Mountaineering Schools

7:45 p.m. on October 30, 2003 (EST)
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a.k.a. Calvin, Devon, Dominick, mporco

I am want to get into mountaineering and I heard that mountaineering schools are a good place to start. I am looking into a 6 day seminar with Rainier Mountaineering Inc. Has anyone completed one of their programs? Do you recommend them? Suggestions of any other schools are also welcome. Thanks!

3:20 p.m. on October 31, 2003 (EST)
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Whatever group you sign up with, the quality of the course will depend mostly on the particular guide. That said, RMI has a good reputation for their longer courses (like the 6-day), but lots of negative reports about their 2-day summit climb and some other shorter outings. They have a reputation for conducting "cattle drives," which I have witnessed on both Rainier and Denali.

I would recommend American Alpine Institute (Bellingham) way above RMI as long as you are in that part of the country. The other AAI, Alpine Ascents International (Seattle) has courses, too, and is an excellent group. If you are in California, you might also consider Alpine Skills International or Mountain Adventure Seminars. Not far north of the Canadian border, there are several guide services that conduct courses as well that have good reputations.

Take a look at the AMGA website for a list of accredited guide services offering training with certified guides http://www.amga.com/

10:10 p.m. on November 2, 2003 (EST)
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I agree about RMI..espescially the short courses.
Check out Mountain Madness..mountainmadness.com
Chris

Quote:

Whatever group you sign up with, the quality of the course will depend mostly on the particular guide. That said, RMI has a good reputation for their longer courses (like the 6-day), but lots of negative reports about their 2-day summit climb and some other shorter outings. They have a reputation for conducting "cattle drives," which I have witnessed on both Rainier and Denali.

I would recommend American Alpine Institute (Bellingham) way above RMI as long as you are in that part of the country. The other AAI, Alpine Ascents International (Seattle) has courses, too, and is an excellent group. If you are in California, you might also consider Alpine Skills International or Mountain Adventure Seminars. Not far north of the Canadian border, there are several guide services that conduct courses as well that have good reputations.

Take a look at the AMGA website for a list of accredited guide services offering training with certified guides http://www.amga.com/

10:10 p.m. on November 2, 2003 (EST)
(Guest)

Quote:

I am want to get into mountaineering and I heard that mountaineering schools are a good place to start. I am looking into a 6 day seminar with Rainier Mountaineering Inc. Has anyone completed one of their programs? Do you recommend them? Suggestions of any other schools are also welcome. Thanks!

I have done things with RMI and a few others...by far the best, most fun, and great people was Alpine Ascents Int'l. The others tend to be arogant and just march you through it. Alpine Ascents seems to really like what they do and care about you honing skills AND having a good time.

10:45 a.m. on November 4, 2003 (EST)
(Guest)

Reading assignments: MFOTH 6ed

Hi Mike,
I was just going to recommend 2 books but then it can be a maze to navigate if you don't know what to read, so I'm enclosing a book objective I use for my backpacking club.

The 2 books are:
Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 7ed.
The Illustrated Guide to Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue.

The objectives below were written for the 6ed of MFOTH.

Climb safe. LesM

=====

Basic Mountaineering Safety:
Objectives (rev. 1/2000): Mountaineering - Freedom of the Hills, 6ed.

1. Navigation:
a) The basic parts and functions of a base-plate compass (Fig. 4-4a).
b) Shooting a magnetic bearing from your location to a distant landmark (Fig. 4-7).
c) Know how to follow a compass bearing by yourself (Fig. 4-15).
d) Copying the magnetic bearing of a direct route from a map onto your compass (4-5, 4-15).
e) Know how to interpret contour lines on a map (4-1, 4-2).

f) Know how to describe your route (e.g. compass bearing, what is on your left, on your right, and ahead of you). Exercise: ADK Adirondak Loj map.
g) Orienting a map using landmarks and a compass. Exercise: Detroit map.
h) Know the difference between True North and Magnetic North (4-8)
i) Know how to explain the basic of longitude and latitude.
j) Measuring distance using the scale bar on a map (see the bottom of 4-2).

