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Beginner Tips

New to Mountaineering

Here are five tips for a successful climb on Mount Baker. To begin, I’d like to point out that if you are intimidated by climbing Mt Baker you have good reason to be. This is a full value mountain that plays in the same league as the big and serious glacier clad peaks of British Columbia further north. In fact I have a suspicion that Canada actually lost track of one of their own and it escaped over the border to be King in it’s own land. The result is that Mount Baker is king. Located only a few dozen miles from the sea and smack dab in front of the predominant Jetstream that pummels the region nine months of the year “the Ice King’s” glaciers are incredibly thick giving this already big mountain serious crevasse and weather hazards. So, yes, it is true. Baker requires fitness, perseverance and a minimal foundation in mountaineering skill to climb. But don’t let that get to you. You can climb this mountain.

Why am I so confident of this? Well, you’re reading this article which puts you smack dab in that highly coveted demographic of people who do their home work. You are rarer than you think and we appreciate you greatly. So with that said I’d like to point out that here at Northwest Alpine Guides we work hard to do everything we can to create a positive and successful experience, but as any climber truly knows, at the end of the day a successful summit is achieved by the climber and their ability to put the skills and direction we give you to good use. So with this in mind, while you are preparing for your upcoming climb, whether it be a five day glacier travel course or a two day weekend climb, I wanted to give you a small handful of tips that will help you stay focused on what’s most important when tackling Baker. Of course there are things that you can’t control, like the weather, or extra challenging conditions, but there are quite a few things you can control. And if you are to climb the mountain you need to take these things that are under your control seriously. To set you in the right direction I’ve compiled a short comprehensive list to keep in mind on your climb. Here’s a list of the top five starting with the most important.

One: Eating Enough. This is by far the biggest mistake that otherwise perfectly capable new climbers make. Any time I hear someone say “I’m not hungry,” while climbing the mountain, all I can really hear them saying is “I have no interest in climbing to the summit.” But that’s not all. This is usually mentioned in the midst of hours of uphill effort. So it should be noted that it’s no longer a matter of “if” this person will have an energy crash but “when.” An energy crash is also referred to as bonking and bonking is not good for anyone. Whether a climber thinks they’re hungry or not a climber needs to eat dinner and breakfast and they need to eat plenty along the way.

While on a climb, eating is no longer a recreational activity to break up the hard work of constant uphill effort. It’s mandatory mountain climbing tool. Granted it’s nice to bring things that you think you may enjoy but more important than that is that you bring food high in fats, proteins and carbohydrates. You need to balance this with bringing food that is easy to eat on the go. The most common is packaged bars, dehydrated dinners and oatmeal for breakfast. But this does get old. I find my energy level stays much more stable with sardines in oil with bagels, or a stick of sausage. Keep in mind your body works through sugary stuff quickly. It also becomes less appetizing the more time you spend on the mountain. If you’re eating nothing but sugar and carbs you’ll likely struggle a bit, but it is better than nothing.

What ever you decide to go with keep putting it down, you are burning calories. The more seriously you take this most important golden rule of mountain climbing the better off you’ll be.

Two: Boots that fit. If your boots are not good to begin with they will not improve over time. They will get worse over time, more than likely a lot worse. There is no such thing as “It’ll be fine.” This is another phrase I hear too often. Unfortunately up on a glacier there really aren’t a whole lot of options when someone has been grinning and bearing miles and miles of boots that don’t fit quite right.

Why does this happen in the first place?

Well, boots are a challenge, there’s no doubt about it. Fortunately the worst cases are rare. But mistakes can be mitigated. Most of the time a boot fitting mistake is due to last minute shopping situations, on-line shopping without trying them on first or second hand store purchase in the hopes of not paying full price. To be fair it is hard for people that are new to this sport to know what a good fit feels like. Renting them with our service is one option but buying your own is usually the best if you get it right.

Some things to keep in mind is that your feet swell when we put them to work on the mountain. The best thing you can do is to take your new boots out for a walk before the first day of your trip and have the discipline to change them out if they don’t feel right.

Three: Going to the Bathroom. Yes, not going to the bathroom is high on the list of common mistakes and needs to be taken seriously. The most common issue is understandably women not wanting to go pee in the middle of a glacier surrounded by a bunch of strangers. But not going creates much bigger problems. The worst is it leads to people not drinking enough in the hopes that they won’t have to go until they’re back at camp. This is an obvious one. But just the action of holding a bloated bladder hour after hour takes a huge amount of mental and physical energy just to put up with. But the worst thing of all is if you’re holding pee you’re holding onto a more general anxiety. If you’re climbing mountains you have to pee.

But then there’s the number two scenario. Believe it or not, refusing to go number two, especially for shorter trips has led to many a perfectly capable people to turning around. Your body puts out quite a bit of effort to keeping excrement warm, and you also loose quite a bit of energy by not going. Go to the bathroom.

Four: Proper pacing. Yes it’s true. When I have people on my rope team that seem to be faster than normal I tend to go with it, but if you’re breathing heavily you simply need to slow down. It simply is not going to last. When you’re traveling at a pace that requires a breathing to the point that you can’t quite hold a conversation then your body requires the energy source called glycogen or sugar in order to keep going. You’ve got about three hours of this before the clock runs out and then you bonk. If you go slower, like a pace slow enough to chit chat, than you trick your body into thinking this is business as usual and your body uses fat. Fat is a much more sustainable energy source.

Your guide can usually hear people breathing and will slow you down if you’re clearly going to fast to sustain all day. Common mistakes are sprinting and resting, warming up at to fast a pace. Along with proper pacing is disciplined breaks where you can stop and refuel and drink water. Taking breaks isn’t a chance to catch your breath and it is not necessarily for the sake of taking a rest at all really. Think of breaks as a chance to refuel, pee, drink water and snap a photo or two.

Five: Anxiety Yes. Just good ole’ general stress and anxiety can be pretty devastating for even the most fit participants on a climb. I completely understand how things can be overwhelming when people are new to something such as mountaineering. I remember my first bigger climbs and really over stressing all of the little details. Then there’s the burden of the summit that really seems to stress people out. But I also see that there’s general stress and anxiety some people are dealing with that nobody knows anything about. At the end of the day it’s impossible for anyone to know what’s swimming through the depths of various individual’s minds. Much of the time we can just chalk it up to the fact that modern life can be stressful and that’s perhaps why the mountains are so important. Maybe a 2 day weekend climb isn’t long enough. But then it could be that a person would be better served to try some backpacking before summiting mountains. I can’t answer that. What I should point out is that majority of people that do well in the mountains aren’t necessarily the most fit, a lot of the time it’s just the ones that are the least stressed out about all the little details. The most important tip I have is to encourage people to ask themselves why you’re up here in the first place. But beyond that the only real functional approach is to just take it one step at a time and enjoy the mountains.

Okay folks. That’s all I have for today. Thanks for taking the time to read through this list of common mistakes. I think the more these points are considered the better time you’ll have on any climb. See you in the mountains!