How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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jimmyG
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How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

Post by jimmyG » Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:00 pm

Hey everyone! The thread name says it all but i want to shed some light on my specific situation... I want to get into mountaineering but none of my friends share the same interest. Mainly, my goal is to make mountain hiking a 4-season activity because it is what I enjoy most. I have plenty of backpacking experience, very little climbing experience, and just a few (easy) 14ers under my belt. Decent physical shape but I'm 30 and getting older. Tried my first solo last weekend (La Plata-NW ridge) and really enjoyed the hike- got chased off the top just a couple hundred feet from summit because nobody was there and I felt uncomfortable with the exposure in snow. Figured I would play it safe. Anyways, enough about that...

My main question- Mountaineering classes at CMS look comprehensive, but are very expensive. I know I need AIARE 1 and will take that this winter to gain a better understanding of snow safety. Would anyone recommend taking the CMS Mountaineering class? Or should I be seeking out others that have more experience to learn from instead? Having no experience with winter hiking/mountaineering outside of backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, I feel that I might be more of a burden to the expert or advanced mountaineer as a tag-along.

Please let me know your thoughts- this doesn't necessarily apply to 14ers yet- I know I need to start small.
Thanks!
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Re: How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

Post by nquesnel » Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:51 pm

Check out CMC they have classes throughout the year.
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XterraRob
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Re: How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

Post by XterraRob » Sat Oct 21, 2017 6:57 pm

Mountaineering is going to be an expensive hobby in general. AVY 1 is important if you can take it. If you have FB, join some of the recreational hiking groups on there and that'll help get you networked with others who may have more experience (or use this messageboard for partners). You can tag along with them for the easier hikes to gain more experience and get a better understanding on what you'll need.
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Re: How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

Post by peter303 » Sat Oct 21, 2017 7:22 pm

One thing to try are the free evening winter outdoors lectures at REI.
In the rest of this year they have the topics:

Snowshoing Basics
Winter Camping Basics (you could have a forced overnight)
Avalanche Awareness
GPS Navigation
Map and Compass Navigation (its easier to get lost in snow and snowstorms)

You get ideas about equipment and activities.
You might keep eyes peeled for weekend field courses on snow skills and avalanche saftey. There is usually a charge for field courses.
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Re: How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

Post by FrancesGray » Sat Oct 21, 2017 7:45 pm

jimmyG wrote:
My main question- Mountaineering classes at CMS look comprehensive, but are very expensive.
Winter equipment is expensive.

Look up the prices for:
back pack
personal locator beacon
ice axe
show shoes
crampons
clothing

That is just a beginning for you to get an idea.
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Re: How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

Post by Eli Boardman » Sat Oct 21, 2017 7:57 pm

Some of these responses make it sound like the OP is asking how to make the first winter ascent of K2. You don't need a persona locator beacon for an easy winter 14er. You don't even need an ice axe or crampons or AIARE 1.

This page lists the 14ers by their difficulty in winter conditions.

http://www.summitpost.org/colorado-14er ... ter/337648

As you can see, they list Quandary first. In winter, Quandary Peak will have a well-packed path from the standard parking lot to the summit within a few days of the last storm. There is usually no avalanche danger on the route as long as you take the winter detour around treeline (see route description and trip reports). Pay attention to conditions reports on this board (https://www.14ers.com/php14ers/peakstatus_main.php), pick a good weather day, make sure the avalanche forecast for the region is low (http://avalanche.state.co.us/) and go for it.

For a good-weather ascent of a peak like Quandary in winter, all you need is standard hiking preparedness gear (food/water/etc.), warm boots (snow boots or very warm hiking boots), and typical winter gear (heavy parka-type coat, thick gloves or mittens, hat, etc.) Some traction like microspikes would be helpful, but not entirely necessary. If you go a week after the last major storm, there should be a packed path and you won't even need snowshoes.

Have fun! After Quandary or a similar peak, see how you like it and then consider the suggestions for advanced classes / specialized gear if you want to move up.
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Re: How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

Post by jimmyG » Sat Oct 21, 2017 10:43 pm

Thank you so much for all the supportive help! So just to respond to a couple of things:

1. I am well aware of the cost. My cousin used to guide trips up the grand in Wyoming so she's been very helpful in gathering up used equipment for me. Ive already got the fundamental stuff. As for packs- I've collected so many over the years that I dont see the need for anything else unless I'm climbing Denali.
2. I used to teach land navigation (night and day) in the marine corps.. I'm very comfortable with the concept of map reading and shooting an azimuth in blackout conditions. I also have pretty extensive medical training for emergency situations.... and I've been catching up on my wilderness medicine skills recently.
3. Exposure scares the sh*t out of me and I've been trying really hard to get over the strange balance issues I get at elevation.. especially in windy conditions. Not really sure how to do anything about that except to continue on.
4. I already have plans to ski quandary this winter- I would love to be able to take the couloir route on the way up. Actually planning to head out tomorrow morning just to see what quandary is all about.

Based off all the feedback I am thinking that the money will be well spent to take a class on mountaineering fundamentals. The last thing I want is to feel unprepared for any situation that arises. Self arrest isn't something I want to ever experience unless it is full on muscle memory at that point.

