Archive for the '01 Alpine Climbing' Category

NE Face of Middle Palisade, 14,021 feet / 4271 meters

The NE Face of Middle Palisade is possibly the best 3rd class route in the Sierra Nevada. Ben had an ambitious goal to climb the peak in one day, a little different from SMC’s typical itinerary of 2 or 3 days. We met way-early in the morning, did a quick gear check, and took off.

Ben at 11910 Tarn, the last water.

Ben at 11910 Tarn, the last water.

The long hike up the lower South Fork of Big Pine Creek existed only in the radius of the light from our headlamps. We entered the Willow Lakes basin as the sun came up, and took our first break at Brainerd Lake. In a short time we were above Finger Lake and at the last tarn at 11910 feet elevation.

After the snowfields have melted away from the summer, I like to approach middle Palisade by a cicuitous, but more solid, route. From the tarn we hiked west up slabs, and then south, to reach the north-west corner of the terminal morain on the Middle Palisade glacier. The normal approach follows the obvious drainage to the lowest point, but that’s a sliding scree field when its dry. Instead we enjoyed a stable talus field across to the lateral morain that split the west and east lobes of the glacier and leads directly to the foot of the NE Face.

(L-R)Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde Peak

(L-R)Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde Peak

To avoid a slippery moat to the normal ramp I climbed a lower – and looser – ramp that ended only 20 feet lower in the East Chute (Sorry Ben!). We continued up the East Chute to the NE Pinacle, which marks our entering the North Chute. Here we were able to unrope and criss-cross, zig, zag, and head up the chute following broad ledges and ramps. The North Chute seemed to go on forever. We roped up again at the summit blocks, followed a corkscrew ledge to the south ridge, and then we were at the register!

Ben on the summit of Middle Palisade.

Ben on the summit of Middle Palisade.

Descending can be a bit more nerve-fraying then the ascent, since the exposure is constantly staring back you. So I decided to keep the rope on, and we were able to keep a more direct line down the right side of the chutes, avoiding a lot of possible rockfall hazards. Still, descending only took 30 minutes less time then the ascent had – showing how descending 4th and 3rd class terrain takes almost as much time as ascending does.

Chris at the last anchor on the ramp accessing the East Chute.

Chris at the last anchor on the ramp accessing the East Chute.

We reached the Middle Palisade Glacier with a significant sigh of satisfaction, packed the gear away, and started the descent. We turned up the pace once we reached the trail again at Brainerd Lake, cruising down down down, and broke out the headlamps again just as we reached the lower South Fork again. The headlamps’ light enveloped our world again until we reached the cars.

We had plans to meet in Bishop for beers, but while eating my first chicken fajita at my friends house I fell asleep sitting up. I rallied to finish dinner before I crawled into my sleeping bag and let the day end.

Statistics: NE Face, Middle Palisade (2000’+ ft of 3rd Class), 14012 feet. 14:45 hours car-to-car.

To see all the photos from this trip, look up 20080922 SMC NE Face Middle Palisade on my online photo archive,, or click here.

Cheers! Chris


Single Shot: Stories in a Crevasse

Lazlo asked, “I’ve read plenty about haul systems and anchor, etc. I’m stoked about glacial travel. But I’m curious to read other reports on crevasse falls and how the hauling and/or ascending went. Thanks!”

This reminded me of an experience I had in Alaska, so I thought I’d write him back.

“I have a story I don’t mind sharing because it proves a technique.

“In the spring of 2003 I went to the Ruth Gorge with DPS, and while descending from the Mooses Tooth back to our camp, my partner and I simply followed our ski-tracks through the ice fall. DPS was in front, I was following. We had one last corner to negotiate at the bottom of the ice-fall before reaching the main glacier near the airstrip, and I pushed a little to make sure I passed the corner without pulling on DPS.

“Just as I kick-turned, the floor dropped out beneath me. I yelled/screamed ‘CREVASSE!!!‘ as I dropped.

