Mountaineering is one of the most challenging and rewarding of backcountry experiences. The inhospitable conditions, difficult terrain and sheer altitude of the mountain environment make summiting a peak a great personal achievement. But these elements also require advanced climbing and snow travel skills, and necessitate the equipment to deal with situations specific to mountaineering. In addition to climbing harnesses, ropes and similar climbing equipment, there are several tools designed for alpine environments that every mountaineer is familiar with.
An ice axe is shaped like a pick axe but with geometry specifically designed to penetrate ice and snow. This tools is absolutely necessary in any environment that combines snow and ice with steep slopes. As safety gear, the ice axe can be used to arrest falls. It is also used in climbing ice and snow to provide the climber with an extra secure contact point with the slope.
Ice axes come in many designs, from basic mountain travel designs to advanced designs for vertical ice climbing.
Crampons attach to the bottom of mountaineering boots to provide traction on snow and ice, and like the ice axe, are indispensable to a mountaineer. Most crampons have 11 or 12 tines that penetrate frozen terrain and can be used to navigate extremely steep snow and ice fields. Advanced crampon designs are made specifically for vertical ice climbing and are able to support a climber with only two tines embedded in the ice.
Skis and Snowshoes
Long, nontechnical approaches over snow require skis or snowshoes to navigate. Both tools prevent the climber from sinking into snow and allows for maximum energy efficiency. Skis are often preferred because of their relative speed over snow; however, snowshoes offer a tempting alternative in certain situations. Snowshoes can handle steep slopes without added equipment, are lighter than skis and can be used in poor snow conditions with minimal inconvenience.
Mountaineers use wands to mark their routes. Wands are simply long rods that are embedded in snow to be visible from a distance. They can be purchased commercially, but many climbers make their own from surveying stakes or similar materials.
Marking a route in the mountains is a fundamental aspect of alpine safety. You should always be able to find a safe regress from the peak, even in poor visibility.
A small, packable snow shovel is useful for making wind barriers and cooking platforms in camp, and is also a valuable safety tool. If you are trapped in an snow-rich environment, a shovel will allow you to quickly build a snow shelter--a life saving survival technique.