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Ready to make the step from hardcore backpacking to mountaineering??

This possibly should be in another forum, but i thought I would start here. 

I am 37 year old male living in the Souteast.  I am in great shape and love spending time doing long grueling backpack trips in bad weather.  Would love to know the best way to get into some mountaineering, at least starting with some of the higher peaks in the US.


I know several outfits offer trek/trip packages where you spend a week in the upper rockies doing basic ice skills/climibing training before making summit bids on a couple of 14k foot peaks.  Would something like this be the best place to start - the company fees are all over the board, as little as a few hundrend to 10,000 dollar range.

Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.


I guess another option is to find someome experienced with similar interst that I could tag a long with and learn from.


I understand the cost of gear as well as the time to dedicate to a trip across the country and training involved.  Anything else I am missing??


Suggestions to how to one day realize this dream??  Thanks


Well, fundamentally, get your text book: Mountaineering, The Freedom of the Hills.

Then, come here and see what BillS tells you! Look at his profile...he is a great resource!

A guide service is a good option for learning skills and exploring the mountains, but the generalities of your goal require some definition to address the individual elements.  Are you primarily interested in summating via the easiest and safest modus or do you want to claim a first ascent of a new route?  Such objectives partially define your next steps.  For example there are snow and ice skills with tools, wilderness skiing, rope skills, climbing skills, and advanced wilderness lore such as route selection, safety issues, survival, and first aid knowledge applicable to the venues you aspire.  A lot of mountaineers are good at all of these skills, while some snow shoe instead of learning to skiing, and have no desire to spider their way up a frozen waterfall.

Some of this knowledge can be attained concurrently on the same trip, while  some is traditionally covered in dedicated programs.  Some of these realms can be broken down, creating a bachelor degree in mountaineering, so to speak.  For example rock climbing skills can be broken down, ranging from a general course, to break out courses offering multi level curricula specializing in facets of rope climbing such as leader techniques, building of anchor stations, high aspect rescue techniques, etc.  Likewise there are the truly advanced skills such as mastering the logistical techniques to plan and execute your own expedition, which most really have no way to learn well, other than through mentoring and progessive experience, or the officer training programs of the military. 

Drop by the bookstore and find some books in the sports section that are about mountaineering, and the people who do these things.  These stories may help refine what you are aiming for, and define your goals.  Books are cheaper way to discover a week in the Rockies spent on an activity or course would have been better off invested in some other activity.

Books are not the total solution, however, and often fall far short of providing the preparation necessary to be safe and competent.  Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills is the Bible of mountaineering, but it is only intended to be a reference guide; the Seattle Mountaineers never intended one to go to school solely on this manual, then trek off into the Great White.  As you progress you may befriend a skilled mountaineer who is willing to take on a protégé, but keep in mind the quality of instruction is degraded by what he forgot, what he misunderstood, innovations that have occurred without his knowledge, and the fact his curriculum will be ad hoc, situationally restricted, and may simply omit details.  Your mentor may not have the temperament to provide sound instruction.  I have climbed with several amazing climbers who proved to be pretty inept as teachers.  Alas, being good at something doesn’t mean you are good at teaching it.  With that in mind you may want to learn certain basics from a certified instruction program.  For example I would insist learning how to construct belay stations from a certified instructor.  This is a skill that combines knowledge, craft, creativity, and understanding of dynamic, mechanical, systems.  Most people don’t posses the full measure of all of these attributes, and anything less than competent training on this skill may jeopardize your safety and the others who share your rope.  It is one good reason why many climbers fall short of being trusted to lead a climb.

Indeed you have reason to be somewhat baffled.  My suggestion is initially take it a bite at a time.  Learn things first that expand abilities to enjoy the outdoors near your home.  You will get more value learning how to climb the rocks and travel the snow covered mountains of your region, than say, how to travel safely over a glacier.  When you exhaust the challenges locally, you will have a better idea what your next steps should be.


Thank you for the feedback!  I will look purchase that book within the next couple of days.  I don't have any realistic dreams of developing new routes or climbing solo. 

Thinking more along the lines of over the next 10 years climbing some continental US mountains, rockies 14k climbs, Mt. Ranier, maybe Kilmanjaro, and the ultimate goal would probably be Denali, or something in the Himalaya.  I understand that this is a process and with a family with 3 young kids and living in the SouthEast this may take some serious time with only 1 major expedition every year or two. is a good mountaineering forum.

I don't know if you are going to get over 14K ft. in the Southeast so a relocation to the West might be a first good step unless you like flying a lot. 

Ed hates it when I say this but I learned basic single pitch rock climbing from books, the internet and talking to and working with people at the crags.  I eventually took a class but found out that we already were doing pretty much everything right.  Luckily, the class was free.  

