A Beginner's Guide to Mountaineering

Blake P
A Beginner's Guide to Mountaineering

Few feelings compare to the sublime experience of watching a sunrise from the top of a snow-capped mountain peak.

Along with the panoramic view comes a sense of accomplishment as months of training and preparation come to fruition in a single moment.

Simply put, mountaineering is the sport that brings you from the foot of a mountain all the way to its summit. 

Also known as mountain climbing, mountaineering is a more technically challenging adventure sport than hiking or trekking. It generally includes some combination of scrambling, rock climbing, ice climbing and glacier travel to arrive at the top.

While mountaineering is certainly not for everyone, any enthusiastic hiker or hill walker seeking to take their outdoor experiences to the next level should try it out. 

However, it is imperative to know what you are getting yourself into before signing up for your first mountain climbing adventure. 

Below we’ve compiled some facts and information that will better prepare you for that first trip. From how much time to take off work to what you need to bring, this beginner’s guide to mountaineering will better prepare you for that first adventure of a lifetime.

When Is the Best Time to Go Mountain Climbing?

Due to the world's wide diversity of climates and geographies, the best time for a mountaineering expedition varies significantly. 

As a rule of thumb, summer in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of the dry season in the middle latitudes are the best moments to climb, when the weather is generally warmer and drier.

Historically, the main climbing season would take place from July to September in the Northern Hemisphere and January to March in the Southern Hemisphere.

However, climate change is pushing the mountaineering season forward in parts of the Alps. For example, hot and dry summers on Mont Blanc have made Western Europe's highest peak increasingly at risk of rock falls after July

In more unique locations, such as Alaska and the Himalayas, the best time to climb is in the late spring, before the respective wet seasons begin in mid to late summer.

 How Long Does a Mountaineering Trip Take?

The duration of a mountaineering trip depends entirely on where you go and what you want to climb. However, no trip will take less than one day.

The vast majority of entry-level climbs will take a minimum of 2 days, and many will require a long weekend. 

Once you’ve got some climbing experience under your belt, the time you spend on a mountaineering expedition will depend on what you want to do. 

Most climbs that involve ascending to less than 5,000 metres (16,400 feet) take about 3 days (more if you are not already acclimatised). Extremely high altitude climbs, such as expeditions in the Alaska Range or the Himalayas, may take anywhere from 3 weeks to 2 months.

How Do I Prepare for a Mountaineering Expedition?

Mountaineering is not for everyone. Most climbing trips will involve some sort of technical know-how, such as rock climbing or glacier travel. The sport is also more physically and mentally challenging than hiking, hillwalking or trekking.  

That being said, just about anyone can prepare and train for a mountaineering expedition. A combination of bringing the proper gear, hiring a certified mountain guide and ensuring you are in peak physical condition will greatly increase your chances of success.

What do I need to Pack for a Mountain Climbing Trip?

Ensuring that you head out on your first mountaineering trip with all the proper gear can be the difference between success and failure. 

Every mountain is different, so there is no single packing list for a mountaineering trip. However, we’ve listed some common gear you may need to bring below.

Some mountain guides will include the rental of technical gear in the price of their trips. Remember to always ask your guide for a clothing and equipment list prior to heading to the start of the trip.

Technical Gear

  • Belay device
  • Carabiners (for mountaineering)
  • Crampons
  • Crevasse and avalanche rescue equipment
  • Harness (for mountaineering)
  • Ice axe
  • Rope (for mountaineering)
  • Trekking poles

Footwear, Headgear and Clothing 

  • Gaiters
  • Hiking socks and liner socks
  • Mountaineering boots
  • Street shoes or sandals for base camp
  • Neck gaiter and balaclava
  • Mountaineering goggles
  • Mountaineering helmet
  • Knit cap
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunhat
  • Base-layer bottom and top
  • Softshell pants and hard-shell pants
  • Softshell jacket, mid-layer top and hard-shell jacket
  • Lightweight insulated jacket
  • Insulated down parka
  • T-shirts, shorts and trousers for base camp
  • Nightwear and underwear (long underwear is preferable for camping on mountains)
  • Liner gloves and mountaineering gloves

Other gear

  • Backpack (15 to 40 litres) and overnight bag
  • Blister plasters
  • Camping gear: 4-season tent, thermal sleeping bag, sleeping pad, cooking gear
  • Cash in local currency
  • First aid kit
  • Headlamp
  • Sun cream, lip balm and insect repellent
  • Toiletries
  • Water bottle
  • Water purification tablets

Why Should I Hire a Certified Mountain Guide

You should never head out on a mountaineering adventure without first hiring a certified mountain guide

Climbing with a certified guide will infinitely increase the amount of fun you have on the trip and how safe you are throughout the climb. 

