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Mountaineering is an umbrella term that can variously be used to describe the actions of climbing, hillwalking and scrambling. In its usual sense, however, it concerns the ascent of mountains of various stature, using various types and amounts of mountaineering equipment.

Mountaineering is the art of moving about safely in mountain regions, avoiding the dangers incidental to them, and attaining high points with typically difficult access. It consists of two main divisions, rock-craft and snow-craft. Rock-craft consists in the intelligent selection of a line of route (route finding) and in gymnastic skill to follow the line chosen. In snow-craft the choice of route is the result of a full understanding of the behaviour of snow under a multitude of varying conditions; it depends largely upon experience, and much less upon gymnastic skill.

Table of contents
1 Hazards
2 History
3 See also
4 Reference


The dangers which the craft of climbing has been developed to avoid are of two main kinds: the danger of things falling on the traveller and the danger of the climber falling himself. The things that may fall are rocks, ice and snow; the mountaineer may fall from rocks, ice or snow, or into crevasses in ice or snow. There are also dangers from weather. Thus in all there are eight chief dangers: falling rocks, falling ice, snow-avalanches, falls from difficult rocks, falls from ice slopes, falls down snow slopes, falls into crevasses, dangers from weather. To select and follow a route avoiding these dangers is to exercise the climber's craft.

Falling Rocks

Every rock mountain is falling to pieces, the process being especially rapid above the snow-line. Rock-faces are constantly swept by falling stones, which it is generally possible to dodge. Falling rocks tend to form furrows in a mountam face, and these furrows (couloirs) have to be ascended with caution, their sides being often safe when the middle is stoneswept. Rocks fall more frequently on some days than on others, according to the recent weather. Local experience is a valuable help on such a question. The direction of the dip of rock strata often determines whether a particular face is safe or dangerous; 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 such traces must be looked for. 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 rockfaces, 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 skilful 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.

Snow Avalanches

These mainly occur on steep slopes when the snow is in bad condition, early in the year, or after a recent fresh snowfall. Days when snow is in bad condition are easily recognized; on such days it may be inadvisable to traverse snow-slopes which at another time may be as safe as a high-road. Beds of snow collected on rock-ledges in bad weather fall off when a thaw comes, and are dangerous to rock-climbers. Snow that has recently fallen upon ice slopes is always liable to slip off bodily. Such falling masses generally make the lower part of their descent - by couloirs. Snow avalanches never fall in unexpected places, but have their easily recognizable routes, which can be avoided in times of danger by experienced mountaineers.

Falls from Rocks

The skill of a rock-climber is shown by his choice of handhold and foothold, and his adhesion to those he 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 all difficult rocks the rope is the greatest safeguard for all except the first climber in the ascent and the last in the descent. In such places a party of three or four individuals roped together, with a distance of 15 to 20 ft. between one and another, will be able to hold up one of their number (except the top man) if one only moves at a time and the others are firmly placed and keep the rope tight between them, so that a falling individual may be arrested before his velocity has been. accelerated. In very difficult places help may be obtained by throwing a loose rope round a projection above and pulling on it; this method is especially valuable in a difficult descent. The rope usually employed is a strong Manila cord called Alpine Club rope, but some prefer a thinner double rope. 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. Even then the end men gain little from the rope. Mutual assistance on hard rocks takes all manner of forms: two, or even three, men climbing on one anothers shoulders, or using for foothold an ice axe propped up by others. 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 man in front and the man 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.

Ice Slopes

Crampons are also most useful on ice or hard snow, as by them step-cutting can sometimes be avoided, and the footing at all times rendered more secure. True ice slopes are rare in Europe, though common in tropical mountains, where newly-fallen snow quickly thaws on the surface and becomes sodden below, so that the next night's frost turns the whole into a mass of solid ice. An ice slope can only be surmounted by step-cutting. For this an ice axe is needed, the common form being a small pick-axe on the end of a pole as long as from the elbow of a man to the ground. This pole is used also as a walking-stick, and is furnished with a spike at the foot.

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 strided, 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 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 needful for deciding on the advisability of advancing over snow in doubtful condition. Snow on rocks is usually rotten unless it be 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 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.


The main group of dangers caused by bad weather centre round the change it effects in the condition of snow and rock, making ascents suddenly perilous which before were easy, and so altering the aspect of things as to make it hard to find the way or retrace a route. In a storm the man who is wont to rely on a compass has great advantage over a merely empirical follower of his eyes. In large snow-fields it is, of course, easier to go wrong than on rocks, but a trained intelligence is the best companion and the surest guide.


