When the forecast called for temps to rise into the 90’s in the valley, SVT guides Joe St.Onge and Patrick Graham decided to go high. For years, we have been looking at the north wall on Cobb Peak(11,644′) above the Pioneer Yurt and wondering if the rock was good. The north face of Cobb is a massive rock wall, rising 1000-1800′ from the alpine basin and comprised of ancient quartzite rock. Quartzite is an interesting and beautiful rock type, created when sandstone is metamorphosed under intense pressure and heat. Extremely dense and compact, the quartzite on Cobb does not give continuous crack features for a climber to follow. Instead, there are varied slabs, blocks, corners and aretes that can be linked together with generally good to very good rock. 5 years ago, Patrick and Joe climbed the direct North Face in alpine conditions, climbing neve, rock and water ice to the summit (the Solstice Line) and found good rock and a spectacular setting, creating an desire to venture on a rock route. This 1100′ climb generally followed slabs and corners into a short chimney (5.8) and then onto the skyline ridge. The “Buccaneers Route” (5.8 III) had a couple 5.8 moves but was generally in the mid 5th class range. Fun stuff!
It’s a tradition, a physical ordeal and a right of passage. We call it the “woodcut” but it is much more than just a wood-cut. Every spring, we take advantage of the solid snow pack to fell trees and skid/carry them over the snow to the huts in preparation for the following winter. Like a squirrel, collecting nuts for the winter ahead, we cache the life giving fuel for the Bench and Fishhook Huts, deep in the Sawtooth. While there is a very practical purpose to what we are doing (prepping firewood for ski huts) at heart we are skiers and the woodcut typically occurs when the ski conditions are prime. So we work especially hard felling, bucking, hauling and stacking to finish the job, so we can get to the skiing. This year we accomplished all the objectives, putting up over 6 cord of wood at each hut and skiing many big, steep and authentic lines.
Thanks to the stellar SVT crew: Chris Marshall, Andrew Kieffer, Niels Meyer, Chris Cullaz, Jess Simon, Alex Gemme, Everett Coba, and the veteran of many woodcuts: Joe St.Onge
What a great week we had at Tornak and Coyote huts with a group of doctors from Wilderness Medicine Society. 7 doctors, all graduates of the Diploma in Mountain Medicine program, joined SVT guides (Joe St.Onge and Chris Marshall) for a week of mountain medical and rescue training. The first 2 days saw an “atmospheric river” dump 2′ of snow and create perfect conditions for stability evaluation and deep powder skiing. It was a real honor to spend a week training, skiing and enjoying the deep mountains with such a motivated and talented crew of docs!
With the snow starting to fall in the mountains, the stoke for the upcoming winter is palatable. At times the feeling of time is transcended throughout our life and our daily routine; as I prepare for winter, I feel that both the last ski season just ended, and its been an eternity since I put away for boards for the summer. Reflecting back on the past 8 months, the latter is probably more accurate. I don’t spend the off months in Sun Valley and work takes me to other amazing places in the West, and a lot of mountain stoke has happened. As a professional guide, and one that is one final exam away from full AMGA/IFMGA international Mountain Guide certification, I need to critically balance my time in the outdoors, and make sure that I am giving due process to work (pays the bills), professional development and training (important for the profession), and lastly, having some personal fun.
This past year, I focused heavily on working and professional development. I was successful in passing my AMGA Ski Guide Exam in April, working a full summer guiding season in the Pacific Northwest, passing my Alpine Aspirant Exam in September, and passing my Rock Exam in October. Whew! That was a lot. While I attribute this success to both personal dedication and professional development, the role that mentorship has played cannot be understated. Once my Rock Exam was over, I wanted to take some personal climbing time to revisit the stoke and passion that climbing has always brought to me, which at times can be overshadowed by work. I also wanted to take the opportunity to visit and spend time with friends throughout climbing areas in the West that have played a pivotal role in who I am today and also wanted to create new milestones in my climbing career. Furthermore, I wanted to take the opportunity to give back and offer mentorship and share my experience with others. Apprentice guide, Niels Meyer was game to come along on the wild ride with me. Please enjoy the photo essay of our adventures below, and I hope to ski with you this season! :SVT Guide Chris Marshall
Our first stop was Red Rock Canyon. The climbing here is super varied, with everything between overhanging sport routes, excellent splitter crack, technical face climbs, and long multi-pitch adventure routes.
