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bogdan

How to initiate someone to alpine?

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Posted (edited)

Looking for tips from more experienced climbers on introducing inexperienced people to alpine climbing in the PNW, or just alpine mentoring more generally. Both wisdom and ideas on local routes that are useful resources. If any of yall are guides would especially love your feedback.

I have enough experience to feel confident with peers on moderate alpine terrain. I'm looking to take an inexperienced partner into the alpine though. I'm expecting some hiccups with gear selection, headgame, etc, but also miscalibration of my own expectations of his performance, and am here fishing for thoughts that might whittle down the unknown unknown element a bit if possible. I'm also concerned about solo decision making, since the usual paradigm is consensus decision making among peers to help catch mistakes early (same way you have your partner check your knots). Guides seem to have some secret for getting around the usual human foibles of this scenario though, and decision making is complicated hence why I'm asking about "wisdom".

Let me put this into a more concrete context. I'm an amateur climber coming out to the PNW for my first time end of May for a bit over a week. I've been alpine climbing for six years, mostly in Colorado and Chamonix, but various other places too. With peers of equal ability I tend to succeed on grade IV/D+ rock, ice or mixed and shoot higher. My partner for this trip however is not experienced, and I would be introducing him to alpine climbing during this trip. We've cragged together plenty over the last two years, including backcountry multipitch rock to 5.8, III and roadside ice to 4+, III in Northern New England (where I live now), and on which he leads easier pitches (rock) or follows (ice) proficiently, but he's still inexperienced leading trad rock and is on the cusp of his first WI leads.


Would like to use the trip to get his feet wet on something alpine without being reckless, particularly since he's moving to Seattle and will have plenty of opportunities to build on it. Could be rock, mixed or mountaineering, but right now my thought is to look for III/AD+ volcano routes like maybe the N Ridge of Baker or Emmons Glacier on Rainier, with maybe the promise of some skiing on the way down. Route suggestions or criticism are welcome though.

Different areas tend to have their own established routes that climbers will get on as part of a progression to ease into alpine climbing. For instance in Chamonix it might be the Cosmiques Arete for classic mixed or the Papillon Ridge for rock. In Colorado it might be the North Ridge of Spearhead or Marthas. I could list off a series of other routes in each area that are frequently on the list that follow these, are classic, and reasonable stepping stones. I don't know the PNW scene though, nor do I know the season, so any useful beta on routes that are useful resources for coaching novice alpine climbers would also be useful. My read on the N Ridge of Baker is that it might be like an appropriate 3rd mountaineering route, Emmons might be a good first or second. Something like West Ridge of Forbidden might be a good first alpine rock route. But these things are hard to judge from a distance, and I'm sure there are plenty of routes I don't know about.

Edited by bogdan

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Regarding skills, there are lots of great videos and books. One amazing series that is geared toward more experienced climbers but has mental aspects that apply to everyone is Alpne Mentors w Steve House,  You can also learn a lot from experienced partners, but guides have many years of training that you're not going to get reading the internet or climbing with your friends. Hiring one can be a great way to climb a classic and have both you and your partner learn a ton along the way (I'm not a guide BTW). There are also local courses. It sounds like you're pretty experienced already, so you can just go. You'll naturally learn from a network of partners you build over time, like many of us old guys did.

So you want ski mountaineering?  Liberty Ridge is a prize, but timing is everything to avoid objective hazards. We usually have a thread on it here. Emmons is a great early season line, mostly an endless 30 degree walk in crampons. It's the typical ski descent for LR. Turns all year may be a great place to go for more skiing-focused outings.

If you've done back country rock up to 5.8+ and roadside ice to 4+ you should be good to go on lots of PNW classics. End of May is pretty early, but you might be good on some volcanoes then. It all depends on the storm cycle and temps as we get closer. Alpine rock usually isn't dry unless it gets several days of sun, but there are a few exceptions. 

Look things up on mountan project AND read TRs on this site to get a lot more climbing ideas and conditions beta.

One simple way to learn the alpine elements is to go out scrambling on snow and rock in the alpine. Increase the difficulty over time. Learn to read the conditions and see how they evolve in different weather cycles. 

Go get a Beckey Guide (or three) and read it and start going on trips! You'll come to know Fred and our local climbs and history.

Be safe and have fun!

 

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Posted (edited)

Seems there might have been some confusion about what I was asking for. I've edited the original post to clarify. Might make the last post come off a bit like a non-sequitur. Sorry.

Edited by bogdan

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Gotcha. I am not familiar w the EU alpine grading system (just looked it up). We have some excellent local climbing guides, though Beckey is still a great resource. Mountain Project will have lots of info. You should find something awesome. Tip: weather can be unstable through early July, so it's usually a good plan to have two or more objectives in different zones in mind and choose one at the last minute based on conditions. Have fun!

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south side of hood seems right for what you're looking for - or the cooper spur on the north side if you want it to be a little cooler (and use them skis)

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May is not a great time for rock yet; I would doubt you can get into Forbidden easily either. Weather is also less stable this time of year so that would dictate my climbs. If N Ridge of Baker is a goal I would do a steep snow climb, then a steep snow with glacier climb, then that one. You could do all those on/around Baker. That said, weather could just be junk too so you might do the first two on Hood or another volcano. For alpine rock I would look at the Stuart Range as access can be better this time of year and it will be drier than N Cascades (still a hike). 

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My $0.02 having had similar questions in the past is to make sure you are on the same page as your partner and that you are both willing to have open and honest communication about your risk tolerance and how things are looking throughout the day. 

I have been in the mountains with folks who are so attached to achieving the objective that they fail to observe important things around them or are unwilling to discuss them in fear of 'having to bail" - typically conditions that are getting sketchy. 

I'm not all THAT experienced but in my view the mountains will always be there and I want to be able to keep coming back for a long time. If you keep coming back you will continue build more and more experience. It's a slow process (for me at least) but there are other places to go pedal to the metal where you aren't so far out there if something goes awry. 

Sounds like you two are pretty well matched to get out and have a good time i.e. there isn't a massive disparity in abilities. 

South side of hood is always a good way to go like others have said - Timberline lodge is pretty high which makes things easier and there are a variety of different routes to access from there. 

Also, the Alpine Mentors content is high quality. 

Not 100% certain I am on topic here, so forgive me if I'm not. 

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If he's inexperienced leading on trad rock, you will likely find yourself always on the sharp end. That can be really fun, but don't underestimate the impact of being on point all day, including making all the route finding choices. That probably won't matter since as others have pointed out, most alpine rock around here won't be in condition during your visit. The volcanos often offer crampon hiking with serious consequences and rare moments of terror: What's that whooshing sound? Why are my legs dangling in space? Oh no, I put my helmet down on it's top, when will it stop sliding?  Stuff like that. 

If you want a good Forbidden Peak adventure, consider the North Ridge rather than the west. More glacier travel, you'll circumnavigate the peak, you'll probably be out 2 nights early season, and it'll be pretty wild and lonely. Downside might be the last few pitches; though moderate rock, it may present some challenge if all snowed up.

Peruse the trip reports here, you'll find a lot of info on many possible objectives. Hope you both have a great time.

 

 

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