Category: Ice Climbing

Denali 2015 Team Flies to Kahiltna Glacier to Begin Climb

Kurt Wedberg, president and lead guide at SMI, and his 2015 Denali Team found a break in the weather to fly onto the Kahiltna Glacier today from Talkeetna, AK.

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This year’s team consists of SMI senior guide, Tristan “Trippy” Sieleman, mountain guide at Mountain Trip, Ben Adkinson, and friends, Bob “Ski” Szalkiewicz, Joe Szalkiewicz and Joey Szalkiewicz.


The team has been taking it easy and fueling up on the local Talkeetna fare, awaiting their window to fly out today. Oh yes, and they’ve been doing lots of gear checks and packing.



11036215_10205174874105932_5498011346422143648_oThe group is currently at Base Camp 7,200 ft. Next they will be packing and prepping to make the trek to Camp 1.

Keep them in your thoughts and prayers for a happy summit and stay tuned for updates!


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.


Rarely formed ice climb “Widow’s Tears” Grade V WI5 successfully climbed!

The Widow's Tears looking in great shape from the Pohono Bridge in Yosemite Valley on January 14, 2013 one day before Trevor, Kevin, and Kurt climbed it.

On Tuesday January 15 Trevor Anthes, Kevin Daniels, and SMI founder Kurt Wedberg climbed the Widow’s Tears in Yosemite Valley, the longest continuous ice climb in the contiguous 48 states.  This ice formation located near Sentinel Rock needs a special combination of cold temperatures and ample running water to completely form ice from top to bottom. This only happens once every few years.  The recent cold snap in the Sierra created ideal conditions for this climb to form.

Anthes, Daniels, and Wedberg are all Bishop residents and long time friends.  Trevor is a professional photographer ( and manages the Mammoth Gear Exchange located on Main Street next to the SMI office in Bishop, Kevin is the CEO of Fixe Hardware, and Kurt runs SMI. Hearing that the Widow’s Tears had formed they dropped everything, packed their ice climbing gear, and made the long drive from Bishop to Yosemite Valley on January 14.  Colin and Molly Broadwater, founders of Bishop Crossfit where Kurt and Kevin train, closed the gym on Sunday while attending a conference on strength and conditioning.  For the workout of the day they posted “No classes for the people of CrossFit Bishop!!!  Git yourself outside and do something worth writing home about…”.   Although two days late this mission was accomplished!

The trio arrived in Yosemite Valley on Monday afternoon in time to scope out the route and make a plan. The forecast called for temperatures to drop to the single digits that evening and warm to 34 degrees on the Valley floor the following day.  Higher up in the shady gully where the climb is located temperatures should remain cold keeping the ice in perfect shape for climbing.  When temperatures warm up higher than freezing the ice conditions start to deteriorate.  The plan would be to get an early start and climb efficiently.

Approaching the climb by headlamp the team reached the bottom where they put on crampons, helmets, and climbing harnesses and began climbing at 5:45am.  Finding the ice in good shape Trevor took off on the first lead of the day and climbed efficiently over a curtain of ice and set up a belay on a ledge.  Kevin and Kurt followed then made their way over a snowy ledge to where the rest of the climb would continue. As Kevin began leading the second pitch it was just starting to get light enough to see without needing headlamps.  A “pitch” is a rope length of climbing.  Their ropes were 60m/198′ long.  The team’s strategy was to try and maximize each pitch using as much of the rope as possible while doing their best to find comfortable places to set up belay stances making it easy to rest while the leader climbed the next section of the route.

Kurt led the 3rd and 4th pitches.  Picking his way up the terrain he found a mixture of solid ice with a few hollow sounding spots which are to be avoided.  Careful route finding kept the team on good ice and got the team to the base of pitch #5.  Here the climb steepened where the ice was formed over a large almost vertical rock slab.  The team called pitch #5 “the money pitch”.  Kevin brilliantly led this long sustained section.  At the top he placed a secure anchor using three ice screws and belayed Trevor and Kurt up.

It was now Trevor’s turn to take the sharp end and lead pitch #6 that climbed over ice that started off steep then gradually backed off as it reached a ledge offering an excellent place for the team to take a short break for food and water.

