Month: July 2011

Mt. Whitney Mountaineer’s Route July 15-17, 2011

Beautiful Mt. Whitney at sunrise flanked by Keeler Needle and Day Needle to the left.

This is an attempt on Mt. Whitney’s Mountaineer’s Route as told by SMI guide Deb Leyh.

On July 15th I had the pleasure of meeting the Walter-Macbeth Clan.  Team members included John, Amber, Andrew and myself (Guide Deb Leyh).  The team is from Southern California, and an attempt of Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route was the conclusion of a hiking vacation which took the family to Yosemite National Park and Devil’s Postpile.  While the team were experienced day hikers, there would be many “firsts” on this trip.  This would be the first backpack camping, first time above 11,000 feet, first exposure to crampons and ice axe, and first time on a climbers trail and 3rd Class rock!

Day 1 we hiked to Upper Boy Scout Lake (11,300 feet).  We had great weather and nary a mosquito.  I have never seen the stream crossings so high. All crossings to Lower Boy Scout Lake were passable, but some did require getting the feet wet.  The team did a great job navigating the crossings and making their way up the exposed Ebersbacher Ledges.  Above Lower Boy Scout Lake  to Upper Boy Scout Lake is clear of snow.  The water running on the slabs and waterfalls is incredible, and all this water has made a stunning wild flower bloom.  We arrived at Upper Boy Scout Lake late afternoon and set-up camp and prepared for our summit attempt.  After dinner – and a brief low down on WAG Bags (another “first”) – we retired to our tents with a night lit by an almost full-moon.

Summit day we woke at 4am and after breakfast began making our way to Iceberg Lake at first light.  As I mentioned, this was a trip of many “firsts”, and accordingly, it took its toll.  Since we weren’t moving at a daylight summit pace, the team decided to reprioritize.  I commend the team members for coming to this realization because it is all too easy to get “summit fever” and lose perspective.  Instead of summiting, we decided to explore the terrain to Iceberg Lake, and then move camp to Lower Boy Scout Lake (10,300 feet) for a change of venue.  The team did a great job breaking down camp efficiently and descending to Lower Boys Scout Lake.  Alas the misquotes were back in full force!

On Day 3 we had a pleasant hike out.  The weather remained great for the entire trip, and despite not summiting, everyone had a great attitude.  It’s important to enjoy the process, and to appreciate and respect this great route.  The team was faced with many “firsts”, and I am very proud of their effort.  They gave it 110 percent.  While making our way to the Whitney Portal Store for lunch, minds were definitely churning on possible strategies for a future Whitney attempt, and I have no doubt that with more training and a continued positive attitude, they will get their Whitney summit!

Mt. Whitney Mountaineer’s Route July 9-10, 2011

Kurt and Ben at Whitney Portal ready to begin their climb.

This is a 2-day climb of Mt. Whitney’s Mountaineer’s Route as told by Kurt Wedberg.

Ben is from the UK where he is a student ready to finish up law school.  Taking some time off he was on the tail end of an 8 month trip around the world.  One of the last stops on his journey was California where he had hoped he could get a shot at climbing Mt. Whitney.  I was in the office on a Friday afternoon when the call came in.  Ben was in Lone Pine and wanted to know if we had any guides available to lead a climb of Mt. Whitney starting tomorrow.  It is hit and miss whether or not we have somebody available on such short notice.  It is always worth asking the question though and in this case I just happened to be free.

I quickly finished up at the office and went home to pack gear and food.  I met Ben the next morning in Lone Pine where we divided up gear, packed, and drove up to Whitney Portal.  The last time I was here was at the beginning of June on a stormy attempt at Mt. Russell.  I was curious to see how much snow had melted since then and how full the creeks would be.  They have been swollen and overflowing in other regions of the Sierra.  The weather forecast was looking promising and everything was shaping up for a nice climb.

As we made our way up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek we found the creeks here to be every bit as overflowing as other areas of the Sierra.  Snow had melted off up to Lower Boyscout Lake at 10,300’/3139m and only small patches remained up to Upper Boyscout Lake at 11,300’/3444m.  Not only had the melted snow caused the creeks to swell but it had also given way to wildflowers that were now out in force decorating the trail as we ascended to Upper Boyscout Lake where we planned to camp.

