In The High Sierra ~ Mount Whitney (1982 & 1983)

Up until 2008, our adventures were retained only as memories and on 35mm slides. While our memories may have faded (just a bit), the slides haven’t – and we have a lot of them. So we’re digitizing a select few to bring some of our past adventures into the 21st Century. The photos below are some of those old slides.


Sometime in the 1990s, we were in an Independence restaurant eating breakfast, having just come down from a climb in the High Sierra. Suddenly shouting erupted outside and I looked-up to see a man running down the sidewalk yelling and waving a piece of paper. Angst over a parking ticket? A lottery winner? As he zoomed past the restaurant and on up the street, we could hear him screaming: “Hans! Hans! We have the permit! We have the permit!” Apparently he and Hans had come all the way from Germany to climb Mount Whitney (14,494 feet (4,416 m)), the highest point and arguably the most famous – or at least the best known – peak in the continental United States. Even then, people came from all over to climb it. But the permit requirements had begun hardening in the mid-1980s and now concessionaires or rangers were around to enforce them. These two hadn’t gotten a permit in advance and were justifiably ecstatic about snagging a rare walk-up one. Considering Whitney’s current level of popularity, having that happen today would exceed the miraculous.

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In The High Sierra ~ Mount Morrison (1974-1985)

Up until 2008, our adventures were retained only as memories and on 35mm slides. While our memories may have faded (just a bit), the slides haven’t – and we have a lot of them. So we’re digitizing a select few to bring some of our past adventures into the 21st Century. The photos below are some of those old slides.


My first trip to California’s High Sierra was on a backpack in 1968. That started, haltingly, a granitic attraction to The Range of Light that has now endured for more than 50 years. The first “real” mountain I ever climbed was (appropriately) Mount Hood in 1972. I did a NOLS Mountain Guide course the next summer during which our attempt on Gannett Peak (Wyoming’s high point) was foiled by a blizzard. My first attempt at mountaineering in the High Sierra was on Mount Morrison (12,241 ft (3,731 m)) in 1974. That was the start of an eleven year long saga of uninformed optimism.

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A First Ascent in the Sierra Nevada (September 1984)

Up until 2008, our adventures were retained only as memories and on 35mm slides. While our memories may have faded (just a bit), the slides haven’t – and we have a lot of them. So we’re digitizing a select few to bring some of our past adventures into the 21st Century. The photos below are some of those old slides.


The LovedOne and I watched Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey (2017) the other night.  It was a very balanced and entertaining account of probably the most accomplished, influential, but not necessarily easy to get along with, climber of his time.  His absolutely singular focus on climbing and mountaineering garnered him almost 1,000 first ascents of new routes and of previously unclimbed mountains.  Watching the movie chronicle Beckey’s exploits dredged-up the memory of the one (and only and unintended) first ascent of my 30-year amateur climbing career.  While Beckey’s first ascents occupy the stratosphere of mountaineering legend, ours was a much, much humbler affair.  But it still seems like a good story…

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Days On Ice ~ High Sierra (January 1985)

Up until 2008, our adventures were retained only as memories and on 35mm slides. While our memories may have faded (just a bit), the slides haven’t – and we have a lot of them. So we’re digitizing a select few to bring some of our past adventures into the 21st Century. The photos below are some of those old slides.


In the early 1990s, when we were living in Denver, I went ice climbing with a couple of sportsmen who had a different take on what “sport” entailed.  In the summer months, they played golf.  No hiking, rock climbing, mountaineering, etc. – just golf.  In the winter months, they did extreme ice climbing.  No skiing, snowshoeing, mountaineering, etc. – just ice climbing.  I went along on one of their milder winter excursions.  We started with a simple “warm-up” climb (literally and figuratively) of a 30-foot frozen cascade in Rocky Mountain National Park, then moved on to a 75-foot frozen waterfall.  This was an essentially freestanding frozen column of water – anchored at the bottom by gravity and at the top by ice entwined in some tree roots at the lip of the fall.

