Utah Ski Trip Report

I saw Shawna, from Uber Mammoth meetup group post this trip sometime in november and i jumped right on it. This season i had made it a goal to travel to different ski resorts across the country and that is why i decided to buy Mammoth MVP premium pass which gives 50% off at all mountain collective resorts.

We were going to spend 4 days in Park City and i didn’t really think about where i was planning to ski until the trip got closer which was weekend of 2/28/14. As i was asking different people and reading about different resorts it was clear that i wanted to spend at least 2 days at snowbird/alta. In the end i ended up spending a day each at Park City, Alta, Snowbird and Canyons.

My only worry was the roads to snowbird might get closed because of the storm and we might not be able to make it but fortunately that wasn’t the case.

I want to focus this post only on what i thought about each of those resorts. Please do keep in mind that i am not an expert by any means but just someone who is passionate about skiing and considers himself a snow snob. Every individual has their own style/preference when it comes to skiing and this post is all about what worked for me.

I have been skiing only for 6 years but having taken lot of lessons, i have progressed fairly quickly (i think) and i can ski down most of the runs on any mountain. I enjoy varied steep terrain, tree skiing and wide open bowls.

Park City Mountain Resort

I wasn’t too keen on PCMR to begin with but we were staying walking distance from the resort and everyone in the group was going to ride there so i decided to go along with it.

Jupiter lift has the most advanced terrain so the plan was to get there as quickly as possible but from Silver star lift it took us a good half hour to get there and it was already packed. There weren’t many fresh tracks to be had.

There is little bit of traversing and hiking involved if you want to get to some of the runs and my snowboarding buddies found the traverse to be quite tricky. They dropped in a steep tree line which i wouldn’t have, the snow was great everywhere so it didn’t matter.

After talking to locals the hike to Scott’s bowl was supposed to be good so we decided to go for it. It had a nice 5ft drop so it was a perfect opportunity for me to take the camera out and do some action photography.

Scotts Bowl

I decided to go in first and then wait for others so that i could shoot them. I had put my boots in walk mode and unfortunately i forgot to tighten my left boot and put it back in the ski mode. Ofcourse i found this out after i crashed and lost my ski which decided to go 40-50 ft down the hill and into the trees. Luckily we found it quickly, lesson learnt.

I took my BC setup on this trip since i had read about being able to hike in utah resorts and it was only my 3rd time using it. So it was a very good learning experience for me and i hope not to repeat the same mistake again in BC where the consequences of such a mistake could be far greater.

We had enough of this lift at this point and decided to check out other lifts but it seemed like in terms of advanced terrain our options were limited. We headed over to Mcconkey’s and did the bowl run but the snow was terrible. It was few inches of fresh powder on top but it was crusty underneath and it wasn’t fun at all.

It was time for a lunch break and after that we headed up Mcconkeys again and this time we decided to explore the trees. The first run we dropped into some really tight trees and it was little scary. I wasn’t really linking any turns and it was mainly survival skiing so for the next run i decided to go into area with trees more spaced apart and it was more fun. This area is known as glading in black forest, not sure if i would rate it as double black.

The best part was the lower run which was almost like a natural half pipes with lots of whoops and small jumps and it was the best run of the day for me. Personally i felt like PCMR redeemed itself for me with this run, i did it couple more times and then it was time to figure out way to head back.

Heading back it was the worst snow of the day on the last run and me being lazy/tired i fell couple more times but didn’t loose my ski so that was good.

It was good day at PCMR but i was looking forward to snowbird lot more the next day specially since it had got some fresh snow and was going to snow during the day as well.

Snowbird/Alta

The road was closed but it was expected to open at 8am so we left as early as possible and we got to snowbird just before the lifts opened. It was still snowing and when we got there none of the lifts were running.

When i bought my pass i had to buy the snowbird/alta combined pass because of the MVP premium discount and given the fact that none of the lifts were running at bird i decided to take the shuttle to Alta and check that out instead. I didn’t really want to wait in line and deal with the crowds at snowbird.

When i got to Alta there was a big line for Collins lift so i decided to jump on the wildcat lift instead and it was great. I had to be careful since the visibility wasn’t great but there were fresh tracks to be made everywhere.

After couple of laps i decided to check out Collins and brave the long lines, it was about 10 mins in the singles but totally worth it. Some people were talking about sugarloaf being open so i decided to head over there from collins and ended up spending most of my day there.

It was definitely the best chair of the day, there were times when the visibility was absolutely none but since i was doing laps on the same chair i was getting more comfortable and it didn’t matter. I was having a blast.

I was told the best terrain is off the supreme lift but i was apprehensive about trying to get on more advanced unknown terrain specially when there was limited visibility.

Limited Visibility at Alta

The plan was to do some turns together with a friend of mine who was skiing at snowbird so i decided to head out there but all the gates were closed except for Blackjack traverse and it was an adventure.

Earlier in the day i had seen sign for snowbird from the Wildcat lift and i asked the lifties whether it was open or not and it was open. I followed the sign and it seemed like a traverse through the trees but after a while i was completely lost on where to go.

I wasn’t sure whether i had to stay high up or descend and the path down was quite steep in the trees with me being uncertain whether i was over some cliffs or not. I was little scared at this point but luckily for me there was some guy who came and he was heading in the same direction. He said that i had to follow orange markings on the trees and that was the only sign, it was sketchy but after a while i got out of the trees. This time i could see avalanche danger signs at bird, i got out of the area as soon as possible and even got some fresh powder.

I would not recommend this traverse to anyone who isn’t an advanced skier or familiar with the terrain, if it wasn’t for that guy i would have probably gotten lost in the trees and ended up somewhere in middle between snowbird and alta.

Once i got back to snowbird i decided to ride the peruvian express since we had already decided to be back at the car at 3.30. I headed down from the lift without paying much attention to the signs and it made for some good mogul skiing. I was tired so was stopping after every few turns and after 3 runs on the chair i decided to call it a day.

Snowbird

Since yesterday i missed out on skiing snowbird and everyone was raving about mineral basin area, i wanted to head over there first thing in the morning. It seemed like tram would be a slow way to get to mineral basin since i could take peruvian express and then go through the tunnel but i wanted to experience the tram so i waited and rode it. When we got to the top mineral basin was still closed so i decided to do a lap on little cloud and it was super nice.

I loved the groomed wide bowl of regulator johnson, it had few inches of fresh and made for great skiing. When i took the lift back up, mineral basin had opened up so it was time to head there. After i did lap or two there, i saw the powder paradise had opened up and even though it was mostly lapped up i decided to go there and was able to get my own fresh tracks it was nice.

I was eyeing road to provo from little cloud express and had decided to be one of the first ones to be there when it opened up. So i was just doing laps around that area, ski patrol was still doing avy work and when it seemed that they were getting closer i decided to wait for it.

I waited half an hour for it and when it was about to open the line was at least 100 people long and it was a mad dash for it. I was probably among the first 15 people to go through the gate and instead of going farther into the traverse i just dropped in as soon as i could and it was awesome. I have no words to describe the feeling and it was great to be part of the crowd since it felt that everyone was feeding off each others energy. There were plenty of loud happy shouts and high fives once we got back to the chair lift. It was a huge adrenaline rush and i did couple more laps though of course they weren’t as great as the first one. It was all tracked out in matter of minutes.

Waiting for Road to Provo

After lunch i did a lap on gad zoom but the snow wasn’t that great and it was time to head back to the other side. Early in the day i had thought about dropping into a chute at top of mineral basin but i chickened out so i wanted to hit it and redeem myself. I dropped in and managed to ski fine, the snow would have been lot better early in the morning though. I decided to go through the tunnel for the heck of it and then call it a day.

Canyons

Some folks in the group had bought 2 day tickets for PCMR but since i wasn’t too impressed by it on the first day, i decided to go check out Canyons instead.

I knew Ninety-Nine 90 was the lift for advanced terrain and i wanted to get there first thing but i was disappointed by the snow. It was fairly crusty and not fun at all, plus me being tired from 3 days of skiing wasn’t helping too. The hike to the nearby peaks to go off boundary was really tempting but since i was by myself i didn’t want to risk it.

The quicker way to get to Ninety-Nine 90 was to take Orange Bubble express to thunder mountain express instead of red gondola to thunder mountain express.

From top of 9990, i headed over to red pine chutes so that i could get to a wide open bowl which promised some fresh tracks but unfortunately as i traversed over there it was closed. I dropped into red pine chutes and snow was better than the previous run but i had to be careful to avoid some cliffs. I wanted to traverse over to one side but was unsure if it involved any jumps or not so i took the safer visible path down.

Looking down Red Pine Chutes, Canyons Resort

I was planning on doing the mountain tour offered but it was full so i talked to one of the hosts and he suggested that i head over to dreamcatcher and dreamscape lifts for best chance of good quality snow and some advanced/intermediate runs. I took his advice and wasn’t disappointed. It made for some really fun tree skiing with fresh snow on the ground. It wasn’t as crusty underneath and i did few laps on both the chairs.

After lunch i was tempted to go back on Ninety Nine 90 but that didn’t seem like a good idea since i was tired so after couple of runs i decided to call it a day. It was time to get to the airport and head back home.

Overall it was a great trip and for me the preference of resorts would be Snowbird/Alta, Canyons and then park city. On my next trip to SLC i would prefer staying closer to snowbird instead of park city and then just ski there. Canyons would be a great option if they had some fresh snow, the backcountry seems so easily accessible from the resort. PCMR, i have no intentions of going there again, Canyons is way better option in park city.

My Mammoth Story

This blog post is inspired by a mini site created by Mammoth Mountain and here is my Mammoth story.

This year will be my 5th season at Mammoth and in the past three years i have skied close to 100 days on the mountain, i consider it to be my home away from home though technically it is my third home since i grew up in Mumbai, India.

I caught Skiing bug in 08 and did few trips to local LA resorts, took some lessons but i wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to get better and the only way to do it would be to go often and slowly push my limits. I had heard about MM being one of the best places to ski and luckily Mammoth that year offered their season pass (MVP) to new members. So without ever visiting Mammoth, not knowing anyone who skies regularly i decided to buy the pass. The rationale being that if i bought the pass i would force myself to go to mammoth often and get better at skiing.

