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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 HuskyRunner » Tue Sep 11, 2012 12:23 pm

dswink wrote: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.



Quite correct. Part of the practice was being lowered into a crevasse, ditching your pack and using Texas prusiks to start climbing out while another person set up either 3 to 1 or 5 to 1 systems to pull the person out. Once you're in a crevasse it's eye opening how quickly you get cold, even 15 minutes on a nice day you get pretty cold. The other part was arresting a heavy pack that was thrown into the crevasse. I was just really attempting to express that you want practice the skills in a realistic type setting, obviously while still being safe; it's surprising how much harder it is to remember all the steps involved even in a controlled setting, imagine yourself under the stress of having to perform during an actual crevasse rescue. You can practice most of this in CO but there are nuances you won't experience until you're on a glaciated mountain.

BTW, none of the arrest nor crevasse practice was with crampons on and they were quite explicit as to why, take a look at any year of Accidents in North American Mountaineering and see how many shattered ankles and legs happen while wearing crampons. I have never fallen while wearing crampons but every trip I wonder if I will be aware enough to remember to dig in my knees instead of my feet when it happens?
"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 mtnkub » Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:41 pm

HuskyRunner wrote:
dswink wrote:BTW, none of the arrest nor crevasse practice was with crampons on and they were quite explicit as to why, take a look at any year of Accidents in North American Mountaineering and see how many shattered ankles and legs happen while wearing crampons. I have never fallen while wearing crampons but every trip I wonder if I will be aware enough to remember to dig in my knees instead of my feet when it happens?

I've seen my buddy take a 600 ft slide down the Taylor glacier (Rocky Mtn National Park) with crampons and ice axes. Still don't know how he managed to ditch the axes and keep his feet up all the way (after the self arrest didn't hold and him taking some air on the way). Scariest thing I remember, but he walked out with just a couple of bruises...

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Re: Winter learning

Postby Kevo » Wed Sep 12, 2012 10:32 am

I think one of the best ways to learn crampon/axe technique is to climb snow in the spring. You need to know enough to avoid wet slides, but it can be done pretty safely.

Dead Dog is pretty steep to start, but something like the standard route on Sneffels is easier with good consolidated snow IMHO. Sneffels was one of my first snow 14ers, done in early June after a snowy year.

As far as other winter skills, I think it makes sense to start with winter camping. Hike up a trail you know and camp at/above tree line. Don't worry about climbing a 14er at first, just develop the skills you need to spend a night out if you need to. Become competent at cooking/setting up a camp or bivy/melting water/building snow walls and keeping yourself warm.

Quandary is a good bet for a first winter 14er. Don't be afraid to turn around, and make sure you have everything you need to cover your face from windburn. Invest in a good pair of gloves or mitts to keep your hands warm. Have the right traction devices for what you are hiking/climbing.

As you progress, it makes sense to take an Avy 1 class to learn some basics. If you'll be spending a lot of time outside in the winter, do an Avy 2. AIARE has good curriculum.

You don't need crevasse rescue skills in Colorado, but you will if you plan to go to OR, WA, AK, or various international climbing destinations. That can certainly wait IMO.

Winter climbing/camping/hiking is all about systems, planning and preparation. If you misplace a lighter/matches in the summer, its an inconvenience. In the winter, it can mean that you won't have anything to drink until you get down. Know that you always put your lighter in your chest pocket, your knife in this pocket, extra gloves live here in your pack, etc. You'll eventually learn exactly what you need to take for the task at hand.

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Re: Winter learning

Postby runner800m » Wed Sep 12, 2012 12:00 pm

I'm in the same boat as a few of you. I've soloed 18 of my 20 14ers and all of my 13ers (all in the summer), but as I move toward roped stuff and winter stuff I'd like to find a partner or two. I'm taking Basic Rock School at the Boulder CMC currently and plan to take avalanche/winter camping, etc. when they come up.

I'm very ambitious, having transferred my competitiveness and athletic passion from college track to the mountains. It's a frustrating feeling to have the physical capabilities to do so much more but to be limited by a lack of skill, knowledge and experience, but I hope to remedy that over time.