k) Know how to plot magnetic meridians on a map using information from magnetic declination. Exercise: Detroit USGS map.
l) Able to obtain magnetic declination data from the Internet (optional skill).
http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/seg/gmag/fldsnth1.pl
m) Able to read and plot UTM grid coordinates.
n) Know how to biangulate your location using 2 distant landmarks.
o) Able to plot your route on a topomap using description from a guidebook.
Exercise: West Buttress route, Denali National Park.

p) Optional: Know how to recognize alpine terrain features (13-43).
q) Optional: Know how to recognize glacial features (14-1, 14-2).
r) Read "Routefinding on Snow" (pp316-321); "Routefinding" (pp412-413).


2. Knots tying... (for you single guys and gals).
Know how to tie the following knots:
a) Mountaineer's coil (6-3) or butterfly coil (6-4)
b) Overhand knot (6-6)
c) Water knot (6-8)
d) Fisherman's knot (6-10); double fisherman's knot (6-11)

e) Figure-8 loop (6-12, aka fig-8 on a bight); rewoven figure-8 (6-13, aka fig-8 follow through)
f) Single bowline (6-15)
g) Butterfly knot (6-19, also see handout)
h) Clove hitch (6-20)

i) Girth hitch (6-21)
j) Prusik knot (6-24)
k) Munter hitch (6-27, 7-6)
l) Optional: Bachmann knot (6-25)
m) Optional: Klemheist knot (6-26)
n) Optional: Taut-line (for pitching tents, clotheslines; see Knots for Climbers... tape and handout)
o) Optional: Trucker hitch (for pulling tension on a rope; no notes, demo only)


3. Basic Climbing Setup:
a) Know how to correctly put on your own climbing harness (also see pg338).
b) Know how to use 2 non-locking carabiners in place of 1 locking carabiner (8-5).
c) Belaying with a Munter hitch (7-6).
d) Optional: Belaying with a belay device other than a Grigri (7-5).
e) Optional: Know how to use a figure-8 rappelling device (8-6) or other rappelling devices.
f) Optional: Climbing calls (7-23).


4. Basic Snowschool (or mud school if that's all we get...):
a) Identify different parts of an ice ax (13-1).
b) Carrying an ice ax (13-14).
c) Holding an ice ax: self-arrest grip and self-belay grip (13-15).
d) Self-belay (13-16).
e) Ascending a snow slope, transition between balance and unbalance positions (13-17).
f) Rest step (5-1, p102, p294).
g) Kicking step (p294, 13-18).

h) Ascending with ice ax in cane position (13-18).
i) Optional: Ascending with ice ax in cross-body position (13-21).
j) Changing direction on a diagonal ascent (13-22).
k) Descending a slope using plunge-stepping (13-23, 13-24).

l) Self-arrest in a "head uphill, face down" position (13-26 bottom figure).
m) Self-arrest in a "head uphill, on your back" position (13-26).
n) Understand the incorrect self-arrest position (13-27).
o) Self-arrest in "head downhill, face down" (13-28)
p) Self-arrest in "head downhill, on your back" positions (13-29).
q) Optional: "When sh%! hits the fan... do the best you can" (13-30).

r) Rope team basics: climbing on a shortened rope (13-31).
g) Rope team basics: running belay (13-32). Sliding a prusik along a hand line or a fixed line (11-2).
h) Know how to pass a knot (e.g. fig-8 or butterfly) "through" a biner, while the biner is attaching to a hand line (see demo).

i) Optional: Understand the setups for fixed line anchors (16-3).
j) Optional: Understand how to transferring an ascender from 1 section of a fixed line to another (16-4).


5. Basic Ice-ax and Crampon Skills on Gentle to Moderate Slopes:
a) Climbing techniques (15-15, 15-16, 15-17, 15-18)
b) Descending techniques (15-34, 15-35, 15-37)
c) Know how to self-arrest while wearing crampons (see handout and demo; feet up and crampons OFF the snow!!).
d) Optional: Boot/ice-screw belay using Munter hitch (15-53).


