Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"It Depends"

In Canyoneering there are arguments that will just never die.  I guess this is the same in any other sport probably.  I mean how long are we going to be talking about Tom Brady's deflated Balls?  Well, I guess that's not an argument, if they were they were.  But, lets leave that for the campfire discussion.

Canyoneers get set in their ways and as a training school we like to help them get set in those ways early on.  We seek the opportunities to help train future explorers to be safe and rig their rope systems responsibly.  After a few years they hopefully gain enough experience and understanding to start making some decisions on the subject matter on their own.  One of the most hotly debated concepts is the subject of Single Strand Rope Rappel or Double Strand Rope Rappel - Often times abbreviated as SRT vs. DRT (Single/Double Rope Technique).

Photo from Climbing Magazine: Unbelayvable Article
The Art Project
This topic came up last week on a Canyoneering forum discussion and I used it as a Q&A topic for our Facebook page this week.  Just last evening while surfing Twitter I came across an article posted by Climbing Magazine poking fun at an anchor rigging set up that a climber stumbled across:
http://www.climbing.com/news/unbelayvable-the-art-project-anchor/  What was common in all these discussions about rope technique in canyoneering is the usual "It Depends."

For new Canyoneers we teach a single rope technique set up in what is called a contingency anchor format.  Climbers look at us and with one eye brow raised they go - Huh?  Why?  Why not just set it up Double Strand and be done with it.  No fuss, no muss.  Well, that's all well and good for a climber who understands putting a rope through a point and rappelling down to the next point, but in Canyoneering "It Depends."

Learning to lower a stuck rappeller on an SRT
contingency Anchor
Teaching a "Newb" to single rope a contingency anchor offers them the opportunity to better self rescue or buddy rescue if the need arises.  Without going into a long discourse on the how the setup works, it allows one to better ascend the rope, or have a partner lower them down from on top, or quickly convert to a haul and raise them up.  In a double rope scenario, all this can be accomplished as well, but through much longer processes and equipment usage.  

In Canyoneering, not all of our rappels are straight down.  Some wind around a corridor in the canyon, some squeeze through/over/or under pinch points, some land in pools of water where you may be swimming, or just wading, may not know til you get there.  Some are through waterfalls pounding on your head and back pack and forcing you to the ground.  "It all Depends."

Aaron dropping over an 80' rappel SRT on
contingency setup
Setting up a double rope rappel can complicate some of these situations with rope retrieval, or with plain old safety.  Halving a rope and dropping it into a pool of water could complicate the disconnect from the rappel if you are swimming at the same time.  40'-50' of rope being kicked underneath you while treading water can cause entanglement or complicate trying to disconnect as well as dropping your rappel device completely.  Single strand can alleviate some of these issues.

There are many many arguments for each side of the coin DRT vs. SRT or is it SRT vs. DRT???  "It Depends."  Once a Canyoneer gets some training under their belt, and some understanding of canyon dynamics, I hope you go out practice and understand the fundamentals more and you will be able to then decide on each and every drop, is it going to be an SRT or a DRT drop?

Oh, and that anchor in Climbing Magazine - it is called a Joker setup.  The pic shows two different setups used to rappel 2-4 people simultaneously.  If it were me, I would have equalized the setup off the two bolts instead of using each one independently, but Hey, they are a guide company, they must know what they are doing right?

Join us for Canyoneering chatter on Twitter: @North_Wash use #CanyonChat

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Dawn of the Ages

What did you do to ring in the New Year?  While most of us carry on with our wild parties, our fireworks and late night / early morning shennanigans, two individuals laid in their sleeping bags suspended high above the valley floor in Yosemite's National Park.  

On December 27th the pair of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson embarked on a climb that captivated the world and held many of us hostage to our social media for 19 days.  If you have been living in a cave, you might not have heard about this, but for anyone watching any mainstream news source, you will have heard about these two.  They were climbing the Dawn Wall of the famed El Capitan peak in Yosemite National Park in California.  What's so great about that you ask?  Well, I asked the same thing when I started hearing about it.  People make climbs every day, why don't we hear about these all the time.  I think part of the reason this one is so talked about now, is that they were on social media during the entire 19 day event, (well except for Tommy who dropped his phone a week before the final push).

