Intro to Alpine Climbing

Introduction to Alpine Climbing Course

Learn the Fundamentals of Alpinism

Climbers on Wham Ridge

Our 3 Day Introduction to Alpine Climbing is designed for those who are new to alpine rock/snow climbing and would like to experience what the backcountry has to offer and gain valuable skills for future mountain adventures. This is the perfect course to satisfy your curiousity if you’ve been thinking about taking your front country climbing skills and seeing how you perform in a wilderness setting.

The San Juan Mountains provide us with the perfect venue to teach the basic principles of backcountry travel and alpine climbing. We conduct this program in the Yankee Boy Basin and the Mt. Sneffels area where many climbing options exist.  From the Snake Couloir on Mt. Sneffels to the North Face Couloir on Gilpin Peak, there will be ample opportunity on this program to master snow travel skills and alpine climbing techniques utilizing crampons and ice axes.

Seminar Highlights and Topics Covered Include:

  • Standard belaying and rappelling methods in alpine environments.
  • Alpine anchors, climbing gear, hauling systems, and self-rescue protocol.
  • Route planning, map, compass, and GPS navigational tactics.
  • General trip planning and packing including:
  • Food options dependent upon your itinerary.
  • Stoves and cook gear and their proper use.
  • Essential gear to keep pack weights light.
  • Campsite selection and Leave-No-Trace (LNT) principles.
  • Pace and time management.

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

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Intro to Alpine Climbing Itinerary

The Trinity Peaks


Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

Leading up Wham Ridge

Day 3

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, the East Ridge, or the West Buttress 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. From the summit, you can see the entire San Juan Range and the raging Animas River almost five thousand feet below. After descending, we will pack up camp, return to Andrews Lake, and drive back to Durango.

*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, 45 – 65 liters. Guides’ pick: Osprey Variant 52
  • Sleeping bag: Down or synthetic bag rated between 15-30 degrees with compression stuff sack. Guides’ pick: Neutrino Endurance 400
  • Sleeping pad: Guides’ pick: Thermarest NeoAir
  • 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. Guides’ pick: Nalgene or Osprey
  • Water purification system: We recommend simple iodine tablets, but pumps are acceptable. Guides’ pick: Potable Aqua

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. Guides’ pick: OR Ferrosi
  • Insulated vest: 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
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen and lip balm: water/sweat-proof
  • Headlamp: with extra batteries. Guides’ pick: Black Diamond Spot
  • 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
  • Camera
  • Lunch food: Everything you eat between breakfast and dinner. May include: bagels, dried meats, cheese, trail mix, candy bars, peanut butter, etc…

Climbing Equipment

  • Harness: Adjustable leg loops are essential.
  • Locking carabiner: Pear shaped, wide mouth.
  • Helmet
  • 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

Climbing Wham Ridge

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 Intro to Alpine Climbing 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.

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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.

Additional Information

  • Cost Includes:

On the summit

  • 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
  • Participants will be required to plan their own meals
  • 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

Download the pdf Form

Register Now Online


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