Top 5 Beginner Mountaineering Objectives in the Lower 48

How do you climb some of the biggest mountains in the world? Simple, you start on smaller ones.

If you have your eyes set on the likes of Everest, Denali, or even Mont Blanc, there are plenty of breathtaking beginner mountains you can start climbing in the next few months (with proper training and skill acquisition), that will help you prepare for larger summits.

But where do you begin?

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Mountaineering Basics

Mountaineering is a general term that refers to climbing big mountains in snowy and icy conditions. This style requires knowledge of movement on snow and ice, and tends to follow standard routes with less technical climbing, at least for beginners. At high altitudes, weather and environmental conditions are harsher than at lower ranges (for example, 80mph winds, whiteout conditions, and rock fall), which makes this a more challenging endeavor than hiking.

Winter hiking and backpacking are great ways to develop mountaineering techniques at lower elevations with less hazards.

Mountaineers should have experience and the skills related to glacier travel, traveling on a rope team, use of an ice axe for self-arrest and self-belay, crampon technique, anchor building on rock, snow and ice, hazard recognition (crevasses, rockfall, serac fall, etc.), traditional rock climbing, knowledge of climber’s knots, crevasse rescue, route finding, wilderness first aid, and much more. The breadth of skills needs to be paired with requisite gear and knowledge of best practices for equipment usage.

Given the broad and deep skill base, it is prudent to gradually develop your techniques and attempt increasingly more challenging climbs over time. It is much safer to refine your abilities in lower risk environments than to find yourself in a high-exposure situation lacking (or missing) the proper tools and knowledge.

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What Makes a “Beginner” Mountaineering Objective

Beginner mountaineering routes will incorporate fundamental techniques on easier terrain in the spring and summer months. For these objectives, they will take less than a day to summit and stick to Class 3 climbing and below. Generally, they will require snowshoes, crampons and an ice axe, but not roping up.

Seasons and Weather

The spring and summer are high season for mountaineering in the larger mountains in the U.S., including Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and Mount Hood. These months generally run from April through September. Compared to winter, you have longer days but also a higher risk of sunburn or snow blindness. Some routes are best attempted earlier in the season to avoid rock fall. Winter ascents are a serious advance in difficulty due to harsher and more tempestuous weather conditions.

The climate at higher elevations is much different than the forecast at the base, and weather can change drastically in the mountains. Your best bet is to wait for a good weather window, and to pay attention to the dynamic conditions. As a rule of thumb, storms come from the south in winter and north in summer. Climbers often leave early in the morning (before sunrise) in order to be on the snow and ice before the sun starts to warm things up, increasing chances of rock and icefall.

Adjusting to the Altitude

The body requires time at a higher altitude to adapt to the lower levels of oxygen. A variety of maladies can occur at these heights, including Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Cerebral Edema, and Pulmonary Edema. These can be lethal. Not everybody is adapted for life in the mountains, so you want to progress gradually and pay attention to how you are responding. Generally, teams ascend to higher elevations during the day, then descend for rest at a lower camp, in preparation of a summit push.

Now let’s put it all together and consider some beginner mountaineering routes. Let’s emphasize again, these should only be attempted after proper physical training, skill practice, and preparation.

The Mountaineer's Route is the first large snow gully to the right of the summit pinnacle. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
The Mountaineer’s Route is the first large snow gully to the right of the summit pinnacle. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

High Sierras, California

Mount Shasta’s Clear Creek is the standard route on the southeast face. The route is about 5 miles and 7,600 feet of elevation one way, with some Class 2 climbing through a boulder field. Note that the trail is inaccessible in winter and early spring, though snow will still cover parts of the mountain through the summer.

The Mountaineer’s Route on Mount Whitney is a class 3 route with steep trail, with about 6,000 feet of elevation gain over 5 miles. Fast parties can summit in 10 hours in the summer, and it’s a good test for your route finding skills. Mount Whitney is the high point of the lower 48 states.

