Category: Sierra Nevada

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!!

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.

Mt Williamson and Mt Tyndall July 1-5, 2011

Summit photo from Mt. Williamson (14,375'/4382m) on July 3, 2011. From left to right: Kurt Wedberg, Ralph Buoncristiani, Greg Lukenbill, Demetria Gianopoulos, and April Mayhew.

This is a post about our 2011 trip to Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall as told by SMI guide Kurt Wedberg.

Freshly back from Africa we were looking forward to returning to our home in the Eastern Sierra and guiding climbs in our back yard.   Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall are two remotely located California 14ers located just south of Shepherd Pass.  The terrain is rugged and the scenery is gorgeous.  We offer this trip once each year and it is always a treat to re-visit this area.

The approach for this 5-day trip starts at the Symmes Creek trailhead at 6199’/1889m and leads us over Shepherd Pass (12,000’/3657m).  The trail is long and hot during the heat of the day which indicates an early start on day 1.  It takes the better part of one day to reach Anvil Camp at 10,400’/3170m.  On day 2 we pack our camp and travel over Shepherd Pass where we turn south towards Palisade Basin where we establish a camp that puts us in position to climb both peaks on days 3 and 4.  On day 5 we return back to our cars.

A pre dawn start on day 1 gave us comfortable temperatures.  Our first challenge was to negotiate four crossings of Symmes Creek.  The Sierra received record breaking snowfall this past winter and stormy weather lasted well into June.  This deep snowpack is still melting and the creeks everywhere are swollen and running fast.  Rocks and logs that are normally used to navigate across creeks are now covered in water.  The creek crossings required wading and/or getting boots wet stepping on submerged rocks.  The heavy snowfall also has contributed to the soil being fertile ground for wildflowers, which is one of the treats of visiting the Sierra during the summertime.  The team made it to Anvil Camp in good style by midafternoon on July 1.  Sitting in a grove of pine trees next to Shepherd Creek Anvil Camp provides a comfortable oasis from the hot approach we travel through to get here.

After packing up camp on day 2 the team hit snow within 20 minutes of leaving camp.  Patches of snow got larger as we made our way above timberline en route to Shepherd Pass.  Gaining the pass requires ascending a steep slope.  The switchback trail was covered in snow requiring us to kick steps up the 35-40 degree slope.  Warm temperatures allowed conditions to soften perfectly and the team did an excellent job of moving efficiently up the steep snowy terrain.  Gaining the pass the team took a lunch break under clear skies and pleasant temperatures.  Then we turned south towards Williamson Bowl and made camp on top of the plateau above the bowl.  Foot baths and relaxation in the warm afternoon sun was a welcome treat as we continued a constant regimen of hydration that would help in the acclimatization process as we prepared for summit day on Mt. Williamson the following day.  The team had a pizza dinner and a relaxing cup of hot tea before making final preparations and packing  going to bed.

Climbing Mt. Williamson would require a pre dawn start.  After breakfast the team set out navigating by headlamp.  We dropped into Williamson Bowl, which requires losing over 500’/155m in elevation the traversed across the bowl weaving our way in between several lakes still covered in ice from winter.  Alpine Gold and Polemonium wildflowers decorated our route in places where the snow had already melted.  At the base of the West Face of Mt. Williamson the team donned helmets and climbing harnesses in preparation for the steeper alpine terrain we would ascend.  The West Face led us into a chute that was mixed 3rd class rock with some snow still present.  Crampons and ice axes were used to ascend the snow.  The route then leads to a short 4th class impasse.  Two short roped pitches of fun rock climbing led us to the summit plateau of Mt. Williamson.  20 minutes of easy boulder hopping and the team was sharing the summit of the second highest peak in California along the crest of the Sierra.  After summit photos, some snack food, and some time to enjoy the spectacular view the team retraced their steps back to camp.  Late afternoon clouds built up creating a short rain storm but in the aftermath of it the dry mountain air soaked up the water leaving our gear and the rocks surrounding camp free of water before we went to sleep.

