Alpine Climbing Leadership Course
Comprehensive Instruction for Aspiring Alpinists
For those who would like to experience all the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan Mountains has to offer, then this is the trip for you. The 8 day Alpine Mountaineering Leadership Course is designed for those that have the time and desire to maximize the amount of commitment and training needed to become an experienced mountaineer and alpine climber.
We cover basic roped climbing, backcountry travel, camping, map reading, alpine rock, and snow climbing skills. The course culminates in at least four and sometimes five technical mountain ascents that utilize all the skills that were covered in the course. This course is also a great precursor to attempting high altitude mountains in Mexico, South America, Alaska, and beyond.
Our client-to-guide ratio for this course is very low, 2:1, so that you get the maximum amount of instruction and individual attention to insure that you leave this course with a solid foundation of skills and understanding of how to undertake and lead your own alpine climbing adventure. Many of our course graduates go on to climb with us in Washington’s North Cascades which offers participants a “next step” in terms of alpine climbing objectives.
We utilize the Needle Mountains, Grenadier Range, and Ice Lakes Basin in the San Juan Mountains for our course instruction venues. We will attempt some, if not all, of the following climbs: Vestal Peak (Wham Ridge), Arrow Peak (North Ridge), Storm King Peak (NE Buttress), Vermillion Peak (East Ridge), Golden Horn (North Face).
Have been to Chicago Basin with SJMG twice. Could not have been happier with both guides. You run a great program and your guides really do represent SJMG well! – Bob A. Chicago Basin 14’ers 2010
Alpine Leadership Itinerary
Itinerary Note: We can create an Alpine Leadership Course based out of Ouray.
We meet early at the San Juan Mountain Guides’ office. From there, we drive north to Andrews Lake (10,800 ft.). From Andrews Lake, we make a short hike to our base camp location below Snowdon Peak. Here begin our introduction to alpine rock climbing. We will cover knots, belaying, rappelling and rope management skills. Following our rock climbing instruction, we set up camp, cook dinner and relax in the spectacular alpine setting.
After an early breakfast, we will hike to the snow slopes below Snowdon peak. Here, we learn alpine snow and rock climbing techniques, self arrest skills and glissading. We continue with learning and practicing team roped travel, anchoring and belaying.
We will rise early on the third day for our ascent of the West Face of Snowdon Peak (13,077 ft.). We ascend either the Northwest Couloir or the East Ridge depending on conditions. This is a dramatic technical climb which will provide you with exhilarating views of the San Juan Mountains from a high and central location. After descending, we will pack up camp and return to base camp pack up and hike toward Crater lake.
We get an alpine start to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, increasing our chances of success. This morning we will climb North Twighlight peak (13,075 ft.) While climbing the peak, we will apply the techniques we learned over the last few days to assist us in ascending the peak safely and competently.
Today we pack up and hike down to the trailhead and resupply with fresh food then hike to Elk Park. From Elk Park we hike up Elk Creek drainage then to the beaver ponds at 10,500 ft.
From the beaver ponds camp, we climb up into Vestal Basin to a camp below the North Face of Vestal Peak. This takes two hours from the beaver ponds to the camp (at approximately 11,000 ft.).
Climb Vestal Peak via the Wham Ridge. This is a spectacular climb up one of Colorado’s most awe inspiring summits.
After another “alpine start” we attempt Vestal Peak’s “sister” mountain, Arrow peak via the East Ridge. Hike out.
*Please note that itineraries are general and may be changed due to current conditions and participants experience and ability.
Alpine Climbing Equipment List
- Backpack: Internal frame, 50-60 liters. Guides’ pick: Osprey Variant 52
- Sleeping bag: Down or synthetic bag rated between 15-30 degrees with compression stuff sack.
- Sleeping pad
- Bowl, spoon, cup: Plastic/lexan
- Pocket knife: 2-3 inch blade, simple, light
- Small thermos: Optional, but nice to have
- Water bottles: 2 liters combined capacity; bottles or bladder.
- Water purification system: We recommend simple iodine tablets, but pumps are acceptable.
Clothing and Personal Equipment
- Hiking/Alpine boots: Sturdy, waterproof, comfortable boots. Please contact us with questions or further recommendations.
- Socks: 2-3 pair of medium weight wool or synthetic blend socks.
- Base layers: Synthetic t-shirt and synthetic underwear
- Soft shell pants: warm enough for cool mornings and nights, yet light enough for warm days. Guides’ pick: OR Ferrosi
- Soft shell jacket: light weight.
