10 Day Rainier Baker Mountaineering Course Itinerary

This course is exactly what I signed up for. My overall expectations from this course is that I would walk away with a baseline of skills and knowledge necessary to be a contributing member on a rope team. After this course, I feel confident that I can safely and effectively climb with more experienced friends on future climbs that will allow be to build upon the foundation I learned with AAI.

This is one of the more challenging and comprehensive courses we offer at Alpine Ascents. It combines instruction, an ascent in the North Cascades and finishes off with an attempt on the icy Kautz Glacier on the giant of the Pacific Northwest; Mount Rainier. With its arduous approaches, massive glaciers and stunning vistas; the Cascades provide a world-class environment in which to develop the necessary skills to become a proficient mountaineer.

Day 1

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. We’ll learn the functionality of each piece of gear, wilderness ethics, and LNT practices. Rental gear is fitted and packed at this time. The orientation lasts about 2 hours.

From the office, we’ll drive 3.5 hours to the North Side of Mount Baker and park at the Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead. This is a well graded trail that provides quick access to a spectacular alpine wonderland. We’ll hike to a camp at or above the tree line, typically at the edge of the Coleman Glacier at 6,000 ft. This is a strenuous move of roughly 3,000 vertical feet and requires 3-5 hours of travel time.

An integral part of mountaineering is being able to set up a safe and secure camp in an alpine environment. As a group, we’ll learn these skills. Once camp has been established, guides will discuss the importance of personal maintenance, hygiene and sleeping in cold environments, and Leave No Trace principles. Instruction on efficient snow-melting protocols and backcountry-cooking techniques will also be addressed.

Day 2

We get an early start as the team brews hot drinks, cooks breakfast, and prepares their equipment for a full day of training. We begin with our snow school basics. We learn crampon techniques and footwork for moving safely and efficiently over snowy slopes. Then we’ll move into ice axe usage and self arrest, practicing in a variety of positions. After lunch, we’ll explore some of the more technical skills of mountaineering, including knots, constructing prussiks, and developing rope work skills. If time allows, we go for a short glacier tour. Here, the emphasis is on proper rope interval, shortening and lengthening the rope, and communication.

Day 3

We’ll focus on snow and ice anchors useful for belaying, running protection, and rescue scenarios. We’ll spend the rest of the day ice climbing on the steep ice of the lower Coleman Glacier. We’ll focus on efficient climbing technique on 60 – 70 degree ice walls with the use of two ice tools. Students will get a chance to belay each other and practice getting lowered down ice climbs. This will be a critical skill for a safe and efficient descent of the Kautz Glacier later in the week.

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 to execute crevasse rescues. Students practice first with a dry run, setting up the system on the snow surface with no weight. Once guides are comfortable with the group’s skill, students will have the opportunity to hold a mock crevasse fall and perform a full rescue. Our standard instruction is a 3:1 Z-Pulley rescue system on a three-person rope team. We also demonstrate the 2:1 Drop-C on a two-person rope team. Students will practice ascending out of a crevasse using prussiks. This gives a 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 and always use backup systems.

Day 5

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. The route to the summit of Mount Baker weaves through crevasses and seracs on the Coleman Glacier. This is a full day (10-12 hours) of climbing with over 4,000 feet of vertical gain on snow slopes over 40 degrees. Learning how to prepare, plan, and execute the summit climb is an invaluable part of this course. This is a demanding day, both physically and mentally, which provides great training for more advanced objectives students may encounter later in their climbing careers.

Depending on conditions and weather, guides may use this day to establish a higher camp on the glacier and summit on Day 6.

Day 6

This 10 Day Course is one of the most rigorous courses that we offer. Six days of training with a summit of Mount Baker before the huge physical challenge that is Mount Rainier makes for a long nine days. For this reason, guides like to summit Mount Baker on Day 5 and use Day 6 to hike out and return to Seattle with enough time for students to recharge before four more intense days of climbing. This is far from a rest day, but we try to make it a bit more relaxed.

After breaking camp and hiking back to the Mount Baker trailhead, we’ll drive back to the Alpine Ascents Office in Seattle. After making equipment adjustments and finalizing logistics for the next day, students are free to check into their hotel (make sure you book a hotel!) and have the rest of the evening to themselves.

***You will need to book a hotel room the night of Day 6***

Day 7

The course changes dynamics at this point and we pick up two additional guides. The Kautz Glacier of Mount Rainier is an intermediate climb, one accessible to most students with the skills they developed over the previous six days. In our other courses, guides are often able to continue operating in instructional mode, letting the students get out in front leading the rope teams. However, this is not the case on our 10-Day Course. In order to competently and efficiently climb Mount Rainier, guides switch from a teaching mode to a guiding mode. That being said, we still have plenty of opportunity to learn and guides will make a strong effort to engage the students’ leadership skills whenever possible.

The group will meet at the Alpine Ascents Office at 6AM and shuttle to Mount Rainier. Once there, we discuss the route and potential campsites for the day, being conscience of the weather and hazards that might be present. We hike out of Paradise and then drop down and cross over the impressive Nisqually Glacier, almost instantly putting the skills of the previous six days to practice. Guides will make a decision on the exact route and campsite, but students can expect a full day with heavy packs. A protected and secure camp is constructed near the Wilson Glacier or on the Wapowety Cleaver.

Day 8

Move camp to a higher location on the Wapowety Cleaver or above the Turtle Snowfield and camp as high as 11,000 feet. We take in the incredible views to the south and west and in the early evening prepare for the summit the following day and go to bed early.

Day 9

We wake up in the early morning and ascend up to the base of the Kautz Ice Chute. This is a 400 foot steep and icy tongue of the Kautz Glacier, one that often requires belayed climbing. This provides the perfect venue for transitioning from classical glacier terrain to more moderate alpine climbing as both classic French cramponing techniques are required in addition to front pointing. From the top of this challenging section, the angle eases off and we climb classic glaciated terrain up the Nisqually Glacier to Columbia Crest, the highest point on Mount Rainier. We reverse our line back down the upper Nisqually Glacier and then work our way down the ice chute using a variety of techniques, including downclimbing, lowers and rappelling. Finally, once back in camp everyone enjoys a well-earned meal and some rest.

Day 10

On this final day of the course we pack up camp in accordance with Leave No Trace practices and descend all the way back down the Wapowety Cleaver and onto the Nisqually Glacier. After crossing the Nisqually, we unrope and hike one more hour to the trailhead at Paradise. Once completed, this course is a great accomplishment and will prepare the student for bigger and more intense expeditions in the future.

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.

The course was top notch. Our guides always made sure safety was a priority while allowing us to push ourselves physically and mentally on the mountain.

10 Day Rainier Baker Mountaineering Course BLOG

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