Harnessing the Art of Mountain Climbing

A Brief History of Climbing

It was at around the start of the nineteenth century that Man began to climb mountains for sport and adventure. Prior to that time he had done so only for sound, practical reasons – to source food, to hunt or to fulfil a military objective. When he didn’t need to do so he would avoid the mountains, not only because of their hostile terrain but also because they were believed to be populated by demons, ogres and fearsome beasts.

Indeed even today the legend of the yeti persist, a huge hairy creature marauding around the Himalayas, leaving its awesome footprint in the snow and behaving abominably, though its misdeeds remain subject to reliable witness testimony.

Lone Climber

The largest mountains and their most daunting faces were challenges that were risen to and tackled throughout the nineteenth century and beyond. Elbrus, the highest peak in Eastern Europe, was conquered in 1868. Kilimanjaro, the largest in Africa, succumbed in 1889. Then Aconcagua (South America) in 1897 and McKinley (North America) in 1913. Even the elusive Everest, the highest mountain peak in the world, was finally cracked by Edmund Hillary in 1953 after several attempts by others were unsuccessful.

Using Climbing Harnesses and Climbing Ropes for Optimum Safety

Mountain climbing by its very nature is, of course, a most hazardous of sports. Enthusiasts can encounter falling rocks and ice, hazardous weather conditions, volcanic activity, altitude sickness, snow blindness and sunburn as well as the ever-present risk of a serious accident caused by human error. This is why those who engage in it endeavour to minimise the inherent dangers by ensuring that they have all the right equipment and are trained to use it properly.

The typical mountaineer’s kit will include an elaborate array of picks, hooks, climbing ropes and climbing harnesses. Of course, the typical rock or mountain climber will never attempt to climb Everest, but as a general sport every much as a world-beating challenge it is necessary in the interests of safety – always a first consideration no matter how bold the adventurer – to be properly equipped for the task ahead.

When using climbing equipment of any kind it is important that whatever is being used is appropriate to the climber, as well as to the assignment. This is why ropes of different lengths and in different forms, as well as a range of harnesses, is always available from any decent supplier.

Article brought to you by Phil, a keen mountain climber and a firm believer that the right climbing equipment is essential to ensure safety.

Citations: Image by John Brennan

Scarpa’s Mountaineering Boots & Grivel Crampons

Scarpa’s mountaineering boots are trusted all over the world.

Crampon-Compatible for a Variety of Challenges

Scarpa’s range of outdoor footwear includes boots that are crampon-compatible, made to be worn with different Grivel crampons for a variety of mountain activities.

Designed for grip on snow and ice to give extra traction and improve mobility, crampons have evolved since Henry Grivel commercialised the first prototype using re-forged railway ties over 100 years ago.

The oldest company in existence making equipment for Alpinism and climbing, Grivel began as blacksmiths forging agricultural tools in a small, metal-working factory in Courmayeur, near Mount Blanc in Italy, in 1810.

Their crampons are made of hardened steel, lightweight aluminium or a combination of the two – and are graded C1, C2 and C3, based mainly on their flexibility and compatibility with different boots.

Grivel G12

General Mountain Boot

Scarpa’s Manta is a general mountain boot, compatible with Grivel’s G12 New Matic, Air Tech New Matic and Air Tech Lite New Matic.

Ideally suited to hill, mountain and glacier walking on rugged terrain, and the occasional easier Alpine and UK winter climb, the Manta excels in winter walking, especially where crampons are used for extended periods.

At the serious end of the market, the Phantom Guide and Vega – for winter Alpine and altitude use respectively – are geared up for both the G12 Com and G14 Com. The Fast & Light G22 Com is also suitable for the Phantom, and the Air Tec Com for the Vega.

Other famous names within the Scarpa stable include the Mont Blanc for Alpine and mountaineering use, and the Jorasses mixed- and ice-climbing boot.

