maa blog

  • 03/06/2019 12:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    MAA members just completed an epic week of ice climbing in the frozen northern region of Cody, Wyoming -- and have confirmed this as the amazing multi-pitch ice climbing playground it's famous for. 

    The team completed multiple, long routes in the WI4 - WI6 range, notably "Broken Hearts" and "High on Bolder". Temps were brutal, bottoming out at -11 and below zero on most days! The team stayed in a rural cabin which MAA has secured for next year. 2020 dates for the Cody expedition are Feb. 27th - March 4th. Hope you can join us!

  • 03/06/2019 11:36 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Let's admit it, sometimes winter can be a bit dreary, and we find ourselves dreaming of climbing on warm rock and enjoying some double digit temps. So where can you get "some rad and some trad" while the mountains are still in the icy grip of old man winter? To the deserts and the eastern, dry sides of the Cascades and Sierra ranges of course...

    Joshua Tree - This National Park located just a few hours east of the Los Angeles sprawl is renowned for great weather in the "off-season" - in fact November through March is the best time to go there. J-Tree has thousands of routes on rock with incredible friction and some very unique desert scenery. It's busy on weekends so try to go mid-week if possible. There are so many areas to climb there, but some of the best are in Real Hidden Valley, off the Lost Horse Road, and at Hemingway for example. MAA sponsors trips to JT a couple times a year, mostly in the fall. Go check it out!

    Red Rock Canyon, NV - This area just outside and in a completely different world than nearby Las Vegas is famous for multi-pitch climbing on amazing sandstone. You can also find some cragging areas and even great hiking here. Finding camping is relatively easy and there is lots of room for everyone with dozens of canyons and hundreds of routes.

    Smith Rock State Park, OR - Just outside of Bend, "the birthplace of sport climbing" was created from the enthusiasm of the  climbing community and remains true to that heritage. With accessible camping (with a bathroom and showers!), an excellent trail network, generally excellent weather, this place is a mecca. Thousands of sport routes and a handful of trad routes in the widest variety are available all over these unique formations. 

    Eastern Sierra Crags - A number of locations here are significantly more tolerable during winter than summer: most notably Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, the Buttermilks, and Owens River Gorge near Bishop.

    Mountain Ascent sponsors climbing events at many of these locations every year. In 2019 we'll be at Smith Rock in May and Red Rocks in November, so far. J-Tree and other areas will certainly pop up as we get closer to summer. 

    What are some of your favorite areas to rock climb during the winter? If you have suggestions to add to this list please contact MAA at

    Check out Mountain Project for more information and other ideas! 

  • 02/26/2019 1:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Yes, Virginia, winter "fast and light" is real - and in fact has made many appearances, even on typically "heavy and slow" expeditions!

    How can you be light and fast in winter without cutting the margin of safety razor-thin? And just because you are light, does that mean you are automatically going to be fast? How about these tips from the front line.

    [Alaskan scenery captured out the window while flying into Denali - Todd Martin]