I'm hoping to finish the 14ers in the next 12-22 months, then Rainier/Denali/Killi/a few more.

If anyone is interested in showing me a thing or two this winter, or if you have similar goals and want to find a trusted partner or two, let me know.

Christopher
"A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more. Nobody is going to win a 5,000 meter race after running an easy 2 miles. Not with me. If I lose forcing the pace all the way, well, at least I can live with myself." -- Pre

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Re: Winter learning

Postby captainp » Wed Sep 12, 2012 12:33 pm

I saw this thread and wanted to agree with those advising some basic mountaineering classes, but then get out and use those skills. Practice, practice can't be overemphasized. I have come across many people on high peaks who had extensive training credentials with very little practical experience. It can give people a false sense of security. One other thing, before going to Denali, pick the coldest weather you can here in CO (hopefully minus 30-40 degrees) and go out for a few nights to see if you and your gear are ready for it. As someone who has summited Denali and Mt Logan, believe me when I tell you, the extreme cold can be more challenging than the climb.
Anyway, now that's off my chest, get out there and enjoy! Winter climbing can be the best.

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Re: Winter learning

Postby Dancesatmoonrise » Wed Sep 12, 2012 1:17 pm

tehchad wrote:I've done several, but I am a complete noob when it comes to winter...Those of you who have done any of the above, how did you learn it? ... What are your thoughts?


Some very good responses. I'll add my 2c.

I've done 34 14ers in calendar winter. For my personal situation, I learned by experience. The experience goes back many years - rock climbing for a long time, extensive tele skiing, tele racing, and backcountry sking in many years past, camping and winter camping experience, route-finding, off-trail, bike racing and mountain running, etc, etc. I'm relatively new to 14ers and winter 14ers, only having started this stuff in the past three years. However, the prior experience provided a huge head start.

If you don't have a large backlog of experience, you can start to get it now. Start easier and lower-risk and go up progressively. Prior experience notwithstanding, this stuff is risky; real risky. Get as much didactic learning as you can, and then start with the easy winter 14ers. I understand your goal is outside Colorado, but I think the concept is the same. The list of 14ers ranked by difficulty, on this site, can be very helpful. There will be some differences for winter, but by and large, this is going to be a good place to start. Do the walk-ups. Get a feel for how a winter 14er works. Then look at some of the harder ones. Read FOTH cover to cover. Take risk in progressive doses. You may find that a point comes where what you're biting off is hard to hack in terms of your own personal risk tolerance. I know several having more than half the winter 14ers who have expressed concerns of coming close to the personal risk-tolerance line. You're going to be making calls. The calls get harder as risk increases.

Quotable quote from a friend, many years ago, when we were sitting around the hut on a five-day trip near Hagerman Pass, regarding skiing some fine backcountry lines. "If you skiied it, and it didn't slide, were you right? Or were you lucky?"


Best of luck to you, get out and enjoy, start low and go slow, and keep your head on your shoulders. Most of all, if you love what you're doing, and know clearly the risks that you are taking, you will enjoy a satisfying mountaineering carreer.

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Re: Winter learning

Postby tehchad » Wed Sep 12, 2012 3:23 pm

Some great responses here!

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Re: Winter learning

Postby DaveSwink » Wed Sep 12, 2012 4:51 pm

tehchad wrote:I've done several, but I am a complete noob when it comes to winter, avy, winter camping, cravasse work, et al.



Dancesatmoonrise wrote:If you don't have a large backlog of experience, you can start to get it now. Start easier and lower-risk and go up progressively. Prior experience notwithstanding, this stuff is risky; real risky. Get as much didactic learning as you can, and then start with the easy winter 14ers.

There will be some differences for winter, but by and large, this is going to be a good place to start. Do the walk-ups. Get a feel for how a winter 14er works. Then look at some of the harder ones. Read FOTH cover to cover. Take risk in progressive doses.

