Mountaineering, also called alpinism, is simply climbing a mountain and knowing how it is done. It’s a dangerous activity that is only done by those knowledgeable about reaching the summit and with trained guides. While you can hike and trek to the top of a mountain, mountaineering generally signifies that there will be actual rock or ice climbing or other technical skills that will need to be utilized. Extreme weather conditions require proper equipment and skills that hikers rarely need.
The act of mountaineering has three highly technical branches called rock-craft, snow-craft and skiing, which vary dependning on whether the terrain is rock, snow, or ice. Each utilizes different equipment. For serious ascents climbers need to have some sort of training or practice with smaller climbs or their bodies will simply be unable to handle the conditions. Many who set out on climbs do not reach the summit.
There are wide ranges of mountains to climb all over the world. At the beginning of the sport the idea was to climb an unclimbed mountain, but those days are numbered and the opportunities rare. All seven continents have high peaks that require proper training and guides to reach the summit. The highest concentrations of high mountains sit in two areas of the world, the Himalayas and the Andes, which are home to many of the world’s favorite climbs and the largest climbing communities.
Mountaineering - Beginners
Before they begin to make serious ascents of the worlds tallest mountains, beginning climbers must have advanced hiking and trekking experience. They must already know the effects of altitude and have spent a good deal of time being acclimatized. The beginner can also find mountains with short ascents that may last just a day or two days. These are places where the base camp is relatively easy to reach and the ascent is not overly technical. It is wise to first try a base camp at a lower peak where you get used to altitude and can learn to adjust. Most beginners stick to peaks below 13,123 feet.
Many beginners will take a mountain climbing course where everything regarding mountain climbing, from safety to the technicalities of the equipment, is explained. These courses often begin with small hikes and climbs and grow to the ascent of a mild to intermediate peak. They are not cheap and they take a good deal of time, but the skills you can learn in a course such as these can save your life.
Mountaineering - Advanced
Climbing an unclimbed mountain is the holy grail of mountain climbing, but fewer and fewer opportunities remain as the world becomes more and more explored. Most advanced mountaineers prefer the Andes and the Himalayas, home of the tallest mountains in the world. These climbs are generally very technical. Mount Vinson, Antarctica’s highest peak, has recently come on the radar as the white continent becomes more explored.
Climbing the seven summits, the highest peaks on the seven continents, is a recently popular fad among mountain climbers. Several tour agencies offer trips to all seven peaks, sometimes in packages.