Category: Sierra Nevada

Sierra Gem – Bear Creek Spire

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The beautiful Bear Creek Spire

Lately, it seems, our guides have been spending a lot of time climbing Bear Creek Spire. With multiple classic routes of varying levels, BCS is a beauty of a peak, nestled in the Little Lakes Valley of the High Sierra between Bishop and Mammoth.

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SMI Guide, Ross Hill, leading a pitch on the North Arete

The two most popular routes on BCS are the North Arete, a 1200′ climb rated 5.8 for its most challenging pitch, with most pitches 5.5 or lower, and the Northeast Ridge, rated 5.5. The approach to both involves a very gradual trail over about 3.5 miles, followed by some talus hopping and off-trail navigation for about 2 more. You will likely contend with a snow field at the base, depending on time of year.

We are happy to take you on a climb of Bear Creek Spire this season, if you’re inspired by these photos! If you’re in good mountain shape, the Ridge could be turned around in a 2 day trip. We’d recommend a 3 day trip for the Arete, but 2 days might be appropriate for a strong climber.

Client, Ben Novak, climbing the Northeast Ridge

 

 

Epic Success for SMI’s First Mt. Whitney Climb of 2015!

Congratulations to Stephen Cummings of Pittsburgh, PA for his successful summit of Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route on February 22, 2015!

Stephen arranged a private climb with SMI founder Kurt Wedberg.  They were able to drive all the way to the summer trailhead at Whitney Portal at 8365’/2550m on February 20.  They hiked on a mostly dry trail to Lower Boy Scout Lake at 10,350’/3155m where they made camp.  The next day they moved their camp higher to 12,000’/3658m putting them in position for a summit attempt on the 22nd.  In the afternoon the wind picked up and clouds began to form.  During the night light snow began falling.  It stopped at 3:30am and the wind abated so they decided to give the summit a try.

During their ascent clouds began rising from below and lowering from above.  As they climbed higher into the Mountaineer’s Chute snow began falling coating the upper section of the route with a thin slippery layer.  The team continued to move well though and in spite of the weather managed to reach the summit shortly after 10:30am.

Here are a few pictures.  The rest can be found here:  Mt. Whitney February 20-22, 2015

Ice on slabs below Upper Boy Scout Lake

High camp at 12,000’/3658m with Mt. Whitney looming overhead.

Avalanche the came across Iceberg Lake

The Final 400′ of the Mountaineer’s Route.

Stephen starting up the Final 400′ of the Mountaineer’s Route.

Stephen on the 2nd pitch of the Final 400′.

Stephen climbing the last pitch of the Final 400′

Stephen topping out on the route.

Walking towards the summit hut on Mt. Whitney

Stephen and Kurt posing for a summit photo before descending.

The tent after returning from the summit.

Our New Web Site is Live!!

Mt. Whitney (14,508’/4422m) in morning alpenglow.

Greetings from Bishop, CA!  We hope this finds everybody well and enjoying the fall season.  After a busy summer and fall we have been hard at work planning for 2014.  We have also launched a new web site for your viewing pleasure.  We invite you to have a look and come with us on a trip!

As of this writing SMI guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg are off to Argentina for an Aconcagua expedition.  Back home in the Sierra the weather is getting cold and we’ve seen some of our first significant snowfall.  We’re gearing up for winter time activities including ice climbing, backcountry skiing, and avalanche courses.

Basin Mountain and surrounding skyline on Sunday November 24, 2013 after our recent snowstorm.

Here is a brief listing of some of our upcoming offerings for 2014.  We hope to see you on a trip with us in 2014!

Aconcagua:  Trip #1:  November 29 – December 17, 2013,  Trip #2:  December 27 – January 17. We still have a couple openings on both of our upcoming expeditions to the highest mountain in South America.

Mt. Kenya:  February 1-10, 2014.  A technical rock climb up the second highest mountain in Africa.  The climbing ranges from low 5th class up to 5.7.  It’s in a beautiful, remote, and wild setting overlooking the beautiful East Africa jungles.

Kilimanjaro and Safari:  February 11-25, 2014.  A 7-day climb of the highest mountain in Africa combined with a game viewing safari where we see some of the most spectacular wildlife on our planet!

Mt. Whitney:  Winter/spring 4-day climbs and summer 3-day climbs of the highest mountain in the contiguous United States.

Ice Climbing Courses:  Ice is forming now in Lee Vining Canyon and June Lake.  Come up and discover the exhilaration of climbing ice in these premier destinations.

Avalanche Classes:  Learn essential skills to evaluate snow conditions in backcountry travel.  We also include rescue training using transceivers and probes.

