Tag Archives: hiking

Why I do this

By SYMG Guide Scott Morris

Tomorrow I leave for the first Yosemite Grand Traverse of the season, which means my work started months ago. Before anything, there is the scouting. A love of over-preparation and diligence has me out in the mountains as soon as the passes start to shed snow in the spring. I’ve walked every step of this route a few times, but I haven’t been here since the end of last season. So I walk it again, noting the campsites that have faded away and new ones that have sprung from the granite. Even the seemingly fixed macro-features of the landscape have a different look about them after a full winter.

In particular, I was in the canyon of the upper Merced, about a mile upstream of Washburn Lake. I had heard from a fellow guide about a great camp spot, but I couldn’t find it.

There’s a lot of distinctive patches of trees, Wilson, I muttered under my breath, shuffling between marked-up USGS topos, hand-drawn maps, and the few pages of notes I had: scribbled catchphrases I had managed to pull out of a long conversation with a fast-talking General Manager who’s been guiding here since I was in primary school.

I found it just where they said it would be. The first thing I spotted was a small, workmanlike fire circle, which is the natural nexus of any campsite. Ducking my head, I swept aside the bough of a lodgepole and took a step forward. When I let it go it moved back into place, irrevocably blocking out the trail and the possibility of a larger outside world, enclosing the glade in a hamlet of quiet.

Advancing farther into the camp I stopped at the flat bench tops of granite, covered with a mattress of last season’s pine needles. I confirmed their suitability for tent spaces by laying down on each in turn.  A few log sections sat near the fire, as if crowding towards a now-absent warmth. Beyond the flats, the granite receded towards the east bank of the river, which collected in a large, slowly-oscillating pool beneath a tumbling cascade of snow runoff. Almost too perfect, I laughed as I bent down to closely to consider a small cluster of Penstemon, a delicate spring wildflower.

The quiet only lasted long enough for the songbirds to check me out. Seeing me to be just a stoic passerby, they resumed their calls from the swaying lodgepole tips, flitting between branches gracefully.

Above the tops of these somber giants stood the more-stoic alpine walls of the Merced Canyon. Important high-country: this was the location chosen for the March 2015 reintroduction of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. Due mostly to livestock-carried disease and unregulated hunting, by 1915 there were no sheep left in Yosemite. The first reintroduction attempt in 1986 suffered setbacks and by the late 1990s there were a mere 125 individuals, state-wide, left in the species. As Californians rallied around this wilderness icon this proved to be a nadir, as an aggressive recovery plan was implemented. After a hundred years Bighorn Sheep are back in Yosemite, and throughout the Sierra Nevada there are about 600 animals in this rebounding population. No sheep today, so I leave the hidden site, with excitement about sharing this special place with those who travel in the mountains with us.

That’s the joyful part. Wading into austere wilderness, exposing people to the power of this landscape, that’s why I do this.

Crag Pack Essentials

When it’s time to pack for a day at the climbing crags we all know to pack a rope and anchor set-up, but so many other things can sneak into your bag! There are lots of other pieces of gear out there with the potential to make your day safer, more efficient, and more fun. The trick is to make thoughtful choices that will improve your experience without overloading your pack. We’ve asked SYMG Rock Guide Riley West to share some insight as to what he carries in his Deuter Guide 35+ cragging pack.  

Through my years of guiding and climbing, I’ve experimented with many different pieces of gear. I’ve gone ultra light, ultra heavy, blue, orange, big, small. Name a piece of gear and I probably have one buried in the back of my closet, waiting for a yard sale. After sinking all my expendable income into aluminum and nylon whatchamacallits, I’ve finally settled on six staples that make it into my pack every time I go climbing, whether leading Guided Rock Climbing Trips or just with my own friends.

The Essentials

  1. ATC Guide

I’m not talking regular old ATC or gri-gri. The plaquette device, as it’s also known, serves purposes beyond giving a top rope belay. My ATC Guide is an important rescue tool when used in “guide mode”, enabling me to work hands free. I can haul someone through a tough section, belay off my harness, and rappel with two strands of rope, all with a reliable piece of metal.

