Mountain Climbing has been around as long as there have been men who looked to the mountains and felt a desire to see the world from their summit. In modern times it is a sport of bottled oxygen, brightly colored nylon ropes, aluminum hooks and harnesses. Helicopters swoop in to rescue injured climbers and Everest, the largest mountain in the world is climbed on a regular basis. Centuries ago this was not the case, and even relatively low mountains were rarely if ever scaled. Mountains like the Himalayas were worlds unto themselves and kept their secrets from all but the most determined and almost desperate eyes.

Also known by the above name, mountaineering can be divided into rock climbing, ice climbing, and skiing. Snow is a constant obstacle when climbing true mountains, as are falling rocks, glaciers and hidden crevasses. Mountaineers are cautious, observant, athletic, and generally intelligent. Those that arent generally end up injured or dead.

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Glossary One: Rock Climbing Terms

Bail - To retreat from a climb.

Bouldering - The practise of climbing on large boulders.

Chimney - a rock cleft with vertical sides mostly parallel, large enough to fit the climber's body into. To climb such a structure, the climber often uses his head, back and feet to apply opposite pressure on the vertical walls.

Choss - Loose or "rotten" rock.

Col - A small pass or "saddle" between two peaks. Excellent for navigation as when standing on one it's always down in two, opposite, directions and up in the two directions in between those.

Crag - A small area with climbing routes, often just a small cliff face or a few boulders.

Dulfersitz - A method of rappelling, without mechanical tools, where the uphill rope is straddled by the climber then looped around a hip, across the chest, over the opposite (weak) shoulder, and held with the downhill (strong) hand to adjust the shoulder friction and thus the descending speed.

Flake - A thin slab of rock detached from the main face.

Gendarme - A pinnacle or isolated rock tower frequently encountered along a ridge.

Headwall - The region of a cliff or rock face that steepens dramatically.

Saddle - A high pass between two peaks, larger than a col.

Scree - Small, loose, broken rocks, often at the base of a cliff.

Slab - A relatively low-angle (significantly less than vertical) section of rock, usually with few large features. Requires slab climbing techniques.

Slab climbing - A particular type of rock climbing, and its associated techniques, involved in climbing rock that is less than vertical. The emphasis is on balance, footwork, and making use of very small features or rough spots on the rock for friction.

Talus - Large rock fragments forming an often unstable slope below scree.

Glossary Two: Ice Climbing Terms

Ablation zone - The area of a glacier where yearly melting meets or exceeds the annual snow fall.

Bergschrund - (or schrund) A crevasse that forms on the upper portion of a glacier where the moving section pulls away from the headwall. Also called a 'shrund.

Couloir - A steep gully or gorge frequently filled with snow or ice.

Glissade - A usually voluntary act of sliding down a steep slope of snow.

Moat - A crevasse that forms where the glacier pulls away from a rock formation.

Névê - Permanent granular ice formed by repeated freeze-thaw cycles.

Nunatak - A mountain or rock that protrudes through an ice field.

Serac - A large ice tower.

Verglas - A thin coating of ice that forms over rocks when rainfall or melting snow freezes on rock. Hard to climb on as crampons have insufficient depth for reliable penetration.

Tools of the Trade

While there are no brightly colored nylon, composite plastics, or radio communications, there are certainly a variety of basic tools used in mountaineering.

Rope - This item is almost a no-brainer. Rope is used to rappel down stone faces, it can be used to secure things in place. With a grappling hook it can be used as a climbing tool. In terms of safety, a group crossing an ice field can tie themselves together in case one member falls.

Snow Shoes - spreading out the wearer's weight across a larger area, these tennis-racket looking shoes are commonly used to cross softer and loose packed snow that normal boots break through.

Skis - if the snow is thick enough, travel can be made quickly on a set of skis. Not limited to downhill movement, a skier can move cross-country and up low to moderate grades. Skis pack well for vertical climbs.

Crampons - these metal frames are attached to the bottom of boots by means of leather straps. While predominantly used to cross and climb ice formations, they can also be used on softer sorts of stone.

Iron Spikes - Is any comment really needed?

Ice Axe - a valuable multi-use tool and handy weapon, the ice axe has three points/functions. The front of the head is a sharp cutting adze used to chop handholds in ice. The reverse of the head has a toothed hook for climbing, and the base of the handle is a spike for balance and getting footholds. It can be improvised as a weapon.

Bivuoac Sack and Tent - A fancy name for a sleeping bag, the bivy is a last ditch shelter, though acceptible in milder climates. The tent is heavier but offers better shelter.


Avalanche - A release of ice and snow clinging to the side of the mountain, avalanches come in two forms, the slab and the point release. The slab is the more dangerous of the two is it is a single massive chunk or series of large pieces that do not break up during the fall. The loose and runny Point Release is less dangerous but only in lacking body crushing giant pieces in it.

Falling - it's not the fall that gets you, its the sudden stop at the end, or so the expression goes. Falling is a constant hazard, and climbers will often work together, bound by a common line to ensure their collective safety when climbing.

Crevasses - large cracks and breaks in a glacier, these hidden holes are easily hidden under a thin sheet of snow and ice. A crevasse can be a few feet wide, or a massive fissure that requires days to backtrack around. As to the hazard, see Falling.

(Link has some good pictures)

Whiteouts - When storms come to the mountains, they come with a cold vengeance. Getting lost on an ice shelf in a blizzard is a terrifying experience and potentially lethal to boot.

Lightning - Standing tall on a mountain is a good way to attract lightning. Most climbers will start early so as to avoid late afternoon and evening thunderstorms should they be likely.