For some mountain climbing is viewed as an extreme sport. It puts both your mental and physical health to the test. For others, it is just a way of taking a rest from the world and enjoy some time closer to nature.
In fact, mountain climbing is both. Although it is a very rewarding experience mountains are as dangerous as they are beautiful. If you want to make the most of your trip and bring back nothing but good memories and desire for more check these mountain climbing basics for beginners first.
Know what you’re doing
For sure you have seen pictures of the amazing views from the top of a mountain. But have you ever thought about what it takes to get you there? Are you going to be hiking, or climbing, or mountaineering? For many these words are synonyms but if you are planning on going out there you have to know the difference.
Hiking is the easiest way to enjoy a day outdoors. It usually involves walking on well-marked routes for which you will need a few hours to a day. For a hike, you also don’t need to be in perfect shape or bring a lot of equipment.
Hiking has easy to moderate difficulty although some routes can be a bit more challenging. In most cases, however, all you will need while hiking is a pair of comfortable shoes and some basic orientation skills.
Climbing outdoors requires better physical shape and in most cases involves the use of some specialized equipment. When you go climbing you most often go to the cliff you are interested in and study it to find the route that will take.
After that, you climb up, then get back down and you are all set to head back home.
Mountaineering involves great physical preparation and often requires technical know-how such as navigation or rope handling. When you are mountaineering you will be hiking, probably climbing, maybe even crossing a river. The duration may vary from only a day to several months.
Most people hike to enjoy a sunny day in the outdoors, climb for the sport, and mountaineer for the trill of surviving in the wilderness. Still, with the right preparation and precautions mountaineering is as fit for beginners as any other sport.
Do your research
To climb a mountain it is especially important to know where you’re going. Detailed research on the mountain or summit you want to conquer will help you decide whether it’s a good fit for you.
If you have never been in the mountains before, you may want to consider starting with a relatively easy summit. There are many mountain climbing destinations for beginners.
Other things you will want to know are specifics about the terrain. Below is a short list of some basic things to check:
- Are there any entrance fees?
- Are you going to be climbing any rocks?
- Do you have to cross any rivers?
- Are there any water sources available?
- Are there any specific plants or animals you should be careful about?
- When is the best time to visit?
- Will there be snow or ice?
If you have already decided that you want to climb a mountain but you still have any doubts whether you are ready for such an adventure, you should also consider hiring a guide. An even better mountain climbing option for beginners is to join the local club.
Going on expeditions with more experienced mountaineers will help you improve your skills faster. It will also allow you to reduce the time to your first trip even if you are not 100% physically prepared. Plus it’s a lot more fun and having to rely on one another usually builds some very strong and lasting friendships.
Get in shape
Climbing a mountain takes both strength and endurance. If you have made up your mind that you want to go mountaineering then you better start getting in shape right away. In case you haven’t been a very active person until now, it is highly advisable that you consult your medical professional before beginning your training.
To improve your strength you may try weight lifting or preparing a routine focused on a specific muscle group. To build up your endurance go for cardio workouts such as running, swimming and even hiking.
Aside from a good cardio exercise hiking can also help you judge how prepared are you for the actual mountain. Pack a heavier backpack when hiking and try more and more challenging routes. As you do, gradually increase the weight of your backpack. You will soon feel better prepared while in the meantime you will have experienced all the joys from the hikes as well.
Pack the right gear
Before you go on a trip you surely checked the weather conditions. You have also researched the terrain and know if there will be snow or ice. Keep in mind, however, that if you are high enough in the mountains even the sunniest afternoon can turn around in a matter of minutes. So make sure you are prepared for everything. Here is a sample list on what you should consider taking with you:
- A windproof, waterproof jacket with a hood, full of down or synthetic fill;
- A warm sweater;
- Long and short sleeved lightweight shirts;
- Waterproof, windproof and breathable trousers;
- Thermal leggings;
- Quick-drying nylon shorts;
- Waterproof over-mitts with polar on the inside;
- Warm hat or windproof balaclava;
- Plastic boots;
- Light hiking shoes;
- Warm socks;
- Vapor barrier liners.
Avoid cotton as it is not suitable for the mountain climate. Now is the time to choose synthetics instead.
Besides from clothing, don’t forget to bring a first aid kit, a headlamp with additional batteries and bulbs, and a good pair of sunglasses, preferably 100% UV protection glacier glasses.
Keeping yourself well hydrated is also very important. Always bring your own water. How much you need to bring depends on how long you are going to be on the mountain and whether there are sources of fresh and clean water. Around two liters is usually a good amount to carry.
Another key tip on mountain climbing for beginners is to bring snacks that are high in protein and carbs. Mountaineering burns a lot of energy and some extra carbs will help you boost your endurance. Pack, for example, some candies, nuts or bread. They will give you a lot of energy and don’t weight too much. Keep in mind, however, that sweets will make you more thirsty and sometimes water is a limited resource.
While this list does not include everything you may ever need out there, it is a good overview of the mountain climbing essentials for beginners.
Respect the mountain
So you have picked a mountain for your next adventure, you have joined the local club, packed your backpack, and you are ready to go. There are several more things you should keep in mind to make sure you, and everyone around you, have a great time.
Leave no trace
It is extremely important that you leave the mountain in the same way you would like to find it in. Always bring something you can store your trash in and take it with you all the way down. After all, you wouldn’t enjoy looking at trash while climbing either, would you?
Trash, however, isn’t the only thing that can disturb the ecosystem of the mountain. Try to follow the so-called Leave No Trace Principles, that were put together for everyone visiting the outdoors:
1. Plan ahead and prepare.
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
3. Dispose of waste properly.
4. Leave what you find.
5. Minimize campfire impact.
6. Respect wildlife.
7. Be considerate of other visitors.
Don’t take unnecessary risks
At all times, do not forget that mountains hide many dangers. You have seen all the insane selfies of people standing at the edge of a cliff with the magnificent view in the background. Before you try for something like that, however, think twice of the risk you are going to take and whether the perfect shot is worth putting your life in danger.
The best ways to ensure your safety is to stick to the group and to listen to your guide at all times. They are there for a reason.
Spending time in the wilderness is an experience that is good not only for your body but for your mind as well. While you’re in the mountain, allow yourself to enjoy this time to the fullest. Forget about all the troubles in your daily life and listen to the sound of the wind, the river, and the birds.
Once you reach the top of the summit take a moment to appreciate what you have just accomplished. Having climbed to the top of a mountain might as well be one of the best feelings ever!