SMI Founder Kurt Wedberg shares some thoughts on why he’s so passionate about climbing mountains
Why climb mountains? Amid all the hardships COVID brought to our lives, the pandemic of 2020 offered the opportunity for many folks to discover mountaineering. For the first time people are learning benefits that generations of outdoor lovers have known for decades. A few of those priceless lessons include invaluable benefits for physical, mental, and spiritual health. It’s also a great way to make meaningful friendships, and see first hand the importance of protecting our environment. Furthermore, it teaches lessons that can be applied to everyday life.
Mountaineering for physical health
Mountaineering requires a general level of endurance and strength. The cardiovascular and muscular systems are strengthened over time. Getting into a regular routine increases energy and stamina. This in turn adds to the enjoyment and expands opportunities for new and bigger adventures; all while gaining improved health!
Why Climb Mountains: Healthy Diet
There’s nothing like partaking in endurance activities to motivate a good diet. The human body needs food full of nutrients to function well. Meal planning is critical. Unhealthy food will not provide the fuel necessary for long summit days. Mountaineering creates a great opportunity to explore new foods and develop habits that can be used in everyday life.
Mountaineering for Mental Health
Mental health goes hand in hand with physical health. As you increase endurance and strength you’re also gaining many benefits for mental health. Studies show exercising leads to increased energy during the day, better sleep, and sharper memories. It can have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, can help to relive stress, and boost your overall mood. It releases endorphins in the brain that energize spirits and promote feelings of calm and well-being. All of this is happening while you’re enjoying majestic and stunning views in the great outdoors!
Mountaineering for Spiritual Health
As a professional mountain guide for 34 years I’m asked why climb mountains all the time. There are many reasons such as those mentioned in this article. But, there are others that are difficult to express in words, but are also some of the most powerful. There is something deeply spiritual about removing yourself from the daily routine of life and immersing in the beauty of nature. You provide yourself the opportunity to view life from a different perspective. Situations that may have appeared as big problems transform into smaller issues amid the majesty of the mountains. When returning to your normal routine this spiritual cleansing helps make everything else more manageable.
Along with the positive health gains, mountaineering provides several other benefits that enhance your life in remarkably purposeful and worthwhile ways.
Meaningful Lifelong Friendships
For climbers the mountains are an endless supply of pleasure and satisfaction. Mountaineers retain vitality and an enthusiastic elation for life. They’re keenly aware their experiences can never be replicated in a man-made setting. When climbers tie into a rope together something symbolic occurs that runs far deeper than the practicality of immediate safety. They are trusting each other with their lives and well-being. This creates a bond of friendship that cannot be duplicated in any other way. Sharing these rich adventures leads to unique lasting friendships.
Why climb mountains? It gives new appreciation for our environment
There is nothing like seeing firsthand a pristine vista to bring a new appreciation for our wild remote lands. John Muir founded the Sierra Club for this very reason. He knew if he could offer outings that create opportunities for people to see our wilderness they’ll actively help to preserve it. Today professional guide services offer expanded resources to experience high and remote places and to learn new skills that help broaden the possibilities available.
Mountaineering teaches patience and persistence while building self esteem
Summit days are long stretching anywhere from 8 – 16 hours. Mountaineering builds patience and persistence because it requires mental and physical stamina. When looking at a big mountain it can appear overwhelming thinking about how to climb it. However, it’s important to divide a mountain into small manageable chunks that can be ticked off one at a time in succession. As an analogy, when you’re served a large plate of food you don’t eat it in one bite. It is consumed in manageable bite sized mouthfuls. In the same way, when climbing a mountain, maintaining patience and persistence are essential. Climbs are successful by taking one step at a time and one section at a time. Accomplishing this task is a huge boost to confidence and self-esteem.
Kurt Wedberg has been a professional mountain guide for 34 years and is the founder of Sierra Mountaineering International, Inc. Based in Bishop, CA they offer mountaineering guiding and instruction in the Sierra and on high peaks worldwide.
