The Well-Dressed Figure Eight Knot: Start Hard, Finish Easy

Why is a well-dressed figure eight knot even important? A messy eight will hold just as well as a neat one, so what’s the big deal?  In climbing, the main reason most people tie in with a figure eight (and why the vast majority of climbing gyms require it) is because it is easy to recognize and therefore verify that it is tied correctly and will perform as expected. So dressing the figure eight is an important step in tying it as it will make it even easier to identify.

To properly dress the knot we can use a technique called start hard, finish easy. We start by pushing the standing part of the rope over while poking the working end through the hole this forms.

well-dressed figure eight knot starting hard

well-dressed figure eight knot pushing standing end aside

well-dressed figure eight knot pushing working end through

 

 

 

Once this step is complete, the working end only passes through the knot two more times. Both of these passes should be “easy.” The video below illustrates this simple process: 

Karsten Delap, AMGA Certified Rock and Alpine Guide

 

So You Want to Hire a Rock Climbing Guide?…..(this is your guide to hiring a Guide)

Trying to hire a rock climbing guide? The process can be tricky and confusing. Why? The term “guide” itself is very loaded. Depending on the industry, it can have a variety of meanings the typical consumer might know nothing about but should. Fundamentally, a guide is a person who shares their knowledge/skills about a particular topic with another, presumably less-informed person; at their essence, they are teachers.  We seek them out for expertise we don’t have or for experiences we can’t have without them. Regardless of type, be it a city tour guide, rafting guide, hiking guide, climbing guide, fishing guide, mountain biking guide, dance or jujitsu instructor, they have some skill we are willing to pay for.

Given the premise that every consumer wants the biggest “bang for the buck,” how does one go about choosing the right guide? Among the factors to consider are riskiness of the endeavor, the guide’s education and training, reviews from both peers and clients, certifications if applicable, and cost. It’s the relative importance of each of these factors that determines which guide is best for a particular client.

Forsyth Park fountain in Savannah

Low-risk tour of Savannah

A good starting point in the process of hiring a guide is risk. How risky is the activity you are hiring a guide for? The greater the risk, the more attention you want to pay to the other factors, particularly training and certification; if there is little risk, as is the case with a city tour guide for example, you can be less concerned and instead focus on whatever factor is most important to you, be it cost, experience, etc. Maybe you would rather pay $100 for a private walking tour of Savannah than $50 for a group tour, for example.  Both choices have low risk, so you can focus more on the type of experience you want.

Rock climbing and mountaineering, in contrast, can be extremely risky. Every waiver, be it in a climbing gym or that of a guide service, carries a disclaimer that “climbing is inherently dangerous.” You’ll see the same warning on every piece of climbing gear you purchase.  So how do you mitigate this “inherent risk?” Can you look at the price of a guide? Sometimes that can be helpful, as it is in other areas of life where a higher price tends to mean higher quality. But that isn’t always true.  So what about reviews? Those can be helpful too, but without personally knowing the people writing the reviews, how can you evaluate them? Of course, as a general matter, lots of good reviews are a positive sign and negative ones a bad sign, but that can be skewed. A company could have friends and family write positive reviews. A competitor or disgruntled customer could have his cronies write bad reviews. In the social media era, it’s important to read all reviews skeptically, particularly when engaging in a risky activity.

Flats fishing in the Florida Keys

The guide on this boat has both a USCG Captain’s License and a FL Charter Captain License.

That leaves one factor as the most reliable to help you decide which guide to hire: training and certification, aka credentials. Virtually every professional field requires some sort of training-based certification. Most also require licensure. Teachers, lawyers, doctors, hair stylists, dental hygienists—all have to be certified and licensed based on their education. Even salt-water fishing guides, who operate in a relatively low-risk/high fun activity, typically have to have both a Captain’s License from the US Coast Guard and a state license to be able to take clients on their boat.

Surprisingly, the same is generally NOT the case with rock climbing and mountaineering despite their risk. With the exception of a few areas like the Gunks in New York, guides not only need no license, there IS NO LICENSE for guiding. There IS training-based certification, but even that is confusing because there are several organizations that certify guides (AMGA, PCGI, PCIA), and land managers generally do not require “guides” to be certified anyway.  It can be difficult for even the most savvy consumer to navigate.

So how does someone looking to hire a climbing guide sort through the morass? First, you look for certification. That is a good start regardless of whom the certifying body is. From there, you research the organizations who are doing the certifying. There are plenty of great guides from the various organizations, but there are also some with lower standards, and there is only one organization recognized internationally, the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA).

