“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir
Why Do People Mountain Climb?
So let’s get one thing out in the open first…Mountaineering can sound intimidating to the uninitiated. It can also be hard to understand why someone would willingly throw themselves into freezing cold temperatures, low oxygen pressures, and extreme athletic feats when they could just stay at home and be comfortable, warm and safe. It’s okay…you can admit those thoughts have crossed your mind 🙂
However, there are so many tremendous benefits to mountaineering that it’s no wonder people all over the world do it. From small hills to K2!
People of many different regions of the world, age ranges and classes engage in the sport and have been for over 150 years since Sir Alfred Willis made mountaineering fashionable in Great Britain by climbing the Wetterhorn. The motivation for mountaineering can be deeply personal and vary between climbers. It can be hard to pinpoint and understand what drives us to climb mountains. However, there are many benefits that are shared amongst climbers and keep us coming back, step by step, towards our summit goals.
The beautiful thing about mountaineering is that in its simplest form, it is very low cost. If you want to summit an untechnical mountain in the summertime or in non-glaciated conditions, all you need is the proper attire and you’re ready to go and reap the benefits! The more involved, the more of a financial investment it can become, but it’s worth it to many mountaineers as it allows them to climb harder and more technical peaks.
Mountaineering has so many physical, mental and emotional benefits as well as social, cultural and economic advantages that I’m glad you’re here to read on about what I’ve discovered as a mountaineer.
Tell Me More About the Specific Benefits! Please!
The easiest benefits to understand and communicate are the physical benefits of mountaineering. Trekking and climbing are essentially a full body workout. It requires you to be in pretty good shape and utilizes many different muscle groups.
There is a lot of physical training and preparation that can really make or break your summit bid. Mountaineering can have a plethora of health benefits and is the ultimate endurance and stamina sport. For starters, mountaineering is an aerobic activity and can improve heart performance, lungs, circulation, and lower your blood pressure. Such intense aerobic activity can increase the capacity of your lungs via heavy breathing and clear the residual air from your lungs with fresher air (Gardner.)
It also increases your blood oxygen levels or the amount of oxygen carried by your blood to different parts of your body. Uphill and brisk walking has also been linked to reducing chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke, and even some cancers.
The physical list of benefits to mountaineering is extensive:
- It helps to control your weight by burning fat deposits throughout the body and improving general metabolism.
- It improves coordination of movement between your eyes, hands, and feet and improves your sense of balance as you need to walk over uneven terrain or even small ridges.
- It improves bone density as you carry heavy pack loads at varying inclines and over long distances.
- It improves your skin texture and tone.
- It tones up your muscles and makes them more resilient and flexible.
- It is the perfect interval training where there are bursts of extreme effort such as scrambling and rock climbing followed by mild walking or short sprinting.
- It even improves quality of sleep (“Health Benefits of Trekking, Hiking and Mountain Climbing.”)
The physical benefits of mountaineering are expansive enough to be motivation to start today.
2. Mental / Emotional
Mountaineering can also have many mental and emotional benefits in addition to the apparent physical ones. These benefits can be harder to quantify, measure and understand, and vary widely between individual climbers.
Mountaineering can certainly increase pride and confidence. Summiting a high peak can be an immense achievement that you will celebrate for life and is not something that everybody achieves.
It can also help you to conquer fears, promote courage and to push forward through negativity in hard times.
It takes a ton of perseverance to summit a mountain and can be great training for accomplishing difficult tasks in other aspects of your life. Summiting a mountain can often be an emotional roller coaster. It can be really difficult and trying to your emotions and mental integrity, and it can be a struggle to maintain a positive outlook and not to give up when things are tough.
It can be hard to remember your motivations when you’re extremely tired, cold and exhausted and all you want to do is turn around and be done with the whole thing. Overcoming these barriers can lead to more emotional control and also place a perspective on other problems you may face in life.
