What is Mountaineering?

Diana Bocco

Mountaineering is a sport that combines climbing and hiking up mountains. Done on regular terrain, rocky areas, and ice or snow slopes, it merges a series of techniques and requires a highly technical approach. Despite the image many people have of highly-trained, modern, methodical climbers, the truth is that people have been practicing this sport for centuries. The famous iceman, Ötzi, whose remains date back 5,300 years, was found high in the Alps in 1991. While many people climbed mountains prior to him, it was Petrarch, a 14th century Italian poet, who was the first known to have climbed all the way to the top of the Alps. He later wrote extensively about it and is often considered the father of Alpinism.

Climbing equipment, including a helmet, rope, and carabiners.
Climbing equipment, including a helmet, rope, and carabiners.

This sport has many hazards, which are often divided into three main groups: weather, falling, and avalanches. Weather is one of the primary dangers of mountaineering, and blizzards may cause poor visibility, leading to climbers getting lost or falling into the void. Even in summer, weather can be deadly, since lightning is likely to strike on the highest points, including mountaintops and rock edges. Besides snow, avalanches can consist of falling rocks, ice, and even gear. Falling rocks are a much more common danger than snow avalanches; they are also a lot harder to predict, which exposes climbers to a higher risk. Climbers also run the risk of slipping on the ice and falling into crevasses. Equipment failure accounts for only a small percentage of accidents.

14th century poet Petrarch was the first person known to have climbed to the top of the Alps.
14th century poet Petrarch was the first person known to have climbed to the top of the Alps.

Climbers use a variety of equipment when mountaineering, including anything from snowshoes and skis to ropes and harnesses. They also require some type of shelter, as the sport often requires them to spend nights as well as days up in the mountains. A sleeping bag may be enough in summer, but tents are the shelter of choice in windy winter conditions. Some climbers opt for digging snow caves while high up in the mountains.

Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, is extremely challenging for mountaineers.
Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, is extremely challenging for mountaineers.

Famous mountaineers include Joe Simpson, who wrote the book Touching the Void, and Appa Sherpa, who set a world record by climbing Mount Everest 16 times. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay also hold records, and they were the first to reach Everest's summit, in 1953.

A group of people mountaineering.
A group of people mountaineering.
The Matterhorn is one of the deadliest peaks in the Alps for mountaineers.
The Matterhorn is one of the deadliest peaks in the Alps for mountaineers.
Mountain trails that combine grand vistas with accessible paths are popular with hikers.
Mountain trails that combine grand vistas with accessible paths are popular with hikers.
Sleeping bags may be useful during mountaineering.
Sleeping bags may be useful during mountaineering.
Mountaineering in cold climates requires special equipment like ice axes.
Mountaineering in cold climates requires special equipment like ice axes.

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