Mountaineering counts among the most exhilarating and dangerous sports out there, combining the thrill of climbing to the highest points on the planet with the risks of tumbling into crevasses, being buried by an avalanche, and falling prey to hypothermia. If you’re interested in giving it a shot, there’s a lot you need to know first, from the gear you need to the proper physical training to how to get safely up and down the mountain.
If you’re going to pull yourself up thousands of feet, don’t expect a casual exercise regimen to prepare you for the challenge. You need to build strength through pushups, pullups, and weight training. There is no such thing as an hour long climb; work on your stamina (try running stairs) so you don’t peter out halfway up. Altitude training comes with its share of risks, but working out high above sea level- and staying there for the several days it takes to acclimate- is worth considering.
Because mountaineering poses so many dangers, it comes with a long list of gear to keep climbers safe. You’ll definitely need a helmet and a harness, crampons, carabiners and ropes. Obviously wear warm clothing with waterproof outer layers. If you’re going on a multi-day climb, bring camping equipment. Alpine Endeavors and AlpineAscents.com each offer detailed gear lists. When buying equipment, check for the UIAA logo that means its been approved by the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation.
According to the American Alpine Club, more than 1,500 people have died in mountaineering accidents in North America since 1951. Factor in the fact that only two of the world’s deadliest mountains (as listed by GearJunkie.com) are found on the continent, and you realize that this is one dangerous sport.
Falling rocks and ice have killed more than their share of climbers, as have avalanches. Faulty or improperly used equipment can result in deadly falls. Deep crevasses can be disguised by snow blankets. High on the mountain, the weather can turn in an instant, and the onset of altitude sickness is always a threat.
You may dream of reaching the summit of Mount Everest or K2, but that’s not where you’ll start. Outside Magazine has an excellent list of the best mountain expeditions for beginners, including Mount Baker in Washington, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Aconcagua in Argentina. You’ll need to be in superior physical shape to take them on, but none come with the deadly challenges of tougher mountains like Alaska’s Denali or the Matterhorn, in the Alps.
Despite all the risks, thousands of climbers head high into the sky every year and make it back to sea level without incident. The best way to stay safe is to use common sense. If you’re new to climbing, don’t overestimate your abilities. Start slowly and always go with someone more experienced than you, preferably a professional guide or instructor. That way, you’ll learn the various techniques you’ll need to know to take on the world’s toughest climbs, and when you decide to head out on your own, you’ll be ready.
Follow Alex on Twitter.