Alpine Mountaineering Course (5 days)
On this 5-day intensive course we’ll use the Sulphide Glacier on Mt. Shuksan as our classroom, one of the best training grounds in the Northwest, as we focus on the skills required to climb safely and efficiently in alpine terrain.
The course begins with fundamental mountaineering skills and progresses into more advanced topics such as anchor construction, crevasse rescue systems, and ice climbing technique.
During our 5 days, we’ll attempt a summit ascent of Mt. Shuksan with participants taking an active leadership role – an excellent opportunity to put theory into the practice.
• Equipment selection
• Packing for a climb
• Mountain camp construction
• Basic mountaineering skills: efficiency techniques, ice axe arrest, cramponing & roped travel
• Knots & hitches
• Snow and ice anchors
• Rigging for glacier travel
• Crevasse rescue systems
• Steep snow and ice climbing technique
• Navigation and trip planning
We meet at 8am at the Park and Forest Information Center in Sedro Woolley, WA for introductions and pre-trip orientation.
Our gear check is thorough to ensure we’re set up well for 5 days on the mountain. After securing our permits we drive up to the Shannon Ridge Trailhead where the approach to our base camp begins.
The approach ascends through old growth forest, sub-alpine transitional zones, and up onto moraines where we’ll place our camp next to or on the Sulphide Glacier. We’ll be carrying 50-60lb packs and climbing efficiency will be our goal.
A skill that’s critical to mountaineering is camp construction, ensuring our tents are well placed relative to wind and securely anchored.
In the late afternoon we have a knots & hitches session, after which we cook dinner and relax for the evening.
DAY 2 – Skills Training
We start off the day with fundamental techniques: ice axe arrest, cramponing, steep snow climbing, roped travel, running belays, and basic avalanche rescue.
We spend the afternoon on climbing anchors, learning optimal placements for single point snow and ice anchors including pickets in their vertical and horizontal (T-slot) orientations, ice screws, and V-threads (Abalakovs). We build and test each anchor (to failure when possible) to understand the strengths and limitations of each method. We also discuss multi-point anchor equalization, vector angles, and force multiplication.
In the evening we get into navigation, map and compass skills, and GPS, after which participants are assigned a route plan to prepare for the upcoming climb.
DAY 3 – Crevasse Rescue
We start the day with a lesson on rigging for glacier travel – How do we set up the rope? How much distance between climbers? How much gear do we carry and where do we carry it?
Then we head out for a walk on the Sulphide Glacier and look for a good crevasse for crevasse rescue practice. Crevasse rescue brings together many of our skill sets into one, often demanding exercise, including roped travel, ice axe arrest, knots & hitches, anchor construction, and rope management.
Participants will have the opportunity to experience three key elements of a crevasse fall: Arresting the fall, building the hauling system, and being the victim. We cover surface hauls as well as drop-loop systems up to 6:1 mechanical advantage.
Sometime around mid-afternoon we head back to camp for a discussion of the climb ahead, to make preparations, and work on our route plans. We eat dinner and head for bed on the early side in anticipation of an early wake up.
DAY 4 – Climb
With a pre-dawn alpine start we begin our summit day. From camp we ascend rolling terrain on the Sulphide to a point where the route traverses under the upper glacier. From here we climb steadily, weaving our way through crevasses, aiming towards the climber’s right side of the summit pyramid.
Once at the base of the summit pyramid, we transition from glacier travel mode to short-roping/short-pitching mode, ascending steep snow and moderate rock. There are a couple variations here – the central gully, and the Southeast Ridge. Which one we choose will depend on route conditions. Our steep ascent of the summit pyramid brings us to one of the most impressive summits in the Cascades!
After spending some time on top, taking it all in and enjoying the views, we begin our descent. Descending the summit pyramid we use a combination of belayed down-climbing and rappelling, until we’re back at our transition spot on the glacier. From here it’s a downhill cruise to camp.
During the climb participants will have opportunities to lead the group, practicing skills such as route finding, pacing, and time management.
Once back at camp we relax for the afternoon having spent 8-10 hours on our feet. After dinner we discuss considerations for expedition mountaineering including fixed-line travel and high altitude climbing.
