6-Day Cascades Itinerary
Upon sign up, we will send you our richly detailed, pre-trip information package.
With its arduous approaches, massive glaciers and stunning vistas, the Cascades provide a world-class classroom in which to develop the necessary skills to become a proficient mountaineer. The six-day course typically takes place on Mt. Baker, but we also use other peaks such as Mt. Shuksan, Sahale Peak, Eldorado Peak and Ruth Mountain. All courses begin with one-day of rock climbing instruction at Mt. Erie featuring exceptional views of the Olympics and Puget Sound, with a focus on transferrable skills to glacier travel. We try to use a variety of locations to minimize environmental impacts, and to allow us to take advantage of the best possible mountain conditions for each course. Alpine Ascents believes the best training for mountaineering is accomplished with as much time in the field as possible, so all six days are spent in the mountains.
We meet at our Seattle office for a 6:30 a.m. orientation and gear check. A big part of developing your necessary skills starts with having the proper equipment and food to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in the wilderness. The guides will discuss each piece of equipment and ensure that everything is in good condition and is a proper fit. Finally, the guides will evaluate conditions, discuss weather with the group, and make last-minute adjustments before departing Seattle. 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.
From the office, we will drive to Mt. Erie to learn about the basics of rock climbing in a spectacular setting. The climbing areas on Mt. Erie overlook the Puget Sound, with panoramic views of the San Juan Islands, the Olympics, and several of the Cascade volcanos. We will begin with an introduction to technical climbing equipment and knots. Next, we will progress to belaying, rappelling, prussiking and practicing climbing movement skills.
After a full-day of instruction, we will drive to a scenic campground on our way to our final course destination. After a stove and tent demonstration, the evening will be spent reviewing the day’s material, preparing for the next stage of the course, and an additional mountaineering lecture if time permits.
We will get an early start, pack up, and drive to the appropriate trailhead. Here, we will discuss the route, weather and potential campsites. We’ll hike to a camp at or above the tree line and practice moving, pacing and standing with heavy loads. Often this is a strenuous move of several thousand vertical feet and can take between three and six hours.
An integral part of mountaineering is being able to set up a safe and secure camp in an extreme environment. As a group, we’ll practice these skills. Guides discuss the importance of personal maintenance, hygiene and sleeping in cold environs, and Leave No Trace principles, and address any student concerns. Finally, instruction of proper hydration, including efficient snow-melting protocols, nutrition, and backcountry-cooking techniques will be addressed.
We’ll work on the basics of traveling on snowy and icy surfaces. We start by working on a variety of walking techniques for moving safely and efficiently over a variety of snowy slopes. Good footwork, balance and rest techniques are invaluable skills that we use throughout the course. Guides then introduce the use of the ice axe and students conclude by practicing a variety of self-arrest positions.
After lunch, we’ll explore some of the more technical skills of mountaineering. Instruction will be given on tying an assortment of knots useful in mountaineering and we construct our prussiks. After this, we develop rope work skills: coiling, storing and changing the length of the climbing rope.
We’ll demonstrate 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 all to test.
If you have ever wondered if you can rappel off a Snickers Bar, then this is the day for you! We fully weight and test all of the student anchors to ensure they are constructed properly for our intended purpose.
Then we put the anchors to test. Climbers belay and rappel off of the anchors they construct. We teach a variety of belaying and rappelling techniques that are useful in mountaineering and vertical climbing.
We introduce a variety of hauling systems, with emphasis on understanding the mechanical advantage each system employs.
We conclude the day with rope team travel as it pertains to classical 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. Here, the emphasis is on proper rope interval, shortening and lengthening the rope, communication, route finding and hazard assessment.
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 it in this course. 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 three-person rope team. We also demonstrate (if not practice) the 2:1 Drop-C on a two-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 emphasize climber safety and well-being. Nevertheless, this is an extremely memorable and rewarding day.
At this point, students should have made the transition to becoming valuable members of a rope team and the group is now ready to push higher on the mountain. Depending on conditions and weather, we’ll either use this day to go for the summit or establish an advanced glacier camp.
Moving to a higher camp usually takes about one to two hours of travel time and helps solidify both rope team travel skills and allows for practice constructing another safe and secure camp. This also gives us the option to push the summit attempt back a day if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
The most important skills we’ll learn are how to prepare, plan and execute the summit climb. Developing a route plan, assessing the hazards, preparing one’s summit pack, climbing and descending safely through massive glaciers and seracs to an icy Cascades summit is a 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 later in their climbing careers.
The final day of the course is used for a summit attempt, if it was delayed. Or it can be used to address additional topics such as: advance cramponing, ice climbing, climbing at altitude, and advance rescue systems.
Finally, we break down camp in accordance with our Leave No Trace principles, and hike back down to the trailhead and return to Seattle in the evening. It is often customary to have a group meal back in the first town we come to and celebrate six great days spent in the mountains!
Topics such as navigation (GPS, map, compass, altimeter and 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 that our camps are always clean and secure.
My guides both displayed a great level of expertise and confidence in their mountaineering skills. Just watching them work/guide was beneficial to the learning experience. I could not have been happier with the course. Despite challenging weather, we had lots of time to learn new skills.