Archive for the '05 Guiding' Category

Come ski with me at Alpine Meadows!

This winter marks a new step for me, and a tremendous opportunity for all of you. I’ve been hired by Alpine Meadows Ski Area in North Lake Tahoe, California, to be an “Alpine Ski Guide.” In the footsteps of Jackson Hole and Kirkwood, Alpine Meadows is starting a front- and side-country ski guide service for its guests.

Alpine Meadows was just listed as one of the 100 best backcountry resorts in the November issue of Backcountry magazine. Fat skis and randonee bindings are as common as not on the lift lines. And the backcountry skiing is impressive on all four sides of the area, especially the terrain to the south and west at Alpine and to the west and north at its sister resort, Homewood.

For my clients, this means they have a great opportunity to be introduced into backcountry skiing the most gentle way possible – by riding a chair up most of the elevation gain! We’ll also be able to ski in-bounds when the avalanche conditions close down the OB, or when someone needs to warm up before heading out. But this is California, one of the sunniest (and stable-est) places to ski!

Like the Ski Guide Services at Jackson Hole and Kirkwood, Alpine’s is starting from within the Ski School, and so days that I’m not requested to guide I’ll be teaching adult skiing classes and working on my Professional Ski Instructors of America Certifications. I’ll also be teaching AIARE Level I Avalanche classes with several local providers.

For rates, take a look at the Ski School page on Alpine Meadow’s website. If you’re surfing the Alpine Meadows website, the rates are listed on the same page as the private lessons. I want to point out that the rate is flat – up to 5 people can hire a guide and split the full-day rate 5 ways!


Come Ski with me at Alpine Meadows!!

I found out in September. I’m the newest and first “Alpine Ski Guide” at Alpine Meadows Ski Area in North Lake Tahoe, California. In the footsteps of Jackson Hole and Kirkwood, Alpine Meadows is starting a front- and side-country ski guide service for its guests.
A lot of my Lake Tahoe acquaintances have called Alpine Meadows, “Squaw Valley’s backcountry.” Fat skis and randonee bindings are as common as not on the lift lines. And the backcountry skiing is impressive on all four sides of the area, especially the terrain between Alpine and its sister resort, Homewood. In fact I just spent two hours today planning a 13-mile Alpine-Homewood ski tour, which will include ascents and descents of Twin Peaks (8880′) and Ellis Peak (8740′).
For my clients, this means they have a great opportunity to be introduced into backcountry skiing the most gentle way possible – by riding a chair up most of the elevation gain! We’ll also be able to ski in-bounds when the avalanche conditions close down the OB. But this is California, one of the sunniest (and stable-est) places to ski!
Like the Ski Guide Services at Jackson Hole and Kirkwood, Alpine’s is starting from within the Ski School, and so days that I’m not requested to guide I’ll be teaching adult skiing classes and working on my PSIA Level I and Level II Certifications. Backcountry Ski Camps and AIARE Level I Avalanche Awareness classes are also in the works. Keep an eye on this blog and Alpine Meadows’ website for more information as the fall crawls on. Alpine Meadows expects to be open by 26 November.

Rock Skills for Rock Beekers: Buttermilks to Crystal Crag

From 11-14 October I worked with a geology team representing Occidental University, Central Washington University, and Penn State. They’re going to be heading down to Antarctica this winter to collect samples from the Transantarctic Range, and wanted to develop some 3rd-class and fixed rope rock skills. I had glorious plans of climbing some of the most classic 3rd class routes on the peaks accessible in a day from the highway, when one of our first storms of the fall blanketed the mountains in snow and made the days cold. So some quick thinking turned up days in the Buttermilks, North Bluffs of June Lake, Crystal Crag, and Iris Slab.

This is what I believe Sierra Mountain Center really excels at – custom trips for people with unique objectives. They didn’t have any summits or routes in mind. Instead, Anne contacted us and said, “This is what we’re capable of, this is what we want to get out of the weekend.” And SMC was able to make a great experience.

