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.

How to Pee without Taking Off your Harness

This public service announcement is brought to you by Chicks Co-Owner Dawn Glanc. She’s not afraid to demo this very important skill. Don’t worry, she will give you all the beta you need to execute this delicate maneuver, without revealing anything more than her granny panties.

Nice Climbing Rack

climbing rackYou’re heading out to go climbing and your partner asks you to bring the rack. What exactly do they want you to bring? Here are a few basic guidelines to help you show off your nice climbing rack.

First, to be clear, a rack is whatever you need to climb the objective that day. If you are ice climbing, ice screws are the rack. If you’re going sport climbing, quickdraws would be the rack and for crack climbing you will need a trad rack. The rack will vary from one person to the next depending on your skill and comfort on the terrain.

 

What is a standard rack?


quick drawsThat again depends on what medium you are climbing. Typically the guide book will describe the standard rack in the early pages of the book. Even sport climbs will typically list how many bolts to expect so you know how many quickdraw to carry. For most trad areas, the standard rack may be a single set of cams to a certain size, and a set of nuts. This standard rack is just a starting point. You may find due to your ability level, the difficulty and the size of crack may warrant that you want more or less of a certain size of gear.  Be sure to ask friends, and search for beta on sites like mountain project to find out what you will need on route.

 

Should I rack on a sling or on my harness?

nice rackThis is such a personal preference, there is no right or wrong answer. When you are starting out, try racking both ways to see what you prefer. Each method has its benefits and drawbacks. If you rack on the gear loops of your harness, the weight is carried closer to your center of gravity. If you rack on a gear sling, the weight is higher up on your torso and you can more easily see which pieces you have available. No matter how you choose to carry the gear, have a clean, organized, methodical system that you can replicate. This way you can find the gear you need when you are in the crux.

 

Get familiar with your rack.

size up your rackNo matter what rack you carry, or how you carry it, get familiar with it. Squeeze cam triggers within the optimal range and compare the size to your hands or fingers. This way when you are in the business you will have some idea what piece goes into the tight hand crack. The more familiar you are with the gear, the easier it will be to place when you are stressed.

Finally, don’t over rack. There is no need to bring items you simply do not need. Every extra “just in case” piece adds up quickly. A reasonable rack can quickly grow into something too big to climb with that will weigh you down and make climbing more difficult. At some point you just have to trust that what you have is enough. Again, experience and a little beta can go a long way.

 

At Chicks Climbing our clinics focus on skills to make you an independent climber. Learn how to rack up, place gear and build solid anchors, multi-pitch transition strategies and loads more. Let us help you understand how the gear works and when to use the right tool at the right time.  Our upcoming Red Rocks, NV and our newest program in Joshua Tree, CA are both the perfect places to work on all of these skills and more. We hope you will join us!

How to Tie Ropes together for Rappelling

When tying two ropes together, or two ends of a cordelette, I look for a knot that is low volume and easy to tie. I find a double fisherman’s knot welds the rope together, is time consuming to tie, and is very likely to get jammed. So for years I used a Flat overhand to join two ropes, even if the diameter differed. The Flat overhand is easy to tie and untie, and I could use the flat overhand with ropes of varying diameters. Then my friend Mike Gibbs talked to me about knots “rolling.” After the conversation, I switched to the Gibbs Bend, also known as a Barrel Knot.

Need to see it to get the idea? Check out Chicks Guide Dawn Glanc on the very subject

The Gibbs Bend, is another way to tie two ropes together for rappelling, and the benefit is that it won’t roll. What do we mean by this? When a knot “rolls” it literally flips over on itself when under weight and it can keep rolling until the tail of the knot becomes shorter and shorter. If the tail of the knot becomes too short, the knot literally can “roll” off of the tail ends of the rope. Yikes!

Enter the Gibbs Bend. We were introduced to it by the folks at Rigging for Rescue, a training company that specializes in safety systems and testing. They work with rope rescue teams from across the country like the National Park Service’s Search and Rescue Teams and the Special Forces of the US Military.

Rigging For Rescue’s Mike Gibbs explained the Gibbs Bend to me as follows:

“From a kN standpoint if you compare the Gibbs Bend vs Flat Overhand, the kN ratings are similar. Most ties break at around 2/3 of manufacturer’s rated breaking strength (MRBS). Climbing ropes do not come with published MRBS as they are not tested for that value based on the applicable standards. Regardless of the kN, the same knotted tie principle is in play. The derate of the tie is caused by radius bend of the rope.  Since both ties have the same radius bend, their respective strengths will be similar. In both cases, plenty strong.

