Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Alpine Skills Course - 5 days of mountaineering adventures!

Our first Alpine Skills Course of the season was a great success! We were successfull in climbing two 11000ers (Mt. Athabasca & Mt. Cline), and practiced TONS of mountaineering skills.

After the weekend glacier travel course we spent a day on the Boundary Glacier learning to climb, belay and decend steep ice & snow slopes. It was super warm out so we also had to deal with avalanche hazard and lots of sloppy snow. The techniques we practiced included sitting belays in snow, ice screw anchors, V-threads, and use of crampons & axe on steep ice. By the end of the day I felt that everyone had the skills to tackle Mt. Athabasca and take a leadership role along the way.

Up at 2:00am on Tuesday, we drove up to the Mt. Athabasca parking area to start the climb. We had been hoping to do the Silverhorn route, but the night was warm and we decided that snow conditions would be unsafe for that plan. Instead, we headed towards the AA Col route with the thought that we would have much better odds of success and would feel safer. After a couple hours of walking through the darkness we reached the glacier just as we were treated to a glorious sunrise. A short march across the lower glacier brought us to the steep snow slopes leading to the col. The participants split into two teams of two and led each other up the long slope while I stayed unroped to provide assistance if neccessary. Everyone quickly proved their competence on the terrain and made good decisions throughout. Once on the upper ridge, we climbed up and over the Silverhorn and traversed to the main summit. It was a bit cloudy on top but was warm enough to enjoy the top for a while before decending. Everyone continued to take turns leading on the way down and we were soon back at the cars, psyched with a great day!

Climbing up the AA Col route on Athabasca.

On the summit of Athabasca!

Descending through the clouds on Athabasca.

After four days of snow & ice, it was time to turn out attention to the rock. We moved camp to the David Thompson Highway and headed into a secret rock climbing venue to learn rock skills and prepare for Mt. Cline. After doing some top-roping we practiced sport climbing, gear placements, and anchor building. In the afternoon we simulated the crux on Mt. Cline and figured out how to deal with the ropework and belaying that would be required.

On Thursday morning we packed up for a two day expedition into Cline. We were soon on the trail and had a good hike into a little known basecamp by some house-sized boulders. Unfortunately it was raining so we were unable to do any rock climbing, but we probably needed the rest anyways! After a good meal we went to bed ready for another early start.

Up before first light, we scarfed some food and began the climb. We went up a different route than the guidebooks show, and it involves a long snow gully to start. Everyone was feeling quite confident on this type of terrain by now so we made good time up to the small glacier. Despite some deep trail breaking across the glacier, we were soon at the rocky ridge and scrambled towards the crux notches. The crux is a deep notch in a narrow ridge with thousand foot drop-offs on either side. With the rope on, everyone took turns climbing down into the notch, stepping across a chockstone at the bottom, and then rock climbing up the other side. Most people doing this for the first time feel it is one of the most exciting things they have ever done, and this time was no exception! Once across the first notch, we rappelled down the steep second notch and continued towards the summit. We were all super happy to reach the summit! As is so often the case, there was no time to linger and we soon started the decent. The notches are almost as exciting on the way down, but at least this time everyone knew what to expect. In what seemed like no time we were back in camp and began the hike out to the road. Just as we reached the road it began to pour rain, better at the end than the beginning!

Starting our climb of Mt. Cline at first light.

Mt. Cline basecamp in the boulders.

Scrambling along the upper ridge on Mt. Cline.

Climbing through the first notch.

Rappeling the second notch.

Scrambling on the upper ridge during the decent.

Overall it was an amazing week in the mountains with a fantastic group of people. I'm sure everyone will continue to explore the mountains, and I'm glad I had the chance to share some of my skills and knowledge with them. I look forward to hearing about their future adventures!

J. Mills
CRAG Head Guide

1 comment:

  1. Wicked photos, J! Base camp in the boulders looks very cool, and the shots of your clients on the ridge are awesome!
    Sounds like you are busy and having a great time in the Rockies!