Dear Alpine Ascents: Mountaineering Courses

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Hey Alpine,

I’m resolved. 2022 is the year I learn the ropes (pun intended) of mountaineering. You have a lot of offerings on your site and I’m not sure which one is right for me. Can you give me the CliffsNotes explanation of the difference between them all? There’s a 6-Day, 8-Day, 9-Day, 10-Day, 13-Day, and Denali Prep course… I could read each description on the website but…sorry not sorry. Help a girl out. Thanks!

Sincerely,
Back to School

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Sleds and snowshoes?  Classic Denali Prep.

Hi Back to School,

Consider yourself indulged. We’ll be the first to admit that our mountaineering course titles aren’t the most descriptive. Never fear, we’re here to help.  

Luckily, you really can’t go wrong when picking out a mountaineering course. No matter which course you choose, you’ll cover all of the following topics:

  • Glacier travel – rope team travel, route finding, running protection
  • Movement on snow – cramponing, rest step, plunge step 
  • Rope skills – knots, coiling, storage, and setting up the rope for glacier travel 
  • Ice axe usage – self-arrest, self-belay, ice axe as snow anchor 
  • Crevasse rescue – snow anchors, mechanical advantage systems, 3:1 Z-Pulley 
  • Belaying/rappelling 
  • Self-care in the mountains – personal hygiene, proper hydration, cold injury prevention 
  • Camp craft –  setting up a secure camp on snow/durable surfaces 
  • Fueling – efficient snow melting, nutrition for mountaineering, backcountry cooking 
  • Leave No Trace – principles and application 
  • Navigation
  • Summit attempt (except for Denali Prep) – putting all the skills together! 

From there, the differences in our courses boil down to venue, length (duh), number of summit attempts, inclusions, and additional education topics. Without further ado, here’s the quick run-down. 

6-Day Course: The Classic 
Venue: Mount Baker, Easton Glacier 
Summit attempt: 1
Additional education topics: none
Food: you cook for yourself
Special notes: It’s our tried and true, classic mountaineering course. Perfect for the beginner. 

8-Day Course: Great Training for The Great One (Denali)
Venue: Mount Rainier, Emmons Glacier
Summit Attempt: 1
Additional Education Topics: none 
Food: you cook for yourself
Special Notes: Heaviest pack weight of all our mountaineering courses! Climbers must be able to carry an average of 65-70 lbs. or more. You better train hard for this one. The physical demands of this course make it an excellent test-piece for a Denali expedition. 

9-Day Course: Variety is the Spice of Life 
Venues: Mount Baker, Easton or Coleman-Deming Glacier (6 days) + Mount Rainier, Disappointment Cleaver (3 days)
Summit Attempts: 2 total. 1 of Mount Baker via the Easton, 1 of Mount Rainier via the DC 
Additional Education Topics: none
Food: you cook for yourself for the first 6 days on Baker, guides cook (breakfast + dinner) while on Rainier 
Special Notes: 

  • You will come out of the field on Day 6 to transition from Baker to Rainier. You’ll pick up additional food and gear at our office and stay in a Seattle hotel (separate cost) that night (read: hot shower!). You will reconvene the morning of Day 7 at our Seattle Office and drive to Rainier. 
  • For the Rainier portion, we’ll use established camps and your pack weight will drop significantly.  Expect to lighten your load by 10 – 20 lbs.  Love it. 

