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How to Train for Mountaineering

Updated on August 22, 2012

What is Mountaineering?

According to the Mountaineering Council of Scotland a mountaineer "is now described as a person who lives in the high country or as a climber of mountains." The term "mountaineer" comes from Cymbeline, in which Cloten insults Guiderius as a "rustic mountaineer" (IV.ii.100). MCoS notes that in Shakespeare's time (and, I would note, well before), the inhabitants of the mountainous Welsh countryside were derided as mountain-men, outlaws, and illiterates. (Sadly, the "hillbilly" stereotype continues, especially in the south/southeast United States.)

Mountaineering has its dangers, the least of which is probably falling over the precipice.
Mountaineering has its dangers, the least of which is probably falling over the precipice. | Source

Mountaineering, then, is the activity of climbing mountains. But mountaineering, or alpinism, is not a simple ascent and descent of a mountain: it combines elements of camping, backpacking, hiking, and climbing—often with high altitudes and inclement weather thrown into the mix—to achieve the peak of the mountain and return to the base. It is an extremely fun and rewarding activity, but every mountaineer—whether beginner or advanced—needs to train before any climb. (Beginners are also recommended to climb with experienced leaders, such as those who instruct and lead climbs at The American Alpine Institute.)

Geiselstein (Bavaria) in winter.
Geiselstein (Bavaria) in winter. | Source
Once in a while, just when you're about to surrender yourself to the mountain and die, Nature throws you a bone, like this ladder.
Once in a while, just when you're about to surrender yourself to the mountain and die, Nature throws you a bone, like this ladder. | Source

How to Train for a Mountaineering Expedition

Prepare yourself physically.

While there are many types of mountaineering you can do, depending on your interests, each one requires mountaineers to be in peak physical condition. Prepare your body by doing cardiovascular exercise at least five days per week, with at least two to three high-intensity workouts per week, beginning at least six months before your expedition. Interval training and plyometrics are excellent ways to condition your heart and lungs for the exertions of mountaineering. Incorporate strength and flexibility exercises into your training, too: lift weights, do plyometrics, take yoga classes several times per week.

The further in advance you begin your training, the more prepared you'll be.

Prepare yourself mentally.

Mountaineering is as much a sport of mental endurance as it is one of physical strength. You will have many encounters on the mountain that will challenge you physically and emotionally. Sure, your legs can handle the constant uphill battle, but how will your mind react when you see that wall you have to scale, or how dangerously close to the precipice you have to tread?

Start off small. Do some backpacking and hike some low-altitude mountains as part of your physical training. Speak with an experienced mountaineer who can inform you of some of the challenges that lie ahead.

Sign up for a mountaineering class.

If you're a beginner, you should sign up for mountaineering classes that will teach you proper climbing techniques, use of ropes, gear selection, and trailblazing/route selection. You'll also learn how to climb on different types of terrain. However, even experienced climbers can benefit from classes. The American Alpine Institute, for example, offers expeditions for mountaineers of all levels. AAI's courses teach basic skills, but also help experienced mountaineers learn new skills and refresh old ones. They also offer national and international guided climbs, and options to help you become a certified climbing instructor.

Climb a Mountain

Nothing is going to prepare you better for mountaineering than mountaineering itself. Consult an experienced climber to plan an expedition, then go. You'll experience for yourself the physical and mental challenges and triumps that you can only read or hear about until you've done it yourself. And you won't want to stop.

Lino Lacedelli on the summit of K2. 1954.
Lino Lacedelli on the summit of K2. 1954. | Source


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    • bamuscarella profile image

      Brittany 5 years ago from Buffalo, NY

      I think the mental aspect is more stressful than the physical. Eventually your body just sort of goes into auto-pilot with most physical activities, but your mind... Not so much!

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 5 years ago

      Mountaineering is definitely something I could never do, physically maybe after a lot of training, but mentally- nope.. never gunna happen! ^_^ I applaud anyone who does! Very interesting hub, voted as such and up.