Category: Trip Reports

Labrum of Love

“Watching Bayard mix climb is always entertaining. The guy’s so strong when he’s rock climbing he makes massive, dynamic leaps of faith from hold to hold, bouncing upwards with glee on teeny edges until he finishes the climb or falls off, unhampered by any type of discernable fear.
In the wintertime, it’s pretty much the same.”

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Go North, Old Man!

Alden Pellett and Ryan Stefiuk take an early season road trip to The Mur des Crapaud Wall in Parc National des Grand Jardins in Quebec.
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The Kaweah Traverse

Recently Kevin Burkhart and I climbed the Kaweah Traverse in Sequoia National Park. Ours was the third or maybe fourth ascent of the traverse and the first time (that I know of) that it’s been guided.

Yours truly on the approach with most of the traverse in the background. Photo by Kevin Burkhart.

In a big mountain range full of fantastic alpine ridges, the Kaweahs are a bit of an anomaly. This group of 13,000 foot peaks are not, for the most part, made up of the granite for which the range is famous. Instead they are of a rock that is significantly lower in quality. The original Kaweah Traverse was accomplished by Andy Selters, Claude Fiddler, and Danny Whitmore in July of 1997. This trio traversed about two miles of ridge line, from Black Kaweah to Second Kaweah, taking on 6 other named 13’ers and a bunch of unnamed bumps and towers in between. Climbing California’s High Sierra rates the traverse IV 5.9. There is minimal information available about the route.

I think Kevin first mentioned the Kaweahs to me when he, his wife Heather, and I did the Palisade Traverse (Thunderbolt to Sill) several years ago. As someone who is fond of Sierra ridges it was on my radar, and the fact that he brought it up piqued my interest. Here was somebody as interested in this obscure route as I was!

A year passed and Kevin returned to the Eastern Sierra last summer to climb the Sun Ribbon Arete on Temple Crag. Again the Kaweahs were spoken of. Then we had one of snowiest winters ever. I knew that we would need to bivy on the ridge to succeed, and that meant we would need snow to melt for water. As soon as it became clear to me that there would be no lack of snow, I reached out to Kevin and the planning began.

Kevin somewhere on the East Ridge of Black Kaweah.

I was up front with Kevin right from the start that not only had I not done the traverse, I had never even been in that part of the range before. Some climbers want their guide to be intimately familiar with the route and peak(s), but Kevin was fine with the fact that it would be an onsight for me. On a route of this nature that could mean backtracking or doing more or harder climbing. We had, I think, built some trust on our previous two trips, and I think he was looking forward to something with a few more unknowns than usual. Without the unknown, after all, there is no adventure.

A climb of this nature also required that I put some serious trust in Kevin. Though I brought guide skills, climbing experience (and alpine ridge experience in particular) to the table, this climb would need to be a real partnership to manage the risks posed by loose rock and unknown terrain. Kevin is an experienced trad climber, and has done a ton of 4th and low-5th class around the country. This somewhat rare pairing of skills was combined with some serious interest in this route. Kevin’s research meant that not only did he get local beta for an approach that cut our hiking distance almost in half, but he also went in with eyes wide open about the loose rock, something that I think is necessary for success on the Kaweah Traverse. Though there were a number of surprises along the way, low quality rock was never one of them.

Looking north from Red Kaweah with Black Kaweah, Pyramidal Pinnacle, and Koontz Pinnacle in view.

We left Mineral King Trailhead a little after 9am. Kevin’s route to the Big Arroyo, our basecamp, wound over Glacier and Hands and Knees Passes and through the Little Five Lakes Basin following trails, abandoned trails, and our noses. Towards the end of the day we shed our shoes for several creek crossings, some of them more than knee deep, fast, and cold. Near the old Big Arroyo ranger cabin we ran into a backcountry ranger who warned us that the Kaweahs had a lot of loose rock and that it could be snowy up there. We spent the night comfortably under my tarp.

The next morning there was no alarm. I thought we’d be working hard each day on the route and wanted to leave our basecamp well rested from the hike in. After a leisurely breakfast we started hiking northeast uphill through open woods and granite slabs. eventually we reached the treeline. That ranger was right, there was a lot of snow, and we were happy for it. The last mile or so of our approach to Black Kaweah would have been endless talus was it not covered in supportive snow.

