How to Start Mountaineering.? Definition, Types & Benefits

How to Start Mountaineering.? Definition, Types & Benefits

Mountaineering is an ascent to peaks, including the walls of high mountains, which can take place at any time of the year on rocky, snowy or icy surfaces.

This type of sport and active recreation requires not only physical, but also high technical and intellectual preparation from a person in order to overcome routes of increased difficulty in changeable weather conditions and on changing terrain.

Mountaineering has its own traditions and culture of climbing, accumulated knowledge about high-mountainous terrain and typical routes, as well as specific techniques for overcoming difficulties on the way to the top.

No less important elements of training and practice for climbers are teamwork, the ability to lead a group, belay and climb in teams.

How is mountaineering different from rock climbing?

Rock climbing is a narrower and more specific sport that involves using only the strength of the arms and legs to overcome vertical mountain slopes or artificial climbing walls.

In sport climbing, the goal of the competition is to reach the end point through a series of holds, special protruding elements on natural or artificial terrain. The top is not always the ultimate goal.

Mountaineering, in a broad sense, combines all methods of climbing to the tops of mountains using various available means, including crampons, ice axes, telescopic poles or skis, as well as belay systems.

Depending on the category of the route, mountaineering may not include vertical sections at all or, on the contrary, consist of one continuous wall, such as the North Face of the Eiger in Switzerland.

Types of Mountaineering

There are many gradations of mountaineering and ways of systematizing various directions - according to the height of the mountains, the technical complexity of the routes, and the additional equipment used. In general, the following types of mountaineering can be distinguished:

Alpine style is the most common type of mountaineering. Involves climbing over rock, snow and ice, in which the group carries all equipment with them without having to return. More typical for mountains of medium altitude (from 2,000 to 5,000 meters), where mild high-altitude acclimatization can be achieved.

Expeditionary (Himalayan) style is a type of mountaineering that includes intermediate camps prepared in advance. It is typical for high mountains (from 6,000 and above), as it requires a lot of additional equipment, including oxygen cylinders, and stepwise acclimatization, when the group periodically goes up and down, spending the night at different altitudes. After a long period of adaptation (several weeks), the group storms the summit.

Big Wall is a type of mountaineering that includes climbing a vertical wall (rock, ice or mixed) with a height gain of 1,000 meters or more. Typically, such routes take more than one day, so they require overnight stops in suspended platforms. Athletes carry all equipment for climbing and overnight stays.

Ice climbing is an extreme form of mountaineering that involves climbing ice formations - glaciers, frozen waterfalls or artificial ice structures. Ice climbing requires special equipment that may not be needed in other types of climbing:

  • ice axes with curved hooks;

  • crampons - metal plates with teeth that fit on shoes;

  • ice screws - metal rods with threads to screw into the ice, and with eyes for carabiners to organize insurance.

Also Read: Mountain House Freeze-Dried Food

Sport climbing is a type of mountaineering and an Olympic sport that involves climbing natural and artificial terrain with or without belay. Rock climbing at the Olympic Games is held in an all-around format, combining three disciplines - difficulty climbing, bouldering and speed climbing.

Climbing for difficulty - overcoming a route on an artificial climbing wall using a bottom rope (when the athlete himself threads a carabiner rope on the way up) and a belayer. The goal of the discipline is to get to the top, the finishing point, and within the allotted time.

Bouldering is climbing short routes (usually no more than 10 holds) on a low route without using a belay. The goal is the same - to get to the top in the allotted time.

Speed ​​climbing is the process of completing a route on a wall in the shortest possible time. An overhead belay is used where the rope is threaded through a carabiner at the top point and held by the belayer on a counterweight.

Difficulty categories

The following is a guide to climbing grading systems used in various parts of the world:

The following is a guide to climbing grading systems used in various parts of the world:

The National Climbing Classification System (NCCS):

USA uses "Commitment Grade" to indicate the time investment required for an average climbing team to climb a route. The grades are as follows:

  1. Grade I: It takes less than half a day for the technical portion of the climb.

  2. Grade II: The technical portion of the climb takes half a day.

  3. Grade III: Takes most of the day for the technical portion of the climb.

  4. Grade IV: Takes a full day of technical climbing, usually at least at least 5.7 difficulty level.

  5. Grade V: Typically requires an overnight stay on the route.

  6. Grade VI: Requires two or more days of hard technical climbing.

  7. Grade VII: Involves remote big walls climbed in alpine style.

French System:

Rating system used to assess a mountaineering route's difficulty level based on factors such as ascent, descent, and approach. This rating system has gained popularity across the world, including the Americas.

