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  • 02/03/2020 7:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This past weekend MAA members, Mido, Robin, Renan and myself, ascended a very fun yet grueling 20 mile and 8800' total gain/loss ascent of San Gorgonio. The team set out at 10am on Saturday morning walking through the closed road to the trail head and quickly began the ascent up the initial switchbacks in cactus, yuccas and oak trees. This quickly gave way to alpine conditions and the team carefully made their way through icy trails and melting snow bridges to high creek camp with a beautiful view of Yucapia ridge. With a high wind advisory for Sunday afternoon of gusts up to 55mph, the team woke up at 3:30am and began their final ascent shortly after 4am. The initial ridge was steep and we were constantly looking for the stars to show through the trees signifying that we made our first goal. After reaching it, San Gorgonio's snow capped peak vaguely loomed in the sky and the team trodded along as the sunrise turned the sky orange and views of San Jacinto and the Salton Sea came into focus. A series of demoralizing false peaks were tempered by Robin's previous experience on the mountain (and his shared stash of Reese's Cups) and the summit was attained at 8:30AM. Everyone had made it and we quickly enjoyed a meal and made a hasty retreat to camp knowing full well that there many miles back to the car. The hike down was a series surprises at the steepness of sections we previously thought weren't that steep on the way up. As the miles dragged and 12 hours of constant motion weighed on us, we were extremely excited to finally make it back to the cars in time for the 2nd half of the Superbowl. Great times and great memories, thanks again team! 

  • 06/15/2019 4:19 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Kevin, Cory, Greg and Emily set out last weekend to conquer Cloudripper's West chute. What we found instead was ALOT of Sierra Snow still present. The route is a loose class III scramble up a very steep gully. What we encountered was an approach littered with recent avalanches and the same gully now covered with a layer of snow over the loose rock footing. The team awoke early and after consideration opted for a fun and much safer climb up nearby Chocolate Peak. We were on the summit in time to watch the sunrise over the Inconsolable Range and back in Bishop for breakfast by 8am. The SoCal crew, Kevin, Cory and Greg, were also able to boast the Sierra summit and then an evening surf sesh in the same Sunday. Good Times! 

  • 05/22/2019 3:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    May 4-5, 2019: Six MAA mountain addicts (Vish, Kay, Frederick, David, Kevin, Todd) ascended Mt. Tom via the Elderberry Canyon route and slid on our butts much of the way down. Epic!

    Four of us (Frederick, Kevin, David, Todd) were there as a team-practice/pre-climb for our planned ascent of Mt. Rainier via Liberty Ridge later that month (unfortunately we just canceled it yesterday due to nasty weather ... waaaaaaaaa!). Vish joined to further his training/prep for Denali, also in late may. Kay, new to the club was just stoked to climb. A couple friends (Steve & Karyn) skinned up on Saturday to ski, and hung with the gang before tackling the Elderberry headwall.

    Saturday afternoon we worked on tuning our crevasse rescue skills. Time well spent in anticipation of Rainier & Denali. The weather deteriorated toward the end of the day, becoming quite windy and cold, however we awoke to bluebird skies on Sunday. 

    Sunday morning we picked a chute with no visible avy activity to attain the ridge then navigated multiple false summits before reaching the top. Was a gorgeous day! We descended a less-steep snow field further north on the headwall which offered great glissading. After breaking camp we glissaded most of the approach snow field back to its end. I believe we logged well over 3K' of glissading for the day. Woohooooo!

    We all had a great time, and a serious permasmile reaction to the trip!  ;) 

  • 05/07/2019 7:59 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “North of Casaval Ridge is a beautiful, long gully that begins in HIdden Valley at 9,200 feet and ends nearly 4,000 feet later at the broad snowfield at the base of Misery Hill.” (Selters and Zanger, The Mt. Shasta Book, 3rd ed.)

    Many believe that the West Face is the prettiest route on Mt. Shasta. I know eight MAA climbers who won’t argue with that. In 2018, this trip was cancelled due to a late-season storm. This year, the weather was perfect and the snowpack was deep.

