Mountain climbing or mountaineering is the sport of climbing mountains which involves perseverance, surmounting challenges, and finally, reaching a peak or summit. The quest for more significant challenges in new routes and heights makes it an adrenaline sport. It is usually a group sport and requires lots of teamwork for success.
Mountain climbing can be divided into three types based on their levels of difficulty.
- Trail climbing – the least difficult one
- Rock climbing – See our comparison between Trad Climbing vs Free Solo
- Ice climbing
Being at an altitude of over 20,000 feet can have adverse effects on the body and rightly so. One of the major problems you can experience when climbing a mountain is the oxygen levels. At such high levels, the body cannot sufficiently acclimatize to the low oxygen levels and begins to deteriorate. This oxygen level is why mountain climbers must carry an oxygen tank for their climb. However, the body tries to fight the low oxygen levels and produces more red blood cells, which will help resume bodily functions. Other effects one may experience during a climb is nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and insomnia.
Skills Required for Mountain Climbing
Mountain climbing can be as simple as a day’s hike or several months of an expedition. In either case, it requires some level of preparation and skills that will guarantee your survival at the end of the quest. To begin, you need to prepare physically. Mountaineering usually involves a lot of gear which you would need to carry yourself except you plan to hire a porter. Your body needs to be physically prepared for the task ahead. Start by doing exercises that will improve your cardiovascular system, such as running, cycling, and swimming. You can also practice with indoor stair climbing to help build your leg and thigh muscles.
Also, weight lifting is an excellent way to improve your cardiovascular system. To adequately prepare you for climbing with a pack, practice climbing with a backpack. Start with short hikes and long stairs while carrying your proposed mountaineering pack or an equivalent of it. Doing this will help your body get prepared for what is coming. Swimming, weight lifting, hikes, cycling, etc. are all activities that will increase your stamina. Check this fellow post for mountain climbing exercises.
In addition to the physical preparation, you need to be mentally prepared. Mountaineering requires a different mindset than hiking and you must be prepared for the difficulties along the way, the discomfort and risk. You must also be ready to commit to the time and energy that you would need to complete this task.
Other skills you need to learn are: how to fit and adjust a rock climbing harness, a rock climbing helmet, how to uncoil and prepare a rope for a rock climbing session. Also, how to tie the end of a rope properly with a stopper knot, understanding the dangers from a view such as a rockfall potential. There are so many other skills to be learned, but these are basic for a beginner level.
Climbing without training
Mountain climbing doesn’t just require you to have a lot of physical strength, it also involves mental strength and knowledge of the intricacies of mountaineering. It is not safe to go hardcore mountain climbing without months of prior training. However, you can go trail hiking with more experienced hikers or guides. This is a fun way to get used to mountain climbing without stressing yourself too much. Once you do this for a while, you can get used to it and then aim for more difficult climbs when you feel ready to do so.
Things to do before mountain climbing
Before going mountain climbing, you need to be prepared physically and mentally. There are a few things you need to do before you start your quest.
- Jog or do other cardio exercises. Doing any form of cardio exercise helps your body prepare for the exertion you are going to put it through. It also helps your body build stamina, especially if you pick trails that lead up and down a hill. Do this in the weeks leading up to your climb.
- Study the mountain you are going to climb. You don’t want any surprises. Find out about its climb trails, rivers, and animals (if any).
- Prepare your first aid kit. Regular first aid kit items should be in yours; band-aid, pain relief, cotton wool, etc. It would be worth the weight if anything happens on your climb.
- Waterproof your belongings. You want to ensure that you and your things stay dry during a climb. It doesn’t matter if the weather says, “Lots of sunshine,” you never know what can happen on such high altitudes.
- Gather food and water. Pack foods that are high in carbs and protein. You are going to need them. However, ensure they are not easily perishable foods. Pack foods that will sufficiently replace the carbs that you are going to burn during your hike. Take at least two liters of water because the exertion will cause you to get dehydrated. You don’t want to burn out before getting to the peak.
Know your course. Here you do an in-depth study of your trail. How high do the inclines go? How many inclines should you expect? Such information will prepare you for the higher elevations and breathing levels.
Like every other sport, some materials are suitable for mountain climbing than others. Also, because of the extreme temperatures you are likely to face, you would need more warm clothing than usual.
- Windproof, waterproof, and breathable trousers. They should be medium weight with polar fleece. Thermal leggings, non-cotton walking trousers, nylon shorts, and lightweight long-johns. Comfortable and sturdy pants. No cotton.
- For your hands, waterproof mitts with polar fleece liner and a poly liner for tying knots.
- Caring your feet, you would need hiking shoes, plastic shoes, liner socks, gaiters, and heavy, warm socks.
- For your head, you would need a lightweight, warm hat, a warm heavyweight hat, face mask for protection from the wind. Also, 100% UV protection glacier glasses to protect your eyes, a headlamp with bulbs and batteries.
Wearing jeans would not be ideal for hardcore hiking. However, stretchy and free jeans may be ok for less tedious trail climbing but not for rock or ice climbing.
Mountains to climb
There are over a million mountains in the world, and each has its peculiarities.
Easiest mountains to climb: Starting with the hardest mountains as a beginner may not be the smartest thing to do. The most accessible mountains to start with are Mount Fuji (Japan), Pikes Peak (USA), Tofana di Rozes (Italy), Mount Hood (USA), and Breithorn (Switzerland).
Hardest mountains to climb: For more experienced climbers, easy mountains will not pose a challenge. The hardest mountains to climb are El Capitan (USA), Mont Blanc (Europe), Matterhorn (between Switzerland and Italy), Annapurna and The Eiger (Bernese Alps).
Safest mountain to climb: Easy mountains can sometimes be one of the safest to climb. But Mt. Elbrus (Russia), Jbel Toubkal (Morocco), Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), and Mt. Rainier (USA) are some of the safest.
Beginning a Mountain Climbing Career
Starting a career in mountain climbing would require lots of practice and preparation both mentally and physically. It would take time, dedication, and commitment as with everything else. Even if you would do it as a hobby, you still need to be prepared for the type of mountain climbing that you want to do. To start mountaineering, you need to learn the basic skills it requires, as were mentioned earlier. Get comfortable with backpacking and hiking, wearing warm layers of clothing and knowing what first aid items to pack. Check our Importance of Wilderness First Aid post for more information about injuries.
Learn the fundamentals of climbing, such as tying a rope, belaying, and using a harness. These could be life-saving skills if appropriately learned. Purchase the right mountain climbing gear. You don’t want to use the wrong gear while on your hike as this could be dangerous and sometimes fatal. Also, you can take a class in hiking and mountain climbing or hire a guide to accompany you on a few simple trails to get you accustomed.
Read up on the A-Z of mountaineering. This will help you be mentally prepared for what you are about to embark on.
Becoming a mountain climber is an exciting process and quite thrilling too. However, ensure you are prepared on all fronts before you begin. As much as it is thrilling, it is also quite dangerous, best to prepare adequately.