We Are the Road Crew

Another busy time here at Ragged Mountain Guides……..ice climbing is getting pretty darn sweet & the snow is falling.  Mid winter has officially arrived!

So far so good!  We’ve got climbs on the calendar with some of our favorite guests, a trip to the Tetons, a couple of Presidential Range Traverses, and more ice climbing on the way!  Stay tuned!

Tetons Summer 2017

Want to climb a Teton classic?  Give me a call if we have climbed together.  I will set you up with a prime training plan.

AMGA SPI Programs 2017


March 31-April 2, 1 spot left

May 19-21 open


April 15-16 3 Spots open

May 5-6 1 spot left

Thanks to Petzl, Sterling Rope, Millet, J Snare, Hyperlight Mountain Gear, & Core Third for keeping us ready and light!


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Busy Busy Busy!!!

Somedays all I want to say is WELCOME TO THE BIG ICE. Then it got too warm so we went rock climbing up chimneys. It’s all good.


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Dead Horses aren’t Dead Enough

To some extent, I started something.  Steph Davis posted an article regarding her favorite rope joining ‘knots’.  Steph does make some compelling reasoning behind her strategies.  Mammut North America picked up the blog post and shared it.  I commented on it (“apply palm to forehead”).  It is a great read, however I find it generally misleading, and dare I say slightly misinformed. Some of my thoughts are on nomenclature on the subject, but also regarding the security of the readers of climbing literature.  A certain magazine has published a number of rappelling articles and blog posts that are factually incorrect.  Gribbon at Mammut NA and I exchanged some messages regarding this topic and he inquired if I would be interested in make a statement.

I do not know Steph Davis, and I have never even met her.  She is well known as an avid adventurer, well traveled first ascentionist, and exceptional climber who is sponsored by many leading equipment manufacturers. I hope to run into her someday…. I’ve secretly always been a fan of hers.  She’s out there doing amazing things daily.

So now, I will kill my last horse on the subject.

I want to begin with settling a technical terminology clarification.  There are differences between knots, hitches, and bends.

Knot: A knot is a compact intersection of material, using only the material itself to create a functional point.

Bend: A joint or connection made from two independent ends of material.

Hitch: A reference for when a rope attaches to an object.  The object could be a carabiner or a hitch but on a host rope.  (We won’t make many references to hitches in this article).

Steph’s article recommends 3 knots for tying rappel ropes together: Double Overhand Knot, Figure Eight Follow Through, and Double Figure Eight Follow Through.

First, I would say there are 3 Bends that are commonly used for joining rappel ropes or even cord ends together.  This is not to say that there are no other options, simply that these are the most commonly used choices by mountain professionals, professionally trained guides, and climbing instructors like myself.  In this article, I will not entertain mismatched material diameters, specialty techniques or fancy rope tricks where special techniques may need to be applied.  Below, the bends are outlined in no specific order.

Beware: some of these have multiple official common names!

Grapevine Bend aka Double Fisherman Bend

Grapevine Bend aka Double Fisherman Bend

Grapevine Bend aka Double Fisherman Bend

This bend is one of the most classic bends learned by climbers.  It is a great choice for high security.  It is very strong.  According to CMC Rescue, it maintains a 68% efficiency when tied.  The double fisherman’s bend is a fantastic choice for more permanent connections such as prussik cords, cordelettes, or rappel ropes when there is little chance of snags.  for fancy tech cordage, follow the manufacturers recommendations for bends (some suggest a triple fisherman bend for tech cord joining).  In my work, I generally use this bend to create Prussik loops, and sometimes for tying cordelettes into a loop.  It is the best choice for tying ropes together for long top rope pitches. However, this can very difficult to untie after being loaded. Strive for 8-10 inches of tail once the bend is dressed and pulled tight in ropes,  3 inches in cord.

Figure Eight Bend aka Flemmish Bend

Figure Eight Bend in Use at the Gunks, NY

Figure Eight Bend in Use at the Gunks, NY

The figure eight bend or Flemish bend is seemingly less commonly used.  I’m not really sure why.  It should not be confused with the similar appearing figure eight follow through knot.  This bend is a great choice for joining rappel ropes in higher load scenarios, rope rescue work, and even tying cordelettes into loops.  In fact this is what I use with regular cord for my cordelettes.  CMC Rescue shows a 51% efficiency. This bend is fairly easy to untie after it is loaded which makes it a great option.  It is also very strong which is a bonus.  Have used this bend for many years with great success.  I’m also unsure what this is referenced as Flemish other than possibility that  it is commonly used in Belgium.  Strive for 10-12 inch tails in rope, 3 inches in cord.  Be sure to dress and then pull thight before use.

