Q: Where do I begin if I have no climbing experience at
A: This depends on where you live. If you live near
mountains, get out there (with a buddy)! Community climbing sites
such as 14ers.com and Summitpost.org have
partner pages where you can find other climbers. Another way to get
started is to join a climbing club. There are climbing clubs in almost
every city around the world. These clubs usually welcome beginners
and organize local or far away trips. Do a google search for climbing clubs and your state or city. Pete
and Ed's Books have a listing of clubs. Check out the Yahoo listings. Finally, the American Alpine Club is an excellent resource. The only
way to learn about climbing is to get out there!
Q: What are the various types of climbing?
A: There are three major areas: rock, ice and mountaineering.
Rock includes climbing on boulders (called bouldering). For rock,
you usually climb with a partner roped together and use special gear
to secure the rope to the rock. My pages on climbing the Flat
Irons covers this type. Ice is similar and includes frozen waterfalls
and steep mountain sides. Please see my Ouray page
for an example. Mountaineering usually means high altitude and snow.
Most of my climbing is mountaineering, including Denali, Everest, Mont
Blanc and others.
Q: Are there age limitations to climbing?
A: Not really. Rock is often done by people of all
ages. Most big
mountain climbers are in their mid 30's to late 40's due to the money
involved. By the way, the youngest person to summit Everest
was an eighth-grade student, 13, Jordan Romero from Little Bear California
from the north side in May 2010 supplanting Ming Kipa Sherpa, the
Nepalese girl who summited at 15, in 2003. The oldest was
76-year-old Bahadur Sherchan, from Nepal, on May 26, 2008. Tamae
Watanabe of Japan is the oldest woman to summit at age 63 on May
Q: How much time
does climbing take?
A: Obviously it depends on what you are doing and
where you live. A nearby rock climb is an afternoon, a 14er in
Colorado or California can be a day or a week and an expedition
to Alaska or Mexico can take a month. Everest is two months and
an expedition to a remote place like K2 in Pakistan can take
3 months or more.
Q: Money? What does it take to get into this sport?
A: There are four areas to consider: time, travel,
gear and guides. If you are a college student, then time is probably
not a big issue. If you work full time, then there is always vacations,
holidays and time off without pay. Travel can be as expensive or
inexpensive as you desire. Most climbing areas have a great selection
of low cost hostels. In Nepal, tea houses cost about $15 a night
and the food is very inexpensive. Same for South America. Gear
can range as shown in the next questions. Guides vary as well.
Q: What kind of gear do I need and how much does it cost?
A: The basics for rock are shoes, harness and
helmet. A nice pair of rock climbing shoes cost less than $80,
a harness - $35, the helmet - $40. Then you need the technical
tools. A starter 'rack' of tools and the rope, about $300.
Ice climbing requires boots and crampons that will run about
$400 plus warm clothes. Alpine mountaineering is a big step.
In addition to all the gear required for rock and ice, there
is cold weather camping: down sleeping bags, down suits, large
packs and more. These items can easily run over $2,500. Take
a look at my gear page for
a list of what I use. It is updated with my current gear I use
in 2009. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.
Q: OK, I'm ready to get started. What first?
A: Get an experienced buddy who will teach you the
basics or join a club. Climbing can be dangerous and deaths are common.
The best way to start is with small mountains or easy rock climbs.
There is a strong temptation to skip climbs to get harder and higher
but If you want to do serious climbs like Rainier, Denali, Half Dome
or any 8,000M peak; learning the basics will improve your summit
chances. Also by not having the proper experience, you not only
put your own life in danger, but that of a guide or teammate as well.
Q: What role does fitness or conditioning play in climbing?
A: While you do not need to be muscle bound, you do
need to be in excellent shape to attempt the biggest mountains (over
8,000 meters). The most important areas are lungs, heart and muscles.
It is interesting that if you look at the best climbers in the world,
they are not particularly tall. They do not have huge arm muscles.
They are thin and their bodies are well balanced. They also have
great lung capacity.
Q: How do I get to that level of fitness?
