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How to Start Mountaineering: A Beginner’s Guide

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So you are a fan of mountains, trekking, and epic landscapes and are thinking to take things to the next level. But there is a question floating around the adventure scapes of your mind: how to start mountaineering in the first place

Alpine climbing, mountaineering, and high-altitude endeavors are not activities one can simply dive into over night, but the fact remains that we all need to start somewhere and when it comes to learning mountaineering skills, it is not different. 

Below, we break down our top tips for how to start mountaineering, assuming that you are already an active hiker and generally have a love of the mountains and the outdoors. 

Table of Contents

How to Start Mountaineering: Understanding the Game

The world of mountaineering and alpine climbing is a pursuit in which skills are acquired over a lifetime. One never stops learning new things in this game. 

Even elite-level athletes will tell you that to become complacent with your skill set, is to become stale. This absolutely rings true when it comes to learning about mountaineering. 

If you understand from the beginning that mountaineering is a lifetime pursuit – the task and work of learning the skills feel less daunting. 

From one day to the next, you will not become a mountaineer as you would not consider yourself a painter after one session of applying paint to a canvas. 

The first steps are always the toughest and once you cross the threshold from total beginner to owning some basic skills, your trajectory of competence shall only increase. 

how to start mountaineering

The Importance of Goal Setting

The first step in your journey to get into mountaineering should be to define your goals. 

What sort of climbing do you want to achieve? Are you looking to bag a few peaks in your backyard, learn how to ice climb, or do you have your sights set on an international climbing expedition?

However big or small your project goals are, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a goal to work towards. 

Establish what kind of mountaineering adventures or alpine activities you want to get into and work from there.

how to start mountaineering

Become Part of a Community

One of the most difficult aspects of getting started with mountaineering is finding someone to do stuff with. 

Thanks to the internet there are no shortages of community resources to use as tools for getting into mountaineering. 

Here are some ideas for joining local climbing communities near you:

  • Join a local climbing gym
  • Join Facebook groups related to mountaineering, adventure travel, or mountain sports
  • Look for MeetUp groups in your area
  • Join a group trip (either local or international)
  • Start a group yourself!
  • Become a member of your local alpine club
  • Join a mountaineering course and become friends with other people in the class
  • Reach out to people on social media
pakistan travel

Have Realistic Expectations About Mountain-fluencers

Once you have established a few personal mountaineering goals, it is time to get to work in putting your plans into action. 

One thing should be clear though: depending on your available free time and budget, it may be a slow process. 

These days we are inundated on Instagram by famous climbers showing off their various ascents around the world and inviting their followers to join them on major climbing expeditions. While joining a team for an expedition is something I will go into later, oftentimes the trips mountaineer-fluencers are trying to sell are crazy, crazy expensive, are quite technical mountains, and cost prohibitive for many people – especially for a first-time climb. 

The point being, there are many entry-level trips on offer out there, so don’t get discouraged if the “dream trip” you are after costs the equivalent of a two-year salary (or more). It is ok to dream, and you should dream big!

But you should also be realistic about the fact for the average person – your first big mountain adventure is not going to be climbing Mount Everest with a celebrity guide unless you are a millionaire or a professionally sponsored athlete (who still should not be doing Everest as their first mountaineering project anyway!).

Start Getting Some Gear!

It is probably no surprise to learn that mountaineering gear is expensive!

Before I started leading trips myself, getting mountaineering gear was something I did one big item at a time, maybe once a year. 

Not having the gear though means you can’t properly dive into to mountaerring, so it should be on your priority list to start getting the big ticket items as soon as possible. Once you start buying the gear, your dream of learning how to get into mountaineering will start to feel real. 

Here are the six most important items that might break your bank for a while, but in the end will be totally worth it:

  • 6000/7000/8000-meter boots
  • Crampons
  • An alpine-rated down sleeping bag
  • Harness + climbing helmet
  • Basic climbing hardware
  • Alpine clothing, IE summit jacket, pants, gloves, etc
how to start mountaineering

Skills. Skills. Skills.

It is possible to join a mountaineering expedition for beginners with little to no previous skills. While this can be a great way to get started given the peak in question is actually a beginner-level peak – having a base level of important skills will only benefit you. 