A trip deep into the Sierra to climb Devils Crag #1 and Wheel Mountain
Climbing Devils Crag #1 involves ascending a knife edged 4th class ridge. The rock is loose and the route is wildly exposed in places. Devils Crags are a grouping of 12 summits along a fractured ridgeline tucked deep in Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park. Devils Crag #1 is the most sought after because it is not only the highest at 12405’/3782m but it is also included on the Sierra Club’s Sierra Peaks Section Peak List. This list consists of 247 peaks in the Sierra divided into 24 geographical zones. Devils Crag is considered by many to be the most difficult peak on this list. In spite of this however, “sought after” is still a relative term. Devils Crag #1 sees very few ascents. Between September 2016 and this climb the mountain had only seen 6 ascents and nobody climbed it in 2017 or 2019.
Day 1: The Approach Day
Getting to Devils Crag is a long but beautiful hike. Starting at the South Lake Trailhead the approach beings with a 6 mile stretch over Bishop Pass (11973’/3649m), then 6.5 miles down to LeConte Canyon where it intersects with the John Muir Trail (8860’/2700m). Hiking south for another 2.6 miles leads to Grouse Meadow. It is here that the approach leaves the well traveled trail and immediately crosses the Middle Fork of the Kings River (8250’/2515m). After crossing the river and Grouse Meadow the unmarked route ascends a steep and unpleasant slope that is loose in places to 10000’/3048m. It then traverses across a long talus field that eventually intersects with Rambaud Creek. At 10400’/3170m a couple unnamed lakes are reached that offer decent camping options. All told it measured out to be 16.71 miles covered in just over 13 hours.
Day 2: Getting to Devils Crag #1
Climbing Devils Crag #1 is usually done via the Northwest Arête. This 4th class ridge consists of complex terrain that requires careful thought and efficient rope work to maintain safety while making decent time. A headlamp start was indicated to maximize daylight because we anticipated a full day. A long talus slope led to Raumbaud Pass (11575’/3528m) in between Devils Crag and Wheel Mountain. After close to 3 hours of walking the team arrived at the start of the Northwest Arête.
Everybody geared up so we were prepared for the exposed terrain ahead. In addition to exposure another challenge on Devils Crag is loose rock. This poses difficulties assuring that hand and foot placements are solid, in making solid anchors for protection, and dislodging rocks that can be a hazard to parties below.
The Northwest Arête
Traversing a ridge and dropping elevation the route leads to a class 4 chute for 20m. Above here the exposure increases traversing past two large black rocks called the “Rabbit Ears”. Another short traverse drops slightly down to a 20m pitch of improbable 4th class. Moving above here the ridge widens slightly then reaches a wildly exposed 4th class 10m downclimb. Many consider this to be the crux because of the exposure and difficulty to protect it. Past this downclimb the ridge stays narrow over exposed 4th class terrain leading to the summit.
The summit of Devils Crag #1 offers spectacular views of the Sierra. There was time to soak in the magnificent scenery because the team climbed efficiently. It’s a special vantage point because so few people have ever been here. Smoke from a forest fire partially obscured the views but they were spectacular nonetheless.
The abundance of loose exposed 4th class topography on Devils Crag is some of the most complex terrain to guide. The alpine guide needs to have many skills in their quiver to employ on any given move. The techniques used will vary depending on several factors including (but not limited to) the weight ratio of the guide and guest, comfort, ability level, and weather elements such as wind. One rope team may use a certain technique on a particular feature then another team will come and do something different. What was agreed upon afterwards is everybody dug deep into their bag of tricks, and this route required constant vigilance with no breaks. It also proved to be a fun, challenging, and rewarding experience for all!
Descending off Devils Crag the team decided to return to camp instead of climbing Wheel Mountain on the same day. Arriving at camp that evening everybody cherished a safe and enjoyable climb on Devils Crag.
Day 3: Wheel Mountain
Wheel Mountain (12774’/3894m) is reached by going in the opposite direction at Rambaud Pass from Devils Crag. While rated class 3 the terrain is benign. There’s an occasional move that requires using hands but nothing that requires a rope.
