Mountain climbers are just a bit crazy. They risk their lives every moment that they're up there. More than that, they want to do it! It makes them happy. Yup. Just a bit crazy, to be sure.
There are such extreme dangers in mountain climbing. The top three are things falling on you, yourself falling and bad weather. Things that may fall on you include rocks, ice and snow (avalanches).
– Rocks could come loose on mountains at any moment. Furrows on the slopes and conspicuous collections of rock and debris in patches are good signs to look for.
– Areas prone to falling ice are overhanging cornices (molding below a ceiling) that you find on the peaks of narrow ridges.
– Broken sections of glaciers, called seracs, are potentially dangerous. Ice sections could fall during, and after, the hottest part of the day.
– Hanging glaciers on steep slopes will periodically drop ice. Ice piles in patches are excellent indicators.
– Be weary of large icicles that form on steep rock faces. They could break loose at any moment, especially after inclement weather.
– Before all of that, however, you are advised to remember that a falling climber is a very real danger. More than that, even just his gear falling could shove you right off.
Either way, stay sharp at all times. It may not be the mountain that takes you down. Tons and tons of snow, ice and debris streaking down a mountainside as an avalanche is most terrifying. If you find yourself in one, survival is slim, at best. Avalanches claim the lives of hundreds of people every year. Many of them were athletically skilled individuals, even skilled climbers. Many of them were caught out in the open snow.
It is not very easy to turn back from a snow crossing once you've begun. So much time will be lost. When in doubt, do not do it and save your life. A large percentage of avalanche fatalities are expert skiers with avalanche training. Think on that for a bit. Sometimes knowing is not enough to save you. Oftentimes, it is the knowing that makes a person unnecessarily reckless.
Alpine (high mountain) climbers are advised to always carry an avalanche beacon, a probe and a shovel to help in your own rescue should you, or your party, become trapped in an avalanche.
Just as there are many ways that an object may fall on you while climbing, there are so many ways for you, yourself, to fall.
– As a climber, you could loose your hold and drop into the air. An amazing feeling that will likely be the last thing you know.
– You may go careening down a mountainside. After that cruel and painful fall, hopefully there will not be a deep hole or a crevasse to swallow you up. (Good grief!)
– Be extremely cautious on slick ice slopes. Crampons, an ice ax and ice screws (pickets) become necessary here. One slip could mean no return for you.
There are snow slopes for which a potential avalanche must always be considered. At the base of these snow slopes lies the danger of a hidden crevasse. Painstaking use of a snow bridge often becomes vital. You'll want to have an experienced climber with you for those instances when advancing over snow, especially snow on ice, is a difficult decision. If you insist on going, a straight ascent is favored over a horizontal one. With this approach, there is less risk of snow movement, less to encourage an avalanche.
Crevasses are deep chasms found in glaciers. They may be easily seen or they may be hidden from sight. It takes experience and caution to detect them. Your best protection is to rope your climbing party together. Do not ever cross a crevasse without being tied to at least one person.
Weather is an awesome force high in the mountains. You can never escape it so do not think that you can ignore it. You may experience a whiteout where you'd be lucky to see a few feet in front of you. In the summer, you may experience thunderstorms or lighting, even lighting all by itself. All climbers are advised to have an alpine start, that is, a climb that starts before or at first light. It gives you the chance to return to base during daylight should the weather become threatening.
Breathing is difficult high in the mountains because there is less oxygen in the air. The body needs to acclimatize, to become accustomed to the thin air. If you do not give yourself enough time, you'll probably develop altitude sickness. If you do not descend immediately when this happens, your condition could progress to one of two forms of edema. Both conditions could be fatal within 24 hours. I repeat, fatal within a day. If this happens, get yourself off that mountain right now!
Mountain climbing is absurdly dangerous. You really will risk your life, over and over. But, oh, to stand on the summit. To be so high, to see for many miles, possibly over many miles of mountains, to know that you stand where few have gone before. What a feeling! Very few things come close. Be careful up there!