Logo Jim Frankenfield
jim@mountain-guiding.com; 1-877-604-0166

Mountain Guiding; Mountain Safety
An Experienced Professional

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Instructional Programs - Mountaineering

Basic Mountaineering

Course Background

This page describes the content of the standard introductory two day mountaineering course which I developed by teaching small groups on a set schedule. It can be (and frequently is) modified for groups or individuals with different goals, time frames, and/or backgrounds. The technical skills acquired in this class (along with sound judgment) have allowed motivated students to progress very quickly to intermediate level mountaineering climbs.

This is an ambitious schedule which many schools take at least three days to cover. When I cover this in two days class time emphasizes hands-on technical skills rather than things which can (and should) be learned through reading. Some may claim this is too much to cover in two days, but I can provide references from people who have taken this course and successfully applied the skills learned within a short time following their course. The Oregon Mountaineering Association used to teach a couple courses per year based on this outline.

I have a strong preference for locations where it is unnecessary to waste potential instructional time organizing a group to backpack into the site and set up camp. However, such an arrangement can be quite nice for a group with an extra day and some prior backpacking experience. Whenever possible I teach crevasse skills using actual open crevasses. Not only is this more realistic than an angled snow slope, it can be quite thrilling. Dangling inside an actual crevasse with appropriate safety measures taken is usually something students recall with excitement.

Equipment Needed

Students provide all personal gear, including ice axe, helmet, and crampons. These items can be rented. I provide harnesses and all group equipment including ropes and hardware.

Skills Assumed

This is an introductory course and no prior background is assumed. The course alone requires reasonable physical condition, if done as part of a longer program including summit attempts excellent physical condition will be required.


Introductory material: Equipment; Beginner and Intermediate Mountaineering Routes; Safety, Risk and Decision Making; Additional Training to expand on and complement this introductory material

Self-Arrest and Self-Belay: We will spend considerable time practicing self-arrest with an ice-axe in the event of a fall on snow or ice. Arrest from different falling orientations will be covered. This is one of the most essential skills of mountaineering. Self-belay is the use of the axe as a preventive tool rather than to arrest once a fall is underway.

Descending Snow: Plunge stepping, the sitting glissade and the standing glissade are covered. These are very efficient methods of descending snow when executed in a safe manner in appropriate snow conditions.

Use of ice axe: Various positions and techniques for using the axe will be covered, including the basic grip, support (piolet canne), brace position (piolet ramasse), anchor position (piolet ancre), hooking (piolet traction), dagger position (piolet panne/poignard), and descent support position (piolet rampe).

Use of crampons: French technique (pied a plat), German technique (pied en avant), and American technique (pied a trois).

Anchors and Belays on Snow: Pickets, flukes, ice screws, Abalakov (hourglass or v-thread), and bollards as anchors. Belay methods including the body belay, figure eight or ATC, boot-axe, and Munter hitch.

Climbing on Snow: Traveling as a rope team including placing and removing protection anchors, belaying, use of running protection.

Rappelling: Rappelling from snow or ice anchors using both a rappel device and a carabiner brake. Extending the rappel device and use of a safety hitch below the device are introduced.

Knots: A number of knots will be covered as the need for them arises. The Figure Eight knot and the Munter Hitch will be covered, others taught may vary.

Basics of Glacier Travel: We will discuss the nature of glaciers and crevasses, route finding on glacial terrain, and roped travel on glaciers. Tie-in intervals on the rope are discussed in terms of different terrain factors, group sizes and rescue concerns (i.e. available rope for crevasse extrication).

Ascending a rope: We will use accessory cord to construct a system for ascending a rope (for climbing out of a crevasse). We learn and practice using this prusik system to climb out of a crevasse. (Using the Texas system).

Pulley Systems: We will construct "Z" and "C" pulley systems and haul a person out of a crevasse with them.

Ice climbing: A bit of climbing on the steep (more or less vertical) ice of a crevasse wall using and two ice tools and German crampon technique.


Taught by arrangement. It can be done with one day in an outdoor park and the second day on a glacier, two consecutive days on a glacier with a return to the car overnight, or in the backcountry for two or more consecutive days.

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