Category: California 14ers

SMI Guides are back in action!

Mt. Whitney Summit!

SMI guides are ecstatic to be back guiding trips in the Sierra! We have spent this spring during the pandemic staying in shape, keeping sharp with our skills, and honing our craft. With things starting to open up again we are ecstatic to be once again outside sharing adventures in the Sierra Nevada with our guests.

The Sierra Nevada is our home, our back yard, and our favorite mountain range in the world. The possibilities for adventure and solitude are endless. Try ticking off some of our California 14ers on our Palisades trips, or the exhilaration from one of our classic alpine rock climbs. Learn to transfer your indoor climbing skills to the outdoor realm on one of our rock climbing programs, or discover pristine destinations in the Sierra Nevada through one of our customized backpacking trips! Whatever your desire the Sierra Nevada has it all!

During the month of July join any SMI trip in 2020 and receive a free custom SMI UPF 50+ Buff!

Epic Success for SMI’s First Mt. Whitney Climb of 2015!

Congratulations to Stephen Cummings of Pittsburgh, PA for his successful summit of Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route on February 22, 2015!

Stephen arranged a private climb with SMI founder Kurt Wedberg.  They were able to drive all the way to the summer trailhead at Whitney Portal at 8365’/2550m on February 20.  They hiked on a mostly dry trail to Lower Boy Scout Lake at 10,350’/3155m where they made camp.  The next day they moved their camp higher to 12,000’/3658m putting them in position for a summit attempt on the 22nd.  In the afternoon the wind picked up and clouds began to form.  During the night light snow began falling.  It stopped at 3:30am and the wind abated so they decided to give the summit a try.

During their ascent clouds began rising from below and lowering from above.  As they climbed higher into the Mountaineer’s Chute snow began falling coating the upper section of the route with a thin slippery layer.  The team continued to move well though and in spite of the weather managed to reach the summit shortly after 10:30am.

Here are a few pictures.  The rest can be found here:  Mt. Whitney February 20-22, 2015

Ice on slabs below Upper Boy Scout Lake

High camp at 12,000’/3658m with Mt. Whitney looming overhead.

Avalanche the came across Iceberg Lake

The Final 400′ of the Mountaineer’s Route.

Stephen starting up the Final 400′ of the Mountaineer’s Route.

Stephen on the 2nd pitch of the Final 400′.

Stephen climbing the last pitch of the Final 400′

Stephen topping out on the route.

Walking towards the summit hut on Mt. Whitney

Stephen and Kurt posing for a summit photo before descending.

The tent after returning from the summit.

SMI Founder Kurt Wedberg Featured in Wall Street Journal

This article appeared in the online and print versions on the Wall Street Journal on July 19, 2013.  It is about a climb SMI founder Kurt Wedberg led up the Mountaineer’s Route on Mt. Whitney August 20-22, 2013.

A complete photo gallery of the climb can be found here:

Mt. Whitney Mountaineer’s Route August 20-22, 2012

SMI Mt. Whitney Climbs Raise $250,000+ for Big City Mountaineers

April 26, 2013: A beautiful day on the summit of Mt. Whitney with Team 5!!


One of the highlights of a very busy spring season in the Sierra here at SMI was hosting six climbs on Mt. Whitney designed to raise money and awareness for Big City Mountaineers.  Big City Mountaineers is a very well respected organization with the mission is to transform the lives of under-served urban youth through wilderness mentoring expeditions that instill critical life skills.  They partner with community-based youth organizations and caring adult volunteers who act as mentors in the field to help young people realize their potential.  Their curriculum improves integrity, self-esteem, responsibility, decision-making abilities and communication skills in close to 1000 youth annually.  BCM has a proven track record of improving young peoples’ lives with:
• Increased likeliness to stay in school
• Reduction in violence
• Reduction in drug use

Since the inception of SMI we have had a goal of guiding at least two climbs each year that help out a cause.  On most years we exceed this number by 3x or more.  In planning this year’s climbs with Big City Mountaineer’s the editor in chief of Backpacker magazine Jon Dorn invited readers to come join a Mt. Whitney climb to raise money for Big City Mountaineers.  Each participant was required to raise a minimum of $4000.  They could either get sponsorship by friends and family or write a check.  The response was overwhelming.  What started as one climb ended up being six groups of energetic climbers eager to climb Mt. Whitney and raise money and awareness for BCM.

