Category: Sierra Nevada

Mt. Langley July 15, 2010

On July 15 long time friend of SMI Betsy Northam joined Kurt Wedberg on a climb of the SE Ridge of Mt. Langley.  We were blessed with a clear morning and wildflowers out in full bloom.  Thunders clouds began to build by the afternoon but we had descended back to the cars long before the rain started.  Congratulations Betsy on a great climb on a beautiful and remote route on Mt. Langley!

Here are a few highlights.  The rest of the pictures are here:

Ready to start our climb from the Horseshoe Meadows trailhead at 4:30 AM

Betsy with the South Face of Mt. Langley in the background

Climbing the SE Chute of Mt. Langley

Polemonium in bloom at 12,500' on the SE Chute of Mt. Langley

High on the SE Ridge of Mt. Langley

Topping out on the SE Ridge of Mt. Langley

Betsy Northam and Kurt Wedberg on the summit of Mt. Langley

Mt. Russell’s East Ridge June 5-6, 2010

After a rather stormy month of May in the Sierra we were blessed with warming temperatures, clear skies, and calm winds on the first weekend in June. The East Ridge of Mt. Russell is one of the most fun and exhilarating 3rd class climbs in the Sierra. For many Sierra aficionados this is their favorite all time 3rd class climbs. The combination of excellent quality rock, great views, fun climbing on a classic ridge, and the opportunity to climb one of the California 14ers make this climb a truly memorable experience.

Our team consisted of Cory Cline, Nathan Fletcher, Demetria Gianopoulos, and Richard Stotts plus guides Peter Douchette and Kurt Wedberg. We met at the Whitney Portal Store at 8 AM on Saturday morning. After introductions and dividing up group gear we began hiking up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. The creeks have never been more overflowing than they are right now. Stones we normally use to hop across the water were submerged. We all made it through the various crossings and these impasses only added to the fun and adventure of the day. The snow is all melted up to Lower Boyscout Lake. Above there the snow gets patchy. From 11,000 feet and higher the snow becomes more or less continuous. We camped at Upper Boyscout Lake which is still frozen over. We found dry ground to pitch our tents and organize ourselves for the climb in the morning.

We woke before sunrise getting an early start up the chute below Mt. Carillon. A nice tongue of snow made for good cramponing leading to the plateau below Mt. Carillon. We then traversed to the start of the East Ridge where we roped up. The route was mostly dry with a couple interspersed snow patches. We were blessed with warm pleasant weather and clear skies that offered wonderful views in every direction. Below us to the north was Lake Tuleinyo, which is the highest lake in the western hemisphere. Reaching the 14,086′, 4293m about 5 hours after leaving camp we took a break then descended the SW Chute, climbed over the Whitney/Russell Col, down to Iceberg Lake, and looped around to our camp. We packed up and descended back to Whitney Portal in time for the best burgers in the Eastern Sierra.

Here are a few pictures. The full photo gallery is here:

The team at Whitney Portal. Back Row left to right: Cory Cline, Peter Douchette, Richard Stotts, Nathan Fletcher. In front: Demetria Gianopoulos and Kurt Wedberg

Snow Flowers or Snow Plants (Sarcodes sanguinea are actually fungus that grow off the roots of pine trees. They sprout up after the snow melts and always are a pretty site to see.

Demetria negotiating one of several creek crossings.

Nathan getting through another creek crossing of the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek.

Richard, Cory, and Peter on the Ebersbacher Ledges en route to Lower Boyscout Lake.

The team climbing the pretty granite slabs en route to Upper Boyscout Lake.

Peter, Richard, and Nathan ascending the snow tongue below Mt. Carillon. Behind is Mt. Whitney, Keeler Needle, and Day Needle basking in the early morning light.

Demetria and Cory enjoying the climbing on the East Ridge of Mt. Russell.

Nathan and Peter negotiating the 3rd class terrain on the East Ridge of Mt. Russell.

Demetria and Cory on the East Ridge of Mt. Russell with Lake Tuleinyo below.

