I enjoy hiking, mostly on combined camping trips throughout Maine, but for many years I also took an annual mountain climbing trip. Hiking and mountaineering are both great sports for exercise, recreation, and fun, but there are some differences.
Although it is reasonably easy to go on a day hike or even a weekend hike, it takes a lot more planning to climb a high peak. Hiking usually means packing a few items in a day pack the night before the hike. It is not a big deal if you forget an extra pair of socks on a day hike, but to leave behind a survival item while packing for a high peak can be a fatal mistake. I found this out when I was climbing on Aconcagua in South America. I had packed a Swiss army knife and my guide didn’t have a knife. He dropped my knife outside our tent high up on our climb. I had to look for it and it was very cold. I did find it.
For months before major expeditions, I purchased and tried out gear and equipment, then laid out supplies, selecting only the lightest, smallest, and most essential items. Besides preparation of equipment, the level of fitness required in hiking is very different than that for mountaineering. Hiking requires little or no physical training. Even people who are relatively inactive can successfully enjoy a short, flat trail. Six times I climbed mountains into thin air. I spent several hours every day for a year training for these climbs. Even some of the fit never make it to the summit. Excellent physical training is essential for mountaineering.
For those who walk or hike in convenient locations, it can become a daily routine and a very good health habit. People enjoy hiking because the trails are nearby, well-maintained, and safe. There are many walking paths that are paved and accessible by car. There are great nature trails with volunteer guides that point our flora, types of trees, and small creatures often overlooked but seen by a trained eye. I try to take a walk with my dog every day: sometimes to a nearby park or hill, Streaked Mountain, or Black Cat Mountain. Every time it is a new experience.
Local hills and parks are usually accessible in all four seasons of the year, allowing people to go anytime. The highest peaks are only open a few months a year and permits are limited to a certain number of climbers a season. The permits are costly and have to be obtained far in advance. Finding a guide is a process, too. Mountaineering is a dangerous and advanced activity. Hiking is rarely dangerous because the trails are well-maintained, well-traveled and help is readily available. Mountains are remote and often it takes several days to even reach the base of a massif. One of my mountaineering treks to Uzbekistan was canceled because of the danger of terrorists kidnapping climbers in that mountain area.
Hiking and mountaineering both bring fun experiences, happiness, and positive purpose to our daily lives. Hiking is a great opportunity to unite with friends and family in a natural environment. Mountaineering is an opportunity to attain higher goals and achieve lifetime accomplishments. Whether hiking or mountaineering, people feel better when they get out and do this type of exercise on a regular basis. These activities strengthen the will and make individuals worthy of bettering mankind.
-July 1, 2014