Friday, August 31, 2012

SMG Dolomites 2012! Part 1

The Italian Dolomites: where mountain culture and geology converge to facilitate the most outstanding and accessible alpine rock climbing adventure opportunities on Earth. A climber from the Eastern Sierra can really appreciate the contrast here. At home we have craggy and sometimes snowy high peaks juxtaposed against the desert of the Owens Valley. Here in the Dolomites we see steep, gray-orange peaks and spires rising above lush, rolling green valleys. In these valleys are little hamlets situated perfectly to welcome happy climbers and alpinists as they return from vertical adventures. As is standard in the Italian Alps, the food and drink is off the charts and the people are all beautiful and friendly. The climbing is almost to good to be believed. Climbs are steep and juggy, even the easy ones. The easier it is, the less fixed protection it has, and often the pro includes ancient and/or dubious pins. Runouts are long, and falling is not really an option on the easier pitches. On the other hand, there are decent anchors available where they are truly needed. The balance of equipage keeps the adventure level high, requires well-developed climbing skill, and preserves a character of climbing here that celebrates a connection to the spirit of more than a century of vertical exploration here. I challenge any real rock climber to resist the lure of climbing in such an enchanting place, given the opportunity.

Taylor Samuels is one of our regular and most beloved VIP guests at Sierra Mountain Guides. He is constantly prodding us to increase the adventure level on mountain trips. This spring we took him to the most remote and incredible ski venue on Earth - the Wrangells in Alaska with our Alaskan partners at Wild Alpine, so this summer we needed to follow that with something extra exciting. Of course, we scheduled a climbing trip to the Dolomites partnered with our friends at Holimites.

We enjoyed 6 outstanding days before inevitably getting shut down by a little weather, and in that time we managed a 2500 foot via ferrata (iron path) route and almost 50 pitches of technical rock climbing between 5.6 and 5.10, all while visiting WWI ruins, mountain huts, eating amazing food, and of course, enjoying some (ok a lot of) perfectly prepared cappuccinos. The pictures tell the story better than words...

Ferrata Tridentina. Good way to shake the jet lag.


Warming up after a rainy 4 pitch climb up Torre Grande 
Taylor engages a local laderhoser

On the 14 pitch classic Vinatzer Route on the 3rd Sella Tower
Top of the 3rd Sella Tower
Summit Register: "'I Want 2 Piss of Toast' Says Pizza Man"
South Ridge of Hexenstein. Major WWI military peak with a fortress on the top.
Taylor was into Euro conversion vans.
Dibona Hut
Gelato at the hut
Our second night warranted a swig of the hutkeepers homemade Grappa.
Approach to Tofana de Rozes. We climbed the First Buttress, the sharp one with sun hitting the very top of it.
Some anchors can be made acceptable with a little rigging...
...and some cannot. Italian humor.
Loving it about 250 meters up the Tofana route.
High in the Dolimites.
Giussani Hut

Traverse of the Falzarego Towers
Made it down for cappuccino just before the rain.
Taylor haggles for a van

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mammoth to Yosemite Fastpacking

One of the sayings I often find myself using is, "There is more than one way to skin a cat." Aside from the obvious negative imagery this may conjure up it does have real application in many of the activities that we offer at Sierra Mountain Guides (SMG).  In this case it relates directly to a fundamental methodology regarding how we use, travel, and enjoy the backcountry.  This summer I had the opportunity to tag along on the first day of a Mammoth to Yosemite Fastpacking trip.  This "cat" can be skinned a number of ways.  We chose to travel light, efficiently, well planned, and well packed. This allowed our crew to travel the roughly 42 miles in three days instead of the more common 5-8 days.

Sunrise on the trip.
You might ask yourself  what it takes to do a trip like this.  The simple answer is NOT MUCH. When we are Fastpacking we are "skinning" any unnecessary items from our packs.  This allows us to move without being weighed down by the more typical 30-50lbs you would have on a longer trip. You couple that with a Tuolumne resupply and your talking about 14 pound packs for a three day trip.  That is one svelte cat.  Skinning that weight allows you to move.  You don't have to rush, run, hurry, or scurry.  You are free to just move.  You can cover ground. To get to that point it starts with thorough planning and preparation.
Here is SMG Lead Fastpacking Guide Jeff taking the time to plan and prepare the group for a successful trip.
When you are skinning the lbs. you have to consider everything.  Truly, every ounce counts.  You need to use lightweight gear.  Your pack, pad, shelter, and bag and be reduced to a very light weight kit.  At SMG we work with CAMP USA to accomplish those goals.  They make some of the lightest and most functional gear in the world.  
Here I am in the Orange CAMP Magic jacket (4.3oz!) I am also using the  CAMP M3 Light pack (1lb 12oz for 30 L!)
In addition to your main gear, your selection of clothing, food, and extras is critical.  I highly recommend to folks to take a critical look at their kits and figure out what is REALLY needed. That is different for everyone, but with a realistic approach to the time of year, weather forecast, and specific trip you should be able to get your three day pack in the 12-14lb range (that includes water).

