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Brian Luther

Transitioning from rock to alpine: Where?

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This fall/winter I'll be starting a big climbing road trip and am thinking about kicking it off by trying to learn mountaineering, ice, mixed, and all the other stuff needed to climb big, cold mountains. I've got a pretty solid base in rock climbing (multi pitch trad, anchor building, but no aid yet). The two biggest things I really need to learn are glacier travel and avalanche safety, it seems to me, especially the avalanche stuff. You can read up on it plenty, but in my mind there's some mountain sense that you can't get out of a book. I taught my self to place gear and build anchor, and I think I'm pretty damn safe about it, but I don't really wanna do that with shit like avalanches and crevasses.

 

So my question is: what's a good spot to base myself out of and partner up with locals? The cascades are first on my list, but I've never been there and don't know if it's more of an advanced area, an area where it's hard to find partners, or an area where it's hard to live out of my truck. I am thinking about taking an avalanche course, but figured I'd try to find a good one for the area I'm gonna base out of. Other destinations that came to mind are the Tetons and Colorado. For a little further clarification, I'd rather do really easy "mountaineering" and build some base skills than jump right into ice/mixed cragging. The dream is to be able to climb up a big mountain no matter what it takes - rock, ice, mixed, aid, glaciers, slogs, etc.

 

Thanks,

Brian

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if you want to learn glacier travel in the lower 48, washington state's pretty much the only good place - mt rainier's pretty much the best joint in the state then, so base yourself somewhere close like seattle - you can join a group like the mounties to take some of their avy classes or find partners on site's like this - it's not that hard to teach yourself if you're using a good reference book like "freedom of the hills"

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Glacier travel isn't a huge priority for me so long as I don't have to travel on a glacier, if you know what I mean. If that's not a big concern in the lower 48 than I wouldn't be too worried about crossing that bridge when I come to it. More avalanche safety then, I'm assuming that's a real concern anywhere you've got substantial snowfall.

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take some avalanche courses. an avalanche 1 will teach you everything you need to know. if you do avy 2 you will be able to forecast in any mountain range in the world. of course you need constant practice.

 

i wouldnt worry too much about glacier travel, if you understand rope systems and knots you can use your imagination to figure out how it work with the help of freedom of the hills. a couple days practicing and a couple months spent on a glacier and you'll have it mastered.

 

the problem with avalanches and crevasses though are that the most people that die from these things are "experts" in avalanches and glaciers...

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i would start your trip in desert sw, get some rad rock then head up to ouray, co area and get some ice stuff mastered. head to the tetons get some winter climbs in to some of the peaks, then head to the cascades in the spring. climb rainier and baker and get to some of the n. cascades peaks.

 

colorado is a great place to take your avy courses since they've got a really reactive snowpack.

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As an aside when looking in to avalanche safety issues, keep in mind how much this differs in region. A good class should teach you about these differences of course. As you allude to, gaining "mountain sense" for the particular area you want to spend time in is absolutely crucial.

 

The only way to learn this is experience and travelling with people who know their shit. It's far more important than classroom avy classes and knowing how to classify a snowpack as Q1c347T45 or whatever. I'll always trust somebody with decades of experience in the mountains and no formal training over somebody who has taken some classes and has only been serious in the backcountry for a couple of years. It all comes down to decision making, and that is only formed from experience, and lots of it.

 

I've lived in both Washington and Colorado and the difference between a maritime and continental snowpack is huge. Similarly large differences exist within these meta-types as well. If you are able to, seek out some friendly, knowledgeable locals to head out with and ask them to verbalize signs they are looking at and what is going in to their decision making.

 

As for the glacier travel, as others have said, this is a far more simple affair than avalanche safety. If you know your knots and some basic rescue techniques that should get you most of the way. You can go find an easy to access area to practice these techniques safely and probably have the skills you need at that point.

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Thanks for the thoughts guys, good info. That Utah/Colorado/Teton plan ain't bad.. might just try that out. Definitely priority numero uno is getting in contact with some good climbers. The avy class seems like it'd be worth it though, if for nothing else than to lay a foundation.

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