What is Mountaineering and where do I even Start?
Updated: Mar 21, 2020
Mountaineering - the sport or activity of climbing mountains
So how does one get into Mountaineering? Everyone has to start somewhere, right? You have to crawl before you walk, and you have to walk before you run. It’s not like you can just show up on Mt. Everest and expect to climb it without any experience, right? Ha, okay, based on the 2019 Everset climbing season that seems like a loaded question and my answer to it is a resounding NO! Since that’s an entirely different topic, I’ll address it in a later post.
Before I being to digress, let’s talk about how my husband and I got into the endeavor of mountaineering. It all started with the willingness to trade in our drunken beach vacations for a different kind of activity, hiking. After moving from the beautiful east coast of Northern Florida (Neptune Beach, I miss you!) to what at the time we didn’t know would be HAF, Dallas, TX, we came to appreciate getting out of the heat and started taking “cold vacations” in the summer.
On top of that, we had a goal to visit all 50 states together (more to come on that later, too!) which gave us a framework to use in our vacation planning. What states hadn’t we been to yet, where is it still cool in the summer and what would we do while we were there?
Being the goal-oriented people we are, we took a look at what states we had left to conquer: Alaska, New Mexico, and a bunch in the Northeast to name a few, and researched what type of outdoor activities they had and what we thought was worth adventuring out to do.
We ended up climbing the highest peak in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak, at 13,161 ft above sea level, Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, home of the country’s worst recorded weather, and Mt. Healy in the Denali National Park where we learned, we needed to learn more…a lot more.
We realized quickly we didn’t have the proper gear or experience to continue on once we reached a point where you had to have crampons to even consider trekking further. After going through some crampon, ropes and ice climbing training, we felt much better prepared to take on tougher challenges.
Attempt up Mt. Healy in Denali National Park....the third photo is our stoppoing point where we coudn't go on any further without proper gear.
Our next endeavor: Mt. Elbrus. Peaking at 18,510 ft above sea level and located in the North Caucasus Mountains on the border of Southwestern Russia and Georgia, Mt. Elbrus is the 10th most prominent mountain in the world and the highest mountain in Europe.
Just getting there poses its own challenges. Three flights and a 3-hour taxi ride, on top of having to go through the stressful process of applying for a Russian visa. Thank goodness we made a new friend at Beyond Red Square who helped us navigate all logistical challenges and put us in touch with LetsRussia.com who assisted us with getting our visas. Both groups were super responsive and helped take the stress out of much of the planning.
Another challenge is the language barrier. While in the major metro areas many people speak English, where we are headed, not so much. To help learn the Cyrillic alphabet and some Russian to help us communicate, I’ve been using a combination of the mobile app DuoLingo (it’s totally worth buying the plus version so you can use it offline), Tiny Cards (a really cool learning app that has flash cards for just about anything you could think of), YouTube and a friend who happens to be a native speaker of Russian.
At first glance it may seem daunting to try to learn Russian because of its alphabet uses different characters, but I’ve actually found it really fun to learn. It’s like decoding a puzzle and you realize many of the words are actually spelled with the same sounds. For example, soup is spelled with the same sounds “s” “oo” “p” and written like this: суп. Same thing for “pizza” which is spelled: пицца. Same sounds, just different characters. Of course, there are some major differences with a few of the consonant blends like a “DL” or “ZD” that are going to take a lot of practice to say correctly.
In addition to new travel documents and a new language, we also needed a ton of new gear! So how did we go about obtaining it? A fellow mountaineer, KyQuan Phong, helped guide us as to what gear we needed for this climb. We originally connected via Instgram and since he's such an all around great guy, he was willing to meet up with us in person for a tasty beverage while we were in NYC for a weekend despite his crazy, busy schedule.
After learning what all was necessary to purchase, I put my professional shopping skills to use. Using the mobile app and browser extension called Rakuten (formerly known as Ebates (thank you Brad B!)) to find the best deals on the equipment we needed while getting a ton of cash back by shopping through the app.
We bought most of our gear at Moosejaw and REI, however a few items were easier to get on Amazon or through some small retailers where we were able to get last season’s colors to save some major dough.
From crampons and ice axes, to the North Face 800 down filled Immaculator Parka and the Arc'teryx Alpha SV GORE-TEX wind and waterproof Jacket, we tried to balance price with practicality. We were lucky at the time Backcounty.com was running a 20% off coupon and so saved a bunch on the $750 Arcteryx jacket!
Moosejaw also runs promotions on what they call "MJ bucks," where you can get future dollars to spend at their store. It was 35% MJ bucks when we were shopping for gear.
Last but not least, if you are a member of the REI co-op, you always get 10% back as part of your membership in the form of a dividend. Gotta love REI for their knowledgeable staff and the fact it’s just fun to go play around in the store.
So there you have it…
Two mere mortals who might just be a little crazy, finished banging out all 50 states and now have moved onto slightly more adventurous pursuits.