Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why use Trekking poles?

Trekking poles have become very popular with hikers, hill-walkers and technical mountaineers. When used properly, they can aid in balance and overall walking efficiency.

How to use them:

Firstly it is recommended that you use two poles and not just one to walk with. The reason for this is that if used singularly and especially while wearing a backpack, an imbalance in the shoulder muscles occur which can cause pain and cramping.
They therefore should be used as pairs and adjusted to the same height. When hiking on level ground, adjust the length of the poles so that when your upper arm is hanging straight down and your hand is on the handle, your forearm should be parallel with the ground.

When climbing up a steep slope, shorten the length so that the same rule applies, and lengthen them when descending a steep slope. When descending one can lengthen the pole, but do not exceed the max limit shown on the inside slider, or the strength of the pole will be compromised. For best use, at any angle, place your hands through the wrist straps and allow your arm to rest in them, while only lightly holding the handle-grip.

Some manufacturers supply rubber caps that fit over the bottom spike. These protect the spike when walking over rock and reduce erosion on paths.

There are basically two Locking mechanism systems:

Expanding Cone Type

The more common type has an expanding cone, where when twisted the cone expands into the tube of the larger outer shaft. These work well, but are prone to corrosion and breakages. If you are in the field and a shaft section in broken, bent or the mechanism fails, the entire pole is useless.

“Flick-Lock" system

A better system is that used by Black Diamond called the “Flick-lock” system. On this system, a simple clamp is used on the outer, larger shaft of each section. It is not prone to malfunction and it means that if a shaft is bent or broken in-field, the damaged section can be broken off and then re-inserted into the larger shaft and locked again - a huge advantage on longer trips in remote locations. Black Diamond can also supply any spare parts including new Flick-locks and bottom spikes and snow baskets.


After use pull the shafts out and clean the locking mechanism with soap and water. Then dry properly and oil any moving parts and replace the pieces together again.
In the case of twist lock systems: when in the completely closed position, do not twist and tighten the mechanisms, as it makes it difficult to release.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Key points to look at when buying a sleeping-bag:

Things to be Considered in choosing sleeping bag

1. Mummy shape.
2. Down filled.
3. Baffle inner construction.
4. More loft equals more warmth.
5. Large cowl and draw string around the head.
6. Thick baffle along the zip or no zip at all.

Sleeping-bags are a very important part of a mountain-walker’s equipment as they will be the main source of warmth during the coldest times of the night. They differ in two main areas – firstly in shape and secondly in what they are filled with.


They are basically either a rectangular or a “mummy” type shape. The rectangular type has a larger area around the legs, making for a more comfortable and looser feel. It is also easier to manufacture and thus cheaper in price. However this shape also means that there is more area your body has to heat up (so you will be colder) and more fabric used which makes it heavier than necessary. Mummy type bags on the other hand are tapered towards the feet and are warmer, lighter and are the preferred shape for most hikers and mountaineers.


The filling inside a sleeping-bag gives the bag loft, which is the amount of thickness or fluffiness of the layers when un-rolled. This gives a good indication of how much warmth the bag potentially can retain. The more loft, the warmer the bag. The warm air is trapped by the filling – fine pieces of down-feather or holofibre.
The filling inside a sleeping bag can be divided into 3 main types: cheap synthetic, holofibre and down (fine feathers). Synthetic filling is usually cheap in price, not very warm and quite heavy. It is therefore not really an option for hikers. Holofibre is a better type of synthetic filling made of very fine hollow filaments that trap air inside them and between them. It is a fairly warm filling and retains its warmth when wet. They have a life span of about 10 years if they are looked after. It has the advantage of being cheaper than down, however, it will not compress as well as down and is also heavier. Down, on the other hand is the first choice for high quality sleeping bags. Down consists of the very fine feathers found on the breast area of geese. Some sleeping bags use a lower quality of down consisting of larger feathers. These feathers can be felt when handling the bag and indicates a lower quality and less warmth of the product.

Good quality down bags are light, have more warmth per weight of filling, compress more easily and lasts a lifetime if looked after properly. The disadvantages are that they loose most of their warmth when wet, are hard to get dry and more expensive. The advantages of down far out weigh the disadvantages, making down the preferred choice in most instances.

