Month: April 2010

Mt Whitney April 24, 2010 – What a difference a day makes!

SMI has worked with Big City Mountaineers since the inception of their fundraising climbs they call Summit For Someone. Big City Mountaineers currently takes over 200 inner city urban teens on 7 and 8 day backpacking and canoeing trips each summer giving under-resourced kids between ages 13-18 opportunities to experience the beauty of our wild lands and cultivate relationships with caring adult mentors. Summit For Someone is a fundraising effort for this program. People raise money for climbs that Summit for Someone books through SMI. The money raised goes towards funding these wilderness adventures for the teens. The program has been highly successful and SMI is proud to be associated with this highly respected and successful program.

On April 21 we met our first Summit For Someone group with the goal of climbing Mt. Whitney. 5 eager climbers from Texas and North Carolina raised a minimum of $3800 each for this climb. After packing our gear and leaving the trailhead at 8350 feet we encountered great walking conditions all the way up the North Fork Canyon. Dirt soon became buried under snow that was firm and easy to kick steps into. The team arrived at Lower Boyscout Lake mid afternoon and settled into camp by setting up tents, unrolling pads and fluffing out sleeping bags. A nice Thai dinner was followed by the team going to bed for a well deserved night of sleep. During the night a storm moved in and by morning there was a 3″ blanket of fresh snow on the ground. We packed up with the goal of reaching high camp and began climbing up as snow continued to fall. By the time we had climbed 1000 feet there was 2-3 feet of new snow on the ground and small avalanches were starting to release off steeper terrain around us. The decision was made to turn around and descend to the cars.

As we always do at SMI when climbs end early we offered the group a two days of custom private mountaineering training with the guides. On April 23 the storm has moved east leaving clear skies and warming temperatures. The group elected to do some avalanche training. We went out to a local area near the town of Mammoth Lakes and spent the day digging and analyzing the snowpack by digging pits and identifying different layers. We then spent the afternoon doing rescue training using transceivers, probes and shovels. The day was fun and everybody came away with some valuable knowledge that can be used on future trips. As the day was winding down we discussed what to do on our last day. The question was raised about trying to climb Mt. Whitney in one day from the car. We discussed this option and the plan was put into place.

With the warm temperatures the snow had settled tremendously and the weather forecast was calling for another clear and pleasant day. We left the trailhead at 12:15 AM on April 24. Navigating by headlamps we moved together as a team steady and deliberate. The group did an excellent job of climbing efficiently and taking care of themselves at breaks. The team moved well and we found ourselves at Iceberg Lake as the sun rose from the east casting an orange glow on Mt. Whitney’s East Face and our route, the Mountaineers Route. Climbing our route, a snow chute angled at 35 degrees, the views became more spectacular as we were blessed with a completely clear and slightly breezy morning. We topped out at the Notch at 14,000 feet. Ahead of us was fellow SMI guide Chris Werner with two clients. We followed this group of three with Kurt setting in 3 pitches of fixed line leading to the summit of Mt. Whitney. 10 hours after leaving the trailhead the group topped out on the highest point in the contiguous United States. The excellent time and favorable weather allowed us to enjoy the scenery and our accomplishment while we took summit photos. The group then descended back the way we came reaching the cars in time to have a much deserved celebration dinner in Lone Pine.

This trip marks the first time SMI has guided a 1-day climb of Mt. Whitney’s Mountaineer’s Route in April. A big congratulations go out to the team: Andrea Hilderbrandk, Sean McGrath, Eric Pace, Rudy Rudisill, and Joey Uek!

Below are a few pictures highlighting the trip. The rest of the pictures can be viewed here:

The group at our first rest break on April 21.

The North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. Cooling temperatures made for pretty scenery at each creek crossing.

The team looking strong as we topped out of the canyon that hosts the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. Lower Boyscout Lake and our camp were 10 minutes away.

Sean, Andrea, Rudy, and Sara arriving at camp.

Rudy, Andrea, and Eric using shovels to level out a tent platform.

Our view of Mt. Whitney from our camp at Lower Boyscout Lake on the evening of April 21.

Kurt checking on on folks before hitting the sack.

Morning at camp on April 22.

The team packed and ready to climb higher.

The team climbing at approximately 11,000 feet.

Joey, Eric, and Rudi in good spirits at 11,400 feet in spite of conditions preventing us from going higher.

Sara navigating the team on the descent.

An icy crossing at the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek.

Eric learning how to do a shovel compression test to examine how well layers of snow are bonding to each other.

The team practicing avalanche rescue using transceivers, probes and shovels to search for and dig up a buried duffel bag with a transceiver inside.

