Alpine climbing is an adventurous, challenging, and rewarding multi-disciplinary sport. It differs from traditional rock climbing in that participants climb beyond the treeline of a mountain, where they might have to navigate glaciated terrain.
Consequently, climbers should be properly trained and have experience using an ice ax and boring holes for screws specially designed for alpine climbing. The discipline also often involves hiking long distances with heavy backpacks.
Because of the dangers inherent to alpine climbing, individuals should be properly trained and take several precautionary measures before their first climb. These six tips will help in that regard.
1. Start at a Climbing Gym
Before attempting to scale a mountain, consider testing your climbing capabilities at a climbing gym. Many of these facilities offer classes that teach elementary climbing skills and techniques. Moreover, they are more easily accessible and serve as a safe training ground for you to gain experience and become more comfortable with climbing in general. You might also meet like-minded individuals who are willing to share their climbing knowledge or even take you out on a guided climb.
Once you’ve progressed enough at a climbing gym, consider signing up for a mountaineering course to become more familiar with outdoor climbing. Some gyms offer gym-to-crag instruction programs. Prospective climbers should also complete the Avalanche Skills Training (AST) 1 course for added safety. The AST 1 course touches on topics such as the characteristics and triggers of avalanches, the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale, companion rescue, and route selection.
2. Hire a Guide
Even with the proper training and extensive indoor climbing experience, it’s prudent to hire a guide for your first attempt at alpine climbing. Techniques often change and experienced guides can help you become familiar with any alterations. They will also have a good understanding of which routes are the most suitable for your skill level.
The majority of the best alpine climbing locations in the US are found on the West Coast. Companies like Alpenglow Expeditions, Timberline Mountain Guides, Exum Mountain Guides, and Chicks Climbing and Skiing all offer climbing clinics. The latter company delivers programming specifically for women.
3. Choose the Right Climbing Partner
You might feel confident enough in your abilities after traversing a mountain with an experienced guide, but you should still never climb alone. Adverse weather and other conditions along the route can present challenges that might be difficult to overcome by yourself.
Bringing along at least one partner ensures you will have support overcoming obstacles such as slippery slopes, loose ledges, and shattered ridges. Your climbing partner should be someone you trust and with whom you can easily communicate.
4. Plan and Manage Time Accordingly
Alpine climbing is generally an all-day or multi-day activity, so proper planning is a critical element of ensuring a safe and enjoyable adventure. Guidebooks list designated routes on mountains, but these may change over the years. Check online or ask fellow climbers about updates or changes to specific routes.
Once you know the route, consider its length, number of pitches, and grade, among other factors, to estimate how long the climb might take. You should also be aware of sunrise and sunset times in the area so as to not get caught in the dark.
On average, hiking with a full backpack should take about 30 minutes per mile. Add 30 minutes per 1,000 feet of elevation gain. This should give you a good idea of how high you should climb and when you should turn back.
5. Bring the Right Equipment
While it might seem like a good idea to avoid bringing certain items so that your backpack isn’t as heavy, this isn’t a smart approach for beginners. Do the necessary research and make a list of the equipment you’ll need and then gather those items and check them off the list before putting them in your backpack. The last thing you want is to realize you’ve forgotten an ice ax after starting your journey up the mountain.
Beyond wearing appropriate gear—waterproof jacket, mountain trousers, warm insulated gloves, mountaineering boots, and a climbing helmet—consider packing your back with the following: water container, sunscreen, lip cream, crampons with antiball plates, a pair of prussik loops, first aid kit, and a 70-meter rope.
You should also use a printed topographical map as opposed to relying on a phone or GPS to show you the way up the mountain. Your phone could die quickly in cold temperatures and a GPS device won’t give insight into the belay on certain segments of the mountain.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Quit
You should always be aware of your surroundings when climbing and take into account changing weather conditions. If it looks like a storm might be on its way, don’t be afraid to bail and trek back down the mountain. Do the same if you feel uneasy or lack confidence at any point along the climb. It is not worth endangering your safety, and you can always try again on another trip.