Alpine Climbing “Doing your Homework”
With the summer rock and alpine climbing season coming up fast now is the time to gather info for your planning. Here’s some helpful tips and tools from MM guide Stephen Heath. Start planning now!
Doing your homework for an alpine objective can make the difference between success and failure. What does that preparation look like? It’ll be a little different for everyone but here are some key things that help me in my homework for a climb. If you have an objective you dream of it may mean preparation will include taking a course before heading out to the climb. Or if you’re ready to go from an technical or experience standpoint the next step may be pulling out the maps and guidebooks. I highly recommend downloading Gaia or Caltopo for use as a gps on your phone in the moment and for planning your route before you leave the house.
Just like in backcountry skiing, trip planning before you leave the house is a very important part of climbing and mountaineering. So what does that look like? First I’ll google my proposed peak and route and look through Google images for route overlay photos (especially photos that were taken during the same time of year as my trip). I also look for pictures of specific places on the route that are important for route finding (i.e. route crux, entrance, exits, problem bergschrunds, hidden work arounds that are consistent annually). I’ll create a file in Google Drive and download the photos into this file. Then I’ll start looking for trip reports on a google search, or sites like Summit Post, stephabegg.com, Mountain Project, Cascade Climbers, and facebook climbing groups. I’ll take key aspects of their route descriptions (always with a grain of salt) and I’ll copy and paste them into the google drive file along with the photos. Make sure you have the beta on your descent options and bail options if they exist. Then I’ll make this drive available “offline” so I can access my “beta cache” in the mountains.
P.S. Unless you actually know the person giving info on the route always take their beta with a grain of salt. Especially the Mountainproject comments
The descent; an often underestimated part of a climbing objective. If you haven’t done your homework and aren’t dialed on rappel systems a great day of climbing in the alpine can quickly turn into an epic descent in the dark or spending the night in an unplanned bivy. Knowing the descent route, being efficient with setting up your rappels and handling the rope to avoid getting it stuck or causing rockfall are important skills.
For alpine routes I always carry a small knife, a couple quick links and extra 6 mil cord for cleaning and beefing up rappel stations that are questionable. If you add new cord or webbing make sure you cut out and pack out the old questionable cord. Don’t add to the rats nest and always inspect the quality of the rappel station.