Mountaneering Techniques

If you dream of climbing the world's highest mountains, or even if you simply hope to climb Mt. Rainier or the Grand Teton this summer, click through these pages for expert advice on everything related to mountaineering and alpine climbing. Inside, you'll find illustrated articles on training, rope work, rescue, health, altitude sickness, mountaineering equipment, and much more.

To the uninitiated, climbing a vertical pillar of frozen water looks impossible. Ice climbing requires a wide range of skills, from movement technique to placing ice screws and other protection, and the articles in these pages will help you climb ice quicker, safer, and with more fun all around. Plus, we'll help you train for ice climbing this winter so you'll be more confident on steep ice.
  • HPOvergripping

    Learn This: The Over-Gripping Myth

    As you move ever higher above your last piece and further outside your comfort zone, you grip the rock for dear life, even though you know the route is well within your ability. Yet here you are, only halfway up and too pumped to continue—everything feels way harder than it should. Most climbers have experienced this unfortunate situation: When you get scared, you hold on too tight and waste precious energy. The perceived solution: Focus on relaxing your hands to stop over-gripping the rock, thus lasting longer. While this does seem to make logical sense, over-gripping is actually not a significant factor in this perceived fatigue. Studies in applied physiology, neuroscience, and sports medicine point to stress itself as the culprit for accelerated fatigue. Anxiety can trigger the release of a certain hormone that can make you feel more pumped and tired than you actually are. Here we’ve provided some tips and tricks to conquer your fears and prevent the dreaded pump.

  • HPAnchorShelfSm

    Learn This: Using the Anchor Shelf

    Efficiency is directly related to success on any multi-pitch climb, and being neat and tidy from the beginning is a key to efficiency. Keep your belay orderly with this effortless technique: using the “shelf.”

  • Make Your Own Suspension Trainer on a Budget

    With a $199 price tag, the TRX Suspension Trainer is cheaper than most exercise equipment, but possibly outside the budget for many climbers. The system is so incredibly simple that it can be easily replicated with materials readily available to most climbers: webbing and biners. The homemade version won’t be nearly as adjustable, and the loops of webbing are not nearly as cushy as foam stirrups, but if you’re strapped for cash you won’t feel left out of the suspension training party (a pretty expensive party to attend).

  • HP10ExercisesCore

    Training: 10 Exercises for a Complete Core

    A strong core is crucial to progressing as a climber. Body tension, keeping your feet on, moving efficiently, toeing-in on overhangs—it all revolves around the core. Plus, a solid core helps prevent injury. You’ve probably heard a core-strength evangelist preach the benefits before, and you’ve probably been pointed toward endless crunches or even expensive programs like Pilates, TRX, or yoga. Get ready for a new approach: varied exercises that are specifically targeted to work multiple parts of your body at the same time—just like climbing does.

  • HPTheMindGame660

    The Mind Game: How to Overcome Fear

    After a near-death climbing experience, I was inspired to dig deeper into the psychology of fear and find out what I could learn about its effect on performance, how it wells up in the first place, and what we can do to deal with it. What I found will take your climbing to the next level—and could save your life.

  • HPLightningRotator

    Learn This: Laws of Lightning

    In July 2014, two hikers in Rocky Mountain National Park of Colorado were killed by lightning strikes in two separate incidents on back-to-back days, and collectively, about a dozen others were injured. While these fatalities occurred on hiking trails relatively close to the road, lightning is an even bigger risk for backcountry and alpine climbers who are committed to being far away from a safe place for hours at a time. As the number of these climbers grow, it’s important to realize that lightning is a very serious threat that occurs practically every day in the high country. We teamed up with meteorologist William Roeder, who works with the U.S. space program in central Florida (aka Lightning Alley), and NOLS Curriculum and Research Manager John Gookin to compile the most pertinent information and best protocol for backcountry climbers.

