Mounts Guyot, Chamberlin, Pickering, Joe Devel, Langley


I’ve had some of the peaks in the Miter Basin at the back of my mind for several years. This region of the Sierra Nevada is slightly south of Mt. Whitney, nearly at the end of what is called the High Sierra. The Cottonwood Lakes area closer to the car is extremely popular, as is Mt. Langley, due to being one of only 15 peaks in California that are higher than 14000ft.

On the other hand, the areas further west are not as popular, being used mainly as a throughfare along the Pacific Crest Trail, to get to places like Crabtree Meadows. Part of this is the lack of lakes along the main trails which leads to very dry conditions as the summer progresses. The peaks we climbed can go days or weeks between ascents.

I’m not sure exactly why I chose these peaks. However the plan I put together seemed like it would allow us to climb them over 6 days without being too exhausting. We were originally supposed to do this over the 4th of July week, but had to push it out after getting COVID-19.

We drove from the Bay Area on July 17, making use of the Sunday to do most of the 7 hour drive. We spent that evening in Mammoth Lakes, sleeping in the car on the outskirts of town. The next day we worked from the Mammoth Lakes Library, which is a real gem. In the evening we drove another 2 hours to the trailhead near Lone Pine. We stopped for some last minute food shopping, and bought a large pizza for dinner + the next day’s lunch. I had forgotten to cut my nails, so I also got a nail cutter, thinking I would only buy one if it was around $10. To my surprise, it was just $1.29 which is possibly the cheapest thing I’ve ever purchased in the US. Score!

For inexplicable reasons, the White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop has removed its water tap. The Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center was also closed by the time we got there at 8pm. This was frustrating and I was very dehydrated. However, there was plenty of water at the trailhead. The trailhead was pretty quiet that late on a Sunday. We ate dinner and settled in (in the car) for the next day.

Trip stats

The map shows the original plan, while the table and following post explains what we actually did.

July 19 - July 24, 2022

Day Distance (mi) Elevation change (ft) Camp location
1 12.00 +2538, -2155 Rock Creek Lake
2 9.74 +2881, -2970 Guyot Creek
3 7.60 +-2861 Guyot Creek
4 6.10 +1405, -985 Soldier Lake
5 10.04 +-4360 Soldier Lake
6 13.00 +3461, -4209 -

Day 1 - Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead to Rock Creek Lake

We started from the car at 8:20 a.m. I took the wrong way at the very first intersection. Fortunately all the trails in the Cottonwood Lakes area intersect at various points and the distance doesn’t change much, so no harm was done. Clouds started building up around 10:30. By the time we reached High Lake at noon, the cloud cover was at 50%. The weather forecast called for a 40% chance of thunderstorms, and we didn’t want those right as we cross New Army Pass. New Army Pass, at 12,200ft was the high point of the first day. It is an exceptionally well engineered route, taking wide, gentle switchbacks to the top. We spent 30 minutes at High Lake deciding whether to continue or stop here for the day. We also had our lunch of left-over pizza. The heavy packs of the first day, as well as the altitude were slowing us down. We didn’t want to be almost at the top and then have to rush up or down if it started to thunder. We had to do that last year on Kearsarge Pass and it was unnerving. After some faffing, we decided to start around 12:45. The clouds were mostly avoiding the pass itself. Fortunately, the weather stayed clear and we were at the top by 1:36. We were both feeling a dull altitude headache, so we didn’t spend too much time at the top. On a weekday afternoon there were hardly any people going up Mt. Langley. We saw 4 people come down and just one solo day-hiker go up.

The wide plateau of New Army Pass/Mt. Langley houses a lot of fat marmots. The rare Sierra Bighorn sheep are also quite common here. We saw one not too far into our descent on the west side. We headed down the Rock Creek Trail eager to get to camp. We were pretty tired by now and the descent seemed to take forever! We finally made it to the Rock Creek meadow after some really terrible trail in the last half mile. We found a nice tent spot on a little uprising just south of the junction with the Miter Basin. It was away from the lake but had a view of it. There was a small creek flowing down from Miter Basin for water. We had that area to ourselves, and even the mosquitoes didn’t really come out that evening. Dinner was purple noodles in chile-lemon flavor. These noodles are found at H-mart and are our current favorite. They were accompanied by some tea and miso soup. We were pretty refreshed after that!

While we had originally planned to climb Mt. Pickering and Joe Devel the next day, we decided to take it easy the next day. It was nice to be out in the wilderness again. We slept without our rain fly on nearly every night of this trip. At one point I just peaked my head out of the tent to see the stars. That first night we had the best view. After that the waxing moon would drown out most of them.

Day 2 - Rock Creek Lake to Guyot Creek + Mt. Guyot

Today’s plan was to hike another 5 miles west to set up camp at Guyot Creek. This was a sorta-random stopping place, but it would put us close to Mts. Guyot, Chamberlin and Newcomb. The trail was very boring. It was entirely in the trees and the dust, heat and dryness wasn’t helping. I was glad to be at the end of it. Guyot Creek had very minimal flow midway through a very dry year. We could only fill up a cup at a time. No depth to even dip our feet. The campsite was in the trees and didn’t have any views. Oh well, there wasn’t a more convenient place to camp!

We put up the tent, ate some lunch, then took our day packs and started towards Mt. Guyot. Ah! The pleasure of leaving those 15kgs behind!

First we followed the trail to Guyot Pass. Shreya wasn’t a 100% certain if she was going to come up the mountain. However, once we got to the pass, she couldn’t help herself, and up we went! The hike up Guyot was straightforward. Slightly sandy use trails meandered through solid rock. However the 2000ft of elevation seemed to take longer and feel harder due to the exertions of the previous day. The summit is all the way to the south of the long summit ridge. There is a very wide, sandy path on climber’s right of the summit ridge. No ridge traversing required. We were soon at the top and enjoying the fantastic views. The deep and long Kern River Canyon is clearly visible in the west. Beyond that are the peaks of the Kern Divide, none of which I can identify. In the North, Mt. Whitney is very prominent (follow the Guyot ridgeline to the peak on the skyline), as it is from every peak in this area. We were also paying close attention to Mt. Chamberlin, Pickering and Joe Devel, to discern how we would travel through the area. However there was no lake in sight, which was a bummer!