DAY 5 – Ice Climbing & Walk Out
We start the day with another walk on the Sulphide Glacier, this time seeking steep ice to climb. There are many excellent terrain features in this area including crevasses, seracs, and ice walls.
After a few laps of climbing we head back to camp and pack up for the descent. The walk down to the trailhead takes another 2-3 hours. We wrap up the program with a celebratory meal on the drive out and course debrief.
PACKS & BAGS
☐ Backpack: 50-75 liter internal frame pack (ex: CiloGear 60L WorkSack or Black Diamond Mission 75).
☐ Sleeping bag: Rated between 0° and 20°, down or synthetic. RENT
☐ Compression stuff sack: Sized appropriately to your bag.
☐ (1-2) Sleeping pads: We recommend bringing one closed cell foam pad, and one inflatable pad. One of your pads can be a 3/4 length and the other a full length (ex: REI Blue Foam pad & ¾ length Thermarest Prolite).
☐ Ice axe: 60-70cm mountaineering axe (ex: Petzl Snowalker, Summit, or Sum’Tec). No leash is required. RENT
☐ Crampons: 10 or 12 point steel mountaineering crampon. Avoid waterfall ice crampons with fully rigid frames and vertical front points, as well as older crampons with leather straps. Make sure that your crampons are compatible with your boots (ex: Petzl Irvis or Vasak). RENT
☐ Harness: Alpine harness with adjustable leg loops (ex: Petzl Adjama). For safety reasons, your harness needs to be less than 10 years old and in good condition. Be sure to check the fit of your harness. RENT
☐ (3) Locking carabiners: Pear shaped recommended (ex: Petzl Attache or Attache 3D).
☐ (4) Non-locking carabiners: Wire gate recommended (ex: Petzl Ange S or Ange L).
☐ 24′ of 6mm nylon cord
☐ 15′ of 7mm nylon cord
☐ Belay device (optional): Preferably with autoblocking functionality (ex: Petzl Reverso 4).
☐ Climbing helmet: Needs to be climbing specific (ex: Petzl Elios or Meteor III +). RENT
☐ Transceiver: Modern, single frequency [457 khz] transceiver, preferably less than five years old. A digital 3-antennae model is highly recommended (ex: BCA Tracker 2, Mammut Pulse Barryvox, Peips DSP). RENT
☐ Poles: Ski poles or trekking poles with powder baskets (ex: Black Diamond Traverse). RENT
☐ Mountaineering boots: Boots must be specifically designed for mountaineering (ex: La Sportiva Trango S Evo GTX – Men’s | Women’s).
☐ Gaiters: Provide a clean interface between our pants, boots, and crampons (ex: OR Flex-tex).
☐ Socks: 2-3 pairs (wool or synthetic) that work well with your boots. Keep in mind that warmth comes from good circulation, not necessarily heavy socks. Insulation comes from your boots. If your boots are roomy choose a heavier sock, if they’re more of a snug fit choose a lighter sock.
☐ Sunglasses: Glacier glasses or dark tinted wrap-arounds, should have full UV protection. Consider bringing an extra pair (ex: Julbo Dolgan). RENT
☐ Goggles: Preferably with low light lenses (amber or rose) and UV protection (ex: Julbo Around Excel or Down).
☐ Warm hat: Fleece, wool or synthetic.
☐ Sun hat: Baseball cap, visor, etc.
☐ Face protection: Buff® recommended.
There are many layering combinations for your upper body that will work well. Use the following recommendations as guidelines:
☐ Baselayer top: Light to medium weight synthetic fabric (ex: First Ascent Midweight 1/4-Zip Baselayer or First Ascent Solarfoil Hoodie).
☐ (1-2) Insulating layers: Fleece, softshell or synthetic/down. Two lighter layers are more versatile than one heavy layer (ex: First Ascent Sandstone Hoodie, Hangfire Hoodie, or Accelerant Jacket).
☐ Hardshell jacket with hood: Lightweight and waterproof (ex: First Ascent BC-200 Jacket).
☐ Synthetic or down insulated jacket: Synthetic or down (ex: First Ascent Ignitor Jacket).
