#LETSTALKABOUT Crag Etiquette and Transitioning from the Gym

Here in the PNW, the dry(ish) days have arrived and climbing season is in full swing. If you’re just getting your toes wet in the world of outdoor climbing, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you hit the crag.

Matt Fineman on Chain Reaction at Smith Rock

Matt Fineman on Chain Reaction at Smith Rock

  • Sharing is caring. Whether you’re climbing with a big group or working your project solo, it’s important to make space for other people. Of course, there are some nuanced points here depending on the discipline of climbing you’re engaging in so let’s unpack this a little:

    • Bouldering: whether you’re set up and working a project or approaching an established group to give it a go, consider these things:

      • offer to share your pads, especially if additional protection will make for a safer landing.

      • brush holds between burns (attempts to climb the problem) so the next person can give it a go without greasing off and let other folks work in while you rest.

      • whatever you do, make sure you’re paying attention to where you’re climbing and sitting to avoid falling-related accidents.

    • Single pitch climbing:

      • It can be frustrating to arrive at a wall to find ropes on a lot of routes with no active climbers. If you’re going to put ropes up, be conscientious and considerate about it. Don’t hog the most popular routes on a wall and make sure you’re being flexible and communicative with other parties. For example: you want to keep a top rope (TR) on a route for a member of your party who isn’t ready to climb and someone else wants to give it a burn. No worries—simply communicate the issue to them and sort it out. Perhaps they are happy to take a TR burn. Perhaps they want to lead it but would be happy to tag your rope up and set it up for your friend. Either option is a great solution, you just need to chat it out.

      • Pay attention. If you’re gearing up to climb, take stock of your surroundings. Does the route you’re hopping on cross above or below someone who’s already climbing? Is there a shared anchor with a rope already on it? Check it out, then adjust accordingly to avoid accidents.

    • Multi-pitch climbing:

      • There are several things to be cognizant of when you’re getting on a multi, but I’ll focus on speed and environmental awareness to mitigate safety hazards.

        • Speed: if you’re on the wall and there’s a party that’s climbing noticeably more swiftly and efficiently than your party AND there’s a safe opportunity for them to pass, let them by. This will make the entire day run more smoothly and avoid traffic jams at belay and rap stations, which in turn prevents accidents. Further, pay attention to your progression throughout the day and make sure you’re on schedule. Rapping in the dark without headlamps and unexpected shiver bivvies aren’t that fun, I promise.

        • Environmental awareness: pay attention to what’s above and below you as you climb. Loose rock abounds and you’ll be managing ropes, gear, and other essentials. You don’t want to drop something or knock a block off onto your belayer or another party below you.

  • Hold the Spray:

    • Unless someone specifically asks for information about a route, don’t start spraying them down with beta (giving information about the climb) without asking!

  • Mind your gear:

    • While you’re at the crag, it’s important to keep your gear tidily organized and out of the way. This prevents accidents and gear mixups.

    • When you’re home, take care of your stuff. Check your ropes for any flat spots or core shots, inspect your pro (carabiners, quick draws, cams, etc), and make sure you’re storing all of your soft goods (harness, ropes, slings, etc.) away from hazardous chemicals that can compromise the integrity of the material. Remember, DEET eats through nylon so be particularly careful when using bug spray around ropes, harnesses, and other gear.

  • Be respectful: we share our crags with other recreational land users and in many areas, access is a sensitive issue.

  • Watch for rock fall:

    • If you see a block with an “x” on it mid-route, this usually indicates that the rock is loose and in danger of falling if you pull on it. Avoid doing so. As you climb, be aware of any loose or hollow sounding rock and avoid placing gear or pulling on anything that might come down. If you accidentally pull something off the wall, yell “ROCK” as swiftly and loudly as possible. Encourage your belayer to use a helmet and stay safe.

  • Triple Check your knots:

    • Develop a consistent method for safely tying in, belaying, building anchors, and cleaning them. Use it every time until it’s second nature. Communicate it to your partners and triple check yourself and others before you climb. Safety first.

  • Get involved! There are so many ways to give back to the community, from mentoring to trail work to donating time, money, and effort to rebolting and other safety projects! Reach out to local climbing and land management agencies to inquire how you can help!

  • If you see something, say something.

    • If you notice an objectively unsafe situation occurring, don’t be afraid to approach and offer some kind yet firm feedback. Check yourself before you approach and consider this: is the situation objectively unsafe or is it a matter of personal preference? If the latter, perhaps it’s best to leave it be! Unsure? Check in with your crew.

Other suggestions? Let’s hear them!



#LETSTALKABOUT Health Checks


A few weeks ago I took some new friends into the backcountry. Temps were low, snow was forecasted, and I was stoked. In my excitement, I forgot to ask a critical question that’s standard for me: “do you have any health issues I should know about?”

