Chicks Tech Tip: Using the Rope to Connect the Climber to the Anchor

In recent years, the use of a PAS (Personal Anchoring System) has become quite common among rock climbers. A PAS is practical in situations where the ends of the climbing rope are not available because they are being used, for example, to set up a rappel, or when the climber wants to thread the rope through a fixed anchor and then be lowered to the ground.

In other situations it makes more sense to use the rope itself to secure a climber to an anchor. This system is most common when climbing up a sequence of linked pitched such as in the alpine or on a multi-pitch rock climb. The climber ties her rope into a clove hitch just beyond her tie-in and attaches it to the anchor with a locking carabiner.

Using the rope to anchor in directly is very simple and efficient. The only gear necessary is a locking carabiner. Another advantage: the system is very shock-absorbent because the rope itself is stretchy, and the hitch can also disperse energy by tightening when loaded.

Here’s how to do it:

1.) You’re already tied into the end of the rope with a figure eight follow-through.

2.) Clip a locking carabiner to the masterpoint (also often called the Powerpoint) of your anchor, with the gate facing outwards.  (AKA clip and flip)

3.) Reach down the rope, give it a half twist, drop it into the locker, and repeat the same motion to drop another half twist into the locker; due to this motion, this method is called the handshake clove hitch.

4.) Lock the carabiner and you’re off belay.

Tips:

The clove hitch is adjustable – you can change the distance between your tie-in and the anchor by feeding rope in or out of the hitch.

Keep the length of your attachment snug enough so that you can weight the anchor comfortably – a constant but low load on the anchor is preferable to accidentally shock-loading the anchor by having slack in your leash.

The Masterpoint can be found at the bottom of two equalized and non-extending pieces of gear. In this photo, the climber has tied a clovehitch then attached it to a locking carabiner at the Masterpoint. ©Angela Hawse

How to be the World’s Greatest Climbing Partner

Diane Mielcarz and Olga Lopatina belay during 2017 Chicks Maple Canyon Clinic, Utah © Louis Arvevalo

Diane Mielcarz and Olga Lopatina belay during the Chicks Maple Canyon Clinic, Utah. © Louis Arvevalo

I’m often asked, “How can I get outside and climb more?”

Many women feel limited by a lack of climbing partners. It’s intimidating to make climbing plans with someone you’ve just met.

Tackle this problem by becoming the world’s greatest climbing partner.

Here’s the truth: all the other person wants to do is get out and climb more too.

So, if you’re an asset to their climbing, you’ll be well on your way to climbing to your heart’s content.

But what does being the world’s greatest climbing partner mean exactly?

The world’s greatest climbing partner is competent, psyched and able to perform a wide range of technical skills. The world’s greatest climbing partner can shoulder the responsibility of a day at the crag.

Here are 5 tips to get you on your way:

1. Be an Ace Route Caddy

Just like golfers need someone to help them call the shots, your climbing partner needs you to be proactive and useful.

If your partner is going to lead, then get things ready for them to simply shoe up and tie in. Prep the rope by flaking it out and tying a stopper knot in the end. Stick-clip the first bolt. Do a draw count or gear assessment to make sure she has everything she needs. And, once she’s back on the ground, pull the rope so it’s ready for the next person to top rope.

If the route is a top rope, make a plan to set it up from the top.

2. Know How to Clean an Anchor

This will help keep the climbing train rolling and you’ll get more pitches in.

Remember, the leader bears the burden of getting the rope up. This is hard enough. Taking the rope down shouldn’t rest on their shoulders too.

Don’t forget to communicate your plan. How will you clean the anchor and get back down. Will you lower or rappel?

3. Be Positive, Try Hard and Don’t Make Excuses

We all have bad days. Keep your excuses to yourself. No one wants to read that book.

4. Don’t Bail

If you make climbing plans, keep them. Life happens but there’s nothing worse than a climbing partner who bails, especially on short notice. If bailing is unavoidable, notify your partner ASAP and help them find a replacement partner.

5. Be the Best Belayer You Can Be

Give your climber your undivided attention. Don’t chat up others when belaying. It’s distracting and can compromise safety.

Know how to give a soft catch.

Don’t spray the climber down with beta (unless they ask for it).

Do offer words of encouragement (but not too loudly).

Do remind her to breathe.

Finally, if you’re still not comfortable approaching strangers to make climbing plans, try connecting with partners through the Chicks Alumni Facebook group, “Friends of Chicks Climbing & Skiing.”

