Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Walking the Thin Line on the Palisade Traverse

 This summer has started out as quite a warm one, with some record breaking temps in the Owens Valley, and long stretches in the 80s even here in Mammoth Lakes. I feel lucky then, to be spending as much (or more) time guiding in the Palisades than I have been at home.

 There have been trips up Temple Crag and Mount Robinson, as well as two Palisade Traverses (Thunderbolt Peak to Mount Sill) in both North and South directions. Conditions have been changing quickly up there, with snow lingering still but going fast. It has been unbelievably nice at 14,000ft, with overnight temps only barely touching 40 deg!
 The Palisade Traverse trips are a far cry from the casual rock climbing missions in the Whitney Zone I have become so accustomed to, though there is a different kind of reward in carrying over so many peaks and getting to bivy high en route looking far out into the depths of the High Sierra.
 I first climbed the Traverse some 8 years ago with my good friend Matteo, and it is always a treat to get to flip back through the summit registers and find our entries from that early alpine experience.
 Now I pack food and gear for one more trip into this storied sub-range, my third Traverse trip in as many weeks, and although I am looking forward to the rest of the guiding season and the many other places I will get to climb and explore I am happy to savor my time at each one of these iconic summits while I have the chance.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Still Skiing in the Sierra!

 Although the snowline here in the Eastern Sierra is rising fast, there is still a lot of snow in the backcountry, especially once you get up and over the Crest. This has made for great conditions for mountaineering seminars, climbs on Mount Whitney, and our favorite, springtime ski tours.

We have not had a backcountry season like the one we have been enjoying for a number of years now, at least not well into May, so we are happy not to have to put the skis in the garage just yet. The weather has not been a typical spring one, however, with lots of small systems rolling through to keep everyone on their toes. There has not really been a true corn cycle, at least that hasn't lasted more than 10 days.

 So with all these variables, I was really lucky to have such a fun ski tour from Rock Creek to Mammoth with a couple of fit young guests, Charlie and Taylor. We put our skis on right next to the car, and were able to ski the entire route with the exception of a mile of road walking at the very end. Not bad!

The forecast looked kind of grim, but we figured that it might actually mean some good skiing during the trip. Turned out to be better than we expected. We climbed up and over Halfmoon Pass on Day 1, belaying a short downclimb, and then getting nice skiing down the drainage before climbing to our camp in Pioneer Basin. We awoke to 6" of light and dry snow, so packed up camp quickly to get some skiing in before the sun affected it.

We climbed up to Steelhead Pass, a gradual ascent first thing in the morning, and were happy to make fantastic powder turns down the other side. We had so much fun we booted back up for another lap on a steeper shot too.

We still had miles to cover this day, so we kept on climbing up past McGee Lake, under Red and White Mountain and to the spectacular ski pass, Corridor Pass. This has got to be one of my favorite passes to ski up and over- great views, big mountains looming above, and again, a nice long ski down the other side to our camp below Red Slate Mountain near Lake Wit So Nah Pah.

The morning of Day 3 brought the first real funky weather of the trip, with poor visibility as we made our way up to Pretty Pass (thanks to the low vis we also climbed and skied the quite steep "Extra Pass", which does not come highly recommended!). Once over Pretty we skied down into Franklin and Ram Lakes Basin and in increasingly crappy weather took the option to camp early, and hunkered down for tea.

On Day 4 we had blue skies (not for long), a brisk North wind and the guys had their eyes set on burgers and beers. We still had a steep climb up Pika Pass though, and then a really good long ski down to Pika Lake.

The skiing on the North sides of the passes was consistently good, and we had a really enjoyable time making turns- always nice not to have to ski breakable crust carrying a heavy overnight pack!
After we made it over Duck Pass we found a nice entrance to Barney Bowl to ski, and then eeked our way through increasingly sloppy snow until we reached the end of the road.

The Rock Creek to Mammoth Tour is definitely once not to be missed: it features classic touring terrain with options for many fun ski descents, and packs 6 passes into its relatively short 30 mile length.

While I still have some ski plans left for the season, I am transitioning into some mountain programs and alpine rock climbing trips for June. Hope to see you out in the mountains!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Five Reasons to Hire a Guide

While many of us are experiential learners who have developed their outdoor skills through trial and error over many trips, there are many benefits from using a professional guide to help you turn your dream adventure into a reality. While there are certainly numerous reasons to seek professional guidance to safely “learn the ropes”, I will highlight five of the top reasons to hire a mountain guide.

