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.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The North Ridge of Mount Conness

I met Jim at his hotel in Lee Vining at 5am.  We wanted to get an early start to make sure we were off the summit before the forecasted thunderstorms hit.  We threw his gear in the car and drove up the the Saddlebag trailhead.  The first boat taxi wasn't until 7am so we did the hike around the lake and caught the sunrise on Conness with perfect alpenglow.  We hit the start of the ridge at 8:30am and we could already see some harmless puffy clouds starting to form.  We decided to go for under the pretext that we would try to be as efficient as possible and bail if the weather came in on us.  Jim did great on the ridge and moved well as we surmounted the first tower and did the rappels to the start of the fifth class.  After changing into his rock shoes Jim sent the upper pitches of the North Ridge enjoying the great rock and awesome exposure. We reached the summit (12,590) at noon, took a few photos and started our descent as the previously harmless looking clouds were getting darker and bigger.  About a mile from the car we enjoyed the thunder and rain for the rest of the trip. Thanks to Jim for a great day out!


Jim with Conness bathed in alpenglow.

First Tower

Jim climbing great rock looking down to the West.

Upper ridge money pitch.

Getting close to the summit.

The Sidewalk.


Looking back on our way down.

Still loads of snow for this time of year.

Enjoying a nice Sierra shower.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

MT. Whitney Sept 2011

We had a great trip up Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineer's Route with JP S. and Collin D., September 2-4, 2011. Weather and conditions were outstanding. Three springs are flowing strong on the trail before the climb to Iceberg Lake. There was no snow at all on the route. We did not see many other parties in spite of being there on Labor Day weekend. There was some trash on the trail, which we collected on our way down.

This was an amazing couple of climbers who should both be very proud of their performance. Apprehensions and physical challenges were met with courage and tenacity. It was an unforgettable experience for us all.  We had some good laughs too. It was an absolute pleasure for me to spend time in the mountains with these great folks and I hope to have the opportunity again sometime soon!
                                                                                                          - Howie

JP on TOP of Whitney, 14,497!!!

JP  & Howie enjoying the early morning sunrise

JP psyched on the adventure!

Monday, September 5, 2011

SMG Alps 2011 Rock Climbing

After our success on the Jungfrau we felt like we had used up our weather karma.  With the forecast still indicating storms we decided to switch gears and focus on rock climbing.  We got an early start and headed for the local Glacier Wall right in Grindelwald.  The forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms so we got right to work.  After climbing 9 pitches we carried all our gear over the top to grab a great lunch at the restaurant, conveniently located at the top of the crag.  After a hearty lunch the rain started to fall as we walked back to the car.  With the afternoon ahead of us we decided to check out the Glacier Gorge walk.  It turned out to be much more than we expected.  With the power of the glacial river, variation in temperature, engineering of the trail, and amazing position, we ended up having a great afternoon.

The next day found us ready for some adventure.  We drove down valley from Grindelwand, across Interlaken and up the other side of the valley.  We parked and hiked through the countryside to reach the base of Hoberstad.  The area offered amazing views of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau.  We ended up having a great day of adventure sport climbing.  We even got to see some Ibex.  Considering the how grim the forecast was we ended up having some great adventures.  Thanks to John for yet another great trip!
John Climbing a long Glacial pitch.

Glacier Gorge Walkway.

Amazing Waterfall.


Looking back at the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau.

John walking towards the climbing area.


Adventure sport climbing

Now that's a view!

John working it out.

Last pitch.