We took the Southwest Face route to the summit. It was fairly straightforward and soon we were on top snacking and snapping photos of the peaks laid out ahead of us. From the summit we descended directly east on technical terrain and got onto the east ridge via a convenient ledge. The east ridge was exposed, loose, 4th to low 5th class…and surprisingly fun. Soon we were hiking up the northwest slopes of Pyramidal Pinnacle looking for a place to spend the night. There were a number of snow patches and many semi-flat sites, but for some reason I wanted to keep hiking. Before too long I saw it, a cave! With a shout I ran over to it, expecting the floor to be filled with sharp rocks or guano or both. Instead it was almost-completely-level sand and small gravel, a comfortable size for two grown men. A few moments of work from Kevin, the high-end custom carpenter, and it was perfect. Just a few steps away was a snowfield melting into liquid in the late afternoon sun. Excellent views back up the east ridge of Black Kaweah were the icing on the cake that is my new favorite bivy spot.

Soaking up the view from my new favorite bivy spot.

The following day we left the magnificent cave a little after 7am. We scrambled up to the summit of Pyramidal Pinnacle with ease, and soon found ourselves downclimbing exposed 4th and low 5th class. We could have gone back down the way we came and wrapped around to the other side of the Pinnacle on easier terrain, but we wanted to keep our traverse as true as we could, riding the skyline. A short rappel completed our descent to the notch with Koontz Pinnacle.

Some unnecessary but fun 5th class climbing brought us to the top of Koontz Pinnacle, which has a classic Sierra summit block. In his guidebook Peaks, Passes, and Trails RJ Secor mentions that Koontz Pinnacle is not shown on the USGS Triple Divide Peak 7.5 minute map. It seemed to us, after sitting up there with the gps on my phone, that in fact its Pyramidal Pinnacle that’s not shown on the quad.

Me on top of Koontz Pinnacle. Photo by Kevin Burkhart.

Traveling along the ridge from Koontz was fun but became involved, eventually necessitating a long rappel. This was followed by a hike up Red Kaweah, one of the easier peaks on the traverse. There was some kind of butterfly migration happening and hundreds of orange and black butterflies led us along the ridge and up to the summit.

Climbing up the north side of Michael’s Pinnacle was forgettable, but the summit register was not. Placed by Jim Koontz himself in 1953, it had a transcription from Charles Michael’s original register and had been signed by a who’s who of Kaweah climbers, including the only other parties we knew of who did the traverse. It’s a piece of Sierra history. I’m not normally particularly excited to sign summit registers, but I was honored to sign this one. That is, until we discovered the pen didn’t work. Kicking ourselves for not bringing a pen, we continued south in the dwindling daylight, eventually dropping off the crest a bit to a bivy overlooking Kaweah Basin.

The Michael’s Pinnacle summit register. It could use a new pen and container.
Looking east towards Williamson and Whitney from our second bivy. Photo by Kevin Burkhart.

In the morning the towers seemed to go on and on, but eventually we found ourselves in front of Squaretop. We traversed onto the west side over at least one rib to get to the Northwest Face route which brought us quickly to the summit. 

A time consuming gully took us down to the col before Bilko Pinnacle. Here fun 4th class on a rib over to the west side of the col brought us to the summit and our first good views of Grey (aka Second, aka False) Kaweah.

Kevin sailing the seas of choss somewhere on the ridge.

Tales of a spat between the first ascensionists and 5.9 climbing had us wondering if one of the towers before us would contain the crux. Instead we found enjoyable 5.7 climbing on some of the best rock on the ridge. Before long we were fist bumping on top. I think both of us felt like we were getting away with something. 

We still had a lot of daylight left, and we thought it would make a lot of sense to include Mount Kaweah, the tallest of the Kaweah peaks. It was only a matter of some class 2 hiking, so we signed that summit register too. Our big winter had left snow still parked on the west face of the peak, and a 1500 foot standing glissade sped our descent and put smiles on our faces.

While Kevin and I both enjoyed this traverse neither of us feel a need to do it again. Climbers who are dying to send this one would be well-advised to do some of the other big (and higher quality) traverses first. Though this one isn’t as long as the full Palisade or Evolution Traverses, the decision making and risk management is probably harder. Couple this with the low level but continuous loose rock and the Kaweah Traverse is likely as difficult as those longer ones. As Kevin put it, “this one is for the Sierra ridge ‘choss-isseur’”.