    1. Get fit. Winter climbing is demanding - heavier loads, deep snow, cold can be tough. Be prepared for it by following a fitness training program that includes cardiovascular endurance and some strength training. This will allow you to go further and last longer. Apex and Peak members both have climbing specific training programs included in their membership, take advantage of it! 
    2. Go without a 4-season tent. Opt for a snow shelter or a floorless shelter instead. With a few hours and a some motivated folks armed with shovels, you can create an sweet basecamp. Floorless shelters such as the BD MegaMid and BetaMid, or the Sierra Designs Mountain Guide Tarp, when combined with digging down in the snow, can provide a roomy and even bombproof basecamp. Or you can dig into the leeward side of a snow drift for your very own snow cave! Or create a quinzhee. Pile the snow, stomp and pack it, then dig it out in this same manner. Using any of these alternative shelter options can save you up to 10 lbs.[Illustration by Mike Clelland]
    3. Practice Multi-Use and Limit Duplication. Sleep with all your clothing on and you can bring a lighter weight sleeping bag. Bring only one torso length closed cell foam pad and use the rope and your backpack under you as additional insulation from the cold. Maybe this will in turn allow you to bring a smaller and lighter backpack. Only a few items should be duplicated: socks, gloves and headlamps in particular, and see if you can get by with only two pair rather than three. Winter is not the time to bring the coffee press and camp chair. This can save you a pound or two.
    4. Cut down on protection. Often we bring more than we need. Bring a smaller diameter (<9 mm), shorter rope, and only the minimum of protection. Or opt for a route that is non technical, such as a ridge climb, so you don't have to haul this gear. It can save you up to 10 lbs. [MAA teams on a winter ascent of The Sisters near Carson Pass]
    5. Cut down on food, and make careful selections. Yes, it's scary to contemplate running out of food, especially in winter. And you need calories to stay warm, so it's a safety thing too. But this is an area where folks routinely bring more than they need, and even return from the trip not having eaten it all. If this is the case, you probably brought too much. Consider bringing the most calorie-dense items you can, with raw BTUs as the criteria - this is not the time to be on a diet. (Bacon is one of the best for calories to weight ratio, for example!) Also, remove packaging and only bring what you are actually going to eat. Plan it out for each day. Unless you'll be further than a day's journey from the trail head, there is no need to bring "extra food", just in case. The average person can go an entire day or more without eating if necessary, you are going to make it. With careful planning and bringing no more than 3.5 lbs of food a day this, could save you many pounds of unnecessary weight.
    6. Don't carry so much water. It's important to stay hydrated but take care of that while you are in camp or by filling up at streams, if possible. You probably only need to actually carry a liter or two at a time. Each filled Nalgene (quart) weighs over 2 lbs. And when you do drink liquids, opt for hot drinks!

    All these concepts are taught on the MTN 2 training course offered by MAA in winter time. Hope this helps keep the loads lighter and the smiles bigger! 

  • 02/21/2019 4:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    We had a team of 14 in beautiful Ouray Colorado in late January through early February. We all climbed together in the South Park area of the canyon on Tuesday (1/29) and had a blast getting reacquainted to our ice tools. Wednesday was another gorgeous day in the park with half of our group back in the School House area and the other half managed to grab most of the climbs in the Pic Of The Vic area. We had mostly to ourselves the entire day which is rare since it's probably the most popular spot in the park. To top it off, Vish made a dash into town around noon and returned with fresh hot pizza! Epic!!! It doesn't get much better than chilling with friends, climbing ice and chowing on hot pizza at the crag. The following three days were a mixture of teams top-roping & practicing lead climbing in the park, multi-pitch climbing up Camp Bird Road, and back-country multi-pitch climbing at Dexter Slabs and in the Silverton/Eureka area. To top it off, we had a potluck dinner Friday night where everyone provided a favorite dish. What a feast! Great trip! I think everyone had a serious case of permasmile on the way home. :)  

    Erik just after pulling over that overhanging ice!

    MAA rocking Pic Of The Vic area ... after pizza delivery!

    Paul above doing his ninja swing (look closely at his ice tool)

    Paul, Steve, Todd after climbing Horsetail Falls in background

    See, I told ya, PERMASMILE! 

  • 02/19/2019 12:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    With the Sierra Nevada on overload with 136% of snowpack, avalanche safety has received a renewed emphasis. The Sierra Avalanche Center, Mount Shasta Avalanche Center, and Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center are your go-to sources for professional and reliable avalanche information, and should always be consulted before heading out in the winter backcountry. 

    This last weekend avalanche danger was HIGH throughout most of the state and continued to be that way for several days as more and more snow just kept coming. Why was it so unusually high and for so long? Primarily it was these factors: 1. weather, 2. terrain and 3. snowpack - which are all a part of a series of quick assessments you can use to determine if it's safe to venture onto steep slopes. Here's a few examples from the last week:

    Weather Red Flags:

    - It was snowing more than an inch an hour makes for unstable conditions, as the snow piles up faster than it has time to bond

    - Strong winds create "wind slab" which make the classic and deadly slab avalanche conditions more likely

    - Cold temperatures and little sun keep the snowpack loose and unbonded

    Terrain Red Flags:

    - Slopes in the zone of between 30 - 45 degrees were sliding, like they always do when triggered.

