There are three types of mountain climbing. In the easiest, trail climbing, participants merely hike along trails to the top of a particular mountain. The trails generally are not very steep, and the mountains are relatively small. Rock climbing takes place on steeper slopes and larger mountains. Participants generally have to ascend on hands and feet, employing special equipment that may include thick rubber-soled boots or other special shoes, rope, and steel spikes, known as pitons, that are driven into the rock as an aid to climbing. Ice climbing is generally required only on extremely high mountains whose peaks are above the timber line. Equipment used in ice climbing includes the ice axe and attachable boot spikes, known as crampons, that are used on hard ice or snow.
Almost all the famous ascents have involved rock and ice climbing. The first significant achievements in mountain climbing were the ascents of Mont Blanc made by Jacques Balmat and Michel G. Paccard (1786) and by Horace B. de Saussure (1787). The ascent of other Alpine peaks, including the Ortles (1804), Jungfrau (1811), Finsteraarhorn (1812), and Mont Pelvou (1848) soon followed, and much useful information was gathered by geologists and topographers.
Modern mountain climbing may be dated from the ascent of Switzerland's Wetterhorn (1854). This feat was followed by a decade in which the popularity of mountain climbing grew tremendously, sparking the founding (1858) of the Alpine Club, in London, and the launching (1863) of its publication, the Alpine Journal. An elite class of professional guides soon established itself, and techniques for snow, ice, and rock climbing were developed to the point where highly hazardous ascents were possible for the experienced. This so-called golden age of mountain climbing came to an end with the conquest of the Matterhorn, the last of the great Alpine mountains, by Edward Whymper (1865).
As the Alps became familiar, climbers ventured to other mountainous areas. The English Lake District, Wales, and the Scottish Highlands offered climbing challenges of all degrees of difficulty. William C. Slingsby led the way to the Norwegian mountains; Douglas W. Freshfield was one of the pioneer climbers in the Caucasus, soon followed by Albert F. Mummery. In Africa, Kilimanjaro (1889) and Mt. Kenya (1899) were climbed; the duke of the Abruzzi explored the Ruwenzori group in 1906. In the United States, Grand Teton in the Teton Range was climbed in 1872. In the 1860s and 70s Clarence King and John Muir ranged through the Sierra Nevada. In Alaska, Mt. St. Elias was climbed by the duke of the Abruzzi in 1897; Mt. Blackburn and Mt. McKinley were ascended in 1912 and 1913, respectively. In South America, Whymper climbed Chimborazo (1880) and Aconcagua and Tupungato (both: 1897). Gongga (Minya Konka), in China, was climbed in 1932.
The most challenging of all have proved to be the mountain systems of the Himalayas. Conway of Allington explored the Karakorum range in 1892; in 1895 J. Norman Collie, C. G. Bruce, Geoffrey Hastings, and Albert Mummery attempted Nanga Parbat, but the effort was given up after Mummery's disappearance on the mountain's western face. It was not until 58 years later that Nanga Parbat was climbed by Herman Buhl. In 1950, Maurice Herzog scaled Annapurna. The three towering giants—Mt. Everest, K2 (Mt. Godwin-Austen), and Mt. Kanchenjunga—were conquered in the 1950s: Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to ascend Everest, the world's tallest mountain, in 1953; an Italian team led by Ardito Desio climbed K2 in 1954; and in 1955 a British expedition led by Charles Evans surmounted Kanchenjunga. With the Chinese claim of an ascent of Gosainthan in 1964, the world's ten tallest mountains, all in the Himalayas, were finally conquered. Two other notable events in mountaineering were the scaling (1961) of the south face of Mt. McKinley and the winter ascent (1961) of the north wall of the Eiger in the Alps.
Many mountain climbing clubs have been formed, notably the Schweizer Alpen Club, Club Alpino Italiano, Club Alpin Français, the Himalayan Club, the Alpine Club (London), the Alpine Club of Canada, and the American Alpine Club. Most of these render valuable service by building and maintaining shelter huts and providing information concerning topography, routes, and mountain craft.
There is a rich and extensive literature of mountain climbing. See E. Whymper, Scrambles amongst the Alps (1871, 6th ed. 1936, repr. 1966); D. W. Freshfield, The Exploration of the Caucasus (2d ed. 1902); H. W. Tilman, The Ascent of Nanda Devi (1937) and Mount Everest, 1938 (1948); H. E. G. Tyndale, Mountain Paths (1949); W. R. Irwin, ed., Challenge: An Anthology of the Literature of Mountaineering (1950); Sir Arnold H. M. Lunn, A Century of Mountaineering, 1857-1957 (1958); J. Bernstein, Ascent (1965); S. Styles, Foundations of Climbing (1966) and On Top of the World (1967); A. J. Huxley, ed., Standard Encyclopedia of the World's Mountains (1969); F. Fleming, Killing Dragons: The Conquest of the Alps (2000); M. Isserman and S. Weaver, Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering (2008).
Sport of attaining, or attempting to attain, high points in mountainous regions, mainly for the joy of the climb. The pleasures of mountaineering lie not only in the conquest of the peak but also in the physical and spiritual satisfactions brought about through intense personal effort, ever-increasing proficiency, and contact with natural grandeur. The greater rewards do not come without considerable risk and danger. The first great peak ascended in modern times was Mont Blanc, in 1786. Other Alpine peaks followed, capped by the ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. By the 1910s, most peaks of the Andes, the Rockies, and other Western Hemisphere ranges had been climbed, including Mount McKinley (1913). Beginning in the 1930s a series of successful ascents of mountains in the Himalayas occurred; the summits of many of the Himalayan mountains were not reached until the 1950s, however. Of these climbs, the best known is the 1953 ascent of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. In the 1960s mountaineering became an increasingly technical sport, emphasizing the use of specialized anchoring, tethering, and grappling gear in the ascent of vertical rock or ice faces.
Learn more about mountaineering with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Climbing is the activity of using one's hands and feet (or indeed any other part of the body) to ascend a steep object. It is done both for recreation (to reach an inaccessible place, or for its own enjoyment) and professionally, as part of activities such as maintenance of a structure, or military operations.
Climbing activities include:
Rock, ice, and tree climbing all usually use ropes for safety or for aid. Pole climbing and rope climbing were among the first exercises to be included in the origins of modern gymnastics in the late 18th century and early 19th century.
Climbing has been featured in many popular movies, such as Cliffhanger and Mission: Impossible II, but is often inaccurately portrayed by Hollywood movies and popular media. Exceptions include the films The Eiger Sanction and Touching the Void. The sport of rock climbing was swept up in the extreme sport craze in the late 1990s which led to images of rock climbers on everything from anti-perspirant and United States Marine Corps commercials, to college promotional materials. Both pole and rope climbing can be seen in circus performances, such as Cirque du Soleil. The sport of rope climbing was once an official gymnastic event in the Olympic Games, but was dropped after 1932. The Czech republic and France have resurrected it and contests are held in public gathering places, such as shopping centers, as well as in gymnasiums. Pole and mast climbing were popular in the 18th and 19th century in village festivals in certain parts of Europe, and were still part of the physical education curriculum at the United States Naval Academy in the 1960s.