The pass was bought in april and as the season arrived i found out about different meetup groups hosting regular trips to Mammoth on the weekends and it was easy for me to join those and make some new friends.

During my first visit to Mammoth for the entire day i only got on Discovery chair (Beginner). I was doing laps on the same two runs and it didn’t matter, I was enjoying myself and having a great time. One of the guys mentioned that the group was going to meet at Mccoy at 10am and then ride together/take pictures and i looked at him blankly. I had no clue what he was talking about and had no intentions of getting on harder runs. I wanted to take it slow and just enjoy being on the slopes.

In first season i never went to the top since i didn’t have confidence in my skiing to be able to make it down in one piece. I met lot of new folks, made new friends who were willing to be patient with me, help me out with my skiing. For the most part i was skiing alone doing my own thing and progressing slowly at the same time. At the end of the season i got in about 15-20 days and considered myself an intermediate skier.

This is how my journey began and now 4 seasons later, 3 of them taking season long lessons, I am finally comfortable skiing most of the slopes on the mountain. I have met so many new people, made awesome friends, it has been a life changing experience for me and i plan to enjoy it for the rest of life.

As i plan to venture into Backcountry skiing and exploring other resorts around the country, Mammoth will always be the best for me and I can’t imagine a life without my home away from home.

My Mammoth

Utah Road Trip

I have wanted to visit Arches and Canyonlands national park for a while now and recently i had some time off work so i decided to take a road trip out to those parks. Initially i hesitated to take this trip and government shutdown happened and it wasn’t possible to go anyway but when utah decided to open its parks i decided to go for it for sure.

I tried to find some company for this trip but i suppose since this was planned during the week no one had time plus i wanted to do it during the week so that the parks along with vegas won’t be super busy. The initial plan was to leave LA on monday (10/14) morning, spend monday night in vegas and then tuesday morning head over to Moab. Spend 3 days camping/hiking in arches and canyonland and then on way back spend Thursday night in vegas and back to LA on friday but my trip turned into something totally different.

My plan was to wing it and find a campsite in one of the parks but then when i did little more research i found the campsites could be full so i tried to book something in advance but the parks reservation site was down because of the shutdown. All the campsites at Dead Horse Point state park were booked so i decided to book my camp site at the archview resort which seemed to be closer to both the parks and quite convenient. I booked it for 3 nights instead of 2 which i had planned earlier and it turned out to be a wise decision.

I wasn’t planning on doing anything during the weekend but a last minute dive trip to oil rigs came up and i couldn’t say no to that, oil rigs are one of my favorite dive sites around LA and i will dive them every chance i get.

I took my sweet time getting ready monday morning and left LA around noon for Vegas, i reached vegas just in time to watch the colts vs chargers and much to my disappointment the colts lost and i didn’t get enough fantasy points from TY Hilton or Antonio Gates. I stayed at Rio and was really impressed by the rooms, after the game went out to have some fun. yes what happens in vegas stays in vegas :)

Next day i left vegas pretty early in the morning since it was going to be almost 8hr drive with all the breaks. To my surprise the official speed limit as i left vegas was 75 and then 80 in Utah, it was a very welcome change as compared to 70 or 65 on most of california freeways. After i got into I-70 the landscape changed a lot and i took my time stopping at various view points and taking pictures. I was making some good time so wasn’t in a hurry anymore so i did stop at almost every possible viewing area.

Castle Valley overlook

Looking over Castle Valley

I-70

The road winding through

Almost after 9 hours i reached archview resort and immediately got my campsite established. Next order of business was to get dinner and i decided to drive to Moab which is about 9 miles away from this place. I wanted to go to the information center and get more information about the parks and the things to do but it was closed. I had dinner at a nice italian restaurant and walked in town for a bit. I really liked the small town vibe of Moab and wished i had more time to explore it.

I decided to visit Canyonlands first on wednesday for some reason i don’t quite remember. i think it had to do something with the moon rise times not sure. After havign breakfast i left for canyonlands and headed to information center to find out what my options were etc. I did entertain thought of possibly doing a backpacking trip but there were no permits available.

After looking at the map, i was intrigued by the idea of possibly going on unpaved roads which require a 4×4 and would offer better views of the park but there was a side note to check the conditions of the road first. I spoke with the ranger and he said all the roads were in pretty good conditions so i decided to take the shafer trail road and hike to the gooseneck overlook for views on the Colorado river.

The road looked pretty steep and scary and going down into the canyon i was little scared but it was totally worth it. The trail to the overlook is pretty short and i did get good views of the colorado river, it wasn’t anything spectacular but it was nice nonetheless. As always i took my time taking pictures and enjoying the views. The drive back wasn’t as bad as i expected though it was nice to be back on the paved road. I was planning on stopping at all the viewing points on the way and do the small hikes to the various look out points and it worked out well.

Shafer trail

Looking back at Shafer trail descending into the Canyon

Colorado River from Gooseneck overlook on white rim road.

Colorado River from Gooseneck overlook

Next on the way was Mesa Arch which is a small arch overlooking the canyon and a good spot for some sunrise photography but i was too late for that. It is half a mile hike which offers good view of the canyons. I planned to come back here for some night photography, i thought it would make for some interesting shooting and the hike itself was pretty straightforward and short.

Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch

Going further along on the road i stopped at buck canyon overlook and then i decided to have lunch before doing the hike to white rim overlook. As i started this hike there was barely anyone on the trail as compared to the mesa arch which was quite crowded. At the end this hike gave some spectacular views of the canyons but the light wasn’t great for photography and that is when i decided to experiment with HDR feature of my camera.

I am not a fan of HDR in general but then when i saw the results i was pretty sold on it and i was taking most of the pictures using the inbuilt HDR functionality, even though after processing everything i ended up deleting most of them. I came across a lone tree on the edge and it was fun taking pictures of it and playing around. i spent more than 5 minutes at this one spot, thank god for digital cameras that i didn’t have to worry about the amount of pictures i took.

Lonely tree

The lonely tree

The road ends in spot where you can hike to grand point overlook which is the southern end of island in the sky area and offers pretty amazing views of the le sal mountains and the canyons on the east side of the park. The entire hike is on the rim and then later on it switches to the other side of the park. It was the only time when i felt that i should ask someone else to take my picture and i did get one taken.

Looking over at the vast canyons

Looking over

It was getting pretty close to sunset so i had to think about how much time i had left and all that stuff. I wanted to do the syncline loop hike but it was 8.3 miles so i wouldn’t have time for it so i decided to go to the upheaval dome over look trail for sunset but before that i did have time to go to murphy point overlook which was 3.6 miles and quite easy in terms of elevation gain.

This hike presented a totally different landscape and vegetation was completely different on this trail which was quite interesting. The trail itself was lined with old tree branches which was something unique. I didn’t come across anyone else on this hike and it did give present some good views at the end of it but i was happy to be on this trail for the fact that there was no one else on it and the landscape was very different than what i had seen earlier.

Tree trunks lined up on murphy trail

Tree trunks lined up along the trail.

I was cutting it quite close to sunset and i didn’t want to be on the road when it was happening since i wanted to shoot something cool during that time. I had two more points of interest left and i hurried over to green river overlook and was completely disappointed, it was mainly because i was there at the wrong time of the day. This overlook faces west and the sun was about to set so the entire valley was pretty washed out in terms of the light. I didn’t even fire a single shot and then drove to upheaval dome as fast as i could.

This was going to be the my sunset trail and the first overlook is only a 15 minute hike but it gives you view of this crater which is a mystery but in terms of photography isn’t too exciting. So i moved on as fast as i could and the sun was pretty close to setting but then next overlook was another mile away and the trail was tricky to find at certain times.

I decided to be extra cautious and didn’t want to get lost at night, even though it was full moon night and i was carrying a headlamp i was in no mood to do some route finding. So i stopped midway and waited for sunset, i didn’t get the views i was hoping for but it was still nice.

Sunset over Le Sal Mountains

Sunset over Le Sal Mountains

I got back to the car when there was still some twilight out and i desperately wanted to do some night photography so on the way back i decided to head over to mesa arch. I wasn’t worried about this hike at night because i had done it earlier during the day and sort of scoped it out.

It was pretty wide and the trail is very easy to follow so i put on my headlamp and started the hike. I did take some pictures of the arch and also used my head lamp for some lighting effects but unfortunately focussing was an issue and none of the pictures were in focus. I later found out the trick to get proper focus during the night and it helped me the next day while doing night photography in arches.

It was a pretty long day but i was satisfied that i had covered most of the areas of the park though there is lot more to explore and see at canyonlands. I went to Island in the sky area but there in future i would love to drive all the way along the white rim road and camp out there plus there seem to be some really interesting hikes along this road too. Plus the other parts of the park, Needles and the Maze have so much more to offer so they would be fun to check out too.

I woke up early next morning and it was time to check out arches national park. While talking to one of the couple who was camping next to me, they mentioned that devil’s garden was a really fun 7+mile hike and something not to be missed so i kept that in mind. I went over to the visitor center to get more information about the hiking in the park but they didn’t have hiking map and i just got general information about things to do.

As soon as i entered the park the landscape caught my attention and i simply loved it. I stopped at the park avenue and courthouse towers view points briefly along with couple of other spots before reaching the trailhead for Devils Garden. I hadn’t seen a single arch so far but i was in love with this park, i knew that i have to come back here for more and just hike around.

Rock formations at Arches National Park, Utah

Rock formations at Arches National Park, Utah

I started the hike at almost 10.30 but i was in no hurry my plan was to just go with the flow and see as much as i could. I decided to take every side trail to all the arches and take as many pictures as i could. The more time i spent at this place, the more in love i fell with it. It is really hard to explain but i could easily wander for days in this area without getting bored, there was a certain element of calmness to it even though there were lots of people there.

The arches the i visited were tunnel, pine tree, landscape, navajo, partition, double O and private. all of these are on this loop with some having a small side trail, i even visited the rock formation called devils angel which isn’t too spectacular and can be avoided. I am not going to put all the pictures of arches in this post, they can be found on my photography site by clicking on any of the pictures.