 

SMI Founder Kurt Wedberg Featured in Wall Street Journal

This article appeared in the online and print versions on the Wall Street Journal on July 19, 2013.  It is about a climb SMI founder Kurt Wedberg led up the Mountaineer’s Route on Mt. Whitney August 20-22, 2013.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324879504578600143557527894.html

A complete photo gallery of the climb can be found here:

Mt. Whitney Mountaineer’s Route August 20-22, 2012

SMI Mt. Whitney Climbs Raise $250,000+ for Big City Mountaineers

April 26, 2013: A beautiful day on the summit of Mt. Whitney with Team 5!!

 

One of the highlights of a very busy spring season in the Sierra here at SMI was hosting six climbs on Mt. Whitney designed to raise money and awareness for Big City Mountaineers.  Big City Mountaineers is a very well respected organization with the mission is to transform the lives of under-served urban youth through wilderness mentoring expeditions that instill critical life skills.  They partner with community-based youth organizations and caring adult volunteers who act as mentors in the field to help young people realize their potential.  Their curriculum improves integrity, self-esteem, responsibility, decision-making abilities and communication skills in close to 1000 youth annually.  BCM has a proven track record of improving young peoples’ lives with:
• Increased likeliness to stay in school
• Reduction in violence
• Reduction in drug use

Since the inception of SMI we have had a goal of guiding at least two climbs each year that help out a cause.  On most years we exceed this number by 3x or more.  In planning this year’s climbs with Big City Mountaineer’s the editor in chief of Backpacker magazine Jon Dorn invited readers to come join a Mt. Whitney climb to raise money for Big City Mountaineers.  Each participant was required to raise a minimum of $4000.  They could either get sponsorship by friends and family or write a check.  The response was overwhelming.  What started as one climb ended up being six groups of energetic climbers eager to climb Mt. Whitney and raise money and awareness for BCM.

Participants were given a training program to undertake many months in advance in preparation for this 4-day trip to the highest point in the contiguous United States.  Each person maintained a regular schedule of hiking up and down hills carrying a 40+ pound pack to simulate the weight they would be carrying on the mountain.  They also did exercises to assure their legs and cardiovascular system was conditioned.  During the climb SMI guides offered lots of techniques for acclimating to the high altitude and also spent time at camp teaching and reviewing mountaineering skills including using an ice axe, and climbing with crampons while roped in with other climbers.  The first day of the climb had groups ascending from the trail head at Whitney Portal (8365’/2550m) to Lower Boy Scout Lake (10,350’/3155m).  On day 2 the groups packed up and moved higher to at camp at 12,000’/3658m putting them in position for a summit bid the following morning.  On day 3 the teams rose early for the summit push.  They were treated to spectacular sunrises as the morning sun cast its orange glow on the East Face of Mt. Whitney and teams learned why the Sierra is nicknamed the Range of Light.

Climbing the Mountaineers Route requires climbers to ascend a snow filled chute ranging from 25-35 degrees steep to a “notch” at approximately 14,000’/4267m.  From here the angle steepens and climbers use their hands in places to scramble up some rocky sections with the security of a rope.  This section of the route tops out onto the summit plateau of Mt. Whitney and it’s a short distance to the highest point in the lower 48 states.

Groups took time to admire the spectacular view while taking pictures and snacking before retracing their path back to camp.  On Day 4 they packed up and returned to the trail head and down to Lone Pine where celebrations of their climbs took place.

While climbing a spectacular and classic route in the Sierra participants helped raise over $260,000 to help underprivileged youth experience the magic of the wilderness while learning critical life skills.  They’ve also spread a lot of good will that reaches farther than any of use will ever see.  Thanks to everybody who took part in this historic event!

Photo galleries from these climbs can be viewed here:  http://www.kurtwedbergphotography.com/Sierra-Trips/2013-Sierra-Trips

Team #1 sets out from the trail head at Whitney Portal. A spring snowstorm would dump 12" of new snow that day but that wasn't enough to stop this determined crew! The weather turned sunny by summit day.

Team 1 crossing the outlet creek below Lower Boy Scout Lake several hours after leaving Whitney Portal. It snowed all day and most of the evening.

Team 1 waking up from camp at Lower Boy Scout Lake to over 12" of new snow.

SMI guide Kurt Wedberg teaching Team 1 proper ice axe self arrest techniques at high camp.

SMI guide April Mayhew leads a team into a rest break near Iceberg Lake. The team witnessed first hand why we nickname the Sierra The Range of Light as the morning sun cast its morning rays bathing the East Face of Mt. Whitney in a bright orange glow.