Internal construction

The internal construction of sleeping-bags is very important. In both holofibre and down bags there are two major design types. These are sewn-through type construction and a baffle type construction. Both these construction types are to create separate compartments so that the filling does not shift around and remains fairly evenly spread throughout the bag. The sewn-though type allows for warmth to escape through the constricted areas where the inner and outer pieces of fabric are brought together. This is a major disadvantage and is not used on well-constructed sleeping bags. Baffle type bags have compartments where the two layers of fabric are kept apart by a separate inner wall. These compartments have different designs, which could be a zigzag pattern or a rectangular shape, depending on the manufacture.

Sewn through construction Zigzag baffle type

Sewn through construction Zigzag baffle type

Cowls and hoods

Good quality sleeping-bags also have additional features such as cowls or hoods, which can be pulled over the head and shoulder area and semi-waterproof outer material. If they have a zip, the zip area will have thick baffle to prevent warmth escaping.

First Ascent make a good range of sleeping bags. These include:

Fusion 900 – very cold conditions -15C (High altitude -Andes, Kilimanjaro)
Fusion 600 – for fairly cold conditions -5C (Top of the Drakensberg in winter)
Adventure Light – summer hiking at low altitude in southern Africa +5C.
Ice breaker – summer hiking +8C.

Washing a down sleeping-bag:

1. Down filled sleeping-bags need to be washed once in a while. Washing them cleans the bag and also revives the “loft”, bringing back the product's ability to keep you warm. It is a long process, but is worth the effort for getting a “new” and warm sleeping bag.

2. Place the bag in a bath of lukewarm water. Add down-soap manufactured by Nikwax or First Ascent. Follow the instructions and measures required. Move the bag around gently and rub where needed. Rinse the bag out 3 times in cold water or until the water runs clear. Gently press the water out with your hands. Do not “wring” the water out, as this could tear the inner baffles.

3. Then hang the bag in a warm, dry and preferably windy area (but not in the sun). Leave it there until most of the water has drained. Then place in a tumble dryer on low heat. It is good to put some tennis balls into the dryer also. These help to get the down to loosen up and dry properly. Every 30 minutes or so, take the bag out and shake it out well. Keep drying until the loft has been obtained. Note: The bag will remain very soggy and flat for a long time. It will seem to suddenly dry and return to its proper shape. Follow the same procedures if washing a down-jacket.

Key points to look at when you are buying boots

1. Make sure the leather uppers made in only one piece of leather.
Check that there is a high rubber-rand between the sole and the uppers.
The tongue has to be sewn all the way to the top of the ankle.
Soft, but supportive ankle guard.

2. Minimal amount of sewn seams.

3. The innerlayer should be de of Gortex to make the boots breathable.

­4. The soles should have good grip on rock and grass.

Boots and other footwear

Boots are perhaps the most vital piece of equipment for spending time in the mountains. They should be comfortable, durable and waterproof if you are going on extended multi-day hikes. If you are doing a shorter trip or day hike it may be more comfortable to use a lighter nylon boot or even a hiking/approach shoe.

Hiking footwear can basically be divided up into 3 types:

1. Leather boots – for serious hiking, long distances and heavy backpacks.
2. Nylon boots – less serious, shorter hikes and light backpacks.
3. Approach / hiking shoes - day hikes, light loads and approaches to rock climbs.

Hiking boots today are either made of leather or nylon or a combination of both types of material. Some more expensive models have Gortex incorporated into the uppers, making them almost fully waterproof.

Leather boots

Leather boots must be made of thick cowhide leather with double stitched seams on good rubber soles such as those made by Vibram. How the upper is joined to the sole (called welting) comes in two distinct forms. The traditional way is by the upper being double stitched, flat onto the last and the sole is then glued on underneath. In addition, it may also be nailed or screwed on to add strength. This traditional method works well, but does suffer from water working it’s way through the stitching when wet conditions are experienced for a long time.
The newer way of upper to sole attachment, is by using a rubber rand around the edge of the boot, which then holds all the components together as one. This is both highly durable and more water resistant than traditional welting, but does not allow the foot to breath so easily.

