General Considerations

When you take the rock-climbing skills you've learned during pleasant days on small nearby crags out into the mountains proper, some of the conditions of the game change. There are new things to keep in mind when it comes to alpine climbing which involves a mix of hiking, scrambling, routefinding, snow and ice climbing, and rock climbing.

First of all, you'll probably be climbing with a pack, a significant impediment to speed and performance. With a pack, it can be a challenge to climb rock several levels easier than what you lead comfortably on the crags. For a real test, try climbing a chimney or an off-width crack. Sometimes it's necessary to haul the pack up separately with a rope, and this again slows the climb.

Decisions about how much gear to take become extremely important as each extra pound cuts into speed and performance and, ironically, adds to the possibility that the extra gear may be needed to survive an unplanned bivouac or accident.

On the crags, you use light, flexible shoes specially designed for rock climbing. But on alpine climbs, heavy mountaineering boots are the usual footwear for approaches, for snow travel, and often for much or all of the climbing. As with carrying a pack, climbing in mountaineering boots adds to the challenge of otherwise moderate rock. If you decide to change to rock shoes for the more technical portions of a climb, you're stuck with packing the mountaineering boots. If you're wear ing boots and crampons for hard snow or ice and encounter a short section of rock, you may have to ascend the rock in crampons, adding yet another dimension to the climb.

Use special care in testing holds on alpine climbs, where loose rocks may not have been discovered and discarded by previous climbers the way they are at popular crags. Unsound rock is common on alpine climbs because of the many different types and the constant weathering it receives. You may want to place protection even on rock that appears easy to climb. However, occasionally on low-angle loose rock, using the rope may be more hazardous than climbing unroped, because the rope can dislodge rocks onto climbers below.

Unpredictable weather, arduous approaches, high altitude, and routefinding problems all add to the commitment and challenge of alpine rock climbing.

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