    - Terrain with a collection zone or ridge, shaped like a bowl or a chute, especially with runout zones, and broken or non-existent trees are places where avalanches occur over and over. Stay away from these places.

    [MAA team on a winter ascent of Mt. McAdie, a neighbor to Whitney. We avoided avalanche terrain by staying on ridgelines and steep rock.]

    Snowpack Red Flags:

    - The presence of a large and unstable wind slab is always a cause for concern, and cornices grew to an enormous size.

    - The presence of many storm layers create a complicated snowpack with many potential failure points - best to dig a pit and conduct some tests on your own as well!

    These are just some of the factors you should consider when heading out into avalanche terrain, but not all. There are many more things to know and assess to create a complete picture for the backcountry. So how to stay the safest? Follow these steps:

    1. Get educated - take an avalanche course. We recommend Sierra Mountain Guides in Bishop or Alpine Skills International in Truckee.
    2. Get the report - check the appropriate agency before heading out.
    3. Get away - if your goal is climbing it is usually possible to stay above and away from avalanche zones, or in terrain where it is too steep or too low angle for them to occur, such as on ridgelines, steep cliffs, or trees. Avoidance is the key.

    Have fun and stay safe out there!

    [MAA team on a winter ascent of The Sisters near Carson Pass]

  • 02/13/2019 8:14 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Winter mountaineering - it's cold and crazy out there sometimes!

    Over the course of many years camping and climbing in the "off-season" I've picked up a few tips from friends. The following tips are guaranteed to improve your outlook and make the difference between suffering and succeeding when the temps drop and the snow flies.

    1. Always use an insulating pad for sitting or laying on snow. This rule may seem obvious but actually it easy to ignore...until your butt becomes a block of ice. Take two pads out there with you, one inflatable and one non-inflatable. Use your non inflatable (e.g. "ensolite") pad under your body while sitting down to eat, cook, and of course while sleeping. Double or triple fold your pad for even better isolation from the cold. While sleeping use the inflatable pad over the ensolite pad. Full length pads are better!   
    2. Sleeping bag = clothes dryer. Yes, that's right, your gloves, socks, insoles, and even some layers can all be reclaimed from the icy grip of winter if you bring them in the sleeping bag with you. They may not be bone dry in the morning in some cases, but that's better than throwing them in a corner of the tent to find they are frozen and useless in the morning. 
    3. Everything is insulation. Before nodding off for the night arrange your gear and all the clothes you are not sleeping in anywhere underneath your sleeping bag and around you so that they benefit from your body heat, and you benefit from further isolation from the snow. Your empty backpack, gaiters, rope, and even boots should all be inside your shelter with you, either underneath you or touching you. Leaving your back pack and especially boots outside is a costly mistake - there's no reason they can't be kept drier - and keeping you drier - by being inside your shelter.
    4. Hot liquids are amazing. It's nearly impossible to have too much hot cocoa, coffee, tea, and instant soup out there. The packets take up virtually no space, and not only will you be warmer you will also stay hydrated. Will you have to get up to pee in the middle of the night? Probably, but it will give you a quiet moment to enjoy the incredible winter night sky.
    5. Water freezes from the top down. So put your water bottle with the threads down in an insulating parka and you'll never have to fight a frozen waterbottle lid again. Even better, fill it with hot water and put it in your sleeping bag near your feet or belly, and you'll be warmer for most of the night.
    6. Dry socks and dry gloves are worth the effort. Bring multiple pairs, keep them dry in a ziploc bag and always have at least one dry pair in reserve. Never drop your gloves in the snow. Instead, while not on your hands, gloves should always be kept warm and drying out in your jacket pockets, not left out to freeze somewhere. Keep socks that are drying out in your sleeping bag. Always sleep with a fresh(er), dri(er) pair of socks.
    7. The right gear makes a difference. It's all about the details. Always get jackets and layers with long sleeves and helmet-compatible hoods. Always have a minimum of three layers available for your lower body and four layers for your upper body. Always bring a beanie, a buff / balaclava, and gaiters. Waterproof your shell layers, gloves and boots every season. Use a compression stuffsack for you sleeping bag and other bulky items. Have multiple headlamps each with their own fresh batteries. Always bring an emergency blanket and/or bivy sack.

