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How to start mountaineering?
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Rishi Sugla

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
How to start mountaineering? on 03/26/2014 21:02:52 MDT Print View

Hey all!

I'm an east coaster move out to socal in a few months and I've always been interested in mountaineering.

My issue is I don't know anybody out West right now and none of my close friends here backpack, let alone mountaineer.

What do I need to do to get started? As a soon-to-be graduate student I don't have much money to spare so I'd prefer not to take a course if at all possible.

Thanks in advance!

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: How to start mountaineering? on 03/26/2014 22:43:37 MDT Print View

You might state what you mean by mountaineering. Different people have different meanings.

I don't know where you will be a student, but many large schools have outdoor clubs. Participate there and then ask your question.


Billy Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
Re: Re: How to start mountaineering? on 03/26/2014 23:28:22 MDT Print View

You can learn from a friend that already knows how to climb safely.
Or from a climbing club.
Or from a climbing school or private instructor that trades classes for money.

But if you are not already a climber you may not yet even understand the different types of climbing or know which you would like to get into.

Generally there is: rock climbing at road-side crags; general mountaineering which can involve some rock climbing, some glacier/ice travel, and some just scrambling; big mountain/high altitude climbing which is mostly on snow and ice.

That is an over simplification, but a good start for you to begin thinking about.

If you want to get some knowledge to start, pick up the book titled Freedom of the Hills.

Browse the internet for a climbing club in your area or in the area you will be moving to.

Make some contacts. You will need people that know more than you to climb with, be it a club, school, of knowledgeable friend.



Locale: Western Michigan
How to start mountaineering? on 03/27/2014 06:54:35 MDT Print View

Start at an EARLY age.....

Take a reputable Mountaineering Course with veteran instructors such as the National Outdoor Leadership school (NOLS), that will teach you variety of skills—backpacking, mountaineering, and rock climbing—and experience a variety of terrain, from forests to glaciers to alpine rock.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Re: How to start mountaineering? on 03/27/2014 07:30:12 MDT Print View

ditto what Bob said above.

first define for yourself and us what you mean by mountaineering.
it is not just one activity.
if you have trouble defining what you mean, then you should do some reading before anything else, to figure out just what kind of relationship you would like with the mountains.

mountaineering does not have to be very technical and gear oriented, but it can be.

if you are not already an experienced back packer, you might start there.
most mountaineering requires back packing.

once you are proficient at back packing, try summer peak bagging. this is not very technical on the easy 3rd class routes and generally requires very little gear.
from there you will be able to decide just how involved you want to get.

as someone mentioned above, "Freedom of the Hills" is a great introductory book.

Edited by asandh on 03/27/2014 09:14:48 MDT.

Billy Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
Re: Re: Re: How to start mountaineering? on 03/27/2014 09:05:57 MDT Print View

One more thing I have to say:

If you are going to be doing roped climbing, it is REALLY important to find a climbing partner that you feel comfortable with in uncomfortable and scary situations.

You probably won't know who that is until you have been out with some different people and experienced some adversity with them. It is a process. It's the combination of how your personalities work together in tough situations that counts the most.

1. Having a vision of what kind of climbing adventures inspire you.

2. Finding a climbing partner(s) that you work well with in adverse conditions.

3. Getting technical knowledge and experience.

Those or the three key things you want for a good climbing experience.

I was lucky and found a friend that was a climbing instructor that I got along with in all conditions, our personalities and skill sets complimenting each other.


Richard Gless
(rgless) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
How to start mountaineering on 03/27/2014 14:45:18 MDT Print View

Best way is to take a course/and or get involved with other climbers to learn how. As people have noted above, most Universities have hiking/climbing clubs. You might also try the local Sierra Club chapter and go to stores that sell climbing equipment e.g., REI, and ask about local clubs, courses, etc.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: How to start mountaineering? on 03/27/2014 17:02:59 MDT Print View

Find a mountain, and climb it.

More to the point, join a club or go with someone who is experienced. Book learning here is kinda limited...


Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Take a Course on 03/27/2014 17:59:59 MDT Print View

I'm not really a "mountaineer" but I consider my brother a casual mountaineer. I hike on my vacations, he climbs things. For him taking a week long Mountain Madness Course in Washington state was a huge help. He was able to do things with a group that he never would have done by himself. First because of safety concerns and second because he doesn't have any buddies who want to rope up together and cross a glacier. After the course he had a better idea what he could and could not do safely on a mountain.

Edit - Sorry I forgot you're about to be a graduate student, well save up, maybe you can do a course some day. If you look there are day long course sometimes covering topics like glacier safety (Boulder, CO area), ice axes etc.

Edited by Cameron on 03/27/2014 18:01:38 MDT.

