Tag Archives: SYMG

Yosemite’s Wild Side

by Graham Ottley

This past year Yosemite National Park saw record visitor numbers with over five million visitors, a 21% increase from the previous year. Although these numbers are staggering, they have become an accepted part of Yosemite Valley during the summer. Many people may be left asking, “Is it even worth it? Should we go somewhere else?”

That “somewhere else” is delving into the immense Yosemite backcountry. Last summer, I had the pleasure of guiding a group along SYMG’s Red Peak Pass Loop. This 7-day / 6-night excursion begins and ends at Half Dome Village and completes one of the wildest backpacking loops Yosemite has to offer. Over the last decade, I have enjoyed many personal and guided trips of this unique area and it continues to draw me back.

This photo is looking South towards Ottoway Peak (Upper Ottoway Lake is just out of sight below the group).

The remote range of mountains on the Red Peak Loop has no end of adventures and exquisite scenery. It is far removed from the mêlée of the Valley. As we walked this 52-mile loop, I found myself and the group in awe of the landscape, a magical-geological-mystery “tour-de-force”. We walked through the Clark Range pushing towards our literal high point of the trip, Red Peak Pass. Once we gained the pass and took in the breathtaking views, our trip was far from over. We descended into the Triple Fork Drainage of Triple Peak to a glacially strewn stream basin. The countertop granite slab we approached seemed expansive enough to contain a football stadium, along with most of the parking.

The camaraderie developed on the trail is often what brings people back year after year, and our trip was no exception. The group consisted of six individuals from different regions of the country. We laughed hard at the natural humor evoked from our common experience and we shared moments of tender silence.

Those are often the moments that make our trips so memorable.  I know I can’t wait to embark on another season, guiding folks through the beautifully remote landscape of Yosemite’s backcountry.

This photo is looking East towards Mt. Clark from our first nights camp. (Grey and Merced were also in view just to the South of Clark.)

 

 

 

 

PCT Pitas

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Getting into the backcountry is a perfect way to experience nature, and there’s no reason not to eat delicious natural foods while you’re out there! Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides loves celebrating healthy eats while in the wilderness, and our Backcountry Gourmet is unbeatable. Check out our “Pacific Crest Trail Pita” recipe below, a meal that’s great for short and long backpacking trips alike.

 

 

Pacific Crest Trail Pita

Courtesy of: SYMG General Manager and Senior Guide Colby Brokvist
Recommendations: Any trip, especially longer backpacks

Gear Needs:

  • 2 Ziplocs (for re-hydrating the tabbouleh)
  • Serving bowls
  • Spoons

Ingredients:

  • Dehydrated Tabbouleh
  • Sliced packet olives
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Feta
  • Pita bread
  • Red grapes

Optional:

  • Dolmas
  • Canned/packet chicken or sardines – you can also pre-cook some chicken to bring!
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Lemon

Directions:

  1. In the morning before leaving (or the night before), double-bag the tabbouleh with a fair amount of water and place it at the top of your pack.
  2. When meal time rolls around, put out all ingredients allowing everyone to make their own Pita Pockets!

 

Be Here Now – Finding your Yosemite

By SYMG General Manager and Guide, Colby Brokvist

“The mountains will always be there. The trick is to make sure you are too.” 

Hervey Voge, Mountaineer’s Guide to the Sierra Nevada

It’s easy to get lost out there. Not in the mountains per se; a map and guide will serve you well in the backcountry. No, I’m talking about getting lost in all the clutter of work, errands and the daily grind. I’m talking about losing yourself, and I do it too. It seems like often enough there’s something I need to do and I have to work hard in order to make time to do the things I want to do.

For me, Yellowstone had been on my “want” list for years. Geysers, wolves and bison, despite their allure, had somehow never made it to my agenda. So, this past winter I finally made time to visit Yellowstone and it was everything I had imagined… and more. I would say that Yellowstone and Yosemite have that in common; you’ve heard the stories, seen pictures, and plan to visit the main attractions, yet when you are finally standing there you’re still left breathless.

The first time I visited Yosemite I fell in love and never left. Even just this year I stood in sight of Horsetail Falls for the famous “firefall” display at sunset for the first time. This is a phenomenon that is well-known but only happens on occasion. Each February there is only about a 12-day stretch where the light hits just at the required angle to turn the waterfall flaming orange. And that’s only when water and cloud conditions abide. Some years there is no display at all. And so here I am, after 13 years of living in the Yosemite area, I am still able to feel that same sense of exhilaration as when I first arrived, just by making the time to get outside.

All this to say that yes America’s National Parks house some of the world’s most unique landscapes, but there’s also much more going on behind the “scenes”. Our wilderness areas offer the opportunity to break the bonds of the daily grind and to toss off schedules and the barrage of social media. They are quiet, relaxing, and romantic. They set the stage for exploration, pushing one’s physical limits and for strengthening bonds between friends and family. National Parks are good for the soul.

