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Where to live to become a great alpinist

Original Post
Ethan Judd · · Alta, Wyoming · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 0


I've got some questions I've been thinking about for while. I want to become a good enough alpinist to climb hard routes in Patagonia, Alaska, and the Himalaya. Hard to me means things like Fitzroy, Mooses Tooth, and K7. Things with lots of technical rock, ice and mixed climbing basically. I'm not really interested in snow climbs

I currently live in Driggs, Idaho and have done a fair amount of moutaineering, alpine climbing and ski mountaineering. I've climbed a little bit of 5.10- trad at the City of Rocks and in the Tetons, but most of my trad experience is 5.8 and 5.9 stuff. I've also done some alpine grade 3 and 4 routes in the Tetons. I've redpointed up to 5.11c sport. My ice climbing experience is minimal, but I have enough to be confident in saying that I can lead WI 3+

I come from a trail running background. I've been running consistently since I was 14, (I'm 22 now) and I started climbing and ski touring about 2.5 years ago. 

As much as I realize that the Tetons are prime for the kind of stuff I want to do, I feel that my great weakness is my climbing ability. There are some crags near Driggs, but they're not too convenient and it's difficult to get a lot of mileage on them because most of the routes are at my maximum ability or above. I end up hanging around in the air a lot and feel like I'm not using my time optimally. And on the easier routes, I feel I have them so dialed that I'm not really learning much. Also, the season is really short. I don't feel like I'm really improving my climbing technique on real rock all that efficiently. It seems like my time could be spent much more efficiently.

I feel that for me, the aerobic, hiking endurance would be easy to train. I don't really need any resources to do it. But I feel like I need to move somewhere with much more accessible climbing. I'm only able to get into the Tetons a maximum of once per week if I have a partner. And that tends to be fairly sporadic. Even if I could go more, I don't know that I'd have the energy. The other days are spent running or in the rock gym. I'm heavily considering moving to Salt Lake City so that I can have access to Little Cottonwood Canyon locally, and then be within weekend trip distance of the Tetons, Zion and more. The ideal, in my mind, would be to be cragging on real rock on weekdays and improving my alpine climbing skills or big wall skills or crack skills on the weekends.

I also wonder, is it better to become a great rock climber, snow climber, and ice climber separately over different periods of time, say a year each, and then put them together? Or is it better to work them all at the same time in the alpine realm? My intuition tells me the first option is better, especially when I'm younger in climbing years.

Anyway, does anyone have any suggestions? Are there any crushing alpinists on here who would be willing to comment rather than armchair alpinists? Is Salt Lake a good choice? Are my theories reasonable? Let me know. Thanks.

Kyle Tarry · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 162

Living in the vicinty of the Tetons, like you do now, is probably one of the best places to train to become a really good alpinist.  That being said, I think location is less important than you think.  Anywhere with decent cragging and decent mountain access is fine, which is a lot of places (Jackson, SLC, Denver, Seattle, LA, Boston, etc.).  You gotta put in the time.

"Minimal" ice climbing experience doesn't usually equate to leading WI3+, but it's hard to say without knowing what "minimal" means to you.

Skibo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 5

If you're already at the Tetons, just climb there.  There are a bunch of neat moderate and hard alpine routes around. Climb long routes, or link ups, so you can move fast in the mountains.  Jack Tackle put up some pretty scrappy mixed climbs there in the 90s, and there's enough ice around to allow you to develop some decent skills--Dreadfalls, Darkness, Prospector, Gorbachev, etc., and there are some up Teton Canyon on your side.  There's the Black Ice and Enclosure couloirs, and NW Ice Couloir.  While you're on the Enclosure Couloir, look at Lowe Route and the High Route on the Enclosure.  Lots of real mountaineering to be done there--Hossack-McGowan, Shea's Chute, Run-Don't-Walk, etc.

Philip Magistro · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 0

I agree that the Tetons are a great place to become a well rounded alpinist.  If you want to become a truly proficient,  however, spend time climbing in different ranges.  Go to Yosemite and free climb and do some walls to learn all the useful trickery (handy in Patagonia).  Go spend some time swinging tools in and around Ouray.  Climb in Colorado to play on different types of rock and in Utah to dial in splitters.  

