Mountaineering, as a branch of adventure sports, seems to be getting popular day by day. Many people are getting bored with their mundane lives, and are starting to look at other avenues of recreation.
Getting back to nature is an increasingly popular choice, given that our cities are crowded, and often, polluted places.
By contrast, the mountains, with their cool air, and pure water, and breathtaking sceneries, are ideal for them to take a well earned break.
New hikers who want to get into mountaineering should start with camping in lower altitudes, and learn the basic skills of surviving first, in such adverse climates.
Some of these skills include knowing how to cook your own food in the wilderness, how we cross streams, lighting a fire, living out of a tent, and many more.
There are some things, though, that a new hiker should keep in mind, before going on a trek, or expedition. Some of these things shall be outlined below, as a basic guide to anyone who’s looking into getting started with mountaineering.
Clothing and necessary equipment for beginners
When planning to go on a hike, the first thing you should do is to look at the kind of climate you are going to. If you are going to go to a place like the Himalayas, then you will need to take some warm clothes. However, if you’re planning to go for some light trekking, then there’s no need to lug around an extra bag of warm clothes.
It’s always better to dress in as many layers as possible, since you get to remove, or add the extra layers when you feel warm, or cold. A new hiker should keep in mind that the following items of clothing are a very good estimate when it comes to what one needs for a trip to the mountains:
- 2 pairs of trekking pants
- 2 trekking shirts
- 1 woollen cap
- 1 pair of polarised shades
- 2 under-shirts/singlets or more (as needed)
- 2 pairs of underwear or more (as needed)
- 1 set of thermal wear or more (as needed)
- 2-4 pairs of cotton, and/or woollen socks
- 1 pair of waterproof trekking shoes
- 1 pair of trekking poles
- 1-2 windcheaters
- 1 poncho
- 1-2 pairs of gloves
- 1 rucksack (70-90 litres in capacity with a rain cover)
- 1 knapsack/daypack (30-40 litres in capacity with a rain cover)
- 1 water bottle
- 1 3-man tent
- 1 sleeping bag
- 1 carry-mat (sleeping mat)
- 1 headlamp
- 1 down jacket
Packing your bag efficiently
If your bag is not packed properly, then it will not only strain your back, but it will also be very uncomfortable to carry. You must keep items such as your poncho, rain cover, windcheater, first aid kit, and medicines either on top, or in a place where they can be reached easily. These items may also be placed in the bag’s side pockets for easy access.
Clothing should be packed in such a way that you can easily take out items without disturbing other items.
Illness and injury
A majority of trekking occurs in areas of high altitude, where the level of oxygen is comparatively lesser than sea level. The level of oxygen continues to decrease with the amount of height one gains in a high altitude area.
(Any area that is 9000 metres above sea level is known as a high altitude area.) In such a situation, there are a whole lot of illnesses which may surface, many of which may not be known to beginners.
These illnesses are classified as high altitude illnesses, which includes Acute Mountain Sickness, amongst many others.
It is imperative that every trekker should know about all these illnesses, due to their fatal nature if left untreated.
First aid box
A first aid box is one of the most important things to have in your bag, regardless of your level of experience. This is especially important because medical help will be very far from reach when you are out on a trek.
One needs to be able to understand the symptoms of his fellow climber, and provide proper medical aid in a timely manner.
It is recommended that you consult a doctor before going on any expeditions, so that you can discuss if there are any extra medicines to be taken according to the climate of your intended destination. An example of a basic first aid kit would be:
- Sterilised cotton gauze
- Sterilised cotton
- A pair of nylon gloves
- A pair of scissors
- Alcohol swabs
- A bottle/sachets of sanitiser
- Adhesive bandages
- Crepe bandages
- Diamox (Acetazolamide)
- Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS)
- Other Anti-Inflammatory medicines as prescribed by your physician
- Muscle relaxants
- Anti-nausea medicines
- Medicines for diarrhoea, or dysentery
Mountaineering is a sport that not only thrives on passion, but it also requires lots of energy, and strength, to survive in cold, harsh climates.
If you have decided to pursue mountaineering passionately, then you must endeavour to be as physically fit as possible. It would be best to work upon your strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, and coordination, because they all are interconnected with each other.
Make sure that you are well trained before you set off on any treks, or expeditions so that you may be able to participate without any injuries, and ensure a safe return.
An area of high altitude is defined as a place which is located 9000 feet above the sea level. When you cross such a level in height you need to acclimatise your body accordingly because your body needs to adapt to that particular climate. A lot of physiological changes occur, such as breathlessness at rest, vomiting, headaches, lack of muscular coordination, and difficulty in walking.
Acclimatisation can be divided into 3 parts:
- 9000 to 12000 feet in height ( 6 days)
- 12000 to 15000 feet in height ( 4 days)
- 15000 to 18000 feet in height ( 4 days)
Food and water
When you are on a trek, or out camping, your muscles are going to need lots of energy due to the high level of physical activity. Therefore, your body is going to need energy for each day’s challenge. You should take a greater amount of carbohydrates in your diet, as it gives you instant energy, and also hydrates your body. Drink at least 3-5 litres of water daily. Drinking water abundantly also helps to flush out any toxins which have collected in our body through urine, or through perspiration. Take glucose, energy drinks, or oral rehydration salts along with you if possible.