While taking a side trail to Navajo arch, i saw someone carrying a tripod and was wondering why would one need a tripod in this broad daylight and sure enough when i got to the arch i took out my tripod as well :)

Navajo Arch

Navajo Arch, had to use tripod for this shot.

Hiking along this trail i met some folks and asked them about capitol reef national park since it was something i could visit on the way back to LA and it was worth it according to them so i kept it as an option for tomorrow. As always i spent my sweet time taking pictures of the arches and other things on the way.

I tried to spend as much time as i could on this trail and just enjoy the landscape and by the time i got back it was almost 3pm. At this point i figured there was no way i could visit everything in the park and i was ok with it since i had such a great time at Devil’s garden.

Delicate arch was the place to be for sunset so before that i had enough time to see skyline and broken arches. I went over to sand dune arch and the place was packed with kids partly because there was lots of sand there was no way i was going to get a good clear shot of it and i was ok with it.

Initially i thought the hike to delicate arch was 3 miles one way and i planned my time accordingly but when i got to trailhead i found that it was 3 miles RT oh well nothing i could do about it now. This is by far the most popular trail and most folks want to be there for sunset which is something i would recommend to everyone who visits arches national park. If there is one thing that you have to do is to view the delicate arch during sunset.

Delicate arch during sunset

Delicate Arch during sunset.

I got to the arch there was a crowd of people just sitting in front of it and i soon found a spot and setup my tripod as well. It was still half an hour before sunset so i decided to get closer to the arch and shoot some pictures. It was hilarious to see everyone pose inside the arch to take pics and they were sort of doing for the whole crowd.

Sun started going down and the whole landscape changed with a golden glow on the arch as well as snow capped le sal mountains in the background. Once in a while someone stupid would try to get into the arch to take some pictures and everyone would start booing them, it was funny.

My camera battery died and i had a spare one which i thought was fully charged but to my surprise it didn’t have much charge left either, i would have been devastated not to be able to take any pictures of the spectacular show that mother nature was putting on for everyone but i decided to be conservative about it and it was all good. Now that i think about it my battery lasted for every one of my night shots later as well so maybe it wasn’t too bad.

I thought about staying at the arch for moon light but with my battery issues i didn’t think i would have had any success plus i was really pleased with the shots i got so i decided to head back and do some night photography on my way out of the park.

I stopped at the courthouse and park avenue viewpoint to do some night photography and was extremely happy with the results and specially with my new learned trick to keep everything in focus i was having good success. It was almost 9 and i was really hungry since i didn’t have a proper lunch so i decided to head to Moab so have some proper dinner and then it was time to crash.

Night time shot of Tower of Babel with The organ in the background.

Night time shot of Tower of Babel with The organ in the background.

Even though i didn’t visit all the areas of arches i was really happy with how the trip turned out to be and totally content with heading back home. I wanted to break down the drive by stopping in vegas for friday night but the hotels were crazy expensive so i decided to try my luck with couchsurfing plus there was option of visiting capitol reef too.

I woke up friday morning with nothing set in stone and i didn’t have any specific plans as to where i was going to spend the night. worst case scenario i would wing it all the way to LA in one shot, it would be pretty stressful but possible. At the last moment i did find a couch surfing host in vegas which was great so the plan was to crash at his place for the night and then head to LA on saturday morning.

I had kept the route for capitol reef in mind just in case i decided to take a detour and while on the road it was a last minute decision to do so. I was just planning on driving through capitol reef national park on the way to vegas but then i thought that why not spend the night there and camp as well if there was space available.

As i started getting to the park the landscape changed again and the fall colors were still present, it was really nice to see that. I stopped at the visitor center and asked if there was any space at the campgrounds and sure enough they had one spot available. I took that spot immediately and now it was time for me to see what i could do out here in half a day.

Fall Colors on way to Capitol Reef National Park

Fall Colors on way to Capitol Reef National Park

The previous day i had some issues with blisters so i had to patch that first before i could think of going on any hikes. there is a spot out here called sunset spot so i knew i wanted to be there for sunset and between then n now i had few hours to kill. I saw the hike for hickman bridge which looked interesting but when i got to the trailhead it was closed due to rock fall danger oh well.

I decided to take the 10 mile scenic drive which was interesting but then i got to the end of it i saw the capitol gorge road which is an unpaved road. I hadn’t thought about it earlier for some reason and i got excited by the looks of it. I drove ahead and it didn’t disappoint at all plus at the end of it there is a hike just over a mile long into the gorge which was also nice though the tanks were not that exciting.

Capitol Gorge drive

Driving into Capitol Gorge

I had to go back to camp to get my head lamp and there was still some time left before sunset so i decided to take pictures of the deer hanging around. They were just grazing at the campground without any care in the world and i have never come so close to them anytime so it was perfect opportunity to test out my 70-200 for wildlife photography. I would have been happier with a tripod but it was too much work plus i had to get going to sunset point.

Mule deer leaping over the fence.

Leaping Mule Deer

Headed off to sunset point which is 1/3 rd of a mile hike and set up my tripod, the sunset was nice and the mountains got a really nice golden glow but unlike the arch there wasn’t any specific feature that i wanted to take pictures of but it was still nice.

Got back to camp and it was time for dinner and after that i had already decided to hike the 1.5 mile long fremont river trail which started from the campground. The moon had risen and i didn’t need my head lamp but the trail was covered with trees so i had to use my headlamp more than i wanted to. I took some pictures and went further along the trail but something didn’t feel right. I was spooked for the first time while hiking alone and going further along on the trail by myself didn’t seem like a good idea so i decided to turn around. I did take some pictures of the campground before heading back to bed and while doing so i met someone who mentioned about mountain lions in the area so my decision to turn back was definitely a good one.

campground at capitol reef national park

Campground in Full Moon

Next day morning i packed up and it was time for me to head back to LA, i wasn’t interested in stopping anywhere for one more night and having to deal with the vegas traffic on sunday so i was going to drive to LA in one day. It was around 10pm that i reached LA.

Overall it was a wonderful trip and i was glad that i decided to stop at Capitol Reef national park. One of the things about traveling solo is that i could do whatever i wanted and whenever i wanted. It won’t be my last time visiting these wonderful parks for sure and there is so much more to explore and see specially at canyonlands. Heck i would go back just to see another sunset at Delicate arch, it was simply magical.

Denali Expedition 2013

Since climbing Mt Shashta last year on my own i was very keen on climbing Denali and figured this year would be a good time to do so. Once i got the vacation approved i had to go for it after E3 since at that time i was working with G4, it also mean’t that i would get more time to train.

The training, entire climb has been a great experience and it was a total roller coaster ride of emotions, physical and mental strength. Instead of writing one long blog post about the whole thing, i think it will be better to break it down into parts.

Preparing for the climb: The Training

Getting to 11k Camp

Surviving the Storm and getting to High Camp

Patience at High Camp and the return Journey.

My Tips for Denali climb

High Resolution pics from the entire climb can be viewed here. you can also prints from this site if you wish. Entire collection is posted on facebook, if you are interested in obtaining high resolution of some picture then let me know.

Tips for climbing Denali

This is final post in series of blogs that i have written for my denali experience. main page can be found here.

Alpine Ascents has a great 6 month training program and if you want to follow that here is the link.

I don’t want to give out a training regimen or some generic guidelines in this blog post. Having gone through the slog myself, i feel i can share some things which are useful before and while being on the mountain.

1) Train with a sled, dragging a 60lb sled can be really challenging and it will helpful if you manage to train with it.

2) If you are not able to train with a sled then just do a lot of deadlifts or some similar exercise to strengthen your lower back.

3) Try to find a training partner or talk with someone close to you so that you are motivated and can keep on track with whatever training programme/regimen you choose. Take breaks, listen to your body as you deem fit.

4) Invest in really good sleeping bag, i had mountain hardware ghost -40 degree bag which is amazing. Chances are you will end up sleeping with your inner boot liners, water bottles and some more gear inside your bag so make sure it is roomy as well. Similarly buy quality gear and don’t go for cheap stuff which might not last or will freeze and not work anymore.

5) Pack a variety of different lunch snacks by that i mean something salty as well as sugary. I had carried mainly nuts and chocolate along with protein bars and at the end of the trip i was sick of them and craving something really salty which i hadn’t thought of.

6) Carry some reading material, i had kindle to save me from the boredom of the tents. you can only talk and interact with your tent mates so much when you are stuck in your tent for days.

7) If you pee as much as i do make sure you carry a pee bottle which won’t get completely filled up at night, my bottle almost over flowed couple of times and it wasn’t fun. Not to mention that during the storm days because of the same reason i didn’t hydrate as much as i should have. Some people empty the bottles inside vestibule but i not fan of that.

8) Whenever you establish camp make sure all your gear is accounted for and placed in such a way that if it snows then it won’t get buried/lost. I made mistake of leaving my crampons outside because i was being lazy and was worrying about them when it started snowing. Luckily, David moved them along with the pack.

9) Always cover your backpack if possible, i had my down stuff get wet on the first day and if i hadn’t got chance to dry it out, my life could have miserable.

10) Similarly cover your boots with gaiters so that snow doesn’t get inside the plastic shell and put the liners away inside your sleeping bag to keep them warm or put them inside the tent at the very least.

These things might seem trivial but trust me at altitude all the trivial problems appear to be huge. I suppose this is for now and i will keep in updating this page as i think about more things.

High Resolution pics from the entire climb can be viewed here. you can also prints from this site if you wish. Entire collection is posted on facebook, if you are interested in obtaining high resolution some picture then let me know.

Denali: Waiting at High Camp and the return journey.

This is part 4 in series of blogs that i have written for my denali experience. main page can be found here.

July 9th

It was a beautiful day and we could have made a summit attempt but it was a scheduled rest day and rightly so. Everyone including me was pretty beat up from the move yesterday we needed a rest day. Initially the plan was to go back down to the ridge and pick up our cache but everyone was so tired that we decided against it. The guides could have gone down and retrieved all of our cache but then they also needed rest and had to be on top of their game for the summit attempt tomorrow.

