The minimum size for a mountaineering party is considered to be the number of people who can handle an accident situation adequately. Traditionally, a minimum party of three has been standard. Thus, if one climber is hurt, the second can stay with the victim while the third goes for help.
Variations from the basic unit of three depend on the situation. On difficult terrain or in adverse weather, when it would be dangerous for one person to go alone for help, four may be the safe minimum. On the other hand, the complexity of the route may make more then a single rope team of two a liability.
A glacier climb calls for four to six people, divided into two rope teams, in order to carry out an efficient crevasse rescue. A climb in a remote area where there may be no help within 100 miles must be planned for complete self-sufficiency and, therefore, may become an expedition of relatively large numbers. A small party in a remote area must consciously accept an increased level of risk.
It's a mistake, however, to believe that a larger party is always a safer party. A larger party can start bigger avalanches and kick down more loose rock. It will generally be slower and more unwieldy, both in camping and climbing. A party of ten to twelve is considered the largest that can impose itself on the wilderness without serious damage to the ecosystem—and even this is too large a group for some areas.
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