Somewhere in the Kaweahs. Photo by Kevin Burkhart.
–Ian McEleney, AAI Instructor and Guide

The Torment-Forbidden Traverse: a Trip Report.

In an article he penned for the 1972 Chouinard Equipment catalogue, legendary guide and author Doug Robinson wrote that “the true object [of climbing]… is not simply to get up things and check them off in our guidebook – it is to challenge ourselves”. By that measure, fellow AAI guide Kevin McGarity and my recent ascent (entirely summit-less) of the Torment-Forbidden traverse was certainly a success.

The Torment-Forbidden Traverse.  Photo taken from just below the summit of Torment.  The triangular spike of a peak in the background is Forbidden.
The TFT is one of the most prized objectives in the North Cascades. It is long (grade 5), strikingly aesthetic, and requires the full gamut of alpine skills to complete successfully. Simply determining where to go is often a challenge as the line of least resistance constantly weaves back and forth on both sides of the ridge. There is complex glacier travel that requires a number of transitions from roped technical climbing to snow/ice and vice versa. It is also committing. While one could conceivably bail off of the ridge at any point, retreat between the first rappel and the start of the west ridge of Forbidden Peak (a distance of nearly a mile) would be more hazardous than simply finishing the traverse.

Most people choose to climb the TFT in a comfortable two days (although it has been completed in as little as 9 hours car to car!). While this would have been the prudent option, Kevin and I were both keen for a challenge. Trying to on-sight an objective like the TFT in a day adds an additional level of complexity to the whole operation. Naturally it’s essential to travel as light as possible. The downside of going light, of course, is that the margin of safety grows smaller in case of incident or bad weather etc. Additionally, it was mid-August and the TFT is well known for becoming more difficult later in the season. All the cruxes are on snow and sections of the route that are relatively straightforward step kicking in June can turn to cracked up, bullet hard glacier ice by august.

Knowing all of this, we chose our gear carefully and trusted in our judgement and technical skills to overcome whatever obstacles presented themselves. After discussing it, we settled on one 8.7 millimeter triple-rated rope, six cams, a set of stoppers, two ice screws, five alpine runners, one ice axe each and approach shoes with strap on crampons. We also brought one lightweight blanket which, together with the removable back panel from my climbing pack and the rope, would allow us to survive an unplanned bivy in relative comfort. Thus geared up we set a 2 am departure time from Bellingham and tried to get some sleep.

Johannesburg seen through the clouds on the approach

In alpine climbing, pacing is everything. We knew we had to go fast otherwise we would never make it. Too fast and we wouldn’t be able to last all day like we needed to. I was also a little nervous because I had only gotten around 3 hours of sleep. Fortunately my fears were unfounded. As soon as we started hiking my body took over and I was suddenly grateful for all of the days I had spent guiding with a heavy pack in the North Cascades and on Denali this season. We made good time, reaching low camp at around 5500 feet in around an hour and a half and the base of the Taboo glacier below Mount Torment an hour after that.

Fortunately the glacier looked to be in good condition. The snow was firm enough that snow bridges would likely be solid yet soft enough that our crampon points bit well into the surface. Route-finding also proved straight forward with a relatively crevasse-free path to the access couloir. We reached the base of the rock quickly and found the moat at the edge of the glacier in very reasonable condition. Stowing our ice axes and crampons we scrambled for a hundred feet or so to the notch in the ridge that marks the start of the climbing on Mount Torment.

The author starting up the Taboo Glacier with the summit of Torment directly above his head.

While the west ridge of Forbidden Peak (a fifty-classic climb) is a masterpiece of clean lines and proud features that beg to be climbed, its cousin to the west is a total trash heap. The rock is loose and of poor quality; the line is indirect; and the extremely misnamed south ridge route (because it rarely travels within shooting distance of the actual ridge) links a series of sandy, scree-covered, sloping ledges with short steps of 4th or easy 5th class climbing. The whole thing is covered in grass and looks like a large pile of sand and gravel magnified.

Kevin on the south ridge of Torment (one of the only sections with decent rock)
Using a combination of simul-climbing and short pitching, Kevin and I reached the ledge system just below the summit of Torment about 4 and half hours after leaving the car. Feeling a little pressed for time since it was already 9 am we decided to bypass the true summit and head straight for the notch that marks the rappel onto the glaciated north side of the ridge.

