8 Day Alaska Mountaineering Course Itinerary
The Alaska course exceeded my expectations. High-quality technical instruction with a focus on team and self-sufficiency set in the ultimate classroom.
We start the course with a gear check and orientation at the Alpine Ascents hangar in Talkeetna. A big part of developing the necessary skills of mountaineering starts with having the proper equipment and food. Your guides will discuss the functionality of each piece of gear and ensure that everything is fitted and packed properly.
After the gear check, we’ll have practice sessions for tying knots, attaching prussiks, tying into climbing ropes, and prussiking ropes to simulate crevasse self-rescue. These skills first need to be learned and practiced in a safe and controlled environment; we will be using some of them as soon as we land on the glacier. After a late pizza lunch in Talkeetna, we head to the airport for our ski aircraft flight to the mountains. After arriving on the glacier, we’ll have a brief orientation on roped glacier travel before hiking a mile to set up our first camp. We will build a comfortable, storm resistant campsite and set up our kitchen. Our first evening is spent on the massive Kahilta Glacier in the Alaska Range, one of the most stunning and impressive mountain settings on Earth.
Please note, inclement weather can cause flight and program delay.
We’ll focus on practicing snow-climbing skills, the basic foundation of all mountaineering skills. The following is a typical progression of skills, but the order in which practices are taught will depend on current field conditions:
1) Snow climbing with a focus on making solid and efficient steps on both soft and hard snow surfaces, especially on steep snow.
2) Ice axe self-belay skills as well as self-arrest skills (with and without ice axes).
3) Snow anchors, roped climbing, running belays, and rope team self-arrest. These are the most important skills to master in order to be a safe climbing team member on glaciated mountains. For this reason, we’ll spend whatever time necessary to ensure everyone is building a solid foundation for further learning, and to climb safely over the next week.
Now that everyone is able to self-arrest their rope-mates, we’ll concentrate on using the climbing rope safely and intelligently as a rope team. We’ll practice this in-depth during a roped tour of the glacier. This is the real thing, not theoretical practice, as there are large crevasses and impressive snow bridges to cross as we travel. We’ll spend the rest of the day learning and practicing the essential skill of crevasse self-rescue and rope team rescue. During our evening meal back at camp, we’ll discuss preparations for a climb of Control Tower Peak tomorrow. This includes instruction on how to make a climbing plan for a summit attempt.
Following our plan from the previous night, we’ll climb Control Tower Peak. This is an exceptional way to test the skills learned over the previous three days, and we’ll be rewarded with spectacular views. After descending around noon back to camp, we’ll spend more time as needed learning and cementing rope-team crevasse rescue skills.
We’ll pack up camp and move through several miles of glacier terrain to our next camp. We’ll set up another good weather-resistant camp with focus on completing this camp faster and more efficiently than the first one. On this day, it all comes together as we’ll move through the mountains as a self-sufficient climbing team, soaking up the experience in the process.
We’ll start with another glacier tour to observe and learn from different terrain features and to look for ice climbing sites. We’ll learn and practice basic ice climbing including flat-footing, front-pointing, no-tool, one-tool, and two-tool climbing. This will be combined with roped and belayed climbing and placing ice screws for protection and belay anchors. Back at camp, we’ll again prepare for a summit attempt tomorrow, including having students create the climbing plan for the day.
We’ll carry out our second summit climb. In some ways, this is the most important day of the course. All of the practice from the previous six days will have prepared the team for this climb. Participating in a second climb so soon after learning the skills is the best way to reinforce these skills and build experience. We believe this is the quickest and most efficient way to creates self-sufficient climbers. Depending on weather and climbing conditions, the possibility of a third summit climb can be discussed after we arrive back in camp.
If conditions are good, a third climb may be attempted. The day’s focus is on getting back across the glaciated terrain in a safe and timely way for our return trip to the glacier landing site and our afternoon flight back to Talkeetna. On the flight out from the Alaska Range, as the awesome mountain scenery passes by alongside the aircraft, thoughts often turn to how eventful the past eight days have been!
Yes, I learned a great deal in a course and am leaving it with a new sense of confidence. I am excited to apply my new knowledge and skills on unguided trips in the NW and guided climbs in South America. For the first time I feel like I am brave enough and self-reliant enough […]