The upper and randing should be the same width or slightly wider that the sole. This enables the wearer to get a grip on smaller edges when walking on steep gradients, a term known as “edging”.

Leather boots are also more water resistant and stronger when the upper is made from a single piece of leather. This design has fewer or no seams exposed on the upper, making it a better design and far more durable than boots made up of many pieces of leather. The tongue of a leather boot should also be sewn all the way to the top of the ankle guard area.

Leather boots are usually quite stiff and hard when new. It is therefore best to walk them in over several kilometers prior to using them in the mountains.
If snow or prolonged rain could be encountered on the walk or if heavy backpacks are to be carried over rough ground, then full leather boots should be worn. Ankle or full snow gaiters can also improve water resistance of boots.

Nylon boots

Nylon hiking boots are often more comfortable than leather and they seldom need to be walked in prior to proper use. Due to all the stitching used in these boots they are never fully waterproof even, when Gortex has been used in the construction. Nylon boots tend to be “lighter” and are best used for less serious hiking. They are very good when doing easy low level hikes and where most of the walking will be on good paths.

Approach shoes

These come in both nylon and leather design. They are lightweight and comfortable and used for easy hiking and scrambling. Due to their design they can give remarkable support and stability. Most often they aren’t water resistant and should not be used for carrying heavy loaded backpacks.

Proper Care

All types of footwear should be washed after each trip. In the case of all-nylon boots, ordinary soap can be used in combination with warm water and a scrubbing brush. If there is Gortex in the upper of either nylon or leather boots then follow the manufactures care instructions and use Nikwax Footwear cleaning gel.

In the case of full leather boots, wash off any excess mud and grit. Then wash the leather with Nikwax Aqueous Wax or Nikwax Nubuck & Suede. Rinse and then dry in a warm, dry area. When the leather is dry, treat it with a modern type leather care product such as one of the leather care Nikwax products. Again, if there is Gortex in the upper, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and only use Nikwax. Ordinary soaps will degrade the Gortex.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hiking Tips: Recommended Trekking Equipment for ascending mountains

What equipment do you need for Multi-day hikes, at high altitude ?

General equipment
Strong mountaineering tent
Down sleeping bag: 5C for summer and -10C for winter
Sleeping mat
Gas or liquid-fuel stove
Spare gas/fuel
Pots and cutlery
Matches and lighter
2-litre water-container
75 to 90-litre rucksack
2 trekking poles
Compass (23 degrees West)
Head-lamp (batteries)

Breathable/waterproof jacket
Breathable/waterproof trousers
Long trousers
Thermal underwear
Technical fleece (grade 200 summer or 300 winter)
Technical shirts
Down jacket (winter)
Fleece gloves
2 pairs thick socks
Strong leather hiking boots
Snow-gaiters (winter)
Ankle-gaiters (summer)
Thermal fleece hat



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Outdoor Action Guide to High Altitude: Acclimatization and Illnesses

Traveling at high altitude can be hazardous. The information provided here is designed for educational use only and is not a substitute for specific training or experience. Princeton University and the author assume no liability for any individual's use of or reliance upon any material contained or referenced herein. This paper is prepared to provide basic information about altitude illnesses for the lay person. Medical research on high altitude illnesses is always expanding our knowledge of the causes and treatment. When going to altitude it is your responsibility to learn the latest information. The material contained in this article may not be the most current.

High altitude-we all enjoy that tremendous view from a high summit, but there are risks in going to high altitude, and it's important to understand these risks. Here is a classic scenario for developing a high altitude illness. You fly from New York City to a Denver at 5,000 feet (1,525 meters). That afternoon you rent a car and drive up to the trailhead at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters). You hike up to your first camp at 9,000 feet (2,745 meters). The next day you hike up to 10,500 feet (3,048 meters). You begin to have a severe headache and feel nauseous and weak. If your condition worsens, you may begin to have difficulty hiking. Scenarios like this are not uncommon, so it's essential that you understand the physiological effects of high altitude.

What is High Altitude?

