After thinking about it all winter, I finally met my goal of learning the fundamentals of mountaineering. I took a class from Colorado Mountain School titled Mountaineering 101. My instructor was Ed, and my classmates were Al, Mark, and Pete.
On Saturday we hiked up above Bear Lake in Rocky National Park to a nice snow hill to practice and learn. The notes here are just memory aids for me. It is my pathetic attempt to to recall the instruction given. Likely I forgot over half of what I was taught, and didn't understand the rest. Please take a real course from Ed if you want to do this kind of thing for real. Oh yeah, and feel free to set me straight in the comments section!
For steep snow, use the cross over step. Standing sideways to the hill, step up by crossing one foot over the other. This position is off balanced. Then step up with your other foot. This position is balanced. In the balance position, you move and plant your ice axe.
Your other option is the duck walk. By pointing your toes out as you climb you relieve the pressure on your calves. This is the main goal of both of these techniques.
If you find yourself losing your footing and start to slide down hill, here are the techniques for stopping.
Sliding on back, feet first: put the ice axe pick in the snow by your shoulder, your other hand at base (don't choke up). Roll over and put your weight on the axe. If you have crampons on, use your knees to aid the slowdown. If no crampons use your toes as brakes, raising your hips.
Sliding on back, head first: plant pick by hip and flip your legs around.
Sliding on stomach, head first: plant pick by your shoulder and you will flip around into the proper position.
For roped travel we used the short roping technique. The person on the end will use a figure 8 follow to connect to the rope. All people in the middle use a simple overhand knot loop an arm span apart. The lead climber also uses a figure 8 knot to connect.
Sunday we climbed one of the top snow climbs in Colorado. The Dragon's Tail Couloir is mostly class 3 terrain, with short sections of class 4 snow. At least on April 30th it was.
We seen other climbers demonstrating unsafe behavior. There were skiers who were not roped at all. We seen rope teams with too much rope between them. We decided to get away from these climbers to avoid being flossed of the mountain.
Where the climb got really steep we encountered some very sloppy loose snow. It was quite a rush to make it through this section.
Because the slope was steep at the top, our guide Ed decided to anchored us using a picket. After reaching the picket the second climber has to collect it as fast as he can. Ed's advice: "no fiddle fucking around." Gather it and attach it to you somewhere above your knees quickly.
As we reached the top of flattop mountain, there were some skiers and snowboarders waiting to descend. Those folks are extreme to go down that snow.
As we descended we found a nice spot to do some glissading. The slide was good but not great since the snow was a bit sticky in the early afternoon.
We then had lunch as we reached tree line. The hike back to the parking lot gave me a chance to reflect on the climb. It was quite an exhilirating experience! In the parking lot it felt cool having tourists watch "the mountaineers" come in.