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Monday, December 24, 2007

Monday Morning Time Waster

There's a ten-pack of escapist fantasy at Travercial, as the travel video site presents its top ten short vids of 2007. These have the slick look of tourism-bureau infomercials, not home movies, and there's plenty to whet the travel appetite from Bostwana, Tibet, Thailand, and other hotspots you wish you were visiting right now instead of waiting for a flight to Cleveland to visit the in-laws.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Out of the Ashes

Ever since a fire destroyed Alpinist’s inventory of back issues, calendars, water-bottle premiums and the like in early December, the magazine has offered a case study of effective PR and disaster response. The fire story and request for support through subscription purchases has been picked up by websites around the world, from Outside to Supertopo, Planet Mountain (Italy) to (Russia). Even, one of my employers and a rival of Alpinist, ran a sympathetic home-page story, complete with links and the line: “If you were considering giving Alpinist as a gift or renewing your subscription, now's a great time to do so.”

What’s going on here? Some of this is a genuine outpouring of support for people who work hard at a small business and have had a serious setback. (I’m buying an Alpinist calendar that I probably wouldn’t buy otherwise; I’m already a subscriber.) Some of it is the perennial enthusiasm of magazine and website editors for writing about other magazines. Some of it reflects the huge reserve of good will that Alpinist has developed with its high-class publication.

But Alpinist also managed this disaster superbly:

• The magazine broke the story itself, on its website.
• They kept a positive tone (no one was injured; the support from the climbing community is gratifying; “we’ve put far too much work into Alpinist to let a fire slow us down.”)
• They asked for help, as a “favor”: subscribe, give a subscription, buy a calendar.

On balance, I’m sure Alpinist would much prefer the fire had never happened. But the magazine’s response to the disaster is likely to yield long-term benefits, and it offers lessons for all business managers.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Return of the Warthog

Pound-in ice protection hasn't been used much in North America for more than a decade, ever since high-quality, easy-in/easy-out ice screws eliminated the need for desperation pieces like the Snarg on vertical ice. But in Britain and parts of Europe, where frozen turf—en route and on the tops of crags—is a big part of the game, drive-ins still have their place. The venerable Warthog, a drive-in/screw-out piton, hadn't been manufactured in a couple of years, but the British retailer Needle Sports is bringing them back: "The Warthog Ice Screw was first made by Salewa, but as far as we can ascertain Mountain Technology were the only company that have produced them in recent years. With the demise of Mountain Technology, and their parent company HB, the Warthog, so beloved of British and Polish climbers but so little known elsewhere, looked like becoming an endangered species. However, Needle Sports has located the engineering firm that originally made Warthogs for Mountain Technology and are very pleased to be able to offer them once again."

I've still got an old CAMP Warthog in my gear pile, more for sentimental than practical reasons. If you needed a drive-in today, a poundable hook like the Spectre would almost always be a better bet. But there's one situation where Warthogs were truly useful: "ice climbing" on the chalk cliffs near Dover, England, a dubious practice invented by desperate Londoners who lived 12 hours from the nearest Scottish ice. I did several climbs at Dover in the mid-’80s, and Warthogs (along with concrete rebar) provided remarkably solid pro, though they were a bear to place. Check out the photos and story on Vince Anderson's site to get a feel for this bizarre game.

Anyway, I'm keeping my old Warthog. Who knows how long they'll be made, and maybe I'll go back to Dover someday. Maybe I'll need to hang something heavy from a beam in the garage. Maybe I just like having one on my rack.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Peruvian Flakes

Chris Davenport, the guy who skied all of Colorado’s fourteeners in a single year, has big, big plans for 2008. First up is skiing all of the California fourteeners (there are 12 to 15, depending how you count—I’m not sure how Davenport is counting). If he succeeds, he’ll be the only person to ski all the fourteeners in the Lower 48. But that’s just the warm-up. He also wants to ski several of the iconic peaks of the Alps, including the west face of the Eiger, the east face of the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and Monte Rosa. And his wildest goal is skiing Alpamayo, the 19,511-foot peak in the Cordillera Blanca that’s sometimes called the most beautiful mountain in the world. Alpamayo (in photo) has not been skied before. Anyone want to guess why?


Tuesday, December 18, 2007


If you liked King Lines, the mind-boggling, award-sweeping Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer film about Chris Sharma, but wished someone would produce a similar film about traditional routes, well, you’re in luck. In 2008, Mortimer's Sender Films will focus on the world's boldest ascents to produce The Sharp End, which will headline next fall’s Reel Rock Tour. Mortimer, who made the film Scary Faces about Eldorado Canyon's legendary Jules Verne route, has long had an eye for dangerous climbing, and he knows how to tell a good story. With the success of King Lines and other recent Sender films, he now has the financial resources to apply his skills worldwide. When The Sharp End appears, they'll have to put chalk in the theaters to deal with all the sweaty palms.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Long Dong Climbs

I’d never seriously considered visiting Taiwan for rock climbing, but after seeing these photos from the sea cliffs of Long Dong (aka Lung Tung), it’s officially on the list. The pics are from the website of Matt Robertson, a U.S. expat who published the guidebook to trad climbs in the area last year. More than 500 climbs, up to 5.13c, ascend dozens of solid sandstone cliffs, just 30 minutes from Taipei City. Though many of the routes are bolted, Robertson focused on traditionally protected routes, some of which look as good as Britain’s finest sea-cliff climbs. Even on sport routes, it seems, carrying a rack of gear is a good idea—bolts rust rapidly in the seaside environment. Looks like fun!


