Where do I start?

  • Creator
    Topic
  • #20128
    matt68
    Participant

    I’ve recently turned 50 and having a bit of an existential crisis. I’ve always been in fairly good shape, competed in marathons and ironman but the past 10 years have gone by with all of my attention on my family and career. I have always wanted to try mountaineering and have modest goals.Seeing that more than 1/2 my life is over I need to do something selfish and for myself. This is the endeavor I have chosen. I want to take the journey and enjoy the process. I enjoyed ironman not so much for the race but for the process it took to get to the line. I am sure some of you have been in my shoes? I am willing to put in the time and feel I have a good support system around me with my wife and family. But, where do I start? What is realistic? I know there is not a roadmap for everything but I need some guidance on where to begin. Thanks.

Posted In: Mountaineering

  • Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #20129

    Matt;

    Good for you for knowing what you want and asking for help. I hope others will chime in with their thoughts. In the meantime I will get the conversation started.

    You have the benefit of age and wisdom and more circumspection and are wise to seek to make the learning curve as steep as possible. If you’ve read our book(s) or spent anytime on this site you already understand that that your fitness plays a big role in afely enjoying the mountains. So, I won’t beat that horse to death; only saying that Training for the New Alpinism should be on your reading list. From it you can build your own training plan. We also sell training plans for those who want to have the plan laid out for them. The one I would recommend is the 24 week Expeditionary plan as it most closely follows the book. Fitness is not all there is though. Even with modest mountaineering goals you will need to develop a set of skills that have no relation to any other sports activity you have participated in. There is only one way and one place to acquire those skills. That is by learning and practicing in mountain terrain. I would suggest acquiring a copy of Freedom of the Hills as it provides the broadest brush look at the full spectrum of mountaineering skills.

    After familiarizing yourself with the concepts in these two books you will need to find friends with similar interests whom you can learn with (the slow route to competence), join a mountaineering club that offers skills classes (slightly faster route but fraught with its own problems), or hire a professional guide to teach you these skills (expensive but definitely the fastest way).

    I hope this helps get the wheels turning. Welcome to the fold.

    Scott

    Participant
    matt68 on #20182

    Scott,

    Thank you for starting off the conversation and I appreciate the guidance. I will certainly look at the materials you suggested as the starting point. I live in Eastern PA so access is limited finding “like-minded” individuals.I will sort that out but if anyone had any recommendations I would certainly appreciate the input. You mentioned clubs potentially being fraught with issues so I am interested why and what I should look out for? Thanks again.

    Matt

    Participant
    hafjell on #20190

    Matt,

    Buy the book and start training. Marathons and Ironman will give you a huge head start, but you need to begin the sport specific training.
    IMO, you would be wise to purchase the training plan instead of DIYing. Very short money for what you get.
    Plan a trip to the White Mountains of NH or CO or the Cascades or anywhere you and maybe your family want to go in the Alps or the lower 48 with mountains. Hire a guide for a long day in which you prioritize learning over the summit. Make it explicitly clear to both the guide and the owner of the guide service that you are there to learn, not be towed up a route. Having the guide work with you on rope systems and protection will be incredibly helpful. Especially if you can’t find a local community.
    Try to find a local community. Join a rock gym and climb twice a week if possible. Find somebody who climbs trad and learn the knots and rapping from them. You need a lot of knowledge covered in Freedom of the Hills but it’s best to have a human explain it. Rock gyms aren’t a substitute for alpine terrain but you will learn how to belay, how to tie-in, the figure-8 knot, the benefits and weaknesses of belay plates vs. grigris, etc. You’ll also become accustomed to being lowered and to hanging off the ground (skills best learned indoors, imo).
    Time in the mountains is the best way, but, you can buy knowledge and experience via a guide. Wisdom and judgment will not come from your wallet, however. Good luck.

    Participant
    Michaeltyoung on #20191

    With regard to what Scott means about mountaineering clubs–you need to be prepared for variability in the fitness, motivation, and experience of not just your fellow students but also in your instructors. The sort of clubs that Scott is referring to are typically volunteer run. Member-instructors can range from highly experienced climbers to newly minted graduates of the club’s introductory program who think they know everything. If you go this route, just be sure to be discerning in your choice of who to trust as a mentor be sure to do your own research about techniques.