Personally, I would de-emphasize kN of breaking strength when comparing the two ties. Breaking strength is not the issue. The issue is security and the propensity for one tie to capsize/roll under certain conditions and the other tie to remain secure.  The Flat Overhand Bend gets its infamous moniker, The Euro Death Knot,  from the fact that it can capsize and have the tails sleeve through the tie. When the tie is suspended in free-space with adequate tails, it appears to be a non-issue. Or I am not aware of it being a risk and I think there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of successful rappels with the Flat Overhand Bend supporting that supposition.  

If, however, the tie can bump up against an object – like a rock edge, for example- in just the right place (due to tie positioning and/or rope stretch, etc) then it may capsize and roll. By passing the tails of the flat overhand bend once more around, the capsizing issue is negated. That is a very secure tie, albeit bulkier than a Flat Overhand Bend.

I have been rappelling with the Gibbs Bend for 15+ years and never once jammed the tie while pulling the lines on a retrievable rappel.  I highly recommend the tie and personally refuse to rap off of an Flat Overhand Bend, which all my climbing partners know and accept. “

— Mike Gibbs, Owner of Rigging For Rescue.

Efficiency is something I strive for in my climbing systems. I like to keep things simple and elegant so that I avoid chaos in stressful situations. Clean systems produce easy to use anchors and thoughtful solutions to complex problems. Along with efficiency, I like to use the best tool for the job. The Gibbs Bend fits the bill when it comes to tying two ropes together for rappelling.

To Summarize why the Gibbs Bend is a good choice for tying two ropes together for rappelling because:

  1. Quick and easy to tie, easy to double check.
  2. Lays flat over the rock surface so it is less likely to get snagged when retireving your rappel.
  3. Won’t roll.
  4. Good for using with ropes of varying diameters.

To learn how to tie the Gibbs Bend, watch this video by Chicks Guide and Co-owner Dawn Glanc. I think you will see that passing the tails through a second time takes no effort and is well worth the extra security.

 

 

How to Build your Multi-Pitch Climbing Kit

Are you asking yourself, what in the world is multi-pitch climbing? The answer is pretty simple but the process of multi-pitch climbing can seem daunting at first. Let’s start our with the basics. First of all, a single pitch climb is a route that you can climb without any intermediate belays. That is to say that you climb up to an anchor and you descend by either lowering or rappelling back down to the ground where you started. Therefore, multi-pitch climbing is very simply a bunch of single pitch climbs stacked on top of each other.

multi-pitch climbing

To have a fun and rewarding multi-pitch experience, you’ll need to prepare and put together a slightly modified gear list from what you would typically use for a day of single pitch climbing. Our friends at Petzl have but together a great article on How to Build Your Multi-Pitch Kit. Petzl breaks it down into a gear list and some things to consider when putting it all together from choosing personal equipment, rope selection, what the second should bring, and the best rack for the job.

Still a little apprehensive about the whole idea of climbing hundreds of feet off the ground? Not to worry! Chicks is road tripping to Red Rock, NV just outside of Las Vegas on October 5-9, 2017. Red Rocks is one of the best places to be introduced to multi-pitch climbing because there are literally over a thousand options for multi-pitch climbing, for all grades and abilities. It’s the perfect place to gain experience with multi-pitch climbing and see what it feels like to climb hundreds of feet off of the ground and take in the beautiful desert wilderness of Red Rock National Conservation Area.

multi pitch climbing in red rock

Your Chicks Guide will literally show you the ropes and teach you what you need to know to get off the deck on a multi-pitch climb. Skills you’ll learn along the way are: lead belaying, how to follow and “second” a multi-pitch climb, rappelling, anchor building and lots of rope management strategies.

We hope you will join us at one of our favorite climbing destinations in the United States, and experience multi-pitch climbing with Chicks in sunny and beautiful Red Rock, NV.

 

How To Lead Belay With A Gri Gri

Lead belaying with a Gri Gri  is one of the most requested things that we get asked during our Chicks rock clinics. Lead belaying with a Gri Gri (or brake assist device) can be a little tricky at first, but with a little practice you will quickly become proficient at using this valuable tool for all belaying scenarios, both top rope and lead belaying.

There are a couple of key points to keep in mind:

1. The GriGri must be loaded properly in order to function correctly. Thankfully there are diagrams on the unit for you to refer to when you load up the climbers rope. Read the literature that comes with the device.

