
below the dam, which is where the best climbing is: The Red and White
Grotto walls have more than 80 routes. If its windy at the parking lot,
head to the Hot Cinnamon Wall, which gets the sun earliest. Its usually
not windy at all there, Horning says. For a warm-up, hop on Deep Cuts
(5.8-) or Sunrise Iron Girl (5.9) at the Red Clove and Hot Cinnamon walls,
respectively. The 5.10 leaders will nd Fizzle of Zach Attack (5.10a) enjoyable, while harder leaders can test their mettle on Pull Down Resistor
(5.11c) followed by Inversion Therapy (5.12a). For steep climbing, head to
the Maroon Towers Wall, where there are about 20 steeper, unnamed but
established routes.

S e aSon: Climbing can be had year-round, but stick to the north-facing

walls in the summer and the south-facing walls in the winter. G e t t h e r e:

Take I-25 north from Cheyenne to exit 92. Head east on Highway 26 for
about 15 miles, and then turn lef on State Highway 317/Lakeside Drive
for one mile to the park. Its $4/day for residents, $6/day for non-residents. Annual passes range from $33 to $53. See
for specic crag approaches. Stay t h e re : There are multiple campgrounds
throughout the park, from tent sites to yurts, with rst-come, rstserved sites and reservable sites (; $10/night for
residents, $17/night for non-residents. Or call 307-836-2334 to rent
a yurt at $50/night. Gu ideb o o k : has detailed and
updated info.
66 | March 2014

Chattanooga, Tennessee
Follow th e b ir ds south to a lan d
oF roc ks
Chattanoogas got it all: mild weather (average high in the mid-60s
in March), a happening downtown, and a lifetime of rock climbing.
High-quality sandstone is great for everything from traditional crack
climbs at Tennessee Wall, to overhanging jug hauls at Foster Falls, to
the myriad boulders at Stone Fort. Why go anywhere else?
Tennessee Wall faces south to bask in the sun all day (dont venture
there in the summer). Mostly single-pitch crack climbs line the crag.
Requisite moderates include the blocky roofs of Art (5.8) and the hand
crack on Golden Locks (5.8+). If youre well-versed in hand and nger
cracks, Cake Walk (5.10a) lives up to its namesake. Fly with the Falcon
(5.11b) has everything in a mere 80 feet: a bouldery start, a roof, and a
crack that requires some powerful moves.
Foster Falls is a popular sport arena, with a wide range of climbs.
Hop on the neighboring routes Ankles Away and Twist and Shout
(both 5.9+) to warm up for the varied Somethings Always Wrong
(5.10d). The sustained Wristlets (5.11c/d) will test your crimping
and lockoff skills. The Lef and Right bunkers contain steep, powerful routes like Ethnic Cleansing (5.12a) and Darkie the Bum Beast
Pack your bouldering pad and head a bit north of the city to Stone
Fort (aka Little Rock City), located on a golf course. Enjoy everything
from palm-slapping slopers to razor-sharp edges. The boulders are all
within easy walking distance of each other and the golf clubhouse,
whose employees are friendly and accommodating to climbers. (Sign
the waiver and pay the $3/day fee there.) Warm up at the Mystery
Machine boulder, and then wander throughout the bouldereld to classics like Clarence Bowater Survival (V3), Dragon Lady (V4), Celestial
Mechanics (V7), and Robbing the Tooth Fairy (V9). Stone Fort is also
home to a leg of the Triple Crown Bouldering Series (, which has another stop at Horse Pens 40 in Alabama, an
hour, 45 minutes south.

S eaSo n : Climbing is possible year-round, but the heat and humidity
is sweltering in the summer. Chase the sun on moderate days in the
winter for perfect temps. Stay t h er e: Check out The Crash Pad, a
climber- and traveler-friendly hostel ($28 to $95/night) with free
WiFi, breakfast, and coffee ( Gu i d ebo ok :
Chris Watfords Dixie Craggers Atlas covers the entire area. Grab
Volume 1 for Tennessee Wall and Volume 2 for Foster Falls. Get both
for $45 at Stone Fort Bouldering, by Andy Wellman,
is available at for $26.


