Have you ever wanted to climb the mountains, but you don’t know where to start? Maybe you don’t know what mountaineering is. Whether you’re interested in mountaineering, or you’re purely curious to learn what mountaineering is, check out our beginner’s guide to mountaineering below!
1.) What is mountaineering?
Mountaineering is similar to rock climbing. But, along with rock climbing, you must be able to carry out other tasks, such as; ascending a mountain, surviving severe conditions, and navigating.
2.) You need to be in fantastic shape
While anyone can mountaineer, if they want to, it is advised that you should be in fantastic shape to mountaineer. Mountaineering is extremely physically demanding. You have to be able to pull yourself up a mountain and hike for hours. Not to mention, that due to sudden weather conditions, or other environmental hazards, you should be able to act quickly and adequately.
Thus, it’s safe to say that you’re basic one or two-hour workout routine isn’t going to cut it. In order to build strength, do a lot of strength training, such as doing pushups and lifting weights. Along with strength training, build your stamina by using a stair machine (or just running up the stairs of your house or apartment complex) or running on the treadmill with an increased inline. This is will decrease your chance of feeling winded while hiking or traveling for a long period of time.
3.) You need just as much mental endurance as physical endurance
Along with physical strength, you need mental endurance. Hiking, climbing, and ascending a mountain, for sometimes days on end, can be mentally demanding. There’s a possibility you could experience feelings of loneliness and fear. Feelings similar to those can be helped if you’re mountaineering with someone else or a group of people. Also, remembering that even though the experience may be demanding, the result will be rewarding.
4.) Remember the phrase, “quality over quantity”, when shopping for gear
This is one of the most important parts of preparing for a mountaineering expedition. When purchasing gear, remember that quality triumphs quantity. So, even though you may be reluctant to shell out a large sum of money for one of the best waterproof gear there is when there’s another brand of waterproof gear that costs less and has more, chooses the better waterproof gear. You never know, spending the few extra dollars may be the difference between keeping you warm for your whole trip or being wet.
5.) Get the right gear
The first thing you should know about purchasing mountaineering gear is to make sure the equipment has the UIAA logo. If something has the UIAA logo, then it is certified from the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation. Thus, it’s the best of the best quality. Some of the basic equipment you should buy are; a helmet, a harness, crampons, warm clothing (waterproof is a plus), trekking poles, and camping equipment for multi-day mountaineering.
For a complete list of mountaineering equipment check out Summit Post.
6.) Learn the terminology
If you’re planning on reading articles about different mountaineering excursions, mountains, general tips, or anything else you could think of that is mountaineering related, you should learn the terminology. Learning the terminology will help you decide what mountain is suitable for your level of skills and experience.
For example, if you’re newer to mountaineering, start off with a Class 1 trail. A Class 1 trail means it is generally flat and contains no fatal dangers (such as plunging down a 10,000-foot mountain). If you’re looking for something a little bit more physically demanding, but still want minimal dangers, try a Class 2 or 3 trails. Then, for the most physically demanding trails, choose a Class 4 or a Class 5 trail. But, if you didn’t know the difference between the classes, you could be a newer mountaineer and end up on Class 3 or 4 trails.
Another important term to recognize is when a mountain says it is a 12er. If I mountain was a 12er, then that means its summit is around 12,000 feet. You will only see “er” tagged on the end of a number in the U.S though because on the other side of the world they use the metric system. So instead of “er”, you will see “Ker”.
7.) Research and read safety precautions and risks
You can never be too prepared. When partaking in adventure sports, especially mountaineering, you never know what could happen. If you’re put in a life threatening situation while mountaineering, it’s better to remain calm and know how to react, rather than panic and scramble for ideas of how to survive. Some of the possible risks while mountaineering includes; avalanches, extreme temperatures, storms, lack of oxygen, and falling.
Thus, it is advised to research and understand the safety precautions and risks of mountaineering. If you’re feeling really inquisitive, research the risks that specifically pertain to the trail/mountain you are about to endure. Therefore, you can mountaineer knowing you prepared as much as possible.
8.) Make a plan before you go
Continuing on the topic of planning, make sure to make a plan before you leave for your trip. Whether you are mountaineering for a couple of hours, or a couple of days, it is important you write a guide for your trip. Make your guide as detailed as you would like. You can choose to write goals for yourself of what point, of the trail, you want to be at by a certain time, a written map of where to go and when, or just a brief list of the main points you’ll pass. Overall, the main point of creating a plan before you leave is so you have structure and can identify if you are lost or off course faster.
9.) Trust your instincts
While mountaineering, conditions can change in the blink of an eye. When this happens, it is best to stick your plan. But, sometimes a strong storm could hit, or another harsh condition could happen. In this case, listen to your survival instincts. If your plan says to continue going through the trail, but harsh weather conditions are moving in, and your instinct tells you to stay where you are or descend the trail. Then, listen to your instincts. You never know when your gut feeling could save your life.
