Mountaineering is the act of trekking and climbing mountains, often with specialised equipment.
The sport of mountaineering aims at reaching the highest point of mountains, preferably high, difficult to climb or (mostly historically) yet unclimbed ones. The techniques differ depending on whether the terrain is rock, snow or ice, and in many cases the mountaineer has to face all of them in difficult (cold and windy) conditions at high altitudes after a long wilderness hike. Except in the case of the easiest mountains, mountaineering requires experience, athletic ability, good equipment, and technical knowledge, and safety can seldom be guaranteed.
As mountaineering requires training and experience for all but the easiest cases – and determining whether the conditions allow a safe tour requires experience in itself – this article will not try to teach the needed skills. Instead it touches on some of the issues, tries to explain what mountaineering is about, and lists some destination of interest for mountaineers or those fascinated by the topic.
The simplest climbs involve just hiking, cycling or cross country skiing through some hills. Even these can be quite rewarding, giving fine views and perhaps opportunities for camping or wildlife photography.
Beyond that, there are relatively easy mountains such as Mount Fuji or Kilimanjaro which can be climbed by nearly anyone in good enough physical condition. Others are more difficult so they require planning, guides, skills and equipment. Even then they are hazardous; for example, there are about 200 corpses on Mount Everest.
Volcanoes have another whole set of hazards, covered in the linked article.
Rock climbing is a related but distinct activity.
- See also: Mountain ranges
Seven first summits
The Seven Summits are the tallest mountains on each continent. The summits are:
- 1 Mount Everest, Asia, 8,848 m
- 2 Aconcagua, South America, 6,961 m
- 3 Denali, North America, 6,194 m
- 4 Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa, 5,895 m
- 5 Elbrus, Europe, 5,642 m
- 6 Vinson, Antarctica, 4,892 m
Mainland Australia's tallest mountain, 7 Mount Kosciuszko (2,228 m), was on the original Seven Summits list. As this mountain is considered a rather trivial challenge (which can be done in a 6-km walk), 8 Puncak Jaya on New Guinea (4,884 m) is considered to represent Oceania. New Guinea lies on the Australian tectonic plate and is geologically considered part of the Australian continent.
9 Mont Blanc (4,810 m) is occasionally regarded as Europe's tallest mountain, as Elbrus, and nearby peaks, are on different sides of the Europe-Asia border depending on definition. However, the mountain is not on any of the Seven Summits lists. It is still a classic in mountaineering, and an alternative to Elbrus, often preferred due to the unstable political situation in the North Caucasus.
Seven second summits
Some mountaineers attempt to climb the second highest peak on each continent. While the peaks are at lower altitudes than the Seven Summits, some of them are more technically difficult, so some of the Second Summits are considered a greater mountaineering challenge than the Seven Summits.
- 1 K2, Asia, 8,611 m; considered to be more technically challenging to climb than Everest. Also experiences even worse weather, being nearly 8 degrees of latitude north of Everest.
- 2 Ojos del Salado, South America, 6,893 m; highest volcano of the Earth. It's slightly more technically difficult than Aconcagua, but is considered less physically demanding because its base camp is 700 m (2,300 ft) higher than that of Aconcagua and can be reached by four-wheel-drive vehicle.
- 3 Mount Logan, North America, 5,959 m. Considered equal to or slightly greater in technical difficulty than Denali, but far more difficult to access, especially for climbers lacking the resources to charter a plane.
- 4 Dykh-Tau, Europe, 5,205 m. Considerably more challenging than Elbrus.
- 5 Mount Kenya, Africa, 5,199 m. Requires advanced rock climbing gear, while Kilimanjaro can be summited with no technical difficulty.
- 6 Mount Tyree, Antarctica, 4,852 m
Once again, there's some disagreement about the seventh mountain on the list. If you prefer a mountain in Australia, it's 7 Mount Townsend (2,209 m); otherwise, it's 8 Puncak Mandala (4,760 m) in Indonesia. While Puncak Mandala is easier technically than Puncak Jaya, it has a much more difficult approach route, which is arguably the biggest problem with mountaineering in New Guinea.
Other high peaks
- Annapurna (8,091 m)
- Sierra Madre
"Easy" high peaks
- Mount Fuji (3,776 m) in Japan
- Mount Kinabalu (4,095 m) in Malaysia
- Pikes Peak (4,302 m) in the US state of Colorado near Colorado Springs. If you don't feel like climbing, a toll road that starts in nearby Manitou Springs ends at the summit.
- Mount Evans (4,350 m), also in the US state of Colorado, near Idaho Springs. A paved road ends about 40 m (130 feet) below the summit.
- Ojos del Salado (6,893 m) in Northern Chile
- Pokalde (5,800 m) 12 km southwest of Mount Everest
In addition to these, there are some even easier peaks with cable cars or trains going to the summit or almost all the way, such as Teide (3,715 m) in Spain, Aiguille du Midi (3,842 m) in the French Alps, Jungfraujoch (3,454 m) in Switzerland, Pico Espejo (4,765 m) in Venezuela and the Tanggula Pass (5,072 m) in China.
- The Scandinavian range (see also Hiking destinations in Norway)
The base camp is a camp in a reasonably convenient and safe location, where one can stay while preparing for the climb, wait for good weather, and leave equipment and supplies not needed on the climb itself. The base camp can in many cases be reached by vehicles.
On popular routes there are often mountain cabins, safety huts and similar. These provide at least some shelter from the elements, sometimes also basic provisions and meals.
A tent is often the primary place to sleep on mountaineering journeys. It can be used where there are no huts, and when the hut cannot be reached because of foul weather or other circumstances. On many climbs there are no convenient places to put up the tent, so special arrangements are needed. High winds are also an issue.
When climbing, there is the risk of falling. On deep ice and snow there can be crevasses obscured by snowbridges. There are also the risks of avalanches, falling rock and ice, altitude sickness, snow blindness, cold weather etc.