REI’s Intro to Mountaineering

A good friend recently asked if I would have any interest in taking REI’s Intro to Mountaineering class. It took me all of about five seconds to say yes and talk Rob into it. We signed up immediately.

[Note: I am in no way paid by or affiliated with REI. I chose to post this description because prior to taking the class, I scoured the internet looking for something similar. The class description on REI’s website is not super detailed and I wanted to know what I was getting in to.]

The day of the class turned out to be very poorly timed. Between work, school, and a nasty cold, everything seemed too hectic for a trip up the hill. In hindsight, I think it did us some good to get outside for a bit. We woke up early, DayQuil was consumed and we made it to the meeting spot at the Roseville REI. After filling out the obligatory paperwork, we got into big passenger vans and headed up to the Donner Summit Sno-Park parking area.

Trying on the crampons while still in the parking lot.
Trying on the crampons while still in the parking lot.

After introductions, we learned how to adjust our crampons and how to choose a properly sized ice axe. (Now I know what size to buy!) Everyone fussed around with their gear for a few minutes. Soon we hit the trail heading towards Andesite Peak and Castle Peak. We did not actually summit either of these – the class is held in the bowl below. There’s definitely not much snow this year, but we found plenty to practice on.

On our way to learn stuff!
On our way to learn stuff!
Putting on the helmets and crampons.
Putting on the helmets and crampons.

After a brief lesson, everyone strapped on their crampons and began climbing up the first hill. Almost immediately, three sets of crampons failed. I was one of the unlucky three – the pin holding everything together popped out and the crampon flung off my boot. I found all the pieces in the snow and with Rob’s help, got everything back together. Fortunately, it held together for the rest of the day.

We learned how to climb in balance and how to grasp the ice axe properly. The instructors covered step-kicking, the French technique (in particular the “pied en canard”), and the plunge step (for descents). They gave us plenty of tips for traveling through snow with crampons.

In our next lesson, we practiced self-arrests with the ice axe. This was the stuff I really wanted to learn! We slid down the hill feet first, face first, on our stomachs and on our backs. Sliding down a steep slope face first is a little unnerving! Fortunately I’ve had plenty of practice doing this with skis on my feet. By comparison, this was a lot more fun!

Instructors demonstrating self-arrest techniques.
Instructors demonstrating self-arrest techniques. Castle Peak in the background.

After a short break, we spent the afternoon climbing up snow, ice, rock, and mixed terrain with ice axes in hand. At the end of the day, we glissaded down the slope to flatter terrain, then hiked out to the parking lot.

Hiking up the hill after a short little ice climb.
Hiking up the hill after a short little ice climb.

All in all, this class was a ton of fun. It was a great way to learn some very basic skills in a low pressure, low stress environment. They instructors were friendly and knowledgable, and everyone had a blast. A great day in the California sun and snow was exactly what we needed.

More Info:
These classes are held every winter and can be found through REI’s website:
Learn – REI.com (Search under the Climbing category.)

Another description of this course (taken last season) can be found here: littlegrunts.com

Additional information on mountaineering can (of course) be found all over the internet, but a classic resource is:

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