The team at the trailhead on April 24 at 12:15 AM ready to begin our 1-day ascent of Mt. Whitney.

Creek crossing on the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. The team was already encountering more favorable conditions.

The first signs of the sun rising from the east at 4:30 am.

Mt. Whitey’s East Face and Mountaineers Route basking in the orange glow that accompanies sunrise in the Eastern Sierra.

The team looking strong at 13,600+ feet ascending the Mountaineers Route.

Sara, Joey, and Eric just below the Notch at 14,000 feet on Mt. Whitney’s Mountaineers Route.

The team ascending the first of 3 pitches (rope lengths) of fixed line above the Notch en route to the summit.

Joey Uek

Eric Pace

Andrea Hilderbrand

Rudy Rudisill

Sara Berghoff

Summit photo from left to right: Kurt Wedberg, Rudy Rudisill, Andrea Hilderbrand, Eric Pace, Joey Uek, Sara Berghoff

Congratulations to a great team!!!!

Onion Valley Ski Tour April 18, 2010 – The corn factory is alive and well!

On April 18 SMI guides Karsten Delap, Kurt Wedberg, and Chris Werner took a day to do a ski tour of Onion Valley. The road has been plowed to the summer trailhead and there is continuous snow right from the car. The weather windless with pleasant temperatures and clear views. Leaving the car at 10:15 am we arrived at the ridgeline above Kearsarge Pass at 1 PM. We had been looking at the perfect spring corn snow all the way on our ascent. After a brief break to enjoy the views into Kearsarge Basin and beyond we stepped into our skis and enjoyed many turns down a blanket of untracked spring corn snow. It was a memorable day with good friends and conditions as good as it gets. Onion Valley once again didn’t disappoint!!

Here are a few pictures. The rest are here:

Gearing up at the car. Continuous snow greeted us right from the parking lot.

Kurt and Chris pause for a moment on the ascent

Chris and Karsten skinning up

Karsten and Chris skinning towards are destination which is the ridgeline just left of the large bare spot

Kartsen and Chris enjoying the view of Kearsarge Basin before skiing down

Thanks for a great day guys!!

Mt. Baldy April 14 and 17, 2010 – Conditions are great but it’s melting fast!

While in Southern California giving slideshows Kurt took two climbs up Mt. Baldy. Conditions have been excellent this year. Lots of snow has fallen leaving a blanket that has consolidated well and is still hanging in there in the middle of April. With longer days and warm temperatures the snow won’t last long though. For now the snow makes possible fun and memorable days.

Here are a few pictures. The rest are here:

Mt. Baldy April 14, 2010:

Mt. Baldy April 17, 2010:

The Baldy Bowl on April 14

The Baldy Bowl on April 17. It melted a lot in 3 days.

Bill Simon and Mike Tate enjoying perfect cramponing conditions ascending the Baldy Bowl.

Ron Case pauses high in the Baldy Bowl on a warm windless day and snow conditions that remained as good as they were 3 days before.

Summit photo on April 14. From left to right: Kurt, Mike and Bill

Summit photo on April 17. From left to right: Kurt, Stacy, Norm, and Ron

Mike and Bill looking back at where we ascended on April 14

Ron glissading down the Baldy Bowl

Mt. Whitney Slideshows at Adventure 16 stores April 14-16, 2010 – Another great series of successful shows!!

Each year SMI founder Kurt Wedberg gives a series of informational clinics about climbing Mt. Whitney hosted by Adventure 16 stores in Southern California. The clinics are divided into two parts. Part 1 took place in February. This was part 2. Mt. Whitney continues to be one of the most popular mountains in the United States for people to climb. These clinics are always well attended. Some are looking to climb this beautiful mountain for the first time and others return year after year to add another great life experience to their memory box. These clinics are always fun for attendees who have the opportunity to pick the brain of the foremost guide on Mt. Whitney who has climbed this mountain 100+ times by 5+ different routes. Kurt’s presentations include a slideshow detailing equipment, planning and preparation, tips on training, safety issues including lightning, bears, and mountain medicine issues, and a question and answer session.