Let’s say you decide on an AMGA guide because you like the fact they that they are internationally recognized.  The guide also gets great reviews and offers a program within your budget. Is that enough?  You would think, but no. The final question is what type of “guide” they are.  All climbing certification organizations offer different levels of certification. An analogy is education. You don’t want a teacher certified to teach first grade teaching your child’s AP Calculus class.

 

AMGA Rock Instructor logo

Know the difference between this……..

AMGA SPI logo

…….and this? You should if you are looking for a multi-pitch guide!

The same holds true with rock climbing and mountaineering. In AMGA nomenclature, you don’t want someone certified to guide clients up single pitch climbs, a Single Pitch Instructor, guiding you on a multi-pitch climb. You also don’t want a Certified Rock Guide guiding you in AMGA Alpine Guide terrain. Unfortunately, folks advertising themselves as “guides” sometimes get a minimum level of certification so they can call themselves an “AMGA (or PCGI or PCIA) Guide” when they aren’t even certified to set up climbs via lead climbing, as is the case with several categories of PCGI and PCIA guides.  While all AMGA outdoor climbing instructors and guides are required Climbing in Joshua Tree National Parkto lead at a certain level, that does not mean they are qualified to guide you up Mt. Rainier….but it happens.

The takeaway is this: you are hiring a climbing guide to have the maximum amount of fun and/or learning with the minimum amount of risk possible.  Until government leaders recognize the significant role outdoor recreation and climbing in particular play in society and therefore require some sort of licensure, it is up to you as the participant in an “inherently dangerous activity” to be your own advocate. Stack the deck in your favor by doing your research. A qualified guide will be willing to happily answer any question you have  about their training, certification, and experience.

For more information on the various organizations that certify climbing guides, check out these links: American Mountain Guides Association, Professional Climbing Guides Institute, Professional Climbing Instructors Association.

Happy Climbing,

Cristin Knowlton, owner                                                                                                                                     Fox Mountain Guides

Linville Falls: The Story of a First Ascent

Photo: Halley Burleson

When Anthony Dercole was a teenager surfing in sunny California, he could never have imagined one day scaling a frozen waterfall. How he got from the beach to bagging the first ascent of Linville Falls, renowned for having the highest volume of flow in the area, was really less improbable than it seems.

After moving to Western North Carolina in 2007, Anthony got a job at a now-closed gym that happened to have a climbing wall. Intrigued with climbing, he began hiking to different outdoor climbing areas in a quest to learn everything he could about the sport. As with many beginning climbers, Anthony made lots of decisions that he now is just happy didn’t have bigger consequences.

It was a chance encounter with AMGA Certified Rock Guide Ron Funderburke, who was working as a Guide at Fox Mountain Guides at the time, that not only changed HOW Anthony climbed but also shaped his career. What first began as a mentor relationship with Ron resulted in Anthony  pursuing professional climbing training through the AMGA and ultimately getting a job as an Instructor at FMG.

Given the rapid progression of Anthony’s climbing, it should really come as no surprise that once he ticked off many of North Carolina’s most difficult rock routes, including a rare free ascent of Warrior’s Way (regarded as one of the hardest multi-pitch routes in the State), he would move on to new challenges. Though he only climbed a couple seasons of ice, Anthony picked up the discipline as quickly as his other endeavors and set his set his sights on a potential ice route with the cache of some of his hard rock sends. That climb was Linville Falls.

Record low temperatures over a number of days made the never-climbed falls shape up enough that Anthony decided to give it a go. With his wife Tina and brother-in-law/photographer Peter in tow, he and partner Kyle Harris crossed the partially frozen Linville River to arrive at the base of the falls. Though the center of the falls was still flowing powerfully, the left side looked solid enough that Anthony felt confident he could lead it. The pair first built an anchor to secure themselves at the bottom. Anthony then delicately made his way to the top of the formation and built another anchor and brought Kyle up. From there, Kyle led them out via a crack in the rock to the left of the falls. The rest is first ascent history.

Photo: Halley Burleson

So what’s next for Anthony? In the {very} immediate term, he decided to take on Looking Glass Falls THE NEXT DAY in the second ever ascent. (Fox Mountain Guide’s owner, Karsten Delap, got the first ascent last year). Conditions were not quite as favorable this year, and Anthony ended up making the ascent without a belay. He plans to spend the rest of the season climbing ice throughout the Southeast and in New Hampshire as he builds a resume to take the AMGA Ice Instructor Course sometime in the next couple years. After he completes that course, Anthony will be out guiding ice in the area but will, knowing him, also be searching for the next big adventure .**

**Fox Mountain Guides only allows guides, regardless of their experience, to guide ice if they have completed the American Mountain Guides Association Ice Instructor Course, which is the standard for professional ice climbing training.

