Mountain climbing can be an exhilarating, rewarding and life changing experience. Although climbing a mountain can be one of life s greatest accomplishments, it is more than panoramic views, the satisfaction of reaching the summit, or a true wilderness experience. Mountain climbing is a great challenge that involves risk, danger, and hardship. Mountain climbing is not for everyone, although some can find it irresistible, as well as frustrating and sometimes even deadly. There are qualities to mountain climbing that bring inspiration and joy in a pursuit that is more than a pastime or a sport; it is a passion and sometimes a compulsion. A distant view of a mountain may speak of adventure, but the mountains only hint at the joys and hardship that await the climber. Climbing a mountain takes much preparation, knowledge and skill. The mountain climbing environment is indifferent to human needs and not everyone is willing to pay the price or able to survive the hardship in exchange for the physical and spiritual rewards the experience can provide.
There are many different types of climbing. There is hiking on the lower elevation mountains, traditional climbing on the moderate elevation mountains, scaling rock walls of mountains, climbing through snow and ice, climbing glaciers and alpine trekking. Hiking includes various terrain such as rock, dirt, brush, talus and scree, which is loose rock fragments from the crumbling mountain, snow and streams. As the elevation gets higher it becomes necessary to use additional equipment for the climb such as an ax, ropes, a harness, runners and carabiners. When climbing glaciers or climbing in the ice and snow, it becomes necessary to use crampons and gaiters. An ax is just what it sounds like, an ax, however it is an invaluable tool. It is used for additional balance when crossing a stream, climbing through scree which can be very slippery, serving as a cane when going uphill, and a brake when going downhill. Although very important, an ax can be very dangerous if not skilled on how to use it. If not used properly the ax can provide a false sense of security and hurt the climber rather than help them. A rope is sort of a safety net for a climber. The rope is anchored to the mountain, wrapped around the climber s waist or attached to a harness and knotted. Harnesses and runners are what the rope is attached to. The climber puts on a harness or runner and attaches the rope to their waist in order to provide safety and stability when climbing the side of a mountain. Carabiners are metal snap links used for belaying, rappelling, clipping into safety anchors and securing the rope to points of protection. In its simplest form, a belay is nothing more than a rope that runs from a climber to another person, the belayer, who is ready to stop a fall. Belaying is a technique of climbing safety that one must learn and practice before scaling the side of a mountain.
Rappelling is coming down from a climb. Sometimes there is a choice between rappelling and downclimbing. Rappelling might be the fastest and safest way. The weather, the terrain, time, strength and experience all must be considered before rappelling. A rappel system consists of four elements: an anchor, a rope, means of applying friction to the rope and someone to rappel. The most fundamental element of the system is the anchor, which is the point on the mountain to which the rest of the system is attached. The anchor must be carefully selected for strength, stability, and reliability. Once the rappel has begun, not only is the climber s life entirely dependent on the anchor, but also returning to the anchor to make adjustments might be impossible.
Along with all of these types of climbing comes a set of guidelines to help people conduct themselves safely in the mountains. Climbing not only requires technical competence, but also the ability to solve problems and make decisions. Good judgment is essential to climbing. Coping skills and problem solving skills such as the ability to deal with adverse weather, long hikes, thick brush, high exposure and mountain accidents to name a few, are necessary for a safe climb. Based on careful observation of the habits of skilled climbers and a thoughtful analysis of accidents a climbing code as been developed and has served well not only for climbers but for all wilderness travelers. The code is by no means a step by step formula for reaching the summits but rather a set of guidelines to safe and sane mountaineering. Accidents can be avoided or the effects minimized by following the principles of the climbing code. The following code has proven to be a sound guide to practices that minimize risk.
The Climbing Code (2)
1. A climbing party of three is the minimum, unless adequate prearranged support is available.
2. Rope up on all exposed places and for all glacier travel. Anchor all belays.
4. Never climb beyond your ability and knowledge.
5. Never let judgment be overruled by desire when choosing the route or deciding whether to turn back.
7. Leave the trip itinerary with a responsible person.
8. Follow the precepts of sound mountaineering as set forth in textbooks or recognized merit.
9. Behave at all times in a manner that reflects favorably upon mountaineering, with minimum impact to the environment.
Experienced mountaineers often modify the code in practice, taking an independent course that combines an understanding of risk with the skill to help control it. The code is recommended especially for beginners who have not yet developed the necessary judgment that comes only from years of experience. If we learn to climb safely and skillfully in tune with the wilderness, we will be able to accept the lifetime invitation that John Muir, an experienced mountain climber, extended to us many years ago. He said, Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. (21) This means that climbing should be a peaceful and serene experience. As long as climbers use knowledge and skill, common sense and good judgment, along with physical and mental preparation, reaching the summit of a mountain should be the sheer satisfaction of a great accomplishment that one can enjoy and reap the rewards of for years to come. It should be an exciting yet tranquil experience one will never forget.
