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Alpine Starts
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Ozzy McKinney
(PorcupinePhobia) - F

Locale: PNW
Alpine Starts on 03/20/2012 00:34:03 MDT Print View

I don't have a ton of mountaineering experience. I've done simple, summer alpine routes. I'm not a fan of how gear intensive it is, however it's usually worth the hassle for the views and the terrain. One thing I do not understand is "Alpine Starts". I don't even like to wake up at 6am to go to class. I'm looking for, and have not really found, a conclusive list of conditions that absolutely merit waking up at 11pm. Obviously, safety is always a priority, but this masochistic sleep deprivation thing can't be indicated 100% of the time. I appreciate the input!

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Alpine Starts on 03/20/2012 03:13:09 MDT Print View

> One thing I do not understand is "Alpine Starts".
Pretty simple, actually. In a word, precaution.

Imagine you do the route easily from an alpine start and at good speed. You get back early in the afternoon. All is well. You can have dionner and go to bed relaxed.

Imagine instead that somewhere, something goes wrong. With an alpine start you likely will still have many hours of daylight left in which to sort out the problem. With a late morning start, you could be into midnight sorting the mess out. Which is safer?


Khader Ahmad
(337guanacos) - F

Locale: Pirineos, Sierra de la Demanda
why so early? on 03/20/2012 03:24:12 MDT Print View

There are several general factors depending on were you are, they apply or not, on the places I used to climb these were the most important:

A) If there's no one above you, nothing is falling aiming at your helmet.
B) If there's a snowy approach, the snow willstill be nice and firm when you go down.
C) You want to be over the serac at noon.
D) You can climb a multi day route just in one very long day.
E) You can go up, get down and back to the civilization at time to have lunch (nothing better than a nice steak after an WI5).
F) In spring, you can climb safely a long ice fall if you start really early (2:00AM)
G) If you start really early and go really fast, this meaning that you have finished when the rest are starting or midway, means no one is going to throw rocks at you in a crowded descent route.
H) In some conditions going up at night is the only sensible choice, as in the normal route at Mont Blanc.
G) As mr Caffin pointed, some security margin is a nice thing.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: why so early? on 03/20/2012 04:37:53 MDT Print View

Here in Japan most Japanese mountain walkers start walking at about 3:00 am because generally the weather tends to stay quiet in the morning, while the warmth of mid-day often generates rain storms. People climb early to avoid bad weather. Also, it will guarantee that you can get a good camping spot in the notoriously cramped and over-crowded designated camp grounds. Also, on volcanos such as Mt. Fuji (a very easy mountain to climb), it can be terribly hot during the day and climbing at night is a lot cooler and less exhausting.

Edited by butuki on 03/20/2012 04:39:35 MDT.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Alpine Starts on 03/20/2012 06:49:45 MDT Print View

its always better if the Beer is still cold when you get back to base camp.
early starts help insure this.

... and yes, when crossing crevasse filled snow fields, its always better if the snow bridges are frozen solid.

Edited by asandh on 03/20/2012 06:52:19 MDT.

Douglas Ray

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Alpine Starts on 03/20/2012 07:20:10 MDT Print View

All of the reasons mentioned above are valid, but I think the primary reason in most cases is that snow is much more solid in the night and early morning. Most alpine climbing is done in the spring when this is a marked issue. Hard snow is safer, faster, and takes much less energy to climb. It is less prone to wet-slide avalanches. You get less ice-fall and sometimes less rock-fall.

So it really is mostly that on many routs the conditions are much easier and safer in the night and early morning.

When this is not the case, sometimes there is no need to start early. On the other hand you need to be sure you can deal with some delay or something going wrong. Earlier is generally safer since it leaves you more margin for error.

rOg w
(rOg_w) - F

Locale: rogwilmers.wordpress
deleted on 03/20/2012 08:32:10 MDT Print View


Edited by rOg_w on 05/28/2012 17:44:23 MDT.

Ozzy McKinney
(PorcupinePhobia) - F

Locale: PNW
Thanks! on 03/20/2012 17:03:11 MDT Print View

Thanks, this information is exactly what I was looking for. Now I just need to found routes where none of the above is a concern :-D

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
early on 03/20/2012 18:36:35 MDT Print View

its usually better to start a bit early ... as funny things can happen and descents in the dark are no fun ... or ya can bivy ...

Brian Austin
(footeab) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Alpine Starts on 03/21/2012 17:52:53 MDT Print View

From an esthetic perpective, It will generally be clear in the morning in the PNW with less haze and clouds along with pictureesque fog in the low land valley's compared to the afternoon when haze/fog will rise making lousy pictures along with any low land moisture generating clouds. Very few routes in PNW need an alpine start. Only in spring/early summer time when one wants firm snow and to stay out of avalanches and the large volcanoes and the few large glaciers is an alpine start warranted. Every other route, do whenever barring the aestheic problems.

A few PNW mountains barely reach the "real" mountain point. No, its not the typical Rocky Mountain jokes in Colorado which are no more than giant mole hills with one difficult side, but go to say Alaska, Northern Rocky Mountains, Alps, Himalaya, Peru, Equador, or anywhere there are "real" mountains then you really, really, really, want an alpine start.

Ditto on what everyone else said.

PS. Who needs sleep? Its way over rated. If you can stay up late, you can get your ass out of bed. Takes a bit of mind bending, but... Best times to climb for my money are morning and Evening. Mid day, I want to be eating/sleeping/lounging and staying out of the sun!