The long day ahead would mean an early dinner and a predawn start.  Ascending above Upper Boyscout Lake we hit continuous snow at 12,200’/3719m.  Crampons and ice axe were indicated from here as we ascended up the 40 degree snow to Iceberg Lake at 12,600’/3841m.  As the sun rose it cast an orange glow on the sheer east faces of Mt. Whitney, Keeler Needle, and Day Needle.  Above Iceberg Lake the snow felt like Styrofoam underfoot making for perfect cramponing right up the 35 degree slope.  Temperatures remained pleasant with little wind and a clear sky.  The snow ended about 300 vertical feet below the notch at 14,000’/4267m.  Turning south we looked up the final 500’/150m that leads to the highest point in the contiguous United States.  The terrain steepens to 40+ degrees requiring the use of hands and feet over the 3rd class terrain.  Using a small rope for security we moved quickly over the terrain and found ourselves signing the register of the summit of Mt. Whitney at 9AM.

The descent had us retracing our steps back to camp where we packed up and continued down to Whitney Portal arriving in time to enjoy burgers from the Whitney Portal Store where they make the best bacon cheeseburgers on the planet!!  Thanks Ben for a great climb!!

A few pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery can be found here:  Mt. Whitney July 9-10, 2011.

Snow plants are plentiful near the pine trees in the ower North Fork of Line Pine Creek.

Ben at the first swollen creek crossing on the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek.

Red columbine

Ben on the route above Lower Boyscout Lake.

Ben on the granite slabs below Upper Boyscout Lake. The water running over the rock comes from the outlet of Upper Boy Scout Lake and makes for a pretty scene as we ascend to the lake.

Upper Boy Scout Lake

Summit day has arrived!

Ben navigating by headlamp with the first signs of sunrise from the east.

Morning light on beautiful Mt. Whitney.

At a rest break before starting up the Mountaineer's Chute we put away headlamps, adjusted clothing layers, and applied sunscreen.

In the middle of the Mountaineer's Chute with Iceberg Lake below.

Polemonium "Sky Pilot" high in the Mountaineer's Chute. This beautiful wildflower only blooms above approximately 12,000'/3657m in the Sierra.

Topping out at the "notch" at 14,000'/4267m

The final 500'/152m of the route that leads to the summit.

Ben making some of the final moves below the summit of Mt. Whitney.

Summit photo at 9AM on July 10, 2011!!

Mt. Gilbert’s Engram Couloir

Mt. Gilbert with the Engram Couloir

This is a climb of Mt. Gilbert’s Engram Couloir as told by Kurt Wedberg.

Tom Sakowych came to use a few years ago with an interest in completing the SPS list of peaks.  The Sierra Peaks Section of the Sierra Club created this list in 1955 as a representation of what they believed are a good sampling of peaks in this great mountain range.  The original list had 100 peaks.  Many have since been added and the current list encompasses 248 mountains.  Some are relatively straightforward hikes to their summits while others require knowledge and expertise in a wide range of technical mountaineering skills to safely climb them.

Mt. Gilbert at 13,106’/3995m is located along the Thompson Ridge just north of Bishop Pass and is rightfully included in the SPS list.  It is a lofty summit that offers spectacular views of the Sierra from all sides.  From looking west into LeConte Canyon in Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park, to the south where many of the California 14ers are on display one gets a real sense of the majesty of all the Sierra has to offer.  If all of this isn’t enough Mt. Gilbert has a steep couloir on its north side that offers a real mountaineering challenge.  This 900’/274m snow/ice route is called the Engram Couloir.

Mt. Gilbert is typically climbed in one day from the South Lake parking lot.  Leaving before morning light hit the trail we began navigating by headlamps up the Bishop Pass trail then turned right onto the Treasure Lakes trail.  Crossing a couple swollen creeks we then climbed a steep hillside decorated with pine trees and granite slabs.  This landscape eventually gave way to snow that was still hanging on from our heavy winter.  Donning crampons and ice axes we traversed into the Thompson Ridge basin and angled across the snowy terrain to the base of the Gilbert Couloir.

Climbing into the couloir the terrain continued to get steeper eventually reaching close to 50 degrees near the top.  Conditions allowed for the perfect kicking of steps up the route.  As we gained altitude the views became increasingly spectacular.  Topping out on the couloir we immediately had a bird’s eye view into upper LeConte Canyon.   Leaving our crampons and ice axes here we turned south and climbed a couple pitches of steep 3rd/4th class rock to the summit of Mt. Gilbert.

After enjoying the view and some well-earned summit photos we retraced our steps back down the way we came.  Back to the cars by 5pm another stellar day in the mountains with superb weather in spectacular alpine terrain with great companionship.  Thanks Tom for another great climb!!

A few pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery can be found here:  Mt. Gilbert’s Engram Couloir July 7, 2011.

Morning light hitting the Thompson Ridge.

Tom crossing a swollen creek on the approach.

Looking up all 900'/274m of the Engram Couloir.