Kevin following some sandy choss on the west side of Torment
Upon reaching the rappel station, it was immediately apparent that the short glacier traverse back to rock would be tricky. There were large open crevasses in the snow slope we had to descend and a large moat at the base of the rappel. Kevin volunteered to go first. Giving him my ice axe, I lowered him into the moat and then kept him on belay as he ice climbed out of it. He attached the climbing rope to an anchor on the glacier and I did a weird free hanging rappel traverse to join him. The snow here was firm and the slope steep. A fall would almost certainly mean a tumble into one of the waiting crevasses below. All of a sudden our decision to leave the mountain boots at home seemed a little hasty. Fortunately, the snow was just soft enough to allow purchase and we took turns belaying each other the hundred or so feet to safer terrain without incident. For the next hour things went smoothly. We regained the rock and wound our way up enjoyable fourth class terrain on the north side of the ridge. Eventually we regained the ridge crest just before the route’s crux snow traverse.

Kevin being lowered into the moat.  He then ice climbed back onto the glacier with two straight axes, and strap-on crampons on approach shoes!

Belayed down climb off a T-slot anchor

Finishing the snow traverse.  The rappel notch we came from is the right most notch in the photo.  We then had to down-climb between the obvious crevasses below it before traversing back to the rock
The crux traverse is several hundred feet of roughly 50 degree snow and ice. In early season it’s relatively easy and secure to kick steps across it. As the snow melts, it gets increasingly severe and difficult to protect. We knew it would be way too firm to climb safely in approach shoes. Fortunately, we had anticipated tough conditions on the traverse and had other plans.
The crux snow traverse seen from low on the north side of the ridge.  To avoid it, we repelled out of the notch at the top-right of the photo, onto the south side of the ridge and traversed third and fourth class ledges in a whiteout before regaining the ridge near the triangular tower in the upper left of the photo.

In a 2009 trip report, Steph Abegg wrote that she and her partner had found a passage entirely on rock. By climbing up and over several gendarmes above the snow traverse it was possible, she wrote, to make two rappels onto the south side of the ridge to access a 3rd and 4th class ledge system written about by Fred Beckey in the Cascade Alpine Guide. This ledge system would eventually connect to the normal route several hundred feet after the end of the snow traverse. We decided to give it a go. A hundred or so feet of easy climbing brought us to a rappel station on top of the first tower. We rapped into the next gulley over and started up a chimney system that looked promising. After a few short lived route-finding challenges we found a rappel station that allowed access to the south face of the ridge. Unfortunately, sometime between the saddle before the snow traverse and the rappels, the weather decided to shift.

What had started out as a beautiful high pressure day was fast succumbing to a thick, pea soup like fog. The wind began to pick up and before long it was misting. As we did our first 30 meter rappel onto the south face, visibility was such that we could no longer make out any of the towers in the distance or much of the terrain beneath our feet. The whole face was covered in “grassy ledges” and without visibility it was nearly impossible to tell which ledge systems would allow passage and which would dead end. We ended the rappel on what looked to be a large one. Since there was no evidence of a second anchor we decided to rope up and look around. After traversing eastward for a rope length we wound up on a rock ledge from which we could see what we assumed to be the ledge from Steph’s trip report 40 feet below us. We rapped from a rock horn and resumed walking. After several hundred feet of easy travel the ledge we were on seemed to dead-end. Without landmarks to guide us, it was impossible to know which direction to go in. After several minutes of discussion we decided to try climbing a 4thand easy 5th class ramp up towards the ridge crest. Our gamble paid off. After two hundred feet we reached a talus field on the ridge that eventually led us to the start of the knife edges.

The author route finds in the mist!
The Knife edge ridge

Kevin smiling despite being on uncertain terrain
By this time, the misting drizzle we had been experiencing was beginning to take a toll on the rock. Moves that would normally be quite secure seemed slippery. Fortunately the climbing was easy and we reached the “sidewalk in the sky” that marks the end of the traverse and the start of the west ridge of forbidden peak fairly quickly. Rapping from slung blocks at the end of the sidewalk we gained a 3rd class ledge system that we followed to the base of Forbidden. Re-evaluating the conditions and our timing we realized that the fog had slowed us down quite a bit and it was much later than we wanted it to be to start up the west ridge of Forbidden Peak. We were also nearly out of food which made a minimalist bivy unappealing. We decided to descend.