We began our adventure at the Mammoth Mountain Inn and took the shuttle down to the Agnew Meadows high trail.
Jeff and crew waiting for the shuttle with Woolly in the background.  

Shuttle to Agnew
Once on the trail you don't have to be a rockstar athlete to cover ground.  With a light pack it just isn't that bad to click off the miles.  Depending on the trip you shouldn't have to carry much in the way of water.  On this trip we used and gravity fed MSR filter for our group.  That allowed us to easily fill up at water sources. 
h2o easy.
Because you aren't running or bing crushed under the weight of a big pack you are able to take in the scenery, take lots of photos, and not miss the small things.
Sierra Tiger Lilly

Some of the "Blow Down" from last November.

The crew with Banner and Ritter in the background.

Heading to Thousand Island Lake with Banner in the back.

As the miles tick by you don't get those tired shoulders, hips and feet.  We were able to cruise along taking short breaks every hour or so and we still had time to enjoy a great lunch at Thousand island lake.
Lunch spot on our first day.
In many ways this trip has it all.  High altitude lakes, peaks, deep valleys, and then to finish in Yosemite Valley is the icing on the cake.  
Just another Sierra (Range of Light) sunset.


Cruising on good trail.
Looking down into the Valley on day 3

Day 3 in the Valley with smiles all around.
All things being equal I would say that this "skinning" is the way to go.  You could take the fat cat approach and carry the extra weight but for me Fastpacking is it.  Thanks to Jeff and crew for a great trip!
Here is a short video from this trip showing Fastpacking in action.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Summery Summary, Part 2: Family Time!

More ramblings from Jed... Man, keep this guy in the mountains.  He just won't shut up when he's in town.

Some things come in binges!  In June it was sweet alpine sending action.  Mid-July brought a ton of traversing.  Now, since that Evolution Traverse, my guiding world has revolved around the theme of family time.

First, and connecting the summer with a welcome continuity, is the ever-more popular and polished "Scramblers" program.  Barbara and Neil have worked together to set up an itinerary that shows kids everything that climbing is:  ropes and bouldering, cracks and face, challenge and reward, frustration and elation, socialization and individual effort.  What an honor it is for me to participate.  These kids come with parents and siblings, and leave a part of the climbing family.

Scramblers Bouldering Day.  July 31, 2012

Then, in the first couple weeks of August I worked a continuous stretch of family-themed trips.  First it was Neal and Sam W., from Chicago.  Neal came on his own a few years ago, but quickly discovered the Sierra was too great to not share with 9 year old Sam.  Neal and Sam have now returned twice to sample ever-more challenging climbing opportunities.  This time we went to Hurd Peak.

Sam and Neil on Hurd Peak.  Our "secret", fish-filled lake below.  

Following Sam and Neal's trip, we booked an uncanny selection of trips.  Three days, three trips, three families, each with three people.  Each day we went to the Mammoth Lakes basin, each day was characterized by supportive family members trying and succeeding on new challenges.

Horseshoe Slab.  My favorite place to take new climbers!
 Finally, my most recent trip at first appeared like a "typical" 1:1 alpine climb.  Ana booked to come out from Virginia to climb the East Buttress of Whitney.  Unbeknownst to me, traveling with her to support her the whole way, was her entire family.  Her husband and two teenage girls accompanied her to Lone Pine and cheered (via text) us up the peak.  Weather didn't cooperate for the East Buttress (I mean, it rained on us at 4 am on summit day.  wtf?) but we quickly adapted to the Mountaineers Route.
some knobs, a lake, the sky, a mom

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wedding Anniversary with Peter Croft

How to celebrate a wedding anniversary???  A day out with Peter Croft, perfect! Betsy was originally interested in Charlotte Dome, but after a few discussions everyone decided the best route for the special day should be The Third Pillar of Mt. Dana. This is a classic climb on amazing white granite.  Read more on Betsy and Ney's Blog, for their full experience.

Betsy climbing, photo: Ney G.