Alpine Conditions Report – May 8, 2015

Crazy year. After the biggest drought on record in California, we enter late spring with a series of storms, the last two of which are the biggest of the year to date. This weather is wackbards! It’s supposed to be high and dry in the summer/fall and stormy in the winter/spring. That’s what all of us high mountain lovers have come to expect and appreciate. The situation is out of sync, like a mountain guide trying to dance to 90’s hip hop music. It’s like mother nature just popped out another baby, and she’s terribly sleep deprived. Or perhaps old man winter fell asleep binge watching Downton Abbey back in December and has been hitting the snooze alarm with his elbow ever since. I guess we’ll just roll with it. What choice do we have? “Have a cookie… you’ll feel right as rain.”

The details are that the mountains are steadily assuming their summer form, but set back in timing by afternoon monsoonal cloud buildup accompanied by precipitation. Occasional frontal passages have been productive in the last few weeks. 2 storms that rolled through recently produced 8-18 inches of snow in the high country. This snow promptly melted off below 11,000′ but above that, on northerly aspects, the snow has lingered. This morning we are getting reports of 12 inches in the towns of June Lake and Lee Vining. Mammoth Mountain has about a foot of fresh at 9000′ at the time of this writing. Another 6″ is possible before days end. Mixed rain and snow is being reported in Chalfant (~4200′!).

What does this mean for alpine conditions and our mountain activities? First of all, Highway 120 over Tioga Pass, which just fully opened on Monday, is now closed. As are Sonora and Monitor Passes. Keep an eye on them to see when they might open again. Snow has closed access to many other Eastside mountain roads and trailheads, so pay attention to that as you make your plans. The Owens Valley bottom is soaking wet, and that hasn’t happened in a depressingly long while. Even the boulderers and sport climbers are going to be secretly glad to have a forced rest day for once. Alpine rock climbs are obviously back out of condition and high approaches are going to be brutal for a little while. The ice couloirs in the Palisades have been in good climbing conditions for fleeting spells this spring. For approaching them, snowshoes have been advisable (and I am loathe to advise them over skis in most circumstances, especially in early May). Currently, we are looking at some avalanche danger and continued rough approach conditions until we have a decent week or two of settlement and meltdown. Backcountry skiing is back in vogue if you don’t mind hiking your boards in and out some mileage. Steep, north facing lines can be worth the effort and highly enjoyable with good timing. Be savvy enough to assess the avalanche danger on your own, and err on the side of caution, as the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center is closed for the season. The amount of rain and snow tapers dramatically in the Sierra south of Big Pine. There are probably some PCT thru-hikers that jumped on the early start this season and are having to deal with some wintry conditions out there. Hopefully they are prepared for it.

May this be useful information for your upcoming trip planning. The Sierra needs every snowflake it can absorb at this point, so don’t fight it. Get out there and enjoy it!

Want to see commercial airline service in Bishop? You can help!

Hey everyone who may be interested:


The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power has granted a long-term lease to the Bishop airport, here at the gateway to the Eastern Sierra. This means it is eligible for FAA funding that could bring commercial air service to our town. Most of us know that the Mammoth Airport is just not a viable solution, due to constant delays and cancellation potential from mountain weather. An upgraded Bishop Airport would be a great solution to this problem and would increase the ease of access to this incredible mountain region. If you agree, then lets flood this inbox with a vocal response now until August 26th. Thanks for your help!


Here is a template to use:


Inyo County Public Works

Bishop Airport Plan
P.O. Drawer Q
Independence, CA 93526

I would like to add my voice in support of commercial air service at the Bishop Airport.

  • Who you are/What you do.
  • Airport Role in training/work
  • Airport Role in economic boost/development
  • Airport Role in reliability
  • Airport Role in safety
  • Positive impacts locally

Your contact info for further information.


