Being bit by the mountaineering bug this past summer I was dreading the onslaught of the winter season. I normally loath the winter, icy roads, less daylight, rejoicing in a cultural obligation to consume and provide materialistic gratification, all culminating in a state of obese depression brought on by a lack of motivation to reach beyond my remote control. Each winter adding a little additional mortar to the wall of complacency. This winter was different though, I'd found a compulsion that doesn't pack into the closet or hang in the garage. To the contrary, mountaineering thrives on adverse conditions, adds to the reward. Until this point my adventures as a weekend warrior wondering up well oiled grooves with 10 essentials neatly packed into my Walmart backpack could scarcely be considered mountaineering and would likely offend those who call themselves mountaineers.
Winter was just what I needed, the opportunity to transform a hobby driven by the pursuit of aesthetics and physical achievement into a lifestyle motivated by introspection and to the greatest degree exploration of personal boundaries. I say lifestyle because as it seems, I've become the type person that I used to quietly laugh at, the kind that hugs trees. I had long before attempted to swear off Christmas on principal alone but now I find myself refusing plastic bags, carrying reusable totes made entirely of hemp, if only I could smoke them life would be complete. Don't be confused though, I'm not a hippie, you don't find hippies climbing mountains. Without clarity of mind, mountains will make you dead.
Winter Mountaineering Clinic Part 1, X-Rock Durango Co. Knots, Rocks and Ropes - Mar. 18
I was fired up about the chance to continue my pursuits testing my metal against the elements, I was also a little scared. Even the easiest of climbs, or hikes for that matter are a whole different game in the winter. For a few months I'd been researching different schools for more technical alpine experience, specifically winter mountaineering. Skills and cost were my primary concern, I don't have the kind of money that adventurous doctors and lawyers shell out for a trophy ascent of Everest nor do I want to participate a dude ranch equivalent of a winter camping trip. A few schools stood out, Colorado Mountain Club's winter mountaineering course for one. Overall this seemed like a reasonable school for my requirements, probably the best bang for the buck but I had a few reservations. The first of which was their prerequisite of participation in more remedial outdoor courses prior to winter mountaineering. What I discerned as the like of hiking 101, basic compass skills, etc. While these are important skills, I was looking for something a little more advanced and frankly could be using my time more efficiently. Secondly, CMC structures their courses over a longer period of time, typically five weeks with field trips on the weekends if I recall. While this works well for the working professional I was more interested in an slightly more immersive experience, one that would give a more realistic taste of expedition. Finally, a bit of deal closer for me was an encounter with a CMC guide (not currently guiding for CMC) I had on a previous climb of Andrews Glacier. In short of what I described in my write up of this trip, I felt both the man and a fellow climber had made an extremely poor decision to venture out onto a frozen lake. Later in the day I caught up to the pair on my descent and learned that one was planning a guided trip back to this area, my impression was that man was not in the physical shape to be leading a strong group nor was he acting in a very responsible way. Overall to me this reflected poorly. By no means do I feel CMC is not a reputable school, just not what I was looking for.
Ultimately I decided on Southwest Adventure Guides and was enrolled in a 5 day course to take place in Durango Colorado. Over the next month I made preparations buying any remaining gear which I hadn't already purchased and on the afternoon of March 17th I was on my way. Arriving in Durango I set up at a hotel where I would sleep the first two nights, each day spent learning and practicing technical skills. My initial impression prior to beginning the course was good, I was pleased with SWAG's followup, ensuring that all preparations were made. I was a little concerned that SWAG had indicated that it wasn't necessary for me to meet them at their offices the day prior to the course to go over logistics of the trip (which is customary for out of state participants). I had a course itinerary but wasn't sure what if not all gear I would need for our first day or where we be spending it. As a result dressed for full winter conditions and brought my entire extended day pack to the first meeting. Shortly after arriving I met Keeton Disser office manager, and Matt Pickren our technical climbing guide, both of whom made me feel quite welcome. Finally I met Mike Nault the only other fellow client, this was a pleasant surprise as it made the guide to client ratio one to two. After a quick gear check we were off to X-Rock a local Durango trad hot spot.
We spent the remainder of the day in a crash course leaning technical rock skills including knots, rope management, anchors, etc. Climbing trad routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.9. In retrospect it was a great first experience with technical rock climbing, my only regret was being dressed for winter on a summer like day at low altitude...
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