Peter and Nathan near the top of the East Ridge of Mt. Russell.

Cory and Demetria crossing a snow patch just below the slightly lower East Summit of Mt. Russell.

Nathan and Peter shortly before the summit of Mt. Russell.

Summit photo on Mt. Russell. Back row left to right: Peter Douchette, Nathan Fletcher, Cory Cline. Front row left to right: Kurt Wedberg and Demetria Gialopoulos

Crossing the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek.

Mt. Sill May 14-17, 2010

On May 14 Kurt Wedberg met Bill Simon and Dana Emberson for a climb of Mt. Sill. Clear warm sunny weather greeted us on this trip. We were also surprised that we never crossed paths with anybody save for a lone hiker 10 minutes from the parking lot on our way out on Monday. The trail is dry to Lon Chaney’s cabin then becomes increasingly patchy snow. Snow is more continuous from the trail fork for Black Lake.

On May 14 we hiked to Third Lake where we set up camp. First and Second Lake were still frozen and Third Lake is about half frozen. It’s outlet is completely covered. We were treated to a beautiful night camped in the trees near Third Lake. On May 15 we donned crampons and ice axes for our climb to high camp near the base of Mt. Gayley at 11,800 feet. We ascended the snow to the right of Temple Crag that offered us a spectacular backdrop to our climb. Snow conditions were excellent with a 6-9″ layer of new snow on top of an older consolidated snowpack. Setting up camp we had some time in the afternoon to relax and enjoy the spectacular views this area is famous for.

On May 16 we woke early and made a pre dawn start for Mt. Sill’s North Couloir. As we passed the base of Mt. Gayley and entered into the basin where the Palisade Glacier lies the snow conditions changed from nice cramponing on firm snow to an unconsolidated pack that would not support our body weight. Our progress slowed as the sun rose and cast an orange glow on many of the surrounding peaks including Polemonium, North Palisade, Starlight, Thunderbolt, Winchell, and Agassiz. This made for a truly exhilarating setting as we slowly made our way to Glacier Notch. Climbing up to Glacier Notch also proved challenging as we encountered a large deposit of faceted depth hoar that required us to retreat and find an alternate route to the notch. Once on Glacier Notch we basked in the sun that was obscured from us until this point. Ascending the North Couloir we again found excellent cramponing on 9-12″ of new snow over a more solid snowpack.

From here the route traverses back into the shade where a couple 3rd class rock pitches lead to the final ridge and the summit. Entering into the shade revealed more weak unconsolidated layers of snow and the decision was made to call this our high point for the climb.

This climb was serving as a training climb for Mt. Elbrus in July. This trip served our purposes well. We employed many mountaineering skills during the four days and our round trip time on summit day was 14 hours offering us the opportunity to test our stamina. This will all come in handy for Mt. Elbrus and many other peaks in the future.

Thanks Bill and Dana for a great four days. A few pictures are below. The rest of the pictures are here:

Dana, Bill, and Kurt saddled up and ready to start our trip.

Dana and Bill at frozen over Second Lake with Temple Crag in the background.

Camp at Third Lake

Bill getting water at Third Lake

Bill and Dana walking next to Third Lake

Bill and Dana at our high camp at 11,800 feet

Dana and Bill geared up and ready for summit day

Traversing the Palisade Glacier. Above left is Mt. Sill. Above right is the U Notch Couloir and North Palisade Peak.

Bill and Dana topping out on Glacier Notch

Bill and Dana high on the North Couloir of Mt. Sill

Dana and Bill enjoying the view at our high point of the climb.

Kurt, Bill, and Dana packed up and ready to descend. Thanks guys for a great trip!

Sierra Club Leader Training May 8, 2010

SMI has long been a big fan and supporter of Sierra Club outings. For 10 years now we have conducted training courses for various groups covering a wide range of topics from Snow Travel to Rock Climbing to Avalanche Training. This helps open up new possibilities for outdoor adventures for their members. On May 8 we conducted a training day for people who are in various stages of training to lead Sierra Club outings. We covered lots of skills for moving a climbing team efficiently and safely over steep snowy terrain. Methods for moving teams up, down, and traversing across snow slopes were covered.