Looking at the terrain above it appeared it would be two full 60m pitches to the top.   Kurt led pitch #7 which turned out to be almost as steep as pitch #5.  It was now mid afternoon and nearing the top of the climb the team found water dripping over the ice on parts of the route.  This didn’t prove to be a safety concern.  Air temperatures remained cold and this water was flowing from above where it was warmer.  It was however enough water to soak team member’s gloves.  Thankfully the team was prepared with spare pairs to keep their hands warm.  With rope running out near the top of pitch #7 Kurt spied a ledge 10′ above him.  He yelled down to Kevin and Trevor asking if he had enough rope to get there.  He managed to get to this tiny ledge with no rope to spare then set up a belay to bring the other two up.  By running this pitch out as far as possible it also assured Kevin would be able to reach the top when he led pitch #8.

Kevin efficiently led the final pitch over a mix of steep terrain, wet ice, and finally loose snow leading to a large tree where he set up an anchor to belay Trevor and Kurt up.   Reaching the top of the climb the team exchanged “high fives” for a job well done on a rare climb with a beautiful backdrop of the late afternoon alpenglow on the 3000’+ face of El Capitan.

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

Widow’s Tears January 15, 2013

Kevin and Trevor with binoculars in hand scoping out the Widow's Tears on January 14.

Trevor with a pre dawn start begins pitch #1.

Kevin placing an ice screw leading pitch #2.

Kevin pondering some of his last moves high up on pitch #2.

Looking above at pitches #4 and #5.

Kevin climbing pitch #4.

Kurt and Trevor at the belay ledge at the start of pitch #5.

Kurt organizing rope while Kevin racks up at the start of pitch #5.

Kevin leading pitch #5. This proved to be the steepest part of the route. The team referred to this section as "the money pitch".

Kevin belaying Trevor on pitch #6.

Trevor climbing above a freshly placed ice screw on pitch #6.

Trevor belaying Kevin near the top of pitch #6.

Kevin topping out on pitch #7 with Trevor climbing behind.

Trevor approaching the small belay ledge at the top of pitch #7.

Trevor is all smiles at the belay ledge on pitch #7.

Kevin geared up and ready to start leading pitch #8.

Kevin leading pitch #8, the final pitch that ended at the large tree above right.

Trevor and Kevin psyched as they untie from their ropes at the top of Widow's Tears.


Afternoon alpenglow on El Capitan from the top of Widow's Tears.



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.

Mountaineering Skills Seminar March 17-21, 2010

On March 17 Brett Watson and Ryan Wordell joined Kurt for a private Mountaineering Skills Seminar. These seminars are designed to introduce people to the world of mountaineering. Over a 5-day period we cover as many topics as possible covering a range of different skills that can be used on climbs in the Sierra and on high peaks world wide. We decided to conduct the trip in the Mt. Whitney region where snow conditions have been shaping up nicely all season. There is also a large ice flow that consistently forms below nearby Thor Peak. After training on a variety of skills we capped off the week with an ascent of Mt. Whitney’s Mountaineers Route where we put into practice many skills learned over the previous few days.

A few pictures are below. The rest of the pictures can be found here:

Brett and Ryan demonstrating excellent ice axe self arrests

Brett learning ice climbing techniques

Ryan showing proper belaying skills

Ryan taking his first try at ascending fixed lines using prussik slings

Brett looking like a pro on his first rappel

Kurt testing a snow anchor built by Brett and Ryan. It held successfully!

The boys geared up and ready for a pre dawn start on summit day

Mt. Whitney in morning alpenglow from Iceberg Lake. The Mountaineer’s Route is a chute on the right side of the mountain.

Ascending the Mountaineers Route on Mt. Whitney

Brett and Ryan using efficient cramponing technique up the steep final 400 feet of Mt. Whitney’s Mountaineers Route

Ryan topping out on the final pitch of climbing on Mt. Whitney

Summit photo on Mt. Whitney, March 20, 2010

Sierra Winter Ice Climbing Season Finishes Off Strong

The winter ice climbing season normally begins sometime in November as the temperatures consistently enough to allow ice to form in Lee Vining Canyon and June Lake. This year ice began forming in November and by December we had enough to begin climbing on it. As the season progressed the already good ice continued to improve. Conditions remained great in February and with cold temperatures continuing to prevail the season stretched right into the middle of March. bNow our focus is shifting to the springtime. We are busy guiding climbs on the Mt. Whitney’s Mountaineer’s Route, going backcountry skiing, and are getting out on the rock more often. Stay tuned for updates on some of these adventures.