Guernsey State Park,


Zion National Park, Utah

Ge t down on war m des ert san dston e
Zion is sometimes referred to as the sandstone Yosemite. Hundreds of
long aid and free climbs soar up to 2,000 feet tall, with most in the 800to 1,500-foot range. Many Utah natives say February and March are the
perfect months to climb in Zion; if the forecast is sunny and snow- and
wind-free, you could be climbing in a T-shirt.
The 2,500-foot Mt. Kinesava faces southwest and has multiple worldclass free and aid lines up to 5.12. A crowd favorite is the 1,200-foot-long
Cowboy Ridge (5.7) that leads to the summit ridge. With a mix of hiking
and fourth- and fh-class scrambling, the only technical pitch is the money
spot: an exposed splitter hand crack. The toasty Leaning Wall holds one of
Zions most classic routes, Space Shot (IV 5.6 C2 or 5.13), as well as bold
5.10s, like the runout but worthy Vernal Equinox (5.10).
For sunny afernoon cragging potential, head to the Conuence area for a
plethora of moderates in the one- to two-pitch range. Try Barely Legal (5.7)
for a fun bolted face climb, or test your nger-crack prowess on the steep
Crimson King (5.11). For more one-pitch crack climbs, the southwest face

of the Great White Throne is a solid bet. For a wider adventure, grab your
No. 4 and 5 cams and jump on Grasshopper (5.9), or work up the lef-facing
corner of Birthday Corner (5.11).

S eaSo n : September through April offer the best climbing conditions, though
winters can be frigid in the shade. The guidebook recommends climbing
where the high is at least 50F in the sun on big walls, and 40F on shorter
routes. Its scorching in the summer. Some areas, like Mt. Kinesava, are closed
from March to September for peregrine falcon nesting. Check
for closures. Get t h er e: From the north, travel south on I-15 and take exit 27.
Go west on UT-17 for about six miles, and then turn lef onto UT-9 for about
21 miles. Follow the signs to the park. A seven-day pass is $25. Stay t h e re:
Stay in either the South or Watchman campgrounds inside the canyon; $16
to $18/night. Watchman takes reservations from late March through October
(877-444-6777); South is rst-come, rst-served. Gu i d ebo o k: Zion Climbing: Free and Clean, by Bryan Bird ($30,

The view from Angels Landing in Zion

National Park, Utah, reveals a distinct
split between where climbers can
nd comfort in the sun or shiver in
the shade.

| 67

Hueco Tanks, Texas

Its n ot all ab out th e b oulder Ing
Hueco Tanks is known for its unbeatable
bouldering. But what many people overlook are
the more than 70 classic single- and multi-pitch
routes lining the Front Side of North Mountain.
The Front Side faces west, but temperatures for
February and March reach into the mid- to high
60s, and precipitation is very low. The rough
granite provides great friction, but bring some
tapejust like on the boulders, those famed
huecos and incut holds show up on these routes,
and many have sharp edges.
Routes rise up to 250 feet, and most have
bolts, although youll want to carry a standard
trad rack as well, unless you want to run it out.
The Lunch Rock wall has excellent easy climbs
up to 100 feet, like Lunch Rock Direct (5.7),
which follows a nger and hand crack to a roof.
The 250-foot incredibly climbable Cakewalk
Wall offers a few taller options, with innite
route possibilities, writes John Sherman in
Hueco Tanks Climbing and Bouldering Guide.
Sons of Cakewalk (5.6) climbs on good holds
to a couple of cracks, and Return of Cakewalk
(5.7) features a huge hueco and fun climbing on
smaller holds. Dont miss True Grip (5.10a) at the
Perverted Sanctuary, where a so-so rst pitch
leads to a much better second pitch: an exposed
and steep headwall with large pockets.
Move over to the Central Wall and Indecent
Exposure Buttress for long, steep routes. Warm
up on the sporty Malice in Bucketland (5.9-),
which follows huge huecos to a rounded arte,
and then head to the sustained and incut Brain
Dead (5.10+). Test your wits on the R-rated,
three-pitch Rainbow Bridge (5.11b), which
has everything from dihedrals to akes to face
You dont need a guide to access the Front
Side on North Mountain, but only about 70
people at a time are allowed to climb here. (Only
230 people at a time are allowed to climb in the
park.) Reservations are highly recommended; call
512-389-8900 to save your spot.