10-Day Course: Expect Spicier Variety 
Venues: Mount Baker, Coleman-Deming (6 days) + Mount Rainier, Kautz Glacier (4 days)
Summit Attempts: 2 total. 1 attempt of Mount Baker via the Easton, 1 attempt of Mount Rainier via the Kautz Glacier
Additional Education Topics: ice climbing 
Food: you cook for yourself for the first 6 days on Baker, guides cook (breakfast + dinner) while on Rainier 
Special Notes: 

  • You will come out of the field on Day 6 to transition from Baker to Rainier. You’ll pick up additional food and gear at our office and stay in a Seattle hotel (separate cost) that night (read: hot shower!). You will reconvene the morning of Day 7 at our Seattle Office and drive to Rainier. 
  • The Kautz route on Rainier is considerably harder than both the DC and the Emmons and requires sustained pitched climbing of steep snow and sometimes hard ice (35 to 50 degrees). Climbers encounter these technical pitches near 12,000’ which adds difficulty for those unaccustomed to high altitude. 
  • For the Rainier portion, we’ll be setting our own camps and your pack weight will remain a hefty 60+lbs.  Don’t worry, you got this. 

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    Hanging out in the alpine?  Methinks it’s the 13-day Course.

13-Day Course: The Cascades Grand Tour 
Venues: Several. See notes below.
Summit Attempts:  Many! You’ll summit something glaciated like Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan (Sulphide Glacier), or possibly Sahale. You’ll also climb several single pitch rock objectives and at least one (usually more) multi-pitch rock objectives. Last but not least, you’ll do some alpine climbing to tie everything together- multi pitch alpine rock routes in Washington Pass, Shuksan (Fisher Chimneys), Sharkfin Tower in Boston Basin, and Vesper Peak are all past objectives for the final leg of the course. 
Additional Education Topics: 

  • Rock climbing – sport/traditional, lead climbing 
  • Alpine climbing 

Food: you cook for yourself 
Special Notes: The 13-Day course is truly one of a kind. You’ll sample the best climbing destinations Washington has to offer while cultivating a well-rounded climbing skill set – mountaineering, rock climbing, and alpine climbing. There are also sections of the course when you’ll be car camping and can enjoy heavier/more luxurious food. There will likely be a shower. If you have the time, we highly recommend this course! Best bang for your buck, in our opinion.  

Denali Prep Course: You Better Like Shoveling 
Venue:  The Paradise to Camp Muir corridor at Mount Rainier 
Summit Attempt:  None, or extremely unlikely due to winter conditions, lack of established climbing route, and avalanche danger
Additional Education Topics: 

  • Winter mountaineering skills 
  • Rigging and pulling sleds
  • Whiteout navigation 
  • Fixed line use 

Food: you cook for yourself 
Special Notes:  We designed this course specifically for those who want to embrace the challenges of climbing Denali and/or develop winter mountaineering skills in extreme conditions. As such, the course is best suited for those with some previous mountaineering experience on glaciated peaks. We strongly recommend those new to mountaineering select any of our spring/summer mountaineering courses. This one can be brutal.

Other Mountaineering Courses to Consider:

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Seriously epic scenery?  8-Day Alaska Course FTW.

8-Day Alaska Course: Staff Pick
Venue: Alaska Range, Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier
Summit Attempt(s): Possible options include Mt. Francis (10,450 ft.), Kahiltna Dome (12,525 ft.), Point Ferene (9,300 ft.), Control Tower (8,670 ft.), or Mt. Crosson (12,800 ft.)
Additional Education Topics: 

  • Sled pulling
  • Glaciated travel in terrain with Alaska sized (very big) crevasses

Food Provided: you cook for yourself
Special Notes:  The awesomeness of this course cannot be overstated. Flying by bush plane into a glaciated wonderland in the shadow of Denali and setting up a base camp with heavy food (bring your steaks) is a once in a lifetime experience. If you have the time, do it. Alaska is magic. So big. 

9 Day Rainier Baker Mountaineering Course BLOG

  • Dear Alpine Ascents: Mountaineering Courses

    Hey Alpine, I’m resolved. 2022 is the year I learn the ropes (pun intended) of mountaineering. You have a lot of offerings on your site and I’m not sure which one is right for me. Can you give me the CliffsNotes explanation of the difference between them all? There’s a 6-Day, 8-Day, 9-Day, 10-Day, 13-Day, […]

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