The COVID-19 pandemic was a huge drain on everyone—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Now, many people are looking to nature as a way to ease into a new post-COVID normal and try out new experiences.
For me, the key to getting outside after the pandemic has been mountaineering. Mountaineering has a number of benefits for your mental and physical health, and it’s not as difficult to dive into as you might think.
In this guide, I’ll cover some of the key benefits of mountaineering in the post-COVID world.
1. Mountaineering is good for your body
It should come as no surprise that mountaineering is a great way to get into shape. It offers all the physical benefits of hiking, but encourages you to aim higher—literally!
Here are just a few of the ways that mountaineering can help you build your fitness, lose weight, and live longer:
Boost your metabolism: Walking uphill raises your heart rate and can burn 70% more fat compared to walking on a flat trail. Uphill trekking can also reduce your blood level of unhealthy fats like triglycerides by 11% and improve your glucose tolerance by 4.5% (Source: Active.com).
Build muscle: Wearing a weighted backpack helps you develop muscles in your upper back and shoulders, while hiking on steep grades targets your calves and quads. If you’re practicing essential skills like self-arresting with an ice axe, you’ll also gain strength in your arms and torso.
Gain balance: Carrying a heavy load is also good for your balance. Weighted exercise has been associated with a reduced fall risk later in life.
I’ve also found that after mountaineering, flat land exercises like running and cycling feel much easier. So, I’m more motivated to stay active even when I can’t get into the mountains.
2. Mountaineering encourages positivity
Mountaineering also has mental and emotional benefits. It takes a positive attitude and a dose of optimism to push yourself to the top of a mountain. If a setback leaves you feeling negative, you’ll quickly learn to pick yourself back up. Trust me—having a negative outlook is the surest way to end up having to turn around early.
Importantly, the positive thinking that you develop in the mountains can stick with you after you get home, and that has big impacts. To name a few, positive people are 1) 180% more energized at work compared to their negative peers, 2) 108% more engaged, and 3) 50% more productive.
In fact, reducing stress with positive thinking can even help you live up to 15% longer.
3. Mountaineering can help you make new friends
One of the things I love about mountaineering is that it’s an inherently social sport. While I’ll occasionally venture out alone on easy terrain, there are many climbs where I simply have to have a partner. For example, anytime I’m walking on a glacier, I want at least one partner and more likely two or three on my rope team.
That means that mountaineers like me are always on the search for new partners to get outside with. As you get into the sport, you’ll quickly find online forums, such as SummitPost.org or 14ers.com, where you can meet like-minded people and organize climbs together
If you live in a mountainous area, there’s also a good chance that there are in-person mountaineering clubs you can join.
One of the great things about meeting friends through mountaineering is that those friendships typically run deep. There’s a lot of trust that goes into being on a rope with someone, so established mountaineering partners often become friends for life. Mountaineering is also one of the best ways to meet new people at any age, including later in life.
4. Mountaineering can take you to new places
If the lack of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic got you down (I know it bummed me out!), then mountaineering might be the perfect new sport for you. By its very nature, mountaineering takes you to places that few others will ever go. Whether you’re after solitude or just want to explore the natural world around, getting into the alpine can be a life-changing experience.
On top of that, mountaineering scratches the itch that many travelers and explorers feel for planning. Figuring out what to climb, when to climb it, what mountaineering gear you’ll need, and how to get there is as much a part of mountaineering as climbing itself. I spend at least a few hours every week thinking about new routes, checking out others’ trip reports, and browsing maps.
So, this sport has a lot of appeal for people who want to use the spare time they spend at home to think about their next adventure.
5. Mountaineering teaches persistence
For better or worse, there are a lot of things that can go wrong in the alpine: the weather can turn unexpectedly, you can run low on food or water, the wind could pick up, or it can take longer to make progress than you planned. You might have to push through, or even descend and come back another day.
The more practice you get responding to setbacks like these, the better you’ll become at thinking creatively about problems and developing persistence. Like positivity, persistence has been associated with huge benefits that stick with you when you leave the mountains:
- Goal-setting increases performance by up to 25%
- Persistence can help you break huge tasks down into achievable components
- Persistent people are more confident and adaptable
In the long run, persistence learned from mountaineering can help you succeed at your goals both in the alpine and in your daily life.
6. Mountaineering helps you appreciate the little things
If you’ve ever woken up on a frigid morning to a hot cup of coffee or experienced a beautiful sunset after a difficult day, you know how gratifying these little things can be. Part of the appeal of mountaineering for me is that it mixes in the good with the bad. So, each day in the alpine is filled with small but meaningful wonders.
Learning to find joy in the little things can help you feel more fulfilled every day, even when the big things aren’t going your way. People who take the time to appreciate the world around them tend to be happier and live longer.
7. Mountaineering is easy to get into
There’s a common misperception that mountaineering is a sport only for elite athletes and seasoned adventurers. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sure, climbing Mount Rainier or Denali takes years of experience and a lot of expensive gear. That’s not where I started out, though, and it’s not where most novice mountaineers start out either.
Rather, you can try out mountaineering in low-risk areas with relatively easy access. In many places, trips into the alpine can follow established trails and stick to terrain that you can walk across easily. You don’t need a rope or even an ice axe for these entry-level objectives, but they can still help you get more comfortable with being above treeline and train your body for moving uphill.
Mountaineering is one of the best ways to move past the COVID-19 pandemic and take back control of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Getting into the alpine is not only good for your body, but can help you make new friends after a year of isolation and teach you how to be resilient against setbacks in the post-COVID-19 world. Even better, mountaineering can be easy and cheap to get into if you’re willing to start small.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.