It should give you confidence knowing that everyone in the group has received the same high level of instruction and should be on the same page with climbing best practices.

See you at the Crag!

Safety Memo: Keep It Tight!

Dawn Glanc demonstrates how to safely clean an anchor. "Be sure to double-check yourself anytime you move from one system to the next."

Dawn Glanc demonstrates how to safely clean an anchor. “Be sure to double-check yourself anytime you move from one system to the next.”

We care about you.

Please keep it tight!

It’s easy to feel over-eager on your first few rock-climbing outings of the season. Stoke could obscure the fact that you are rusty. Over the winter, your skills and finger strength may have faded.

Here are five reminders for a safe and excellent rock-climbing season:

Perform a Quick Belay Test

If you and your partner are new to climbing together, be sure they will belay you as you like. No one outside at the crag is checking for belay cards or competency. It is up to you to be sure your belayer can do their job.

Share your Plan

If you plan to “clean” the anchor, have a conversation with your belayer about your intentions before leaving the ground. Be sure the plan and the commands are clear to avoid any problems.

Limit Chatter

When climbing action is happening, limit your conversation. Unnecessary dialogue may confuse a situation. Be respectful that constant yammering can be very distracting to others.

Double-Check

ALWAYS double-check your systems. Have a systematic way of moving from one system to the next. I recommend keeping the first system weighted and clipped until you have visual confirmation that the new system is in place. Once you have confirmed the new system, then detach from the old. Most importantly, don’t rush!

Review on the Ground

If you have any questions about a skill, be sure to review all the relevant information on the ground. Dangling 100 feet up in the air is no time to ask for clarity.

Thin Skin Thick Skin

Zim's Crack Creme is fingertip bliss

Fingertip Bliss!

I just got back from my first rock-climbing trip of the year.

It was great to feel the warm, dry rock, even though it was ROUGH on my skin.

This is normal. The first climbing outing of the year always feels particularly hard. It takes some climbing time for my skin to toughen up, for the pads of my fingertips to get thicker, and for calluses to form in high-wear spots.

But, this year I had an advantage.

This year I used Zim’s Crack Crème.

Here is what I found:

  1. Zim’s helped my skin last longer on the first days out climbing
  2. Zim’s helped my skin heal and repair itself faster.

I started applying Zim’s Crack Crème before I headed out to climb.

This allowed my skin to absorb the crème before my fingertips touched the rock and got covered in chalk.

I was able to stay out all day. Even on the sharp limestone of Lander, Wyoming, I never thought, “Ouch, I don’t wanna touch the rock anymore.”

After climbing, I washed the irritating chalk, aluminum residue from the climbing equipment and fine-ground dirt, off my hands.

And, I applied another generous layer of Zim’s.

The rich formula soothed my skin, but did not leave me with sticky fingers. I can’t stand sticky fingers!

The all-natural ingredients include Anrica flower extract and Myrcia oil, which are great homeopathic remedies for their anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.

I noticed that small, damaged areas of skin around my knuckles and fingernails started healing before cracks developed.

High-wear areas such as the crease between my thumb and index finger stayed soft, yet durable.

Zim’s crack cream allowed me to climb for a few days in a row right after a long winter of skiing.

Yeah, my fingers, hands, and shoulders are sore, but my skin remained tough – Thanks, Zim’s!

Caution! Wet Rock

Spring showers and summer thunderstorms bring a common dilemma: How soon afterwards is it OK to climb?

A few weeks ago, during our Indian Creek Clinic, it rained hard for a couple of hours. The rain began at 8pm and was followed by a strong wind.

Climbing the next afternoon remained a possibility.

Then it rained hard again at 3am for an hour.

Climbing the next day was out.

Instead, we went to a less-travelled area and spent the day working on gear and systems at the base.

Later, back at our cars, we found a note on every windshield.

The notes read, “Don’t climb on wet rock. You can damage it.”

Others had assumed that we were climbing wet rock!

At first, we were indignant—

Then we realized that we should feel encouraged that Climbers are using awareness and self-discipline to protect our fragile crags.

To climb or not to climb on wet rock is a question that is even more difficult when one has traveled for the weekend or is paying for a clinic.

Nevertheless it’s a particularly important question especially when it comes to climbing on sandstone like in Indian Creek and Red Rocks. Many climbers are more used to limestone or granite. Limestone and granite dry out much faster.