SMI would like to thank Icebreaker for their help in sponsoring this latest round of Mt. Whitney slideshows. Icebreaker manufactures top quality base and insulating layers of outerwear made from pure Merino wool from New Zealand. Check out their products at Adventure 16 stores or online at

Kurt presenting at the San Diego Adventure 16 store on April 14

Kurt explaining training tips during a presentation

April 12-13: Training days after a stormy Mt. Whitney attempt

After getting stormed off of Mt. Whitney the group decided to focus on training and learning some new skills. With stormy weather and snowfall all day long we put on our clothing layers to help be comfortable in the elements and we ventured out for a day of training. When weather turns us back early from a climb and we have a couple days to work with this becomes a unique opportunity for the participants to pick the brains of our experienced guide staff on any one of a number of topics. The group elected to review crevasse rescue pulley systems and to learn a little bit about the world of avalanches on day 1 and to go rock climbing on day 2.

Pictures of some of the highlights are below. The rest of the pictures are here:

SMI guide Karsten Delap teaching climbing knots at the SMI office

Kristine Lim and Mike Tate showing us good prussik knots

Building snow anchors for setting up a crevasse rescue pulley system

Kurt Wedberg teaching how we identify layers in the snowpack in a snow pit

Kurt Wedberg demonstrating a shovel compression test used to measure how reactive various layers in the snowpack are to stress

Karsten testing snow layers to failure using a Rutschblock test with skis on top of our snow pit

The group learning avalanche rescue techniques using transceivers, probes, and shovels to dig out buried transceivers simulating an avalanche burial.

Mt. Whitney April 10-11, 2010

Winter storms continue to be a part of the Sierra spring this year. Our latest trip began under a warm and windless day on April 10. The Whitney Portal Road has been melting out and although the road is still closed it is now drivable as the road crews have been clearing out rocks that have pelted the asphalt as they normally do all winter long. John Wedberg graciously drove down from Bishop to give the group an assist with a car shuttle. We would get a ride up to Whitney Portal and he would drive our vehicle back down below the “Road Closed” sign.

The group climbed to Lower Boyscout Lake on Saturday. The North Fork canyon continues to melt out on the warmer days. We are now switching our route to go up the Ebersbacher Ledges instead of heading straight up the canyon. Arriving at our campsite in the afternoon wind started to kick up. After a Thai dinner the group retired to their tents as the wind picked up in intensity. The night was a rather noisy one with unabated winds and gusts hitting over 50 mph.

The morning of April 11 revealed not only winds but increasingly cloudy skies. We received an updated forecast predicting 2+ feet of new snow over the next 24 hours. We discussed our options with the group. After weighing out the various options of trying to continue to high camp, staying at Lower Boyscout Lake and training, or descending and using the days to do some training in various mountaineering techniques the group decided to descend.

Here are a couple pictures from the trip. The rest of the photos can be found here.

The group loaded up and ready for the first day on the trail. From left to right: John Wedberg, Kurt Wedberg, Brittany Szalkiewicz, Kristine Lim, Michael Tate, Joey Szalkiewicz, Joe Szalkiewicz, Wade Williford, Karsten Delap

Climbing up the North Fork Canyon

Creek crossing in the North Fork Canyon

The group enjoying a hot drink after setting up camp at Lower Boyscout Lake

Brittany, Joey, and Joe Szalkiewicz

Mt. Morrison April 8 – A Lesson in Persistent Weak Layers in the Snowpack

Rhys Dubin is a great guy getting a lot of experience in mountaineering at a very young age. He visited us for a climb of Mt. Morrison on April 8. After several days of storms we had been blessed with clear days and warming temperatures. April 8 looked to be a nice day for a climb.

Leaving the parking lot at Convict Lake we ascended up Morrison Canyon past Little Morrison and up an east facing drainage towards our route – the East Slope of Mt. Morrison. It has been one of our favorite 1-day snow climbs over the years and we were excited to return for the first time in 2010. Snow conditions made for nice snowshoeing up Morrison Canyon and into the gully leading to our route. At the end of the gully the terrain gets steeper. Here we shed our snowshoes and began kicking steps in the snow as the slope angle reached into the low 50 degrees. Our steps were penetrating anywhere from 30 – 60 cm. This was the new snow that had fallen over the last several days. Below this was a harder layer of snow that held our weight.

Suddenly at just over 11,000 feet in elevation we noticed a drastic change in the snow conditions. Within 20 feet the snowpack changed to several layers that included facets and depth hoar. Looking around and and analysing the snow it became obvious we should not proceed. We used the opportunity for some teachable moments and recorded our findings for use by Sue Burak who is the avalanche forecaster for the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center.

Below are a couple photos and a video. The rest of the pictures are here:

Rhys and Kurt ready to start our day.

Our route comes into view.

Rhys taking a break with our ascent route below

Faceted snow deep in the snowpack

Faceted snow doesn’t bond well and created weak layers in the snowpack

A video of a shovel compression test showing the various weak layers in the snowpack.