“DPS says he heard, ‘something that made me turn around,’ saw our rope snaking into a hole, and took off running.

“When he reached the end of the slack, he was a bit surprised to find he wasn’t having to arrest anything. So he built an anchor, transferred the rope over, and self-belayed back to the hole to figure out what had happened. Maybe I had landed on a bridge?

“Not even. I was hanging about 20 feet in the hole, shaking from the adrenalin rush. Scarier still was the running water from a moulin tube 10 feet below me. So what happened? In 2002 I had learned about a technique to use stopper knots – butterflys were the general consensus – between two climbers on glacier travel. I insisted to a skeptical DPS that we use them. And one of these knots had jammed into the lip of the hole, holding all of my falling weight, saving DPS from having to arrest at all.

“Pretty cool.

“DPS lowered a rope to haul up my pack and skis, and I jugged out on my own with some assistance to get over the majorly overhung lip.

“Its likely if that knot hadn’t caught, I would have been dipped, and soaked, in the glacier stream below my feet. What was a simple exit from the crevasses would have been a serious environmental medical issue.

“This technique of using stopper knots is also common practice now amongst AMGA guides.”

AMGA Alpine Conditional Exam

On Memorial Day I sat back in my first class seat (paid for in mileage points), sipped my glass of cabernet and considered what has taken two years to complete.
In September 2006 I took my Alpine Guide Certification Examination from the American Mountain Guide Association, in Washington’s Cascades. I spent 10 days guiding another candidate and examiner, with mixed results. One examiner raised my stress and nervousness with his constant chatter and helpful advice, the other examiner calmed my nerves by saying very little. In the end, they decided that I should be examined for another two days to determine if I met the examination requirements.
Last September I returned to the Cascades with that first examiner and another Conditional candidate, only to be rained off of Shark Fin Col. With no extra time scheduled for a weather delay, we had to go home and wait another year.
So this year the AMGA and I wised up and planned for weather, scheduling three days to conduct a two day exam. I decided to make this go as mentally easy as I could. I arranged for places to stay all over Washington, from Bellingham, Mazama, Leavenworth and Seattle. My old house-mate Amanda loaned me her car, saving me from hiring a rental. I used my earned mileage on Alaska Airlines to purchase a first-class seat. Finally, my partner in this exam, Angela, offered to bring all the hardware we would need in her car, since she was driving from Wyoming.
Angela and I met at Sea-Tac on Wednesday afternoon to drive to my old house, and we made plans to meet for breakfast. I spent the evening relaxing with old friends, watching them play a muddy soccer game (mud in Seattle – get out!) in the city league before going out for beers and burgers at the Blue Star. We talked about upcoming weddings (Eddie and Annie’s), kids (Greg and Brenda’s), and of course climbing and skiing.
In the morning Angela and I met for breakfast to figure each other out. I hope I didn’t disappoint her too much. I’ve been working so much that I’ve only had three days in the past three months to climb for fun. I have had to rely on my work to provide any training opportunities, and I felt as ready as I could be. After breakfast we split up to buy supplies and made plans to meet later in the afternoon to write up a common route plan.
That evening I stayed with old friends out in Snohomish, playing with the kids and feeling more at home than I have in a long time. But the weather was constantly threatening, and our examiner used our weather day to delay the exam to Saturday.
On Friday I drove up to Bellingham to pick up John, an AMGA examiner for the Alpine and Rock Guide Certifications. We hadn’t met before and used the hour and a half-drive to Marblemount to get to know each other. He put me at ease with his openness and honest talking about guide politics and opinion about other guides we both knew. We met Angela at the Totem Trail motel, and made plans for getting up in the morning for our first objective, Black Peak.
The weather forecast for the weekend was un-promising, calling for heavy clouds, cold temps and a 40% chance of snow/rain in the North Cascades. John decided to have us climb two one-day climbs to allow us some flexibilty, and chose routes that we could guide even in poor weather. None of us – especially me – wanted a repeat of last fall’s canceled Conditional Exam.
We woke up early and drove up to Rainy Pass. In my excitement I picked the wrong trail, leading us on a 40 minute “warm-up” as we walked to Lake Mary, dead-ended, and turned back to the trail head. Ooops. Note to self: read all the signage at trail heads! We had an uneventful approach up the trail and across Heather Pass, talus hoping, past Lewis and Wing Lakes, and onto the snowfield below Black Peak. I short-roped us up to the North Ridge and started climbing, trying to protect the loose rock. On Wednesday night at the Blue Star my friend Greg had described this route as a climb that “if you like the handhold, you can pull it off and hand it down to your partner to use.” Nice. He was right, too. Just when the rock improved it was time to switch roles with Angela and become a client. Angela got to lead us up some good climbing to the summit, down the South West Chutes and back to the car.
That night we stayed at the Unibomber Shack, Mark A.’s one-room cabin in Mazama. It allowed us to get a later start in the morning to climb the South Buttress of Cutthroat Peak. Angela did a fantastic job leading us up the approach and lower 2/3rds of the buttress, before switching roles with me. I got to climb the tricky chimney pitch in wet conditions in my approach shoes, and continued on to the summit.
Here I really bobbled. John wanted to make sure that we reached the West Ridge for the descent, and gave me partial beta for a descent route that I wasn’t sure of on the North West Face. So I followed the descent I was familiar with, requiring me to rebuild several rappel anchors. Time seemed to suck away from my route plan, and my rope management started to tangle. John – I think intentionally – created a light-hearted moment with some good jokes and a teachable moment that re-booted my mind, and I found my groove again on two more rappels and short-roping down the ridge. We finally gained the ground and continued down to the snow-field in the basin, where Angela demonstrated a crevasse rescue for her Conditional Exam requirements and we finished the day.
That evening we had dinner in Concrete at Annie’s Pizza, were John told us the good news: we were AMGA Certified Alpine Guides. My first AMGA course was the Alpine Guide Course in 2001. It had taken two years to complete my Alpine Exam. On the way I decided to become an IFMGA Guide, and this exam is my first step towards that goal. The Alpine Exam is the longest of the three tests, and by reputation the most difficult – it requires the longest approaches, the heaviest packs, and the biggest days. For me, the most difficult element was the nervous anticipation in not knowing what was coming next. I think the Rock and Ski Exams will be easier – in my mind – simply because they won’t be the first.
I shook John’s hand and gave Angela a hug before driving to Seattle to return Amanda’s car, Angela and I had breakfast with Mark R. at the Salmon Bay Cafe before Mark drove me to the airport. First class seats meant I got to use the lounge, drink endless coffee, and call PG and my mom with the news – I was Certified.

