High mountains are nature’s most elegant targets. To reach the heights of these heights, it takes experience, skill, physical strength, and mental courage.
Mountaineering draws on the full range of outdoor techniques, from hiking and camping to rock climbing and glacier travel. The best way to start is to master the most basic skills first. Three fundamental areas stand out:
Many mountain routes, even on the 8,000-meter peaks of the Himalayas, are actually just very long, steep, high-altitude versions of the hiking trails you can find near you. So the first step is to become familiar with multi-day hiking or backpacking trips. Check out Matador’s guide on how to start the hike for more.
Experiment with winter camping
While most of the skills learned on summer backpacking trips will apply directly to mountaineering, one important element is missing: the cold. To make the transition from backpacking to mountaineering, you need to be able to perform all common hiking and camping skills, from setting up a tent and cooking, choosing the right clothes, and planning your trip. adequate meals, in snow, ice, and cold.
Learn the fundamentals of climbing
You don’t have to be a master climber to become a mountaineer. However, you need to know the basics. Using a harness, belaying, and tying a rope are the most important skills. The best way to learn these skills is to spend a day or two in a climbing gym.
Taking the next step
You hike every weekend. You’ve been to the climbing gym and on several winter camping trips. It was fun, but now you are ready to head for the mountains. If this sounds like you, it’s time to take the next step. There are several ways to do this, each with its own advantages.
Mountaineering often requires travel which, although not always technically difficult, is often very exposed. To get used to those aerial positions, try several scrambles: challenging hikes that cross third and fourth class terrain. These steep, exposed trails will take you to the limit of what is typically climbed without a rope, preparing your legs, lungs, and head for a more serious mountaineering goal.
Challenge yourself by trekking abroad
Packing your backpack and heading out on a trail abroad presents a whole new set of challenges. Permits, visas, language barriers, and logistics all need to be addressed. Then there is the possibility of penetrating very high and deep into the real mountain areas on trails that blur the line between hiking and mountaineering. Treks in Nepal, Peru, Bhutan, and other destinations offer a scale hard to find in North America.
Take a class or hire a guide
At this point, it is perfectly reasonable to go mountaineering, especially if you are accompanied by someone more experienced. Introducing a mountaineering course or attempting a route with a guide are two great ways to test your skills and gain mountain experience.
Get the Right Gear
Mountaineering will require all the gear you have accumulated for winter camping and, to some extent, rock climbing. There are a few key things you’ll need to make the transition, however.
Purchase a mountaineering harness
Many climbing harnesses can be used for mountaineering without any problem. To work in the mountains, however, your harness must have enough waist straps to fit over bulky winter clothing and adjustable waders.
Get a pair of double boots
Most mountaineering boots these days consist of a hard plastic outer shell and a soft inner liner. This is an absolute necessity as it allows you to dry the inner boots in your sleeping bag at night.
Don’t forget crampons
12 point semi-rigid crampons are standard for mountaineering. The extra stitches and flexible instep make them functional on all types of mountain terrain, from flat glacier rides to steep ice climbs.
Never leave without a piolet ice ax
Short, aggressively curved ice tools are great on steep ice climbs, but for general mountaineering, the classic ice ax is the ideal ax. Usually 60-90cm long with a slightly curved peak, a mountaineering ice ax is important for stability on steep slopes, self-stops in the event of a fall, and cuts steps in snow and ice.
Now that you know where to start, what are you waiting for? Pack your suitcase, hit the trail and soon you’ll be climbing some truly massive mountains.
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