How to Build Something from Almost Nothing…
Currently, you can’t go to the gym. There’s no outdoor climbing.
How can you work on your balance?
Add a homemade, garden slackline to your home training/entertainment regime!
Luckily, using less-than-perfect materials for a slackline is ok––just keep it close to the ground. If anything fails, the consequences might be a few bruises but nothing catastrophic.
Most important, you’ll need two strong trees at least 12” in diameter. Strong trees are important because you’ll put them under a lot of tension. Also, the trees need to be a reasonable distance apart. For beginners, a shorter distance apart (like 20’) is a good starting place.
The best anchor material is 1” webbing, or other flat stock material, like sewn slings. Webbing is better than cord because it has more surface area. More surface area spreads out the force and reduces pressure on the tree bark (to not to kill the poor trees!). Alternatively, you could use an old rope. Wrapping the rope several times around the tree will help spread the pressure and reduce wear on the bark.
Whatever you decide to use, you’ll need two long lengths: one, long enough to wrap around the first tree; another to wrap around the second tree.
Total, you will need four to five, the bigger the better, carabiners. Locking is good, but not required.
A static rope is ideal. However, I don’t have a static rope and most likely you don’t either, so you can use a retired climbing rope like I did. Find Rules for Rope Care and Longevity Here.
For your block-and-tackle tensioning system you’ll need a cordelette/long prusik cord. Or, you could use old rope here too. However, static cord is preferred in this application. In order to get tension out of a rope, you’ll have to pull the stretch out first. Static cord transfers more power.
You’ll need twine or string to tie the two strands of your slackline together.
A pulley or pulleys are not strictly necessary but can be helpful. Two pulleys are even better, if you have two.
The first step in building your low-tech, garden slackline is to build single-point anchors on each tree.
Whatever material you chose, make sure to use a double wrap. Then, spread the material out if you’re using webbing or add an extra wrap if you’re using rope or cord. Next, tie an overhand knot with all of the loops together and clip a carabineer through the loops to create an anchor point.
In the photos, I’m using quadruple-length, green slings for my tree anchors. Since these are sewn slings, I did not need to tie a knot. Instead, I wrapped the sling around the tree and clipped into each end instead. You can see that the oval, locking carabineer that creates one of the anchor points (3rd photo down) is slightly cross-loaded because the tree is so fat!
In order to make the line, double your old rope by folding it in half.
Next tie a big overhand knot on a bight somewhere close to the folded end. Clip both strands of the resulting overhand-on-a-bight to the anchor of one of the trees.
Now tie another overhand-on-a-bight in the doubled rope about 6’-8’ from the second tree and clip a spare carabiner through the bight. The remaining 6’-8’ feet will be for your block-and-tackle tensioning system.
Whatever material you use, cord or rope, tie an overhand knot on one end. Clip the overhand into the anchor on the second tree. Now run the cord back to the unattached end of the slackline and clip it through the attached carabiner. Then run the cord back to the tree anchor. Clip/re-direct it again and then run it back to the slackline again. Here you can add a pulley if you have one. Putting the rope through a pulley here, instead of simply through the carabiner reduces friction. Continue by running the cord back to the tree anchor. Repeat until there are three loops (or six strands) and you are at the tree anchor.
Now, call all your family members and pull on the end to get as much tension as possible. Since this system has no progress capture, once the line is tight, you’ll need to hold on while you simultaneously tie a munter hitch and clip it to the anchor. If you have one, it’s practical to add a new carabiner here just for the munter. Finally, tie a mule hitch around all the strands and secure it all with an overhand. This should keep your tension system tight. At the same time, you can release it anytime should the need occur.
Wrap the twine around the two strands of rope that configure the slackline. This helps keep them together to form a wider platform. After all, you’re going to try to walk on this thing!
Test the tension of your line. If it touches the ground, you’ll need to heave on the block-and-tackle some more. Pull hard!
A line that is just barely off the ground, right in the middle, is a good place to start for beginner slackers like myself. Also, don’t make the line too high. Keep it below crotch height (for obvious reasons).
I started walking on my slackline while it was actually still touching the ground and it was hard enough!
Have you ever struggled to remove a stuck cam?
When trying to remove a stuck came it helps to know how it got stuck in the first place.
Most of the time a cam gets stuck when a leader gets pumped and scared. In a rush, the leader pulls the trigger bars back and rams the cam into the crack. And even if it is too big, they are too sketched to replace it with the proper size. Instead they clip and keep climbing.
It’s also common for cams to get stuck when they walk back into the crack. This can happen when the leader used a short sling. A short sling can encourage the rope to jiggle the cam. The jiggling causes the cam to walk back. Flaring cracks are particularly prone for this. The problem with a cam walking back is that you can no longer reach the trigger bars in order to release it.
Tips to Remove a Stuck Cam:
1. Look to see how the cam was placed. Was it placed from below, above or straight in horizontally? Try to remove it the same way it went in.
2. Use a nut tool to
The main tenant when it comes to how to pack for a mountaineering trip is that light is right!
Light is right for many reasons not least of which is that light is much easier and more enjoyable to carry.
