3-Day Mountaineering Course in the North Cascades

This course will give you solid introduction inall aspects of classic mountaineering in the best venue in the lower 48 states, the North Cascades National Park. The immediate access to moderately crevassed glaciers, steep climbing on great rock and exposed ridge travel make the Boston Basin area the ideal setting for a mountaineering course.

Difficulty rating and Skill requirements

Difficulty Rating System Explained

very good physical fitness

  • Category: Alpine
  • Type: Instructional
  • Ratio: 3:1,6:2

* Required Fields

The terrain of the North Cascades National Park is the best all round mountaineering course location in the lower forty-eight states. The course objective is to introduce you to all aspects of mountaineering. The terrain provides a perfect classroom and the small client to guide ratio allows for movement-based learning in relevant terrain. We will set up base camp in the Boston Basin area and conduct our course from there. This in-depth introduction into the world of mountaineering will get you ready for many of our other guided programs or personal climbing adventures all over the world. The terrain in the Boston Basin is rugged and our program is packed. Very strong physical fitness is a must if you want to enjoy this course. 
Why Pro Guiding Service:
We have been a concessionaire in North Cascades Natioinal Park for almost 15 years with a perfect safety record. We offer a small participant to instructor ratio at 3:1 and 6:2 max. This is a very important factor in being able to tailor the program to the participants needs. A relatively small group is actually crucial to being able to take advantage of what Boston Basin has to offer. We also pride ourselves in creating relevant and movement based lesson plans. The Boston Basin is a steep and partially glaciated cirque that is rimmed by spectacular peaks in all levels of difficulty. The curriculum for this course was designed by Martin Volken, a longtime AMGA instructor/examiner, so you can be assured that you will be taught a modern curriculum. Pro Guiding Service's guides are professional mountain guides, meaning they are either certified guides or are actively pursuing a path of professional mountain guiding education by the American Mountain Guides Association. 
Our three-day course is designed to combine the excellent  instructional environment of the Boston Basin with summit climbs. We generally climb Sahale Peak or Sharkfin Tower. We have taught enough of these courses to make the curriculum very mature and we are very proud of this course.  Please be aware the course curriculum may vary depending on weather and general conditions.
We offer multiple dates, but are perfectly happy to arrange this course on a private basis. Please call us at 425 888 6397 ext.2 or email us at info@proguiding.com to make a private arrangement. You can also use this course curriculum as a baseline to let us help you create a complete custom program. 
Why the North Cascades Mountaineering Course: 
Easy access:
The access from the Seattle or Vancouver airports is very reasonable. This means that you can get to Marblemount, WA from the Seattle  area in a short 3 hour drive (1 to 2 hours from Vancouver), get to the trailhead and reach Boston Basin that afternoon. Our first camp is one of the Boston Basin camps at either 5400 feet or 6000 feet. From here we can access glaciated terrain in about 30 minutes and the hike to the glacier itself is already part of the basic movement skills curriculum. So, in other words, the course is 5 days long and you will be emersed in the alpine environment of Boston Basin with Forbidden Peak, Sharkfin Tower, Sahale Peak and Johannesberg Mountain providing an amazing classroom and backdrop. Please refer to the FAQ section for driving directions to Marblemount, WA.
It is the terrain; Glaciers, Ridges, Towers and Slabs: 
General mountaineering comprises many technical elements on many different terrain types. What makes the area so special is that just about all the different terrain types are immediately accessible from Camp. We generally describe the area of the Boston Basin as a compressed version of the Swiss Alps. This is what makes the area ideal for educational courses. The Quien Sabe Glacier above camp is easily accessible. It provides enough crevassed terrain to warrant real glacier travel techniques. But before that the access hike will allow for opportunities to walk on glacier polished slabs and teach basic route finding techniques. Sahale Peak via the Quien Sabe Glacier is an entertaining and rewarding summit that introduces the travel to glacier travel, some exposed ridge and finally a few steps of rock climbing all in a span of 2000 feet of vertical. 
When climbing Sharkfin Tower, we will get exposed to moat navigation, steep snow climbing and finally mid fifth class climbing on excellent granite, again barely two hours from camp. There is also the newly named Aiguille de l'M, which is effetively a small summit in the Forbidden Peak zone, which is a prime training ground for classic ridge travel. 
These objectives are big enough to feel like you are standing on real summit, but attainable enough that we can utilize the routes for educational purposes. 
Moderate  elevation:
The moderate elevation of the North Cascades make a huge difference in how you feel. You do not need to worry about acclimatization, you can just concentrate on the technical aspects of the course curriculum, which is great. There is a lot to learn. 
A word about the camps
The view in the camps are dominated by Johannesberg Mountain on the other side of the valley. This backdrop is very dramatic and nobody ever seems to tire of the amazing view. There is also running water and a composting toilet available in both camps. As simple as these two things are, they make a big difference in creating a comfortable atmosphere around camp. 
A lot of information: 
The course is designed to offer an in depth introduction to the exciting world of classic mountaineering. The days are packed with physical movement and hands on learning while still providing a couple hours each afternoon to just relax in camp. 
Suggested itinerary:
Day 1:
You will meet your guides at the Marblemount Ranger Station and then commute up the Cascades River Road to the Boston Basin trailhead at 3200 feet. 
The ascent up to the camp at 5400 feet is not that long, but it is strenuous. We should there in the middle of the afternoon with enough time to cover the following topics near camp:
1. National Park and Forest Service regulations
2. Pre-trip Planning 
• appropriate gear selection
• appropriate food selection
• fuel calculations
• discussion and distribution of group gear
3. Camping Skills
• campsite selection
• principles of “Leave No Trace”
• stove maintenance
4. Introduction to movement in 4th class terrain with big boots
Day 2:
You will be climbing Sahale Peak or Sharkfin Tower in first part of the day, before concentrating on the technical components of Crevasse Rescue and Cramponing Technique on the Quien Sabe Glacier. This day is packed with action and instruction, so a near dawn start is required to get it all done. 
5. Basic Glaciology
• formation of glaciers
• the budget of a glacier
• formation of crevasses
• recognizing hidden crevasses
6. Roped Travel and Rope Management
• ropes and rope selection
• basic knots
• roped travel and correct spacing
• glacier travel
• transitions of terrain
• belaying
• short roping and short pitching
• simul-climbing
• rappelling
7. Movement Skills
• basic climbing skills
• hazard recognition
• terrain management
8. Technical Skills and Systems
• anchor systems
• load transfer
• crevasse rescue
• self rescue
• gear placement
Day 3:
Yet another early start. We want to give you another opportunity to move on ice, so we have to commute back up to the Quien Sabe Glacier, so that we can spend a few hours working on cramponing and ice climbing technique. In early season, there might not be any ablated ice around to climb on yet. In that case we might opt to work on more 4th class movement in the lower Boston Basin or if folks are motivated we can even head for the little Aiguille de l'M. 
We will return back to camp just before noon talk about tour planning before heading down the trail at around 2pm.
9. Terrain Assessment
• use of the ice axe
• crampon techniques
• basic ice climbing
• hazard recognition
• terrain management
10. Navigation
• tour planning
• map work
• compass work
• time calculations

