Wednesday, July 29, 2009

2010 European Ski Tour Dates Announced

Olivia and I are at the start of our summer guiding program in the Alps. We will be working out of Zermatt, Switzerland; Chamonix, France; and Grindelwald, Switzerland. We plan to guide people up the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, the Monch, the Jungfrau, the Schreckhorn, and a variety of warm-up routes in Zermatt and Chamonix valleys.

Just before leaving home we managed to nail down the dates for our 2010 Spring Ski Touring season in France, Italy, and Switzerland. Other dates are available, but these dates al have guests registered and will be running as set.

  • Trip # 1: March 28-April 3, 2010
  • Trip #2: April 4-10, 2010
  • April 12-18, 2010
In addition to our regularly scheduled trips we will be conducting custom trips set up for groups that would like to ski together on any of the trips listed above. We can generally offer a bit of a discount if you can get at least 4 people together to share costs.

Feel free to contact us at (509) 548-5823 for more details or visit our website at:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Snow Creek Wall Reopens July 15, 2009

After the successful fledging of 3 Peregrine Falcon Chicks born in a nest on Snow Creek Wall's Library Ledge, the US Forest Service has decided to reopen the wall to climbers starting July 15, 2009. The scheduled reopen date had been July 31, 2009, but the USFS decided to reopen early as the birds are now able to move away from their nest site and are all able to fly and feed themselves. Of interest, it was pointed out to me that, "Fledging is what the fledglings do: the baby birds take their first flight (fledging) and become fledglings."

Our friends Mark and Sara accompanied a USFS Wildlife Biologist, Janet Millard, on a reconnaissance climb of Snow Creek Wall via the route Outer Space and reported some very interesting stuff. The Peregrine Falcon's had been feeding their young a variety of birds, including gulls, ducks, Steller's Jays, House Wren, Evening Grosbeaks, Woodpeckers, Grouse, and most oddly, FISH. Janet speculated that the Peregrines had stolen the fish from Osprey, which are also know to nest in the area. It is evidently not common for fish to be found in Peregrine Falcon nest sites, and was perhaps the most interesting find on the climb.

Many climbers speculate that the slow start to the climbing season due to cool, moist weather, may have kept traffic on the wall low during the time when the birds were selecting nest sites. A quieter climbing scene may have motivated the birds to choose nest sites that are in more crowded climbing areas than in the past few years. Historically Peregrines have nested on Snow Creek Wall, but in past years they have not selected ledges that have led to the required closures of classic routes such as Orbit and Outer Space. As avid climbers and birders ourselves, we were happy to see the bird's needs respected and the USFS's timely opening of the wall once the chicks were able to move away from the nest site. We were also pretty psyched to see how responsibly the climbers who originally discovered the birds acted in passing the information on to the USFS and other climbers. This seems an unusually successful nesting, closure, and reopening

With Snow Creek Wall now officially open, the Northwest Mountain School will resume offering Guided Climbs of Leavenworth's Snow Creek Wall, including classic climbs such as Outer Space and Orbit.

Details on current closures and conditions are available here on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Current conditions page. Happy climbing!

Mt. Rainier GPS Tracks - Disappointment Cleaver Route

Olivia and I climbed the Disappointment Cleaver Route with some good friends on an International Mountain Guides Climb from June 24-27, 2009. Kim, Tor, Reidun, and Adam made a strong ascent in moderate winds from the Ingraham Flats on June 26th. Tor tracked the route on his GPS, transfered the tracks to Google Earth, and shared the results with us.

What I found most interesting about the tracks was that these are older aerial photos, but the track that we actually took generally avoids all the crevasses in the photos. Having guided this route for 21 seasons, I realize that the glaciers break up in very similar ways each year, but these photos made me realize how similar things must be from year to year.

Thanks Tor for these Google Earth views of the Mt. Rainier Disappointment Cleaver Route. Tor has also provided similar GPS tracks from Northwest Mountain School's Guided Expeditions to Mount McKinley (Denali) and our Haute Route Ski Tour.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

NMS Guides Dragontail Peak via Backbone Arete

On June 24th at 0300 Kevin Q. and I, Joel Kauffman, started hiking from the Stuart Lake trail head with the idea of climbing the Backbone Ridge on Dragontail Peak and returning in time for dinner that night. Kevin and I have both climbed larger objectives in this style before. This climb was made more interesting by the fact that we had never climbed together.

Kevin and I got to know each other on the hike into Colchuck Lake. The reason we were able to attempt a grade IV alpine route having met the night before is our prior climbing experience. Kevin has climbed with talented people on routes such as the complete Exum Ridge on the Grand Teton and the Whillians route on St. Exupery in Argentine Patagonia.

I've climbed the Backbone ridge before and am always up for a nice long day in the mountains. With the summer solstice a few days earlier, the Eastern horizon began getting light a half hour into the approach and we turned our headlamps off shortly after. We made short work of the trail section and scampered up the lateral moraine of the Colchuck glacier.

With a quizzical glance toward the high clouds, we racked up and donned spikes for the snow traverse which would bring us to the start of the route. The last time I climbed the Backbone, we did so with a C4 #4 Camalot. This time I opted to bring a #5. There is a balance between skill, gear, and weight.

The #5 was big enough to protect the 5.9 OW until it widens to six inches. I would recommend bringing the #6 unless one feels comfortable in these wide cracks. We attached our packs to our harnesses with tethers and climbed left side in. This is the crux of the route.

The climbing eases considerably above the OW and we enjoyed solid granite and fast transitions at belays. Notice the smile on Kevin's face and Colchuck peak in the background.

At 1200 we were on the Fin Direct. I found a new #1 Camalot with a wire gate caribiner a pitch below the ridge. This more than made up for the nut I had welded in place on the previous belay. From the top of the Fin we traversed the ridge toward the summit negotiating a few gendarmes along the way. "Just some class 3 and 4 scrambling to the top, huh?"

The showers to the North that had been challenging us while on the upper Fin Direct manifested in the form of a few drops of rain. When we reached the Cumbre (the Spanish word for summit), the blue sky greeted us and we were treated to exquisite views of Mount Daniel and the Cascade Range.

The descent was pleasant with the warm temperatures lending to perfect snow conditions in the upper Alpine Lakes basin. We descended Asgard pass and ran the last couple miles of the Stuart Lake trail. Kevin sprinted pass me at the last minute and pushed the stop button. Our round trip (car-to-car) time was 16hrs. 33min. Quite good for a couple guys who never climbed together!