Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Best Ice Climbing Season Ever?

The Bard-Harrington Wall in mid-March. What a season we had!

With all the attention on record snowfall, amazing powder skiing, and warm spring temperatures, I'm beginning to forget about what a great ice climbing season we had here on the Eastside. From my perspective, it couldn't have been better! So, here's a little recap.

All my ice climbing this past season came in one of two forms. I either worked, or climbed for "fun" with my friend Christy. It's funny looking back at such a busy season with so many partners and clients around and realize that I only climbed "recreationally" with one person. But she's a rock star, and a blast, and motivated, and nice. Couldn't ask for more, really! And clients are great friends, excellent partners and strong athletes. Certainly blurs the line between fun and "work".

Christy and I started the season back in early December with a day of top-roping at Chouinard Falls. I was fresh off a month of not climbing at all (mainly partying around the country...) and she was diving back into ice climbing after a pretty burly, but in the end, brief, "exit" from the sport. She can elaborate if she likes... I'll just say that she has overcome, and then some!

My next, and perhaps most important, ice climbing session was 5 days in Ouray, CO just before Christmas. I took the inaugural AMGA Ice Instructor Course, and my whole world is better because of it. Check out a more detailed report on this course here.

Around the Holidays I worked a ton of ice climbing. We had fresh snow, stormy weather, and whacky approach conditions.

Check out this video for a summary of post-Christmas approach drama.

Excellent "full" conditions for beginner ice climbing on New Years Day 2011!

January brought an even mix of personal climbing and work climbing, all with the constant undertones of the best kind of soap opera. Lee Vining 90210 at it's most entertaining!

Christy and I climbed Photoshop on the Bard-Harrington in early January, possibly the first ones up for the season. The Bard-Harrington Wall in Lee Vining Canyon has been called California's biggest reliable ice climbing area. It certainly is big (3-4 or more pitches), and more reliable than other climbs of its size. Even then, it only comes into truly great condition once every few years. This was one of those years!

Mid-month Taylor and I climbed up the main portion of that wall. Also, possibly the first ones up there for the year. Again, the "conditions" videos tell the stories better:

Photoshop (pardon the production issues. Things were "transitional" on the admin end...)

Bard-Harrington with big, bad Taylor!

At the very end of January Christy and I climbed the Bard-Harrington again in somewhat thin conditions. Coincidentally, there was a professional photo-shoot going on. We scored some "publicity" here and here.

February brought a whole pile of beginner climbers to the Eastern Sierra. What a joy it was for all of us at Sierra Mountain Guides to share sweet conditions and beautiful scenery with a wide range of folks. All of us got out in both Lee Vining and June Lake areas teaching tons of skills and pitches! Awesome!

Things warm up, and wind down, in Lee Vining Canyon in March. Sun hits the top of the routes, and eventually entire walls. Warmer air temps plus these sunny conditions eventually erode the ice. However, if you've been training all season, have your systems down and pay close attention to the potentially warming temperatures, there's no better time to blast up many pitches of plastic ice in the Canyon. My highlight for March, and the end of my ice season, was a custom day with strong and motivated Andy. We estimated that we got in 350 meters of ice 4 that day!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yet Another Big Day in the Mountains!

Skied a beautiful and rugged tour today for work- first we wentup from Lee Vining Canyon to the Dana Plateau via the V-Bowl and Coke Chute. From the plateau we skied south down the Kidney Chute to Kidney Lake, then climbed to the Dana/Gibbs saddle and on to the summit of "Skier's Gibbs". From there we skied all the way down the East face of Gibbs. This East face is absolutely immense, especially with the miles of forest and sage exit. Tough part was difficult snow. We made it work, but had to work for it, for sure.

In other news, well, there's lots of it. At the risk of being cryptic and vague, the news that is good is very good. And the bad is totally manageable. Not a bad combo.

Friday, March 4, 2011


It is striking to me how one's self-image and the way others perceive us can be so divergent. This week alone I have been described variously as scary, mean, pushy, and courageous. And I see myself as none of those things.
It reminds me of being shy and withdrawn and meek as a teenager. I felt like I was just a quiet, solitary kind of kid. What I didn't realize was that it appeared as though I was arrogant for laying low. Fortunately someone had the cojones to point that out, and I was glad to adjust. I certainly did not want people to think I was a snob.
Or when I was in college driving a beat up Blazer. That thing was loud and ugly and gnarly. I just hoped it would get me a little further along. But apparently it made me look like some sort of reckless redneck with no regard.
Now, being seen and described as courageous is quite the compliment, I won't lie. Especially when the speaker wasn't talking about my performance in the mountains. And especially by someone as successful and thoughtful and experienced as the person who said it. I trust that he knows courageous people. And to be lumped in with them is quite the praise.
What does it matter, I suppose, how one appears? What does it matter to every once in a while scare someone? The ways we are seen and described certainly affect us. That should be alright, as long as we do not act entirely based on how we are seen, either proactively to appear a certain way, or reactively so as to not appear certain ways. Right?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Big Day in the Whitney Zone!

