Monday, December 19, 2011

Yosemite's Tioga Pass Ice Climbing

The Tioga Pass road is open, which means access to (almost) roadside ice in Yosemite National Park!

The descent was aided by a nearby sport route with bolted anchors....we were able to swing over from the 1st tree rappel and get back to our packs with a double 60M Rappel.

The ice down low was a really fun angle but was pretty bullet hard and thin in some places....wish I had some stubbies. 
       Errr...guides day off...rope management is overrated right?                                                                                      
Top of the route in the sunshine (the ice was a little rotten for the top 80 ft). Guides Viren & Julie taking advantage of open roads and ice conditions.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ice Climbing, Parker Canyon CA

The lack of snow and cold short days may get some skiers down this time of year, but not for those willing to hike a little and swing some tools in the frozen seeps of the Eastern Sierra.  The Parker Canyon trail head typically gets buried by big early season storms making the approach way too long for short winter days.  However this season, we have little to no coverage at the lower elevations and were able to drive up to the upper trail-head access for Parker Lake (High clearance and 4WD needed)  

The drive in was an adventure in itself, as Lyra's 4-runner bounced around the road and those of us in the back wished we had our helmets on. The approach hike which was an enjoyable 2 hours and 15 minutes had us going up and over a moraine, on a good trail to Parker lake, crossing the glassy lake that was iced over, and then traveling cross country with a little bushwacking up to the base of the ice flow.
  the view up-canyon from Parker Lake (you can see the climbing higher up the canyon in the shade)
The bulk of the ice was around 60-90 Meters tall and had several different sections of varying difficulty (WI - 2-4).  We chose to start on the left flow which had really nice ice, though the cold night yielded some dinnerplating on the bulges.  Above the main flow, the drainage continued for 300-400 Meters of really fun ice (WI 2) which I was able to solo up and get high enough to have some amazing views and bask in the sun.  We then top roped some of the steeper ice on the main flow that looked a little too chandeliered  to lead (though I suspect that will form in over the next several cold nights).

 Dave and Lyra (SMG guides) approaching the ice (it really was steeper than it looks- the left flow is WI 2-3 and the right flow is WI 3-4) 
We noticed several other thinner flows on the north side of the canyon, though the sun hits the tops of them and they may contain rotten or unstable ice.

Viren leading WI3

Overall a great adventure with a nice remote feel and every aspect of the day being really fun (except for the icy cold breeze)  we were greeted by a full moon rising on the last leg of our hike out which topped off a perfect day of adventure in the Eastern Sierra.
This is one of the better venues to teach ice climbing ... the approach is just a little long for these short days, and the trail-head will get shut down once we get our first big storm.  The fun lower angle ice down low is a great way to ease into the season, but will get buried by snow making the flow quite a bit shorter.  Get it while it's good!
~Viren P. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ice Climbing, Lee Vining CA

 Approach: Heinous. Ice: In, but thin in most places. Beta & Pics below provided by Dale Apgar.

 Dale Climbing this weekend  Photo Credit: Bryan Tucker

Friday, November 18, 2011

Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas Rock Climbing

Red Rock Sunrise.  Chad B. Photo
How did you get into rock climbing?  How about alpine climbing?  Which came first?  Seems as though the answer to those questions for most people falls into one of two categories.   If you start out rock climbing, the photos and stories you are exposed to romanticize alpine climbing.  That romantic view is inspiring, we can't deny that.  On the other hand, if you start out trekking through the mountains, seeking high and beautiful peaks, eventually you will come upon some terrain that requires some technical know-how.  Acquiring the body of knowledge and experience that technical terrain requires can be quite a journey.  Modern, accessible rock climbing forms the foundation of the entire body of technical skills.  Chad, a die-hard mountaineer, fits solidly in this latter category.  The mountains inspire Chad.  Hiking or scrambling.  Well-known peaks or the more obscure.  High mountains or shorter.  Chad digs them all.  This past summer Chad and I encountered a fair amount of more technical terrain in the High Sierra.  
Hiking to the Brass Wall.  Chad B. Photo

Chad is self-aware, motivated and organized.  He saw the challenge (acquiring technical climbing skills), discovered the opportunity (our November Red Rock trip), and executed (3 days in Red Rock, a combo of technical training and big mileage).  Setting quite an example of focus and fun, Chad has it figured out.  Chad has big aspirations, but enjoys every moment of even the most mundane "training".  We weren't "training for the ultimate training day".  We were just out doing it with a bit of an agenda.

