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How to Climb a Mountain Successfully

Updated on September 21, 2012
At the start of our journey climbing the Middle Sister, with the South Sister in the background (the mountain we spent a night stranded on two years earlier).
At the start of our journey climbing the Middle Sister, with the South Sister in the background (the mountain we spent a night stranded on two years earlier). | Source

Climbing a mountain is an exhilarating experience. Reaching the summit of a snow-covered peak, looking in every direction at the vast earth below you, and recognizing your accomplishment provides you with a sense of aw that few experiences in life can actually reward you with.

Of course, being aware of what might go wrong is also important. Although I have successfully climbed many mountains, I have also spent a night stranded on the top of a peak in Central Oregon waiting for search and rescue to bring up the needed supplies to get us off of the mountain.

Spending a short amount of time planning, using a little bit of common sense, and saying a prayer for protection can keep most hikers safe during a quick day hike up a mountain.


Preparing for the Climb

Preparation is of the utmost importance. Although it is not necessary to plan one's every step, it is important to have a general understanding of the route that will be taken, the distance covered, and the time needed to travel this distance.

It is often wise to contact the Forest Service about conditions, research online about others who have climbed this peak, and understand your physical ability to climb the mountain. Though I would consider myself rather fit, I ended up getting trapped on a mountain because we got to a point where it was necessary to rock climb. I love mountain climbing, but rock climbing is not something I feel comfortable doing without ropes.

View from partway up the Middle Sister near Bend, Oregon.
View from partway up the Middle Sister near Bend, Oregon. | Source
Approaching the summit of the Middle Sister.
Approaching the summit of the Middle Sister. | Source

During the Climb

The picture of the Middle Sister to the right is one that I have just recently finished climbing. It was an intense day of hiking. We walked for 10 hours from start to finish without much time spent resting. However, we made it to the top and the view was spectacular.

Several years ago I attempted to climb the South Sister, which is far less technical than the Middle Sister if you take the trail. We had take the trail before and decided to try something different - going up the back side of the mountain. This was a terrible mistake.

Us attempting to climb the back side of the South Sister resulted in a similar situation as would happen if one attempted to stand behind the backside of a donkey - you end up getting kicked in the face.

After hiking for seven hours, climbing several rocks that we did not think we could climb back down from, we realized that we were trapped. The peak was in sight - with the trail back down swarming with happy, peaceful hikers. Meanwhile, we were sitting on a point, with no way to get down, and a huge glacier between us and the summit.

Long story short, we called the Forest Service and search and rescue came up to bring us the needed snow equipment to get over the glacier. We called at 6 pm, search and rescue arrived at 1 am (a few of them attempting to come up the way we did, but turning around), and were finally to the bottom of the mountain at 9 am. It was a long, cold, exciting night.

One of the most important things I learned from my experience climbing the South Sister is never climb up somewhere that you cannot climb back down. Because we had planned on taking the regular path back down the mountain, we traversed several cliffs that we would not feel comfortable returning down from - ultimately ending up like a treed cat, trapped on top of the mountain. If we had avoided going up anything that we could not have come back down from, we would have never run into a problem.

Use common sense when climbing, do not take unnecessary or ridiculous risks, and have an exit strategy at all times.

The 10 Essentials from REI

The Ten Essentials

After being rescued from the top of the South Sister in Oregon, the search and rescue mentioned multiple times how important it is to always have the Ten Essentials. These are 10 items that they recommend you should take on every single trip and include the following:

  1. Navigation Tools (GPS, compass, map)
  2. Protection from sun (sunscreen, shirts, hats)
  3. Extra clothing for warmth
  4. Lights and extra batteries
  5. First-aid kit
  6. Fire (matches and lighters)
  7. Repair kit for your tent, sleeping bag (duct tape)
  8. Extra food in case you get lost
  9. Extra water and filtration
  10. Emergency shelter

You can watch the video to the right from REI about the importance of the ten essentials. The video is hilarious because it is so poorly made. Although REI may make quality products, they certainly do not make quality videos.

Of course, if you take all of the ten essentials you will end up needing a shelter and extra food because all of the extra weight will really slow you down! I believe that it is a good idea to be aware of what you will need and prepared for basic emergencies, but not everything is absolutely necessary (of course, I have also gotten stranded on top of a mountain before, so my advice may not be the best).

Cellphone: I have discovered that a phone is the greatest thing to bring hiking. Keep it turned off to conserve battery, but keep it with you. Many places now have reception and this can save your life. Not to mention the light and camera that can be used to signal or direct others in case of an emergency.

Mountain Climbing Books

Enjoying a Hike

Mountain climbing is an experience that everyone should strive to enjoy. Though the climb is arduous, the reward is worthwhile.

So many Americans spend any workout time in a gym looking at four walls. This will build up muscle, but this is not the natural manner in which man was intended to develop a healthy body. We were built to be out in the wild, experiencing the smells, sounds, and sights miles away from anything man-made.

Find a location to hike close to you and start exercising in a way that builds your body, frees your mind, and refreshes your spirit. Climb a mountain!

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    • Robert Erich profile image
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      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      That is a very deep comment aethelthryth. I appreciate it. Yes, relying on a cellphone is certainly not a good idea, but it can be a huge benefit. There are many places that still do not have phone services. However, as the world continues to develop (probably not for the better), we have more and more cell service.

      Additionally, the added tools that a phone can provide you with (camera, light, etc) can be a huge benefit.

      Personally, I believe that the 10 essentials are generally a good idea. And as you mentioned, it certainly depends upon where you will be hiking. I believe that knowledge is probably the most important thing to take into a situation. With knowledge you will be aware of what you can take and what can be left behind.

      Thanks for commenting!

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      In the early days of cell phones, I had an interesting conversation with some experienced hikers who thought that cell phones make people feel safer going into dangerous places. People seem to be willing to take a certain amount of risk, and cell phones just extend the envelope of that risk, so people are not safer overall.

      The conversation didn't come to a definite conclusion, but I thought it was interesting to consider how to make sure you use things as safety equipment, rather than risk-extending equipment. And it's not just cell phones. I myself am very serious about the 10 essentials, which means there are places I physically could go (in good conditions) in a day where I will not actually go if I don't have the 10 essentials because I have seen conditions change fast. So in a way, the 10 essentials extend my perceived envelope of risk.

    • Robert Erich profile image
      Author

      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      Yes Leah, the mountains are certainly incredible. That is probably my favorite part of living in the west as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 5 years ago from Western New York

      Sometimes people ask us what we miss most about moving from the West Coast - most people expect us to answer that we miss the ocean. In reality, we miss the mountains the most! We have rolling hills here, but no real mountains. I have never tried mountain climbing before, but it looks like a great experience! I love the advice about keeping your cell phone with you, too!