Backpacking & Wilderness Navigation Course

Backpacking & Wilderness Navigation Course Overview

FOR 2020, AS PART OF COVID-19 REGULATIONS: Climbers will need to self drive until further notice. Further information will be sent upon sign up.

Exactly what I wanted – Informed Instruction of L.N.T. – Backpacking – Camping. Even “old time” campers and backpackers have something to learn from the course, Excellent! – Rick F.

Course Overview

Do you dream of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail but have never spent a night in the woods? This is the course for you!  We designed this 4-day course for the dedicated hiker who wants to gain the skills needed to safely journey into the remote backcountry, multiple days from the nearest trailhead.  The course is also highly recommended for aspiring mountaineers who want to gain a solid foundation of wilderness skills before progressing to a true mountaineering course or a summit climb.  Taught by our professional mountain guides, this course welcomes newcomers to the world of wilderness backpacking.

The stunning wilderness of the Pacific Northwest provides the setting for this skills-driven course in wilderness navigation, trip planning, food preparation, survival, and minimum-impact camping skills. It provides a wealth of knowledge for those who want to seriously embrace the rigors of backcountry travel. From the hanging glaciers and craggy peaks of the North Cascades to the sweeping panoramas and heather meadows of the Goat Rocks Wilderness, backpacking allows for a truly immersive wilderness experience, free from the limits of a day hike. Depending on the weather, trail conditions, and interests of the group, we have flexibility to choose between several routes. Read about a few of our favorite backpacking trips in the “routes” section.

Graduates of this course will leave with the skills and knowledge to plan and execute their own backpacking trip as well as the confidence and hard skills to successfully join our 6-day mountaineering school.

Course Objectives

To train aspiring mountaineers and hikers in appropriate wilderness techniques, including but not limited to:

  • Gear selection and packing
  • Backcountry nutrition, menu planning, and cooking
  • Navigation, including compass and map skills
  • Camp craft
  • Leave No Trace ethics
  • Knots for wilderness survival and mountaineering
  • Mountain weather
  • Objective and subjective hazard evaluation
  • Proper waste and sanitation techniques
  • Bear and wildlife precautions

Graduates of this course will leave with the skills and knowledge to plan and prepare for their own extended backpacking trip as well as the confidence and hard skills to successfully join our 6-day mountaineering school. This is an excellent course for those who are interested in mountaineering but have spent limited time in the backcountry.

Here's some information about our routes

In the Pacific Northwest we have no shortage of amazing backpacking destinations and routes. We’ll select the best itinerary based on weather, trail conditions, and the needs of the group. Below are a few possible routes.

White Pass – Pilot Ridge Loop

A particular favorite, this route features sweeping panoramas of Glacier Peak, long stretches of alpine meadows bursting with wildflowers, and a picturesque campsite near the aptly named Blue Lake. You’ll share the trail with climbers bound for Glacier Peak, whistling marmots, and bountiful huckleberries (starting in September). While there is a fair amount of elevation gain hiking from the North Fork of the Sauk River Trailhead (2,075′) to our first camp at White Pass (5,900′), it’s worth the burn. Your tired legs will be soothed by awe inspiring glimpses of the mighty Sloan Peak and endless alpine meadows. From our first camp at White Pass, we’ll spend the next three days catching views of Glacier Peak, counting marmots, jumping in the icy waters of Blue Lake, and eventually making a loop back to where we started. The route is 29.2 miles long with 7,500′ of total elevation gain.

East Bank Trail & Desolation Peak

A true gem of North Cascades National Park, this backpacking trip has a little bit of everything. You’ll follow in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac who spent 63 days in the fire lookout on Desolation Peak during the summer of 1956, stoking the creative juices that led to the Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels. First, we’ll zip along startlingly blue Ross Lake in a water taxi and get dropped off near our camp for the night. We’ll have ample time to get settled into camp and spend the day exploring the fire lookout which has been called one of the most beautiful in the nation (bring your field notebooks to start that next great American novel!) and to learn valuable wilderness skills. For the next three days, we’ll hike along Ross Lake via the gentle East Bank Trail, enjoying scenic campsites, learning skills, and eventually ending up back at where we launched.  The route is 24.8 miles in length with 7,939′ of total elevation gain.