Different Grades:

  • F: Facile (Easy) - involves rock scrambling or easy snow slopes, some glacier travel, and is often climbed without ropes.

  • PD: Peu Difficile (A little difficult) - may include technical climbing and more complicated glaciers.

  • AD: Assez Difficile (Fairly complex) - involves steep climbing or long snow/ice slopes above 50º and is only suitable for experienced alpine climbers.

  • D: Difficile (Difficult) - includes sustained hard rock and/or ice/snow and is pretty severe.

  • TD: Très Difficile (Very difficult) - is prolonged and severe.

  • ED1, ED2, ED3: Extremement Difficile (Extremely difficult) - are the most severe climbs with continuous difficulties.

 Alaska Grade:

  1. Grade 1: An easy glacier route.

  2. Grade 2: Not technical, but still exposed to weather, knife-edged ridges and high altitude.

  3. Grade 3: Moderate to hard, involving some technical climbing.

  4. Grade 4: Hard to difficult, requiring technical climbing skills.

  5. Grade 5: Difficult, with sustained climbing, high commitment, and limited bivouac sites available.

  6. Grade 6: Sustained hard climbing over several thousand vertical feet, necessitating a high level of commitment.

Russian Grade:

  1. 1A and 1B are simple routes to peaks from 500 to 5,000 meters in height with an average slope of 10°-25°. The duration of the ascent is from 1.5 to 5-8 hours.

  2. 2A and 2B – climbing peaks from 500 to 6,000 meters with an average slope of 15°-30°. The duration of the ascent is from 2 to 6-10 hours.

  3. 3A and 3B – climbing peaks from 600 to 6,500 meters with an average slope of 20°-40°. The duration of the ascent is from 3 to 10 hours.

  4. 4A and 4B – climbing peaks from 600 to 7,000 meters with an average slope of 30°-50°. The duration of the ascent is 5-8 hours or more.

  5. 5A – climbing peaks from 1,000 to 7,500 meters with an average slope of 40°-60°. The duration of the ascent is 6-8 hours or more.

  6. 5B – climbing peaks over 2,000 meters with an average slope steepness of 40°-60°. The duration of the ascent is 6-8 hours or more. As a rule, the ascent takes place overnight.

  7. 6A – climbing peaks from 3,000 meters with an average slope of 65°-75°. The duration of the ascent is at least 3-4 days.

  8. 6B – climbing peaks from 3,000 meters with an average slope steepness of 70°-80°. The duration of the ascent is at least 3-4 days.

Aid Grades:

When rock climbers tackle a big wall climb, they often have to use aid climbing techniques to get to the top. Aid climbing involves using gear to help ascend the wall, like ropes, ladders, and hooks. To rate the difficulty of a climb, climbers use a system that uses letters and numbers to describe how hard it is.

The original aid rating system uses letters A0 to A5. A0 means that the climb might require some aid gear, but it's not too difficult. A5 is the most difficult and dangerous rating, where even a small mistake can result in a long fall.

A newer system, called the "New Wave" aid rating, uses the same letters but with different definitions. For example, when you see the letter "C" replace "A," it means that the climb was done without a hammer, only relying on clean climbing techniques.

The New Wave system also includes more detailed ratings, like A2+ or A3+. These ratings describe how difficult it is to find good gear placements, and how much risk there is of falling.

Scottish Winter Grades:

  • Grade I: Snow gullies and easy ridges.

  • Grade II: Steep snow where two ice tools may be required, but technical difficulties are short.

  • Grade III: More sustained than Grade II, with mixed ascents of moderate rock routes.

  • Grade IV: Steep ice with short vertical steps or long pitches up to 70º, or mixed routes requiring advanced techniques.

  • Grade V: Sustained ice to 80º or mixed climbs with linked hard moves.

  • Grade VI: Vertical ice and highly technical mixed routes.

  • Grade VII: Multi-pitch routes with long sections of vertical or thin ice, or mixed routes with lots of highly technical climbing.

  • Grade VIII and above are the hardest routes in Scotland.

Canadian Winter Commitment Grade:

  • Grade I: Short, easy, and with no alpine hazards.

  • Grade II: One or two pitches near the car with few alpine hazards.

  • Grade III: Requires most of a day, including the approach, which may require winter travel skills. There may be possible avalanche terrain and the need to place descent anchors.

  • Grade IV: A multipitch route at higher altitude or remote location. It may take several hours to approach and requires serious alpine terrain skills.

  • Grade V: A full-day climb in alpine terrain with a long approach, long technical descent, and objective dangers.

  • Grade VI: A long waterfall with the character of an alpine route. It usually takes at least a day to complete and has significant alpine objective hazards.