Tom enjoying the climbing high in the Engram Couloir

Tom in the north at the top of the Engram Couloir.

Tom negotiating the 3rd/4th class terrain en route to the summit of Mt. Gilbert.

Summit photo on top of Mt. Gilbert.

Kurt on the summit of Mt. Gilbert.

Mt Williamson and Mt Tyndall July 1-5, 2011

Summit photo from Mt. Williamson (14,375'/4382m) on July 3, 2011. From left to right: Kurt Wedberg, Ralph Buoncristiani, Greg Lukenbill, Demetria Gianopoulos, and April Mayhew.

This is a post about our 2011 trip to Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall as told by SMI guide Kurt Wedberg.

Freshly back from Africa we were looking forward to returning to our home in the Eastern Sierra and guiding climbs in our back yard.   Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall are two remotely located California 14ers located just south of Shepherd Pass.  The terrain is rugged and the scenery is gorgeous.  We offer this trip once each year and it is always a treat to re-visit this area.

The approach for this 5-day trip starts at the Symmes Creek trailhead at 6199’/1889m and leads us over Shepherd Pass (12,000’/3657m).  The trail is long and hot during the heat of the day which indicates an early start on day 1.  It takes the better part of one day to reach Anvil Camp at 10,400’/3170m.  On day 2 we pack our camp and travel over Shepherd Pass where we turn south towards Palisade Basin where we establish a camp that puts us in position to climb both peaks on days 3 and 4.  On day 5 we return back to our cars.

A pre dawn start on day 1 gave us comfortable temperatures.  Our first challenge was to negotiate four crossings of Symmes Creek.  The Sierra received record breaking snowfall this past winter and stormy weather lasted well into June.  This deep snowpack is still melting and the creeks everywhere are swollen and running fast.  Rocks and logs that are normally used to navigate across creeks are now covered in water.  The creek crossings required wading and/or getting boots wet stepping on submerged rocks.  The heavy snowfall also has contributed to the soil being fertile ground for wildflowers, which is one of the treats of visiting the Sierra during the summertime.  The team made it to Anvil Camp in good style by midafternoon on July 1.  Sitting in a grove of pine trees next to Shepherd Creek Anvil Camp provides a comfortable oasis from the hot approach we travel through to get here.

After packing up camp on day 2 the team hit snow within 20 minutes of leaving camp.  Patches of snow got larger as we made our way above timberline en route to Shepherd Pass.  Gaining the pass requires ascending a steep slope.  The switchback trail was covered in snow requiring us to kick steps up the 35-40 degree slope.  Warm temperatures allowed conditions to soften perfectly and the team did an excellent job of moving efficiently up the steep snowy terrain.  Gaining the pass the team took a lunch break under clear skies and pleasant temperatures.  Then we turned south towards Williamson Bowl and made camp on top of the plateau above the bowl.  Foot baths and relaxation in the warm afternoon sun was a welcome treat as we continued a constant regimen of hydration that would help in the acclimatization process as we prepared for summit day on Mt. Williamson the following day.  The team had a pizza dinner and a relaxing cup of hot tea before making final preparations and packing  going to bed.

Climbing Mt. Williamson would require a pre dawn start.  After breakfast the team set out navigating by headlamp.  We dropped into Williamson Bowl, which requires losing over 500’/155m in elevation the traversed across the bowl weaving our way in between several lakes still covered in ice from winter.  Alpine Gold and Polemonium wildflowers decorated our route in places where the snow had already melted.  At the base of the West Face of Mt. Williamson the team donned helmets and climbing harnesses in preparation for the steeper alpine terrain we would ascend.  The West Face led us into a chute that was mixed 3rd class rock with some snow still present.  Crampons and ice axes were used to ascend the snow.  The route then leads to a short 4th class impasse.  Two short roped pitches of fun rock climbing led us to the summit plateau of Mt. Williamson.  20 minutes of easy boulder hopping and the team was sharing the summit of the second highest peak in California along the crest of the Sierra.  After summit photos, some snack food, and some time to enjoy the spectacular view the team retraced their steps back to camp.  Late afternoon clouds built up creating a short rain storm but in the aftermath of it the dry mountain air soaked up the water leaving our gear and the rocks surrounding camp free of water before we went to sleep.

