Sunday, October 30, 2016

Spooky Times in the Alabama Hills

Halloween weekend in the Sierra's appropriately enough had a second major storm pass though. Myself, having a serious addiction to climbing decided to go out anyway. The Alabama Hills near Lone Pine had a (lower) chance of rain and snow than most climbing areas in California, so that's where we decided to go.

Halloween in the stormy desert. Spooky.
We met up with Beau and his wife Kate for a relaxing, awesome weekend of sport climbing. Beau and Kate are hot-shot navy pilots that live in Lemore. In addition to being badass navy folk, they are super friendly, and probably some of the nicest people I have met and as a bonus they very stoked on climbing.  
Now that is a recipe for fun.

Teresa and I camped out on Friday ourselves at Tuttle Creek, and had a leisurely morning waiting for Beau and Kate to arrive.

 I love Lone Pine, it was so nice to hang around, drinking coffee, and drinking in the beautiful views of the Whitney Group.

Lone Pine Peak: View from my tent

More mountain views. Whiney group shrouded in clouds
Once Beau and Kate arrived, we cruised into the hills and the fun began. I was so busy climbing, I really did not take enough pictures. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm. Over the course of the day we did about 9 sport climbs. 

Even though Beau and Kate are new to the sport, their enthusiasm more than makes up for any lack of experience. Beau was leading, Kate was hopping on TR, never giving up. Both of them are going to be good climbers, and they are going to get good soon. It was really nice to climb with such friendly enthusiastic climbers. One of the things I love about the sport is the amazing people I get to meet from all walks of life.

Beau and Kate - lunch break in their taco.
Tese on lunch break. All smiles today. 
We climbed at 3 crags on Saturday. Although the rock is not the best, the Alabama Hills really have a special place in my heart. I love the desert, the views of Mt. Whitney, and the many moderate sport climbs. Its really one of my favourite places in California. 

Beau on lead in the Hills

Beau - Crushing it.
After a day of satisfying climbing, we had a indulgent meal at the Mt Whitney restaurant. Mmmm.... 

Hi Penny!
The storm started to crest the Sierras and the wind picked up in the evening. We had a nice fire, then off to bed!

Sunday we woke to some fierce wind, and a nasty looking storm system descending into the Owens valley. So beautiful. We get so used to sunny skies, that a big storm is a refreshing change of scenery. We packed up, and headed to town for breakfast. Luxury!

Morning storm system

Kate cuddles Penny


After a tasty meal, despite the storm, we headed over to Shark Fin to try and squeeze in another climb before the rain arrives. Such pysch! 

Walking into the Shark's fin

Racking up.
Leading the fin was a bit wild with the roaring wind, maybe 20 mph? A bit spooky, perfect for Halloween weekend. 

Beau heads up the fin

Windy! Look at that rope!

Kate crushing the arete in the wind

After climbing the fin, we rain started coming down, so it was time to head home.  A great weekend! It was terrific fun climbing with Beau and Kate. Teresa and I are looking forward to more adventures with them in the future.

Goodbye Shark's fin. Until next time!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Winter fun in Tioga Pass

Sometimes things don't turn out the way planned, but it can still certainly be fun! 

Last weekend the first winter storm blew through the mountains, followed by a week of sunny weather. Highway 120 was closed, and then opened again. I knew that my chances of climbing mountains up near Tioga Pass were passing quickly, soon the road will be closed for the winter. 
Winter is coming......
Garrett and I have not climbed together in about a year, our last trip together was to climb Golden Pillar Direct . He has been busy with life (i.e. he found a nice lady friend), so when I was able to drag him out of climbing retirement to hit an alpine climb, I was stoked. 

Mitchell (who I previously climbed Moro rock with) was also stoked to come along. We planned to climb the NW ridge of North Peak and then the North ridge of Mt. Conness. This did not work out as planned, but we still had a good time

1st (failed) objective - NW ridge North Peak.

We met at my fav. ninja bivy spot near Lee Vining on Friday, and had a chilly night camping. We woke up at 5 am, and were at the trailhead by 6ish. The large snow banks on the road were an indication that my dreams of the snow melting off the rock might not be correct. Turn out the week of warm weather was not enough to clear the snow. Its going to be full-on winter up there once another storm passes through.

The boys ready to start

The first part of the approach is easy, a few miles of relatively flat ground past some alpine lakes. There was a fair amount of snow, and with warm temps in the day, and freezing at night, the snow was very hard. Making it relatively easy to walk on. 

Approach in a winter wonderland
We walked under the face of North Peak, I saw the ice couloirs that Michael and I climbed a month ago and they were now snow filled, that beautiful blue ice hidden by a foot or two of fresh powder.  

Ice climb Michael and I did a month ago (right most couloir) - buried in snow.

Garrett on the approach to the ridge

We stomped up some slopes, then were onto the ridge. Then we hit a very icy snow slope, that blocked our access to the main rock ridge. Dang, I wish I had packed an ice axe and crampons, because the slope was not very steep, but very icy. A fall on would send you down a cliff, being fatal.

Mitchell went as high as possible on some rock steps but was blocked by the icy snow. I had mountaineering boots on, so I started kicking steps up the slope. Although we probably could have gone up the slope by kicking steps, the situation was making Garrett very uncomfortable.