However, light-is-right is especially important to me because I go to the mountains to get away from stuff. Getting down to basics allows me to focus simply on what I need and to be more appreciative of what I have. I find freedom in knowing what I can do without.
The most important thing when packing mountaineering gear is don’t bring more than you need and know how to use it all!
Knowing what you’ll need is often a process of trial-and-error as you gain experience. And knowing how to use all your gear takes a willingness to practice. For example, set up your tent in your living room a few times before you leave. Or, take a wilderness first-aid course.
Limit yourself to a 45L pack lined with a trash bag (if it’s going to rain).
Share a light, 3-season tent such as the Slingfin 2Lite.
Down compresses more, but if it’s going to be wet, it will not hold up. Synthetic is a better choice for rainy weather and wet conditions.
Use a 30° bag and wear clothes to sleep or tuck in with a hot water bottle if it’s colder.
Use a small Therm-a-Rest, such as the NeoAir.
Food is heavy, yet proper nutrition is important for long mountaineering days.
Don’t bring any more clothes than you can wear at one time. For summer mountaineering approaches I’ll bring runners, synthetic shorts and a t-shirt.
However, for most mountaineering trips I only bring–
We cover How to Pack for a Mountaineering Trip in detail before we begin all our mountaineering courses. Go to All Chicks Mountaineering Courses to learn more.
You can also refer to for more information.
How do you know if you know enough to recreate in a winter snowpack without a guide?
There is no cut and dry answer but this Avalanche Skills checklist is a good start.
It can be risky business going out with confident friends. Choose your backcountry friends carefully! This is a critical decision. Don’t be cavalier. Who will you leave the trailhead with? This goes for skiing, riding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice climbing.
Bottom line – consequences are high. Decisions in the backcountry can be the most important ones you may ever make. The mountains don’t care.
To quote Jeremy Jones,
Some days the mountains are screaming “get out of here,” and some days the mountains are going, “come on in, it’s time to party.”
You and your group need to be able to discern the difference. It is never black and white.
Here’s a baseline list of skill sets I consider crucial for any recreational backcountry enthusiast, friends and partners included:
*(All answers are true.)
Click on the following links for more information:
Rock climbing relates to ice climbing in many different ways.
The following 4 tips will get you into the swing of things – from rock climbing to ice climbing.
Rock climbing relates to ice climbing in that you don’t want to over grip. In ice climbing, just like rock climbing, over-gripping wastes energy. Worse, over-gripping when ice climbing squeezes the blood out of your fingers (making for cold hands). And over-gripping stiffens your wrists so your tools won’t roll off your hands properly when you swing.
Keeping your shoulders down and your arms straight helps you conserve energy on both ice and rock. When your shoulders are down and your arms are straight, you use your skeletal system for support instead of using precious muscle energy. Don’t hold on with bent arms! Straighten your elbows and hang off your shoulders so that your shoulder blades are pinned down your back.
You don’t want chicken wings on rock or ice. Chicken-wings happen when your elbows aren’t in line with the front of your shoulder. When your elbows are out of line (maybe up by your ears!), your shadow will look like a strange cactus. Whether you’re on rock or ice, keep your elbows close to your center and not chicken winging out. Keep your elbows in when you’re ice climbing and you’ll get more powerful swings and better sticks.
Your attention goes wherever your eyes go when you’re rock climbing or ice climbing. Don’t take your eyes off the sweet spot when you place your foot or swing. And don’t squint. If you look away, or squint, you’re more likely to miss your mark. Keep your eyes on the prize when you’re ice climbing and you’ll be able to see if your tool’s teeth have engaged after you’ve struck the ice, or not!
For more ice climbing specific technique and training beta check out:
Cramponing Technique, by Ice Climbing Guru and Lead Chicks Ice Climbing guide, Lindsay Fixmar.
Swing! Training For Ice Climbing, by AMGA Rock Guide and Founder Ripple Effect Training, Carolyn Parker
Cramponing technique starts with fundamental ice climbing footwork and is based on two key movements:
You can practice shin engagement for cramponing technique while standing on the ground or floor of your home in regular shoes or socks … or at the base of an ice flow!
Simply raise your foot and pull your toes up to engage your shins.
When you pick your foot up, if you don’t engage your shins, your toes will naturally drop down. Boots & crampons weigh the front of your foot down even more.
Kick with a dropped toe and three problems arise:
1. Lack of Surface Area:
With a dropped toe, the top of your crampon points hit the ice. The problem is the top of your crampon point is too small to appropriately displace your weight. Further weighting the top of your crampon point creates a pressure spot that breaks off in the ice. The ice cannot hold with the small amount of contact and the large amount of pressure.
With a dropped toe, you will kick your toe into the ice. And if you’ve ever had a bruised toenail…oof.
If you kick with a dropped toe, you will end up on your toes. As graceful, strong and elegant as Ballerinas are, ice climbers are not ballerinas. Ice climbers need to weight their feet, not stand on their toes.
Instead of kicking with a dropped toe, engage your shins and kick perpendicularly to the ice.
