Mountaineering a term synonymous with any high mountain such as Mt.Everest or Denali in Alaska. Simply put mountaineering is a more demanding and difficult form of hiking. This can be broken down into three different types: rock climbing, snow and ice climbing, and mixed climbing which combine the first two. My personal focus will begin with learning snow and ice climbing.
A few weeks back I signed up for a 3 day mountaineering course on Mt.Washington in New Hampshire. Mt.Washington is considered a great place to practice many mountaineering skills. It is known to have the wildest weather on the planet with conditions changing in an instant. For that reason it makes for a place where many skills can be practiced in all types of conditions without having to go deep into a mountain range far from civilization. So what exactly will I be learning in an into to mountaineering course?
As I have already said the course is split into 3 days. According to the course syllabus on the first day I will be taught the basics of hiking above the tree line with crampons and an ice axe. You may be asking what the heck is crampon? A crampon is a device that is strapped onto your boots that has between 8 and 14 large spikes to help you traverse snow and ice. Here is an example.
The next piece of gear you might have had a question about is an Ice axe. The name is a bit more self explanatory, but unlike an axe it is a very specific tool. The general shape of an ice axe looks very much like a regular axe except the head is much smaller because it is made to chip away or dig into ice. Here is an example
Okay so that is day one, familiarization. Day two will be “applying the skills you learned on the first day on a moderately-angled snow and ice route.” http://www.emsclimb.com/mtn/3daymtn.html The third day is the real prize though, an attempt at summiting Mt.Washington in the middle of winter! But why would I want to do this? It is cold, windy and down right miserable. For January the normal daily high is 14 degrees with an average wind speed of 46mph. This would give a wind-chill factor of –9 degrees. That’s cold..
Again why would I do this instead of learning to ski where I could take a few runs and warm up in the lodge. I think it has to do with the true reward you get when you reach the top of a mountain on your own two feet. I have had the chance to do a few winter hikes so far and it is very different from hiking in the summer. With the cold and often clear air you are able to see much further. The trail can differ greatly from what you might expect during the summer which brings another dynamic into the picture. But there is much much more.
Climbing at times can be physically demanding requiring you to do some training and keep your overall fitness level up. For much of America this does not matter much because 33% of the population according to the CDC are obese. If there were only some way to show those 33% or even half of those people the amazing allure the mountains and nature have maybe we could finally beat obesity. Climbing is also a mental game and when combined with the amount of fitness this makes the combo extraordinary.
Most would agree that the mental aspect of mountaineering is the difficult part to attain, or at least I think so. First you have to learn all the different skills. This could range from how to tie and fix ropes to proper ice axe techniques. For me it might be the fact that I am afraid of heights. I am not deathly afraid but at times I feel apprehensive going close to the edge of a large cliff for instance.
(From my trip to Utah in May 2011) I have learned that if I don’t face those fears head on I will never get over them and eventual regret will creep in. I have already mentioned the cold that you must often face. There is also the isolation from society which for some could be very difficult or a good thing. I find it to be good for myself because it lets me get away from everything that might be astray in the rest of the world. It allows you to look within yourself so you can challenge the boundaries you have created. Ultimately expanding those and adding more facets to your person.
I will be posting for each of the three days of the course so stayed tuned! I will leave you with a quote that I think pairs nicely with this.
“You cannot find peace by avoiding life” – Virginia Woolf
Enjoy the rest of the weekend. I sure will, going ice climbing tomorrow!