Altitude is defined on the following scale High (8,000 - 12,000 feet [2,438 - 3,658 meters]), Very High (12,000 - 18,000 feet [3,658 - 5,487 meters]), and Extremely High (18,000+ feet [5,500+ meters]). Since few people have been to such altitudes, it is hard to know who may be affected. There are no specific factors such as age, sex, or physical condition that correlate with susceptibility to altitude sickness. Some people get it and some people don't, and some people are more susceptible than others. Most people can go up to 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) with minimal effect. If you haven't been to high altitude before, it's important to be cautious. If you have been at that altitude before with no problem, you can probably return to that altitude without problems as long as you are properly acclimatized.

What Causes Altitude Illnesses

The concentration of oxygen at sea level is about 21% and the barometric pressure averages 760 mmHg. As altitude increases, the concentration remains the same but the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced. At 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) the barometric pressure is only 483 mmHg, so there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath. In order to properly oxygenate the body, your breathing rate (even while at rest) has to increase. This extra ventilation increases the oxygen content in the blood, but not to sea level concentrations. Since the amount of oxygen required for activity is the same, the body must adjust to having less oxygen. In addition, for reasons not entirely understood, high altitude and lower air pressure causes fluid to leak from the capillaries which can cause fluid build-up in both the lungs and the brain. Continuing to higher altitudes without proper acclimatization can lead to potentially serious, even life-threatening illnesses.


The major cause of altitude illnesses is going too high too fast. Given time, your body can adapt to the decrease in oxygen molecules at a specific altitude. This process is known as acclimatization and generally takes 1-3 days at that altitude. For example, if you hike to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and spend several days at that altitude, your body acclimatizes to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). If you climb to 12,000 feet (3,658 meters), your body has to acclimatize once again. A number of changes take place in the body to allow it to operate with decreased oxygen.

* The depth of respiration increases.
* Pressure in pulmonary arteries is increased, "forcing" blood into portions of the lung which are normally not used during sea level breathing.
* The body produces more red blood cells to carry oxygen,
* The body produces more of a particular enzyme that facilitates
* the release of oxygen from hemoglobin to the body tissues.

Prevention of Altitude Illnesses

Prevention of altitude illnesses falls into two categories, proper acclimatization and preventive medications. Below are a few basic guidelines for proper acclimatization.

* If possible, don't fly or drive to high altitude. Start below 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and walk up.
* If you do fly or drive, do not over-exert yourself or move higher for the first 24 hours.
* If you go above 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), only increase your altitude by 1,000 feet (305 meters) per day and for every 3,000 feet (915 meters) of elevation gained, take a rest day.
* "Climb High and sleep low." This is the maxim used by climbers. You can climb more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) in a day as long as you come back down and sleep at a lower altitude.
* If you begin to show symptoms of moderate altitude illness, don't go higher until symptoms decrease ("Don't go up until symptoms go down").
* If symptoms increase, go down, down, down!
* Keep in mind that different people will acclimatize at different rates. Make sure all of your party is properly acclimatized before going higher.
* Stay properly hydrated. Acclimatization is often accompanied by fluid loss, so you need to drink lots of fluids to remain properly hydrated (at least 3-4 quarts per day). Urine output should be copious and clear.
* Take it easy; don't over-exert yourself when you first get up to altitude. Light activity during the day is better than sleeping because respiration decreases during sleep, exacerbating the symptoms.
* Avoid tobacco and alcohol and other depressant drugs including, barbiturates, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. These depressants further decrease the respiratory drive during sleep resulting in a worsening of the symptoms.
* Eat a high carbohydrate diet (more than 70% of your calories from carbohydrates) while at altitude.
* The acclimatization process is inhibited by dehydration, over-exertion, and alcohol and other depressant drugs.

