Climbing Advice From An Expert

Chris Nance

Chris Nance is an international mountain climber who currently guides clients on Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica, for Adventure Network International.

After a number of years guiding and climbing new routes in Alaska and the lower 48 states, Chris now focuses on climbing peaks in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. As part of his passion for climbing, Chris adheres to the highest level of environmental protection standards and has also helped establish a children's climbing program in Chile.

Will Kuhlman: For climbers who want to progress from climbing at lower elevations to climbing at higher elevations, what experience do you suggest?
Chris Nance: The progression has changed a lot in the last 10 years. Generally now individuals who want to climb higher elevations start with indoor climbing, learning basic skills from knots to rope systems so they can climb in a vertical world. Then they go one step further each time—going to outside rock then to outside ice climbing and that in turn leads to alpine climbing and eventually to mountaineering.
The great thing about climbing mountains is that certain peaks require certain skills and other ones don't. For example, on snowy peaks, aside from monitoring avalanche conditions, you can just use a set of snow shoes and climb a lot of lower elevation peaks. Once you get into technical peaks or glaciated peaks, that's when rope systems come into play and that's where it's good to have a vertical background.
WK: What are technical peaks?
CN: Technical peaks are ones where it is necessary to use a rope system. And, depending on the quality of snow or ice, on most big mountains you are going to need crampons because eventually you are going to go from snow-covered terrain to ice-covered terrain.
WK: What about Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in California?

CN: I used to guide on that mountain, mostly technical rock climbing. The classic routes are the East Buttress and the East Face; they both go 5.8 and are 11 and 13 pitches, respectively. A pitch is a full rope length, which is 60 meters, or 200 feet, so the East Buttress is 2,200 feet and the East Face is 2,600 feet. 

WK: Do you need a guide on a mountain like Mt. Whitney?

CN: It depends on the route; the Mountaineer's Route has a snow gully or couloir where use of an ice axe to self-arrest would be important; physical fitness is also important as the summit of Mt. Whitney is over 14,000 feet. There is also a hiking trail that takes you to the top of the mountain. 

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