    We departed Bunny Flat before 9am on Friday, May 3rd. The hike to Horse Camp followed an astonishing 300 foot-wide debris path from a “100-year” avalanche in February. We cached our snow shoes at Horse Camp and traversed to Hidden Valley.

    On Saturday, an alpine start under a new moon created a navigational challenge. We needed to occasionally turn off our headlamps to visually navigate by the faint light of the Milky Way. The icy crust of the West Face (35 to 40 degrees) was ideal for a moderate, non-technical climb with crampons and mountaineering axes. The first climbers reached the top of the West Face (13,100’) at 8am. After a long break, we trudged up Misery Hill, walked to the fumaroles, and climbed the picturesque summit block.

    The descent featured 3,000’ glissade led by Aaron “buns of steel” Bailey.  Icy patches provided plenty of opportunities for self arrest. It was a highlight of the trip. After well-deserved night of sleep, we hiked out on Sunday morning.

    Team: John Scruggs (EL), Natasha Wyatt, Aaron Bailey, Sissy Petropoulou, Leslie Thomas, Nick Myllenbeck, Phil Lowenthal, Dan Kubaczyk

  • 04/03/2019 6:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Ski Dreams is a couloir tucked in the Sawtooth Range almost next to Matterhorn Peak. In addition there are several options in the vicinity that combined with the long approach (5-6 miles) make for a nice multi-day trip. As the trip planning evolved, a storm popped in the forecast. After monitoring it the expectation was for very light snow, cold temperatures and mild winds. Given prior experience with the local weather it was best to prepare for worse conditions. The plan was on day 1 to hike in, setup camp and scout the area; on day 2 attempt Ski Dreams and scout other objectives (e.g. the Doodad); on day 3 attempt final objective and ski back to trailhead.

    On the approach it was a beautiful day, only made better due to the awesome snow coverage. Throughout the day winds started to pick up and around midnight snow started to fall. The forecast predicted 1-2" of snow at camp elevation (9.8k ft) but on the morning of day 2 it seemed that 5-6" fell overnight. Strong winds and light snow continued throughout the day.

    The group did a short tour on low angle slopes to assess snow stability and confirmed there were at least 6" of fresh, cohesive, and non-reactive snow over the older hard pack. This combined with poor visibility (~100 yards) made the group head to camp after enjoying a couple of laps. Hunkering down is not the most fun thing to do but in this case it was the safe decision. As the storm moved through the winds hit ~40 mph with ~60 mph gusts; enough to knock one over. Thankfully our camp was sheltered and secure.

    Overnight the winds and snow died down but the extra energy created dangerous wind slabs. After a good discussion the team didn't feel confident that the conditions were safe for a ski dreams push. We decided in spite of the beautiful blue bird day and fresh pow to pack camp and ski to the car. For some in the group this is the 3rd Ski Dreams attempt. But as they say, the mountain will always be there. On the plus side the ski out was wonderful and with the great coverage it was possible to ski all the way to the car without skinning. 

    As the team headed out, there were a couple of parties heading for the couloir. Later at home we read that one of the parties triggered an avalanche, thankfully without casualties. I think we made the right call.

  • 04/03/2019 1:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    [MAA team on the Hotlum Glacier]

    No we're not talking morbid tales of demise, but rather snow protection. What do you know about how to use pickets, a bollard, or a snow seat to give your team some security in that couloir / glacier / steep face?

    Using specialized techniques and tools, any snow slope is not only climbable, but protectable. There are options beyond individual self-arrest, but it always involves a rope and some form of protection. But you can't just rope up like you would do at the rock crag and call it good. Climbing steep snow safely requires a bit more.

    First, some understanding about protection. Generally, snow does not provide the best options...rock protection is generally the strongest protection available. Ironically, it should be your first choice on a snow climb. That's one reason why it's a good idea to climb on the side of a couloir. Next best option is an ice screw, if you can get it, but that's rare. Next best is probably a natural anchor such as a large, well-rooted tree or a very large boulder, flake, or horn.  

    If none of these options are available, then your next best strategies to protect yourself and the team on the climb are the usual tri-fecta of 1. snow protection, combined with 2. belayer positioning, and backed up by 3. an effective team self-arrest.