It was a fun day spent outside with a great group of 16 motivated folks. Thanks to Nile Sorenson and Tina Bowman for helping to supervise the day and a big THANK YOU to everybody for participating in this training and we look forward to seeing you out in the mountains!

Below are a couple photos highlighting the day. The rest of the photos are here:

Group photo on the morning of May 8
Group photo on the morning of May 8, 2010.

Practicing rope travel techniques for ascending slopes.

SMI guide Zach Little teaching rope up methods.

Tina Bowman supervising rope team travel.

Nile supervising a rope team practicing traversing methods on snow.

Learning anchor station management on snow.

Kurt teaching belay methods.

Teams learning how to efficiently transition into lowering scenarios.

Thanks everybody for a great day!!

Mt. Whitney April 28 – May 1, 2010 – The Mountain is Always the Boss

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:

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

Mt Whitney April 24, 2010 – What a difference a day makes!

SMI has worked with Big City Mountaineers since the inception of their fundraising climbs they call Summit For Someone. Big City Mountaineers currently takes over 200 inner city urban teens on 7 and 8 day backpacking and canoeing trips each summer giving under-resourced kids between ages 13-18 opportunities to experience the beauty of our wild lands and cultivate relationships with caring adult mentors. Summit For Someone is a fundraising effort for this program. People raise money for climbs that Summit for Someone books through SMI. The money raised goes towards funding these wilderness adventures for the teens. The program has been highly successful and SMI is proud to be associated with this highly respected and successful program.

On April 21 we met our first Summit For Someone group with the goal of climbing Mt. Whitney. 5 eager climbers from Texas and North Carolina raised a minimum of $3800 each for this climb. After packing our gear and leaving the trailhead at 8350 feet we encountered great walking conditions all the way up the North Fork Canyon. Dirt soon became buried under snow that was firm and easy to kick steps into. The team arrived at Lower Boyscout Lake mid afternoon and settled into camp by setting up tents, unrolling pads and fluffing out sleeping bags. A nice Thai dinner was followed by the team going to bed for a well deserved night of sleep. During the night a storm moved in and by morning there was a 3″ blanket of fresh snow on the ground. We packed up with the goal of reaching high camp and began climbing up as snow continued to fall. By the time we had climbed 1000 feet there was 2-3 feet of new snow on the ground and small avalanches were starting to release off steeper terrain around us. The decision was made to turn around and descend to the cars.

As we always do at SMI when climbs end early we offered the group a two days of custom private mountaineering training with the guides. On April 23 the storm has moved east leaving clear skies and warming temperatures. The group elected to do some avalanche training. We went out to a local area near the town of Mammoth Lakes and spent the day digging and analyzing the snowpack by digging pits and identifying different layers. We then spent the afternoon doing rescue training using transceivers, probes and shovels. The day was fun and everybody came away with some valuable knowledge that can be used on future trips. As the day was winding down we discussed what to do on our last day. The question was raised about trying to climb Mt. Whitney in one day from the car. We discussed this option and the plan was put into place.

With the warm temperatures the snow had settled tremendously and the weather forecast was calling for another clear and pleasant day. We left the trailhead at 12:15 AM on April 24. Navigating by headlamps we moved together as a team steady and deliberate. The group did an excellent job of climbing efficiently and taking care of themselves at breaks. The team moved well and we found ourselves at Iceberg Lake as the sun rose from the east casting an orange glow on Mt. Whitney’s East Face and our route, the Mountaineers Route. Climbing our route, a snow chute angled at 35 degrees, the views became more spectacular as we were blessed with a completely clear and slightly breezy morning. We topped out at the Notch at 14,000 feet. Ahead of us was fellow SMI guide Chris Werner with two clients. We followed this group of three with Kurt setting in 3 pitches of fixed line leading to the summit of Mt. Whitney. 10 hours after leaving the trailhead the group topped out on the highest point in the contiguous United States. The excellent time and favorable weather allowed us to enjoy the scenery and our accomplishment while we took summit photos. The group then descended back the way we came reaching the cars in time to have a much deserved celebration dinner in Lone Pine.