Mt. Whitney Mountaineers Route April 1-4, 2010

After close to 2 weeks of clear spring conditions the weather turned colder and stormy on the days preceding our latest climb. A recent storm had moved away on March 31 leaving behind a cold mass of air that brought a clear sky and crisp winter temperatures. With two more storms forecasted to move through our area during the scheduled dates of this trip we began on April 1 prepared for any conditions we would face. SMI guides Kurt Wedberg and Sara Berghoff plus long time good friend George Dunn from International Mountain Guides hosted a group of nine eager climbers, most of whom had never visited the Eastern Sierra before. The group included: Jean Dawkins, Cooper Klinges, Pat Loftus, Chuck Norman, Hako Olevie, Jeff Paddock, Rick Paddock, Norma Ryan, and Viki Tracey.

After eating breakfast and dividing group loads the team drove up to 6800 feet where we began walking up the Whitney Portal Rd. The road is most dry now except for avalanche debris that stops cars from driving any higher. The first hour was spent walking 3 miles to the beginning of the summer trailhead at 8350 feet. We hiked on the Main Mt. Whitney Trail for 40 minutes to the cut off to the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. The trail was mostly dry but soon after turning onto the North Fork we hit snow and ice. The North Fork Cyn continues to hold lots of snow and the cold temperatures made for firm conditions that were easy to walk on. Arriving at Lower Bouscout Lake at 10,300 feet we flattened out platforms and set up tents. A nice Thai dinner with rice, chicken and fresh vegetables the team retired to their tents for the evening. On April 2 the team woke to sunny skies but weather began changing as everybody got ready to move to our high camp at 12,000 feet. The team moved well and after leaving at 9:45 am they arrived at high camp 3 hours later. As the afternoon wore on the weather turned windy and stormy. Dinner and hot drinks were served and consummed inside people’s tents. As we went to sleep that evening we were experiencing wind gusts in excess of 60 mph.

The wind continued through the night but at 5 am it abated and the clouds had cleared away. The team got up and began rallying for a summit attempt. After a hot breakfast and gearing up with crampons, ice axes and helmets we roped up and began our climb. Ascending first to Iceberg Lake the team then traversed up and right into the Mountaineer’s Chute. The recent storms had left snow that required breaking a new trail on the lower 1/3 of the route. As we moved higher the snow conditions became more firm and progress speeded up. The team moved well as the higher altitude required harder breathing while the views became increasingly spectacular. Arriving at the notch at 14,ooo feet Kurt anchored in 3 pitches of fixed lines leading to the summit of Mt. Whitney. As we ascended the fixed line it became evident that weather was changing again so efficient climbing was important so we could “sneak in” reaching the summit and descend before the impending storm hit. After congratulating ourselves on a great climb with challenging conditions it was time to head down. The team lowered down the 3 pitches of fixed line then descended down the Mountaineers Chute. By the time everybody reached Iceberg Lake Mt. Whitney was covered in clouds and the wind picked up. The team moved well getting back to camp. We were a group of satisfied but tired climbers as everyone got settled in their tents while the wind picked up again and snow began falling.

Here are a few photos. The entire photo gallery can be found here:

The team from left to right: Hako Olevie, Jean Dawkins, Jeff Paddock, Rick Paddock, Chuck Parker, Kurt Wedberg, Cooper Klinges, Norma Ryan, Sara Berghoff, Viki Tracey, Pat Loftus, George Dunn

Pat and team ascending the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek on day 1

The scenery is pretty at every turn in the route. Here as the spring snow begins melting it reveals the Lone Pine Creek’s North Fork running underneath.

Hako enjoying the climbing in the North Fork shortly after crossing the creek over a solid snow bridge

The team enjoying hot drinks in the afternoon at camp before dinner.

Viki, Norma, and Sara

Moving to high camp on day 2

Summit morning has arrived! Donning crampons before the start of our ascent.

After a stormy night Mt. Whitney proudly displayed its East Face as the sun rose.

George, Jean, Jeff, and Pat ascending the Mountaineers Chute above Iceberg Lake.

Norma, Cooper, Viki, and Hako pause for a photo high in the Mountaineers Chute.

The team taking a break at the Notch at 14,000 feet while Kurt sets the fixed lines.

With the lines fixed the team ascends the final 3 pitches (rope lengths) of the route to the summit.

Jeff on the final pitch showing us how its done.

Pat Loftus

Hako Olevie

Cooper Klinges

Jeff Paddock

Jean Dawkins

Norma Ryan

Viki Tracey

George Dunn

Congratulations team on a great climb!!!