Mountaineering is an outdoor activity that no one should take lightly, no matter how experienced of a mountain climber they are. Mountains, whether they’re large or small, are dangerous environments—and no two mountains or mountain ranges are the same. A summit can be just as tall as another in a similar climate yet have more deadly challenges than its sister peak.
Before you begin your adventure as a mountaineer, you must learn about the most common challenges mountain climbers face along with how to handle them. Your and your fellow climbers’ lives may depend on your knowledge.
There are always some instances where the climber gets themselves into a sticky situation on their own—often unintentionally, though there are some risk-takers who push themselves to the extreme. These issues always require empathy and immediate attention if they result in an emergency, but they also serve as important reminders to all new and veteran climbers alike. Every climber can make a mistake; mistakes aren’t limited to greenhorns.
While subjectivity may pop up with objective hazards—not adequately checking the weather before the climb, for instance—some examples of completely subjective hazards include:
When any mountaineer begins a climb for the first time, it’s easy for them to over or underprepare for the path ahead of them. On a multiday, extended expedition, climbers may not bring enough supplies to stay comfortable and energized while living among the wilderness. Alternatively, climbers may bring too many supplies and overload themselves as they trek up the mountain.
For an advanced climber on an alpine-style adventure, a climb that typically only takes one day, it’s possible that they could run into a snag at any leg of the journey. These climbers don’t usually take a lot of camping supplies with them, so anything that makes the venture take longer than a day may put them in danger.
Additionally, wearing the improper clothing can put the climber at risk for hypothermia. A warm, thermal winter jacket can make all the difference at high altitudes.
If a new mountaineer jumps the gun and challenges themselves to a climb or tactic that’s out of their skill range, it can have devastating consequences. Especially with mountain climbing, it’s essential to learn in steps with plenty of patience. Every journey teaches you something new so long as you’re open to learning.
Overconfidence or ignorance can lead to a grave mistake. As you climb, you must carefully consider each action you take—the risks, rewards, and the consequences. Some instances may require impulsive or even reckless behavior, but only in desperation. Always try to map your actions out in safety—and always account for the unpredictability of nature.
One of the hidden dangers that can afflict mountaineers—even if they’ve climbed many times before—is the risk of extreme altitude sickness. As mountain climbers reach altitudes of 8,000 feet or more, they may begin to experience the symptoms of altitude sickness with issues that can impair their ability to continue the journey.
Symptoms of altitude sickness include:
Altitude sickness may not appear until a person is above 8,000 feet for ten hours or more and may go away within two days. However, it’s possible for these symptoms to worsen into a more severe condition.
When altitude sickness takes a turn for the worse, a climber may experience one of the rare conditions of High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). Both conditions are fatal unless treated immediately.
If the climber’s team acts immediately and takes them to a lower elevation, the symptoms should go away. However, HACE may take weeks to fully recover from—especially if the symptoms escalate to a comatose condition.
During an expedition, climbing teams will have time to acclimatize themselves to the altitude while camping. At larger mountains, this may happen at bases or campsites. Mountaineers may climb high and sleep at a lower elevation to protect themselves from severe afflictions.
Alpine adventures give climbers far less time to acclimate to the altitude—which may result in more bouts of altitude sickness. Bottled oxygen can help prevent altitude sickness during a rapid ascension.
Weather will often be unpredictable to a small degree on the mountains. It’s always necessary to prepare for the worst kinds of weather as you begin your ascent and to know when to turn back. Mountain climbing requires mountaineers to latch onto rocks and ice after trekking through intense stretches of snow. Wind, rain, and snow can worsen the conditions that allow them to do their usual duties.
It doesn’t have to snow on the mountain to cause hazardous whiteouts. The most common reason for whiteouts, which is when snow heavily obscures visibility, is high winds. Your compass is your best friend during a whiteout with intense wind speeds.
When people think of mountain weather, they may not consider the effects of a severe thunderstorm on the mountainside. Unfortunately, high altitudes and lightning don’t create a good story for any eager adventurer. Late mornings and early afternoons are the prime times for mountain-top thunderstorms. It’s best to take shelter at a lower elevation and wait out the severe lightning activity before continuing forward.
Your body has a difficult enough time adjusting to the altitude of a mountain—and the cold temperatures may hit you harder while you’re at a high elevation than they would on the ground. When paired with wind and moisture, the intense freezing temperatures on the mountain are a recipe for hypothermia.
Protecting your body from the low temperatures and high winds of an extreme mountain climb requires a warm, layered outfit and protective gear. Never underestimate how essential a high-quality outer shell jacket and waterproof accessories are to combating many of the common challenges mountain climbers face.
Escape Outdoors always has the most trusted brands to handle keeping your body warm during high elevation activities, such as Arc’Teryx outdoor wear. Don’t climb a mountain without a coat that can handle the dangers—equip yourself with outerwear that protects you and accessories that you can rely on.
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