Eventually it was time to leave the desert, Yosemite Valley was calling. The Valley was another monumental place as I developed as a climber, and not having climbed there much in the last few years, the bucket list was starting to grow.
Cool temps and the first winter storm had chased away many folks from the Valley and off of El Capitan. As a team of three, Niels, Greg, and I had been planning on climbing the Muir Wall, but with the possibility of another winter storm on the horizon, we set our sights on the classic and steep Zodiac (5.8 A3/C3). We took a few days prepping, teaching Niels the ins and outs of aid climbing, and packing for 4-5 days on the wall. We had hoped to spend 3 nights, but with the cold, the storm, and the short days, we topped out after 5 long and amazing days living and breathing in the vertical. We believe that we were one of two parties on El Cap for the storm, which brought snow down to the valley floor and temperatures in the 20s.
Niels and I are in Indian Creek sampling some of the best desert splitters on earth in a lower stress environment. We’ll head over to the San Juan Mountains for some early season ice before this adventure ends, back in Sun Valley, where we’ll have time to reflect on this journey, dream of the next adventure, and get stoked for the ski season ahead!
We have just returned from a couple of days in the Pioneers. The goal of the trip was to get the yurt ready for the oncoming winter season and to climb a new route on Old Hyndman. For years, SVT guide Joe St.Onge, has been dreaming on climbing a route along the skyline of Old Hyndman Peak. Old Hyndman rises like the Matterhorn with steep rock walls guarding the summit. There are a couple standard routes to the summit, but we were unaware of anyone having climbed the steep NW ridge. Having spied this part of the mountain on many ski tours over the years, the time seemed right when local ER doc, Terry, called Joe with the goal of climbing Old Hyndman. A great adventure climb was had and success in exploring a new line to the summit of this iconic peak. Terry suggested calling the route “Old Goat” or “OG” to honor the bearded old goat we wandered by on the approach. Enjoy the pics and the mountains!
For over 12 years, Sun Valley Trekking has run an internship program during the winter season. The goal of the program is to provide training and mentorship to aspiring ski guides. The “job description” is to : Ski from hut to hut throughout the winter, maintain hut supplies, gather snow and stability information, develop personal backcountry ski technique and experience, assist on guided trips as porters and tail guides and seek mentorship and skill development with the SVT Guide Team. Over the years, many interns have returned for a second year to continue this progression and many graduates of the program are working as professional ski and mountain guides today. We often finish the season with an “Intern Final Exam” designed to test the skill and experience developed over the season. There are two styles of exam open to the interns: to guide the guides or to be guided by the guides. Both styles can help push the learning envelope and provide a rewarding experience. This years team: Trudy, Toby, Niels and Alisa chose to guide SVT guides: Joe St.Onge and Chris Marshall on a particularly snowy late April tour in the alpine Smokey Mountains. Powder, white-out navigation, steep skiing and a Chinese Downhill tested the interns’ skill and grit and was followed by the end of the season Guide Games back in town. Good stuff!
Every winter the guides of SVT gather to run training seminars and workshops. Typically we focus on particular goals at each training, dusting off skills, sharing lessons and tricks and evaluating how to do things better and more efficiently. This years early season training was focused on winter rescue. We discussed and practiced avalanche rescue, emergency shelters and stoves, 1st aid and then ran 3 separate sled evacuations off Titus Ridge to the trailhead. Check out the photos below to get ideas for different possibilities and approaches to addressing a forced bivy or having to evacuate a partner with a broken leg.