Trip preparation and proper navigation are very important to mountain climbing and hiking in the mountains. Finding the best path appropriate for the abilities and equipment of the climbing party are essential for a safe climb. A current map of the location being climbed should be consulted before selecting the route. One who is familiar with maps and who knows how to read them should view the map and select a safe and appropriate route to climb. The progress of the climb should be tracked on the map along the way. Keeping track of time is also important. Knowing when to turn back if necessary is an important judgment call. A compass is a necessity to climbing and should be checked periodically to make sure the climber is staying on course and consistently heading in the right direction. An altimeter is like a compass except instead of determining direction, it determines altitude. An altimeter is important in helping the climber decide whether to continue a climb or turn back. An altimeter can also help determine location. Along with a map, a compass, and altimeter to help navigate a climb, a good leader is an important aspect of a successful climb. A climb leader is someone who has special responsibility for organizing the climb and making decisions during the climb.
One of the basic fundamentals of mountain climbing aside from all of the knowledge, common sense and physical and mental preparation, consists of having the proper clothing. There are many different types of clothing for the various types of climbing. Being prepared with the proper clothing is essential for a safe and comfortable climb. One thing to consider when choosing the appropriate clothing is the fabric. There are many different types of fabric to consider when finding the appropriate clothing for climbing.
The following is a chart that explains the different types of fabrics for climbing, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of them.
Fabric Advantages Disadvantages Uses_______
Polyester Dries quickly, comfortable Expensive. Some types T-shirts and
Lightweight. retain odors. insulating
PolypropyleneDries quickly, lightweight. Expensive, scratchy, retains Same as
Nylon Strong and durable. Fairly absorbent. Dries Parkas, wind
Lightweight. Inexpensive. fairly slowly. garments, rain
Wind or abrasion resistant. pants.
Spandex Stretchiness. Compromises durability. Used as a
Compromises wicking blend in many
performance. Dries slowly. garments.
Wool Retains some insulating Dries slowly. Heavy and Insulating
Qualities when wet. Fair bulky. Scratchy. layers, shirts,
resistance. Inexpensive. pants, caps,
weather. Comfortable when Loses insulating qualities inappropriate.
dry. Inexpensive. when wet. Dries slowly.
Clothing helps you stay comfortable by creating a thin insulating layer of warm air next to your skin. The enemies of comfort are rain, wind and cold. All of these elements work against your protective layer. Comfort is a relative term for mountain climbing. Inclement mountain weather often forces climbers to endure conditions that deteriorate far below most people s concept of comfortable. In climbing, the key maintaining relative comfort is to stay dry, or when wet to stay warm and to get dry quickly. Clothing is important for more than just comfort. It serves another purpose as well. In the wilderness safety is the primary role served by clothing. When you venture into remote territory, you sacrifice the option of quickly escaping inclement weather. Instead one must deal with the difficult conditions, no matter how severe or how long they last. Prolonged periods of dampness can cause the body s temperature to drop. Without the appropriate clothing, fabric and layering, substandard clothing can result in an uncontrolled temperature drop, leading to hypothermia. Hypothermia is a dangerously low body temperature and one of the most frequent causes of death in the mountains. Clothing should be carefully selected to assure survival through sustained exposure to the cold and wet.
Wearing the appropriate clothing in a system of layers can optimize the effectiveness and versatility. Layering makes it easy to adapt to the fluctuating temperatures in the mountains. To adjust to changing conditions, add or subtract layers of clothing one by one. The layer next to the skin should allow perspiration to pass through and evaporate without absorbing the moisture and keeping your skin dry. Next should come an insulating layer. This layer should trap warm air next to the body. Several light, loosely fitting layers can keep the body warmer because multiple layers trap more layers of air. The shell layer is last and this layer provides protection from wind and rain, which can cause heat to be drawn away from the body at an alarming rate. A warm insulating hat made from wool, polypropylene, or fleece is important to keep in body heat. In addition to keeping the head warm, feet are important to keep warm as well. Socks are important for cushioning and insulating the feet. They also reduce friction between the boot and the foot. A thin layer sock that absorbs perspiration should be worn under a thicker insulating sock. Lastly, gloves or mittens are important not only for warmth, but also for protection of the hands. They should be made of an insulating fabric that retains warmth when wet. They should be durable and wind resistant. Overmitts constitute the shell layer for hands. Overmitts should be made of a breathable waterproof fabric. The overmitt should have an elastic or Velcro closure to cinch around the arm.
Another basic fundamental of mountain climbing is wearing the appropriate footgear. There are many different types of boots for all of the different types of terrain as well as weather conditions. A major factor in choosing the appropriate boot is their versatility. A general mountain climbing boot must be tough enough to withstand the scraping of rocks, stiff and solid enough for kicking steps in hard snow, yet comfortable enough for the approach hike. In one hike, boots may have to contend with mud, streams, gravel, brush, scree (rock fragments), hard snow, and steep rock. A durable leather boot is usually best for all these circumstances. When climbing in snow or ice a leather/ fabric boot, or a plastic boot may be necessary. The boot should be supportive in the ankle and rigid in the toe. When climbing in the ice or snow, a boot with a gore-tex, or waterproof liner should be considered. Some ice and snow climbing also requires crampons to be attached to the boot. Crampons are metal spikes that can be attached to a boot for better traction and grip. Another attachment for a boot when climbing in water and deep snow is called a gaiter. Gaiters come in different lengths and cover the boot and pant leg to prevent water from getting in the boots.