We were back to camp by 5. We used the time to freshen up to the best of wildnerness standards. Tonight’s dinner was couscous and lentils. To spice it up we had Puliogare powder. This is a spice powder with the primary flavor being tamarind and peanuts. We eat it reasonably often at home, but this was the first time taking it backpacking. This stuff was the bomb in the backcountry! I’ll be carrying it on future trips.

Day 3 - Mt. Chamberlin

Another day, another peak! Today’s plan was to climb both Mt. Chamberlin and Mt. Newcomb. We didn’t have much info about the traverse between them, except that it wasn’t going to be easy. We had been flip-flopping yesterday between going up Chamberlin first, or going down the valley to Newcomb first. The former would let us finish one peak first, while the latter would give us more information before we started up. We settled on the latter approach this morning. If it looked unappealing from the valley below Newcomb, we could always backtrack a bit and climb Chamberlin. We left camp around 7:10 and followed a gentle ridge, through widely spaced pine trees to the foot of Mt. Chamberlin. Then we contoured north east into the valley. The terrain quickly got rough. Newcomb is far inside the valley.

It was 9:30 by the time we got above the final series of tiny lakes in that valley. Yikes! Newcomb from the valley is not my idea of fun at all. This looked so sucky! A few years ago, I was open to dealing with long slogs through shitty scree and pushing through it. However these days it is extremely unappealing. I’m sure there was some specific way that would be the least worst approach, but I didn’t care enough about this peak. Shreya’s tolerance for scree is even less than mine, so this was an easy choice. No Newcomb.

There were several chutes on the east side of Mt. Chamberlin that seemed to offer access to the summit, so we didn’t have to backtrack at all. We started up the east slope just below the summit. We followed sandy slopes that got steeper about 2/3rd of the way up. Then we transitioned to solid talus. This was harder work, but much more pleasant. We were soon on top of Chamberlin walking along the wide summit area to the top. Knowing that we were done with the objectives for the day, we spent a long time at the summit. Cinnamon bread and Trail Butter was the meal of the day. It was slightly cloudy and a few drops fell on us on the way down, but nothing concerning. The view of Middle (Upper?) Crabtree Lake from the summit was fantastic! That is a lake worth camping next to. Wide sandy beaches and crystal blue waters. Too bad it is 15-20 miles from anywhere on trail. We could also see the uppermost lake in that valley, though I believe that is not called Upper Crabtree Lake. Chamberlin had last been climbed June 26th, and we were only the 12th party this year. Not a very popular peak.

On the way down we took the much gentler way down to Crabtree pass and then descended several plateaus to our campsite. It was just a question of following our GPS tracks at the end. I spotted a large hare towards the end, and in pursuit of it, lost my sense of direction, ending up a little further down the trail than I would have liked. We hydrated with miso soup then rested for a while before getting to dinner.

Day 4 - Guyot Creek to Soldier Lake

Today was a short day. We would move camp from Guyot Creek to Soldier Lake. When taking down our tent, one stake was stuck so tight that we had to leave it behind. That’s one I haven’t heard before! We took our time in the morning and only started walking at 10 am. It was quite hot today. The heat wave throughout California was making itself felt even close to 10,000ft. When we reached our first day’s campsite, we tried out some Tailwind powder that we had got as swag. It was really good!

We reached Soldier Lake around 1:30. There is an area past the first knoll that has a bunch of good camping, with beautiful surroundings. We found a good site right before all the crowds got there. The lake was pleasant enough, but too mossy to make swimming attractive. Instead, we just used one of the eating pots to pour water over ourselves. By 3pm, a lot more people had showed up at this camping area. It was a complete party! After having campsites and entire mountains to ourselves over the last 3 days, I had predicted that there was a 70% chance we would be alone here as well. How wrong I was!

Tonight’s dinner was messy. We had pasta with paneer chilli masala, which was a tasty combination but an ordeal to clean. We were glad to have this easy day mid-trip, because we had two long days to go. Tomorrow was also going to be a technically challenging day.

Day 5 - Mt. Pickering and Joe Devel Peak

We started from camp around 7am. The first task of the day was to get to Erin Lake, which sits in the cirque formed by the two mountains. We went down the Rock Creek Trail for a bit, and then turned right into the Miter Basin. There is a use trail here that goes next to a lovely meadow. The western side of this meadow has steep sides formed by the granite pillars of Joe Devel, and the plateau extending from Mt. Pickering. Erin Lake was 1000ft above us. We crossed the meadow at an arbitrary point and started up rocky terrain with plenty of trees. This turned into talus, until we reached the base of a series of steep slabs. This is probably slightly right of the lake’s outlet, but there was no water flowing right now. We had a choice of several gullies in the slabs, or going far left and following a sandy use trail.

The dry slabs were much more appealing. The climbing was very easy and fun and we made quick progress to the cirque, where easy talus carried us to the lake by 8:45. Erin Lake was the best lake of this entire trip! Deep blue clean waters amid all this rocky chaos. It was so still, and it had these inviting rocks on the shore that had great places to sit and interact with the water. This was also going to be the last water source until we got back to camp, so we filled up 2.5 liters of water per person and added filtration tablets to them. Ah! I wish I could spend more time at this lake.

From here, we didn’t have too much beta about getting to Pickering. One option was to cross the lake on the north side and go up the drainage. However that didn’t look very appealing. It would involve a lot of up and down, as well as crossing some sandy terrain. Plus we had no idea how easy the uphill from the drainage would be. The other option in Secor says to take a chute near the outlet of Erin Lake to the plateau above. We could see a chute, and we could also see a pillar of solid rock just right of it. This seemed reasonable enough. As usual, we picked solid rock over sand and made quick progress up the mountain. Erin Lake was a constant backdrop. Around 12,200ft it seemed the pillar was starting to get featureless and we would end up too high if we followed it. So we went left and were able to easily escape into the sandy chute. Using the solid right wall as a handrail, we went up the remaining 200ft of sand. From here it was gentle and wide terrain across the plateau. The views were outstanding to the east! Mt. Corcoran and LeConte form a wall of jagged teeth across the sky. Occasionally one could glimpse Primrose Lake.

