Mountaineering 101: The Basics for Beginners
By: Leah Brodsky, Social Media Editor
Ever wanted to climb a mountain? This article is for beginners who don’t know how to start. The term mountaineering is the peak of the tree of climbing. Rock climbing and other types of climbing are the lower branches of the tree. Mountaineering is one of the most technical sports, so you want to have much training before you trek the mountain ranges. The sport is rigorous yet rewarding. To help you prepare and find the best places to hike, the AMC has an active mountaineering committee and program.
You need to train and prepare to be a mountaineer. Although mountain climbing can be done safely, the sport is a risky activity and very demanding both physically and mentally. But the sense of accomplishment makes climbing worth the effort. Climbing will make you feel alive. You don’t want to start until you have learned the basics. Follow these steps to start your journey towards expertise. And there’s many ways to prepare with the AMC.
Read mountaineering books. Chris Neil, co-chair of the Berkshire Chapter's Mountaineering Committee, recommends these books: Accidents in North American Climbing, The Ledge, In To Thin Air, and Touching the Void. Neil says that, “All the tragedy books are insanely useful at the onset. They help develop the proper mindset for pursuing this sport.”
In addition, the Interchapter Climbing Committee Chair, Bill Fogel, recommends the Learning to Climb series by John Long, Self Rescue by David Fasulo, and Freedom of the Hills by the Mountaineers.
Find a mentor
It’s good to have a mentor when you first begin mountaineering. Having someone to give you advice and answer questions really helps you in the long run. The AMC has many ways to help members find climbing mentors:
- The Berkshire Chapter has an active mountaineering community where experienced climbers offer training and lead group climbing activities. To learn more, visit this page.
- During normal times, the chapter’s mountaineering committee offers regular training, instruction and mentoring.
- In the Pioneer Valley there are various outdoor locations where climbers at all ability levels can practice and train. There are also are indoor locations such as Central Rock Gym.
Take a class
Taking a class is a great way to learn the basics of mountaineering. The sport is a team effort, so taking a class surrounds you with other beginners working together. Having a teacher teach you the ins and outs of mountaineering gives you hands-on practice. They can teach you climbing techniques and where to place your hands and feet. In nearby Hadley, MA you can access training and practice opportunities at the Central Rock Gym.
Use the Right Gear!
Having the correct gear and knowing how to use it is extremely important to safe climbing. Mountaineering activity leaders Neil and Fogel recommend the items below.
Helmet: You have to protect your head! You could hurt your head falling or catching. Don’t forget this essential piece of gear and risk something happening that could prevent you from climbing later on in life.
(image from Switchback Travel).
Harness: You must be comfortable and a harness should be able to allow a climber to organize their gear in such a manner that is easily accessible. Choice of harness is all up to what you personally like. The mountaineering committee recommends a fifth loop on the back of the harness to hold gear that is mainly used at anchors and belays. “I use 3 different harnesses depending on the objective though I feel two are ample for the year round climber," says Neil.
(image from REI).
Footwear: There are different types depending on climate conditions: Rock, Ice, or Long mountains. Having different pairs of boots for different terrains/types of weather is useful. Evaluate your goal before you choose your shoe. For example, Neil explains that he has “two different rock climbing shoes (aggressive vs multipitch for longer objectives)
(image from 123RF).
Clothing: Clothing is about knowing your goal as well. Neil says that he “recently just made an attempt at an extremely ambitious goal in the Whites. I reached out to Bill [Interchapter Climbing chair] and a couple others for advice. I was turned down by thunderstorms 1/4 way through but was thankful for the support I was given.” Consider all weather conditions when packing for a mountaineering trip. If you don’t know; ask your mentor or community.
Practice Makes Perfect!
Practice, practice, practice! You need to train continuously to become a mountaineer.
Here are some good, local mountains to climb for beginners in the Berkshire Chapter region:
- The Whites: The Black Dike or Pinnacle Gully routes (both ice)
- Katahdin: the Cilley Barber Route (ice), Armadillo (rock)
- The Daks: Wallface - the Diagonal Route (rock)
- Farley Ledges Farley, MA. For more info, on Farley Ledges: (rock) https://climbgneiss.org/farley-ledges/
All in all, train hard and prepare for mountaineering. Get out there and climb!