Special thanks, in sort-of-order of appearance, to everyone who made this possible. My Mom and Dad, PG, Montana, SP, Eric, Neil, Art, Seth, Angela, Amanda, Eddie, Annie, Greg, Brenda, Meredith, Mark H., Ben, Avery, John, Jen, Dave, Mark A., Josh, and Mark R. And thanks to my clients, especially those this summer, who unknowingly were part of my training program in the Palisades, on Whitney, and Bear Creek Spire. And thanks to the businesses who have helped me too. Sierra Mountain Center, Feathered Friends, and the AMGA.

Banner Peak, Minaret Range, Mammoth Lakes, CA

On 12-14 July I climbed Banner Peak with Matt and John Wylie. Here’s Matt’s report of the trip with my photos. Cheers! Chris

John and Matt Wylie at Lake Ediza, with Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak waiting in the background.

John and Matt Wylie at Lake Ediza, with Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak waiting in the background.

This summer me and my dad decided to climb up Mt Ritter and Banner Peak. Several summers ago we climbed Mt Langley with one of the guides from SMC, Chris Simmons and had a great trip. We met our guide in Bishop. He was the same person we went up Mt. Langley with, so we were happy. We hiked in the 6 miles to Ediza Lake on Day 1. Most of the trip was uphill and steep, so we were tired. But our spirit’s were bounced back up with Chris’s great food.

