icons/avalancheicons/bootscompassfacebookicons/gloveshandsicons/hearticons/helmeticons/ice axeinstagramminusmountainicons/pathsMap Pinplusicons/questionicons/guideicons/ropeicons/gogglesicons/stafftenttwitteryoutube
Mountain Madness Climber

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