13 Day Cascades Mountaineering Course Itinerary

The course was phenomenal. I began the trip with virtually no alpine experience, and left confident in my ability to approach local objectives back home.

Day 1

We meet at the Seattle office for a 6:30 a.m. orientation and gear check. A big part of developing the necessary skills in mountaineering starts with having the proper equipment and food to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. The guides will discuss each piece of equipment and ensure that everything is in good condition and properly fitted. Finally, the guides will evaluate conditions, discuss weather with the group, and make any last minute adjustments before heading to the trail head.

The most common venue for the first part of the course is the south side of Mount Baker.  Upon arrival at the trailhead, we 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. Often this is a strenuous move of several thousand vertical feet and can take between 3 and 6 hours.

An integral part of mountaineering is being able to setup a safe and secure camp in an extreme environment. As a group, we take the time to practice these skills to ensure a good camp is established. 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.

Day 2

This day is used to develop basic techniques of traveling on snowy and icy surfaces. We start by working on cramponing techniques used to move safely and efficiently over a variety of snowy slopes. Good footwork, balance and rest techniques are invaluable skills that we use throughout the rest of the course. Guides then introduce the use of the ice axe and students conclude the morning session by practicing a variety of self arrest positions.

After lunch, we explore some of the more technical skills of mountaineering. Instruction will be given on tying an assortment of knots and prussiks. After this, we develop rope work skills: coiling, storing and changing the length of the climbing rope. We conclude the day with rope team travel as it pertains to  glaciated terrain. If conditions and time permit, we go for a short glacier tour, winding our way through seemingly bottomless crevasses in both classical and echelon formations. Emphasis is placed on proper rope interval, shortening and lengthening the rope, communication, route finding and hazard assessment.

Day 3

We start the day by demonstrating a variety of snow and ice anchors useful for belaying, running protection, and rescue scenarios. Once students are comfortable constructing a variety of different anchor types and styles, we put it to test.  We fully weight and test all of the student anchors to ensure they are constructed properly and are effective for our intended purpose.

Once all students are well versed in anchor construction, we’ll belay and rappel off of the anchors they construct. We finish off the day by introducing a variety of hauling systems with emphasis on understanding the mechanical advantage each system employs.

Day 4

With the skills developed on the previous days; knots, prussiks, rope handling, anchor construction, belaying and mechanical advantage systems; students should now have the necessary skills and comfort to execute crevasse rescue. Crevasse rescue is an essential skill and considerable time and emphasis will be placed on practicing. First, guides usually have everyone do a “dry” run on the surface but then it is expected that each person demonstrate proficiency in holding a real life fall into a crevasse and preform an actual rescue. Our standard instruction is a 3:1 Z-Pulley rescue system on a 3 person rope team. However, we try to always demonstrate, if not practice, the 2:1 Drop-C on a 2 person rope team as well.

At this time, students also have the opportunity to practice ascending out of a crevasse, on their own with the use of their prussiks. This gives a much more realistic feel of what self-rescue is all about.

Crevasses can be a hazardous environment and care must be taken to mitigate the risks properly. Guides always emphasize climber safety and well-being. Nevertheless, this is a extremely memorable and rewarding day.

Day 5

Students are now equipped to becoming valuable members of a rope team and the group is now ready to push higher on the mountain. One of the most important skills learned in the course is preparing, planning and executing the summit climb itself. Developing a route plan, assessing the hazards, preparing one’s summit pack, climbing up and descending back down safely through massive glaciers and seracs to an icy Cascade’s summit is an incredibly rewarding experience with breathtaking views in every direction. Furthermore, it is a demanding day, both physically and mentally, which provides great training for more advanced objectives students may encounter further along in their climbing careers. Upon returning to camp we pack up and head down to the trail head for the next phase of the climb.

Day 6

Our focus today will be around developing skills for basic rock climbing on the classic crags around Mazama, Washington. This starts by reviewing knots and belay techniques that were taught in the mountaineering section and transferring that skill set to a vertical environment. Once we review safety protocols for rock climbing, we work on a variety of movement skills for face, slab and crack climbing. The students are on top rope and can take satisfaction in the joy of moving up rock cliffs without the danger or difficulties we often find in the high mountains or lead climbing.

