Technique & Safety

This page will get you famaliar with some basic safety tehcniques that I have learned over the years, along with other knots you can learn. I also want to teach you about safety, as this is another component of being a mindful mountaineer and how this benefit could save your life. I've split into 3 parts, so you can navigate a little easier: (at the end of each section, you'll learn the benefits of learning these aspects)

FOOT WORK WHEN TRAVERSING

Use those legs; they're your biggest and strongest friends your body has to offer

"Es ist Bergsteigen, NICHT BERGZIEHEN!" - Roman Haltinner

Translation: "This is mountain climbing, NOT MOUNTAIN PULLING"

Believe it or not, this sport isn't like free climbing or bouldering. Your legs are gonna power you through nearly every part of the ascent and ESPECIALLY the descent. When I was a beginner, I had a bad habit of pulling up certain obstacles with my arms, instead of using the legs to propell myself. This deemed to be quite uneffective, as my arms would get worn out relatively quickly (already half way through the ascent; only 1/4 done of the full expedition). 

Instead, you have the think of the arms as stabalizers (see first photo on the right) used to give you balance and positioning, whereas the legs should be on their tip toes ready to boost you upwards. This will not only make the climb less painful, but you'll be training the proper muscles that should be doing most of the work. As mentioned in the hang board training for finger strength in the muscle strength page, you need to keep your shoulders engaged instead of slouching like a goblin. Posture is important, since you need to engage every muscle of the body for maximum exertion of force, rather than swinging yourself around. Lastly, you should always extend your legs fully, to exert force properly to propell you up (examples on the right). 

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Photo: From MoosJaw (alpine sports retailer in the Michigan, U.S)

But Why the toes?! 

I don't wan to slip!

Look at the design of your boot. If you bought the proper boot, you should typically find the front of the shoe to have a sustaining grip (look at the shoe sole). This design is actually based off the hooves of an Ibex (mountain goat). The hooves and the shoe are similar, in that the hooves or front of the boot is cloven (split) into two "toes" to improve balance (each toe providing grip and slip resistant when applied to rock surfaces).  Pictures of cloven hooves and my boot:

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Image: core77 article published March 23, 2011  that covers the anatomy of a mountain goat. Interesting stuff, check it out HERE!

My boot includes 3 individual rubbarized toes in order for extra balance and pressure distribution put into rock to sole contact

Video: by the BBC

July 12, 2016  (YouTube)

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Like I say, we learn from our greatest predecessor; human or non-human. If they can grip those rock surfaces with those hooves, then we sure can too with our modern designed climbing boots.

Above here I've linked a really cool video from the BBC called "The incredible ibex defies gravity and climbs a dam", published on YouTube on July 12, 2016. Please watch it, you'll get  real kick out of it and you can't deny how cute those goats are.

Why positioning is important!

Now that you hopefully trust you boots, I'll show you a tip for why toe positioning is important whilst climbing.

All information and images for this section come from the video on the right. 

By moving around with the toes when it is positioned on a rock, you will have more playroom to rotate and increase reach simultaneously. In the photo below, the center of the foot is being used to put the foot onto a hold. This may provide grip and stability, but if you were to rotate the foot, you would immediatly slip off (as the foot is facing the wall). This is both a safety hazard for you (if you're not sercured) or for other below your (rocks or rubble could fall onto their faces).

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Video: By Magnus Midtbø

(Nov 16, 2017)

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Magnus Midtbø is a Norwegian rock climber and video blogger. He started when he was 11 years old and was in the lead for bronze in the world games in Cali, Colombia (2013). He retired in 2017, but is still making quality videos about climbing today. I know some of his videos have a little less to do with mountaineering, but his content is great and has many  health related videos about strength training. Please consider checking out his content above or follow him on

his socials if you're interested.

Time code: 1:20 minutes

To prevent this, the tip of the shoe/boot should be used, in order for it to rotate and provide more reach without the safety hazard of slipping off of the foot-hold. 

Last rule of thumb should be to keep eye contact on the foot's position before stepping off (the foot must be securely placed before moving on the the next step in the climb).

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Time code: 1:24 minutes

HOW TO WALK

Let's take it in baby steps

Walking uphill is one thing. Walking donwhill is another. You'll notice just how steep things are when walking downhill and this is the part that people usually fear most (I know I did at least). These are techniques that I learned when mountaineering the previous summer and in my interview with Roman Haltinner.

