This page provides some general but essential instructions and tips for those who are looking for an answer on question how to start mountain climbing. I myself started mountaineering 30 years ago by climbing Triglav (2864 m) in what is now Slovenia, so I feel I could say something about this activity.
[Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) – Marche pour la cérémonie des Turcs]
Within this site, I shall sometimes use the terms mountaineering and climbing interchangeably. This may not always be completely appropriate, and it is good to explain the meaning of these terms.
By mountaineering, I shall mainly imply an activity which requires neither alpinist knowledge nor equipment, but it may imply getting to summits by (sometimes physically very hard) walk-up and normally without scramble.
You then realize that even going to the top of Kilimanjaro (5895 m) can easily be described as mountaineering, although this is a several-day hard tour and not a leisurely walk as the word mountaineering might suggest.
There are also many very high mountains in the Alps where one can go in such a way. I would point out several peaks around Stelvio pass like Monte Scorluzzo (3095 m), Piz Umbrail (3033 m), and Punta Rosa (3026 m). Then Monte Breva (3104 m) near Livigno, and also such a high mountain like Barrhorn (3610 m) in the Wallis region in Switzerland.
These are very high mountains and yet in summer time all you need from equipment is a pair of comfortable hard walking shoes. Buying such shoes is an investment but they will last for many years. My own pair I have been using for 7 years now and they are far from worn out.
But do not underestimate challenges in front of you, and be prepared for unstable weather conditions even if you have a completely clear sky before you set off.
The word climbing should be understood as activity which involves scramble (using hands to get over obstacles and steep rock walls), or specific equipment (like crampons, an ice axe, a rope, and many others), or enjoying challenges which some Ferrata-routes (this is an Italian phrase for routes with fixed iron cables and other equipment which is already installed there in the rock itself; Eisen-weg in German and Austrian mountains).
But I shall use both terms or just the term mountain climbing to distinguish this activity from rock climbing which is no part of this site in any sense. In any case, the actual meaning of terms will always be obvious in the descriptions of every specific mountain.
So how to start mountain climbing?
For whom is this activity?
This is for anyone, mountains have something to offer for everybody, regardless of age, regardless if you go alone or in a group, with a guide or without. I climbed Durmitor in Montenegro with my two daughters when they were 9 and 11, and we managed it, the photo below describes the full beauty of that experience.
Recently, I was in Italian mountains with my friend Mitsuo Kono who is 70, and who has never tried mountain climbing before, a university professor with normal fitness for such an age and profession. We stayed only one week and yet we were four times above 3000 meters. It was an impressive performance.
If you dream about mountains and have never tried it, the best way to start is just to go there once, see the environment, feel the altitude, try some easy walks up, sweat a bit and get tired, and later decide if it is for you or not. If you start asking yourself why you are doing such a terribly demanding physical activity, and you feel no joy, then perhaps indeed this is not for you.
But it may happen that, delighted with everything around, you start asking yourself: how have I missed this before? Then I know, you will come again. No doubt, at one moment, you will say to yourself: never again without this.
These pages contain material essential for those who decide to go and do some mountain climbing. They contain information about:
- where to stay once you are in mountains,
- how to choose an appropriate destination,
- when to go,
- how to go,
- what kind of equipment to have,
and all this from my own first-hand experience. I wish to stress again that every photo you see in this site is my own, I have never borrowed anything from the Internet. All that you see here about mountains are places which I passed myself.
If you are a complete beginner and have neither experience nor equipment, as I said above, go there and try, but do not make big expenses in the beginning.
The focus of this page is on the Alps because this is my main area, but many facts presented here are applicable to many other mountain ranges as well. Of course, you will need some base to stay in mountains for a while, and this leads us to the first item in the list above.
Where to stay?
In the summer time, it may be a good idea, at least as a start, to think about some ski resorts because prices may be far lower than in winter. Access roads in the Alps are usually good if you go by car, and such places are also well integrated into public transport.
There are some very reliable agencies, see a separate post in this site, which I have used myself many times. They offer a large variety of flats and studios throughout the Alps. Most importantly, what you see on their pictures is indeed what you may expect. Such flats are fully equipped, and all you need is to bring your food and to feel at home.
Just while typing this text, I checked for one of the places where I used to stay in Switzerland. That is an object in Siviez; for mid-July 2015 you can rent a studio for 2 people there for 181 E/week. This is about 13 E per person per day.