Caitlin Flanagan samples Hueco Tanks

famous incut holds on the 140-foot Pigs to
Pork (5.10+).

68 | March 2014

cold and windy at night in the winter, so pack

warm clothes accordingly. Its not uncommon
to see a 40-degree swing in temps from day to
night. Get t h er e: Take Highway 62/180 east
out of El Paso, and then turn north on Ranch
Road 2775. Stay t h er e: Camping in the park
ranges from $12 to $16/night (800-792-1112).
Or check out the Hueco Rock Ranch, owned by
the American Alpine Club. Rates range from
$5 tent sites to $35 for a private room for AAC
members. Reservations arent required but are
recommended, especially in the winter months
(915-856-7181). Gu i d ebo o k: Hueco Tanks
Climbing and Bouldering Guide, Second Edition,
by John Sherman ($30,


S eaSo n : Way too hot in the summer. It does get

Queen Creek Canyon, Arizona

Pull on Poc ke ts in the Gr an d can yon state
Pockets, pockets, pockets! The areas dacite, a volcanic rock, offers just
about every size and depth of solution hole on sport climbs that line vertical walls, overhangs, and even roofs. The states sunny, dry climate offers
perfect winter conditions; the best months are October through May.
Start at the popular Pond, which faces south and has a host of routes up
to 5.13a. The Casting Couch (5.9) and Area Horizon (5.10a) are local favorites, while projectors will want to focus on routes like Mona Lisa (5.11b) and
Desert Devil (5.13a). (In the summer, cool off with a jump in the pond, but
only if the falls are owing.)
If its too crowded at the Pond, reverse course and head to Lower Devils
Canyon, where Phoenix local Manny Rangel says theres been a resurgence
of new routes. You might be the only climbers there due to the four-wheeldrive approachor you can hike several miles instead. But its worth it:
Numerous pinnacles beckon. Dont miss the iconic Totem Pole (5.10c/d)
on a tall, skinny tower with an even skinnier summit. If youve got your trad
rack, head to Lower Devils East, with a multitude of quality routes on more
spires. Crack climbers should try out Accelerated Climbology (5.9); for a
cool arte, hop on the rst pitch of High Man on the Shmotem Pole (5.11-;
the second pitch is still a project). Many new routes have gone up in the last
few years at the Refuge, with more than 80 climbs to enjoy; download the
mini-guide at

If youre itching for boulders, youre in luck. Queen Creek was once
the site of the huge Phoenix Bouldering Competition, with hundreds of
problems to play on at Oak Flats. The sharp and unforgiving rock can be
hell on your ngers, so bring plenty of tape and skin balm. Start on the
short lines at the Warm-up Boulders before moving to the Tetons, with
incut edges on challenging lines. Or keep walking to Waterfall Canyon for
big pockets on bulgy faces. The impressive Shark Wall offers huge huecos
on overhanging faces, and if youve got skin to waste, nish up at the
Bermuda Triangle.

S eaSo n : Year-round, but very hot in the summer. February and March offer

warm weather in the mid-60s and 70s but occasional rain. Get t h er e: About
an hour from Phoenix just outside Superior, Arizona. Travel east on Highway
60 from Superior up a hill and through a tunnel. Two miles past the tunnel
is Magma Mine Road, which leads to the Oak Flats Campground and a few
climbing areas. Stay t h er e: Oak Flats Campground is free and rst-come,
rst-served with vault toilets, but no water or trash service. Gu i d ebo o k: Beg,
borrow, or steal a copy of the Rock Jocks Guide to Queen Creek Canyon,
Superior, Arizona, by Marty Karabin, which is no longer in print. has great info as well.


Pack your T-shirts and sunscreen for the

warm temps and sunny days of Queen Creek
Canyon, Arizona.

| 69

David Kappel samples one of many crack

climbs on the round, smooth granite
boulders of Mt. Woodson.

