Thursday, July 14, 2011

White Mountains Traverse

I have gotten pretty good at burning the candle at both ends, and this summer has been no exception. Hours after returning to the front-country from Blackcap Mountain, I packed up again and drove over to Bishop to head out on a traverse of the White Mountain Range, with the Sierra Mountain Center.

This is an incredible 5 day off-trail trip that goes from the ancient bristlecone forests (which date back over 4,600 years!), up the lush and tranquil Cottonwood Creek, over the 14,246ft. White Mountain, and continues on over miles of rolling alpine tundra though Chiatovich and Pellesier Flats towards Boundary Peak at the far end of the range.

Can you count the rings? This tree is thousands of years old.

The White Mountains are often overlooked despite their proximity to Bishop, perhaps due to the lack of exposed white granite which the Sierra Nevada is renown for, but the Whites have a wild and unique feel to them as you coast along wind swept high alpine meadows, pick up old pieces of obsidian and chert arrowheads, imagine the Indian hunting grounds of long ago and look across your shoulder at the entirety of the Sierra Range laid out beside you.

Looking up at the summit of White Mountain

Luke contemplates the Pellesier Flats. Or is wondering how long til dinner...

A pair of bighorn sheep make the traverse look easy.

After 4 days at altitude which slowed our pace, we made the decision to head down on the east side into Nevada and opt out of Bounday and Montgomery peaks to the north. Dropping close to 4,000ft of elevation in several hours was laborious, but it gave us the opportunity to really see the changes in ecosystems as we dropped down into the desert.

After another hot day in Bishop, I drove up to Mammoth Lakes to visit with my friend Mike, and we were able to climb the super classic North Arete on Crystal Crag. I head out to Mount Conness tomorrow for a quick last minute alpine fix before beginning another 22 day course for the Outward Bound School in Sequioa-Kings National Parks.

Hasta la vista Alpinistas!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blackcap Mountain, Northwest Couloir

I am recently back from a 14 day mountaineering course run for the Outward Bound School. For those of you not familiar with this year's snowpack, it was massive. And remains massive. This is normally a pretty fun course that goes out of the Courtright Resevoir area on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, and receives a mid-point horse-packed resupply, but with 4 to 5 feet of snow on the ground even at our 7,500ft trailhead, we ended up having to do a 12 day unsupported carry, and depart from a lower and farther trailhead. Pretty burly for 10 students who had not done much if any backpacking before, 3 of whom had never walked on snow! It was a steep learning curve to say the least. The objective of the trip was to climb the Northwest Couloir (1,200ft. 45-50 degree snow) on Blackcap Mountain, which is waaaay out there. With a crew any less strong, this would have been a bit of an overly ambitious goal, but our students rallied, and put down some serious off-trail, suncupped snow, sun-battered miles to get up to the McGuire Lakes basecamp.

My instructors, Rafi and Coop, did a great job of moving the students quickly over technical snow and rock, putting up six full fixed pitches as they gunned for the summit. With a camp to camp time of just over 9 hours, our group was worked, but very satisfied.

A lightening fast glissade back through the West Bowl got us back to camp and we hiked out in record time to the 4th of July crazyness at the Wishon resevoir. Special thanks to Dan and Stefan for the unbelievable pistachio encrusted rainbow trout at Woodchuck Lake!