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Great adventure cruising information, ideas, and photos, written by adventure cruising experts.
Mountaineering info, ideas, and photos
Mountaineering is climbing on mountains as opposed to crags. Mountaineering can take place with ropes or without depending on conditions, and in the course of a single climb, a mountaineer may climb on rock, snow, ice, and glaciers.
Although many in the mountaineering community use the terms interchangeably, Alpine Climbing has a slightly different, but subtle connotation of steeper, icier, more technical climbs on big serious mountains.
As many mountains have snow, ice, and glaciers, specialized equipment, like ice axes and crampons come into play for mountaineering. Mountaineering is done either with ropes or without. For example climbing on steep unconsolidated snow is often more safely done un-roped - as anyone who's been pulled from their feet by a partner on high angle snow and had had a near death slide can attest.
It's important for beginning mountaineers to build a strong skill set in climbing techniques for rock, snow, ice, and glaciers. The ideal way to do this is to take a class from a climbing school or hire a climbing-guide.
Skills you'll want to build to become a competent mountaineer include:
Weather and Mountain-Sense: Learning how to understand and forecast the weather, as well as learning what to do in certain situations can save your life. For example, if you're caught in a freak summer hailstorm, you need to know that if you wait an hour, the hail will melt, and you'll have less chance of slipping. You also need to know what to do in case of lightning.
Snow Climbing: Learning efficient snow climbing techniques and safety is important. Knowing how to cut steps and knowing when to rope up and when not to are two key skills which are not exactly obvious.
Glacier Travel Safety: There are specific mountaineering techniques and special rope work you'll need to learn for glacier travel, tying a prusik, coiling a climbing-rope, and also self arrest and crevasse rescue skills.
Rock Climbing: Managing a rope efficiently and in some cases simul-climbing in a mountaineering situation are different on big mountains than on crags- it's big leap. Also, understanding the mechanics of body position and placement can make for a better mountaineering experience.
Ice Climbing: Having an understanding of ice-climbing techniques can be extremely helpful in a mountaineering situation. For example, routes can change on an almost daily basis and that gentle snow slope could become like a frozen waterfall in the right situation. If you don't know how to place an ice screw, you could be screwed.
Altitude Sickness: Altitude Sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness and its more serious cousins High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is a huge risk for climbers above 10,000 feet. Frostbite: Frostbite is a major risk in cold, snowy, wet mountain environments where mountaineers are exposed to the elements for long periods of time. Frostbite is literally the freezing of the skin. Several mountaineers each year lose fingers and toes due to frostbite. Objective Danger: Objective danger in mountaineering is the danger posed by rockfall, avalanche, crevasses, etc. on any given route. Each climber goes through a process of determining the amount of objective danger that they will expose themselves to and this is often a factor when a mountaineer decides to turn back from the summit.
Gear for mountaineering varies depending on the route. On mellow alpine mountaineering routes, a simple climbing rack, harness, rope, shoes, and climbing helmet are in order. On snow and ice routes, an ice axe, crampons, and a rope are in order.
In addition, it's important to be prepared for the effects of the sun in the mountains. In addition to sunscreen, proper eye wear is important, to avoid Snowblindness when walking for prolonged periods on snow and glaciers.
In the U.S. there are thousands of great mountains for first time mountaineers. An ideal first mountain would feel a lot like a long hike with some scrambling. Walk-ups like the Keyhole Route on Long's Peak in Colorado or the East Ridge of the Pfeifferhorn in Utah, in the summer are just class 3 scrambles, but help to build important mountaineering skills.
For a bit more challenge, with an ice axe and crampons, the South Ridge of Mount Adams is a fantastic route for first time snow climbers, with no crevasses and only moderate steepness. With the right instruction and guiding, the Disappointment Cleaver route on Rainier is routinely done by mountaineers with little experience.
With a bit of experience, a world of amazing mountaineering routes opens up. The Exum Ridge on the Grand Teton or the Glacier Route on the Middle Teton are excellent mountaineering challenges for those with skills, but to complete them safely, you've got to watch the weather and even then be able to move fast and efficiently - hire a guide if there's any question.
For more routes check out InsidrInfo.com's section on mountains, which has links to information on mountaineering challenges all over the world.
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