    [MAA team in the Cross Couloir on Mt. Tallac]

    I. Snow Protection

    Pickets are the universal choice here. The standard 1.5 foot T-shaped aluminum snow picket can be hammered in vertically, like a fence post (as a "picket") or buried horizontally in a T-slot (as a "deadman"). You will need a double length (48") sling or an attached cable to extend it for anchoring. 

    Next best option is to use a mountain axe, also placed as a picket or a deadman, and you'll need to sling it as well by clipping to the head or using a girth hitch or clove hitch around the shaft. Once the axe is solid you can connect it to the picket(s) and begin creating your belay anchor. 

    Other options include a snow fluke, a bollard, or any other object of some size that can be used as a dead man, like skis, snowshoes, or a pack. To learn more about this paid members can view Snow 3 online training

    Snow flukes aren't used much because they only work well in a small range of snow conditions. They are a v-shaped plate of aluminum with a cable that is buried a foot or two in the snow. If weighted, the fluke travels deeper into the snowpack the more pressure it receives. If the snow is too loose it will pull out and if the snow is too dense, it won't move at all. (Perhaps it's best use is as a huge, flat chock placed behind a rock.) 

    A bollard is also not used much but is great to know about and fun to use, if you have the time to dig one. It is a tear-drop shaped trench that is dug in the snow where the rope can be placed so that is in effect "lassoes" a big circular plug of snow. A bollard requires some practice to do well, but does enable you to use it as an anchor, or even rappell from it, using nothing but snow. Not sure if that is encouraging or not!

    II. Belayer Positioning

    This is what's called a "snow seat". It is a way of anchoring oneself while seated in the snow, feet wide and braced, in order to provide more strength to an often dubious snow anchor. Most often it is used at the end of a lead to bring up the team, but it can be used at any time, even in rock climbing, to add to the overall strength of a belay anchor.

    In snow climbing, if the team is belayed directly off the harness using a Munter Hitch, a device, or even a hip wrap, then the snow anchor components are usually equalized and the master point is attached to the belayer's belay loop to function as a backup to the snow seat.

    In this way belaying a team on the snow is often different than rock climbing: the belayer's position is considered the primary strength of the anchor with the various snow anchors components factored in as additional strength, and the team is belayed from the harness instead of from the master point of the anchor. 

    [Team simul-climbing the Hotlum Left Ice Gully on Mt. Shasta]

    III. Team Self-Arrest

    Most of the time snow climbs are done using a technique called a running belay or "simul-climbing". This is a technique where the entire team is spread out on the rope and all moving at the same time. The leader places protection at regular intervals and the last person on the team removes it, taking care to keep a few pieces attached to the rope at all times.

    If any member of the team falls everyone executes a self-arrest in response. This is the first line defense against injury. Secondly, the rope will come tight on the protection and that will add a level of security. But if protection fails, the team still has self-arrest as their primary risk management strategy. So as the first and the last resort, it must be done well!

    Learn More - all of these skills and techniques are taught in our Snow 3 and Snow 4 training courses being held in April and May. You can also learn more by watching the online video training and we have some applicable seminars on our YouTube Channel

    Happy climbing!

  • 03/27/2019 2:37 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    [A portion of our MAA climbing team happy on the summit of Matterhorn Peak]

    By Doug Harris

    After a winter in which Every.  Single. Weekend. Seemed to bring another storm I was surprised to see clear skies and no wind in the forecast for our ascent of Matterhorn Peak March 15-17.  Our seven-member team met at the end of Twin Lakes Road in Bridgeport at 9am, went over packs, distributed some group gear and made our way to Horse Creek Trail shortly after 10.  

    God bless skiers and the boot-pack they provide.  Right out of the gate the Horse Creek Trails hits you with an 800 vertical foot ascent and the prospect of going up that in unconsolidated snow was not something anyone had been looking forward to.  However, the skiers got there before us and we were more than happy to use the steps they had kicked.

