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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 www.lakepointe.org.
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!!
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.
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!
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!!
While guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg were on Mt. Rainier, SMI guides Zach Schneider and Tristan Sieleman were hosting another stellar group on our beloved Mt. Whitney. This is a description of the trip as told by Zach Schneider.
The trip started with crystal clear blue skies and chilly temps. We made our way up the main Whitney trail that is now completely free of snow. By the time we made it to Ebersbacher ledges a system moved in and we had periods of snow and wind followed by sunshine. This pattern continued until about 6pm after we made it to Upper Boy Scout Lake.
The North fork trail is also free of snow until the steep switchbacks just before the ledges. Where the trail crosses the creek (where the water fall is) the water was high and the trail is flooded and very icy. We had to bush whack a bit just down stream to cross the creek. The ledges are in fine condition except for a giant log that is wedged between a rock and the cliff. A few stemming moves and a large step up gets one through this crux relatively easily.
Real snow starts at the notch just before Lower Boy Scout Lake and continues all the way to the summit. Sun cups are beginning to form on the slope above LBSL. Thankfully it has been cold enough and the snow line high enough that we did not need snow shoes and were not post hole-ing.
We woke up to a crystal clear Memorial day with little wind and went for our summit attempt. Conditions were about as good as they get, with firm snow and easy travel from camp all the way to the beginning of the mountaineers route. In the couloir itself we found a few inches of new snow that was over a melt freeze crust. Good conditions for kicking steps. Just below the notch the snow is melted out and is mostly rock.
Snow still covers most of the chute after the notch all the way to the summit and is great neve conditions for the last three pitches. The summit was cold and a little breezy but all in all a fine day to summit! An uneventful descent brought us back to camp and a great 4 cheese tortellini and pesto dinner. At about 11pm like a light switch being turned on we started getting hammered by strong winds that lasted all night and through the next day and the hike out.
A great trip trip with lots of laughs and all five team members getting to the summit and back safely.
Congratulations to the Hall team and thanks to International Mountain Guides for the support on this trip!
On April 28 our second group from Summit For Someone showed up at Lone Pine for a Mt. Whitney climb raising money to help Big City Mountaineers take inner city urban teens on 7 and 8 day wilderness adventures this summer. Each of the seven participants on this trip raised a minimum of $3800 for the program. Each summer Big City Mountaineers gives 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.
Under a pleasant day the team left from the trailhead at Whitney Portal. The first day of the trip is always a good opportunity to get comfortable with some of the participants gear and equipment that may be new since their last adventure. The team worked out adjustments on packs and fine tuned the fit on boots as they ascended to camp 1 at 10,350 feet. Arriving at Lower Boyscout Lake mid afternoon the team set up tents and settled into camp. There was time to enjoy the scenery on this clear day. A hearty meal was followed by the team retiring to their tents for a good nights sleep.
April 29 saw the weather change from completely clear at 8 AM to snowy by 10 AM. Weather changes quickly in the mountains sometimes and this was a great example. The team packed up and began climbing to camp 2. While the weather was never completely clear it didn’t turn into a full blown storm either. Clouds would come in and sprinkle a little snow then turn to partly cloudy skies. The team arrived at high camp at 12,000 feet mid afternoon with a 3″ blanket of fresh snow. After setting up camp SMI guide Chris Werner did some afternoon training with the team to review skills needed for summit day while Kurt cooked an Italian dinner. The weather remained a bit unsettled but by 7 PM Mt. Whitney came into view as the team retired to their tents in preparation for our summit bid in the morning.
On April 30 Chris and Kurt woke the team for a pre dawn start. Another 6″ of snow fell during the night at camp. Hot water was made and everybody ate breakfast before donning crampons and shouldering light summit packs. Weather was clear with occasional wind gusts. Chris kicked in a new trail as the sun rose from the east revealing another breathtaking morning in the Eastern Sierra as Mt. Whitney’s east face was cast in an orange glow. Arriving at Iceberg Lake at 12,600 feet team members adjusted clothing layers and put on sunscreen and sunglasses. Kurt took over cutting in a route in snow that was now over 12″ deep. As we entered the Mountaineers Chute snowdrifts became 2-3 feet deep. Moving slow and steady though the team continued to make good time up the 35 degree chute. As we ventured higher the wind gusts became stronger and more frequent. By the time we reached 13,700 feet the wind was a steady 20 – 40 mph. At the top of the Mountaineers Chute at 14,000 feet we were greeted by strong steady chilly winds. A rock outcropping provided a small bit of shelter for the team as they ate and drank while Chris and Kurt surveyed the last 400 feet of steeper snow and rock leading to the summit where we normally set up 3 pitches (rope lengths) of fixed line. In spite of the wind Chris and Kurt decided to try and set up the ropes and make an attempt at reaching the summit. Chris climbed the first pitch and a few minutes later found himself in winds hitting 70 mph. Realizing it wasn’t safe to be in winds that strong on such a cold day he radioed to Kurt and said he was coming back down.
The team took a group picture at the notch before descending down the Mountaineers Chute having made a valiant try at reaching the summit but finding the conditions on the mountain not quite in safe conditions to reach the summit. In spite of falling a little short the team still raised over $25,000 towards taking urban teens on wilderness trips. Everybody learned a lot and had an adventure with memories that will last a lifetime. As happens many times when teams return short of the summit everybody had the opportunity to learn from experience in ways that never present themselves on a climb with pleasant weather. Friendships were formed through the experiences we all had and all team members expressed a desire to return for another try.
On May 1 the team took their time descending back to the trailhead stopping many times to take pictures and to simply soak in the view. A special thanks to a great team and we look forward to climbing with you all here in the Sierra again on Mt. Whitney or perhaps on another classic Sierra peak!
Here are a few pictures. The rest of Kurt’s photo album can be found here: http://kurtwedbergphotography.com/Sierra-Trips/2010-Sierra-Trips/Mt-Whitney-April-28-May-1-2010/12033029_maRCW#853766965_sYNjX
Mt. Whitney from the Whitney Portal Road on a clear day.
Camp 1 at 10,350 feet
The team packed up and ready to start climbing to camp 2 as snow began to fall
At 10,700 feet with Lower Boyscout Lake below
Team members taking a break at 11,400 feet with clearing skies
Mt. Whitney from 11,800 feet with a fresh dusting a new snow on it
High camp at 12,000 feet
SMI guide Chris Werner (left) explaining some mountaineering techniques that will be employed on the summit attempt the next morning
From right to left: Mt. Whitney, Keeler Needle, and Day Needle glowing orange in the sunrise. When we are treated to mornings like these it is easy to see why lovers of this mountain range affectionately call the Sierra the Range of Light.
Taking a break near Iceberg Lake at 12,600 feet
Climbing up the Mountaineers Chute at approximately 13,000 feet
Spindrift blowing above indicated strong winds and gave us a preview of the conditions we would soon be facing
Approaching the Notch at 14,000 feet
SMI guide Chris Werner trying to climb the first pitch above the notch with wind gusts hitting 70 mph
Video of the winds above taken from a protected spot at the Notch
The team poses for a group picture at the Notch holding BCM flags. Thanks for the valiant effort from a great team: Gus Valentino, Garrett Herfkens, David Cerio, David Giacomin, Chuck Parker, Steve Wargo, and Mark Piretti
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!