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I have experience in backpacking but have no climbing experience. I am trying to learn how to camp on top of mountains after class 2 or 3 climbing. My motive is to take sunrise and sunset photos. After tons of research, camping on top seems to be the only way to avoid climbing at dark. I know there are many other things I need to learn. So I am looking for some help. I want to use Mt. Agassiz as an example, as it is the first one I am going to attempt.

My biggest concern is lightning and thunderstorm. How do you guys minimize the risk? I know thunderstorm is common in summer afternoons. Should I absolutely avoid camping on top in summer? For the tent, I have Hilleburg Nallo 2 and Big Agnas Copper Spur 2, for my wife and me. Are they suitable for this kind of camping? I know it is hard to find a flat space on the rocks and talus. I am open to buy something new if it is necessary. From weight standpoint, I do not see that bivy has much benefit as two bivys weight might be close to my Copper Spur. Also should I expect high wind at night?

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    Which one, there seems to be a few, especially in the us? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Agassiz – Aravona Nov 8 '17 at 12:02
  • suggestion: start out with simple day-trips onto mountains which can be completed within a day. that will teach most, and will give you the experience you /require/ for staying alive. Also, on many mountains there are restrictions when you are allowed to climb them, and possible whether you are allowed to stay. – knitti Nov 8 '17 at 12:53
  • Consider a bivy. If you get into mountaineering there often isn't much space for a tent. A bivy and an optional tarp works well. – Eric Nov 8 '17 at 14:21
  • Welcome to TGO! As for the lightning and thunderstorm part of your concern, I recommend that you check out our other questions about lightning. They won't all apply to your specific situation, but I think you'll find some useful information. Have a great trip! – Sue Nov 10 '17 at 3:00
  • What is keeping you from hiking at night? – Charlie Brumbaugh Nov 10 '17 at 3:26
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First, make sure it is allowed. I'll assume you are talking about the Mt Agassiz in Arizona north of Flagstaff in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness of the Coconino National Forest. While backcountry camping is generally permitted in this region, there may be some restrictions above tree line, and possible additional restrictions within the Wilderness Area. Don't assume. Check.

As for thunderstorms, those tend to occur mostly in the afternoon in summer in that area. You can still get dumped on during the night, but generally with less chance of lightning. Usually the mornings are clear regardless of what the weather will be in the afternoon. Then on some days, clouds start rolling in by 11:00, and you can be in serious weather by 12:00 or 13:00. On other days, it stays clear. Check the weather forecast and wait for a suitable period where thunderstorms are less likely.

I haven't been to the top of Agassiz, so don't know what the micro-terrain up there looks like. Finding a place to put a tent among the rocks may be difficult. The nearby (and slightly higher) Mt Humphreys has a circle of rocks at top that you might be able to pitch a tent in. The rocks would also be a minor wind break. Keep in mind that due to this being in a Wilderness Area, re-arranging of rocks significant enough to build a windbreak may be frowned upon.

You really should have a conversation with the rangers about your plans, and then listen carefully to their recommendations, if what you want to do is allowed at all.

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You can sleep up high on top of peaks but there are a couple of reasons it isn't usually done,

  • You have to haul all of your heavy gear (sleeping bags, bivy/tent etc) instead of leaving that at a base camp and taking a light day pack.
  • There is usually less water higher up, so you have to haul that too.
  • The consequences of a slip and fall with a heavy backpack are greater than with a light one.
  • If a thunderstorm rolls in, you are going to have to haul all of that back down the mountain.

All of this leads people to usually get an alpine start from a lower camp instead of camping on top. Its usually possible to get up in time to see the sunrise, you just have to start early enough.

If you still wanted to sleep on top,

  • Bring a bivy and not a tent, because it will be easier to find a sleeping spot for a bivy than a tent.
  • Keep one eye on the sky at all times, and if a thunderstorm appears head down right away.

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