  • Grade VII: Longer and harder than Grade VI, with considerable dangers even to expert climbers.

Mixed Grade:

These climbing routes require a significant amount of dry tooling, which involves using modern ice tools on bare rock while wearing crampons. While some ice may be present, it is not always necessary.
  • M1-3: Easy.

  • M4: Slabby to vertical with some technical dry tooling.

  • M5: Sustained vertical dry tooling is required in sections.

  • M6: The route is vertical to overhanging, with challenging dry tooling.

  • M7: Overhanging with powerful and technical dry tooling required.

  • M8: This route includes nearly flat overhangs (roofs) that demand very powerful and technical dry tooling.

  • M9-12 and above: These routes become progressively longer and feature longer and longer stretches of horizontal roof. Tool placements become increasingly tenuous, and moves require more power and technique.

Water Ice, Alpine Ice, and Canadian Ice Technical Grades:

Ice climbing ratings vary by region and are still evolving. The following are average systems used by North Americans. WI implies seasonal ice; AI is often used for year-round Alpine Ice. Canadians hyphenate technical grade with commitment grade's Roman numeral (ex.: II-5).

  • WI 1: Low-angle ice.

  • WI 2: Consistent 60º ice with possible bulges; good protection.

  • WI 3: Sustained 70º with possible long bulges of 80º-90º; reasonable rests and good stances for placing screws.

  • WI 4: Multiple pitches of continuous 80º ice or a single pitch of long 90º sections broken by occasional rests.

  • WI 5: Long and strenuous, with 85º-90º ice offering few good rests or a shorter pitch of thin or bad ice with rugged protection.

  • WI 6: Full rope length of near-90º ice or a shorter pitch more tenuous than WI 5. It's highly technical and scary.

  • WI 7: As above but on thin, poorly bonded ice or long, overhanging, poorly adhered columns. Dubious protection.

  • WI 8: Coming soon.

How Can I Start Mountaineering

Mountaineering in the mountains is a fairly expensive sport, and also requires good physical preparation, so before buying a tour to conquer Mount Rainier, it is worth devoting some time to mastering the basics and related sports disciplines.

Even simple, flat routes require good endurance, since walking uphill is always harder than walking on the plain. Also, the colder the conditions on the climb, the more things you will have to wear and carry in your backpack.

The ideal path for a beginner is to join a mountaineering club. There are them in every city, many are ready to work with newcomers. The club will teach you how to work in a team, how to tie ropes and belays, how to select the right equipment, and give you a working training plan. Also in the club, experienced climbers will always tell you which routes are best to start with and how to increase the difficulty of the climbs.

Another option is to start your preparation with rock climbing. Although wall and boulder climbing skills may not be useful when conquering easy peaks, rock climbing provides an excellent strength base and can also help overcome a fear of heights.

Before climbing the mountains, it is also worth going on several long hikes in the mountains and rough terrain. Many summer tours are held in the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada range, and the Appalachian Mountains. . Such hikes allow you to test your endurance, evaluate your equipment, and work as a team.

Mountaineering equipment

Mountaineering equipment

Equipments can be divided into three groups:

  • Mountaineering equipment is something without which it is impossible to climb a mountain. This includes special clothing, climbing boots, crampons, a helmet, telescopic poles, and an ice ax. On difficult routes you will also need a rope and a harness if they are not provided by the climbing organizers.

  • Accessories and electronic devices – altimeter watch, walkie-talkie, satellite phone
  • Hiking equipment – ​​backpack, headlamp, water hydration pack, first aid kit, freeze dried food. If the climb takes many days, you will also need a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat and a gas burner to heat food or make tea.

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Mountaineering boots

Boots are one of the most important pieces of equipment. They provide traction and stability on climbs. Climbing boots also have the ability to attach crampons. Boots can be insulated or non-insulated. Insulated ones are usually used in winter, spring and autumn. Uninsulated ones are intended for summer ascents.


Steel crampons are strong and durable, but heavier than aluminum crampons. If the ascent is simple and on snow, then aluminum crampons will suffice, but if the ascent includes rocky areas and steep slopes, then it is better to purchase more durable steel ones.


Most standard climbing helmets will work for mountaineering. If you are climbing in the dark, you should make sure that your helmet has clips for a headlamp. Some helmets have vents that can be opened or closed, which is very useful in changeable weather conditions.

Also Read: Hiking Essentials You Never Knew You Needed

Backpack for mountaineering

For simple climbs, you can use a regular tourist backpack, but in the case of multi-day and complex routes, it is better to purchase a special one.

