Alpinism 1 - Intro to Mountaineering


  • To make mountain enthusiasts with little or no previous climbing experience capable of gaining safe access to trailless, wilderness alpine areas.
  • To make them proficient in all basic alpine mountaineering skills for rock, snow, and ice.
  • To help them understand and protect the fragile alpine environment. We work hard to instil in participants an appreciation of both specific concepts and specific techniques that will allow them to travel through and climb in alpine areas skillfully, confidently, and without leaving a trace.

Upon completion of the programme, each participant should be qualified as a technically competent rope team member capable of making alpine mountaineering ascents on routes of intermediate difficulty.


This course is intended to serve as an intensive and complete introduction to off-trail alpine travel, and to all of the fundamental alpine mountaineering skills of rock, snow, and ice climbing. The course is presented in the most highly glaciated area in the conterminous forty-eight states and offers exposure to an unusually large variety of landforms and climbing surfaces. Groups are small and individual attention is high, allowing instructors to respond to participants who are progressing at different rates or who want emphasis on different parts of the curriculum.

Climbing Skills:

  • Selection and use of personal equipment
  • Selection and use of ropes, knots and harnesses
  • Selection and use of rock, snow and ice anchors for belays and intermediate protection
  • Belaying techniques on rock, snow and ice
  • Free climbing techniques on low and high angle rock, snow, and ice
  • Principles of glacier travel and route finding
  • Self-arrest; rappelling and prusiking
  • The concept and application of the self-belay
  • Individual and team crevasse rescue techniques

General Knowledge:

  • Leave No Trace travel, camping, and climbing
  • An introduction to alpine ecology
  • Map, compass, altimeter and GPS use: reading, intersection and triangulation
  • Evaluation and prediction of mountain weather patterns
  • Introduction to avalanche hazard evaluation
  • Introduction to first aid and the evacuation of injured climbers


  • Overnight backpacking experience
  • Good physical condition


We meet at American Alpine Institute's headquarters in Bellingham, WA to check gear and take care of any rental equipment needed. We spend several hours on equipment, answering questions, and making sure everyone has what they need to make the week a success.

By mid-morning we head for the climbing, driving south just an hour to Mt. Erie, a coastal crag overlooking northern Puget Sound and the beautiful San Juan Islands in three directions, and looking out to glacier covered Mt. Baker in the other. The rock at Mt. Erie is excellent, and the moderate routes provide a perfect training area for covering all the basics of free climbing, rappelling, anchor placement, and belaying. We practice hand and foot placements and knot tying, and each team member spends substantial time belaying and climbing a variety of short routes. By the end of the day, you should feel confident on mid-fifth class rock, have a clear sense of how ropes and protective systems work, and be able to climb moderate rock with ease.

The next day we make the short drive to Mt. Baker. We drive a Forest Service road to an elevation of 3200 feet, and then make a moderate hike of about five miles through climax fir forest and sub-alpine terrain to the Easton Glacier. Depending on the time of year, the trail can provide views of a remarkable array of wildflowers in the sub-alpine zones. We set up our Base Camp on a lateral moraine of the Easton which gives us easy access to the glacier and views across it to Mt. Baker's summit and impressive nearby peaks. As the week progresses, we cover a complete repertoire of alpine skills, starting with each technique on gentle ground and gradually applying it to steeper terrain. We continue our practice of anchor placement and belaying, but spend a lot of time perfecting cramponing technique and the use of the ice axe in a variety of positions.

Throughout the program, we discuss the ethics of Leave No Trace (LNT) travel, camping and climbing and employ LNT techniques in all that we do. In addition to working on the "hard skills" of snow, ice, and glacier climbing, we also cover the complexities of route finding and hazard assessment. We help each participant become proficient in the use of map, compass, and altimeter, perceptive in route finding and evaluation skills, and thorough in the assessment of objective hazards.

Glacier travel skills, including proper rope techniques and crevasse rescue, receive thorough attention. By the end of the practice sessions, each participant should be able to climb or prusik out of a crevasse and rescue a partner by using the mechanical advantage of a pulley system.

On the final two days of the program, team members apply all the skills they have been practising as we establish an advanced camp high on the Easton Glacier and then make a climb to the summit. On the climb to high camp, we will travel through crevasse fields where good route finding is crucial and climb over both easy and moderate terrain where we apply a range of snow and ice climbing skills.

The next morning we'll start climbing by 2:00 am, taking advantage of the cool nighttime temperatures to give us the best possible footing on the glacier. Ascending slopes that are a little steeper than the previous day, we'll first climb to the lip of ice-choked Sherman Crater where we will see steam fumaroles rising from fissures in the ice. Continuing up Grant Peak, we will summit shortly after sunrise, and from Baker's highest point enjoy sweeping views that stretch from the Canadian border peaks in the north, across the islands in the San Juan archipelago to the west, and out to the hundreds of peaks in the Cascades to the south and east for a spectacular climax to a great week of climbing.

After bringing together all the techniques you have acquired in a rewarding individual and team effort to reach the summit, you'll be leaving this course with a strong set of skills that make you capable of gaining safe access to trailless, wilderness alpine areas, proficient in all basic alpine mountaineering skills for rock, snow, and ice, and skilled in Leave No Trace travel, camping, and climbing techniques. Upon completion of the program, you should be qualified as a technically competent rope team member capable of making ascents of alpine routes of intermediate difficulty.


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