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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rainier Climbing Clothing

Rainier is the big one of North American Mountaineering. Nearly every highly regarded climber in the US has cut their teeth on it. Has tested themselves first on Rainier. It's roughly 9,000' high. About half or more of that is on snow and ice, much of it glaciated. In addition to navigating crevasses, you have to cross really crappy rock and gravel bands in crampons (in the dark, uphill, with a headwind, in a blizzard as Grandpa always said about school).

Normally, you would have special equipment, either purchased or rented just for this climb. If you know yourself, and your equipment needs, and have committed to a future of doing mountaineering, considered by many to be merely insane or even socially detrimental, then purchase is a good option with many long term benefits. If you have any doubt at all, then you really should rent.

You can rent almost every single last bit of gear and clothing, including long underwear at one of the many REI's in the greater Seattle area (if you go to their website, store locator, and click on the little map icon for Washington, you can find their stores, then go from there to the Rent Gear page where you can get a list of items available at each store - the list sucks a bit, Mountaineering Gear is as close as you can get, and I never called one to find out what that means). Feathered Friends and Second Ascents may be good options as well. Alpine Ascents has their office in Seattle, but International Mountain Guides and Rainier Mountaineering Inc. have stores and rental offices in Ashford (the last small town before Paradise in Rainier National Park).

If you are a backcountry skier you probably have much of the required gear, and in fact, you might be able to make your AT boots work. I've seen many guides climb it in Scarpa Denali's. If you are a serious skier you might have some of the basics. If you aren't so serious about winter sports (or your idea of winter sports includes firearms and/or small gas motors), you'll probably need a lot of stuff.

From Liberty Ridge Rainier 2009


Starting from the inside and working out:

Undies: some people wear them and some don't - underwear by Patagonia, REI, Smartwool seem to be the best overall. Some of the sports underwear are meant for moisture transport while running, which you won't be doing. Those will get soggy and you'll lose heat too fast. Same for cotton, heavy wool, wool/poly blends, multi-layered, etc. Don't do it. You'll need one. You won't be changing.

Bra: IF you need one, again, be cautious of those that trap moisture because they're designed to have a constant 10 mph breeze as you run in them. One. No changing.

Base Layer: fancy word for Long Underwear. This is the root of your clothing system. Most manufacturers make three variations. Thin, Medium, Thick, sometimes with fancy names like Cap2, or Expedition, or 260g or whatever. Simple enough to figure out. You will need one for the top, and one for the bottom. I myself think even the thinnest wool from Smartwool is too thick and traps too much moisture for a multiday trip, but ymmv. Wool smells better overall after several days, but some of the others aren't too bad. Unfortunately they vary depending on your body chemistry and you don't know till you try. You won't be changing these either. Some people like turtlenecks, and some like zip mock turtles. Make sure the fly is useful for you - some are skimpy or in odd places, depending on your anatomy. If you're a girl who will be using a pee funnel, you might have to use men's bottoms.

Mid-layer Top: A second base layer, though it's not a base layer if something is under it? A mid-weight baselayer, expedition weight baselayer or very thin softshell or wind shirt are all common for this application. If you don't know, you may be happiest in a PolarPro fleece designed for running. My personal preference used to be a wind shirt but I've been using The North Face Apex Bionic softshell for almost a year now. It's thin, light, zips for ventilation, is about 80% wind and waterproof, and breathes better than most fleece imho. In mild weather I can wear it for my outer layer.

Softshell Top: Your main outerwear top. A mid-weight softshell like the Marmot Sharppoint, Mountain Hardwear Alchemy, or Arcteryx Gamma series. Abrasion resistance, breatheability, water resistance, wind resistance, and warmth are all features to keep in mind. The North Face and a few others also make good choices. Go try some on. Remember, you will be wearing this over everything above probably all the time, so make sure it is big enough and that you can move freely.

Softshell Bottom: Abrasion resistance, freedom of movement, warmth, water and wind resistance. You will be wearing this the whole time. I have a pair of Cloudveil ice climbing pants I wear a lot, a pair of Mountain Hardwear Syncro I wear sometimes, and a pair of TNF Apex Bionic Bibs (no longer made) that I absolutely love. Make sure the fly works for you with all the above on (and with a harness on if you can) and if you're a girl using a funnel. Some features that are love it or hate it, are moon drop seats, zippers that go from front to back, various ankle closures that can take the place of gaiters (if you don't know I won't be teaching you now - stick to gaiters if you're a beginner). Ski pants suck - the ankles are too big and you'll trip over them with your crampons. Crampon patches are normal on pants meant for this use - you WILL poke holes in your pants. It's a war wound. It shows you really do walk around in crampons. Yes, you paid $400 for your pants. Oh, well. Duct Tape.

