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Advice for Solo Beginner


Original Post
Hank Reed · · Brush · Joined Nov 2017 · Points: 0

Hello fellow mountain folk. I have always been an outdoorsy wilderness type. My father has been a professional hunting guide for 30 years and I grew up in the woods. My first pack trip with my dad was in the Great Bear wilderness in Northern Montana. But that is all pretty much irrelevant in the next chapter of my life. Last year a friend all but begged me to go on a hike with him(I would always say that I ain't climbing no mountain unless it was on a horse). He insisted so we hit up Hallet Peak and although I was horrendously out of shape at the time(mountain pursuits have motivated me to become a regular at the gym again) the euphoria I experienced atop that little peak is indescribable. I have since climbed both Grays and Torreys Peak, and a winter climb of Elbert. So which brings me to the reason for creating this thread. My best friend and climbing partner is moving to Florida this week and has had me thinking about where to continue my mountain pursuits. I want to pursue solo Alpinism. I thoroughly enjoy the idea of self reliance and I absolutely love being in that environment alone with my thoughts. But so far I have found little literature on this. I believe in the self reliance aspect, but understand that Alpinism is not the kind of sport where "learning the hard way" is very beneficial. So I come to the internet to seek the advice of the like minded and more knowledgeable. All advice is appreciated. Route ideas(Right now I am planning at least one winter climb possibly Dragons Tail Couloir and next summer I'd like a few easier climbs to culminate with an ascent of Long"s Cable route) are appreciated, but mostly I would like advice on solo Alpine techniques, solo specific gear, anything that is experience based knowledge. I will most likely find an experienced partner to learn technical skills from, but as is the topic of this it would be to pursue solo ascents. Thank you for your time and look forward to hearing from you all.

plantmandan · · Brighton, CO · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 40

It sounds like you are off to a good start. A gradual approach to learning mountaineering is a good way to go. In general, you always want to take the mountains seriously and bring your A game, no matter how "easy" the route is. There are many books and stories about mountaineering accidents, and it's good to read up on those. Always check the weather forecast. The Rockies are notorious for fast-changing weather. Turn around if things don't feel right, the mountains will still be there. If you are going solo, always tell someone your itinerary and expected return time. Consider investing in a personal locator device as well. Before you invest in a lot of gear, try to get a feel for the type of routes that interest you. The climbing gear you need will largely depend on the difficulty of the route. 

There is a lot of good information on 14ers.com as well.  

Goodhue · · Colorado · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 10

You really need avalanche training. If you are going to be going into the mountains in the winter in Colorado, and especially on routes like Dragontail Couloir and Cables Route, you will be putting yourself in very dangerous avalanche terrain, increasingly more dangerous as a solo climber.

You should immediately prioritize avalanche education by taking the AIARE 1 course before going into the terrain you are thinking of. http://avtraining.org/aiare-level-1/

It's no joke here. Be safe.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Read the book "Freedom of the Hills."  Take a course on mountaineering and snow skills (use of ice ax, crampons, how to assess avalanche hazard, etc.) from a reputable guiding service. 

And, like you said, try to find an experienced mountaineer or climber. Your stoke is impressive. Have fun and realize your limitations.

Jeremy Cote · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 0

Ironically, the best way to become proficient soloing with limited experience, is to climb as much as possible with more experienced partners/mentors. Become a solid climber first and trusted partner, then you can naturally explore the systems and techniques required to be fully self sufficient under a variety of scenarios. 

Hank Reed · · Brush · Joined Nov 2017 · Points: 0
FrankPS wrote:

Read the book "Freedom of the Hills."  Take a course on mountaineering and snow skills (use of ice ax, crampons, how to assess avalanche hazard, etc.) from a reputable guiding service. 

And, like you said, try to find an experienced mountaineer or climber. Your stoke is impressive. Have fun and realize your limitations.

I’m about halfway through my first read through. It’s fantastic lol.

Hank Reed · · Brush · Joined Nov 2017 · Points: 0
Goodhue wrote:

You really need avalanche training. If you are going to be going into the mountains in the winter in Colorado, and especially on routes like Dragontail Couloir and Cables Route, you will be putting yourself in very dangerous avalanche terrain, increasingly more dangerous as a solo climber.

You should immediately prioritize avalanche education by taking the AIARE 1 course before going into the terrain you are thinking of. http://avtraining.org/aiare-level-1/

It's no joke here. Be safe.

I have read into it a little but believe I will do a hands on course as soon as I can. And thank you for the link!!

Hank Reed · · Brush · Joined Nov 2017 · Points: 0

Follow up question: any winter climb recommendations? 

Tony A. Davis · · Golden, Colorado · Joined Jun 2009 · Points: 155

Hank, some summer snow climbs in RMNP that I could recommend solo and ones that I have enjoyed would be in good order Andrews Glacier, Ptarmigan Glacier, Ptarmigan Fingers (start with the easiest and work up to the remaining over time), Tyndall Glacier (right side for solo, the left is steep), there is a snow climb just south of the Ptarmigan Fingers area on Flattop Mt. which is fun and long (don't know what it is called). All top out and can be walked down on a trail to avoid snow descents. I personally would avoid any winter climbs solo, better to just hike around RMNP to get the lay of the land and wait till summer.

