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Some common but avoidable mistakes in the mountains

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I point out a few common mistakes often made by inexperienced hikers. Fortunately, most mistakes have already been made repeatedly before us (whereas quite a few people have lost their lives or got injured as a result), which means we can quite easily avoid making the same mistakes again.

About planning the trip and the Internet (on the example of Pico de Teide)

When you’re choosing a region or peak for your trip, it’s a good idea to be quite thorough with gathering information beforehand. The fortunate – but also unfortunate – fact is that today’s possibilities allow us to gather most information we need from the internet, and as you know, anybody can write practically anything in there. Which means that it would be wise to read a lot of different reviews and not take any single one as the holy truth.

For example, as someone who has been to the highest peak of Spain (Pico de Teide (3718m) on Tenerife island), I have read complete crap in forums about the ascent. I’ve read that it’s totally okay to reach the peak in sneakers and a T-shirt, because the weather is always great and you don’t need to take anything along besides your camera. The person who wrote that already made one big mistake – he failed to mention that, broadly speaking, Teide can be reached two ways, either by taking the cogwheel train to 3500 metres as a tourist and trekking the last few hundred metres, or going about 2000 metres on foot. In the first case, there are some days during the summer when it’s really hot up there and you will manage with a T-shirt and sneakers, but in the second case, if the weather gets bad, the best turn of events is that you’ll simply stop ascending and make a hasty descent.

We ascended from 2000 metres and took along the camping equipment, because we wanted to spend the night at 3200 metres and reach the peak at sunset. It is also possible to take the long route and make it in one day, but you will have to be in excellent physical shape. And you’ll also have to consider the fact that it’s about 10-12 degrees colder than at 2000 m and the weather can easily turn bad. Therefore, in addition to proper high trekking boots and wind- and rain-proof clothes your backpack should contain at least 3 litres of water (as there is absolutely no water throughout the track), a headlamp (in case something unexpected happens and you’re not back by dark), dinner, energy snack (chocolate, nuts, raisins, sweets, etc.), a second pair of socks, sunscreen (at least SPF 25), sunglasses, a dry shirt or thermal underwear, a mobile phone (with previously added local emergency numbers, and preferably also the mountain rescue number), first aid supplies (definitely headache pills, blister plasters and some gauze bandage, other items optional), a hat and gloves. Because everything is fine until the weather is great and nobody has sprained their ankle. But it is very easy to sprain one’s ankle (especially when you’re descending and tired), and then the contents of your backpack will come in handy. When you’re using the cogwheel train to go up to 3500m, you’ll also need to prepare for the considerably lower temperatures in the peak compared to the lower station, and also very strong wind.

The Kilimanjaro syndrome

The following is by no means meant to undermine those who have climbed the highest peak of Africa. Far from it. I simply want to let some air out of Kili’s height (5892m), because many people who’ve climbed it tend to seriously overvalue it, to put it mildly.

So which peak to compare it with? Those who have reached both peaks, consider its difficulty level to be on par with the easiest track of Mont Blanc (4810m), which is over a kilometre lower. The track is of course longer, but then again, on Blanc you’ll need to be attached with a rope and carry the entire equipment and food up yourself. On Kili, local porters do it for you, plus they will also prepare your food.

Another comparison is similar heights in Himalaya. Kili and Himalaya are the only spots on earth where ascending to such heights is that easy.

Therefore I recommend that after ascending Kili (or 6000m in Himalaya), don’t choose for instance Aconcagua in Argentine (6962m) as your next target. Based on my experience on the highest mountain of South-Africa, of those people in our group whose previous height record was Kili or an equal height in Himalaya, the best man ascended to 6000 metres, i.e. just a little bit higher than the last base camp. Another two were quickly transported back down by helicopter from the base camp at 4300m. Of those who had been to at least 6100m on Pamir, one made it to 6500m, another to 6700m and two made it to the peak.

So, before attempting the highest peak of the Andes it’s a good idea to visit, for instance, the Caucasus and Mount Elbrus (where the ascent and acclimatisation are a lot more like Aconcagua in terms of the difficulty level), and why not also Pamir and Lenin, to get an idea of how life is like above 6000, 6500 or even 7000 metres.