2. Hold the Gri Gri so you don’t defeat the camming mechanism.
3. Maintain at least 3 fingers on the brake strand at all times. Just because it is brake assisting device does NOT mean it’s a hands free device.
4. Always close the system by tying a stopper knot on the brake hand side of the rope to avoid accidentally lowering your climber off the end of the rope.

Petzl’s website is a great resource for instructional videos and downloads of the owners manual.

Petzl’s Gri Gri Short Video

Petzl gri gri

Need more?  Check out Petzl’s long video for belaying with a Gri Gri.
petzl gri gri

6 Tips For Climbing Steep

How to rock climb steep routes

Elaina Arenz climbing “Mister Fantasy” 11c at the “Endless Wall,” New River Gorge. Photo: Chris Noble.

Overhanging climbs and climbing steep can be intimidating at first, but what I love about them is how I have to adapt my body to move efficiently through steep terrain and get creative with my climbing movement. What I also love about steep sport climbing is that all of the lead falls are clean (well mostly anyway). If you pop off you’ll find yourself cushioned by the air below you if your belayer is giving you a nice soft catch.

You may be asking yourself, what is an overhanging climb? It’s any climb that the angle is greater than 90 degrees vertical and it takes a specific skill set to be able to navigate your way through steeper terrain. Classic climbing areas like the Red River Gorge, Rifle and Maple Canyon are well known for this style of climbing. Follow a few of these pointers below and you will be able to save a little energy and move more quickly through steeper climbs.

1. Climb Fast(er)

The pump clock is ticking when you’re on an overhanging route so you want to move as quickly as possible. There’s no time to dilly dally because you only have so much fuel in the tank to burn. You’ll want to move quickly and efficiently so you can economize your energy. This is going to require some work on your part to get that route dialed so you aren’t doing any unnecessary or extra moves.

2. Conserve Energy

Plan out your route while standing on the ground. Identify the crux sections (the hardest part of the climb) and visualize the beta that you have worked out for that section. Do this for the whole entire climb and have a rough plan before you even leave the ground. Great ways to conserve energy are:
-Hang on straight arms. This will help you use your skeletal system to support you and not your muscles.
-Breathe. The deeper and more audible the better. Your muscles and brain need oxygen to function properly when they are in use.

-Relax your grip. Don’t hold on or squeeze the holds any harder than necessary. Over gripping is a waste of energy.

3. High Feet and Turn Hips In

This is a great way to put more weight onto your feet and allows you to stand up high and maximize your reach on the steeps. Place your big toe on a foothold and turn your hips into the wall by pivoting on that toe into a drop knee or flag. If you are reaching up with your right hand, turn that right hip in. If reaching with your left hand, turn left hip in. This will help you get instantly taller because you will be able to extend your reach by a couple of inches at least. Try this tip at home and you will see what I mean:
-Stand facing the wall with your hips square.
-Lift your right arm over your head and see how far your fingertips touch on the wall.

-Now turn your right hip into the wall and note how much further you can extend that reach. This is a huge advantage on steep climbs.

4. Maximize Rests

Break the climb down into manageable pieces by identifying possible rest stances. Keep in mind that the rest could be a quick spot to get a few shakes before continuing your blast to clipping the anchors. When you’re at a rest get creative:
– Look for knee bar, hand jam or heel hook.
-Relax your grip, lower your heels, alternate shaking out each hand (with your arms straight!)

-Breathe deep. Inhale through your nose and push the air out through pursed lips. Your belayer should hear you exhale. This will help lower your heart rate so you can stay relaxed in the mind and the body.

5. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Rehearse the moves. This will help you to learn which holds to use and which to avoid. Experiment with the movement and pull out every trick in the book and get the whole route dialed.
-Have friend take a video or draw a beta map of your route. Note the sequence of both your hands and feet (RH1, LH2, RF2, RF2 etc…)

-Climb the route at least 3 times per session and refine your beta with each attempt. Be sure your rest 20-30 minutes between attempts to stay productive.

6. Proper Footwear

The best shoe for this type of climbing is one that is downturned in the toe area. Think of it like a talon or hook on your foot that will allow you to pull with your toes as you often need to do on overhanging climbs. My go to shoe for this type of climbing is the La Sportiva Women’s Solution, the profile is radical downturned which gives me more power to pull on my big toe. A flat profile shoe just doesn’t put your foot in as strong of a position, which means you will have to use more energy from the lower half of your body to do the work. You’ve gotta have the right tool for the job. While you can pound a tent stake into the ground with a rock, but a hammer does the job much more efficiently because that’s what it’s designed to do.