In order to be prepared and bring all of the appropriate clothing and gear a climber must have the proper backpack. There are daypacks for a single day climb and there are full size packs large enough to carry gear for camping. All packs should be adjusted so that the weight is close to the body and the load is centered over the hips and legs. A rigid frame helps the pack maintain its shape and hug the back, assisting in balance. When buying a pack there are many things to consider. Some things to look for are the pack s durability, the stitching, the zippers, whether the pockets are convenient, whether it has loops and pockets to hold an ax or crampons, and it should have a smooth profile so it does not get caught or tangled when hiking. Loading the pack is just as important is picking the right pack. The heavier items should be packed to the bottom and items you need to access quickly should be near the top. A waist pouch may be helpful for items needed at a moments notice. There are some essential items that should be in every pack such as a map, a compass, sunglasses, sunscreen, extra food, extra clothing, a headlamp or flashlight, first aid kit, fire starter, matches, and a knife. Other important items are water and water containers, insect repellent, repair kit, ice ax, and signaling devices. When camping overnight there are many additional items that need to be included such as a sleeping bag, a tent or tarp, a ground cloth, a stove, fuel and accessories, alarm clock or watch, toiletries, and a lantern. When climbing in the ice or snow or when rock climbing other gear must be included as well. When climbing in the snow an ice ax, crampons, additional warm clothing, a climbing rope, rescue pulleys, a snow shovel, a helmet, gaiters, plastic boots, a handwarmer and a thermos bottle should also be packed. When rock climbing all the appropriate equipment such as carabiners, belays, rappel devices and rope must be packed.
Packing the proper gear when camping is of great importance. In addition to packing all the gear needed, finding a comfortable campsite is important as well. Taking care of the wilderness and the environment should be considered as well. A site that has already been camped on is ideal because the site cannot be hurt further by camping there. Another site to consider is snow because it will melt and show no signs of camping there. Rock is another good choice because solid rock resists the damage of a campsite, and lastly sand, dirt or gravel because most signs of camping can be swept away. Meadows, plant-covered areas, and the waterfront are areas which should be avoided if necessary due to the fragile and sensitive plant and animal life. When looking for a site one should stay on established trails, camp in established sites when possible, properly dispose of human waste away from water, trails and other campsites, use a camp stove instead of a fire, and leave flowers rocks and other natural resources undisturbed.
Shelter does not only include an appropriate campsite, but it is also having the proper tent and sleeping back as well. Tents are rated on strength, weight, shape, size and color. Depending on the climate of the campsite all of these things must be taken into consideration. The color of the tent is important when camping because yellow, orange and red are much easier to be seen by a rescue team if necessary. The sleeping bag should be lightweight, warm, comfortable, and easily compressible. It should have a hood to keep the head covered as well. Sleeping bags are generally categorized as summer, three season, or winter expedition use. A warm, lightweight sleeping bag appropriate for the climate should be selected. The art of camping includes the ability to set up a safe and comfortable camp and also to provide food that is nutritious. Since mountain climbing is such a strenuous activity a variety of foods to provide sufficient carbohydrates, protein and fats is necessary. Canned meats, beef jerky, fruits, nuts, whole grain breads, granola bars, and even cookies and candy bars are all food that should be brought camping to provide enough energy for climbing. Water and cold drinks are essential to remember when packing for a climb.
No matter how prepared a climber might be, an emergency situation can always occur. The most important thing to remember is to remain calm. Overreacting to a situation will only make it worse. When familiarized with all of the potential accidents or hazards before a climb, handling an emergency may be easier to control. Having the appropriate clothing and equipment, having plenty of food and water, and finding the right shelter are all safety measures to follow when climbing. A first aid kit must always be included on a climb. A member of the climbing party should also be knowledgeable on what to do in an emergency situation, such as how to care for a wound or broken bone, how to keep someone warm and how to keep the climbing party calm. It is also important for the party to stay together. An important factor when a rescue becomes necessary is making sure a responsible person at home has the climbing group s itinerary and agenda, and making sure the climbing party stays together in one place.
Although there is a lot of planning and preparation in climbing a mountain, the rewards are priceless. Reaching the top of a mountain can be one of the most amazing and inspirational experiences one might accomplish. All of the hard work along the journey can be truly rewarding. For many, climbing becomes addictive. After the first climb and all the glory that comes with it, many seek higher mountains and bigger challenges, hence larger rewards and more satisfaction. Climbing a mountain is no easy task, however, it is an adventure worth seeking.