California Institute of Technology

2009 Winter Trip to the Sierras

You may be looking for the 2008 trip or the 2007 trip.

The trips are over, but we had a great time

Practice trip to Mt. Baldy

We had about 28 people this year! Sean and Justus covered topics like crampon use, ropework, and basic snow mountaineering skills. This was in late February, after having to cancel a few dates due to the perpetual snowstorms that SoCal received in February.

There are also pictures on Erik's Picasa account, Mary Laura's Picasa account, and Stephan's Picasa account

Mt. Whitney

Most years, we camp at the trailhead Thursday night, then climb to Lower Boy Scout Lake for Friday, go up to Iceberg Lake on Saturday, and summit and return on Sunday. This year, due to a forecasted storm that was to come in on Saturday night, we had to be a bit faster, so we made it all the way to Iceberg Lake by Friday night, putting us in position to summit on Saturday. The mountain was crowded this year -- many other groups! We had 11 people, plus Sean and Stefan who joined us later (and Justin, who ran into us; and Fu Hai and his team of 5). March 20 - 21 (and we camped at the trailhead Thur March 19).

Below are some pictures taken by Martin and Stephen; click the picture for a larger version. Stephen has a photoalbum online as well, and there are pictures on Martin's picasa account and on Stephan's picasa account

Friday morning. From L-R: Justus, Glenn, Lutz, Nick, Danielle, Stephen, Nicole, Martin, Karl, Stephan, Jon. Stefan and Sean joined us the next day, and we also ran into Justin at Iceberg Lake by coincidence.

Summit photo. From L-R: Stephen, Karl, Glenn, Danielle, Stephan, Nicole, Justus, Lutz, Justin.

Summit photo #2. From L-R: Karl, Glenn, Nicole, Stefan, Danielle, Stephen, Sean, Martin

Back at the trailhead Saturday evening as the storm came in. From L-R: Karl, Jon, Justus, Lutz, Stephan, Nick, Stefan, Danielle, Stephen, Glenn.

Mt. Shasta

After a bit of debate, we decided to tackle Mt. Shasta's Casaval ridge as our second winter Sierra trip in 2009. This ridge is considered the premier mountaineering route on the mountain (though perhaps not quite the hardest route), and is usually attempted in winter. Although Stephen and Sean had led the club to Shasta in 2006, this was a summer trip; no one in the group had ever done the Casaval Ridge before, so there was some uncertainty as to how difficult the trip would be. From reading internet trip reports, it seemed that many parties don't stick to the upper ridge, but we weren't going to wimp out...

Things went well, and a good number of us made it to the summit. Friday night (April 3) we drove to Sacramento, camped in the backyard of Eli's parents, enjoyed a wonderful home-cooked breakfast in the morning, and arrived in the City of Mt. Shast around noon on Saturday. The hike in to Horse Camp was easy and short (maybe 1 hour of hiking), and we camped here instead of camping higher on the ridge since this was the last point where our ascent and descent routes were together. We woke about 2 AM Sunday morning and climbed throughout the day. Everyone was back at camp around 4 PM (a few of us came down the ridge, most came down Avalanche gulch, and we had two ski descents of different chutes into Avalanche Gulch).

Pictures below are due to Annelen and Martin. Click the image to see a larger size.

Saturday afternoon before heading up. From L-R: Martin, Pratyush, Adam, Jon, Sean, Eli, Annelen, Claire, Stephen, Erik, Brett, Hareem.

At Horse Camp Saturday evening. From L-R, standing: Brett, Jon, Adam, Erik, Eli, Annelen, Claire, Pratyush; kneeling: Hareem, Stephen, Sean.

High on the route. Jon (?) and Erik.

At the summit on Sunday. From L-R: Brett, Erik, Sean, Eli, Annelen, Hareem.

  • Most new information is on the caltech-alpine-trip-2009 google groups site; you MUST sign up for the google groups email list if you wish to come on the trips. The trip dates, etc. are on this website.
  • The mandatory organizational meeting is Wednesday, January 28th at 7 PM at the Caltech Y. Email justusb with questions (most questions will be answered at the meeting); no need to RSVP.
  • The first Baldy trip was cancelled (twice) due to high snowfall. The only Baldy practice trip is the weekend of Feb 21-22. For directions and maps to Baldy, please see these old sites (so disregard any obviously non-pertinent information): 2006 trip site and 2006 driving directions

Resources (some compiled from last year's trip webpage)

Jan 2009: Need to buy crampons? Here's a basic guide to crampons that we put together; you DO need to make sure that your boot and crampons will work together!