I didn't start paying attention to this event until it was almost over.  What was so great about this one vs. any other climb.  For me, a canyoneer (failed climber) I wasn't too much into the climbing stuff anymore.  As I started paying attention, I started studying the history of the Dawn Wall and realizing what was taking place.  This was a climb that had only ever been done using aid gear.  The holds and grabs were so small that no one had ever accomplished it cleanly without aid gear (bolts, cams, pitons attached with aiders).  These two, if accomplished, would be the first ever to get up the route cleanly and freely without the use of gear to stand on.  

The next thing I found out was that Tommy had been pursuing this goal since 2007.  That right there hit me, it smacked me in the face like a 2x4.  I actually became emotional when I realized what completing this climb meant to Tommy.  He probably really didn't care about all the fanfare that was following it, or about the amounts of attention he was getting and going to get.  He had his eyes on a prize, his eye on a goal and had a dream to accomplish.  This is what this meant to me after studying it.  As the world sat in our warm homes and chairs watching this event unfold, we were witnessing a man fulfill a dream and goal.  This climb is probably the toughest physically anyone could do, but mentally, Tommy was in charge.  He planned and prepped and studied and practiced this route in micro visits for years.  Having done every bit of the wall before hand in small chunks, he knew it was doable, if only time would give it to him.
The Dawn Wall ascent, while a physical triumph, will go down in history as one man beating his demons and accomplishing his goals.  We learn that perseverance can triumph.  We learn that having a team strong enough as you and keeping the pressure on is important.  Never ever give up on your goals and dreams.  Find your own Dawn Wall and beat the crap out of it.  Fight it and conquer it!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

GoPro Announces Wireless Streaming Video

I have been a fan of GoPro for several years now.  Once they hit the HD revolution with their tiny camera's the world was amazed.  They have continued to just get better and better as the years go on.  This year they announced and released the HD Hero 4 with some amazing upgrades.  I'm always a step behind this curve (cuz I'm cheap) and once the 4 was released I landed me a deal on a 3+ upgrading from my plain Jane HD Hero.

Today GoPro has moved forward announcing that they have teamed up with Vislink who is a global technology business specializing in the collection, transmission, management and distribution of high quality video associated data from the field to the point of usage.  This will be an amazing breakthrough in the world of POV camera's especially in the active sporting community.  These camera's can be worn on athletes and the footage transmitted directly to the producers of the show.  No more changing cards back and forth for the post production transmission of images.  The footage will be instantaneous.

This will be so cool.  If we can get Football players to strap one of these bad boys on, the hits in the game are going to soon be that much more intense.  The ski crashes during Olympic races could start becoming more epic, or snowboard racing could start getting way more intense.  This is going to be so awesome.

Looking at it in regards to the outdoor sports world we could be taking camera's on real time explorations for film productions and documentaries.  The caving and scuba diving worlds could be seeing things unfold right before our eyes in real time.  This will be fantastic (of course the question of range and obstructions I'm sure will play a role in this.

Check out the complete story on GoPro Website Here: http://gopro.com/news/gopro-partners-with-vislink-for-live-wireless-hd-broadcast

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mother Knows Best

As a young child I was taught that Mother ALWAYS Knows Best.  Many of us were taught this, or more or less, were forced to have this engraved into our psyche at a young age. We are given the opportunity as we grow to learn and develop our own sense of what we should and shouldn't do.  But in the end of course - Mother Knows Best or as I have modified - Mother is Always Right (and now that I'm married I'm constantly reminded that Mommy is always right).

What does this have to do with outdoor adventure you may ask - well it has everything to do with it.  It was the first outdoor lesson that I was taught without my parents even realizing it.  Let me elaborate a bit.

2014 saw it's shares of mishaps and misadventures in the canyons.  Early on in the year it looked like it was going to be a rough year for adventurers.  For those of you that have been in our office you might have seen my white board above my desk with the quote on it "Without Risk There is No Reward".  In adventure sports this rings very true.  We risk our lives in search of that next great thrill, or to see the next great landscape that many others are not willing to put risk into to see.  When I take clients out I explain to them that the places they will see today, the majority of the human race will never experience.  It is only with that step off the edge into the abyss and the trust in the rope do we see some wonderful sights.  "Without Risk There is No Reward."

