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.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Winter returns to the Sierra- But We Are Still Sending!

Well it seems as if Winter has returned to our local mountains, laying down coat upon coat of fresh white paint.  This has been a good thing for those who have decided to keep gardens for the season, but bad for pretty much everybody else who want to get out and enjoy spring in the Sierra.  Passes have opened and closed, Mammoth Mountain has closed and then reopened, and the winter kit has been pulled back out of the closet.

Despite the wet May and the unpredictable pattern we seem to be in, some very cool trips have been completed over the past couple weeks.

First, Alex came out to do a private mountain camp, during which we had hoped to complete a large traverse in the Palisade area, but with the forecast we chose to day-trip based in Mammoth.  So after a day of crack climbing skills, we tackled the North Ridge of Mt. Conness, and a seldom done peak in Little Lakes Valley near Bear Creek Spire.

After Alex's trip was over I got to do a couple of day trips with return guests who wanted to develop some new skills, and then hiked in to the Mount Thompson area with Hartej to make an ascent of the Harrington Couloir.  The conditions were far from the late season ice which make it the classic climb that it is, but were still challenging enough to make for a good day out in the mountains.  We rappelled the route, and I installed some new anchors and replaced old ones, as the Knudsen Couloir looked to be in poor shape to make the standard descent down.

The next morning I repacked my kit and headed up the North Fork of Lone Pine for a very wintery attempt on Mount Whitney with 4 guys from the Bay Area, but our attempt ended at the Notch (14,000') after too many hours of knee-crotch deep snow wallowing left us pretty depleted.  Who would have thought that we should have brought powder skis with us in May?!

So continues what will likely shape up to be the busiest work season I have had in a while, and with more interesting weather on its way, opportunity for real deal alpine climbing still exist- we have not yet transitioned into our CALpine climbing season!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Carabiner Coffee- Serving Up The Goods

Gone are the days of Folger's, Maxwell House and Sanka, unless you happen to do most of your coffee drinking at Waffle House or the Shell Station on the I-70.  For the rest of us, a lot of options are out there for delicious coffee, roasted the way we want it.

Enter Carabiner Coffee.  Erik Gordon, the founder of the small roasting company, roasts small batches of beans and sells them locally and through an online store, basing much of the operation out of his 1971 VW van.  After embarking on a long bike tour, he devoted himself to the mission of putting good coffee in the hands of adventurous people, who are out there climbing, hiking, skiing, paddling and enjoying the wonders of the world.
How is the coffee?  Delicious.  I have been trying to ween myself off of Starbucks Via Packets for some time now, and although they still have a place on long alpine routes where weight is key, I have now traded up to a French press and a bag of grounds on base camp trips.  The roasts are spot on, with a medium and dark roast now available (the "Skootch" and the "Business"), with a light roast on its way.

But we can get good coffee from a lot of sources now, so why go to the trouble of going online to buy it?  Well, like a lot of the other ways we choose to spend our discretionary cash, using our purchases to support causes, local economies, and lifestyles we identify with has become a powerful thing.
So when you buy beans from Carabiner, you are not just getting a good cup of coffee, but also helping to keep the adventure alive.  Hey, the next time you roll up to your local crag you might even see Ol' Blue parked in the lot serving up some brew!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Gear Review: Iridium's GO! Satellite Device

Recently the American Mountain Guides Association published a review I did of the Iridium GO! Satellite device, a cool gadget that turns your smartphone into a sat phone, and does a lot more too.
Read the review here:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Boot Camp: A Month of Skiing and Ice Climbing in the San Juans

 Over the past month, I have had the opportunity to get to know a new and unique mountain range, the Northern San Juans in Southwestern Colorado.  The ice climbing mecca of Ouray, and the well known ski destinations of Telluride and Red Mountain Pass are here, and they are what we came to experience.

Ian Havlick, having fun on the IIC.

The main objective of the trip was continuing education, and further steps towards AMGA certification in the Alpine and Ski disciplines.  So during this month, I scheduled an AIARE Level 2 Avalanche course, the AMGA Ice Instructor Course, as well as the AMGA Ski Guide Course, meaning a total of 21 days of field-based guide training.  

 The San Juans are known for their volatile and dynamic snowpack, and so provided an active classroom during the AIARE course.  During the week following the course, the snowpack in the San Juans was roughly doubled, providing conditions for an impressive natural avalanche cycle.

The real deal.  Half mile crown on Red Mt. 2.

The Stairway

Unfortunately, this high avalanche danger coincided with the beginning of the AMGA Ice program, meaning that a lot of beautiful long backcountry ice routes (which I was lucky enough to sample some of before the course) would be off-limits.  We were able to use local venues to complete the course, however, and at least made for short commutes in the mornings.

The one and only Whorehouse Hoses, Eureka CO

Somewhere along the Stairway to Heaven, Eureka CO

Mid pitch on the Whorehouse
With the Ice Instructor Course complete, I had 8 days with which to hang out, relax, go to the desert and get out of mountain boots for a bit.  That all changed with another big storm surge right after the course, and forced Jen and I to stay in Ouray and keep climbing ice, the only activity besides hot springs which was not affected by the snow.

Booting on Bald Mt.

Before too long though, it was time to begin the AMGA Ski Guide Course, which had a mechanized component in Telluride, and the longer backcountry touring based section held on Red Mountain Pass. Luckily I could stay based in Ouray, and make short commutes to the BC access points easily.

One of many peaks climbed and skied.

Over the course we received lots of valuable instruction and mentorship in the discipline of guided backcountry ski mountaineering.  With the persistent instabilities caused by the recent storms we were forced to make conservative route and terrain choices, but these complexities also forced thoughtful decision making and made for a good learning environment.

Our groups found lots of good snow, and some amazing snow, and coming from a drought season in California, I easily made the best turns of the season during the course.

Mineral Basin

We concluded the program with a hut based component, held on the other side of the Pass, which gave us access to some incredible terrain above treelike with lots of options for good, steep skiing.

Now, with the month of heavy duty continuing ed over, back in the Eastern Sierra, winter seems like it is over.  It is very springlike here, with the snow line rising and the temps warming, it will be alpine climbing in the High Sierra before too long.  Hope to see you out there!

A big thanks is due to Mammut, who though their continued support of the AMGA and guiding education, provided me with a full-tuition scholarship to attend the Ski Guide Course.  Look out for a video documenting the course soon.