AskDefine | Define mountaineer

Dictionary Definition

mountaineer n : someone who climbs mountains [syn: mountain climber] v : climb mountains for pleasure as a sport

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English

Noun

  1. someone who lives in a mountainous area
  2. someone who climbs mountains for sport or pleasure

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Translations

one who climbs mountains for sport or pleasure

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Extensive Definition

Mountaineering is the sport, hobby or profession of walking, hiking, trekking and climbing up mountains. It is also sometimes known as alpinism, particularly in Europe. While it began as an all-out attempt to reach the highest point of unclimbed mountains, it has branched into specializations addressing different aspects of mountains and may now be said to consist of three aspects: rock-craft, snow-craft and skiing, depending on whether the route chosen is over rock, snow or ice. All require great athletic and technical ability, and experience is also very important.

Technique

Snow

While certain compacted snow conditions allow mountaineers to progress on foot, typically some form of mechanical device is required to travel efficiently over snow and ice. Crampons are devices having 10-12 spikes that are attached to a mountaineer's boots, are used on hard snow (neve) and ice to provide additional traction and allow very steep ascents and descents. There are many different varieties, ranging from lightweight aluminum models intended for walking on glaciers to aggressive steel models intended for vertical and overhanging ice and rock. Snowshoes can be used to walk through deep snow approaching the mountain or on lesser slopes up the mountain. Skis can be used almost everywhere snowshoes can and also in steeper, more alpine landscapes although it takes more practice to develop sufficiently strong skiing skills for difficult terrain. The practice of combining the techniques of alpine skiing and mountaineering to ascend and descend a mountain is a form of the sport by itself, called Ski Mountaineering. Ascending and descending a snow slope safely requires the use of an ice axe and many different footwork techniques that have been developed over the last hundred years, originating in Europe. The progression of footwork from the lowest angle slopes to the steepest terrain is first to splay the feet to a rising traverse, to kick stepping, to front pointing the crampons. The progression of the ice axe technique from the lowest angle slopes to the steepest terrain is to use the ice axe first as a walking stick, then a stake, then to use the front pick as a dagger below the shoulders or above, and finally to swing the pick into the slope over the head. This also involves different designs of ice axe depending on the terrain to be covered, and even whether a mountaineer uses one or two ice axes.

Glaciers

When traveling over glaciers, crevasses pose a grave danger. These giant cracks in the ice are not always visible as snow can be blown and freeze over the top to make a snowbridge. At times snowbridges can be as thin as a few inches. Climbers use a system of ropes to protect themselves from such hazards. Basic gear for glacier travel includes crampons and ice axes. Teams of two to five climbers tie into a rope equally spaced. If a climber begins to fall the other members of the team perform a self-arrest to stop the fall. The other members of the team enact a crevasse rescue to pull the fallen climber from the crevasse.

Ice

Multiple methods are used to safely travel over ice. If the terrain is steep but not vertical, then protection in the form of pickets or ice screws can be driven into the snow or ice and attached to the rope by the lead climber. Each climber on the team must clip past the anchor, and the last climber picks up the picket. This allows for safety should the entire team be taken off their feet. This technique is known as Simul-climbing.
If the terrain becomes vertical then standard ice climbing techniques are used.

Shelter

“Basecamp” redirects here. For the online project manager, see Basecamp (software).
Climbers use a few different forms of shelter depending on the situation and conditions. Shelter is a very important aspect of safety for the climber as the weather in the mountains is very unpredictable. Tall mountains require many days of camping on the mountain.

Base Camp

The 'Base Camp' of a mountain is an area used for staging an attempt at the summit. Base camps are positioned to be safe from the harsher conditions above. There are base camps on many popular or dangerous summits. Mountains where the summit cannot be reached from base camp in a single day will have additional camps above base camp. For example, the southeast ridge route on Mount Everest has Base Camp plus (normally) camps I through IV.