    [Bret glad that so many skiiers have been to Matterhorn Peak lately]

    Temperatures were warm during the day; we snowshoed up to 10,200 feet picked a location for camp, dug out tent sites and set up a cooking spot in a grove of trees.  While the day had been borderline hot and Mountain Forecast was calling for nice temps at night as soon as the sun dipped behind the ridgeline it got surprisingly cold.  Nathan packed a few extra pounds of gear and was wandering around camp in a full down suit complete with down booties and seemed utterly unperturbed by the cold. While I can’t speak for others I, at least, was jealous.

    Of the seven members who camped that night two were feeling ill and opted not to continue, a third volunteered to stay behind and keep an eye on them (thanks Leslie!).  Nathan, Aaron, Brett and myself were out of camp by 7:00 the next day, to the top of the east couloir by 10:00 (give or take) and on the summit by 10:30. Blanketed in snow from all those storms the view from the top looking south along the Matterhorn-Whorl ridgeline toward Yosemite was jaw dropping.

    [Looking south toward Whorl Mountain and Yosemite NP]

    The descent took a little longer than planned when we found the Ski Dreams couloir unusable and had to get back to camp via Horse Creek Pass.  Walk back to the trailhead was uneventful and everyone reached their car by 11am the next day. Thanks to all our members for a great trip!

  • 03/26/2019 4:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Our winter mountaineering training wrapped up with a stellar weekend of rappelling, traveling, and climbing on the Mountaineering Level 2 (MTN 2) Winter Mountaineering Course March 15th - 16th, held at Billy Mack Canyon near Truckee. 

    Snow levels have been off the charts -- we got a chance to experience it firsthand. We had to dig our way through the wall of snow just to get started. 

     Travel to basecamp was straightforward and pleasant, and in no time we were digging a snow cave, a quinzhee, setting up tents and a group kitchen area. A heck of a lot of digging. There was so much snow that we found drifts buried inside of drifts. The snow was somewhere around 10 - 15 feet deep everywhere, with incredible cornices.

    Our kitchen set up was a very nice place to spend the evening together enjoying meals and a mild winter night with about a billion stars.

    Some of our team slept in tents and quite a few spent their first night in a snow shelter. The next day we trekked out to Babylon Dome and worked on fixed lines and rappelling with a full winter setup (pack, crampons, gloves, etc.)

    In addition to our winter camping and technical skills, we also spent quite a bit of time working on advanced navigation, learning how to shoot a bearing without using the needle and how to move through terrain when we can't sight a bearing to our destination. 

    The mountaineering series continues with MTN 3, which is "Expedition Mountaineering" -- this is our most physically demanding training with a 24 hour circumnavigaton and technical climb, with a bivouac in the snow. Light and fast is the name of the game here, no basecamps. This is meant to prepare members for the final push to the summit, having the skills, technique and know-how for success. 

    Thanks everyone for a successful and rewarding training!

  • 03/26/2019 12:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Happy news friends, ice climbing is never over! How? Because "ice climbing" includes not just climbing water ice, but also the spring "alpine ice" season, summer glacial ice climbing, and even fall couloir climbing. Yesssss! Amazing and true. :)

    Let's start when it's too cold to rock climb anymore -- with freezing late fall and winter temperatures. As the creeks and cascades harden, water ice climbing season begins, with the pillars, faces and gullies gleaming with hard ice. Lee Vining, June Lake, Ouray, Bozeman, Cody, Canada...we love it. We'll continue kickin' and pickin' steep and vertical ice through the winter using short-shafted "ice tools" with a reverse curve pick and sharp vertically oriented ice climbing crampons, from November to March. This continues while winter snow is falling readying for the "next season" of ice climbing, which is just around the corner.

    [MAA team climbing over the bergschrund on an ascent of the famous U-Notch route on North Palisade]

    Sometime around April in the Sierra, as the water ice melts away, all that winter snow continues to condense and harden. About the time we no longer need those double boots, steep couloirs in the mountains are hard enough to climb. This is the "alpine ice" season a.k.a. as the time to climb Round Top, Tallac, Baldy, Red Slate, Mendel and the like. Specifically, this is "névé climbing", which is old snow that hasn't yet been around a year. Névé has gone through enough freeze / thaw cycles that it can be climbed with two tools -- either a mountain axe and a ice tool, or two hybrid tools -- and rock pro and snow pro can be used as you simul-climb with your team for thousands of feet. 

