A group on the Zugspitze summit, enjoying their first ever alpine experience
Hi Gentlemen! Here’s something I’ve been wanting to write about for quite a bit. Your first -ever- alpine attempt.
Now, just to give a bit of context to this, this is the transition that normally occurs from getting interested into alpine sports > starting to climb in a gym > go to a local crag and then starting to look for higher ground and more technical terrain. So, this post is to give you guys a couple of good ideas when it comes to: how to prepare and what to choose as this first serious climb. Without further ado, let’s dig into it.
I’m going to assume that you have been climbing/training for a bit and that -obviously- your mind and body are telling you you’re ready to commit to something a bit more heavy. Well since I’m just assuming the physical part, let’s review some of the things that “in theory” you should also have within your list of skills (this is; to be a responsible climber)
Step 1: Reviewing the basics
Have the necessary gear and, above all, knowing how to use it:
Buying gear is really easy and also something we all love to do. But, having the gear doesn’t make you an expert on how to use it. Whatever you buy, make sure you have the proper training on how to use it and don’t get caught by the feeling that “it looks good on your harness”.
The basic knowledge:
This might be boring but the fact is: you need to know the basics (avalanche rescue, first aid, self-rescue techniques, etc.) you will find out that even basic response skills can make a huge difference when it comes to dangerous situations. It will take you a while and a few euros but you will also make everyone around feel safer. Remember, be the person you would like to have next to you in a bad situation.
Here are some options: Avalanche Training (For german Speakers but they also have lessons in english)
Here’s a good place to start: DAV Trainings
American Institute for Avalanche Training
Warning! Speak about your weaknesses, not only about your strengths:
This is probably one of the most important topics when it comes to beginners. We never want to show weakness and -especially- we don’t want to be ruled out of a trip because we do not possess the necessary skills to undertake a specific objective. Well, it is better to sit one out and get the proper instruction and training than being on the mountain and risk your life and the life of others because everybody around you will assume you are prepared for the situation. Speak up. If you feel uncomfortable with something, always say it!
Guided packs gaining altitude meters
Step 2: Finding an appropriate objective
Ok, now that we covered the essentials, let’s go to the -almost action- part. How to select an appropriate place.
The selection of the place must consider -yet again- your abilities. However, my personal recommendation is you take something that is one or two levels under your max. The reason is simple: you’re going on a first experience and you want to feel comfortable and have enough room (mentally and physically) to overcome the challenges.
Since it would be impossible to just give you all the options, I will summarize it into how I choose a mountain objective (in this case for a beginner) and you can use this path to choose your own. Here it goes:
Highest grade consideration: Most people would think that the best way to evaluate the challenge would be to see what the crux of the route is like (how difficult) and then think “yeah, I can take that one”. Then again, there are many factors that you should consider before isolating this point to evaluate your rate of success.
Have you consider how tired you will be when you get to the crux, if it is 6 or 7 pitches up the route?
Have you consider the fact that you will be carrying all your gear, plus food, plus water, etc? Meaning conditions will be very different from what you do in the gym or local crag?
Have you consider who will take the lead on which pitches to see if the combined team-skill is up to the task?
Have you consider the approach and descent? Remember, the climb is only a part of the whole deal. You still need to get to the base of the climb and back home and that requires a ton of energy.
Do you have a lengthy drive on the way back? It might not be safe to drive back home if you’re totally done.
The weather can change dramatically in the mountains
Step 3: Get a comprehensive overview of the weather and terrain conditions
Ok this one is probably the trickiest one as weather and terrain conditions are very variable and, above all, it takes quite a bit of practice to interpret them all. However this are good places to get proper information.
When it comes to weather, the most relevant thing to consider is trying to look back to what the conditions were in past seasons for the area you’re choosing and look at the big picture. Remember that no matter how good you think you know a slope or terrain, factors can always change. Be ready for it.
If you have considered these 3 steps, I’m pretty confident you will find a vast array of opportunities to go play. Always keep in mind that summiting is just half the way! And no matter what, turning back when the stomach tells you to do it is the best choice you can make. Mountains will still be there tomorrow.
From the world of diving: “Plan your dive and dive you plan”. This is very important gentlemen. A carefully built programme will make you feel safer, act better and you will be able to perform the best while knowing you’re anticipating as much as possible.
I hope this was useful and If you have anything to add, make sure you leave a comment :)