Preventive Medications

* Diamox (Acetazolamide) allows you to breathe faster so that you metabolize more oxygen, thereby minimizing the symptoms caused by poor oxygenation. This is especially helpful at night when respiratory drive is decreased. Since it takes a while for Diamox to have an effect, it is advisable to start taking it 24 hours before you go to altitude and continue for at least five days at higher altitude. The recommendation of the Himalayan Rescue Association Medical Clinic is 125 mg. twice a day (morning and night). (The standard dose was 250 mg., but their research showed no difference for most people with the lower dose, although some individuals may need 250 mg.) Possible side effects include tingling of the lips and finger tips, blurring of vision, and alteration of taste. These side effects may be reduced with the 125 mg. dose. Side effects subside when the drug is stopped. Contact your physician for a prescription. Since Diamox is a sulfonamide drug, people who are allergic to sulfa drugs should not take Diamox. Diamox has also been known to cause severe allergic reactions to people with no previous history of Diamox or sulfa allergies. Frank Hubbell of SOLO recommends a trial course of the drug before going to a remote location where a severe allergic reaction could prove difficult to treat.

* Dexamethasone (a steroid) is a prescription drug that decreases brain and other swelling reversing the effects of AMS. Dosage is typically 4 mg twice a day for a few days starting with the ascent. This prevents most symptoms of altitude illness. It should be used with caution and only on the advice of a physician because of possible serious side effects. It may be combined with Diamox. No other medications have been proven valuable for preventing AMS.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

AMS is common at high altitudes. At elevations over 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), 75% of people will have mild symptoms. The occurrence of AMS is dependent upon the elevation, the rate of ascent, and individual susceptibility. Many people will experience mild AMS during the acclimatization process. Symptoms usually start 12-24 hours after arrival at altitude and begin to decrease in severity about the third day. The symptoms of Mild AMS are headache, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, nausea, disturbed sleep, and a general feeling of malaise. Symptoms tend to be worse at night and when respiratory drive is decreased. Mild AMS does not interfere with normal activity and symptoms generally subside within 2-4 days as the body acclimatizes. As long as symptoms are mild, and only a nuisance, ascent can continue at a moderate rate. When hiking, it is essential that you communicate any symptoms of illness immediately to others on your trip. AMS is considered to be a neurological problem caused by changes in the central nervous system. It is basically a mild form of High Altitude Cerebral Edema (see below).
Basic Treatment of AMS

The only cure is either acclimatization or descent. Symptoms of Mild AMS can be treated with pain medications for headache and Diamox. Both help to reduce the severity of the symptoms, but remember, reducing the symptoms is not curing the problem. Diamox allows you to breathe faster so that you metabolize more oxygen, thereby minimizing the symptoms caused by poor oxygenation. This is especially helpful at night when respiratory drive is decreased. Since it takes a while for Diamox to have an effect, it is advisable to start taking it 24 hours before you go to altitude and continue for at least five days at higher altitude. The recommendation of the Himalayan Rescue Association Medical Clinic is 125 mg. twice a day (morning and night). (The standard dose was 250 mg., but their research showed no difference for most people with the lower dose, although some individuals may need 250 mg.) Possible side effects include tingling of the lips and finger tips, blurring of vision, and alteration of taste. These side effects may be reduced with the 125 mg. dose. Side effects subside when the drug is stopped. Contact your physician for a prescription. Since Diamox is a sulfonamide drug, people who are allergic to sulfa drugs should not take Diamox. Diamox has also been known to cause severe allergic reactions to people with no previous history of Diamox or sulfa allergies. Frank Hubbell of SOLO in New Hampshire recommends a trial course of the drug before going to a remote location where a severe allergic reaction could prove difficult to treat.

Moderate AMS

Moderate AMS includes severe headache that is not relieved by medication, nausea and vomiting, increasing weakness and fatigue, shortness of breath, and decreased coordination (ataxia). Normal activity is difficult, although the person may still be able to walk on their own. At this stage, only advanced medications or descent can reverse the problem. Descending even a few hundred feet (70-100 meters) may help and definite improvement will be seen in descents of 1,000-2,000 feet (305-610 meters). Twenty-four hours at the lower altitude will result in significant improvements. The person should remain at lower altitude until symptoms have subsided (up to 3 days). At this point, the person has become acclimatized to that altitude and can begin ascending again. The best test for moderate AMS is to have the person "walk a straight line" heel to toe. Just like a sobriety test, a person with ataxia will be unable to walk a straight line. This is a clear indication that immediate descent is required. It is important to get the person to descend before the ataxia reaches the point where they cannot walk on their own (which would necessitate a litter evacuation).

