Getting Started in Mountaineering?

8:03 p.m. on June 4, 2009 (EDT)
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Hello everybody,

 

I have recently discovered an interest in mountaineering and was wanting to know what the best way to start was, instead of randomly going out and climbing stuff without any guidance. Eventually, I would like to climb some stuff in the Himalayas, but im a long ways off.

In my youth I did quite a bit of hiking, and a fair amount of climbing (I could climb 5'8 comfortably). I'm still in school aswell (16), so it is hard for me to get out there and do things.

Thanks for all of the help.

5:44 p.m. on June 5, 2009 (EDT)
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I don't know what area you are located. But I would advise joining up with a mountaineering club in your area and getting into their training programs. Though you are not yet in college, college climbing clubs are a good way to go. Regional and national clubs include the Seattle Mountaineers and Mazamas in the Pacific Northwest and Appalachian Mountain Club in the Northeast, along with the Iowa Mountaineers in Iowa (and local groups elsewhere in the Midwest). There are a number of more local clubs like the Southern California Climbing Association.

By "mountaineering" I assume you are using the standard meaning, climbing alpine peaks that may involve snow and ice as well as technical rock, potentially with glacier travel.

NOLS and Outward Bound run youth programs that involve mountaineering. Some Boy Scout Troops (actually Venture Crews) are focussed on mountaineering.

You can also get training with a number of professional guide services. It would be well worth your while to take courses with American Alpine Institute in Bellingham, WA , for example, or International Mountain in North Conway, NH, or any of a dozen other guide services that are oriented toward training in the US and Canada.

Get a copy of Rock and Ice or Climbing Magazines. There are a number of guide services that do training that advertise in these. The cost of training with a guide service is on the high side, but you do get a thorough grounding in safety, including self-rescue when your partner screws up (happens more often than one would like). Actually you are lucky to be starting in this era. When I started seriously climbing at age 12, you learned by trial and error with buddies or just lucked onto an experienced mentor who knew what he or she was doing. Plus skills, equipment, and technique have changed a lot since then, mostly for the better.

9:42 p.m. on June 5, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks Bill,

I'm located on Vancouver Island, so there really isn't much to climb here... The highest peak I believe is only 6000' feet (Mount Arrowsmith)... I might attempt that this summer with some friends.

What would a good mountaineering magazine be to get?

 

Also, I forgot to mention that I attend a University-Preparatory School, and live at school, so it is hard for me to get out and hike, at the very least. My school does offer an outdoor program. We would sea-kayak, do some day-hikes, a couple of backpacking trips, and when the weather improves, a bit of climbing and white water kayaking. It won't help much for mountaineering, but it would give me some more outdoor experience.

11:47 a.m. on June 6, 2009 (EDT)
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mumble..sputter .. WHA?!? not much to climb on Vancouver Island??? Man, you gotta open your eyes. There is some great climbing there. And it's a short ferry ride and then the bus to get to Squamish, and a bunch of BC real alpine climbing! You are right in one of the world centers for learning mountaineering. Besides stuff on the island, you have the BC Coast Ranges, Olympics, Cascades Volcanoes, Purcells, Bugaboos, and Rockies. A bit of resourcefulness can get you to all these (you don't need your own wheels, really)

Sorry about that spew, but you have a plethora of stuff to climb of all types within a short distance, and a lot of it available via public transportation. There are several excellent guide services that run training courses nearby as well, plus enough climbing activity to find an experienced mentor. Just takes a bit of searching.

Take full advantage of your school's program - the "miles" will provide background and exposure. Do a lot of listening and observing, since you will have to do a lot of filtering to discard the bravado and macho stuff that comes with a lot of school programs (even from the faculty sometimes, who really ought to know better). You will hear and see a lot of baloney along the way, but a lot of observing and thinking will serve you well.

Dewey, point this youngster in the right direction, since you are almost local there and know the resources better than I do.

12:50 p.m. on June 6, 2009 (EDT)
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I meant that around where I live there isn't much to do, and it is hard for me to access good climbs due to living at school for eight months, not having a car, etc...

I am fully aware that there is a huge mountain range right across the water.

12:51 p.m. on June 7, 2009 (EDT)
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A little ingenuity and initiative goes a long way toward getting to climbing areas. Although, since you are at a prep school, you may have restrictions, like not leaving campus without a stack of documentation from parents, guardians, school officials, Prime Minister, and Her Majesty Elizabeth II (well, maybe not that much, but some private schools have a lot of restrictions). What is your school's policy on buildering (that's bouldering, but on buildings)?