Looking up at Mount Adams from a camp on te nearby Mazama Glacier. The South Ridge is to the left. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Looking up at Mount Adams from a camp on te nearby Mazama Glacier. The South Ridge is to the left. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Cascades, Washington and Oregon

South Sister in Oregon via the south side route climbs the third tallest mountain in the state but is class 3 climbing at worst. The path starts from the Green Lakes, and is 12.4 miles round trip, with about 5,000 feet in elevation gain. It also features eight glaciers, so you can practice your snowshoe, ice axe, and crampon technique.

Mount Adams’s South Spur Route route offers an easy and popular snow climb in the eastern Cascade range in Washington. It can be done in 1 or 2 days and is known to be thigh-busting, rising 6,676 feet over 5.7 miles, with a max angle of 30 degrees.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The White Mountains, New Hampshire

Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route is best known for holding some of the worst weather in the world, which may surprise observers who see only the 6288-foot height of the mountain. This particular route is the least technical way to summit in the winter, but still offers a steep, icy ascent and the potential for very high winds at the top.

 

No matter where you are starting from, you can find an appropriate mountain goal to take you to the next level. Remember: Savor the inspiration that comes with big mountain climbing, be realistic in your progression plan, and research and prepare more than you think is necessary. 


Be My Adventure Valentine: Romantic Outdoor Date Ideas for You and Your S.O.

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and surely the outdoorsy readership of goEast won’t be keen on celebrating inside. If you’re in need of inspiration, we’ve gathered a winter’s kaleidoscope of romantic, adventurous, and outdoorsy date ideas. There are options for all levels of exposure and comfort, from ice skating in America’s oldest public park to 100 miles of snowshoe masochism to learning new skills so you can enjoy the outdoors for a lifetime to come with your sweetheart.

Courtesy: Destination Moosehead Lake
Courtesy: Destination Moosehead Lake

Something Sweet Awaits in Maine

Nestled in the great north woods of Maine, Moosehead Lake is an island-studded getaway. Spend your days snowshoeing, ice climbing, or skiing, then come back for an evening of scrumptious chocolate sampling (to replenish your carbohydrate stores, of course). Destination Moosehead Lake’s 15th annual Chocolate Festival offers over 40 delights for your sampling pleasure.

Nothing Says “I Love You” like 100 Miles of Misery

Step out into the scenic woods of the Green Mountains, and keep stepping, and then don’t stop stepping until you’ve gone 100 miles (or about 195,000 steps if you’re counting). That is what’s in store at the Peak Snow Devil Snowshoe Ultra for the couple that wants to test their mettle, and see how each partner holds up under the long haul.

Courtesy: Muddy Paw
Courtesy: Muddy Paw

A Howliday Treat for Fans of Furry Friends

Have you gone dog sledding before? What is the chance your partner has? Bingo!… one of the pack leaders, is ready to take you on a dog sledding tour through the woods of Jefferson, New Hampshire. Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel has over 80 handsome canines, many of which are rescues from “ruff” backgrounds or second chance adoptees. Tours range from 1.5 to 3 hours and you can choose to sit bundled up in the toboggan (cozy!) or try your hand at mushing too.

Courtesy: Peak Resorts
Courtesy: Peak Resorts

Are You in a Serious Relationship with Skiing—and Your Partner?

What’s more special than a day on the slopes with your one-and-only? Well, popping the big one before shredding a steep run might make your ski day extra special. Just imagine: Blue skies glimmering against snow-covered pines, and fresh pow waiting for you to say, “I do.” Thanks to Mount Snow, you’ll be riding on Cloud Nine before taking the first run of your new lives together.

The Best Partner Is a Climbing Partner

Not every winter sport has to do with ice or snow. If you enjoy bouldering in the fall, try your hand at winter climbing where the added friction might be just what you need to send your next problem. Pack a thermos full of hot chocolate, bring a kangaroo pouch full of hand warmers and enjoy the day out at the crag with your favorite climbing partner.

Check out the bouldering at Lincoln Woods, Rumney, Pawtuckaway, or these great local gems close to Boston.