1. Local terrain knowledge.
So you just saved up all your vacation time from the past year to be able to take a trip to climb a peak in a mountain range you have never visited. Do you want to spend half of your trip wondering if you are off-route or inadvertently in dangerous terrain? Snow, glacier conditions and avalanche conditions change rapidly and dynamically- going with someone who has intimate knowledge of your route in a variety of conditions will keep you safer and perhaps more successful.

2. Ability to match your ability and goals to a trip.

Whether you are a casual climber or hiker who wants to do a unique and fun trip once a year, or a keen mountain climber looking to develop skill sets to be more self-reliant, working closely with a professional guide can help you customize your mountain experience. Guides carefully match the challenge of a route with the desired outcomes of their guests to deliver the best education or experiential outcome.

3. Experience in managing groups in the mountains.

Sure, you just joined a local Meet Up style group that offers climbing trips. But what kind of qualifications do these trip leaders have, and how much responsibility do they have for you if something happens? Signing up for a group trip through a guide service will ensure safe and prudent group sizes, and attention to risk management so that all participants have their needs met. Plus, you usually eat a whole lot better on guided trips!

4. Qualifications and certifications.

Mountain climbing and backcountry adventuring can already be a dangerous activity, so seek out a guide who has passed formal internationally recognized exams through the American Mountain Guiding Association (AMGA). The long and rigorous process to become a certified guide involved not only guiding exams and professional development courses, but also wilderness medical training and attention to teaching outdoor-based curriculum.

5. You just want to get out and hike or climb, but can’t find a partner!

It can be frustrating to have to deal with schedule conflicts, partners who bail, and friends who just aren’t interested in another one of your half-cocked trip plans, so hiring a guide can take away a lot of the stress of planning a trip. Guide services work with your schedule, deal with the logistics and permits, and get everything lined up so that you get to show up and have fun without all the hassle of finding an appropriate partner.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Spring Skiing in the High Sierra

 Wow. I am always surprised when I realize how long it has been since the last post, this time no exception. Time has just been flying here on the Eastside. The climbing and skiing have been fantastic, and the guiding season has really not slowed down at all, so it has been quite a busy time for me.

The only trips I have been able to take out of the area this winter, since returning from Europe, were professional development courses or exams. Happy to say I am now an AIARE Level 1 Instructor, and a certified AIARE Level 3 Avalanche professional.

Recently, with the amazing spring-like conditions we have been experiencing, Sierra Mountain Center has run some very fun winter mountaineering programs, and the first of several Sierra ski tours. We have been patiently waiting for a good winter to run these tours again, and have found that conditions are great once you arrive at the higher elevations.

A couple weeks ago, Richard and Tony joined me for a great ski from Mammoth Mountain to June Lakes, via the PCT High Trail. Great views of the Ritter Range were had throughout, we had a couple of incredible campsites, one underneath an ancient looking juniper looking south to the Silver Divide, and fine snow conditions. Ending in June also meant that we got to end the trip with a fun run down the Hourglass Couloir in the Negatives.

 After a fun climb up Mini Morrison Peak with a bunch of enthusiastic scouts from La Jolla, SP Parker and I took 4 guests out on another ski tour. Both of us took our guests out of June Lake, up and over San Joaquin Ridge to Thousand Island Lake, where the snowpack is fat and the coverage is good. SP left early on day 3 as his trip was a shorter introductory tour, while I continued on with Andrew and Madeleine to complete the Yosemite High Country Tour.
 This great tour takes you into seldom visted terrain along the Eastern Border of Yosemite National Park. We went over the high passes of Lost Lakes and the Kuna Connection, and had some really good ski runs along the way.
 We ended at Tioga Pass, and skied and walked down the road to our waiting shuttle.

 Now it looks like winter is returning to the Sierra Nevada, with a week or more of forecasted snow in the high country. This means that the skiing up high will continue to be good, so we are looking forward for both personal and guided ski tours to begin again once the weather clears.

All the best! Ryan

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

From Mediterranean Rock to an El Nino Winter

In the past months since updating the website, life has been full of adventure and excitement.  Jen and I traveled to Greece for 3 weeks of steep limestone sport climbing, and had an amazing experience.  The climbing is extraordinary 3 dimensional tufa climbing, and is really a paradise on earth.  With over 2,500 established routes at all grades there is something for everyone and so we had a great time scootering around the island of Kalymnos with friends new and old, climbing til our arms gave out and then coming back to the small village of Massouri for more sumptuous Greek meals. 