Sandstone takes longer to dry out because it is porous. It absorbs water. And the cementing agents that bond the rock together like clay, silica and salt dissolve when wet.

Wet sandstone can be up to 75% weaker than dry rock. When the rock is wet and weak, edges wear down faster and break off more easily.

So, should you climb or not climb?

Wait 24-48 hours after a rainstorm, but sometimes longer.

How much longer?

  1. How hard did it rain? Was it a light sprinkle or a flooding deluge?
  2. How long did it rain? Did it rain for a few hours, or all day?
  3. What is the aspect?
  • South facing cliffs dry faster because they are sunny and warm.
  • North facing cliffs dry slower because they are shady and cool.
  • East facing cliffs get morning sun, but afternoon shade.
  • West facing cliffs get morning shade and afternoon sun.
  1. Is it windy? Wind helps rock dry. Some cliffs are more exposed to wind than others.
  2. What’s the temperature? Is it a hot summer day? Is it cool spring morning?
  3. Was the sky clear or not since the rain?

 

Final Test

Is the ground dry?

First, It should look dry.

Then, Make sure by scraping away some surface sand.

If the sand underneath is wet and sticky? Don’t climb!

If it is dry and powdery? Climb!

What to do when it is too wet to climb?

Take a Rest day. Lounge around.

Go hiking.

Scout new climbing areas.

Practice skills that don’t require climbing. Minimize your impact by going to a less travelled/popular area.

Top Tips for Spring Skiing

Photo of Chicks Guide Angela Hawse spring skiing in Iceland to accompany top 12 spring skiing tips


Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, carves up some corn—perfect spring skiing conditions in Iceland.

If you love skiing, like me, then refuse to put your skis away when the lifts shut down!

As winter ends and spring begins, the snowpack changes rapidly. During this time there is often a short but exciting period of stability—a window of opportunity for us to get high, climb peaks and ski bigger lines, all with bountiful daylight hours!

The definition of a spring snowpack means that the snow has “transitioned.” It has become a consistent temperature and homogeneous mass from top to bottom.

Here’s a more technical explanation:

In the spring as the sun moves higher in the sky it brings warmer daytime temperatures. This increased daytime warmth reduces the temperature gradient between the surface layer and the ground layer and the snow starts to melt. Eventually, the snow pack transitions to isothermal. This means it’s 32 degrees and wet from top to bottom. Low nighttime temperatures freeze the homogeneous snowpack into a solid, stable mass. Then, during the day, warm temperatures deteriorate the ice bonds and the snow starts to melt and become less stable again.

Tips

1. Timing and melt-freeze is everything when it comes to spring skiing.

2. A spring snowpack needs solid, consistent overnight freezes to maintain its integrity.

3. Avalanche hazard continues to exist in the form of wet slab and wet loose avalanches. Even though these are more predictable and avoidable, they can occur on very low-angled terrain and can be extremely destructive. You and your partners should have avalanche training under your belt and be honed in companion rescue skills.

4. Study your local avalanche forecast to know when the snowpack has transitioned. Pay particular attention to conditions on different aspects and elevations. You can have a fully transitioned snowpack on a southern aspect, but full winter conditions on a higher, northern aspect.

5. Travel only when the snow surface is supportable, dry, or frozen. Good turns happen when the snow’s surface warms up just enough to be soft and forgiving but not too slushy. This kind of snow is called corn. Good corn conditions will often present only during a short timeframe.

6. Maximize travel time when the snowpack is frozen solid. Play it safe, get up early and skin by the light of a headlamp or the moon.

7. Pay attention to what’s going on underfoot and be ready to adjust your plan depending on how fast the day warms up, or does not warm up. You may need to wait on top of a summit for the snow to soften into corn (Where else would you rather be?). If the snow gets punchy, get off it quickly. Scoot around to a shady aspect and always have an escape plan.

8. Aspect, aspect, aspect. Think of the mountain like a compass. The sun hits east aspects first, then south, then west. With some experience you can time all day spring skiing by positioning yourself so that if you don’t like the conditions on one aspect you can quickly ski off to another. Carry a compass and know how to use it.

9. Ski crampons are essential. Ski crampons enable you to ascend steep, frozen snow slopes securely and efficiently. Get them, don’t forget them, and always put them on before your skins start loosing traction.

