In my pursuit to find if mountaineering is for me, I have been busy buying gear, reading, and practicing skills as part of the Washington Alpine Club’s Basic Climbing course. After this post, I hope to post more regularly on the instruction and outings on a weekly basis.

Week 1 – Introductions, Leave No Trace, and Gear Part 1 (+Gear Night)

The first week was pretty chill on the learning department. All the students received books for the course, along with a gear list and practice rope. Everyone introduced themselves, and we were off with our first instruction of respecting nature by leaving minimal impact, along with a high level talk on gear needed for the class.

Second Ascent, a local Seattle outdoors store, hosted a gear night for all the students the following night. During the gear night, instructors were available to share what gear worked and did not work for them. Students tried on boots and backpacks. Fortunately for me, Andy has been through a similar program, so I have access to most of his gear. However, I did decide to purchase new carabiners, along with perlon, webbing, and a personal anchor system (PAS).

Week 2 – Gear Part 2 (+Gear Night)

The second gear talk covered technical gear we would be using, along with the clothing needed to stay warm and dry for the conditions. The second gear night was hosted by Feathered Friends, another local outdoor store. Feathered Friends also provided discounts and makes some of the best goose-down gear in the world. Since I previously purchased my gear through the years and the prior week, I only needed a compass.

Week 3 – Compass and Navigation

How do you read a map? Do you know how what all the squiggly lines mean?

As you could imagine, maps are a great resource when in the wilderness and could save your life. Contour lines are for elevation and depict whether you are looking at a ridge or a valley. The colors of the map also tell you the vegetation or if there is a water source.

A couple years ago, Andy taught me how to use bearings and navigate back to our car without using the trail. We bush whacked A LOT, but the experience was helpful. With this prior practice, the compass and navigation instruction was a great refresher. I did learn to read ridges compared to valleys on a map, along with how to use declination. What is declination? It is the difference between true north and magnetic north. Compasses without declination require some math when navigating

Outing 1 – Mt. Si

Finally, it was time to practice the in-class instruction. As part of the outings, the students have to pass gear checks to ensure preparation. Various tarps were set up in the parking lot as we crossed off the items on the list and repacked our bags.

I was able to test out my gear and see how it handled in the rainy climate. Mt. Si gains 3,150 feet in elevation over four miles (one way). To test our physical endurance, students were encouraged to finish the climb in under two hours. Mt. Si was also the course’s qualifying hike, which I struggled on. With little additional training and the pressure of competition, I was able to complete the hike in 1 hour and 42 minutes! I was very happy with my ability to climb the distance with a 25 to 30 pound pack. The trees protected me from the rain, and the trail had snow cover for roughly the last half mile. The rain turned to snow at the top of Si, so I was happy to have brought a foam pad to sit/stand on.

Our large group mainly finished under the designated two hour time limit and found a nice place under the trees. After reaching the time, I had little time to rest. I changed my sweaty, wet base layers and socks and added a mid layer for extra warmth. Snacking and drinking as much water as I could.

My group’s first station was knots. The knots instruction is not covered until the following Tuesday, but it was a great introduction. I knew most of the knots but did not know the technical terms. My instructor demonstrated a clean knot and had me practice it a few time to ensure muscle memory. After time passed, it was off to a new station.


Station two consisted on navigation and compass. First, my partner and I oriented ourselves on the map and were given questions on how to navigate to other points on the map. After reading the map, we were put to the test. Various trees with marking tape were created to practice our bearings. We were given a card with different bearings and had to write down the letter on the tape of the next tree. As we went tree to tree, I found out my declination was set to 12 degrees instead of 16, which made my readings different than my partner’s. After much discussion and tramping around in the snow, we spelled out “STEVENS.”


The final station was survival and emergency bivy techniques. I got up close and personal with my classmates as we huddled to stay warm. As a group, we had to “survive” with what was in our packs. After dumping out our packs and creating an insulating surface, everyone started to lay down. At times, we had three layers of bodies. I shared a bivy bag with another classmate and stayed pretty warm. As the outside people became cold, we all shifted around to get the colder people in the middle.


After the bivy station, my group waited for the other stations to finish before we hiked back to the trailhead. It was a great day that ended with drinks at a local restaurant.

Mountaineering School Series:

What is your favorite piece of gear?

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