My letter:


To Whom It May Concern,
I would like to add my voice in support of commercial air service at the Bishop Airport. I am a local business owner and manager for two small businesses in the Downtown Core, Sage To Summit and Sierra Mountain Guides. In our businesses we regularly travel to trade shows, training and development events, and to guiding venues outside of the home range. Having a viable commercial airport in Bishop would significantly increase safety and efficiency in our business operations, by eliminating long drives, in mountainous terrain. Due to the geography and location, the Mammoth-Yosemite Airport is far too sensitive to delay and cancellation for mountain weather conditions to be a safe, reliable, and cost effective option, especially for long, interconnecting flights, and it offers very limited service options. As I am sure you are aware, the Ridgecrest-Inyokern Airport has closed, so this is no longer a possible alternative. We are left with a minimum of 4.5 hours of driving by car (as there is no railway or reasonable shuttle service) to one of 3 major airports. This makes Bishop one of the most remote places in the entire US, and undoubtedly the most difficult to get to and from relative to the number of people that live in and visit this amazing region.
Increasing access to visitation of the Eastern Sierra through Bishop will spark an economic boost that will foster positive change for this area. Bishop is a premiere destination for our customers and clientele from around the globe. Commercial flights to Bishop will cause an economic ripple effect, leading to infusion of commerce for local businesses and much needed revenue for the town. There will be an increase in demand for tourist-related services, promoting the development of new business opportunities and increasing the availability of local jobs.
Without a commercial airport in Bishop, many people simply aren’t willing or able to risk their safety and severe inconvenience to drive great distances or fly to the area only to be turned around at the airport or even mid-air to return to their point of origin. These events are tragically common and they literally can ruin an entire vacation plan. They severely impact anyone who plans to use our mountain guiding services on pre-scheduled and reserved days.  The limited schedule often requires an overnight stay in Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area, which can add significant costs and inconvenience. As result most people prefer to drive 4-6+ hours than to make this flight to/from Mammoth. Many people just can’t physically make such a long drive. This naturally selects against retired baby boomers and other aging members of the nation’s populations that have time and financial resources to visit the region and contribute to the local Eastern Sierra economy. The pressure to drive to come here causes people accept more risk to themselves and others on the highways during a long and tiresome journey.
Thank you for your consideration of these points and I sincerely hope to see commercial air service fly into Bishop in the near future.
Best regards,

Evolv Dealer Camp

Hello Loyal Sierra Mountain Guiders!

2010-10-07_11-45-36_185We are pleased to announce the beginning of our blogging career. Sure. We may be a little behind but we are growing and we are excited to start sharing all of our news with you. Most recently our office has undergone a couple of changes. Annie, our most recent office manager, has retired from ‘regular’ office hours to pursue a life of guiding and marketing. She has opened her own company; Cloudripper Designs and Sierra Mountain Guides has hired CRD to handle all of their marketing and product development needs. Our new office manager, Danielle Kuhl, will be in the office 5 days a week from 9:30-5:00pm to answer all of your questions and get you signed up for trips. We are the only guide service in the Eastern Sierra that has a full time, year round office manager.

This week we were also proud to host vendors from  Evolv, Black DiamondKelty, Sierra Designs, Sterling, and Icebreaker in the first annual Dealer Camp in Bishop, Ca. Folks joined us from Adventure 16, REI,, and Sierra Mountain Guides taught clinics to all the employees, Wilsons Eastside Sports donated slideshow equipment, Idle Hands entertained, Lisa Rands and Peter Croft gave a great slideshow and Paula Richards slaved over stove and cast iron to cook everyone the best food the Eastside has ever tasted.

evolve climbing camp buttermilksIt was a fun three days that began with some anchor clinics in the Tungston Hills. We toughed it out through the hail to learn how to place gear and make anchors appropriate for the terrain. On day two we headed to the Owens River Gorge. Some folks learned how to lead, some practiced taking whippers and some took advantage of our rope gun, Jed Porter to get their paws on some challenging climbs. On day three we took about 20 bouldering pads for 15 people and had a spectacular day sending at the Buttermilks. Sending temps in the shade and t-shirt weather in the sun with a backdrop of Tom, Humphreys, and Basin covered in a gorgeous layer of sparkling snow made for a classic day at the Buttermilks.

Be sure to keep and eye on our blog for up to date trip and conditions reports.