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Mountaineering for dummies

Hello and good day everyone,


So, I'm a fairly new climber, but a pretty experienced hiker. Ive been hiking since I could walk with outings lasting from a weekend to a week (often it is time permitting thus nothing longer). As far as climbing goes I have been on top rope for both rock and Ice for about 3 years now with a few (very few) leads under my belt. no trad on rock though, just sport.


In anycase, my question is about putting these two sports together. I'd like to take my first few steps into mountaineering if possible. I know of a few good books to read such as freedom of the hills, but what I'm looking for in this post are some tips of the trade, personal stories, lessons learned, and sugestions for good locals to start.


Currently I am in Haifax Canada so Life around here is... a little flat. But that's no reason not to start training. As far as secondary skills for the climb I'm a paramedic and being in the military I have passed/taught my fair share of survival courses. I am confident with my rope work knots and pro placement. I have a high angle rescue course under my belt however high altitude and basic mountaineering practises are things I need to learn for sure.


My current plan is to get some friends in common situations together and start with the basics on a small mountain with an experienced person to lead the way, so no worries of me walking up to everest and saying "yah, I got this".


Anywho look forward to hearing the words of wisdom from everyone about.

My learning experience was through a basic mountaineering class. We spent a couple of days with basic rock climbing-very simple stuff, then spent the rest of the time, about ten days in total in the mountains learning rope technique, including crevasse rescue, self-arrest, using crampons and ice axe and belaying. There were six of us, as I recall and two instructors.

Since I was a total beginner, I liked the idea of a structured class with people who knew what they were doing and how to convey it to students. Not everyone is a good teacher, regardless of their skill level, so that is important, as far as I'm concerned.

I've been told that a glacier travel and crevasse rescue classes are good ways to go if you are already solid with other back country skills


Welcome to Trailspace, Alex. Being on the Left Coast of the continent, I first thought the "CA" was California (it is the postal abbreviation for Calif).

Halifax, eh? That's aboot as far from Calif as you can get walking west to east. We've beeen in NS a few times (forgive my poor imitation of our Northern Neighbor's speech ;). Beautiful area! There are some climbing areas near you, some just to the south in the States, some farther north, plus excellent and challenging climbs on the far western side of your country (only a few thousand km).

As for learning mountaineering, definitely the best way is to (1) take a course from a certified guide service (ACMG is the certification organization for professional mountain guides in Canada and is part of the UIAGM/IFMGA) or (2) work with an experienced mentor. There are climbing schools located a day's drive from you in New Hampshire (IME in North Conway, for example). If you want to stay within Canada, there are a number of climbing schools in Alberta and British Columbia that are excellent.

A week-long rock course at a good climbing school is a good kick-start, followed by a week-long glacier course. It is expensive, but concentrated - you can squeeze in as much as you would get in several years with even a very good mentor on weekends. Of course, the several years with mentors gives experience that you won't get with a concentrated course, and experience is extremely important in mountaineering.

MFOTH is a great book. And there are a number of other great books on mountaineering. Still, book learning does not substitute for real, hands-on-the-rock experience. The internet can give good leads, but as I am sure you know, advice from the internet is worth every loonie you paid for it (I see that the loonie is worth a penny more than the US$ today).

Hey Alex

I'm in Toronto and heading down to N.H, as Bill pointed out, to take a course through the EMS down there. It comes highly reccomended to me through some friends. Here is the link if you want to look into it...


From a quick look I would say the 3 day mountaineering looks pretty close to your objectives.

Sage, my class was in New Zealand where glaciers are a real hazard for climbers. One thing I learned was that if my rope partner weighed more than me (and virtually everyone does), it takes a real effort to get someone out of a crevasse. We used a Z-Pulley system and carried our ropes in a "Kiwi coil," I think they called it. For crevasse rescue, as I recall, you need your axe, a couple of biners, a small pulley (2 is probably better), a couple of prussiks and if you have them, Jumars or something similar.  I haven't practised in years, but if you are anywhere near that kind of territory, practising under controlled conditions would be worth it.

Thanks everyone for the tips! I defiantly will look in to North Conway for a trip or two next winter, and this summer for some rock. I'll do my best to get on with a few classes in the coming year and to get some experience. As for the gear I currently have all of the recommended stuff from across the board. although I certainly need to practice my 3-1 pulley system and my snow anchors. But that's what a course is for right?

Anyways thanks again everyone! 

Alex: In ADDITION to what you have red here, REI has some basic courses. Also, meetup groups or climbing gyms can get you together with experienced climbers. Just be patient and don't buy everything a person tells you. Take the time to determine if they are what they say they are regarding experience and certifications. It is a great place to meet people who can help you meet other people.  Welcome to Trail Space.

I know the conventional logic says to fork out a ton of bread for a class from a professional BUT you can do okay (minus glacier travel and crevasse rescue) by doing a lot of easy summits (non-technical) and talking to the people you meet there. 

Once in a while, if you listen around, you can get a line on some training on the cheap or free.  My kids and I were watching a class of paid clients learning the basics of self-arrest and, because he thought my kids were cool the instructor invited my clones and I to participate in the group (free pro training!).  I met a Boealps instructor on a minor peak and the info he was able to provide was very valuable.  A good mountaineering forum is cascadeclimbers.  Sometimes people hook up there and some are willing to teach a little. 



Well, I got a line on mountain ops training through my job with the army so that will most likely be my starting point. thanks again everyone for the solid advice

Start small

There are several good guiding companies in NH, but I agree with another poster's experience of tagging along with hikers, asking questions, and trying to get experience and a taste of the whole thing before forking over the dough. I took in the experience first and then did the courses second to make sure I was doing the right thing.

One such company is Synnott Mountain Guides.

consider Newfoundland for some incredible climbing. Both winter and summer. In the latest Climb issue (Brit climbing mag) Thers a piece about the place. Hazel Findlay went crazy down there. I have been there in the winter and it is...unbelivable.


As many of them have already stated, the best way to start would be to train with an experienced mentor or doing a basic mountaineering course.

I started two years back with a basic mountaineering course (AMTL-Part 1)  with American Alpine Institute. Last year in May I did a week long trip in the High Sierra with the University group lead by a highly experienced climber.

Hopefully this year will get to do another mountaineering trip.

Wish you all the best!

October 28, 2020
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