There’s nothing quite like standing at the top of a mountain, with the clouds and the rest of the world stretched out below you. The exhilaration of completing a difficult climb, the camaraderie of your new climbing friends, the knowledge that you’ve done something that few other people do, and the feeling that you’re truly at the top of the world. It’s no wonder that once people start climbing mountains, they never want to stop!
Though undeniably exciting, mountain climbing trips require a level of advance preparation and physical fitness that few other types of travel can equal. Below, you’ll find a primer on the basics that you’ll need to consider before you embark on your trip. Whether you're planning to climb the Rockies or the Himalayas or another mountain range, know that an incredible adventure awaits!
Where to Go
- Countries: USA and Canada
Stretching much of the western length of North America, the Rocky Mountains are filled with opportunities for mountain climbers at various levels of experience. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is one of the most popular destinations, but there are opportunities for mountaineering trips in almost every state that the mountain range passes through.
- Countries: Switzerland, France, Austria, Germany, Italy, Monaco, Liechtenstein, and Slovenia
One of the wonderful things about mountain climbing trips in the Alps is that they can potentially include visits to several countries as complements to your adventure trek. The two most famous Alps are Mont Blanc in France and the Matterhorn in Austria, but there are excellent opportunities for mountaineering throughout the range.
- Countries: Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina
The Andes is the longest continental mountain range in the world. It includes Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America (located in Argentina). Because of the length of the mountain range, there are numerous possible mountaineering trips in the Andes, in numerous countries in South America -- each with its own unique challenges and rewards.
- Countries: India, Nepal, and China
No other mountain range on earth has quite the level of the mystique of the Himalayas. Mt. Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and many of the nearby mountains are equally impressive in terms of mountaineering bragging rights. Spring and autumn are the best times of year to try climbing in the Himalayas.
Planning Your Trip
What to Look for in a Mountain Climbing Tour
The number one consideration for mountain climbing trips should be the course's level of difficulty -- choose a course that's commensurate with your level of mountain climbing experience. If you're not sure, check with your tour company!
Beyond the difficulty of the mountain itself, the main thing you should look for is the level of experience of the tour company and its staff. How long have they been in business, and how many tours do they lead in a given year? Are there any reports of questionable safety practices? Because mountain climbing is an inherently risky activity, it's important to make sure that your tour company has a lot of experience and an impeccable record of safety. Local guides are also a benefit to look for -- mountaineering guides who are local to the area will likely be very familiar with the mountain trails that you're planning to climb.
Mountain climbing trips are usually divided into two styles: alpine style and expedition style. Expedition style is only used for the most challenging peaks and the most advanced climbers and requires a slower rate of ascent with larger groups. With alpine style climbing, which is used on most medium-sized mountains, climbers single-carry loads between camps and focus on getting to the summit as lightly and rapidly as possible.
Average Mountain Climbing Trip Length & Cost
Because mountaineering trips require highly specialized equipment as well as highly specialized knowledge from the guides who are keeping you safe, these can be some of the most expensive tours on earth. Mountaineering trips can last anywhere from four days to two months, with average trip lengths around one to two weeks. The more challenging the mountain, the longer the trip! A one-week mountaineering trip can cost upwards of $1,000. A two-month expedition to summit Mt. Everest can cost up to $65,000.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Scaling a mountain requires quite a bit of gear. When you book your mountaineering trip, the tour operator should send you a list of must-have items, as well as the items that they provide and the items that you’ll be able to rent at the beginning of your journey. It’s a good idea to double and triple-check your lists because if you're missing an essential piece of gear and cannot find it on-site, you won't be able to safely climb the mountain. Look for a tour that includes some of the specialized gear that you'll need, and that clearly details which items are included and which are not.
Some examples of gear to pack that you may not be able to rent include:
- Windproof and waterproof pants and jackets
- Insulated parka
- Mountaineering boots
- Sunblock/lip balm
- First aid kit
- Sturdy backpack
- Duct tape
As with any other type of travel, make sure that you have the passport, visa, and immunizations required for your mountain climbing trip. Also, make sure that you have travel insurance that covers medical treatment in-country, as well as emergency evacuation and repatriation.
Qualification & Training
To engage in mountain climbing activities, you need to be as physically fit as possible. Go for runs, go to the gym, weight train, do a lot of hiking in varying types of terrain -- anything you can think of to get your body in as excellent a shape as possible before you get on the mountain.
If you’re new to mountain climbing, check with your tour operator about the level of difficulty of the trip you have in mind, and follow their recommendations for the level of fitness you need to complete it. It also should go without saying that your first mountaineering trip shouldn’t be to Everest! Choose a mountain climbing tour on a less challenging mountain for your first trip, and work your way up.
Mountain climbing can be dangerous. The terrain is rough, the weather can be unpredictable. Low oxygen can lead to altitude sickness, and slips and falls can result in sprains and broken bones. For these reasons, it’s important to be in good shape before attempting to climb a mountain and to listen to the instructions of your guide at all times.
The most important safety tip is to pay attention to your guide at all times. As an experienced mountaineer familiar with the specific terrain of your trek, your guide understands the mountain and its potential difficulties and trouble spots. Pay attention to what they say!
Because altitude sickness can be a major concern, it’s important to always make sure you stop and adjust to the lower oxygen levels for a while before continuing higher up the mountain.
Pay attention to the weather, which can be unpredictable in the mountains. Be open to the possibility that freak storms and poor visibility conditions may force you to cancel or leave your climb incomplete.
The first rule mountaineers must follow is "know when to turn around". No peak is worth your life or health -- if you feel you can't go on, climb back down.