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SnowByrd

The ABC's of Alpine

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I'll start this by trying to explain my perspective so that the answers are helpful to a newbie and try to avoid a bunch of potential spray.

 

I've been 'learning to climb' (as I do not yet call myself a climber) for a couple of months now. I can distinguish the difference between Sport (bolts?) and Trad (placing and cleaning pro?) and know what multipitch means. I've also enquired about ice climbing. My skillset is such that I will continue to develop my technical climbing skills and push myself to do tougher sport and trad climbs. I also know* (think) that there is a whole new set of skills needed when attempting Alpine climbing. I can see where some of the skills one learn will be applied here but there is so much more to learn. From reading some of the posts in other forums, I'd like to bring some of that info to the Newbie forum so its easier to sort out.

 

So, heres the question:

 

When a beginner sport/trad climber is interested in learning about the joys of Alpine, where would he/she begin? Please spare me the 'read a book or take a class' fluff if you're not going to follow it up with a suggestion and an explanation of why you are suggesting it.

 

Thank You in advance for your meaningful explanations and suggestions. wave.gif

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Go camping. There are many skills you learn from simply backpacking on multiday trip that will serve you very well in the alpine- how to pack a pack, how to pack lightly, how to dress when active & at rest, how to stay warm, how to not get lost, yadda yadda.

This skills strike some people as so fundamental that they're surprised not everyone knows this stuff, but you'll be miserable without it.

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go out with a friend or two and practice snow stuff like axe use, crampons, roped team travel, glacier rescue and then add your trad rock skillz to do something cool. I don't know WA too well, but don't peaks like Dome, Eldorado, Shuksan offer a variety of mild terrain types?

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Perhaps you already have this experience, but you might try some not-so-technical scrambles with knowledgable friends to get some experience living above treeline, dealing with weather, cold, snow, exposure, etc.

 

Being comfortable in that environment to begin with can make a difference on whether you make it to the top of something or not. It just takes time to develop the discipline to take care of the little things, and it's the little things that add up to become big advantages or big liabilities during a climb! No book will teach you this stuff.

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Oh yeah. You've got to eat a lot too. Alpine climbers are fat- richly padded with extra insulation & food. Learn to drink olive oil like it was a fine wine.

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Spend some time snow camping with someone experienced. Backpacking experience is helpful but not necessarily comparable to sleeping on a glacier.

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Go do it and hopefully don't die

 

A succinct description of alpine adventure. Uncertainty is key. Self-reliance is a must. Get scared, get cold, and have a great time! bigdrink.gif

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Alpine climbing often involves climbing with a pack. Go to the gym and climb with a pack filled with a bunch of books or something (and make sure to hook an ice-axe on the outside). Make sure to be wearing your helmet too. See how much fun that is? Alpine climbing sucks. grin.gif

 

All that stuff about learning how to hike and scramble is a very good idea if you haven't done any of that yet. Hiking and scrambling with a whole bunch of heavy climbing ropes and gear in your pack wouldn't hurt either. See how much fun that is? Alpine climbing sucks. grin.gif

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what sort of background do you have in hiking or backpacking or winter camping or skiing etc. Alpine climbing is usually one or more of those things with some technical rock or ice climbing added in. IMO it's a lot easier to pick up the rope skills than the backcountry skills. I.e. it's easy to go to a gym and learn to tie knots and belay etc., but more difficult to learn how to avoid blisters and stay warm and comfortable for several days in the mountains.

 

what do you want to climb? is there a particular mountain or route that you would set as a goal?

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First, know that "alpine" climbing ranges from short trad climbs, close to the road, that happen to be in a mountainous setting (Washington Pass for example) that require no special skills beyond normal trad climbing to multi-thousand foot vertical ice and rock, a hundred miles from the closest road, in arctic cold requiring aid climbing skills, water ice, mixed climbing, and rock climbing. Most "alpine" routes will involve some form of snow and/or ice travel/climbing. But, there are also plenty of summer alpine routes in the NW that never touch snow and are simply ascents of peaks on rock.

 

Learning how to live in the alpine environment is one part of the picture. You need to be able to stay warm, fed, and sheltered. Snow camping is common. Learning how to deal with the various shelters you might use...tent, bivy sack, tarp, snow cave, is important.

 

Being physically fit is another aspect. You will typically cover alot of elevation gain on an alpine climb and the approaches can often be more physically demanding than the climbs themselves. Add an unhospitable climate of cold, rain, snow, wind, etc. You need to be tough.

 

Another aspect is the glacier/snow/ice travel. You need to learn crevasse rescue skills, basic route finding/terrain reading abilities, and basic avalanche awareness skills. You need to learn to navigate in a whiteout.

 

So where do you begin? Seriously, read "Freedom of the Hills". Why? Because it is full of useful, basic information on a huge array of topics, and it is beginner friendly. Most of the book is oriented toward "alpine" endeavors. You can learn alot of basic skills and terminology by simply reading this text.

