Basic - $85 - covers basic ax and crampon use, self arrest, glisading
Int - $85 - covers group roped travel and glacier procedures
A few years back I successfully summitted Shasta after 2 failed tries. But the fun was yet to come. This was an August climb and Avalanche Gulch was pretty icy, making the glissade run more closely resembled a bobsled run: very deep and hard packed. My run down was very similar to the Jamaican blobsled team - out of control and flying off the track. I managed to bruise the back and break the skin on several of my knuckles. Then I walked down the mountain - very slow process down to Lake Helen. Had I put my crampons back on, might have gone better. The experience make it clear to me that I needed some practice before I did any more snow trips.
Mt Shasta Guides is one of several outfits that do basic mountaineering training, as well as guided trips all over the world. They do two 1 day classes that often are offered back to back.
The Basic is available most weekends during the climbing season at Shasta. For someone with no snow experience, it would set you up well to climb the peak immediately afterwards. You are asked to show with an ice axe, 12 or 14pt crampons, and then basic day pack items (2 quarts water, lunch, sunglasses, shells).
We walked about 15 minutes out from the parking lot at Bunny Flat. It was an overcast day, with the upper half of Shasta covered. However, the temperature was relatively high, and snow relatively soft.
We dropped our packs and talked about the self arrest stance of the axe. Always on the uphill hand with the pick to the rear. Then we discussed the 3 point step - move axe, then each foot, with 2 points on the ground at all times. When you are just in boots, kicking in with each step forms a more solid footing, and leaves a trail for your other group members to use. With crampons, you instead articulate the foot so that it is on the plane of the snow, and all of the points can dig in. (This can be very tiring)
Typical traverse - work your way up the slope at an angle.
French steps - side step your way up the fall line.
French Canadian - side step up, but the uphill foot points downhill. More comfortable with crampons.
We go up a 70ft bank a few times working on steps. Going down, we simply punge step our way down, with the emphasis on pushing down the heel on the strike to get good purchase. You can go down reasonably steep slopes using this when the snow is soft. We only did one run with the crampons due to snow conditions. They prove prone to balling up - the common coping method is to bang the raised foot with the ice axe to knock out the pack.
Next was the important topic - self arrest. One rarely falls, but you
need to be able to stop if you do.
traditional self arrest (sliding down on your back) - as quickly as possible, rotate over towards your axe hand onto your knees. The key is to minimize surface area as that correlates to your acceleration. Important thing is not to stay on the side of the hips. You want to keep your feet up, esp if you're wearing crampons, as digging in can break an ankle. Now to stop, get your torso down near the head of the axe, looking back down the shaft, and dig in the pick. With your other hand, lever up at the bottom of the shaft. The axe hand should be close to the shoulder, not extended out. In the snow we were in, the knees alone would do a lot, but as the run got more packed, it became more apparent.
superman arrest (sliding down head first on your belly) - you basically right yourself into the traditional position, and then arrest as described above. To flip around, reach the hands out fully, then dig the pick in to the side (your preferred). Your body will rotate around that point and you'll be descending on your belly feet down. Get on the knees and stop. This one can hurt - my back took offense at a couple of my tries.
inverted arrest (sliding down head first on back) - a trickier one, leading to my one run with absolutely no arrest by the bottom, and a slightly bloddy lip as I took a hit from the shaft. For this one, you dig in the pick to the side near the hip, while doing an ab crunch. This makes the body pivot around to the typical position.
For these, they suggested not using a leash on the ice axe - avoid the hassle of switching every time you switch direction, or having a dangling axe next to you as you slide on a mountain where you can survive losing it. Not sure I agree. It would be terrible to have a minor slip lead to you being without the ax.
Glissading was the last subject, and the most popular. Why walk down a mountain when you can sled it? Get on your butt, hold the axe in the self arrest, but folded so the pick points away. The lower hand and the bulk of body wait is focused on the spike in the snow. If the speed gets too high, turn over into the self arrest and stop. Key here is that the spike is perdendicular to the direction of travel.
Thunder starts rolling over the mountain, bringing us to a quick end. Perhaps 4 hours total. It feels a bit short, and a bit easy. I can't quite decide if they just laid it out well, or if it was a bit lightweight. I'd have preferred a longer day of glissades and arrests on more surface types. It felt more like a $40 or 50 quickie course, though given the dangers with sharp tools, perhaps no one would teach it at that price. If one was climbing the peak the next day, it's a great prep, and you can get all sorts of information from the guides. But I wouldn't drive out (again) just to take this class and then go home.
While the Basic course seemed a bit on the light side, the Intermediate suffered from the opposite problem - huge amount of material that you couldn't really retain. Lots of gear, lots of knots, lots of tricks. It was almost a demonstration - probably better to learn over a 4 day glacier class/climb of Shasta.
Again, we walk just a bit of a way off the parking lot - to the first steep face that is covered with snow. Today is a much brighter day, though strangely the snow is much firmer today.
We start out putting on climbing harnesses. The alpine ones are different from the common rock ones in that you cinch up the belt, and then attach the leg straps. Easier to don/doff. On go the helmets and crampons as well.
The first third of the day covers group roped travel. Shasta Guides conducts even their Gulch climbs that way. Using a carabiner and a figure 8 knot with a bite, each member of the group ties into the line. On glaciers, the separation would be equal to the size of the crevasses, otherwise a spacing of a dozen or so feet. Each person walks at the same rate, keeping the line nearly taunt, and holding the line leading back to the person behind. We do a trip up to the top of the slope, working on smooth traverses as well as dealing with falls (everyone drops down to the self arrest position). That gets a bit more interesting as we descend straight down the fall line. A fall in the front can exert considerable pressure on the line.
Even without harnesses a group can tie together effectively with the same figure 8 knot, just with a bite big enough for the waist. This could be effective for a group going through a section scary enough to make some members nervous.
Other interesting bits covered in small or large detail: cleave hitch for attaching to ice axe to rest, snow anchors (picket, deadman, bollard), and a long demo on crevasse rescues at a point where my mind was mush.
I think it would have been better to tack the group rope work onto the end of the basic day which I thought was too brief. The remainder of the day was focused on gear that the basic mountaineer wouldn't have, and presumably would do more instruction for after purchasing. It was an interesting day, but again, not something I would have chosen to drive away for the weekend to see.