Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Sawtooth Mountaineering Seminar, June 2011
Dan G. and I just finished this year's version of our comprehensive "Sawtooth Mountaineering Seminar". Designed to be a thorough introduction to snow and rock mountaineering skills, the SMS is always a great time, in a great place, with the usual cast of great SMG people.
This program was conducted as part of our scheduled offerings. We have a very deep list of possible courses and trips all around the world. All of these are available on a customized basis. Some of them, rotating on a seasonal and yearly basis, we offer scheduled, and therefore discounted below the custom rate. Lots of other guide services operate on that model. We, however, offer our scheduled trips with "no minimum to run." And that's unique. It means that folks, upon first signing up for a trip, can count on that trip running. Pretty simple, eh?
Dan was stoked to score a 1:1 course this time around in the Sawtooths. On the first day, we hiked from Twin Lakes near Bridgeport, CA up dry and flowery switchbacks to the snow line. We pitched camp, then did an afternoon of snow skills.
Each day we had awesome summer weather. Valley temperatures hit near 100 and the mountain sky stayed clear. We love those summer conditions, usually using the long days, dry afternoons, and good footing to cover tons of ground in the high country. This week near Matterhorn peak, however, represented the first distinct warm-up of the year. A very long winter and spring of abnormally heavy snowfall and cold, windy conditions left unseasonably deep snow uncharacteristically late. Warm temperatures will eventually melt and consolidate the snow, but the first big warm-up means some sloppy travel and elevated avalanche hazard.
Travel conditions and mountain hazards are very real parts of mountaineering, and we took the opportunity to discuss and make appropriate decisions. In this case, our best risk management tool was early morning travel on firmer snow.
The second day of the course we woke at 5 am and moved camp a couple thousand feet up into the snowy zone. We had our next camp set up by 9am, that day's lessons completed by noon, and were in "bed" by early afternoon.
Day 3 we woke at 1 am for a go at the summit of Matterhorn Peak. Dan, with fitness and stoicism from a long and happy career flying for the Air Force, never hesitated with the unorthodox sleeping and action patterns.
We caught sunrise from just below the summit of the peak. That's what its all about!
While descending in early morning light the snow was actually still firming up as the sun's heat intensified. At 2 am the snow was softer than at 8 am. These solstice nights are short, and the days are long and hot. Having a firm grasp of your solar patterns and the physics of phase changes helps with mountaineering. Who knew we'd call on those high school science lessons way out there?
On day 3, we were back in camp at 9 am with snow skills and a sweet summit solidly behind us. With another day and a half ahead, and high altitude rock existing as islands in a stormy sea of transitional summer snow, we elected to retreat to lower ground for the rockier portions of our course.
Day 4 we climbed the Regular Route on Cardinal Pinnacle, enjoying smaller packs, continued great weather, and discussions of climbing technique, interpersonal relations, and small-town gossip. What more can one ask for?