This stack of ice seemed precarious to the point that even these ice wizards decided to top-rope it lest it collapse beneath us.  Or on us.  I was admonished to climb carefully, using only the tips – if at all possible – of my crampons and ice tools.  No heroic axe swings or crampon kicks.  Every time I moved up – no matter how carefully – this column of solid water vibrated ever so slightly.  Hit it just a little harder and it twanged.  My chance to ever reach geezer-hood was hanging by an ice crystal.  Oh rapacious joy!  This was a long, long 75-foot climb, top rope or not.  While topping-out, I noticed the ice enmeshed in the roots had cracked…ever…so…slightly.  This was the last time I ever went ice climbing.  Never developed much interest in golf either…

A few years before my Colorado cavalcade on ice, John, Alan, and I had gone ice climbing at two locations in California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada – Rush Creek (June Lake) and Lee Vining Canyon.  Unlike the extreme ice climbers, the three of us were climbing ice primarily to hone our skills in case we needed to climb a little ice on a mountaineering trip.  The ice in both these locations is the result of leakage from Southern California Edison (SCE) penstocks running across the cliffs above.  As a result of this source, the ice flows and cascades in sheets down the cliffs at angles between 45° and near vertical.  Rush Creek was a good place to practice, while Lee Vining was the place to try your axe at 2-3 pitches of real ice climbing. 

Climbing up to the ice at Rush Creek from the SCE power station
Alan and John, almost to the ice
The ice at Rush Creek
John at Rush Creek
Alan at Rush Creek
Alan and John practicing anchors in ice
Me at Rush Creek

After spending most of the day on the sheet of ice, Alan and I did a short climb of a frozen creek just to the north of it. After that it was back to our small, but warm, rented room in June Lake – a room suspiciously close to the nearby restaurant and bar. 🙂

Climbing to reach the frozen creek
Climbing the creek
Almost to the top
Rush Creek near June Lake (P: parking, I: ice-covered cliff, H: Horsetail Falls)

Early the next morning we drove north into Lee Vining Canyon, parked, and then walked up to where ice coated the cliffs. While sun graced the peaks above, the deep canyon with its wall of ice stayed in perpetual shade.

Morning in Lee Vining Canyon
Other climbers on one of the ice walls in Lee Vining Canyon
Other climbers on another wall of ice
Alan (yellow helmet) gets ready to climb
Going vertical
Considering a placement
Setting an ice screw
Moving on
Running it out
Lee Vining Canyon (P: parking, I: ice cliffs)

We had a lot of fun in these two places.  Both are still hugely popular locations in California for ice climbing but one can’t help but think that the consistency and longevity of the ice has declined somewhat as the climate has warmed.  And the routes at Lee Vining now have names (e.g., Zippo’s Frozen Booger) and ratings, features that hadn’t yet come into being (at least formally) back in our days of yore. 😉

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Matterhorn Peak ~ Sierra Nevada (July 1983)

On our recent mule packing trip in the northern regions of Yosemite National Park, we crossed Burro Pass. This pass sits on the ridge between Fingers Peak to the west and Matterhorn Peak (12,279 feet / 3,743 m) to the east. Heavy smoke denied us a view of Matterhorn but being near it brought back memories of when Tom Pass, Sam Pierce, and I climbed it via its East Couloir route in the summer of 1983. The three of us had met in the mountaineering program run by the Sierra Club’s Angeles Chapter. Looking back, we were young and strong and fearless (but not stupidly so) and anxious to climb some of the storied peaks in California’s High Sierra.

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Four Guys and a Peak (May 1985)

Up until 2008, our adventures were retained only as memories and on 35mm slides. While our memories may have faded (just a bit), the slides haven’t – and we have a lot of them. So we’re digitizing a select few to bring some of our past adventures into the 21st Century. The photos below are some of those old slides.


Two engineers, a physicist, and a biologist walk into a bar. And the bartender says…

Well, we’ll never know what was said (if anything) since I can never remember a joke (except for the one about the three-legged pig) or, if I do, I invariably garble the punchline. But no matter. This is about four guys – Alan, Chuck, Tom, and myself – and our experiment with the fine art of alpine style mountaineering back it what now seem like simpler times (but really weren’t).

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Hike of the Seven Gables (September 1995)

Up until 2008, our adventures were retained only as memories and on 35mm slides. While our memories may have faded (just a bit), the slides haven’t – and we have a lot of them. So we’re digitizing a select few to bring some of our past adventures into the 21st Century. The photos below are some of those old slides.


