Mountaineering is a sport and active recreation, the aim of which is to climb the mountain peaks. The sports essence of mountaineering consists in overcoming natural obstacles created by nature (height, relief, weather conditions), on the way to the top. In sports competitions of alpinism, the object of the competition is the height of the peak, the technical complexity of the traversed route, its nature and extent.

In different sources  the origin of mountaineering as a sport is determined in different ways.

The origin of mountaineering is most often associated with the subjugation on August 8, 1786 by the physician Michel-Gabriel Packard and Jacques Balma, who was a mountain guide to the highest point  of of the Alps-Mont Blanc. Monument to the initator of Mont Blanc is located in the world center of mountaineering and downhill skiing – Chamonix.

Several steps can be divided into development in the history of mountaineering:

  1. Climbing unconquered peaks in the simplest way.
  2. Increasing the complexity of routes to the previously reached peaks in the Alps and other mountain systems.
  3. High-altitude climbing to the highest peaks of the world.
  4. Passing the most difficult routes in various mountain systems of the globe.

Technically challenging climbs in the Alps

Originating in the Alps, mountaineering for the first time began to develop as a sport here. Purely athletic ascent to the peaks began to occur in the Alps in the beginning of the XIX century. The development of sports mountaineering became particularly widespread in the 20th century.

On the beginning of the 20th century, all the peaks of the Alps were conquered, and climbers began to search for new, more complex routes of ascent. The more difficult the route, the more athletic was climbing. Gradually appeared, grew and established the “wall” mountaineering, that is, the passage of routes along the steep walls of the mountains.

The strongest climbers in this area were representatives of the Alpine states: Italians, Germans, Austrians, French, and also Englishmen. In the second half of the twentieth century, such walls were passed in the Alps, which long time had  been considered absolutely impregnable. This indicated that the sport class  of  climbers  surely  has grown. Great importance for the growth of sportsmanship was played by the general development of equipment and techniques for overcoming rocky and ice areas. Lighter and stronger ropes made of synthetic fibers, lighter cats, ice axes, bolts and bookmarks, dural stairs, improved kitchens, new products, light, warm clothes and shoes all contributed significantly to the qualitative growth of mountaineering.

The most complicated wall routes in the Alps

The northern wall of the Eiger. For ten years from 1928 to 1938, climbers of various countries tried unsuccessfully to pass this most difficult wall in the Alps. After the first passage of the northern wall of the Eiger in 1938, a large number of routes have been built along this wall by now. On one of the attempts to climb the northern wall of the Eiger in 1936, which ended tragically, the German filmmakers in 2008 filmed a feature film “Northern Wall” (“Nordwand”),

  1. based on actual events. Now, along the northern wall of the Eiger, many difficult routes have been laid.
  2. One of the most popular alpine peaks among mountain climbers is the Gran Joras, located in the Mont Blanc area, in the upper reaches of Lescho gorge. The northern wall of Gran Joras for a long time represented one of the problems in the Alps. Only in 1938 the Italian climbers Cassin, Esposito and Tizcioni went through a difficult route along a monolithic wall covered with ice.
  3. The north-west wall of Petit Drew in the Mont Blanc area has long been considered impassable. This wall is considered superior in complexity to all that, what was done earlier in the Alps. The first passage of the northern wall of Petit Drew was made on August 1, 1935 by Pierre Allain and Raymond Leininger. It is widely known among climbers of solo ascent of the Italian mountaineer Walter Bonatti (Walter Bonatti) along the south-western edge, called the “Bonatti’s rib”. The Italian climbed from August 17 to 22, 1955. Seven years later, July 24-26, 1962, Gary Hemming and Royal Robbins passed the “American Direct” -the most direct route from the previously traversed wall Petit Drew. Later, August 10-13, 1965, Royale Robbins and John Harlin (John Harlin) passed the American directissima. Petit Drew is the benchmark of high-level sportsmanship in alpinism.

Climbing to the highest peaks of the world

After all the alpine peaks were conquered, the eyes of climbers began to turn to other mountain regions of America, Africa, New Zealand. It was turn to the Himalayas.

The first attempts to conquer the peaks in the Himalayas date back to the beginning of the 19th century. However, after the first attempts it became clear that the expedition to the top above 6000-7000 m takes many new problems for mountaineers, connected primarily with the height, the small mountain range, the large scale approaches to the foot of the peaks.

