Intro to Winter Mountaineering Course
Mountaineering & Expedition Style Climbing
Whether you want to become self sufficient in general mountaineering skills, or are headed to high altitude mountains in South America, Asia or Alaska, our Four day Introduction to Mountaineering & Expedition Climbing Course will prepare you well. We utilize the exceptional terrain of the San Juan Mountains between Ouray and Durango to conduct this program.
The mountain we train on, and climb, is Engineer Mountain (12,978 ft.) via the NE Ridge. The NE Ridge is characterized by steep snow and mixed rock challenges, the perfect alpine mixture to give you a feel for what it’s like to tackle a cold weather ascent in the mountains. On Engineer we also have an established basecamp cache to help keep our packs light on the approach. With our camp situated right at treeline, we are able to cover a wide range of course curriculum during the 3 day mountaineering section of the program.
The course begins in Ouray and involves 1 day of alpine ice skills in the Ouray Ice Park. The exceptional terrain of the Ice Park not only allows us to introduce and develop specific skills such as crampon and ice axe use, but participants are also able to acclimate to the altitude and winter conditions that typify the rugged San Juan Mountains. We follow with 3 days of general mountaineering and winter camping on Engineer Mountain – covering the following skills in the process:
- Avalanche Awareness and Hazard Recognition
- Proper Camp Construction and Fortification
- Expedition Style Ascents
- Team Roped Travel
- Anchor Construction in Alpine Terrain
- Snow Climbing Technique
- Crevasse Rescue Protocol
- Terrain Selection and Navigation
Just wanted to drop you a line and express how much I thoroughly enjoyed your ice class. It was fun to spend sometime with a climber of Andres ability and he was a terrific instructor an a joy to be around. You have a great business and I will be back again….Thanks again for a thoroughly enjoyable two days.” – S. Morgan, Basic Ice Course Dec 11-12, 2010
Intro to Mountaineering Course Itinerary
We meet the evening prior to the course at the San Juan Mountain Guides office in Ouray to take care of any outfitting needs, perform a thorough check of your personal equipment, and give you the opportunity to purchase or rent any additional items that you may need for the course. We also give you tips on packing your pack for departure the following morning. If course participants cannot attend the evening meeting, arrangements must be made to complete these tasks the morning that the course begins. Stay in a hotel.
Introduction to ice climbing. After getting outfitted we proceed to the Ouray Ice Park. We learn the basics of using crampons and ice tools to climb, emphasizing proper body positions and becoming an efficient climber. We continue refining our techniques and progress toward steeper ice climbs. We also cover basic ice anchors used for top roping and setting up a rappel. Stay in a hotel.
We drive to the trailhead at the top of Coal Bank Pass, load up our packs with gear and food, put on our snow shoes, and begin the approach to base camp. On the way, we discuss route finding and avalanche safety, focusing on snow condition evaluation and hazardous terrain recognition. Once we get settled into base camp we head out and practice using avalanche beacons. Camp out.
We begin the day by examining the snowpack and digging a hasty pit in order to assess the avalanche potential of a particular given slope. After examining the snowpack we work on gaining knowledge of snow climbing techniques, and learn and practice the many different positions in which to use the ice axe as a self belay and self arrest tool. We then move into learning how to incorporate the rope for additional safety. We practice snow anchors, snow belays and how to safely travel as a rope team. Camp out.
Today we get up early and attempt the Northeast Ridge of Engineer Mountain (12,978 ft.). This is a spectacular alpine climb with exposed ridges and some moderately steep snow and rock climbing. We employ many of the skills we practiced on day two. The climb moves along a narrow ridge with a few steep sections. We use rope and snow protection on the ascent. Stay in hotel or depart.
Intro to Winter Mountaineering Equipment
- Water Bottles: 2 1 liter size Nalgene w/bottle insulators.
- Small Thermos: Optional, but nice to have
- Backpack: Approximately 50 – 70 liters.