Believe it or not California actually has ice climbing for most of the year though. As spring turns to summer the snowpack melts except in areas that don’t receive much sun. There are many gullies in the Sierra that contain permanent snow that turns to ice through many melt/freeze cycles. By later in July many of these gullies begin forming alpine ice that make for very enjoyable climbing. Some of the more popular climbs include North Peak, Mt. Dana, the V-Notch Couloir in the Palisades, the Mendel Couloir on Mt. Mendel, Checkered Demon, among others. We are taking sign ups now for these and other popular summer and fall climbs.

Here are a few pictures highlighting some of our last days of climbing for the winter season.

Rachel Hurlburt learning about the world of ice climbing for the first time!

Kurt Wedberg high on Lee Vining’s Bard Harrington Wall on March 9, 2010

SMI guide Sara Berghoff leading a pitch at June Lake

Leading a pitch of ice on Lee Vining’s Main Wall

SMI guide Trevor Anthes leading a pitch of thin ice on Lee Vining’s Bard Harrington Wall

Kurt Wedberg topping out on Lee Vining’s Main Wall as light snow begins to fall

Ice Climbing in Lee Vining Canyon January 31, 2010

The ice climbing season is in full swing in the Eastern Sierra. During the fall months as the temperature drops ice begins to form in the high walls in Lee Vining Canyon. Our first trip out there was in early December. Since that time the ice has slowly been getting more and more “fat” as water continues to drip down the walls and freeze at night. Freshly back from a successful expedition to Aconcagua we were anxious to check out the ice conditions. After teaching a Level 1 Avalanche Course on January 22-24 we then got our chance! Below are a few photos from a visit on January 31. The entire photo gallery is here:

Chouinard Falls at Lee Vining Canyon on January 31, 2010.

The Ice Is Here!!

On Saturday we visited Lee Vining Canyon for the first time this season.  With the recent cold temperatures the ice is forming and climbing is now possible for beginning through advanced levels.  Currently as we write this it is storming in the Sierra with the first of a series of systems expected to hit the area this week.  No doubt a lot more ice will be formed up soon!  Here are a couple highlights from the day.  The rest of the pictures are here:

Lori and Heidi geared up and ready for a great day.

Lori and Heidi geared up and ready for a great day.

Heidi swinging tools on Chouinard Falls

Heidi swinging tools on Chouinard Falls

Lori poses for the camera at the beginning of a climb.

Lori poses for the camera at the beginning of a climb.

Heidi lowering off after a successful climb.

Heidi lowering off after a successful climb.

Polemonium Peak via U Notch Couloir, October 10-12, 2009

The U Notch Couloir, like all the gully climbs in the Sierra that don’t melt off, is hard ice during the fall months.  In the spring time Sierra gullies are filled with snow and make for excellent steep snow climbs.  Over the course of the summer many melt freeze cycles turn the snow into ice.  The U Notch had been “set up” for ice climbing back in July.  By October we now had solid ice with a coating of fresh snow from a recent storm that was up to a foot deep in places.  These varied conditions made for a challenging and rewarding climb.

After topping out on the U Notch we turned south to Polemonium Peak.  Named after the famous Sierra flower that only blooms above 12,000′ in the Sierra, Polemonium Peak is one of five 14ers along the crest above the Palisade Glacier.  At the U Notch we took off our crampons for the couple pitches of low 5th class rock climbing that lead to the summit of this very enjoyable climb.

This climb also would mark the final California 14er for Ben to climb.

Here are a few highlights.  The entire photo gallery is here:

The U Notch Couloir in the center skyline rising above the Palisade Glacier

The U Notch Couloir on the right rising above the Palisade Glacier. The left couloir is called the V Notch.

Crossing the bergshrund where the Palisade Glacier separates from the cliff above creating this crevasse.

Crossing the bergshrund where the Palisade Glacier separates from the cliff above creating this crevasse.

Ben climbing on the hard ice on pitch #2

Ben climbing on the hard ice on pitch #2

Ben still looking strong near the top of the U Notch

Ben still looking strong near the top of the U Notch

Ben finishing up the first pitch of low 5th class rock climbing en route to the summit of Polemonium Peak

Ben finishing up the first pitch of low 5th class rock climbing en route to the summit of Polemonium Peak

Ben near the summit of Polemonium Peak with Barrett Lake and the Palisade Basin far below.

Ben near the summit of Polemonium Peak with Barrett Lake and the Palisade Basin far below.

Congratulations Ben on finishing all the California 14ers!!

Congratulations Ben on finishing all the California 14ers!!