  • HPPinchPoint

    Learn This: Pinch Points

    You’re cruising a broken and blocky ridgeline that leads to the summit when all of a sudden a 20-foot technical section stops you in your tracks. Your partner doesn’t skip a beat and starts to head up, but you’re intimidated by those six or seven moves because they’re surrounded by a 1,000-foot drop on either side. Though you’ve got gear and a harness in your pack, time is of the essence. Thankfully, there’s a fast and efficient way for the leader to use the broken nature of the rock to build a simple anchor and belay a follower—with minimal gear and no harness. Use a “pinch point,” the area of contact between two large rocks that provides 360° of access to thread or tie a sling, as an anchor to save time and keep everyone safe and happy.

  • HPStuckRapRopes

    Learn This: Free Stuck Rappel Ropes

    When I look back on my 30-year tenure as a climber, I realize that I’ve spent as much (or more) time descending than ascending. After all, knowing when to turn around is what keeps us climbers alive and climbing. All that “downtime” easily adds up to several thousand hours of dodgy anchors, scary raps, and uncertain ends. That stuff would make any grown man nervous, but by far the scariest experiences of all were the few times I’ve gotten the rappel rope hopelessly stuck. This scenario can cause even the hardest of climbers to break out in a cold sweat. When your rope is stuck, you ain’t going nowhere. Here are my hard-won tips for getting your rope unstuck and—even better—preventing it from happening in the first place.

  • Cirque Traverse Training Exercises

  • HPPack

    Learn This: Pack Smarter

    When I see that guy on the trail with a tent, banjo, puppy, and pony keg swaying from carabiners, I’m just left wondering why. Why do so many of our otherwise reasonable mountain buddies want so badly to strap their kit to the outside of their sad, under-utilized packs instead of just putting it all inside?

  • Traveling on a Rope Team

    Got a peak like Mt. Rainier on your tick list? If you have Alaskan or Himalayan aspirations, you should. Rainier’s classic Disappointment Cleaver route is the perfect introduction to mountaineering: You’ll get a taste of glacier travel, extreme weather, and altitude, on a route that’s never steeper than 45 degrees and that most can easily pull off in a long weekend.

  • Ueli Steck's Annapurna Kit

    How much gear do you need for a new route on an 8,000-foot Himalayan face? Traditional, expedition-style ascents required so much in the past that an army of porters and yaks had to haul it all to base camp. But times have changed.

  • The Comeback: Recovering From Climbing Injuries

    Life would be great if we bounced back quickly to 100 percent after recovery. But the reality is that once you get back on the vertical horse, you are still in recovery. Comeback climbing takes patience and acceptance of your vulnerability. It takes stepping back to the grades you began at and working your way back up.

  • Train Indoors For Ice and Mixed Climbing

    When it comes to training, rock climbers have it easy. Look online for countless articles on different ways to get stronger, and then work hard in the gym (and there seems to be a new one popping up on every corner) to get better on the rock. But ice and mixed climbers don’t get the same benefit from pulling on plastic, and training resources are harder to find.

  • One-Legged-Pigeon-Pose-158

    Stretch and Strengthen

    Stretching is an often-overlooked aspect of the pre-climbing routine. The following stretches pull double duty; not only do they lengthen your muscles, tendons, and ligaments for the approach—therefore preventing injury—but they also provide more mobility and flexibility on the wall so you can climb smarter and stronger.

  • Essential-Bivy-Survival-Kit-660

    The Essentials: Survive an Unplanned Bivy

    Everyone knows packing the 10 essentials is a good idea, but most people don’t actually pack them. It’s easy to get lax about loading things you hope not to use, but would you cancel your car insurance just because you haven’t had an accident yet? We consulted professional mountain guides as well as the venerable Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills to create this visual checklist for what you need to cover your ass if your perfect day in the alpine goes awry.

  • How-to-Jug-Rock-to-Alpine

    Transition from Rock to Alpine

    Progressing from weekend cragging to long alpine routes can be intimidating for anyone, even strong and competent traditional climbers. While the most valuable knowledge is gleaned from experience, there’s plenty of real-world advice to learn beforehand. Alpinist Scott Bennett has six years of experience in the mountains and on rock. Here, he shares his hard-won tips for climbers moving from rock to the mountains.

