Great Mountaineering Tips
There's nothing quite as exhilarating as standing on a mountain peak and surveying the wonder around you, but never underestimate the effort of getting there. For most climbers, the mental and physical challenge of pushing the body to its limits and overcoming nature is part of the attraction of mountaineering. For a successful climb, however, careful preparation is required. Follow these mountaineering tips for a safe climb to the summit.
How to prepare for mountain climbing
Respect the natural world
Mountaineering is a dangerous sport - that's part of its thrill. Even on 'beginner' mountains, the risks are always there. Never underestimate nature whether through ignorance or overconfidence. Climbing brings the risk of altitude sickness caused by reduced oxygen levels. At its mildest, this makes you feel very ill. At its worst, it causes long-term brain damage or can even kill you. Climate also poses a risk. Extreme heat exhausts and can cause heatstroke while climbing at the other extreme may lead to frostbite and hypothermia. Avalanches, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes pose a risk for the unwary as can sudden rain or snowfall. Loss of visibility can be caused by rain and fog, snow blindness or sheer exhaustion. In poor visibility, there's a very real danger of missing obstacles or getting lost. Wherever you plan to climb, get to know the local conditions and respect them.
Avoid human error risks
Lack of preparation is a human error that can prove fatal. Never underestimate the climb's difficulty or the preparation needed for the rigours of a climb. Doing so increases your risk of injuries and may possibly put your fellow climbers in danger. Without proper preparation and route planning, you may get lost, have an accident or fail to pack enough calories and water for the climb's duration. This can lead to physical fatigue or dehydration. Both can reduce your physical and mental abilities, putting you in danger. Another human error risk is having incorrect or poorly maintained equipment for the proposed climb. At the minimum, this will be inconvenient and unpleasant. At a more serious level, it may kill you. Avoid these risks by planning and preparing thoroughly.
Plan and prepare thoroughly
Plan thoroughly and you reduce the risk of danger. Educate yourself about mountaineering in general and your proposed climb. Read books, watch videos, talk to experts, take courses and join climbing clubs. Take every opportunity to practise the technical skills your planned climb demands. Hire a guide – especially if you're new to climbing or tackling a new and more challenging mountain. Start training on smaller climbs, gradually increasing the length and difficulty as your knowledge and stamina improve. If you are going to be climbing at a high altitude, plan in enough time for your body to acclimatise. Depending on the altitude and your experience, this can take from days to weeks.
Be as fit as you can be
Plan your calendar so you have at least two months of training time before your climb – longer if the climb is particularly arduous. At the very least, aim for three hours of cardio work a week along with weight and endurance training. Train wearing your climbing gear and backpack. You'll be climbing with at least 10kgs of kit on your back and if climbing in cold conditions, the appropriate clothing adds even more weight. Without preparing for this, you'll burn out quickly. Train on elevations and at altitude. Remember the higher you get, the harder your body has to work. As your climb date gets near, be honest with yourself. If you aren't fully fit and in the right mental space, reschedule your climb. You might just save your life and the life of someone else.
Follow basic safety rules
The most important tip is not to climb until you are fully prepared mentally and physically. If you're not, postpone the climb. No one will think any less of you for this decision. Once you are climbing, stay fully hydrated. Don't avoid carrying water because it's heavy and fill up your bottles and drink fresh water whenever it's available. Prepare yourself for temperature extremes. Wear the right cold-weather kit or protect yourself from the sun with long sleeves and trousers, hats, suntan lotion, sunglasses and by taking rest breaks in the shade when possible. Be aware of the symptoms of dehydration, heat and physical exhaustion and altitude sickness. Very often, an early symptom of all of these is confusion. If you feel unwell, stop climbing and tell your guide or climbing partner. Always carry a whistle – three long blasts is the international distress signal - and something bright for signalling your presence if you need rescuing.
Before you set off
Make sure you're climbing during the official mountain season and you have thoroughly researched your route for landmarks and any potential natural disasters. Find out about local warning systems and make sure you know what to do if an alarm sounds. Most importantly, recheck the local weather forecast immediately before setting off. Mountain weather can be unpredictable and forecasts can change by the hour.
Two good climbs for beginners
If you're new to mountaineering and are physically fit, then climbs of around 4,500 to 5,000 metres are good starting points. Although Mount Whitney in California (4,421 metres) is one of the highest peaks in the United States it has a clear trail to the top, making it a good entry-level climb. Make sure you have a climbing permit and take plenty of water – there is none en route. In contrast, Mont Blanc (4,809 metres) in France is a snow and ice climb. Your equipment should include ice axes, ropes and crampons. Once you get the climbing bug, you'll want to tackle climbs across the globe.
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