- Gaiters: N/A for ice boots with integrated gaiter systems.
- Lunch Food: Bring a selection of energy bars, GU’s, Clif Shots, and other high calorie quick energy foods.
- Sleeping Bag: zero degree with compression sack.
- Sleeping Pads: full length air mattress, foam pad.
- Cup, Bowl & Spoon, pocket knife or Leatherman Tool
- Personal First Aid Kit
- Personal Toiletries: Travel size; toothbrush & paste, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, wag bags
- Socks: 2 -3 pairs of heavy wool or polypropylene.
- Base Layers: two pairs of tops and bottoms. Light to Midweight, synthetic material.
- Mid-Layer: Versatile fleece or similar mid-layer piece.
- Soft Shell Jacket & Pants: Shoeller or similar soft shell jacket.
- Down Jacket or Insulated Parka
- Shell Jacket: Be sure that it will fit over all your other clothes. Gore-tex recommended.
- Shell Pants: With side zippers are best. Gore-tex recommended.
- Down Pants: Recommended for cold temperatures
- Down Booties: Recommended for cold temperatures for around camp
- Gloves: A pair of heavy gloves and a pair of medium weight gloves, mittens are great too.
- Hats: 1 warm pile or wool hat that fits comfortably under your helmet, 1 Sunhat.
- Balaclava or BUFF: A must have for cold days and wind.
- Sunglasses: Category 3 or 4 lenses
- Sunscreen and Lip Balm: At least SPF 30.
- Digital Camera
- Harness: Adjustable leg loops are essential.
- Locking carabiner: 2 Pear shaped, wide mouth.
- Non-Locking Carabiners
- Belay / Rappel device: ATC or similar.
- Climbing Helmet
- Boots: Leather insulated mountaineering boots.
- Crampons: Step in mountaineering crampons with horizontal front points.
- Ice Tools: Ice climbing tools
- Trekking Poles
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
Familiarity with basic climbing principles such as knots, belaying, rappelling, and rock climbing technique can be very helpful for our Intro Course participants. Though not required, prior multi-day backpacking experience will help you to acquire and assimilate the information covered in our mountaineering course progression as quickly as possible.
2Follow Up Climbs
We very much enjoyed our time in Ouray! The private 2-day climbing program was impressive. Our guide, Mark, was/is an excellent teacher. He took the time to build the skills for each of us, listened to the concerns and course corrected to ensure we were achieving what we wanted to achieve. Basically, Mark rocks! We look forward to coming back. – J. Bowers, 2011 Private Program
Ouray, Colorado: Getting Here
Ouray is located in the SW corner of Colorado, approximately 30 minutes south of Montrose. Known as “The Switzerland of America”, the town of Ouray is a vibrant outdoor oriented community. All local businesses are very friendly to the ice climbers who flock each winter to climb in the Ouray Ice Park and surrounding areas.
Flights: The best option for flying to the area is to fly into Montrose, CO. Many airline options exist, and most connections originate from Denver, CO. It is also possible to fly into Durango, CO, Telluride, CO, or Albuquerque, NM. It may be necessary to rent a car and drive to Ouray if you’d like to fly into one of either of these airports.
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: 45 mins
- Durango, CO: 2 hours
- Denver, CO: 6 hours
- Albuquerque, NM: 4.5 hours
- Salt Lake City, UT: 6 hours
Hotels: Ouray 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!
- Box Canyon Lodge
- Ouray Chalet
- San Juan Chalet
- Cost Includes:
- Guiding and instruction
- Transportation from Ouray to the TH and back
- Breakfasts and dinners on the mountain
- Group camping and cooking equipment (tents, stoves, etc.)
- Group climbing equipment (ropes, ice screws etc.),
- Harness, helmet
- Not Included:
- Transportation to Ouray, CO
- Hotel costs before or after the courses
- 5% land use surcharge
- Trip cancellation insurance – recommended
- Personal 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.