Goretex Pants: This isn't the place for experimenting if you're a beginner. Goretex is the standard (but completely equivalent membranes can work too so long as they are as durable). It needs to go over everything above. You will most likely keep it in your pack the whole time and only put it on when the wind picks up or it starts snowing or raining bad. Hence, you will need to be able to put them on, with a harness, with crampons, in a windstorm/blizzard. Full length or 80% side zippers help. Make sure you can actually put them on in the store. I've seen lots of people show up and not be able to put their own pants on because they never did it and don't know the trick of lining up the zippers.

Goretex Jacket: See goretex note above. It needs to go over everything above. Some people also like them to go over their parka, see below. Keep that in mind when sizing. Since goretex is neither waterproof nor breathable (that's a little bit of a joke I picked up in Alaska) you want to make sure that your pit zips are good enough, and that you can operate them in a blizzard, etc. with mittens on. I have a jacket that has a hood that zips up into the collar. I should keep it there because it's annoying to me anyway. You probably don't want that, so make sure the hood is sufficient to cover your helmet and provide visibility. You'd be surprised at the expedition goretex out there that doesn't work right with helmets. Same for "Ski Jackets". You don't want a lot of extra crap, like pockets - you won't be using any pockets in a blizzard. Trust me. You also hope it never comes out of your pack.

Puffy Jacket: Your main survival outer layer. Down or synthetic? How thick? For Rainier, most people can make do with whatever, your life doesn't really depend on it like in Alaska. Patagonia DAS Parka, OR Chaos are great synthetic. The standard down jacket is the Mountain Hardwear Subzero Parka, but I think I'd rather have the Mont Bell down parka - better baffles and down. Lighter. You will pop this on and off at every rest, at camp, and as you near the summit. It will get a lot of wear and tear, wadding it up in your pack.

Gloves: Get a system unless you know yourself well enough. OR, MH, Black Diamond, all make good systems. A system is a liner and shell integrated so you can use any combination to make three separate gloves. Wear the liner in camp or when it's warm. Wear the outer when it's colder or windier and maybe wetter. Wear them both when it's colder and windier still. Most of these come with "moron straps" use them correctly. Ask someone (but not at an REI, they most likely don't know) how to use them to prevent glove loss. Some people like an extra liner pair - you can get something a bit thicker, or with a patch of rubber for better climbing ability, and make sure they also fit the outer shell if you like. You will most likely be doing a lot of equipment things with your hands, so a slippery palm/finger area sucks.

Mittens: The gear lists suggest a pair of very big and heavy mittens on the summit. I've never used them. Most people I know have never used them. But then divide the weight and price by 10 fingers. I've used heat packs before but didn't like them. Maybe I've never been high enough or cold enough when I've had them. Your call, but if it's your first time, do it just to be safe.

Socks: Sure, wear socks. What most experienced people I've talked to that were in love with their boots do is buy boots that fit. Then fill them with socks. Simple. But for the rest of us/you, get the thick expedition weight socks. Pile or loop, wool or wool blend, but not the ragg wool. Ragg wool will never dry out in your sleeping bag at night. Acrylic hunting socks don't work good either. Most ski socks will be too thin, and since they aren't meant to be walked in, might bunch up from friction and cause pain. You probably want to have at least two pair, so you can be drying one with body heat while the other is on your feet. Some people have a "sacred summit socks" pair that they only put on for summit day. For a three day trip that seems excessive.

Hats: Generally, a wool or wool blend hat that fits under your helmet is best. Some lists put in a separate balaclava. Synthetic balaclavas work good, but like socks, ragg wool is out. Some people bring just the hat and then a buff to double as the balaclava, but they're often not as wind resistant. I prefer a thinner lighter polyester hat and a buff, but that's just me. YMMV.

That's it for clothing. Really.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rainier Beginner Logistics Guide

Rainier is the classic test of North American Mountaineering. You need to do it before you go any further.

If you've never done it before, there are really only two standard routes. Disappointment Cleaver and Emmons Glacier. Emmons is longer, with more vertical on summit day, but not quite as steep. It's also a bit more remote and offers a better wilderness experience, since the Park Service keeps the number of overnight campers along the route fewer than along the DC route.

