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Winter learning

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Re: Winter learning

Postby Dave B » Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:07 am

If you're new to winter climbing and camping a Denali prep course or something similar to the HAMS class the CMC offers would be too much in my opinion.

Basic winter travel requires skills in:

1. Snow travel (including self arrest and some crampon technique)
2. Avalanche awareness
3. Proper gear and use (including emergency bivy)
4. Navigation
5. Rational decision making

...and HAMS or a Denali prep courses will assume you already posses these skills.

I haven't taken the BMS class but something along those lines will educate you on basic ice axe technique and snow travel. At a bare minimum an avy awareness class or cover to cover reads of Snow Sense (or the like) and then maybe some instruction on winter camping and a general education of navigation. I think many here would insist on an AVY I class before winter travel in the backcountry, but some basic knowledge of how to avoid avy prone slopes (including traveling below them) and numerous resources of avy safe routes will allow for some winter excursions.

Of course nothing beats real world experience and with all types of climbing the best way to get this is to climb with people who are more experienced than yourself.
"There is no cheating in climbing, only lying." - Semi-Rad

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Re: Winter learning

Postby HuskyRunner » Tue Sep 11, 2012 9:11 am

Dave B wrote:Basic winter travel requires skills in:

1. Snow travel (including self arrest and some crampon technique)
2. Avalanche awareness
3. Proper gear and use (including emergency bivy)
4. Navigation
5. Rational decision making


Excellent advice!

If you intend to only climb in CO you can skip the crevasse stuff, if you plan on climbing glaciated peaks then still hone the rest of your skills and then work on glacier skills.

We took CMS's avi 1 class with Eli Helmuth, terrific class, great instructor and guide. I really liked the weekend class as you got plenty of time to work on skills in the field, I really feel that practicing what you learn in class/text while under the tutelage of an expert is the best way to learn and given the risk factor in the Rockies you really need to know this stuff if you're heading out in the winter.

The snow skills you really need to practice as well. Spend a good bit of time practicing arresting a fall, do it forward, backward, head first, feet first, weak side, strong side, and practice a lot. You want to have this stuff down so you go into arrest position immediately, if you can't you might as well leave the axe behind as you're just as likely to hurt yourself with it. Practice snow anchors and belaying on snow as well, if you get into a situation that requires these skills you need to know how much you can trust a snow anchor and how to effectively employ a dynamic belay. Twenty years ago I took an American Alpine Institute week long mountaineering class on Mt. Baker and you cover all this stuff plus the glacier, crevasse and rope skills, again, no better way to learn it than to practice and employ it the environment you'll need the skills in. It's not the cheapest way to learn but you develop a lot of skills quickly. As somebody mentioned you can practice the rope skills required for crevasse rescue but there's nothing like doing a one-on-one arrest and crevasse rescue where your partner actually jumps into the crevasse and you're required to stop the fall and extract your partner (done under belay). I sure wouldn't want to experience it for the first time under an actual fall, you want it down-pat before you really need to perform in an actual fall. If you want the glacier skills you're much better off getting those on a real glacier and that ain't happening in CO.

Review and practice the other items Dave B listed and don't under estimate the gear, navigation, and good decision making, there is a big difference in walking up a well established trail in summer and navigating a safe route in winter.
"I made up my mind not to care so much about the destination, and simply enjoy the journey." David Archuleta
"And if they get out there they see, son of a bitch, this is a beautiful planet." Jim Whittaker

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Re: Winter learning

Postby I Man » Tue Sep 11, 2012 9:21 am

If you don't want to spend the time or money on classes, there are many, many 14ers that can be done with minimal winter knowledge. I only had basic winter camping skills before last season and just found some knowledgeable friends to get out with. Reading books is also a great way to learn.

I do recommend Avy 1 though and I plan on taking that before this winter. As others have said, if you only plan on climbing in CO then crevasse rescue and glacier travel skills are not necessary.
You can touch the void, just don't fall into it.

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Re: Winter learning

Postby Brian Thomas » Tue Sep 11, 2012 10:59 am

* edit per not relevant to the OP's stated goal of Denali, good luck with that!
Last edited by Brian Thomas on Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:15 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Winter learning

Postby tehchad » Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:07 am

Good input here!
Quick reminder that the goal is Denali or Aconcogua or bigger.

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Re: Winter learning

Postby I Man » Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:09 am

tehchad wrote:Good input here!
Quick reminder that the goal is Denali or Aconcogua or bigger.


Climb Rainier as a prep for Denali.

Multi day "Expedition Style" trips in Colorado will also do a lot to help. Many guidebooks suggest a dozen or so multiday trips to give you an idea of what to expect (melting snow, staying warm and dry, etc..)

I have not climbed Denali
, but many of my friends have - being able to handle living on a glacier for a month is the "crux." You know what they say: "You eat, sleep and s**t your way to the top"
You can touch the void, just don't fall into it.

"I fly a starship across the universe divide....and when I reach the other side...I'll find a place to rest my spirit if I can. Perhaps I may become a Mountain Man again.