It was 10:30 by the time we made it to the very top of the wide plateau. From here it was a direct shot to the sandy remnant of Pickering. It felt like we were on the moon. This would be the last pleasant walking of the day until we got to Joe Devel. It was only 600ft more to the summit of Pickering, but it was the kind of steep sand where you spend a lot of energy just sinking into the surface. It was a slow and plodding journey to the summit. What would have been 30 minutes on good trail took over an hour. Now that we could see the ridge connecting Pickering and Joe Devel, we were also distracted by this unknown that lay in front of us. Suffice to say that we didn’t truly relax on Pickering’s summit. We ate lunch and took pictures, but I didn’t really absorb the summit. Mt. Newcomb’s easier upper section was visible below Mt. Whitney.

(Pickering’s summit register implied that most people seem to climb from Primrose Lake. I’m not sure why, unless you were already camped in the Miter basin.)

The ridge between Pickering and Joe Devel is only a quarter mile. By all accounts, nearly everyone who climbs one of these mountains does the other by traversing the ridge. However parts of it looked pretty heinous from far away. We also knew from ascending Chamberlin that the western side was just a steep drop. Whatever way we had to find, it would have to be from the east. I also knew in my heart that if I didn’t make it to Joe Devel from here, I was never going to summit Joe Devel. It just isn’t the kind of mountain one makes a special trip for. However, I’ve also become much more conservative, and less summit-hungry, so I wasn’t going to take risks. On the other hand, reversing our route would also be a slow and exhausting process. We decided we would attempt the ridge, evaluating every few steps whether we wanted to turn around and retrace our steps to camp.

It was actually quite straightforward on the Pickering side, till the saddle. There are several sandy ledges between rocks that offer protected paths. It isn’t easy terrain though and it took us an hour to make it to the low point. From here, the route finding was slow and the terrain occasionally loose. There were lots of signs of human activity along certain channels, and we followed that where we could. It was never difficult, but it was nerve-wracking not knowing whether we could go all the way while minimizing risk. I can’t describe every turn here, but here is another look. The route goes, and remains class 3. Just watch out for loose rock. When in doubt, generally stay east of the ridge.

When we finally made it to the wide, flat, safe part of Joe Devel, we were so relieved! It had been a very mentally stressful 2 hours, but we had made it. We took some time to rest and hydrate. Joe Devel is a big and long mountain, and it took a while even from here to get to the summit. Fortunately it was a perfect summit day. We were so glad to be here, done with most of the rigours of the day. Pickering’s south east slopes looked back at us so innocently from here!

The descent from Joe Devel was quite sandy. This peak would be hell to climb up. Nearly 3000ft of going up this sandy stuff would lead to madness. However it made going down so fast! It took us just an hour to drop 2000ft to 11,300ft, where the terrain becomes gentle and splits into several ridges and valleys. We were pretty exhausted by now. However the mountain wasn’t done with us. It took a while to navigate through the trees and occasional talus, maintaining a bearing that would get us closer to Rock Creek Lake. There were several “do you think we will dead end down this tiny valley” moments. Fortunately we never cliffed out, and eventually reached the trail a quarter mile down-stream from the lake. There was a haze in the air along the Sierra Crest by this time. We didn’t know the reason yet. From here it was fast progress back to camp, but mentally it felt like forever. It was so good to be back at the tent. What a long but satisfying day this had been.

We had been saving the easy-to-prepare dehydrated meals for this last day. My Coconut Chicken Curry was so delicious. Shreya had got some weird, Americanized attempt at Veg Korma which was fine as far as taste went, but very sad as far as a Veg Korma is supposed to be. That and some chocolate, and we were ready to get into the sleeping bag. While tomorrow was the final day of the trip, the backpacks were not going to get themselves to the car :( So much work!

Day 6 - Soldier Lake to Mt. Langley and back to Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead

Usually, about 4 days into the trip is when I start thinking of civilization and looking forward to the last day. Despite the long day yesterday, we didn’t feel particularly sore, which was a good sign.

We started from Soldier Lake by 8am and immediately hit the first obstacle of the day. The plan called for following an old trail up the Soldier Lake drainage. That would go up a large gully on Mt. Langley’s west side. However, below treeline this trail is overgrown and hard to always follow. Inevitably, it took us a lot longer than planned to get to Upper Soldier Lake. We filled enough water here to last us to the summit and down Old Army Pass on the other side, as there would be no water beyond here. From here progress was swift across an absolutely wonderful valley. This large valley is filled with expansive meadows and giant glacial erratics. This was such a refreshing 30 minutes. The gully up Mt. Langley has a nice set of switchbacks going up it. This allowed us to maintain a good pace even at this altitude with packs. Soon we were at the junction with the main Mt. Langley trail at 12,500ft.

We dropped our backpacks here, filled a small pack with water and nearly the last of our food and started up Mt. Langley. I had previously visited Mt. Langley on a day trip in 2018, as an extension of a trip to Cirque Peak. Being quite fresh that day, I had forgotten what a slog Langley is because of the sandy terrain. It took us a while to get to the summit. It was nice to finally see people on a mountain we were climbing, although it was less busy than I expected, given it was a Sunday. There was just another couple at the summit when we got there. They took a few photos of us before departing. We spent nearly 45 minutes at the summit, relaxing and being happy that it was at least all downhill from here. We also got rudimentary cell service. Ironically, Mt. Langley’s summit registers were in such disarray, and lacking any writing mechanism, that we gave up on signing them. Who cares when thousands of people are going to visit the top any way.

There was a general haze in the air today as well. The views from Langley are just as fantastic as any other mountain in the area. We could finally see the lakes of the Miter Basin.

Sky Pilot and Alpine Gold were having a terrific time on the Langley trail.