As I noted before, you can gain a lot of experience in the activities you mentioned your outing club does. Do they do crosscountry skiing, or better, back country skiing (not snowboarding, but off-piste skiing that requires overnight camping in the snow)? How about organizing some survival camps, where you bivuoac in the snow with minimal equipment? These are skills that are needed for mountaineering. How about self-rescue techniques? Again, this is needed for mountaineering and much can be learned and skills honed in "ground school". Focused physical conditioning is important, as well. When I was your age (and had been seriously climbing for several years), we did a lot of running hills, gymnastics, bouldering, bicycling, just a lot of physical activity to develop and hone strength, flexibility, balance, etc.

And you do have the other 4 months of the year to get in training courses like the ones I mentioned.

2:55 p.m. on June 7, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks Bill,

My school doesn't have any laws on buildering, I actually have tried some whith my friends a bit haha... The one downside is that we have classes on saturday, which eliminates a 2-day weekend...

 

In the outdoor program my school offers, it is mostly centered around sea-kayaking, as our school is located, well, on the sea. I'll talk to some people I know in it and see what they think of it. I have heard that they do a fair bit of day-hikes aswell, and some overnight trips, which might be backpacking, kayaking, or snow-shoeing. In the Spring term, we have the option to choose between climbing and white-water kayaking. What it does not offer is what you said, self-survival techniques, bivuoac techniques, back-country skiing, etc... The only experience I would really gain from joining the outdoor program would be general outdoor experience, nothing really focused towards mountaineering.

9:46 p.m. on June 7, 2009 (EDT)
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... The only experience I would really gain from joining the outdoor program would be general outdoor experience, nothing really focused towards mountaineering.

Don't downplay the importance of "general outdoor experience." The more outdoor experience, the better, especially if it includes a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions. You seem to feel that the sea kayaking is irrelevant. Yet, sea kayaking in your area involves cold water and potentially stormy conditions, which means the potential of hypothermia. One of many things sea kayaking can present in terms of experience is dealing with hypothermia (mostly avoiding and recognizing its precursors), developing a "weather eye", learning how to stay dry in very wet conditions (mountaineering all too often involves stream crossings in fast flow conditions, and sometimes dealing with glacial mills - learn to deal with sudden ocean storms close to rocky shores, and you add valuable skills and knowledge for mountaineering, such as, try climbing out of the boat onto slippery wet slimey rock a few times). Physically, kayaking builds upper body strength and aerobic capacity, both needed for mountaineering. I would assume you might be doing some overnight kayak trips. Given the weather on and around Vancouver I, you are likely to gain experience in setting up and taking down camp in storm, as well as preparing and eating your meals in tough conditions.

I might add that a number of well-known mountaineers do a lot of kayaking, both sea and whitewater. I used to, but now I don't need yet another expensive hobby. Take advantage while you can use the school's gear.

11:58 p.m. on June 7, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks yet again Bill. As for aerobic capacity, would kayaking benefit that more than, say, running/cycling, or hiking?

1:25 p.m. on June 8, 2009 (EDT)
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kayaking, running, cycling, hiking, XC skiing (track and skate), gymnastics - all good for aerobics. Each exercises different muscle groups and combinations. Add in specific weight training with free weights and machines (I don't personally like most of the machines that are found in commercial gyms, a lot of schools, and our local YMCA, but some people like them). Some gymnastics are more like weight training, though.

At the same time, the best training for a specific activity is the activity itself. Mountaineering uses a wide variety of muscle groups, so when you can't get out on the rock, ice, and hills, so whatever other activities are available.

There are several good books out now on training for climbing and mountaineering. Look at those for guidelines. But work with your coaches at your school. Explain to them exactly what your goals are. The gymnastics coach is a better choice, obviously, than the football coach, but most coaches have training in a range of training techniques and skills. Big reason for using a coach is to make sure you are doing the activity correctly to get the most out of it, plus (BIG REASON) avoiding injury from making wrong moves, overtraining, etc. Running is an activity that can damage your knees, hips, and ankles over the long run if you don't run correctly (yeah, lots of runners will say "you just get out there and run" - wrong! if you move your legs and set your feet wrong, you can do serious damage quickly, and as a friend found out, you can seriously damage your knees cycling if you don't fit the bike correctly and use the wrong leg motion).

6:38 p.m. on June 8, 2009 (EDT)
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Yikes! My Dorm Supervisor was a previous professional athlete in Europe, and seems to know alot about training and techniques... I was hoping to ask him for a bit of a training plan to do over the summer.