    [Climbing a north facing couloir using two tools and both ice screws and rock pro, this type of ascent allows a climber to use all their training]

    These couloirs and faces provide direct access to the glorious mountain summits. Days are longer and the high peaks are warmer - make sure you get an early start and are back to camp for a late lunch before the rocks and ice start coming down!

    Once the névé is hard enough to take an ice screw or very resistant to shoveling, it is classified as "firn" and is a dream to climb, because it takes picks with less effort than water ice and yet is very secure. To climb alpine ice, the technique is a little different that water ice climbing. Typically a climber will keep their tools lower, climbing with them in low dagger, or mid-dagger position. This allows a climber to quickly and confidently crawl up steep snow slopes without having to use an overhead swing.

    In addition to learning this, MAA provides comprehensive training how to use ropes, team self arrest, place protection and be a member of a team for this type of "ice climbing" in our Snow 3 and Snow 4 classes. 

    Which ice axe to choose? How do you know which is the best one for your chosen application? Outdoor Gear Lab is a trusted source on all kinds of gear; here is an excellent review of all piolets classified as "ice axes" - which is all straight shaft or slightly bent shafts models, which are good for everything from mountaineering to steep hard snow and even low grade water ice. 

    [MAA expedition team on the Tres Montes route in the Mont Blanc Massif]

    While alpine ice season is underway, the biggest mountains in North America are coming into shape. Sometime around May, and continuing into the fall, ice climbing now expands to include the glaciers and high mountains, full of glacial ice, tumbling seracs, and snow and ice in all it's wonderful forms. The technique we practiced in the winter and spring can be applied to the steep, hard slopes of many glaciated mountain faces and aretes. Think Mt. Rainier, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Baker, and Alaska.

    And it's not over yet...right about the time the crevasses are too numerous to negotiate, usually around September, we can return to the high peaks for a few last ice climbs until November. Nothing like a Halloween climb up the North Couloir of North Peak. The firn that has been hardening for many months is now dense, dirty, rock-hard snow. It will take ice screws and climbs almost like water ice, with much less shattering. We can touch the summits once more before winter closes in and the cycle begins all over again. 

    [MAA members approach North Peak, North Couloir route on an early fall morning]

    And if this wasn't great enough, if you can travel north (or south) far enough, or high enough, in any season, you can always find "ice climbing". All types. Guaranteed. You just need to know where to go.

    So you see, ice climbing season is never truly over. Keep your tools sharp!   

  • 03/12/2019 7:56 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    [Mt. Shasta's beautiful and elusive north side, showcasing the Hotlum-Bolam Ridge route, with the Hotlum Glacier on the left and the Bolam Glacier on the right, with the Whitney Glacier far right.]

    It's an icon of northern California and one of the most sought after summits along the west coast, 14,180' Mt. Shasta. This prominent volcano offers excellent opportunities for climbing, skiing, and hiking on it's glacier clad slopes and one of the best summits anywhere - a small castle of rock with a sheer drop on all sides. 

    [MAA summiteer elated with the 100 mile view in every direction.]

    Mountain Ascent Association has been climbing Shasta since the very beginning in 2009, and to date we have logged close to 40 trips there, climbing all the major routes. 

    I'm often asked about Mt. Shasta, when to climb it, where the best routes are and how to prepare for success. These are topics we discuss in our Mt. Shasta Seminar which you can view on our YouTube Channel here

    However, some highlights would be appropriate, let's do them in a FAQ format.

    Q: Should I climb Avalanche Gulch?

    If you've never been to Shasta before Avalanche Gulch is a good route to ascend because it's one of the easiest routes. However, it is crowded and prone to ice and rock fall, plus the perils of the mistakes of ill-experienced climbers. For those reasons I recommend the West Face or Hotlum Bolam Ridge routes instead. They require a bit more travel and have more routefinding components, but are far less crowded, more scenic, and ultimately more safe. 

    [Typical weekend scene at basecamp for Avalanche Gulch]

    Q: What training should I get in order to climb Shasta?