This trip marks the first time SMI has guided a 1-day climb of Mt. Whitney’s Mountaineer’s Route in April. A big congratulations go out to the team: Andrea Hilderbrandk, Sean McGrath, Eric Pace, Rudy Rudisill, and Joey Uek!

Below are a few pictures highlighting the trip. The rest of the pictures can be viewed here:

The group at our first rest break on April 21.

The North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. Cooling temperatures made for pretty scenery at each creek crossing.

The team looking strong as we topped out of the canyon that hosts the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. Lower Boyscout Lake and our camp were 10 minutes away.

Sean, Andrea, Rudy, and Sara arriving at camp.

Rudy, Andrea, and Eric using shovels to level out a tent platform.

Our view of Mt. Whitney from our camp at Lower Boyscout Lake on the evening of April 21.

Kurt checking on on folks before hitting the sack.

Morning at camp on April 22.

The team packed and ready to climb higher.

The team climbing at approximately 11,000 feet.

Joey, Eric, and Rudi in good spirits at 11,400 feet in spite of conditions preventing us from going higher.

Sara navigating the team on the descent.

An icy crossing at the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek.

Eric learning how to do a shovel compression test to examine how well layers of snow are bonding to each other.

The team practicing avalanche rescue using transceivers, probes and shovels to search for and dig up a buried duffel bag with a transceiver inside.

The team at the trailhead on April 24 at 12:15 AM ready to begin our 1-day ascent of Mt. Whitney.

Creek crossing on the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. The team was already encountering more favorable conditions.

The first signs of the sun rising from the east at 4:30 am.

Mt. Whitey’s East Face and Mountaineers Route basking in the orange glow that accompanies sunrise in the Eastern Sierra.

The team looking strong at 13,600+ feet ascending the Mountaineers Route.

Sara, Joey, and Eric just below the Notch at 14,000 feet on Mt. Whitney’s Mountaineers Route.

The team ascending the first of 3 pitches (rope lengths) of fixed line above the Notch en route to the summit.

Joey Uek

Eric Pace

Andrea Hilderbrand

Rudy Rudisill

Sara Berghoff

Summit photo from left to right: Kurt Wedberg, Rudy Rudisill, Andrea Hilderbrand, Eric Pace, Joey Uek, Sara Berghoff

Congratulations to a great team!!!!

Onion Valley Ski Tour April 18, 2010 – The corn factory is alive and well!

On April 18 SMI guides Karsten Delap, Kurt Wedberg, and Chris Werner took a day to do a ski tour of Onion Valley. The road has been plowed to the summer trailhead and there is continuous snow right from the car. The weather windless with pleasant temperatures and clear views. Leaving the car at 10:15 am we arrived at the ridgeline above Kearsarge Pass at 1 PM. We had been looking at the perfect spring corn snow all the way on our ascent. After a brief break to enjoy the views into Kearsarge Basin and beyond we stepped into our skis and enjoyed many turns down a blanket of untracked spring corn snow. It was a memorable day with good friends and conditions as good as it gets. Onion Valley once again didn’t disappoint!!

Here are a few pictures. The rest are here:

Gearing up at the car. Continuous snow greeted us right from the parking lot.

Kurt and Chris pause for a moment on the ascent

Chris and Karsten skinning up

Karsten and Chris skinning towards are destination which is the ridgeline just left of the large bare spot

Kartsen and Chris enjoying the view of Kearsarge Basin before skiing down

Thanks for a great day guys!!

Mt. Whitney Slideshows at Adventure 16 stores April 14-16, 2010 – Another great series of successful shows!!

