Step #4: Rock Climbing (optional)
Rock climbing is not at all a requisite for alpinism, but it can provide some additional skills. Rope management, basic knots, some anchors, belaying and general rope work are skills you will learn rock climbing that will also come into play during your forays above tree line.
Step #5: Take a Course
Many guide services offer basic alpine courses that will add a great deal to your expanding knowledge base. From weekend trips that culminate with a one-day push up a moderate alpine route to week-long trips on Rainier or other classic peaks, these courses will equip you with basic mountaineering skills such as self-arrest, glacier travel, snow anchors, working as a roped team, and hopefully crevasse rescue.
Feel free to study up beforehand by reading classic mountaineering texts and come to the course with your brain like a sponge; ready to soak up every tidbit of knowledge.
A few additional points about guide services:
- Make sure your guide is accredited by the American Mountain Guides Association to ensure that he or she truly knows their stuff.
- Rather than renting your mountaineering gear, consider making the investment in buying it. And note that many guide services are sponsored by manufacturers so, rather than blindly going with their recommendations be sure to talk to knowledgeable climbers, friends and customer service people so that you can get what is truly best for you.
- Finally, don't forget to tip your guides.
Step #6: Clubs
A lower cost alternative to taking a guided course is to join a regional club. If you are fortunate to live near groups like the Mazamas, Colorado Mountain Club, the Appalachian Mountain Club, or a host of other regional groups, they often offer an array of instructional trips and classes.
Keep in mind these courses are usually taught by other club members, not professional, accredited guides. Thus, their instructors could potentially have dubious experience, teaching skills, and/or emergency training. The cost savings are significant, but so is the difference in quality.
Step #7: Venture Forth...Cautiously
Now that you have built a basic foundation of knowledge and skills, you must gauge your confidence and decide on your next move. If you feel ready for an unguided trip, consider a single-day, easy, and accessible alpine route, with more experienced partners. Do your homework first by reading guide books, talking to local climbers, and consulting land managers.
If you are not yet that confident, then by all means take an advanced class, read more books, and continue to broaden your burgeoning list of skills, knowledge and gear.
Step #8: Come Back
It just wouldn't be a climbing article if we failed to include a ubiquitous disclaimer about the dangers of climbing. But while such disclaimers might seem trite, they are also true: the summit is optional, the return is not.
Weather you are a professional climber-athlete or a total novice, the objectives will differ but the goals always remain the same: have fun, learn, experience, challenge yourself, do it all safely, and come back...so you can do it again.
Chris Chesak is the former Development Director of both The American Alpine Club and American Hiking Society. He is a nonprofit development consultant and writer who lives (and climbs when he can) in Idaho.