Intro to Glacier Mountaineering Course (4 days)
This 4 day introductory course takes place on Mt. Baker, covering fundamental glacier mountaineering skills and attempting a summit ascent via the Easton Glacier.
Our first day we’ll establish a base camp between 6,000′ and 7,000′ with access to steep slopes and glaciated terrain. Getting to our camp takes 3-4 hours, and the learning begins right out of the gate with packing, climbing efficiency, and Leave No Trace. Throughout the first two days, our goal will be to cover all of the essential skills for a summit attempt, including knots and hitches, ice axe arrest, cramponing, and roped travel. Additional skills added in will include belaying and rappelling, snow anchors, and navigation.
On day 3 or 4, we’ll wake up with an “alpine start” and go for the top. If all goes well, we’ll summit the highest peak in the North Cascades and the second most glaciated mountain in the Lower 48 United States.
This course is an excellent introduction to mountaineering, offering a solid foundation for further learning and experience.
• Equipment selection
• Packing for a climb
• Mountain camp construction
• Climbing efficiency techniques
• Ice axe arrest
• Roped travel
• Knots & hitches
• Snow anchors
• Navigation and trip planning
This program is offered on a custom basis for private groups and individuals. For more information on custom programs and rates, click here.
DAY 1 – Approach
We meet at 8am at the Park and Forest Information Center in Sedro Woolley, WA for introductions and gear check. From here the drive to the trailhead takes a little over an hour.
The approach ascends through meadows and sub-alpine forests, climbing onto a lateral moraine that parallels the Easton Glacier. Along the way, guides introduce efficiency techniques for snow climbing including scuffing and the rest step. Carrying moderately heavy packs loaded with 4 days of food, our place is slow and efficient. We’ll walk for an hour, take a 10-15 minute break, and repeat the process until we reach our camp.
We’ll place our camp somewhere between 6000′ and 7000′, learning one of the most important skills in the process, “bombproof” camp construction. This includes building snow platforms, and anchoring our tents securely from all angles.
In the late afternoon we’ll cover knots & hitches, cook dinner, and relax for the evening.
DAY 2 – Skills Training & Preparations
Using the terrain around our camp, we’ll spend the day practicing fundamental mountaineering skills. To start off, we’ll expand our snow climbing techniques, introducing the ice axe into the equation. Throughout the day we’ll build skill upon skill, emphasizing a progression of techniques that are all designed to work together. We’ll cover ice arrest, including team arrest and self arrest, cramponing, and basic avalanche rescue.
In the afternoon we’ll dive into roped travel, including ‘glacier travel mode’, short-roping, and running belays. In the late afternoon we’ll wrap up our training session as we prepare for our summit climb the following morning. After an early dinner, we’ll head for bed while it’s still light out in order to maximize our rest for the big day to come.
DAY 3 – Climb
With a pre-dawn alpine start we begin our summit day. From camp we traverse onto the Easton Glacier, ascending steadily upward, weaving around crevasses. The route aims towards the Sherman Peak and the base of the upper Roman Wall.
The final 800′ is the steepest, following the western side of Sherman Crater to the summit plateau and Grant Peak, 10,781′! On top we take in the spectacular views of the surrounding North Cascades, the Olympic Mountains to the southwest, Glacier Peak and Mt. Rainier to the south, and Baker’s always impressive neighbor, Mt. Shuksan. Depending on weather conditions, we spend an hour or so on top before we make our descent back to camp.
In the late afternoon/early evening, we discuss navigation including map, compass, and GPS methods.
DAY 4 – Anchors, Navigation, and Walk Out
The morning of our fourth day is spent learning about snow anchors and anchor equalization, testing our anchors to failure and understanding the mechanics of snow.
After lunch we pack up our camp and begin the descent back to the trailhead. The program wraps up with a celebratory meal in Sedro Woolley.
PACKS & BAGS
☐ Backpack: 50-75 liter internal frame pack.
☐ Sleeping bag: Rated between 0° and 20°, down or synthetic. Keep in mind that manufacturer’s temperature ratings are subjective and serve as guidelines.
☐ 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
☐ (1) Locking carabiners: Pear shaped recommended (ex: Petzl Attache or Attache 3D).
☐ (1) Non-locking carabiners: Wire gate recommended (ex: Petzl Ange S or Ange L).
☐ Climbing helmet: Needs to be climbing specific (ex: Petzl Elios or Meteor III +). RENT
☐ Transceiver: Digital recommended. May not be required for later season climbs (ex: BCA Tracker 2). 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 Nepal Evo GTX)
☐ 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
- 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 10 hours.
- You should be able to ascend 3000′ in a day carrying 45+lbs on your back, and 5000′ in a day carrying 25 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 course, and the better your chances of getting to the top.
- Guiding and instruction
- 3:1 ratio (4:1 max)
- Group equipment including tents, stoves, fuel, ropes
- Permit costs
- Lodging and transportation before and after the trip.
- Personal equipment and food*
*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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