Matt Wylie and Chris Simmons on the summit of Banner Peak

Matt Wylie and Chris Simmons on the summit of Banner Peak

We had a late wakeup the next morning (2:30am!) and we were on the trail by 3:00. We had hiked about a mile before we took a break to get our crampons on. We were on the first snowfield by sunrise. From there it was a long journey up a snowfield, a talus field, and another snowfield. About halfway through the second snowfield Dad decided to turn back. Me and Chris got up to the col. And decided to climb Banner and estimate how long Ritter would take. We got up to the top of Banner about an hour and a half later. It was a hard journey through a talus field and some class 3 rock climbing. After searching frantically for the register I decided I didn’t have enough energy to summit the the higher Ritter, and there was also a storm coming.

Beating the rain back to camp after summitting Banner Peak.

Beating the rain back to camp after summitting Banner Peak.

We met up with Dad and got to camp early afternoon, just as it started to rain. The next day we packed up and hiked out. What a fun trip. Thank You Sierra Mountain Center!

June Climbs

Its summer time, and all the guides on the Sierra East Side are slammed with work – but we’re not complaining! My June was highlighted by a possible FA and a guided ascent of the rarely climbed Moynier Couloir on Mt. Thompson.

I had a free day off on 5 June, so I decided to make it a “training day” and climb something I look at every time I hike to Whitney: The Impala. This rock spur of Mt. Carillon towers over Lower Boy Scout Lake, the lower false summit appearing as a distinct spire. Last September I was part of a three-man team that climbed a new route on the shield of rock to the right, on a formation we named “The Springbok”. As we climbed we could look over to the left and scope a long rock ridge that climbed almost directly to the Impala’s false summit. I wanted to climb this ridge.

Remarkably, both formations have relatively few routes, despite a short approach, solid rock, and obvious presence. The Springbok had only one other line, The Winged Horse, a III 5.8 A3 route that splits the face right down the middle, established by Beckey and Miller in 1970. Our route from last summer, Adios Yahoos, is a 4+ pitch II 5.8 A0 route following cracks and a low roof directly to the summit. It could be freed at a low 5.10 if anyone gives it a go.

I hiked up in quick time to Upper Boy Scout Lake, before turning and descending down to the Impala. In the future, I’ll probably approach from the right side instead or from the glacier slabs between UBS and LBS, but I wanted the perspectives as I neared the ridge. It also gave me a chance to scope out the other two routes that are documented on the Impala, both II 5.7: the Diagonal Route and the South Face. The East Ridge started at a perfect notch on the far right side of the face, and I started up a long line of cracks. Twice I was stumped by notches that forced me to descend onto the South Face briefly to get around and regained the ridge. At the very top, perhaps 30m from the summit blocks in view, I chose to follow a ledge system around onto the South Face for the last time and then climbed onto the summit. I couldn’t find any register, so I tore my permit in half and wrote a quick note, pinning it down with a rock. I goofed and called it the Ibex, and didn’t realize that this was the false summit until I got down that evening. Descent was simple – a 4th class chimney and ledge system led to another notch on the backside, then following sands and slabs lead back to the bottom of the South Face. I figured the route was approximately 800 feet long, and graded it II 5.7.

PG came out just a few days later for a weekend away from school, and I finally got to show her the Whitney Portal, where we climbed my favorite 5.8, the 6 pitch Premier Route on Premier Buttress (III 5.8 A0, or 5.10b).

I also got to guide the rarely climbed Moynier Couloir on Mt. Thompson. This route is usually melted out by the time other alpine ice climbs are in shape. But this year SMC decided to attempt guiding these routes in earlier summer conditions, and we found awesome climbs! The Moynier Couloir featured three pitches of gradually steppening ice climbing, then a steep short ice step around one chock stone on pitch 4 followed by a mixed 5.6 step around a second chock stone on pitch 5. Incredibly climbing up a narrow line. Really good times!