Hut

The European alpine regions, in particular, have a network of mountain huts (called ‘refuges’ in France, ‘rifugi’ in Italy, ‘cabanes’ in Switzerland and ‘hytte’ in Norway). Such huts exist at many different heights, including in the high mountains themselves – in extremely remote areas bivouac shelters may have been provided. The mountain huts are of varying size and quality but each is typically centred on a communal dining room and have dormitories equipped with mattresses, blankets or duvets, and pillows – guests are expected to bring and to use their own sleeping bag liner. The facilities are usually rudimentary but, given their locations, huts offer vital shelter, make routes more widely accessible (by allowing journeys to be broken and reducing the weight of equipment needing to be carried), and offer good value. In Europe, all huts are staffed during the summer (mid-June to mid-September) and some are staffed in the spring (mid-March to mid-May). Elsewhere, huts may also be open in the fall. Huts also may have a part that is always open, but unmanned, a so-called winter hut. When open and manned, the huts are generally run by full-time employees, but some are staffed on a voluntary basis by members of Alpine clubs (such as Swiss Alpine Club and Club alpin français). The manager of the hut, termed a guardian or warden in Europe, will usually also sell refreshments and meals – both to those visiting only for the day and to those staying overnight. The offering is surprisingly wide – given that most supplies, often including fresh water, must be flown in by helicopter – and may include glucose-based snacks (such as Mars and Snickers bars) on which climbers and walkers wish to stock up, cakes and pastries made at the hut, a variety of hot and cold drinks (including beer and wine), and high carbohydrate dinners in the evenings. Not all huts do offer a catered service, though, and visitors may need to provide for themselves. Some huts offer facilities for both, enabling visitors wishing to keep costs down to bring their own food and cooking equipment and to cater using the facilities provided. Booking for overnight stays at huts is deemed obligatory, and in many cases is essential as some popular huts – even with over 100 bed spaces - may well be full during good weather and at weekends. Once made, the cancellation of a reservation should be advised to the hut as a matter of courtesy – and, indeed, potentially of safety, as many huts keep a record of where climbers and walkers state they planned to walk to next. Most huts are contactable by telephone and most take credit cards as a means of payment for the service they provide.

Bivouac (Bivy)

In the mountaineering context, a bivouac or 'bivy' is a makeshift resting or sleeping arrangement in which the climber has less than the full complement of shelter, food and equipment that would normally be present at a conventional campsite. This may involve simply getting a sleeping bag and Bivouac sack and lying down to sleep. Many times small partially sheltered areas such as a bergschrund, cracks in rocks or a trench dug in the snow are used to provide a basic means of shelter. These techniques were originally used only in cases of emergency; however some climbers steadfastly committed to alpine style climbing specifically plan, or make contingency arrangements for, bivouacs in place of full camps in order to save the weight of a tent when snow conditions are not suitable for a snow cave. The principal hazard associated with bivouacs is the greater level of exposure to cold and the elements.

Tent

Tents are the most common form of shelter used on the mountain. A four-season tent is recommended for any camp above timberline and in exposed positions breakwinds of snow or rock may be required to shelter the tent from these forces. One of the downsides to tenting is that high storm winds and snow loads can be dangerous and may ultimately lead to the tent's failure and collapse. In addition, the constant flapping of the tent fabric can hinder sleep and raise doubts about the security of the shelter.

Snow cave

Where conditions permit snow caves are another way to shelter high on the mountain. Some climbers do not use tents at high altitudes unless the snow conditions do not allow for snow caving since snow caves are silent and actually warmer than tents, and can be built relatively easily using a snow shovel. A correctly made snow cave will hover around freezing, which relative to outside temperatures can be very warm. They can be dug anywhere there is at least four feet of snow. Another shelter that works well is a quinzee, which is excavated from a pile of snow that has been work hardened or sintered (typically by stomping). Igloos are used by some climbers, but are deceptively difficult to build and require specific snow conditions.

Hazards

The craft of climbing has been developed to avoid three main types of danger: the danger of things falling on the climber (objective danger), the danger of the climber falling and inclement weather. The things that may fall include rocks, ice, snow, other climbers or their gear; the mountaineer may fall from rocks, ice or snow, or into a crevasse. In all, there are eight chief dangers: falling rocks, falling ice, snow-avalanches, falls, the climber falling, falls from ice slopes, falls down snow slopes, falls into crevasses and dangers from weather. To select and follow a route using one's skills and experience to mitigate these dangers is to exercise the climber's craft.

Falling rocks

Every rock mountain is slowly disintegrating due to erosion, the process being especially rapid above the snow-line. Rock faces are constantly swept by falling stones, which are generally possible to dodge. Falling rocks tend to form furrows in a mountain face, and these furrows (couloirs) have to be ascended with caution, their sides often being safe when the middle is stoneswept. Rocks fall more frequently on some days than on others, according to the recent weather. Ice formed during the night may temporarily bind rocks to the face but warmth of the day or direct sun exposure may easily dislodge these rocks. Local experience is a valuable help on determining typical rockfall on such routes.
The direction of the dip of rock strata often determines the degree of danger on a particular face; the character of the rock must also be considered. Where stones fall frequently debris will be found below, whilst on snow slopes falling stones cut furrows visible from a great distance. In planning an ascent of a new peak mountaineers must look for such traces. When falling stones get mixed in considerable quantity with slushy snow or water a mud avalanche is formed (common in the Himalaya). It is vital to avoid camping in their possible line of fall.

