Mountain climbing, in its widest sense, the use of one's own body to ascend from one point on the surface of the earth to a higher point. The ascent may be over a small cliff or a medium-sized hill, and it need not be exceptionally difficult. Following an easy path to a summit is still mountain climbing. Mountain climbing may involve a single hiker scrambling upward, a group of climbers surmounting difficult varieties of rock, snow, and ice, or a whole expedition climbing a major peak. Each type of mountain climbing requires its own special knowledge and skill, and each has its own special satisfactions.
Kinds of Mountain Climbing
Despite the conquest of most of the world's highest mountains, climbing has continued to grow as a sport. In the 20th century it has developed in a variety of forms, each with its own techniques and equipment, depending on the ease of the climb and the amount of time, organization, and preparation that the climbers are willing to devote to it.
Many enjoy simply walking up a mountain for the pleasure of it. Where no particular difficulties are expected, no special equipment is needed. However, since mountain weather is highly unpredictable, climbers generally find it wise to take along a knapsack with extra food and water and some warm clothing.
Some climbers specialize in surmounting steep rock. For such climbing a rope is generally used, and groups of two or more climbers work as a team. In the steeper spots only one climber moves at a time, with the others protecting him by securing themselves in a safe stance. For additional safety, iron wedges of various shapes and sizes, called pitons, may be pounded into cracks in the rock, and the rope secured to them. If no cracks are available, expansion bolts may be drilled into the rock. Special rubber-cleated shoes are often used for rock climbing.
For snow and ice climbing, an ice ax is used to cut out steps. The climber often attaches to his boots special steel frames called crampons, each with 10 or 12 sharp spikes. These allow him to walk up steep slopes without slipping. Special pitons also are used for ice.
After World War I there developed a new form of climbing known as artificial climbing or, more often, tension climbing. Pitons and expansion bolts are used, not merely as safeguards in case of a slip, but as the very projections upon which the climber ascends. With such equipment, long, nearly vertical stretches, and even overhangs, can be climbed. In effect, a ladder is fashioned up the face of the mountain and then ascended. Such climbing depends on an advanced technique with specialized equipment.
High-altitude climbing, winter climbing, and night climbing are other special forms of the sport that are practiced by experienced climbers.
Dangers of Climbing
The more advanced forms of mountain climbing involve several dangers. Weather is always a danger. Snow and rain can hide landmarks, water and ice can coat rocks so that they become slippery and Impassable, and even lightning can be a hazard. Falling rocks and falling snow and ice can also present dangers. Perhaps the greatest danger, however, rests with the climber himself. Carelessness, overconfidence, inexperience, and the faulty handling of equipment are often responsible for serious accidents. Illness or injury is also one of the worst dangers. Even a turned ankle can be disastrous, because it is often impossible for other members of the party to remove an injured or ill teammate. At high altitudes such illnesses as heart attacks, pneumonia, and frostbite are possibilities.
In view of the many dangers, persons who have never climbed often wonder what the attractions of mountain climbing could be. Mountaineers, however, have found ample reward in the sport. In particular, there is the beauty of the high, quiet places of the world. Being in them is in itself enough to bring a kind of happiness and elation. There is also the warmth of companionship and close friendship with other members of an expedition. Then there is the excitement of adventure, the pleasure of escaping from the blare of civilization, and the satisfaction of being completely on one's own. Finally, there is pleasure in doing something no one else has been able to do and in being where no one else has been.