In “The Three Amigos” Steve Martin’s character claims that “In a way, all of us have an El Guapo to face… and for some, it is the actual El Guapo”. I would also say that we all have own Yosemite to visit… and for some, it is the actual Yosemite. Face your Yosemite. Sure, it’s something you want to do, but maybe it’s also something you need to do for yourself.

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.

Lunch is the Goal

by Scott Morris – SYMG Guide

Some hikers, climbers, and outdoors people think that the high point of the day is the summit of the mountain that they’re trying to get to. These people are categorically incorrect. The most important, most rewarding, and most treasured time of the day is lunch.

We’ve just reached the shoulder of the Cathedral Lakes Basin, and my stomach is rumbling. I imagine my four companions are also feeling the hunger set in, as we made short work of the three or so miles from Tuolumne Meadows to where we’re now standing. We’re just above 9,000 feet, but feel relatively acclimatized – we’ve been camping in the Meadows for the last two nights which themselves sit at about 8,000 feet. When we started out this morning, big, doughy clouds slid from west to east slowly clearing; a good sign for our midday foray above tree line. I close my eyes for the briefest moment to appreciate the wind moving through the Lodgepoles and the Steller’s Jay tweeting from somewhere in the branches.

Our destination is the Upper Cathedral Lake, which sits at about 9,600 feet. I tend to favor this lake over the Lower because most hikers choose the slightly closer lower lake. The Upper sits within a stone’s throw of the summit of Cathedral Peak, which silently rakes the sky with its pinnacle. It’s also in that sweet spot of altitude, flirting with treeline to such a degree that things are thin enough to offer clear sight lines. You can see the granite walls that surround the lake, while also finding the odd tree along the water for a bit of shade to snooze through the hottest hour of the day.

We reach the lake. Setting a meeting spot, we head out for 90 minutes to enjoy the bounty of delights here. The five of us split up, each to their own private corner of paradise. There are no other humans in sight.

I make my way to my normal spot. It’s a bar of granite that juts into the lake, forming a small peninsula with a stout Douglas fir near the base, throwing a ‘Scott-sized’ pool of shade. The shade sits in a small alcove, where two different arms of rock come together to form a reclining bench, covered with a thin mat of pine needles. It’s my spot.

I settle into the nook, comfortably tired in the thin air, relaxed in the knowledge that it’s lunch time and it’s all downhill from here. From my bag I pull all the supplies I’ll need for my recess: My long-awaited sandwich (sourdough, thick-cut ham, stone-ground spicy Dijon that I had to go to three different stores to find, alfalfa sprouts, Swiss cheese, romaine lettuce, all the good stuff), my notebook (crammed with bad drawings and worse poetry), and my book (in this setting, beneath the peak that he was the first to free climb in 1869, nothing but the prose of John Muir will do).

With a practiced efficiency I set about my tasks, working slowly and deliberately. A bite of ham, a swig of water, an attempt to capture the way the granite bends and reflects into the clear water. A few paragraphs of Muir, and then a few minutes just staring at the reflections of the thin clouds, and how a slight ripple can change their shape and design. Repeat. The time passes quickly, as it often does when we have little to concern us in what seems like a separate, detached world.

Sooner than I wish, our time is almost up. I told my clients when we were walking up that if they wanted to swim that they’d have to do so naked, on account of a rule meant to protect the health of these alpine lakes. As they each jump in the water from their private beachfronts, I can see they knew I was lying. I can’t be seen breaking my own rule though, so I strip down and dive into the cold, halcyon water.

It’s time to head back down, out of the clouds, to our campsite. The sun will soon be setting on another Sierra day, and another one will follow shortly after.

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).

In the Spirit of John Muir

Zeki Basan and our SYMG guide Chris Plewa explored remote regions of Yosemite to embrace the spirit of John Muir himself. Take a look at the 72 mile trek these two covered, including the amazing Red Peaks and greater Yosemite Valley.

Want to explore these areas with us? Check out our Red Peak Loop trip to learn more.

Salmon Pesto Pasta

backpacking meal, backpacking, menu, backpacking food, backpacking trip planning

Backpacking Gourmet with SYMG: Guide’s Salmon Pesto Pasta with Toasted Pine Nuts.

Getting into the backcountry is an immersion into a world of escape. Escape from stress, escape from crowds and grid-locked commutes, and escape from tweets, pokes, vines, likes, and blogs (except for this one of course). But one thing you don’t need to escape from – nor do I ever want to – is great food! Backcountry cooking is not synonymous with dehydrated foods, nor is it limited to granola, jerky, and ramen noodles. At Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, we carefully plan our meals with fresh ingredients to include all the essential nutrients, earning the accolade “Backcountry Gourmet” by Sunset Magazine. Here is an example recipe from SYMG’s own Roddy McCalley:

Salmon Pesto Pasta with Toasted Pine Nuts (say that 3 times fast!)