I guess every cult has some sort of initiation ritual. Wayne, Diane, and I became charter members of the cult of tough and stupid (T&S) thanks to our frozen suffer-fest on Telescope way (way) back in the day. After that experience, our paths diverged and converged at random intervals for the next twenty years or so as life had its way with us. Then, in 1990, Linda (aka The LovedOne) took me by storm [reminder to self – 2020 is our 30th wedding anniversary 🙂 ❤ ]. So, naturally, I petitioned Wayne and Diane to let her join our cult. While they acknowledged that marrying me may have a stupid aspect to it, that alone didn’t meet the unspecified, but strict, standards of the T&S cult. No, only a backpacking trip in the Sierras would be sufficient to test Linda’s bona fides (and let her see stupid stuff done by “experts”).

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Mount Clark ~ Yosemite National Park (September 1986)

Up until 2008, our adventures were retained only as memories and on 35mm slides. While our memories may have faded (just a bit), the slides haven’t – and we have a lot of them. So we’re digitizing a select few to bring some of our past adventures into the 21st Century. The photos below are some of those old slides.


In 1986, I was teaching a mountaineering class for the Sierra Club in Los Angeles. One of my students was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He offered to write a piece for the Times about a post-class mountaineering trip that we were planning. His editors gave him the go-ahead and then proceeded to find an outdoor photographer to accompany us on the climb. My reporter student called me up and asked if I’d ever heard of “some guy” named Galen Rowell and would he be able to do the climb? I literally dropped the phone (fortunately it was still attached to a cord in those olden days). Galen Rowell! One of the foremost photojournalists and mountaineers of his day! In fairness, my reporter specialized in foreign affairs and probably knew more about agriculture in Botswana than climbing and Rowell.

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Adams Peak (Sierra Nevada) 08-Aug-2016

Adams Peak Plumas National Forest California

Adams Peak (8,197 feet) is a little known and seldom visited peak in the Diamond Mountains east of Frenchman Lake, a popular fishing location off Highway 70 north of Reno, Nevada and south of Susanville, California.  This peak’s primary claim to fame seems to be that it is the northernmost peak on the Sierra Peak Section’s list (SPS List) – but it’s also on at least four other peakbagger lists.  Since it was on our way home from our hikes around Lake Tahoe, we decided to add it to our itinerary.  We found that this is one of those peaks where the drive to the trailhead seems to involve more navigational convolutions than the hike itself.

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Mount Elwell (Sierra Nevada) 07-Aug-2016

Mount Elwell Tahoe National Forest California

Mount Elwell (7,818 feet) overlooks Long Lake in the heart of the Lakes Basin Recreation Area in the Tahoe National Forest north of Lake Tahoe.  We were attracted to this peak because it provided a reason to visit the Lakes Basin and because of its presence on the Sierra Peak Section’s list (SPS List) – note that we’re not “finishing the list”, only using it for hike ideas.  Though it’s an easy hike to the summit, arriving there provides an exceptional view of the Lakes Basin below it, as well as of the Sierra Buttes, Weber Peak, and Sardine Peak to the south and southeast; Mount Lassen can also been seen to the northwest on a clear day (which wasn’t true this day due to forest fire smoke haze). We got to the Lakes Basin trailhead near Elwell Lodge early enough to find only a few cars already in the small parking lot. Unfortunately, The LovedOne discovered a hike-ending equipment shortfall soon after our arrival, but then generously volunteered to wait for me at the trailhead.  Sigh.  Because of the waiting, I promised to do this loop hike as fast as possible.

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Sierra Buttes (Sierra Nevada) 06-Aug-2016

Sierra Buttes Tahoe National Forest California

The Sierra Buttes (8,591 feet) are a striking geological feature in the Tahoe National Forest near the Lakes Basin Recreation Area.  They are composed of highly erosion resistant quartz prophry that exploded from undersea volcanoes about 300 million years ago.  We were attracted to them – as are many others – by the unique lookout on their high point, their presence on the Sierra Peak Section’s list (SPS List), and the fact that we hadn’t spent much time in this northern part of the Sierras.  Later we would find that this lookout is billed as a major tourist attraction in just about every brochure covering this part of the Sierra Nevada.  You can drive – probably not with a 2WD sedan – to within 0.5 miles of the lookout but we opted to hike up from the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) trailhead off Forest Road 93-02 (you can also do a longer hike up by starting at Packer Lake).  We got to the trailhead fairly early only to find several cars already there, dirt bikers roaring along the road, and a way station for a mountain bike race that was scheduled to start soon. We would also encounter a lot of people along the trail.  Our bad for doing this hike on a weekend!

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