Every mountain town has views of breathtaking ridgelines. Boulder has the Flatirons. Seattle has the Cascades. Salt Lake City has the Wasatch Range. The list goes on.
While gazing out at these majestic peaks, the same thought slowly creeps into your mind, “I wonder how it looks from the top?”
In this edition of Therm-a-Rest Beta, contributor Rachel Davidson gives us a few reasons why it’s worth taking a course to safely learn what it looks like from the top.
Frozen white fingertips. Deadened black toenails. That nauseating, dizzying sensation of being punched in the gut while balancing on a tightrope. Sure, there are plenty of reasons why people steer clear of alpine environments and avoid mountains sans ski slopes… but those same reasons also draw in a unique type of adventurer: the type who want to climb mountains.
Some people sign up for a mountaineering course like it’s a ticket to the top, while others enroll for the rigorous itinerary and physical challenge. However, there are a few (much more) worthwhile reasons to consider enrolling in a mountaineering course this summer.
Whether you’re an experienced outdoorsman who wants to polish up your skills, an avid hiker interested in taking the next step into mountain recreation, or you’re completely new to mountain recreation sports altogether – there’s a perfect class out there for you.
Here are 7 reasons to spend your hard-earned money and vacation time to endure the freezing cold and head-throbbing effects of altitude sickness.
1) Get out of your comfort zone.
Life pro tip: When you start to become comfortable with the thing that used to challenge you, look for your next challenge.
So many hikers and backpackers first get into mountaineering because it’s the next logical step in their core sport. Why not try going higher, steeper, farther, and with more technical gear? A mountaineering course will ease that transition and teach you how to use those technical tools and unfamiliar gear. For the record, we don’t recommend learning how to use an ice axe from a YouTube video.
2) Learn backcountry navigational and safety skills.
The safety skills you’ll learn in a mountaineering course far outweigh anything else on this list. Familiarity in using a map and compass (no, not a GPS device) is crucial to backcountry safety standards and having a stress-free time in the mountains.
Recently, sidecountry skiing has been under hot criticism for allowing inexperienced skiers to access dangerous areas with little to no backcountry safety training. Enrolling in a course that covers avalanche danger will let students be smarter and safer not just in alpine climbing, but in all mountain recreation pursuits.
3) Enhance your senses.
People are attuned to their surroundings differently in the mountains. Since it’s important to be constantly aware of what’s going on around you when you’re surrounded with ice, rock, and avalanche danger, it’s easier to pick up on smaller often-missed observations. You might feel and be able to detect the direction of the wind. You could hear the soft rolling of snowballs dancing off a ridge. Your instant oatmeal may even smell sweeter, tickling your nose with hints of cinnamon.
When your home, office and commute are cluttered with so many noises and distractions, a weekend mountaineering course can do wonders for recharging your energy – and for attuning you to the details you might normally miss.
4) Unplug for a weekend.
These days it seems as though wherever you are, you’re on call. We receive the news, work assignments, invites and announcements and everything in between instantly. There is absolutely no break – until you make a break for yourself.
Mountaineering courses don’t just let you unplug from social media and send your overbearing boss’ calls straight to voicemail, they let you connect with other likeminded folks who are all there for the same reason. When you get a group of people to talk and laugh over a phone-free, freeze-dried dinner, it can make you wonder why you really feel the need to be refreshing your Instagram feed for all the time.
Take some space from yourself and detach from society. You’d be surprised by how little you need after you’ve adjusted to spending a week sleeping on frozen ground.
5) Learn something new about yourself.
Maybe you’d never discover a fear of heights if you never found yourself stepping across a construction ladder placed across a crevasse, peering down into a 500-foot abyss below. You probably hadn’t thought about your hand-eye coordination before you had to use the two front points of your crampons to grip the ladder’s thin metal rungs as you inched your way forward. Or maybe it was the howling 50-mph winds, swinging you side to side, that made you concentrate hardest on your balance.
Either way, high-altitude alpine environments have a tendency to teach you something new, even if it’s about yourself.
6) Take a shot at the summit.
The summit is always the objective, but it should never be the end goal. As Ed Viesturs famously says: “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.”
It’s true: The thrill and rush of reaching your first ever summit is characteristically exhilarating, and it’s the reason people keep coming back to chase these peaks. But in taking the chance to reach, or even failing to reach, the summit, you’re learning a valuable lesson in and of itself. The mountain will always be there for a second shot.
7) Get confident enough to head out on your own, or lead a group of friends.
In the end, mountaineering courses exist to set you up for future success in all of your mountainous endeavors. Sharpening your skills and building your comfort to a level at which you’re ready to go off on your own is the reason guides do what they do. That sense of empowerment, that personal responsibility, watching a student walk away with a newfound confidence that they’ll carry in all of their future outdoor pursuits… that’s the end goal, right there.
Once you get to put the skills you’ve learned into practice, you won’t need a single extra reason to recommend a mountaineering course to a friend.