Stay Close to Home and Enjoy a Winter Classic

Ice skating is a quintessential winter activity in New England, and it has a long history at the oldest public park in the United States. Frog Pond is considered one of the best outdoor skating rinks in the country, and for good reason: Its airy setting is nestled among historical brownstones and stately elms. If you don’t live close to Boston, you are sure to find an outdoor rink close to you.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Take Your Relationship to New Heights   

New Hampshire offers 48 mountains over 4,000 feet and the winter offers a chance to fall in love with your favorite hikes all over again. You don’t have to go high or hike far to enjoy a winter trek though, there are plenty of trails you can do in a half-day or even a few hours. If you are an ambitious couple, try the Lion Head route up New England’s highest peak.

 


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Level up Your Relationship with a New Skill

The winter offers exposure you simply don’t get in any other season: Blustery white-out mountain conditions and serpentine columns of frozen waterfalls let you enjoy the cold in a new way. With an EMS-guided Introduction to Ice Climbing course, you can gain a complete understanding of the fundamentals in one-day, so you and your partner can pursue ever more adventures, together!

Courtesy: The Ice Castles
Courtesy: The Ice Castles

Be the King and Queen for a Day

Ice slides, ice towers, ice tunnels and arches with hanging icicles, oh my! If you grew up in New England there’s a good chance you built a snow fort as a kid, and loved it. Rekindle that magic with the adult version of the snow fort, the majestic Ice Castle, fit for a king and queen. There is plenty to explore with your date, from towering spires that rise like icy sentinels to dungeonesque tunnels you can crawl through like an arctic mouse. There is even an ice slide to cap off your romantic day together.

We wish you all a fun and safe Valentine’s Day adventure! If you go on one of these dates, please tag us on instagram using the #goEast hashtag.


Newsflash: Dreaming of Adventure in 2019? The AAC Live Your Dream Grant Will Fund It

Who says climbing grants are only for first ascents or professionals? If you have a mountain goal to accomplish this year, the American Alpine Club’s Live Your Dream Grant could help you accomplish it, regardless of scale.

Founded in 2012, The Live Your Dream grant “was born from the idea that “the most important climbs out there are our own.” The program is designed to help every-day adventurers achieve personal progression and to support unforgettable experiences. In other words, the AAC wants you to pursue your goals, to be psyched to get out into the mountains, to grow, and to inspire yourself and others. There is no dream too big or too small.

Last year, the AAC awarded $72,150 to 158 individuals with a wide-range of objectives.

Grants are open to mountain folk of all ages, ability levels and climbing disciplines. Whether you’re looking to sport climb 5.11 by the end of the year, learn the trade of trad, attempt your first multi-pitch, summit mountains close to home or abroad, or attempt a trail running ultra, it’s all on the table as long as it pushes your abilities to the next level, whatever that may be.

To apply, submit your application online by March 31st. Submissions are reviewed at the regional level (Northeast, Southeast, Central, Rocky Mountain, Western, Northwestern, and a Ski/Snowboard Mountaineering focus) and winners will be announced in May.

When applying, make sure to hone in on the specificity of your goal: “The project must accurately demonstrate a progression in skills and experience and outline a specific obtainable yet personally difficult goal. The objective should be at the edge of your physical and technical ability level. However, your individual experience level should be appropriate for the proposed objective.”

For further advice on writing your application, 2015 winners, Ben Beck-Coon and Anthony Nguyen, have outlined tips on crafting a great proposal.

Courtesy: The American Alpine Club
Courtesy: The American Alpine Club

If you’re looking for inspiration, the following award winners have shared their epic experiences:

Established in 1902, the American Alpine Club’s (AAC) mission is to “support our shared passion for climbing and respect for the places we climb.” For years the AAC funded cutting-edge and highly technical ascents with the aim of advancing the possibilities of the sport. Yet these expeditions are at the fringe and often seem unrelatable. With the growth of climbing, the AAC (in partnership with The North Face) wanted to help more people enjoy the varied disciplines of the vertical world.

Sure, the pros get the limelight, but we all experience the same joy and exaltation that comes from personal growth and achieving our mountain dreams. I for one, a 5.10 climber, will certainly be applying with the goal of climbing 5.11 by the end of the year.