Cascades Intermediate Mountaineering Course Itinerary
Upon sign up, we will send you our richly detailed, pre-trip information package.
The group meets for gear check and orientation at 6:30 am at the Alpine Ascents office in Seattle. The guides will discuss each piece of equipment and ensure that everything is in good condition and is of proper fit. This is an invaluable part of the course and will often help eliminate many of the questions students have in regards to both equipment and the flow of the course. Finally, the guides will evaluate conditions, discuss weather with the group, and make any last minute adjustments before heading to the trailhead. There are several different world-class venues in which to start this course, but guides usually choose Boston Basin with the goal of ascending Sahale Mountain and Shark Fin Tower. At the trailhead we will discuss the route, weather and potential campsites. We move to a camp at or above tree line and practice moving, pacing and existing with heavy loads. This is a strenuous day that is usually 3 to 4 hours of heavy load hauling.
After we set up camp, guides discuss the importance of personal maintenance, hygiene and sleeping in cold environs and the principals of Leave No Trace, and address any concerns the students may have. Finally, instruction of proper hydration, including efficient snow melting protocols, nutrition, and back country cooking techniques will be addressed.
We use this day to review and further develop skills from previous climbing training. We rope up for glacier travel and practice moving in classical and echelon formations on a tour up the lower portion of the Quien Sabe Glacier. From there we probe out a safe spot to practice our crevasse rescue. Due to the smaller group sizes everyone will get an opportunity to do a real life rescue. Because it is an advanced course we review the 3:1 Z-pulley and the 2:1 Drop-C haul systems and have the students execute both. This also provides a great platform to review knots, rope management, snow anchor construction and mechanical advantage systems. If time provides we also integrate load-releasable hitches into our hauling systems. After returning to camp that evening the group prepares for a moderate climb the next day.
We start by hiking back up and gaining the Quien Sabe Glacier. The glacier is heavily crevassed and steep near the end, allowing for rope team travel and cramponing. Once off the glacier, we climb up a beautifully exposed rocky ridge to the base of the summit block. The summit block of Sahale requires three short pitches on excellent rock which, although intimidating at first, are very accessible. We rappel off the summit block, climb back down the ridge and retrace our steps through the steep upper glacier and then back to camp to prepare for the following summit day.
Among the most important skills learned in the course are the preparing, planning, and executing the summit climb itself. We have two options of varying difficulty. For strong groups the West Ridge of Forbidden is an exceptional alpine climbing objective. It combines glacier travel, steep snow and beautiful rock/mixed to the most classic summit in the range. However, it is a long day and students must have the requisite skills to safely attempt this climb. A more moderate objective is the nearby Sharkfin Tower. It also requires climbers to utilize a variety of climbing techniques but on a slightly smaller scale. Either way, this is a long and rewarding day!
We pack up camp and move to another challenging mountain. If time allows, this is a great chance to cover advanced topics such as knots and rope work in a controlled environment. We often camp at the trailhead anticipating an early start the next day.
The remainder of the course is often held in one of four locations: Mount Shuksan, Mount Triumph, Eldorado Peak or Washington Pass. All locations provide stellar climbing in one of the great wilderness mountain ranges in North America.
Mount Shuksan: Hike to the base of the Fisher Chimneys and ascend the 600 vertical feet of easy rock and camp at the base of Winnie’s Slide.
Mount Triumph: Hike up to a beautiful perch at a col between Mount Triumph and the iconic Thornton Lakes.
Eldorado Peak: Ascend a long steep boulder field and camp on or near the glacier.
Washington Pass: This location is used if the weather is not reasonable on the other mountains. Nevertheless, this is one of the best alpine rock climbing spots anywhere. Develop rock movement skills, rope management and belay techniques specific to rock climbing at Fun Rock.
This day is used to make a summit attempt on one of the aforementioned peaks.
Mount Skuksan: From the bivy site we climb up a steep section of firm snow called Winnie’s slide. From there the team gains the Upper Curtis Glacier on lower angle hard ice, excellent practice for advanced cramponing technique. Once off the ice, the terrain transitions to classical glaciated terrain. We find our way through dozens of crevasses to the base of another steep snow section. This passage leads to the more moderate Sulphide Glacier which is then climbed to the rocky summit pyramid. Several rope lengths of moderate rock climbing put us on the top of Mount Shuksan: one of the most photographed mountains in the world. The views of the surrounding peaks and Puget Sound are stunning. This route is one of the finest routes of its type for combining all different types of climbing.
Mount Triumph: From our bivy at the col we drop down to the Triumph Glacier and traverse to the soaring Northeast Ridge. The climb involves hundreds of feet of mid fifth class terrain. The route is often characterized as perfectly moderate: never too difficult yet never easy. The perfect challenge for climbers looking to test their alpine mettle. The decent is non-trivial and complicated back down the ridge, and then a straightforward traverse back to the col. This is a long day, but one sure to leave the student with a lasting memory.
Eldorado Peak: The from our camp we climb up through the glacier to the exposed snow arete on the summit, making this perhaps the most iconic way to finish any climb in the entire range. Eldorado is a more moderate adventure with big glaciers. This provides an excellent venue to get the students out front leading the rope teams through a maze of crevasses.
Washington Pass: Hike up to Liberty Bell and Concord Tower. Ascend the ultra-classic Becky Route to the coveted summit of Liberty Bell. If time and interest allows there is the chance to climb the slightly more technical North Face of Concord Tower. Allow, a lesser known summit it is classic in its own right and a great experience.
We break down camp in accordance with our Leave No Trace principals and hike back to the trailhead and drive back to Seattle. It is also possible to cover advanced topics in the morning of this final day as well. Due to the close approach at Washington Pass, it is usually possible to climb the South Arete of South Early Winter Spire. This is the tallest mountain in the Liberty Bell group and affords phenomenal climbing with equally impressive views of the North Cascades and eastern foothills. We drive back to Seattle that evening.
Topics such as navigation (GPS, map, compass, altimeter & white navigation), route finding, and glaciology will be incorporated into the curriculum throughout the entire course and are often not designated for a particular time. Furthermore, throughout the course emphasis will continually be placed on checking and maintaining good self-awareness and well-being, in addition to ensuring camp is always clean and secure. Finally, due to the dynamic nature of mountains and weather, guides are constantly shifting the itinerary in order to best match the skills and interests of the group with the weather and conditions on the mountain.
Alpine Ascents International is an Equal Opportunity recreation provider under the Special Use Permit from the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Okanogan National Forest, Wenatchee National Forest, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Goat Rocks Wilderness and the North Cascades National Park.
It’s hard to find good alpine-style climbing training. This program excelled at that. The other big strength was the quantity of varied climbs we got to do, that the guides chose based on what we were looking to learn. Overall, money well-spent.