Flat Overhand Bend

Flat Overhand, use with a minimum 12" tails.

Flat Overhand, use with a minimum 12″ tails.

The Flat Overhand is rife with controversy.  This controversy is generally related to lack of education and misinformation perpetuated by myth. This bend is flat and asymmetrical, meaning when the ropes are used for rappelling, the bend pulls smoothly across the surface.  This bend is unlikely to snag.  This make it a fantastic choice for rappel ropes.  Stuck rappel ropes create huge challenges and increase hazards.  Some climbers will tie their cordage together with the Flat Overhand.  I suggest that there are better and stronger options for this task.  Too, I have found in my own practice that the flat overhand seems to come loose when not  in use.  A disadvantage of this bend is that it appearance is quite simple misleading people to believe that it is lacking in security.

Strength: This bend is quite strong, recent informal testing at the Petzl Technical Institute during the AMGA Annual Meeting showed some fantastic results from the Flat Overhand. In fact, it is plenty strong when well dressed and pretensioned.  If I had the actual numbers I would post them here, although I don’t think they have been officially published.

Tom Moyer’s testing showed minimum breaking strengths in 11mm rope with well tied bends to be 1100lbs range. Multiple tests showed failures in the range of 1200-2000 lbs.  When you consider that the bend must be dressed neatly then pulled tight, you have a recipe for easy identification, and simple and fast construction.

Black Diamonds testing shows incredible strength, in excess of 3000 lbs.

Flat Overhand Key Points: 12 inch tails in rope, (for general purpose, I don’t recommend it’s use in cord), tied neatly, pre tensioned before use. Check frequently if using multiple times.

Flat Overhand Bend in use at the Gunks, NY.

Flat Overhand Bend in use at the Gunks, NY

A Note on Backup Knots

Testing reveals that backup knots rarely add any additional strength to the load bearing knot or bend.  They do not decrease the chances of a knot coming loose.  Some knots namely the bowline, require a backup knot as it is easy to untie under load.  Backup knots can be a waste of time and rope/material. Check your work, then partner check.

A Note on Knotting the Ends of the Rappel Ropes

Make an informed decision on wether or not to knot the ends.  Weight and balance the benefits and costs.  At times it makes sense too knot the ends, other times it may increase your chances of getting the rope stuck. I recently learned form a lawyer that Dogma never saved anyone.

Remember, if you have any doubt regarding the best choices for joining rope, web,  or cords together, you should do your homework, and hire an AMGA Certified Guide to help you form your conclusions.  Seek Qualified Instruction!  Finally, recall that there is no advantage without disadvantage!  Choose wisely, don’t make rash decisions because you red some online article telling you what to do!

Be careful out there.



Tom Moyer  https://user.xmission.com/~tmoyer/testing/EDK.html

CMC Rescue Knot Efficiency Calculator (app available in the iPhone App Store)

Black Diamond Testing http://blackdiamondequipment.com/en/qc-lab-what-is-the-best-rappel-knot.html

Disclaimer: Climbing and activities at height are very dangerous.  You are solely responsible for your own actions and failures. Period. Don’t blame someone else for your mistakes.













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Have a Plan B

Over the years as a recreational climber, and while working as a guide, I’ve often thought about how and when we take people into the mountains.  I used to work for a large guide service and frequently, we would do this 3 day mountaineering course that culminated in a climb up the Lion Head on a Mt Washington Winter Climb in NH.  For those of you who don’t know, Mt Washington has pretty gnarly wind and weather during the winter months.  It is regularly foggy,  blowing 60-90 mph form the Arctic NW and temps rarely exceed o degrees F in January and February.  On this mountaineering course, we would often do a day of ice axe and crampon work, climb Willey’s Slide or Shoestring Gully on day 2, then head up Mt Washington on Day 3.

Brutal.  Goggle off for the leeward snowfield.  Keep them from fogging.