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It turns out that someone in our group did, which lead to some unexpected complications on the trail to the point where I was calculating contingency plans and landing sites for helicopters should we need to call for help.

Thankfully, we got everything under control and made it home safely. It was an important reminder for me and I wanted to share it here with you all.

Gathering medical information before a trip into the backcountry is always a good idea. If someone has a condition that they share with you, make sure you talk about potential issues that might arise as a result given the difficulty of the trail and the weather. Make sure you know where their medicine is if they take any and how to administer it. If you can, make sure you have a PLB or satellite communication device (we always carry our Garmin Explorer+ with us) so you can call for help if things take a turn for the worse.

Remember to have these chats calmly and with kindness; the last thing we want is for the person to feel stigmatized or discouraged or to perpetuate ableist ideas and behaviors. If they think they are capable of the adventure, respect their bodies, boundaries, and self-knowledge. Don’t patronize, just carry on with your badass selves knowing you’re ready to act if something comes up!

Stay safe out there, friends!

Questions, Comments, or Concerns? Let me know!

#LETSTALKABOUT Cold Weather Sleeping Tips

Now that we have covered sleeping bags and sleeping pads, it’s time to talk about some general tips for staying warm when the temps drop!

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Here’s the scenario: you’re in the backcountry, tucked into your sleeping bag, and you just can’t warm up. What do you do?

  1. Eat something fatty, sweet, and delicious: introducing a pop of sugar into your system will heat you up. It’s not a sustained burn, but the extra warmth can be enough to make a significant difference.

  2. Layer spare clothes, emergency blankets, socks, gloves, and other items under your sleeping pad. Try to keep it as even as possible for obvious reasons--you don’t want to get warm only to sleep on lumps and bumps! Any additional insulation between you and the cold or frozen ground will give you a boost in warmth. If you can, add a little additional layer where your hips, butt, and feet touch the ground.

  3. Stuff extra clothes and soft goods into your sleeping bag to take up empty space. The less air pockets there are, the less heat you have to generate to warm them up.

  4. Take any extra puffy jackets or vests you might have and zip them around your feet for toasty toes.

  5. Fill a nalgene or water bottle with boiling water and put inside your sleeping bag. Make sure it’s FULLY closed first--the only thing worse than being cold in the alpine is being wet and cold in the alpine!

  6. Wiggle! Don’t go too hard or you’ll end up sweating, but wiggle just enough to generate a little extra heat!

Things to consider:

One of the best ways to avoid the above scenario is by preparing for bedtime carefully. This means going to bed warm, but not sweaty. It means changing your wet, sweaty clothes out for a designated dry pair before bed, when space in your pack allows. It means keeping a clean, dry pair of socks in your sleeping bag and never letting them leave the tent. More on all of this later!

What are your favorite tips and tricks for staying warm? Let’s hear them!


#LETSTALKABOUT Sleeping Pad Ratings

Now that we have chatted about sleeping bag ratings, it’s time to hit on the next piece in the comfort quiver: your sleeping pad!

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Whereas sleeping bags are given an EN/ISO rating, sleeping pads get an r value that indicates their thermal resistance. The higher the number, the warmer the pad will keep you! It’s important to note that unlike the EN/ISO rating, there isn’t (yet!) a standardized testing procedure for assigning r-values. Some brands conduct rigorous internal testing, others simply guesstimate based on the available data. Do your own research on the brand before taking the rating they give their product at face value.

Let’s begin talking about the practical application of r-values by thinking of them as stand alone pieces. The following table lays out recommend r-values for different climates:

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This is a helpful starting point for thinking about climate, warmth, and what sleeping pad you want to bring with you.

Now, let’s think of your sleeping pad as part of a sleeping system that’s comprised of your pad, your sleeping bag, and the clothes you are wearing. Each part of the system has a different temperature rating, with pros and cons depending things like size, weight, packability, durability, and so on. You can play around with these variables for each adventure to balance things out. For example: let’s say you’re on a fall alpine adventure and the temps are expected to drop into the frigid. You don’t want to carry your massive 0 degree sleeping bag and you have an ultralight sleeping pad with an r value of 5.7. In this situation, you can likely forego the heavier bag for something lighter and rely on the warmer pad and some solid base layers to keep you toasty. If weight isn’t an issue, as with car camping, you have even more room to play.

Things to consider:

  1. As with sleeping bags, these recommendations are based on the mythical “Average Person” and what works for someone else may be a poor fit for you. If you can, rent or borrow sleeping pads from friends or local gear outfitters before investing and see what works for you. The higher the r-value or the lighter the pads get, the pricier they tend to be so a little field research is a wonderful thing.

