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What is Mountain Climbing?

Defining the Sport of Mountaineering

By

What is Mountain Climbing?

Climbers gaze across North Pit near the summit of 14,115-foot Pikes Peak in Colorado.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
What is Mountain Climbing?

Susan Paul descends the Mountaineers Route on Mount Whitney, California.

Photograph courtesy Doug Hatfield
What is Mountain Climbing?

Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, is in Nepal and Tibet.

Photograph © Alan Kearney/Getty Images

Mountaineering or the sport of climbing mountains is simply one of the finest outdoor opportunities available to the lover of high places. Mountain climbing is all about challenge and perseverance, about putting hands and feet onto rocks and ice and snow and finally reaching a summit. There, high above the world of cities and civilization, the climber can pause and look across a natural world ruled by nature and her raw beauty.

Climb Every Mountain

Mountaineering, also called alpinism, is not only climbing mountains the hard way with an ice axe, crampons, cams, and rope, but it is also simply challenging and difficult hiking up steep rocky slopes, talus fields, and along airy ridges studded with gendarmes in the high mountains.

Mountaineering Challenges are Everywhere

Lots of people who would never think about rock climbing and its perils enjoy climbing or hiking up mountains throughout the United States, finding their challenges on Colorado’s Fourteeners or 14,000-foot peaks, Washington’s Mount Rainier, California’s Mt. Whitney, the 4,000-foot peaks of New York’s Adirondack Mountains, or Old Rag Mountain in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Farther afield are easily climbed peaks like Mount Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia, and Mount Kilimanjaro, the summit of Africa.

Climbing the World’s Hardest Peaks

Other climbers aspire to stand atop ice-bound peaks in the world’s highest mountain ranges—the Himalayas, the Andes, the French Alps, Denali, the Canadian Rockies, and the remote ranges of Antarctica. These climbers risk life and limb to thin air, frostbite, bone-chilling cold, hypothermia, avalanche, and high wind to reach some of the world’s highest summits like the 14 mountains in Asia that rise above 8,000 meters.

Climbers Need to Be Competent

To climb these mountains, mountaineers must be competent in both rock and ice climbing techniques; able to understand snow, glacier travel, and forecast weather; and above all, they must have good judgment and common sense to stay not only safe but alive.

Mountain Climbing is Dangerous

Mountain climbing is, like rock climbing, a risky activity and not to be taken lightly not matter how easy or benign your chosen peak might seem. Remember: Looks can be deceiving. The mountains are filled with danger and drama. Lightning strikes can stab out of a clear sky. Thunderstorms quickly form and drench you with rain and sleet. Rockfall and avalanches sweep down mountain faces. Difficulties can slow you, forcing you to bivouac in the open. You or your climbing partner can have an accident, causing all kinds of complications.

Learn from Experienced Mountaineers

If you’re a novice and inexperienced in the ways of the mountains, then it’s wise to go with more experienced companions or a guide. You can learn from them what it takes to be safe in the mountains so you can return another day for a new adventure.

The Mastery of Hardships

The mountains draw climbers who love the natural world and possess an adventurous spirit. To reach the summit of a mountain peak is not always easy, but it always seems worthwhile. It always seems worth the effort to stand atop a mighty peak and look across the world with the eyes of a soaring eagle. It’s at those precious mountain moments that you will remember Helen Keller’s admonition: “A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.”

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