10.) Cleverly pack
There’s nothing worse than ascending a mountain with over 100 pounds on your back. Expect to have a decent sized bag. After all, you could be packing for a few days or even a week. But, don’t bring three extra pairs of socks and underwear, and a ton of material items, that you most likely won’t use. Even if it does not seem like it, little items build up. So, packing a few extra things here and there will eventually build up and cause your bag to be a lot bigger than you planned it to be. Even two pounds, much less ten pounds, could possibly derail your trip or your mobility.
The reality of packing should be to pack your necessary equipment, an extra pair of underwear, and an extra pair of socks. Plan to wear the same outfit, that you left your house in, for the whole trip. On that note, make sure you wear layers that can easily be taken off and put on because you will most likely be altering your outfit throughout the day. As for something to clean yourself with, bring baby wipes. They’re light and will do the necessary cleaning.
Aside from equipment and clothes, make sure you bring enough food and water. But, when packing your food and beverages, remember that you need enough to survive. Don’t pack a bunch of extra sugary snacks or enough to make a four-course meal on the go. Just pack enough to keep you alive.
Lastly, as you pack, remember that the lighter you pack, the faster you will be able to complete your trail.
It’s commonly known that conditions at high altitudes are different than on ground level. While ascending a large mountain, be aware that, along with the environment, your body is going to go through some changes. It may seem harder to breathe while ascending the mountain, so be aware of your breathing patterns. Don’t be afraid to stop and take a break if you need it. Also, if you feel sick or uneasy, choose to not ascend the mountain. While athletes tend to push themselves to accomplish better and greater achievements in their sport, it’s okay to refuse to mountaineer a certain mountain, due to the conditions.
In general, remember to ascend at a normal pace, and pick lower places to camp and sleep (if you’re doing a multiple day trips). It is advised to further research medical conditions that you could develop while mountaineering, along with other precautions you can take to ensure that you remain healthy while mountaineering.
12.) Start small
If you are new to mountaineering, choose to start small. Even if you know people who are advanced or expert mountaineers, practice on smaller trails before you go on a mountaineering excursion with them. If you have never mountaineering, or have only completed a few trails, the worst thing you could do is plan to do a Class 4 or 5 trails. Since mountaineering is so strenuous and risky, it is important that you get a lot of experience before attempting the harder trails. The best thing to do is mountaineer a certain class until you feel super comfortable, and the trails almost seem easy. That’s when you should move to the next class.
This doesn’t mean that we are discouraging you to challenge yourself, we just want you to be safe about it. Also, it’s important to note that at any time, during a more difficult and strenuous trail, if you feel physically and mentally overwhelmed and exhausted, it is okay to descend the mountain. Just work smaller trails, strength and stamina train for a while, and return to that trail!
Since mountaineering is so strenuous and risky, it is important that you get a lot of experience before attempting the harder trails. The best thing to do is mountaineer a certain class until you feel super comfortable, and the trails almost seem easy. That’s when you should move to the next class. This doesn’t mean that we are discouraging you to challenge yourself, we just want you to be safe about it. Also, it’s important to note that at any time, during a more difficult and strenuous trail, if you feel physically and mentally overwhelmed and exhausted, it is okay to descend the mountain. Just work smaller trails, strength and stamina train for a while, and return to that trail!
13.) Tell someone your plans before you leave
If you take any advice from this article, let this be it, especially if you are mountaineering by yourself. While it is advised to mountaineer with at least one other person, some people prefer to relax and experience the trail by themselves (this is totally understandable). But, the reality is things can go wrong while you mountaineer. You could get lost, stuck, or something worse. That’s why, regardless if you plan to complete a trail by yourself or with a group, you should always tell at least one person your plan. Make sure to notify that designated person when you leave for your trip, where you are going, who you are going with (if you’re going with anybody), and what day you plan to be back. If you want to be extra safe, even give them a copy of your guide for the trail!
Finally, remember to let that person know when you get to the end of your trail, or when you get home. By doing this, you’ll be ensuring your safety, and the chance of someone finding you (in case something happened), before it’s too late.
14.) It’s all about the experience
To end on a happy note, mountaineering is all about the experience. Aside from all the risks and physical and mental strength it takes to ascend a trail, it is all worth it in the end. While mountaineering, you bond on a completely different level, with the group you are with than anyone you ever have before. If you’re mountaineering by yourself, you have time to reflect on yourself, and any aspects of your life, without the distraction of others or technology. You will also feel more connected to nature than you ever have before. After ascending trails you would never imagine that you could complete, you will feel an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment, which you could not get anywhere else. Finally, it’s that breathtaking view at the top that reminds everyone why they spend countless hours preparing, and hours or days completing the toughest physical and mental activity they have experienced. It’s that view at the top that keeps mountaineers going.
After ascending trails you would never imagine that you could complete, you will feel an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment, which you could not get anywhere else. Finally, it’s that breathtaking view at the top that reminds everyone why they spend countless hours preparing, and hours or days completing the toughest physical and mental activity they have experienced. It’s that view at the top that keeps mountaineers going.