Winter is different! Summer rock climbing means a tee shirt, rock shoes and a chalk bag the same route under winter conditions, coated in snow and ice calls for a different approach. Bulky clothing, heavy boots and gloved hands make easy pitches much more difficult. But it is fun! The weather is not quite as bad as it seems from the comfort of home and we like to view this type of climbing as just another aspect of the whole mountaineering experience.
We divide our programs into “Acquiring the Skills“ and “Applying the Skills.”
Acquiring the Skills
While some of these are introductory we assume that you have done some summer climbing since winter climbing builds on these and expands them into the winter months.
Snow Travel Skills — 1 Day — Introductory
The use of an ice axe and crampons is fundamental to not only the mountaineer, but also to anyone who wants to be able to move with comfort and safety in the mountains under any conditions. For the backcountry hiker this course gives the skills needed to safely cross passes and to deal with the mountain snowfields often encountered in summer, especially after a heavy winter. Those mountaineers with ambitions of climbing the world’s higher peaks will also gain confidence as we work through skills such as self-arrest, crampon use, and belaying on snow.
Winter Mountaineering Skills Course — 4 Days —Intermediate
Climbing Sierra peaks in the summer months is usually a warm, casual experience but ascending the same peak during winter can be a totally different proposition. Snow, cold temperatures, wind, short days, and avalanche hazard conspire to make a more serious and difficult climb. For this program we have selected Mt. Morrison, located above Convict Lake, between Mammoth and Bishop. At 12,268 feet Morrison dominates the skyline as one drives Highway 395 to Mammoth. It’s steep North Face and Buttress has been described as the “Eiger of the Sierra” but we will avoid the bad rock of these routes ascending the easier, but challenging, south-east ridge.
Mixed Alpine Rock Day — 1 Day — Intermediate
Cardinal Pinnacle sits above the small cluster of houses at Aspendell and the Cardinal Village Resort and is barely a quarter mile above the winter road closure. The ascent is rated 5.6 – in summer. Winter is very different with heavy boots and clearing snow and ice from the holds so we hesitate to grade the climb. It suffices to say that it will keep you thinking and busy.
Applying the Skills
Once you have the skills it is time to put them to use on the biggest peaks in the range. These trips assume you have winter camping skills as well as proficiency with crampons and ice axe use.
Mt. Williamson in Winter — 5 Days
It is not necessary to travel long distances to undertake a major climb and expedition. In our backyard is a climb that rivals any other in North America for it’s length and in winter is a major trip requiring planning, stamina and expeditionary techniques. Mt. Williamson is the second highest peak in California but easily eclipses Mt. Whitney in base to top relief with over 8,000 feet of elevation gain over a distance of five miles, with exposed camps and several long sections of fourth class terrain.
Mt. Whitney in Winter — 5 Days
In summer Whitney is one of the busiest peaks in the Eastern Sierra but in the winter the mountain is a whole other world. The summer parking lot is empty (and usually buried in snow), travel is much more difficult and what is a routine climb in the summer becomes a challenge for most mountaineers. This is a great way to experience true solitude on what is otherwise a very busy mountain and to start transitioning your mountaineering experience to colder and snowier places.