 

Then figure out what sub-aspect of alpine climbing you are interested in. A climb of Rainier or one of the other volcanoes? An ascent of a rock ridge route on Forbidden?

 

Once you figure out the first goal, you can address the necessary skills. For Rainier you'll need to address the crevasse rescue situation and the sheer elevation gain, for something else you might be able to skip that and focus on technical rock climbing skills.

 

Having a specific climb as a training motivator is a good thing. If you know that you need specific skills for a climb, you are more likely to go out and learn/practice them.

 

That said, for my first alpine climb (I'd been rock climbing for about 6 years) me and a college buddy picked out route on a peak in Colorado that we knew got guided. We figured "shit, if they can guide noobs up it, we can figure it out on our own". I'd never had crampons on before that, never camped on snow, never used an ice axe. We figured we knew enough about climbing and living outdoors to get by. We were right. We spent about a week living above 10,000 in the San Juans of SW Colorado where the lows were about -20 and the highs in the teens, and climbed a couple of fun, easy, aesthetic routes. After a week, the living aspect was second nature. We practiced arrests, digging snow caves, and basic stuff like different ways to use an axe between the climbs.

 

I recommend trying to find a mentor. A herd group like the Mounties/BoeAlps/Mazamas is a cheap way to get some basic instruction...plus you can probably take some really entertaining pictures on one of their trips. If you have spare loot, hiring a guide (find a like minded buddy and the cost will be a bit less) for a day or two is well worth it IMO. It would probably cut down your learning curve substantially.

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There are some good suggestions here, so I'll keep my comments brief. Besides, I'm no expert.

 

As a rock climbing transplant from warmer locales I have been working to make this transition too.

 

1 - Alpine climbs often involve a strenous approach. This may include unprotected 3rd and 4th class, bushwhacking through nasty vegetation, crossing swift rivers, navigating in poor visibility and without trails. You can gain experience in these areas by hiking off trail and scrambling non-technical peaks. Check out the 100 Washington Scrambles book or try 3rd class scrambles from the Beckey guides.

 

2 - In alpine environments you frequently have to deal with snow, ice, and glaciers. Snow travel can be safe and easy or hard and scary depending on conditions, which vary widely. I'd suggest you don't venture onto a glacier unless you're tied in with a competent partner (or two or three) and all of you know self-arrest and crevasse rescue skills.

 

4 - Dealing with all sorts of weather can be the most important element of an outing. Gear is also critical. Don't wear cotton!

 

4 - Find someone as eager as you are and you'll have some great adventures. There should be no shortage of prime fodder among the masochists who read this list.

 

Will's idea of setting a goal is a good one.

 

Adventure, in my book, involves uncertainty. We have some truly amazing alpine wilderness up here. I hope you have many wonderful adventures learning to explore and climb in it. fruit.gif

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AlpineK said this in another thread

I don't choose a partner by finding someone who does things the same way I do. I just look for someone competent who I'm not likely to kill if I'm forced to spend a week in a tent with.

 

Learning how to pick your traveling companions is key. Just as key is learning how to be a good companion- for me this means learning how to have fun and laugh at shit when you're cold/tired/scared/hurting.

Everybody has their own way of dealing w/shit- find someone who works well with you under pressure.

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Oh yeah. You've got to eat a lot too. Alpine climbers are fat- richly padded with extra insulation & food. Learn to drink olive oil like it was a fine wine.

 

That reminds me of a funny story someone told me about chugging olive oil and the concequences...now who was that. wink.gif

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Most points I would make have already been said but would like to strongly second the idea of reading and studying Freedom of the Hills. It will give you a good base knowledge. It's what I used for starters. I still remember rigging up a z-pulley system in my living room and dragging my mtn bike out accross the floor to test it out w/ the FOH book in hand. cantfocus.gif

 

Pretty much anything else you just gotta go out, do it and learn what works for you.

 

It's always seemed to me like 90% of mountaineering is judgement from experience and having good common sense. The other 10% is just the core climbing skills, ya know? Knowing when to say and when not to say "Fuck this." is probably the best and hardest skill you will need to develop.

 

Anyway, good luck.

Edited by griz

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Go do it and hopefully don't die

Don't hate the player, brutha, hate the game

"risk mitigation" baby! Obviously, the danger of the sport is what appeals to me (and most others). Who am I foolin'?

the_finger.gifthumbs_up.gif

However, FOH is a great mitigation tool and lifelong reference...

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The major difference between succesful alpine climbers and unsuccessful, (I'll define alpine as hike long, bushwhack to the base of the most promising line, climb it, bivy maybe, get down.)is that they are able to endure a whack of cold, wet, devils club and still at least pretend they are having a good time.

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ABCs of alpine for newbies

 

A) Don't fall

B) Don't go up in bad weather (until you are more experienced at being dumb)

C) Don't underestimate the mountain (until you are more experienced at being dumb)

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