If you check and compare with camping in the same area (note, camps are as a rule very low in valleys, which places you far from mountain routes), you will see that this is comparable. This is just one example. There are many more like Grimentz, Nendaz, Saas Almagel; you may search by region, country, etc.
Within this site, some ideas about the accommodation in mountains will be pointed out for every suggested climb.
How to choose an appropriate destination?
I would not say that this is an essential issue. If you like mountains you will enjoy them regardless where you go. But to be practical, if you go, you would like to achieve something and to get to some summit, so see the following hints.
There are routes to very high summits like Barrhorn (3610 m, see the photo above) in Switzerland that are, although physically demanding, much simpler than some routes to 2000 meters in Slovenia or Austria. But here are a few facts to bear in mind.
Typically, in Slovenian and German Alps, starting points are low. By car, usually, you do not get high in mountains there. For example, the only relatively high mountain pass in Slovenia is Mangart saddle (2055 m) with a car access. From this point, you can climb Mangart in less than 2 hours.
But this is not always so. Usually, you will start from a low valley at around 500-800 meters of altitude, so climbing a 2000 or 2500 meters peak is far from easy, the height difference is for every respect. Say you go to Zugspitze (2962 m) which, as many of you surely now, is the highest point in Germany. As one option you will have to start in Hammersbach, which is at around 750 meters above the sea level.
Trust me, this is demanding even if you are not a purist and use a benefit of the cable car on your way back. I did this tour, started at 3:30 in the morning and got to the summit around noon. It is a hard and demanding Ferrata.
Now compare this for example with Gavia pass in Italy with a comfortable car access to 2650 m! From this point, you can climb Monte Gaviola (3025 m) in one hour only.
What have we learned from this? If you are in high mountains and have no much
time (bad weather for example) or lack of stamina, use the advantage of mountain roads and high passes.
I agree, this is a bit of cheating, but if you want to read about starting directly from valleys, see some of my other texts within this site, like Weissmies or Lagginhorn. These are 4000ers, and I climbed them directly from the valleys. No cheating.
When to go?
This IS an important issue. If you dream about `green mountains’ like I do, then this is surely summer time, roughly the period June – September for the Alps. The weather is typically more stable in the second half of the season, but do not rely too much on this. The truth is, it is unpredictable.
There is a lot of snow in the Alps in the early season, in particular if you go above 3000 meters. Bear this in mind if you go in June. In this case, you might like to think about going into majestic Slovenian Alps. They are lower compared to Austrian or Swiss mountains, but in most cases very sharp and equally exciting. You will like them, no doubt about this.
On the other hand, typically, north sides of mountains are under snow much longer than south sides, so bear this in mind when you plan your mountaineering routes. In early season better think about south-sides routes.
One of the best examples of such a drastic south-north difference is Weismiess (4023 m) mountain in Wallis, Switzerland. The north side looks like a Himalayan environment, covered with dangerous glacier full of crevasses where a solo climb is definitely risky (but people do it). The south side however in the summer time is snow-free all the way up to around 3900 m, compare the two pictures below which I took during my climbs there.
How to go?
If you go to the Alps in the summer time, it is good to know that these mountains are full of people, there are good access roads everywhere to real hearts of the mountains. Having a car is an obvious advantage. Sometimes you will like to climb some peaks from nearby valleys, and this may imply starting in early hours, so having a car in such situations is essential.
However, in Switzerland public transport is good, and famous Post Buses go practically everywhere. As one nice illustration, I would mention a bus line from Grimentz to the Moiry lake area. It will take you up to 2350 m, to the point (see the links next line) from where you may climb many surrounding peaks, like Pigne de la Le, Garde de Bordon, and Sasseneire.
What kind of equipment to have?
To start mountain climbing, I would advise against any huge investment. In time, the amount of equipment will grow just like your experience and desire to go to mountains. But as a start, think only about a pair of good walking shoes, some waterproof jacket and pants, and a backpack for day tours.
In the descriptions of various peaks, I shall always try to say something about essential gear. But if you wish to have a look into possible equipment and to get some idea about prices, you might search within this equipment reviews page in this site.
I hope that within this page you have found essential information and answers to the question on how to start mountain climbing. If you have any doubts and questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Please leave your comment and questions below, I shall be happy to read them. Any suggestion for the improvement of this page and the site is most welcome.