Having a few skills and challenging adventure experiences under your belt will give you more confidence, a better knowledge of best practices and safety techniques, and an overall leg-up on other people who are starting from total zero. 

Here are some ideas for skill sets and experiences that should be on your radar:

  • Start out with some long-distance high-altitude treks
  • Take a beginner mountaineering course
  • Hire a local guide to take you out and show you a route that you can’t do on your own
  • Learn how to use maps and put your orientation skills into practice out in the field
  • Become familiar with basic climbing knots
  • Watch YouTube tutorials on basic mountaineering skills
  • Team up with someone who is more experienced from you and learn from them

Crucial Mountaineering Skills

Mastering the basics should be the first practical mountaineering objective you have. 

Here are the mountaineering basics you should start with:

Crampon Use

Learning how to use crampons properly is very important. Crampons are an essential piece of kit for walking on ice or hard snow and can be the most important tool you use while out in the mountains. 

Crampons give you the almost super-human ability to walk on what would otherwise be very slippery terrain. Because they are literally sharp steel points, they can also be quite dangerous, so it is essential to learn how to use them properly. 

how to start mountaineering

Ice Axe Techniques

While not something you will use for the actually climbing bit on every mountain you go on, knowing how to use an ice ace for self-arrest in case of a fall is very important knowledge to have. 

Ice axes have a plethora of uses and functions from cutting steps into the side of an ice ramp, to physically being your means to climb a frozen waterfall, to stopping you from sliding off the side of an abyss. 

There are also many different types of technical and non-technical ice axes to choose from, so consult someone at your local gear shop regarding what type you should buy based on your climbing objectives. 

how to start mountaineering ice axe

Snow Travel Techniques and Glacier Travel

Traveling on glacier, snow, or ice is inherently different that walking on a earthen path. 

There are many factors to consider and also considerable techniques to employ to insure you are traveling across technical terrain as efficiently and safely as possible. 

Getting a feel for traveling on snow and glaciers is a skill best learned through hands-on application with a guide or someone thoroughly experienced in snowy terrain and glaciated features. 

how to start mountaineering glacier travel

Start Physical Training

As you might have guessed, to be successful as a beginner mountaineer, you will need to have a high level of fitness. 

You do not have to have a specific target in mind to start training, but having a mountaineering objective to work towards means that you can specialize and hone your training program. 

Consider hiring a personal trainer who can guide you to the best training methods and exercises for your specific goal. 

Go for as many challenging, technical hikes as possible. Nothing gets you in trail shape like hiking and more often than not, 80% of mountaineering is just high-altitude, steep hiking – only with ropes and crampons added. 

Upper body strength, cardio-vascular fitness, and leg strength are all very important areas of the body to work on. 

The goal should be to become comfortable trekking uphill with a heavy pack. When possible doing some high-altitude treks to test how your body does being at altitude will only benefit you when the time comes to go for a higher peak. 

how to start mountaineering

How to Start Mountain Climbing With a Team

I discussed above how joining a group trip is a great way to start mountaineering and is an opportunity to see your mountain goals materialize. 

You will have the chance to learn from experienced guides and put your new skills into action on an actual mountain. 

Now for some people, the first time they climb a mountain might be in Nepal and at a high altitude. 

While I do recommend trying to climb something below 3000 meters for your first proper mountaineering trip, Nepal is also a great place to learn. 

One of the most popular entry-level high-altitude trips to join is the Island Peak Climbing Trip

This mountain is a good one to start out with because 1. it will get you up above 6000 meters and 2. Basic skills can be learned and applied without taking on a challenge you are totally underqualified for. 

Mental Training for Mountaineering

So you have gotten some gear, taken a basic mountaineering skills course, started training, and booked a climbing trip. What next?

The next phase of preperation is focusing on your mental health. 

Mountaineering is a sport which your literal life or death depends on the state of your mind.

You want to be clear-headed, sober, and thoughtful as you proceed into the world of mountaineering. 

You must also fully understand that while learning how to climb mountains will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, mountaineering is not for everyone. 