The author standing atop the sidewalk in the sky
After 5 or 6 rappels down the gullies at the base of the ridge, we reached our last major obstacle: the glacier at the base of the route. Having gained the ridge almost a mile to the west we had no idea how best to negotiate the glacier or the rock bands below. Visibility was still low. Fortunately Kevin had been to Boston Basin several weeks earlier for work and had several GPS tracks that all indicated the same thing: go left. Good advice. Before long we had gained the slabs at the base of the glacier and finally retreated below the cloud ceiling. Knowing the biggest obstacles were behind us we breathed a collective sigh of relief, re-packed and started the two hour hike to the trailhead.

Our route in red.  Photo taken on the approach
One of the most time honored questions in climbing is: why do it? As a guide I have observed several schools of thought on the subject. Doug Robinson summed it up nicely when he laid out the alternatives as either to check a box or challenge oneself. While my climbing career has led me to embrace the latter approach, I would also add to it: that in the challenge there is fear and joy; and by the interaction of these emotions it is possible to learn about yourself and to grow. While Kevin and my Torment-Forbidden Traverse didn’t achieve a single summit it was the type of rich experience that keeps me coming back to the mountains year after year.

–Eric Shaw, AAI Instructor and Guide

Women’s Baker Skills and Climb: A Photo Essay

You never conquer a mountain. You stand on the summit a few brief minutes and then the wind blows away your footprints
-Arlene Blum

The attitude that Arlene Blum maintains in this quote is one that many mountaineers share, in some cases the summit is not attained, in others it is, in some cases you are battling the mountain to try to conquer it, in other cases you are working in sync and harmony with the mountain, letting it tell you whether today is your day. Good planning, a solid foundation of skills, and realistic expectations help with making a decision like this in the mountains. And, having an incredible group of Women venture into the wilderness together, to learn, laugh, and support one another, rain or shine, is what made this weekend on Mount Baker a memorable and meaningful trip.

Day 1: Approach to Low Camp

On Friday, June 16 we met at AAI Headquarters in Bellingham, WA. Conducted an intensive gear check to ensure everyone was set up for success with their clothing, technical gear, and camping and cooking gear. We then set off for the North Side of Mount Baker and started our approach from the Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead (3600) to our base camp (6000).


Erin-Leigh’s skillfully packs her food into portions for 2 breakfasts, 2 dinners, and 3 lunches
photo by Erin-Leigh Hardy


The team of ladies are ready! But first we must take an obligatory Trailhead photo.
Photo by Pete Riewald

Christie and Sara cross a Snow bridge covering a small stream (branch of the Kulshan Creek) crossing

Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

Sangeeta and Jeanna extend their trekking poles in preparation for the Kulshan Creek Crossing

Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

Sara balances her way across the log at the Kulshan Creek Crossing
Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo 

The team taking a snack break before working their way up the Hogsback ridge.
Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

Working our way up the Hogsback Ridge, nearly to camp

Photo by Sara Jung

Sara shares her stoke for our awesome view of Mount Baker while we set up camp

Photo by Erin-Leigh Hardy

The sun begins to set after a long first day up to Hogsback Camp 

Photo by Sangeeta Sakaria

Day 2: Skills on the terminus of the Coleman Glacier 

On Saturday, we woke up at base camp, cooked breakfast while discussing topics such as glaciology, and tour planning for our objective the following day. We then set off for a tour around the terminus of the Coleman glacier, up the Hogsback Headwall while covering Snow School, roped glacier travel, and finished our day with demonstrations on Self Arrest and a two-person rope team scenario for Crevasse Rescue. We then went to sleep early for our Alpine start the following morning

AAI Guide Alejandra explains tour planning and discusses the many ways to plan and “backwards plan” for the following day.
Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo 

Panorama of Hogsback camp 

Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

AAI Guide Alejandra demonstrates different cramponing techniques for walking on snow
Photo by Sara Jung

The team works their way up the Hogsback Headwall to practice Roped Glacier Travel

Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

AAI Guide Alejandra and team members, Jeanna and Erin-Leigh pose for a picture while discussing snow protection in the context of pickets, and ice axes
Photo by Christie Summers

Day 3: Summit attempt of the Coleman-Deming Route on Mount Baker

The rope team takes their first break above the Hogsback headwall, having spent the last hour in hail, rain and low visibility Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