  • How-to-Hip-Belay

    How to Hip Belay

    Long before the invention of belay devices, the hip belay provided security for the second and saved time in the mountains. When used correctly, a bomber stance can replace a traditional anchor, or you can back up a marginal anchor with a solid stance. It’s best in lower-angled and broken terrain, where a fall by the second is easily recovered, and there is little danger of a pendulum swing.

  • Training for the Fifty Classic Climbs

    Training for the Fifty Classic Climbs

    Routes like the North Ridge on the Grand Teton require covering a lot of ground with a heavy pack. These—and many other Classics—are not casual outings. We’ve devised a six-week training program—approach, mountaineering, mixed, aid, and free climbing— that will help add a new level of strength and endurance to your fitness. Tackle all workouts over the six weeks, or focus on your weakest category. Bonus: You can bust these out anywhere in the country—even at sea level—and see results on any terrain.

  • How-to-Poop-in-the-Woods

    Guide to Going Number Two

    Shit happens. The average person generates just more than one pound of poop every day, according to the World Health Organization. As the number of people visiting crags grows, so do the pounds of poo left behind. This requires some strategic practices. Few things are as foul as seeing a pile of feces topped with toilet paper hiding behind a rock—plus, poor crag etiquette can endanger access and pose public health concerns.

  • How-to-Cut-a-Climbing-Rope

    Cutting a Rope

    The first 15 feet on either end of your rope gets by far the most use, wear, and friction. You’re constantly tying into that section, and, more important, the rope absorbs the impact of most falls there, so that part gets a lot of abrasion from carabiners. These parts will get fat, frayed, fuzzy, and after time will generally look different from the rest of the cord. Even after one season with a rope, you can end up with bad ends and a near-new-looking middle portion.

  • Ice-Screw-Rappel

    Low-cost Rappels on Ice

    Long rappel descents, whether planned or as a matter of sudden necessity when the weather goes bad or an injury occurs, can quickly turn into expensive ordeals when you have to leave a few pieces of gear at every rappel. Plus, you might need that gear later on. Fortunately for those seeking terra firma, the ice abundant in winter and/or mountain terrain typically provides a much better medium for descent than bare rock, because there’s less chance of rock fall, and you can build gear-free rappel anchors with just the frozen stuff.

  • Waterfall-Ice-Techniques

    Column Counsel

    Though beautiful and inviting, pillars are also intimidating. Their verticality leads to strenuous climbing, and the skinniest pillars are prone to collapse if conditions aren’t just right. We asked three expert ice climbers for their advice on pillar climbing: Roger Strong, a prolific first ascensionist and gear rep from Seattle, Washington; Dawn Glanc, a climbing guide from Ouray, Colorado; and Raphael Slawinski from Calgary, one of Canada’s foremost ice climbers.

  • Bird-Beak-Ice-Axe

    Look Sharp

    In ice climbing, as in life, being dull isn't cool. A dull edge, whether a crampon point or an ice tool pick, takes more effort to drive into the ice. Blunt tools also feel considerably less secure and shatter more ice, sending debris down upon your belayer. If you find your climbing plagued by these traits, it could be time to sharpen your points or pony up for new gear. Either way, tools and crampons—and subsequently your ice climbing—can benefit from some tuning.

  • Dumbbell-Push-Press

    Pillar of Strength

    You’ve felt it countless times: the slow-burning, inevitable sensation that creeps up your forearms into your hands, affecting your grip and throwing you off the wall—the dreaded pump. In ice climbing, this affects the hold you have on your ice tools and your ability to swing for solid placements, and on vertical ice, that pump comes sooner rather than later.

  • Ask the Climbing Docs: The Screaming Barfies

    Google “screaming barfies” and you’ll find a confusing selection of blog reports, questionable wiki definitions, and dozens of video clips of climbers on the verge of crying (next to a giggling cameraman). The symptoms are familiar to any ice climber: intense, often scream-inducing pain in the hands, nausea, and the occasional “man tear.” But for such a common ailment, the misinformation and paucity of research available is staggering.