The lower part of Dreamweaver and Flying Dutchman are good training as solo as long as conditions are safe, these are wide and allows good escape if it steepens to the point of being uncomfortable. Other climbs such as Lambslide I would really have a partner. Solo climbing can be rewarding but risky and as I have gotten older I just prefer to climb with friends.

When I lived in Estes I always enjoyed going up a trail and just finding a nice gentle snow field and practice self arrest and crampon work.

I would save Dragon's Tail for later and preferably with a partner, it is avy prone and often skied from above and you really have to keep a heads up. I enjoyed roping up near the top with my partner to feel comfortable, it was also a whiteout.

The Colorado Mountain School has good programs that can also speed up the learning curve. Good to think of climbing as a sort of perpetual education and nothing wrong with taking classes and learning.

Best of luck!


Hank Reed · · Brush · Joined Nov 2017 · Points: 0
Tony A. Davis wrote:

Hank, some summer snow climbs in RMNP that I could recommend solo and ones that I have enjoyed would be in good order Andrews Glacier, Ptarmigan Glacier, Ptarmigan Fingers (start with the easiest and work up to the remaining over time), Tyndall Glacier (right side for solo, the left is steep), there is a snow climb just south of the Ptarmigan Fingers area on Flattop Mt. which is fun and long (don't know what it is called). All top out and can be walked down on a trail to avoid snow descents. I personally would avoid any winter climbs solo, better to just hike around RMNP to get the lay of the land and wait till summer.

The lower part of Dreamweaver and Flying Dutchman are good training as solo as long as conditions are safe, these are wide and allows good escape if it steepens to the point of being uncomfortable. Other climbs such as Lambslide I would really have a partner. Solo climbing can be rewarding but risky and as I have gotten older I just prefer to climb with friends.

When I lived in Estes I always enjoyed going up a trail and just finding a nice gentle snow field and practice self arrest and crampon work.

I would save Dragon's Tail for later and preferably with a partner, it is avy prone and often skied from above and you really have to keep a heads up. I enjoyed roping up near the top with my partner to feel comfortable, it was also a whiteout.

The Colorado Mountain School has good programs that can also speed up the learning curve. Good to think of climbing as a sort of perpetual education and nothing wrong with taking classes and learning.

Best of luck!


Fan-FN-Tastic! Thank you so much for the advice. 

sean o · · Northern, NM · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 20
plantmandan wrote:

A gradual approach to learning mountaineering is a good way to go.  

This is the best advice you will get.  If you gradually increase the difficulty, you can figure things out as you go.

Sir Camsalot · · thankgodchickenhead, Ut · Joined Sep 2007 · Points: 140

Friends don't let friends move to Florida. 

Eli Boardman · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 615
Hank Reed wrote:

Follow up question: any winter climb recommendations? 

Quandary Peak is the go-to winter 14er, as it is typically very safe on the standard route (note that routefinding is paramount) and the summer trailhead is easily accessible.

Others to look into would be Mount Audubon (13er in the IPW), James Peak (another 13er), and many of the Sawatch 14ers. This page has some great information:

http://www.summitpost.org/colorado-14ers-in-winter/337648

I climbed Dragonstail Couloir on Flattop solo last spring. It was one of my favorite days in the mountains, but wait for super consolidated snow conditions before attempting solo. It would also be good to have a fair amount of snow climbing experience first, as it's fairly steep. For comparison, it was much more challenging than Gannett. Here's my trip report for your viewing enjoyment:

https://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=17707

Patrick C · · Houston, TX · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 0

Can't believe no one already said it. With a subject line about alpine soloing, the advice is "Yer gonna die."

Since I was joking above, I have the last 2 editions of FotH; love that book. All the other advice here is good. Wish my situation allowed me the same pursuits.

Tim Meehan · · Boulder, CO · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 285

Hey Hank. You should look into the Colorado Mountain Club (https://www.cmc.org/).  They offer lots of volunteer-led trips and classes that you might be interested in.  Because it is volunteer based, outings tend to be free or inexpensive.  You can learn about rock, snow, and ice climbing, self rescue, navigation, avalanche awareness, and first aid. You can probably find other beginners to learn with, and experienced folks willing to teach you some of the more advanced stuff needed to eventually head off on your own.

Hank Reed · · Brush · Joined Nov 2017 · Points: 0
Christian George wrote:

I went to CSU in Ft Collins, and I would stare at longs and forget about classes. I bought an ice axe and went up the cables, a storm hit and I descended the back side, missing the keyhole. 3 days later I popped out at Bear Lake.  Best 3 days of my life. 


Go for it, don't listen to the fraidy cats who don't have the gumption to be you.


Goddamn goosebumps... I live in northeast Colorado, Brush to be specific. In the evening, when you gaze to the West, there stands Long’s. Mocking me. It makes the hair on my neck stand up. Also I’m taking a job down in Midland/Odessa(I’m an evil oilfield worker lol) that is rotational. So I can live wherever the fuck I want. Ouray is in my top 5 choices to move.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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