Oh, The Air Up There | Mountaineering, Is It For You?

Mountaineering has never really been seen as a thing black people do.  I question, why is that the case? All you need is a little bit of grit, perseverance, and a sense of adventure.  I never thought I would ever literally climb to some of the highest heights in the world, but I have, and those trips were some of the most incredible journeys I have taken in my lifetime. This type of adventure is one more of us should consider taking advantage of, especially before climate change and global warming make these opportunities less and less possible.

If you want to scale the heights and breathe the pure, clear air up there, let’s talk about what you need to do to be prepared to make the most of your mountaineering experience.

Physical and Mental Preparation

While mountaineering (mountain climbing) can be one of the most exhilarating and life-fulfilling experiences you have to made of tough stuff to successfully achieve your goal.  One way to develop and mental and physical toughness mountaineering requires is to mentally and physically prepare. How do you do this? Top mountaineering sites all say that mountaineering requires a different mindset in addition to athleticism and basic climbing skills.  Mountaineering also requires a level of physical fitness which can be achieved by a combination of cardio exercise, such as running, swimming, or cycling and strength training i.e. weight lifting your upper body which will carry your pack and other essential trek items and your lower body which carries you up the mountain.  However, the single best way to prepare for any mountaineering adventure is to grab a backpack, put some weight in it, and try to hike nearby where there is uphill gain. If you are not near a mountain then find a big hill in your neighborhood or a long set of stairs and climb up a few times. 

Altitude Awareness

Altitude can be the thing that you don’t expect and is difficult to prepare for when you are mountaineering. The body at 8000 feet above sea level and sometimes even as low as 5000 feet above sea level, one can begin to feel the effects of less oxygen in the atmosphere (air).  Altitude sickness is the “great equalizer”, as I like to call it. It is the great equalizer in that it can affect people who are in top physical condition or those that have prepared, as well as those who are not conditioned at all, the same way. A pro-tip to remember is: Just because you have managed well in previous experiences at altitude, this doesn’t mean you will have a good experience every time.  In other words, treat each experience at altitude as unique and be prepared every time.

Considering Whether to Go with a Guide Vs. Going It Alone

As a new or first-time mountaineer and even as an experienced climber a good best practice is to hire a guide service to accompany you.  The benefits of hiring a guide are many, and a big one is the fact that you can learn a lot about mountaineering from the experts first- hand. Having a guide can also ease the literal burden of carrying items as they will sometimes take on some of the weight from clients who are less acclimatized than they are. Guides can help you feel peace of mind knowing you are not alone in the adventure and you are in the care of someone who has more experience and is prepared to handle any scenario the mountain throws at you.  

Going on your own can be extremely rewarding and can help you achieve an extreme sense of accomplishment.  However, I strongly encourage you to be fully trained and to practice as much as possible in the various skills required to mountaineer, which include but are not limited to, using an ice axe, walking on crampons, learning about crevasses, how to detect them and what to do if you find yourself in one, and ropes and knots, etc. 

There are other things to consider but these are some baselines to give you a starting point and things to consider.  The UK, France, New Zealand, Italy, South Korea, Nepal, the United States, several countries in the Andes Mountain Range, South Korea, are among the many countries where you can start to plan your first mountaineering adventure and take a more traditional vacation. Get climbing, it’s amazing!