  1. Prussik Cord

Every time you rappel, you have two options: rely on your superman grip strength to hold the brake strand, or put a friction hitch on the brake strand. A small loop of 5mm cord is all your need to back up your rappels. They weigh almost nothing, cost almost nothing, and keep you safe. I promise it’ll be the best 2 dollars you ever spend.

  1. Double Shoulder-length Sling

A sewn 48-inch runner, as it is also known, is the transformer of the climbing gear world. I use my 4 -foot slings as anchors, friction hitches, chest harnesses, tethers, and ascenders regularly. I think this is a piece of gear that will always exist, purely because of its versatility. For a few ounces, you cannot find a more useful piece of climbing gear.

  1. Belay Gloves

As a full time rock-climbing guide, there are certain things that need to keep working every single day. My hands may look broken, cracked, and callused, but they are my most precious resource. They pay my rent and keep me safe. I use my belay gloves every time I belay or rappel to prevent the all-too-common cut, scrape, or nick. And as an added bonus, I don’t have to scrub aluminum and dirt from my palms every evening.

  1. Camera and Phone

My favorite pastime is to text my parents pictures of me swinging around in scary places. They love it, I’m sure. And if you take nothing else from this article, at least remember to send your mom pictures now and then. Joking aside, it’ll be pretty hard to call for a rescue if you forgot your phone at home. Don’t get stuck without a way to call for help.

  1. Snack

I get really hungry. Not like waiting for delivery pizza hungry, more like a hobbit skipping second breakfast hungry. Hunger leads to afternoon yawns and yawns lead to me dropping carabiners, cams, etc. My suggestion is to buy a handful of Clif bars and distribute them among your climbing packs as a secret stash of energy in the event you forget lunch (or second lunch).

25 Years in Da’ Biz

by Ian Elman, Founder and President of SYMG

Wow, 25 years of High Sierra trips! Feels like just yesterday it was 1991 with just the three owners living in a rented room at Bass Lake near Yosemite and a small closet full of gear. In those days I really looked forward to every third night, when it was my turn to have the side of our king bed that was closest to the wall. It’s been a wild ride since then; going from a handful of trips into the Ansel Adams Wilderness each season with the 3 of us to big expedition style trips throughout Yosemite and the High Sierra with 20 employees. Thing is, we were never just doing it for temporary work and fun, we were doing it to have lifelong careers. To be eventually named “Best Outfitter on Earth” by National Geographic was one of proudest moments along the way.

Recently I have been walking down memory lane in light of our quarter-century anniversary– rifling through old photos, magazine articles, catalogs and such. In an old brochure (remember those?) from 1997 the intro reads: “Dear Friends… To cherish good times and good friends in the mountains, deserts, and wild places we hold dear”. Thus begins our mission statement, which remains unchanged to this day. Pursuing dreams–it’s what we are about. We’ve been laughing lately with the media popularity of the concept of “digital detox” weekend getaways and “getting unplugged” by getting into the wilderness. That’s a concept we have been living and providing since the old days, and now is finally hotter than ever. Heck, recently I read an article on social media about the popularity of people wearing beards and flannel shirts. “Boys, we are back in style!” was the title of the e-mail I sent my old friends and partners in SYMG with the link. All this to say that our commitment is exactly the same as it was then: Make it easy and possible for people to get out into their wilderness areas and create experiences that soothe the soul and memories that last a lifetime. Now more than ever we all need this.

I was asked recently about what’s it like being in the Outfitter Guide business for 25 years for an article and my first reaction was…It’s hard! But once you knock off the veneer of challenges that every business faces my thoughts turned to the trips themselves. The SYMG experience hasn’t changed tremendously in the last 25 years. For myself, for our guests, and for our guides, SYMG is about the people and experiences we create for them. I’m proud of that. The Outfitter Guide business is still a spectacular place to be.