Sliding down with my feet in the air, I flipped over and dug the ice ax into the snow below my chest. The axe and my boots gripped and stopped me.
A sigh of relief. It worked!
After hopping up and wiping off the wet snow, I ran back uphill to get in line and do it again. Like a backyard Slip n’Slide, we took turns hurling ourselves down, scraping to a quick stop, and rushing up for another turn at self arresting.
It’s not just diagrams and ideas, but practice that helps us learn these things. And that’s exactly what the Bergpunkt 4000er Training course is for.
In the very first hours of running the Glacier Haute Route in 2017, we had to reroute and rappel thanks to rockfall. Rappelling down a wall of glacial ice isn’t a skill I even knew I needed for running. Until I did. The same happened down climbing with ice axes. But it wouldn’t be a good time to learn crevasse rescue when someone is depending on you to get them out of one. Some things you might be able to learn on the fly, but others take some practice. One big thing I’ve come to understand is that in the mountains you have a responsibility to be skilled and knowledgeable for yourself and for the people you spend your days with.
As a runner wanting to wander higher and into more technical terrain, the 4000er training course was the perfect opportunity to practice skills like self arresting, short roping, and crevasse rescue.
In a previous blog, Know what you don’t know: How to Improve your Mountain Skills, I decided to attend a Bergpunkt 4000er training course this summer.
So what all did we learn?
Sitting around the hut table, we rattled through the skills we’d been practicing while Reto, our guide for the week, scribbled the list. Practicing self arrest with an ice ax, short roping techniques, tying knots, belaying, crampon movement, ice climbing, crevasse rescue on the Theodulgletscher…the list grew to fill both sides of the paper. It’s a lot of information and experience for just the first two days.
After recalling our instruction so far, we planned the next day’s route, looking over the options on the map and estimating the time it would take. The two “classroom” days, practicing on the Theodulgletscher and around the Gandegg Hut, helped prepare for the next three days of the course.
For the course, we spent the week above Zermatt and Saas Fee, mostly above 3000 meters, and got to climb three of the Alps introductory 4000ers: Breithorn 4164m, Allalinhorn 4027m, and Strahlhorn 4190m.
I could list all those things we learned, but that doesn’t help anyone else learn them. These skills come from being out there and practicing. The photos of our experience with the Bergpunkt 4000er training course might just inspire you to up your mountain skills too:
Starting out to higher summits, refreshing your mountain skills, and a fun week of learning, are all a part of Bergpunkt’s training courses for whatever your level.
Bergpunkt is the Swiss Alpine School, for basic mountaineering training courses for beginners, coaching for advanced climbers, avalanche courses and multi-day glacier crossings for skiers, ski mountaineering experiences and classic alpine climbs.
*Most of Bergpunkt’s guests are Swiss and for the moment their website is only available in German. Many of the guides are English speaking and are happy to share their knowledge in English during the courses. Please contact Bergpunkt directly for information about all their courses, and for when English language courses will become available.
By Kim Strom