 

Over-camming: Really a Problem?

 

I overheard some friends teaching each other to lead climb the other day. They were doing a good job of managing safety by using a top-rope and having the climber mock lead. Then they said “ok the number one thing is don’t over-cam.” I hear this mode of thinking about over-camming a lot, even from seasoned instructors. If you look at this from a pure risk management standpoint, there is actually no good reason to encourage this behavior.

Camming angle stays the same throughout the range of the cam. On Black Diamond Camolots this angle is 15˚. The theoretical best angle would be 14 based on many folks geeking out in the labs.

So the only real reason to encourage someone to under-cam would be to prevent pieces from becoming stuck in the rock. This of course could result in the leader being scared to overcam, taking a fall, ripping gear and becoming injured.

I teach students to have a 90˚ angle or less with the bottom of the cam lobes. You can see this tip and a few more in the video below.

Karsten Delap, AMGA Certified Rock and Alpine Guide

Beginning Trad Climbing Rack: What to Buy and What to Skip

Beginning climber trying to put together a trad climbing rack?

I often get asked about what first pieces of trad gear the beginning climber should purchase. Most new climbers are not looking to go out and spend $3000 on a full trad rack and want to know what pieces make the most sense to buy first. So here are some of my suggestions on what you might want to purchase first.

Minimalist (cheapest) Rack:

Cams:

BD C4 0.5 to 3

BD X4 0.2 to 0.4

One set of nuts (skip the micros) so BD #5 to #11

One set of Tricam Evo’s Black through brown

 

Standard Rack:

Cams:

BD C4 0.5 to 4 Doubles 0.5 to 3

BD X4 0.1 to 0.4

BD C3 0.1 to 0.3

Set of Nuts #4 to #13

Set of Tricam Evo’s Black through Brown

 

High-End Standard Rack:

Cams:

BD C3 0,1,2

BD X4 .3 and .4 Doubles of .4

BD C4 .5 and .75 Doubles of both

BD UL 1 to 4     Doubles 1 to 3

Set of Nuts #4 to #13

Set of Tricam Evo’s Black through Brown

From here you can expand into all kinds of specialized protection like big bros, offsets, and many other size specific and placement specific protection based on your goals for climbing. I have found that the high-end standard rack will get you through most destinations in the US. Newer leaders might want triples in cams to feel comfortable on multi-pitch climbs where they are building anchors whereas seasoned leaders might feel quite comfortable with a more minimalist rack. When you are climbing at your limit you might also want to have a few more pieces on hand as you will probably want more gear to feel comfortable.

 

Some of my reasons for these racks:

X4 vs C4

If you look at head width on the X4 compared to the C4 there is almost one cam lobe difference. This means the X4 will fit in smaller placements. However the X4 in the bigger sizes can get floppy making it hard to place and even harder to remove. I really see this start at the 0.5 (purple) and up. So the larger pieces could be good for aid climbing but not so much free climbing.

UL vs C4

The Ultra light cam is amazingly light but this comes at a bit of a cost in dollars, strength, and durability. So first thing first; I do not recommend getting the UL in the 0.4 and 0.5. For one the weight savings is so minimal (around the weight of a locking carrabiner for both), and secondly the stem cap is so large in these two pieces that when overcamed they are very likely to become stuck.

The UL has a dyneema sling that will not wear as well as the nylon on the C4s. I tend to replace my dyneema slings about every 6 to 9 months depending on use. I have some nylon that is almost 4 years old on my rack and still has some life in it. So if you are replacing cams every year, the ULs could be worth it except… PRICE! Whoa, these are expensive! How could any dirtbag afford these? My suggestion is to start with the big ones as they will save you the most weight, and if you feel the need or win the lottery buy some smaller ones. I recommend #1-#3.

C3 vs C4 and X4.

So again the C3s really shine when the placements are small. Here is a review and video of them preforming: http://www.karstendelap.com/2011/06/09/black-diamond-c3s/

The C3 does have a weird stem that some folks like, and others dislike. They are also made in micro sizes that are for aid climbing only. As Black Diamond has stated, “These are for aid only, with a nod to the free climbers”. So I recommend these pieces for those who are wanting to expand out of the normal rack with options in the smaller sizes.