Each year SMI founder Kurt Wedberg gives a series of informational clinics about climbing Mt. Whitney hosted by Adventure 16 stores in Southern California. The clinics are divided into two parts. Part 1 took place in February. This was part 2. Mt. Whitney continues to be one of the most popular mountains in the United States for people to climb. These clinics are always well attended. Some are looking to climb this beautiful mountain for the first time and others return year after year to add another great life experience to their memory box. These clinics are always fun for attendees who have the opportunity to pick the brain of the foremost guide on Mt. Whitney who has climbed this mountain 100+ times by 5+ different routes. Kurt’s presentations include a slideshow detailing equipment, planning and preparation, tips on training, safety issues including lightning, bears, and mountain medicine issues, and a question and answer session.

SMI would like to thank Icebreaker for their help in sponsoring this latest round of Mt. Whitney slideshows. Icebreaker manufactures top quality base and insulating layers of outerwear made from pure Merino wool from New Zealand. Check out their products at Adventure 16 stores or online at

Kurt presenting at the San Diego Adventure 16 store on April 14

Kurt explaining training tips during a presentation

April 12-13: Training days after a stormy Mt. Whitney attempt

After getting stormed off of Mt. Whitney the group decided to focus on training and learning some new skills. With stormy weather and snowfall all day long we put on our clothing layers to help be comfortable in the elements and we ventured out for a day of training. When weather turns us back early from a climb and we have a couple days to work with this becomes a unique opportunity for the participants to pick the brains of our experienced guide staff on any one of a number of topics. The group elected to review crevasse rescue pulley systems and to learn a little bit about the world of avalanches on day 1 and to go rock climbing on day 2.

Pictures of some of the highlights are below. The rest of the pictures are here:

SMI guide Karsten Delap teaching climbing knots at the SMI office

Kristine Lim and Mike Tate showing us good prussik knots

Building snow anchors for setting up a crevasse rescue pulley system

Kurt Wedberg teaching how we identify layers in the snowpack in a snow pit

Kurt Wedberg demonstrating a shovel compression test used to measure how reactive various layers in the snowpack are to stress

Karsten testing snow layers to failure using a Rutschblock test with skis on top of our snow pit

The group learning avalanche rescue techniques using transceivers, probes, and shovels to dig out buried transceivers simulating an avalanche burial.

Mt. Whitney April 10-11, 2010

Winter storms continue to be a part of the Sierra spring this year. Our latest trip began under a warm and windless day on April 10. The Whitney Portal Road has been melting out and although the road is still closed it is now drivable as the road crews have been clearing out rocks that have pelted the asphalt as they normally do all winter long. John Wedberg graciously drove down from Bishop to give the group an assist with a car shuttle. We would get a ride up to Whitney Portal and he would drive our vehicle back down below the “Road Closed” sign.

The group climbed to Lower Boyscout Lake on Saturday. The North Fork canyon continues to melt out on the warmer days. We are now switching our route to go up the Ebersbacher Ledges instead of heading straight up the canyon. Arriving at our campsite in the afternoon wind started to kick up. After a Thai dinner the group retired to their tents as the wind picked up in intensity. The night was a rather noisy one with unabated winds and gusts hitting over 50 mph.

The morning of April 11 revealed not only winds but increasingly cloudy skies. We received an updated forecast predicting 2+ feet of new snow over the next 24 hours. We discussed our options with the group. After weighing out the various options of trying to continue to high camp, staying at Lower Boyscout Lake and training, or descending and using the days to do some training in various mountaineering techniques the group decided to descend.

Here are a couple pictures from the trip. The rest of the photos can be found here.

The group loaded up and ready for the first day on the trail. From left to right: John Wedberg, Kurt Wedberg, Brittany Szalkiewicz, Kristine Lim, Michael Tate, Joey Szalkiewicz, Joe Szalkiewicz, Wade Williford, Karsten Delap

Climbing up the North Fork Canyon

Creek crossing in the North Fork Canyon

The group enjoying a hot drink after setting up camp at Lower Boyscout Lake

Brittany, Joey, and Joe Szalkiewicz