A: The absolute best way is climbing! But most of us
have jobs and cannot climb every day so a combination of climbing
on the weekends and aggressive exercise during the week will get
you there. Focus on building lung capacity and heart strength with
aerobic exercises such as running, cycling, swimming or treadmills
and ellipse machines. Build your core muscles (stomach and back)
with sit-ups and medicine ball exercises. Work on your heart with
interval training. And finally build some overall muscle strength
with reasonable weight training. I have a suggested training plan
on my Everest
Q: I can climb a 5.12 route, what role does that play in
high altitude mountaineering?
A: First, congratulations! However for the normal
routes on most of the world's largest mountains (except K2), extreme
rock climbing is not required. Obviously you can find extreme routes
on almost any mountain but this is mostly the domain of the professional
climbers. I strongly believe that having good rock climbing skills
and experience is a huge benefit for anyone on the large mountains.
Knowing the basics of using your feet, making small moves, having
three points of contact, etc. will make every climb more comfortable.
Also having skills and experience moving on smooth rock with crampons
is very important.
Q: What is the best way to get experience?
A: Go climb a mountain! If you are really new,
take a climbing course through a professional guide service such
as AAI, Jagged Globe or Adventure Consultants. If you are experienced
but want to go higher or harder, link up with an experienced party
or go with a commercial expedition. Here is a sample plan for someone
with little or no climbing experience with a goal of climbing an
8,000 meter peak and eventually Everest. I have selected locations
in the US, Europe and New Zealand. The 'Who' links will take you
to a guide service in those areas. This plan should take several
years if you did a major climb twice a year and started with zero
experience. But there are climbers who have completed the 7 Summits
in 12 months.
||Basic climbing skills
||AAI, AC, IMG,
local climbing club
||Get experience, climbs lot's of local peaks if available
||Buddy, AAI, IMG
||Buddy, AAI, AC, IMG
||Spring, Summer, Fall
|Ouray, Chamonix, Franz Joseph Glacier
Guides, AAI, AC
|Rainier, Mont Blanc, Mt. Tasman
||Test yourself on a tough climb
||RMI, IMG, AC
||Experience at altitude and expedition life
||Dec - March
||Altitude and expedition experience
||High altitude experience
||Sept - Oct
||April - May
Consultants , AAI
- Alpine Ascents International , IMG
- International Mountain Guides, RMI-
Rainier Mountain Guides
Q: These are high mountains. What about altitude? Can you
train for it?
A: Not really. The common approach is to move slowly up the mountain (1000' a day maximum) spending your days at a higher altitude than where you sleep up until your summit bid. The human body simply does not function well at high altitudes and especially above 8000m (26,300'). As you go higher, the barometric pressure decreases, although the air still contains 21% oxygen, every breath contains less molecules of oxygen.
Everest legend Tom Hornbein explained it to the American
Lung Association this way:
oxygen stimulates chemoreceptors that initiate an increase in breathing,
resulting in a lowering of the partial pressure of CO2 and hence
more alkaline blood pH. The kidneys begin to unload bicarbonate
to compensate. Though this adaptation can take many days, up to
80% occurs just in the first 48 to 72 hours. There are many other
physiologic changes going on, among them the stimulus of low oxygen
to release the hormone, erythropoietin to stimulate more red blood
cell production, a physiological and still acceptable form of blood
doping that enhances endurance performance at low altitudes. Adaptive
changes are not always good for one’s health. Some South American
high altitude residents can have what’s called chronic mountain
sickness, resulting from too many red blood cells; their blood
can be up to 84-85% red blood cells. The increased blood viscosity
and sometimes associated pulmonary hypertension can result in right
You cannot do much to acclimatize at low altitudes but there
are companies that claim to help the acclimatization process
through specially designed tents that simulate the reduced oxygen
levels at higher elevations. I have no personal experience with
these systems but you can find more details at the Hypoxico website.
They cost about $7,000 or can be rented for about $170 a week.
Q: What about bottled oxygen?
A: Bottled supplemental oxygen is common on
some 8,000M peaks especially Everest and Cho Oyu. The extra
oxygen makes you warmer but only reduces the impact of the altitude
by 3,000 feet. So at 27,000' your body stills feels like it is
at 24,000'. The oxygen tanks look very similar to what you see
scuba divers using in the ocean. Bottles are measured by how
much oxygen they hold, usually 3 or 4 liters. A 3 liter bottle
weighs about 5.7 pounds each. You use a oxygen mask and a regulator.