That feeling of finally reaching the summit, especially if the path was trying and difficult, is deeply euphoric. It can be unlike any other feeling and one that you will certainly remember the rest of your life. You truly earned those panoramic views and the sense of accomplishment and it is very satisfying. This sense of euphoria can certainly be addicting, hence why many people refer to being in the outdoors as “nature crack.” Mountaineering is without a doubt the healthier drug of choice.
This is Deep! Philosophy and Psychology – Very Cool Stuff
Mountaineering is associated with “Attention Restoration Theory” or ART. ART represents a body of research characterizing two types of attention: directed and involuntary.
Our directed attention is used when doing work, such as computer work for example and is best recharged through involuntary attention.
Beautiful natural settings are particularly good for stimulating involuntary attention and mountain landscapes are considered by many to be the most beautiful. Humans need ‘high levels of prospect and low levels of refuge’ to feel good (Griffiths, Tamara.) This means being able to see out into a far distance without an obstruction, like trees or shrubs, so that there is no unknown threat.
This is restorative for attentiveness and well-being. The more expansive the view, with the most clarity and the least amount of obstruction, the more restorative the experience is.
Topography and Environment Can Dictate or Predict Real Emotions
Climbing above the tree line offers breathtaking vantage points with a vast unobstructed view due to the lack of vegetation. Psychologists Gatersleben and Andrews discovered that this type of environment causes emotions of sadness to dramatically decrease, and anger to substantially diminish.
However, in ‘low prospect high refuge’ environments like a dense forest, anger was found to increase and sadness did not decrease. Further, the ability to concentrate increased substantially in ‘high level of prospect and low level of refuge’ compared to other landscapes, suggesting high altitude mountains are an ideal learning location.
The study also states that experiencing awe evokes deeper thoughts and reflections, as most mountain hikers know.” (Griffiths, Tamara.)
Essentially, climbing mountains can be restorative for your working attention, it can reset your attention span so to speak and also make you a much happier person. This is greatly beneficial for one’s mental health, especially in a day and age where most people are working stressful jobs and not exercising enough to outlet said stress.
Many studies have linked exercise to improvements in moods and mental health and mountaineering is a complete full body exercise. (Chrobak, Ula.)
Mountaineering and spending time in nature has also been linked to aiding with depression and according to some studies, climbing can be a form of therapy used for depression and other mental illnesses.
Younghee Lowry, a crisis worker in Tahoe, California, uses climbing as a type of “mindfulness therapy,” a treatment described by the American Psychological Association (APA) as “paying attention to one’s experience in the present moment, observing thoughts and emotions from moment to moment without judging.” (Moore, 2018.) This is not to suggest that mountaineering can be a cure for depression, but it has certainly been beneficial to many.
Mountaineering has many social benefits as well. Joining an alpine club can introduce you to lifelong friends and social circles.
Climbing a mountain requires immense trust in another person, and can create deep bonds that are not easily replicated elsewhere. You sometimes trust your life to your climbing partner and therefore should choose that person wisely. If they remove their break hand during a belay and you take a fall, you could die or get seriously injured.
Persevering through the journey together requires climbing partners to lift each other up, to rely on each other and to ensure that the team is safe throughout. Climbing with another person can motivate you to keep going when the going gets tough, so as to not disappoint the other person.
We Need Some “PEER PRESSURE” Please!
There may be a lot less peer pressure when climbing solo, but there are also greater risks. You will create incredible memories together that can only be shared through pictures and never understood by those who do not climb.
Jim Wickwire states, “I’ve climbed with some of the best climbers in the world, more importantly, to me, they are some of the best people in the world. That’s another reason why I climb.” which sums up the sentiment fairly well. Your climbing partners will inevitably become your closest friends over time.
Mountaineering knowledge is often spread through mentorships. Seasoned climbers will often share their knowledge with aspiring mountaineers, ensuring they are learning in a safe, fun and efficient manner. The relationship between a mentor and the learner can be a special and life-altering relationship for everyone involved and can create a legacy for decades.
In addition to personal social benefits, mountaineering can be beneficial to communities whose livelihoods rely on the sport.