Severe AMS

Severe AMS presents as an increase in the severity of the aforementioned symptoms, including shortness of breath at rest, inability to walk, decreasing mental status, and fluid buildup in the lungs. Severe AMS requires immediate descent to lower altitudes (2,000 - 4,000 feet [610-1,220 meters]).

There are two other severe forms of altitude illness, High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). Both of these happen less frequently, especially to those who are properly acclimatized. When they do occur, it is usually with people going too high too fast or going very high and staying there. The lack of oxygen results in leakage of fluid through the capillary walls into either the lungs or the brain.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

HAPE results from fluid buildup in the lungs. The fluid in the lungs prevents effective oxygen exchange. As the condition becomes more severe, the level of oxygen in the bloodstream decreases, and this can lead to cyanosis, impaired cerebral function, and death. Symptoms include shortness of breath even at rest, "tightness in the chest," marked fatigue, a feeling of impending suffocation at night, weakness, and a persistent productive cough bringing up white, watery, or frothy fluid. Confusion, and irrational behavior are signs that insufficient oxygen is reaching the brain. One of the methods for testing yourself for HAPE is to check your recovery time after exertion. If your heart and breathing rates normally slow down in X seconds after exercise, but at altitude your recovery time is much greater, it may mean fluid is building up in the lungs. In cases of HAPE, immediate descent is a necessary life-saving measure (2,000 - 4,000 feet [610-1,220 meters]). Anyone suffering from HAPE must be evacuated to a medical facility for proper follow-up treatment.

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)

HACE is the result of swelling of brain tissue from fluid leakage. Symptoms can include headache, loss of coordination (ataxia), weakness, and decreasing levels of consciousness including, disorientation, loss of memory, hallucinations, psychotic behavior, and coma. It generally occurs after a week or more at high altitude. Severe instances can lead to death if not treated quickly. Immediate descent is a necessary life-saving measure (2,000 - 4,000 feet [610-1,220 meters]). There are some medications that may be prescribed for treatment in the field, but these require that you have proper training in their use. Anyone suffering from HACE must be evacuated to a medical facility for proper follow-up treatment.

Other Medications for Altitude Illnesses

* Ibuprofen is effective at relieving altitude headache.
* Nifedipine rapidly decreases pulmonary artery pressure and relieves HAPE.
* Breathing oxygen reduces the effects of altitude illnesses.

Gamow Bag (pronounced ga´ mäf)

This clever invention has revolutionized field treatment of high altitude illnesses. The bag is basically a sealed chamber with a pump. The person is placed inside the bag and it is inflated. Pumping the bag full of air effectively increases the concentration of oxygen molecules and therefore simulates a descent to lower altitude. In as little as 10 minutes the bag can create an "atmosphere" that corresponds to that at 3,000 - 5,000 feet (915 - 1,525 meters) lower. After a 1-2 hours in the bag, the person's body chemistry will have "reset" to the lower altitude. This lasts for up to 12 hours outside of the bag which should be enough time to walk them down to a lower altitude and allow for further acclimatization. The bag and pump weigh about 14 pounds (6.3 kilos) and are now carried on most major high altitude expeditions. Bags can be rented for short term trips such as treks or expeditions.

Cheyne-Stokes Respirations

Above 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) most people experience a periodic breathing during sleep known as Cheyne-Stokes Respirations. The pattern begins with a few shallow breaths and increases to deep sighing respirations then falls off rapidly. Respirations may cease entirely for a few seconds and then the shallow breaths begin again. During the period when breathing stops the person often becomes restless and may wake with a sudden feeling of suffocation. This can disturb sleeping patterns, exhausting the climber. Acetazolamide is helpful in relieving the periodic breathing. This type of breathing is not considered abnormal at high altitudes. However, if it occurs first during an illness (other than altitude illnesses) or after an injury (particularly a head injury) it may be a sign of a serious disorder.

