A few years ago, I was shopping for Christmas presents for a significant other. I’m that person who buys gifts for people that I want for myself. My gift was a basic technical ice climbing class with SWS Mountain Guides. And oh boy, it was an experience.
On Friday night we drove down to Lee Vining after work for a 7am meeting time outside of Nicely’s, the only restaurant open in Lee Vining this time of year. We met our SWS Mountain guides, JB and Kenny. They distributed gear while we introduced ourselves to other members of the course. We also grabbed a quick breakfast.
If you don’t own mountaineering boots, crampons, and other climbing equipment, fear not. SWS Mountain Guides has you covered as long as you provide shoe sizes beforehand.
We drove down to the Poole Power Plant to head out into Lee Vining Canyon. Approach conditions were terrible. In a good snow year, climbers can cruise over the snow to the crag. In the winter of 2015, there was almost no snow. We had to scramble for a good hour and a half over talus and icy patches.
Chouinard Falls was already crowded by the time we got there. Instead, we hiked to the back of the canyon and climbed some blue ice all to ourselves. JB and Kenny set up three top rope lines for us to climb laps on.
For Day Two, JB hiked in early to claim some lines for us on Chouinard Falls before the crowds swooped in. Lots of long ice climbing was the agenda for the day. Now that intro to ice climbing was out of the way, our SWS Mountain guides gave us aa brief chat on ice protection and placing ice screws. JB and Kenny belayed us all day long which gave us plenty of climb time to practice more ice climbing techniques.
I had such a blast climbing with SWS Mountain Guides, JB and Kenny! They were both super stellar and patient guides who knew their stuff. My partner and I were a little nervous coming in, but they provided an incredibly safe and welcoming environment for beginning ice climbers. They both gave tons of tips on how to improve and what to try next time. I highly recommend taking this course if you want to learn, or if you just want to try something different and new! I walked away so incredibly jazzed about ice and I’m ready to throw all my money at SWS Mountain Guides for more ice knowledge and for other neat adventures and courses they have too.
Rock climbing experience is recommended for this trip, although its not necessary. It was super helpful to have people who knew how to belay to reduce sitting around and waiting time. For winters like we’ve been having in California, being in moderately decent hiking shape is great too. The approach can be insanely brutal if you’re not prepared.