Who knew Mammoth Mountain, a ski mecca in central California, was crazy in the warmer months? In fact, this sportsman’s paradise has a bigger summer, spring, and fall season than winter. By June, foreign backpackers can be found roaming from hotel to hotel in search of rooms, when everything is booked. However, if you’re fine with planning things in advance, Mammoth has just about everything to do outdoors-wise before the snow starts to fall. There are nearly innumerable hikes — most famously past Devil’s Postpile to Rainbow Falls, but don’t forget the June Lake Triathlon and Motocross. But if you were to choose one activity in the Mammoth "off-season," we highly recommend taking a stab at rock climbing.
Sierra Mountain Guides is a groovy outfit with a mom-and-pop feel that can guide you in any extreme sport with a shocking level of ease and sophistication. And whod’a thunk rock climbing could feel so sophisticated? Owner Howie Schwartz is a total can-do-it-all. A certified, licensed guide, Howie is a total expert but has the patience to coach beginners (and those of us who may or may not have shown up to the base of Crystal Crag wearing Diesel Jeans).
This impressive rock tower, Crystal Crag, has many different grades of climbs, but Howie chose an appropriate route for my ability. It’s the perfect all-day event, complete with some tricky moments where you wonder how you are going to get to the next level, but when you overcome them you feel like a total badass and practically levitate onward. Remarkably knowledgeable of the Sierra Mountains, you often forget you are struggling with altitude, since you're too busy listening to Howie tell the story of the terrain. And they don’t call it Crystal Crag for nothing: at about 10,000 feet, at the north arête, there is a sudden segment bursting with quartz crystals. It’s like one moment you are climbing in Mammoth, the next you are slipping through the Ice Queen’s castle in Narnia. The Summit is an accomplishment worthy of a picnic lunch (genius sandwiches care of Stellar Brew Natural Cafe) and a sign-in at the summit registry that’s kept in a can under a rock.
Recommended Place To Stay:
If you want a hotel experience that pairs nicely with rock climbing, forget the fancy options and go for something local: the Alpenhof Lodge. This Swiss Chalet is rustic and totally adorbable; 100 percent family owned and operated. If you hang out long enough in the Clock Tower Bar, the owner Robert Schaubmayer will have a drink with you and tell you the Lodge’s (and Mammoth’s) fascinating history.