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Getting into Mountaineering

I have been into backpacking and camping for about 10 years now and get out on the trail generally one to two weekends a month. Over the past couple of years I have really gotten into winter backpacking. I like the challenge the cold and harsh weather presents. Last year I made a trip out to Washington state and fell in love with those mountains out there and ever since have had quite a gumption to get back out there and climb them. I have been reading through a bunch of mountaineering books and have been eating up Freedom of the Hills. My problem is, I live in Nashville, TN and there is nowhere around here for me to practice any glacier/snowfield skills. There are very few peaks around here that offer any good scrambling even. I was going to see if anyone could offer me some good advice for a place relatively nearby where one could practice skills. I would love to take some mountaineering classes, but I have not been able to find anywhere around here that offers any of those either. So if anyone knows of a place in the southeast that offers courses let me know. The closest conditions I have been able to get to mountaineering has been in the Smoky Mountains and Roan Highlands in Dec-Feb, but even then there was no necissity for crampons or ice axes despite several feet of snow and temps down to -5 with windchills in the -20s at the worst.

Welcome to Trailspace, Trenary! Are you sure you want to spend time in low temperatures? Your avatar looks awfully uncomfortably cold ;)

I would suggest your best bet is to take a course with one of the guide services that is geared toward training. Since you mention Washington State, try American Alpine Institute in Bellingham, WA. They offer a series of courses from the beginning stages (including how to camp in snow and stay warm, dry, and comfortable) through basic mountaineering, ice climbing, and fairly advanced skills. They (and some of the other guide services) also run trips to Alaska, the Andes, and other places.

But don't discount the Smokies - you can get full-on winter conditions there, as a couple of our members who live in the area will tell you. And don't underestimate a temperature of -5F and windchills of -20F. People have gotten serious frostbite in those conditions and have died of hypothermia in much higher temperatures than that.

Still, your best bet is to go with a guide service in the West or New England, if you want to get the most training and experience under your belt in the shortest time compatible with really learning what you need to know.

Thanks for the input Bill. My main problem right now for spreading out all over the map and picking up experience is money. Those airlines don't want to let me get over to Seattle from Nashville without paying a hefty fee and by the time I do drop the money to get out there I find it hard to justify dropping several hundred more bones on a climbing course that may or may not tell me a lot of stuff I already have learned winter backpacking in the smokies or reading books. What skills do you think are best to learn from an instructor versus being self taught. I am hoping to find a course or instructor on this side of the country that can teach the basics so that next time I do travel out to Washington I will be able to get on some mountains and climb around without having to take lessons there. Or if you could recommend a good beginner climb that I wouldn't really need a guide for that would give me some good experience, maybe somewhere in Colorado as I can get out there for a bit cheaper than WA or even better if there is somewhere within 15 hrs or less driving distance of Nashville I would love to hear about it. I can't wait till money is no longer an issue for these types of trips but for now I am trying to make do and get as much experience as I can at the most reasonable price. I am hoping to do a Rainier trip next summer, I have a few friends who have some experience out that way who are going to do it with me, but I would like to have a little under my own belt before I attempt that.

Just got back from Colorado. Climbed the keyhole route of Longs Peak. Switched to mild winter conditions while we were up there with some ice and snow. Had a blast. Ran into Mike Caldwell, Tommy's dad, as he was taking a group to the top.

Anyone know how the exposure on the keyhole route (since it was pretty minimal) compares to that of any of the Muir routes on Rainier, or routes on Baker and Adams? (Obviously there is no crevasse danger on Longs).



The "dog" routes on Rainier, Baker, and Adams don't really have much exposure, nor does the Keyhole on Long's. But Rainier, Baker, and Adams are on snow and ice the whole way, so if you slip and don't self-arrest, you will go a looonnnngggg way at a very fast speed, until dropping into a crevasse with a sudden stop. On the Keyhole, you won't go very far, but you will get hard bumps.

I suppose some people consider all 4 to have a lot of exposure, and it is true you could fall a long way. But the "dog" routes are called that because you can (and people have) take a dog up and down those routes. Last time I was on my way down from Long's via the Keyhole, there was a guy clinging desperately to a boulder (on the uphill side), too terrified to move, within the first hundred feet of the uphill side of the Keyhole. Most everyone else was just strolling by, since that section is almost a trail. It took a lot of talking and standing there hopping up and down to convince him to retreat to the Keyhole. Some people get really bothered by a little steepness and some of us aren't bothered by a lot of steepness - go figure.

Main thing though is that the big difference is Long's is rock, mostly talus on that route, and Rainier, Baker, and Adams are snow and ice, with crevasses spanned by snow bridges that can collapse, even though they look sturdy ("well, three people walked across before me, so I don't understand why it collapsed." - It happens).

Thanks for the input Bill. I at least got some good altitude experience and definitely deepened my addiction to high places. From 500 ft here in Nashville to the top of Longs in less than 30 hours definitely got our crew feeling a little funky.

I saw in another post of yours that your profile pic is from Antarctica. I am looking forward to reading your trip report if I can find it.

Thanks for sharing. That seemed like quite an adventure. I would love to be able to visit Antarctica one day. Bummer about the camera malfunctions . . . that is always the worst. But you still got some awesome photos. That is interesting about how it does not receive much actual snowfall. Do you happen to know the explanation behind this?

Welcome to trail space and to the alpine world!After reading your posts on alpine climbing i can only say that books can not point out what you are doing wrong nor can they share years of personel experiance.If you can not afford to pay for a mountaineering course thaen maybe a local climbing club to tie in with those who have gone before.I live in Portland Oregon,have climbed Mt Hood 38 times via a wide variety of routes,and have seen many deaths over the years on the peaks here do to lack of experiance.Winter backpacking and alpine mountaineering are two different beasts.Please treat them as such.

November 28, 2020
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