Climbing a mountain is often used as an analogy to express the daunting size of a difficult job ahead. It’s with good reason, too – there are few tasks that take more preparation and dedication. Like most big challenges though, the success of reaching a peak can bring with it an enormous sense of achievement; and this feeling can last a lifetime.
As the saying goes, there’s a first time for everything, so when you’ve decided to become a mountain climber, where’s best to start?
Understand the challenge
Even for a seasoned trekker, climbing a mountain will be a major undertaking. Be sure to start by getting your head around exactly how big a task this is and what it is likely to involve. Obviously it will depend largely on which mountain you’ve decided to conquer, but even the smallest is likely to be difficult – there’d be little point in doing it if was easy.
Chances are you live life on relatively flat ground, spending most of your time somewhere close to sea level. Being so high up for extended periods is likely to be a little alien and it’ll no doubt present a few challenges. Altitude sickness can be a common complaint among even experienced climbers, so you may experience headaches and feelings of nausea. Add to this the normal aches and pains of intense exercise and there may be be a lot to deal with, so it’s important to understand what you’re getting yourself in for.
So, if headaches and sickness may occur at some point, the last thing you need is to add a lack of fitness to the list of obstacles. Plan your trip far enough ahead to allow for a carefully planned exercise regime – getting yourself in to great shape will be half the battle.
Ideally, your plan will involve regular sessions and should cover two main areas:
Strength – you won’t be lifting weights when you reach the top but you will be hauling your own body and a sizeable rucksack of gear. So a bit of brawn will certainly help.
Stamina – reaching the top of a mountain takes time, especially at the first attempt. The ability to stay alert after hours of physical activity won’t just help you make it to the end, it’ll keep you safe too.
Altitude training is also helpful but it’s pretty difficult without actually getting up to a certain height. There are pieces of equipment designed to help on lower ground, like hypoxic tents, but you probably won’t have access to one of these as a first-timer. Instead, focus on stamina – this will help to cope with the breathlessness. A good tool to help improve your stamina is our OS MapFinder app, it enables you plan and record your journeys so you can track the progress of your fitness over time.
Know what to take
The equipment you take with you will depend largely on the mountain you’re climbing and the amount of time it’s likely to take. If it’s an overnight trip, for example, you’ll probably need more clothes and extra food supplies. Whatever your trip comprises, though, be sure to pack light. Even if your rucksack seems to be a reasonable weight when you first try it on, it probably won’t feel the same after you’ve been lugging it uphill for four hours.
Assuming your clothing is sorted, water should be the biggest priority. On the climb itself, try to drink a pint (of water) every hour, even if you don’t feel that thirsty – the trick is to prevent dehydration, not respond to it. The frequency should increase if it’s particularly hot or if you sweat a lot.
Be sure to pack compact, energy-heavy foods. Sweets and chocolate bars may be considered unhealthy in normal circumstances but they’re usually full of energy and easy to carry. You should find the same qualities in nuts, seeds and small fruits, so trail mix is a great option too.
After food and drink, add a basic first aid kit (including ibuprofen), torch, fully charged mobile phone and maps to the list. We also recommend our free iOS app OS Locate to use with your map, so you always know where you are.
Research the task ahead
Research should play a big part in your preparation efforts. Thankfully, it’s never been easier to get a good idea of where you’re going; not only do you have thousands of books at your disposal, you also have the internet.
Interactive maps should help you to get your head around the scale of the task in front of you so make the most of them. You can also use forums and message boards to chat directly with those who have been before you – they should be able to offer tips and guidance to make sure you can avoid any problems that hindered their own experiences.
The unique thrill of mountain climbing comes largely from unpredictability and the overcoming of obstacles, which is lucky as you’ll never be able to completely comprehend your first trip without donning your boots and getting out there in person. That said, thorough preparation is the best way to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible. Once you’ve had your first great experience up in the highest reaches of a mountain, you’ll be itching to make sure the next trip is bigger and better.