Then go to Patagonia or AK and take a crack at some moderates and learn for yourself what you need to know to tackle the big routes.  Have fun!

jon jugenheimer · · Madison, WI · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 2,149

Scott Backes lived most of his life in St. Paul, Minnesota...think about that for a minute.  It's not always about where you live, but the time you have to climb and the motivation to keep climbing.  You want to be an alpinist, then spend time between your backyard, and the Canadian Rockies with stops in MT.  And spend a few weeks in Cody this winter and get your ice game up.  All this big mountain routes are done with tools in your hands. 

Ethan Judd · · Alta, Wyoming · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 0

Thanks guys, these are all really worthwhile opinions! I appreciate it!

grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 70

Salta Laka City

DCarey · · Missoula · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 65

Just to reiterate what others have said, It is not the location that makes a good alpinist, but the work they are willing to pour into it. That being said, if location was a factor, I would say you are in a great one. 

Do all the routes Skibo listed and more. Spend time in the City as well as the Fins. There are plenty of routes at both places to further your abilities. You are within a days drive of Hyalite and Cody, two of the best ice venues in the country. Put in the hours there to refine your ice skills. Make trips to Yosemite, Indian Creek, and Zion for cracks and big walls. Head over to the Lost River range and climb some of the big mixed lines (Broken Wings and Grand Central Couloir) to start putting things together. 

This is just my opinion, but I think that your success in the alpine will depend less on your ability to climb really hard rock (this won't hurt though) and more on your ability to move quickly over a variety of mediums with tools all in one climb while being very aware of the safety of you and your partner. Also, you mentioned you are not interested in snow climbs. Knock out the ones in the Tetons anyway. It is inevitable you will encounter a snow slog either approaching or descending a climb in one of the greater ranges. Plus they build your suffer calouses. 

If I were you, I would stay put...and never ever move to Missoula. 

Derek DeBruin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 585

I don't know what you mean by "crushing," but I definitely prefer the type of alpinism you mention--technical, difficult, more rock/ice/mixed than snow. As far as the fitness/physical skills go, I think there's two things to work on:

1. All-day endurance. 2. Climbing hard.

Basically, if you've already got #1 under control, then you want to climb hard enough that you can do it consistently during #1. For example, if you want to do the Grand Traverse, this generally makes for a very big day. But it goes much more smoothly if your limit is 5.10 or 5.11 as opposed to 5.8 (since that's the crux difficulty). 5.8 feels harder after you've already climbed 7,000 or 8,000 feet of vert, and it's harder still if it's your limit, as opposed to well below it. My approach is to become as strong as possible at the crag with the intention of being able to dial it back and perform very confidently on big objectives. If you can climb WI6 at the crag, you might not even feel the need to rope up for the hundreds of feet of WI3 you'll encounter on a big route. This can save you lots of time, where speed can mean safety.

The other parts you'll need to focus on are:

3. Technical skills/systems. 4. Climbing technique (for all the desired disciplines). 5. The details (logistics, bivy, gear, mountain living, etc.). 6. Head game.

Often #6 is a direct result of your abilities and confidence in all the other things. #4 is likely your crux. If you have a decent gym and access to hills and trail (sounds like it), you can get most of these things dialed through intentional hard work. You can work technical systems in your living room, in a big tree, at the gym, at the crag, on short multipitch climbs depending on the skill. You'll get better at logistics as you go, but read lots of books and magazines, watch videos, and do lots of planning for big routes. You can get wicked strong in a gym. But at some point if you want to be a better rock climber, ice climber, or mixed climber, you need mileage on real terrain.

For that, I wouldn't necessarily say you need an entire year, but rather, take a year to intentionally develop movement skills and just use the seasons accordingly. For example, as ski season wraps up in the Tetons in April/May, you should be prepping for rock climbing in the gym. Rock climbing and rock-based alpine routes June to August/September. Mixed climbing September to November. Ice December to February/March, ski March to May. Repeat.