The whiteout conditions continue.. and the team maintains good morale

Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

… and psych for the objective :)

Photo by Christie Summers

After a discussion about the conditions and our planned timeline for our trip, the team collectively decided to turn back, but not before having a glacial dance party

Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

There’s nothing quite like Reggeaton in a whiteout at 8,500 feet

video by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

A hasty descent down the Hogsback ridge from our summit attempt after tearing down camp
Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo 

At the Kulshan Creek Crossing we met Karen, who was taking her friend hiking for her first time and helping her across the precarious log crossing

Photo by Alejandra Garcés Pozo

Our Team near the trail head after an incredible weekend on Mount Baker
Photo by Karen
Upon arriving to the trail head, we quickly loaded the van, changed into a fresh set of clothes and began our drive to Bellingham. The 3 days of bonding and learning opened us up to eachother more than we realized. Sara suggested we all share three things we were most thankful for. This could extend to the trip, the day, or anything in life at that moment. The participation of everyone on the team made for a beautiful moment of positive energy, personal achievements, empowerment, self assessment,  growth and stronger bonds within the group. Watching this team of strong women push themselves, encourage each other and grow individually as mountaineers was truly an incredible thing to be a part of.

–Alejandra Garcés Pozo, AAI Instructor and Guide

Trip Report: Mt. Baker Ski Descent

I love those rare moments when you see an activity that sets your imagination alive and you say to yourself, “I want to do that.” It is the inspiration that drives most of us to start along the path to become climbers, skiers and skilled outdoor participants. 

 In June of 1985, during staff training for the summer climbing season in the Cascades, ten of us ascended the south side of Mt. Baker. Alan Kearney and Kitty Calhoun slept in late and carried skis to the summit. Long after we had left the summit and were plunge stepping down the mountain, they came sweeping by on perfect corn snow, carving interlacing turns down the Easton Glacier below us until they disappeared from view, popping up a few minutes later as two tiny dots next to our campsite. 
 Both jealous at the ease of their descent and intrigued at the possibilities, I told myself that I would someday acquire the skills and equipment to accomplish the feat of skiing 5,000-feet or more off the summit of a Cascade volcano.

Over thirty-years later and with ski descents of most of the volcanoes of the western states and many seasons of backcounty skiing under my belt, ski mountaineering is now a very popular mountain sport. In June on Mt. Baker, the number of skiers ascending to the top nearly equals the number climbing to the summit. It would have been hard to imagine as I watched the rare sight of Alan and Kitty skiing down the mountain, that I would someday have the opportunity to guide parties on ski descents of Mt. Baker.

In May I was fortunate to guide two skiers on a three day Mt. Baker ski mountaineering trip. It was and exceptional experience for the quality of the skiing and the enjoyment I derived from helping two enthusiastic students learn the skills needed to ascend and ski off of a big mountain like Mt. Baker.

My skiers, Jared and Cindy were a couple with a storybook romance. After a solo voyage across the Pacific in his 30-foot sailboat, Jared met Cindy a few hours after making landfall in Hawaii. Cindy was a French woman on a week holiday. The Seattle residents have been married two years and share a love of the mountains, sailing in the summer and skiing in the winter. They were experienced winter campers and skilled skiers and wanted to take those skills into the alpine for new adventures.


Jared and Cindy, loaded up and excited for an adventure on the mountain.


Leaving the Grouse Creek Drainage and ascending the Coleman to High Camp

We spent day one, completing the pre-trip meeting and packing, driving to the trailhead and on the long climb to our high camp at the Black Buttes. The forecast for the three-day trip was not positive for an ascent of the mountain. Clouds, cold temps and the occasional snow squall backed up the forecast of mixed cloud and occasional snow. Cindy and Jared hunkered down in a pyramid tent while I pitched nearby in my first light and rested easily that night behind our snow walls.

 Jared and Cindy at our high camp after the second day attempt to reach the summit.

Day two was spent in a white ascending to Coleman Saddle and back to camp after giving up on an ascent of the mountain without visibility. The conditions gave us the opportunity to work on white out navigation, roped glacier travel and hazard evaluation. The skiing was excellent, 2-5 inches of fresh cold snow. The storm helped to underscore the importance of visibility when descending alpine terrain. Back at camp, we spent the remaining daylight hours practicing crevasse rescue skills.

