Alpine climbing combines all climbing types and tangles them up with long approaches, bigger hazards, more committing circumstances and camping (on a mountain).
It doesn’t take long to know if alpine climbing is for you. By the time you finish your first run-out pitch, have to deal with ice in a crack, get snowed on or experience an open bivy, you’ll know.
It’s recommended that before you head into the alpine, you get professional training. Hiring a guide to learnt the ropes is a great idea.
Below are 10 tips for newbie alpinists hoping to scale those lofty Canadian peaks.
1. Find the right partner: Alpine climbing is as much about partnership as it is about your sending skills.
You need to climb with someone you trust, who has the same goal, who will share leads and who won’t complain when you run out of food. Like any healthy relationship, communication is the most important part.
2. Start small: To fine tune the skills you need in the alpine, start small and on a route well below your comfort level.
If you climb 5.12 and have good cardio fitness, then start on a grade II 5.5. When you factor in the approach, descent and route finding, that “low” grade can pack a punch.
Most alpine climbs include some glacier travel, so select routes with low-angle and uncomplicated terrain to start. Stay roped up on the glacier.
3. Research and plan: Don’t just pick a route in a guidebook and head out. Many alpine routes change over the years.
As glaciers melt, approaches and key section of the climb might have changed since the guidebook was published.
Check online and ask around for any updated information. You’d be surprised how many alpine climbs require using a a forestry service road (FSR), which may or may not be open. Have a plan B and C, which might be a cragging day or less committing multi-pitch.
4. Don’t think light and fast: Over the past few years, the light-and-fast style has trickled down from the top climbers using it to bag big one-day climbs to amateur climbers who like how it sounds.
Bring everything you need and if you start on a route below your comfort level then you won’t have to rush. As you get more comfortable then you can think about shedding gear and moving quicker.
5. Print a topo, use the topo: No one ever regrets bringing a printed topo. While many climbers now use phones to show them the way, having a printed topo as a backup can save your day.
Alpine climbs are complicated and route finding can be difficult. You don’t want to be wondering where the rappel station is on the top of a mountain when you’re phone dies.
6. Be prepared to walk away: Being keen is what got you to the base of an alpine route, but being smart will up the chance you’ll climb another day.
Weather, routes conditions and psych are three of the biggest factors that stop your climb before it starts.
More than one top alpinist has approached for hours only to turn around and walk back to the car for one reason or another. Go with your gut feeling and listen to your partner.
7. Don’t solo: Over the past year, dozens of climbers have died in the alpine because they were soloing. If you’re new to alpine climbing, go with a partner and stay roped up.
Loose ledges, shattered ridges, slippery slopes can all send you flying. Stay clipped in to each other and the mountain. All of the great solo climbers spent years perfecting their skills before ditching the rope.
8. Understand systems: Alpine terrain is complicated. Unlike the crag where the routes are clean, chalk marks the way and beefy chains let you rappel with ease, the alpine often feels untouched. You’ll be clipping rusty pitons, backing up old fixed gear and using often-manky rappel anchors to get down.
You need to know how to equalize a three- to five-point anchor made of marginal placements. You need to know when to extend protection and how to protect a second on a traverse.
9. Bring a hammer: It’s 2017, but you might find yourself clipping into a piton from 1970.
Hopefully you’ve selected updated alpine climbs for your first few days out, but if you do come across a piton you want to make sure it’s in the rock solid. Many pitons can wiggle out due to freeze/thaw.
10. Manage your time: Tip number 10 could easily be “have fun” but managing your time is more important.
Factor in the fact that you’re approach will take longer than you think and the descent never goes as planned. On the route, don’t stop to have long lunch breaks.
Always be moving or managing your equipment. You and your partner need to be a well oiled machine of efficiency. And don’t forget to have fun.