San Diego, California

hit t he be ac h an d quality gr an ite

70 | March 2014

Just southeast of Mt. Woodson are the scenic Poway Crags, with short
and steep granite routes on Iron Mountain that are mostly bolted; they might
require extra pro, so bring a small rack. Visit here when the weather is cool, as
the cliffs are south- and east-facing and receive sun much of the day. There
are very few warm-ups here; the powerful nature of the routes beckons to
those comfortable leading 5.10 and up. Head to the Sport Wall for a dense
concentration of 5.10 and 5.11 lines, like Suspended Evolution (5.10d). For
longer routes, visit the Godzilla Buttress and hop on its best route Godzilla
(5.10b). Dont forget your helmet; there is loose rock.

S eaSo n : Some crags, like Ramona Wall at Poway, have raptor closures
from December to August. Check for updates.

Stay t h er e: Dos Picos County Park is close to both Mt. Woodson and the

Poway Crags in Ramona. Tent sites are $24/night, and amenities include
showers, horseshoe rings, and picnic tables. Gu i d ebo o k: A few out-ofprint guides exist online, or nd topo maps at climbingtoposofsandiego
.com; has the most updated info.


Looking for fun climbing in California that doesnt involve the crowds of
Bishop and Joshua Tree? Somewhat ironically, youll nd what youre afer
just outside of San Diego, where a plethora of granite bouldering, sport, and
trad areas await. The climate doesnt vary much throughout the year, with
temps remaining comfortably in the 60s and 70s even in the winter months.
For varied and high-quality bouldering and toproping, try Mt. Woodson,
located about 30 minutes northeast of the city. Hundreds of ne-grained
granite boulders lay scattered in the green hills. The smooth, round rocks
lend themselves to steep face climbing and cracks. An uphill hike on an
easy trail (anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes to the summit) gets you to the
climbs, but the views of the Pacic, the city, and Mexico are well worth the
effort. Plus, boulder problems can be found all along the path, even up to
the top. Some of the taller boulders can be set up as lead climbs; bring a
light trad rack. Dont miss the huge, triangular Uncertainty Principle boulder, seen from the road, with its popular namesake route going at 5.11c. The
Poison Oak area has many problems and routes ranging from V1 to 5.13a.
And 5.11 climbers will love the accessible Cave area, where the best routes
include Bat Flake (5.10d), Starface (5.11a/b), and The Cave (5.11a).








By Dave Sheldon

Its strangely easy to forget
about something you do 20,000
times a day, but taking a minute
to focus on maximizing your
oxygen intake while climbing
can ofer a considerable performance boost. Coach and worldrenowned climber Justen Sjong
has developed a breathing style
that supports a relaxed body
and mind, even when youre
climbing at your physical limit.
Keeping your breath soft and
natural (not labored or forceful)
positively afects your movement
and stress level, helping you to
climb efciently and thoughtfully, and leaving you more energy
and strength for cruxes. If your
body is getting more oxygen, you
will maintain mental clarity to
read the rock and move over it in
the most efective way possible,
plus it maximizes resting, Sjong
says. Practice the following
methods as much as you can so
they become second nature on
the rock, and you will nd your
performance across all climbing
disciplines improves.


Scout out a quiet place at the
crag. Stand with your hands by
your sides, loosen the muscles
in your face, slightly purse your
lips, and slowly inhale through
your mouth. Hold the inhale for

a split second, and then exhale

through your mouth, maintaining a soft face and pursed lips.
On the exhale, hear and feel the
air leaving your lungs and let
your whole body decompress
(shoulders loosen, face and eyes
soften even more, core eases,
mind quiets, etc.). Repeat this
inhale-exhale cycle three or four
times. Each subsequent breath
should take a deeper layer of
stress out of the body until you
reach total composureboth
physical and mental. The goal is
to nd your relaxing breath, or
a moment when you feel completely at ease and comfortable,
and your mind is clear.
A skilled practitioner can grab
a juggy hold and drop into a deep
state of rest on his rst breath.
He can also master his coordination and weight distribution to
the point where a relaxing breath
can be found in the middle of a
challenging sequence while gripping two small holds. When faced
with difcult movement, we
tend to tense up, breathe quickly,
and overgrip, and this not only
unnecessarily exhausts you, but it
also stops your brain from thinking clearly. If you can reach this
relaxed breath, you will maintain
a clear mind to make productive
After becoming comfortable
with nding your relaxing breath
solo, choose a route or boulder
problem you have wired and
consider easy. This is important
because you dont want to be distracted by falling, route-nding,
clipping, etc. While completing
these rst few levels, your only
goal should be to work with
breath. Its also crucial to master
a step before graduating yourself
onto the next level.