On day 4 the next objective was Mt. Tyndall via the North Rib.  This is a fun 3rd class route up a rib of rock that tops out on a broad ridgeline that leads a short distance to the summit.  Form our camp this route is much shorter than our climb the previous day.  The team ate breakfast and got started after the sun rose.  Scrambling up the North Rib the terrain gets incrementally steeper.  Eventually the team roped up as the fall potential increased.  Short pitching up the terrain the team moved efficiently to the broad ridgeline that ends at the summit of Mt. Tyndall.  15 minutes later the team was standing on the summit of this classic Sierra peak.  The time spent on the summit was short lived as dark grey clouds built promising rainy conditions.  After some quick photos on the summit block and adding our signatures to the summit register we quickly retraced our steps back to the North Rib and descended back the way we came.  Thankfully light rain was only intermittent until we arrived back at camp.  A solid thunderstorm ensued shortly after our arrival that left the air smelling fresh and clean.  An hour after it had started the precipitation stopped and the team packed up camp and descended back to Anvil Camp.  Soft snow on Shepherd Pass offered us the opportunity for an excellent glissade down the 35-40 degree slope on the east side of the pass.  By the time we had dropped below Shepherd Pass we left the clouds behind at the Sierra crest and we walked under mostly blue skies to Anvil Camp in time for an afternoon bath in Shepherd Creek before dinner.

Day 5 was devoted to returning to the parking lot.  In anticipation of hot weather in the lower elevations we left early.  Cloud cover turned out to be a blessing keeping the temperatures cool enough to be pleasant.  Back through the four crossings of Symmes Creek the team reached the cars in time to return to town for a celebration lunch before parting ways after another truly memorable adventure with a great team on two classic Sierra peaks!!

Thanks Demetria, Greg, and Ralph for another excellent trip.  We enjoyed climbing with each of you and look forward to seeing you all back again soon!!

A few pictures are below.  The rest of the photos can be found here:  Williamson/Tyndall July 1-5, 2011

The with their rucksacks loaded and ready on day 1. From left to right: Greg Lukenbill, Ralph Buoncristiani, April Mayhew, Demetria Gianopolis, and Kurt Wedberg

April wading Symmes Creek with water up to her knees.

Greg and April on a creek crossing above Anvil Camp on Day 2.

Demetria and Greg high on the snowfield leading to Shepherd Pass.

Demetria, Greg, Kurt, and Ralph at Shepherd Pass 12,000'/3658m

April and Kurt during lunchtime on top of Shepherd Pass.

April and Ralph having a foot bath on a sunny warm Sierra afternoon.

Pizza is ready... Yum!!

First light on the approach to Mt. Williamson on day 3.

Polemonium on Mt. Williamson.

Roping up on Mt. Williamson's West Face.

April and Greg cramponing up firm snow on the West Face of Mt. Williamson.

Demetria climbing the final 4th class pitch on Mt. Williamson's West Face.

Ralph after topping out on the West Face.

April belaying Greg as he tops out on Mt. Williamson's West Face.

Summit photo on Mt. Williamson. From left to right: Kurt Wedberg, Ralph Buoncristiani, Greg Lukenbill, Demetria Gianopolis, and April Mayhew.

Magnificent light at the end of a short afternoon thunderstorm.

Morning light on Mt. Tyndall's East Face.

April and Ralph high on Mt. Tyndall's North Rib.

Demetria enjoying the climbing on the North Rib of Mt. Tyndall.

Ralph near the top of Mt. Tyndall's North Rib.

Ralph and April near the summit of Mt. Tyndall.

Demetria on the summit block of Mt. Tyndall.

April on Mt. Tyndall's summit block.

Kurt on top of Mt. Tyndall's summit block.

The team packed up and ready to head home!!

Mt. Russell June 4-5, 2011 – The mountains are boss!

SMI guides Rick Poedtke and Kurt Wedberg met Greg Lukenbill, Chad Buelow, and John Walsh for a climb of the East Ridge of Mt. Russell.  This is one of our favorite 3rd class routes in the Sierra.  The terrain is high quality white granite with good holds in an exhilarating setting with spectacular views.  This is a climb we look forward to each year.