Chris is an Alpine, Ski, and Rock Guide for SMC, and an AMGA Certified Alpine Guide. You can read more about his adventures at Climb.Ski.Run.Sleep.Repeat.

Fall Rock Climbing!!

I just finished what is likely to be my last alpine trip for the season this weekend. The day we said goodbye in Bishop it was just reaching 70 degrees. Fall is here, the aspens have turned golden, and the top of the peaks are dusted with snow. Its time to break out the skis, sharpen the tools, and get ready for another winter…
Forget that – let’s go rock climbing!
Seriously, now that its getting damn cold in the mountains, the temperatures in the valleys just can’t be beat. We’re talking highs in the 60’s and 70’s, folks. That means if you want to come to Bishop and work on your technical climbing skills, it won’t get any better then Clark’s Canyon and Owens River Gorge for clipping bolts, and Little Egypt for clipping gear.

Want to go out for a little more “expedition” experience? El Potrero Chico, outside of Monterey, Mexico, is where its at. We’d stay at the Posada, which features a full community kitchen, rooms with private baths, and if you don’t want to cook Luis’ Mom has a fantastic restaurant on the premises. Just next door is the best coffee and the rock climbing is less then 15 minutes walk up the road. El Potrero is an incredible formation of limestone, known most famously for its multi-pitch routes. The only caveat emptor: The climbing starts at 5.8, and is dominantly 5.10. You should be ready to follow 5.10b if you really want to make the most out of a week here.
Does that sound like a little much? Then there is someplace just as big but closer than you may think – Red Rocks, Nevada. Located just outside of Las Vegas, this place is equally famous for incredible multi-pitch trad routes – especially those below 5.10. If you are still working on your technique, but want to climb longer routes, then this is the place to go. We can either stay at the group campsite from 24-28 October, or at a single site any other time, or you can stay in a hotel in town and be driven out to the climbing daily – the Strip is less then 30 minutes away!!
But multi-pitch routes aren’t for every one. Maybe you just want to work on your technique in an incredible desert setting, only a few hours drive from Los Angeles. It can only mean Joshua Tree National Park. With over 1000 individual routes to choose from, this is the place to work on your climbing. They say if you can climb the grade in J-Tree, you can climb anywhere. And like Red Rocks, camping or hotels are possible.
But not everyone lives in LA – some of us are lucky enough to live near San Francisco Bay. And for us, we have Lover’s Leap and Donner Summit. Both are great destinations for single to four pitch climbs up to 5.9 in difficulty. Both have camping and hotel options nearby: Lover’s Leap looks down on the historic stage stop of Strawberry and the Strawberry Inn and Restaurant. Donner Summit is only a few mile west of the historic and adventure summit town of Truckee.
So that’s what is on my mind, as I wait for the snow to really fall and skiing to start at my new ski area: Alpine Meadows. Until then, you can count on my heading out and enjoying cool air and warm rock this fall. Interested in joining me? Send me a comment with your email and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours.

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

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.

Books to Read

I’m asked on almost every trip to recommend a reading list. Here is the stack that I pull from regularly:

These first three books cover everything I ever do in the mountains. They’re a much more comprehensive and understandable collection than the Mountaineer’s Freedom of the Hills.

Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher, by Mark Houston and Kathy Cosley.

Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering, by Martin Volken, Scott Schell, and Margaret Wheeler.

Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations, by Andy Tyson and Molly Loomis.

These next two books are a little dated (Extreme Alpinism was printed in 1999 and Self-Rescue in 1997), but are still worthy reads. Twight’s book inspired me to examine my climbing tactics and strategies. Fasulo’s book features the great illustrations of Mike Clelland – I look at the pictures more than read it!!

Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, Fast, and High, by Mark Twight.

, by David Fasulo.

banner photo: antarctica / mark allen

The Show - under construction