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Gear Needs:

  • Large Pot
  • Pasta Claw/spatula/spoon
  • Stove
  • Cheese Grater (if using a block of parmesan)
  • Knife
  • Cutting board

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Fuseli Pasta (something that will hold sauce well)
  • 1 packet Simply Organic Sweet Basil Pesto or other pesto powder.
  • 6-8 oz smoked salmon (foil pouch)
  • 2-4 oz parmesan cheese
  • 2-4 oz pine nuts
  • A few leaves of fresh basil—wrap in a dry paper towel before packing in Ziploc to keep greens fresh.
  • 2 oz olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Optional:

  • Make your own pesto powder with various combinations of powdered garlic, onion, basil, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, and parmesan.
  • Better smoked salmon is in the refrigerator case at most stores–it will keep for a day or two, keep your bear cans out of the sun.
  • Garlic powder

DSC_3391Directions:

  1. Begin by toasting pine nuts in a dry pan with a sprinkle of garlic powder.
  2. Set pine nuts aside when lightly browned and boil water for pasta. Be sure to add salt for ‘al dente’ pasta—even at sea level this is important; even more so at elevation due to lower boiling temperature.
  3. Chop the fresh basil and set it aside. Cook the pasta and drain it–leaving a few tablespoons of water to reconstitute the pesto.
  4. Add pesto powder, olive oil and stir. Depending on presence of vegetarians and non-dairy eaters, stir in or keep separate the salmon and cheese.
  5. Add chopped fresh basil to individual servings as garnish, with salt & pepper to taste.

How to get in shape for your next adventure!

By SYMG Guide Scott Morris

You’ve decided where you’re going, and you’ve decided when you’ll go there. Your travel plans are coming together and you’re wrapping your head around the packing list. One important step remains – in order to get the most out of your mountain adventure, you may want to revisit your fitness before you arrive in the Sierra.

Lifestyle
Before starting any kind of fitness regimen, examine your lifestyle, and ask yourself if your daily routines are setting you up for success. Getting the right amount of sleep, drinking enough water, managing stress, and eating a diverse diet of healthy foods are all going to have you getting more out of your fitness work and will have you arriving on the first day of your trip ready to immerse yourself in the splendor of the High Sierra.

Light Cardio

If you’re just starting out a fitness regimen, it’s important to have patience with yourself. Everyone is starting out at a different point, so if you haven’t exercised in a while, start out with a thirty minute walk on flat ground, a few times a week. Add ten minutes per walk or an extra walk each week until you’re at an hour of swift walking five days a week. Once this is comfortable, aim to maintain sixty minutes of active movement most days, but work to increase the intensity. To do this you can add a day per week of running, cycling, or hiking, whatever you feel comfortable with and enjoy. You can expand your walks and get into some hillier terrain, always shooting for that goal of sixty minutes of challenge per day in the weeks and months leading up to your trip. Cycling is a popular way for many people to increase their cardiovascular fitness. It’s a good next step because it simultaneous engages respiratory endurance with the muscular systems of the leg that are relied on while hiking.

Muscular Cardio
The last step of preparation is muscular cardio. There’s two exercises here I’ll recommend above all others, and the first is swimming. Swimming provides a good combination of muscular endurance and cardio, all while providing a full-body workout to a range of muscular systems. If you’re not an experienced swimmer, get a kickboard and hold it in front of you while kicking with your legs; you’re strengthening the muscles of your core and legs and getting a cardio workout at the same time.

The second and, in my opinion, best way to prepare for a backpacking trip is to move your body uphill with a bit of weight on your back. Start small – just a few books in a backpack is a good place to start. If you live near a steep hill, make a few laps up and down with your backpack on, while wearing the shoes you’ll be using for your trip. If you don’t live in hill country, go to your local gym with your pack and boots and get on a Stairmaster machine, or a treadmill that has a variable inclination function. As this becomes more comfortable, add more weight – books, water bottles, whatever you have at hand that’s heavy – and do more laps. After a few stories on the stairmaster or laps on a steep hill, your lungs will start to burn, well preparing you for the challenge you might find at the end of a day in the mountains, at altitude. Remember that lifestyle is an important part of preparation: get into the habit of staying hydrated, and always make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to recover after each workout.

The Take Home Message
Physical challenge is an important part of getting into the mountains. If that which is gained too easily is esteemed too lightly, then by working to get to these places we’re increasing the payoff for ourselves. It’s a challenge, but a manageable challenge, and with a bit of preparation beforehand you can arrive for the first day of your trip confident, ready to dive fully into the adventure and appreciate your surroundings for all they have to offer.

SYMG Guide Scott Morris specializes in our long-distance backpacking trips. He has through-hiked Vermont’s 280-mile Long Trail in just 9.5 days, has participated in several 100-mile ultramarathons, a few Ironman Triathlons, and many more trail races. You can read more about Scott and the rest of the SYMG Guide Staff Here.

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.