Robert Meurant
(rmeurant) - MLife
Do a course. on 03/27/2014 21:39:53 MDT Print View

Many years ago, at the ripe old age of 50 or so, I did the New Zealand Alpine Club training course, which was spread out over several weekends and various locations. It covered all kinds of climbing, from bouldering, and roped rock climbing, to glacier travel, snow caving, and ice climbing.

I distinguished myself by being the second worst climber on the course (out of 50 or 60?) (The worst took a bad fall while bouldering).

Never too late to learn, and it was a great experience; more to the point I'm still alive, not least because of the training I received.

I would recommend such a course, and you will likely make contacts on it for further adventures, as well as get invaluable advice on gear and techniques.

Edited by rmeurant on 03/27/2014 21:43:09 MDT.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
classes on 03/28/2014 06:19:58 MDT Print View

I was very lucky. A very good friend is also a climbing instructor for the Colorado Mountain Club's Basic Mountaineering School (BMS).

BMS teaches you the knots, how to use the equipment, safety and a myriad of other things. Well known as an excellent school for a good price.

Unlike a formal course, I learned by going with him (he had me do "ground school" first before I could even go on a climb,though. Probably a good thing! :D)

We've done some alpine climbs together including Grand Teton. What I enjoy about alpine climbing is that, generally, the climbs are not super technical. Perhaps 5.6 at most. Not they can't be harder, but many of the classic routes aren't. So it is like backpacking+.

Many hikers do not do any technical climbing, a lot of more technical climbers don't like to hike (keep the approach short!) . So the routes tend to have less people (classic ones like Grand Teton are the exception of course).

Take a class. Many formal outdoor groups do offer classes for a very reasonable price.

kristen buckland
(buckie06) - F

Locale: Colorado
Clubs on 03/28/2014 14:50:05 MDT Print View

I highly recommend joining a climbing club. I've been a member of the Colorado Mountain Club for just under two years and have gained a wealth of knowledge. Rock climbing, trad, ice, couloirs, roped travel. Before the club I didn't even know what gators were, now i'm scheduled to climb Rainier this summer.

Also, books to read:
Freedom of the Hills - buy this and keep it on your nightstand, the bible of mountaineering.
Snow Sense - THE book for avalanche education
Mike and Allen's Glacier Travel - great book about roped travel
Mike and Allen's Avalanche Book - good supplement to Snow Sense
Will Gadd's Technical Ice Climbing
Mark twight's Extreme Alpinism
Training for the New Alpinism by Steve House

Edited by buckie06 on 03/28/2014 14:54:11 MDT.

Thomas Davenport
Guided trips on 04/01/2014 08:39:35 MDT Print View

I have been learning by reading all I can read and signing up for guided trips: Mt. Shasta with Shasta Mountain Guides, and Mt. Rainier and Mt. Whitney with International Mountain Guides. On each of these trips I did not know anyone else before the trip and in all but one, every other client was in the same situation. I had a fantastic time on each. Something about shared suffering is very bonding and makes for lots of laughs.

These things are not cheap, but I've been incredibly impressed with the professionalism and dedication of every guide with whom I've climbed. I've felt like I got more than my money's worth on each trip. Mountaineering is incredibly treacherous and demanding and there is no way I would take it on without very experienced company. My compromise with my wife is that I can do this stuff all I want, but only if I am accompanied by guides. It makes her feel a lot better that I am taking on this dangerous activity in as safe a manner as possible. These guides typically have multiple teams on the mountain (not the case on Whitney) and communications systems if things go horribly wrong.

I've learned a lot on every trip and am now comfortable enough to do Shasta without a guide. A winter climb of Whitney or a climb of Rainier are still something I would not do without a professionial.

Doing a guided trip is not a cushy thing. You carry your gear, plus group gear. Yes, the guides cook breakfast and dinner and melt snow, so it is less work than going solo or with a team of friends. And, yes, the guides set the route. But it is still a very rigorous experience.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Guided trips on 04/01/2014 12:03:09 MDT Print View

A bunch of us were going to do a big mountain one time. The discussion came down to whether or not we should hire guides. The unanimous decision was NO. We flew there, climbed the mountain, and had no injuries. Once we were recovering at the base camp, we talked to the park rangers. They said that among the guided groups, the success rate on the summit was about 33%. Our success rate was about 60%. As we walked out toward the highway, we talked with others who had been on the mountain with guides, and we were amazed at the high prices they had paid for the guides.

So, guide services are different everywhere.


(drown) - F - MLife

Locale: Shenandoah
Re: Guided trips on 04/01/2014 17:23:28 MDT Print View

I would highly recommend a week long alpine club of Canada summer mountaineering camp. Great value for the money.