Not all of us were feeling comfortable with the amount of snack food we had for the summit attempt specially me and Becky. I thought to myself that i would be totally ok if we had to go down and bring our cache even if it mean’t that we had to take a rest day tomorrow and postpone our summit attempt. Dennis raided some abandoned cache and we found a lot of goodies in there which we distributed among ourselves so that our snack bag was looking really good for the summit attempt.

Everyone was feeling great and looking forward to the summit attempt tomorrow but as always mother nature had the final word.

Later in the evening a storm rolled in and it started snowing. It was pretty windy outside and i went to bed thinking that there was no way we were going to make a summit bid with the wind being so bad and indeed as it turns our i was right.

Jun 10th

It was windy and still snowing when we got up so as expected there wasn’t going to be a summit bid. Me and Konrad decided to build some walls around our tent and got to work. I felt much better than yesterday and figured building those walls would be a good exercise for acclimatization. It was hard work but i was happy to do it and felt good while doing it too.

our tent in the background with walls in front.

Our guides teamed up with another group of guides to retrieve our cache today and i was united again with all the protein bars and shot blocks that i had carried. I immediately consumed a protein bar and my body did not like it, it was processed within 10 mins and i had to go use the CMC. I was little bit worried but then for my next bar i decided not overwhelm my body with protein and slowly munch on it which worked way better. I had read that at high altitude its hard for your body to process fat and protein and i learnt it the hard way. :)

I was feeling great but for some reason my O2 saturation level was hovering only at around 70 even after two days at altitude, i wasn’t too concerned by it but Dennis was and it was something in the back of my head. Leslie, who is a doctor, wanted to listen to my breathing but a stethoscope wasn’t available, it would have been really interesting to see what she would have found. I wasn’t planning on taking Diamox or any other drug to help me with altitude sickness since i wanted to see how far i could push myself and i never took it.

We tried to go the edge of the ridge to get in some views of the mountains nearby but it was pretty overcast. Rest of the day was spent inside our tent playing cards and i was regretting a tad bit not carrying kindle with me to kill some time. Its funny that while writing this blog i am trying to recollect how exactly did i spend my time in the tent and i can’t even though its just over a week. We spent so much time just basically doing nothing inside the tent that its not remotely surprising that i am unable to recollect it.

In the evening it cleared up a bit and we could see the autobahn which we had to cross to get to Denali pass and it wasn’t a pretty sight. It was loaded with snow and the avalanche danger had increased exponentially, guides from every team were worried about it and Dennis explained to us that it would take at least 24-48 hours for snow to settle down or a slide for it clear so that we could even think about crossing it.

The route was wind loaded.

At that moment i knew it in my heart that it was over, some of the folks had extra time on their hands and were planning to stay or some still had a glimmer of hope of making a summit bid but i came to realization that it wasn’t going to happen for me. I had to get back to work and didn’t really want to deal with cancellation/change of flights which cost an arm and a leg along with other expensive logistics.

I was at peace with my decision and wouldn’t have any regrets or issues if we decided to head back down tomorrow itself instead of waiting one more day for snow to settle/slide so that a summit bid could be made. I went to bed that night thinking that i would let Dennis know in the morning that i was ok with us leaving tomorrow itself but then my mind played lot of tricks on me. I couldn’t sleep at all and was going through so many emotions that night, so many dreams, expectations, all that training time, effort and money put into the climb and it came down to this. At one point i was on verge of tears and badly wanted a hug from someone, it was crazy feeling so many different emotions in such a short time.

Finally i told myself that i had nothing to loose by staying one extra day and was fretting over nothing and somehow managed to go to bed at around 3am. In retrospect it was kind of silly of me thinking too much about all this but i couldn’t help it.

July 11th

We woke up to a clear sunny but windy day and could see that the autobahn was completely wind loaded, it felt that traveling across it would certainly trigger an avalanche. The wind was depositing more snow on it and we could see the wind drifts over the entire ridge.

I talked with Dennis and told him that i would be ok with leaving today but he said that no was moving on the mountain today because of avalanche danger so we had to stay put and in retrospect i am glad that we did because we were offered some spectacular views of the mountains nearby

We were playing cards in the tent when Mark stopped by and announced that it was very clear outside and the views were outstanding. I got my camera and headed to the edge and the rock formation known as diving board and indeed it was amazing. I snapped some cool pics and then got creative trying to capture reflections on people’s goggles. Mark asked Dennis if we could go and stand on the edge of the diving board so he belayed us while each of us went and stood on the diving board. Becky took the prize for the best pose by doing a yoga pose on the diving board.

Konrad and his goggles.

The Diving Board

Best pose.

After we were done, Dennis wanted to take a group picture and at that point i realized that it was truly over. There wasn’t an official announcement but it made sense and i was ok with it. Later in the evening an official announcement was made that the 3 person team of chinese folks along with Konrad accompanied by Dennis would be staying little longer to see if the weather would improve for a summit bid while the rest of us would descend in the morning.

Our Team

I had no intentions of staying longer since i had to be at work on monday and didn’t really want to deal with change of flights etc. Some other folks would have liked to stay longer as well but Dennis told that unless something drastically changed the chances were way less than 50% of even making an attempt. Knowing the fact that the expedition was officially over i slept lot better that night.

July 12th

When we woke up it was probably the coldest day we had encountered, it was sunny but the wind was blowing at over 20 mph consistently and it was really cold. We some how managed to pack our stuff, take all the group gear and got going.

When we got moving as always in the beginning i had problem catching my breath but it lasted less than a minute and i soon regained my composure on the ridge where a single misstep could prove fatal. It was a very clear day, the clearest that we had so far, no i still couldn’t see Russia, which was great because we could experience the fun of descending on the ridge and how exposed it was on either side.

The steep drops on the either side made the whole descend really fun and thrilling, i was really able to appreciate the route and the rangers had mentioned that this was the best part of the climb and i could see why. Yesterday we had heard about couple of russian guys slogging through all the snow and because they had to track the snow it took them about 12 hours to get to the base of fixed lines from the 14k camp and they spent the night at the bottom of Washburn’s thumb where we met them. They admitted to being stupid and desperate, hopefully they made it to the summit.

Washburn’s Thumb on the ridge.

We took a break just before the fixed lines and descending the fixed lines wasn’t a problem but then what followed next wasn’t fun at all. It had snowed more than a foot and all that wet snow was sticking to the crampons, the anti balling plates weren’t working at all so we had to hit our crampons every couple of steps. It felt that i was back in Rainier where my crampons didn’t have any anti balling plates and i had ended up with more than 6 inches of snow sticking on my crampons.

I tried glissading but with my backpack and no so steep slope it didn’t work that well so we had no choice but to go through that entire section slowly, slipping every now and then and just cursing in general. It took us over 2 hours to get 14k camp just from the bottom of the fixed lines. For a change we were looking forward to put on the snow shoes which were cached at 14k camp.

When we got to 14k camp it had a deserted feeling, the NPS station was all wrapped up and there were only 4-5 tents along with couple of other teams who were descending with us from the high camp. It certainly was the end of climbing season on Denali and you could tell.

It was now time to put our sleds and if you have read everything till now you know how happy i get when i have to drag those god damn sleds. When we dug up our cache i was more concerned about my 70-200 lens which was wrapped in multiple layers of plastic and it seemed fine which was a relief. It was an extended break at this camp, I was still in mood to go to the edge of the world but no one else wanted to plus initially the plan was to sleep at camp 1 at base of ski hill for few hours and then go to the base camp but everyone else wanted to get to base camp as soon as possible. I didn’t blame them for thinking that way but i do love my sleep, i had no choice and it was going to be death march right from high camp all the way to base camp.

We put on our sleds and got going from 14k camp, I was in the middle with Becky leading our rope team and Lauren in the back. So going downhill i had to control Becky’s sled so that it wouldn’t hit her and Lauren would have to worry about my sled and hers. It was an absolute nightmare getting to windy corner.

I kept on getting pulled by the weight of Becky’s sled in front of me and had to really hurry and the fact that we had to rush to get to windy corner and out of the rock fall zone didn’t help. I had to ask Becky multiple times to slow down and yet i kept on getting pulled, it wasn’t her fault and she couldn’t help it either since the system is such that the sled was going to keep on pulling me.

We got to windy corner and i asked Lauren there had to be better way, she said that we will turn our sleds upside down on Squirrel and Motorcycle hill so that it won’t pull on me that much and putting the brakes down on the sled could also help. So moving forward during the steep sections of descend we would put the brakes down on the sleds and then take them off on the flat sections. It worked great along with turning the sleds upside down, there was only one section on motorcycle hill where because of a traverse on motorcycle hill i got pinned by the rope and weight of the sleds but it wasn’t that bad.

We got to the 11k camp and took another extended break and almost everyone was out of water so we melted some snow. I picked up significant weight in my sled when i decided to haul the spare 2 person tent which was cached at the camp. I was finally getting over my hatred of the sled and feeling great so didn’t hesitate in taking the extra weight. The sun was also setting and it presented with a really nice pink/orange glow on the neighboring peaks which was cool.

We got going and it definitely seemed like we would get to camp 1 in a single push which was fine with me but then as it was twilight the light on Mt Hunter was simply exceptional. I badly wanted to take out my telephoto lens and shoot but at the same time didn’t want to stop the momentum and not to mention the lens was buried somewhere inside my backpack so it would take some time to get it out.

When we got little closer i asked Becky if she could go any faster but she was having blisters issues of her own so the answer was negative. Oh well, i didn’t really say anything and we kept on going at the pace we were. As soon as we got to the camp i took out the lens and fired few shots, the light had changed and it wasn’t the same but i tried my best. Now it was time to attend to the blisters on my foot, luckily it wasn’t anything too severe and with change of socks i felt that it would be fine. It was a solid couple of hours push from 11k camp to camp 1 and it felt really good doing it without any breaks.

Mt Hunter

It was now time for the final push to the base camp and the upper air strip which involves the dreaded heartbreak hill. Lauren was now leading our rope team and once she gets going there is no stopping her and that was indeed the case. We just kept on going at our steady pace and soon enough we were at the base of heartbreak hill where we stopped to take a small break.