6. Basic Snow and Ice Anchors:
a) Placing snow flukes (13-33).
b) Using ice ax as anchors (13-34).
c) Placing picket (13-35).
d) Placing ice-screw (15-41, 15-42, 15-43, 15-44).
e) Optional: Know how to draw a snow bollard setup, i.e. shape and dimension (13-36).
f) Optional: Know how to draw an ice bollard setup, i.e. shape and dimension (15-46).

g) Know how to set up a 2-point self-equalization anchor using 1 webbing (7-14, aka "magic X").
h) Know how to set up a simple static equalization using 2 webbings (7-16).
i) Know how to connect snow anchors with webbings (13-37).


7. Belaying on Snow:
a) Boot-ax belay (13-38).
b) Carabiner/ice-ax belay (13-39).
c) The correct braking arm position for the hip belay (7-8).
d) Hip belay with a control carabiner (7-10).
"From the climber, to the biner, round the back, and to the stack."
e) Sitting hip belay (13-40).
f) Optional: Standing hip belay (13-41).
g) Optional (good to know): Hand position (7-4).


8. Fundamentals of Glacier Travel:
a) The rope (6-2, pg338).
b) Know the general setups for tying into a rope team (14-3, 14-4).
c) Rigging a carabiner chest harness (6-32, read "Chest Harness", pg341).
d) Know how make prusik slings and tying-in to a rope team (pg342, 14-16, 14-20).
e) Rope management and travelling near open crevasses (14-5, 14-6, 14-7, 14-8, 14-9, 14-10)
f) Know how to probe for crevasses and set up wands around a campsite (pg343, similar to 14-8, use avalanche probe, see demo).
g) Know what to do if a climber only partially "sink in" (med left column of pg348).
h) Optional: Pulling a sled (16-2).


9. Crevasse Rescue:
a) Immediate action (self-arrest by belayers), anchors, back-up knot, communication (14-11, 14-12, 14-13, 14-14, 14-15).
b) Self-rescue: Texas prusik (14-16, 14-17, 14-18, 14-19).
c) Team rescue: brute force, C-pulley system, Z-pulley system (pg352, 14-22, 14-23).
d) Optional: Self-rescue with sled (handout from 5th ed. Fig. 15-6).


10. Leadership and Group Dynamic:
a) Emergency Scene Management.
b) Getting help.
c) Group dynamic scenarios,


11. Wilderness First Aid Knowledge and Scenarios:
a) A test on basic first aid knowledge.
b) Know how to use the First Aid/Accident Report Form (pp462-263).
c) Know how to recognize and treat the early stage of hypothermia.
d) Treating an unconscious, avalanche victim.
e) Treating a victim who has been hit by a rock on the head.
f) Treating a semi-conscious hypothermic victim rescue from a crevasse.
g) Treating a victim with lower leg laceration causes by crampons.
h) Treating a face laceration causes by an ice ax.
i) Treating a victim for an impaled object.
j) Treating a victim for severe bleeding.
k) Treating a victim for an open fracture.
l) Treating a victim for an ankle injury.


- FIN -

1:54 p.m. on November 4, 2003 (EST)
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Ummmm, Les, ....

Quote:

.... so I'm enclosing a book objective I use for my backpacking club.

Your *backpacking* club? This sounds like the reading assignment for a full mountaineering course (which is, certainly, what Mike was looking for. So what sort of "backpacking" does your club do, anyway? And am I right that this is the list for a full mountaineering course? or is it a basic course?

