Types of mountaineering

The three general types of mountaineering

Different styles or methods of mountaineering have evolved over the years. The main impetus behind this evolution in styles of climbing has been the massive advances in mountaineering equipment.

The advent of the likes of Gore-tex, tough lightweight plastics, carbon fiber, extremely strong but lightweight metal alloys, pre-packaged high-energy foods, and improved stoves and tents, all mean that the large and slow expedition-style ascents of yesteryear are now giving way to fast lightweight ascents. Routes that once took days using old equipment and climbing methods are now being ascended in a matter of hours!

Types of mountaineering

Three general ‘types’ of mountaineering now exist ...


  • Alpinism is a type of mountaineering, originally developed by alpine guides but now used extensively to ascend ‘low level’ routes (below 5,000m or 3.1 miles in altitude).
  • The majority of mountaineering routes around the world, are classed as low-level mountaineering (sub 5,000m).
  • Previous climbing generations carried a lot of equipment and many accidents were borne from the sheer weight of kit being carried and the slow progress of ascent.
  • The essence behind alpine-style climbing is to move quickly by carrying minimal climbing protective equipment and bivouac equipment, keeping weight to a minimum and adopting the attitude that ‘fast is safe’.
  • Alpinism requires all members of the party to be able to move over difficult terrain with speed and competence.

High altitude mountaineering

  • Mountaineering above 5,000m is affected by altitude, weather, access and sustained climbing on snow and ice.
  • High altitude mountaineering requires a mixture of determination, patience, fearlessness, caution, careful planning but the ability to make snap decisions.
  • Traditionally this type of mountaineering has made the use of expedition or ‘siege’ style tactics to carry vast amounts of bivouac equipment and food, and establish camps at different altitudes on the climb, necessary to allow party members to acclimatize to the changes in altitude.
  • Alpine-style climbing is now creeping into the world of high altitude mountaineering with many day-long routes now being ascended in just hours. But, fast and lightweight ascents cannot be undertaken by anyone as most people succumb to rapid gains in altitude. Also lightweight ascents run high risks if anything should go wrong.

Ultra light-weight mountaineering

  • Reserved for the more intrepid mountaineers, where climbers ascend high altitude peaks, using modern light-weight equipment in very short times.

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