As for the agenda...  Day 1 we hit the Brass Wall in Pine Creek for some top-rope mileage and movement skills.

Day 2 was rope-geeking in Calico Basin.  We dialed in up-travel transitions and some improvised ascension practice.  Repetition, repetition, repetition.

Calico Basin.  Chad B. Photo

Upper Solar Slab.  J. Porter Photo

The third day we raced the loop road and a particularly fast crowd of accomplished climbers to, and then up, Solar Slab.  I'm pretty sure Solar Slab in its entirety is my favorite route in Red Rock.  Just thousands of feet of beautiful, sustained moderate climbing.  Yee Haw!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Glen Plake & Howie Schwartz Ski Black Divide

Journey to the Black Divide- Part One

UIAGM Ski and Mountain Guide, Howie Schwartz and professional skiing ambassador, Glen Plake get together for some adventure skiing in the heart of the Sierra Nevada, California, in search of "probable" first descents.

Part 1 features a discussion on tips for setting up a successful multiday ski mountaineering tour in the Sierra. Supported by Outdoor Research, Sierra Mountain Guides, and Sage to Summit.

Stay tuned, part 2 coming out soon.....

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Late Season Climbing in the Owens Valley- Rocks!

In late fall, I hear alpinist and skier types complain when the first snows of the season start to stick to the mountainsides. Hopes for one more high altitude rock climb before the end of season are dashed, and impatience for the backcountry skiing sets in during this hiatus from the high country. These addictions can only be fed by wallowing on talus covered in 10 inches of faceted snow, generally alone (since you are the only one who thinks this sounds fun) or perhaps Mammoth Mountain opens one meandering white ribbon of death upon which you can be entertained for a good 45 minutes just to claim you skied in November this year. It seems rare that this 'tween season is very long in the Eastern Sierra. As excited to ski as I always am, I still sometimes find myself wishing it was longer.
 Trish in Alabama Hills; Photo Credit: Weston Walker

The 'tween season forces us to capitalize on the best of what we have way down near the bottom of the Owens Valley. There is perhaps no better place and time for rock climbing than the Eastern Sierra in late fall. I was just down in the Owens River Gorge yesterday discussing this with a British couple, when one of them said, "You don't have to explain it to us. Last Fall we accidentally spent a month here!" I have heard international climbers proudly proclaim such statements without shadow of doubt as, "We will be climbing in Bishop every Fall for the rest of our lives," and "As far as I am concerned, the Buttermilks are hands down the best bouldering venue in the world." Legendary masters of stone such as Peter Croft, Lisa Rands, Chris Sharma, Doug Robinson, John Fischer, Bob Harrington, and many others have made their homes here, either for a good while or more permanently. Croft points out, "Bishop has more climbable weather days than any major climbing venue in the country." He is right. Even J-Tree and Red Rock are more often either too hot or too cold throughout the year. There are literally thousands of accessible sport, trad, and mixed routes in the Valley, plus more bouldering problems than you can hang on in a lifetime, on multiple rock types. Bishop is a hard place for a rock climber to get bored, and an easy place to stay strong all year without having to pull on plastic.
Climbing in the Owens River Gorge

That's cool if you are more concerned with keeping up with the jonesers on Mammoth Mountain this Fall, or perhaps donning those ripped, nylon, knee-high gaiters you still have from before the advent of soft shell pants. On the other hand, don't obsess so much that you forget to take advantage of the season when we can, without missing a great day of snowsports, put on a T-shirt and bask in the sun on a desert boulder or sparkling granite wall, or feel the pumpy burn that hurts so good on a steep, pocketed wall of welded tuff. This time of year, with the sun relatively low in the sky, and the dusting of snow on the foreground Sierra peaks, the world of rocks and mountains sparkle with the colors of the Earth and the warmest hues of sunlight. It reminds you how inspiring life is and how lucky we are to be able to commune with nature as we do.
Peter Croft in the Buttermilks

If you are thinking of a rock climbing weekend getaway while you wait for the snow, give us a call or shoot us an email. Peter Croft is going to be leading some very special winter climbing events this year! And we are stoked to rock climb with you anytime this winter, especially when the high country is too stormy, or your legs are too tired from skiing. Fly direct to Mammoth from LA or the Bay Area! We'll even arrange a pick up for you at the airport. Happy Turkey Day everyone!     