* Mountain Sickness, Peter Hackett, The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1980.
* High Altitude Illness, Frank Hubble, Wilderness Medicine Newsletter, March/April 1995.
* The Use of Diamox in the Prevention of Acute Mountain Sickness, Frank Hubble, Wilderness Medicine Newsletter, March/April 1995.
* The Outward Bound Wilderness First Aid Handbook, J. Isaac and P. Goth, Lyons & Burford, New York, 1991.
* Medicine for Mountaineering, Fourth Edition, James Wilkerson, Editor, The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1992.
* Gamow Bags - can be rented from Chinook Medical Gear, 34500 Hwy 6, Edwards, Colorado 81632, 970-926-9277. www.chinookmed.com

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mountain Climbing Makes History Everyday

sport of climbing mountains, originally combining purposes of exploration and research but increasingly pursued purely for recreation. Mountain climbing can be divided into three types: scrambles, or walkups, requiring no special equipment; rock climbing; and ice climbing.


Climbing as a sport began in 18th-century Europe, with attention focused primarily on Mont Blanc, which was first successfully scaled in 1786. For about a century thereafter (often referred to as the golden age of climbing) climbers—predominantly English—attempted other Alpine summits, guided by local farmers and hunters. By the end of the 19th century mountain-climbing clubs had been organized throughout Europe and North America, and most climbing was being done without guides.

In the 20th century climbers turned their attention to the world’s highest ranges, the HIMALAYAS and the KARAKORAM, (qq.v.). Mount Everest was finally conquered on May 29, 1953, by Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norkay, a Sherpa native of Nepal. The second highest peak in the world, K2 (formerly known as Mount Godwin-Austen), was climbed in 1954. Such once remote and unknown ranges now attract numerous expeditions every year, with climbers coming from all over the world as the sport grows in popularity. The highest mountains outside Asia lie in South America; many have yet to be climbed.

Rock Climbing.

Rock climbing involves knowledge of rope handling. Climbers use a rope to belay, or secure, one another; one climbs while another holds the rope to protect against any fall or slip. A technique called rappelling is used in descending very steep terrain. The rope is attached in such a way that it can be pulled down after the last climber has used it; descending along the rope, the climbers use the friction thus generated (often absorbed by a mechanical device attached to their bodies) to control their rate of descent. Techniques now used for the steepest rock climbs include the use of chocks, devices that are wedged into crevices in the rock. The rope is attached to these by means of snap rings called carabiners. Vertical and overhanging rock faces may also require use of short ladderlike loops of nylon webbing, attached to the rock by the lead climbers. Following climbers can then use two mechanical ascenders that alternately grip and release the rope as the climber goes up, while standing in attached stirrups.

Rock climbing originated as a means of practicing techniques for ascending high mountains; it has evolved into a highly developed sport in itself. Major centers of activity include Yosemite Valley, Calif., the limestone cliffs of the Shawangunks in New York State; the hillsides, quarries, and sea cliffs of the British Isles; and the Dolomites in northern Italy.

Ice Climbing.

Routes moderately covered with snow can be safely climbed using an ice axe to cut steps, probe crevasses, give balance, and belay the rope. Steeper snow- and ice-covered routes require crampons, devices with 12 or more sharp steel points that are strapped onto each boot. Glacier routes require the use of slings and additional equipment so that a climber who falls into a crevasse may quickly climb or be hauled out.

Modern Climbing.

Although the sport does have risks, and accidents may be of catastrophic proportions, proper training and advanced techniques now ensure relative safety. Climbers often begin by taking lessons through a college group, or from one of the many local clubs in all parts of the world. Others learn from experienced friends or professional guides. Because so many of the early climbing enthusiasts were scientists or writers, or both, the field is unusually rich in descriptive literature. Current trends in climbing favor ascents made by small parties, or even solo climbers, moving very quickly with a minimum of lightweight equipment over direct routes. Summits such as Everest, previously reached only under ideal conditions, are now being successfully gained during autumn and winter months, and without the use of oxygen. Women are playing an increasingly important part in mountaineering, participating in national expeditions and organizing some of their own. J.Po., JOHN POLLOCK

For further information on this topic, see the Bibliography, section 795. Climbing.
An article from Funk & Wagnalls® New Encyclopedia. © 2006 World Almanac Education Group. A WRC Media Company. All rights reserved. Except as otherwise permitted by written agreement, uses of the work inconsistent with U.S. and applicable foreign copyright and related laws are prohibited.