Understand The Hazards Of Mountain Climbing

Published: 23rd March 2009
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Mountains are a perennial favorite for group hikes and picnics because nowhere else can you be treated with spectacular views and exciting adventures. But with all their stunning beauty and potential for fun and enjoyment, mountains also pose hazards and dangers, many of which are hidden from view. To keep yourself safe and informed, here are some of them:



Mountain terrain Unless you're a seasoned climber or are an experienced mountaineer, mountain terrain can be very confusing. For the untrained eye, it can be extremely difficult to find your way in or out especially if there is nothing out of the ordinary to use as a landmark. For somebody who's unfamiliar with mountain terrain, every tree, fallen branch, log, tree stump, patch of grass or shrub will look exactly the same, making it easy for you to lose your way.



By itself, mountain terrain can be very hazardous. Rocks, caves and shrubs can hide dangerous wildlife and crevices can pose a danger to both life and limb.



Avalanche and rock falls In some mountain areas, avalanches are controlled by mountain patrols so there's little risk of starting an avalanche or being caught in one. However, if you stray too far from area boundaries, you could encounter an avalanche and be swept away. While avalanches can occur at any time of the year, they are more common during winter and spring, when the ice begins to melt.



Rockfalls often occur when parts of the mountain are loosened during climbing. It can also occur after the melting of snow or an earthquake. Rockfalls are also common in rock mountains because of erosion.



Sudden weather changes Weather conditions in the mountains can be very hazardous to hikers and campers because they can change rapidly. A bright, sunny day when you start out can turn dark and nasty in the middle of your hike or climb. Summits and mountain tops are especially prone to storms because these areas attract clouds.



Sudden weather changes can also make hiking and moving more difficult and rain can cause mud patches and rocks to become slippery. During a snowstorm, whiteouts can make it extremely difficult for climbers to retrace their route. Without a compass, there is a danger of them getting lost.



Lightning Lightning is a mountain hazard especially during summer thunderstorms. Lightning is attracted to the highest point on the ground and climbers near or at the top of the mountain have a high risk of getting struck.



Sunburn This would probably be less of a problem if you are walking under a canopy of trees, but the risk of sunburn becomes real once you've reached higher elevations. Areas in the mountains with sparse trees and forest covering can expose you to ultraviolet light.



Bodies of water Streams and rivers may look safe, but they can be deeper than they seem. They can also be very cold, even during the summer months. In case you fall into them, you might expose yourself to the risk of hypothermia.



Streams and rivers may also flow swifter than you think. If you're trying to cross and the water level reaches above your knees, there is a danger that you could get swept away. The depth and speed of the flow can also change quickly. After a rain storm or once the snow above the area begins to melt, a small stream can turn into a strong torrent of frigid water.



Falling There is always a danger of a climber falling due to a faulty handhold or foothold. A wrong estimate of the rock's stability or firmness can cause a fall, so it's important to know whether a particular area can carry the climber's weight to avoid accidents.



Altitude Some climbers may develop altitude sickness, which usually happens when they ascend the mountain too fast. At higher points, there is less oxygen and lower atmospheric pressure, causing unpleasant sensations. Climbers who complain of nausea, lethargy, severe headache and body ache may be suffering from altitude sickness and need attention immediately.



At heights above 1,500 meters, climbers usually experience acclimatization, which is why climbers who scale mountain heights of higher elevations pack bottled oxygen to help them cope. If not, problems like HACE (high altitude cerebral edema), HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema) and AMS (acute mountain sickness) can occur and these can be life threatening.



Mountain climbing is a very enjoyable sport or recreation, so it's necessary to be aware of hazards that one may encounter during a mountain climbing trip. Be prepared, take safe routes and use common sense during a climb and never underestimate a mountain, no matter how familiar it has become to you.



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