6 Day Baker Mountaineering Course Itinerary
I did enjoy the course! Everything taught by our guides seemed really understandable as they easily broke down information step by step. I feel very ready to continue the education and apply to future climb or courses.
With its arduous approaches, massive glaciers and stunning vistas, the Cascade Range provides a world-class classroom in which to develop the necessary skills to become a proficient mountaineer. The 6 day course takes place on Mt. Baker; a mountain which is unique in its great mass of snow and ice and easy accessibility. This combination creates a perfect alpine training ground.
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 the 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. Baker and depart from the appropriate trailhead. There are two excellent moderate routes to the summit that we can use on this course—the Easton Glacier and the Coleman-Deming Glacier. Depending on mountain conditions, the team will ascend the route that is the safest and will give the greatest possible chance of a summit. From the trailhead, most of the day is spent on the moderately strenuous approach, as we start hiking from approximately 3,400-3,700′ feet in sub-alpine meadows and eventually reach our camp around 6,000 feet. On the hike, we’ll pass through old growth forest, high alpine meadows, and catch glimpses of the gorgeous Cascade Range. We will aim to arrive at camp by late afternoon/early evening.
An integral part of mountaineering and expeditionary climbing 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 environments, and Leave No Trace principles, as well as address any student concerns. Finally, instruction of proper hydration, including efficient snow-melting protocols, nutrition, and backcountry-cooking techniques will be addressed.
We’ll learn 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 start to explore some of the more technical aspects of mountaineering. In turn, guides will teach an assortment of useful knots and students will have a chance to practice in addition to tying prussiks. After this, we develop rope work skills: coiling, storing and changing the length of the climbing rope. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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. If not, 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.
We recommend climbers fly home the day after the course ends.
The quality of the course was excellent, and the guides were very circumspect about making sure we were doing it right. I need to practice the skills learned more, but I also feel like I now have a foundation for further skill development. I had a great time.