Your survival guide to Basic Alpine Climbing

Frequently Asked Questions

Your survival guide to Basic Alpine Climbing

Do I need to have prior climbing experience to apply for this course?

Climbing experience isn't required, but it helps. We have a competitive application process and unfortunately aren't able to recruit enough volunteer instructors to accommodate every student who wants to take Basic Alpine Climbing.

I haven’t climbed but I’ve camped and hiked: does that help my application?

Absolutely! Our ideal students have a well-tested passion for the outdoors and are looking to expand that passion into more challenging pursuits. If you’re not sure how you feel about carrying a backpack or sleeping overnight in a tent, then this course probably isn't for you.

How fit do I need to be to climb?

We expect students to be able to hike Mount Si or equivalent (~3300 feet of elevation gain in 4 miles) in 2 hours or less from the trailhead to the bottom of the haystack carrying 20% of their own body weight before going on climbs or 25 lbs, whichever is greater. This is a minimum fitness requirement to ensure students are physically capable to participate in climbs. Since our training starts earlier than the climbing season, you’ll have plenty of time to seek advice on climbing-specific conditioning once you've enrolled in the course. But a minimal foundation of fitness is necessary to be able to meet the above requirement in the given time-frame, and it also makes the course much more enjoyable.

Some of the physical challenges you’ll face in training before the climbing season starts include the following:

  • Climbing a rope using special slings called prusiks
  • Climbing rock walls with a pack
  • Climbing rock walls in boots
  • Walking up snowy slopes like you see at ski areas
  • Using ice axes and crampons

How much gear will I need to buy?

The course is very affordable compared to commercial options and guide services, and we do offer financial aid. However, it’s important not to overlook the cost of gear when you’re thinking about whether you can afford this class.

You’re encouraged to borrow as much gear as possible from friends. If you must buy gear, wait until the class starts and ask around before making big purchases—the Mountaineers have relationships with prominent vendors, and lots of great advice for finding good deals on quality gear.

That being said, the typical cost of outfitting yourself can be substantial—anywhere from $500 to $2,000 depending on what you already own and what kind of gear you buy. At minimum, you’ll need:

  • Mountain boots that can accept crampons (not hiking boots)
  • Crampons
  • An ice ax (not technical ice tools)
  • A sleeping bag rated to +20 degrees or colder
  • A sleeping pad
  • A backpack (40 to 60 liters)
  • The Ten Essentials
  • Webbing and accessory cords
  • 6 straight gate carabiners
  • 2 locking carabiners
  • Large pear-shaped carabiner
  • Belay device
  • Climbing harness
  • Helmet
  • Chock pick (nut tool)
  • Rescue pulley
  • Fleece or puffy jacket
  • Rain jacket and full-zip rain pants
  • Belay gloves
  • Warm gloves or mittens

This list is provided only so that you can get an idea of how much you might need to spend for this course. Please do not start shopping for gear until after you’ve been accepted into the class and had the opportunity to talk to your instructors about gear.

What are the course requirements?

See the Graduation Requirements in the Course Materials.

What is the time commitment?

The course curriculum includes five class meetings, seven field trips and a minimum of two basic experience climbs. You will also be assigned to a Small Instructional Group (SIG) for additional instruction and outings. See the Course Activities section on the main course page for a detailed listing.

In addition, there are required classes in Navigation and First Aid, which are taught outside the formal course structure, a stewardship requirement, a low-impact recreation badge, and self-study. See the  Graduation Requirements  in the Course Materials for more information.

How flexible is the course schedule?

Because of logistical challenges, each of the five class lectures is only offered on one date. You are expected to attend all five. If extenuating circumstances exist which prevent you from attending, your SIG leader MAY be able to arrange an alternative.

With the exception of the two SIG field trips, field trips are offered on several different dates so that you can select the one that fits your schedule. If you need to attend on a specific date, you are encouraged to register early as the numbers are limited for each session and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

See the Course Activities section on the main Course page for a detailed listing.

What level of rock climbing will we be attempting?

This will vary depending on your skills and abilities, but in this course you will not be climbing above 5.6 on the Yosemite Decimal Scale.

Will I learn to place protection and lead climbs?

No. You will be learning how to climb rock as a follower and how to remove protection placed by leaders. After completing Basic Alpine Climbing, you’ll be eligible to apply for our Intermediate Course. It’s there that you’ll advance your trad climbing and learn to place protection on lead.

If you’re only interested in climbing rocks and not glaciers, you may want to check out our Introduction to Single Pitch Trad and Introduction to Multi Pitch trad courses (previously crag climbing course) instead of Basic Alpine Climbing.

Will we be ice-climbing?

No. You will learn to use a single ice axe and crampons to climb on steep, crevassed snow with a rope team, but you will not be climbing on vertical water ice. An advanced Water Ice Class is available to those who have completed both Basic Alpine and Intermediate Climbing.

I’m not sure I’m ready to climb rock faces and glaciers, but I want to get up in the mountains. Are there other options?

Yes! Many of our climbers have started off with our Alpine Scrambling Course. It’s a great way to learn some of the same tools, techniques and terrains you’ll encounter in climbing, but with lower-angle routes and fewer hazards than technical climbing.

What is a SIG?

SIG is an acronym for “Small Instructional Group”. Each student will be assigned to a SIG of approximately ten students and one leader which will conduct two of the field trips and hold additional learning and practice sessions. Your SIG leader will be your primary point of contact for the course.

What books do I need?

You will need a copy of the course textbook Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills - 9th Edition, published by The Mountaineers (but you get a member discount at the club bookstore).