As suggested above, ideally for each phase of that annual cycle, work in a trip or two to a different location that allows you to focus hard on that skill set. Cascades for glacier skills. Sierra for alpine rock cragging. Yosemite, Black Canyon, Canada for big walls/long routes. Bozeman, Cody, Ouray for ice. Tetons, Sawtooths, Wasatch for skiing. Pick an appropriate but challenging objective for each trip, plan and train like hell, do a warm-up route, get on the big objective, evaluate, refine. Repeat.

Chris C. · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 321


Christian George · · Ridgway CO · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 0

At your age, the real answer is in a van. 

Or at your girlfriend’s apartment. 

Taggart Cole · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 133

Southern East coast, make you just angsty enuff to push your limit and not care about dying.

Boots Ylectric · · Chicago IL · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 165
grog m aka Greg McKee wrote:

Salta Laka City

 Tell me more.  I may be moving this summer, and that's an option I've been considering.  

Jonny d · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2011 · Points: 40


Rui Ferreira · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jul 2003 · Points: 869

I also recommend spending time in Chamonix.  It provides a large selection of climbs at all levels of difficulty including glacier travel, along with snow ice and rock climbing.  The climbing standards are very high and there is the opportunity to climb with others and get exposed to climbing light and fast.  The access to climbs and route information/weather is also superior to the logistics typically found in the US. It is however a relatively expensive place to live.

Regarding the skill set for high end mountaineering focus primarily on snow and ice climbing as opposed to high end rock climbing as do you rarely free climb beyond 5.10 on alpine routes.

David Morison · · salt lake city, UT · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 70
Boots Ylectric wrote:

 Tell me more.  I may be moving this summer, and that's an option I've been considering.  

SLC is good. Granite trad, limestone sport, ice, skiing, paragliding, all sorts of bouldering, all sorts of mountain fun, all within an hour drive radius.

shredward · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 0
David Morison wrote:

SLC is good. Granite trad, limestone sport, ice, skiing, paragliding, all sorts of bouldering, all sorts of mountain fun, all within an hour drive radius.

Front range/ boulder is way better.  Cooler people, better air quality, more fancy restaurants 

grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 70
shredward wrote:

Front range/ boulder is way better.  Cooler people, better air quality, more fancy restaurants 

Yes. Front range is much better. 

Norm Larson · · Wilson, Wy. · Joined Jan 2008 · Points: 55

Being a well rounded solid alpinist means being well rounded in all types of climbing. As great as the Tetons are for getting alpine experience you need access to better rock climbing if you want to get better. You can move but you also can do extended trips away to better your climbing skills. Living in the Teton means you are well placed to take advantage of weather/condition windows that appear in the winter. Winter climbing in the Tetons is a great way to further your alpine experience. Take more climbing trips. The desert is a great way to become a proficient crack climber and you absolutely must do some walls to get your rope systems dialed. Back country ski more so you get to understand the mountains in winter more intimately. Spend a season in Peru climbing in the Blanca. It's a great range of big mountains with pretty good weather and big objectives at altitude and a reasonably inexpensive way to get up high without big permit fees.

Derek DeBruin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 585
Rui Ferreira wrote:

Regarding the skill set for high end mountaineering focus primarily on snow and ice climbing as opposed to high end rock climbing as do you rarely free climb beyond 5.10 on alpine routes.

That largely depends on the type of alpine climbing you want to do. The easiest route on Fitz Roy is .10a (, and I doubt you'd find many folks arguing that it isn't alpine climbing. And if you really want to be a "great" alpinist, you need a high standard of rock climbing (and ice and mixed). It's a lot easier to quickly climb the 5.10 pitches if you're regularly onsighting low .12.

Seamus Morgan · · Alaska and New England · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 15

Southcentral Alaska. Chugach provides a stomping grounds on easier to bag peaks that have roped climbing to summit. Those become snow climbs and alpine ice climbs come winter. You can go ice cragging on the glacier in July. The trad climbing in Hatcher would borderline qualify as alpine anywhere in the lower 48, plus it also has pure rock alpine routes apart from it's cragging. Ski mountaineering in wrangells if you want a 30 mile ski in approach before technical climbs. Etc. Then you don't have to buy an additional flight when you want to climb in the Alaska range, you're already there!

Then yeah Chamonix next but they don't give out french working visas in cereal box tops. 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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