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Kaskadian

Absolute newbie; where do I start?

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Hi all,

 

When it comes to climbing, I'm as green as it comes. I grew up here in the PNW (Portland area), and always had an interest in climbing, but unfortunately, my family didn't really have an interest in climbing. I ended up moving away from the PNW when I was 11 (just moved back after 14 years away), so I didn't really have an opportunity to climb growing up.

 

I'm 25 now, and see no reason not to get started. I'm kind of confused as to where I should begin. I've been looking into some classes/mountaineering courses, etc. I know that some sort of fundamental training will be necessary, but I'd love some guidance as where I should start and what kind of equipment I should buy.

 

Cheers

 

 

 

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I have a copy of the 6th edition of Freedom of the Hills in very good condition (no stray writing, highlighting, stains, bends, etc.) that I'll sell you for $12. Pick up in Portland.

 

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I think the most helpful thing to do at this point is to think about and try to answer the question 'What do you want to do in the mountains?' For example, is your ultimate goal to climb Mount Rainier? Or do you want to send a 5.12 at Index? Or do long alpine rock routes in the Bugaboos? The answer to this question can help point you in the right direction. It's ok if you don't know right now, part of being a climber is adjusting your goals as you try new and different things.

 

That said, for an absolute noob, in my opinion there are a couple of options to learn the ropes.

 

Option 1: Take a course like the Mountaineers Basic Alpine course or the Washington Alpine Club Basic Course if you are in Washington, or a similar course from the Mazamas in Oregon. Any of those will help you learn some basic mountain travel, glacier, and rock skills, and would be a solid foundation to build from. They also help you meet people who are in a similar situation in terms of experience and desire to climb.

 

The problem with those courses, of course, is that registration for both is now closed for the next year (you seriously just missed the WAC one by two days). That is a hard pill to swallow when you want to get out and climb this summer.

 

Option 2: Hire a guide service for a 'Skills seminar'. This is different than your average guided summit climb, and will set you up in a small group with a knowledgeable guide, with a focus on learning the skills you need to get around in the mountains. There are different courses you can take, and each will offer a different focus. For example, you could start with a glacier travel course, then later take a rock climbing course if you decide that is important to your development.

 

The pro to this option is that you can quickly learn the skills you need from a reputable source. I did a glacier travel course with Pro Guiding and was pleased with what I learned. On the other hand, I didn't feel like I learned anything groundbreaking, and I probably could have picked up similar information from a careful study of FOTH. The other cons are that this option is pretty expensive, and it doesn't do anything for helping you find partners to climb with in the future.

 

Option 3: Learn on your own/find partners to teach you. This can be a good option for some people and some subjects, but it comes with a certain set of risks. If you can find a knowledgeable, experienced partner who is willing to take you under their wing, you can learn a lot, fairly quickly, and for cheaper than Option 1 or 2. The trick is, you have no basis on which to judge if someone is experienced, and it is often hard to find such a benevolent mentor. If you have friends that climb, see if you can tag along on an easy day or to the climbing gym. Offer to buy some food or beer or pay for gas, that will make it more likely they'll accept. If you don't already have friends that climb, in my opinion you need to gain a bit more knowledge on your own before you ask someone to teach you. To that end, get some books and read up.

 

I have a couple other suggestions as well - if you are interested in 'traditional mountaineering' like climbing Disappointment Cleaver on Rainier or Coleman-Deming on Baker, you should find some friends that like hiking and take a trip down to St. Helens. In late winter and early spring, that mountain is a great intro to mountaineering. It is non-technical, but provides an opportunity to climb moderate slopes on snow with an ice axe and crampons (if you want). You can rent gear at REI. Mt. Adams is a similar experience for a bit later in the year, just watch the weather.

 

A word on gear - it is very tempting to drive to the closest REI and put 2 grand on the credit card to get outfitted with all the latest and greatest. Don't. If you are as green as you say, you have no idea what you want at this point, and if you end up buying a bunch of stuff now you will probably regret it. The things I would recommend you buy now are things that will serve you for years in the outdoors. I would recommend you get a lightweight, uninsulated pair of softshell pants. I practically live in an old pair of REI Mistral pants, something like those is perfect in my opinion. These will serve you for everything from spring and fall cragging to summer glacier climbs, they also work for backpacking and hiking, they last forever. Get a baselayer top of some variety, I like Patagonia Capilene 2 but anything will work. Should be lightweight and either synthetic or merino wool. Get a Marmot Precip jacket if you don't already have a lightweight rain jacket. They are like $70 bucks on sale and work in everything from summer thunderstorms to winter blizzards. If you already have hiking boots they will work for your first forays into the mountains, otherwise you will want to look into getting some mountain boots, but that is its own conversation. You can rent or borrow most other gear for now. If you get into climbing you'll discover the things your partners are using, you'll try things out and decide the things you like and want to buy. If you want to talk gear in the future let me know, its one of my favorite hobbies.

 

Cheers,and good luck. Let me know if you have more questions.

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If you can afford it (both time off work and cost), I think it's totally worth taking an Intro course that covers both general mountaineering and rock climbing. It's the fastest way to get exposed to the basics and form a solid foundation, but it also depends a lot on the organization. I had a great experience with American Alpine Institute, which did a great job of teaching and not guiding when I did courses with them 10+ years ago, and I assume they are still great.

 

Cost and being able to take the time off work are definitely factors, and I was very fortunate to take several of their courses (Intro to Mountaineering, Intro to Ice Climbing, Alpine and Tech Leadership 2). I've been able to grow from there.

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Take a course like the Mountaineers Basic Alpine course or the Washington Alpine Club Basic Course if you are in Washington, or a similar course from the Mazamas in Oregon...

The problem with those courses, of course, is that registration for both is now closed for the next year

Not true, Mazamas basic course registration starts next Tuesday...

www.mazamas.org

 

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Good catch, I'm in Seattle and so not super familiar with Mazamas.

 

Kaskadian, if you're in Oregon I'd recommend you jump on that Mazamas course.

Edited by tstory

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Take a course like the Mountaineers Basic Alpine course or the Washington Alpine Club Basic Course if you are in Washington, or a similar course from the Mazamas in Oregon...

The problem with those courses, of course, is that registration for both is now closed for the next year

Not true, Mazamas basic course registration starts next Tuesday...

www.mazamas.org

 

Further, the Mazamas have some *very* good online instruction sessions on Youtube. However (and this is important!), these videos are not suitable for use "in lieu of" competent personal instruction, but they are useful to give you an idea of what some aspects of mountaineering are all about.

Edited by grandpa

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