Scarpa Manta

Extreme Winter Conditions

The Mont Blanc is a blend of modern materials, including the new Gore-Tex Insulated Comfort Footwear lining, and the classic look of HS12 impregnated 3mm suede for weather protection and insulation.

Comfort is guaranteed in extreme winter conditions, keeping your feet warm and dry in the cold, rain and snow.

The Jorasses Pro GTX, named after the Grandes Jorasses in the Mont Blanc massif, is a versatile mountain boot suitable for long winter approach walks, general mountaineering and ice climbing.

Hiking and walking footwear from Scarpa includes the Ranger 2 GTX Activ and Terra GTX hiking boot, the men’s Crux and Vortex and the ladies’ Vortex and Enigma walking shoe, and men’s and women’s versions of the ZG 65.

Their legendary climbing shoes include the Thunder XS Edge, Vantage, Force and Vapour.

Nicki Williams works for outdoor and sports specialists Gear-Zone, where she writes about climbing and mountaineering from the depths of Norfolk – one of the flattest counties in England!

Citations: Images by Gear-Zone

Snow and Ice Climbing

Climbing on snow and ice is a totally different sport to rock climbing, with a whole new set of challenges, rules – and equipment.

Ice Climbing

Techniques for snow and ice climbing vary depending on the conditions encountered. From 8000 metres up in the Himalayas, to an Alpine ridge or Scottish pitch in winter, experiences will be very different, and the equipment required more specialised.

Crampons and ice axes are a given, whether traversing a glacier or scrambling up a frozen ice cascade.


Scarpa – renowned for their rock climbing shoes like the Force and Vantage – are also specialists in tough, crampon-compatible mountain boots designed for the most difficult conditions underfoot.

Scarpa - Phantom Jorasses-Pro W-Mount-Blanc

At the top end of the scale, the Scarpa Phantom 8000 is one of the most practical, durable boots around, aimed at serious high altitude use and built specifically for the Himalayas.

Along with the Jorasses Pro and women’s Mount Blanc, the Phantom Guide is made on a shared technical last for what has been called the highest level of comfort ever achieved in high performance mountaineering boots.

With a toe shaped for rugged mountain climbing and an improved forefoot shape for a precise fit, the Phantom Guide is the crème-de-la-crème of mountaineering footwear.

Other Things to Consider

  • When climbing in winter, it must always be remembered that daylight hours are limited, and thought must be given to extra emergency equipment.
  • Always carry a head torch with charged batteries, a spare crampon strap, a good pair of UV-rated sun glasses to protect against the glare of sun on snow, and bivouac equipment in case the worst should happen and you become stranded overnight.
  • A thermal blanket rolled up tight and packed at the bottom of your rucksack could save your life in extreme temperatures.
  • A helmet should always be worn, whatever type of climbing is being undertaken. Falling rocks are an ever-present danger, not least from those kicked down by climbers above you, and in the case of a fall a helmet will help lessen the risk of serious head injury.


On mountain cliffs and Alpine routes where stone fall is common, helmets are essential – and snow and ice routes should never be attempted without one. Lumps of broken-off blocks of ice can be just as dangerous to a climber as loose rock raining down from above.

Wild Country - Alpine Shield Climbing Helmet

Petzl, Grivel, Wild Country and many other manufacturers have ensured that the heavy, cumbersome climbing headwear of yesteryear has been replaced by low-profile, lightweight helmets with built-in impact liners and comfort padding.

Nicki Williams is a keen outdoor pursuits enthusiast who writes for Gear-Zone. She loves Scarpa, but is based as far from the mountains as possible – in Norfolk!

Citations: Images by schoeband; Gear-Zone/Scarpa

CHICKENHEADS & COW’S TAILS – Rock Climbing Terminology


Chickenheads, cow’s tails, Camalots, slugs and Flexible Friends – and not those of the credit card variety – are all part of the lexicon of climbing, as confusing to the uninitiated as attack points, arm locks, sprags, rock-overs and flakes.