Participants were given a training program to undertake many months in advance in preparation for this 4-day trip to the highest point in the contiguous United States.  Each person maintained a regular schedule of hiking up and down hills carrying a 40+ pound pack to simulate the weight they would be carrying on the mountain.  They also did exercises to assure their legs and cardiovascular system was conditioned.  During the climb SMI guides offered lots of techniques for acclimating to the high altitude and also spent time at camp teaching and reviewing mountaineering skills including using an ice axe, and climbing with crampons while roped in with other climbers.  The first day of the climb had groups ascending from the trail head at Whitney Portal (8365’/2550m) to Lower Boy Scout Lake (10,350’/3155m).  On day 2 the groups packed up and moved higher to at camp at 12,000’/3658m putting them in position for a summit bid the following morning.  On day 3 the teams rose early for the summit push.  They were treated to spectacular sunrises as the morning sun cast its orange glow on the East Face of Mt. Whitney and teams learned why the Sierra is nicknamed the Range of Light.

Climbing the Mountaineers Route requires climbers to ascend a snow filled chute ranging from 25-35 degrees steep to a “notch” at approximately 14,000’/4267m.  From here the angle steepens and climbers use their hands in places to scramble up some rocky sections with the security of a rope.  This section of the route tops out onto the summit plateau of Mt. Whitney and it’s a short distance to the highest point in the lower 48 states.

Groups took time to admire the spectacular view while taking pictures and snacking before retracing their path back to camp.  On Day 4 they packed up and returned to the trail head and down to Lone Pine where celebrations of their climbs took place.

While climbing a spectacular and classic route in the Sierra participants helped raise over $260,000 to help underprivileged youth experience the magic of the wilderness while learning critical life skills.  They’ve also spread a lot of good will that reaches farther than any of use will ever see.  Thanks to everybody who took part in this historic event!

Photo galleries from these climbs can be viewed here:

Team #1 sets out from the trail head at Whitney Portal. A spring snowstorm would dump 12" of new snow that day but that wasn't enough to stop this determined crew! The weather turned sunny by summit day.

Team 1 crossing the outlet creek below Lower Boy Scout Lake several hours after leaving Whitney Portal. It snowed all day and most of the evening.

Team 1 waking up from camp at Lower Boy Scout Lake to over 12" of new snow.

SMI guide Kurt Wedberg teaching Team 1 proper ice axe self arrest techniques at high camp.

SMI guide April Mayhew leads a team into a rest break near Iceberg Lake. The team witnessed first hand why we nickname the Sierra The Range of Light as the morning sun cast its morning rays bathing the East Face of Mt. Whitney in a bright orange glow.

Team 5 at 13,300'/4054m in the Mountaineers Chute of Mt. Whitney with Iceberg Lake below.

Team 5 climbing the final section of rock scrambling leading to the summit of Mt. Whitney.

Team 1 poses for a well earned summit photo.

April 22, 2013: Team 3 psyched to be at the highest point in the contiguous United States.


Thunderbolt Peak (14,003’/4268m) and Starlight (14,200’/4328m) July 19-21, 2012

The team ready to hike the Bishop Pass trail en route to Palisade Basin. Left to right: Nathan Fletcher, SMI guides Doug Nidever and Nathan Wylie, Chuck Fields, Matthew Peacore, Rob Filback, Randy Hill, and SMI guide Kurt Wedberg.

There are 15 peaks in California above 14,000′ in elevation.  13 of these “14ers” are in the Sierra Nevada.  We have many clientele who come to climb these lofty peaks.  This group assembled was here to “knock off” a couple of the California 14ers.

On day 1 the team hiked over Bishop Pass (11973’/3649m) then turned south climbing over Thunderbolt Col and down into Palisade Basin where camp was set.  An early dinner was followed by final packing and preparations for the climbing in the morning.

On day 2 the team rose early with the intention of climbing Thunderbolt Peak via SW Chute #1 then traversing along the crest of the Palisades to Starlight before descending back to camp.  SW Chute #1 consists of 3rd class climbing requiring the use of hands and feet mixed in with easier terrain.  Where the notch tops out the route turns south and ascends two short pitches of 4th class rock leading to the final summit block.  A rope was put up to allow all team members the opportunity to climb the 5.8 summit block then the team packed up and began traversing towards Starlight.

The traversing is a fun mix of scrambling, down climbing, and rappelling.  The climbing is exposed in spots but never rising above low 5th class in difficulty.  While a rope is used for protection and safety many people who climb these routes with us have had minimal formal rock climbing training.

After arriving at Starlight the climb involves ascending the “Milk Bottle”, which is a short 5.7 friction face climb.  Once again we anchored a rope in place and each team member had the opportunity to ascend this beautiful pinnacle of rock.

With the climbing finished the team descended back to camp and enjoyed a nice dinner before having a well earned sleep!  On July 21 the team packed up and headed back to the parking lot arriving mid afternoon.

Congratulations to all for a job well done!  A few pictures are below.  The rest of the pictures are here:

Thunder Peak and Starlight July 19-21, 2012

The team traversing towards Thunderbolt Col with Duzy Basin behind.