Sign up for a course or a trip and receive a 10% discount on purchases and a 20% discount on gear rental. Go to Pro Ski and Mountain Service. 

Pro Ski and Mountain Service is our retail specialty store. It has been located in North Bend, WA since 1999.

The past trips and courses have had a large influence on what we sell. Many of our Pro Guiding customers come on trips and courses with gear they purchased from our store. Not only do we want our clients to have the right gear for the job; we also receive direct feedback from them while they are using it in the field. Trust us - if the gear does not work - we won't sell it.



1 thermal Bottom - midweight or lightweight

1 or 2 thermal Tops - midweight or lightweight

o Sock Liners - 2 or 3 pair

o Socks - 2 pair


o Windshirt, Soft Shell, Fleece Jacket - only one of these is necessary

Soft Shell type pants


Lightweight Waterproof/Breathable Jacket

Lightweight Waterproof/Breathable Pants

Warm Hat - should cover ears

Sun Hat - baseball type or visor

Lightweight Gloves - wind block or fleece/wool type

Warm Gloves

Gaiters - low top or full size

Down or Synthetic Jacket


o Internal Frame Pack - 50 Liter (3100 cu in.) minimum

o Sleeping Bag - down or synthetic, 20 deg. F. minimum

o Sleeping Pad - closed cell foam or self inflating

oMountaineering Boots - leather or synthetic, crampon compatible

oHeadlamp - lightweight LED recommended with extra batteries

o Water Bottles - 1 or 2 liters, wide mouth

o Water Purification - tablets or filter

o Bowl or Cup

o Utensils

o Small Knife

o Glacier Glasses   

o Sunscreen - SPF 25+, waterproof

o Lip Balm - SPF 15+

o Lighter or Matches

o Personal Toiletries - toothbrush, toothpaste, waterless hand cleaner, etc.

o Small Personal 1st Aid Kit - blister repair, aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.


o Ice Axe - 55-70 cm length

o Crampons - 10 or 12 point steel, pre-fit to boots

o Anti-ball plates - for crampons (BD Contact Crampons include ABP)

o Climbing Helmet - UIAA approved only

o Climbing Harness - mountaineering style

o 1-2 Ice Screw, 13-17 cm length


o 4 Locking Biners  - at least 1 large HMS style and 1 regular locker

o 4 Non-locking Biners  - any style, we prefer wire gate type

o 1 - 6 meter Cordelette (6mm)

o 1 - 3 meter Cordelette (6mm)

o 1 Single Length Runner (60cm)

o1 Double Length Runner (120cm)

 OPTIONAL ITEMS  *We highly recommend these items, but do not require them to participate

o Adjustable Trekking Pole(s) - nice to have for approach/crevasse navigation

o Summit pack – a 25 to 30 liter pack would do

o Camera - we’re always looking for some shots for the PGS website!