I actually haven’t had time to climb anything else, or run for that matter. My sister and her husband brought my 2 year-old nephew out for a visit, and I’ve been working ever since! You can read about those adventures on the Sierra Mountain Center Blog. So that’s that.




5 June 2008. East Ridge, The Impala, II 5.7, 800 feet. Possible First Ascent and solo.

8 June 2008. Premier Route, Premier Buttress, III 5.8 A0 with PG.

25 June 2008. Moynier Couloir, III 5.6 AI3 Mixed. Guided ascent with one client.

Climbs of Lone Pine Peak and Mt Whitney at Sierra Mountain Center

I came home on Tuesday after getting stormed off of the North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak on Thursday and the Mountaineer’s Route on Mt Whitney. You can read all about it at the blog for Sierra Mountain Center.

Winter Mountaineering – the North East Ridge of Mt. Williamson, March 12-16 2008

Mt. Williamson, standing at 14,373 feet, towers over the Owen Valley, and any climb on it is a serious undertaking of several days. So when you add the cold temperatures, snow, and unsteady weather of the winter such a climb becomes an expedition. And the North East Ridge, running 7 miles long and gaining 8000 feet of elevation from start to summit, is not taken lightly.

I met David and Michael in Independence on 12 March, and we left town as soon as we had split up the food, fuel, and gear we would need for a five-day climb. Our plan was to spend three days climbing up the North East Ridge to establish a high camp, then go for the summit, and take a full final day to descend back to the car. Our packs weren’t light. The forecast was for foul weather, so we were bringing a heavier but sturdier three-man tent. We also needed snowshoes and ski poles for the soft snow and crampons and ice axes for the hard; harnesses, rope, and a little gear for the rocky 3rd class and 4th class ridges we needed to traverse; and extra fuel to melt snow for our water.

We were able to drive my car as far as possible up the Foot Hills Road to the very bottom of the ridge at 6000 feet, but from there on we were on our own. The heavy snows from this year were lower than typical and we had to put on snowshoes after only an hour and break trail through wet, soft, snow. It was hard going, but we finally gained the ridge that night at 9200 feet and camped there. The wind picked up through the night, trying to flatten our tent on its perch, but the tent did its job and we were happy the next morning that we could continue on.

The second day had us following the southern slopes along the ridge, which were snow-free, only to put on snowshoes to climb through short gullies and notches before we finally reached a wide, open east-facing bowl. We camped high in the bowl at 10,800 ft, protected from the winds by a boulder uphill, looking up at the first technical bit of climbing that we would face the next day.

Day three was the shortest distance we had to travel, but it certainly wasn’t the shortest day. The 3rd and 4th class ridge had devious route-fining and incredible exposure. It featured two 40-foot pitches of climbing and a 30-foot rappel before finally easing into a north-facing bowl that we climbed up to 12,500 feet. Here the three-man tent, which served us so well in the winds for the last two nights, became a bit of a liability. We couldn’t dig out a tent platform big enough for the whole tent, so perhaps 20% hung off the downhill side. We anchored the tent in securely, Michael volunteered to sleep on the outside, and we slept like sardines in the space that was flat.

David had banged up his toes and gotten a minor case of frostbite, so the next morning he opted to stay in camp while Michael and I made a summit attempt. We reached the summit of East Horn, 14,125 feet, but not before it started snowing. With a fresh inch covering the rocks we were having a hard time and not moving fast enough to make the summit of Mt. Williamson, so we decided to turn around and head back to camp.

The last day was huge – it took us 11 hours to descend back to the car, a disproportionate amount of it spent negotiating that 3rd and 4th class ridge again. After accomplishing that section following our tracks back through the snow and brush was relatively simple. We were back in Independence and saying our goodbyes at 9:00pm.

banner photo: antarctica / mark allen

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