For many years, various expeditions traveled to the Himalayas and the Karakorum. The British, since 1922, year after year persistently stormed Everest (Jomolungma), the Germans – Nanga-Parbat and Kanchenjunga, Italians and Americans – K-2 peak (Chogori) in Karakorum.

The first eight-thousandths – Annapurna, was conquered only in 1950 by members of the French expedition Maurice Erzog and Louis Laschanen. After that, six more high peaks of the Himalayas and the Karakoram were conquered within five years, including the highest peak of the Earth – Jomolungma, which for more than 30 years had repulsed all attacks of British expeditions. The success of the conquest of the highest peaks, along with the accumulated experience, was facilitated by the improvement of equipment, first of all, the creation of relatively easy and reliable oxygen equipment. All this taken together determined the success of post-war high-altitude expeditions.

As the development of high-altitude mountain climbing, all eight-thousanders were gradually conquered.

Ascent to the highest peaks along the wall routes

After conquering the highest peaks along the easiest route, the era of conquest of the highest peaks on difficult and  wall routes began. Since 1992, at the initiative of the French magazine Montagnes and The Groupe de Haute Montagne (GHM), rewarding alpinists who have made the best ascents of the year. The “Golden Ice Ax” award is the most prestigious award in mountaineering.

Since 2009, a new nomination “For the Achievements of a Whole Life” was established and the first in this nomination golden ice ax was won by the famous Italian mountaineer and traveler Walter Bonatti. In the following years, this award was awarded to Reinhold Messner (2010), Doug Scott (2011), Robert Parago (2012), Kurt Dimberger (2013), John Roskelli (2014), Chris Bonington (2015).

When climbing, you have to overcome various natural obstacles: rivers, rocks, snow, glaciers. Their overcoming, as a rule, is connected with danger. Over the long history of alpinism, a special technique was developed to overcome the dangerous mountainous terrain.


The technique of overcoming rocky relief  depends on the steepness of the rocks. As a rule, rocks are overcome in bundles. Rock walls are overcome by climbing in conjunction with the alternate organization of the partner’s insurance for the ligament. Climbing is much more safe when the climber follows the rule of three points of support: for two hands and feet or both legs and hands. In case of loss of one of the support points, It is easy for the climber to maintain the balance: quickly changing the position of the body and finding another grip, restore the three points of support. When climbing with two points of support in the event of the loss of one of them, it is almost impossible to maintain balance.

On the steep rocks, it is possible the simultaneous movement of participants in the knitting. In this case, the first one chooses the route of movement in such a way that in case of the failure of one of the participants of the ligament, the other could keep it from falling, laying the rope behind the ledges of the rocks. On steep rocks, where there is a danger of falling, insurance is provided with  useing of rock hooks and bookmarks. In this case, the one walking in the bunch first clings hooks into the crevices with the help of a rock hammer, fastens a carbine or a detachment through the hook eye, and snaps a rope into the carbine, which he insures in case of a breakdown. If the wall is very steep, there is a danger of interrupting the rope with a falling stone or breaking a rope on sharp stones, then the first goes on a double rope in order to ensure safety. In this case, the ropes are snapped one after the other in carabiners, fastened to different hooks or bookmarks. On very difficult, steep sections with overhangs, when overcoming the cornices, artificial points of support are used in the form of ladders or rope loops, which are suspended to pre-hammered hooks.

Going first in a bunch climbs the entire length of the rope, organizes the insurance points for themselves and for the other participant in the bundle. After that, the lower one in a bundle organizes the tops of insurance along the way knocking out the hooks lefted first. Gathered at the point of insurance, organized by the first participant, the bunch begins in the same style climbing a new section of the rock route.


When climbing, especially in high mountains, it is necessary to overcome glaciers, icefalls. Depending on the condition of the glacier, the presence of ice cracks, the steepness of ice, various types of ice equipment are used:

  • Mountaineering cats
  • Ice ax
  • Ice hammers
  • Ice Fifi
  • Ice screws
  • Stairs
  • Handrails

When glaciers pass, there is a danger of falling into a crack on the glacier, that’s  why the glaciers pass in a bundle, organizing insurance for each other. Ice climbing is used on steep ice.

