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How to Start Mountain Climbing

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

Learning how to start climbing is the first step on a long journey which can take you to breathtaking heights on this planet, along with the highest personal levels of physical fitness as well. This mountaineering series installment offers some fundamentals to get you well on your way.

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    One Step at a Time

    The first step in learning how to start mountain climbing could really be as easy as getting yourself to a trail leading up to a mountain and putting one foot in front of the other. On one level, it can be that uncomplicated since ambitious ancient folks were known to have bagged plenty of peaks without any of the technologically advanced clothing and gear available to climbers today. Hike to a peak to find out if you love the unique perspective of looking down on a sweeping landscape from a high place, after expending a great deal of physical energy getting there. Since getting to a summit involves a good stretch of the legs, reacquainting yourself with all the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits this activity provides are explained in A Roundup of the Best Reasons for Hiking.

    Begin with the walk-up (non-technical) mountain tops first. Some peaks have trails that lead pretty much right to the top, so all you have to surmount is a constant uphill foot-path until there is no higher place you can go. At some point, you will always run out of earth. Nature’s aura is revealed to the climber on a summit, because sites far more spectacular than anything humans ever made are revealed. You won’t need much equipment for these scenarios, but what you will need is covered in the fourth and fifth article in this handy series.

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    Begin with Walk-Up Mountaineering

    Alpine Exploits As you get farther up toward the stratosphere, you get further away from any kind of help, and from any kind of road, or even a trail. You are venturing into the belly of the beast as it were. The ancient, primordial struggle between human kind and the formidable forces of nature are understood most acutely on every step of a journey that ends with a summit. That can be just as true on a 5000 ft peak as a 28,000 megalithic height. Walk-ups afford you the opportunity to get acquainted with mountaineering without having to invest in a lot of gear (refer to the fourth and fifth articles in this series) first. The proper attire is all you need worry about, and that is covered thoroughly (from the coldest conditions on up in another article explaining the all important layering concept using wicking clothing to keep you dry. To learn about that, read the two-part series How to Dress for Snowshoeing.

    A few more notes on walk-ups. At 19,340 feet, Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa is the tallest and most demanding. The Pacific Northwest offers great access. The tallest walk-ups out there include California's Mt. Whitney (14,494 feet), while Colorado’s Mt. Elbert and other fourteeners are always there waiting for you too. New England to upstate New York and on down the Appalachian Trail affords abundant opportunities, and then there are the Ozarks in Arkansas too. No matter where you live in the U.S., you can get to a mountain without too long of a drive. So that is essentially the best answer for how to start mountain climbing; beginning with non-technical peaks. Get yourself to a mountain and hit a well-marked trail leading to a peak. Of course, being in good shape for it will make the experience more fun. That is why the next article revolves solely around the best conditioning exercises and routines to prepare you for mountaineering endeavors.

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    Traditional Mountaineering

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

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