 

Walking downhill is a little similar to skiing. You need to keep your body engaged fowards and keep your knees slightly bent. Downhill is rather anaerobic, as you will be taking small and quick steps downhill whilst retaining balance.  Retaining balance is one of the hardest things to do in mountaineering as you will also be carrying heavy baggage that the core has to be able to support along with strain being put on your muscles and joints in the lower body. 

The shock to your knees is about 3 - 4 times larger when walking downhill rather than flat ground. This makes walking downhill one of the most strenuous parts of mountaineering. Depending on the route your taking, your arms can provide stability when applying pressure to different rocks.

 

 

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What's extremely important is no lean to far forward or too fat backward, as they can both lead to a collapse. Another risk assesment is to never walk backwards. This not only blocks your overview of what's behind you, but increases your risk exponentially of falling backwards due to the weight of your bag (thus making you collapse and roll off the mountain, along with anyone attached to your harness). 

Lastly I would recommend keeping good eye-contact with where exactly you're placing your foot, to reduce risk of an ankle roll/injury. 

The video I have linked on the right is from OutsideTV and instructrs you how to use the ice axe and crampons when walking uphill (including proper technique and use of the equipment. OutsideTV has a variety of other high quality videos for the outdoor community. Consider checking them out!

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Trainer in Video: Rainbow Weinstock

In this video, Nick Heil interviews mountain guide Rainbow Weinstock from the Calorado Mountain School. You can watch the video to learn a little more about technique and the safety with the equipment. 

What this trains!

Hiking and Mountaineering offers a unique exerperience for traversing across different steepness of terrain. Short and safe steps (more efficient and fast) ensure overall safety compared to taking long, slow and more dangerous steps. Mountaineering isn't about speeding through the task, but there is a certain pace that has to be kept, which is determined by your mountain guide. Trail running and jogging may seem like a lot of cardio, but mountaineering can isolate different muscle groups and train them depending on the conditions:

  • Uphill: When walking uphill during the ascent, your lower cavles are being trained the hardest out of the muscle groups from the legs

  • Downhill: Walking downhill in mountaineering offers a unique form of engagements other walking sports don't offer. Here you will need to use balance from your upper body and proper foot positioning. The muscles being trained the hardest in the descent are the quadraceps because this is were all of the pressure is being applied to. 

BENEFITS

What's the big payoff here?

I know that it's a lot being covered and I hope I'm making this as fun, interesting and engaging as possible. This section is purely dedicated to getting in touch with the basic overview of mountaineering in terms of style, technique and safety, in order to have the best experience possible (for enjoyment and health). I've only scratched the surface and there is so much more to be covered for your learning needs about this topic of mountaineering. I'm just here to teach you some benefits that can come along with it, in order to pitch the idea to you.

 

By adopting proper technqiue and awareness, you will be both effective (strength and technique) and safe (assurance), whether it's ice or rock. Adding on, you can also make the most of your workout and be as efficient as possible whilst climbing by using good foot positioning. Traversing uphill and downhill in mountaineering is also a unique experience that sports like trail running can't always offer; you'll be training all sorts of muscles you never knew you had by going both uphill and downhill (even training balance at the same time). 

Foot positioning or having knowledge about equipment may seem tedious or minor at times, but it's really important as this teaches you the essentials. Mountaineering can teach you a variety of protocals for both safety and engagement in the activity, in order to have maximum experience and fun for your adventures on the mountains safely.

 
 

ESSENTIAL KNOTS

Teamwork makes the dream Work

I could stand here all day and go off on a tangent on all of the knots and tricks you can learn, in order to introduce you to all of the benefits teamwork can provide you for joyment of mountaineering. But, I've simplified it (unilke the first sentence). 

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Instructor of Video: Matt Groom

The video I have linked above from the YouTube channel EpicTV Climbing Daily teaches you 4 essential knots that every climber should know, in order to get started with safety and teamwork (published on August 17, 2019 and titled: "4 Knots Every Climber Should Know").

E​picTV has some really high quality videos from professional climbing coaches and also a variety of other cool climbing content about getting in shape. This video teaches:

  • Rethreaded figure of 8 (arms length of rope); Froms a secure, non-slip loop (very strong)

  • Cow Hitch/Lark's foot (one sling); Used to attach things to your harness.

  • Clove Hitch: (arms length of rope, carabiner and one sling); Used to build anchors or to secure yourself (quick attachment)

  • Belayer: (carabiner, 25 m rope and belaying device); used to feed or take away rope when you belay someone or help them abseil off of a ledge

Benefits:

Generally speaking, mountain climbing is a team sport that requires engagement and communication with other players. The purpose of this section is simply to get you aqcuainted with one of the most basic and essential beginner knots/skill every climber should know for climbing safety: the figure of 8 and belaying. 

