Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Excuses... failing or bailing on routes

I have bailed on 2 major routes in the last year. How does my decision process work when I throw in the towel on a route?

I would bail if a member of the team was injured due to accident, falling, cold, objective hazards, etc.

I would bail if there was an unexpectedly high risk of injury due to conditions being sub-optimal. I would not bail if conditions/hazards were as expected.

I would bail if there was no foreseeable chance of succeeding on the route. I would bail if there was little to be gained by continuing further, with a further risk of injury, with no potential for success. Come back and climb another day.

I think there are 3 factors which determine your success on any route:
1. Preparation and training
2. Equipment
3. Objective factors

If you train hard, come well prepared, and have the best gear, then 1 and 2 are poor excuses for failing. You shouldn't show up at a climb hoping you get lucky that it's easier than expected. That being said, you learn more from failing than succeeding. Sometimes it takes a few attempts at a route to get 1 and 2 right.

Example 1:
North Face of Mt. Terror - Picket Range, North Cascades Washington
Primary reason: The day before our best summit day we had pouring rain. On summit day it was white-out conditions. This slowed down our approach from immensely. 
Secondary reasons: We carried too much stuff. We should have woken up earlier on summit day. We also could have trained more.

Example 2:
Ciley-Barber Route - Mt. Katahdin, Baxter State Park Maine
Primary reason: Route had much more ice than normal because of low levels of snow. This made us too slow on route, we belayed sections we shouldn't need to. We should have soloed all the easier sections. We need to walk in there with every team member comfortable with that.
Secondary reason: We carried too much stuff. We should have woken up earlier on summit day. We also could have trained more.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Black Forest Trail


The Black Forest Trail is a 42.5 mile hiking loop in the Tiadaghton State Forest. The trail had been on my radar and I was waiting for the perfect opportunity to hike it.  According to the Keystone Trails Association the BFT “may be the most challenging and rewarding backpacking resource in Pennsylvania”. I found a remote quality to the area where the only sounds were wildlife and the many waterfalls. The guidebook is called “The Black Forest Trail – A Backpacker’s Interpretive Guide” by Chuck Dillon. In it the author states “the BFT is not a novice trail – there are demanding ascents and descents, challenging stream crossings… and rocky, rough sections that will test the quality of your hiking boots.


I left Pittsburgh in a steady light rain and encountered similar wet weather on most of the 3 1/2 hour drive up to Slate Run. Luckily it was not raining when I pulled into the trailhead, and stayed dry for the rest of the day. As chance had it I was starting at about the same time as someone else, an enigmatic former Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who called himself Arrowhead.


The first stream crossing was about 1 mile into the hike, and it was a big one. I got there just in time to see Arrowhead wading through. I walked up and down the stream and decided there was only one way across. With my boots off and my hiking poles ready I started wading across the slippery rocks. Soon I was in up to my chest and I almost lost my balance and got swept down.  I decided to back out, and I found a different crossing which was only as deep as my waist. Once on the other side I chatted with Arrowhead about the trail. He broke out the pipe and herb and I decided to hike on. The trail climbed 1500 feet up a rocky ridge passing many viewpoints. At some point Arrowhead caught up to me and we hiked together for awhile and I got many funny thru-hiking stories. I set up my tarp after about 10 miles at a clearing near a small stream.


The second day had me following a stream down into a ravine for many miles.  The only problem was that the trail kept switching which side of the stream it wanted to be on.  There was maybe 20+ stream crossings, each of which involved some serious rock hopping.  I was glad when the trail turned uphill.  Later on I hiked through some wetland alpine areas which were very similar to Dolly Sods.  The wildflowers were all out giving the green and black forest little spots of color. I ended up camping near a nice waterfall that evening and getting into my bag while there was still a little light out.


On day 3 I hiked out under a dense canopy of Hemlock trees that blocked out the sunlight, giving the trail its name.  The temperature had dropped overnight and I experienced some flurries and hail. The trail ended up followed a valley out and there were many cascading waterfalls. At this point the forest was all huge pine trees and the floor was well carpeted with soft needles.


I love backpacking because out on the trail, there is not much else besides the trail. I stopped each day when I didn’t feel like hiking anymore, and didn’t wake up to an alarm. The BFT is a beautiful trail which is the equal of any in Allegheny or Monongahela National Forest. The BFT is crisscrossed by a number of side trails and roads making it possible to do a loop hike of almost any length. Campsites and water are everywhere along the trail. There are more views than I could count. I am definitely coming back, maybe in October?


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nice Trick! How to extend an anchor so you can see your second.


This is ONE way to do it with a Munter Hitch.  Caution: this is not a beginner technique.  Climbing is dangerous.


The top of the first pitch of Old Man’s Route, Seneca Rocks.

Situation: You have just led a climb and are on a big belay ledge.  There are some nice cracks to build an anchor at the back of the ledge, but if you belay from that location there will be no line of sight with your second.

1. Go to the anchor location and build your bomber, redundant, multi-directional belay anchor. 

2. Clip a large locking carabiner to the master point and clip the rope into that with a Munter hitch.

3. The rope should now lead from your harness, to a munter hitch at the belay anchor, and then down to the other climber.  If you grab the rope leading down to the other climber, you can effectively lower yourself using the Munter hitch as a brake to a spot where you can see and hear your second.

4. Grab both strands of the rope and tie an overhand on a bight with BOTH strands of rope.  This new loop will be your lower anchor point.

5. Use an ATC Guide or similar device to belay the second directly from the LOWER anchor point.

6. When the second reaches you, DO NOT TAKE THEM OFF BELAY.  Tie an overhand knot in the brake strand to go hands free.

7. Now is the fun part.  Grab either of the ropes above the overhand on a bight that lead to the master point, you can belay yourself and your second up to the master point with it simultaneously using the old munter hitch!!!  Yeah!!!

8. Now both of you anchor into the master point and you’re free to remove the belay device, remove the overhand on a bight, remove the munter hitch, and organize the rope.

Wow that was confusing!  Sorry I don’t have more pictures. If you have any questions about this setup or want to practice it with me send me a message.  This is not a beginner technique.  Most beginners would be better off just dealing without the line of sight.  However, if you can understand when this technique is helpful, and you can reproduce it quickly and accurately, you should use it.

It took me a long time of climbing and some AMGA training to realize the importance of seeing and hearing your second.  This is particularly true with an inexperienced second or if you’re climbing with someone who is at their difficulty limit. 

Local ice, it’s real nice!

There is really not much better than waking up at a nice leisurely hour, getting some good climbs in, and being back home in time for dinner.  In the past week I got out to some local areas around Pittsburgh twice.  Considering there was no local ice last year at all, this was pretty amazing.  When the weather is solidly cold there are probably 100+ ice climbs within an hours drive of Pittsburgh.  They range from 15-50 feet, roadside to backwoods, private and public lands.  Keep an eye out all year for wet cliffs and come back to check on them when the weather turns cold.  You can easily save yourself a 9 hour drive.