Mountain guides know the terrain, so they will be able to select the safest route. They are also familiar with the conditions on the mountain. They will know where the crevasses are, which areas are most avalanche prone and what to do if the weather deteriorates.

Mountain guides will also help sort out the logistics, such as finding the best spot to set up base camp or filing the correct paperwork with local authorities.

Finally, mountain guides love the sport. They are generally friendly and interesting people who want to give you the best possible experience. 

How Do I Get in Shape for a Mountain Climbing Trip?

Being in excellent physical condition is a requirement for any mountain climbing trip, from the most basic ascents to the most challenging.

Most guides recommend you begin to train for a mountaineering adventure a couple of months in advance. (Of course, this depends on your base level of fitness. You may need more time to get in shape.)

This includes working on climbing conditioning, cardiovascular training, strength training and flexibility training. 

Climbing conditioning involves hiking uphill or doing a stair-climbing exercise with a weighted pack two or three times per week. Always start slowly with a light pack and work your way up to 15 kilograms (33 lbs). 

Cardiovascular training is also important for aspiring mountaineers. You will want to do a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercises in order to improve your lung capacity and strengthen your heart.

Strength training is important as well. Mountaineering requires a combination of the upper body, lower body and core muscles. Many basic gym routines are well suited for this type of training. Calisthenics is also an option.

Finally, make sure you are doing some flexibility training as well. Keeping muscles limber and knowing the proper exercises to loosen them up will be important when climbing in the cold and in thin air.

While hiring a personal trainer is not necessary, for first-time climbers, it is a surefire way to ensure that you are strengthening all of the correct muscles. 

Along with physical training, it is also important to acclimate properly. Elevations as low as 2,400 metres (8,000 feet) will begin to impact your breathing and thinking. 

Getting into the mountains a few days before your trip is the best way to acclimatise. Working on proper breathing techniques can also help your body adjust to high elevations.

What Are The Best Climbs For Beginners?

While everyone dreams of making it to the top of Mount Everest or standing on the iconic pyramidal summit of the Matterhorn, it is always best to start small. For those just getting into mountaineering, there are plenty of great entry-level climbs to try your hand at.

Gran Paradiso

Rising to 4,061 metres (13,323 feet) in elevation and towering above Italy’s stunning Aosta Valley, Gran Paradiso is widely considered to be one of the easiest 4000ers to climb in all of the Alps.

As a result, plenty of first-time mountaineers head to the Graian Alps, near the French border, each summer to try their hand at the sport. The climb usually takes 2 days and involves traversing a glacier with crampons and an ice axe.

Many mountain guides offer a 3-day variation of the climb, in which the second day of the trip is spent going over how to hike across glaciers. For these trips, no previous experience is required for you to reach the top.  

Mount Baker

Situated in the heart of Washington State’s Cascade Range, Mount Baker is one of the most popular mountain climbing destinations in the entire United States.

Rising 3,286 metres (10,781 feet) high, Mount Baker is among the tallest mountains in the range and is the second most heavily glaciated (after Mount Rainier). While there are three main routes to the summit, the Easton glacier route is most popular among first-time climbers.

Similar to Gran Paradiso, most climbing trips to the top of the peak take 2 days, but many guides offer 3-day variations. On the 3 day trips, the afternoon of the first day is spent going over the necessary glacier traveling techniques along with some crevasse and avalanche safety protocols.  

Lanín Volcano

While many view the Andes Mountains as an exotic destination reserved for the most experienced climbers, the world’s longest mountain range boasts plenty of great first-time ascents too. 

Rising to 3,776 metres (12,388 feet) in elevation and towering over the border between Argentina and Chile, Lanín is the perfect climbing experience for first-time mountaineers. The climb generally takes 2 days and only requires the use of crampons and ice axes at the very end of the ascent.

Many guides also offer 3 or 4-day trips, in which they teach all the necessary glacier climbing and safety skills on the mountain.

Remember to Have Fun

While mountaineering is challenging, it is also a lot of fun. You get to meet people with similar interests, explore places that you would not be able to reach by car or hiking and enjoy some of the best views on Earth. 

Take the initial step to complete your first mountaineering adventure today! Compare trips to all seven continents offered by certified guides on ExpedReview. 


Recent posted

Related locations

Mount Baker
Location :
 Mount Baker
 3,286 m / 10,781 ft
Location :
 3,776 m / 12,388 ft
Gran Paradiso
Location :
 Gran Paradiso
 4,060 m / 13,320 ft

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