I couldn’t believe it was 8am by the time we started climbing Heartbreak Hill, just over 19 hours ago we were at high camp and now we were almost back to base camp. It was really slow going on the heartbreak hill and i had to use every single muscle in my legs to drag that heavy sled up it. Finally after couple of hours we were back at the upper air strip which is additional half hour hike from the traditional base camp.

The first order of business was to dig up our cache and retrieve those beers. As soon as we started having those lovely bitter refreshments we heard a plane buzzing, oh no we were not ready for it. Not only did we wanted to know our beers but our gear was also not packed properly. We let the other group go in the first flight and after throughly enjoying our well earned beers we caught the second flight out.

Enjoying brews after a 21hr push.

Once we got back to Talkeetna, it was time to get everything in order. I had a scare that i somehow misplaced my camera but luckily it was in my backpack, i was petrified at the thought of losing it. We first got a nice lunch, followed by ice cream and then it was time to sort out all the group gear at the AAI hangar.

By the time we got to Fireweed it was already 4pm and we had made plans to go out for a night of partying at 9.30 so there wasn’t much time to take a nap. After a nice long shower i tried to take a nap but between calling friends and family it was already 6ish and dinner was going to be at 7pm. I tried to nap for a bit but couldn’t so just laid around and tried to transfer the pictures to my laptop but the battery hadn’t been charged for a long time hence it was in deep slumber.

We had dinner and by the time we were done it was already 8.45 and the guides were going to pick us up at 9 to go out in town. Hurriedly we got ready and since there were no mosquitoes this time around i was able to take walk around the inn and it was nice.

Steve and Lauren showed up at around 9.45 and we headed out into town for a night of drinking and partying, what happens in Talkeetna stays in Talkeetna and we got back at around 4am, so yes it was an absolutely fun night of drinking and partying. :)

Took the shuttle next day back to anchorage where we met up with David and had lunch together and after a red eye flight to Los Angeles i was back to work on Monday July 15th.

Overall it was a great experience and i enjoyed every minute of it, the group made the experience even better. We all gelled so well as a team that the guides and everyone else was surprised. Reaching the summit would have been icing on the cake specially after all the waiting that we had to do at the 11k camp and 17k camp.

I absolutely had no regrets at the end of the trip, well not going to edge of world could count as one since i really wanted to get a good view of the cassin’s ridge, it is something that i plan to attempt in 2015 if all goes well.

High Resolution pics from the entire climb can be viewed here. you can also prints from this site if you wish. Entire collection is posted on facebook, if you are interested in obtaining high resolution of some picture then let me know.

Denali: Surviving the Storm and getting to High Camp 17k ft.

This is part 3 in series of blogs that i have written for my denali experience. main page can be found here.

Jun 30th

It was 5am and we decided to take a short nap before waking up at 9am to have pizza for dinner. The wind had really picked up and we were getting some of the weather that denali is famous for. Our plan of doing a carry up beyond windy corner seemed to be in danger but at the same time we needed some cold temps and snow since the rock fall past windy corner was getting really bad and one of the teams decided to call it quits after staying at 11k for 6 days since they thought the rock fall danger was too much and there was nothing but hot weather predicted.

Few hours later we woke up to find that it was snowing and really windy. It was time to get to work and build some snow walls around our sleeping tents and the kitchen tent.

Walls around our tents.

One of things that i wanted to learn out of this adventure was how to build snow walls and i feel it is an important skill to have. The process is not complicated but nevertheless it was nice to experience using the snow saw to chop ice blocks for the wall and building it.

Our plans of carrying load to 14k camp were put on hold and there is nothing we could about it. The gusts were as strong as 60-70 mph with snow. We had some hot drinks and gritz after working for almost 4hrs to build the walls. I wasn’t too interested in eating the gritz so went to bed. For a change we were going to sleep at somewhat of a normal time of 2 am.

For the entire night our tent would shake violently whenever a strong gust would hit but that didn’t prevent me from getting a good nights rest and my sore back felt much better at the end of it. When I woke up the conditions didn’t change much so after having another round of hot drinks n spaghetti for dinner it was time to get back into our tents and hope that the weather improved. We had gotten over a foot of fresh snow so far too bad i didn’t have my skis to enjoy some fresh alaskan powder.

The wind had subsided but it was snowing continuously and we had to do some digging around the tent whenever we got out. After couple days of the same routine, i had lost track of days as the only time we got out of our tents was to have hot drinks and breakfast or dinner. We were still on night schedule and dinners were eaten early in morning and breakfast at nights.

Tent covered in Snow

This wait for weather to improve was really frustrating and chewing into our spare days but there is nothing we could do about it. Our packs, boots and whatever gear that was left outside was frozen and i didn’t even want to entertain the thought of putting on my shoes unless they were heated with warmth of sunshine. The whiteout conditions outside made it impossible to see more than 20 ft, sometimes even less so there was no point in moving and our guides didn’t want to think how windy would it have been at windy corner. Windy corner is a feature on the route where a funnel is created, so when the weather gets bad its even worse at windy corner and travel is not all advisable.

On the bright side we were at relatively low altitude so the storm wasn’t as worse as it was higher up on the mountain and we were eating our spare food so that would mean less stuff to carry. The rock fall danger which prevented one of the teams to climb higher than 11k camp was also minimized due to this snowfall and the crevasses and snow bridges will get better and hopefully on the way back we won’t have to do crazy route finding across the crevasse fields.

Another day passed by with little improvement in the conditions. the storm was supposed to pass by today, i totally lost track of days, but so far it didn’t look like it but once in a while the sun will still try to peek through. Our window of summit was not closed yet, it would just mean days of continous slogging instead taking some of the rest/easy days that we had planned.

In case you are wondering, let me tell you that pooping in that weather was not fun. Its bad enough that you have to sit down butt naked on the cmc but the worse was when you have to wipe. Hands got stone cold rolling up the toilet paper which was wet to begin with and then you have to wipe multiple times. I think this would make for a great torture method, get someone butt naked in the cold and then blow really cold air on them.

July 3rd

It seemed like tomorrow we would be able to make a move and gain independence from 11k camp. We played corn hole, the competition got intense but our team prevailed to take the final game in the series. During breakfast we made plans to move tomorrow and get back on day schedule since the heat was no longer a concern. The plan was to wake up early, have breakfast and then get going as soon as possible. Everyone seemed thrilled but mother nature had the final word.

We had to find ways to kill time.

July 4th.

I wasn’t able to sleep until 3 am and all that while it seemed that the weather had only gotten worse, the wind had picked up and it was snowing. I didn’t think that we would be able to go anywhere. I was right we didn’t gain our independence from 11k camp on 4th july, it was spent playing cards, corn hole and relaxing. The next day looked promising and indeed it was.

July 5th.

I had a good night’s sleep and did dream that all the other groups had left the 11k camp and we were the only ones remaining which was almost the case after breakfast. We were the last group to leave and it wasn’t helped by the fact that Becky lost her ice axe and we had to borrow it from “the old goat” Tom.

Tom and his group of 3 had got to 11k camp yesterday and he had just been the oldest person to summit Denali at ripe age of 78. They had done multiple carries on the mountain and today was their 42nd day of the expedition. Awesome dedication and commitment, i am not sure if i would be able to spend 42 days and counting on Denali.

We got going at around noon and it seemed like we were traveling in the same bad weather that had prevented us from moving during last few days but higher up that wasn’t the case. It was a tough slog with the sleds, i hate them to my guts. i had about 30-35lbs in the sled and about 50lbs in my pack. It was slow going over motor cycle and squirrel hill. Luckily it wasn’t icy and Dennis didn’t have to use the ice screws for additional protection.

Motorcycle hill is where the actual mountaineering on west buttress starts so to speak, the early part of the route can be considered as just plain hiking on the snow but once past the 11k the real fun begins, falls get serious with some serious run outs and the overall steepness of the climb increases considerably.

The weather had improved a lot and going through windy corner we didn’t have to put on all of our puffy layers and not leave any part of skin exposed. I had a really hard time dragging the sled, getting to windy corner i had to ask Lauren to stop once in a while so that i could catch my breath. I was pretty beat up and was going really slow at a snail’s pace or maybe even slower. When we got to Windy Corner, Dennis took out the group gear from my sled which helped me a lot and i felt much better.

We had two more hours to go and the next half hour was the worst in terms of rockfall danger so we had to move really quickly through that section but i started cramping up which was annoying but somehow i managed to get to the next rest stop. I have to admit waiting out the storm for so long made me lazy in terms of taking care of myself, i wasn’t hydrating as much in the last couple of days.

I gulped in more than a liter of water with nuun electrolytes and then had some corn nuts for salt. I figured that would be enough to get me to the 14k camp and indeed it was more than enough. We setup camp and then after having some soup and pasta it was time for bed.

As soon as we got to the camp the light on Mt Hunter was teasing me to take picture with the zoom lens but i wanted to take care of myself first rather than having to worry about taking a picture. However at the end of day i was presented with a much better opportunity and i took full advantage of it. Everyone was pretty beat up from the hike so we weren’t sure whether it was going to be a rest day tomorrow or we would be doing a carry above fixed lines on the ridge.

Twilight on Mt Hunter

July 6th

In the morning we learned that it was going to be carry day to 16200ft on the ridge just above the fixed lines. The guides were also concerned by how much time it took us to carry from 11k camp and how it would factor into actual climb. They asked us to be honest with ourselves and the NPS was going to pack up so we would be one of the last teams on the mountain, a rescue would be really difficult if something were to go wrong.

We all had one on one with the guides and i told them that sled was a big issue for me and i would be fine now since they no longer were used. Lauren had concerns about me having to stop to catch my breath yesterday but i wasn’t too worried since i was confident in my abilities and i knew it was the damn sled that was causing issues for me. My legs and hips are way stronger than lower back and in the last hour of climb yesterday after the cramps i was doing great. i told them that i would do the carry and then depending on how it went make a decision accordingly.

We went over the use of ascenders and my old school ascender even though inoperable by just one hand worked fine. I shed all the extra weight and only took the bare minimum that i needed along with the group gear. The climb to the ridge is fairly steep and the final section has fixed ropes which you have to ascend using an ascender.