  2. You can stack pads for cumulative warmth! A popular combination is using a lightweight closed-cell foam pad, like the Therm-A-Rest SOLite under your usual pad. It’s relatively light, relatively inexpensive, and textured enough to prevent slippage when stacked beneath your other pad. With an r-value of 2.8, it’s an easy boost to your sleeping system if you can spare the space for an additional pad.

There you have it, a basic run down! Questions, comments, or concerns? Let me know!

#LETSTALKABOUT Trip Reports

So you hit the trail on a whim, something has gone wrong, and no one knows where you are. What do you do? Let’s rewind for a second and talk about one of my essential pre-adventure items: the trip report!

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I make a habit of sending a pre-trip report to my trusted friends and family on every adventure, though I might skip a few details for more casual adventures. I definitely send the full list for anything I know is pushing my limits or involves greater objective risk and technical skills. That way, should something go wrong they will know where I am and have enough information to help me get the help I need.

Information to include:

1. Name of all persons in your party.

2. Destination, including the route you’re traveling by if there are several options.

3. Date and intended duration of your adventure.

4. Expected return time. I also include a margin of error. Example: “I should be back around 6pm but no need to worry if you haven’t heard from me by 10pm.”

5. When your friend should sound the alarm if you haven’t returned. Example: “I anticipate getting back Sunday night at 6pm but in case we are slow or need to sleep in the car at the trailhead, please call SAR if you haven’t heard from us by 8am on Monday.”

6. Description and license plate of the car(s) you’ll be taking.

7. Jacket and backpack color of party members.

8. Emergency contact info for all other party members.

9. Any known medical conditions. For example, if someone is medicine-dependent, that’s a good thing to list in the event of an emergency. First responders can show up prepared.

If all goes well, no one will ever need this information! But, it’s always good to plan ahead, especially when shifting weather conditions can hit you hard in the middle of a climb. It will also empower your loved ones to make informed decisions should they ever need to call SAR for you.


POST TRIP REPORTS!

We all love these! Whether you file on your local trail site, summitpost, peakbagger or somewhere else, please share the details of your trip! Were conditions perfect? We want to know! Are there downed trees, road closures, or unexpected hazards? We want to know! The more info and pictures, the better!

Questions, comments, additions or concerns? Let’s hear them!

#LETSTALKABOUT Sleeping Bag Ratings

So you’re packing for your next adventure and it’s time to grab a sleeping bag. How do you decide which bag to take? Enter the handy dandy but oh-so-confusing EN* rating, adopted by virtually all major sleeping bag manufacturers beginning in 2005.

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The ratings are given after 3rd party labs conduct rigorous, standardized tests before arriving at a temperature range for the “average” person. Bear in mind that these ranges assume the use of a hat, gloves, base layer, and basic foam sleeping pad. Gender specific** bags assume that men sleep warmer than women, so bear that in mind if you’re buying  The high end is the comfort rating. This means that the average person will be comfortable in the bag at the given temperature, snoozing away into the night. The mid-range of these temps will likely find the average person shivering, at least for a while, before they generate enough heat to stay comfortable through the night. The low end is the danger zone. In these temps, the bag may prevent you from death or very serious complications but you may suffer from frostbite or hypothermia. It should go without saying that you should not plan on taking your bag into these conditions--this is more of an “in an emergency situation you (probably) won’t die if you have this bag” rating.

All of that said, remember that this is based on averages. You may run hotter or cooler than the average person, and that will in turn affect your comfort and safety on the trail. I like to play it safe by selecting a warmer bag, especially for longer, colder adventures where weight isn’t a consideration. It’s easy to unzip or delayer if I’m too hot, but I can’t add layers or warmth that I didn’t bring with me and cold camping hacks like the trusty Nalgene full of boiled water and eating carbs before bed will only get you so far.

Things to consider:

  • The warmer and lighter the bag, the more expensive it’s likely to be. Choose wisely, and check to see if you can rent a bag to test it out before you buy. It’s also worth checking your local used gear store for a returned or consigned item. One good launder and it’s basically new!

  • Sleeping bag liners: though some question their efficacy, I have used a fleece liner to great effect on colder nights! Bonus points: they keep the inside of your bag cleaner and are very easy to wash.

  • Backcountry pajamas: the clothes you’re sleeping in matter. Where possible, have a clean, dry set of pajamas (socks, base layer, hat, midlayer for extra warmth, down booties, etc.) that are reserved for sleeping only.

Questions, comments, concerns? Let me know!

*This system was updated in 2017 to include an ISO rating and technically it’s the EN/ISO rating but that’s a long name that I don’t want to type twenty thousand times.

