Sierra East Side

The end of May was a fun (and busy) couple of weeks. My brother Andrew and I left Idaho en route to Lake Tahoe, which has been our home for the past 4 years while we attended school at Sierra Nevada College. Now, after finishing classes in December, we were returning to participate in our graduation ceremony! It was a great time – awesome to see friends from school and hang with family while celebrating a pretty big milestone.

We didn’t spend much time at the Lake after graduation, as we headed down to the Bay Area to begin a 3-day, 225 mile bike ride from Sunol to Paso Robles with our Dad. It actually all went smoother than I expected and besides a sore butt after our first (90 mile) day, I felt strong for the entire ride. It was nice to experience via bike a gorgeous part of California that you would not usually see in a car as the route took all back roads.

After the ride, we left the Bay and headed for an old favorite spot – Yosemite’s Tioga Pass. Having just come from graduation and a road bike ride, we weren’t properly prepared for this unplanned stop. With plenty of snow left to play on, we found ourselves wishing we had brought ski and ice gear. Without crampons, there was no way to access most of the alpine rock routes, either. The trip ended up being more of a scenic tour as we enjoyed a sunset on the smooth granite domes of Tuolumne Meadows, camped in the van, and then proceeded back down the pass in the morning, where we then enjoyed views of the beautiful and strange Mono Lake. What looks like a desolate martian landscape is actually home to an extremely productive ecosystem of trillions of brine shrimp, algae, and millions of migratory birds.

With its high deserts, martian lakes, ghost towns, and snowy peaks, California’s Eastern Sierra is one of the most treasured spots in the state.

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City of Rocks

Fed up with the delicate spring snow conditions, we decided to take a few days off and experience a different realm – vertical rock! Having lived in Idaho for 10 years now, I’ve always heard of the City of Rocks but have never been. I used to rock climb when I was much younger and am only now getting back into it as I expand my knowledge and experience of my main interest, which is climbing and skiing in the alpine environment.

It is no wonder that this area was designated as a National Reserve – the City of Rocks is truly magical. While the rocks have nowhere near the height or grandeur of a place like Yosemite Valley, the quality and quantity of routes here will excite any climber or mountain lover. Even for people who like to stay on the ground, City of Rocks provides some of the most beautiful, interesting, and unique views in the whole state.

After staying for a couple days, we realized we did much more hiking than climbing as we tried to familiarize ourselves with the layout of the City. We spent some time top roping a few short and easy 5.9’s, and then spent a full day practicing our leading skills on a 5.6, which was my first lead on rock.

As soon as Saturday rolled around, every camping spot in the Reserve was taken and the popular climbing routes started having lines, so we packed up and headed out! Although I’ve heard about the scorching summer heat at the City, I will definitely be back here soon!image photo 3 photo 2 image_4 photo 1 image_6 image_5photo 5image_3 image_2 image_7 photo 4image_1

Attempt on Summit Creek Peak

After scoping some cool lines in the vicinity of the Trail Creek road during our last trip over the pass, we decided to make an attempt on Summit Creek peak via a steep, semi-technical climbing route followed by a mellow ski descent back down (on the route picture, red is up; green is down).

The day before the attempt, we headed off from the van in the late afternoon with very heavy packs filled with plenty of climbing and ski gear. We made it to (very mushy) snow within 30 minutes and skinned for another 2 hours or so to reach camp at about 8400′ in the basin below Summit Creek peak. Luckily we found some freshly melted out ground for the tent, which we promptly set up and crawled into after a quick dinner.

When our alarm went off at 4am we quickly fired up the stove to heat some water for our oatmeal, which we quickly consumed before hitting the snow. At 430am the snow felt good and hard near camp – things were looking good!

However, not 30 minutes later as we headed up a steeper slope into the higher basin did things begin to change. As we got on to the deeper snowpack, we realized only the top 4 inches or so was frozen solid – a result of the slow transformation process (no thanks to the recent high nighttime lows) of our layered, faceted winter snowpack into a solid spring/summer snowpack. While skinning we began to collapse through this top layer and found ourselves swimming in feet of sugar – hardly the type of snow we were looking for to climb a near 50 degree snow line.

Conditions continued to deteriorate to the point where we could make almost no upward progress through the snow. With the sun shining bright and beginning to heat things up, we decided to abort. We clicked into our bindings and skied carefully back to the tent.

Wanting to make the most of our failed mission, we decided to practice our roped climbing and anchor skills by climbing a short couloir near camp. After that, we packed up and skied one of the most unenjoyable sections of snow back towards the car. 55+ pound packs and skiing through pine bough covered snow with patches of dirt every couple hundred feet is no fun. After a rough final stream crossing, we finally made it back to the van!

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May 1 – Trail Creek Road Open!

One of my favorite times of the year in Sun Valley is late Spring. The temps are increasing, the winter snowpack is turning to corn, and the dirt roads start opening! Thanks to an unusually low snowpack this year, Trail Creek road (which heads Northeast from Sun Valley toward Mackay) opened earlier than usual, providing early access to one of our favorite ski and climbing playgrounds. On May 1st, my buddy Jeremy (jeremylato.com) and I made the first voyage of the season over the pass to check out how the goods were looking!

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Skiing the Sickle Couloir

This Wednesday, Irie extraordinaire Danny Walton, Parker Brown, and I headed out from Redfish Lake to the Fishhook Yurt (courtesy of Sun Valley Trekking) in Idaho’s Sawtooth mountains for a successful attempt at an Idaho Classic: The Sickle Couloir on Horstmann Peak (10,475′).

Thursday morning, after skinning a few miles while gaining some 2000 vertical feet, we arrived in Horstmann Peak’s awe-inspiring northeast cirque where we were granted gorgeous views all around and a look at our final objective. We skinned as high as we could, then pulled out the tools and began the 1000+ foot climb to the top of the couloir.

Conditions were excellent: 8-10″ of dense spring powder with a supportable layer underneath. We kept a steady pace and were 3/4’s of the way to the top when we heard a “3-2-1 dropping” from above. A group of 5 from Jackson had come up from the other side and dropped in on our untracked line. Oh well. They beat us to it – we should have been up earlier!

After waiting for the group to pass we continued up the last couple hundred feet to the top. This section constricts quite a bit and gets very steep – around 55 degrees. The group that scraped off a lot of the fresh snow actually provided us with perfect climbing conditions to get to the top of this very steep section. A little behind schedule, we didn’t spend a lot of time at the top, and after some water and a snack, promptly clicked into our bindings, buckled our boots, and dropped in on one of steepest lines I’ve skied.

The pucker factor was high – the first few hundred feet consisted of controlled hop-turn slip, hop-turn slip, hop-turn slip. You don’t want to take a fall up here. Once we were through the crux, we opened it up and enjoyed blower powder all the way to the bottom of the cirque.

After another short break to catch our breath, we wasted no time skiing down to the yurt to quickly pack our gear and head back to the trailhead via a mostly flat, half-melted skin track. It had been a 9 mile, 11 hour day by the time we got back to the van. The waiting IPAs were a very welcomed treat. photo 2photo 3photo 7photo 1photo 8photo 5photo 4photo 6