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fall in the Eastern Sierra: Crystral Crag, North Peak's N. Couloir, Pine Creek, & SE Face of Emerson

On the sunlit edge of Crystal Crag's North Arete.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, in the mountains it's all about flexibility.  Seems that's the theme of my entries here.  "We were greatly rewarded by the flexibility of so and so... blah blah blah."  But really, it makes a huge difference!  Ask not "how do I climb this mountain?".  Rather, ask, "what's the coolest thing to do right now?"  Billy came up for 4 days asking exactly that question.  He had some goals in mind:  big days, adventure, snow, rock, ice, summits.  Pretty good stuff, really.  But as for which routes and peaks we did, he didn't really care.  The journey is the important part.  Where did that journey take us?  We started with the North Arete of Crystal Crag.  An excellent warm-up and, with the South Ridge descent, is a full-on traverse of a High Sierra peak.
In North Peak's North Couloir-   Classic neve conditions.

 Next we headed for North Peak's North Couloir.  A proper mixed climb, this route combines a handful of ice pitches with 3 pitches of quality rock climbing.  Awesome.  Billy came with a climb like this as his main goal.  He'll be the first to admit that it was awesome, but just one day in almost a week of great days!
Approaching Emerson's huge SE Face
 Day 3 we went rock climbing in Pine Creek.  Recent and dedicated efforts by some of Bishop's finest have created some truly classic multi-pitch rock climbs out there.  We tackled "Chips off the Old Block", a 6 pitch 5.10b.

Day 4 we waffled a bit on plans, debating among our many excellent options.  Weather, access and desires narrowed the choices and soon the SE Face of Emerson rose to the top of the heap.  This is a huge route.  Never "hard", but constantly technical, Emerson can be a full-day and then some.  Billy came fit, got acclimated, and we crushed the agenda in a noteworthy-for-the-season sunlit car to car effort.  In fact, in civilized fashion, we never left the car before sunrise and never returned after.  

Above the face is some killer ridge-aneering.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Eastern Sierra Evolution Loop Go Light, Go Fast


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

North Couloir

Fall treats in the Sierra and post holing in October…….
Oct  5-6 brought a blanket of  2-3 feet of  snow to the Palisade approach – Joe and I pushed our trip back a day in anticipation of the high pressure that was following the storm, and we were treated to amazing views and some aerobic trail breaking.
Leaving mammoth at 6 AM I got really excited with calm winds and not a single cloud in the sky and my first glimpse as to what the storm had gifted us……

Our objective was the Swiss arĂȘte of Mt. Sill – however due to conditions we decided to climb the N. Coulouir – a formidable objective under our winter/October conditions.
Hours of Post holing ensued, and Joe and I ended up breaking trail to Sam Mack Meadow.

We had amazing views and the Palisades looked great under a winter blanket
                     -Viren P.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tulainyo Lake

Negotiating the Ebersbacher Ledges in uncharacteristically cloudy conditions
 The mountains draw all kinds of people on all kinds of missions.  Sean started calling and brainstorming with us months and months ago.  He has an avid and personal interest in history, especially when it comes to Owens Valley and water.  Sean educated us all on his family history, the history of water-rights and access advocacy in Owens Valley communities and how these things align.  In the spirit of Father John Crowley, Sean came to us to help him recreate the Wedding of the Waters.  
With Clouds in and out, the hike to Upper Boyscout Lake was as beautiful as can be!
We woke in the dark at UBSL in order to reach Tulainyo Lake before forecast weather closed in.

Fresh snow from the week prior made the north slope from Russell-Carillon Col to Tulainyo lake unsafe to negotiate.  We "settled" for the pass, which turned out to be even better than lake-side would have been.

The forecast weather closing in around us and Mt. Whitney.  We worked our way back down to Whitney Portal as the clouds swirled all around us.  What a beautiful day to celebrate water, in all it's phases:  Liquid, solid, vapor!

Summer Alpine Climbing on Middle Palisade

Sometimes the best trips (or experiences or relationships or parties or... well, whatever) come out of changed plans.  This past trip to Middle Palisade was one such trip.  Chad  and John came with a long-dreamed itinerary.  John is ticking through the California 14ers (and might pursue those wimpy Colorado ones when he's old and decrepit).  Chad is the consummate High Sierra history buff.  John and Chad have known each other for a long time now, it seems.  14er hunters love Middle Palisade, history lovers hunt down Norman Clyde's tracks.  Where else to align these passions than in the South Fork of Big Pine Creek? 

The plan was to hike in one day, summit Middle Palisade the next, Norman Clyde Peak the third, and hike out the 4th. 

Early fall weather the weekend prior left the mountains dusted with snow up high, and scrubbed clean of dust and mosquitos down low.  We enjoyed the first hint of autumn on the valley floors, and reflected on the possibility of snow affecting our scrambling up high.