**I know, I know. WHY!


#LETSTALKABOUT Crampons & Microspikes

This question comes up every year: do I need crampons or microspikes? Here's a handy list of things to consider to help you decide.

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CRAMPONS
Will you be:
-traversing a glacier or thick ice deposit?
-ascending steep terrain (think snow and ice over 25 degrees of slope)?
-ascending or traversing terrain where a fall due to slipping would be catastrophic?
-ascending or traversing terrain where an ice axe is mandatory?

If you answered yes to a lot of these questions, it's likely that you need crampons.

Things to consider: if the terrain/adventure demands crampons, am I fully prepared with the rest of the gear and skills to safely undertake my journey? Have I made certain that my crampons are compatible with my footwear and fit them before hitting the trail? Click here for a helpful guide to choosing crampons.

MICROSPIKES
Will you be:
-traversing low angle patches of ice (less than 20 degrees)?
-traversing hard packed snowy areas?
-on variable terrain where ease of taking on and putting off is crucial?
-traveling faster/lighter so weight is a consideration?

If you answered yes to a lot of these, microspikes are a great traction option. They are relatively light, inexpensive, easy to take off and on a variety of footwear, and don't require any special skills to use. I’m personally a fan of the Kahtoola brand as I find them to be the most durable of the options!

Things to consider: As annoying as transitions are, taking these off as you traverse rocks and mud will prolong their life and keep them sharper. Not suitable for terrain over 20 degrees of slope.

SNOWSHOES
Will you be:

-traversing heavily snow-covered areas with angles of slope up to 25 degrees?

If the answer is yes, snowshoes can be a great option that combines floatation with traction, though the options vary by brand.

Things to consider: snowshoes are significantly more expensive than the other options, so choose wisely. Click here for some options! If you plan on tackling any elevation, opt for a pair with teeth and ascender bars to assist on the incline. Snowshoes without any form of teeth or traction on the bottom are ineffective on ice, so please be cautious.

YAK TRAX:

Yak Trax are an affordable option but they have limited efficacy. Useful for firm snow on flat surfaces so an idea option if you live in an area with snowy sidewalks, etc. Unfortunately, not a great option for steeper terrain so keep these babies tucked into your car or house and grab something a little more stout when you hit the trail.

TREKKING POLES

A non-standard traction device that is an essential part of my winter gear kit. Poles will help you control steps and slides as you tackle the trails this winter. I highly recommend snagging a pair no matter what activity you undertake!

Questions, comments, additional thoughts? Let's hear them!

#LETSTALKABOUT Trip Plans + Winter

Winter hasn’t even begun and I have already spent several nights camping in the snow! Now is a great time to think about trip planning in light of the snow and weather changes!

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As a general rule, I expect adventures to take twice as long when the bad weather, snow, and shortened days set in. You never know when you’ll encounter trail hazards like fresh snow or ice that will require additional time and attention to navigate through safely. Give yourself plenty of room for summit snacks and a safe return!

Accordingly, I pick trails and destinations differently, either opting for shorter trails (roughly 1/2 to 2/3 the distance I would go for on a summer day) for day hikes or making sure I’m extra prepared with warm layers, light sources, and so on if I still want to get after it.

Other things to consider:

1. Check your local trail resource for condition updates and road closures. If you’re in Washington State, WTA can’t be beat for most places!

2. Be Avalanche Aware. Snow is building and that means it’s time to download the NWAC app if you haven’t already and use it religiously. I highly recommend attending one of their free seminars and seeking further education if you plan on spending any time in the Cascades this winter. This advice applies to every other area in the world with avalanche terrain: seek out quality information about safety and avalanche conditions. Whether you’re snowshoeing, skiing, sledding, boarding or otherwise, odds are good you’ll be in avalanche terrain at one point or another. Knowing how to identify it and how to choose safe terrain based on the Avalanche forecast for the day can save your life.

3. Make sure you have your 10 essentials, adjusted for the colder weather. For example: my winter layers are beefier than my summer layers and I tend to carry more food. I also carry microspikes for pretty much everything now that it’s getting colder. They can save you from broken bones and bruises when it gets icy out.

4. Double check your footwear. I’m a huge fan of trailrunners for everything I can get away with but when snow builds and it gets icy, I switch to a waterproof option with better traction. Pair with some good wool socks and my toes stay happy!

5. Double check road conditions and opt to carpool with friends who have chains, 4WD, or AWD vehicles if possible. Some locations like highway passes and national parks require specific traction devices so know before you go and plan accordingly.

6. Don’t forget to file a trip report with family or friends before you hit the trail!

7. Don’t be afraid to tote along some hot treats like a thermos of soup or cocoa!

Other tips and tricks? I would love to hear them!