The mountains are some of the harshest environments found on earth. The high-altitude peaks are not places designed for human beings to be. 

Bad weather, avalanche, rock-fall, wind, extreme cold, sleep-less nights, and fatiguing days are just a few of the potential aspects of mountaineering you should expect (and plan for) to be waiting for you in the mountains. 

Planning for and knowing what to expect and mentally preparing yourself for some type-2 level fun and suffering will make you stronger and able to endure the hardships that the mountains often present. 

Fortune favors the brave and the mentally strong.

Prioritize your mental health as much as you do your physical health and you will give yourself the best shot for success within the factors you can control when it comes to how to start mountaineering.

how to start mountaineering

Final Thoughts on How to Start Mountaineering

Making the choice to start mountaineering will lead you into another world and open up an endless possibility of exciting adventures. 

Climbing mountains is a challenging sport that requires both physical and mental strength – and it is also a whole hell of a lot of fun. 

Some of the most memorable and rewarding trips I have done have involved mountaineering; few things in life can match the feeling one gets in the pursuit of a mountain objective. 

As you begin to get more comfortable with your skillset and decide to join an expedition of your own, remember this bit of advice (something I wish someone told me before I started): At the end of the day, the question of whether or not you reached the summit does not matter. The questions should be did you have fun and did everyone stay safe? In the end, those two things are all that really matter. 

Did you find this article helpful? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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Welcome to our Journal!

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Here at Epic Expeditions, adventure is constantly on our minds. 

Our blog – or Journal as we like to call it – contains epic trip stories, photo diaries, and news about new tours. 

Thanks for checking it out! 

What's new in the journal?

The trip we're most stoked about

Island Peak Climbing Expedition

Next trip: October 14th - 31st, 2024

Adventure Guide

Hailing from the Toronto region of Eastern Canada, with a background as a former standout athlete (hockey of course) and a  love of mountain adventure, Clark is a welcomed addition to the Epic team.

In addition to being a keen photographer and adventurer, Clark brings his brilliant sense of humor, leadership skills, and positive attitude to everything he puts his mind to. 

When he is not leading trips, he is working on taking over the hard apple cider game in Canada as a skilled craft brewer. 

Adventure Guide

Noemi grew up in the mountains of German-Speaking Switzerland where she naturally developed a deep love and respect for mountain environments.

She is a talented photographer, aspiring climber, and speaks at least 5 languages fluently including Arabic (and probably a few more that we don’t know about), which she taught herself in a matter of months by watching YouTube videos. 

Noemi has spent the last several years traveling, hiking, and photographing her way around many different countries in the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and Europe, and we could not be more stoked to welcome her to the Epic team! 

Adventure Guide

As our man on the ground in Mongolia, there is not much this legend can’t do. As a native the Bayan-Ölgii province of the Western Mongolia Altai, Syerik has been working as a guide and tourism entrepreneur…

for the past several years and is one of the rising stars in Mongolia adventure travel industry. 

He is currently building a beautiful Ger (Yurt) camp near his hometown where he will host Epic Mongolia team members on our trip as well as other travelers from around the world! 

He is the perfect guide for your trip to Mongolia. Serik did an amazing job giving us a well rounded experience in the Altai NP region and down in the Gobi…
The food was fantastic and Serik gave us many opportunities to learn about the Kazakh culture in that region including traditional meals. (I can’t recommend enjoying the milk tea enough!)

– Coastal

Head of canine operations

Choriza started off life as a care-free vagabond on the streets of Madeira Island without any place to call home. From the moment we met her, we knew this dog was just different, and it was pretty much love at first sight. 

She gave up the dog street life in favor of joining her new dad Chris to become a full-time member of the Epic family towards the end of 2022.

These days she can be found listening in on the fringes of important Epic business meetings while half-asleep on the couch. She is a keen hiker, lover of mud, rare steak, and might just be the sweetest little dog we have ever seen. 

Adventure Guide

An experienced trek leader and
IFMGA aspirant ski guide, avid alpine climber, devoted adventure photographer.

Organized and guided trekking expeditions, climbs and ski tours in Tajikistan’s Pamirs, Patagonia, Peru, Morocco, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Georgian and Russian Caucasus and Kamchatka.