Falling ice

The places where ice may fall can always be determined beforehand. It falls in the broken parts of glaciers (seracs) and from overhanging cornices formed on the crests of narrow ridges. Large icicles are often formed on steep rock faces, and these fall frequently in fine weather following cold and stormy days. They have to be avoided like falling stones. Seracs are slow in formation, and slow in arriving (by glacier motion) at a condition of unstable equilibrium. They generally fall in or just after the hottest part of the day, and their debris seldom goes far. A skillful and experienced ice-man will usually devise a safe route through a most intricate ice-fall, but such places should be avoided in the afternoon of a hot day. Hanging glaciers (i.e. glaciers perched on steep slopes) often discharge themselves over steep rock-faces, the snout breaking off at intervals. They can always be detected by their debris below. Their track should be avoided.

Falls from rocks

The skill of a rock climber is shown by one's choice of handhold and foothold, and his adhesion to those one has chosen. Much depends on a correct estimate of the firmness of the rock where weight is to be thrown upon it. Many loose rocks are quite firm enough to bear a person's weight, but experience is needed to know which can be trusted, and skill is required in transferring the weight to them without jerking. On rotten rocks the rope must be handled with special care, lest it should start loose stones on to the heads of those below. Similar care must be given to handholds and footholds, for the same reason. When a horizontal traverse has to be made across very difficult rocks, a dangerous situation may arise unless at both ends of the traverse there be firm positions. Mutual assistance on hard rocks takes all manner of forms: two, or even three, people climbing on one another's shoulders, or using an ice axe propped up by others for a foothold. The great principle is that of co-operation, all the members of the party climbing with reference to the others, and not as independent units; each when moving must know what the climber in front and the one behind are doing. After bad weather steep rocks are often found covered with a veneer of ice (verglas), which may even render them inaccessible. Crampons are useful on such occasions.

Avalanches

The avalanche is the most underestimated danger in the mountains. People generally think that they will be able to recognize the hazards and survive being caught. The truth is a somewhat different story. Every year, 120 - 150 people die in small avalanches in the Alps alone. The vast majority are reasonably experienced male skiers aged 20-35 but also include ski instructors and guides. There is always a lot of pressure to risk a snow crossing. Turning back takes a lot of extra time and effort, supreme leadership, and most importantly there seldom is an avalanche to prove the right decision was made. Making the decision to turn around is especially hard if others are crossing the slope, but any next person could become the trigger.
There are many types of avalanche, but two types are of the most concern:
  1. Slab avalanche
    This type of avalanche occurs when a plate of snow breaks loose and starts sliding down; these are the largest and most dangerous.
    1. Hard slab avalanche
    This type of avalanche is formed by hard-packed snow in a cohesive slab. The slab will not break up easily as it slides down the hill, resulting in large blocks tumbling down the mountain.
    1. Soft slab avalanche
    This type of avalanche is formed again by a cohesive layer of snow bonded together, the slab tends to break up more easily.
  2. Loose snow avalanche
    This type of avalanche is triggered by a small amount of moving snow that accumulates into a big slide. Also known as a "wet slide or point release" avalanche. This type of avalanche is deceptively dangerous as it can still knock a climber or skier off their feet and bury them, or sweep them over a cliff into a terrain trap.
Dangerous slides are most likely to occur on the same slopes preferred by many skiers: long and wide open, few trees or large rocks, 30 to 45 degrees of angle, large load of fresh snow, soon after a big storm, on a slope 'lee to the storm'. Solar radiation can trigger slides as well. These will typically be a point release or wet slough type of avalanche. The added weight of the wet slide can trigger a slab avalanche. Ninety percent of reported victims are caught in avalanches triggered by themselves or others in their group.
When going off-piste or traveling in alpine terrain, parties are advised to always carry:
  1. avalanche beacon
  2. probe
  3. shovel (retrieving victims with a shovel instead of your hands is five times faster)
and to have had avalanche training! Paradoxically, expert skiers who have avalanche training make up a large percentage of avalanche fatalities; perhaps because they are the ones more likely to ski in areas prone to avalanches, and certainly because most people do not practice enough with their equipment to be truly fast and efficient rescuers.
Even with proper rescue equipment and training, there is a one-in-five chance of dying if caught in a significant avalanche, and only a 50/50 chance of being found alive if buried more than a few minutes. The best solution is to learn how to avoid risky conditions.

