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Off Belay Magazine, 1972-79

Off-Belay, 1972

Jan 1972, p. 11: Lloyd, Darryl, "Climate Changes and Northwest Glaciers"

Washington state contains three-quarters of the glacier area in the western contiguous U.S., which totals about 200 square miles. There are nearly 700 glaciers in the Cascades alone and more than 100 square miles of permanent ice north of Snoqualmie Pass. In the late 19th century, following the peak of the "little ice age," virtually all glaciers began to recede. Between 1920 and 1950 some observers considered the recession catastrophic. The period from 1913 to 1943 was relatively warm and dry in western Washington. The climate shifted around 1943, and glaciers began to respond by the late 1940s and early 1950s. In Washington, glacier expansion reached its peak around 1956-57. From that time until this writing, most of the state's glaciers have remained in apparent equilibrium. The article includes a fine aerial photo of the Klawatti Glaciers in the North Cascades by Austin Post.

Jan 1972, p. 22: Firey, Joe, "Ski Mountaineering Equipment"

There are two popular branches of ski touring: cross-country skiing and ski mountaineering. This article describes the latter. The author discusses poles and skis. He recommends leather boots, noting that the currently popular all-plastic boots for downhill skiing are too rigid for much walking and don't allow the feet to breathe. Vibram soles are available on specialized ski mountaineering boots or can be added to conventional ski boots by a cobbler.

The problem with cable bindings is that when the cable is removed from the rear cable guides for touring, the boot can easily twist out of the binding. This shortcoming is handled by the use of a removable toe-iron, such as those made by Kandahar, Marker and Attenhofer. The simplest toe irons supplement the toe piece of a release binding, but this setup tends to chew into the toe of the boot after extensive touring. More expensive irons like the Attenhofer lock onto a plate on the ski and retain the boot, allowing the releaseable toe piece to be turned aside.

A few non-cable bindings have appeared in recent years. Some use a flexible plastic strap which passes under the boot. These have been known to fail. Others, like the Gertsch, use a rigid metal or plastic plate underfoot together with an accessory uphill hinge. These are heavy and awkward to change modes, but offer full heel lift for climbing and good release characteristics for skiing.

Trima and Vinersa are the best climbing skins currently available. The article includes diagrams of bindings and skins and photos by the author of ski tourers on the Easton Glacier and at Schreibers Meadows on Mt Baker. (See also offbelay-1972-jun-p55.)

Jan 1972, p. 42: "Ski Descents of Difficult Routes"

This short article describes recent ski descents of steep mountain faces, a new development in the U.S. In February 1971, Swiss skier Sylvain Saudan skied the headwall above the Newton Clark Glacier on Mt Hood, between the Wy'east and Cooper Spur routes. Bill Briggs, a mountain guide, skied from the summit of the Grand Teton, making one 150-foot rappel with skis on. Fritz Stammberger of Aspen skied the north face of the North Maroon Bell in June 1971, following a route flagged during the ascent. The article mentions a few details of the descents, including falls by Briggs and Stammberger.

Jun 1972, p. 55: Letter from Rick Liu

Commenting on Joe Firey's article in the January issue, the writer argues for winter mountaineering with Nordic ski equipment--pin-type bindings, lignostone edges and light-to-medium weight boots. He writes: "I would like to extend an invitation to Mr. Firey to come to Jackson Hole for a demonstration of Nordic-style shortswing. [...] I would be most disappointed if some aspiring winter mountaineers got the idea that skins and K2's are 'the only way to go.'"

Refusing to take the bait, Joe Firey responds by describing winter conditions in the Cascades and the obstacles that ski mountaineers in the range face. He writes: "The relative merits of the two kinds of equipment can be, and indeed, all too often are debated at length and at times with some heat. In my opinion such debate could be more usefully directed to the question of how best to combine the now separate advantages of these two kinds of equipment."

Off-Belay, 1973

Apr 1973, p. 25, "War Stories"

Based on an interview with Duke Watson, this article describes the U.S. Army climbing school at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia in 1943-44. Watson replaced John McCown as commander of the rock climbing school in January 1944 and was there until June, when the operation was closed down and troops prepared for deployment to Europe. Watson's staff included many of the top climbers of the day. David Brower was second in command. Raffi Bedayn was supply officer. Instructors included Dick Emerson, Fred Beckey and Bil Dunaway.

Soldiers were taught the rudiments of rock climbing in two intensive weeks. They were soon doing aid routes on rock, and mixing tactical training in with the ascents. They practiced low-visibility climbing--avoiding ridgelines, silent rope signals, night ascents--climbing with helmets and weapons. This training proved invaluable when many of the men from Seneca stormed Riva Ridge on the Italian front. McCown was a key man in that action, and lost his life in the battle.

The West Virginia maneuvers area spanned most of two or three counties, with headquarters at Elkins, WV. In addition to rock climbing, combat regiments were taught the fundamentals of military travel in rugged terrain, topography, map work, bivouacs, stream crossings, and military problems unique to mountainous areas. The article includes several fine photographs by Duke Watson of soldiers rock climbing. (See also p. 21.)