Mother Nature's Rules
What does this have to do with my Mother?  Well, not in the sense you are thinking, although I did tell a friend, Ram, this year that my mother would die if she saw what I was doing as I slid down a rock slab landing into a pool of water in a crevasse about 16" wide.  The Mother I refer to in adventure sports is our very own Mother Nature.  She always knows best, or in any sense, she is always right.  Her laws and rules are permanent and we had better be mindful of them.  

Sky Diving w/ Sky Dive Moab
Many times we find a way to circumvent those rules for just a little bit, or a way to manage them to our advantage.  We mitigate gravity with ropes and parachutes.

One issue that has always plagued us is the decision to go or not to go.  This generally has more to do with the laws that Mother Nature has outlined in regards to weather and the safety that comes from the issues of diving into a slot canyon filled with water, or where water can potentially accumulate and take control of you.  I try to instill in students during our courses that the hazards in canyons can be mitigated to a point to enjoy the adventure, but that when the hazards start adding up to more than we can mitigate at once, the risk becomes too great and it's not worth the reward anymore.  The canyon will be there another day, let's make sure that we are as well.

Flash Flood in the North Wash
I make no hesitation when booking trips to tell potential clients that if the weather seems questionable or the canyon seems out of reach at the time, then we won't be going in.  I know there has been many that have been disappointed in this.  A little over a year ago some potential clients booked and then proceeded to fly in from the Netherlands.  After frequent communication and constant weather checking I cancelled the trip.  They drove to our town just for the trip and showed up to talk with me.  I explained that the recent storms and the future forecast has me too concerned for the safety to feel it will turn out in our favor.  They, while being disappointed, expressed understanding and went on their way.  Their natural path of travel took them past the canyons we were going to do and they spent the night there getting up early in the morning to look around.  There were many other recreational canyoneers also camping at this location and they tried to convince these guys to go out with them instead.  The clients declined relying on my hesitation they later told me.  When they contacted me after getting back to the Netherlands they sent me some pictures of the wash outs in that area that happened that day from rain storms.  The entire campsite where they were was flooded out and later reports surfaced that some of the groups who had gone into the canyons were caught in flash floods and some minor injuries incurred.  Thankfully nothing serious.

Another client this year booked a trip and the weather the days leading up to it was pretty bad, but the day of the trip was really nice.  We headed out and entered the canyon drainage.  We donned our wet suits and harnesses and started down.  50 yds into the canyon we hit the first technical section requiring some gear to drop in.  I observed that the prior storms had filled the canyon with a large amount of debris and I knew that if this was just the beginning, and the rest of the canyon was like this we were gonna have a rough day.  By starting out this way we may hit spots that would be impassable.  I aborted the trip right there citing the potential obstacles and the hazards that may be encountered causing us some undue hardships and potential dangers.  

Snow Fall in CanyonlandsCurrently in the past few weeks ending off the 2014 year, we have cancelled two trips that once we started down the road, the light rain we left town in turned to heavy snow and the roads were snow packed to a point that we were not sure about even getting to the canyon which was still over an hour away.  Trip aborted, clients taken back to town.  

As I began typing this out the other day, I sat here wondering if I was gonna be in a canyon the next day for the Annual FreezeFest Black Hole trip.  Due to the weather forecast it was predicting some snow fall. The day came and the snow was there.  Not only did I not go, but the rest of the crew that had been out camping also chose that the risk of attempting any canyon that day was far too high to make the venture worth anyone's safety.

This year several video's surfaced on YouTube outlining the question, do we sometimes risk too much in the outdoors.  Do we often push that envelope just a little to far?  Maybe with a little more training and some respect for our Mother things will look up this year.  I am hoping that the New Year will start off wonderful, that we may all be out in the back country enjoying our favorite activities, but that we head the call of Mother Nature in a way that will be able to bring us back again and again and again.  May the New Year bless you all with safety, entertainment, enjoyment, and fun.  The canyons will be there another day if only you will be too to enjoy them.  See ya in the Canyons.


Zion: Rock of Refuge from Eric Hanson on Vimeo.