o Ear Plugs - essential for sound sleep

o Thermos - vacuum type

o Note Pad and Pencil - Rite-in-the-Rain brand waterproof notebook works

o USGS 7.5’ Cascade Pass Quadrangle           

o Ropeman or Tibloc - used in the crevasse rescue system

o Compass - adjustable declination required

o Altimeter - Suunto watch works well

o Map Case - large zip-loc will suffice

o Collapsible Water Canteen – good for storing snowmelt at camp

 GROUP GEAR PROVIDED BY PGS *Please contact the guiding office if you prefer to bring your own gear in place of any of our group gear.

o Tents

o Stoves

o  Fuel

o  Cooking Pots

o  Ropes

o  Technical  Group Gear (elaborate crevasse rescue kit, VHF radio or SAT phone)

o  Group 1st Aid Kit

o  USGS Maps for the area

Important: PGS does not provide food on these trips. Please refer to our food suggestion link to figure out your food needs. 

What is the difference between the Mount Baker Mountaineering School and the North Cascades Mountaineering Course? We answer this question on the phone regularly, so let us try to answer it here: The basic topography of the two venues is quite different. The Mount Baker course venue happens on almost exclusively glaciated terrain on the north side of this 10780 foot volcano. The Coleman, the Deming and potentially the Roosevelt Glaciers are our training ground and with that the focus is centered around all things snow and ice. Glacier travel, crampon work and crevasse rescue is a large topic on the Mount Baker Course. It certainly is an important topic in the North Cascades Course as well, but you will take a deeper dive into these topics on Mount Baker.

The North Cascades Mountaineering Course takes place in the Boston Basin in the shadow of the famous Forbidden Peak. The area essentially holds every element that you might encounter on a “classic mountaineering adventure”. The Boston Basin holds glaciers, steep couloirs, glacier polished slabs, narrow ridges, big faces and sharp peaks. Just like on Mount Baker, we teach very much what the terrain demands or rather we chose an extremely diverse zone of the North Cascades National Park to give the course participant a rounded introduction into world of mountaineering.

Both of the approaches into the camps are moderately strenuous, with the Boston Basin trail being a bit steeper. Both camps have running water and the views are stunning either way.

As soon as you leave camp, things start feeling a bit different. While you might have to commute for about 45 minutes up slabby rocks to reach the lower margins of the Quien Sabe Glacier and the amazing Sahale and Sharkfin summits beyond, you will find yourself wearing the crampons on the lower Coleman Glacier ice of Mount Baker almost immediately.

If you are looking for a great course to make you feel more comfortable on large glacier ascents (Rainier etc.), the Mount Baker Course is most likely for you, but if you are looking for an all-around introduction to the world of mountaineering and would like to summit classic peaks like Forbidden Peak, the Matterhorn, the venue we offer in the North Cascades is hard to beat.

In summary; if you want to truly learn the craft of mountaineering, you should take both courses. We are not saying this to sell more courses. Either one of these courses is a great start and there is some overlap, but together they build a fantastic mountaineering skill foundation. 

Where in the world is Marblemount? Marblemount, WA is located on the western slopes of the North Cascades along State Hwy 20. Driving time from the Seattle area is about 2.5 hours. CLICK HERE for Google Map Location.

Are there places to stay in Marblemount if I get there a day early? Yes, there are reasonable accommodations. You can stay at:

Totem Trail Motel: www.totemtrail.com

57627 State Route 20, Rockport - (360) 873-4535

Buffalo Run Inn: www.buffaloruninn.com

PO Box 133, 60117 State Route 20, Marblemount - (877) 828-6652

Skagit River Resort: www.glacierpeakresort.com

(North Cascades Hwy, WA St Rte 20, Mile 103.5), 58468 Clark Cabin Road, Rockport - (360) 873-2250

Does PGS provide food for the trip? No, we do not provide food, but are perfectly happy to make food suggestions. You can CLICK HERE to check out our food recommendations for packing for your trip. 

Can I buy food for the trip in Marblemount? There is a small grocery store in the local Shell Station, but it only carries basic things. The last bigger grocery store is located near Concrete, WA.

I see that your ratio is smaller than Mountaineering Courses offered by some of the other guiding companies – does this mean that we will get to summit some peaks? Yes, you will most likely summit a couple of peaks over the course. These peaks might be Sahale Peak and Sharkfin Tower. It also means that the entire nature of the course is more movement based and that you will be applying new concepts right away. 

I do not have any prior mountaineering experience. Can I still come on the trip? Yes, the trip is designed for novices and mountaineers with limited experience. The course is by nature of the terrain physically demanding. Good fitness is a prerequisite to your enjoyment of the week.

Where will we be camped? We will be camped at around 5500 feet near tree line in the Boston Basin. Our camp is located right next to a small creek. This makes cooking and hydrating very easy.

How long is the approach? 2 to 3 hours from the trailhead.

When can we expect to be out of the mountains on the last day? We will start heading down from our base camp at around noon. This means that we will start driving at around 3pm  and be back in the Seattle area in the early evening.

Should I tip my guide? and how much should I tip them? Although tipping is not a requirement it is considered standard practice in the guiding industry and is appreciated by our guides. We generally recommend roughly 10%-15% of your course or trip cost or flat price tip that you are comfortable with.