    You absolutely need to know how to climb steep snow and perform an effective self arrest. In MAA, these skills are addressed in SNOW 1 and SNOW 2. You also need to know how to travel, camp and navigate in snow. These skills are addressed in MTN 2 training course. You do not need to have this training from MAA, you just need to be have the skills to climb the steep and slippery snow slopes confidently and safely.

    Most importantly, you need to be fit enough to climb a minimum of 4,000' per day with a pack at altitude. You should not expect to succeed by just jumping off the couch and heading up there. Put in at least two months of cardio training prior and you'll be much happier and successful on your ascent. 

    [Credits: Patituci Photo]

    Q: I want to climb Casaval Ridge. What's the best way to prepare for it?

    Casaval Ridge is a scenic route and is best done in the spring - April is usually the best month. However, since it is climbed on the coattails of winter, and because it is a prominent southern facing ridge, you should expect and be prepared for monster winds. They've been known to blow camps right off the ridge. Over the last 7 years about half of our teams have been unable to summit due to high winds and low visibility, so take a healthy dose of patience and caution. If you are really committed to summiting via Casaval it's best to plan at least 4 days. Study the route carefully ahead of time, get a very early start - like 2 am - and climb fast. Most parties do not rope up for the Catwalk. 

      [The majority of the Casaval Ridge route. The Catwalk is the last right trending rock band before gaining the ridgeline of Misery Hill]

    Q: How often does MAA climb Shasta?

    Mountain Ascent Association climbs Shasta every year, between 4 and 8 times, during the months from April - July. This year we have 6 events so far and a few more in the planning stages. We also conduct glacier climbing and crevasse rescue courses there for Apex members.

    Our favorite routes are any Hotlum route (HB ridge, HB glacier, and left and right ice gullies) and the ridge routes (Casaval, Sargents, and Green Butte), with West Face as a great alternative to Avalanche Gulch. We'll also be on the Wintun glacier this year. The Whitney Glacier is another route we've climbed in the past that is an adventurous and worthwhile route.

    [The upper icefall zone on the Hotlum Glacier in late season]

    Q: What are the main hazards of climbing Shasta?

    Unquestionably the biggest hazard is wind. It can be unpredictable and not on the forecast. It also varies in intensity depending upon which side of the mountain you are climbing. The worst culprits seems to be the windward southwest side and the colder, glaciated northwestern side. 50+ mph winds have often been present on the Hotlum Glacier and Casaval Ridge and on the summit 100 mph winds happen often, especially in the winter and spring.

    Winds will not only make the climb colder and miserable, they may create a whiteout where navigation is difficult or impossible. Be prepared to descend and know your descent route well, even to the point of having a compass bearing handy. The other hazards of the mountain are other climbers, falling in or glissading into a crevasse, glissading with crampons on (never do this) and falling ice and rock.

    [MAA climber dealing with high winds on a typical winter climb on Round Top]

    Q: What are the best things I should expect from my climb?

    There's a lot to expect! Mt. Shasta is a beautiful, accessible, high mountain with a variety of routes and a lot of room for everyone. The weather is usually great and the views are stunning. It's easy to get there on the interstate, and usually can be climbed in a weekend.

    Shasta is a great mountain climb in its own right, but it also offers the perfect training ground for higher and more difficult objectives. It's the perfect "mountain gym". Shasta is just as accessible as Mt. Hood or Mt. Baker, but it is hundreds of feet higher at 14,180. Rainier is the only Cascades volcano that's higher, at 14,410'. However, unlike Rainier, Mt. Shasta is less serious and less massive, with only a few glaciers that are big enough to practice with, but not so big they are a major hazard. So it's high enough to be useful for a "high altitude" experience but small enough that is doesn't require a major expedition effort to climb. 

    [MAA climber Dustin in the icefall on Mt. Stuart]

    Q: Can I climb Shasta on my own?

    Yes...if you have the skills, fitness, and a partner. Don't head up there without all of those. Study the route ahead of time, monitor the weather, don't skimp on clothing and equipment, and be ready to turn back if things aren't right. But do go for it - you will be rewarded. Climbing Mt. Shasta is a stellar experience.

    [One of our teams happy on the summit after climbing the HB ridge]

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