The plan was to climb Wheel Mountain and after returning to camp to pack up and descend to the JMT. This would make for an easier hike out on Day 4.
Leaving after it got light Wheel Mountain proved to be an enjoyable climb. From its upper reaches the views of Devils Crag are fantastic. The route was easy enough to find and the views from the summit were even better than Devils Crag. From Rambaud Pass it was less than 2 hours to the summit. A little time spent in reflection and taking in the scenery was welcomed before returning to camp and navigating down to the JMT.
We, at SMI, have started running our Snow Travel Courses getting those new to mountaineering and those needing to renew their skills ready to safely enjoy the snowy mountains this season. Come join us for Day 1 and/or Day 2 to practice and develop your skills in snowy terrain.
Day One – Snow Travel School
This course covers the basics of travel on snow. Techniques practiced include use of an ice axe, efficient methods for walking up and down on snow, cramponing skills, travel roped together with other people, and belaying on snow. This course provides practical knowledge applicable whether you plan on climbing snow covered peaks throughout the year, or your backcountry adventures are mainly during the summer months with an occasional snowfield to negotiate.
Day Two – Snow Anchors and Crevasse Rescue Course We offer this course as a second day add-on to our Snow Travel School or as a stand alone day.
This is school covers essential skills needed for anyone planning to climb on snowy terrain steep enough warrant placing anchors for protection, or on glaciated routes. Topics discussed include various pulley systems, and the application of different types of snow anchors. We will also cover related subjects such as rescue priorities and procedures, team management, and safety considerations. The advantages and disadvantages of different types of equipment will be discussed throughout the day.
Cost $150 per person/day. If a course has less than three participants our private rates apply: $360 for one person, $250 per person for two people.
Dates Available: February 1 (1-slot left!) February 8 February 15 February 22 February 29 March 7 March 14 March 21 March 28 April 4 April 11 April 18 April 24 May 2 May 9 And on a Private Basis
It sounds great! No crowds, open picture-perfect mountain views, and beautiful deep powder lines.
Make sure you and your friends are ready and safe this season in order to make the most out of your backyard/backcountry experience.
Sierra Mountaineering International is already conducting Avalanche Training Courses don’t miss out on the skills that keep you safe and give you the freedom to travel!
Level 1 AIARE Courses Where you will learn about: Types of avalanches Characteristics of avalanches An introduction to how avalanches form and release Avalanche terrain Trip planning and preparation Travel techniques Decision making Avalanche rescue
Course SPOTS Still Available: January 10-12, 2020 February 21-23, 2020 March 13-15, 2020
SMI’s second Kilimanjaro Team 2017 goes for the summit! They chose to summit via the Northern Circuit Route, a seldom traveled route up Kilimanjaro. They started their trek on February 18, 2017. Follow their journey with us as Kurt Wedberg, SMI Founder, keeps us updated!
February 23, 2017
Greetings from Mawenzi Tarn Camp at 4315m on the flanks of Kilimanjaro. Our team just finished day 6 of our 9-day climb. We started on February 18 at the Lemosho Gate at 2100m. We trekked under the jungle canopy and we’re treated to sightings of Black & White Colobus Monkey’s jumping between tree branches. Kilimanjaro is the only place where one can pass through 5 climate zones in as many days. Over the past several days we have climbed through the Cultivation & Jungle zones into the Moorland & Sub Alpine zones.
Our team chose the remote and seldom traveled Northern Circuit Route. We’ve been treated to beautiful views of the upper flanks of Kilimanjaro covered with fresh snow from recent storms. We’ve had rain 5 out of 6 days usually after arriving at camp. The team remains in great spirits enjoying the discovery that accompanies the views each new day brings. Tomorrow we move to to our high camp at 4700m in preparation for our summit bid the following day.
February 24, 2017
Greetings from 4720m at the Kibo Hut; our high camp on Kilimanjaro! Our team spent last night at the Mawenzi Tarn Camp at 4315m underneath Mt Mawenzi. This impressive satellite peak was formed during the first eruption of Kilimanjaro. Today we got an early start to trek towards our camp enjoying stunning views of the mountain we came to climb. We spent this afternoon preparing our gear for summit day, hydrating and resting. An early dinner will be followed by early to sleep so we can wake early for summit day. We’ll start wearing headlamps and climb through the night with the goal of reaching the summit in the early morning.