    MAA members use these skills quite often, whether its winter climbing or July in the Andes at 20,000 feet. We offer our MTN 2: Winter Mountaineering training courses from December through March. Stay dry, warm and happy out there! 

  • 02/12/2019 10:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    MAA members spent four days climbing ice on Thor Falls and enjoying winter zen in early January. We walked from the valley all the way up the road, snowshoed / skiied up DEEP unconsolidated snow up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek to establish a sweet basecamp at Lower Boy Scout Lake. In between great weather and storms, we got a few days of climbing on the incredibly beautiful ice below Thor Peak at around 10,700. We had acres of ice all to ourselves and climbed until we couldn't swing any more.

    There's something very cool about this area - the aesthetic of climbing smooth, perfect ice nearly at the foot of Whitney and the winter scenery are unmatched. You just have to put in the miles to get there and you will be rewarded. Thor Falls forms earlier and stays longer than any other ice crag in CA.

    We learned early season snow on the approach route is very tough, especially when you have around 5,000' to climb to basecamp with 60 lb winter mountaineering packs -- we will offer this event every year, but probably in March when the approach is more consolidated.

    Great trip, and a great team put in a lot of effort in sometimes difficult conditions to make this happen! 

  • 01/25/2019 12:09 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    A great group closed out 2018 with a climb of Round Top via the West Ridge on Saturday, December 29th.

    A beautiful day turned to high winds as we ascended the base of the ridge. We took a break behind some rocks just below the summit, preparing ourselves for a quick dash to the summit in blowing wind. But then it died! 

    We had great views, some snacks on the summit, took some photos, and headed back. The trip was about six hours car-to-car. 

  • 01/25/2019 11:59 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Saturday,January 19th was very busy at June Lake! With avalanche danger running high in Lee Vining Canyon and at Horsetail Falls, every ice climber arrived at Roadside. Lucky for our team, we had all previously agreed to meet in Lee Vining at 6:30am - figuring there would be lots of climbers on the 3-day weekend. We were on the ice by 7:15 with two ropes. As more people arrived, including three guided groups, more ropes went up and most of us shared. We also tried to keep the climbers parallel with each other to avoid excessive ice fall. Also in our favor, the right side had some thin but climbable mixed ice, allowing for some great training! Hopefully we will get more ice and cold temps soon!  

  • 01/19/2019 10:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    8 MAA members joined me at Donner Pass this past Saturday to climb Castle Peak via the West Ridge.  What we had penciled out was a nice stroll up to Castle Pass, turn right on the ridge and then ascend the 1,100 feet along the ridge to the East Peak with beautiful views of the region.  What we got was low-lying clouds with poor visibility, intermittent drizzle and unconsolidated snow shortly after a blizzard had passed through. 

    But plans are plans and you can’t change the weather so we left the Sno Park at 8:30am and were up to Castle Pass by 10 despite soft, wet snow along the entire trail.  Deep post holing with snow shoes on was intermittently enjoyed by one and all.

    Before we left the parking lot we knew the avalanche forecast was not encouraging.  By sticking to low-angled slopes we planned to mitigate any danger but one section of the route ascends a 35 degree slope.  Sadly this section is more or less unavoidable.  I did have the faint hope that wind would have scoured this of excess snow accumulation rendering it climbable but visibility remained poor and the snow stayed deep.  Given that the avalanche forecast contained words like “considerable” and “historic” we felt discretion was the better part of valor and turned back, walking to the Peter Grubb Hut (neat hut, sad story see here: and stopped for a quick snack before climbing back to the ridge and then descending to our cars.

    Everyone on the team did incredibly well and remained in good spirits despite less than ideal conditions and changes in plans.  Special thanks to Sadie and Bryce for all the help!

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