Descending to Palisade Basin after Thunderbolt Col.

Evening alpenglow on the Palisade Crest.

Randy climbing the final 4th class pitches to the summit of Thunderbolt Peak.

SMI guide Doug Nidever climbing the summit block on Thunderbolt Peak.

Rob standing atop the summit block on Thunderbolt Peak.

Randy and Matthew on the traverse to Starlight with the Palisade Glacier far below.

The team pauses for a quick food/water break during the traverse from Thunderbolt to Starlight.

Standing on top of the "Milk Bottle" that is Starlight Peak!


Mt. Whitney’s Mountaineers Route – 100% success with summertime conditions!

June 6, 2012: The team with SMI guides April Mayhew, Doug Nidever, and Zach Schneider at Whitney Portal packed and ready to climb the Mountaineer's Route on Mt. Whitney.

After reporting from Mt. Everest for the past couple of months it is with great pleasure to be sharing news about our climbs going on in the Sierra right here in our back yard!

The Sierra received a below average snowfall this past winter/spring.  As a result the snow melt is ahead of schedule.  Right now at the beginning of June when most climbs would normally require ice axe and crampons to travel over snow, we are instead traveling over dry trails, dirt, and rocks.  Conditions more normally associated with the summer months of July and August are already prevalent here in the Sierra.  For our summertime kit we have exchanged our heavier crampon compatible boots for lighter summertime footwear and put away in our gear closet some of our winter/spring gear including avalanche transceivers, snowshoes, winter temperature rated sleeping bags, and puffy down parkas.

On June 6-8, 2012 SMI guides April Mayhew, Doug Nidiver, and Zach Schneider led a team of eight climbers to the summit of Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route.  With ideal weather and a solid group 100% of the team was successful in reaching the summit.  The route requires climbing up the mountaineers chute located on the north side of Mt. Whitney.  This chute, angled at 25-35 degrees consists of walking over a dirt trail mixed with some occasional scrambling over rocks that requires the use of hands and feet.

The team camped at Upper Boyscout Lake at 11,300’/3444m on June 6.  After a nice dinner of Thai food the group went to sleep early in preparation for the summit bid early the following morning.  Clear skies above and mild temperatures dominated the day making for ideal climbing conditions.  Reaching the summit the group was blessed with beautiful views and comfortable enough temperatures to spend 45 minutes on the summit.  It was then time to descend back to camp for another nice dinner.  June 8 was devoted to packing up and returning to Whitney Portal where the cars were parked.

This group was put together by Todd Phillips who is a pastor at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwell, Texas.  Todd is a veteran with SMI with his groups having been with us in the Sierra and internationally on Aconcagua.  Team members raise money and awareness for one of their ongoing ministries of building water wells in the country of Liberia bringing clean water to a country that has a high rate of health issues related to the lack of clean water sources.  For more information about Todd and their cause visit

A big congratulations for a successful climb to Daniel Bobst, Paul Fleming, Heath Hill, Andrew Hodges, Todd Phillips, Sam Sneau, Richard Stahr, and Brian Young.  Well done!!

For a Spot device track of the climb here:

SMI guide Zach Schneider demonstrating how to efficiently shoulder a fully loaded pack at the start of the climb.

Summit photo on Mt. Whitney with Daniel Bobst, Paul Fleming, Heath Hill, Andrew Hodges, Todd Phillips, Sam Sneau, Richard Stahr, and Brian Young. Not pictured SMI guides April Mayhew, Doug Nidever, and Zach Schneider.

NE Face of Middle Palisade Peak August 12-14, 2011 – Another Crowd Pleaser

The team on the summit of Middle Palisade Peak

On August 12 guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg met two long time great friends of SMI John Rogitz and Fred Simmons plus Fred’s son James for a climb of Middle Palisade Peak.  Spectacular weather and good friends came together for a memorable climb of one of California’s 14ers.  Excellent snow conditions on the Middle Palisade Glacier led to the 1000′ 3rd class scramble to the summit.  A few pictures are below.  The rest can be found here:  Middle Palisade Peak August 12-14, 2011.

The creeks have remained high all summer. 6'3" Fred is up well past his knees.

SMI guide April cooking pizzas at camp with a mosquito netting hair net.

Polemonium in full bloom.

John geared up and ready on the pre dawn start for summit day.

Fred, John, and April on the Middle Palisade Glacier.

Jim surmounting the bergshrund of the glacier that leads to the start of the 3rd class rock climbing.

John and Fred negotiating the 3rd class rock climbing on the route.

April and Jim high on the route.

Jim picking is way high up on the route at 13,800'.