Many mountaineers have lost their lives due to sudden, adverse climate conditions.
Therefore, a mountaineer should always be aware of the climate conditions in advance. Climate conditions in the mountains often change within seconds, and hence, one should always be prepared to tackle them properly.
There are lots of weather forecasting apps, and news sites today, which can help us pre-determine the weather before starting on our journey. It is advisable that one should always have an idea of what kind of weather one may face when going out each day.
However, there are times when one may find oneself trapped in bad weather. In those cases, the first thing to remember, is that you should not panic. Keeping calm is imperative to making good, logical decisions in moments of distress.
Try to maintain your positions, and do not lose sight of your team members, as it’s very easy to get lost during a whiteout. It would be foolish to venture out in this kind of weather, and it would be best to ride it out by staying where you are, unless an emergency occurs, and you need to descend your team immediately.
Until the weather clears up again, it would be best to ration both your food, and your fuel accordingly. Keep your body warm, and active.
You should not start moving immediately, even if the weather has improved, or cleared up completely. Rather, you should wait for some time, to make sure that this is not just a temporary relief in climate conditions.
The hours after a snowstorm, or other change in weather are prime conditions for avalanches, and other hazards to occur, as the snow is new, and has not settled down enough for us to tread upon it. Fresh snow also conceals many crevasses, often hiding them completely, and hence, making them even more dangerous.
If possible, you should also change the positions of your tents to another area, if they happen to be situated in an area that is prone to avalanches. It is also advisable that members of the team take turns in sitting guard over their camp, so they can raise an alarm in the event of an avalanche at night.
If you have made up your mind seriously about pursuing mountaineering, then you should look at gaining formal training through various courses, in the field of mountaineering. These courses will help you in improving your climbing skills.
They will not only make you familiar with mountains, and glaciers, but they will also educate you about what you can, and can’t do when staying in a mountainous area.
There are a variety of courses available today, ranging from basic mountaineering courses, to courses that focus on search, and rescue operations. You can also find that there are many courses that will teach you first aid, and how to survive in the wilderness.
These courses are mostly run by various mountaineering schools which are controlled by many governmental, and non-governmental organisations all over the world.
Most of the time, knowledge regarding mountaineering equipment is only imparted when one signs up for a mountaineering course. However, it is very important that beginners familiarise themselves with all kinds of equipment used, so as to gain a basic level of understanding, before using them in any situation.
If we do not know how to use, or identify various kinds of equipment, then they are as good as any piece of metal to us. It would indeed be a great loss for us, should we ever find ourselves in a situation where these tools are needed, only to find out that we lack the knowledge required to utilise them.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but most of the equipment used in an average mountaineering expedition can be found below:
- 2-3 Multi-purpose ropes
- 1 Long Sling
- Seat harness (depending upon the number of team members – 1 for each member)
- 20-25 screw locker carabiners
- 2-3 descenders
- Helmet (depending upon the number of team members – 1 for each member)
- 3-4 single or double pulleys
- 3 Rock hammers
- 20-25 Rock pitons (vertical, horizontal, channel and multipurpose)
- 1 chockstone/nut set
- 5-6 ascenders (jumars/zumars)
- 2 Spring loaded camming devices (SLCD)
- Climbing shoes (depending upon the number of team members – 1 pair for each member)
- Butane stove
- 10-15 Ice, or tubular pitons
- 1 GPS device
- 1 Compass
- 1 snow picket (commonly known as dead man anchor)
- 1 snow fluke (commonly known as dead boy anchor)
- Ice axes (depending upon the number of team members – 2 for each member)
- 2-3 shovels
- Crampons (depending upon the number of team members – 1 pair for each member)
- Snow shoes (depending upon the number of team members – 1 pair for each member)
- 3 Avalanche cords
- 3 Avalanche rods
- 3 Avalanche victim detectors
- 1 Aluminium Ladder
- Mittens (depending upon the number of team members – 1 pair for each member)
- Camp shoes and tent shoes (on discretion of each team member)
When you have collected all the equipment listed above, and the required knowledge, then you may start with treks. It is advisable that you first start with small, and easy treks with gradual progression to more difficult ones at higher altitudes, preferably with the guidance of seasoned instructors, and/or mountain leaders.
After you have gained some experience, you may start climbing peaks which are below 5000 metres, with the help of some experienced team members.
Once you are done with those, you should look at climbing peaks that are above 6000 metres, and gradually move on to peaks above 7000 metres, as you gain experience. Peaks at 7000 metres, or above are normally very technical, and are often full of hazards. These peaks are not to be climbed without proper guidance, and/or adequate preparation.
Beyond that, there are only 14 peaks which stand above 8000 metres in our world.
These peaks are very difficult, and often check your patience, strength, endurance, and technical skills. It is advisable that one should only attempt these peaks once they have gained ample experience, and exposure from climbing various kinds of peaks in the world.