Also of note the 0.3 C4 and 2 C3 are basically the same size. So you can swap one for the other depending on needs.

These are suggestions based on what we have found works best for us and our clients over the years. Please weigh in with your comments, and let us know what you think!

Karsten Delap, AMGA Certified Rock and Alpine Guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Week in the Life of My Deuter Speedlite

I like versatility. I love it when my gear can transition between many tasks and suit each one with ease. In fact, as a guide, I NEED my gear to be able to fill multiple roles. This single best piece of gear I have that fits this bill is the Deuter Speedlite 20. To iIlustrate just how versatile it is, consider how it performed as I got ready for a climbing trip to Las Vegas recently.

Saturday – Sunday: I spend my weekends guiding guests who have waited all week to get out into the mountains and enjoy a carefree day of rock climbing in Western North Carolina. Often this is a multi-pitch, day and I’m meeting my guests in the Linville Gorge. Our objective is Table Rock on Saturday and the remote Amphitheater on Sunday. I put my harness on with my “Guide’s Rack” on my waist. In my Speedlite, I have climbing shoes and a chalk bag, first aid kit, 2L water bladder, single rack of protection, and an extra layer or two. Inside the small, quick access pocket, I put in my lunch, snacks and headlamp. On the outside, using the compression straps, I secure my helmet neatly on the outside. This pack goes from a full 20+L and compresses to less than 10 once the rack is on and we are moving over rock terrain! It is very comfortable no matter the load and stays secure and ergonomic when climbing. I sometimes even forget I have it on!

Monday: After a long weekend of work, I like to escape into the mountains around Pisgah National Forest by myself for some running. I often extend these runs for more than 10 miles, and I like to carry some extra items with me, so it is again time to fill the Speedlite. I carry my 1L water bladder, a long layer, sun hat, headlamp, spare map+compass, small first aid kit, as well as lunch and/or snacks. Given how the many straps on the Speedlite can be tucked neatly away and the compressability of the pack, I don’t notice it as I move over rough trails. My back may become a bit sweaty, but that may just be my fault for carrying so many things on a run. Perhaps this is why I’m much more of a climber! {Editor’s note: You can wash a Speedlite in a washing machine on warm and air dry it. I’ve done it more that 20 times with no damage to the pack.}

Tuesday: I head to the climbing gym to hang out with fellow guides and climbers and get a good workout in before my trip to Las Vegas. In my Speedlite, I carry a short gym rope, harness, shoes, chalk bag, belay device and water. It is sometimes nice to load it up with weights or water to help me train! This can really beat up a bag, but I have yet to tear any holes in it with the rough cargo.

Wednesday: Heading to a coffee shop downtown to relax, reflect, and write is a day we don’t typically associate with fancy backpacks, but I indeed use my Speedlite as my computer and town bag. Its size is perfect for my laptop, and it’s nice to stroll around Asheville with all of my office things with me. I will always have my thermos with me in one of the side pockets carrying that great dark roast from down the street.

 

Thursday: It’s winter here in the mountains and that means it’s time for some winter sports. Lately I have been honing my ski abilities at some of the local resorts. It isn’t exactly backcountry, but it is nice to carry extra things with me on the mountain so I don’t have to go back and forth from the lodge every time I want something. When I need to, this pack’s burly construction even allows me to carry my skies for short ski mountaineering jaunts. The pack definitely handles my falls better than I do at times!

Friday: Time to pack! Planes can sometimes be a nightmare for climbers as we love to try to cram what we can into carry-ons so as not to pay that checked bag fee. The Speedlite works great as a carry-on and I can fit pretty much everything from a guiding day in it and put most everything else I need for a couple of days into my second carry-on. The Speedlite’s compact size fits perfectly under the seat. When I arrive, I get everything to my hotel or campsite and head to the grocery store for some supplies and use my Speedlite as a reusable bag! Fits three days worth of food for two people very well!