The DC route, being more popular (a few thousand people a year try it) is also better marked and maintained, often with all the crevasses and bridges over them very well wanded (the little 3' flags), and in those few spots where you go along or over rock there are sometimes fixed ropes. Sometimes even in a whiteout you can just stay in the trench that hundreds of feet made along the path in the previous 24 hours.

There are a few other seasonally "easy" routes, such as Gib Ledges and Ingraham Direct, both of which are in condition early in the season - April or May even, and then as quickly out of condition. If you are an experienced Ice or Steep Snow climber, the Kautz or Fuhrer Finger routes can be fun in May or June.

The route you select determines a lot. Emmons is entered from the White River entrance, and a long but pretty hike with not a great deal of serious steep vertical leads to Camp Shurman, at 9,500', where you'll find a relatively nice toilet, barrels to dump your blue bags (on Rainier, if you aren't using an authorized toilet, you have to do your more solid business into a blue plastic bag and haul it with you - it's not as hard as it sounds) and about 30 tent spaces relatively sheltered from the wind. From here on summit day, you'll ascend through the crevasses along a path called "The Corridor", pass the bergschrund (the large crevasse at the top of the glacier - sometimes amazingly deep and wide and far across with the narrowest and winding bridge across of firm snow) at around 13,000', then angle back to the summit, Columbia Crest, at 14,411'.

The DC route leaves from the Paradise Lodge parking lot at 5,500' and goes up to Camp Muir at 10,000', a steep climb in a short distance. From Camp Muir, on summit day, you climb up through Cathedral Gap to the Ingraham Glacier, over to Disappointment Cleaver (a large and crappy rock feature). Depending on the time of year, you would go up along the cleaver, or along one side and up to the Emmons Glacier for the hike to the volcano crater rim, where you finish by hiking about a half mile to the summit.

If you're going to camp anywhere on the mountain, you'll need a wilderness camping permit (specifying dates and campsites), available online, in the mail, or from a couple of the ranger stations. If you're going above either Muir or Shurman, you'll need a climbing permit (unlimited use for the year in which you buy it) available as above. Guiding companies normally take care of this for you (so it's only significant if you're not using one).

Important skills to have include walking comfortably in crampons. In the dark. On ice and snow. On crappy gravel mud and rock. If you're in really good shape and have good balance and coordination you can figure this out on the fly, but I've seen V4 climbers break down in tears at walking on 4th class terrain in crampons. Rope management is essential - part of the safety system is to keep the rope a certain level of tight. This keeps your falls below a Fall Factor 1. Way below. You have to walk the right speed to do this, while watching your footing, while keeping your ice axe in the right hand, pointing the right way, while breathing thin air. In the dark. Uphill in a headwind. Yeah.

Self-arrest is important as well. The ability to stop your own slide from a number of angles is helpful. Stopping a ropemate's fall or slide is normally done only one direction and on purpose - not as tough to learn.

Climbing a rope using a prusik knot ascension system is helpful, though with a guided group there will always be a few handy guides to haul you out. The myth is that you can't go anywhere on Rainier where you can throw a dead cat without hitting a guide. Keep that in mind - always bring a dead cat in case you fall into a crevasse.

Most guided groups will take time out either before or during the basecamp stay to give a quick course in these skills, but it's probably a good idea to pick up whatever you can however you can beforehand - you can't know too much unless you try to "share" it with someone who doesn't really want to know how smart you are.

As far as equipment, Wal-Mart is pretty much out. I've had some sad team-mates before who tried that route with potentially life-threatening results. You'll need special clothes, special boots, special equipment. Most of this stuff can be rented in Ashford Washington, where two of the three guide companies authorized to guide on Rainier keep their headquarters. Otherwise several good stores in Seattle rent as well.

If you balk at the price of the boots and gloves, remember to divide it by ten for your "dollars per toe" figure to compare it to the long-term cost of amputation. If you go to the guide company sites you'll find really good equipment lists based on the average climber. If you really know yourself at altitude in the cold, in a storm, then do your own thing, otherwise, sticking to the lists is the safest course of action.

If you're going with one of the guided groups, that's about it. If you're going up on your own (in which case you're obviously wasting your time reading this since it's way too basic for someone as cool as you) or with a friend or whatever, besides the above gear, you'll also need to consider food, tents, and cooking equipment and fuel, since the guide companies normally take care of that.

Anyway, that's a good first thought logistics guide for Rainier.

Harry Potter and Taekwondo

Interesting combination.