10. Boot crampons that fit your ski boots securely give you access to more options and thus more summits. Boot crampons also offer increased security if the upper reaches of the mountain don’t warm up and you want to climb back down rather than ski icy, exposed pitches.

11. A lightweight ice axe gives you added security in firm, steep conditions. Put the poles away as soon as a slip could become a fall and make sure you have self-arrest skills with your ice axe to back up that plan.

12. Weather telemetry and forecasts are your best friends. Know how to access local remote measures of current and past weather data like temperatures, and use point forecasts to get temperatures at different elevations.

Keep an eye out for future spring and ski mountaineering opportunities with us if you love skiing and want to enjoy your turns as long as there’s snow in the hills. We hope to see you out there!

Angela

Co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, IFMGA Mountain Guide

Tracks Less Travelled; First Steps to Backcountry Skiing

back country skiers follow a skin track

Winter wonderland, skiing in mellow backcountry terrain

Walking on skis through snow-covered woods is my favorite winter exercise.

As much as I love carving up a sleeping powder bowl with perfect turns, skiing in avalanche terrain requires more preparation, planning, and partners.

Backcountry skiing is as much about skiing the steep and deep as it is about getting into the peace and quiet of the winter wonderland. It’s about leaving behind the shouts and bustle of the ice park, the constant whir and clink of running lifts.

In the backcountry, I find space to rejuvenate, to reflect, and to breathe deeply.

If you’re just getting started, you should know that there is plenty of mellow backcountry terrain. There are many places where you can avoid avalanche terrain altogether and just learn about walking through snow-covered woods.

Get the Gear

A lightweight set-up is key for enjoying tracks away from the crowds. Good enough is perfect, but err on the side of light.

SKIS:

Lighter is better, and in the 90-105 mm range underfoot.

BOOTS:

Comfortable is better, with a wide range for walking.

BINDINGS:

I recommend tech bindings, which allow free heels for climbing and locked heels for the way back down.

SKINS:

They should fit so that the metal edge of your ski is exposed on both sides, nothing more, nothing less.

SHOVEL, BEACON, & PROBE:

You MUST have rescue gear whether you are in avalanche terrain or not. A shovel, beacon and probe come with me on ALL my ski adventures.

Start Small and Simple

Getting used to your gear will take a little time. But that’s ok because it’s fun!

Choose a groomed cross country ski trail or a snow-packed, low-angle backroad to make your first tracks. Without leaving civilization too far behind, you can focus on learning key movements:

EFFICIENT STRIDE:

Let your skins glide over the snow.

SKIN TO SKI TRANSITION:

Practice going from skin mode, to ski mode, and back again. It’s much harder to make this transition in deep snow, steep terrain and wind. Run through the process a few times in the parking lot, or in your living room!

GET TO KNOW YOUR BINDINGS:

Make sure you understand features like heel risers.

Where is it Safe? Make a Plan

Things look different in winter. Even very familiar summer hiking areas can become confusing when covered in snow. Remember that summer trails are made for summer travel i.e. when there’s no avalanche hazard.

GET THE LAY OF THE LAND:

  • Before you leave the trailhead look for major landmarks to orient yourself.
  • Use a GPS app on your smart phone to help figure out the terrain.
  • Always bring a paper map along for backup.

STICK TO FLAT AREAS:

Chart a course that is well separated from any steep slopes. Small, rolling hills with trees, or the foothills, are a good place to start.

GET INFORMATION:

  • Inquire at the local backcountry store for places to go.
  • Purchase and read a guidebook.

Partners?!

I don’t always remember the ski runs I did, but I always remember my partners—friends who skied with me.

A partner is a great backup if you’re just figuring everything out. Even better is an experienced friend willing to mentor you.

Going alone is ok, too. I do it all the time. But be sure to give yourself even bigger margins for error:

  • Don’t even get close to avalanche terrain.
  • Tell someone where you’re going.
  • Stick to well-travelled paths that will easily lead you back to your car.

Bonus Tip:

Rent gear from a local Backcountry ski store. This way you can try out the equipment and narrow down the endless choices.

Buying Online?

I have bought boots online, but, in general, it’s best to try them on.

You can find Rescue Gear as a set online for the best deals.