Saturday: Time to climb! The goal is Epinephrine, a 600+M route in Black Velvet Canyon with several, pack-shredding chimney pitches. A route like this requires light packing, and I again load up my Speedlite with the essentials the night before and pack it in to the base. As the day gets warmer and we go in and out of the sun, the pack gets larger and smaller as items go in and out. Again, I sometimes forget I am wearing it! That is, until we reach the chimney pitches. With the pack dangling from my harness’s belay loop, I make my way up the chimney as the Speedlite scrapes and bangs into the rock. I tuck away as many of the buckles and zippers as I can and make sure the pack is compressed. By the time we are beyond the chimney pitches, the pack is no worse for the wear, spare a couple of dirty spots and we are halfway to the summit! Once on top, my body is prepping for the long descent back to the car, so everything comes off and goes back into the pack. With the ergonomic back design, even when full, my sore back barely notices the added bulk as we drag ourselves back to the car, fulfilled from another great adventure, and we prepare to do the week over again the next day, this time in Sin City!

Here’s to adventure!

Cody Bradford, AMGA Single Pitch Instructor and Assistant Rock Guide

 

What to Bring Cragging: Trad Climbing

In the time I have spent rock climbing, I have really loved going to crags that rely on the use of traditional gear. What I love most is the type of terrain and the areas that can be visited. You can challenge yourself on hardstuff or climb really fun, longer, moderate terrain too. Multi-pitching allows you to get higher off the ground, giving a greater feeling of exposure. It usually involves climbing with a partner, and you can develop strong bonds with those you share a rope with. Crack climbing has been my favorite traditional pursuit. I love the art of jamming! Cracks form striking natural features that catch the eye first. It’s an obvious path to the top, and they usually protect really well.

climbing-rattlesnake Trad climbing is gear intensive, requires a higher level of technical skill, and is a more thoughtful type of climbing. These places are rich with climbing history, can feel more adventurous, bold, and at times (especially on slabs, or here in North Carolina) downright scary. I recommend getting guidebooks because they are a great source for this information. They can be expensive, but they make a great souvenir, and help avoid unnecessary epics. I’ve learned that the hard way.

At first this can all be overwhelming. Give it time and you will learn the tricks to solving the puzzle. I wish I had a better idea of what I needed starting out. I bought a lot of gear that I really don’t use much anymore. So, I have put together some beta on what I find useful for a day of traditional style cragging in a single pitch, or short multi-pitch environment.

When climbing in these locations I typically pack pretty comfortably since there usually aren’t crazy long approaches. Besides, it’s good training weight for when you do tackle a larger objective! So go ahead, bring some extra gear, layers, water, etc. since you aren’t committing to a long route where being light and fast is advantageous. Having said that, I typically only bring what I need on the wall for a given route, and stash the rest at the base for when I am back down. This assumes you are rappelling back to the same spot though. Yup, learned that the hard way too.

personal-equipmentPersonal equipment: There is a lot of room to create your own style in this category! Experiment with different brands, and find what you like most! Here is the equipment I wear:

  • Helmet: No matter what, you will be safer by wearing a helmet. Gravity works! Rocks and gear can and do fall. Doesn’t it make sense to protect your squash?! I wear the Petzl Sirocco. It’s lightweight, breathes well, and I barely even notice I’m wearing it. Funny, considering it’s like wearing a traffic cone.
  • Shoes: I find that all rock shoes have a style of climbing they best prefer. It can take a while to find the proper fit that allows you to perform how you want too. I personally don’t believe in the foot binding myth. You want the shoes to feel snug in the store, but not make your feet hurt. Leather shoes will stretch so if you go with comfort in the store you will likely have space after they are broken in. Here is what makes my feet happy:

-La Sportiva TC Pros: I really like these on routes involving slabs, edges, and cracks. When I bought them I was looking for an all day comfort shoe for long moderate routes. I went a ½ size down from my street shoes, and they have been great for their At times they can feel a little loose though.

-La Sportiva Katanas: I recently bought a pair of these for technical performance, and I love them. I went down a size and half, and they fit like a glove! Awesome for edging, and the narrow profile of the toebox have made these excellent for crack climbing too!

  • gear-on-harnessHarness: We spend a ton of time in these, sometimes hanging. Some stores may have something to hang from to try a new harness out. Don’t be afraid to get creative with adding weight on the gear loops either! Make sure you find one that works well for you. I personally like having adjustable leg loops since my thighs don’t match the size of my waist. I am currently wearing a Petzl Hirundos. (That’s how I know I prefer adjustable leg loops)
    • Here is what lives on my harness:
      • 20 ft cordellette
      • A double length nylon runner
      • Gri Gri 2
      • Belay plate w/ plaquette (guide) mode
      • 5 in hollowblock (prusik loop)
      • 2 extra non-lockers
      • 3 extra lockers

This gear could help save yourself or a buddy; learn more in a self-rescue course! (http://foxmountainguides.com/bring-cragging-trad-climbing/)

