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!
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)
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.
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.
- 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
- 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:
- Scarpa Ribelle Tech mountaineering boots
- La Sportiva TX2 approach shoes
Old stuff I continue to love:
- Ortovox Trad 35L
- Glacier literide axe
- Salomon Sense Ride train running shoes
Stuff I’m not a big fan of any more
- 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.