Bonus Video:

Quick Weight Loss Program

The New Year typically comes with resolutions to hit the gym and start a diet. Resolutions are empty plans including goals of losing weight. I am here today to help. I am going to give you tips to shed ounces and maybe even pounds. My approach will help you shed weight quickly and easily. This weight loss will require no diet, no exercise, and no change in your lifestyle choices. What is the secret?

Follow these two easy steps
1. Look at your climbing harness. See all of the stuff you have hanging on there?
2. Remove all those items from the gear loops so that you are left with a naked harness.

This includes all carabiners, additional belay devices, knives, cord bundles, tape rolls, chalk bags, nut tools, belay cards, slings and personal anchor systems.

It’s that simple! I bet you will instantly feel lighter and freer to move around. I know for some people this blank harness can be terrifying. Illusions of safety are just that. I advise you to remember that extra items can clog the harness and make it messy when we are in the business. I ask if the emergency kit of knives and prussics are genuinely needed in the gym?

It is up to you to stay slim and trim. Start each climbing day with a naked harness. Then, build your tool belt with only what is needed for the climb. After climbing, strip the harness and store gear on a sling. The clean harness will help pack as a smaller bundle in our backpacks. Chalk bags should also be worn on a belt.
Here is Dawn before the weight loss program, and after. She looks much lighter and happier on the climb.
climbers weight loss
Good luck everyone.

5 Tips for Better Footwork on Ice

After a day of climbing, are your toes black and blue? Are your knees throbbing in pain? Most ice climbers find this to be true. Often, a few simple tweaks can alleviate the pain.

 

1. Be sure you have the right crampon for the job.
Choose a crampon designed for vertical ice climbing. A strap-on crampon designed for snow/glacier travel will work for water ice climbing. However, the front and secondary points typically will not be appropriately positioned and will eliminate the ability to stand on vertical ice. Having the right tool for the job will make everything easier.

 

2. Look at your feet.
If you look at your feet when placing them on the rock or ice, precision will follow. If you look at your feet each time you move them, you will be less likely to bash your knee or kick your leg.

 

 Ice climbing footwork
3. Hinge from the knee.
There is no need to get a full body wind up. Hinging at the knee will give you the natural momentum needed to sink the crampon. The ergonomic action will make placing the crampon easier.

 

ice climbing footwork
4. Flex your toes toward your shin before kicking the crampon into the ice.
Like kicking a soccer ball. The flex of your muscles will position your foot and your front points to hit the ice. If you find your toes are sore after climbing, be sure to overemphasize this motion so that your crampon lands squarely in the ice.

 

5. Trust your feet.
If you are not satisfied with the placement, kick your foot again. Take your time to be sure your feet are stable.  Footwork will be the key to success on any climb.
Ice climbing footwork

How to do an Avalanche Beacon Check in Three Steps

Heading out into the backcountry with friends?  Remember to do your beacon check at the trailhead. There are three things you want to check: Battery life, as well as Transmit and Receive functions of the device.

Follow these three steps to accomplish this quickly and efficiently:

Step 1:
First, pick a leader to run the beacon check.  Have everyone else make a circle around that person.  As each person takes their beacon out of their holster and turns it on, they call out the battery percentage, including the leader. First check done!

Step 2:
Next, everyone in the circle turns their beacon into search mode and holds it in front of them. Only the leader keeps her beacon transmitting.  You’ll hear a lot of beeping as all the searching beacons should pick up a signal.  Now the leader in the center of the circle, approaches one person at a time, bringing her beacon close to the searching beacon.  If everything is working in order, the number displayed on the searching beacon should get really small, and the sound level/frequency should increase.  It’s important to keep a bit of distance between each person as the leader moves around the circle, as well as giving the searching beacon a moment of time to process the signal.

Step 3:
Once this is completed around the circle, everyone except the leader turns their beacon back to send and stows it in their holster or pocket.  The leader now switches her beacon to search, and goes around the circle, pointing her beacon close to where the beacon is stowed, and looking for a signal with a correspondingly small number at each person.  Lastly, the leader turns her beacon back to send, and the group is ready to head out.

Troubleshooting:  What to do if something isn’t working right.

-If a beacon has low battery life or isn’t turning on, install new batteries before heading out.

-If transmit or receiving isn’t working properly, first re-test to eliminate operator error, but a beacon isn’t working, don’t use it.  Check in with a dealer at your local backcountry gear store.

Does this tech tip get you thinking about your beacon skills?
Join us for a Rescue Fundamentals Course to learn about or refresh your companion rescue skills.