  • Chalk bag: I was recently converted from attaching this with a non-locker to a piece of cord. It keeps it higher on your waist, and it is more mobile. I saw it benefit the first day as I was climbing a chimney!
  • Approach shoes: I love having a good pair of approach shoes. They are great for inspiring confidence scrambling up to or walking off a route. There are many styles, and like rock shoes they are designed for different uses. Some shoes are best for trails in the woods. Others are high end technical shoes great for long days on low 5th class rock. My favorite have been the Sportiva Gandas. If you find a pair of these in your size, I highly recommend getting them since they are no longer made. If you know anyone getting rid of a size 12, let me know!
  • Pack: I like having a medium (30-35L) sized bag. This allows me to fit all my equipment plus a couple extra layers, water, and food. When buying a new bag try to bring everything you are planning to pack. Make sure it fits, and more importantly that the pack will be comfortable! I am currently using the Deuter Guide Lite 32+.

Dynamic climbing rope: (9-10.2 mm) There’s something to be said about a beefy workhorse: they are typically more resilient. Don’t be so fast to run out and by the newest shoelace size rope as you are learning. Also, stick to using a single rated rope. Sometimes you will need two ropes if a route requires long rappels (more than half a rope length). I personally like marking the middle of my rope. This makes setting up single rope rappels much easier, and ensures that the ends are even. Make sure to tie knots in the ends while you’re at it too. Rappelling is the number one cause of climbing accidents. Don’t rappel off the end of your rope! At FMG, all of the guides use a range of Bluewater ropes for both guiding and personal climbing.

standard-rackStandard Rack: In guidebooks you may often see the term “single rack.” That refers to bringing one of each size in the standard camming range (.3-3), some stoppers, and draws. Some routes can call for more specific gear like doubles, big cams (4-6), small cams (.1-.2), extra wires (stoppers), or long slings. A good rack is made up of an assortment of both passive and active gear. I include stoppers, tri-cams, cams, draws, and anchor material.

What I have on my rack

  • Stoppers: BD #4-13 set (standard pack)

–     A nut tool is useful as well!

  • Tri-cams (by Camp): In my opinion pink, red, and brown are most useful (I also carry black and blue). Check out the evo’s; they have a more sturdy sling so they are easier to place, and the head is tapered allowing it to be placed passively on its transverse They are nice to use in anchors to save cams for the next pitch, and I find they are great for the funky spots where other gear doesn’t quite work. Patience is the key to removing them though because that same funk lends itself to easily getting stuck.
  • Cams: I have found it useful to combine brands when building a rack because each style is slightly different. The style’s ranges aren’t exactly the same, and the unique head/stem designs cause them to fit in the rock I use racking biners for each cam to help keep my harness organized, for ease of placement, and to provide the ability to clip it direct.
  • Black Diamond Camalots (C4’s): .3, .4, .5, .75, 1, 2, 3, 4
  • CCH/Fixe Aliens: blue (.1), green (.2), yellow (.3), gray (.4), red (.5)

– My Wishlist: Doubles

Black Diamond X4’s: .1 and .2

Black Diamond C4’s: .75, 1, 2, 3

  • drawsDraws: Typically when I go out climbing I bring around 10 draws. This is usually a combination of quick draws, and alpine draws. These can also be known as extendables, runners, or slings. I may not always carry this many on me while climbing, but it allows me to decide what I need for a given route. Extendables are a great way to help manage rope drag on wandering pitches. Be aware though that each time you extend a draw you are also increasing the distance of a potential lead fall.
    •  – 5 single length alpine draws
    •  – 1 double length alpine draw
    •  – 4 quickdraws
  • Anchor material: It’s important to bring enough anchor material for your given I usually bring two extra lockers (for TR), an extra cordellette (25 ft, 7mm nylon), and my microquad!
    • Microquad: This is my go to for a fast and strong anchor on bolts! Leave it tied, and enjoy the efficiency. Awesome to have on multiple rappel transitions. I made mine with a 12ft loop of Sterling power cord. Remember, clip 2 or 3, not 1 or 4 (strands).

microquadI hope I have been able to help spare some unnecessary purchases, and add insight to what might help you out for a day of cragging. Start with the personal basics, and learn using other people’s gear to find what you like. Remember, you don’t have to go out and buy a whole rack all at once! If you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email at christian@foxmountainguides.com. If you don’t know how all this stuff works, but would like to, seek out qualified instruction instead of learning things the hard way. Book a day, or course here with us at Fox Mountain Guides and Climbing School, we are an AMGA accredited business (we’re all certified!). I would love to help introduce you to the wonderful world that is trad climbing, and the rest of our team would too! (http://foxmountainguides.com/book/)

 

Christian Helger

AMGA Single Pitch Instructor / Apprentice Rock Guide

Jolly, the Extreme Elf

What’s it like being an Elf and working for Santa?”