A long time ago, I used to teach an obscure little martial art that no normal person was really very interested in, though I had a following of about a dozen devoted non-normal people back in the day in Kansas City. When I came to Utah the realities of owning a business meant I had to give that up, in case anyone is interested and meaning to ask (other than a few of the non-normal people I'm still in contact with that is).

Anyway, one oddity among potentially non-normal people who came to visit me to find out what I was made of, or how tough I was, or how skilled, or how smart or whatever, was that they would start ripping on Taekwondo and other 20th century martial arts.

1) it's not really a martial art
2) it's not authentic, but is rather made up in response to Karate, itself made up blah blah
3) they're just in it for the money
4) it's contest stuff and doesn't work

etc. etc. etc.

I never really wanted to argue any points that were in fact rather obvious, but I did say this:

"I respect Taekwondo immensely. They make tons of money. Have millions of fervent adherents. Are everywhere you look."

How can you argue with that?

It would be like ripping on Harry Potter, and you know what? I say the same thing.

Tons of money (for bookstore owners as well as whats'er'face).
Millions of readers.
Everywhere saturating society.

Anyway, all the respect in the world to all of them, Harry, Edward, Sookie, etc. etc.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Red Rock Draper Climbing Evening

Last night we headed up after work to the Draper Red Rock to do some climbing. Angie took the Vaude pack she's planning on taking to Fuji, and I took mine as well. I wore my Keen hikers to test them out (have had them for 2 years but have only mowed the lawn in them - lol), and she took her La Sportiva trail shoes.

Dallin and Brennan wore backpacks with toys and snacks. Tan just wandered along picking leaves and smelling dusty flowers. It was pretty hot, so we had it all to ourselves for most of the evening.

Angie wasn't feeling like climbing from her various injuries, and none of the kids felt like climbing tonight, so I decided to get in some lead time.

I led the 5.6 on the far left "Baby Teeth", then the 5.7 next to it "Facial Fracture". I enjoyed both, and Angie said I looked good on my feet, much better than last year. While I rested up some I switched from my Acopa Aztecs to my La Sportiva Solutions I got a couple years ago and never quite fit into right until this past few months. My Miura VS have taught me a lot about fitting shoes, as well as some great advice from Adam at Mountainworks in Provo at the Quarry.

At that same time a family with kids about the same ages as ours showed up, so I gave them that section of wall so they could toprope their kids, and we moved over to the other section to the West.

I went up "Liken Z' Planus" which says 5.6 on the plaque, but Mountainproject.com has it at 5.7 by consensus. I have done it before, but not strict. This time I went straight up the hanger line, which gets a bit hairy at the last bolt before the huge mantle. I stemmed way out, with my toe on a really tiny edge, and my left hand on a 2-finger crimper, and my right on a slopey sidepull. I managed to stick it to get my right foot on a huge steep sloper, and then clip right at my chest. It was my scariest clip yet. Felt more like a couple 5.8 moves. I think if you go over to the left up the arete or to the right up the crack it's 5.7 or less.

I then mantled and decided that was the top - the last wandering bit of route shared with a few others is just 3rd/4th class and is really meaningless climbing. so I leaned over to the top of Shark Teeth and clipped that anchor.

Lowering sucked, since it was off-angle, but I clipped a draw on so I could follow the rope down, but had to clip to an anchor for a bit while Angie repositioned, since the other angle was pulling her downhill.

At the bottom I tinkered with the idea of doing Shark Teeth, a 5.6 next to it, but decided I was tired and another day. Later I discovered MP had it at 5.7+ and sucky, so probably for the best.

So overall, three good leads, a few scary moments, a bit of stress, and some cool moves. It's great to be on the sharp end again. There's nothing like looking down at the rope in your anchor 5' below you, and 5' below that sharp rocks, as you reach over your head for a small hold, and put your foot up by your navel on a little pocket of rock and stand up on it. Oh, yeah.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Liberty Ridge Epic Pictures up at Picasa

Pictures Up Now Click Here

Got the pics up. Some are captioned - enough to help you figure out days/times etc.

It was so amazing and I'm still recovering. Not too bad. Numb toes, tingly fingers, eating like a pig and not gaining weight. Got below 190 lb (which is totally cool). Getting back into working out slowly - did cardio two days in a row now, but not strong enough feeling for weights yet.

Thanks Ann, Claudio for being great team mates. Thanks Jeff and Mark for being great guides. Thanks Eric and Josh for coming up to show us the way home at great risk to yourselves.

Thanks Angie for putting up with, supporting, and believing in me. Thanks George for managing this whole thing.