Breathe before and after every

climb so its habit.
After getting fully geared up
and tied in, stand at the base
and nd your breath. Climb to
the top. While being lowered,
go back and nd your breath. If

bouldering, wait until you have

jumped back to the ground or
are standing on top of the problem. This step must be added to
all of the following levels.


Breathe while moving over rock.

Start as for the previous step,
but every few moves, stop and
nd your breath. Body position
is important as the resting arm
or arms need to be straight and
relaxed. Your legs should be
wherever is necessary to keep
arms using minimal energy,
whether they are directly below
you or out to the side. Keep your
core soft. Look down and to the
side with a soft gaze; nd something neutral to look at. Dont
look up or down at the route.

here: nding your breath in the

middle of hard sequences. The
goal is to stopregardless of
how small the holds are, take
one relaxing breath, and move
on. This mini-break releases the
mind from the haze of efort,
and the ensuing clarity allows
you to focus intensely on the
next move or series of moves.


Use this relaxing breath in your

everyday life.
Most people respond to the
stress in their daily lives just
like they respond to the stress
of climbing: shallow breathing,
sweating, foggy thinking, and
a wave of heat going over you.
This breathing practice can reduce stress and focus your mind
in daily life, too.


Increase climbing difculty;

re-nd your breath on-route.
Time to bump up the stress
level. Go from toprope to lead,
or an easy route to a hard one
one near the upper end of your
comfort zone. Any line you wont
fall of unless you really screw up
is ideal. Repeat step 2.


Push harder and nd your

breath at every rest.
Choose something closer to
your max and nd your breath
at any place you can stop and
shake out. Feel how it afects
resting and decision-making
while onsighting. When you
really start to breathe correctly,
on-route recovery will be faster,
holds will be easier to see, and
reading sequences will come
more naturally. Once you can
consistently do this, cut yourself
loose on projects.


Slow down, nd composure, and

take a relaxing breath when really cranking.
The real mastery can be found

Justen Sjong coaches in
Boulder, Colorado, and offers
nationwide clinics with his
training company Team of 2
( Hes
freed lines on El Capitan like
Magic Mushroom (5.14a) and
preMuir (5.13d).


| 75



By Lindsay Mann

What are some tips for a person who is rappelling for the
rst time?


Every climber should be familiar
with the Munter, a simple but
versatile hitch that has many
helpful uses. We all know its a
great replacement if you accidentally drop or forget your belay
device, but its especially handy
in alpine and ski mountaineering
environments because it handles
a frozen and icy rope better than
traditional belay devices. As a
matter of fact, the Munter can actually de-ice your rope and make
it easier to handle in particularly
cold climates. With one simple
modication, this hitch can also
become an auto-blocking belay
system (commonly called guide
mode) when belaying a follower
directly of the anchor from the
top of a pitch. This is a great
trick for guides and recreational
leaders alike since it requires little
gear and can be set up quickly
and easily.

Check screw-gate
biners periodically
to make sure theyre
locked, as the rope can
sometimes unlock

The Setup

76 |

MARCH 2014

Brake strand

Climbers rope
strand of the rope. If set up correctly, the hitch will lock on itself.
Then pull on the brake strand to
make sure the rope runs through
smoothly. You can also use this
system for belaying two followers:
Put each followers rope on its
own biner on the master point,
and then use two more biners to
set up auto-block mode.

The Drawback
Just like with any auto-blocking
tube-style device, giving slack to

your follower can be difcult. The

easiest way to do this is to have
your climber simply unweight the
rope at a good stance. This is one
reason why this technique is ideal
for easy fth-class terrain; the
climber is moving at a pace where
the belayer can manage the rope
and easily go hands-free. This allows the belayer to multitask and
prepare for the next pitch while
the climber is safely moving up.
If applied correctly in the right
terrain, it all allows for quick and
smooth transitions.

As a guide for RMI and Pacic
Alpine Guides, Lindsay Mann
leads mountaineering trips on
Mt. Rainier, Denali, and throughout the North Cascades. She also
teaches avalanche courses and
works as a backcountry ski guide.