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Trivia Challenge

HBFC. These initials adorned the helmet of a well-known American climber from the 1960s. Anyone know what they stand for?


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Drop Zone

Over the years, I've put up a fair number of routes, and many of them have stunk. Unless you're A) a really good climber or B) have a lot of free time, it's damn hard to find good new routes and climb them. About a decade ago, I had A) lots of free time (between jobs), and B) a really good climber with me, in the person of Chris McNamara. We had never met, but we agreed over the phone to try a new line I had spotted in Zion. We climbed 11 pitches over four or five days at Thanksgiving (new aid routes are slow going) and called it Drop Zone. I thought it was pretty darn good.

So, I was psyched to see the route get repeated this fall (maybe the second ascent) and written up in a very funny and well-illustrated trip report at Supertopo. I was even more tickled to learn that "Yo," the author of this report, was actually Ryan Frost, son of the great Yosemite pioneer Tom Frost.

More sappy sentimentality here.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Suddenly I See...Blackened Fingertips

Scottish singer KT Tunstall reportedly has decided to give up climbing because of the fear of frostbite damaging her guitar-playing fingers. "I love the mountains, but I'm also aware of the dangers they present," she told reporters. Tell me about it. I had to give up my singing career because of the fear that I would damage my ability to shout "Up rope!"


Friday Morning Time-Waster: Slow is Safe

Tip of the hat to Splitter Choss for pointing out this one from last winter. Like a lot of homemade vids, this one drags a bit, but the first couple of minutes are priceless. Question: If four tools are safe, wouldn't six be safer?


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

You Gotta Get In to Win

Tis the season for giving, but today I want to talk about getting. Or, rather, winning. I’ve never had much luck with the lottery, but it turns out that it's a lot easier to win outdoor-industry contests and giveaways, and with companies eager to draw traffic to their websites and e-letters, new ones are popping up all the time.

Last summer I submitted an entry to Mountain Hardwear’s Mission Project blog after the company was nice enough to provide me with a lightweight Phantom 32 sleeping bag. I can bang out a trip report like this before my second cup of coffee—no big deal. So I was blown away when I learned a few weeks later that my entry had been chosen to win a $1,000 shopping spree for Mountain Hardwear gear. The blog is still seeking entries, and it’s not too late to submit your own; you'll be eligible to win a guided trip up Mt. Rainer and a $2,000 gear spree.

My good fortune was nothing compared with the artist Jeremy Collins and his brother, Jonathan, who entered a Zest soap competition and then shamelessly lobbied friends to vote for them. Jer wrote up the entry for his brother, who proceeded to win $15,000 worth of travel. The two have already used part of the money to visit the Lofoten Islands in Norway and are planning to use the rest to travel to Patagonia and China. As if that isn’t enough, they also were named Mr. February and Mr. March for the “Zest Men of Adventure” calendar.

These things are everywhere:
• The Gear Junkie (aka Stephen Regenold) gives away a really nice bit of schwag every week, just for signing up to receive its e-newsletter.
• Climbing magazine is offering a free trip to the Gunks, with a stay at the exclusive Mohonk Mountain House and the chance to climb at the off-limits Skytop crag.
• Kayland and Rock and Ice are giving away a pair of boots to the person who writes the best 75-word “essay” on his or her best climbing partnership.
• Polarguard is offering a pile of schwag every two months to people who write the best adventure story for its website.

Many of these contests expire soon, but more will be on their way. And unlike your chances in Powerball, your odds of winning one of these outdoor-industry giveaways are really, really good. As I learned painfully when I ran a climbing magazine for five years, the outdoor market is teeny. And the number of people who will actually get off their butts and scribble a 10-minute trip report is even smaller. Bottom line: You don’t have to be Jon Krakauer or Jimmy Chin to score big with your writing or photography.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Eiger Tales

My story about hiking around the Eiger during September’s trip to Switzerland headlined the travel section in Sunday’s Denver Post . A nice surprise for me: They ran a nearly full-page version of my photo from our hike to the Bäregg Hut.

It’s always a delight when one of my photos is published, because I don’t consider myself a professional photographer. But even if I never sold a photo, I’d still carry a camera whenever I traveled, and especially when I was working. For a journalist—or any traveler who wants to remember as much as possible—a small digital camera is invaluable. I use it to capture the text on signs and documents, saving me the trouble of taking notes; I refer to my photos when writing to recall details that otherwise might be forgotten; I’ll even shoot a short video so I can see and hear the person whose words are recorded in my notebook. And every now and then, I sell a photo too.


Monday, December 03, 2007


Pads have revolutionized bouldering, allowing the average climber to attempt high and hard problems once reserved for the lunatic fringe. So, what's next? The maxi-pad.

•, the Swedish megasite for sport climbing and bouldering news, has introduced an inflatable pad that measures nearly 7 feet by 4 feet and provides 8 inches of air-conditioned crash protection. When you're not whipping onto it, you can use the Air Pad as a double bed. Or a life raft. Cost: 395 euros.

• Squamish climber Matt Maddaloni rigged a 30-foot-diameter trapeze net, fashioned from fishing net and industrial-strength bungy cord, to protect his attempts to free-solo a 5.13a route. Says Maddaloni: "I never did finish the route—the crux takes you out near the edge of the net—but it was sure fun taking huge whippers into space on your back." Cost: A full day of rigging that might have been spent doing, well, almost anything else.