I do have to disagree with some of the ordering in the list, based on the year or two the Old GreyBeard has been in the woods and hills. A friend of mine, who directs a backpacking course for the last 10 years or so (course has existed for over 30 years), has been having a serious problem with the people teaching the navigation part of the course. When he took over the course, the navigation teacher was a retired Navy Captain (commanded a cruiser), who taught "blue-water" navigation. When the Captain retired, the next instructor was a USNavy carrier pilot (Major, I believe), who basically taught how to find your carrier in storm, again, air navigation, which is again essentially "blue-water" navigation. His current instructor is an excellent orienteer, who competes in the advanced courses, but can't teach worth anything (unfortunately, this is a volunteer organization and you get who you can to teach the sections of the course). I watched this guy try to teach compass corrections and just shook my head at how pathetic it was (you might ask why I don't teach this section of the course - it's because I teach 3 other sections of the course already, and that's too much. People in my land nav courses seem to learn very quickly how to actually get through the woods).

Most books out there, including MFOTH and its derivative land navigation book which expands the chapters in MFOTH, teach a style of navigation that is, frankly, difficult, confusing, and not very useful to the backcountry traveller. It is based on the ancient military style of compass and map, mostly compass. This works well for "blue-water" situations and for the artillery gunner lobbing shells for a given azimuth and distance. But it does not work very well for the cross-country traveller. It is very rare that the best route is to go along a bearing for some distance.

A second problem comes up in what many books call "triangulation" (your outline calls it "biangulation"), and is properly called "resection". In most situations encountered in the real woods and hills, and even on open plains, it is difficult to recognize landmarks sufficiently well to identify them with certainty. Triangulation and resection are useful tools for the surveyor, but actually of limited use to the backcountry traveller. My friend who directs the backpacking course commented to me recently noted that in 4 decades of backcountry travelling (including a traverse of Baffin Island last year), he has only used a compass for navigation a dozen times.

The problems with triangulation/biangulation/resection are:

1. in dense woods (as in our local Santa Cruz Mountains, in New England, in the Pacific NorthWest, in most of the Southeastern US, etc), your line of sight often is no more than a few hundred feet. What are you going to sight on, trees?

2. in mountains above timberline, in a new area, it is difficult even standing on a summit to recognize other mountains (if you are on the summit, you know where you are anyway), and if you are in a valley, it is difficult to recognize the landmarks or to pick out the exact peak for your bearing (it may be over the bend-back of the slope and not visible).

3. in broad plains, tundra, and many deserts, it is difficult at best to pick out which landmark is which for a bearing, even if landmarks are visible.

4. Line of sight may be quite restricted, such as whiteouts, blizzards, heavy rain, or the usual less-than-3 miles you get in the Southeastern US.

So what would I change about the approach to teaching land navigation (and this works well for water navigation close to shore and on rivers as well)? Before even getting a map out, much less a compass, in my courses I have people learn to recognize terrain features common to the area and to make use of them to just wander around. The brain, after all, is the most important navigational tool (and safety device as well). Learn to stay oriented by natural features, including celestial objects, prevailing winds, and so on (you can get an idea of where the sun is, even on a moderately cloudy day). Pay attention to where you are going and where you came from as you go. Obviously trails and roads are important parts of terrain clues.

After getting the terrain reading down, add maps. First simple maps, then more complex maps. The basic skill of taking a complex, detailed map (such as a USGS topo sheet or an orienteering map) and "simplifying" it is almost never taught, nor even mentioned, in the books and courses on land navigation. Go by steps from simple sketches to the detailed maps, retaining the idea of "simplification". Orienting the map by terrain features should be emphasized, as should keeping yourself located on the map at all times (too many people glance at the map, then put it away for a couple hours of hiking before looking at it again). During this introduction to maps, include a lot of field exercises that require relating the terrain to the map, so the student learns the connection between the two as familiarity with the maps develops.

After the student can navigate with map in hand, then introduce use of the compass to roughly orient the map - no declination, no math at this point. A rough orientation of the map by compass will aid terrain orientation. After the student can quickly orient the map by rough compass and terrain, then refine it with declination corrections (declination correction is also something that is taught in a very wrong and confusing way). Again, the primary navigation is by terrain, guided by map, with compass taking a very secondary role. The big problem is that so many people are completely confused by "mathematics" (it ain't really "mathematics", but it involves numbers, which scares many people).