Looks benign. But this slope was super icy. I wish I had brought an ice axe!

I don't like to push people into situations they feel are dangerous, so we backed off the ridge. Those low angle icy slopes can be fatal.

 I was kicking myself for not packing an ice axe, then we would have flown up that slope. However, the mountain is not going anywhere, I can always try the link-up with Mt. Conness some other time. 

We regrouped at the base of the ridge. It was still fairly early, so I looked around, saw a choss-pile mountain a mile away or so along the same ridge line. It was south facing and snow free, so I suggested we climb it instead! We all set off along the top of the col towards the other peak.

Lets go hike up that choss pile!
We traversed across the class 2 ridge line, to make it interesting we stayed fairly high on the rock, so we could bust out the occasional class 3 move.

snowy tracks
We arrived at the base of the other peak, then headed up class 2 talus towards the summit. Classic Sierra choss pile, beautiful solid granite talus. 

Mitchell chillin in the talus
We found our way to the summit, the register said the mountain was Shepherd's Crest (12,015'). Very nice. Great views from the summit.

Garrett approaching the summit, awesome!
Mitchell enjoying the stellar views
We lingered on the summit for a while, soaking it all in. This is the best part of alpine climbing. That feeling on the summit, there is nothing quite like it.

I was super proud of Garrett. Although he has not climbed in a year, and is not in "mountain shape" he pushed through to the top without a single complaint. I have huge respect for those qualities, always willing to push his limits, and respects that its the difficulty of the endeavour that gives it meaning. 

Mitchell was also a badass, obviously a super-fit driven alpinist, but at the same time modest and easy going. I could not have asked for better partners on that day. 

Group summit pose!
Blocky summit ridge
We then headed back down the talus, then through some 3rd class to descend a col

3rd class descent

After couple of hours of hiking through the snow, now wet so some post-holing here and there, the sight of the dam across Saddlebag lake was a welcome sight.

Finally, the way to the cars
We said our goodbyes to Mitchell how had a wedding to get to in Three Rivers. Garrett and I headed over to the Mobile for a super-yummy meal. We headed home that evening. Despite not climbing what I had planned, we still managed to turn it around, bag a peak and have a great time doing it. 

It was great to see Garrett again, and also great to get to know Mitchell a bit better. I think him and I have more mountains to climb!

P.S. -- Post climb activity

Since I had no climbing partner on Sunday, I decided to bring my little buddy for a hike up near Huntington lake. Great active rest hiking with my canine friend.

Best hiking buddy

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Backpacking in King's Canyon

Although I have been climbing and bagging peaks like crazy over the past 8 months, I have actually done very little backpacking! So this weekend Teresa and I decided to head into Kings Canyon. 

Originally we had planned to do some peak bagging while back there, but with the strenuous nature of the hike I though it would be best to not burn Teresa out 2 weeks into our training plan, so we were satisfied with just a great hike into some backcountry lakes. 

Mountain lakes - Never gets old
We headed up the Bubbs Creek Trail then onto the Sphinx Creek trail. It was basically 6 miles of continuous switchbacks, gaining maybe 3000' until we broke off the trail to head cross country. The views were fantastic, and with it being mid-October, there were very few people on the trail.

Near the start of the trail

The Sphinx. Who wants to climb this obscure formation with me sometime?

Heading up the endless switchbacks

We made pretty good time on the trail and then we veered off the trail to head cross country up a series cirques and drainages to reach Sphinx lakes. I took a wrong turn and we ended up bush-whacking up about a thousand feet of loose sandy garbage, until I spied off in the distance the correct drainage. Oops! 

We down climbed some 3rd class choss, and then headed up the correct drainage. By this time, we were both a bit tired and disheartened. 

Teresa ascends the correct drainage

The next 2.5 miles gained another 2500' and took FOREVER. It was slow going, no trail, bushwhacking, route finding. I made another mistake by not sticking directly in the drainage and going into the forest. Oh well, live and learn.

We reached the first of 3 lakes, rested a bit and continued up.

Fist lake

In the reeds at the first Sphinx lake 
We followed the drainage up to the second lake
Second lake

Then up a talus field, and finally the 3rd lake. 8 miles, 5500' elevation gain and it took us almost 8 hours. The last 2.5 miles took way longer than I had anticipated!

The third Sphinx lake was beautiful, and we set ourselves a nice camp, about an hour before the sun dipped behind the mountains.

Teresa enjoys a well earned rest!

Camo tent
We made some food, and relaxed. I love sleeping in the backcountry, so city sounds, no one playing music, just birds and the the wind. So very relaxing. The temps plummeted rapidly when the sun went down. Summer is over in the mountains.


We had a very cozy sleep. I LOVE it when its freezing cold outside, and I am in my sleeping bag all toasty, such a nice feeling. We got up a bit late, made some coffee. Teresa really didn't feel like climbing the mountain, and I felt satisfied with just a nice relaxing hike, (plus I don't want to burn her out already!), so we packed up and headed down. On the way down we passed a couple of bucks resting on the ridge. 

packing up

Hi boys!
More nice views on the descent, and soar feet. We stopped at Cedar Grove, got ourselves a beer and a veggie burger. Great weekend!

Goodbye Kings's Canyon!