☐ Baselayer bottoms (optional) (ex: First Ascent Midweight Baselayer Pants)
☐ Softshell climbing pants: Lightweight, breathable synthetic fabric. Zip-off trekking pants also work (ex: First Ascent Guide Pants or Mountain Guide Lite Pants).
☐ Hardshell pants: For adverse weather. These must have full side zips (ex: First Ascent Rainier Storm Shell Pants).
☐ (2) Heavy trash bags: Cheap lightweight waterproof lining for your backpack.
☐ Sunscreen: SPF 30 or greater, avoid spray on (ex: Doc Martin’s of Maui).
☐ Lip balm: With SPF protection.
☐ Water bottles(s) or hydration system: Should have a screw top (no bike bottles); hydration system should have an insulated tube.
☐ Water purification tablets: Small bottle of Iodine tablets or similar (ex: Potable Aqua). Avoid chlorine dioxide tablets as they are light sensitive and require 4 hours purification time.
☐ Thermos (optional): Half-liter size recommended.
☐ Compact camera
☐ Extra batteries: For your transceiver (usually AAA), headlamp, camera, etc.
☐ Headlamp: LED headlamp recommended (ex: Petzl Tikka XP2 or Tikka Plus). RENT
☐ See Details.
☐ Insulated mug
☐ (2) Spoons or sporks
PERSONAL FIRST AID/TOILETRIES
Guides will carry a well-equipped group first aid kit.
☐ Personal toiletry kit: Toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper and/or baby wipes, gender specific items, small bottle of hand sanitizer.
☐ Personal first aid kit: Band-Aids, blister repair, anti-diarrheal (Immodium), antacid, ibuprofen or aspirin, as well as any personal prescription medications (be sure to discuss these with us).
☐ Ear plugs
☐ Chemical hand warmers
☐ Book (lightweight)
☐ Journal w/pencil
- This program includes a skills training component.
- No previous mountaineering experience is required.
- Previous hiking and/or backpacking experience is recommended.
- Excellent physical fitness is required for this program.
- You should be able to hike/climb for 1-2 hours at a stretch taking 10 minute breaks, for up to 12 hours.
- You should be able to ascend 3000′ in a day carrying 50+lbs on your back, and 5000′ in a day carrying 30 lbs on your back.
- Physical conditioning should not be underestimated – mountaineering is a strenuous activity. Some sort of training/exercise regimen is strongly recommended.
- The better shape you’re in, the more you’ll enjoy the climb, and the better your chances of making it to the top.
- Guiding and instruction
- 3:1 ratio
- Group equipment: tents, stoves, fuel, ropes
- Permit costs
- Lodging & transportation on either end of the program
- Personal food* and equipment
*provided for an additional fee.
Lunch Food: In the mountains, “lunch starts after breakfast and ends before dinner”. In other words, on a given day we generally won’t stop for a formal lunch break, and instead we’ll snack all day long. This is vital to maintaining high energy levels in this environment.
Be sure to bring foods that you like and emphasize variety. Energy bars and gels are great but in limited amounts – real food works just as well and tastes better.
Breakfasts & Dinners: Bring meals that can be cooked with just boiling water. Examples include freeze-dried pouches (Mountain House, Backpackers Pantry), ramen noodles, instant oatmeal, etc. The stoves we’ll use are very efficient for heating water but terrible for actually cooking anything.
WHERE TO MEET
Park and Forest Information Center in Sedro Woolley, WA. On the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) approximately 5 miles east of I-5.
From Seattle: 1.5 hrs
From Bellingham: 45 min
Fly in to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. If you intend to fly out on the last day of the program, be sure to schedule an evening flight departing no earlier than 8pm.
Renting a car in Sea-Tac tends to be the easiest option for ground transportation. Let us know if you’re interested in carpooling with other participants on the program and we might be able to help with arrangements.
We recommend staying in Mount Vernon, WA for this program. Options for accommodations and food are plentiful and it’s about 20 minutes drive to Sedro Woolley, WA where we’ll meet on the first day.
We strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance for your program. Note that many plans require you purchase insurance within 21 days of your initial deposit.
- Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher by Mark Houston & Kathy Cosley
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