Mountain climbing, also known as “mountaineering,” is the practice of ascending into elevated points such as hill tops or mountain peaks. It is often a group activity and involves the use of specialized gear and equipment such as hiking shoes or boots, ropes, carabiners, and a backpack.
There are basically three types of mountain climbing, each one varying in degree of difficulty:
- Trail climbing or hiking. It is simply walking on predetermined paths known as “hiking trails.”
- Rock climbing. It involves overcoming natural rock formations in order to reach the top of a hill or mountain in the shortest or fastest possible way. Since it’s a much more difficult terrain, the climber may use specialized gears like rock climbing shoes, steel spikes, and ropes to assist him.
- Ice climbing. Similar to rock climbing, but you climb on inclined ice formations like frozen waterfalls or glaciers. Seasoned rock climbers who aim to reach the highest peaks like Mt. Everest have to train on ice climbing first since the tallest mountains in the world are commonly capped with ice. Ice climbing uses specialized gear and equipment such as an ice ax and crampons or attachable boot spikes.
It is not an easy feat to climb a mountain. It takes a lot of physical and mental preparation before one can say he’s ready for it. So if you’re really decided on taking mountain climbing as a sport, you have to fully understand the terminology, the use of equipment, the proper procedure and technique and of course, the safety guidelines.
The best way to start is to read articles and instructional literature on how beginners must prepare for a climb. You can also check out stories of mountaineers who document their climbs so you get a sneak peak of what it is like to actually climb a mountain.
Research on the best hills or mountains near you that you think you can pin your goal. Start with the easier ones—those with the lowest level or degree of difficulty. Take note that depending on the region, there are ideal seasons to schedule your climb. In Europe, for example, the best time of the year to climb is between June and September.
In the Philippines, the best time to climb is after the rainy season and right before the summer begins—that’s between November and February. This is because the trails and mountain walls are usually dry and the weather is cool. Needless to say, dry soil is safer and easier to trek because it is less slippery. The cooler temperature also makes you less prone to heatstroke and dehydration when climbing during noon time.
Apart from learning the basics of climbing, you should also learn more about weather prediction using signs from the environment such as reading the clouds or animal behavior.
First of all, if you already have a heart problem or an existing disease that may worsen with physical exertion, go get a doctor’s clearance first before you start your training. The last thing you want to do is have an attack right in the middle of nowhere with no access to a medical facility. Once your doctor says you’re good to go, you can start preparing your body for the hectic demands of the sport.
For beginners who really come from a sedentary lifestyle (desk job with little or no exercise at all), you must first train for fitness and strength. Here are the typical exercise regimens that must be part of your training:
- Walking and hiking. A leisurely stroll in a nature park or a mini hiking trail can acquaint you with the natural beauty of the outdoors as it gives you a light workout.
- Running. You have to work on your endurance and stamina.
- Weightlifting. You don’t need bodybuilder's muscles, but having strong muscles in both the arms and legs can help a lot.
- Climbing. You have to sharpen your analytical and problem-solving skills when faced with obstacles during your climb.
You absolutely cannot go out to climb a mountain with ordinary flip flops or running shoes! Mountain climbing gear, unlike other sports gear, is ultra-specific to the demands of the sport. Proper gear can be quite expensive to purchase, but you always have the option to rent them. If you check out mountaineering gears, you’ll notice that they are mostly made up of sturdy yet lightweight materials. The climber will be carrying all that weight up the mountain and back, so every gram counts.
Here are some safety reminders:
Stick to your route and follow what your guide tells you to do. You are a beginner, so you should heed the wisdom of the climber who has years of experience behind him.
Before leaving, let your loved ones know where you are going. Bring a fully charged cell phone, with extra batteries if possible. Wrap it in a waterproof bag so it won’t get wet from mud or rain.
Bring lots of water. Some energy bars can also help to give you a good boost when you’re feeling low.
Bring a first aid kit filled with bandages and paraphernalia to clean and treat wounds or cuts. Include drugs like antacids, anti-allergy, painkillers, and antibiotics.
Include safety items that will help rescue people find you just in case you get lost or stranded—like a whistle, flashlight, etc. A waterproof jacket will keep you dry and warm as well. Bring pepper spray in case you get into trouble with a wild animal.
Enjoy the scenery and take pictures of the view. Have fun with your fellow climbers and bond with them. Breathe in fresh air from the mountainside—it’s not every day you get to inhale pure unpolluted air, especially when you live in the city.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to enjoy the climb!
Mountain climbing does not only require physical preparation, it also demands mental fortitude. Are you capable of keeping it together when things don’t go as planned?
A good climber should be ready to make quick objective decisions on directions, conditions, and safety.
A climber must always have a calm and collected demeanor.
He must be able to think clearly for solutions using whatever he has in his backpack and whatever is available in the forest.
You must also know how to work in a team. It is highly recommended for beginners to join a mountaineering club or group of people who share the same interest. If you live somewhere near a hill or cliff, you most likely will find one within the area.
If there is an indoor wall climbing gym (there are some situated within shopping malls), you can inquire for climbing classes or training. Don’t worry about not being able to finish a climb in the first few months—you’ll get the hang of it after a while.
Visit mountaineering blogs, forums, or message boards and don’t be shy to ask.