A proper ice climbing foot placement meets front and secondary crampon points with the ice:
In order to do this, pick up your foot, toes to the sky, and kick!
*Note: If someone tells you to ‘drop your heels,’ you’ve already made contact with the ice incorrectly. Fix that ineffective crampon placement by taking your foot off the ice, engaging your shin muscle, then re-placing your foot.
On the rock we watch our big toes in order to be precise.
For cramponing technique your crampon front point(s) are extensions of your big toes. Watch your front points in order to be precise when ice climbing.
Before each foot placement, locate your contact space (What does it look like? Is it a small divot? Is it a ledge?).
Decide: “Am I kicking or placing my foot?”
Pick up your foot, pull your toes toward the sky, and watch your foot make contact.
Making a kicking contact usually only requires one swift, controlled kick.
Bullet hard ice can require more kicks, but this is rare. Cold, wind-sculpted, or north facing routes with severely cold temperatures can create solid slabs of ice that require kicking. While places like Ouray have softer, more ‘picked out’ ice with ledgy placements.
In order to work on foot precision, you need to watch your feet make contact.
To watch your feet make contact, you need to be able to relax on your tools.
To relax on your tools your pinky fingers should be in the pummel, your arms should be long, your shoulders relaxed, and your hips out away from the ice.
Learn more about ice climbing technique join me on a Chicks Ouray, Colorado | Ice Climbing Clinic.
A recent study, 22 Years of Avalanche Fatalities by Activity and Trigger Type in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks, Canada reveals that 43% of avalanche fatalities were ice climbers, 32% were skiers, and 18% were snowshoers. The study also reveals almost a 50/50 split between victims triggering avalanches themselves or getting hit by a natural from overhead.
Looking at this study, it’s odd that many ice climbers and mountaineers throughout the world do not carry avalanche rescue equipment. This long-standing culture of climbers not carrying avalanche rescue equipment is especially odd considering ice and alpine climbs often involve avalanche terrain i.e. gullies or exposure on the approach or descent.
In contrast, backcountry skiers have always accepted responsibility for avalanche risk. The backcountry skiing code-of-conduct insists that everyone carries avalanche rescue gear.
Avalanche rescue gear is considered fundamental gear for backcountry skiers. Not only do backcountry skiers expect their partners to be properly equipped, they expect them to be adequately skilled in the event of an avalanche.
Although we see a shift towards avalanche awareness in climbing culture, Chicks wants to encourage all ice climbers and mountaineers to adopt the fundamentals of avalanche safety: always climb with avalanche gear and know how to use it. Don’t climb with anyone who doesn’t.
The best way to familiarize yourself with avalanche rescue gear and fundamental skills is to take a 1-day Avalanche Rescue Course.
Avalanche Rescue courses are not only for skiers. They are for everybody (skiers, boarders, climbers, snowshoers, sledders) who gets out in the mountains in the wintertime.
If you can’t afford to buy avalanche rescue gear, it’s easy to rent.
Again, having avalanche rescue gear as well as the ability to properly use avalanche rescue gear is the only chance for survival in the unfortunate event you or one of your partners is involved in an avalanche.
Together with the Silverton Avalanche School , Chicks is hosting three early-season, 1-day Avalanche Rescue Courses. Each course will be held in a different, yet equally fantastic Colorado San Juan Mountains location.
These clinics are offered throughout the country. Check out the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education’s Upcoming Public Avalanche Training Courses List. Get signed up for one before you set off pursuing your winter ice!
Bring your guidebook (or topos) of your desired route(s).
Read and take notes on directions to the trailhead, approaches and route description(s).
Use tech resources such as gaia.gps, mountainproject or sumitpost for beta for information.
Pro Tip – If the guidebook is too heavy, take photos of all relevant pages.
Make yourself a time plan.
How long does it take to drive to the trailhead?
How long is the approach?
When do you want to be back?
How long does it take to get back?
How much can you climb in the rest of the time?
Is your route the right objective for the day?
Are conditions appropriate?
Do you have the gear and experience for the send?
Have a Plan B if things don’t line up.
Is it a project?
Just getting mileage?
Happy to enjoy a leisurely day at the crag?
Define your goal!
Who is the most important part!
Are you in the right mind space?
(Put away the distractions and hidden agendas.)
Is your partner on the same page?
Communicate your plan for the day.
Teamwork makes the dream work!
See you in the hills,
Two young men, whom I barely knew but had eagerly suggested we go sport climbing together, yelled up at me.
“What?” I yelled back, trying to maintain composure. What the hell were they talking about?
I was struggling at the crux of a moderate sport route and when I looked down both of the guys were grinning and gyrating their hips.
At the time, most of my experience was in trad climbing. “I must be missing something,” I thought. I’d never heard of “doing the Elvis” in trad climbing.
Later, I went to a local climbing gym to learn better technique from a coach. After many sessions, it finally dawned on me: my hips should not act like an anchor on a ship! They are in fact my power center.
If you think about it, you can move your hips in many ways to your advantage, just like those boys were trying to show me all those years ago.
I bet Elvis never dreamed he’d be invoked as a model for efficient climbing movement!