The Spirit of Alpinism

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Where to Start - Beginner Climbing Courses

What kind of climbing calls to you?  Do you imagine yourself climbing to a high, snow-capped summit like Mount Rainier or Mount Baker? Are you more intrigued by climbing steep rock faces or frozen waterfalls? Or do you aspire to climbing in the far-flung ranges of the world – the Alps, the Andes, perhaps even Mt. Everest?

AAI offers introductory courses in every style of climbing. Here in the United States, we operate in Washington, California, Alaska, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, and our courses run from a single day in length to 48 days of intensive training. Many climbers take courses with us locally, then go on  to climb on our guided expeditions on all seven continents. Read on to get a better idea about how and where to start learning, or browse all our beginner programs here.

How to Start Mountaineering and Alpine Climbing

Eldorado Peak is a classic in the heart of the North Cascades.

Mountaineers practicing glacier travel in the North Cascades. Dylan Taylor

If big, glacier-clad mountains are what interest you, try one of the following courses for the best general introductions to mountain climbing. On these courses, you'll learn the basics like knots and hardware, self-arrest with an ice-axe, glacier travel, and crevasse rescue.

Mt. Baker Climb and Skills Clinic (3 days - Mt. Baker, WA)

Alpinism 1 - Introduction to Mountaineering (6 days - Mt. Baker, WA)

For those with more time and commitment, our 12-day Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership, Part 1 is the first course in a 4-part series that can take you from beginner to advanced alpinist in a single season or can be completed over a period of years.

Introductory Mountaineering Lessons with a Private Guide (1 day and  up, all locations.)


How to Start Rock Climbing

Top Rope Rock Climbing

Learning to rock climb on a top-rope in the Sierra Nevada, California. Ian McEleney

Rock climbing is both an essential skill for alpinists and a full-blown sport in its own right.  More and more people are learning about rock climbing in indoor rock gyms, but to really experience the sport you have to climb outside. The following beginner courses will get you up to speed on rock movement skills, rope-work, and equipment, all in natural settings that will knock your socks off with their beauty.

Beginning Rock Climbing (1-2 days – Mt. Erie, Washington)

Outdoor Rock Climbing - Intensive Intro (4 days – Washington, California, and Nevada)

Rock Climbing Lessons with a Private Guide (1 day and up)

Rock Climbing at Joshua Tree (1 day and up - Joshua Tree NP, California)


How to Start Ice Climbing

Beginning Ice Climbing Course Coleman Icefall

A summer ice climbing course on the Coleman Icefall, Mt. Baker, Washington. Coley Gentzel

Ice climbing takes many forms and is practiced on frozen waterfalls, in alpine gullies, and on glacier ice in both summer and winter. It's a critical skill for any alpinist or mountaineer who wants to go beyond the trade routes.  The beginner courses listed below are a good start; our 6- and 12-day general alpinism courses, listed above, also include a short intro to ice.

Introduction to Ice Climbing (1+ days – Ouray, CO; Lee Vining, CA; and Mt. Baker, WA)

Alpine Ice Climbing (6 days – Mt. Baker, WA)

Ice Climbing Lessons with a Private Guide (1 day and up – Colorado, California, and Washington)


How to Start High-Altitutde/Expedition Climbing

skills expeditions

Expedition camp on a rock outcrop on the flanks of Toqllaraju, Peru. Andrew Wexler

Climbing expeditions are the ultimate in adventure travel – long trips to remote mountain ranges, often with major commitment and hardships.  Our Skills Expeditions are designed to take some of the hardship out of these treks, while teaching basic mountaineering skills in remote, beautiful locations.

Skills Expeditions (10 days and up - Alaska, South America, etc.) The Huayna Potosi climb, in Bolivia, is one of our best such programs.

More and more new climbers aspire to climbing the Seven Summits – the highest peaks on the seven continents.  If that's your ambition, and if you're fit and motivated, consider starting with our Aconcagua Expedition or our Seven Summits Training Program.

Our Denali Prep Course is designed to get you from mountain trekker to mountaineer in a single 6-day course.  Our Sierra Winter Mountaineering Course has a similar curriculum, and it summits Mt. Whitney (14,505 ft.) in the bargain.


How to Start Backpacking

Backpacking Course Mt Baker Yellow Aster Butte Smal

A backpacking course in the North Cascades, with Mt. Baker in the background. AAI Collection

The prerequisite skill for any self-sufficient mountaineering (and for many of our mountaineering courses), backpacking is also an enjoyable activity in its own right.  American Alpine Institute offers introductory backpacking and wilderness skills courses in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada.

Introduction to Backpacking (2 Days - North Cascades, Washington)

Backpacking in the North Cascades (3 – 7 Days - North Cascades, Washington)

Backpacking in the High Sierra (6 Days or custom itinerary - Sierra Nevada, Washington)

Check out our Beginning Climbing FAQ page.

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