This is the question that everyone is eager to have answered. Well I hate to burst any bubbles but I’m not actually an elf!!!! Nope, 100% human here. It’s pretty obvious from my height and lack of pointed ears.

“Imposter!!!”

img_2168No, think not. I’m the real deal. I’ve been training Elves with the SPG-E2 for two amazing years! The South Pole Group – Entry and Escape, specialized in contained structures and escape. SPG-E2 deals with all the housing units that don’t have chimney access or common access, such as hotels; apartment buildings; condominiums; and airports. They also specialize in escapes.

“What do you mean escapes?”

Well not everything always goes to plan and sometimes during a package drop, an elf or Santa will require assistance or extraction. I was fortunate to find the South Pole Group, and be offered an instructor position teaching an amazing group of talented jolly people. My past military experience translated into functional methods for entry and extraction as well as the understanding that secrets must be kept at all costs.

“South Pole? Wait. Wait. Wait.”

Yeah, South Pole. The guys at the North Pole do Christmas functions and toy making. The boring stuff – even though it’s what everyone looks forward to. You have to have seen the movies where the elves had technology and were conducting missions????

That’s the South Pole Group! I train those guys.

elfAnd this year I was lucky enough to be asked to return to Chimney Rock State Park to accompany Santa himself in a rappelling exercise to build Christmas spirit and practice Chimney entry with Santa!

Fox Mountain Guides was kind enough to provide us with some non-magical climbing equipment to train with. They also gave me a couple coupons redeemable for climbing with one of their outstanding guides. We will be giving those away this upcoming December 10th 2016 at Chimney Rock State Park!

Hope to see you out there!

Sgt Mike (Jolly) McClarty

Senior Training Staff

SPG-E2

More Tools, Fewer Rules

It is easy to have an idea that is “black and white.”  Concepts are easily digestible when there are rules to abide by.

“ALWAYS do it THIS way! NEVER do it THAT way!”

This is especially true given the mortal danger that is inherent in mountain sports. Rules often represent security to us thereby allowing us to relax a bit and enjoy the dance of climbing. These rules however, are concrete and we are not likely to rearrange or adapt them with changing contexts. Principles, however, can be sorted in different ways and allow us some flexibility when the environment throws us a curve ball. I tend to recommend a PRINCIPLE-based approach to climbing instead of one dominated by RULES.

There is a good reason why we learn anchoring fundamentals with acronyms such as NERDSS or ERNEST. They are systems of principles that should be met, and not a formula or prescribed method for the perfect anchor in all situations. The real world is not a laboratory, and no two environments are congruent. If you are only climbing single pitch routes using a sling shot top rope system, you will likely use a well built anchor on two bolts, trees ,or multiple well placed traditional protection pieces with two opposite and opposed locking carabiners at a masterpoint. It is then going to feel very weird when we go climbing together on a long multi-pitch route, and I tell you that we are going to shorten up our rope, walk together in this exposed 4th class terrain, and my hand and body posture are going to keep us attached to the mountain.

karsten_short_roping_on_the_no508What changed? Arguably, it would seem that there are greater risks at foot here, so why not implement a more robust system like we do when we go top roping at the local crag or pitch it out as we have for the last 1,000ft?   Are you with a trained and/or certified guide? This is a tool common among guides in this scenario and is not one usually learned or practiced by someone who mainly climbs recreationally. I may trust someone who has at least taken a course a bit more, but one must be aware this is a guiding technique requiring a lot of experience and a high degree of consideration. Second, if you pitch out 600ft of exposed 3rd and 4th class terrain all the time on a 2,000ft+ route, you are looking at a long day and possibly night out.

 

This is not to say that there are not times to pitch out exposed 4th class terrain, but as one gains experience in this type of context, the ability to pick the safest and most efficient tool for the job will grow. This can only come with time and is not something that should be taken lightly. Use what you know even if it means missing dinner! Just avoid the knee-jerk reaction to judge someone else’s less conservative approach when you see them implementing it. They perhaps have a greater amount of experience and therefore can use a more liberal system with a greater margin of safety.

