Category: Avalanche Course

Our New Web Site is Live!!

Mt. Whitney (14,508’/4422m) in morning alpenglow.

Greetings from Bishop, CA!  We hope this finds everybody well and enjoying the fall season.  After a busy summer and fall we have been hard at work planning for 2014.  We have also launched a new web site for your viewing pleasure.  We invite you to have a look and come with us on a trip!

As of this writing SMI guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg are off to Argentina for an Aconcagua expedition.  Back home in the Sierra the weather is getting cold and we’ve seen some of our first significant snowfall.  We’re gearing up for winter time activities including ice climbing, backcountry skiing, and avalanche courses.

Basin Mountain and surrounding skyline on Sunday November 24, 2013 after our recent snowstorm.

Here is a brief listing of some of our upcoming offerings for 2014.  We hope to see you on a trip with us in 2014!

Aconcagua:  Trip #1:  November 29 – December 17, 2013,  Trip #2:  December 27 – January 17. We still have a couple openings on both of our upcoming expeditions to the highest mountain in South America.

Mt. Kenya:  February 1-10, 2014.  A technical rock climb up the second highest mountain in Africa.  The climbing ranges from low 5th class up to 5.7.  It’s in a beautiful, remote, and wild setting overlooking the beautiful East Africa jungles.

Kilimanjaro and Safari:  February 11-25, 2014.  A 7-day climb of the highest mountain in Africa combined with a game viewing safari where we see some of the most spectacular wildlife on our planet!

Mt. Whitney:  Winter/spring 4-day climbs and summer 3-day climbs of the highest mountain in the contiguous United States.

Ice Climbing Courses:  Ice is forming now in Lee Vining Canyon and June Lake.  Come up and discover the exhilaration of climbing ice in these premier destinations.

Avalanche Classes:  Learn essential skills to evaluate snow conditions in backcountry travel.  We also include rescue training using transceivers and probes.


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!!!!

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. 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.

Level 1 Avalanche Course January 22-24, 2010

After freshly being back from Aconcagua it was time to check out the local Sierra snow conditions. There is no better way to do that than to host an avalanche course. We offer these a few times each winter/spring. This was SMI’s first course of the year. It was taught by SMI founder Kurt Wedberg. Recent heavy snowfall made for high avalanche danger and lots of interesting snowpack observations.

Avalanche awareness is a very real and intregral part of safe travel in backcountry terrain during the seasons when snow is prevalent. SMI guides stay abreast on the latest in avalanche study and through these courses have the opportunity to pass it on to the students who attend them. A great time was had by all as we examined the causes of avalanches, their types and characteristics, what to look for in observing field conditions from weather to snowpack and avalanche activity, terrain selection, decision making, and much more. At the end of day 2 the class drew out a tour plan for us to follow on day 3. We also spent time learning rescue skills. We spent time getting familiar with avalanche transceivers and how to use them to find and rescue a buried person with an accompanying probe and shovel. At the end of our tour on day 3 we conducted a mock rescue of four people buried in an avalanche. A few pictures from the weekend are below. The entire photo album is here:

Conducting a “fine search” is the final of the 3-step process of searching for a buried person witih an avalanche transceiver.

Learning proper probing and shoveling techniques during avalanche rescue practice.

SMI founder Kurt Wedberg giving instruction on snow pack analysis and identification of weak layers after digging a snow pit specfically constructed to look at the profile of the snow.

A beautiful day for a backcountry tour. Part of the fun of this course is being able to experience the pristine scenery in the winter environment.

Level 1 Avalanche Course

May 18-20, 2009

By special request we organized a late season Level 1 Avalanche Course.  As springtime is well under way here in the Eastern Sierra the warming temperatures and increasingly longer days guide people’s thoughts towards summertime activities.  Up in the high country there is still lots of snow and avalanches are still a very real danger.  It is easy to get complacent during this time of year even though the danger is still there.

A few pictures are below.  The rest of the photo gallery can be viewed here:

View of the High Sierra at the South Lake Trailhead. Theres still a lot of snow in the high country!

Practicing a search for a buried person withh a transceiver, probe, and shovel.

Practicing a search for a buried person withh a transceiver, probe, and shovel.

Testing for reactive layers in the snowpack using a shovel compression test.

Testing for reactive layers in the snowpack using a shovel compression test.

Examining snow crystals through a magnifying glass.

Examining snow crystals through a magnifying glass.

Skinning up Old Mans Bowl near Mt. Morrison where we will conduct some tests on the snowpack.

"Skinning" up Old Man's Bowl near Mt. Morrison where we will conduct some tests on the snowpack.

The reward for climbing up a mountain is making turns in the untracked snow!

The reward for climbing up a mountain is making turns in the untracked snow!