After all this is mastered, then introduce the idea of bearings, headings, and following a bearing without following a bearing (ya can't follow the bearing across the lake, and ya don't want to follow it straight across the Grand Canyon or even a moderate gully, or over a 1000 foot ridge). By now, they know that the "best" path is not necessarily the straight line. And by the point of getting the bearings and headings, the student will be able to deal with them more naturally than if such things are introduced at the very start.

In my courses (which are a weekend in length, by the way), at this point I introduce altimeters and GPS receivers. With the background skills, these widgets make sense and are easily understood.

Note the major difference. Traditionally, it is compass, compass corrections, bearings and headings, maps, terrain, where my approach is the reverse - terrain, maps, rough compass, corrections, bearings, headings.

5:06 p.m. on November 4, 2003 (EST)
(Guest)

Umm.. Bill.. retirement is great! Isn't it :-)

Hi Bill,
I'll be quick and short, since I'm heading off to my club meeting in about 15 min.

You've are quite valid on all the points. I generally draw a finer line in our Land Nav course than in the Basic Mountaineering Safety Course. First Aid, Winter Backpacking, Land Nav, and Top Ropeing are prerequisites for the BMS. However, I no longer teach any of these courses.

Also, I only teach the skill on using magnetic north meridians, like using an orienteering map. And I don't teach the +/- declination for the reason you mentioned.

I also don't teach righ-angle detour, because in my 12 years in orienteering, I have only used it once, and that was in an unusually thick vegetation at a ROGAINE. I use what I called "terrain-based navigation" if there is such a term out there.

Anyway, I'm late, I'm late... sorry for the fragmented thought...down the wabbit hole I go
Later Bill...
Les JackWabbit :-)

8:06 a.m. on November 5, 2003 (EST)
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simplifying topos??

Bill
Being one that understood maps and topos from childhood (not sure how that happened, it just did) I always have difficulty explaining how to read the topos to others. What

1:29 p.m. on November 5, 2003 (EST)
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simplifying topos

Basically, it is just picking out the features that will be easy to recognize and disregarding all the other clutter. The techniques are well-explained in a number of books on orienteering, so I suggest going to the various competitive orienteering websites and orienteering dealers (most have websites). The United States Orienteering Federation website has lots of good links http://www.us.orienteering.org/ . The resources link lists dealers who carry the various publications.

The types of things to look for are handrails (linear features, such as streams, trails, ridgelines, gullies), collecting features (features easily recognized to help you keep track of where you are as you go, such as trail junctions, stream crossings, passes), catching features (features that tell you that you have gone too far, such as a stream past your trail junction, a bend in the canyon), etc. Your idea of counting the gullies and matching them to the map is an example of collecting features. Sometimes it doesn't work, though, as in the infamous case of the old 15 minute Dardanelles quad, where the names on the canyons were displaced by one downstream - very confusing when finding the trail branch signs not matching the count of canyon branches passed (this is documented in several books on hiking in the Sierra, and the error was corrected on the 7.5 min quads).

Another part of the idea comes in the orienteering terminology of "green light-yellow light-red light", referring to coarse navigation where you can run at full tilt, shifting to fine navigation where you proceed more slowly, looking at details, shifting finally to point navigation where you look at every detail to take you the last 100 meters to the control location (orienteering maps have much more detail than USGS quads, often including individual boulders and logs). The idea here is that there are sections of your trek that you can go fast while looking for a very prominent feature, at which you slow down, looking for finer details. In your illustration, you might go fast along a major trail until you pass the third gully, then slow down to carefully look for the rarely used, partially overgrown trail branch leading to the beautiful and rarely visited Duck Lake.

