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These Tools for Mountain Climbing that Are a Must

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • edited by: Cheryl Gabbert • updated: 4/30/2010

The tools for mountain climbing are the mountaineer's most valuable pieces of hardware up there in the cold reaches of the troposphere. In this final article, we’ll identify those tools, where you can buy them, and most importantly, how to get instructions about using them properly.

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    A Word on Avalanches and the Mountaineering Bible

    Tools for mountain climbing are so important that they can be the one thing that saves them from a perilous, thousand foot drop. Terrain and altitude are the two main factors that combine to make expedition summiting very challenging and difficult. The aim of these tools is to keep the climber attached to the mountain or provide a means to arrest a fall or slip should it occur. The previous article in this series detailed equipment you will need and in some ways this is all one list, but the tools listed here are of primary importance. It would behoove an intermediate climber looking for more challenges on technical peaks to obtain and learn about this basic tool kit first.

    Snowshoeing in Avalanche Country is a good primer because avalanches are a huge concern in a lot of mountaineering endeavors, even in the height of summer, depending upon the elevation. So read that article first to learn how terrain, weather, and snowpack, (including the consistency of the snow itself) which are important factors in avalanche predictability. Apart from a few tips you will glean here, it's important that you take an avalanche safety course to get hands on experience in reading conditions and rescue training in the event that one occurs and you have to dig them out.

    Speaking of learning, many refer to Freedom of the Hills, by Don Grayden, as the mountaineering Bible. This book (know in its 7th edition) is a veritable climbing text book covering all situations and scenarios, literally teaching you the ropes and all the knots you need to know. Obtaining a copy is a good idea for every climber and as the title suggests, there is way more to being up in the mountains than mere climbing skills. With that said, the book will give you heaps of good information on all the integral tools I list below. Gear can get pricey, that’s why I arranged it in this order. These items are a priority to invest in first. The guides or experienced climbers with whom you do your first few expeditions should have the rest.

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    Imperative Mountaineering Tools

    The ice axe is a great place to start. This tool comes in many different shapes and sizes now depending upon the type of climbing you are doing but the basic function is the same. An ice axe is designed to allow you to traverse all manner of snow and ice on a mountainside by providing another point of contact for balance, safety, and security. Should you fall, this is the versatile tool that you will use to stop yourself. For an in-depth analysis of all the different sizes, designs, and functions, read more about them at Getoutdoors.com.

    Crampons are steel spikes you strap on your mountaineering boots to give you traction on those steep icy slopes. Todays crampon technology offers a lot more options and fortunately they're lighter too. The folks at REI offer a great explanation about How to Choose Crampons How to Choose Crampons and of course, you can buy a pair from them too.

    A climbing harness keeps you roped in and is fundamentally important in many different scenarios. Since mountaineering usually involves long treks, you’ll want one that is lighter and more streamlined than one better suited for rock climbing. Again, the folks at REI do a great job at helping you choose the right one in How to Choose a Climbing Harness How to Choose a climbing Harness.

    Avalanche shovels are a really good idea, as are beacons. You’ll want an Avalanche Beacon if you’re heading anywhere near avalanche country. Read about the tremendous benefits of having a portable GPS with a beacon (PLB) because having one of these devices could save you or your climbing partner’s life. Once a PLB is activated, a signal goes out which is immediately routed to Search and Rescue personnel in the area where the accident or emergency is taking place. Things like oxygen canisters you’ll want to learn from the pros we talk about next.

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    Mountaineering Schools and Guided Expeditions

    Granite Peak '08 Whatever mountain ranges you’re near, whether it’s the Adirondacks of New York, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Smokies down south, or the Rockies out west, you can find a mountaineering school that will teach you fundamental skills. You should definitely take a class and sign on for guided trips too. That is the best way to learn. The Pacific Northwest has some top-notch schools. Rainier Mountaineer, Inc. (www.rmiguides.com) and Timberline Guides (www.timberlinemtguides.com) are just two good examples. Below, you’ll find links to some premier guiding services for the world’s biggest. Wherever you live or want to climb, just use your search engine to find what schools are available and seek advice from experienced climbers too.

    I hope you have found this series on mountaineering useful and inspiring. Despite all the challenges and hardships, there is a sense of bliss and satisfaction that comes with standing on top of a peak that is indescribable. To me, it’s not about conquering but rather aligning yourself with all that is good about this world and the human spirit.

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    Sources

    Traditional Mountaineering http://www.traditionalmountaineering.org/Reviews.htm

    Graydon, Don. Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (7th Edition). Seattle: Mountaineers Books, 2003.

    MountainZone.com http://climb.mountainzone.com/

    Alpine Ascents International http://www.alpineascents.com/

    Timberline Mountain Guides http://www.timberlinemtguides.com/

    Backcountry.com

    REI

Ascending Great Heights: Mountain Climbing Initiation

Becoming a mountain climber starts with just one step. This five-part article series is designed to provide inspiration, instruction, and the information about the right equipment in order for you to begin a journey to great heights. Learn all about this truly fulfilling outdoor sport right here.
  1. How to Start Mountain Climbing
  2. Mountain Climbing Equipment Checklist
  3. These Tools for Mountain Climbing that Are a Must