Climbing backpacks usually have a narrow and elongated profile, which does not constrain your hands when climbing up and does not interfere with working with the rope. The backpacks also have waist and chest straps that provide a snug fit to prevent the backpack from flopping from side to side.

Climbing backpacks, among other things, have many loops and external pockets for equipment, carabiners and small items. This allows you to carry the necessary things on yourself and get them without removing the backpack.

Popular routes for mountaineering

Routes for beginners

Mount Rainier, Washington:

Mount Rainier, Washington
  • Interesting Fact: Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States(14,410 feet above sea level), with 26 glaciers cascading down its slopes.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming:

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
    • Route: Cascade Canyon

    • Best Time: June-September

    • Fees: $30 Climbing Permit, $35 National Park Entrance Fee

  • Interesting Fact: Grand Teton National Park is home to 12 peaks exceeding 12,000 feet, offering a variety of challenging climbs for experienced mountaineers.

Mount Katahdin, Maine:

Mount Katahdin, Maine
    • Route: Hunt Trail

    • Best Time: June-October

    • Fees: $20 Climbing Permit, $25 Day Use Fee (if not camping)

  • Interesting Fact: Mount Katahdin marks the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,180-mile thru-hiking route stretching from Georgia to Maine.

For Advanced Climbers:

Denali (Mount McKinley), Alaska:

Denali (Mount McKinley), Alaska
    • Route: West Buttress Route

    • Best Time: May-June

    • Fees: $400 Climbing Permit, $200 National Park Entrance Fee

  • Interesting Fact: Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet. Climbing it requires significant experience and planning due to its extreme weather conditions.

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California:

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, California
    • Route: The Nose

    • Best Time: June-September

    • Fees: $30 Climbing Permit, $35 National Park Entrance Fee

  • Interesting Fact: El Capitan is one of the world's most famous rock walls, known for its challenging extensive wall climbing routes. The Nose is a 3,000-foot ascent that can take experienced climbers weeks to complete.

Mount Shasta, California:

Mount Shasta, California
    • Route: Avalanche Gulch

    • Best Time: June-August

    • Fees: $25 Climbing Permit, $35 National Park Entrance Fee

  • Interesting Fact: Mount Shasta is a dormant volcano, and climbers can sometimes smell sulphur fumes near the summit.


Who Can Do Mountaineering?

Anyone with a moderate fitness level and a sense of adventure can try mountaineering. However, it's crucial to be honest about your abilities and choose climbs that match your experience and physical condition. Start with beginner-friendly hikes and gradually progress to more challenging climbs.

Can Mountaineering Cause Brain Damage?

Altitude sickness, a condition caused by rapid ascent to high altitudes, can affect brain function in severe cases. However, proper acclimatization and awareness of altitude sickness symptoms can significantly reduce the risks.

Why are Mountaineering Boots So Expensive?

Durability: Mountaineering boots need to withstand harsh terrain, extreme weather, and heavy loads, requiring high-quality materials and construction.
Technical features: Features like crampon compatibility, insulation, and waterproofing add complexity and cost.

Brand recognition: Popular brands can command higher prices due to reputation and marketing.

How Does Mountaineering Affect the Environment?

mountaineering can impact the environment if not done responsibly. Be mindful of Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact:
  • Pack out all trash, including food scraps and human waste.

  • Stay on designated trails to avoid damaging vegetation.

  • Respect wildlife and avoid disturbing their habitats.

  • Minimize campfires and use established fire rings.

  • Advocate for sustainable practices in the mountains.

Why Mountaineering Considered A Vigorous Activity?

  • High-altitude demands: Thin air makes breathing and exertion harder.

  • Steep inclines and challenging terrain: Test your physical and mental strength.

  • Carrying heavy packs: Adds significant weight to your body.

  • Unpredictable weather: Adapt to changing conditions, adding mental and physical stress.

What Are The Physical Benefits Of Mountaineering?

  • Improved cardiovascular health: Hike your heart strong!

  • Increased muscle strength and endurance: Especially in legs and core.

  • Boosts bone density: Carrying your own weight strengthens bones.

  • Mental well-being: Reduces stress, improves mood, and sharpens focus.

How To Get In Shape For Mountaineering?

  • Start with cardio: Hiking, running, swimming - build endurance.

  • Strength train: Squats, lunges, core exercises - build power and stability.

  • Practice hiking: Gradually increase distance and elevation.

  • Pack light, train heavy: Simulate pack weight with weighted exercises.

Best Body Type For Mountaineering

Strength & endurance > size. Lean muscle & good cardio trump pure bulk. Think about carrying yourself, not aesthetics.

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