Brutal. Goggles off for the leeward snowfield. Keep them from fogging.

The trouble is, if day 3 is -40 F with the wind chill, we were still going!   Seriously!


Today’s conditions 12-16-16

Over these years, I came to the conclusion after suffering some frostbite myself, that if the weather is this rough, we should just go do something else.  Here’s why:

  • Un-productivity.  Would your time be better spent on a summit climb 1000′ lower?  How about ice climbing in the valley?  How about ice climbing the valley in the sunshine?  I have been surprised how pleasant it can be on a cold day to top rope in the sun.  Too, I once scrubbed a 1 day Mt Washington climb and substituted a Mt Madison climb which, at about 1000′ lower in elevation, was actually quite pleasant, and left my guests with a productive and successful experience. They came back because we made good choices and it didn’t totally suck.  Mt. Chocorua is also a good winter climb.

Fun in the sunshine, a fine consolation prize.

  • You will freeze exposed skin, fingertips, and toes.  It doesn’t really matter how good your gear is when it’s this bad.
  • Unless you have immediate intentions of a polar circumnavigation, climbing Denali (which is probably warmer), or going to an 8000m peak, it is largely unproductive to willingly punish yourself.  If you are going to the Sultana Ridge on Foraker, it’s probably a good idea to go out in this weather.
  • You will not get to the top of Mt Washington in -30 degree F temperatures, with winds blowing over 60 mph. It is inhospitable, and you will crawl, largely because you can’t stand up.   Unless you get a ride in the Obs snow coach.
  • Your goggles will frost over and freeze.  Believe it or not, this is a common reason climbs get turned around.  If you can’t see, you can’t walk or climb.  Or descend for that matter.  Oh, you brought a second pair of goggles? Awesome!  You are smart, but these will likely frost over too.  Rub that cat crap gel into the lenses.  It seems to help.  And while you’re at it, run some dermatome grease into your skin.  This salve will help fend the frostbite off.
  • Negligence.  If you are a guide or simply leading a club trip, and your crew gets frostbite, or worse, you’ve now conducted an activity in the wrong place at the wrong time.  That is negligent.
The Black Dike was a better choice.

The Black Dike was a better choice.

  • Rescue.  If you get hurt and it’s this bad, no rescue team is going to come until the weather improves.  Picture this: your boot comes untied- you take your glove off to tie your boot- your glove blows away- your hand freezes, it only takes a minute-your boot is still untied- then you trip over your laces while you sprint for cover- you bang your head or break your leg. The story usually doesn’t get better….
  • Navigation. It’s really hard to navigate in these conditions.  If it’s windy, you cannot pull out a map- it’s likely it will get blown away, and it’s difficult to toggle the GPS with heavy gloves on.  Make a nav plan before you head out the door.  Avoid blue dot fever.


Now, if you like the idea of going out in these conditions to see how far you can get, or to see what it’s really like, then have at it.  Just turn around before it gets too rowdy.

Have fun out there, and be ready to suggest a plan B.  There should always be a plan B.  Be smart, don’t rely on pure luck.

at some point, luck runs out.

at some point, luck runs out.

Check the weather here: https://www.mountwashington.org/experience-the-weather/higher-summit-forecast.aspx

Check the Avalanche Hazard Here: http://www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org

Know before you go!

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Winter has Arrived in New Hampshire!

During the past 7 days, I’ve climbed a bunch or routes with friends and guess in the Mount Washington Area.

First, I climbed the Black Dike with Max Lurie of IMG/IMCS.  Max and I met at 7am, packed twin ropes, a light rock rack, and full rack of stubble ice screws, and got on with it.  It was quite foggy but we made quick work of the early season conditions, and were back at the car by 1130am. Just in time to get a high five from John Sykes.

We found scrappy conditions, hard to protect terrain, but we hear it been getting better from our friend Silas.

I headed back up to climb with Robert over the weekend.  We found arctic cold weather, and enough ice on Mt Willard to have a go.  We followed up with a trip up the Lion Head on Mt Washington.

We found that we were alone on the upper mountain ping pong ball, cold windy conditions, heavy windslabs on the east snowfields, and 12 inches of rime ice on every cairn.  Best to bring a white out nav plan and a GPS.

Book it up!  It’s time!

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