07 Nov 2008

Alps versus Cascades

Recently on a Summitpost forum we were talking about the Alps and the Cascades. I spent a few minutes outlining my thoughts…

jordansahls wrote:

Nice climb, thanks for the link MVS. Also, as a former Cascade Knight, and now a current Alps extraordinaire, how would you compare the two? I know, I know, you cant REALLY compare them, but for the progression of conversation, what would you have to say? I have never climbed in the Alps, but I picture them as being a much larger, more easily accessible form of the cascades, with better rock of course. It seems like over here in the North Cascades, we have more of the “adventure “ deal with long bushwacks and a lack of huts. Not to mention the many miles people will put on to climb a few pitches of rock or ice.

Good question Jordan, and one I could wax on about forever. The Cascades will always be my “home range,” the one I compare everything to. That said, I’ll spend a few minutes focused on the alps…

What is so great about the Alps: I am in the Eastern Alps, which are almost all limestone. The amount of alpine rock climbing here is incredible. You would never, ever run out. From the mountains outside of Munich straight south through the Dolomites the riches are immense. You almost can’t compare the Cascades, because there are so many more such climbs. Also wintertime access is much better. And huts open all winter deep in the mountains mean you can get to areas that would be completely “sealed off” in the Cascades. The amount of backcountry skiing terrain is enormous.

What surprised me about the alps: much less crowded than I thought. Especially if you climb adventure/”old school” routes. You’ll see between 0 and 2 parties, just like in the Cascades. Also, I walked the famous “Chamonix to Zermatt” Haute Route, and saw only 3-6 people per day in amazing country. That was a big surprise.

What is disappointing about the Alps: of course they are bigger, badder, and have so much wonderful infrastructure. But I found a few sad things. One, the weather in the summer is unstable. August can be extremely rainy, I think it’s the worst summer month during the three years I’ve been here. Two, it can be hard to find folks who understand the desire for adventure/”no bolt” climbing. I think I’ve frightened many europeans with my idea of a great weekend of climbing! (4 am start, use the whole day until dark, so what if there are no bolts, yes we are only two on a glacier, etc.) Smile

Still learning: It takes a long time to discover the weather patterns, the unexpectedly nice areas you overlooked before, the like-minded friends. My first few years in the Cascades were very unproductive because I didn’t understand the weather. I’ve been going through that here and am getting better. I also learned how to backcountry ski here and that’s added a great new dimension to my year (made winter more fun).

I’ve been here 3 years now and my feelings about living here are very positive, but complicated too. It’s hard to know when/if we will go back or not. One thing for sure, if we do go back it’ll be to the Old Home…the Cascades!

Thanks for the opportunity to jawbone…

Hexenstein and Punta Fiames