A full member and meets the organiser of the British Alpine Club. Visited over 40 countries, lived in the UK for four years. Certified first-aider.

We joined Andrew on a fantastic trip to the Fann Mountains in Tajikistan, pure nature and magnificent scenery! Andrey was super prepared and led us safely up and down numerous passes and through some rough and icy cold rivers. Thank you for a very memorable trip, your planning and prep was excellent!

– Monika Steinlechner

epic expeditions team

Adventure Guide

Our man in Nepal, Sandip is what we like to call a “Swiss Army Knife”. There is not much Sandip can’t do when it comes to helping Epic to run our expeditions smoothly in Nepal.

His tireless work ethic, passion for all things trekking in the Himalayas, and smart decision-making mean that Sandip is a truly invaluable member of our team.

Sandip is passionate about showing visitors to his country an amazing time, and he goes above and beyond to make sure that happens. 

His company Himalayan Masters is Epic’s trusted partner in Nepal and one of the country’s top new tour agencies.

We really enjoyed the entire journey, and I would like to say that Sandip is truly professional. He guided us and he is a hardworking person, providing us with the best service and taking care of each one of us. Plus, he is super funny! The kind of professionnal you always want to find on your path for your explorations! 

– Alexandra Ruth

Fairy Meadows

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Our Favorite Experiences

#1 Sunrise from Reflection Lake

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#2 Hiking to Nanga Parbat Base Camp

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#3 Playing cricket with the locals

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Trips Where We Visit Fairy Meadows

Our flagship Pakistani adventure tour.  Road trip with some  hiking and cultural immersion.

A trekking-style tour that features some very remote locations, inlcuding a K2 viewpoint.

Adventure Guide

João has born in the mountains of Madeira Islands in Portugal. Nature lover, writer, musician, guide, for him, a day without contact with outdoor vibes is a nightmare. 

With a degree in Cultural Studies in Portugal and a Master of Arts in Global Cultures and Creativity in the U.K.

João found out what really matters in life can be found on the trails, and in the contact with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Guiding, crazy trekking missions, and sharing observations about the natural world, – these are some of João’s passions. 

After trekking to K2 Base Camp and exploring all over Northern Pakistan, he fell in love with the country and the local people. His experiences resulted in his desire to share these feelings with the world.

João is one of the most experienced guides at Epic and his skillset and positive mindset in the mountains is second to none

When not in Pakistan, João is  guiding and exploring in the Madeira Islands trails –  discovering some of the hidden treasures on his Portuguese Island.

João I can not thank you enough for the off the beaten paths and views you keep giving. Definitely one of the most challenging and amazing hikes we did 1200m meters all the way up to Fanal forest and circling back to the hidden village. Wow!

– Jeffery 

travel hunza valley

Adventure Guide

Sohail is the newest addition to the Epic team and we are beyond stoked to have him on board. As a veteran of the Karakoram and a native of Karimabad in Hunza, there is not much Sohail can’t do in the mountains. 

Besides having the ability to speak more languages than we can count, Sohail has explored every corner of Gilgit Baltistan and logs more trekking miles 

in a year than most people will do in a lifetime. As of the summer of 2022, Sohail has summited Gasherbrum 1, Gasherbrum 2, and K2 – three of Pakistan’s five 8000-meter peaks. Sohail guides several trips including our annual bespoke expeditions but specializes in Hunza Valley tours.

Chris and Sohail, and the team at Epic are FANTASTIC! Highly recommend anyone to do a tour with ‘Epic’. They have the perfect balance of fun, excitement and wild adventures, tied in with being super professional and ensuring your safety/health in a foreign environment. Don’t waste a moment and book a tour with these guys as the value for money is UNREAL!

– Borgan

iran travel tour

Adventure Guide

Pedro’s been traveling all around the globe since 2009. His keen interests in documentary photography, rural life, and local people from different ethnic groups have been the focus of many of his professional projects.

Since 2012, he has developed his passion for travel and awesome shared experiences into a full-time adventure photography tour leader position.