Belaying is a key part about mountaineering, as it requires you work as a team when you are paired with your guide. When you are the belayer, you can either feed in rope for abseiling or take away rope when the other person is making their way up and does not require any excess rope (if the person were to fall, the shortened rope watch catch them). 

 

GRADE DIFFICULTY/SCLAERS

Safety is not a gadget, but a state of mind

I was serious when I said mountaineering isn't a joke. According to the BBC, approximately 6 people die annually on Mount Everest and 10 people had already been reported dead or missing back in May of 2019. See article Here!

 

To make things worse, according to an interview with the former head of the  Mountain Guide association of Zermatt, Benedikt Perren, mentioned in a  New York Times interview that approximately 12 people die on the Matterhorn yearly. Link to article HERE

These deaths most likely occur, due to bad preperation or knowledge of routes when climbing a mountain. In my interview with mountain guide Roman Haltinner, you'll be surprised to find that none of the deaths recorded in Zermatt occured when people had a guide with them from the Bergführerverein Zermatt.

Minimiuing risk also comes from doing reserach about what mountain you want to climb; whether you are talking about it with your guide or planning you route with your expedition group.

Grade climbing is a way of determining the difficulty and danger of a climb using a certain scaling system. There are over a dozen of well-known grading systems in the climbing community from the U.S all the way to New Zealand. 

There are many systems used to determine the safety and difficulty scales of various alpine sports. The most commonly used ones by the Germans, British and Swiss is the UIAA leveling system. The international mountaineering and climbing federation (UIAA) is an organization that works to promote and protect the climbing sports world wide (since August 1932). The UIAA was also one of the first climbing organizations to do extensive testing in controlled lab environments to approve and certify equipment. It is now virtually the world wide standard for mountain climbing associations and has built a reputation for safety. 

The French grading system uses adjectives to describe the difficulty whereas the UIAA uses Roman numerals. The overall benefit of knowing having this knowledge will help you build awareness of your environments as a mountaineer. On the right I've linked another video from EpivTV climbing daily titled "What Do Climbing Grades Even Mean?" (Mar 10, 2017) that teaches you the basics on the 4 main systems of grade climbing and how they are used to describe terrain.

Anecdote/Case Study

An Example of what could happen, without the correct precuations

Back in the summer of 2019 I climbed the Lagginhorn (4,010 m) located in the penine alps of Swizerland in canton Valais alongside with my 2 brothers and my father. The ascent took approximately 4 hours, whereas the descent was about 5 hours. The expedition was physically grueling, but worth it. Every safety hazard was minimized to its fullest and preperation (physical and material knowledge) was at a finesse to climb the mountain sucessfully (the correct food and equipment, along with the skills required to use those tools). Our mountain guides from the BergFühererverein Zermatt kept us safe and guided us, teaching us everything we had to know in a controlled environment when traversing across the terrain.

But in case of a German family that attempted an ascent for the Lagginhorn back in the Summer of 2012, the required precautions of preperation and safety were clearly overlooked. 

On July 4, 2012, five German mountaineers died on the Lagginhorn from a 400 m fall (4 adolescents aged 14 to 20 and one adult). They took more than 7 hours for the ascent to where the accident occured (skilled mountaineers need a maximum of 3 hours for the ascent; my brothers and I needed about 4 hours for the ascent and descent). The rope crew of 4 teenagers hung on 1 adult (typically, 1 mountian guide is required per 2 people; if there are more than 2, you would need an additional guide). They underestimated the conditions as terribly as possible: chane in weather was not calculated and the climbing equipment was not taken with (for example crampons).

 

When mountaineering, even extrinsic factors like the weather would be precalculated in the process of planning the expedition and planning with food is researched and disccussed as well with the mountain guide. If we would know that the weather is too dangerous (snowstorm at 3 in the afternoon; after the expedition is over), we would still not attempt the ascent even if we knew that the harmful weather would start after our descent. Every risk is minimized for maximal safety and enjoyment of the sport; health.

I don't want to make the case that we should shame the family. I want the mountaineering community to reflect on tragic deaths like these and how they can be prevented for the future. Mountaineering shouln't bring fear, but caution and awareness of the environment (wether it's the weather or preperation in equipment).

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Photo from BBC article

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Citation:

“Five German Climbers Killed on Swiss Lagginhorn.” BBC News, BBC, 4 July 2012, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-18702349

 
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