From Mt. Langley we began the long walk down. Old Army Pass is certainly much worse than New Army Pass. There is plenty of rockfall damage, and the trail has plenty of stacked granite flakes that are harder on the feet. We were also nearly out of water at this point and feeling quite dehydrated. Fortunately it was time to enter the lands of lakes again. Cottonwood Lake #4 sits right below the pass, where we filled up enough to get us to the car. Now we focused on walking, with no regard to scenery or beauty as we took various trails down the valley. We passed several people with much shorter itineraries who were lounging around, but we had no interest in that. 4 or 5 miles from our car we were feeling on our last legs. We were stopping more frequently and the enterprise was becoming a burden.

We had a much needed bit of levity and distraction about 3 miles from the car. A 20-something year old coming from the other direction asked us if we knew where “Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead” was. He was supposed to meet his friends there an hour ago to start the hike and he was getting late. We told him that the trailhead is where the trail and road meet. He had already started his hike, but his friends were going to be pretty upset with him! After some thought, he turned around and walked back to the car.

We were not too far behind him and rolled into the parking lot around 5:30. What a feeling to be done! After some cleanup we were out of there!

We got some dinner at the Mt. Whitney Restaurant. We found out that the Washburn Fire had started in Yosemite while we were gone. That would explain the haze. We drove south to Bakersfield instead, spent the night in a motel then finished the drive home on Monday.


I give this trip a 3.55. Mostly because of the lack of lakes and the predominantly sandy terrain. I think the former could’ve been fixed if we had added the actual upper Miter Basin to our itinerary somehow. The sandy terrain on the peaks needed much more effort on the way up and kept accumulating in our shoes. It was nice to check out this part of the Sierra.

Our food and gear choices generally worked out well. We barely encountered mosquitoes. We didn’t end up in anything dangerous.

The two things we brought on this trip that I would not try again is pasta (too difficult to clean) and dehydrated peas (take forever to hydrate) on a backpacking trip.

6 days is a very reasonable amount of time for these peaks. There are lots of people who traverse Joe Devel-Pickering-Newcomb-Chamberlin in a day (and some even tack on Guyot), but that requires a certain acceptance of terrain and risk that we no longer want to face. Not to mention extreme fitness.

Fortunately neither of us experienced any COVID after-effects on the trip.

We carried one BV500 and one BV450 bear canister for approximately 11 person-days of food. This was slightly on the lower end in terms of calories, but got us through until the last afternoon.

2019: Year in Review

I’ve stopped regularly updating social media with trip photos, and I find it not very useful to write individual trip reports for every trip I do. This is partially because every route I do has been done to death and has enough information available, and partially because I lack the time/motivation/discipline to upload photos, put together a report and post it.

2019 was a really fun year of travel and adventure.

This year’s theme was diversity. Apart from the typical alpine scenery of California, I experienced several unique natural environments and wildlife and some unique parts of California. A reasonably chronological summary follows.


California had one of the bigger snowpacks in history this past winter, so much of January and February was spent resort skiing. This was my first season skiing in Squaw Valley. The abundance of snow made it possible to ski several lines I would not otherwise.

Mid-February, a really cold and wet series of storms came in. I had 2 days of the best powder days I’ve ever experienced, both on Rubicon Peak. The temperatures kept the powder light and fluffy, completely unlike the usual CA snow pack.

There were also several days spent on the slopes of Shasta. One day, I just skinned up to Helen Lake and back. Another time, Leo and I went up the Hotlum-Bolam Ridge to the summit in really great weather. I skied to and from base camp (~10,800ft).


At the end of January there was a spring-like week when we did an overnight snowshoeing trip to Dick’s Peak from the Eagle Lake trailhead. This section of Desolation Wilderness is beautiful in the winter. It also has a lot of solitude, something impossible to find in the summer.

In April, Shreya and I summited Shasta via Avalanch Gulch. This was Shreya’s first true mountaineering experience, and she did really well! This was my fourth time on the summit.

In early June, Leo, Ayelet and I did a 2-day ascent of the Kautz glacier on Mt. Rainier. Fresh snowfall had made the crux pitches relatively easy. As people lacking significant glacier travel experience, the route-finding on the upper Nisqually was certainly the hardest thing for us. High winds and waist deep snow shut us (and every other team that day) on the summit crater, and we turned tail down the DC. That was one of the highest exertion days (a total of 13-15mi and 9000ft of up and down over 2 days, with 35lb packs) I’ve had in the mountains, and really made it clear that physically I’m a lot more capable than I think I am, and easily capable of doing longer days. The wind was relentless all the way down to the Muir snowfield, so it was relief to finally stumble into the Paradise parking lot at 8pm.

Best rock climbs


The first two weeks of September was a trip I had been looking forward to for several months. I started writing about it here, until it got too big. Go read about Chamonix separately!

Thunderbolt-Sill traverse

Mason and I did this in the first week of August. This was a really great way to summit 5 14-ers in one go (2 of which I’ve done before). The traverse is extremely scenic, and the exposure stunning, but the rock quality leaves a lot to be desired. It is a lot of class 4 grunt work. The important skills seem to be route-finding and comfort soloing class 4/easy 5th. We soloed everything except the Thunderbolt and Starlight summit blocks.

I want to say something scandalous – I don’t think Mt. Sill is all that great a mountain. I know it has some of the best Sierra views, but every approach to it is painful. I’ve done the Glacier notch approach from Palisade Glacier, and that is terribly loose rock and scree. The class 4 way to get from the summit to the L-couloir is also a death trap. The 3-pitches of the Swiss Arete are passable for that much effort. Similarly, if you come at it via Bishop Pass, the class 2 descent of Sill down to Potluck Pass/Barrett Lakes, followed by the walk to Thunderbolt Pass is again a long slog.

Meeting Doug Robinson

The first week of November is a chance to visit Bishop for the AAC’s Craggin Classic. The highlight was a chance to wander part of Smoke Blanchard’s Rock Course with none other than Doug Robinson. This scramble through the buttermilks is really fun (“mild mountaineering” according to Smoke Blanchard). Getting a chance to talk with Doug and see him guiding at his age was amazing. His Palisade’s feature is one of my favorite pieces of Sierra lore.