Dec 1973, p. 51: Firey, Joan, review of "Wilderness Skiing"

This review of the successor to the Manual of Ski Mountaineering reveals the Fireys' preferences for bindings, poles, stoves, food planning, clothing, navigation, ski technique, and glacier skiing.

Off-Belay, 1974

Feb 1974, p. 2: Magruder, W.J., "Ski Tips: A Simple Way to Improve the Silvretta Touring Binding"

This article explains how to add a sheet metal plate with cable guides under the foot on a Silvretta Saas-Fee binding. The plate stabilizes the boot laterally helping the skis track straight when climbing. Without the plate the boots have a tendancy to twist out of the bindings on traverses. The author extolls the virtues of using climbing boots with these bindings. (Photos.)

Off-Belay, 1975

Apr 1975, cover: Knudson, Dave, photo, "Spring ski touring in Boston Basin"

A skier pauses in upper Boston Basin with Forbidden Peak in the background.

Dec 1975, p. 28: Knudson, Dave, photo, "Ski tour on Mt Shuksan"

A man on foot carrying skis climbs the Sulphide Glacier toward the summit pyramid of Mt Shuksan.

Off-Belay, 1976

Feb 1976, contents: Knudson, Dave, photo, "Spring skiing on Sahale Arm"

A skier descends with Mt Johannesburg in the background.

Dec 1976, p. 13: Pargeter, Dick, "On Olympic Trail Shelters"

The National Park Service is planning to remove forty shelters in the Olympic Mountains because they are no longer necessary, too expensive to maintain, not in keeping with wilderness, and concentrate impact. The author argues against this plan.

In the April 1977 issue (p.21), John R. Douglass, Chief Naturalist of Olympic National Park, responds to Pargeter's concerns. He discusses the Park Service reasoning and notes that the Wilderness Act prohibits structures except as necessary to meet the minimum requirements for administration of the area. Interior Department policy dictates that facilities not be provided in the wilderness for the "comfort and convenience" of the traveler. Since November 1976 a moritorium on shelter removal has been in effect while the policy is reviewed.

Off-Belay, 1977

Feb 1977, p. 2: Smutek, et al, "Adult Toys for Adult Children"

Van Brinkerhoff, Joe Firey, Ted Reyhner, Gary Rose and Ray Smutek participate in a panel discussion on alpine ski mountaineering equipment. Not too many years ago, ski touring meant fitting your old downhill skis with a toe iron and climbing skins and taking off for the wilderness. Nordic style touring with skinny skis was little known. In the past half-dozen years, these roles have been reversed. Ski touring has become synonymous with Nordic style touring and alpine touring is little known. The article contains an excellent summary of the state of alpine ski mountaineering equipment (with photographs of current boots and bindings) the late 1970s.

Ten years ago there was no real choice in a ski mountaineering binding. Everyone used cable bindings, because that's all there was. The cable system had two sets of cable guides. The rear guides held the heel in place for downhill skiing. For climbing, only the front guides were used, allowing the heel to lift. The key to the system was a device called a touring plate or toe iron. It kept the boot from twisting off the ski when the cables were in the uphill position. Toe irons are now virtually unavailable. The article discusses the following bindings and includes photos of each:

Regarding boots, the panel discusses four options: conventional plastic alpine ski boots, specially designed ski mountaineering boots, conventional mountaineering boots, and old-fashioned lace ski boots. Photographs depict ski mountaineering boots from Hanwag, Meindl and Iser. All are leather buckle boots with lugged soles. Lugged sole boots often do not work well with releasable toe pieces because of the rocker in the sole and release friction from the lugs. For mountaineering boots, the Galibier Spoiler, a plastic cuff that buckles around the ankle, adds support for downhill skiing.

The group discusses skis, waxes, no-wax bases and climbing skins. Vinersa skins are the most popular and adhesive-backed skins are a relatively new development.

Dec 1977, p. 26: Knudson, Dave, photo, "Ski touring in Boston Basin"

Two skiers pause on the Quien Sabe Glacier below Sahale Peak.

Off-Belay, 1978

Feb 1978, p. 53: "Avalanche Conditions - Washington"

Winter climbers and tourers can get the latest information on avalanche conditions in the Snoqualmie Pass area plus free lessons in avalanche awareness and survival through two programs offered by Ken White, recreational assistant for the North Bend ranger district. 442-SNOW will offer a recorded telephone message about avalanche conditions updated at 7 a.m. daily. Free avalanche awareness clinics will be offered on Saturdays at 2 p.m. in the upper parking lot of the Alpental ski area.