Checking things out at Finger Lake.  Chad B. photo.
Days 1 and 2 went as planned:  A wonderful hike in and a smooth ascent of Middle Palisade's classic East Face (big and tall, class 3-4).  We did encounter some snow near the top, but it was engaging rather than an obstacle.

Just a couple of Sconnies keeping it real
John and Chad up high on Middle Pal.  Chad B. Photo
As we rested in camp in the afternoon of day 2, we got a visit from a pair of returning Norman Clyde Peak aspirants.  Incidentally, one of these guys had taken an SMG avalanche course this past winter.  SMG folks are all over the mountains.  These two guys delivered a less-than-rosy description of the snow covering Clyde's North-Northeast route.  Our own misgivings, plus this report, prompted a change in plans. 

That's when the trip really got good, believe it or not.  There is a very real satisfaction in taking marginal conditions, and making a killer experience out of it.  Chad and John had that spirit.  "Things aren't as we had hoped.  How can we make things even better?"  John suggested hiking out the morning of day 3 and doing Crystal Crag (in the Mammoth Lakes Basin.  Ca. 1000 ft, 5.7.)  on Day 4.  Chad's fascination with Pine Creek rock climbing inspired a visit to "Racing Lizards" (5.7, 3 pitches) on the afternoon of day 3. 

We shifted gears, pigged out on the leftover camp supplies, and executed the new plan.  At the end of day 4 John mentioned that this was his "best trip to the mountains" and Chad mentioned that, while we (Jed and SMG) had a big reputation to live up to, we more than exceeded that.  All I did was "roll with it."  These guys had the flexible attitude that takes climbers and adventurers of all kinds to more than they ever expected.  Speaking of expectations, Chad has shared that his "ticklist" of High Sierra routes has "doubled or tripled" as a result of the rock climbing skills and demystification we covered this weekend.  As the seasons (and perhaps the climate of the High Sierra... I mean, what's up with this weather?) change, this flexibility and openness and willingness to grow will reap great rewards for Chad and John, Sierra Mountain Guides, and all mountain travelers!

Some well-traveled adventurers race lizards on their first rock climb.  Chad B. Photo.
The "Crystal Pitch"

Friday, September 23, 2011


We had another outstanding adventure up Crystal Crag on Sunday with Dave and Betty from San Diego. I have guided this classic peak many, many times, by several different routes but I often forget just what a good introductory alpine rock climb the South ridge is for the uninitiated yet enthusiastic. Mind you, the South ridge route should be climbed on the ridge proper not by side climbing the loose and less appealing East face. By staying on the South ridge, it is a true 4th class climb of just enough length and excitement to challenge and enjoy for a short day outing in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. Congratulations to Dave and Betty who did an outstanding job learning the ropes and moving their way solidly all the way to the exciting summit finish. Special kudos go to Betty who had never climbed a mountain like that before. I bet it will not be her last mountain climb either! Looking forward to spending time with both of these great people in the future.
                                                                                                                               - Howie

 Howie Tops Out!

 Dave on Top of Crystal Crag


Monday, September 19, 2011

Middle Palisade Peak

Tom and his godson Michael stayed in one of the cabins at the Glacier Lodge the night before we started our climb.  I met them at their cabin in the morning and we enjoyed the cowboy coffee and delivered breakfast as we chatted about our upcoming trip.  After breakfast we packed up and headed up the South Fork of Big Pine Creek.  Our destination was Finger Lake and after some great views, rain showers, and nice lunch we found ourselves at camp.  We set up the tents in the rain and dove in to stay somewhat dry.  The skies dried up in the early evening and allowed us to have a nice dinner and enjoy the last rays of sun.  We got an alpine start the next morning to beat the forecasted thunder/snow storm.  Our early start allowed us to enjoy an amazing sunrise and we climbed to the summit through some new snow from an earlier storm.  We left the summit before lunch and descend through the building clouds. After getting back to camp we packed up and trekked through the rain back to the cars.  It ended up being a long but great day.  Thanks go out to Tom and Michael for being great company and doing an awesome job on a challenging climb! 

Michael and Tom

Climbing to camp through the clouds.

Camp at Finger Lake

Middle Pal with new snow.

Alpine Start.

The East Face of Middle Palisade bathed in alpine glow .

Michael getting the the base of the East Face.

Climbing through new snow.

Michael on the Summit 14,012ft.

Looking to the South from the summit.

Tom is not a crook.

Descending through the clouds.

Heading back to the car.