Thomas Davenport
Re: Re: Guided trips on 04/02/2014 11:16:06 MDT Print View

Bob there could be any number of possible explanations for your group's success. . . weather, fitness, backcountry experience, other climbing experience, etc. With good guides, your group's success rate probably would have been higher than 60%. . . What mountain was that? What time of year?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Guided trips on 04/02/2014 12:50:00 MDT Print View

The mountain was Aconcagua in January 1996.

We spoke to the park rangers right after we came down to base camp, and they were surprised that we were as successful as we were. The guided groups going just before us weren't nearly so successful. Plus, we had one woman climber in our group who had never before hiked above 10,000 feet. So, go figure.


Thomas Davenport
Aconcagua on 04/02/2014 15:05:35 MDT Print View

Bob, I'm guessing that, with the exception of the gal who'd never been over 10,000', the bulk of the remainder of the crew was pretty experienced, no? Are you suggesting that a newbie without a guide could show up at Aconcagua and expect to summit safely?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Aconcagua on 04/02/2014 15:39:26 MDT Print View

I think what I am suggesting is that if you really need a guide, then hire a good guide, but if you really don't want or need a guide, then go do it yourself. I've seen a few guides on high mountains that really don't give a damn. Too many clients sign up with a guide service with the attitude of: The guide will take care of me. That is not always the truth.

If your mountain experience is very limited, then the guide may be successful at being a teacher. If you get to remote mountains in far-away lands, there may be severe language barriers between you and the local guide.

The gal that I mentioned earlier had no prior high mountain experience, and that was a little surprising. However, she had the good sense to shut up and pay attention to the others around her who did know what they were doing, and they were willing to keep advising her. She was successful.

A few years ago, I was in Yellowstone park, and I went up Mount Washburn in snow and wind. I made the top, took a few photos in bad weather, and then immediately turned to head back to my car. I trudged through the snow and mud to the bottom. When I was reaching my car, there was a mountain guide with a whole group of twenty-somethings, and they were getting ready to go up the same mountain. The guide saw me wearing full storm gear, gaiters, and sturdy boots (covered in mud), so he came over to talk out of earshot of his clients. He asked about the conditions, and I told him. Then he went back to his clients to get them moving up the mountain. The funny thing was that all of the clients were wearing sneakers, mostly cotton jeans, cotton hoodies, and stuff like that. Apparently the guide did not want to tell them how bad it was going to be, especially with them outfitted like they were. Oh, well.


David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Outing Clubs on 04/02/2014 16:30:52 MDT Print View


What school will you be attending?

As many have said, "Get thee to the University Outing Club!"

Like you, the other members will be poor, need to schedule around classes, finals, Spring Break, Winter Break and summer vacation.

As such, they will do lots of ambitious, weekend trips by carpooling to different near- and medium-distance locations during the school year and will plan some longer-distance, longer-duration trips for Spring and Winter Breaks.

Compared to other non-profit, volunteer-led groups that organize trips like the Sierra Club, University Outing Club members tend to be much younger, healthier, poorer, hornier, and fewer of them have cars. So you gravitate towards the same kinds of trips and destinations.

I hung with the UC Berkeley Hiking Club for many years during my various stints there. Professional, 9-to-5 friends would be amazed at the kind of trips we'd do almost every weekend when all they'd managed to do between beer:30 on Friday and 8 am Monday was to mow the lawn and rent a movie.

Our outing club had gear to loan out (for free), you quickly make friends, and they will loan you gear, even clothing. This obviously saves you money initially, but it also is a huge savings to buy the RIGHT gear for your adventures, body, and metabolism the FIRST time aided by having tried many of the options out there.

Do some day hikes with the group. Then do some overnights. There are people you WANT on your trip (they offer to drive or pay for gas; they do more than their share of cooking and cleaning, they host events at their house, they are cheerful and enjoy getting to know other people). Be that person. Then, a month or two in, if the trips aren't as mountaineering-ish as you want, you can suggest some easy peak-bagging, followed by more ambitious trips. Often, it just takes someone with desire and a willingness to suggest a trip, EVEN THOUGH THEY AREN'T EXPERT AT THAT KIND OF TRIP (yet). We had two members who really wanted to learn to cave and 6 of us really got into it, learning on our own, doing easy stuff first, seeking out resources, and doing more and more challenging trips.

My wife and I are one of at least 4 couples who connected through that club and who are still together 20 years later.

If in a large city and your university doesn't have an active club, find out about the other colleges in the area. All such groups I've known welcome any like-minded hikers/backpackers/climbers regardless of student status or affiliation.

Edited by DavidinKenai on 04/02/2014 16:34:22 MDT.