Random Yosemite climbs

  • Jamcrack, The Dagger (TR)

Best hikes

Castle Peak, Basin Peak and Andesite Peak.

This was a really nice day in the Tahoe backcountry. I’ve never been in this area before. The Castle - Basin ridge is a fantastic trail run. It is wide, safe and filled with rolling meadows.

Kuna and Koip Peaks

Ashok and I decided to hike Kuna peak, Koip peak and Parker peak from Highway 120 (20mi roundtrip, ~4500ft). This is based on a Peaks for Freaks suggestion. Due to a combination of topography and snow conditions, this is now my second favorite Sierra hike (after the Evolution loop). It is long, but all on trail, with only the last 25-30min to Kuna and Koip being class 1-2. The first 3-4 mi of the trail are boring, but then it gets out of the forest and enters the rolling meadows of Parker pass. The switchbacks up Parker Peak’s buttress are incredible and you get great views of Mono and Grant lakes. Starting at Koip pass, the views are superlative. Every significant mountain in the northern High Sierra is visible, their North faces still holding significant snow. Lyell canyon still had snow until 10k feet! Banner, Ritter, Davis, Rodgers, Andrea Lawrence, Donahue, Conness, North Peak, Matterhorn… the names roll of the tongue, condensing a hundred years of Sierra climbing history. Standing tall above them all, the apron of snow still clinging strong, are Mt. Lyell and MacClure - the roof of Yosemite.

Dragon Peak and Mt. Gould

We went up the Golden Trout Lakes trail (not much of a trail) and finished via Kearsarge Pass. I had never really been to this area, and only skirted past Independence on the JMT, so it was a really fun trip! The scramble up Dragon is very nice. It is just exposed enough to keep things spicy, and the final moves below the summit have a short traverse reminiscent of North Palisade. Mt. Gould’s scree descent is disgusting in comparison, but you gotta do what you gotta do…

These Sierra loops have made me more enthused about long scrambles with minimal (read: no technical) gear.

Organized events

Broken Arrow Skyrace

I was running the 26K for the second time. I finished in 3:42 this year even with significant snow, shaving 30 minutes off last year’s time. It was an excellent event as usual. Skiers and runners on the same slopes was a unique experience. Too bad the race lunch did not include all-you-can-eat pizza like 2018 :(

June Lake triathlon

Shreya and I had signed up for the June Lake Triathlon. It was the first triathlon for both of us. We did the Olympic distance (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run). I wasn’t a big fan of the swimming. I finished, but powered mostly by breast-stroke and back-stroke, in about 43min. Apart from not swimming regularly (I had done 8 swim sessions before this), the water temperature was also 63F and the altitude was ~7500ft, which made breathing difficult. The bike and run were well within my abilities. Of course, my tire tube was traumatized from riding in San Francisco and couldn’t handle the extra PSI. It proceeded to get a flat 10 minutes into the ride :/. Apart from that the June Lake loop ride was really beautiful. The bike and run had about 1200ft of elevation change each. The run wasn’t as pretty. It was sandy, hot and only a small section offered views of Ritter and Banner. I highly recommend this event. They are not going to have another one until 2023, so you’ll have to wait a bit.

Parks visited

  • Denali National Park (only via air)
  • Kenai Fjords National Park
  • Mt. Rainier National Park

My parents visited the US for 3 weeks in mid-May and we used that as an excuse to visit Alaska. The Seward-Aialik Glacier cruise and the Denali flight-seeing were singularly amazing experiences. The latter is likely to be one of the coolest things I do in my life and I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting Alaska. It was worth the 3 days we had to keep postponing the tour for the clouds to clear. We also visited the Matanuska glacier and the Exit glacier, where my trusty iPhone SE died a water-logged death :(

  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park

This was another easy paced, sight-seeing trip with Shreya’s family. We didn’t spend much time in Grand Teton NP; just swam in the lakes and looked at the range. I think the Tetons are inspiring mountains for people living nearby, but for someone used to the Sierra… they are nice, but nothing special.

Yellowstone was a real treat! Spectacular geology and a bunch of unique wild-life. Grand Prismatic was my favorite spring. The Yellowstone campgrounds are really nice. They are all full-service and well maintained compared to the shit-show that is Yosemite.

  • Redwood National and State Parks

We went here over Thanksgiving. A cold storm hit California over that weekend, rendering most places cold and wet. The redwoods had a relatively mellow time, with even some bright sunshine on Friday. Hiking in Redwood forests is a spiritual experience. The air feels thicker and there is a sense of peace. We hiked the West Ridge and Prairie Creek loop, spent another day driving along the Howland Hill road and visiting a few more groves before driving back.

  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

We had no specific plans for the Christmas holidays; just a vague idea to go somewhere south. We got a good last-minute deal on a camper-van. The final trip ended up being far more interesting than I expected. We spent 4 cold days in Joshua Tree, ekeing out a few climbs around Indian Cove campground. That is one of my favourite campsites now, due to the from-the-campsite close proximity to climbs, and the relative comfort due to the short pitches. We drove through some stunning wind farms, then recuperated for a night in Palm Springs. There is a cool hike called Painted Canyon and Ladder Canyon near Mecca, CA. We spent a night at Fonts Point in Anza-Borrego enjoying both sunset and sunrise. Anza-Borrego State Park has surprisingly cool hikes. We saw several bighorn sheep, a couple of hummingbirds and some cute palms on the Palm Canyon trail, then spent a short time browsing The Slot and the Cactus Trail.

Not content with seeing the tallest trees in the world, we ventured to see the largest trees in the world. Sequoia-Kings Canyon is the National Park with my fondest memories, but they’ve generally been in remote peaks on overnight trips. Visiting the parks in a relatively civilized, if chilly, form was equally memorable. Snow lends extra magic to the Sequoia trees, and reduces the number of people dramatically. We “celebrated” New Year’s sleeping away in sub-freezing temperatures at Azalea campground. The reward was getting the General Grant trail entirely to ourselves early the next morning. The opportunity to have a place purely to oneself, particularly one visited by millions of people, and only half a mile from a parking lot; that was magic!