A little personal story will illustrate - I was the adult advisor on a trip with a scout troop, providing guidance in an area I had been many years before (the scouts provide the actual leadership for such hikes). We had passed a meadow (Wild Man Meadow) on our way to the Gorge of Despair (these are real places in Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP, by the way). There was to be a trail junction that we would take the right branch. A very short distance after leaving Wild Man, one of the other adult leaders called out that we were missing the trail junction. He pulled out his map (it had been in his pack since our water break at Wild Man) and pointed to the correct junction on the map and insisted that we were at that junction. I was well aware that it wasn't, since we had not passed a broad saddle and traversed an uphill section across a moderately steep slope. Besides, the orientation of the trails at the junction wasn't quite right. Still, because the adult was so insistent, I said, ok, let's go along that trail, but let's keep the map out and look at what features we see. Within a couple hundred meters, it was apparent that the small knoll we could see to the right, with a steep dropoff beyond to the major river was not matched on the map's broad upward slope. Note that my clues were - cross a saddle and go uphill traversing a moderately steep slope before the trail junction (which we had not yet done) and a broad upward slope to the right of the trail after the junction, vs not yet passing the two large and obvious features of the saddle and slope traverse, but seeing a knoll and steep dropoff after the alleged junction.

I did not need every twist and turn in the trail, and I did not need to struggle with taking bearings on distant peaks, which I may or may not have been able to recognize positively, especially in an unfamiliar area.

Anyway, get some competitive orienteering books and read about the techniques, then mainly get out there and do it.

9:41 p.m. on November 11, 2003 (EST)
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Quote:

I am want to get into mountaineering and I heard that mountaineering schools are a good place to start. I am looking into a 6 day seminar with Rainier Mountaineering Inc. Has anyone completed one of their programs? Do you recommend them? Suggestions of any other schools are also welcome. Thanks!

I took a class this summer with Colorado Mountain School out of Estes Park, and they were amazing. My guide has done first assents on Danali, routes in Patagonia, and teaches guide training for the AMGA. Most importantly though, he was an effective teacher and a great guy.

If you look at thier web site, www.cmschool.com, and check the guide bios you will see a who's who list of climbers. It sounds like this school may be a little out of the way for you, but when was the last time a climber regretted a trip to the front range? Also, if money is an issue they have cheap lodging at the school or you can camp for free on forest service land just outside of town. One added plus for CMS is that there is a great pub just across the street from the school.

Anyways, I can't say enough good things about the Colorado Mountain School. If you have any more specific questions feel free to email me.

Will

11:01 p.m. on December 8, 2003 (EST)
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From the Grivel's website...
12:59 a.m. on December 17, 2003 (EST)
(Guest)

I've taken both courses and trips with both American Alpine (Bellingham, Wa) and Yamnuska (Canmore, Canada). If your sepnding US$ you'll get one whopper of a deal goign with Yamnuska - search the website. As well they have world class guides. However, the other good call is to find the local American Aline Club chapter - i know in Canada the mountainneering club i belong to does courses - which are done by volunteers (seasoned members) and thus the costs are way cheaper. Further to that you meet a lot of people with whom you can climb locally.

5:51 a.m. on February 17, 2004 (EST)

We are the Professional mountain climbing operator in Nepal.If somebody intrested in our programmes please visit our web-site http://www.yalaadventure.com/mountaineering_course.htm

With best
Yadu

4:23 p.m. on September 10, 2004 (EDT)
(Guest)

the hands on imperative

My opinion: I don't think that simplifying topos is the answer--instead give the students the sufficient experience to understand the topos.

Often only the most experienced members in the group carry maps and compasses (and these are not infrequently stored out of reach in the packs). The newbies usually don't have thier own maps and compasses. It's hard for the newbies to get hands on experience that way.

If you were learning how to read and all the schools did was teach you the alphabet and a few short lessons on sounding out words, but they didn't put any books in your hands for you to practice, how good of a reader would you be?

In my opinion, if you really want someone to learn navigation, take take him on trips and make him carry their his own compass and map -- not packed away in a pack but out and accessible where he can refer to it constantly --and have him track the group's progress on the map. A friend who leads boy scout trips says he asks his scouts to find 3 landmarks/positions on their map per hour. Not a bad goal.

Reading books and hearing lectures on navigation is a good start, but I think most people need to put in some mileage before topos become easy for them to read.

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