After the first break i had a small headache but it disappeared quickly once i drank some water. Now it was time to jump on the fixed lines and after first few steps i got hang of it and it turned out to be pretty fun. I was enjoying hanging on to the ascender and taking a break while others clipped in and out of the rope.

We got at the top of the ridge and went little further up to place our cache. It wasn’t too windy but quite overcast so we got good views of our surroundings only once in a while. When it was time to leave the wind picked up and i thought that i left my beanie behind in camp but it was with me all the time. It was really slow going on the fixed lines since it was windy and me sans the beanie was starting to get a headache because of the cold.

We didn’t stop until we reached camp and i decided to drug myself after dinner to try to get rid of the headache. Tomorrow was going to be a rest day and i was hoping that we could make it out to the edge of the world to see some amazing views of the mountains. i was planning to cache my 70-200 lens at 14k camp so it would hve been good to put it to some use before that.

July 7th

I had a good nights sleep but we woke up to an overcast day and it didn’t seem like we would be able to take the trip to edge of the world. It was snowing and windy, it was kind of day where we wouldn’t be able to travel so i was happy that it was a rest day.

Our campsite at 14k.

It was shocking to find out in the morning that David had decided to call it quits and was planning on descending with another AAI team which had just returned from high camp. He lost battle with the cold and was always having a hard time sleeping and not getting enough rest otherwise he was in great shape. The entire team was really sad to see him leave, if i had to pick one person on whom my money would be to make it to the summit it would have been David.

The day was spent just relaxing, playing cards, sleeping in and trying to get rid of the headache i had picked up earlier. Tomorrow was going to be a huge day since we had to move to the high camp as well as pick up our cache on the way up.

July 8th

With the previous day being stormy i was hoping that today would be clear and indeed that was the case. It would have been a perfect day to go to the edge of the world but we had to move higher. Our plan was to get going at 9am but by the time we got going it was almost noon. Dennis wasn’t happy about it along with the fact that some folks were complaining about the weight of their packs. I was surprised since on Denali you are expected to lug 60 lbs backpacks.

On the carry couple of days ago i didn’t take my camera with me so i told Lauren that we should be the last rope team so that i could chill on the fixed lines and take some pictures. We ended up chilling little too much on the fixed lines unfortunately.

It was a fairly warm day and i had put on my technical base layer which was the only thing i was wearing when we started but when we got to the base of fixed lines it got little windy so i put on my windbreaker. There was another rope team in front of us which was moving really slowly and we went past them before getting to fixed lines.

When we were resting at the base of fixed lines and about to get started they caught up with us, two of our rope teams had started moving and they were about to jump on fixed lines so it would have been convenient for us to follow them and make the other team wait behind us. But being the nice considerate folks that we are, we let them get between our rope teams.

We waited for another 15 mins at the base of fixed lines before we could get moving and then when finally we got on the fixed lines i had all the time in the world to take pictures. The team before us was crawling and with the wind dying down i was starting to sweat like a pig under my windbreaker. It was sucking the life out of me and the pace was so slow that we could have easily taken a nice long nap on the ropes. It was really annoying and frustrating to wait on the fixed lines, we would take one step and then wait for 5 minutes.

Waiting on fixed lines on the Headwall.

We could see our team’s other two rope teams in the front getting to the top while we were still stuck less than half way. Finally after an hour or so, though it seemed like eternity, the leader of group in front of us moved his team to the fixed lines used for descending so that we could get in front of them. It was nice of him but it came little too late, we hurried up to get to the top of fixed lines and i was spent.

We were planning to take a break at our cache location which was 15-20 mins further along the ridge but as soon as i got on top of fixed lines i had to get out of my windbreaker and drink some water. I wasn’t too far off from completely collapsing from exhaustion. We saw Dennis on the ridge trying to see what was going on since we took so long to get to top of fixed lines but it wasn’t our fault.

At the bottom of fixed lines i was feeling amazing, i even entertained the idea of carrying some group gear and my personal cache to the high camp and then possibly trying a summit attempt the next day instead of taking the planned rest day at high camp. But this whole fixed lines fiasco sucked the life out of me and totally knocked the wind out of my sails. I was a shadow of my former self and i slowly trudged along to our cache site.

We took another break at the base of Washburn’s thumb which has a small section of fixed lines but they are not as fun as the ones on the headwall. As we were walking along the ridge it was pretty overcast so we didn’t really get any good views but at the same time i was so tired that i could care less.

I just put my head down and was taking it one step at a time, often asking Lauren to slow down. I was trying to think what went wrong in past couple of hours when we got stuck on the fixed lines and i was feeling so great. We made it past the ridge and saw Dennis taking a break with his rope team. I wanted to take a break as well but Lauren mentioned that the campsite was only 20 mins away.

I was like f*** it and we continued on and soon enough we could see the camp site. It was little cruel path where we had to descend about 50 ft and then hike back up, i wasn’t happy. Finally when we made it to the camp, i immediately took my thermrest, sat down and started hydrating.

We still had to establish our camp i.e. pitch the tents and with David gone it was just me and Konrad. Everything was going on in slow motion, every step, every action was so slow. It just wasn’t me but i think everyone was definitely feeling the altitude, we were at 17,200 ft. I also realized that i hadn’t really consumed too many calories in past couple of days which might be adding to my fatigue so i wanted to make sure that i did eat well before crashing in the tent.

High Resolution pics from the entire climb can be viewed here. you can also prints from this site if you wish. Entire collection is posted on facebook, if you are interested in obtaining high resolution of some picture then let me know.

Denali: Getting to 11K Camp

This is part 2 in series of blogs that i have written for my denali experience. main page can be found here.

As the day of departure came close i was feeling really confident and wanted to make sure that i had everything booked and taken care of. To my surprise i found that i had overpaid for the room at Alaska Backpackers Inn. I used hotels.com for booking and it charged me 30-40$ more than what it would have been had i booked directly through ABI website. I don’t remember what happened when i was booking the room few months ago, whatever it may have been i am never using hotels.com again.

I got dropped off by a co-worker to the airport and TSA didn’t like me carrying the poles as carry on even though i had done it couple of year ago. Luckily i got to the airport way ahead of time so that i could go back and check them in.

My flight was uneventful and i spent most of it reading Backcountry Skiing book and then at anchorage airport i almost derailed my expedition. I had carried all the gear in primarily two backpacks so when one of them arrived at the carousel i picked it up only to later to be told that it belonged to someone else. That person came up to me and asked for it, otherwise i would have easily taken his backpack and he would be stuck with mine which had my plastic boots, snow shoes and some other gear.

We both had the same REI Mars 80 backpack and the thought of someone else having the same backpack never occurred to me, apparently i am not special enough. Crisis averted and then when i reached the offices of the Inn i found that there was no one there. I was perplexed, their office hours are up to 4am in the morning but there was no one to be found and i was stranded outside. I tried calling to no avail but luckily after 5 mins or so someone showed up, though it seemed like an eternity.

Upon checking out my room i was further disappointed with hotels.com and i couldn’t believe that i was paying a pretty penny for that room. ABI is a low budget inn with dorms and hostel type environment and they don’t charge much for that room, it was hotels.com that scammed me. It was 2am in the morning and i had to get my sleep.

Woke up, got ready and had breakfast at Sizzle cafe which was a block away and really enjoyed their eggs benedict. After watching the dish couple of times on Masterchef i have always wanted to try it and it didn’t disappoint. I went back to the Inn, checked out and stored my luggage there. My shuttle for Talkeetna was going to pick me up in the evening at around 5pm.

I had few hours to kill in anchorage so i asked the receptionist about things to do and she asked me what i was interested in and i mentioned it to her that i wanted to see some wildlife and she mentioned about anchorage zoo to me. I almost smacked my head on the desk, i am here in alaska which is famous for all the wildlife roaming around and this chick points me out to the zoo. I politely refused and asked what my other options were and she mentioned about a farmers market in downtown which was only a 15 min walk. Perfect, i could go there and spend some time.

While going to the market i came across a bike rental shop but i initially didn’t show any interest in biking but then at the market they had a booth which highlighted the coastal bike trail and it immediately caught my fancy. I went back to the bike rental, got the map and headed out for the 24ish mile bike ride. I was told that i should be able to see moose on the trail, i was excited for it and kept a lookout.

Soon enough as i got on the trail i was enjoying the bike ride and it was fairly busy. I realized that it would have been much better to take my telephoto lens along with me on this trail, specially when i came across a mama moose and her baby. I was planning to ride the loop and have lunch by Lake Hood at the Millennium Hotel patio but i totally forgot about that and went past it.

Sea Planes

It was cool watching all the sea planes take off and land at Lake Hood sea plane base which is the busiest in the world. It took almost 3 hours for the entire bike ride and my stomach was grumbling. After lunch at the mall, i called my shuttle and found that i had another couple of hours to kill. I spent rest of the time at ABI and was picked up by the shuttle at around 5pm.

Met with Becky, Leslie, Mark and Konrad in the shuttle and found out that i wasn’t the only vegetarian in the group. It was nice to know that Becky was vegan, Mark had other dietary restrictions but lets not get into that.

We stopped at Wasilla to get groceries and then reached Fireweed Station Inn at Talkeetna just in time for dinner. The whole road was really beautiful we couldn’t see Russia but our driver told us about the russian immigrants living in Alaska and the influence it has with the culture.

As soon as we got to Talkeetna we were greeted by mosquitoes, they were everywhere. We met David at the Fireweed who had taken the bus to get to Talkeetna. I loved the setup of Fireweed Station Inn, it was a pity that those damn mosquitoes didn’t allow to roam outside. We had chick pea burgers for dinner and i was stuffed.

Our lead guide Dennis stopped by to say hello and we were planning to leave super early at 7. Dennis mentioned that part of our group who were from China were lost and he was trying to get in touch with them. There could be a remote possibility that we would only be 6 people instead of 9 and i wouldn’t be the one complaining if that happened.

June 23rd

Breakfast was at 6am so got up early, we were joined by the rest of the guides Lauren and Steve. We then headed out to pick our chinese team, Dennis managed to get in touch with them and after picking them up we headed over to AAI hangar to do our gear check and get out food sorted out.