  • Yosemite National Park - random trips

Other things

  • Days of ice-climbing: 2 in Hyalite Canyon
  • Days skied in non-CA resorts: 1 in Big Sky, MT, 1 in Whistler, BC

I’ve been spending more and more nights sleeping in my car instead of finding accomodation in the busy California mountains. This is mostly working out well, although it can be a bit harder in the winter. I had some of my coldest nights in February (low of -17C), where only a hot water bottle in the sleeping bag, and the Tahoe House Bakery & Gourmet in the morning made it acceptable.

We didn’t do anything particularly exciting on the 4th of July. Since I’m doing so many trips regardless of actual holidays, I’ve found that I don’t have the energy to deal with planning and executing trips on long weekends. Everybody is trying to go to the same places, everything is unavailable or expensive and traffic is horrible. It is easier to just get some work done then, and move the time off to other times.


Not much new gear this year, as I haven’t changed hobbies. Some favorites:

  1. Scarpa Ribelle Tech mountaineering boots
  2. La Sportiva TX2 approach shoes

Old stuff I continue to love:

  1. Ortovox Trad 35L
  2. Glacier literide axe
  3. Salomon Sense Ride train running shoes

Stuff I’m not a big fan of any more

  1. MSR Dromlite - This developed a leak, and it wasn’t the lid. I really like a collapsible container as one of my water bottles, but the MSR is also hard to pour out of into another bottle. I’m now using a Hydrapak.


Photo album

The first two weeks of September was a trip I had been looking forward to for several months. Shreya had a conference to attend in Oxford, UK. We spent a couple of days in London meeting an old friend, then worked from Oxford. Oxford is a really quaint town and running along the old canals with historical buildings all around was such a nice experience. Parts of the UK look very similar to India, and parts of it sound very similar to India, so there is always a sense of familiarity.

The best part of London is the food. I can’t wait to go back to Dishoom, and the ridiculous creations in Treatz were eye-opening! I don’t understand why there are no US milk shake parlors with a “add whatever chocolate you want to this shake” option.

Of course, London wasn’t really why I was excited about this trip. The real deal was spending 9 days in Chamonix, France. Chamonix is the birth place of alpinism as a sport. The names of the routes there are famous across the world, and represent the who’s who and what’s what of climbing. September isn’t the best time to go any more because the glaciers become heavily crevassed and cut of access to several popular routes. I wasn’t going to complain when one person’s round trip ticket to Europe was being paid for :P

Chamonix itself was everything I had imagined. Spectacular granite needles rising out of immense glaciers, and funny names I couldn’t pronounce. We stayed a block away from the iconic Midi lift and lived on croissants and quiches. Unfortunately we didn’t have the best luck with the weather. Our itinerary:

  1. Friday - Go up the Midi in really low visibility to experience the snow arete descent (spooky as F for one 20 foot section); Do a quick romp up the Arete Laurence.
  2. Saturday - Terrible visibility in the mountains. Go up the Brevent chair and climb Mic et Mousse to make it back to the cable car before it started to rain.
  3. Sunday - Rain and snow all day.
  4. Monday - Sunny but cold (-11C). We used the opportunity to climb the Cosmiques Arete. The route was incredibly exciting, but definitely type 2 fun. First the Midi lift didn’t open till 9:30, so we didn’t get to the base of the route until 11:30. Several inches of snow made the route the worst combination of “not really rock, not really snow” that required way more belaying and simul climbing than is usually necessary. This necessitated some really fast climbing at the end to finish in time for the last lift down. The crux itself was very straightforward due to the crampon points and the vertical (snow-free) nature. Shreya definitely had a worse time than me. She had no previous experience technical climbing in crampons, nor in such cold weather, so it was painful for her.
  5. Tuesday - Take the Bellevue cable car and the tram to the Nid d’Aigle. Hike up to the Tete Rousse hut.
  6. Wednesday - Attempt Gouter Route on Mt. Blanc. Turn around at 4200m because it was too cold. Back to Tete Rousse.
  7. Thursday - Back to Chamonix. This would’ve been a gorgeous and perfect day to actually climb the Gouter. See my thoughts below.
  8. Friday - Take the Midi + Panoramique (Holy shit!) to the Torino hut (Italy). The Panoramique is a truly stunning ride. I can completely see why non-alpinists would also enjoy this. It is awe-inspiring, both in the terrain it traverses and the sheer technical capability. Do a quick jaunt up the Petite Flambeaux. The Torino hut has incredible facilities.
  9. Saturday - Climb the Aiguille de Entreves (don’t ask me to say that) in wonderful weather. Descend down the Skyway Monte Bianco and take the bus back to Chamonix. Tour Ronde was falling apart the whole day.

So 3 days of bad weather, 3 days of cold weather and 3 days of perfect weather.

I’d go back to this place in a heartbeat. There is so much stuff to do even without leaving the classics!

I have mixed feelings about the guiding situation though. A huge majority of groups out in the mountains were guided (partly because we stuck to extremely classic routes). This made it somewhat disconcerting for us as the guided parties would go all over and around in a bid to finish routes quickly. It was odd that they were rushing to finish when the day was incredibly beautiful and the weather was good and there was no hurry to get anywhere.

In addition, some guides were downright condescending on the Gouter Route. Particularly given that their practices are incredibly unsafe when performed by non-guides (to be honest, I think they are incredibly unsafe for anybody…). We ascended and descended the rock part of the Gouter unroped, because it is fairly steep class 4, easy 5-th scrambling for over 2000-ft, so it isn’t something you can reasonably protect with fixed gear. We had 3 different guides comment on and call out that what we were doing was dangerous and that we should be roping up (short-roping) so that we can die together… I hope this is because they see too many novices on the route who really should’ve done it guided.

