Should I Do a Mountaineering Course?
Mountaineering is a complex interplay of physical and mental strength. You need to be fit enough to scale ferocious peaks while also carrying cumbersome equipment in adverse weather. Yet, for many mountaineers, the most important part of alpinism is the mental game. Having the knowledge to rationally assess situations and make difficult decisions under pressure. Now that is a true challenge.
Some climbers spend years hiking, trekking, and rock climbing to gradually accumulate skills that apply to mountaineering. Other adventurers join mountaineering clubs, go on guided expeditions, or make friends with climbing mentors. Lastly, some treat alpinism as an academic pursuit and start a mountaineering course to learn the basics, from the ground up. So here’s more information on whether a mountaineering course is the right route for you!
Why Do You Want to Start Mountaineering?
When starting mountaineering, it’s good to define your goals. That way, you can align your journey with your aims to manage your expectations. No two mountains are the same and if you have a particular summit you wish to climb or an expedition you want to do, it’s worth considering before you start a mountaineering course.
For example, you may want to be a mountain leader and take other hikers into the hills. To do so requires a week-long mountain leader course, 40 days of logged mountain time, and a 5-day mountain assessment. From that point, you must complete a 16-hour medical course and additional courses in winter hiking before you can guide groups up peaks. This may take many months or even years to complete and the high cost of doing so could require some thought.
Alternatively, you might want to go high-altitude trekking in the Himalayas or Andes. Perhaps you want to conquer some of the world’s 8,000-metre peaks or scale the Colorado 14ers. Some of these mountains may require extensive glacier hiking or ice climbing. If so, you should get more experience and complete a mountaineering course that is tailored to these goals.
What You Learn on a Mountaineering Course
A mountaineering course will equip you with a valuable set of skills to use on your future adventures. These courses range in length and difficulty depending on how much you want to learn. For example, a course in the UK may focus more on handling snowy steps and rock faces. Whereas a course in the European Alps will include glacier rescue at high altitude.
A one or two-day course is insufficient to teach you the appropriate skills. Opt for a course that is at least 3 to 5 days to gain as much insight as possible. If your sole intention is to climb +6,000 metre glaciated peaks, you should probably avoid a course in Scotland which will predominantly be for grade I-II winter climbing.
Most courses include plenty of theory in their training weeks to help their participants understand the “why?” and “how?” of mountaineering. The book “Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills” is an essential read for budding alpinists and it will help to prepare you for much of your mountaineering course.
The practical part of the course will include days of trekking in the mountains. The use of crampons and an ice axe will be encouraged. Participants will be taught how and when to use a rope and harness. Rock and snow anchors, avalanche awareness, winter navigation, and movement over mountain terrain will also be included in a mountaineering course. Additional modules may include crevasse rescue, navigating glaciers, emergency first aid, ice climbing, and dealing with altitude.
Mountaineering Course Recommendations
Before you select a course, it’s worth doing some research on Mountain Training. They are an organisation with a huge directory of certified courses and qualifications.
1 . Glenmore Lodge, Scotland
Recommended Course: Winter Mountaineering (5 Days) – £630
One of the UK’s premier mountaineering schools, Glenmore Lodge focuses on equipping new hikers with all the skills to tackle British summits in winter. Their courses aim to introduce outdoor folk to climbing, scrambling, mountaineering, walking, and navigation. The National Outdoor Training Centre for Scotland will teach anyone from beginners to advanced climbers. They offer a range of winter/summer alpine training courses. Find out more here
2 . The Peak Climbing School, England
Recommended Course: Winter Mountain Skills (3 Days) – £289
Situated below the classic climbing destination The Roaches in the Peak District National Park, this is a mountaineering school that has a heavy focus on rock climbing. However, this UK mountaineering course will take place in the Scottish Cairngorms. Over 3 days, you will learn how to navigate and explore mountain areas safely. There will be a keen focus on navigation, ice axe arrests, moving in crampons, avalanche avoidance, and dealing with emergencies. Find Out More Here
3 . Plas y Brenin, Wales
Recommended Course: Welsh Winter Mountaineering (5 days) – £524
This is one of the oldest mountaineering schools in the UK with 60 years of experience to lean on. They are dedicated to developing their students’ skills for outdoor adventures (including first aid courses). This course will teach you winter navigation, ropework, emergency bivouacking, and information on how to use mountaineering equipment. They aim to equip participants with all the skills needed to scramble and climb throughout the British winter. Find out more here
Mountaineering courses vary greatly in what they offer. They are an expensive, but worthwhile investment and it’s important to select the mountaineering course that is right for you. Consider your future mountaineering goals then carefully read the description of each mountaineering course. Find out if it works on skills that are valuable for your path and ensure that it will help with your future development as a climber.
If you have specialised interests such as ice climbing, night and GPS navigation, or expedition first aid, you may have to do an additional mountaineering course. There is too much to learn in one week and these are skills to be learnt throughout a lifetime. However, that’s no bad thing as it’s all the more reason to get out into the mountains whenever possible!