We met in the morning of June 4 at Whitney Portal where we divided up group gear, packed our rucksacks, and began our hike.  On day 1 we ascend from Whitney Portal at 8365’/2550m to Upper Boyscout Lake at 11,300’/3444m.  Most of the winter snow has melted up to Lower Boyscout Lake at 10,300’/3139m except for a couple patches of snow still holding on.  Above Lower Boyscout Lake it is still more or less solid snow.  As we climbed the sunny day we had started with began to turn to clouds.  We arrived at our camp at Upper Boyscout Lake at 2pm.  Shortly after arrived here and setting up tents it began snowing as wind gusts became more frequent.  Our altimeters were indicating a drop in barometric pressure as well.  A storm was upon us and the big question for us was how long would it last.

After setting up camp we hopped in our tents to stay dry.  The temperature was warm enough that the falling snow didn’t stick upon hitting the ground.  As the afternoon wore on though we could feel the air temperature drop.  We ate dinner and discussed the climb scheduled for the following morning.  If the storm cleared we would have a shot at the summit.  If it didn’t we would have to descend.  The East Ridge of Mt. Russell does not lend itself well to climbing in inclement weather.  The ridge is exposed and therefore catches a lot of wind.  There is a lot of exposure on the climb too.  Even though hand and foot holds are plentiful the ridge is narrow in places and the ridge drops several hundred feet to the base of Lake Tuleinyo, the highest lake in the the US (a lake being defined at any body of water more than one tenth of a mile in diameter).  At 12,818’/3907m it is over 300′ and almost 100m above Lake Titicaca in South America, which is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500’/3811m.

We bedded down that evening with more frequent wind gusts and air temperatures cold enough to allow the falling snow to start sticking.  During the night the cloud layer dropped to about 12,600’/3841m.  Wind gusts became stronger and more frequent.  The storm continued into the morning.  Not seeing any end in site we decided to pack up and descend.  The weather did clear by late morning however winds remained strong at the high elevations and the rock was covered in slippery wet snow.

Turning around on a mountain is always a tough call.  The team discussed this as we descended.  It was obvious the route wasn’t going to be in shape to climb but in the process of turning back we many times learned more than if we would have had clear weather.  We also came back safely and are able to live to climb another day!  Everybody in the group had fun and we will look forward to climbing together on future trips.

A couple pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery is here:

June 4, 2011: The team at Whitney Portal from left to right: Kurt Wedberg, John Walsh, Chad Buelow, Greg Lukenbill, and Rick Poedtke.

"Snow plants" are a fungus flower that stem off the roots of pine trees. The microscopic fungal filaments (called hyphae) greatly increase the surface area of the root systems and facilitate the absorption of water and mineral nutrients from the soil. In return for this vital service, the photosynthetic trees reward their fungal partners with energy-rich carbohydrates and amino acids.

The North Fork of Lone Pine Creek is always full in June as the snow melt increases.

Greg approaching the Ebersbacher Ledges in the North Fork Canyon below Lower Boyscout Lake.

Chad negotiating the Ebersbacher Ledges.

John and Chad above Lower Boyscout Lake on their way to Upper Boyscout Lake.

Greg and Rick en route to Upper Boyscout Lake as the first snow flakes began falling.

Setting up camp at Upper Boyscout Lake 11,300'/3444m.

Wind gusts hit over 50mph during the night. By morning each gust was blowing around a couple inches of freshly fallen snow.

June 5, 2011: Our camp at Upper Boyscout Lake in the morning.

Mt. Whitney Summit Success May 29-31, 2011

Summit photo on Mt. Whitney May 30, 2011

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!

~Zach Schneider

Mt. Gould (13,005’/3964m) November 2, 2010

Mt. Gould is accessed through the beautiful Onion Valley trailhead above the town of Independence.  It is located above Kearsarge Pass along the crest of the Sierra.  This is a fun scramble above the Kearsarge Pass trail that ends at the final summit block where a couple 3rd class moves are encountered to reach the top.