On day 4 the next objective was Mt. Tyndall via the North Rib.  This is a fun 3rd class route up a rib of rock that tops out on a broad ridgeline that leads a short distance to the summit.  Form our camp this route is much shorter than our climb the previous day.  The team ate breakfast and got started after the sun rose.  Scrambling up the North Rib the terrain gets incrementally steeper.  Eventually the team roped up as the fall potential increased.  Short pitching up the terrain the team moved efficiently to the broad ridgeline that ends at the summit of Mt. Tyndall.  15 minutes later the team was standing on the summit of this classic Sierra peak.  The time spent on the summit was short lived as dark grey clouds built promising rainy conditions.  After some quick photos on the summit block and adding our signatures to the summit register we quickly retraced our steps back to the North Rib and descended back the way we came.  Thankfully light rain was only intermittent until we arrived back at camp.  A solid thunderstorm ensued shortly after our arrival that left the air smelling fresh and clean.  An hour after it had started the precipitation stopped and the team packed up camp and descended back to Anvil Camp.  Soft snow on Shepherd Pass offered us the opportunity for an excellent glissade down the 35-40 degree slope on the east side of the pass.  By the time we had dropped below Shepherd Pass we left the clouds behind at the Sierra crest and we walked under mostly blue skies to Anvil Camp in time for an afternoon bath in Shepherd Creek before dinner.

Day 5 was devoted to returning to the parking lot.  In anticipation of hot weather in the lower elevations we left early.  Cloud cover turned out to be a blessing keeping the temperatures cool enough to be pleasant.  Back through the four crossings of Symmes Creek the team reached the cars in time to return to town for a celebration lunch before parting ways after another truly memorable adventure with a great team on two classic Sierra peaks!!

Thanks Demetria, Greg, and Ralph for another excellent trip.  We enjoyed climbing with each of you and look forward to seeing you all back again soon!!

A few pictures are below.  The rest of the photos can be found here:  Williamson/Tyndall July 1-5, 2011

The with their rucksacks loaded and ready on day 1. From left to right: Greg Lukenbill, Ralph Buoncristiani, April Mayhew, Demetria Gianopolis, and Kurt Wedberg

April wading Symmes Creek with water up to her knees.

Greg and April on a creek crossing above Anvil Camp on Day 2.

Demetria and Greg high on the snowfield leading to Shepherd Pass.

Demetria, Greg, Kurt, and Ralph at Shepherd Pass 12,000'/3658m

April and Kurt during lunchtime on top of Shepherd Pass.

April and Ralph having a foot bath on a sunny warm Sierra afternoon.

Pizza is ready... Yum!!

First light on the approach to Mt. Williamson on day 3.

Polemonium on Mt. Williamson.

Roping up on Mt. Williamson's West Face.

April and Greg cramponing up firm snow on the West Face of Mt. Williamson.

Demetria climbing the final 4th class pitch on Mt. Williamson's West Face.

Ralph after topping out on the West Face.

April belaying Greg as he tops out on Mt. Williamson's West Face.

Summit photo on Mt. Williamson. From left to right: Kurt Wedberg, Ralph Buoncristiani, Greg Lukenbill, Demetria Gianopolis, and April Mayhew.

Magnificent light at the end of a short afternoon thunderstorm.

Morning light on Mt. Tyndall's East Face.

April and Ralph high on Mt. Tyndall's North Rib.

Demetria enjoying the climbing on the North Rib of Mt. Tyndall.

Ralph near the top of Mt. Tyndall's North Rib.

Ralph and April near the summit of Mt. Tyndall.

Demetria on the summit block of Mt. Tyndall.

April on Mt. Tyndall's summit block.

Kurt on top of Mt. Tyndall's summit block.

The team packed up and ready to head home!!

Tanzanian Orphanage Visit June 26, 2011

Steve and Sarah helped distribute dollies at the Kilimanjaro Orphanage.

As has become customary on our Africa trips we pay a visit to at least one orphanage.  HIV and AIDS is still a very big issue in Africa and orphanages are overflowing with kids who’s parents have fallen victim to this epidemic.  What little SMI can do to bring a little cheer into these kids lives we feel very humbled and honored to be able to do.  Sarah MacDonald and Steve Schumm joined SMI guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg for this visit.  As we did with our visit in February we brought with us hand made dolls courtesy of Cindy Simon and a group of talented ladies who sew these to distribute to kids all over the world.  A big thank you to Cindy and all the ladies who help make possible delivering these special dollies to the kids.

A few pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery including some video can be found here:

Kilimanjaro Orphanage June 26, 2011

Sarah giving out some of the dollies.

Kurt handing out dollies to some of the kids.

Steve with one of the kids at the orphanage.

One of the kids with her new dollies.

The children and their new dollies. Each dollie is unique and sewn by hand.

After our visit kids always follow us when we leave.

April getting her bicep workout courtesy of one this child.

See you next time. Our next trip is in January / February 2012!!