Ice slopes

For travel on slopes consisting of ice or hard snow, crampons are a standard part of a mountaineer's equipment. While step-cutting can sometimes be used on snow slopes of moderate angle, this can be a slow and tiring process, which does not provide the higher security of crampons. However, in soft snow or powder, crampons are easily hampered by balling of snow, which reduces their effectiveness. In either case, an ice axe not only assists with balance but provides the climber with the possibility of self-arrest in case of a slip or fall. On a true ice slope however, an ice axe is rarely able to effect a self-arrest. As an additional safety precaution on steep ice slopes, the climbing rope is attached to ice screws buried into the ice.
True ice slopes are rare in Europe, though common in mountains located in the tropics, where newly-fallen snow quickly thaws on the surface and becomes sodden below, so that the next night's frost turns the whole mass into a sheet of semi-solid ice.

Snow slopes

Snow slopes are very common, and usually easy to ascend. At the foot of a snow or ice slope is generally a big crevasse, called a bergschrund, where the final slope of the mountain rises from a snow-field or glacier. Such bergschrunds are generally too wide to be stepped across, and must be crossed by a snow bridge, which needs careful testing and a painstaking use of the rope. A steep snow slope in bad condition may be dangerous, as the whole body of snow may start as an avalanche. Such slopes are less dangerous if ascended directly, rather than obliquely, for an oblique or horizontal track cuts them across and facilitates movement of the mass. New snow lying on ice is especially dangerous. Experience is needed for deciding on the advisability of advancing over snow in doubtful condition. Snow on rocks is usually rotten unless it is thick; snow on snow is likely to be sound. A day or two of fine weather will usually bring new snow into sound condition. Snow cannot lie at a very steep angle, though it often deceives the eye as to its slope. Snow slopes seldom exceed 40°. Ice slopes may be much steeper. Snow slopes in early morning are usually hard and safe, but the same in the afternoon are quite soft and possibly dangerous; hence the advantage of an early start.

Crevasses

Crevasses are the slits or deep chasms formed in the substance of a glacier as it passes over an uneven bed. They may be open or hidden. In the lower part of a glacier the crevasses are open. Above the snow-line they are frequently hidden by arched-over accumulations of winter snow. The detection of hidden crevasses requires care and experience. After a fresh fall of snow they can only be detected by sounding with the pole of the ice axe, or by looking to right and left where the open extension of a partially hidden crevasse may be obvious. The safeguard against accident is the rope, and no one should ever cross a snow-covered glacier unless roped to one, or even better to two companions. Anyone venturing onto crevasses should be trained in crevasse rescue.

Weather

The primary dangers caused by bad weather centre around the changes it causes in snow and rock conditions, making movement suddenly much more arduous and hazardous than under normal circumstances. * Ski mountaineering

External links

References

mountaineer in Bulgarian: Алпинизъм
mountaineer in Catalan: Alpinisme
mountaineer in Czech: Alpinismus
mountaineer in Welsh: Mynydda
mountaineer in German: Alpinismus
mountaineer in Modern Greek (1453-): Αλπινισμός
mountaineer in Spanish: Montañismo
mountaineer in Persian: کوهنوردی
mountaineer in French: Alpinisme
mountaineer in Croatian: Alpinizam
mountaineer in Italian: Alpinismo
mountaineer in Hebrew: טיפוס הרים
mountaineer in Haitian: Alpinis
mountaineer in Japanese: 登山
mountaineer in Norwegian: Fjellsport
mountaineer in Polish: Alpinizm
mountaineer in Portuguese: Montanhismo
mountaineer in Romanian: Alpinism
mountaineer in Quechua: Qaqa siqay
mountaineer in Russian: Альпинизм
mountaineer in Slovenian: Alpinizem
mountaineer in Serbian: Планинарење
mountaineer in Finnish: Vuorikiipeily
mountaineer in Swedish: Klättring#Alpin_kl.C3.A4ttring
mountaineer in Tamil: மலையேற்றம்
mountaineer in Thai: การปีนเขา
mountaineer in Turkish: Dağcılık
mountaineer in Ukrainian: Альпінізм

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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