12:19 p.m. on June 9, 2009 (EDT)
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Bill's point about "general outdoor experience" is spot on. Learning to stay warm and dry while kayaking is just as important to staying warm and dry while climbing or backpacking or skiing. Many people do a variety of outdoor activities and many of the skils will transfer from one activity to another.

1:57 p.m. on June 9, 2009 (EDT)
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And it just sounds like a lot of fun to try all those activities at your school!

You're really forunate to have such a program available and you'll gain a variety of skills and experiences. Who knows what new favorite activities and places you'll discover along the way

4:42 p.m. on June 9, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks, I'm sure I will gain alot of experience from the program, aswell as trying alot of different things. (I'm really excited to try white-water kayaking).

11:56 p.m. on June 25, 2009 (EDT)
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I just skimmed over but I assume that your climbing experience is top-rope? You will need to learn how to do traditional lead climbing for real alpine climbing. Learn pitches, gear, and all the fundementals of climbing-knots, anchors, etc.

 

I too would like to learn mountaineering and have read a lot of books about it but another expensive hobby is out of my budget right now. I just picked up whitewater kayaking and it is a blast. Do me and yourself a favor and learn to roll before you get on moving water. :) Have fun!

11:38 p.m. on June 30, 2009 (EDT)
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Yes, only top rope climbing, and some bouldering/scrambling. I could climb 5'8, 5'9 comfortably.

Some of my friends know how to lead climb, so maybe I can get a lesson from them sometime.

 

And it's not so much alpine climbing that I want to do, more of mountaineering, and you can correct me if I'm wrong if thy are two different things.

2:35 p.m. on July 1, 2009 (EDT)
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The following are different, though related, things -

Hiking

Rock climbing (trad climbing and sport climbing - which isn't either)

Bouldering

Gym climbing (which is no more climbing than running on a treadmill is running or riding a stationary bicycle is bicycling)

Alpine climbing

Ice climbing

Mountaineering

Backcountry skiing

Ski mountaineering

Canyoneering (aka canyoning)

Spelunking (aka potholing, caving, ...)

Rope soloing

Free soloing (not the same as free climbing, which is different from aid climbing, which is different from "French free climbing) - free soloing is insanity and suicidal

Slack lining (slack lining across canyons is, like free soloing, insanity and suicidal. Slack lining close to the ground is only risking broken bones, as in your neck and skull).

and a bunch of others

All have their adherents, advocates, fanatics, and just plain crazies.

And all are a lot of fun and generate lots of adrenaline and endorphins.

12:40 a.m. on July 11, 2009 (EDT)
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obviously I wasnt the original poster, but I just wanted to say thanks for all this input. your replys have helped me alot.

11:05 a.m. on July 21, 2009 (EDT)
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I was on Vancouver Island over thirty years ago and went to a climbing store there. If the store is still there, give them a call and as them if there is a local climbing club.

2:15 p.m. on July 25, 2009 (EDT)
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I am no expert on mountaineering and don't have a whole lot to add to what Bill and the others have said, but there is a lot you can learn without going too far. Read books by climbers about their expeditions. You won't learn much technical stuff, but you will learn what being on an expedition is like. As I am sure Bill can attest, a lot of it is walking and carrying heavy stuff a long ways, so getting in shape is important, as already noted.

One thing you can learn is what all the gear is for and how it is used-when to use a screwgate carabiner for example. Something you can learn on your own is knots-very important for mountaineering. Get a copy of Freedom of the Hills, which is the "bible" of mountaineering books as well as other climbing books and start reading. There are even online knot tying websites that show you how to tie common knots. I have a book called The Book of Knots, by Geoffrey Budworth that has dozens of knots in it, not all for climbing of course, but many are.

Learn how to tie yourself into a harness, how to make a prussik, how to carry your rope with what is sometimes called a "Kiwi coil" (I learned that in NZ in a climbing class) used for glacier travel, how to set up a Z pulley to get someone out of a crevasse. None of this takes going anywhere and you can practise whenever you have free time.

One thing that will be hard to learn is good judgment. Bill said learn about weather, which I highly recommend. When I was in NZ, keeping track of the weather was almost a national pastime since it changes so often down there. You can have all the skills in the world, but if you don't know how to avoid bad weather, you could die. It doesn't just happen to climbers, by the way.

One reason Ed Viesturs (who has climbed Everest a bunch of times and done all the 8000m peaks) is still alive is because he knows when to turn back. Read his book.

We read every winter about hikers or climbers being rescued or dying because they didn't do one simple thing-check the weather before heading out. Happens every year and not all of these stories have happy endings. A lot of the planning for the Himalayas for example, revolves around weather windows. There are lots of books on weather forecasting that don't involve owning your own weather station, so check out some of those.

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