April leading up one of the last short pitches below the summit.

Jim on the final moves leading to the summit of Middle Palisade Peak.

Jim and Fred Simmons pose for a father/son summit photo.

John and Fred on the summit.

April reaching for the sky on Middle Palisade's summit block.

Summit photo on Middle Palisade Peak (14,012'/4271m).

Kurt jumping into Brainard Lake on the descent the day after reaching the summit of "Middle Pal".

Starlight Peak August 8-10, 2011 – Congratulations Ed on Completing the CA 14ers!!

On August 8-10 our good friend of SMI Ed Saenz visited us for his long anticipated completion of the California 14,000’ peaks.  Ed started this quest a few years ago and has steadily ticked them off his list.  The last of them was Starlight Peak (14,200’/4328m) in the Palisades region of the Sierra.  The crux of this climb is the “Milk Bottle”.  This pinnacle of rock is about 40’/12m high.  It is airy and exposed and offers a great sense of accomplishment.  Also joining us on this climb was Cory Cline who has been steadily “knocking off” the California 14ers.  This would be his 9th summit.  SMI guides Trevor Anthes and Kurt Wedberg rounded out the team.

The approach to this climb took us out of South Lake on the Bishop Pass trail.  After gaining Bishop Pass (11,972’/3649m) we traversed south towards Thunderbolt Col then down into Palisade Basin where we set up camp.  An early dinner was followed by packing and crawling into our sleeping bags in preparation for our climb the following day.

Starting daybreak we climbed into the mouth of the Northwest Chute, roped up, and began climbing the 3rd and 4th class terrain that leads to the Milk Bottle.  The day broke clear and calm with pleasant temperatures.  The team moved well and we found ourselves arriving at the Milk Bottle in the late morning.  Ed and Kurt arrived first.

Upon arrival they wasted no time in preparing to climb the Milk Bottle. Taking a belay from Ed, Kurt climbed the 5.7 pinnacle to the top.  The climb is unprotected meaning there is nowhere to place any gear until the top of the pinnacle is reached.  Anchoring the top are a sling plus a ¼” bolt so our climbing rope can be slung through a solid point allowing the others to climb the Milk Bottle with a “top rope” belay. Cory and Trevor arrived soon after and everybody took a turn climbing the Milk Bottle that makes up Starlight Peak.  Pleasant temperatures allowed us to stay on top for a while eating lunch and enjoying the view before descending back to camp.

On day 3 we packed up and hiked back out to South Lake.

That evening the team had the pleasure of celebrating Ed’s successful completion of all 15 California 14ers with a big dinner at Whiskey Creek in Bishop.  This is a big accomplishment for any Sierra mountaineer to achieve.  Ed also made it a point to help others along the way by raising money for two worthy causes:  Friends of Frankie and the Widows’ and Orphans’ Aid Association.  Friends of Frankie is an organization founded to help out Frankie Shouldice, who is a young boy currently suffering from leukemia.  Widows and Orphans Aid Association is a San Francisco based organization founded to help out families that have lost a parent who worked as an officer for the SFPD by providing financial aid and scholarship support. If you would like to donate to these worthy causes you may do so by sending checks made payable to “Friends of Frankie” or “Widows’ and Orphans’ Aid Association” to: Officer Ed Saenz C/o San Francisco Police Dept 301 Eddy St. San Francisco, CA 94102

Congratulations Ed on a job well done!!  A few pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery from the climb can be found here:  Starlight Peak August 8-10, 2011.

The team at Bishop Pass on August 8. From left to right: Trevor Anthes, Ed Saenz, Kurt Wedberg, and Cory Cline.

Cory followed by Ed on the approach to Thunderbolt Col.

Trevor cooking up a delicious dinner of fresh pasta and vegetables on August 8.

Evening light on the Palisades Crest. Above is Starlight Peak, North Palisade Peak, and Polemonium Peak.

Trevor and Ed on the Northwest Chute.

Trevor and Cory traversing across 3rd class ground on the climb of the Northwest Chute that leads to Starlight Peak.

Ed happy to be getting the first rays of sun on our climb.

Cory taking advantage of secure footing on the 3rd class terrain in the Northwest Chute.

Ed nearing the top of the Milk Bottle.

Ed standing atop the Milk Bottle!!

Ed lowering off the Milk Bottle after tagging the summit!

Cory sitting on top of the Milk Bottle.

This makes 9 of the 15 California 14ers accomplished for Cory!!

Trevor takes a turn standing on top of the Milk Bottle.

After setting up the top rope Kurt takes another run at the Milk Bottle.

Kurt making pizzas back at camp.

Ed and Kurt happy back at the South Lake trailhead. Congratulations Ed!!

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!!