Team 5 at 13,300'/4054m in the Mountaineers Chute of Mt. Whitney with Iceberg Lake below.

Team 5 climbing the final section of rock scrambling leading to the summit of Mt. Whitney.

Team 1 poses for a well earned summit photo.

April 22, 2013: Team 3 psyched to be at the highest point in the contiguous United States.

 

Rarely formed ice climb “Widow’s Tears” Grade V WI5 successfully climbed!

The Widow's Tears looking in great shape from the Pohono Bridge in Yosemite Valley on January 14, 2013 one day before Trevor, Kevin, and Kurt climbed it.

On Tuesday January 15 Trevor Anthes, Kevin Daniels, and SMI founder Kurt Wedberg climbed the Widow’s Tears in Yosemite Valley, the longest continuous ice climb in the contiguous 48 states.  This ice formation located near Sentinel Rock needs a special combination of cold temperatures and ample running water to completely form ice from top to bottom. This only happens once every few years.  The recent cold snap in the Sierra created ideal conditions for this climb to form.

Anthes, Daniels, and Wedberg are all Bishop residents and long time friends.  Trevor is a professional photographer (www.wildincognito.com) and manages the Mammoth Gear Exchange located on Main Street next to the SMI office in Bishop, Kevin is the CEO of Fixe Hardware, and Kurt runs SMI. Hearing that the Widow’s Tears had formed they dropped everything, packed their ice climbing gear, and made the long drive from Bishop to Yosemite Valley on January 14.  Colin and Molly Broadwater, founders of Bishop Crossfit where Kurt and Kevin train, closed the gym on Sunday while attending a conference on strength and conditioning.  For the workout of the day they posted “No classes for the people of CrossFit Bishop!!!  Git yourself outside and do something worth writing home about…”.   Although two days late this mission was accomplished!

The trio arrived in Yosemite Valley on Monday afternoon in time to scope out the route and make a plan. The forecast called for temperatures to drop to the single digits that evening and warm to 34 degrees on the Valley floor the following day.  Higher up in the shady gully where the climb is located temperatures should remain cold keeping the ice in perfect shape for climbing.  When temperatures warm up higher than freezing the ice conditions start to deteriorate.  The plan would be to get an early start and climb efficiently.

Approaching the climb by headlamp the team reached the bottom where they put on crampons, helmets, and climbing harnesses and began climbing at 5:45am.  Finding the ice in good shape Trevor took off on the first lead of the day and climbed efficiently over a curtain of ice and set up a belay on a ledge.  Kevin and Kurt followed then made their way over a snowy ledge to where the rest of the climb would continue. As Kevin began leading the second pitch it was just starting to get light enough to see without needing headlamps.  A “pitch” is a rope length of climbing.  Their ropes were 60m/198′ long.  The team’s strategy was to try and maximize each pitch using as much of the rope as possible while doing their best to find comfortable places to set up belay stances making it easy to rest while the leader climbed the next section of the route.

Kurt led the 3rd and 4th pitches.  Picking his way up the terrain he found a mixture of solid ice with a few hollow sounding spots which are to be avoided.  Careful route finding kept the team on good ice and got the team to the base of pitch #5.  Here the climb steepened where the ice was formed over a large almost vertical rock slab.  The team called pitch #5 “the money pitch”.  Kevin brilliantly led this long sustained section.  At the top he placed a secure anchor using three ice screws and belayed Trevor and Kurt up.

It was now Trevor’s turn to take the sharp end and lead pitch #6 that climbed over ice that started off steep then gradually backed off as it reached a ledge offering an excellent place for the team to take a short break for food and water.

Looking at the terrain above it appeared it would be two full 60m pitches to the top.   Kurt led pitch #7 which turned out to be almost as steep as pitch #5.  It was now mid afternoon and nearing the top of the climb the team found water dripping over the ice on parts of the route.  This didn’t prove to be a safety concern.  Air temperatures remained cold and this water was flowing from above where it was warmer.  It was however enough water to soak team member’s gloves.  Thankfully the team was prepared with spare pairs to keep their hands warm.  With rope running out near the top of pitch #7 Kurt spied a ledge 10′ above him.  He yelled down to Kevin and Trevor asking if he had enough rope to get there.  He managed to get to this tiny ledge with no rope to spare then set up a belay to bring the other two up.  By running this pitch out as far as possible it also assured Kevin would be able to reach the top when he led pitch #8.