Having said that mountaineering is not quite the same.  I am told that crevasse rescue/glacier travel are two things learned best learned from a pro.  The rest you might get by with learning from a more experienced partner. is a great site, thanks!  In the southeast about the biggest I can hope for is a winter assault on Mt. Mitchell (6500').  A big hill with some extreme weather.  We planned a weekend a couple of years ago in January but a snow/ice storm shut down all the access roads to it for 2 weeks.

I guess I just need to look ahead an plan a week or longer trip to the northwest or the US rockies to get started, hoping I might can find some locals to maybe join and learn from.

I would suggest a mountaineering class. I took a basic class in New Zealand years ago. We spent a couple of days learning basic rock climbing, then moved to glacier travel, rope handling, crevasse rescue, ice axe and crampon techniques, self-arrest, how to make a snow cave and climbed a couple of smaller peaks. We did not do any avalanche training using beacons. I doubt most classes here cover glacier travel unless you are in Alaska, but in NZ, that was a very important part of the class.

The class was well worth it. The guiding company supplied the climbing gear and food, as I recall. I rented a pair of boots and had my own pack, bag and clothes. We stayed in huts, except for the snow cave, so no need for a tent.

Bill S can probably recommend a guiding company here in the US. I know of several in CA and Washington, but no personal experience with any of them.

Check out your REI store...they ahve classes and may be a place to meet like minded people. Also, may ahve a group of hikers/backpackers/climbers in your area.

Tom's advice is a good start.  A lot of mountaineering can be done without ever hanging from a rope.  But if you are interested in rope climbing, I suggest you obtain some course instruction.  Jeff is right, I do not recommend others attempt to self teach rock climbing and rope craft, especially since I have no idea of their personal make up or capacity to absorb the necessities with minimal support.  Regardless I have been doing this for decades I still take a refresher course on occasion.


I would be wary of MeetUp.  In 2008, in the PNW, a meetup for a beginner winter camping trip caused a large-scale rescue (helos, snow machines, ambulances and lots of SAR personnel and volunteers) when the group leader failed to check the weather reports and they were trapped by a huge storm. They were unprepared and lacked, among other things, adequate tents, adequate bags and snowshoes. I believe the leader told several of them to leave their snowshoes in their cars because they wouldn't need them. The storm that rolled in was one of the worst in years.

Various trip reports on NW hiker and other sites were enlightening, to say the least. Some of these dopes had no idea how much danger they were in and how lucky they were they were found.

Start here if you are interested in the story-some of the links no longer work, but you can get an idea as to what happened. The original MeetUp ad is still online and that is the first link on my post that you see.

Hey Hound Dog,

If I was wanting to get started in mountaineering and lived in the south, I'd look for the closest ski area and head to it.  They make frozen surfaces that are similar to  what you'll encounter on big mountains and will give you a good intro to changing conditions and footing.  Get an early start and head for the top before the sun comes up.  You'll expose yourself to a variety of information you'll need when going for a tougher summit.  Such as layering,traction, muscle development, balance, plus enjoying a sunrise from most any summit is always a reward.  There are a few mountains down there that have a thousand plus foot vertical gain.  You might be able to get in two ascents before the swarms of skiers invade.  Descents are an important part as well, work on technique both ways, sidestepping, toe kicks, traversing.  Start easy then increase your difficulty by using the resort trail map.  Try different equipment, ie boots, snowshoes, crampons.  If its dark when you start have a good light so you can be seen as well as see, resorts have work going on all night and you dont want to become part of the trail.  It may be a small southern mountain but a winter ascent/descent on an icy, snowy surface will teach you loads.

Good Luck

MoZee said:

Hey Hound Dog,

If I was wanting to get started in mountaineering and lived in the south, I'd look for the closest ski area and head to it...

Call ahead before you do this.  Many ski areas don't allow folks on the hills when not open ff business, and even then some will not let you on the snow unless you have a lift ticket, while some won't let pedestrian traffic on the slopes at all.  Insurace liability is just one of the reasons...

Even if they do let you on the slope it is a good idea to let them know you are there,before treading off over hill and dale.


i agree with taking things one step at a time.

one good way to do that is to take high altitude out of the equation at first - and that is possible if you focus on courses and guided trips in the northeast, like the adirondacks, the presidentials (white mountains), or mount katahdin in the winter.  in any of these places, you get strenous climbing, plenty of snow and ice, and possibly cold and wind that is about as awful as you will find in most places - but without the altitude issues presented by the Rockies, the Tetons, Rainier or Denali.  guided trips in the northeast aren't going to be super-expensive, i suspect, compared to some of the big mountains out west. 

in the presidentials in new hampshire, Eastern Mountain Sports and International Mountaineering Equipment (both in North Conway) have excellent climbing schools.  there are a number of good guide services in the Adirondacks and a few that specialize in Katahdin, but i'm less familiar with those.  worth taking classes in mountaineering and avalanche awareness/response.   

it is just one step at a time, very Kaizen


Hang out with Becky. He will trade some climb time for a place to crash.

Who is Becky?