Everybody has acclimatized well to the high elevation. We’re feeling great and psyched for our summit bid to the Roof of Africa!
Stay tuned as the second SMI Kilimanjaro 2017 team make for their summit bid on Kilimanjaro! Follow on our Facebook and Instagram @smiguides
Today the whole team reached the Roof of Africa at 19,341 ft! We left a blustery and cold Barafu camp at midnight and surprisingly climbed through the wind a few hours into our summit push. By daybreak we hit Stella point, the crater rim, and at 620am we stood at Uhuru peak, the summit!
After the obligatory summit photos, glacier photos and high-fives, we started our descent back to Barafu for a tasty hot lunch. By Mid-day we were packed and hiking down to Mweka camp at 10,000ft, the team had some sore legs but powered through. Tomorrow we have a short hike out to the Mweka gate where we will sign out of the park and receive our well earned summit certificates!
February 12, 2017
Today, our last day, we awoke from a well earned night of sleep! Ate breakfast, packed up and hiked out to Mweka Gate. The entire team felt strong, a result of a good nights sleep and the thick air at 10,000ft. We made great time down to the road, received our summit certicates from the park and jumped in our van. We spent the afternoon at the Springlands hotel, drinking beer poolside, celebrating our successful climb of Kilimanjaro!
Stay tuned in as next up is Kurt Wedburg and crew hiking the Northern Circuit route up Kilimanjaro! Follow on our Facebook and Instagram @smiguides
SMI guide, Alex Barber reports back from their climb. They make for the summit tomorrow!
February 9, 2017
Today the team hiked to Karanga Camp at 13,200ft. The day started off tackling the Barranco Wall, a 850ft headwall above Barranco Camp. Enjoyable scrambling lead to a beautiful traverse of Kilimanjaro. We were met at Karanga Camp by another fantastic hot lunch, fried chicken and french fries. Pretty sure the entire team may well put on weight with such great food.
The sun sets on Karanga Camp
The subalpine moonscape headed up to Karanga Camp
Tomorrow we’ll hike to Barafu Camp, our high camp at 15,300ft. We’re now well acclimatized and in high spirits, a strong position for our summit push tomorrow night!
Helichrysum flower at 14000’. This flower is nicknamed the “Everlasting Flower”
Leaving Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp!
February 10, 2017
Hello from High Camp,
Today we took the short journey to Barafu Camp, about 2 miles / 2000ft of gain. This short day is nice, as Barafu Camp is more of a long break than a “Camp”. As we’ll be getting up before Midnight to have “breakfast” or more aptly named “midnight snack” before leaving for the summit.
Finding good handholds and climbing Barranco Wall
Porters approaching the last hill up to Barafu Camp
A blustery wind picked up this afternoon as we played Hearts and drank tea. Over dinner the team discussed our summit day and enjoyed a summit song, sang by our local guide Godlisten. Welp, tonight is the night, everyone is feeling strong and motivated. So tonight, we attempt Uhuru peak!
Sunset at Barafu Camp
Clearing afternoon clouds over Kilimanjaro from Barafu Camp
The night sky decorated with countless stars over Kilimanjaro on summit night
The SMI Kilimanjaro 2017 Team makes more headway up to the “roof of Africa”! SMI guide Alex Barber checks in:
February 6, 2016
Tonight we’re checking in from Umbwe Cave Camp at 9600ft. This morning we had another coffee centric breakfast at the Springlands hotel. Afterwhich we all piled in our Zara van and spent an hour driving to the Umbwe gate at 5200ft.
The day started hot and humid but the canopy of the rainforest gave us some relief. As our hike took us higher and higher the temp’s cooled, a light breeze picked up along with a light rain. Throughout the day we spotted two types of Monkey and a plethora of different species of bird and plant life, all in all, an engaging day!