Build your anchor like you normally would, with a pear-shaped

locking biner (its possible to use
biners with other shapes, but a
pear will allow the rope to run
as smoothly as possible) through
the master point. (Make sure
to lock the biner!) The Munter
hitch should be in raise mode, so
the hitch itself is ipped over the
carabiner on the other side from
the climbers rope. (The Munter
is a bi-directional hitch, so it is
supposed to ip from one side to
the other as you switch from raising to lowering.) Clip your second
locking biner onto the load
line (or climbers rope) and the
bight in the hitch closest to the
climbers rope. By including this
biner in the system, the Munter
hitch will not be able to ip into
lower mode, therefore making it
Test it by pulling on the load

1. Always double-check the anchors that you are rappelling of,

especially if you did not build
them. They should be solid
and redundant; plus, look at
the whole length of webbing to
make sure its not faded or torn.
2. Your hair and clothing
should not be close enough to
get caught in your belay device.
3. Take your time. Have your
partner double-check your setup
(both ropes through rappel
device, biner clipped to device,
ropes, and belay loop, and
biner locked) before you go.
4. Weight your belay device and
check your whole setup again
before you remove your personal
tether from the anchor.
5. Use a rappel backup
either a prusik or an autoblockin case there is unexpected rockfall or you need to
remove your hand to deal with
tangles in the rope.





By Mike Poborsky


Lowering a climbing partner is one of the most common situations that leads to injuries and rescues in Accidents in North American
Mountaineering, the American Alpine Clubs annual analysis of climbing accidents. During the past few years alone, dozens of people, including well-known climbers such as Dave MacLeod, Shingo Ohkawa, and Phil Powers, have sufered serious injuries when they plummeted
to the ground while being lowered of short climbs. The Know the Ropes section of the 2013 edition of Accidents looks at common causes
of lowering accidents and provides some best practices for preventing them. Miscommunication between climber and belayer was the direct
cause of nearly a quarter of all lowering accidents reported over the past 10 yearsand likely contributed to othersso here are a few factors
to evaluate for maximum safety.
The three key problems with communication between climber and belayer are 1) environmental (weather, distance between climbers,
trafc, etc.), 2) unclear understanding of command language (what do take, in direct, and Im of ! mean to each person?), and 3) unclear
understanding of the intentions of the belayer and climber (will the climber lower or rappel?).

Problems that stem from the
specific circumstances include
the climber and belayer being unable to see each other
because of the routes path
and/or the distance between
the two; weather conditions
like wind, snow, or rain; and
extraneous noises, such as a
river, traffic, or other climbers
shouting commands or chatting nearby.
At noisy or crowded
climbing areas, climbers
sometimes mistake a command from a nearby party as
coming from their partner.

Its always a good practice to

use each others names with
key commands: Off belay,
Fred! or Take, Jane! When
one climber is at the top of
a single-pitch climb and rigging the anchor to lower off,
toprope, or rappel, it may be
helpful for the belayer to step
back temporarily so he can
see his partner at the anchor
and improve communication.
When the climber is ready to
lower, the belayer should move
back to the base of the climb
to be in the ideal position for


Mike Poborsky, an internationally certied rock, alpine, and
ski guide, is vice president of
Exum Mountain Guides. His
complete Know the Ropes
chapter on lowering is available
in the 2013 edition of Accidents
in North American Mountaineering, or it can be viewed online

Its essential to agree on the

terms youll be using to communicate when one climber
reaches the anchor, especially with a new or unfamiliar
partner. What do you mean by
take or off or in direct?
Avoid vague language like
Im good or OK. Agree on
simple, clear terms and use
them consistently. One common misunderstanding seems
to be the result of the similar
sounds of slack and take.
When toproping, consider
using the traditional term
up rope instead of take for
more tension in the rope, as
the former wont be confused
with slack.


