A guide for all seasons
He’s worked as a smoke jumper for the BLM … scaled rocks, anywhere from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite and on to Europe … he will take a snowboard anywhere and everywhere …
When all is said and done, though, there is simply no place like home to Mike Ierien.
“I’ve been all over the world, but I always come back here,” he said. ” There’s just so much to do.”
Ierien (pronounced Erie-with-an-n), 42, is a man for all seasons as an American Mountain Guide Association-trained backcountry guide who operates Beyond Back Country Adventures in South Lake Tahoe. During the winter months, the adventures may encompass cross country skiing, snowshoes or snowboards. In the summer, his passion is rock climbing. And any time of the year, there is a portable climbing wall he transports for various activities.
“There’s a lot of great rock climbing and backcountry skiing and snowboarding in the Sierra, some of the best anywhere,” said Ierien, a standout wrestler at Carson High School in the 1970s. “It’s a blast. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t. I won’t do anything that’s not fun.”
There is a certain challenge to snowboarding in the backcountry, especially at the present time with up to 8 feet of snow blanketing the upper elevations.
“It’s just really fun to be able to do it and to be able to teach others and open people’s eyes to what’s out there,” he said. “I was out the day before Christmas, just my dog and I. That area out by Crater Lake and Stevens Peak is really, really cool.”
Ierien does some of his work as a guide at the Hope Valley Outdoor Center. A free snowshoe demonstration day will be held at the Hope Valley Outdoor Center from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday. The comforts of a ski resort are obviously not available, but Ierien describes the rewards as eye-opening.
“The challenge in that is getting people to want to walk for an hour and a half so they can ride with no one around,” he said. “Most people want to take a lift, the easy way up. In the backcountry, you earn your turns. In the backcountry, you don’t get as many turns in, but no one’s there. You can go anywhere you want.”
Naturally, the death last month of a 25-year-old man, whose body was found east of the boundaries at Mt. Rose Ski Resort in an area known as the “Chutes” caught Ierien’s attention.
“That shouldn’t have happened,” Ierien said. “When I take people out in the backcountry for snowboarding and skiing, I give them a quick avalanche clinic, so they’re not totally oblivious to what’s happening around them. I want them to understand where we’re going and why we’re going to a certain area and not to another one that looks better,” Ierien said. “They need some awareness. I’m constantly pointing stuff out and showing them stuff. I’ll dig a quick field pit and show them layers of snow and hardened snow and show them why it’s important and how it changes and what it means to the snowpack. All of that is super important.”
He advises clients to expand their knowledge by taking avalanche awareness courses from a certified instructor.
The same rules apply to rock climbing.
“A lot of people don’t understand how dangerous the backcountry can be … The day starts out beautiful, are you going to get 600 feet up on a climb, still have 200 feet to go and here comes a thunderstorm in the afternoon like they often do here. You have to think about that,” he said.
With the proper care, rock climbing is a safe sport, he emphasizes.
“It’s a good time showing people who have very little experience how safe climbing really is,” Ierien said. “I’ve been doing it 23 years. When I’m guiding someone, it’s all about the climb, keeping them safe and making sure they have a good time.”
Lover’s Leap, located within view of Highway 50 near Twin Bridges, stands as the premiere climbing site in the area.
“That’s some of the best multi-pitch climbing in the Sierra…” Ierien said. “It’s terrific. You can see Pyramid Peak, you can see Ralston Peak, Sierra-at-Tahoe, you can look down west on Highway 50 and follow the American River drainage. It’s really, really pretty.”
Does he have a favorite location in the Tahoe Basin or anywhere else in the region? That’s a hard question to answer.
“There’s so many good spots, all the way from the north end of the lake,” Ierien said. “The Mt. Rose area and all the way down to the Kirkwood area. There’s a lot of really good terrain for skiing and snowboarding in the back country.
Have there been any special achievements along the way?
“A lot of the stuff I’m proud of is actually the guiding,” Ierien said. “I work with anyone of any level. It’s really rewarding for both of us.”
Fitness has followed Ierien through life, including the 11 years he worked as a smoke jumper.
“I was very unfit when I was a kid and my best friend Dave Lowe (currently an assistant coach at Carson High) was just wicked fit. I said, ‘I want to be fit like you,’ and he told me I should join the wrestling team. I started my sophomore year, so Dave’s the one who got me hooked on the fitness thing. He’s the one I should blame,” Ierien said with a laugh.
For more information about Beyond Back Country Adventures, call (530) 541-8911.
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