The mask covers most of your face from your nose down. Climbers
usually run the flow at 2 liters per minute meaning a 3 liter
bottle will last about 6 hours. The flow can run up to 4 liters
per minute thus lasting only 3 hours. Most climbers will need
at least 4 bottles or maybe 19 hours of supplemental oxygen
because sometime they will run the flow at 3 or 4 l/m. This
does not including bottles for sleeping at C4 and spares.
Almost everyone (including guides and Sherpas) uses oxygen above
7,700M or 25,500 feet. I used O's on Everest and Cho Oyu. It
simply makes sense not to take any chances. At base camp on Everest
there is 50% of the oxygen at sea level. At Camp 3, about 40%
and at the summit, there is only 33% - it is like climbing stairs
and holding two out of every three breaths.
meter Peaks, big mountains and Guides (see
Selecting a Guide for more
information on selecting a guide)
Q: What is an 8,000 meter peak?
A: There are only fourteen mountains higher than
8,000 meters or 26,250 feet on Earth. Nine are in the Himalaya
Range in Nepal, one in Tibet and four in Pakistan.
Q: And other big mountains?
A: There are hundreds of 6,000 and 7,000 meters
peaks around the world. The Alps in France, Switzerland
and Italy have great climbs such as the Eiger and Mont Blanc.
South America has Aconcagua, Cotopaxi and many volcanoes.
North America has Denali, Rainier, Hood, Shasta, Washington
and fifty six peaks over 14,000
feet in Colorado and fifteen in California. Canada and
New Zealand have some of the most spectacular climbs
on the planet. Then there is Scotland with the famous Ben
Nevis and other 4,000 foot peaks.
Q: What are the Seven Summits?
A: The tallest mountains on the seven continents.
Dick Bass, a wealthy businessman, climbed all seven in the
Eighties (guided by professional David Breashears) thus establishing
the term. They are, in order of height: Everest - 29035 in
Asia, Aconcagua - 22841 in South America, Denali - 20320 in
North America, Kilimanjaro - 19563 in Africa, Elbrus - 18481
in Europe, Puncak Jaya - 16502 in Australia/Oceania and Vinson
- 16066 in Antarctica.
Q: Do I really need to use a guide for a big climbing
A: It depends. For climbs within your ability,
go with a buddy. I use guides on new climbs, to a
place where I am not familiar with the area or where I
need their expertise in logistics. While a few people climb
8,000 meter peaks such as Everest or Cho Oyu and 6,000m
peaks such as Denali and Aconcagua without guides, you
need to know what you are doing and have the time to arrange
all the details. Consider your skills in the event that something
goes wrong - are you self sufficient? What are your medical skills?
HAPE and HACE are really possibilities - do you have
the proper medicine and training to deal with it? In harsh weather
(white-outs) or in a medical emergency, you will be on your own
so consider your skill level carefully. You must bring a two-way
radio and a sat phone in my opinion and have the frequency or
number of the local rescue resources already programmed in. All
of these mountains have brutal weather with cruel winds, driving
snow and white-out conditions that can create a nightmare scenario.
Long expeditions are a maze of details.
You would be absolutely amazed at the amount of gear,
food and supplies it takes to climb a big hill. On Everest,
we had literally tons of gear. It is a pity to stop your
summit bid because you ran out of fuel for your stove
or did not bring enough rope. Please see my Guide page
and Guide Questions for more
Q: So, what is the story with Guides? Are they
worth the price?
A: Tough question because it depends
on you. If you have the experience and the time
and the money to put together your own climb, you
can save some money. However, this is rare for
most people. Some people don't have the money to
pay for a guide so organizing their own expedition
is their only way to climb a big HIll. Then there
are people who lack the experience and absolutely
need a guide service. The sad reality is that
if you use a guide and all goes well, you may question
their value. The real value is demonstrated when something
goes wrong. That is when the guide earns their fee
and the best show their stuff
Q: How do I select a guide service?
A: References is the best answer. See how
long they have been in business. Ask how new is their group
gear. Ask about the food. But most important, ask who will
be the lead guide on your trip. Talk to that person.
