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smiley j

Self-Taught Mountaineers

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Just curious as to how many of you out there are self-taught mountaineers? By self-taught I mean you never took a course with one of the local climbing clubs, or with a guide service. I'm an experienced hiker, have a very good fitness level, and have good off-trail/scrambling skills. I'd like to take things to the next level, but my profession doesn't offer me the flexibility of schedule to take a course with one of the local climbing clubs, and though I could piece my gear together, I don't have the funds to just plunk down a grand+ on a guide service course. So if you went it on your own, how did you do it? Yes, I have a copy of "Freedom of the Hills". I'm hesitant to start begging on the "Partners Needed" forum, but I've entertained the thought...... And yes, I joined a long time ago for this to be my first post! Long Time Lurker here!

Edited by smiley j

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Hey Smiley. I am largely self-taught. But living in Bellingham and going to college there meant being around a lot of other mountaineers who showed me things along the way. I learned a lot from books though... but not just reading. Reading and then practicing. It helps to have a motivated friend along who is in the same boat. Depending on the person, that can be a very effective way of learning.

 

The only formal classes that I have paid money for have been avalanche courses (AIARE 1) and wilderness medicine (WFR). I really think those were worthwhile and IMO more important to spend money on then actual climbing courses.

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I have had the great fortune of sharing ropes with many excellent climbers/mountaineers over the years. I have even had the opportunity to climb recreationally with several guides. And I would say that if you don't have the time for a long course or the money for a guide, then climb with lots of people. Every person has a little different view of things and brings their own tips and tricks to the trip.

 

However here are some pointers to think about. If this is something you really want to learn, study at home out of the "Freedom of the Hills". Read articles on all subjects, watch videos, and be as familiar as possible with all the gear. Then before a trip do the research for the climb. Just because you might be going with a more experienced partner doesn't mean you shouldn't spend a couple hours pouring over photos, route details, current conditions, etc... That way on the trip your questions will be more detailed, precise, and knowledgeable. When you do go out on a trip, ask knowledgeable questions. Try to learn as much as possible to further your own information. Finally it is hard to be confident at something when you don't do it much, so get out a LOT (like as much as possible).

 

The last advice I would give is to save up some money to spend in this field on a guide or class. Many guides are happy do a little bit of teaching especially to a person who studies a lot and is trying to gain knowledge. One day with a guide could be very helpful. Also consider a short class on certain subjects. For instance a 1 day field class on Mt. Rainier on crevasse rescue isn't too expensive or time consuming but it gives you a wealth of knowledge. Depending on what you want to learn most look for other 1 or 2 day courses in those subjects. Even if you only took 1 class a year, every bit of information helps build that knowledge and experience you rely one when you are out on a climb.

 

Best of luck to you in your quest for knowledge!

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clubs like the Mountaineers and the Washington Alpine Club provide coaching/instruction free of charge. If you can't make their formal scheduled courses, just find someone willing to drag you up a climb. I got my foundation in the boy scouts and a college outdoor program. read Freedom of the Hills, then continue to study it as you progress. study knots, anchors, belays, protection, then go out and experiment on "easy" ground. the fastest way to progress is to climb regularly with someone more experienced/proficient than yourself. more than one experienced partner means you get to see more than one way of doing things. my friends and I learned to lead rock and ice by leading on rock and ice - because we didn't know anyone in our home area to follow. I began by practicing on aid lines - which meant I loaded every placement, and the placements were close together. As I became confident of my placements, I began to spread them further apart. It was less than six months before I was leading easy climbs, and once you're at that point, you can progress at whatever pace suits you.

 

regarding gear - buy it as you need it. if you can find experienced partners, you'll be using their ropes. you can start with as little as a harness, and a single locking carabiner. this will allow you to belay or rappel with a Munter Hitch. before you get too far along, if you're doing multi-pitch climbs, you'll probably want to invest in a personal anchor system. you don't necessarily NEED dedicated rock shoes, but you may decide you want them fairly early on. a dedicated belay device is optional, but almost every climber uses one these days. there are lots of options, some very expensive (@$100), some very inexpensive (@$15). ask your mentors what they like, and practice handling theirs if possible. you don't need to acquire piles of carabiners, nuts, cams and slings until you're doing a the lead climbing. Buy the stuff as you need it - and hopefully you won't end up with a bin or two of items you never use.

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I'm also almost completely self-taught, and continually self-teaching. I've had a couple "mentor" types sort of come and go, but it always comes about that I end up knowing more than them, and don't gain much. I haven't climbed with any real alpine masters- just self-professed "experienced" guys who figure they're experienced because it's been a lot of years since the first time they climbed.... but probably average like 1 or 2 trips a year, if that? This is the problem with asking someone how long they've been climbing as a gage of how much they know- could be 20 years, but 99% of those 20 years were spent swinging beer glasses, not ice tools.

 

Some people take to books, some do not. I happen to be someone who can read a book about how to do things and can go out and execute well in the field. I'm not particularly brilliant, I just have that unique ability. I don't think most people can learn things adequately that way, which is why professional services are a viable industry. If you can read up on avalanche safety, anchor building, rock and ice climbing technique, physical fitness, weather prediction, etc, etc., and can take it all into the field and recall it all on the spot while tired, scared, under time pressure, and with people watching- get the fap out there and do it!

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Start out on rock. Climb as much rock as you can, be it aid or free, and follow as long as you can because you can see how a hopefully experienced leader places the protection. Rock protection (gear) is tricky to learn but if you follow an experienced leader and as montypiton suggests learn to aid climb, then you will learn how the gear actually works by making it work(by hanging your weight on each placement). It is a terribly slow process to learn and can be frustrating at times too but just keep at it, and keep asking for help and instruction from the experienced folks you know and meet. There is no - REPEAT, NO - fast or easy way to become proficient at climbing (anything - rock, snow, or ice). It just takes practice and lots of it. Reading is great to SUPPLEMENT what you are doing but do not rely on your ability to understand written word as experience for what you are reading about. Please don't think that your execution of things learned from reading will be perfect the first time you go out and do it because no matter how many times you read something it will always turn out slightly different outside the sterile environment of your garage or library where the pressure is on and lives are at stake. Be skeptical of what you are told by other climbers and ask the question "why" to learn the purpose behind their doing things. Watch your partners closely - they are teaching you even when they are not talking to you. Learn from your mistakes - quickly. And develop a short memory for what is uncomfortable. Read The Rock Warrior's Way by Arno Ilgner and work hard to apply it to your climbing. Many activities outside of climbing will help your climbing, such as your experience as a hiker. But remember that nothing will help your climbing as much as your climbing will. A complete mountaineer is proficient on it all - rock, ice, snow. Start with rock because once you know the techniques to climb vertical rock you will not feel as intimidated on snow or ice which is less than vertical. Plus, learning to rock climb will teach you ALL the other systems in every other type of climbing - belaying, rappelling, rescue, hauling, etc are four key systems which translate their actions across the board. Gear might change with the medium but the skills and motions remain the same. Find a way to make it fun, because if it ain't fun you shouldn't be doing it.

Godspeed!

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