Posts Tagged 'peaks'

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.


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


I woke up to the chilly morning air at the bottom of Lee Vining Canyon, wondering what I was doing today. I was supposed to climb with a new partner today, but we hadn’t talked about it since Wednesday and I wondered if she was even up in the Meadows. I piled back into my car, shivering violently as I started the motor and cranked up the heater, even though the temperature gauge was sitting below C. Whatever.

A stop at the Mobil filled my coffee mug with wake-the-f-up juice, and I was on the road again to the Meadows. I pulled through the gate and fell in love with Toulumne Meadows all over again.

At the TM Store I bought another cup of coffee and left my maybe-climbing partner a voicemail, before pulling over to the visitor center and re-organizing the incredible pile of junk that was overflowing from the back of the Subaru. By the time I was done she had called and canceled – injuries to a ring-pulley and motivation-psyche to blame – so I got ready to commit to a solo climb I’ve thought about for a while.

I called PG from the carpark, who grilled me: where? what? Thankfully, she didn’t try to tell me that I shouldn’t go. I clipped a pair of shoes and chalk bag to my belt, put on a pair of headphones, intentionally left my watch in the car, and started hiking.

About 30 minutes later I was cursing as I realized that I missed the climbers’ trail and started running back down the trail, stopping and scanning carefully each time the faintest mouse track slipped away from the main trail. I ran into three guys, who suspiciously had that “look”, and opted to take the trail that they were debating about. Five minutes later they slipped in front of me from a second trail and I slowed down a bit to give myself some solitary and enjoyed the walk up gray slabs and through the dry woods. Climbing the slopes near the bottom of the tower, I passed one of them armed with a very threatening and professional-looking SLR camera. Hmmm.

At the bottom of the face I ran into the other two fellows – we said our greetings, made jokes about how all the cool kids were here, and then looked up at the audience. I counted at least three teams ahead of us, using traditional methods to protect their climbing. We quietly strapped on shoes, said our goodbyes, and one-by-one we started to solo up the cracks and overlaps. I caught up with the first team on pitch one, and then took a left-hand variation to avoid a second team on pitch two. I pulled through a flaring corner over a bulge while an older climber watched silently as he belayed his partner. On pitch three, the famous chimney, I climbed a thin crack and knobs to the left again to avoid getting entangled with the third team, who cheerfully let me pass on the fourth pitch. I had to really focus on the next five feet, committing to the knobs and edges and ignoring the feeling of 400 feet hanging under my heels. The fifth pitch featured an unprotectable knobby face finish and I was suddenly on the summit, still on the heals of the two soloists in front me.
When we descended, they broke right to join their photographer friend on the ridge while I 3rd-classed over to the smaller Eichorn Pinnacle, a 2-pitch 5.4 that featured 200+ feet of exposure. Fun moves past ancient pins lead to a pedestal finish, with the win whipping my shirt and hair. How cool. I looked over and saw the photographer pointing his camera my way, and waved.

Just as I finished down-climbing, I felt something slide down my shirt and watched in dismay as my prayer-bead bracelet – a gift from PG – slide down the sloping ledges. I watched intently until it stopped on a ledge about 75 feet below, retrieved my approach shoes, and headed down to get it. As I descended, I watched the two other soloists and the cameraman begin to step down the west slopes – a maneuver not mentioned in any guidebook.

I decided to follow their lead, suspecting that the descent would lead to a trail following the bottom of the valley below. Sure enough, cairns led to open forest and then the trail appeared unexpectedly. A fun run down the trail, around the north buttress wall, and soon I was back to my car.

Statistics: South East Face of Cathedral Peak and North Face of Eichorn Pinacle, 7 pitches up to 5.7 with variations. 5:10 hours car-to-car. Musical accompaniment by Built to Spill.

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.

banner photo: antarctica / mark allen

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