We arrived in camp this afternoon feeling good and spent the remainder of our day drinking tea and shootin’ the breeze. Tomorrow we head to Barranco Camp at 12,800ft, the team is excited to be on the trail and ready to bite off another good chunk of Kilimanjaro!
Giant Senacio Trees at Barranco Camp
February 7, 2017
Today the team is checking in from Barranco Camp at 12,800ft. After a relaxed breakfast in Umbwe Cave camp we hit the trail under clear skies. As we ascended through the Moorlands and into the low alpine zone, the day became cloudy and then quite rainy. The team handled the weather in stride and soon we found ourselves walking into our dining tent at Barranco Camp. We arrived at 2pm and spent a lazy afternoon playing cards and drinking tea, we’ve got a tough lifestyle up here…
Tomorrow we’ll take a acclimatization hike to Lava Tower then return to Barranco camp for a second night. The whole team is in high spirits and ready to keep chipping away at Kilimanjaro!
Western Breach Wall at sunset from Barranco Camp
February 8, 2017
Hello from Barranco Camp,
Today the team hiked to Lava Tower at 15,000ft, which was a new high point for everyone. We took a nice long break there and enjoyed the good weather before making our way back to Barranco camp. We arrived to a tasty hot lunch, prepared by our fantastic local support staff.
Tomorrow we will make our way to Karanga Camp, our shot at the roof of Africa is rapidly approaching!
Aaaaand… SMI is off to start another adventure! This time, our strong team will be ascending Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano and tallest peak in Africa, towering at an intimidating 19,341 feet. SMI guide extraordinaire Alex Barber, is leading this trip and has just updated on the team’s status:
This is Alex Barber checking in from SMI’s first 2017 Kilimanjaro Climb.
The team arrived late yesterday after some long flights and thankfully so did all of our luggage.
The team had a wonderful breakfast here at the Springlands hotel while getting acqainted with one another. After our leisurely breakfast, we took a stroll through the local farmlands, watching the vibrant people go about their daily work. During our stroll we spotted a wide variety of wildlife. After a mid-day siesta we went into the town of Moshi and walked the local markets, sampling fruit and perusing stores stacked full of trinkets.
A hot day was broken in the afternoon by a cool breeze and we spent the remainder of our day doing gear checks and repacking our bags for the start of the climb tomorrow. We capped off the day with a delicous buffet style dinner pared with lively conversation.
Everyone is doing well here and we’re excited to start our climb of Kilimanjaro!
Follow more updates on SMI’s Kilimanjaro 2017 team on our facebook and instagram @smiguides
The SMI Aconcagua 2017 Team reached their hard earned summit on Wednesday, January 18th, 2017. They were overwhelmed with their accomplishment 🙂
“One of the most rewarding feelings for me is sharing a summit photo after a hard earned climb to the highest point in the Western Hemisphere” ~SMI Founder Kurt Wedberg
Kurt Wedberg snaps a picture of his Suunto watch, revealing the reason behind why the air feels so thin on the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere.
On their way down, the team negotiates the 7’+ tall penitentes.
A couple of fully loaded Osprey Packs at 19600′ ready for the descent from Aconcagua High Camp! The pack can hold the weight, but the team definitely had their work cut out for them, getting these down!
The team pauses at their last bridge crossing right before reaching the trail head to revel in their accomplishment. 2 arduous weeks later, they summited the tallest peak outside of Asia. Such an amazing feat!!
Follow more updates on our upcoming international and Sierra trips via Facebook and Instagram @smiguides
Sierra Mountaineering International was founded by Kurt Wedberg in the fall of 1995. We are specialists in all types of mountaineering guiding and instruction year round in this inspiring and beautiful mountain range. We are also positioned to guide expeditions to high peaks on all seven continents. Our friendly and personable expert guide staff brings together the collective experience of 100+ global expeditions plus 25+ years of Sierra mountaineering into every trip we do. We invite you to come learn why hundreds of our clients repeatedly return to us for more new and exciting adventures in the Sierra and destinations worldwide!