The thing to realize about Cham is that even with the crazy lifts, there are some logistics depending on your route. Due to lift times you often need to spend a day hiking in and a day hiking out (which is why we didn’t do anything in the Tour sector), and it can be a little difficult to fit all of that within weather windows and other objectives. In particular, I will not try a fixed-date Mt. Blanc attempt again as it encounters the same problems with reservations and permits as in California. You can’t predict the weather months in advance, which means your success or failure is entirely dependent on luck, which is not a good place to be in mentally. It was very easy to get last minute hut spots for everything else. After turning around at 4200m I lost the motivation to go up the Gouter, because I know it is well within my capabilities when the weather cooperates, so I may try it at some other point in my life via a more challenging, and thus easier to “book” route.

For the moderate routes, everything is about your technical skills as an alpinist, and not much about pure rock skills. Everything can be pulled on gear if you really need to (in boots). What matters is using terrain anchors, simul-climbing, quick alpine anchors and practiced rappel transitions to progress through the day, enjoy the views safely and still be done in time for the last lift.

In terms of gear, Shreya used the Nepals for boots. I used the Scarpa Ribelle tech, which was excellent for everything except Mt. Blanc (where it would’ve been fine if our reservation was for Thursday). All our routes were climbed using one 60m half rope as both the glacier rope and the climbing rope (doubled up for Mic et Mousse) and a single rack. For the conditions we faced, steel crampons would be the way to go. We had one steel and one aluminium pair, and the aluminium were completely blunt by the end of the trip. That’s because the entire Cosmiques Arete was climbing in crampons on rock/snow, as was the ascent and descent of the entire Gouter (conditions were an inch of snow on rock). We both had Ortovox 30-35L backpacks. My Ortovox Trad 35L continues to be an incredibly good pack, but Shreya’s Peak Light 32 is even better suited for Cham due to the nicer axe holders and the helmet attachment.

Apart from that, get the Rockfax guidebook, buy the right lift pass, and try hard to be the first in line for the Midi lift! :D

Notes on Rock Self Rescue

I recently took a class on basic self-rescue skills. I wrote up some notes to help me remember things and figured it would be useful to others!

Before we start, none of this complicated stuff matters if these are not true:

  1. Always lock locking carabiners!
  2. Check your and your partners harness, figure-eight and belay setups!
  3. Wear a helmet!

There are a few different knots used in all technical mountaineering/climbing and it is best to be able to do them in your sleep, one-handed. They are:

  • Overhand
  • Figure eight
  • Figure eight on a bight
  • Clove hitch
  • Munter hitch
  • Munter + Mule hitch with overhand backup
  • Prusik/Autoblock/Kleimheist

Notes on the munter

An easy way to remember a munter is to create a loop towards the inside of the A formed by the brake strand and load strand and flip it over into the carabiner.

If you put another locker through the “tongue” of the munter and then capture the load strand, the munter becomes auto-blocking. To avoid rope twists when using the munter, try to keep the rope strands as parallel as possible (Parallel is also when the munter moves freely, anywhere else adds friction and increases braking)

The guide mentioned that in europe they are starting to belay leaders of the anchor. I’m not sure how exactly that works with quickly feeding rope in and out, since you can’t use your waist to maintain tautness on the carabiner. This is something to look into.

When belaying a second, using a prusik or autoblock on the brake strand is a quick, valid way to back up the system when lowering. Check all friction hitches before trusting them. Dress all knots neatly!

Raising systems

Setting up raising systems as a leader, from the top belay, is really easy. Compared to crevasse rescue, you already have an anchor ready, and no imminent danger of dropping the follower further into the crevasse.

The munter is not a progress capture (ratchet). An auto-blocking munter is. A guide mode belay device is. We can leverage this to go through a progression of raising systems.

  1. Have the follower french-free by pulling on existing gear.
  2. Simply yank on the load strand. This may help the person get to a hold an inch away, or take some weight off them.
  3. If the follower is close enough, throw them a strand of rope from the free end. They should clip this to their belay loop (does not need a locker since the belay device is the primary attachment. This is a 2:1 system. They can assist by pulling on the strand from the belay device to them.
  4. To create a quick 3:1, attach a friction hitch to the load strand. Clip a non-locker to the other end and pass the free end of the rope through it. Remember to mind the prusik, extending it back out once it reaches the belay device.
  5. To create a 5:1, attach a double length sling by a carabiner to the anchor. This is the fixed end. Pass both strands of the runner through the carabiner attached to the prusik on the load strand from step 4 (instead of the rope). Clip another carabiner to the other end of the runner. Put the free end of the rope through here.
  6. Any of these systems can be complimented by adding another carabiner on the anchor to change the direction of force so it is easier to pull. Remember: The weight on the anchor is increasing for every addition. Make sure it is bomber!
  7. Friction can be reduced by using a pulley in place of one or more of the non-locking carabiners.

Lowering systems

Lowering is dangerous! You can lose control of the guide mode device once it is unlocked (has happened to me once, fortunately w/o bad consequences). Always back up the brake strand with a prusik attached to your belay loop, and tie a BHK (Big Honking Knot) for good measure below the prusik far enough to finish the lower. Unlocking the belay device has several steps, depending on the weight of the person and angles that make it difficult.

  1. Rotate the carabiner that is holding the rope through the belay device. This will let out a centimeter or so at a time.
  2. Put a carabiner through the small release-hole on the ATC and lever, using the carabiner as a handle.
  3. Put a sling through the small release hole (if possible). Girth hitch it, then redirect sling through anchor. Pull (You may need to use body-weight by attaching the sling to your belay loop and weighing it, or by putting your foot through the sling and pressing down.
  4. Load Strand Direct method: The intention is to use a carabiner to separate the load and brake strand where they enter the device, to remove the friction that creates the locking behavior. Clip a carabiner between the strands, trapping the load strand. Clip a sling to this carabiner and reroute through the anchor. Pull as in step 3.

Devices like the DMM Pivot are easier to release for lowering.