- Insulated vest and/or jacket: down or synthetic. Guides’ pick: OR Transcendent
- Hard shell jacket: waterproof and breathable, no insulation. Guides’ Pick: OR Helium
- Hats: one with brim, one for warmth
- Sunscreen and lip balm: water/sweat-proof
- Headlamp: with extra batteries.
- Toiletries: Toilet paper, baggie for used TP, toothbrush/paste, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.
- Personal first-aid kit: for your personal meds/needs; guide will have a large one as well
- Stuff sacks: for convenient packing
- Lunch food: Everything you eat between breakfast and dinner. May include: bagels, dried meats, cheese, trail mix, candy bars, peanut butter, etc…
- Harness: Adjustable leg loops are essential.
- Locking carabiner: Pear shaped, wide mouth.
- Boots: Hiking boots, or alpine boots – many options. No tennis shoes.
- Crampons: General mountaineering crampons (for May/June trips only – conditions dependent)
- Mountaineering Axe: 60 – 70 cm mountain axe (for May/June trips only – conditions dependent)
Training & Follow Up Climbs
As always, being in excellent physical shape is an important component of our our programs. A good mixture of cardiovascular fitness, muscular fitness, and especially core strength will help you to maximize the potential rewards that are possible on a great climbing trip.
1Before Your Trip
This trip is a strenuous trip conducted at altitudes above 10,000 feet. Therefore, previous experience hiking in the mountains and/or multi-day backpacking experience will be very helpful to you on this program. Though the actual climbing level required for this trip is not difficult, the best training regimen would include a mixture of cardiovascular fitness training (running, biking, hiking etc.), and muscular/core fitness exercises. The addition of some Yoga/stretching exercises will help to insure that you maintain good muscular flexibility as well.
For the Alpine Leadership Course you should be ready for:
- Hiking approximately 6-7 miles per day with up to a 40 lb pack at altitudes between 8,000′ – 11,000 ‘
- 8 – 10 hour summit days with a lighter “day pack”
- Wilderness living
2Follow Up Climbs
I found this to be a great experience and enjoyed all of the personnel and guides associated with San Juan – particularly Matt Pickren! – Steve K. 2011 Private Program
Durango, Colorado: Getting Here
Durango is located in the SW corner of Colorado, at the intersection of the sandstone towers of the desert, and the jagged, San Juan Mountains. A mecca for climbing, hiking, cycling, and foodies; make sure you plan to spend some time in town before and after your SJMG trip. The SJMG Durango office is located at 1111 Camino Del Rio, Durango, CO 81301.
Flights: The best option for flying to the area is to fly into Durango – La Plata County Airport. Multiple airline options exist, and most connections originate from Denver, Phoenix, or Dallas. The airport is a 20 minute drive from our office. Many hotels offer a free shuttle pickup. Buckhorn Limousine offers a shuttle as well.
Driving: Below are some approximate driving times if you’d like to drive to Ouray. If you plan on renting a car, please consider the winter weather when selecting your vehicle and at a minimum choose something that offers either front wheel or all-wheel drive.
- Montrose, CO: 2 hours
- Ouray, CO: 1.5 hours
- Denver, CO: 6 hours
- Albuquerque, NM: 3.5 hours
- Salt Lake City, UT: 6 hours
Hotels: Durango has a number of great hotels, suites, and vacation rentals for you to stay in while you’re in the area. Give our office a call at 800-642-5389 if you have any questions about what would suite you best for this trip! Below are just a few options catering to different lodging styles and preferences.
- Cost Includes:
- Guiding and trip leadership
- Group camping and cooking equipment (tents, stoves, etc.)
- Group climbing equipment (ropes, etc.)
- Harness, helmet
- Not Included:
- Transportation to Durango, CO
- Hotel costs before or after the courses
- Personal meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
- 5% land use surcharge
- Trip cancellation insurance – recommended
- Personal backpacking climbing clothing
- Costs associated with early returns, weather delays, or other factors beyond our control
- Guide gratuity
- Registration and Cancellation:
- Advance Registration is required for this program. You have the option to either call our office and register via phone, fill out our pdf Registration Form and send it in via fax or email, or utilize our secure Online Reservation System. All participants must read and sign an Assumption of Risks/Liability Waiver and agree to our Reservations and Cancellations Policies.
The guides were professional, knowledgeable, and friendly. The office staff was also great and very helpful. Thanks for a great trip and I look forward to more trips with San Juan Mountain Guides. – Trevor Y. Chicago Basin 14’ers 2011