Bruce Millar and Michael Tate are long time friends of SMI and it was a pleasure to see them return for a fall peak ascent.  After a recent storm has left a few inches of fresh snow temperatures warmed up significantly causing most of the fresh snow to melt and give way to dry ground on sun exposed south facing slopes leaving behind only patches in between sections of dirt, rock, and scred.  Warm weather prevailed on this day allowing us to wear short sleeved shirts all the way to the summit of this fun peak.  The views from the summit are spectacular offering vistas deep into Sequoia / Kings Canyon National Park to the west, and Sardine Canyon directly below to the east.

A few highlights are below.  The rest of the pictures can be found here:  Mt. Gould from Kearsarge Pass November 2, 2010.

Left to right: Kurt Wedberg, Michael Tate, Bruce Millar

Heart Lake in Onion Valley.

Mt. Gould on the skyline with the Kearsarge Pass trail below.

Bruce Millar enjoying the climbing high above Kearsarge Pass with Gilbert and Flower Lakes far below.

Michael Tate above Kearsarge Pass with Pothole Lake below.

Two does and three fawns skirting the terrain near us as they cross the crest of the Sierra.

Bruce and Kurt on the summit block of Mt. Gould.

Mike Tate climbing the summit block of Mt. Gould.

Kurt on top of Mt. Gould's summit block.

Thanks for a great climb guys!!

Thor Peak – Stemwinder Route October 29, 2010

The normal erratic fall weather pattern in the Sierra has continued to bring us intermittent warm weather followed by cold snaps and light snow.  Earlier in October as much as 2 or more feet of snow had fallen along the crest of the Sierra.  Warm weather would melt the snow that deposited on sun exposed slopes but anything in the shade has remained.  This made Thor Peak a good choice for a climb.  It is a nice day trip requiring much lighter packs than an overnight trip would and the Stemwinder route is south facing meaning it received a lot of sun exposure so the rock would be free of snow.  Stemwinder is a nice entry level alpine rock climb.  The moves are rated up to 5.5 with easier sections in between.  The rock quality is superb with firm white granite and little loose terrain to be concerned about.

Richard Piotrowski and Kurt Wedberg teamed up to make a nice day of it.  The weather included high clouds and some winds that signaled an approaching storm.  That evening the area received several inches of snow and effectively made this route much more of a mixed climb for the next few months.

A few highlights are below.  The rest of the pictures can be found here:  Thor Peak via Stemwinder October 29, 2010.

Thor Peak's South Face. The Stemwinder route is on the right side of this face.

Richard enjoying the climbing on Stemwinder.

Richard high up on Stemwinder.

Richard and Kurt on the summit of Thor with Mt. Whitney behind Kurt on the right.

Thunderbolt Peak to Starlight Traverse September 24-26, 2010

On September 24-26, 2010 Brian Corrigan and Erik Peterson joined Kurt Wedberg for a climb of a couple classic 14ers in the Palisades region of the Sierra.  Here in the Sierra we were treated to summer temperatures over 10 degrees above normal for this time of year.  On September 24 we hiked over Bishop Pass and camped in Palisade Basin.  On day 2 we got a pre dawn start climbing Southwest Chute #1 on Thunderbolt Peak.  After reaching the summit we traversed south along the crest of the Palisades towards Starlight Peak.  After climbing Starlight we descended back to Palisade Basin for a nice dinner before going to sleep.  On day 3 we retraced out steps hiking back over Bishop Pass to the parking lot at South Lake.

The Palisades from Palisade Basin. Thunderbolt Peak is just out of view on the left. Starlight and North Palisade Peak are above.

Left to right: Kurt Wedberg, Erik Peterson, Brian Corrigan

Brian and Erik taking a break at Bishop Pass (11,972', 3694m).

Kurt climbing the summit block on Thunderbolt Peak.

Brian on top of Thunderbolt Peak's summit block.

Erik atop Thunderbolt Peak.

From the summit of Thunderbolt Peak looking along the Palisade Crest towards Starlight Peak.

Brian atop Starlight Peak

Erik surmounting the "milk bottle" that makes up Starlight Peak.

Kurt atop the "milk bottle" on Starlight Peak.