Goat Rocks Wilderness

Old Snowy Mountain 2 1

The Goat Rocks Wilderness is truly awe inspiring. On this trip, we’ll sample some of the most beautiful stretches of Washington’s PCT – replete with wildflower-filled meadows, lingering snowfields, and fabulous views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens. Throughout, we will be hiking in the craggy shadows of the Goat Rocks massif. On our first day on the trail, we’ll hike about 5-6 miles until we break out of the forest into broad heather meadows and set up camp. For the next 3 days, we’ll backpack through the Goat Rocks Wilderness, even sneaking in a summit of the mighty Old Snowy Mountain. Don’t worry, it isn’t actually very snowy at all! Once we’ve had our fill of panoramic views, fresh air, and marmots galore, we’ll loop back to where we started. The route is 18.5 miles in length with 4,546′ of total elevation gain.



Frequently Asked Questions - Washington School

You will be mailed specific information for your climb or course upon registration. The following is to serve as a helpful guideline.

What kind of physical condition should I be in?

You should aim to be in excellent shape. Your pack weight can be 45-50 lbs. We invite you to check out our comprehensive training page. We highly recommend checking with your physician before embarking on strenuous physical activity. We reserve the right to turn away backpackers who we determine to be in inadequate physical condition.

How do I reserve a space for a course?

The best way to reserve space on a course is to call our offices and place the deposit on a VISA/MC/AMEX. You may also fill out a secure online application here. Our courses fill quickly on a first-come, first-served basis, and registering over the phone is the best way to ensure reserving the course dates you want.

When does my course begin and end?

Location: Alpine Ascents Office. 109 West Mercer Street, Seattle.
Mountaineering / Backpacking Courses Begin: 6:30am, Day 1 of the course
Finishes: Between 6:00pm – 10:00pm on the last day of the course.

Please note: Our recommended hotel, The MarQueen Hotel is located two blocks from our office.
Marqueen Hotel

When should I fly in and out of Seattle?

We recommend staying overnight the night before the course begins and on the evening of the last day of the course. There are variables that make it difficult to guarantee the exact time each course will end. You will need to be ready to go at 6:30 a.m on the morning your course begins.

How do I get from the airport to my hotel and downtown Seattle?

You can take a Lyft / Uber from Sea-Tac International Airport to the Marqueen Hotel or any hotel in downtown Seattle for around $35-45.

You can also take Link light rail to downtown and then take a taxi.  Westlake Station is closest to our office and the Marqueen.

Parking while on Course?

There is limited parking near the Alpine Ascents Office. Unfortunately, parking in downtown Seattle can be difficult. There are several parking lots and garages nearby that offer daily parking, but most do not offer weekly parking. A good option is to contact the Seattle Center Parking office and look into purchasing a monthly parking pass through them. They have a few garages with several pricing options:

How do I get to Alpine Ascents International?

Click Here for Map

  • From Interstate 5, take the Mercer Street Exit and follow the signs to Seattle Center/Space Needle. (A quick right turn onto Fairview Ave., and a quick left turn onto Valley St., which becomes Broad Street.)
  • After you pass the Space Needle on your right, make a right turn onto Denny Way.
  • Proceed to 1st Ave. North and turn right.
  • Proceed to Mercer Street and turn right.
  • We are located at 109 West Mercer Street, directly across the street from Bank of America and Next Door to Ozzie’s Tavern.
    Street parking is limited to 2-hour zones and parking meters, though there are several pay lots near our offices.
Where do I stay the night before and after the course?

Within walking distance of our Seattle Office is the Marqueen Hotel. We recommend staying there at our preferred rate. We meet at our office on the day of the course at 6:30am. The Marqueen Hotel is located two blocks from our office.
Marqueen Hotel

If you wish to share a room with another course participant, The Marqueen can help with those arrangements. You will need a room for the night prior to the start of your course and for the last night of your course. The hotel is 2 blocks from the Alpine Ascents office. Extra gear may be stored at our office until your return.

Staying elsewhere in downtown Seattle is another option. During the climbing season, hotels in the Seattle metropolis are difficult to reserve and are a bit more expensive. You may elect to stay in any one of the numerous hotels in the area, but you will be responsible for getting to our offices by 6:30am the morning of your course. We are a short taxi cab ride away from most of the downtown hotels and local equipment shops. After the course, we will return to our offices and you can return to your hotel by taxi at that point. You will need a room for the night prior to the start of your course and for the last night of your course. Please note: Free long-term parking is generally difficult in the vicinity of Alpine Ascents. If you plan to stay in Seattle and have a car, try to arrange a taxi or ride to our offices on the morning of the course. Extra gear may be stored in our office until your return.

What do I need to bring?

When you sign up for a course we will send you a confirmation package that includes an equipment list detailing each piece of equipment you will need. Please read your equipment list very carefully. You are required to bring every item on the list so be as precise as possible when packing. Alpine Ascents rents quality technical equipment at reasonable rates. If you have any equipment-related questions please call us (206-378-1927). You can also email us at: [email protected]

Is food provided on my climb or course?