 

I have often said: “I ALWAYS find that ‘NEVER’ and ‘ALWAYS’,  NEVER happen.”

codyblog-3Meaning that there simply cannot be hard and fast rules in such a dynamic activity. While we can live comfortably abiding by specifics in a given context (sport climbing, for example) they will not always transfer when we mix the bag and go try something as nebulous as alpine rock climbing. We must adapt and use the right tool for the job.

Belaying is another element of climbing that often succumbs to rule based approaches rather than taking the task on with principles.   Take the method Pull-Break-Under-Slide (PBUS) for example… I often see this taught as omnipotent dogma rather than, simply, a good tool to teach a novice with. If you see someone using a technique other than this while belaying, it is not necessarily wrong or risky. It may be that they need a different technique for the task they are tending to. As long as these three principles are adhered to, a belay system can be sufficient.

First, we always keep our brake hands on the rope. Second, we only slide our hands when the rope is in the braking position. Finally, we must always position our hands according to our natural strength. A myriad of methods for moving rope through a belay system have been used over time with great success while meeting these principles. Someone’s seemingly foreign technique is not inherently wrong, assuming it matches the context and the tool while following these three principles.

A proper body (hip) belay is perfectly suitable for belaying someone up a short section of 4th or low 5th class terrain. Likewise, the “hand over hand” method while top rope belaying a very fast moving climber is perfectly acceptable providing the hand transitions are done in the braking plane of the belay device being used. The user should also have conceptual knowledge of why they are using this technique over others.

How to protect a pitch; when to use a backup or extension on a rappel; what kind of belay technique or device to use; when to lower vs. rappel a single pitch route; what rappel knot to use… these are questions we must ask ourselves and weigh on a spectrum. Our solutions must ebb and flow with the circumstance. I will likely protect a pitch more conservatively if it is wet, I am tired, in a bad mental state, etc than if conditions are ideal or optimal. Saying that a pitch must ALWAYS be protected THIS way or that THAT knot should NEVER be used is quite fallible at best and can be dangerous at worst. While individuals should and will likely be more conservative when starting out, we should empower those individuals and ourselves to question and experiment with new methods and knowledge providing it meets safe, fundamental principles and they are discussed through the filter of professionals.

codyblog-2Ultimately, many of us feel that part of the allure of climbing is the freedom. We are responsible for our own decisions and must solve the kinesthetic math problem with the ultimate solution being safe and efficient success. You’re the boss of your own world, and that is truly rewarding. It then seems counterintuitive to shackle ourselves to steadfast rules when simply carrying principles with us to each new experience can open us up to greater rewards.

Of course, none of this matters if we are not making safe decisions and going home healthy at the end of a climbing experience.

When learning a new tool, it should be experimented with in a safe, inconsequential environment and discussed with a mountain professional before being implemented in the real world.

Remember; ALWAYS be safe and have fun!

Cody Bradford, AMGA Single Pitch Instructor & Assistant Rock Guide

The Flat Overhand, Not the EDK…

There has been much controversy over the flat overhand knot, otherwise know as EDK (Euro Death Knot) for rappelling in the media lately. Much of the controversy has to do with the “rolling” of the knot, and most of the time it is actually the flat figure eight that everyone is talking about. I have recently even seen the flat figure eight called the other version of the EDK, and now there is an article called “A Better EDK.” These of course are published by well-known American climbing magazines.

So lets first get the names of the knots correct.

This is the Flat Overhand:

img_6991

This is the Flat Figure Eight:

img_6992

This is the EDK:

 

Notice there is no picture…

Because we should stop calling any knot a Euro Death Knot, but if you must, use that term to describe the flat figure eight knot.

This is the knot being referred to as a “A better EDK”:

img_6994

It is really easy for me to give you instances of when and when not to use these knots for the weekend warrior climber.

Flat Figure 8 should be used, never.

“A better EDK,”  never.

 

Use a flat overhand when rappelling.

 

Since we only should be using one of these knots, let’s talk about the properties of a properly tied Flat Overhand.

Arm-length tails.

Well dressed.

Pulled every strand to tighten.

 

Times we might choose to use a different knot or back up with a second overhand:

-Greatly differing diameters of rope.

-Wet rope.

-One really new rope and one really old rope.

-Icy Ropes.

-Any combination of the above.

 

Remember to put knots at the ends of your rope!

Happy rappelling!

 

Karsten Delap

AMGA Certified Rock and Alpine Guide