Aug 1978, p. 26, "Extreme Skiing"

This short article is from the New Zealand A.C. Bulletin. It notes, "The increasing craze for ski descents on high mountains is reaching a peak in Europe. A change in attitudes and developments in technique and equipment have led to ski descents of some of the classic mountaineering routes." Sylvain Saudan took over from Terray and Lachenal with ski descents in the late 1960s of the Whymper Couloir on the Aiguille Verte and the Gervasutti Couloir on Mont Blanc. More recently the Couturier Couloir has been skied. During the 1977 winter, twelve outstanding descents were completed in the Mont Blanc massif, including: The article includes more detail about some of these routes, including length, pitch, and the amount of abseiling.

Aug 1978, p. 35: "Mt McKinley Circled on Nordic Skis"

Traveling on Nordic skis, Ned Gillette, Galen Rowell, Allan Bard and Doug Weins completed the first circumnavigation of Mt McKinley on its glacier system [presumedly in 1978]. The team crossed four major passes and covered 90 miles over a period of 19 days.

Oct 1978, p. 15: Bielefeldt, Talbot and Paul Sylvester, "Maintaining Tradition: Adapting Heavy Touring Boots to Nordic Norm Bindings"

This article describes how to mount a metal plate on the sole of a heavy cross-country ski boot so it can be used with lightweight, three-pin, cross-country bindings without ripping out the holes on the boot sole. Heavier boots were intended by the manufacturers to be used with cable bindings but many skiers have been using them with the lighter Nordic Norm pin bindings.

Dec 1978, cover: Knudson, Dave, photo, "Skiing near Early Winter Spire in the North Cascades"

A skier descends an open basin below a ridge with a small cornice.

Off-Belay, 1979

Feb 1979, cover: Knudson, Dave, photo, "Ski mountaineering in the Boston-Sahale col"

Two skiers reach a corniced saddle with Sahale Peak in the background.

Feb 1979, p. 4: Barnett, Steve, "Ski Mountaineeing, Nordic Style"

The author of the book Cross Country Downhill describes the suitability of Nordic gear for ski mountaineering. He argues that the lack of progress in ski mountaineering has been due to the continued use of Alpine gear. While Alpine gear has improved continuously for piste skiing, it is poorly suited for horizontal travel, thus limiting the horizons of today's ski mountaineers. He includes a 1912 quote from Arnold Fanck about touring in the Alps suggesting that the methods of the pioneers were more similar to Nordic style ski mountaineering than today's Alpine touring.

The author discusses how Nordic gear satisfies his requirements for ski mountaineering: mobility, durability, safety, comfort and downhill capability. For mobility, Nordic gear is superior because it allows the skier to walk on the balls of the feet. Durability is achieved using fiberglass skis with heel locators to reduce stress on boots in three-pin bindings. Nordic gear is inherently safer than Alpine gear because the boots can twist so much in freeheel bindings that it's difficult to build up dangerous forces. Downhill capability is achieved using the telemark turn and auxiliary techniques like stepping and the open turn. The author briefly discusses current skis and boots suitable for Nordic ski mountaineering. (See also offbelay-1979-apr-p41.)

Feb 1979, p. 37: "Northwest Avalanche Advisory"

The Northwest Avalanche Forecasting Center will provide an improved avalanche advisory service this season using information gathered from Forest Service, State Department of Transportation, and National Park Service reporting stations in both the Cascades and Olympics. Advisories will be issued before noon Fridays and anytime during the week when the hazard is rated high or extreme. Forecasts will be available by telephone and National Weather service weather radio. Four standarized hazard classifications will be used: low, moderate, high and extreme.

Feb 1979, p. 45: Advertisement for Nomad Camps, by Bill and Peg Stark

"X-C ski the high Cascades. Miles of groomed roads and wild trails. Gourmet meals, lodging in wilderness shelters. X-C lessons."

Apr 1979, p. 3: Knudson, Dave, photo, "Spring skiing on Sahale Arm"

A skier descends the Sahale Glacier with the summit of Sahale above, very rime encrusted.

Apr 1979, p. 41: Letter re: ski mountaineering, Nordic style

In his letter, William Quirk of Anchorage, AK, argues that Steve Barnett's February article overemphasized the use of pin bindings, fiberglass skis, and telemark turns. Cable bindings are preferred in Alaska because they are more durable, provide greater support, and accept a greater variety of boots. Use of laminated wood skis is also widespread. While the telemark turn is useful, the "bread and butter" technique for descending mountain slopes is traversing and step turning.

Dec 1979, p. 18: Horwitz, Ken, "Nordic Style Boots"

The author discusses the desirable characteristics of Nordic mountaineering boots and includes pictures of current models from Kastinger, Track, Vasque, Galibier, Norrona and Haugen. Referring to the recent circumnavigation of Mt McKinley on 50mm boots, the author notes that one of the participants said that "while they were able to use the narrower, lighter boots for promotional purposes, if he had it to do over again, he would use more conventional equipment, [...] cable bindings, skins, and short alpine skis."

Dec 1979, p. 25: Knudson, Dave, photo, "Ski mountaineer in Boston Basin, Johannesburg Mtn beyond"

A man on foot carries skis up a slope with Johannesburg Mountain in the background.

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