Please review the Sample Menu Plan. As part of the curriculum, you are responsible for your own food. Before departing for the trailhead, we will check and organize personal/group gear. Additionally, if necessary we will make one final stop for groceries. However, it is advisable to purchase most of your bulk foods before we meet. If you are staying in Seattle, there are numerous supermarkets as well as the flagship REI, North Face, and Patagonia gear shops for fresh and prepackaged foods.


Where do I pick up my rental gear for the course?

You will pick up your rental gear at our offices during the gear check.

Can I share a tent and stove?

Yes, students generally pair up during the gear check to share the weight and bulk of a tent and stove.

How heavy will my pack be?

Since everyone purchases different gear and is a different size, it is hard to give you an exact weight. For most of our courses, you can expect your internal frame pack (packed with gear and food) to weigh between 45 and 55 pounds.

Any tips on packing?

The mountains of the northwest and north coast are heavily glaciated temperate mountains. This means they are subject to highly variable weather conditions.

  • Pack everything in two layers of sturdy plastic. (Trash Compactor Bags work the best) Bring one large trash bag to completely and easily cover your pack. You should bring at least 4 bags.
What can I read to prepare for the course?

You will get far more out of your course by reading The Backpacker’s Field Manual: A Comprehensive Guide to Mastering Backcountry Skills by Rick Curtis.

How many students/instructors are there per class?

Our Backpacking & Wilderness Navigation Course has a 5:1 ratio.  We will have a total group size of 6 or less.

Where is a good, trustworthy store to purchase gear?

We run our own retail climbing shop and online gear store, where all Alpine Ascents climbers receive a discount.

I am concerned that the gear I am renting will not fit or work properly.

All of our gear is of the highest quality. The packs, tents, stoves and other items are cleaned and checked on a daily basis.

Where will my course be held?

Our Backpacking & Wilderness Navigation courses generally take place in Mount Baker National Forest or North Cascades National Park.

How is the issue of human waste in the North Cascades dealt with by Alpine Ascents?

Alpine Ascents International takes Leave No Trace principles very seriously. We are a pioneering organization in environmentally positive methods of waste disposal. We were the first guide service to implement the use of the revolutionary “Wag Bag” system. Other wilderness companies and organizations are taking our lead and are now implementing this excellent product. If you have climbed with us and are wondering where to obtain your own supplies, you can order Wag Bags from Phillips Environmental directly from their website:

Is this trip going to be physically challenging?

Yes. If you follow our physical fitness tips and do some training on your own, you should complete the course with no problems.

What if I need to leave the course early?

For backpackers who need to be escorted from the course, there is a minimum fee of $500.00.

Reading List

This is a highly recommended shortlist and we would be happy to pass on a longer reading list for those interested. These links will bounce to with reviews.

Our guide was an excellent leader, diplomatic and patient. Overall the program was excellent and I’m very glad I chose Alpine Ascents.

backpacking c slideshow
North Cascades
Goat Rocks Wilderness
backpacking a slideshow
North Cascades
backpacking b little slideshow
North Cascades
backpacking e
North Cascades
Glacier Peak Wilderness
backpacking g
North Cascades
backpacking j
Photo credit: Carson Torchia
Goat Rocks Wilderness
backpacking f
North Cascades
Glacier Peaks Wilderness
backpacking h
North Cascades
Goat Rocks Wilderness
Glacier Peak Wilderness
Glacier Peak Wilderness


  • Women’s-Specific Climbing Tips

    It’s Not Awkward, It’s Reality As adults, we’ve got our bathroom & “private part” habits down. We know how to keep ourselves comfortable, clean, and efficient. But what happens when we step into the backcountry for the day? For several nights? For a month-long expedition? For those heading into the backcountry with a female anatomy, […]

  • Gear Review: Fozzils Bowls

    By Mike Hawkins It has been a long day – one of the most demanding climbing days you have ever experienced. Your legs are wrecked. Your back is sore and you have small bruises on your hips from your hipbelt. You have sunscreen caked into every nook and cranny, but even that didn’t keep you […]

  • Gear Review: The North Face Phantom 50 pack

    By Mike Hawkins “Man, this is a really great pack…” I said it over and over for months until my wife had finally had enough of it. She had to get one for herself.  While 50 liters is a little small for most multi-day mountaineering and winter ski tours, the small size is plenty versatile […]

Partners & Accreditations

Alpine Ascents International is an authorized mountain guide service of Denali National Park and Preserve and Mount Rainier National Park.
© Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved. Alpine Ascents International