Dale Remsberg certainly comes with an impressive list of climbing creds. He’s the technical director for the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), a Global Rescue Safe Travel partner and a major trainer of mountain guides certifying hundreds of guides a year. He’s also an Internationally Licensed Mountain Guide (IFMGA) with extensive experience on major peaks across Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Spain, Italy, France and Switzerland. He’s known for being an all-around accomplished climber with high-end skills covering all disciplines: sport, traditional, mixed, ice and, of course, alpine. When he’s not training young guides, he’s guiding clients 120 days a year around the world, including custom yearly trips to Switzerland to mountains like the Matterhorn and the Eiger.
If you’re an avid hiker who has toyed with the idea of getting started in mountaineering, there are few who can help you accomplish that first dream climb than Boulder, Colorado-based Remsberg. Here are his essential mountaineering basics to master before you attempt to claim your first major summit.
Set a Goal Mountain
The key here is not to be overly ambitious. And, if you do have dreams of one day conquering Everest, this certainly should not be the peak you pick for your first outing. It’s wise to gain experience on smaller, less-technical mountains first.
“It’s okay to set long-term goals, but you need to set your starting plans,” Remsberg suggested. “Don’t get too caught up in elevation. The goal is to start building endurance and stamina in the mountains.”
A few to consider? Lonely Planet suggests these 10 best peaks for beginner mountaineers.
“You can have all the best gear in the world and a perfect summit plan, but if you get out there and simply get turned around by fatigue, it’s not going to be a sport you see through,” he said.
[Related Reading: 5 Mountaineering Training Tips for Beginners]
While there’s no one-size-fits-all fitness training plan, one of the most important training components is to consistently go for long hikes. “We’re talking up to 12 hours, eventually. The mountains you train on don’t have to be technical, they just need long enough routes,” Remsberg said. Being able to climb at a steady rate you can aerobically maintain without stopping, plus having enough energy and strength to descend safely, will be key in your mountaineering training plan.
Take a Mountaineering Course (or Several) or Hire a Guide
“While it can be time-consuming, it is extremely advantageous to go through a mountaineering school,” he said. A mountaineering course is the best way to gain new skills quickly, not to mention learn route planning, navigation, safe travel, rock climbing and logistics like weather analysis and mountain rescue, he said
Following are a handful of Global Rescue’s Safe Travel Partners who offer mountaineering courses:
Another option is hiring a guide and attempting a route together, which will give you on-the-spot feedback and crucial personal experience in the mountains. Look for a guide with AMGA certification, which is the highest level of credential attainable by a professional mountain guide. There are approximately 200 certified guides in the United States.
“The main benefit of getting a guide is reducing your risk as a beginner,” Remsberg said. You will need to train either way but working with a guide can make your training more efficient.
￼￼ also a way to put yourself on a fast track to conquering that first goal summit. Sure,￼￼, but if you want to get it done right and in a realistic time frame, contracting a guide is a good way to go.”
Join a Club/Find Mentors
“Find friends and mentors to take you under their wing, particularly for asking questions and gaining a lot of second-hand knowledge and perspectives,” he said. A quick Google search in your area should turn up some results￼.
Start Acquiring Essential Gear
While you can rent most of your gear (ice axe, crampons, climbing helmet), Remsberg says there are two essential pieces of gear worth personal investment.
- Emergency Communication – “You should always have the ability to stay in touch, especially in case of an emergency,” he said. Potential devices include SPOT X, Bivy Stick and Zoleo. In particular, Global Rescue recommends buying a device with two-way communication, so, if an emergency arises, rescuers can ask you specific questions to help them assemble the right resources to get to you.
- Custom-fitted Boots – “For me, footwear is essential,” Remsberg said. Mountaineering boots and hiking boots are different. Make certain you get boots appropriate to the terrain you intend to tackle. “But do your research to make sure you have the right kind of boot for the objective. And go to a reputable boot fitter – you need to ensure they’ll be comfortable and not result in you getting blistered up.”
Read, Read and Read More
The “mountain bible” first published in 1960, The Freedom of the Hills is a good place to start as it’s something of the standard textbook for mountaineering. It’s the doctrine Remsberg began with when he started teaching himself how to climb in high school. But with the advent of the internet, your mountaineering resources are limitless.
“Start following an organization like AMGA and check out their resources,” Remsberg suggested, pointing to their regularly updated series of online skill-building videos. Mountain Bureau LLC, another Global Rescue Safe Travel Partner, maintains a blog tackling everything from “How to Prepare Your Alpine-Mountaineering Tent for Optimal Performance” to “An Ice Climber’s Repair Kit.”
Then, of course, there’s the vast repository of YouTube. Ian Taylor Trekking, another Global Rescue Safe Travel Partner, shares training videos (i.e., Training for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu), how to pack for expeditions to particular peaks (i.e., Packing for Aconcagua), and common gear questions (i.e., Do You Have the Correct Down Jacket?)
Become a Master Planner and Mapper
All mountain enthusiasts should know how to use a map and compass, so, in case they get lost, they can navigate back. Good route–finding and navigation should start before you even set foot on the mountain. Former Navy SEAL and manager of security operations for Global Rescue, Harding Bush, agrees. No matter how well you know the area or terrain, mistakes can be made. “GPS and smartphone navigation apps are a good idea, but batteries die and machines break. Know how to use a map and compass. Review the map and your location before setting out,” Bush said.
“You need to gather as much information as you can about the route through guidebooks to develop a picture of what the route looks like, so you can be as prepared as possible,” Remsberg said. Websites, like SummitPost.org, are also good places for descriptions of routes.
Get Global Rescue
Global Rescue is the leading provider of advisory, rescue and evacuation services to climbers and trekkers worldwide. When you head into the mountains, a Global Rescue membership is a must. We’re the only organization with deployed personnel and operating capability in key locations, including the Himalayas, Karakorum and Andes regions. From Everest to Aconcagua, we boast a long history of successful mountain, wilderness and backcountry rescues. Our Mountain Advisory Council and members — including Ed Viesturs, Kristin Harila, Yandy Nuñez Martinez and Satyarup Siddhanta — will attest to that.
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