Hiking or Mountaineering?

Posted on Jun 18, 2015

The Golden Hinde Traverse, Albert Edward to Comox Glacier, Flower Ridge to Love Lake and Della Falls, Rambler Peak, Elkhorn Mountain. These are just a a few examples of the incredible mountain trips that await hikers in Vancouver Island’s amazing mountain ranges. But for many hikers these and other trips are just out of reach because they require some basic mountaineering skills to negotiate the terrain and to manage risk effectively. We’re not talking about needing to become hardened, technica, high-altitude alpinists here, just about having some basic skills in snow climbing, glacier travel and alpine rock climbing that would allow a person to manage that terrain that is just a little more than hiking but which is inevitably found on many of the classic island mountain trips.

So how to make the transition to being able to manage these trips? What skills are required and how do you get them?

Snow 

With a generous (normally!) winter snowpack in the island alps, a hiker will often encounter sections of steeper mountain terrain that remain snow covered right through the summer. Often a slip or fall on this snow could result in significant harm because of what awaits you at the bottom of the slope. Managing this terrain effectively means knowing how to use an ice axe and perhaps crampons and a rope in a number of different ways. Whereas coming across snow-covered terrain may have turned you around on a trip on the past, having basic snow climbing skills will allow you to continue safely and to achieve your desired objective.

Glaciers 

While glaciers on the island tend to be small, there are plenty of great mountain trips which require you to cross glaciers. Don’t be mistaken: though island glaciers may be smaller than their cousins in other ranges, they still present all the same glacial hazards such as crevasses, mill holes and bergschrunds. Travelling on glaciers requires knowledge in glacial route finding, knowing how to rope up for glacier travel and knowing how to pull someone out of a crevasse should they fall in.

Rock 

Good route finding and experience can certainly go a long ways in helping you avoid having to climb any steep rock on a mountain trip. But the reality of many of the great island mountain trips is that inevitably there will be some “scrambling” on rock to be done. Managing this fourth and low fifth class terrain requires a set of techniques that differ from those you may have used when rock climbing at local cliffs. Route finding on rock, short roping and short pitching are just some of the alpine rock techniques that will serve you very well when negotiating these sometimes tricky little sections of island mountain terrain.

I’ve discussed all the above skills in the context of the Island Alps but of course these skills are universal and will translate to trips in mountain ranges all over the world if that is your desire!

How does one get these skills you ask? Well there are many ways and they each have their advantages and disadvantages. Rather than go over all of these here I’ll refer to a couple of blogs I have written on the subject in past years: Why Professionial Instruction? and Your Alpine Education both address these questions. In short I think that a range of experiences from learning from friends, through club offerings all the way to professional training are all relevant and have their pluses and minuses. But I will make a renewed plea here for the value of getting your initial training from professionals. It simply means that you’ll get a solid grounding in skills taught correctly to the current, international and professional standard. What better platform to start from than that?

We’ve got a bunch of really great skills trainings coming up that are perfectly designed to get you into the mountains and doing those trips that you’ve only been able to imagine doing up to now. And we’ve got a lot of dates to choose from as well. Check them out!:

Mountain Skills Fly-in - This course manages to cover a big range of snow climbing, glacier travel and crevasse rescue skills and even some alpine rock climbing skills in just three days. We achieve this by using a helicopter to access a spectacular site at the toe of a glacier allowing us to get three full days of intensive learning in. We cover all the curriculum of a five day full mountain skills course in just three days and all of this comes for basically the same price as the five day course, including the helicopter! 

Alpine Rock Skills - We've had a lot of requests for an alpine rock climbing skills course so here it is! Travelling in the Island Alps, or any mountain range for that matter, inevitably involves managing rock climbing terrain in that fourth and low to mid fifth class range. The "pitching" or "end roping" techniques which we use at the crags are not appropriate in this terrain as they are too slow and actually increase risk from hazards like rock fall. On this course we'll cover all the short roping and short pitching techniques that you need to move efficiently in alpine rock terrain as well as route finding skills, transitions from snow and ice to rock and much more.

Learn to Lead on Rock - If climbing more technical rock in the alpine is on your list of skills then our two day traditional learn to lead course is the thing for you. From anchor building to leading perfect pitches on traditional, removable protection, we’ll get you all tuned up to lead safe pitches on your own.

Intro to Rock - If you have never rock climbed and are interested in being introduced to the sport this two day course will teach you everything you need to know to go out top roped climbing on your own. This makes a great starting point both for rock climbing as a sport in it’s own right or for using rock climbing skills in the alpine.

Rock Rescue - If you're climbing multiple rope lengths of rock either in a cragging setting or in the mountains you’ll need to know what to do when things don’t go quite right! Check out the blog I wrote about rock rescue here: http://www.islandalpineguides.com/posts/19 and watch the story that Chek News did about our rock rescue courses here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMDdSNwCON8.

Elkhorn - For some people the best way to learn to start with is by observing. Others aren’t really interested in learning the skills they just want someone to manage the risk, make the decisions and get them to a summit on a great day of climbing. Either way our guided climbs of island peaks may be perfect for you. One of the classics is the island’s second highest peak Elkhorn. The “Matterhorn of the Island Alps” is a beauty and the ascent of it’s north west ridge unforgettable.

There is of course much more adventure awaiting you at our web site. Take a trip there and choose your trips for the summer. And of course get in touch if you have any questions. We’re always happy to help with info for your personal trips as well.

Enjoy what we have here on the island this spring and summer!

Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides