There is no definitive point in history where it can be said that mountain climbing first began. We do know that the remains of the Climber Ötzi were found on Monte S Caterina at 9800 feet where he perished over 5000 years ago, and the Roman Emperor Hadrian climbed Mount Etna in AD 121.
For centuries now, mountains have held a fascination for man, whether for the challenge of conquering them simply because they are there, or for the necessity of surprising the enemy by coming upon them from an unexpected direction. Between 218-213BC Hannibal marched an army including elephants, over the Pyranees and the alps in northern Italy during the second Punic war in Cartagena where he defeated the Roman army.
In some parts of the world, mountains have been granted a holy identity. For instance in 717 AD, a Buddhist Monk Taicho christened Mount Hakusan as Holly.
Perhaps one of the most famous mountain climbing exploits was that of Edmond Hillary and Tenzing Norgay when they successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest 8850 metres, on 29th May 1953. Since then Everest has been climbed many times, although not all climbers have made it down safely. To date over 200¹ people have died either attempting the summit or trying to get back down again. Several guides have also perished.
Today, as the attraction and challenge to mountain climbing grows in interest, so does the specialist equipment and training required in order to complete climbs successfully and safely. There is also a better understanding of the effects on the body at high altitudes due to Hypoxia (lack of Oxygen).
However, modern technology and safety equipment is only as good as the people who use it and while climbers are prepared to take risks in rock climbing and mountaineering in order to make a particular climb more difficult, then so will the ever growing list of casualties continue.
It’s impossible to know just how many have perished in their attempt to climb the world’s mountains. Only in recent years relatively speaking, have records been kept and even then many climbers simply disappeared, so their fate is uncertain. It is a sobering thought that climbers that perish on the mountain are unlikely to be recovered as it’s considered too dangerous. Several climbers and guides have already died trying to recover the dead.
The following records from 1922 give an indication of the various ways that climbers met their fate attempting to climb mount Everest 8848 metres, the highest cause being Avalanche;
Unspecified causes 20
Altitude sickness 15
Ice Fall 12
Heart Attack/ Cardiac arrest /Stroke 10
Fall into crevasse 9
Cerebral oedema 3
Unspecified accident 2
Cerebral Thrombosis 1
Died in hospital 1
Many guides also perish on mountains but figures for these are rather vague as they may include sherpas and porters.
Despite the fact that mountain climbing is by its very nature a dangerous sport, many set out for the slopes each year in an attempt to achieve their goal. Of course, not everybody that wants to take up mountaineering as a hobby, is going to attempt mount Everest. And not everyone that takes up the sport does so for the same reason.
The English mountaineer George Mallory 1986-1924 had already taken part in previous failed expeditions to mount Everest. So when in 1923 whilst on a fund raising tour he was asked the question “Why did you want to climb mount Everest” He replied “Because it’s there”
Whatever your reasons for taking up this sport, one thing is certain. You will need to avail yourself of the correct equipment. The type of equipment you need will depend very much on the type of mountain you intend climbing, and this also includes rock climbing which can be equally hazardous.
The following list shows some of the basic items, but it’s not conclusive, so before setting out on your first climbing challenge, you are strongly advised to seek professional advice.
Abalakov Thread. Named after its Russian inventor Vitali Abalakov in the 1950s.
The Abalakov thread works by drilling a hole horizontally in the ice, but at an angle of 45 degrees to the face. Using a hollow wind in ice drill, wind it in to a depth of 20-22cm, then unwind it and blow out the ice. Now drill another hole horizontally to the first and approx. 15-20 cm away. This too should be drilled at an angle of 45 degrees to the ice and in such a way as to meet the previous hole. Run a thread through the hole and tie off the ends.
Warning; this should only be attempted on solid ice.
Some essential equipment you will need before setting out.
Ice Axes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and designs according to their requirement. A normal glacier crossing requires only a standard axe with a long shaft, whereas Steeper ground or ice may require the use of more sophisticated axes. These can be made of Carbon fibre or Aluminium alloy.
These consist of a long hollow tube in various lengths, threaded on the outside with a handle at one end. They offer excellent support when screwed into solid ice.
A Crampon is a metal framed device which clips on under the shoe and has between 8-10 metal spikes protruding underneath. These are essential pieces of equipment when tackling hard snow and ice.
Usually manufactured from aluminium alloy they are immensely strong with a breaking strain of over 2000kg. They are supplied in two main types, Locking or Screwgate, and non locking or Clipgate.
The Locking or screwgate version is used in circumstances where it is undesirable for it to open. The Clipgate or non locking type is used for all other purposes. Karabiners are used for connecting two or more pieces of equipment together, in particular, a climbers harness to a safely anchor.
These are anchor devices used on parallel cracks. They consist of 3-4 quarter moon wheels with serrated edges. They are closed together by operating a lever allowing the device to be inserted into the crack. When the lever is released, the device is locked into place. It can then be easily released by pulling the lever.
A metal spike of varying length which can be driven into the rock, usually those with hairline cracks. There is a hole at one end to clip on to a karabiner.
Copperheads and mashies
These are made from cylindrical copper or aluminium tubes swaged on a steel cable as such that they can be hammered into small crevices where the soft material binds with the rock.
These are basically handles that clamp onto a rope in order to aid rapid ascent. As the ascender slides up the rope, it locks on via a non return ratchet. The climber can rappel down by releasing the ratchet.
Basically, this is an open hook attached to a sling. When a climber needs to rest, he can wear the sling and hook off to the nearest fixed point.
An important piece of safety equipment which will protect you from falling rock, and may protect you in a fall. They are made in either fibreglass or plastic, the fibreglass ones being more expensive but will last longer. Plastic can become brittle with age or continual bright sunshine, in which case they should be renewed.
Perhaps one of the most important pieces of your kit. No matter what quality of equipment you attach to it, it will only be as safe as the harness its clipped to. So choose the best you can afford. When your life depends on your kit, its always best to buy new as there is no guarantee of the safety of second hand equipment.
These are designed in such a way that when they clip onto a rock face, the more you pull them, the better they grip.
There are several types of rope available depending on whether you’re a novice or a professional.
Hawser-Laid Rope-These are wound from three separate bundles of nylon filaments. Suitable for novices.
Kernmantle- This is made up of several twisted nylon filaments which are then wrapped in a sheaf called a mantle consisting of a tight weave to give the rope extra strength.
Sizes available are 5mm, 7mm, 9mm and 11mm
There are of course, many other items of equipment available and these will depend entirely on what you want to do, whether enthusiast or professional. No matter whether you’re hill climbing or going in for serious mountain climbing, its always better to consult an expert, and there’s always professional climbing clubs that will be only too pleased to accommodate the aspiring mounting climber.
The world’s top 10 highest mountains
1 Everest 29,035 feet 8850 m Himalayas
2 K2 28,250 feet 8610 m Karakoram
3 Kangchenjunga 28,169 feet 8586 m Himalayas
4 Lhotse 27,940 feet 8516 m Himalayas
5 Makalu 27,766 feet 8463 m Himalayas
6 Cho Oyu 26,906 feet 8200 m Himalayas
7 Dhaulagiri 26,795 feet 8167 m Himalayas
8 Manaslu 26,781feet 8162 m Himalayas
9 Nanga Parbat 26,660 feet 8126 m Himalayas
10 Annapurna 26,545 feet 8090 m Himalayas
Here is a list of rather smaller mountains to inspire you.
Ben Nevis 1,344 m Scotland
Snowdon 1,085 m Wales
Scafell Pike 978 m England
Mount Kilimanjaro 5,895 m Tanzania
Impati Mountain 1,600 m South Africa
Flat Top Mountain 3, 767 m Colorado
There are literally hundreds of mountains around the world, of various heights, some suitable for novices whilst others should only to be tackled by the experienced climber.
Whichever one you choose to tackle, it’s always best to do your research first. Conditions can change rapidly at altitude and you could easily become disorientated and lost. Remember to follow the golden rules: Always tell somebody where you are going and if possible, what route you plan to take. And if you become lost. STAY PUT.
1 Source: Wikipedia. “List of people who died on Everest.”
2 Learn rock climbing in a weekend Kevin Walker p22-23 Dorling Kindersley, London