    I’ll add that there might actually be a benefit to joining a club like this over learning from a guide. Friends who have taken mountaineering classes from guides have expressed frustration that after the guide-class they don’t have a community of people to practice with and don’t feel comfortable going out without a guide. By contrast, these volunteer clubs typically emphasize that they are not guide services and their goal is to teach members so that they become self-sufficient climbers. In active clubs there can be a lot of opportunity to get out and climb/mountaineer.

    This may be a moot point if the place you’re living doesn’t have a mountaineering club. If that’s the case your best bet may be trips to mountains to take guide courses. You’re still going to need to put in some effort to find climbing partners though.

    I think whatever route you take, the most important factor is your own determination to keep learning and to keep acquiring experience. It’s also going to take a balance of willingness to just go out and get experience on climbs tempered by a cautious self-awareness of what you should be attempting for your given experience level.

    Participant
    matt68 on #20195

    Hi All,

    First, I am overwhelmed by the replies and support given by this forum. I honestly did not know what to expect and was apprehensive laying it out there for judgement. While I have competed in Ironman and Marathons I would say my overall fitness is not great and that is my biggest concern. I know I have the mindset to take the journey and with age have gotten a lot wiser and understand my limitations. With regards to (halfjell) “Rock gyms aren’t a substitute for alpine terrain but you will learn how to belay, how to tie-in, the figure-8 knot, the benefits and weaknesses of belay plates vs. grigris, etc. You’ll also become accustomed to being lowered and to hanging off the ground (skills best learned indoors, imo).” I forgot to mention that I started off my career out of college as an Assistant Manager for an EMS, I won’t say where or when, but it was a LONG time ago, and took up climbing. So I understand the basics of what you mentioned and had occasionally lead on a route that was fairly easy 5.6/7 back then. However, I have not climbed in a very long time and going the local Gym is a great suggestion. Not sure why I ddi not think about that. I’ve belayed a friend as he iced climbed but never placed a screw or swung an ice tool. I think I will take the following steps based on the advice this far:

    Buy the books
    Join my local climbing gym (although I am introverted so this is always a challenge for me)
    Build up endurance base / increase fitness
    After base period (~ 12-16 weeks) sign up for 24 Week Expeditionary Plan (I don’t think I have the base in me to do this right from the start)
    Research local club
    Plan for a 2020 guided course (White Mountains, CO, Cascades)

    “I think whatever route you take, the most important factor is your own determination to keep learning and to keep acquiring experience. It’s also going to take a balance of willingness to just go out and get experience on climbs tempered by a cautious self-awareness of what you should be attempting for your given experience level.” /////// I agree completely and will remember this.

    Thanks!

    Participant
    afwang1 on #20613

    Matt-

    Just as an FYI I also live in Eastern PA (Philly suburbs) but that’s a temporary setback as I’ll be “moving to the mountains” eventually. I needed some extra attention last year regarding rope systems and other “mountaineering skills” which would otherwise have to come w/ time and experience (sport climbing partners aren’t the ones I’d want to learn from in that regard, ha). He lives in Allentown PA but travels around. We worked in local gyms and crags (there are a few in eastern PA, not a ton). I went to Seneca Rocks WV with him as a “check out” class of sorts for some multipitch climbing. As far as getting some of the climbing/rope/system skills in I’d say a guide may be the simplest/least stressful way (forgive my assumptions but assuming available time/family support/financial status).

    If you’re interested in his contact info, send me a message.

    -Positive vibes, Arthur

    Participant
    matt68 on #20806

    Hi Arthur,
    Thanks for the information and yes, I would like the contact information if possible.
    Matt

    Participant
    matt68 on #21291

    Hi Arthur,

    I looked to see where I could PM you and I don’t believe I can.Never the less, I would like the contact information if possible.
    Thanks,
    Matt

    Participant
    matt68 on #22306

    Hi All,

    Thank you for all of your advice and support. I have purchased the recommended books and begun training. I’ve also looked into the EMS Accelerated Mountaineering 3-day course in December. I will be registering in August and then looking to a Mt. Baker training climb with Alpine Ascents or similar school for late Spring / Early summer 2020. Ultimately my goal is Rainier and then Denali. Thanks.

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