Understand their philosophy. For example, is the guide
there simply to climb that mountain and you happen to be
along or will they turn around with you if you get in trouble?
Ask about their most difficult client and how they handled
that situation. And, of course, ask about their direct
experience on this particular mountain. Do not be their
first client! I have some questions everyone
should ask before giving any Guide or Company your money.
14,000 foot Colorado Mountains
Q: What is a 14'er?
A: There are 54 mountains in the Colorado Rocky
Mountains that are above 14,000 feet in height. They are contained
in six different ranges all across the State. See my Fourteeners page
for the listings
Q: And other mountains?
A: There are 155 mountains above 10,000 feet
and 75 above 13,000 feet and serve up challenges as big as
Q: Do I need to use a guide for any of them?
A: Not for the the vast majority of the
standard or normal routes. In fact many of these are
easy Class 1 hikes with the only concern being altitude
and weather. However always climb within your ability
and get a buddy for rock climbing and difficult routes.
If you are learning or inexperienced on technical routes
(ice or rock climbing requiring ropes, harness, crampons,
ice axes, etc.), then a guide or a very experienced partner
Q: What does it take?
A: Experience, fitness and commitment. You must
have experience to climb the highest mountain on Earth. In
spite of the comments that anyone can climb Everest, it is
not true. Fitness: you must be in the shape of your life. You
cannot be overweight or have a lazy attitude towards the climb.
The only way to know if you are in shape to climb Everest is
your performance on other big mountains. Commitment: probably
is the biggest element. You must be committed to your training,
your experience and ... the climb. You will find that there
are thousands of reasons to stop than to go on - in training,
in the climb, in life.
Q: How much does it cost?
A: A car. The Nepal Ministry of Tourism
will charge $10,000 per climber. The permit is about $5,000
on the north. There are three options for a climb: 1)
organize your own expedition, 2) an 'unguided' commercial expedition
and 3) a guided commercial expedition. The one on your on is
obvious: you do everything including lining up Sherpas. There
are companies in Katmandu that will help you. An unguided
expedition is one where a company organizes all the logistics:
food, group gear, transportation but does not provide
guides. Several companies are offering more of these type
trips to cater to the price sensitive or experienced climbers.
The guided expedition is all of the previous but with full
Sherpa support and usually Western Guides. These are 'full
service' trips and are most appropriate for first time Everest
climbers. The cost vary widely. On your own can be as
low as $20K if you really skimp, unguided around $35K
and guided from $50 to $65K. Then there are custom trips
where you have your own western guide plus your own Sherpas.
Expect to spend $100K for this trip.
Q: What about the Sherpas, what role did they play?
A: The Sherpas are incredible allies in climbing
these big mountains. They fixed ropes, carry heavy loads and
generally do the hard work. The cooks keep you fed at most
of the camps. They melt snow and haul ice to the stoves at
BC, C2 and C4. The dig out tent platforms and set up tents
as well as take them down and off the mountain. It is summit
night, however, where they really shine. They basically take
over and make sure everyone is properly equipped for the summit
bid. They checked crampons and harnesses. They help with oxygen
and made sure the regulators are set correctly. And of course,
they watched over each climber during the summit bid and help
if there are problems. I saw all this on my climb with all
Sherpas for all expeditions all the way from base camp up.
If you climb Everest without Sherpa assistance, my hat is off
Q: I read that Everest is a "cake-walk" these days
and anyone can summit if they want it bad enough. Exactly how
tough is it?
A: It was tough. I summited in 2011. I submit that anyone who calls
it a 'cake-walk' has never been there. The icefall proved to
be dangerous and challenging. It was a long climb in the beginning
but became easier as we acclimatized. The Lhotse Face was steep
with hard ice and a long climb with loads. The traverse from
C3 to C4 and the South Col were my biggest surprises. The Yellow
Band was moderate rock climbing (at 24,000') and the Geneva
Spur was much higher and steeper than I thought. The last section
was 50' of 5.4 rock. Everest itself starts with a 60-80 degree
slope with fixed lines. In bad weather, this would be difficult.
Above the balcony, it is very long and tiring and can be exhausting. Bottom line is that Everest is one tough mountain
with the length of time it takes, the logistics and the altitude