Best beginners’ climbs

30 October 2013

 Lace up your boots and slip on a harness as we bring you 10 beginners’ climbs to blow your mind. This article is adapted from Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Adventures.

Imja Tse (Island Peak), Nepal

Trekkers on Island Peak. Image by Christian Kober / Robert Harding World Imagery / Getty Images.

Crunching up the summit ridge of Imja Tse in your crampons, a mighty drop either side, its reputation as the easiest 6000m (19,685ft) peak in the world may seem a distant memory as you gasp for breath in the thin air, feeling the 1000 vertical metres of ascent deep in your leg muscles. But all that falls away at the summit, the massive bulk of Lhotse towering 2km (1.25 miles) higher to the north, and you see why the peak was dubbed Island Peak by the explorer Eric Shipton – because it sits proud and solitary amidst an ocean of ice.

Imja Tse is usually climbed from Base Camp at 5087m (16,690ft); it is mostly a non-technical, steep snow plod, with the last section to the summit involving some ice climbing.

Yellow Circuit, Rocher Aux Sabot, Fontainebleau, France

Fontainebleau is a climber’s paradise – perfect sandstone boulders above flat, sandy landings, set amidst a beautiful forest only an hour from Paris. Climb in the steps of the bleausards who marked the bouldering circuits with small arrows that you can still follow today, safe in the knowledge you are never too far from a boulangerie. If we had to pick one of the many great circuits, it would be the yellow at Rocher Aux Sabot. It lacks the cold and misery of mountaineering, the terrifying falls of rock climbing, but never fear if you like it spicy, things can go wrong in Font – someone could kick sand in your baguette.

You can climb all year round in Fontainebleau; the warmer months are more pleasant, although purists might prefer winter when friction is best.

Gouter Route, Mt Blanc, France

Mountaineering is all about the objective dangers – rockfall, avalanches, cold, altitude – but on the Gouter Route you can add one more: other climbers. Being the easiest route up Mt Blanc, it’s as popular as an ice-cream shop in summer. Thus the idiot quotient is high. So get up early, one, because you want to cross the Grand Couloir before it turns into a bowling alley of rock-fall, and two, because you might beat some of the crowds. It isn’t all bad though; the route gets easier as you get higher, the Bosses Ridge right before the summit is supremely beautiful and the summit…well, you are at the highest point in the Alps and western Europe – need we say more?

The Gouter Route is best attempted by novices in summer with a guide; allowing four days to summit helps with acclimatisation.

Tower Bridge, Ben Nevis, Scotland

Ben Nevis. Image by Tom Martin / AWL Images / Getty Images.

You’ve been climbing all day, mostly easy scrambling up what seems like a never-ending ridge, but now it’s all getting serious as the sun drops low in the sky and you come to Tower Gap, a narrow spine of rock with a massive drop either side. If you were braver you’d walk across, but instead you shuffle over on your bum, before nervously abseiling into the gap. Now relax – it’s just a few easy pitches to the top. Not only will you have climbed Tower Ridge, the best alpine route in Scotland, but it’s also only a short journey to tag the summit of Britain’s highest peak (1344m/4409ft) before descending to the warmth of a hut and dinner.

Tower Ridge is best attempted in summer – it is also climbed in winter but this is a much more serious proposition.

Snake Dike, Half Dome, YosemiteUSA

Wiping sweat from your brow, you dump your pack at the base of the wall and look up: 300m of vertigo-inducing granite looms above, its curving back to the sky. Four hours of hiking has brought you below the rump of Half Dome, rising 1400m (4593ft) from the Yosemite Valley floor. Starting up Snake Dike, a sinuous, pink-granite intrusion that’s the easiest technical route, you climb the slabby wall for hours, basking in the sun. Finally you reach an incredible view…and the million tourists who took the easy route – a tourist track with cables and queues.

Snake Dike is best attempted with an experienced leader as it has a long approach and many run-outs. May and September are the prime climbing months in Yosemite.

The Bard, Mt Arapiles, Australia

Rising from the wheat fields of western Victoria like an ancient, crumbling fortress is Mt Arapiles, the best beginner’s crag in the universe. And for any beginner there’s one rite of passage that cannot be missed: the 120m (394ft) Bard. Winding its way up the proudest part of Arapiles, the second pitch is the one everyone fears – a short, awkward traverse below a roof, the world dropping away beneath – but once overcome, three more brilliant pitches are followed by an adventurous descent through a cave and a long abseil. Does it get any better?

The best time to climb at Arapiles is March to November; summer is very hot.

Standard east face, Flatirons, Colorado, USA

The Flatirons by Jason RogersCC BY 2.0.

Rising behind the outdoor paradise of Boulder like a set of ragged shark’s teeth are the Flatirons. Like fingers there are five, and the third – an immaculate, massive slab of sandstone, conglomerate and shale – holds what many, including legendary climber Yvon Chouinard, call the finest beginner’s route in the US: the east face. It romps up the easy, low-angled face to the pointy summit, where three exciting abseils take you back to the ground. And if the ‘standard’ route is not challenging enough for you, consider some past ascents – it’s been climbed naked, speed soloed (in 5.59 minutes) and, in 1953, ascended in rollerskates.

The Flatirons are closed from February to July for the raptor breeding season, but can be climbed at all other times if conditions are suitable.

Via Ferrata di Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy

Some climbers may look down on vie ferrate (iron roads) with their cables and steel rungs as not being ‘real’ climbing, but for history, convenience and pure fun they are hard to beat. And what better one to choose than that which climbs the west ridge of the ‘Queen of the Dolomites’, the Marmolada. Ascending a thousand vertical metres, it is one of the most difficult vie ferrate, which means you still have to exercise common sense, particularly regarding the weather – iron, lightning and high places ring any bells? Don’t forget to bring your crampons for the icy sections. This route was established before WWI, making it the oldest via ferrata in Europe.

Conditions are king here, and best between June and September; beginners should hire a local guide.

North-west ridge, Mt Aspiring, New Zealand

Mount Aspiring National Park by Tomas SobekCC BY 2.0.

While Aspiring may not be the highest peak in New Zealand it’s definitely the most handsome – an aesthetic pyramid towering over surrounding peaks. Called Tititea (Glittering Peak) by the Māori, the north-west ridge is considered a classic first summit for an aspiring mountaineer. You’ll have to be ready to down your morning porridge at an ungodly hour ahead of a long, long day traversing an epic ridge, but if you survive the South Island’s notorious weather, terrible rock, avalanches and crevasses, you’ll have climbed New Zealand’s second-highest summit (or at least come close, as the Māori consider it disrespectful to stand on the very highest point).

Mt Aspiring is best climbed in summer with an experienced partner or guide. You will need to have solid basic mountaineering skills.

Kain Route, Bugaboo Spire, Bugaboos, British ColumbiaCanada

If you like climbs with an alpine flavour, a good helping of wilderness, perhaps a side garnish of glacier travel and a dollop of commitment, the Kain Route will be to your taste. Following a ridge up the mighty granite monolith of Bugaboo Spire, it’s the easiest way up (and back down) one of the finest summits in North America. Climbing here also has a unique flavour; aside from all the usual alpine hazards (weather, crevasses, rockfall) it has a few others – bears and, worse still, rubber-eating porcupines. Laugh as you may, there’s almost nothing worse than returning from an epic ascent to find a porcupine’s eaten half your car.

June to September is the Bugaboos’ climbing season, although the area is subject to extreme weather at any time. Ice-axes and crampons are mandatory, and roping up on glaciers is recommended.

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