2003 to Present
Rope too short
Belayer error
Anchor failure

Before starting up any singlepitch climb, its critical that
belayer and climber both
understand what the other
person will do when the climber reaches the anchor: Will
the climber lower off, and if
so, what language will she use
to communicate with the belayer? Or will she clip directly
to the anchor, go completely
off belay, and rappel down the
route? Many accidents have
resulted when the belayer assumed the climber was going
to rappel instead of lower,
the belayer forgot that the
climber planned to lower, or
he misunderstood a command
(like off or safe or Im in
direct) as an intention to rappel. Before taking the climber
off belay, the belayer must

be certain what the climbers

intention is. If you have agreed
that the climber will rappel,
wait for the climber to yell
off belay, and then respond
belay off only then should
you remove the rope from your
belay device.
When you reach the anchor
at the top of a climb, dont just
clip the rope into the draws,
shout take, and lean back.
Make sure to hear a response
from the belayer indicating
that he has you on belay and
is ready to lower. If you cant
see the belayer, sometimes it
is possible to lower yourself a
little while holding onto the
up rope, until you can get
into position to make visual
contact with the belayer and
assure youre good to go.


| 77




By Steve House and Scott Johnston

You might train your upper body endlessly for the demands of technical climbing, but getting to intense backcountry objectives
demands a base strength in your lower body as well. Legs are the main propulsion you have in the mountains, and their large muscle mass
requires special attention. Weve developed a solid, structured training program that will help you build the necessary strength and endurance to achieve your goals, keeping you healthy and energized when you set of from high camp. This base training period includes two specic exercises that will improve your fatigue resistance, so you can handle more intense climbseven after youve hiked several hours with a
weighty pack. Do hill sprints rst because they allow you to build maximum leg strength and power before getting into weighted hill climbs,
which simulate the endurance needed for ascending moderate to steep alpine terrain.

Find a steep (20 to 50 percent

incline, steeper is better) hill
with decent footing so you can
sprint and are not dodging
roots and rocks; stadium stairs
are also a great option. A steep
incline increases the workload
on legs and hips without the
impact or increased training

time it would take to achieve

the same benet through running on at terrain. Although
hill sprints would normally fall
under the category of power
training, which emphasizes
speed and explosiveness, they
also ofer dramatic benets in
pure leg strength. This exercise

is simple, efective, specic, and

best of all, highly portableespecially if you dont have a gym.

* Do this twice a week until

the last few weeks to increase
amount of resting time.
* Make sure where youre
sprinting has good, solid foot-

ing; slow, cautious steps will not

achieve the desired efect.
* Focus on speed of movement
and explosiveness on the way
up, and then walk back down.
* Stop the set when you feel
your power drop.
* Each sprint should be no
more than 10 seconds.





Rest per rep

Rest per set

Times per week


8 sec.

2 min.

5 min.


8 sec.

2 min.

5 min.


8 sec.

2 min.

5 min.


8 sec.

2 min.

5 min.


8 sec.

2 min.

5 min.


8 sec.

2 min.

5 min.


Engage a few friends to push a car back and forth in a parking

lot. Put it in neutral, and make sure you have quick access to the
brake. As you push one way, your friend pushes the other, so its
not really moving that much. Push on the front and rear bumpers
so that you can really lean into it and get your big leg muscles
involved. Take a few minutes of rest between short pushes of six
to 10 seconds and youll see amazing results in leg strength.
Find a stadium and use the stairs.
Attach a tire to a harness with webbing and biners and drag it
on a less steep hill or flat ground for up to a minute. Repeat that
as you would each sprint.
Some gyms may have steel sleds onto which you can stack
weight. You can then push the sled up and down a paved alley or
across a grass sports field.

78 | MARCH 2014

An IFMGA-certied mountain guide, House has completed many
notable climbs throughout the Alaska Range, the Karakorum in
Pakistan, and the Canadian Rockies. He runs Alpine Mentors (, a nonprot that promotes alpinism by coaching
and encouraging young up-and-coming alpinists.



This program is an excerpt from the book Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual
for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House and Scott Johnston (below), which is
available now ( It also includes more comprehensive training
programs, customizable plans, and the mental strategies used by seasoned alpinists.




The goal of this phase is to
increase how long your muscles
can operate at a high percentage
of max strength, which improves your endurance. Do this
after completing 12 weeks of hill
sprints, and plan on nishing
at least two weeks before your
objective. This stuf is going
to make your legs very tired,
and you will not be at your best
until you have a good recovery
period. If your performance
improves for the rst couple of
weeks, but then plateaus and

drops of, you are doing too

much and should drop down to
one session per week. Jugs of
water are good to carry because
you can pour them out at the
top of the hill without trashing your knees with the extra
weight on the way down. If
youre lacking a handy stream,
you can carry rocks and dump
them out at the top. Just bring
extra padding for your back.