Kevin efficiently led the final pitch over a mix of steep terrain, wet ice, and finally loose snow leading to a large tree where he set up an anchor to belay Trevor and Kurt up.   Reaching the top of the climb the team exchanged “high fives” for a job well done on a rare climb with a beautiful backdrop of the late afternoon alpenglow on the 3000’+ face of El Capitan.

A few pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery can be found here:

Widow’s Tears January 15, 2013

Kevin and Trevor with binoculars in hand scoping out the Widow's Tears on January 14.

Trevor with a pre dawn start begins pitch #1.

Kevin placing an ice screw leading pitch #2.

Kevin pondering some of his last moves high up on pitch #2.

Looking above at pitches #4 and #5.

Kevin climbing pitch #4.

Kurt and Trevor at the belay ledge at the start of pitch #5.

Kurt organizing rope while Kevin racks up at the start of pitch #5.

Kevin leading pitch #5. This proved to be the steepest part of the route. The team referred to this section as "the money pitch".

Kevin belaying Trevor on pitch #6.

Trevor climbing above a freshly placed ice screw on pitch #6.

Trevor belaying Kevin near the top of pitch #6.

Kevin topping out on pitch #7 with Trevor climbing behind.

Trevor approaching the small belay ledge at the top of pitch #7.

Trevor is all smiles at the belay ledge on pitch #7.

Kevin geared up and ready to start leading pitch #8.

Kevin leading pitch #8, the final pitch that ended at the large tree above right.

Trevor and Kevin psyched as they untie from their ropes at the top of Widow's Tears.

 

Afternoon alpenglow on El Capitan from the top of Widow's Tears.

 

 

Charlotte Dome (10,690’/3258m) III, 5.8 July 28-30, 2012

Vicki Schwantes, Christy Grimsley, Erin Carey, April Mayhew, and Kurt Wedberg (front) at the top of Charlotte Dome after a truly memorable alpine rock climb!

Finishing off a week of alpine rock climbing training we chose to climb Charlotte Dome located deep in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park.  This impressive dome offers 1200’+ of rock climbing on superb granite in an exceptionally exhilarating setting.  It is no wonder this climb has long been considered a classic among Sierra alpine climbers.

This climb is best done as a 3-day trip.  The first day is an enjoyable backpack out of Onion Valley and over Kearsarge Pass (11,823’/3603m).  Surmounting this pass is the highest elevation encountered on the entire trip.  The trail then drops down above Kearsarge Lakes and intersects briefly with the famous John Muir Trail en route to Charlotte Lake.  We chose to set up camp here in mid afternoon.  This left the team plenty of time to take a swim in the lake and relax on a warm pleasant afternoon typical of summer Sierra conditions.  An early dinner followed and the team was sacked out as night fell.

On day 2 the team woke before sunrise and navigated the approach to the base of Charlotte Dome by headlamp.  The trail quickly turns into a faint “route” as it descends approximately 1000′ of elevation over a 2 hour period.  Arriving at the base of the route after the sun came up the group divided into two teams, roped up, and began navigating the 12 pitches of rock climbing the route requires.  Excellent quality granite is prevalent throughout the climb and a variety of rock climbing techniques are employed including face moves on friction in small solution pockets, crack climbing, and much more.  The route lends itself to slinging small granite horns and “chicken heads” in addition to placing traditional rock climbing protection including nuts and cams.  After climbing into the late afternoon the team arrived at the summit psyched on completing such a classic route!  After summit photos and a snack all that was left was to descend off the back side and retrace the approach route back to camp at Charlotte Lake.

Day 3 was devoted to packing up and backpacking over Kearsarge Pass en route to the Onion Valley trailhead.  An casual leisurely pace allowed the team plenty of time to enjoy the magnificent Sierra backcountry scenery and reflect on a truly memorable adventure up an all time Sierra classic route!

Congratulations Erin, Christy, and Vicki on a job well done!!

A few pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery can be found here:

Charlotte Done July 28-30, 2012

At the Onion Valley Trailhead ready to start our adventure. From left to right: Erin Carey, SMI guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg, Vicki Schwantes, and Christy Grimsley.

The team atop Kearsarge Pass offering an exhilarating view into Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park.

Christy, Vicki, Erin, and Kurt arriving at beautiful Charlotte Lake (10,370'/3160m).

The team ready for the predawn start to approach Charlotte Dome.

Erin examining the route near the end of pitch #5.

Christy topping out on pitch #6.

Vicki finding the route on pitch #9.

 

SMI guide April Mayhew getting ready to lead pitch #8 while Christy and Erin manage the belay station.April, Erin, and Christy sharing an elated moment as they reached the summit of Charlotte Dome.

A happy and satisfied team poses for a summit photo after a job well done!