Mountaineering and other outdoor recreational sports can be a primary source of revenue for communities around the world and is a valuable asset to many global economies. Everything from gear sales to permits to general spending as a result of tourism in the area can have a huge effect on a local economy.
Help Out the Himalayan Economy Would You!?
A prime example is the Sherpa people of the high Himalaya. The revenue from tourists hiring Sherpa people as porters and guides has changed the way of life for these people in an economically beneficial way.
There are around 150,000 Sherpa people (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018) and many of them reside in Nepal, near Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, and in surrounding high altitude villages. They view the mountain as the home of the gods, and this is heavily linked to their spirituality and worship.
A large part of their motivation in assisting tourists and mountaineers in their climbing pursuits is to ensure they do not anger the gods through littering, killing livestock, burning garbage and other harmful activities. The Sherpa people receive spiritual guidance and worship the mountains they call home. They did not climb the mountains prior to the 20th century, but now see it as a necessity for income and a way of life. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018.)
Traveling to foreign destinations in the pursuit of mountains can also spread cultural awareness, which can make you more empathetic, knowledgeable and experienced. It can be a form of bridging the gap between cultures.
With high mountains existing on all seven continents, there is no shortage of adventures to be had and cultures to experience. Mountaineering is a sport embraced around the world and you can find common ground and connections with people who speak different languages and come from vastly different backgrounds, who you might otherwise have never met.
On the other side of the coin, it can also make you appreciate your own home and country that much more when you’ve seen it from higher ground and new perspectives.
Mountaineering, in general, can create stewards of the environment. When the outdoors is your passion or even your livelihood, you create a higher respect and appreciation for nature.
When you see and experience environmental destruction first hand it can cause concern and a call to action. There are many great organizations dedicated to the preservation of the environment, many of which are rooted in a love for outdoor recreation. The Sierra Club, founded by the infamous mountaineer and conservationist, John Muir in 1892, is the largest environmental grassroots organization in the United States.
Their mission statement is, “To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; To educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.”
They fulfill this mission by promoting environmental stewardship and fighting against laws that harm the environment and promoting beneficial legislature such as the Clean Air Act (Sierra Club Homepage.)
Another organization that promotes environmental stewardship is Protect Our Winters, which focuses primarily on winter sports recreation such as skiing and snowboarding. Their mission statement is, “Protect Our Winters is a passionate crew of diehards, professional athletes and industry brands mobilizing the outdoor sports community to lead the charge towards positive climate action. We focus on educational initiatives, political advocacy and community-based activism.” (POW, 2018.) They focus on the effects of global climate change and its impacts on the snow sports industries.
So, the next time you’re considering staying in bed and postponing your mountaineering trip, or if you’re needing extra motivation to pursue a new climb, consider this extensive list of benefits from mountaineering. Lastly, the main motivation for climbing is simply, as stated by Edmund Hillary, “Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons. Science is used to raise money for the expeditions, but you really climb for the hell of it.”
Chrobak, Ula. “Can Climbing be Used to Treat Depression?” Climbing, 3 Aug. 2017,
Encyclopedia Britannica. (2018). Sherpa | History & Culture. [online] Available at:
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sherpa-people [Accessed 2 Mar. 2018].
Gardner, Tina. “Health Benefits of Climbing and Hill Walking.” BMC, 23 July 2014,
Griffiths, Tamara. “The Science Behind Mountain Climbing.” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost
Canada, 29 Oct. 2013,
“Health Benefits of Trekking, Hiking and Mountain Climbing.” ClimbReport, 12 Oct. 2015,
Moore, H. (2018). Climbing for Mental Health. [online] Climbing Magazine. Available at:
https://www.climbing.com/people/climbing-for-mental-health/ [Accessed 2 Mar. 2018].
POW. (2018). About Us – POW. [online] Available at: https://protectourwinters.org/about-us/
[Accessed 2 Mar. 2018].
“Sierra Club Home Page: Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet.” Sierra Club,