We moved on to Instanbul for a final few days of sightseeing and stuffing our faces even more thanks to the unbelievable desserts the Turks are known for.

Now home in Mammoth Lakes, winter seems like it is really happening, and I have been super busy with AIARE Avalanche Courses (there are still spaces available for upcoming programs in Feb and March), ice climbing, and some of the best backcountry skiing days in a number of years.  Don't hesitate to reach out if you are interested in taking your skiing into the BC, Sierra Mountain Center is again running left-served programs off the back of June and Mammoth Mountain, and the conditions are great!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Finding Neverland

The leaves are turning colors, the mornings are cool and crisp, and peaks have received their first dusting of snow.  It is fall, and it is time for rock climbing.  Just one day after wrapping up was perhaps my busiest guiding season yet, my friend Ian and I racked up our gear for an ascent of an adventurous route on El Cap in Yosemite.
I have tried to climb El Cap once a year, if not more than once, but the past couple years saw a lull.
It takes a certain mindset to get involved with a multi day big wall route, and I just didn't have the psyche.  This year however, I felt that psyche return, and was glad that Ian asked me to climb a wall.

Ian racks up and contemplates the sun about to arrive

The route, Never Never Land, is in a part of the wall I had not spent any time on, and climbs through its own really cool and steep headwall left of the Dihedral Wall.
We spent the first day just hiking loads up to the base and fixing the first 2 pitches, which traverse almost entirely.  That gave us a good jump on the next day, during which we hauled those first 400', and began climbing the next 5 pitches to take us to Timbuktu Ledge, one of the finest on El Cap.

Long ways to go still

Hauling kit

Captain Hook says, "If you're going to Neverland, bring plenty of hooks!"
Cuz' you're gonna need em!
We reached Timbuktu just as darkness fell; the climbing and hauling took us all day, even with an early start.  The ledge truly was luxurious though- like some of the other great EC ledges, Timbuktu lets you just tie the rope around your waist and walk about.

We slept well after a round of "Wall-Garitas" (lemon-lime Gatorade with tequila and triple sec!), and got up early to beat the heat which we knew was coming back for us.


The next day found us climbing some steepening pitches, which ended up being kind time consuming due to the awkwardness of the climbing.  One of the more physical of the pitches, was covered in strange calcite barnacles, not unlike the underside of a ship.  And slime.  Can't forget about the slime.  We only climbed 4 pitches this day, but ended up with a cool place to set the portaledge up, right where the wall got really steep.

Ian takes us towards the headwall

Tom Evans shot of Ian beginning the headwall

Looking down the barnacle and slime pitch

Again we awoke, our swollen hands beginning to feel the effects of a few days of vertical construction work, and ascended our lines to climb the 4 pitches we would need to reach the Pinnacle of Hammerdom, a unique feature our route would pass.  The climbing on these pitches were much higher quality, with thin nailing and reachy rivets up beautiful golden granite.  We reached the Pinnacle with daylight to spare, and got our dee-luxe portal edge bivy set up for the night.
Ian follows a nice A3 pitch

Ian gets a crash course in thin nailing

It is getting steep!
Almost to the Pinnacle of Hammerdom

Our last morning on the wall, we left the Pinnacle and I climbed the interesting thin nailing and hooking pitches and climbed up through to Thanksgiving Ledge, and climbed off the top via the final couple pitches of the route Lurking Fear, which I climbed with by friend Scott in 2008 as my first El Cap route.

The top out is never fun over on the left side, and with our massive kit is was decidedly less fun, but we were soon on top and hiking off towards the East Ledges rappels, beers, food, and a late night drive back over the pass to Mammoth.

Tom's shot of one of the final hard pitches
I have to hook what?


Climbing El Cap is always special, and always unique.  Each ascent presents its own rewards and challenges, and this climb was no different.  But we learned some things, had a lot of laughs, and had a lot of fun too.

It feels good to put away the heavy burdensome wall gear though, and begin packing for a European sport climbing vacation, to Greece and Turkey, for which I leave next week.  Here is to lots of baklava, kalamatas and steep limestone!