June | July | 2017
For Nick Bratton, his love of mountain climbing began early. As a young Boy Scout, it was a natural progression for him to get into mountaineering at a young age. That, coupled with a desire to overcome his fear of heights, ignited a passion for mountain climbing in the author of Guided Currents: Notes from the Banks of the Tugela. “My first time rock climbing was in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and I was instantly hooked,” he says. “Nothing I had ever done before compared to the sense of accomplishment and appreciation of the wilderness I got from climbing.”
Much goes into planning and prepping for a climb. “It’s a physically demanding sport that requires a diverse set of skills, good judgment and decision-making, and comfort with adversity,” explains Bratton. “But mountain climbing is also a fantastic social activity because you get to spend quality time in amazing places with friends.” So how do you get started? Follow these tips before setting out on your own adventure.
Go beyond the how-to books to blogs where firsthand accounts from people who have climbed around the world (and who may have taken the same route you’re thinking about setting out on) offer the inside scoop on what you need to know. “Look for a mountaineering club to join. It’s a great way to meet friends,” says Bratton. “And consider taking an introductory course from a guide service. Mountaineering is a risky pursuit, so learning how to approach the sport safely from the get-go will set you on a path to a long and enjoyable career in the hills.”
Sometimes reading a book or scanning the Internet isn’t the easiest way to prepare for your first hike. So seek out the experts in person by heading to your local outdoor sporting goods store. Many of the people who work in these stores actually use the products for their own outdoor adventures. Not only can they recommend the ideal equipment for the type of climb you’re planning, they can also give you inside info on potential obstacles or things you can’t miss.
“When people think of mountaineering, the image that usually comes to mind is the ice axe, but in reality, the most essential piece of gear for any kind of mountaineering is your footwear,” says Bratton. “Your feet are your most important connection to the mountain.” There is a wide range of footwear to choose from to suit any style of climbing and shape of foot, so seek expert advice on what kind of boots or shoes to invest in.
Other important pieces of gear include a climbing harness and a helmet. “When you are in the wilderness you rely on every piece of equipment from your water bottle to your rope, so buy the best quality gear you can afford and take good care of it. Mountaineering equipment is expensive, so start by purchasing the gear that will get you going: footwear, harness, helmet, a few carabiners, and a belay device.” Add quality first aid and GPS supplies to help keep you safe, pick up your climbing partner, and enjoy your newfound passion for the mountain.
Mont Blanc, Swiss Alps (15,774 feet) “This was one of my first international climbs,” says Bratton. “I recommend it because of the easy access and network of huts in the Alps. . . . The standard route is a straightforward climb but should only be attempted in the company of an experienced partner.”
Mount Elbrus, Russia (18,510 feet) “This is a spectacular climb and is suitable for beginners.”
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (19,565 feet) “Tanzania is essentially a hike, but is truly special because you ascend through several different climate zones, and the trip can be combined with a wildlife safari.”
Island Peak, Nepal (20,305 feet) “If you want to experience the majesty of the Himalayas, a good starting point is in Island Peak in Nepal, which is often used as a training climb for mountaineers preparing for Everest.”
Pico de Orizaba, Mexico (18,406 feet) “Closer to home, the volcanic Pico de Orizaba is a popular climb for [advanced] beginners and will give a good taste of high altitude without technical challenges.”
Alan Merriman PREC ACP
Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. All measurements are approximate. ©2017 By Design Publishing. All rights reserved.