Basic Technical Ice Climbing with SWS Mountain Guides
You know when people buy Christmas presents for their significant others that they totally want for themselves? Yeah, guilty. I’m that person. When it comes to gift giving, I believe that experiences are so much better than physical items. Things break, get lost. Memories are forever.
This year for Christmas, I scoured the internet for a good deal on an adventure. I like to start my Christmas shopping early, so just happened to be browsing around and googling ice climbing courses in California when I came across SWS Mountain Guides. Checked their Yelp reviews. Googled some more. Then hit the jackpot. They were having a fall sale on their trips! 20% off everything! I whipped out my credit card and signed up for a class over MLK weekend.
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 sweet guides, JB and Kenny, distributed gear, introduced ourselves to other members of the course and 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. 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, so Day One was spent back in the canyon with some blue ice all to ourselves. JB and Kenny set up three lines for us to get laps in and adjust to ice climbing.
For Day Two, JB headed 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, along with a brief chat on ice protection and placing ice screws. JB and Kenny played belay slaves for 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. The boyfriend 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.
This class is $350 per person, but keep your eyes out for various trip deals throughout the year. I was able to score two spots at 20% during their fall sale. They have a few spots open left for this winter if ice climbing is something you’re dying to do.
Rock climbing experience is definitely 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.
Gear list: Outdoor Research Revelation Pants, Arc’teryx Alpha SL Hybrid Jacket, Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet, Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hoody, Icebreaker Oasis Crew Longsleeve, NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody, Outdoor Research Riot Gloves, Outdoor Research Men’s PL-150 Sensor Gloves (review of the Women’s PL-100 gloves), Black Diamond FrontPoint Gaiters, La Sportiva Nepal Evo GTX boots, Black Diamond Sabretooth Pro crampons, Mountain Hardwear Scrambler 30 pack