Trip Report    

Alpine Ice FT1 - Equivalent Experience - Heliotrope Ridge and Lower Coleman Glacier & Seracs

One-day intensive alpine ice instruction with guides from Northwest Mountain School, aligned to FT1 expectations from the Alpine Ice module.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The trail was in great shape.  Creek crossings were not difficult to manage, and there was no snow on the glacier.  (The upper slopes on Baker had received some fresh snow in previous storms.)

Students slept at the trailhead the night before to be ready to hike at 7AM.  After the hike in and with time to be back at the trailhead at 7PM, that allowed roughly 10AM-4:30PM on the ice with four Intermediate students and two guides.
Notes from the day:
  1. Brought 4-6 screws per person, 4 ropes for the party; variety of tools (Grivel X-AllMountain, BD Venom, Petzl Sum'Tec).
  2. Hiked in through Mirkwood down onto the glacier and located a ~30'-40' deep open depression in the glacier with a variety of slope angles and ice qualities.  (The two longest walls of the depression faced N and S, so one wall got sun and the other didn't.)
  3. Started with brief demos and practice with crampons on hard ice, discussion of edge awareness (greater consequences of tripping with crampons or slipping even on moderate angle ice).
  4. V-thread demo along with cleaning an area to build the thread, assessing the ice, and some tricks for alignment.  Students then built three anchors total each with three v-threads equalized; no ice screw backup.  Two of the v-threads shared cord in each anchor.  Backed-up flat overhand or bowline for each v-thread.  (The ice screw backup would have been pointless given that screws in the sun melted out quickly.)
  5. Lowered into the depression off the anchors via Munter with a prussik backup.
  6. Demos of setting screws (starting, angle, looking at the core pushed out to assess ice quality), swinging tools.  Hung a pack from a screw on the sunnier side of the depression that served as a demo later when it fell off...
  7. Discussed strategies and reasoning for managing sharp objects (screws, tools), use of ice clippers, relevance of different kinds of leashes, and some notes on racking.
  8. Experimented with traversing using tools and frontpoints.
  9. Demo of top-roped climbing with tool swings, stance, and movement rhythm.
  10. Top-roped a variety of routes, one with a nice bulge in it, and one that was vertical.  The vertical route was the most educational in terms of the swing-hang-kick-kick-stand rhythm.
  11. Top-roped on the same routes with different tool combinations (single alpine axe versus climbing tool, no axe or tool).
  12. Demo of lead climbing with stance for placing screws and emphasis on being deliberate in managing endurance, gear, and a margin of safety.  Discussion of "chicken clipping" or other emergency measures.
  13. Mock-led the same routes, including the vertical route.  Again, the work on the vertical route was the most educational.  The moderate angle routes felt much easier/more straightforward afterwards.
  14. Demo of multi-screw and v-thread belay anchors with advantages and disadvantages.
  15. Demo and discussion of various backup techniques (screw to back-up v-thread, well-set tool to back-up anchor, etc.
  16. Climbed out of the depression unroped on the shallowest angle and then hiked around to the anchors.
  17. Inspection and evaluation of the v-thread anchors that we had set in the morning.
The weather was glorious, and everyone had a good day.