A Big Day in the Whitney Zone!

Just getting settled in after many many hours on the go. 18 to be exact, but many of those were spent dealing with car logistics and eating dinner. Taylor and I also skied a ton. Whitney-in-a-day was the goal, but we knew it was a long shot. A clearing storm and road complications were our primary obstacles. The post-storm winds made high altitude avalanche hazard too high. But we adapted, adjusted, and skied the East Couloir of Thor Peak. We had perfect powder snow in this line both of us have checked out in the past. It was a perfect consolation prize, and we toured nearly 7000 vertical feet of fresh snow.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Powder Week (+) Recap!

Some of this has been covered, some with annoying enthusiasm on Facebook. But if a blog is to be one's journal, one can't help but gather excellent memories together. Here are the sweetest photos and best videos!

Day 1, first snow in weeks. Thursday the 17th. June Mountain and backcountry. Alex P-F.

Day 2. Friday the 18th. June Mountain and backcountry. Guiding. Tony R.

Days 3 and 4 I worked Ice Climbing. It was still awesome, being out in the fresh snow and weather and dealing with snowy roads and excited visitors. Folks got out and skied, all over the range. Awesome. Here's the ice report I made on the 19th.

I skied at June Mountain for work on the 21st. Inbounds was groomed and/or tracked out, but just past the boundary the fresh snow had settled enough to allow a couple sneaky laps while on the clock. No pictures, to protect the innocent.

The 22nd, Tuesday, I skied on my day off with Josh-the-Avalanche-forecaster. This has it's own post back a few days. We collected valuable data and a plethora of fast, soft-snow turns!

The 23rd I went back to work, again at June Mountain and vicinity. Again, unreal snow! Guiding, Kevin S. No photos, no video.

February 24 and 25 I had booked an overnight trip, ideally to go to Mt. Emerson. Karen came all the way from Switzerland hoping for California sun. The forecast didn't agree. We considered heading out anyway, to camp and ski low angled powder above the Buttermilk Country. I think we did a good job of considering the options and making the most of what we were given. Karen was flexible and motivated and fit, and chose a couple of day trips over the cold, windy camping experience. Thursday the 24th was probably the poorest ski day of these two weeks. Winds, firmer snow, and cooling temperatures, plus the piles of fresh snow on top of old weak stuff significantly limited our options. In order to get Karen deep into the High Sierra, while accommodating the conditions, we headed out on the "Wonder Lakes Loop". The best picture from the day is in another post, but here's another from later in the day.

The winds of Thursday brought the snow of Friday. And man, that was some snow.

Saturday I had the day off. A weekend day, powder snow, available weekend warrior friends. And then clear skies, what more could one ask for!

Sunday the 27th, more ski guiding in the best winter-powder zone around. A mixed group, sunny skies, way cold air temps. Mid-winter at it's best in the "JMOP" (June Mountain Off-Piste)

And finally, to close out an amazing round of wintry adventure, I worked a single day of ice instruction at Lee Vining Canyon. I love that place!

Aspendell, Weather, and Women

It's uncanny actually. So far this season I have skied three times out of Aspendell. And each time was in something less than perfect sunny weather. And each time was with a different hot-shot woman. And check out the pattern in photos...

Day #1 was back just before New Year's. We'd had a ton of snow, and forecast for a ton of wind. Skandria (Alex, Alexandra, Sasha, Dreadlock Alex) and I headed up onto the Upper Buttermilk Plateau and braved gnarly winds and lurking coyotes.

We barely escaped with our skin intact!
Day #2 was the end of January, and I skied with another Alex. A new and motivated and skilled partner for me. She and I were headed Aspendell to the Buttermilks during the only 30 minutes of snow between New Years and President's day.

Aspendell day #3 was just last week, with a client from Switzerland. Another athletic woman, this time we went up around Fool's Ridge. What we call the "Wonder Lakes Loop". Once again, fresh snow, plus lots of wind forecast.
Is my "photography" stale? Back lit women, winds and wilderness played out? I certainly enjoyed myself on these three trips. Are you a hot chick, ski, and want to make a date to ski out of Aspendell in late March?