The first recorded mountain ascent after Old Testament times is Trajans ascent of Etna to see the sun rise. The Roche Melon (11,600 ft.) was climbed in 1358. Peter III. of Aragon climbed Canigou in the Pyrenees in the last quarter of the 13th century. In 1339 Petrarch climbed Mt Ventou near Vaucluse. In 1492 the ascent of Mt Aiguille was made by order of Charles VIII. of France. The Humanists of the 16th century adopted a new attitude towards mountains, but the disturbed state of Europe nipped in the bud the nascent mountaineering of the Zurich school. Leonardo da Vinci climbed to a snow-field in the neighborhood of the Val Sesia and made scientific observations. Konrad Gesner and Josias Simler of Zurich visited and described mountains, and made regular ascents. The use of axe and rope were locally invented at this time. No mountain expeditions of note are recorded in the 17th century. In 1744 the Titus was climbedthe first true snow-mountain. Pococke and Windhams historic visit to Chamonix was made in 1741, and set the fashion of visiting the glaciers. The first attempt to ascend Mont Blanc was made in 1775 by a party of natives. In 1786 Dr Michel Paccard and Jacques Balmat gained the summit for the first time. De Saussure followed next year. The Jungfrau was climbed in 1811, the Finsteraarhorn in 1812, and the Zermatt Breithorn in 1813. Thenceforward tourists showed a tendency to climb, and the body of Alpine guides began to come into existence in consequence. Systematic mountaineering, as a sport, is usually dated from Sir Alfred Willss ascent of the Wetterhorn in 1854. The first ascent of Monte Rosa was made in 1855. The Alpine Club was founded in London in 1857, and soon imitated in most European countries. Edward Whympers ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 marks the close of the main period of Alpine conquest, during which the craft of climbing was invented and perfected, the body of professional guides formed and their traditions fixed. Passing to other ranges, the exploration of the Pyrenees was concurrent with that of the Alps. The Caucasus followed, mainly owing to the initiative of D. W. Freshfield; it was first visited by exploring climbers in 1868, and most of its great peaks were climbed by 1888. Trained climbers turned their attention to the mountains of North America in 1888, when the Rev. W. S. Green made an expedition to the Selkirks. From that time exploration has gone on apace, and many English and American climbing parties have surveyed most of the highest groups of snow-peaks; Pikes Peak (14,147 ft.) having been climbed by Mr E. James and party in 1820, and Mt Saint Elias (18,024 ft.) by the duke of the Abruzzi and party in 1897. The exploration of the highest Andes was begun in 1879-1880, when Whymper climbed Chimborazo and explored the mountains of Ecuador. The Cordillera between Chile and Argentina was attacked by Dr GUssfeldt in 1883, who ascended Maipo (17,752 ft.) and attempted Aconcagua (23,393 ft.). That peak was first climbed by the Fitzgerald expedition in 1897. The Andes of Bolivia were explored by Sir Martin Conway in 1898. Chilean and Argentine expeditions revealed the structure of the southern Cordillera in the years 1885-1898. Sir Martin Conway visited the mountains of Tierra del Fuego in 1898. The Alps of New Zealand were first attacked in 1882 by the Rev. W. S. Green, and shortly afterwards a New Zealand Alpine Club was founded, and by their activities the exploration of the range was pushed forward. In 1895 Mr E. A. Fitzgerald made an important journey in this range. Of the high African peaks, Kilimanjaro was climbed in 1889 by Dr Hans Meyer, Mt Kenya in 1889 by J. E. S. Mackinder, and a peak of Ruwenzori by H. J. Moore in 1900. The Asiatic mountains have as yet been little climbed, though those that lie within the British Empire have been surveyed. In 1892 Sir Martin Conway explored the Karakoram Himalayas, and climbed a peak of 23,000 ft. In 5895 A. F. Mummery made a fatal attempt to ascend Nanga Parbat, whilst in 1899 D. W. Freshfield took an expedition to the snowy regions of Sikkim. In 1899, 1903, 1906 and 1908 Mrs Fannie Bullock Workman made ascents in the Himalayas, including one of the Nun Kun peaks (23,300 ft.). A body of Gurkha sepoys were trained as expert mountaineers by Major the Hon. C. G. Bruce, and a good deal of exploration has been accomplished by them. The only mountains of the northern polar region that have been explored are those of Spitzbergen by Sir Martin Conways expeditions in 1896 and 1897, and the peaks in the north of Norway and the Lofotens by various Alpine Club and Norwegian parties. (W. M. C.)

See also