Day 7

Guides will also introduce the concept of SERENE rock anchors and how to build them with bolts as well as gear.  Students will construct their own anchors that the class will use for top rope sessions throughout the day.   Guides will also cover the mechanics of lead climbing and belaying from above.  At this point during the course guides are able to focus on the individual needs of the climbers and place them on routes accordingly.  There is often time at the end of the day to focus on special topics depending on the interest of the group.

Day 8

The plan is to climb the South Arête of South Early Winter Spire. This is a full day of climbing at Washington Pass on an excellent route that ascends to the summit of one tallest spires in the area. The technical cruxes on this route are short allowing climbers to focus on applying the technical skills learned on the previous day. On the summit, climbers are rewarded with panoramic views of nearly all of the North Cascades from the northerly Mount Baker all the way to Glacier Peak to the south. The summit also offers a rare glimpse of the elusive Northeast Face of Mount Goode. This is typically an 8-9 hour day round trip from the parking lot.

Day 9

The focus of this day will be to move efficiently on 4th class and low fifth class terrain.  The guide(s) will select a longer objective that matches the needs and interests of the group.  Expect a big day with stellar climbing in an uncompromising position in the mountains.  Cutthroat Peak or Spontaneity Arête are the two most probable options for this day.  Climbers can expect a full 10-12 hours of hiking and climbing.

Day 10

The last four days of the 13 Day Course are an incredibly rewarding experience and we pack our backpacks for a 4 day mission into the mountains that combines all of the skills covered so far: mountaineering, glacier, rock climbing and alpine rock and make an attempt on a complex peak in the North Cascades.  You can read about some of the possible objectives below.  The guide(s) will do their best to match interests and skills with the route conditions and weather. All locations provide stellar climbing in one of the great wilderness mountain ranges in North America.

Day 11

This day is used for additional training or a summit attempt.

Day 12

This day is used to make a summit attempt on one of the aforementioned peaks.

Day 13

We break down camp in accordance with our Leave No Trace principals and hike back to the trail head and drive back to Seattle. It is also possible to cover advanced topics in the morning of this final day as well. We then 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.

About Possible Final Climbs  (based on Season )

Forbidden Peak, West Ridge (Grade II-III, 5.6): Forbidden Peak lies in the heart of the North Cascades and is one of the crown jewels of the region. Stunning glacier vistas, solid rock, and the sheer majesty and position of the peak combine to make this a truly memorable ascent. The aesthetic West Ridge, made famous by its inclusion in the book, “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America,” stands as one of the most coveted mountaineering objectives in the lower 48.

Sahale Peak, Quien Sabe Glacier (Grade II, 4th Class) presents another classic North Cascades wilderness mountaineering objective and is a favorite among our guides. Climbers are rewarded with some of the best scenic views in the range. The corniced rock and snow summit ridge rises above the small, steep Quien Sabe Glacier and provides an aesthetic climbing line that’s accessible with basic skills.

Sharkfin Tower (Grade II, 5.0) is an impressive 800′ granite spire that towers high above the Quien Sabe Glacier in Boston Basin.   Sharkfin Tower features good rock with excellent exposure and in an unbeatable setting.  To reach the summit, students must surmount steep snow and 5th class alpine rock.

Mount Shuksan, Fisher Chimneys (Grade III, 4th Class): The Fisher Chimneys route on Mount Shuksan stands as one of the finest mountaineering objectives in the North Cascades, requiring a variety of alpine climbing techniques. From the stunning approach hike into Lake Anne, to the fun and moderate rock climbing in the Fisher Chimneys, the climb is engaging and exciting right from the start. The thrills only increase higher on the mountain. Climbers must navigate glaciers with gaping crevasses, surmount a pitch or two of steep snow, and finally climb the airy and spectacular summit pyramid to the top.





I had a fantastic time on the 13-day course and would recommend it to anyone interested in learning to get started as an alpine climber. I feel somewhat capable as a climber after taking this course and am excited to continue taking trips through Alpine Ascents.

13 Day Cascades Mountaineering Course BLOG

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