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Washington Pass climbing Cascades with Mountain Madness Stephen Heath photo

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.

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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

04 approaching high camp below forbiddens west ridge

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.