At four am on our last morning I poked my head out of the tent in the early light to find a cloudless sky. The upper plug of Mt Baker was dark against the morning horizon. The thermometer read 21 degrees F inside my tent. Our feet crunched the cold snow as we packed excitedly for our departure.

With the help of the previous days skin track to the saddle, we took 90 minutes to reach the bottom of the pumice ridge where we shouldered our skis for the long boot pack to the summit. Roping up at the end of the pumice ridge we short roped to the summit slopes with the normal Roman Wall zig zag boot track. I was pleased to find excellent conditions on the upper face, dense wind buff snow with 5-10 inches of light powder. At the top of the Roman Wall the temperature inversion had us shedding winter layers in the warm sunshine without the normal bone chilling wind rolling over the top. We unclipped the skis from our packs and skinned the final few hundred feet to the summit.

 Top of the Roman Wall after short roping from the Pumice Ridge.

The Broad summit slopes of Mt. Baker.

Clicking into our skis after lunch in the rare warmth of windless Baker summit, we enjoyed the best ski conditions of my long experience with the mountain. Light powder on a wind buff surface on the Roman Wall transitioned to lovely settled powder lower down. A sea of clouds skirted the mountain as we dropped into one of the best ski descents in the Northwest, the long upper face of the Deming Glacier.


Fantastic powder skiing in May at the 8,000 foot level

Back at camp we loaded up our kit and continued down the mountain and out the road to the car. The clouds, so spectacular from above, preserved the cold temps and provided us with good snow all the way to the woods at the bottom of Grouse Creek. As with the best ski descents, walking in ski boots was limited to a five minute tramp down the pavement.

Sometimes those “I want to do that” moments provide a lifetime of satisfying experiences.

 Back at the car after an enjoyable time out.

Back at camp we loaded up our kit and continued down the mountain and out the road to the car. The clouds, so spectacular from above, preserved the cold temps and provided us with good snow all the way to the woods at the bottom of Grouse Creek. As with the best ski descents, walking in ski boots was limited to a five minute tramp down the pavement.

Sometimes those “I want to do that” moments provide a lifetime of satisfying experiences.

-Gregg Oliveri

The Technical Traverse

KingRavine---Featured-ImageMichael Wejchert, Ryan Driscoll and Justin Guarino take New Hampshire’s presidential range traverse to a whole new level. by Michael Wejchert I pulled over on the side of the trail: a spot I usually stop with clients to enjoy a lunch break on the third day of Presidential traverses. The rain kept pouring down. We were soaked to

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Going for the Long Burn in Red Rock – 93,000,000 Miles (IV, 5,7, 2,600′)

Click on any photo to enlarge.

 A preview of what’s in store for the day.
I would like to offer some great route beta for one of my favorite 5.7s in Red Rock Canyon—93,000,000 Miles. I refer to the climb as such because if you push for the summit of Rainbow Mountain, you’re in for a long day with lots of climbing, scrambling, and hiking. Going for the long burn, as they say.

With that being said, this linkup of 3 different routes provides one of the longest moderate routes in Red Rock, at 5.7. Add to that what I feel to be THE most spectacular descent I’ve done in Red Rock and you’ve got yourself a classic adventure route. I’ve done it 3 times now!

Photo with approximate ascent route. Photo taken from The Warrior on Cactus Flower Tower.

If you plan to go for this route, you want to try to be first at the wall or at least first on the upper tier of Solar Slab. I hike in early from the parking area 0.5 miles past the Loop Road exit. You zigzag through the fence and follow a trail that joins with the main trail coming from the Oak Creek parking lot. The two times I did the route in November, we left the trailhead at 0530. The time I climbed in December, we left at 0600. You’re shooting to be climbing at first light or shortly after.

Make your way to the 500’ high upper tier by climbing Johnny Vegas (5.7), Beulah’s Book (5.9), or Solar Slab Gully (5.3) if you want to move fast. The one time I went up Solar Slab Gully, we were on the upper tier just before 8 AM. The other two times, we went up Beulah’s Book and were on the upper tier between 8 & 9. Next, head up the1300′ Solar Slab. We topped out Solar Slab around 12 – 1.

Now, once you’ve topped out, you want to continue heading up the slabs, making your way towards the multi-colored headwall above. This is mostly Class 2 hiking, with a steeper Class 3 slab that should take you to a small arch. Go through this “black hole” and enjoy a good shady spot here out of the sun. Here’s where you leave everybody behind as you continue with upward progress towards the summit. Retreat from above this point almost necessitates going up and over, so commit to the big day and keep moving.

