Preparing for Your First Big Climb
There are few things in this world more fulfilling than being able to climb and stand on top your very first mountain.
If you’ve done minor climbs in the past, you will know what we mean. But even that is just a fraction of the feeling you get after a big climb. And even though it can be physically draining, there’s nothing quite like the reward of seeing the majestic views upon completing your ascent.
So if you’ve breezed through beginner climbs like Clougha Pike in Lancashire or Pen-y-Ghent in Yorkshire, then perhaps you’re interested in taking on bigger challenges.
But before you head off to face the likes of the Three Peaks Challenge, which features the trifecta of Ben Nevis, Snowdon, and Scafell Pike, it is important to know that there is a lot of preparation to be done first.
Here are some things you need to do before you go.
Just because climbing a mountain mostly requires carrying your own body weight, doesn’t mean that it only requires physical fitness and training. Mental preparation is just as important. Accountant-turned-amateur mountaineer Fiona Moore reflects on her own experience of taking on the Three Peaks Challenge, explaining that it required more of a mental commitment than physical preparation.
Indeed, climbing a mountain is physically exhausting, but when your body is already tired and ready to give up, your mental strength is what can help carry you forward.
Moreover, even though it can be tempting to rush your way to the top, The Guardian cautions against getting impatient on your hike, which is one of the most common mental obstacles for mountain climbers. Never rush yourself in your training and the hike itself, as you will need to rest and let your body adjust to the conditions.
This is especially true for longer climbs, during which there will be days where you won’t be hiking for long periods and will need to take a back seat for a while.
You also need to understand that you won’t be as mentally alert up in the mountains during your high-altitude climb. Mental ability drops when you’re above 8,000 metres, while lack of oxygen and fatigue can also cause hallucinations in some people.
Lastly, don’t let minor errors get to you. Keeping your spirits up can also help you finish your climb successfully.
Physical preparation and technical skills
What’s the best type of physical training for getting ready for a big climb?
For mountaineer Cathy O’Dowd, it’s going on practice hikes on smaller mountains. Not only will this help you build your stamina and strength, it will also help you develop your climbing techniques.
Expedition leader Gavin Bate also recommends regular expeditions to lower altitudes, like a lot of hill walking and strength training. It’s also advisable to gain an extra stone in weight and undergo a weight-training programme to develop your upper body strength. Try carrying a pack weighing 12-15 kilograms with you, too.
You also need to vary your workouts as there isn’t one exercise that can help you prepare for your climb. Build up your overall strength with cardio and leg exercises like regular jogs, squats, lunges, and calf exercises. Trail running, mountain bike riding, and swimming are also good training methods. Bench presses and weightlifting can also be very helpful. To avoid any untoward incidents like the infamous ‘Hiker’s Knee’. Backpacker Magazine also recommends trying on ankle weights.
With regard to the extent of your physical preparation, the general rule is that the higher the ascent, the more rigorous and extensive your preparation must be.
As we explained in a previous Outdoor Activities article on high-altitude climbing, it’s absolutely essential to plan your preparation well, integrating training sessions with climbing trips of ever-increasing difficulty.
That’s why mountaineers looking to conquer over 7,000 metres should start planning a year in advance. Basic survival skills are also important, which you can develop in theory through research as well as in practice through your training hikes.
When it comes to the technical know-how, you need to review your knot tying, rope handling, belaying, and rappelling skills — all of which could come in handy when you’re up in the mountain.
On top of the right physical and mental preparation, you will also need the right tools and equipment, which often depends on the terrain.
You probably have all the essentials already, from your navigation tools like maps and compasses to your climbing clothes and first aid kit. But for a high-altitude climb, you will need a few more key items. Aside from extra clothing, you need a light insulation jumper, a medium insulation jacket, and a hard shell jacket. You might also need a parka jacket, depending on the region and the altitude.
You may need to update your mountaineering boots, too. Are you climbing rock? Snow? Ice? Will it be a steep climb? A slippery hike? How long will it be for?
You can choose among the three primary types of boots: single, double, or super gaiter. Single mountaineering boots are lightweight and they work best for climbing hard rock and ice. Double mountaineering boots are heavier and are commonly used in very cold climates as they are warmer. Super gaiter mountaineering boots are the combination of the first two and are meant to provide extra warmth and weather-proofing.
Aside from boots, you will also need a mountaineering helmet with you, along with equipment like dry rope, harnesses, crampons, pulleys, rappel devices, and runners. Depending on the terrain, you might also need ice axes, probes, and an avalanche transceiver. These go with basic items like sunscreen, lip balm, headlamp, flashlight, knife or multi-tool, sunglasses, and a durable water bottle. You’ll also need athletic tape and gloves to protect your hands as well.
Big climbs often last anywhere between a few days to a couple of months, so it’s best that you get a good-quality bag, too — one that is light enough to bring with you but big and durable enough to carry all your things. Make sure there is space for a heavy-duty sleeping bag and tent, which you would also need for extended expeditions.
Making your equipment last for your next big climb
Given all the mental and physical preparation, as well as the tools listed above, it’s easy to see how the preparation process for your first big climb is an important investment. This is true not just for the very first challenging summit you attempt to conquer, but also for the rest that you’ll encounter in the future.
A good set of climbing gear can easily set you back £2,000, so it’s best to make sure that your tools are kept clean and safe for the exciting years ahead. Cleaning them properly and storing your climbing gear can help them last longer. Therefore, cleaning your gear every time you use it is very important.
As soon as you get home after your big climb, inspect your ropes for fraying, mildew, or any sort of discolouration. Likewise, check your harnesses, carabiners, rappel devices, and other gear for any signs of obvious damage. It’s unlikely that you will need any major repairs or replacements after one use, but it’s important to check just in case. Once you are satisfied, be sure to clean the items meticulously.
For instance, wet ropes should be left to hang dry before being stored away from direct sunlight. Carabiners with gates that are not opening or closing properly due to sand or other materials stuck in them will need to be soaked in warm soapy water. Use a toothbrush to scrub the dirt or grime away, and burst compressed air into the holes to expel any remaining dirt.
Once your carabiners are dry, lubricate the lock or gate area to make sure it’ll work well in the future. Meanwhile, climbing harnesses and slings must be rinsed off after a climb with warm water and mild soap. Let these dry before storing them away from direct sunlight, too. Last but not least, make sure the soles of your shoes are clean to keep the rubber from wearing down faster on future climbs. Most climbing shoes will do just fine being machine-washed, but it’s important to let them dry naturally instead of resorting to a dryer.
After cleaning, the next important step is to ensure the safety of your gear. Across the UK, valuable items are stolen frequently in cities like London and Birmingham, with the Metropolitan Police listing sporting equipment as one of the top items stolen from sheds and garages. Therefore, it’s advisable to protect your climbing investment by installing trusty locks on garage doors and even securing your equipment inside a locker or storage box with a chain. You can also consider investing in a garage doorstop, or go the extra mile and install additional CCTV to ensure that your gear is safeguarded.
The smart home section on Screwfix details how connected devices can help you keep an eye on your home wherever you are — from video monitoring and CCTV systems that help bolster security to lighting and lock controls that you can adjust at the touch of a button should you need to. If you have smart systems like these in place, your precious investments will be protected, and you won’t have to worry if you’ve left your garage or shed door unlocked whenever you go out. You just need to remember to clean them, so that when they are in storage they don’t deteriorate.
All in all, your first big climb can be daunting, but determination and the right preparation can make a world of difference in getting you closer to your dream. With good planning and care, you’ll also be ready to explore even more summits in no time.