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Recommended Experience

Hi all -

Just a question about recommended experience.

I have bagged several peaks in the White Mountains of NH and some including Mt Katahdin in Maine. I have done a ton of hiking, backpacking, camping, and some of that has been in the winter. I have done a mixed alpine climb on a 2000 ft slope that was cut out by a glacier - this climb included a little bit of ice technique, snow slopes between 30 and 70 degrees, and some rope management. I have a little experience with crampons and a mountaineering axe, and have had self arrest training.

The plan this winter is to continue doing what I have done and to do a full winter assault on Washington and other peaks. I will continue lots of climbing and hiking in the Whites because it is easily accessible to me, but I'm wondering what my next step up should be. I don't want to try and tackle something beyond my capabilities, as I am looking to be safe and responsible, within my skill set.

I know Alicia lives in the New England area, so maybe having hiked in the Whites, but having bigger experience on Rainier, you'd be able to tell me what you think.

Anyone else with big mountain experience, chime in as well.

Actually if your training mainly pertains to self arrests, climbing anything nearing 70 degrees is beyond your skill level. Before you take it to the next level, get some schooling.

Take some snow safety courses. You are more likely to get buried alive than severely injured by other means. Slides often originate on slopes you wouldn’t expect to heave. Snow safety will teach you how to access snow pack related risks, suggest how to select the safest route through terrain, and indicate when you should just stay off the mountain altogether.

Take some snow and rock climbing courses. Learn how to properly manage that rope (for example most novices leave too much slack between partners while under way). Learn the various snow and ice belay techniques. Learn the footwork skills of negotiating steep snow and ice. Learn rock craft, how to set protection, construct belay stations, etc.

Take some wilderness first aid courses. When climbers get hurt it often is more serious than camping related mishaps.

Take some climbing rescue courses. It is imperative you know how to get injured companions out of harm’s way, and perhaps transport off the mountain, medical circumstances permitting. Self rescue precludes others from exposing themselves to risk, lowers the likelihood further complication may arise, such as exposure, and besides it is one of the basic and honorable traditions of mountaineering.

You may consider acquiring these skill sets in courses, or under the tutelage of a quality guide service. Resorting to guides can also expedite your way into more ambitious ventures, if that is your inclination. It is a great way to lean light and fast alpine style expedition techniques, as well as network with other like minded climbers. You may decide over time that week or month long mountaineering treks are your cup of tea; or be more inclined for big wall challenges; or gratified by challenging sports climbs; or discover that nature herself and companionship are the main attractions, and be a generalist.

Lastly read. Surprisingly the more earnest mountaineers are also scholarly, or at least well read. (Probably has something to do with being stuck in a tent, waiting out a storm.) Read bios of eminent climbers, read about their adventures, and learn the mindset and philosophies of the climbing fraternity’s eminent thinkers. This will foster a mindscape that will add dimensions to your experiences, as well as help you discover what you want out of this pursuit. Ed

A few questions, iClimb.

What peaks have you done in winter around here?

And what was that mixed alpine climb?

There are lots of ways to do Mount Washington in winter. Are you planning to do some ice climbing via one of the gulleys in Huntington or go up via Lions Head or another trail?

Ed has lots of good advice above, especially about instruction. I concur with the wilderness first aid course (I need to redo mine).

I think you've had some instruction already, but even so, there's always more to learn.

I recommend two things off the bat:

1. an avalanche course -- I recommend Marc Chauvin in New Hampshire: (this is really important)

2. more instruction in winter snow/ice travel/climbing. I'm not sure if this is something you've already done, but I recommend hiring a good guide and doing a mountaineering course that includes ice climbing. If you pick a good guide and he/she knows you want to learn, not simply be led, you can pick up a lot of info and they can teach you what you need to know.

Also in New Hampshire, I've gone with Mark Synnott:

Obviously, if you've already done this type of course, above, you'd pick something harder. Or you could talk to the guide about what you've done and what you want to learn next and come up with something custom.

I think your attitude of getting out there and doing it is important, as well as your openness to learning. Guides and courses do cost money, but if you pick the right guide for the right info you can gain a lot during that experience.

I have just a little bit of big mountain experience, but am working on filling in my own gaps of knowledge and experience and will continue learning more too, like taking more in-depth avy courses, more alpine training, etc.

I'll leave you with another question. What do you ultimately want to climb?

Good luck. Keep us posted.

Ed and Alicia provide a lot of good advice. I will add a recommendation for the International Mountain Climbing School, based in North Conway, and their annual Ice Festival (generally February). They usually include a couple choices of optional climbs of Mt Washington, and bring in a number of excellent guide/teachers from all over the world. I attended the Festival a few years ago, when the annual meeting of the American Alpine Club was held in that area just after the Festival and had a great time, including picking up tips to improve my mixed and ice technique.

The Festival, of course, concentrates on the skills side of climbing and does not deal with winter camping skills or avalanche knowledge.

Thanks Ed - those courses sound like some fundamentals that I should get under my belt, I will look into that.

Indeed I have read lots of climbing literature. Ed Viesturs writes many interesting books, and I've read a few others as well.

Alicia -

I have done North and South Kinsman and Cannon in winter, but have done several others during other seasons. This winter will be a lot in terms of learning experiences. My plan, which I'm determined to follow through with, will be to climb several peaks this winter, mostly around the Presidentials, but in the Franconia Ridge area as well.

I have done a mountaineering course with Synnott Mountain Guides - We did the mixed terrain (snow, ice, rock) on Willey's mountain last Feb. I think they do offer more in the way of avalanche training as well, and I'd like to do another course with them.

Eventually I would love to visit the Himalayas. I'm not sure I would ever aspire to attempt Everest, but I'm young and won't rule that out. I certainly would love to shoot for Lobuche in the next several years as I gain experience and knowledge (and as my wallet feels a little heavier).

Bill -I was not aware of that looks awesome! I'll definitely have to check that out this year

Get "Mountaineering: Freedom Of The Hills", "The Avalanche Handbook" and "Medicine For Mountaineering". These 3 are my go to big hill books. Do Avy1, crevasse travel & rescue and mountaineering specific first aid courses.

An important thing to remember is that although similar rules apply to winter snowpack, there are some inherent differences between maritime/oceanic and continental structure and stabilization. I've found huuuge differences between the snowpack in New Zealand's south island (maritime) and those in say the Karakoram or Pir Panjal ranges (continental).

So I'd work out where you want to spend most of your time and do courses locally with people that know the nuances of the areas you'll be traveling in.

November 28, 2020
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