Team Assembled in Quito
Our 9 day Cotopaxi Express Expedition has begun with great success! First, all of our climbers arrived on time to Quito with all of their gear and baggage for the trip. A minor miracle to be sure!
Second, the group is all feeling great after a pretty easy day of travelling yesterday and a relaxing day in Quito viewing many historic sites. Finally, the weather to start this trip has been great so far, with great temperatures and a relatively clear day by Ecuador standards.
Everyone is in great spirits and ready for plenty of great hiking, climbing, and adventure to come!
Our team includes the following climbers:
Our trip is being lead by the following guides:
Today was spent in Quito, adjusting to the relatively high altitude (10,000 ft.) and viewing many of the wonderful historic sites of Old Quito. It is a worthy and important day spent at this high capital of Ecuador. Tomorrow our group will head to our first acclimatization peak – Pasochoa as we continue with our acclimatization schedule, eventually culminating with an ascent of Cotopaxi.
The climb of Cotopaxi offers wonderful climbing at altitude and a chance to test your mountaineering skill on a high, glaciated peak. It also happens to be one of the most iconic climbs in all of South America.
We will attempt to update our progress on the blog, so stay tuned for more trip reports and pictures to come!
Best Practices for Placing an Ice Screw
by Dale Remsberg – IFMGA Mountain Guide
Placing an ice screw while on lead has changed a lot over the years. Gone are the days of hanging from your leash and wrestling in a 22 cm screw, getting completely pumped in the process. The ice tools are better, the ice screws all have “express” knobs, are of a much higher quality, and our knowledge of what makes a good placement has evolved as well.
That being said, there is still plenty of nuance when it comes to getting a quick, solid ice screw placement while leading a pitch of ice. Considerations such as body orientation, where to place your screw in the ice, and timeliness take on added importance as you venture onto steeper and more committing routes. Becoming efficient at ice screw placements can increase your confidence while leading a pitch, and help to conserve energy for the steeper sections of a route.
In the video below, IFMGA Mountain Guide Dale Remsberg demonstrates the techniques that he uses to make a quality and fast ice screw placement while leading.
Rappel Ice Routes with Confidence
by IFMGA Guide Pat Ormond
V-Threads are a great way to rappel ice routes without having to leave gear if good fixed anchors don’t exist. They are strong, quick, and easy. With minimal practice, you can get it right first try every time.
- I look for the best quality and thickest piece of ice I can find, and make sure it is well attached to its surrounding features and other ice. If needed, I will chip off the aerated, fractured, or sun affected layers to get to better ice. It helps if the feature you use is slightly convex, either horizontally or vertically, as this makes it easier to put the screws in at an angle to each other. V-threads can be oriented either vertically or horizontalIy, both have similar strength. I prefer the horizontal setup, as I can visualize the angles better that way.
- I use the longest screw that I have, usually a 19cm, and start by placing that at an angle to the ice. Back that screw out and now measure one screw length from the first hole to find the location for the second hole. Placing the second screw is where it takes some practice. Visualize the angle needed so that the two holes meet at 90 degrees right at the deepest point. It can help to put a screw halfway in the first hole so that you can see the angle it is at. I get my eyes level with the screws which helps to see if everything is lined up correctly. Place the second screw, and look down the hole of the first to see if they connect. Sometimes, it is necessary to clean ice out of the holes, either by blowing through them, or using a v-thread tool to clear them out. If the holes barely concoct or are just off, you can rebore one of them by placing the screw and put pressure against it so that it goes in the direction needed.
- Once the holes are connected, it’s time to thread the ropes and set up the rappel. Many people leave cord, but this isn’t necessary. We teach the Naked V-Thread at San Juan Mt Guides. This simplifies the process and leaves no tat to melt out in the spring. Make or buy a v-thread tool, and if you forget it, learn some of the tricks for making do without on. I always back up the rappel with a screw and loosely clipped quickdraw through the rope. Make sure the weight is on the v-thread, not the quickdraw. If I am the only one rappelling, I will bounce test the setup before heading down. Don’t forget to have the last person bring the back up screw with them. Very rarely, the rope will stick a bit in the holes and takes some extra pulling to break the freeze. Pull your ropes, you’re on your way down, and nothing was left but some holes in the ice!
Senior SJMG Guide Mark Miller
AMGA Certified Rock Guide
Mark is one of the original SJMG guides working in Ouray. He has been teaching ice climbing longer than any other active guide in Ouray. Well known for his calm and no nonsense approach to ice instruction, Mark is one of our most requested guides. A true water ice master, Mark makes climbing steep and delicate ice look easy. Mark is also an Instructor with Rigging for Rescue, Ouray county EMT, and a member of the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team. Mark is a superb person to work on your balance, technique, and confidence.
1. Where did you grow up?
2. What is your personal alpine/rock/ice/ski experience?
Alpine – trips to Himalaya, Pamirs, Ecuador, Cascades, Canadian and U.S. Rockies and Alaska
Rock- Many areas in Western U.S. and Canada
Ice-Western U.S., Canada, and Norway
Ski- I ice climb to much to get very good
3. What is your training background?
In High School I was a math and physics geek, so when I graduated I went in to the Navy where I was trained as a mechanical operator of Nuclear power plants. I am also an AMGA Certified Rock Guide.
