Articles - Expedition Climber: An Introduction to the Greater Ranges
Climbing to high camp on Mera Peak. Photo: Mungo Ross
Tom Briggs - Posted on 26 Feb 2009
The days where climbing in the Greater Ranges was primarily the preserve of professional mountaineers operating at the cutting edge are long gone. Increasingly, a Himalayan expedition is becoming a route into climbing and mountaineering, as fit trekkers and hill walkers looking for a new challenge above the snow line, strap on crampons and join an organised trip to a snowy summit.
Specific peaks in the Greater Ranges are now on the ‘tick lists’ of aspiring mountaineers who previously might have limited their ambitions to an Alpine summit, like Mont Blanc. With better local infrastructure and companies specialising in mountaineering expeditions offering plenty of support, the high peaks of the world are more attainable than ever before. Mera Peak (6476m) in Nepal, Aconcagua (6959m) in Argentina, Stok Kangri (6121m) in India and Lhakpa Ri (7045m) in Tibet are examples of peaks increasingly climbed by those with little experience beyond winter climbing in Scotland.
However, mountaineering at high altitudes is a risky business at the best of times, even with expert leadership and guidance. Altitude is in itself a frequent killer due to a lack of understanding about the need to slowly acclimatise, before pushing high on a mountain. In addition to slow acclimatisation, there are many other factors, which contribute to success, with the most important being experience of previous expeditions. This is something of a ‘catch 22’. If you try to get ahead of yourself and climb a peak such as Denali with no previous expedition experience and little in the way of winter mountaineering skill, you are very likely to fail. If, however, you work towards bigger and tougher challenges gradually, by learning about what it takes to survive in the high mountains on lower, less demanding peaks, then your prize could eventually be a rare ascent of an 8000m summit, if that is what you desire.
The world of Big Mountains has opened up to more people that ever before, and the rewards of mountaineering at high altitude are for the taking, if you approach the endeavour slowly, with caution and a good dose of realism.
In the following pages we will explore a variety of different types of expedition, from training and preparation in the Alps, to Mera Peak, working up to Denali, Ama Dablam, and culminating in the mighty 8000m peak of Manaslu. These are all serious prospects, and the physical and mental preparation and effort required should not be underestimated.
About the author.Tom Briggs was born in the Lake District, and bred to climb rock, snow and ice. As Marketing Director for Jagged Globe, he is lucky enough to check the quality of the company's mountaineering expeditions and to develop new 'products' in the Greater Ranges and European Alps. Something of an all-rounder, during 2008 Tom summited Denali in Alaska, climbed F8a+ rock and WI5 ice in France, E9 and Font 7c+ in the Peak District and Scottish Grade VIII in Glencoe. He lives in Sheffield and climbs regularly at The Foundry during his lunch break.
Follow up article: Getting started in mountaineering.