As climbing began to become more popular in the 1930s, and dedicated equipment started to appear, so too did the technical terms develop into a language almost of its own – a literal A to Z of terminology from Alpenstock to Z-Pulleys, Arête to Zdarsky sacks.

Along with helmets, harnesses, chockstones and crampons, one of the more universally-known entries in any climbing dictionary is ‘climbing shoe,’ aka rock shoe, a fundamental part of any enthusiast’s equipment.

Scarpa Vantage

Lightweight, Flexible and Grippy

Where heavy, hob-nailed mountain boots were the norm in the early days of climbing, today’s equivalents are lightweight, flexible and grippy – as personified by Scarpa with their high-tech Force, Vantage, Helix and Vapour Lace rock shoes, amongst others, designed for multi-purpose routes.

When you’re living life on the edge, whether jamming in a straight-in crack or pitching a horizontal flange, the shoes on your feet are as important as any climbing equipment you use.

Today, Scarpa are at the forefront of the outdoor footwear industry, with not only their world-renowned climbing shoes, but also with a highly-technical range of mountaineering boots including the Phantom 8000 designed for high altitude expeditions to the Himalayas, and – for those who prefer to say closer to sea level – approach shoes like the Vortex GTX, Enigma GTX and Scarpa Crux.

Climbing - Pulling the Lip

Glossary of Terms

Alpenstock – Forerunner of the ice axe

Arête – Narrow, almost knife-life ridge

Arm Lock – Hold in a wide crack formed by the arm bent at the elbow and locked in place by outward pressure

Attack Point – Easily located feature used as a point from which to navigate

Camalot – Similar to a Friend, with flexible wire frames and double axle

Chickenheads – Rounded, protruding lumps found on igneous rocks used for holds

Cow’s Tail – Short sling used during resting

Flake – Thin slab of rock which is detached or partially detached from the main face

Friend – Trade name for original spring-loaded camming device

Rock-over – A very high step onto a foothold

Slug – Device with spring which holds nut in place until loaded

Sprag – Hold in a crack where the thumb pushes one way while the fingers pull in the opposite direction on an edge

Zdarsky Sack – Bivouac bag

Z-Pulley – 3-in-1 hoist

Neil Park is buyer and blogger for Gear-zone. He has over 20 experience climbing and in the outdoor industry.

Citations: Image by mariachily

Mountain Climbing Holiday for Beginners – Mustagata

The sheer exhilaration of tackling a mountain is often reward enough to make this successful feat a complete holiday in itself. Spending time mountain climbing is becoming a more popular choice for those who want to get out and let off steam. Many also enjoy refuelling their bodies with the spiritual invigoration that mountain climbing can provide.


It is no secret that successful mountain climbing takes practice and a great deal of physical endurance, amongst other things. It is for this reason that seizing Mother Nature’s natural obstacles may not be for everyone; however, there are mountains that are a little less challenging for those who wish to give the sport a try.

Mustagata Mountain

If travel is on your list for the upcoming holiday season and you were hoping to try something a little different this year, you may want to consider booking a flight that will get you to Western China’s Parmir Mountains. At the junction of Kunlun, Himalaya, Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Tian Shan mountain ranges sits Mustagata.

Mt Mustagata - Karakul (Black Water) Lake

Mustagata, with its 7,500m peak, is known to be one of the easiest mountains to climb, anywhere in the world. The entire mountain towers to a whopping 24,757 feet, but its peak is what climbers come to challenge. This mountainous region is often associated with the world’s second highest peak, K2, but Mustagata offers its challengers a much less dangerous option.

The trail to the top is not hard to follow and is non-technical. It is also one of the safest high-altitude mountains to climb and for these reasons it is on the less experienced climber’s list of places to visit. Once you reach the peak you will be surround by spectacular panoramic views of nearby Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tien Shan and K2. To descend you can climb, ski or snowboard.

Citations: Images by allanv; joshuatintner