Feb 2008: A scan of the recent climbing magazine article on mountaineering boots [requires a Caltech/JPL ip address, or the club's username/pasword -- email alpine to get this]. This is from the February, 2008 issue so it is very current. Any of these boots would be excellent on our trip. We recommend these types of boots; uninsulated leather boots are OK, but use them at your own risk.

Please read this warning message.
2008 decision: Whitney vs. Palisades -- We did both! In 2009, the decision is likely to be Mt. Whitney or Mt. Shasta (or both!)

Option 1: Mt. Whitney

approach via NF of Lone Pine Creek, ascent via Mountaineer's Route from high camp at Iceberg Lake at 12,500 ft

  • More glamourous since it's the highest.
  • Ice climbing on the approach.
  • Trip leaders have ascended this route several times in winter.
  • The climbing route is possibly more skiable than routes in Palisades
  • Avalanche danger is relatively low
  • Route gets progressively harder, so easy to turn around.

  • Some people already climbed it (in 2007 and 2008).
Caltech climber at high camp at iceberg lake below
E. face of Whitney. The route ascends the
shaded couloir to the right of the peak.

Option 2: Palisades area

approach via NF of Big Pine Creek, high camp at North Palisade Glacier. From here the options are: Sill via the NE couloir, Polemonium or N. Pal via U-Notch, or possibly Thunderbolt.
Dates for 2008 trip: Leave Thurs evening March 20, return late Sun night.

  • Largest glacier in the Sierra
  • Many climbing route options
  • More beautiful view from the summit. The view from Sill is the "best in the Sierra" according to some.
  • This is the most rugged spot in the Sierra
  • Potentially worse avalanche terrain
  • Less chance of summiting
Two Caltech climbers (Justus and Wayne) at the
bottom of the U-Notch, with the Palisade glacier below.

Option 3: Mt. Shasta (14,162')

via the easiest route (Avalanche Gulch), or something like Casaval Ridge (and descend Avalanche Gulch).
Shasta (from Wikimedia commons)

Option 4: Lee Vining Ice climbing

This would not be mountaineering, but would be a fun substitute. Here are current ice conditions in the Sierras, courtesy of Sierra Mountain Guides.


  • Info on where to get equipment (i.e. what the Alpine Club owns, what the Caltech Y has, what REI has, ...
      REI and Sports Chalet will rent most non-technical items. UC-Riverside's "Outdoor Excursions" (analogous to the Caltech Y) does rent crampons and ice axes. Also, I hear rumour that Adventure 16 does also. List of Adventure 16 stores in LA -- click on the store to get more info.
      Sierra Elevation is a mountaineering store in Lone Pine. They rent the Mad Rock Alpinist '07 boots for $35/weekend in sizes 10, 11 and 12. They rent snowshoes and crampons, and don't rent ice axes, although they sell inexpensive ice axes for $59.
  • Here is what you can rent at the REI in Arcadia
  • Packing list
  • Gray-scale map of Whitney Basin, 500 KB PDF file, 8.5" x 11"
  • Some general suggestions for winter and high altitude mountaineering in California.

  • Added Sun, Feb 10th:
  • Self-arrest youtube video (comment: if you don't have crampons on, then you should dig your feet in).
  • Self-arrest guide, taken from "Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills"
  • Overview of climbing knots, MS Word document
  • Overview of friction knots, MS Word document

  • Here are some web resources. If this all seems a bit Whitney-focused, that's because it has been copied from last year's Whitney trip website.

  • Avalanche Advisories from ESAC (Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center).
      The cyberspace snow and avalanche center (CSAC) and use the ESAC forecast here, but also have good general information.
  • Shasta avalanche center and their advisories
  • NOAA weather, for Mt. Whitney Summit, for Whitney portal (i.e. trailhead), and for Lone Pine. NOAA also has a written discussion of the upcoming forecast, which mentions the uncertainties in the predictions, etc. The discussion for the Las Vegas area and the discussion for the San Joaquin Valley / Hanford area and the discussion for the Reno area. Mt. Whitney is on the border between the Las Vegas and the San Joaquin forecast areas.
  • SoCal for local weather

  • Some online forums:

  • Mt. Whitney Reports forum from The user dmatt provides weather updates often (twice a day?).
  • Whitney Weather links from
  • is another forum, for the entire Sierras, and perhaps a bit less active than the whitneyportalstore forums.
  • Mt. Whitney web cam and a higher res version