Having lunch in the shade provided by the black hole arch you crawl under.

Head climbers’ left from the arch, staying close to the wall on what looks like a sandstone sidewalk. After a minute, there is a short scramble up to a nice bench of rock and the official start of 93,000,000 Miles. You’re looking for a left-arching seam that eventually turns into a protectable crack. Launch off on awesome moon-like huecos, join the crack, and build a belay in the “cockpit”.

Photo of upper portion of route showing the top of Solar Slab and on. Photo taken from the summit of Cactus Flower Tower.
93,000,000 Miles
Looking out towards Mt. Wilson and Cactus Flower Tower from the “cockpit” belay on 93,000,000 Miles. The single rope or down-climb descent of Solar Slab is the gully directly below the pitch. The standard Painted Bowl descent is barely visible in the pinkish rock behind.

Next comes what may be the best pitch of climbing all day. It is also the last technical pitch of the day. You’re WAY up there at this point. The day is growing long. But you’re scrambling and hiking after this. Get to take the climbing shoes off soon. You’re almost to the top and will move quicker in the easier terrain. So here it is—Blast off up an incredible crack through a small bulge with great feet. It’s a little wide to start—a #4 Camalot works well here. Higher up, it turns into glorious hands, thin hands, and big fingers. I usually end the pitch in a nice alcove on a big ledge.

Glorious crack on the last pitch of 93,000,000 Miles.

Scramble up and left to a huge tree. Walk back right into a corridor for shade if you’re still getting hammered by the sun. Switch shoes out here but keep the rope handy for some 4th class scrambling higher up. Continue further into the corridor and scramble and chimney up a rail that will get you out of the corridor. Head up the vegetated gully towards the saddle above. When you get there, head left and up, following the path of least resistance and sometimes cairns. Eventually this leads you to an easy chimney and the summit ridge. Follow the ridge and tag the summit! We summited between 2 and 3 PM.

Route beta from the top of Solar Slab to summit of Rainbow Mountain. (click to enlarge)

Celebrate your achievement and get ready for the down. You still have 3 – 4 hours to go. All the gear goes back in the pack on the summit. Mostly hiking and easy down-scrambling from here on out.

Anyway, head away from the city, back towards the limestone. Off in the distance is a big butte. Pass it on the right and head through a wooded area. Contour across loose scree, slabs, and more vegetation towards another butte. This is where the Eagle Wall descent meets up. Pass the next butte on the right as well. You should pickup a trail around here if you haven’t already. You’ll drop down to the right a bit, then head back up left towards another saddle. Once at the saddle, you’ll head down a long red slab. Towards the bottom, you’ll pickup a dirt trail on the right. Follow the trail into a lovely swirled slab.

Overview of the descent from the top of Rainbow Mountain. (click to enlarge)

The swirled slab heads down towards Oak Creek Canyon. At the bottom of this slab, head into the trees and emerge on the other side on more slabs. This is my favorite section of the descent. Absolutely stunning. The rest of the route is fairly straight forward from here. Find your way down the slabs and into the heart of Oak Creek Canyon. Parkour your way down boulders, slots, and maybe a tree or two. This section is also a lot of fun.

The 93,000,000 Mile loop. (click to enlarge)

As you get close to the mouth of the canyon, keep an eye out left for the exit back to the trail that passes by the start of Solar Slab. There are a few exit points as I’ve come to learn, so don’t stress—you’ll find it. That pretty much makes the loop out of it. You’ll know where to go from here. Make sure you catch the right trail back to the parking outside the Loop Road. It’s a diagonal right at a heaping pile of rocks. You’ll see it on the way in.

This truly is an amazing adventure. The actual climbing is only a small piece of the big pie you’re eating. When you leave everyone behind after climbing Solar Slab, you enjoy the rest of the day in solitude. You’ll be wayyy out there as you descend smooth slabs like I’ve never seen before as the sun goes down. You’ll start to feel the whole day as you use your entire body to down-stem slots between boulders in Oak Creek. And lastly, you’ll enjoy a gratifying and reflective last hour of the day on a trail that gets easier and easier as you near the car. Beers and food awaits. And maybe a day of sport climbing tomorrow.

Gary Newmeyer