Passing knots

Knot passing and escaping the belay are simply applications of transferring the load from one system to another until it ends up going from one primary attachment point to another primary attachment point, in a safe and methodical manner. The standard sequence is something like:

  1. Initially the person is attached to one primary anchor, which we have to unclip for some reason (pass a knot or because it is on the belayer’s body and we want it on the anchor).
  2. Use a friction hitch from the anchor to the load strand as a secondary system. Use the free end of the rope to attach to the final anchor. At this time, the victim/person is attached to various places by 3 systems (the primary rope, the secondary rope, the prusik).
  3. Use a series of munter lowers and slack management to unload the primary rope and load the prusik. Since the prusik by itself is not load rated, we need the secondary attachment as a backup. Undo the primary.
  4. Take the slack out of the system. Use munters to weigh the secondary attachment (which has now become the primary). Undo the prusik.
  5. It is important in all cases to manage rope lengths so that the prusik does not go out of reach while it is being moved around!

To put this into context, here is a good video by Northwest Mountain School.

For passing knots (due to core shot isolation, or because two ropes are tied together), it is important to decide when to start the transfer to avoid 5 above. Also, do some creative slack management as required. We are not trying to pass an IFMGA exam here, so as long as the anchor is solid and the person on the load strand is OK with it, it is acceptable to induce some shock load on the anchor.

Mule overhands: The complete combination of using a prusik attached to an anchor by a munter, and then tied off (hands-free) using a releasable mule hitch and an overhand for backup, is referred to as a PMMO (Prusik-Munter-Mule-Overhand) in literature. The Munter Mule Overhand can also be used on the rope itself to go hands-free. A Mule Overhand can also be tied on a belay device. A mule is releasable under load unlike using an overhand or figure-eight to close a system. A mule is formed by forming a loop from the free end of the rope that captures the brake strand and the load strand on the same side and pulling a bight from the free end to finish the “trap”. Make this as close to the munter or belay device as possible. The bight is tied into an overhand that should capture the load strand. Leave enough tail out to ensure the overhand can’t untie. If there isn’t enough to tie an overhand, clip a carabiner through the bight of the mule and clip it back to the anchor or similar. Remember, the mule is releasable and we don’t want it to release just yet!

A rope MMO tie-off just by itself is considered completely secure and does not need any backups.

For passing the knot, we are going to use the scenario of us lowering a climber from an anchor. The system stays the same in other scenarios. Think through it in terms of steps 1-4!

  1. We are using a prusik on the brake strand to control the lower. Eventually the knot we want to pass approaches the prusik. Before this gets too close, stop the lower, release the prusik (careful!) and tie off the rope using a MMO. Now you can go hands free.
  2. Use a long cordelette to tie a prusik/kleimheist to the load strand. Attach another locker to the master point. MMO the prusik to this carabiner with no slack (pull the prusik close to the primary anchor).
  3. Add another locker to the anchor. This locker is going to replace the primary carabiner so we can pass the knot.
  4. Grab the free end of the rope past the knot. MMO this to the carabiner you just added. You have now “passed” the knot. We will use the system we set up to transfer the load — take out the little slack between the two rope attachment points — without shock loading the anchor.
  5. Remove the very first rope attachment MMO completely. Take the carabiner from the anchor if it is easy to retrieve. Otherwise you can grab it after the transfer is complete (Remember at this point you may have 4 carabiners through the master point!) It is also OK to connect the prusik carabiner to the carabiner holding you to the anchor via a clove hitch. Now, the prusik is holding the load, with the rope MMO as a backup.
  6. Undo the MO on the prusik and slowly lower the munter until the rope takes the weight. Remove the prusik setup. You are done! Release the rope MO and continue lowering.

Logically, the first rope MMO is solid by itself, so step 2 can actually be done after step 4.

When using a belay device instead of a munter, the process is only slightly different.

  • In step 4, instead of MMO, tie a figure eight on a bight past the knot (leave 0.5-1 feet of slack between the figure eight and the knot to pass), and clip the bight to the second locker. While the prusik holds the climber, this acts as a backup knot.
  • In step 5, after removing the first rope from the system, you will have the empty ATC at the anchor. Put the part of the rope between the backup and the knot to pass (the 0.5-1ft of slack we left) into the ATC. The ATC is now usable again.
  • Again use the PMMO to transfer the climber onto the ATC. Then undo the backup and continue lowering.

This knot passing remains the same on top rope lowers, except all of these locking carabiners will be on your belay loop instead of on the anchor. When passing a knot on rappel, you will do the same, with the backup figure eight on a bight below the knot to pass, clipped to your harness so you only fall 2-3 feet if your prusik fails. Use the prusik, clipped to your belay loop, to hold you while you undo and redo the ATC. When raising, a knot can be passed by putting another ratchet on the climber’s side of the knot once they are close enough (a PMMO backed by a figure eight on a bight on the rope). Remember that unlike an ATC in autoblock mode, a prusik ratchet has to be slid down the rope and made taut for it to act like a ratchet.

Escaping the belay

Necessary when you were belaying off the body and now need to transfer the climber onto the anchor so you can go assist them or run for help.

  1. Lock of the belay device on your harness with a MO, so you can go hands-free.
  2. Use a long cordelette to tie a PMMO from the load strand to the anchor.
  3. Set up another MMO using the rope on the anchor. This is both a backup while you are escaping, and will eventually become the primary anchor.
  4. Load the PMMO by undoing the belay device MO and lowering until the prusik is taut and holding.
  5. Remove the rope from the belay device. Take in slack into the MMO if necessary. (This is important to avoid the prusik going out of reach).
  6. Release the PMMO and lower the climber onto the rope MMO. Remove the prusik. Boom! You are out of the system.

Rappelling tips

  • Extending the belay loop is always a good idea for multiple rappels.
  • Only the first descender needs a third hand. Everybody else can receive a fireman belay.
  • Gloves are nice to have!
  • If you need to ascend the ropes, remember that an autoblocking belay device is a ready-made progress capture for ascension. Use a locking carabiner from your belay loop to the guide mode loop on the belay device (This requires the device to be extended!). This will orient the device into friction mode when weighed. Haul up, let it lock. Haul up, let it lock!
  • Use saddlebags on low angle, loose rock, or high wind situations.

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