AAI Hangar

We had to carry about 15-20 lbs of lunch snacks and i had only about 10 lbs so i grabbed some of the stuff that looked interesting. I wasn’t planning on eating any cheese for lunch since it would increase chances of me coughing up a storm so i grabbed some nuts and dried fruit stuff along with few packs of corn nuts which turned out to be life saver. From the gear check it was determined that i had to get a pair of intermediate gloves since i bought my mitts for that and they didn’t provide have enough dexterity for doing some of the tasks. It was 10.30 and we had to head over to the National park service for our registration and team briefing.

Climbing in Denali National Park (DNP) is highly regulated and organized which is great. All the trash has to be packed out and there are camp sites with crevasses designated for human waste disposal. NPS provides Clean Mountain Cans (CMC) which are mandatory to use and if caught pooping out in the open without a can or a recyclable bag then you will be immediately asked to leave. NPS has a permanent station at 14k camp but its only for rescue and emergency purposes, they will assist you only if you are going to loose your life or limbs not for general medical problems or support. Once you ask for help from the rangers you are required to descend, you cannot climb any further.

The climbing stats when we began, the summit rate dropped to 68% at the end of season.

We had some delicious pizza after briefing and then went to buy gear. i did find some good ice climbing gloves which i could use during this trip and will be helpful in future. one can never have enough gloves and i think now i have like 6 pairs of them. Talkeetna Air Taxi, the flying company had some problem with their planes so there was remote posibility that we won’t be able to fly today but luckily that didn’t happen and we flew in two groups. i was in the second group.

The flight was really beautiful and as soon as you enter the park you see these huge mountains around you, too bad the flight between the mountains doesn’t last for long and soon enough it was time to descend. Because of warmer than usual temperatures we had to land on the upper air strip since the snow there was firmer than the lower air strip. We couldn’t see Denali from the upper air strip so had to wait to get moving before catching a glimpse of our goal.

View from flight.

Once we landed on the glacier the realty of the climb set in and it was game on. It was a surreal feeling at first to be surrounded by these huge mountains all around you, it makes u feel so insignificant and minuscule in the big scheme of things.

Peaks all around us.

We pitched our tents and after having some burgers for dinner it was time to go to bed. The plan for tomorrow was to travel in middle of night closer to midnight and go half way upto camp 1. Ofcourse this plan was all conditions dependent.

June 24th.

We woke up to some overcast conditions and it was raining which was bad news. It turns out that the temperatures didn’t drop below freezing overnight so it would make for some really crappy snow conditions for glacier travel and the rain was turning all the snow into mush making it worse. So our plan of moving was post poned by a day.

After breakfast we went over some skills and prepared our ice axes, backpacks and sleds for travel. I had to insulate my ice axe, add the sled loop to backpack along with a pack leash so that if I fell into a crevasse i could take the pack off and not worry about it. Rest of the day was spent lazing around and chilling in general. I am glad that i did buy kindle before leaving since i can read some books and write a rough draft of this blog at the same time.

Dinner was noodles and veggies along with potato leek soup which was tasty and then after a while it was time for bed. We had a lot of discussion about a team name and couple of names had to be vetoed by Dennis because they were too raunchy. I think after couple of days we settled on Team Crack Exposure.

Jun 25th

Tonight our first move was planned and before that we had to go over the rope teams and general rules of traveling on a glacier while being roped. So after breakfast we roped up and then went for a walk just around the camp. After we got back Dennis explained to us how the crevasse rescue would work if someone fell in. We didn’t actually practice it, he just explained using small diagrams which gave us an overall view. Our job was to hold the fall and then listen to the guides for instructions.

At around 3pm lisa the base camp manager stopped by and asked everyone to help out flatten the runway so we spent an hour doing that and getting some exercise. We all were in our snow shoes and basically just stomping around so that the flight tracks could be flattened.

I realized that my plastic boots were rubbing little too much on my shins so along with my usual blister taping i taped my shins. I taped my shins with duct tape so its not going to be fun to rip that thing out. Little did i know that it would leave nice rings on my shins which would last for ages.

We had ramen and tasty bites along wih rice for dinner at around 6.30 pm and after some more rest it was time to start packing at around 10pm. The group gear was divided and with about 45 lbs in backpack and 65 lbs in sled it was time to move to intermediate camp.

The initial part of the route was all downhill but it was harder than goin uphill because you have to put the brakes down on the sled an it makes dragging it a lot harder. We couldn’t wait to get the brakes off the sleds. This first downhill section of the route is called Heartbreak Hill or affectionately Heartbreak Hell by some because you have to go uphill on the way back for over a mile at the end of your trip.

We travessed the crevassed glacier at a steady pace and even though we were traveling at the coldest time of the day or night, it doesn’t matter since there is light 24 hours at this time of year, the snow was still soft. Even with snowshoes some folks were punching in and sinking more than a foot. We got to an uphill part and things got much harder and finally after 3hrs we got to the place where we would usually establish intermediate camp but unfortunately that area was heavily crevassed so we had to keep going.

Moving on the Glacier

The next two hours were beyond brutal for me at the end of it there wasn’t a single muscle in my body that wasn’t screaming in agony. I had prepared myself for the fact that after first day my body was going to be sore for the entre climb but didn’t imagine it would be this bad. Oh well this is what i signed up for and have to face it.

One of the reasons that it got lot harder was becasue of the fact that we were late in season and the crevasses were opening up so we had to follow a zig zag path and it was pretty bumpy which it didn’t help with the sleds. These 5 hours provided a solid foundation of me developing my hatred for those god damn sleds.

After couple of hours we found a good spot to establish camp and it was already around 6 in morning. We had traveled for almost 5 n half hours instead of the planned 3. I was dead tired and after getting everything sorted, establishing camp etc i snuck into my sleeping bag at around 7am and didn’t come out of it until 5.30 pm.

The clouds were moving in and it looked pretty ominous so we had quick breakfast at 6.30 pm and went inside our tents. yes you read it right brekfast at 6.30 pm thats the nature of the sport. On crevassed glacier you travel in the coldest part of the day which is night time so that the snow bridges are frozen and you can pass over them lot easily. So on the lower part of the mountain we were on a night schedule.

Jun 26th

Tonight we were going to move to the usual camp 1 and it was going to be a short move. We didn’t eat dinner at our intermediate camp since we would make it to camp 1 in about an hour.

We started at around 2am and within an hour we were at camp 1 and soon enough we had the camp established i.e. pitching th tents and digging holes in vestibule area, moving snow around to make a good platform for the tents was more work than the hike itself.

Moon had risen over Mt Hunter and i wanted to wait till it was exactly over it to get a good shot but unfortunately the clouds moved in and i didn’t get the perfect shot that i had envisioned however the morning sun did present some good light on Mt Hunter and i was happy with it.

Mt Hunter with moon over it.

We had bean and rice burritos for dinner and it was time for bed, we initially thought about doing a carry to 10k but decided against it since we didn’t really had a proper meal since the establishing intermediate camp yesterday. In last 24 hours we only had a breakfast and some snack food.

I didn’t sleep that well as yesterday because i suppose i wasn’t as tired, later in the evening it was nice to get out in the sun. We built ourselves nice sitting platform and relaxed there. The plan tonight was to do a load carry and cache the gear not too far from the traditional camp 3 and then do a back carry to retrieve the cache once we occupy camp 3 which is the same as 11k camp.

Relaxing at camp 1.

Jun 27th

This was going to be our first significant elevation gain and i was little worried about my calf muscles since my snow shoes didn’t have heel lifters for steeper slopes. It turned out that it wasn’t a big deal at all and i did just fine.

We had breakfast at around 8pm and then after a couple hours of nap at around 1am it was time to get moving. We were trudging along at our gentle pace and it wasn’t that bad at all. The slopes were quite gentle except for couple of small steep sections, one of them being the hill called Ski Hill which would qualify as being a green slope or blue at best at most of the ski resorts.

We made good progress and after 4 hrs we were at our cache location. It was quite overcast and on the way back it was whiteout conditions but with the help of our previous tracks and the wands we didn’t have any problems finding our way back.

The snow had gotten quite slushy and i was really enjoying sliding down the hill with snow shoes, it wasn’t like skiing but i was having fun. The thought of removing the snow shoes did occur to me since the idea of punching in with heel seemed fun but i didn’t even bother to ask the guides about it and it was a good thing since there were tracks of someone sinking into the snow more than a feet all along.

We had some noodles and black bean soup for dinner for which i didn’t care much but the cheesecake that was a different story. I could have easily finished off half or maybe the entire thing myself, some really good sugary deliciousness at 7800ft in middle of nowhere you can’t beat that.

It was now time for a long nap to prepare for the move to camp 3. i slept for a solid 10hrs and felt less sore than earlier.

Jun 28th

We had our breakfast and at 1am we got going for camp 3 which is located at 11600ft. It was slow going at a gentle pace and after 4 hours we reached our cache location at 10k ft. We had another hour and half to go before to camp 3 and getting there the slope was a tad steeper than before.

The hike wasn’t too bad and the snow had also frozen which was a good sign. We established camp and as always after dinner at around 9am it was time for bed. We had noodles again but with a different sauce, it was also the first time we stepped off kahiltna glacier and were now on the Denali massif.

When we got to camp the snow was quite hard so we didn’t bother building any platforms like we did at earlier camp but later in afternoon when the snow softened up we built a massage table and our cards table was a work in progress. Steve, one of the guides worked as a masseuse so he offered to give us massages, i was looking forwed to that but unfortunately the time never came.

Jun 29th

We had a relatively easy day ahead of us since we were going to do a back carry i.e. go down to 10k and retrieve our cache and bring it back to camp. We left little early and it took us about 3 hr to descend and get back.

On the way up i found the pace to be little slow and i was taking 10 steps or so at my own pace and stopping for a bit to reduce the slack in the rope. It is the nature of traveling in rope teams, the leader sets the pace and everyone has to follow it nothing you can do about it. i was doing what felt comfortable to me and there weren’t any crevasses on the way up so i could give the rope some slack without worrying too much.