* Do two sessions a week (72

hours between each), unless

youre getting out and hiking

with a pack on the weekends,
and then only do one.
* Wear boots similar to what
youll wear on your climb, not
running shoes.
* Breathe through your nose;
you should still be able to maintain a conversation. The goal is
to have fatigue in your legs at a
relatively low heart rate. If you
are able to hike fast enough to
get short of breath, you need
to add more weight or pick a
steeper hill.

* The steeper the better for the

hill; a scree eld or uneven ski
slope is better than a at trail.
* To get the desired amount of
vertical feet, you might need to
do multiple laps.
* If your legs are already wellconditioned, start with 20 to 25
percent of your body weight.
* The speed and weight of the
climb should be limited by your
legs, not by your breathing.
* A gallon of water weighs
eight pounds; one quart weighs
two pounds.


Elevation gain in feet/meters

Percent of body weight carried

Times per week





















So, youre in North Dakota
and the highest thing within
150 miles is a hay barn. It can
be very effective to do this
type of weighted workout using only a 12-inch box to step
up and down. The boredom
factor may become extreme,
so you may want to arrange a
source of entertainment, but
its easy to control the intensity and overall quantity of the

Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, Johnston was immediately
recognized for his impressive cardiovascular endurance, which
he utilized when competing in World Cups for Nordic ski racing.
Johnston currently lives in Mazama, Washington, where he
continues to ski and climb.

Available at

Climbing (USPS No. 0919-220, ISSN No. 0045-7159) is published ten times a year (February, March, April (Gear), May, July (Photo Annual), August, September, October, November, December/January) by SkramMedia LLC, 2520 55th St., Suite 210, Boulder, CO 80301. Periodicals postage paid at Boulder, CO, and additional mailing ofces. Canada Post publications agreement
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Palm Coast FL 32142-0235.

| 79









By Julie Ellison


Carabiners act as important connection points in climbing, and whether its between the rope and a bolt or you and the anchor, we
trust our lives to these tiny pieces of metal. While non-locking biners are acceptable in many applications, certain connections are
more critical (e.g., belay biners, clipping into the anchor) and require a gate that can be locked into a closed position, which keeps
it from accidentally opening. Since lockers are heavier and more expensive, its customary to carry the bare minimum on a route,
but you might run into a situation where you need a locking biner but are running short. Orienting two non-locking biners the
right way will emulate the safety and security of one locking biner, but beware of two other orientations that arent quite as safe.

The gate of one is matched
with the spine of the other;
the top is matched with the
bottom and vice versa. This
is not foolproof because
if one biner rotates 180
degrees on the rope (which
is common), both gates are
aligned and could open
together, making it possible
for the rope to slip out.

Spines are together, gates are
together, and the top of one
biner is matched with the bottom of the other. When open,
the gates form an X, making
it difcult for the rope to slip
out, but the concern here is
biner strength. Biners lose
about 60 to 70 percent of their
strength (think 9 kN instead of
24 kN) when the gate is open,
and in this orientation, the
same force (impact on rock)
could open both gates, which
would mean theyre weakened
at the same moment.

Sometimes bailing of a long route involves leaving
lots of gear behind, or there are established slings
and webbing, but no rappel rings. Or maybe theres
only one aluminum rap ring, and you would prefer
to have a backup. (Aluminum rappel rings should
always be used in pairs, while one steel ring will do
the trick. Aluminum rap rings are thinner and feel
very light, while a steel ring is thicker and heavier.)
Instead of leaving an expensive locker or two nonlockers, put a few wraps of climbing tape around
the gate and nose of the non-locking biner, so that
it acts like the sleeve of a locking carabiner. By no
means does this replace a locking biner, but if youre
faced with having minimal gear to get down and
want to add some safety to rappelling of one nonlocking biner, this will do the trick.





Gates and spines are not

matched up, but the tops and
bottoms are together. This
is the strongest and safest
setup for substituting two
non-locking biners for one
locking biner.

80 |

MARCH 2014

Starts quick. Fast through the turns.