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Re: Winter learning

Postby Dave B » Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:24 am

tehchad wrote:Good input here!
Quick reminder that the goal is Denali or Aconcogua or bigger.


Heard, but you gotta walk before you can run, right?

I've not been to Denali, but I've been to Aconcagua. Other than the altitude and two weeks of expedition style camp movement, Aconcagua is a very easy mountain (read: you follow a trail to the top with no real exposure or technical climbing) and requires as few skills as a (quite cold and windy) two week backpacking trip would require.

Anyways, suffering through a couple winter 14ers (especially as multi-day trips in February) will be great tests for how much you might "enjoy" doing Denali. Go take two days to do the east ridge on Mt. Elbert, spend a couple nights just above tree line on Quandary or Bierstadt. Get some experience honing you system, after that start thinking about crevasse rescue, climbing fixed lines and expedition style climbing.

Brian Thomas also has excellent suggestions in that it doesn't have to be a 14er. In fact, when most of the 14ers are total shit-storms in the winter you can find many an enjoyable peak below 13K with relatively nice weather to practice snow skills.
"There is no cheating in climbing, only lying." - Semi-Rad

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Re: Winter learning

Postby tehchad » Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:26 am

I Man wrote:You know what they say: "You eat, sleep and s**t your way to the top"


:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: Yes, I've heard it in different words!

I think the CMC thing (and not CMS) is the biggest thing I've received out of this thread. There's a local meeting on 10.1 and I'll be going. That would be sick to pay $300 for the same knowledge vs over $1000 AND have time to work/practice with it before December AND get some good trips in AND make some mountaineering friends AND AND AND!

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Re: Winter learning

Postby tehchad » Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:32 am

Dave B wrote:Heard, but you gotta walk before you can run, right?

Sure have!

Dave B wrote:I've not been to Denali, but I've been to Aconcagua. Other than the altitude and two weeks of expedition style camp movement, Aconcagua is a very easy mountain (read: you follow a trail to the top with no real exposure or technical climbing) and requires as few skills as a (quite cold and windy) two week backpacking trip would require.

This is actually really encouraging. My uncle did Kili a few years ago and is talking about this mountain with me. He has ZERO tech experience and very little mountain experience other than this and hours in a gym. So, I'm glad to hear this.

Dave B wrote:Anyways, suffering through a couple winter 14ers (especially as multi-day trips in February) will be great tests for how much you might "enjoy" doing Denali. Go take two days to do the east ridge on Mt. Elbert, spend a couple nights just above tree line on Quandary or Bierstadt. Get some experience honing you system, after that start thinking about crevasse rescue, climbing fixed lines and expedition style climbing.

Yes! I spent a long day screwing around on Bierstadt this past winter and it was good. Totally an eye-opening experience.

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Re: Winter learning

Postby DaveSwink » Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:35 am

HuskyRunner wrote:As somebody mentioned you can practice the rope skills required for crevasse rescue but there's nothing like doing a one-on-one arrest and crevasse rescue where your partner actually jumps into the crevasse and you're required to stop the fall and extract your partner (done under belay). I sure wouldn't want to experience it for the first time under an actual fall, you want it down-pat before you really need to perform in an actual fall.


I would not want the OP to get the wrong idea. You're not actually suggesting roping up, putting on crampons, taking an ice axe in your hand, and then jumping into a crevasse for practice? A heavy pack will work as a dummy for practicing team arrest and crevasse rescue (have a backup anchor if practicing dynamic team arrests). The chances of serious injury jumping into a crevasse would be way to high to make any learning experience worthwhile.

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Re: Winter learning

Postby tehchad » Tue Sep 11, 2012 12:01 pm

dswink wrote:
HuskyRunner wrote:As somebody mentioned you can practice the rope skills required for crevasse rescue but there's nothing like doing a one-on-one arrest and crevasse rescue where your partner actually jumps into the crevasse and you're required to stop the fall and extract your partner (done under belay). I sure wouldn't want to experience it for the first time under an actual fall, you want it down-pat before you really need to perform in an actual fall.


I would not want the OP to get the wrong idea. You're not actually suggesting roping up, putting on crampons, taking an ice axe in your hand, and then jumping into a crevasse for practice? A heavy pack will work as a dummy for practicing team arrest and crevasse rescue (have a backup anchor if practicing dynamic team arrests). The chances of serious injury jumping into a crevasse would be way to high to make any learning experience worthwhile.


I taught technical rock climbing for a few years and that seems asinine to me. The pack is an alright idea, but I'd probably watch to see how CMC or CMS or RMI or anyone else who teaches this professionally went about teaching this before "practicing" if you can call it that.

I appreciate your lookin out for perspective dswink!

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Re: Winter learning

Postby DaveSwink » Tue Sep 11, 2012 12:03 pm

I am pretty sure that is what HuskyRunner intended, he was just saying that it was important to feel actual weight over an edge when practicing crevasse rescue.

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