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Mountaineering School


Students in the ECP Mountaineering School will be engaging in activities and going to places where basic rock climbing skills and fitness are required for the safety of students and instructors. As a potential student, you need to have these in place before the school starts. Adequate rock climbing skills and fitness level must be demonstrated prior to be accepted as a student.

If you are interested in the school and lack these requirements, get to work and acquire them. If you are not sure, please contact us, or attend the Intro Party to discuss your qualifications and what you might do about them. The number of students accepted into the school will be limited for everyone's benefit. Students must try to get out as much as the Instructors put in!

Climbing Skills

These are the basic skills of top rope climbing. You do not need to be a high-grade, excellent rock climber, but you must be competent in these skills.

Knots & Hitches

  • Figure-8 Follow Through

  • Figure-8 on a Bight
  • Prusik Knot
  • Double Fisherman's Knot
  • Water (Tape) Knot
  • Munter Hitch
  • Clove Hitch
  • Girth Hitch
  • Bowline Knot

Other Skills

  • Belaying

  • Rappelling
  • Prusiking
  • Basic Top-Rope Anchors
  • Coiling Rope with a Butterfly Coil
  • Climbing Commands and Communication

If you do not have these skills, consider taking the ECP Rock Climbing School first.

Backpacking skills

You should have taken a few overnight backpacking trips (not car camping) in the recent past.  Although mountaineering is not just extreme camping, you should at least know the following:

  • Packing for 2-3 nights out on a trail
  • Setting up a tent
  • Cooking with a stove

If you do not have these skills, consider taking the ECP Backpacking School first.


** Updated for 2022 - 2023 Season**


The purpose of the checkout is to ensure that all the students meet the basic fitness and technical requirements to take the Mountaineering School. Elite fitness is not required but a good starting point will help you get the most out of the school. Basic climbing skills are necessary for safety, and we won’t have time for catching people up. Anybody who doesn’t pass the checkout will be advised on how they can improve for the following year. Passing the checkout doesn’t guarantee acceptance into the Mountaineering School as other factors apply (max class size, etc).


  • Fitness checkout - University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning. Meet on the ground floor by the coffee shop. Park on street (free Sundays) or in the free Morewood Parking Lot at Carnegie Mellon University. 4200 Fifth Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15213

  • Climbing checkout - McConnells Mill State Park. Caravan there or follow directions to the Rim Road Climbing Area.


  • 8:45 Meet at the Cathedral of Learning, ground floor

  • 9:00 - Ready to start fitness checkout

  • 10:45 Wrap up Fitness checkout, head to McConnells Mill

  • 12:00 - Start Climbing Check out (if not already in progress)

  • about 4:00 - Finish

What to bring:

  • Fitness checkout

    • hiking-ready footwear (e.g., hiking boots, trail runners, etc.)

    • 15lb pack, any liter size is okay as long as weight requirement is met (we will measure day of, so come prepared!)

    • water enough to cover the entire hike (at least 2 liters recommended)

  • Climbing checkout

    • dry clothing (no cotton!)

    • check the weather and dress for conditions

    • bring the warmest insulated jacket you have 

    • sturdy hiking boots recommended

    • lunch, water for the day

    • personal climbing gear

      • harness, helmet MANDATORY

      • carabiners, belay device, slings, prussik cords (bring whatever you have)

      • climbing shoes (if you have them)

  • You may be asked to carry club gear up or down

Fitness Checkout Requirements

  • 5 reps of the Cathedral stairs with a 15 lb pack complete in under 90 minutes

Climbing Checkout Requirements 

  • Proper use of all equipment (harness, helmet, rope, carabiner, etc)

  • Correct command use when belay and rappelling

  • Belaying -  You must never remove your brake hand from the rope

  • Climbing - We'll ask you to tie in using a figure-8 follow through. Attempt a 5.6 on top rope.

  • Rappelling - Show ability to set up a rappel device and do a leg wrap mid-rappel

  • Anchor building - build an anchor for a top rope

  • Prusiking - Ascending a rope using prusiks

  • Knots (when to use & how to tie) - figure-8 follow through, figure-8 on a bight, overhand, double fisherman's, clove hitch, Munter hitch, girth hitch, autoblock, prusik, bowline, water knot.

  • Rope management - preparing and carrying a butterfly coil


The amount of gear and equipment required to be even basically comfortable is large. If you don't already have much technical outdoor gear, You will spend money to pursue this sport - maybe $1000, maybe $3000 in just your first year.

  • We go a long way to help ease the pain: we try our best to outfit each

    student with mountaineering boots, crampons, a glacier axe, and

    technical tools during the school.  This gear is provided free of charge (a refundable deposit is required)  during the school term.  Note that these are all subject to size avilability and limited quantities.

  • Other gear, if needed, is available for very reasonable rental rates from the ECP including: helmets, harnesses, tents, bivys, backpacks, sleeping bags, snowshoes, and trekking poles.

Students will NOT be expected to be fully outfitted by the time of the first class. In fact, we recommend waiting to purchase gear until you learn what works best in the mountains. However, students should be prepared enough by the time of the first outing to get through a day hike in inclement weather that October and early November can bring.