Thank you to everyone for the feedback so far! I would love to keep this thread going because I've already gained so much valuable insight. Feel free to call me a rookie or Newb if need be... everyone has got to start somewhere!
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Re: How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

Post by FrancesGray » Sat Oct 21, 2017 11:43 pm

Eli Boardman wrote: You don't need a persona locator beacon for an easy winter 14er.

.
Which winter 14ers would need a PLB?
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Re: How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

Post by Yikes » Sun Oct 22, 2017 6:46 am

FrancesGray wrote:
Eli Boardman wrote: You don't need a persona locator beacon for an easy winter 14er.

.
Which winter 14ers would need a PLB?
No 14er "needs" a PLB (I completed all without using one and have no intention of ever buying one). PLBs are a heated topic like religion and politics. One side (mine) believes they encourage risky behavior for inexperienced participants, while the other side believes you would be irresponsible to leave the house without one. I do bring an avy beacon (so you can call me a hypocrite), but my expectation is that it would be more likely used for recovery and not rescue.

As far as training/classes, I took Avy class and field. I also had a 3-day CMC intro to winter mountaineering class. But you really don't need much besides time in the field getting your feet wet (figuratively and literally). The 14ers don't have crevasses or serracs, you don't need ropes or ice tools (you will need a mountaineering ice axe) and exposure is pretty non-existent on the easier ~40 peaks.

There are usually multiple group outings posted on this web site (i.e. "Anyone interested in Bierstadt this weekend..."). Start small - don't join up with some Snowmass trip just because it is posted on this site. Easier 14ers will gather larger groups and will likely be welcoming as long as you are prepared (clothing, gear) and don't bitch and moan (about the cold, difficulty, etc).

If you can't find partners, go out and snowshoe the approaches to become more comfortable in winter conditions (i.e. up to the Grays Pk summer TH). Always check CAIC for avy danger, always check the wind forecast, go out at least several days after the last storm, when the weather is nice, and enjoy the suffering.
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Re: How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

Post by TomPierce » Sun Oct 22, 2017 7:58 am

Jimmy: Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:

-Winter can be a harsh disciplinarian. On an easy peak in bluebird conditions, no problem. But in a whiteout, bitter cold and esp at night, you'll realize you need to (a) have fun, but also (b) have your gear, training and plan dialed in. That's a journey, not an easy, quick process:

-Where I've seen people get into trouble: (1) Avalanches: Don't make it out to be the childhood monster in the closet, no need to cower in fear of every snowy slope. But you really need a solid grasp of the fundamentals (slope gradient, aspect, seasonal variations [e.g. early vs. late winter], terrain traps [a deceptive killer], etc etc.) Lots of stuff online that will get you started. IMO one tool that is worth your money early on is a slope angle meter. Pretty cheap, and if you use it on every outing at your snack/lunch breaks, you should soon be able to visually estimate slope angle within 5 degrees or so just by looking at a slope. (2) Navigation: In normal conditions not a huge issue, but if you get disoriented (trust me, it'll happen), knowing where you are is key to knowing where you need to go. Triangulating in a whiteout? Hmm...not sure it can be done. Dead reckoning from fixed landmarks works well, and a GPS has its place.

-Gear: Invest in some good foul weather goggles. A kick-ass winter headlamp is IMO invaluable. I never go out in winter without a set of warm, spare mittens (with idiot cords attached). On tough terrain you can climb on numb toes, harder with numb fingers. Dial in your clothing, often less is more. Perspiration is your mortal enemy in the winter. On unfamiliar routes I'll occasionally carry a light shovel (Grivel makes a super light plastic one with a metal edge; not for avalanche use but for emergency snow cave/trenches). And yes, a good well-sized ice axe. Often it's dead weight but when you really need it, nothing else will do.

-OK, lots more, but others will chime in, and I think a course might accelerate your winter journey. More than anything, get out there and (safely!) experiment.

Have fun, be safe, enjoy the winter!

-Tom
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Re: How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

Post by nomad_games » Sun Oct 22, 2017 11:06 am

I'm about the same as you, OP. I've done 13 summer 14ers with several class 3's. I've done winter hiking in places like Norway and Iceland. I really want to do winter 14ers. So, I got some microspikes and an axe and some gaiters and got started. Did Huron yesterday. Covered in snow ranging from an inch to about 2 feet. With microspikes, poles, and proper clothing, I was fine. Not to encourage recklessness, but I think if you use common sense and really watch the conditions reports and mountain-forecasts.com (plus whatever other conditions reports and weather reports you can find), you can do winter 14ers without spending a s**t ton on gear or classes. FWIW, I do plan to take avalanche classes and get a SPOT or something similar, as I usually hike alone.
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Re: How to get into Winter hiking/Mountaineering

Post by FrancesGray » Sun Oct 22, 2017 11:17 am

Yikes wrote: No 14er "needs" a PLB (I completed all without using one and have no intention of ever buying one). PLBs are a heated topic like religion and politics. One side (mine) believes they encourage risky behavior for inexperienced participants, while the other side believes you would be irresponsible to leave the house without one. .
Like car seat belts, condoms and 911 ...

The PLB isn't for you, it is for SAR. Those good people shouldn't have to risk their lives and time to look for you when a PLB would do it quickly and safely.
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