Best of luck to you, get out and enjoy, start low and go slow, and keep your head on your shoulders. Most of all, if you love what you're doing, and know clearly the risks that you are taking, you will enjoy a satisfying mountaineering carreer.


IMHO, there has been some good advice offered, but Dancesatmoonrise is offering spot-on guidance for the admitted winter climbing noob. Pick up experience where you are not likely to get hurt in the process. Hike the Boulder OSMP (Green Mountain, Bear Peak) as soon as there is snow on the ground, then go to Wild Basin and Twin Sisters in RMNP. Learn how to hike all day without your hands or feet getting cold, or getting sweated up, or having your water freeze. Figure out how to take everything you need without dragging along a 30 pound pack. See what happens when you hike into a 30 mph wind. Know from practice what it takes to have reliable footing/traction. What about when the wind-blown snow fills in your tracks? Hike when low visibility is a possibility. Camp in your backyard when it is 20 degrees.

Then go into the Class 1/2 14ers. Take an experienced winter climber friend. Work at learning snowshoeing or better, skiing to be able to make decent progress. Anticipate shorter days with more miles that are much harder work. Know that your "summit" rate is going to be lower, maybe much lower. Expect more beauty and more gratification than you can get in to summer 14ers.

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Re: Winter learning

Postby tehchad » Wed Sep 12, 2012 9:51 pm

The big things I've done in winter are the Twin sisters in February and Bierstadt this past year. I think this winter will destroy those! \:D/

Re: Winter learning

Postby Mountain Ninja » Thu Sep 13, 2012 11:01 am

Dex wrote:And be prepared to spend some money.


Lol yeah, (costly) comfort certainly makes a difference when the winter wind is blasting in your face, that much I've learned.
A little pain never hurt anyone.

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Re: Winter learning

Postby nyker » Thu Sep 13, 2012 11:09 am

To answer your original question on "how did you do it"?

After getting a good base in dry (summer hiking and climbing) for several years, I wanted to expand my season into Spring and Fall which meant snow and everything that goes along with it, conditions and skills wise. Also had greater mountains like Rainier, Denali and others on my mind for the future.

Living in NYC was a bit inconvenient to take Avy courses or crevasse rescue courses. The terrain in Central park is not generally prone to avalanche and despite a crack opening up one day on 5th ave, not much crevasse training opportunities here. (There have been two seasons where there was enough snow to break out snowshoes though!). As others mentioned, I bought some of the popular texts on the subject and read them.

This was at a time before I even knew this site existed.

So, the first trip in the Spring I did a two day Winter Mountaineering 101 Course in RMNP with Colorado Mountain School. It was during a snowstorm, which actually helped, oddly. This taugt basic snow travel, ice axe and crampon use, decision making skills, etc.

I climbed a couple easy mountains that year using these skills. The next year I took a similar course at Sierra Mountaineering Inc in Bishop CA, getting a bit more into snow travel, avy understanding, ropeskills, movement on snow etc. That Spring I climbed two snow covered peaks to 13k.

After that I did a few snow climbs by myself and practiced the techniques. Interestingly the first snow climbs I did in Colorado were La Plata and Elbert.

In the next few years, I took some other one or two day courses to keep me sharp and continued to climb in some snow capped peaks in shoulder seasons or winter and was careful not to get in over my head before knowing bailout options and being comfortable with them.

Climbing Rainier with RMI was also like a course, so you'll learn a thing or two there, but I'd advise against going to climb Rainier as the place to learn for the first time, though some do that...

You'll also want to prepare yourself for more suffering (not kidding). Climbing in winter can be brutal and will require more discipline and commitment to do so. It will also require you to buy more gear, usually more expensive gear; boots, jackets, liners, snow gear, etc...

Hope this helps.

Good luck.

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Re: Winter learning

Postby SchralpTheGnar » Thu Sep 13, 2012 12:17 pm

As someone who has done a lot of winter camping, skiing, and ski mountaineering and have been involved in multiple avalanches, the only advice I have is to do the opposite. Kind of like that seinfeld episode where George does the opposite.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RerJWv5vwxc

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