That's me on the left, Eddie Joe middle, Beckey on the right. Last Dec 8.
Fred just keeps climbing, and climbing, and climbing.

You got some good suggestions up above, and (typical of the Internet) some not so good.

Step at a time is not just good, but the only way.

You said your parameters are:

Thinking more along the lines of over the next 10 years climbing some continental US mountains, rockies 14k climbs, Mt. Ranier, maybe Kilmanjaro, and the ultimate goal would probably be Denali, or something in the Himalaya.  I understand that this is a process and with a family with 3 young kids and living in the SouthEast this may take some serious time with only 1 major expedition every year or two.

Don't believe the SE lacks climbing. There is great technical rock climbing there. Specifically, there is excellent rock in NC, GA, TN, AL, AR, WV, VA, all not that far from SC.

The 3 specific peaks you name (Rainier, Kilimanjaro, and Denali) are all pretty much long slogs with no real climbing by the most popular routes. Rainier and Denali involve snow and ice and glacier travel. Kili is a long trail in pretty reasonable shape by any of the routes to the summit (there are climbing routes on Kili, but those are not part of the trails to the summit). Any hiker in reasonable shape can do Kili, IF (and that's a huge IF) you take it slowly ("polepole" as the local guides you are required to use, under Tanzanian law, will continuously tell you). I have a trip report on Kili here. I would point you to my trip reports on Denali, except that my ISP decided to eliminate their "free" home pages. So that went away, along with TRs on the Mexican Volcanoes, Antarctica, Europe, etc etc. Oh, wait! I have a TR for the 40th Anniversary of the first ascent of Mt Vinson in Antarctica here! That might be a bit on the expensive side for you, though.

Most of the Rockies and Sierra 14ers can be climbed by no more than 2nd class routes, though some have 3rd or 4th class as the easiest routes. If you set off to do all the State High Points, the hardest are 4th class. Except Denali, which is a serious glacier climb, though mostly a long snow slog at high altitude, with only a couple of sections with real climbing, and those have fixed ropes (unless you decide you want to do something like Fathers and Sons - but your itinerary sounds like you are wanting to do peak bagging, not technical climbing).

Given your itinerary, I would suggest you look into a couple of guide services that run climbing schools with a mountaineering slant. This is the fastest way to build your skill level safely, though it will require traveling across the continent for a couple weeks over 2 or 3 years. Going by friends who are professional guides and in the business of training climbers with a similar itinerary, I would suggest looking at American Alpine Institute (very much aimed toward training climbers looking to do mountains like Denali - based in Bellingham, WA) or Alpine Ascents International (based in Seattle). Both AAI's conduct a lot of their courses in the Cascades, notably on Mt Baker and Mt Rainier. You get some altitude experience in the Cascades on these mountains.

Exum Guide Service (based in the Tetons) spends more time on technical rock. If you had expressed interest in technical rock, I would have recommended Yosemite Climbing School (in Yosemite National Park) or Mountain Adventure Seminars (based in Bear Valley, CA - they run glacier classes on Mt Shasta, a place to experience some of the fiercest weather in the lower 48 states and excellent location to develop skills needed for climbs like Denali - Shasta is deceptive, with people just strolling up Avalanche Gulch in good weather, yet a large number of injuries and deaths among the unprepared and unskilled when the sudden fierce storms hit).

IME, located in New Hampshire at the base of Mt Washington (North Conway, NH) runs excellent courses in technical rock and technical ice. Though, again, you did not mention technical ice in your parameters.

There are many other climbing schools. Important thing to look for is location that matches your goals. Which is why I mention the AAI's - snow and ice, glaciated peaks, and altitude that the Cascades offer, and both run courses in the Alaska  and St Elias Ranges as Denali prep and on Denali itself.

Another place to get altitude experience, though not difficult glacier travel, is the Mexican Volcanoes - Ixta, Popo (may or may not be open, due to volcanic activity), Orizaba, and several smaller, but interesting ones.

Consider including the Andes in your itinerary. Yeah, the Himalaya are the glamor mountains. But climbing there is expensive compared to almost anywhere else. Plus there is still a lot of political turmoil. Tourists (including climbers) are usually safe enough politically, but not always.

By the Andes, I mean the equatorial Andes in Bolivia, Ecuador, and especially Peru. Aconcagua, which is effectively on the Chile/Argentina border, is popular, which means often crowded. The normal route is a none-too-pleasant slog, but more of a long hike than a climb. Make no mistake, though, the weather can turn ugly (it is high altitude, after all, and not far from the Pacific and incoming weather). The Cordillera Blanca, in Peru, has a plethora of gorgeous mountains, and at the right time of year, very pleasant climbing weather.

Hmmm ... you said you are 37. Yup, that's about the right age for YMIS to start tailing off. Well, never fear. If you play your cards right, you will still be close to your peak when you get to the age that I am and probably to the age that Fred is.

3 : 2: 1 let's go

October 28, 2020
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