Mountaineering 101: How to Get Started
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Living in the PNW, you may have heard the phrase “The mountain is out.” This common, albeit silly, phrase tells you whether or not you can see beautiful Mt. Rainier or if it’s shrouded behind rain clouds at that moment.
If you can see the top, have you ever thought about climbing it? At 14,411 above sea level, it’s the tallest singular peak in the lower 48 states and one of Washington’s five major volcanoes: Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams. Some other amazing mountains which can be great for beginner mountaineers are Mt. Shasta in Northern California and Mt. Hood and South Sister in Oregon. With a bit of training and preparation, a climbing attempt of one, or all of these, is possible!
Your basics to getting into mountaineering are:
Learning the skills through classes, guide services, or experienced members of the mountaineering community
Prepping mentally and physically
Getting the right gear
Take a mountaineering class or hire a guide service:
If you are not already a part of a supportive community that can take you under their wings and show you the ropes, you can learn essential skills and get more comfortable on a mountain by taking a class or hiring a guide service that will teach you the skills you need before leading you up the mountain. You’ll learn skills such as how to use an ice axe, how to rope up together, and how to perform a crevasse rescue.
Physical and Mental Training:
First off, you need to be in shape. You don’t need to be an Olympian, but having a few of the harder hikes (or the willingness to train for them) need to be under your belt. Even the easiest of the mountains to summit still takes endurance and stamina.
Your training hikes can be as simple as putting on a heavy pack and going to the steep hikes just outside of Seattle. Or using a stair climber while wearing a pack will build up your leg muscles and endurance.
Altitude can get to you too. You may be okay at sea level and a few thousand feet above that, but people can start to feel altitude sickness as low as 5,000 ft above sea level. The higher you go, the worse it is, and the more dangerous it can be. Knowing the warning signs and knowing how to prevent it are crucial to climbing.
But it’s not just physical. It’s also mental. While mountaineering is incredibly rewarding, there are times you’ll have to turn around 1,000 feet from the top because of dangerous conditions. You’ll have to endure steep slopes, stressful situations, and inclement weather, so be sure to be prepared for discomfort and danger. Not everyone is cut out for it, but if you can make it, it’s all worth it for the views and sense of accomplishment at the top.
In addition to the typical winter hiking gear, some of the technical gear you’ll need to invest in is listed below. Some of these items you can find for rent if you’re not quite ready to buy.
Mountaineering boots: Warmer than hiking boots, comfortable, and compatible with crampons, mountaineering boots are hiking boots but beefed up.
Ice Axe: This light axe can do things from saving your life in the event of a fall to making it easier (and more fun) to get off the mountain by glissading. Some mountains require two ice tools.
Crampons: These long spikes attach to your mountaineering boots and allow you to grip ice and snow to give you traction.
Climbing harness: While they make rock-climbing harnesses that will work for your mountain climbing, mountaineering harnesses are more comfortable and lighter which will make your trip up the mountain easier.
Climbing helmet: To protect your head. Rock climbing helmets will work too, you just want to make sure you’re able to attach a headlamp around the helmet.
If you are climbing with the guides, they will provide additional gear such as ropes and carabiners.
Continue your mountaineering education:
Get into winter camping. Backpacking but in the snow, winter camping can be a lot of fun! If you’re nervous about getting into it, we’ve got a class led by a great guide service to introduce it to you.
Try rock climbing. You’ll learn skills here, such as belaying, using a harness, and typing ropes, that can help you with mountain climbing.
And above all, stay safe and have fun!