13-Day Alpine Climbing Course Gets Great Lessons with Difficult Weather
A lot can happen in a 13-day Alpine Leadership School and it usually does. This particular course found a variety of challenges, specifically conditions and weather. It has been a cool spring here in the northwest with plenty of moisture. As a result every ascent we made held true “alpine” conditions. The objective and subjective hazards that come with climbing in the mountains spanned a large gap from avalanche conditions and cornice collapses to white out navigation and heavy rain. As a result Ben and Alex got a great deal of practice traveling and climbing in challenging conditions.
Ascending the couloir in the base of Liberty Bell, the team finds great snow
conditions and beautiful bucket steps all the way up. Jenny Konway photo
The course began with a foundation of skills we worked on in the Washington Pass area off of highway 20. For Alex, his first multi pitch climb came on day 2 on a route called Prime Rib located on the Goat Wall above the small town of Mazama. At 11 pitches in length (over 1,000 vertical ft) I was super happy with Alex’s calmness and strength to climb such a long route and still retain some educational information. Next we headed for the Liberty Bell group to climbed a classic spire. Temperatures were as cold as I have encountered there and we were travelling on snow from the “parking lot” which had about 6 feet of snow and was not yet plowed. After 4 pitches and some scrambling we reached the impressive view from the summit. At the time, we didn’t realize it would be the last big view we would get before weather moved in for the remaining 10 days.
Guide Dave Ahrens leads out on the first pitch of the Beckey Route on Liberty Bell.
Jenny Konway photo
After another couple days we headed for Mount Shuksan with a less then encouraging weather forecast calling for cold temps and 100% chance of moisture. This objective was a great experience for Ben and Alex, we got every type of weather you could imagine and spent an entire day doing lessons in the tent to make the most of the weather. We soon decided that we could forgo our summit bid for a more educationally friendly environment. I was very impressed with Ben and Alex’s drive to become self-sufficient mountaineers by the end of the course.
Just one of the locals out to see what we’re up to.
Climbing on South Early Winters.
Jenny Konway photo
After a relaxing 5 am start, the team works their way toward the Silver Star Glacier. Jenny Konway photo
The challenging weather continued on the east side of the Cascades and we spent an entire day doing crevasse rescue systems under the only shelter we could find in a sleepy tourist town, Winthrop, 15 miles away. The following day we headed back to the Liberty Bell group and climbed the South Arête of South Early Winters Spire in snowy conditions. The climb was wonderfully challenging and another great experience. The remainder of the course was student-led objectives. We first prepared for Silver Star and made a solid white-out navigation plan to enable us to go for the summit despite deteriorating weather. Ben and Alex combined to break trail the entire way to the summit in weather that allowed for about 200 feet of visibility. The summit greeted us with sustained 30 – 40mph winds making for just a few photos before descending.
The team eyeing the summit of Wallaby Peak. Jenny Konway photo
The remainder of the trip we worked on rock climbing skills and snuck in one more summit the day before we headed home on Wallaby Peak northwest of Silver Star. It was a great trip and it was wonderful seeing Ben and Alex develop their skills and put them to use in the mountains. They both are great climbers and will take their skills as far as they want to, the only limit being themselves. I can’t wait to here were there personal adventures take them in the coming years.
~ MM Guide Dave Ahrens