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!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Finding Balance

Finding the sweet spot

Boom!  Nailed it!

Dad of the Year, celebrating his 65th atop Whitney

Looking at the looseness to come...

Summer is in full swing, and since it is California in the midst of a fierce drought, this means lots of alpine rock climbing, sketchy snow-free descents, and lots of wildfire smoke.  Despite some of these conditions, we at Sierra Mountain Center keep on plugging away, and have had a very successful season so far with great guests and lots of safe summits.  

I have been staying busy, from Mini Mountain Camps in the Rock Creek area to a string of Mount Whitney trips (4 summits in 16 days for me during these past couple weeks!).  While the end of the season is still a month and a half away, and several interesting and engaging trips are scheduled for September, we are also looking quite intently at the building chances for a big El Nino winter in the Sierra.

So while I make the requisite offerings to the Snow Gods by buying a few new pairs of skis, it is definitely still rock-sending season.  Hope to see you out there in the mountains!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Wet and Wild in Miter Basin!

Since it is now officially the 21st century, I have finally decided to get with the times and move this blog over to its own page,  The format will remain the same, and all of the old trip reports and posts will still be available.  So to start this thing off on a good note, here is a brand spankin' new TR from a trip over the past week into the Miter Basin- enjoy!

Once in a while, we get a trip that comes in that is off the beaten path and offers a chance at something new and adventurous.  Last week, Bob Miller returned to SMC with an ambitious plan to hike into the less travelled Miter Basin, south of the Whitney Zone, to climb some of the high peaks which surround the basin.  Having never climbed any of these peaks myself, I was excited to get out and see some new areas, and onsight guide in new terrain.

Miter Basin is approximately 11 miles in from the Horseshoe Meadows trailhead, no matter if you go over New Army or Cottonwood Pass, so the food dehydrating prep and the lightweight tester gear I had made the packs nice and light on the way in.  Sadly, when we arrived at the parking lot the skies had just opened up and the rain was torrential.  Thank God for the umbrellas.

Hours of hiking in the rain got us to our camp in the basin, and we got enough of a clearing to dry out briefly.  Before the thunder and lightening arrived again and gave us a fireworks show through the night that we won't soon forget!

The weather was a factor on this trip, for sure.  We woke up late on a couple mornings, having to wait for the morning showers to clear out before committing to our peak of the day, and we had to hustle a bit more than normal to get things done before the afternoon storms unleashed again, but despite these concerns, we had opportunities to climb every day, so we were successful in our ascents of Mt. Pickering (13,474), Mt. LeConte (13,960+), and Mt. McAdie (13,799).

Each day saw us commute through lush alpine meadows and past deep azure lakes, teeming with large golden trout, and our routes were often interesting adventures through complex rocky terrain, with amazing views, especially north to the Whitney Massif.

After 3 days of peak bagging we had to head back, managing to reach the trailhead just in time to avoid the first of the afternoon thundershowers, with new experiences to recall and new objectives to look forward to.