After we got back we decided to do some crampon work, Dennis went over the basics of walking with crampons and how to walk wih pole and an ice axe. I had to shorten my poles to be more efficient while walking on the steeper part of the mountain.

High Resolution pics from the entire climb can be viewed here. you can also prints from this site if you wish. Entire collection is posted on facebook, if you are interested in obtaining high resolution of some picture then let me know.

Training for Denali

This is part 1 in series of blogs that i have written for my denali experience. main page can be found here.

After confirming my 3 weeks of vacation I signed up with Alpine Ascents for Denali guided expedition sometime in October of 2012 so i had plenty of time to train. At that time i had just started going to gym regularly focussing on mainly cardio and then sometime in november i jumped into the six pack shortcuts which went pretty well but then the ski season had started.

During the ski season i was skiing at Mammoth which mean’t that on average i was skiing at 9-10k elevation. At the same time three times i spent more than 7 consecutive days of skiing which helped with my cardio. Between the change of jobs at the end of january i didn’t really get a constant amount of gym time but did lots of skiing.

Once i got settled down at my new job it was time to get in some serious time so i joined crossfit and starting from march and i started going there at least 4 times a week, it was surprising how addicting it became.

3 more months were left and then i decided to create a calendar of hikes with increasing difficulty. I also discovered south bay swim team so i decided to join them along with going to the sand dunes park in manhattan beach with a heavy backpack. So my proposed schedule would look something like following.

during the week do the below,
mornings go to sand dunes park with heavy pack for an hour.
evenings go swimming (6.30 – 7.30) and then go to crossfit.

weekends hike on sat and then sunday rest or diving, i hadn’t dove close to 5 months and i felt that i should at least get in a few dives before leaving.

There were few weekdays where i managed to squeeze in all 3 things but it got too much and i ended up dropping swimming after a month, the sand dunes fell out of picture in mid may since our company gym was about to open soon. It was really hard to stay motivated for the sand dunes since i had to wake up at 6.30ish and drive out to the dunes, go to public pool for shower and then eventually reach work at around 9.30.

The hikes started with San Gorgonio overnight backpacking trip where the plan was to camp on the summit but late start and slow pace forced us to abandon those plans and we ended up turning around. It was a good start with a heavy overnight pack and i did test out my new Scarpa Alpha’s on that trip and figured out that i would be totally fine in them with overboots on Denali.

Next up was Mt Wilson from Chantry Flats which is a 14 mile RT and i was fine on it again with 50 lb pack on way up and around 30 on the way back. Going for Paul Van Dyk that night and diving on sunday capped my hectic, fun weekend. Boy it did feel good to dive after 5 long months and take my camera underwater for the first time.

Mt Lukens was next which is 8 mile RT with 4k elevation gain and on this i carried my camera gear which is around 10 lbs, yes i did plan to carry my 70-200 telephoto lens on Denali. It was a surprisingly beautiful hike and i had a wonderful time. For the first time i shot a critter on land during this hike.

Next couple of hikes were a bust because of lack of motivation and people to go out with, Baden Powell and 3T hikes are around 15 miles each with over 4k of elevation gain so most of my friends who i invited were like thanks but no thanks.

Memorial day weekend i wanted to do a multi day dive trip but none of the dive boats seemed interesting and Sung wanted to climb Mt Tom (13,652′) so i figured it would be nice to get some altitude a month before the climb, i packed in some extra weight for this 3 day trip and was totally comfortable which was great. It was a fun backpacking trip.

San Gorgonio from Momyer trail is a marathon (26 miles RT) and i didn’t think i would be able to do it in a day with a heavy pack (60 lbs) so i decided to have a cut off time of 2pm on this hike for turn around and see how far i went. We ended up doing about 19-20 miles in that day which was great, at this point i was feeling really confident.

I wanted to do Mt Baldy from village (12 miles RT with 6k elevation gain) on consecutive days but at that time i was also going to the company gym after work and getting on treadmill/stepper with 60lbs pack for an hour followed by crossfit. So i was getting really beat up and with my confidence growing i didn’t really feel the need to push myself and possibly injure myself in the process so Mt baldy plan wasn’t executed.

I did end up doing San Gorgonio from Fish Creek Trail (18 miles RT) that weekend but i carried only around 30 lbs, I had one more weekend left but i wanted to use that for packing so i just chilled and then in the final week i stopped crossfit too. I just went to the gym with a 70 lb pack twice, i wanted to see if i could handle it for an hour on the stepper and was very happy that i was able to.

One last thing that i think helped my overall fitness was juicing, i bought a juicer and started making green and fresh fruit juices every morning. Kale, Spinach, Cucumbers, Carrots, Oranges, Apples, Avocados, Ginger, Beet root were being consumed in significant quantity by me.

The most difficult part of training was staying motivated, i didn’t think it would be that difficult but turned out i was wrong. There were times when i just didn’t want to do anything but since i went to crossfit after work i had no excuse to skip it and it would also help me beat the traffic to get home.

At the end of it all, I felt really confident and seemed like i was physically prepared for the rigors of Denali.

High Resolution pics from the entire climb can be viewed here. you can also prints from this site if you wish. Entire collection is posted on facebook, if you are interested in obtaining high resolution of some picture then let me know.

Backpacking to Horton Lake and Climbing Mt Tom

This memorial day weekend i wanted to do a multi day dive trip but at the same time i thought some backpacking trip in the high sierras would be a good training exercise. Sung wanted to go to Horton Lake and climb Mt Tom so i decided to join him since none of the multi day dive trips looked interesting to me.

The plan was to drive up to Bishop, get our permits and establish camp at Horton Lake on Saturday. Sunday we would climb Mt Tom and then after spending one more night at Horton Lake on Monday we wanted to climb Basin Mountain and hike back out. We figured snow gear (ice axe and crampons) won’t be required on Mt Tom but weren’t sure of Basin Mt. Sung’s friend Valerie from Santa Barbara was going to join us.

Met with Sung and Valerie at the golden valley park and ride at 7.30am and we were on our way. Getting walk in permits at the lone pine ranger station was pretty straight forward process and by the time we reached Bishop it was time for mule day parade there. Mule Days is an annual event in Bishop with lots going on and it definitely draws a crowd.

We had lunch there and then drove to the trailhead. The trailhead is little bit tricky to find and you definitely need a vehicle with high clearance. My Rav4 wouldn’t have made it and i was glad that we took Sung’s Xterra. From Bishop you have to take 168 and then the buttermilk road which goes beyond the famous Buttermilk boulders. It gets little tricky but if you stay on your right at every turn off you will eventually see a sign for Horton lakes trailhead and then you follow the road until the gate. If you don’t have vehicle with high clearance then it can add upto 4 miles to your hike.

We had plenty of time to get to horton lake since its only about 4 mile hike from the trailhead so we took our time and checked out the remains of the Sonny Boy Mine on the way up. The trail is a gradual ascent where you gain about 2000 ft of elevation. We got to the lake and established camp site close to it, after dinner it was soon time to go to bed. I had only 4 hours of sleep the previous night and the moon rise was at about 9.30 pm so i didn’t have the patience to stay awake till then.

The plan for next day was to wake up whenever and then climb Mt Tom, we figured it would be an easy day and we should be back by 2pm but we were wrong about that. There was nothing easy about getting to top of Mt Tom and i decided to carry most of the stuff for training purposes so i had almost 30-35 lbs on me. Had breakfast and we started at around 7am and it took almost two hours to get to hidden valley, its a continuos uphill climb to get there and then a gentle path to Tungstar Mine.

We could see the planned route of Basin mountain and it seemed that it still had plenty of snow. We would have to traverse couple of snow fields and even though it might have been possible to do it without crampons and ice axe we didn’t want to risk it. We thought about just going to one of the upper lakes and then turn around but first we had to get to summit of Mt Tom.

The remains of Tungstar mines are pretty cool to look at with plenty of old school machinery lying around, some engines, rail tracks, rail carts, cables etc. The mines were buried with snow but i wouldn’t have dared to explore further regardless. The trail to the summit goes a little further up the mountain and then just disappears, you have to now work your way through scree and plenty of loose rocks.

I found little bit of snow which was lot easier to climb than the scree but unfortunately it didn’t last for long. It was a slow but steady progress and Sung thought he had found the summit but as others have warned it wasn’t the true summit. We had to traverse more to the left and climb another chute to get to the true summit which Sung finally found on his third attempt.

We took our sweet time on the summit enjoying the views and i snapped quite a few shots with some attempts at panorama, I am quite happy with the results i got from it.

The prospect of descending that loose scree didn’t look too appealing but we didn’t have a choice and slowly but surely got down without any incidents. It almost took the me amount of time to descend as going up which was a first for me. We chose not to take the small detour to check out a mine shaft on the other side of the hidden valley. I thought about staying there a little longer for light to fade and hopefully get some sunset pics but there were small clouds rolling in so it didn’t look too promising so i gave up on that idea.

After another hour of climbing down we finally made it back to the camp at around 6pm and it was time for dinner and bed. Next morning the plan was to just check out one of the lakes at the bottom of Basin Mt and then head back.

Next day morning i had opportunity to take some sunrise pics but the lazy me decided to stay in my tent since i didn’t have the motivation to go out in the wind and the cold. I also didn’t want to be the first one out so i just stayed in bed, i got out only when i heard others. Because of the wind there were ripples in the lake all the time so i didn’t get a good chance at getting some reflection pics but after breakfast there was finally a brief period when it was calm and i finally managed to get one good shot.

We went around the lake to see if we could get to one of the upper lakes but there was still a decent amount on snow and none of us wanted to climb any scree on the other side so after about an hour of scrambling around we decided to turn back, pack out the camp and have lunch in bishop.

The hike back out was uneventful except for a garter snake crossing my path, he was pretty quick. I was surprised to find one at 8000ft didn’t think they would reside so high up. We had decided on Indian food for lunch and managed to find Karma Indian Restaurant in Bishop which had ok food. The Indian food snob in me wasn’t too impressed by its authenticity.

I got back home at around 7pm and it was a nice laid back weekend. Driving to Mammoth its hard to miss Mt Tom and i can now finally say that i have climbed that mountain and in winter it could present some really fun lines in the chutes.

The Entire gallery can be view Here