Below is an overview of gear & clothing that students will need to complete the outings prior to the post-graduation trip.  It is NOT a complete list of all required gear but it should provide prospective students a sense of what they typically will need to purchase themselves (List 1) and what they can typically expect to be borrowed from the ECP or its members (List 2) over the course of the school.  A more detailed explanation of the types of gear required will be provided during the first class.

List 1 - Gear & Clothing Typically Requiring Student Purchase

Note that NONE of the clothing items below should include ANY cotton...As you will learn in the mountaineering school - cotton kills!

Wicking/Base Layer

  • Socks, liner

  • Long underwear bottoms

  • Long underwear top

  • Liner gloves

Insulating/Middle Layer

  • Socks, 2 pairs

  • Top, fleece

  • Hat, fleece

  • Parka/Coat, down or synthetic (or heavy ski jacket)

  • Balaclava / face mask

Shell Layer

  • Hiking boots (this does NOT mean expensive mountaineering boots!)

  • Pants, waterproof/breathable

  • Jacket, waterproof/breathable

  • Gloves/mits, heavy (insulated)

  • Gaiters

Miscellaneous Gear

  • Headlamp

  • 2 water bottles with insulated holders

  • Bowl, mug, and spork

  • Compass

  • Carabiners

  • Belay/rappel device

  • Personal anchor

  • Cordelette

  • Pulley

  • Stuff sacks, miscellaneous (somewhat optional)

  • Sleeping pad, self-inflating or closed cell foam

  • Sleeping bag, 0-20 degree (can also rent)

List 2 - Group Gear, Gear that can be Rented or Borrowed

  • Stove

  • Cookware

  • 3 and 4 season tents

  • Bivy sack

  • Rope

  • Rock and ice protection

  • 2-way radios

  • Goggles

  • Backpack

  • Sleeping Bag

*The ECP Mountaineering School's instructors have many of the more expensive items that students will need (List 2) and are generous in lending their personal gear. However, we can not guarantee that each of these items will be available to every student.


The course is very inexpensive, but you have to understand, we are weekend warriors with a love for our sport, not paid guides! You must accept a level of self-sufficiency and responsibility. We will steer you in the right direction, nothing else!

This course is for those with a desire to learn the sport. We will provide you with the tools to ascend the world's mountains. You provide the desire and responsibility we all have on the high places of the earth. We are friends teaching friends, Mountaineers teaching Mountaineering.

Upfront Costs

  • ECP Membership: $20 individual, $25 family. See our ECP membership application and liability waiver.

  • The Course:

    New students: $250 + $50 refundable gear deposit = $300

    Returning students: $85 + $50 refundable gear deposit = $135

    • You will not find a better value or similar program anywhere close to this price.  We do this because we enjoy sharing our knowledge and experience and so that we can expand the community of qualified mountaineers in the Club.

Gear and Equipment

See the Gear and Equipment page

Other Expenses

  • The cost of transportation to and from all outings is your responsibility. Carpools will be arranged to keep this at a minimum.

  • All post-graduation trip expenses (potential air travel and minimal lodging) are your responsibility


Each class will have a reading assignment from the required textbooks, to be completed before class.

Required Textbooks

Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills (8th or 9th edition)

Freedom of the Hills

With more than 600,000 copies sold, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills is the acclaimed bible for climbers all over the world, and the new edition marks the 50th anniversary of this seminal title.

Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher

Alpine Climbing

This intermediate guide addresses tools, skills, and techniques used in alpine terrain includng rock, snow, ice, and glaciers at moderate altitude approximately 5,000 metres and lower.


The Mountaineering School kicks off mid October and finishes with a post-graduation trip in mid February

There are 9 classes, ~16 stair challenges, 7 outings, 3 fitness hikes, and 1 post-graduation trip. The schedule generally has classes on Tuesday with outings during the weekends.  These are dispersed throughout the fall/winter with a break for the holidays.  Students are required to attend every class, outing, and stair challenge.

Class Time Requirements

  • Assigned Reading to be completed prior to each class
  • 1 Class held on Tuesday evenings (one takes place on Thursday) from 7:00-10:00pm in a local (Pittsburgh) classroom

Outing Time Requirements

  • There are 2 day-long outings scheduled for Saturdays, lasting the entire day (Outings 4 and 6)
  • There are 2 weekend-long outings (i.e. Saturday through Sunday), entailing driving Saturday morning and occupying Saturday and Sunday (Outings 1 and 2)
  • There are 2 weekend-long outings (i.e. Saturday through Sunday), entailing driving Friday evening, camping Friday & Saturday nights and then home by Sunday evening (Outings 3 and 5)
  • There is 1 long weekend outing (Thursday - Sunday) entailing driving Wednesday and staying Thursday through Saturday nights and home Sunday evening. (Outing 7)

Fitness Time Commitments:

  • Weekly fitness requirements for 2021-22 are TBD.  It will include hiking with weight and other alternatives.  This can be done at each students availability and does not have an assigned time/date each week.
  • Attendance at either or both of the first and the second of the scheduled Fitness hikes. The Third hike is mandatory.

Adopting the motto "Research, Education, and Adventure" in 1947, for three generations the ECP has provided the opportunity to learn new skills and meet new friends who share a willingness to accept the physical and mental challenges of outdoor exploration and adventure.

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Mailing Address:
5715 Beacon Street, No. 516
Pittsburgh, PA   15217

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