4. What are your favorite places to guide?
For teaching, nothing beats the Ouray Ice Park. Other than that, big ice routes in the San Juans.
5. What is your favorite part about this job?
Light bulb moments. That time when you’re teaching someone and you see the light in their eyes as the idea clicks.
6. What makes you a good guide?
I really like teaching.
7. What is your most memorable guiding experience?
I’m not sure it’s technically guiding because I did it as a volunteer, but I was asked to help teach a young woman who had her right leg amputated at the hip a few years previously to climb ice. It took a total change in my thinking and watching someone do something they no longer believed they could do was beautiful.
8. Best/coolest climb you have ever done? Anywhere.
Red Man Soars. I was very new to mixed climbing and as I got on it the ice was to thin to hit with my tools so I had to grab the little icicles with my hands and the rock holds were so thin I couldn’t hold them with gloves, so I had to hook them with my tools. It just felt so backwards it really made me think.
9. What’s on your iPod right now?
The same thing as when my wife got it for me a couple years ago
10. 3 most Crucial Elements of a guide-client relationship?
Trust, Respect, Friendship
Classic San Juan Backcountry Ice
Recently one of our guys and guests climbed some cool stuff up in the Skylight/Camp Bird area just minutes outside of Ouray. Check it out!
Essential Technique for the Ouray Ice Park
In the video below, SJMG Guide and AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide Dawn Glanc covers the steps involved in quickly and easily transitioning from belay to a raise for a climber who needs assistance ascending. The techniques shown in the video are particularly useful in areas like the Upper Bridge or Between the Bridges, and on climbs like Pic of the Vic – where it’s not feasible to top rope the climb from the bottom of the canyon.
In Part 1 of this series, Dawn covered the lowering/belaying scenario. This is Part 2 of the series where Dawn introduces a method by which you can convert your top belay into a short hauling system to help a climber reach their ice tools in case of a fall where they were hanging too far below their tools to recover them.
Belay with Confidence in the Ouray Ice Park
With the Ouray Ice Park set to open this weekend (Saturday December 14th, 2013), we thought it would be a good time to cover some important considerations to take into account when establishing your belay stances and anchor systems while down in the canyon. In the video below, SJMG Guide Chad Peele demonstrates an excellent method by which you can belay your climbing partner, and not get pulled off of your belay stance.
Due to the configuration of the climbs in the Schoolroom area of the Ice Park, we will often observe people that have NOT clipped in to a back-tie anchor getting pulled dramatically off their feet when their climbing partner falls or needs to be lowered down the climb. In some cases, we have seen people get dragged through the creek once the weight of their climbers gets transferred to the belay device. This obviously creates a potentially hazardous situation for both belayer and climber. Simply put, it’s tough to give a good belay when you’re getting dragged through freezing water.
Watch the video below to learn about how to properly orient your belay and back-tie anchor set up. Though this video focuses on the Schoolroom Area, these techniques will be effective throughout the Ouray Ice Park climbing areas.
Techniques to Manage Lowers and Top Belays
With ice climbing season already in full swing here in the San Juans, and the opening of the Ouray Ice Park just around the corner, we thought it would be a good time to cover a few essential techniques for managing lowers and top belays. As guides who work in the Ice Park everyday, we often happen upon a wide range of climbing parties using a variety of different techniques to lower their climbing partner into the Ice Park, and then Belay them up the climb.
In the video below, SJMG Guide and AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide Dawn Glanc covers the steps involved in utilizing the ATC Guide device to make your lower/belay scenario easier, more organized, and efficient. While not the only way to accomplish this task, the techniques shown in the video are particularly useful in areas like the Upper Bridge or Between the Bridges, and on climbs like Pic of the Vic – where it’s not feasible to top rope the climb from the bottom of the canyon.
In Part 1 of this series, Dawn covers the lowering/belaying scenario, and in Part 2 of the series (coming soon) Dawn will introduce a method by which you can convert your top belay into a short hauling system to help a climber reach their ice tools if they were to fall and be unable to reach their tools due to rope stretch.
A bunch of early season snow has inspired me to work on a project I have been wanting to do for years – an online primer course of avalanche awareness skills for skiers and climbers. I imagine this course will cover a wide variety of topics but I thought it made sense to start with pits as that seems to be a point of question for a lot of folks.
All comments, questions, and suggestions are very much welcome – please help us improve the series.
Techniques for Efficiency
With backcountry ice climbing here in the San Juans and around Colorado already in full swing, we thought it would be a good time to highlight this video – Belays & Transitions for Multi-Pitch Ice – offering a few tips and tricks for increasing your speed and efficiency on multi-pitch ice routes.
Specifically, SJMG Guide Eitan Green discusses and demonstrates good use of the cordelette when equalizing ice screw anchors, and then proper use and orientation of your auto-locking belay device when belaying your follower.
Watch the video below to find out more and stay tuned to the SJMG Blog for more helpful tips and info throughout the season!