  • Flat-Foot-Technique-158

    French Technique

    For a generation of North American climbers, Yvon Chouinard’s 1978 book Climbing Ice was a primary source for ice climbing history and instruction. (The other key book was Jeff Lowe’s The Ice Experience, which came out a year later.) Twenty-four pages of Chouinard’s book are devoted to the “French method,” a series of extremely useful techniques that are often neglected by today’s ice climbers. At its core, French technique means keeping your crampons flat on the snow or ice, engaging all of the bottom points, versus kicking straight into the ice with your front points.

  • Frostbite-Chart-660

    Prevent and Treat Frostbite

    Climbing often takes us to high, wild places with harsh conditions. And one consequence of prolonged exposure to cold temperatures and high winds can be frostbite: the freezing and subsequent death of body tissues. Frostbite generally occurs to extremities that are farthest from the heart, including the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, and chin.

  • Ice-Climbing-Tripod-Basics-158

    Ice Climbing Basics: The Tripod

    If you’ve ever tried ice climbing and got so pumped you couldn’t even reach the top of the route, you’re not alone. As with any discipline, finding and maintaining the correct body position is what it’s all about. Last December, I headed up to the Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival in Montana and learned the tripod stance from Canadian alpine guide Sarah Hueniken.

  • Save-Yourself-660

    Save Yourself! A Guide to Self-Rescue

    Climbing is dangerous. And that's part of the fun, isn't it? We learn many standard steps to manage risk and prevent bad things from happening: Double-check knots! Pack a headlamp! Back everything up! But someday the shit may hit the fan, and you’ll be faced with a scary and dangerous situation. Do you have the skills to get yourself and your partner back alive?

  • Wet-Rope Myths Debunked

    By the very nature of our sport, there will come a time when you’re faced with using a wet rope. Can you safely rappel on it? Can you lead on it? Will water permanently damage the rope? Instead of making an “educated guess” in the alpine, learn the basics here to guide your decisions in the field. We polled five leading rope companies to see what they had to say about the strength of a rope before, during, and after being exposed to water.

  • Illustration by Chris Philpot

    Improvised Rappel Anchors

    Getting off a cliff with no fixed anchors or big trees is a skill that every rock climber should have in his bag of tricks. It’s especially useful to do it with minimal loss of expensive hardware. Here’s one method.

  • Rope-Litter-158

    The Rope Litter

    It’s a picture-perfect October day of climbing with a cool breeze and just enough sun filtering through the changing leaves to keep you warm while belaying. Perfect, that is, until your climbing partner takes a looping whipper that ends with a grunt, a snap, and a wail. You lower her to the deck and find her lower leg is obviously broken. Now what? The walk up the trail was easy, but a return trip is not happening on that leg. Here’s how you can create a litter out of just a climbing rope to evacuate an ailing partner.

  • The Butterfly Knot

    This is the preferred knot for tying into the middle of a climbing rope, as you’d do on a three-person rope team. (Clip into the loop with a locking carabiner.) This knot is also great for rappelling when your ropes are too short. (See Climbing's November issue, no. 310, for more on rappelling on too-short ropes.

  • Basic First Aid Skills

    Any time you have to utilize self-rescue techniques, you’ll more than likely have to deal with an injured rock climbing partner. The most useful first aid skill is assessment of injuries, a critical skill for all medical personnel as well as anyone who recreates outside, including climbers. These skills are pertinent, whether you’re at the local crag or on a remote ridge in the Himalayas. There are many effective methods to assess a climber who is injured, and below is one of these accepted techniques.

  • Aid-and-Abet-660

    Aid and Abet

    We are all duly impressed when talented climbers make quick free ascents of long 5.12 and 5.13 routes, but just because you don’t climb at that standard doesn’t mean you can’t do those same climbs. A bit of aid climbing is the key to keeping difficulties within your grade and moving quickly up whatever terrain you encounter. Here are some tips to help you make short work of longer, harder climbs.