Pedro has found himself continuously going back to the Middle East, with his likely favorite destination being Iran. Pedro lead his 11th tour in Iran with Epic in spring 2020

When Pedro’s not traveling the world with Epic Expeditions, you’ll find him based in the western south of Portugal planning he’s next adventure missions, logistics and working out his photos in local exhibitions.

 I loved the combination of hiking, camping around breathtaking scenery mixed with the cultural aspects. The guide (Pedro) is knowledgeable and work very hard to make the trip as memorable as possible. All in all an epic adventure with some extremely epic individuals! Go for it, you won’t regret it!

– Coastal

Diane Bouvet

Adventure Admin / Marketing

After fleeing from the corporate fashion world in Paris towards the start of 2020, Diane has been working as a web developer and graphic designer remotely from various bases across the globe

She brings all of her incredible design and organizational power to Epic Expeditions and is responsible for many of the beautiful behind-the-scenes design elements. 

Diane has been to Iran and to Pakistan twice including all over Gilgit Baltistan and KPK.

k2 gondogoro la trek

Head of Operations | Guide

A veteran of Pakistan travel, Ralph is an experienced guide, photographer and writer who specializes in documenting remote locations. 

Not one to simply go where everyone else does, he insists on exploring new and lesser-known areas.

Together with Epic Expeditions, he shows people parts of Pakistan that most other operators don’t even know about. He is particularly fond of the village of Barah, which he believes will become just as famous as Hunza one day.

Just got back from EBT’s Trekking Amongst Giants 15 day tour. The experience was first class. Ralph, our head guide, ensured that the entire trip ran smoothly and relatively on time (a bonus for anyone travelling in Pakistan). We had so many unforgettable days on the tour and the trekking was well-planned, safe but also a rewarding challenge. 

– Calvin

Traveling to a non-tourist destination can be a little intimidating but EBT takes all of the worry and trepidation away. From the pre-trip call to meeting the wonderful staff in person you can tell that you are dealing with a company that has a passion for what they do each and every day. Ralph, Zahid, and Khan were supportive, kind, and always willing to go the extra mile to make sure that everyone on the trip was getting what they wanted out of the experience.

– Katrina 

adventure tours pakistan

Founder | Adventure Guide | Director

Since he started exploring the world, Chris has been seeking out every shade of adventure in various parts of the globe and had visited more than 70 countries along the way. 

Over the last 10 years, Chris has logged more than 7000 trail miles across five continents and climbed multiple 6000 + 7000 meter peaks in Pakistan and Nepal.

A few years back, a distant dream and a deep passion for the mountains and the people of Pakistan led Chris to co-found Epic Expeditions at a time when foreign adventure tourism in Pakistan was almost nonexistent. Since then, Chris has guided more than 20 expeditions to various parts of Northern Pakistan.

Chris believes in using photography and powerful adventure experiences to dismantle negative stereotypes regarding what mainstream media considers “dangerous” countries while facilitating unique and meaningful memories in the mountains for countless people from around the globe. 

For him, an ideal start to the day begins with a steaming cup of good coffee, the beam of a headlamp, alpine boots, and a camera in hand.

He lives in Madeira Island when not leading expeditions in far-flung lands. 

Chris also works as a writer and photographer on his blog Off the Atlas – an adventure travel blog all about Pakistan.  

Read this interview our staff did with Chris to learn more about him!

Chris believes in Pakistan and its people, and he believes in the value of journeys shared with others and family cultivated on the road. Honesty and integrity are at the heart of what he does, and this really shines through in his work as a guide. He also makes great coffee – whether at 5am in an empty guesthouse or half way up a Himalayan peak.”

– Will De Villers

Pakistan is a magical country! Had 3 of the best weeks of my life thanks to Epic Backpacking Tours with owner, and one of our awesome guides, Chris. From detailed itinerary, preparation with an equipment list, and visa assistance. To amazing food, great porters, helpful guides, and great accommodations. Epic really hit home run after home run. […]

Their desire for adventure and amazing trip is just as high as yours. Bring a good pound of coffee for the trip. French press coffee every morning and no average tin coffee, plus you’ll be in your guides good books.

– Clark Tyler

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