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Friday, February 10, 2017

Climbing Mount Rainier

I've been meaning to share pictures from previous adventures so I've searched through my hard drives and found these gems from a really stellar climbing adventure with great friends.

Mount Rainier is an iconic 14,411-foot (4,392 m) composite volcano with a conical shape and made up of numerous layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice and ash. It is the highest point in the Cascade range and hosts more than 25 glaciers as well as waterfalls, meadows and old growth forest.

The amount of snow on the mountain is impressive and allows the initial climb in shorts when coming from the Paradise visitor center. You still need to bring your cold weather gear because a big mountain can become enveloped in massive storms before you can return from the heights. We started late in the day around 6 PM.

As we ascended the slopes of Rainier the peak of the mighty Mount Adams came into view.

At 10,000' is the climbers' shelter named after John Muir. On a previous ascent there was a really bad storm hammering the slopes and my climbing partner and I slept in the shelter one night rather than attempt to deploy our tent in the winds. On that trip the shelter was almost buried in the snow.

After camping overnight the rest of our party joined us and we traversed around the Cowlitz Glacier and pushed through Cadaver Gap.  


  Approaching Ingraham Flats

 These large pieces of the glacier were part of the crevasse to the right of our path.

At 11,100' and well clear of rockfall near the cliffs I set up my trusty mountaineering tent, the same one I used at Denali which I've chronicled on this blog.The Mountain Hardwear Annapurna tent is really bombproof. Sad to say this model was discontinued.

Our plan was to get ahead of the crowds coming out of Camp Muir by leaving an hour or two after midnight, making our summit push and then make our descent as the other climbers were still slogging up the mountain.

We launched on time and enjoyed a fairly quick ascent of the 3,000 feet to the lip of Rainier's summit crater. Here we are grabbing a quick break before traversing the crater to the true summit.

After making the quick trek across the snowfield this is a view back across the crater to where we had paused to rest.

I was happy to summit Rainier again but sitting on top of a big volcano can make you feel a bit somber!

A better view of Mount Adams

Now we can see Mount Saint Helens to the south of us.

Pretty soon it was time to scamper down the mountain, return to camp, pack up and blitz all the way down to the Paradise visitor center. With the bright sunlight we had nothing but great views on the way down.

Some climber dropped a water bottle into the gap, Not good for them.

Making steady progress

I can now see my bright orange tent far below us!

Long lines of climbers were coming upwards through a difficult section so we took a break and enjoyed the views while people passed us. They could not believe that we had already summited. Nothing like executing on a great plan!

As we pushed down the loose terrain while still wearing our crampons the enormous crevasses of Ingraham Glacier cam into view.

Before long we had reached camp and packed up, starting our descent. Soon Camp Muir was in coming into view on the other side of the Cowlitz Glacier.

Before we knew it, the great adventure was over and we were parting ways as we looked back up at the majesty of what locals simply call The Mountain. Knowing that we had stood on top and safely come back brought smiles to our faces.

I hope that this climb brought a smile to you and I hope to take you on another climb very soon!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Reflections on the Barker-Bighorn Dam

The return of rain to California's vast lands has brought more than just relief from the drought. We are now able to enjoy the quiet places where earth and the sky meet at the water's edge. On a recent desert trip to search for a lost mine I stopped by an early 1900's water reservoir just before sunset. 

First constructed to reach a height of 9 feet by cattleman C.O. Barker in 1900 the dam was extended upwards another 6 feet in 1949 by rancher William F. Keys. It is situated between Queen Valley and the Wonderland of Rocks in Joshua Tee National Park and for a short while int eh 1950's it supported Key's efforts to make a living in the harsh desert land. 

The Barker-Bighorn Dam is once again filled and served as a natural mirror for the setting sun during my short visit to this special place.


Thanks for going with me on this rewarding hike to a great getaway in the Mojave Desert. Now it is time to follow old mining roads that head up the remote canyons and see what else awaits us in the Mojave Desert..

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Mount Baldy Snow Hike

Named by a local rancher for Saint Anthony of Padua, Mount San Antonio may be the official name of the peak but in SoCal everyone just says "Mount Baldy". There are actually two peaks with the main one at 10,064 feet (3,068 m) and West Baldy, at 9,988 feet (3,044m) and they are in the front country range of the San Gabriel Mountains. Mount Baldy is great as a hiking destination but I really like it when a big snowstorm that transforms the dusty trails into miles of winter challenges.

On the drive to the trail head I saw this sign which ties in to an incident three days before my hike.

Rescuers were called to the Mt. Baldy Bowl area about 12:15 PM for a reported avalanche that injured three men. That is a time of day when the sun has warmed the upper areas of the Baldy Bowl and primed the steep slopes for an avalanche of any heavy loads of snow. 

Cody Ayala was hospitalized with broken ribs and Chris Chung was reported to have a broken arm. Louis Wojciechowski was released after getting stitches for a cut leg. Wojciechowski commented that the speeding wave of snow swept the three men in different directions and he was briefly buried. Authorities say the men slid about 1,000 feet down the face of the bowl where they were ascending.  Ayala and Chung were hoisted to safety by a San Bernardino County sheriff’s helicopter.

This incident factored into my plans to hike no further than the area of the Baldy Bowl and not attempt to ascend to the summit. Because of the massive crowds that want to play in the snow at lower elevations I had to get to the Manker Flat area well before 7 AM to secure a good parking spot. 

Starting from Manker Flat the route followed a snow covered road about six tenths of a mile towards San Antonio Falls. A natural spring near the ski hut is the source and plenty of water was cascading down the falls today.

The upper waterfall.

Abut a third of a mile past the falls a hard left from the road puts you on a trail that ascends to the 8,300 foot elevation level where a picturesque ski hut is located. From there I planned to hike part way into the Baldy Bowl area and then head back down the trail to my truck. As seen on the map you can make a loop but the area called the Devil's Backbone can be treacherous in winter.

The day started out cold and windy and for this hike I brought crampons instead of snowshoes because I fully expected icy conditions. Here is a picture of my Grivel 12 point crampons. They are my "go to" set for all of the mountains I have climbed.

Many of the routes heading to the ski hut were not even one foot wide and crossed the steep blankets of snow on the slopes.

Cross country skiers carry their skis up to high points and enjoy liesurely descents across the fields of snow

Although the area was not crowded there were a fair number of groups and individuals sharing the crisp snow and the expansive views that stretched all the way to Catalina Island.

Heading up the final steep slope to the ski hut.

The 1936 ski hut is located at 8,300 feet of elevation and has its own web site:


After a quick snack break at the hut I headed over to the bowl to take in the views and also ID the area where Thursday's avalanche occurred.

The next set of pictures is a left to right set of snapshots of the bowl area. The third photo has a red arrow on the right pointing out where the avalanche occurred. Four climbers can be seen ascending the route around 10 AM. 

Here is a blurry shot the the four climbers in the avalanche zone.

The wind has sculpted snow over the large boulders in the bowl, transforming their stark exteriors with a whole new appearance.

Thanks for trekking up the slopes of Mount Baldy with me! If you like the pictures and narrative please share my blog with your friends. I hope that you are inspired to head out and create your own adventures.