  • Climbing Dictionary

    Presenting the 50 most important (and common) climbing terms, the words you need to know in order to speak the language at the cliffs. All have been excerpted in part or in total from the Climbing Dictionary by Matt Samet, published in 2011 by The Mountaineers Books and with illustrations by Mike Tea. Check out the book, an illustrated and historical reference to more than 650 climbing terms, for the world’s most “mega” climbing slanguage.

  • HPRapKnots

    Learn This: Preferred Knots for Rappelling

    The knot I use to tie together two ropes for a rappel—and one we commonly use in guides’ training at the AMGA—is the flat overhand. This knot has been called a number of things (including the Euro death knot) and has at times been unfairly demonized.

  • Beautiful but grueling mountain

    Staying Power: Prepare for Grueling Approaches

    Do you aspire to ascend beautiful, sweeping faces like the ones in California's Sierra Nevada? Are you also put off by long, taxing approaches? You may never be as fit as Galen Rowell was, but with proper training you can build up ample strength and endurance for mountain approaches.

  • Avalanche

    10 Things You Didn’t Know About Avalanches

  • HPAlpine

    Essential Skills: The Alpine Quickdraw

    You'll often carry several full-length, 24-inch slings on long rock routes or alpine climbs, to reduce rope drag, wrap around horns for protection or belays, or rig belay anchors. But draping multiple slings over your shoulders is cumbersome. The solution? The alpine draw.

  • Peewee-Tape-Gloves-660

    Better Tape Gloves

    A gnarly fissure will rip the skin off even the best crack climbers. Protect your hands with a layer of tape so you can keep trying hard until your strength gives out instead of failing from pain or blood loss. Here's how I make thin, reusable tape gloves, using two neat tricks to make the job easier.

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    Alpine Anchors

    In the mountains or on long rock routes, anchor efficiency can be the difference between a comfortable finish and a forced bivouac. Using a cordelette to equalize an anchor is easy and strong, but it takes a lot of extra time to set up, and even longer to break down. There is a faster, easier, and often equally safe solution: the "alpine anchor."

  • RappelHP

    Essential Skills: Pre-Rigging Rappels

    Imagine you're at the top of a multi-pitch climb and a few rappels are the only thing between you and a nice walk out. Usually what happens is the most experienced person rappels first to find the next station, position the ropes, and deal with any other issues that arise.

  • Two-Rope-Raps-Chopped-660

    Two-Rope Rappels With One Chopped Cord

    Rockfall happens, and sometimes ropes get chopped. If you're 1,000 feet up a route with one rope that's badly damaged, there's a trick you can use to keep doing full-length, double-rope rappels. It's sometimes called the Reepschnur rappel—I have no idea what that means, but I know from experience that it works.

  • Digit Dialing

    Any serious climber knows the value of training. And when it comes to tenuous pocket holds, it's especially important to prep the muscles and tendons that run through your fingers, hands, and forearms. Dave Wahl, a strength and conditioning coach in Denver, believes that a proper training program is crucial for developing strength.

  • Finger Yoga

    I've found that finger yoga helps keep my climber fingers from becoming painful claws after hard climbing. Of the many possible stretches and "poses," the ones described below are my after-climbing favorites.

  • NLYoga

    Six Yoga Poses for Climbers

    My physical therapist, a triathlete, recently told me that climbing puts more intense stress on my body than any other sport does. "Your lats are overdeveloped, your shoulders pull forward, your neck is strained, your hamstrings are tight," she told me. "Just stop climbing." Of course, I won't stop climbing. So what to do? Yoga.

  • Chilling Imagery

    The sunscreen is frozen in the tube. The toothpaste, too. Your hands freeze within seconds without gloves. The thermometer reads 35 deg F. It's colds -- really cold. But can you still photograph? You bet. Here are a few tips.

  • Short-Fixing

    Short-Fixing

    Short-fixing is an experts-only technique that essentially separates a climbing team into two roped soloists via a knot at an anchor, allowing the climbers to move simultaneously. It's most commonly used on one-day ascents of big walls, or to speed up the process during multi-day ascents.