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Mountain Climbing: So You Want to Be a Mountaineer

Aug 14, 2008
So you want to be a mountain climber. You want to be a mountaineer, do you? Alright then. Here are the very basics. Mountaineering is the act of hiking, climbing and camping up mountains. To most of us it is a sport, a hobby. But to those for which mountaineering is like breathing, it is a true profession. You must be athletically fit and have the technical ability for it. One more thing many people don't realize: you've got to have the mental capacity for it. It's challenging for the mind and the spirit. You need every part of yourself.

There are three typical terrains encompassed by mountaineering. They are snow, glaciers and ice--each requiring its own specific equipment. Snow shoes are very useful for deep snow, such as what you may find in long fields of snow or on inferior slopes of a mountain where snow will pile up. Glaciers pose no problem by themselves. The greatest danger is in the common occurrence of a crevasse while crossing one. These deep chasms are often well hidden from sight by a snowbridge that is often just a few inches thick. A wrong step and it could be all over for you. In glacial travel, a system of ropes is used, binding climbers to each other. If necessary, a crevasse rescue to the rescue! Basic glacial gear includes rope, crampons and an ice axe. This will also be your basic gear for travelling over ice. If you're travelling over steep ice, however, you'll also need ice screws (aka pickets) and an extra axe. Now, if the ice is a vertical wall, you'll need ice climbing skills to get up there. Be ready for it.

Climbing a worthy mountain requires days of camping out. Time is needed to acclimatize to the high altitude conditions. It often requires more than a day to descend to the base of the mountain once you've reached the top. You've got a few choices for shelter on those forbidding slopes. Base camps may be found on many popular, usually very dangerous summits. These camps give you time to prepare for an attempt to reach the summit. Additional camps may be found further up the mountain where the summit cannot be reached from base camp in a single day. Mountain huts, with varying names based on location, have basic eating and sleeping facilities. Some are abandoned during certain times of the year but, at favorable times, are fully manned and stocked. Some huts offer booking in advance and, in these cases, cancellations are advised. If cancellations aren't given and the party doesn't show, it could indicate that someone is stuck on a mountain and needs help.

Much simpler, temporary shelters are often used up on a mountain. The most common shelter on a mountain is a tent. They're easy to pick up, easy to take down. If weather threatens, outcroppings of snow or rock are readily used to fortify them. A bivouac (bivy) is an open encampment that can give you a rough-and-ready resting and sleeping arrangement. Handmade shelters, such as a snow cave, may be dug out of the ground in at least four feet of snow--a very compact fit. A quinzee, on the other hand, is carved out of a pile of snow above ground. While these handmade shelters may not seem like much, they are so much warmer than being outside in the open freezing air. Igloos are surely a possibility, but it takes quite some time to build one. Time, while climbing a mountain, is always something you wish you had more of.

Aside from knowing what types of terrain to expect and how to manage them, what types of shelter are available, you must know what dangers to look for. The three main types of danger in mountaineering are things falling on you, yourself falling and bad weather. Things falling on you include rocks, snow (avalanches), ice and even another climber, or his gear. As a climber, you could loose your hold and drop into very thin air. You may go careening down a mountainside. If you survive the brutal tumble, hopefully you won't land in a deep hole or a crevasse. Good grief! And a climber should never forget the ever-present threatening danger of the weather. While many dangers may be avoided based on the route you choose going up and down the mountain, no climber can ever escape the weather. You mustn't ever ignore it. It could mean your life and don't ever allow yourself to doubt it. I

If you're going to be a mountaineer, you've got to be serious. A few months preparation is not being serious--unless, of course, you're already athletically fit and adept at another climbing activity. This is one of the most dangerous, most extreme nature sports there is.

You must be fit. You have to be smart. Always be ready. And, please, don't ever climb alone. You know you're just asking for it. Be careful up there!
About the Author
Len Q. is a master blade sharpener. If you would like to learn more about Knife Sharpening: How to Sharpen Knives, Maintain and Store Them Sharpening Other Edges (i.e. Chain Saws, Lawn Mower Blades, Gardening Tools, Axes) Find it at http://www.MakeKnivesSharp.com
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