When overcoming icefalls, especially when they repeatedly pass through the ascent in the Himalayan style, special stairs are used.

A feature of overcoming steep ice is the use of special cats and ice drills to organize intermediate points of insurance.


The technique of overcoming snow slopes depends on the state of snow. Snowshoes and skis for ski mountaineering are used for passing freshly fallen snow.

During the passage of steep snow slopes, an ice ax is used for insurance, and also as an additional support point when moving in three steps: an ice ax-leg foot. Cats are used to pass through the snow packed with wind and frost.

Ascent style

It  is  highlighted  the Alpine and Himalayan climbing styles. Alpine style is a gradual ascent to the top along with all the equipments. The Himalayan style is distinguished by the preliminary preparation of the climbing route, by stitching the safety ropes (handrails), installing intermediate camps, delivering equipment and oxygen to these camps, which involves multiple ascents and descents from the camp to the camp. The Himalayan style is a kind of siege of the mountain, which takes sometimes 2-3 months, but it was such tactics that allowed to reach the peaks of Mount Everest and other eight-thousand-meter mountains.

Rock climbing

In the low mountains, where, as a rule, there is no snow and ice, the route of climbing the peaks passes along the rocks. The peculiarity of rock climbing are:

  • Relatively low altitude and, as a result, absence of oxygen starvation
  • More comfortable climbing conditions from the point of view of the ambient temperature
  • No need to take a large number of warm things to climb
  • Possibility to take a route in light rock shoes
  • As a rule, technically complicated sections of the route require for the organization of reliable insurance- the use of a wide arsenal of rock equipment (ropes, hooks, bookmarking, braces, carbines, etc.);
  • As a rule, a shorter time for passaging of a rock route (usually without an overnight stay).

Similar ascents are a classic mountaineering, originated in the Alps, whose height does not exceed 4810 meters (the height of Mont Blanc) from sea level. When climbing the Alps and other mountainous regions (the Caucasus, the Cordillera, the Southern Alps, the Andes, the Pamirs, the Tien Shan, the Altai, etc.) to the peaks up to 5000 meters from the sea level, climbers, as a rule, do not face signs of an acute manifestation of a mountain disease. Feature of this type of climbing are:

The need to use the entire arsenal of climbing equipment: techniques of transportation and organization of insurance on rocks, snow and ice;

  • Necessity of organizing intermediate camps for overnighting and rest, which entails the need to take out bivouac equipment;
  • A less rapid pace on the route due to the greater weight of backpacks due to the need to take more equipment (cats, ice ax, ropes, rock and ice hooks, bivouac equipment, food, communication equipment and others).
  • When climbing to the peaks higher than 5000 meters from sea level, the rate of movement slows down because of signs of mountain sickness, if the ascenders do not have good acclimatization.

High-altitude climbing

High altitude climbing refers to climbing to the heights above 6,500 meters from sea level, located in the high mountains: the Himalayas, Karakorum, Pamir, Tien Shan, Andes. When climbing mountain, the main difficulty is the need to maximize mobilization of vital forces to overcome the negative effects of exposure to the body height, dry rarefied air, ultraviolet radiation, strong wind, low temperatures. Despite the use of high-altitude climbing to the peaks above 8000 meters from sea level, long-term

human presence at these altitudes is impossible. This high-altitude zone was called the “death zone”. Acclimatization is always required to overcome the negative impact of height and successful ascent. The process of acclimatization takes place by gradual climbing with the need to descend to lower heights for rest and recuperation. Therefore, high altitude climbing takes much longer  time compared to climbing to lower heights. To make ascents, expeditions are organized, which last for more than one month.

A feature of high-altitude climbing are:

  • The need for prior acclimatization;
  • The need to use special clothes and shoes to protect against the negative impact of the environment: strong winds, low temperatures, large amounts of snow, ice;
  • Use of the entire arsenal of climbing equipment and mountaineering equipment
  • Organization of intermediate camps for overnight accommodation, equipment and food stuffs.
  • As a rule, the preparation of the way of ascent and descent: installation of rope rails, intermediate camps. Gradual climb to the top with a descent for rest, which allows you to acclimatize for the decisive storm of the top.