The world's tallest mountains are all covered in glaciers. Learning how to safely negotiate that terrain is an important skill in order to be a self-sufficient team in the mountains.
Taking a course to learn from a certified guide is a great way to expedite that learning process so that you can access the world’s glaciated mountains.
When snow falls during the winter and doesn’t fully melt each summer there is a net surplus of snow in the mountains. Over many years that snow piles up and compresses under its own weight eventually becoming ice.
Once this happens the ice begins to slowly deform and flow downhill under its own weight. This ice flows over mountainous terrain creating a harsh and inhospitable landscape of crevasses and jumbled blocks of ice.
Finding an experienced and reputable mentor to share the nuances of glacier travel and crevasse rescue will help you have a long successful mountaineering career.
Glaciated peaks are almost always remote, harsh and isolated places. Knowing how to navigate on a glacier and prevent a crevasse fall takes time in the terrain.
The best way to gain that knowledge and experience is under the tutelage of a certified guide and educator.
Before taking this course, having some basic knowledge will help you pick up key concepts quicker. Being a climber and familiar with tying into a rope, belaying etc… make the rescue systems more digestible. Also having previous experience with general mountaineering such as cramponing and self arrest with a mountain ax.
What are your mountain goals? Mount Rainier, Denali, or beyond? All of those peaks require significant travel in glaciated terrain.
Not all education is created equal. When you are looking to learn about glacier travel and crevasse rescue you owe it to yourself and your partners to get the best.
With lots of options out there, here are some things to consider when selecting a course.
Getting actual hands-on experience on a glacier is invaluable. Theory will only get you so far, traveling on a glacier is a very blue-collar skill.
Without the context and practical knowledge gained from supervision on glaciated terrain you won’t gain the confidence to do it yourself later. Many single-day courses are constrained by time and travel distances so they don’t actually ever take place on a glacier.
This is fine if you are comfortable with the navigation component and only want to learn about the technical rope systems, but that is only half the story.
A single-day glacier travel and crevasse rescue course can be a great refresher down the road.
However, there is a lot of curriculum to cover. Without enough time you are likely to breeze over important information that should be covered in depth.
A glacier travel and crevasse rescue course should cover: snow anchors, knots/hitches, equipment, rigging the rope for travel, roped travel techniques, glacial landform navigation, glacier morphology, rope ascension, and of course partner rescue.
To put it bluntly, you get what you pay for.
Taking a discounted course will probably mean you are taught by uncertified guides with limited real-world experience.
Make sure you find an independent and AMGA-certified Alpine Guide to learn from. This will ensure that you are getting exposed to the latest and greatest techniques.
Guiding and outdoor education happen in a vacuum meaning you don’t know the quality of service you are receiving because you don’t have any comparison. By taking the time to research and vet your educator's credentials you know you’ll have a fantastic course.
The more knowledge you show up with the more you’ll get out of your course.
Like any adult education the more effort you put into it the more you’ll get from it. With that in mind, here are a few things you can do to prepare.
Be familiar with rope systems for general climbing. This doesn’t mean that you have to be lead climbing, but a basic understanding of belaying, knots, hitches and rappelling is preferred. Bonus if you are familiar with some rock rescue techniques as well.
Having the ability to exist outside in a cold and snowy environment. The mountains are a harsh learning environment; if we aren’t warm and hydrated it becomes very difficult to focus on learning new things.
I would suggest going on some winter hikes or backcountry ski tours to get comfortable with your layering systems. This will allow you to better participate in the course.
Along the lines of being able to exist in a mountain environment having the prerequisite knowledge of some basic mountaineering skills will also benefit you. Primarily the use of crampons and a mountain ax.
Glacier travel and crevasse rescue skills are becoming more and more popular as people take their climbing and mountaineering to the next level. The pursuit of mountaineering is deeply rewarding and it can also be dangerous. Making sure you have all the necessary skills to accomplish your goals is really important. No mountain is worth dying for.
So finding a mentor who you trust to show you the ropes is imperative.
That is why I offer a 6-day immersive glacier travel and crevasse rescue seminar on Mt Baker every summer. If you are interested in signing up, click here to contact me for more information.
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