Mountain climbing is a wonderful sport, but it’s not for everyone; this is true, regardless of your weight. It requires physical strength, conditioning, skill, and dexterity to scale the tops of mountains such as Everest; it requires dedication, focus, and mental acuity to safely traverse the peaks of even moderate climbs, let alone the seven summits of the world.
Your weight is not a barrier to mountain climbing; it is perfectly possible to be fit and overweight at the same time. If you have the strength to lift your body’s mass in a vertical motion, you can climb. There are, however, things you need to consider before you head out into the wilderness.
The Strain on Your Cardiovascular System
Extra weight increases the exertion level going up – and down – a mountain; the increased exertion increases the load on your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Breathing is impaired by excess weight in some individuals, and this increases the strain on both systems.
Rock or mountain climbing requires good muscle strength and tension; climbing without it is hazardous, both to the climber and the belayer, as falls are more likely.
Excess body weight can cause problems with maintaining your balance and interfere with your ability to be in balance as you climb.
Carrying excess weight can slow your reaction time, interfering with your ability to react should you slip.
Impacting Your Joints
Mountain or rock climbing stresses your joints – knees, hips, shoulders, wrists, and ankles; extra weight increases the stress on your joints, potentially causing damage.
Falling while climbing is never a good thing but carrying extra weight can increase the damage you suffer when you impact.
Should You Climb If You’re Overweight?
Keeping the above points in mind, should you climb if you’re overweight? Sure, if you want to; you just need to be sensible about it. If you’re overweight, you need to start your rock or mountain climbing process in a rock-climbing gym; you need to build up your muscle strength to carry yourself in a vertical motion. Climbing in the gym gives you the basic techniques you need to rock climb out in the real world and lets you develop the body strength and stamina to be successful.
There is no reason why you should let some excess poundage stop you from learning to climb. If you are fit, even though you’re overweight, you can be a good – or better – climber than people of normal weight. You need to keep in mind, however, a few points other than the ones detailed above:
Check Your Gear
Be sure you find gear that fits you and is rated for your weight. Don’t make the assumption that gear for normal or skinny climbers will work for you. If you’re climbing a real rock face, the drop is a lot farther than falling off a rock wall, so be sure your gear can handle the load of your weight and the extra stress it creates when you drop.
Consider the Difference Between You and Your Belay Man
You need to do this even if you’re not overweight. A tall person carries more mass than an average or short person regardless of weight. If the smaller person is on belay, they need to know how to cope if the top climber falls; if not properly anchored, they will be lifted off the ground in the event of a fall. This is also true if the top climber is heavier than the belay man, and both climbers need to know how to deal with the situation.
Most people of normal weight will, most likely, not be supportive of an overweight person learning to climb. Don’t let this stop you, if you think you will enjoy the sport. The average person has no concept of the ‘fit though fat’ precept and will take every chance to mock you as you start your journey. Ignore them and learn to climb anyway. The only thing you need to listen to is your body; start slow and work your way up, building the required muscle strength and stamina.
Where Do You Go from Here?
You’ve done your time in the gym and learned basic techniques. You’re ready to go out and tackle rock faces or mountaintops in the outdoors. You can do it on your own, by researching climbs you want to make and lining up a climbing partner; you can do this by utilizing climbing guide books, such as Falcon Guides, or books detailing specific climbs you want to take, or by utilizing a mountain guides service. Let’s start with the books:
Books on mountain or rock climbs, published by Falcon Guide publishing house. You can find books for specific places to climb, hike, waters to paddle and places to camp. They are a good source of knowledge; even you decide to go with a mountain guide service.
There are myriad other books on mountain and rock climbing; go to your search engine of choice and type “mountain climbing guide books” and press enter. Scroll through the results and choose the books suited to your needs.
Mountain Guide Services
There are also myriads of mountain guide services available on the Internet. Again, go to your search engine of choice, type “Mountain Guide Services” and press enter. You’ll get plenty of results to choose from, but you need to consider qualifications before you choose.
American Mountain Guide Association
The American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) is the standard in the United States for training and certification of mountain guides. You should look for a service with AMGA-certified guides. The AMGA is recognized by the International Federation of Mountain Guides and is the only organization in the US with this qualification.
Engage a Mountain Guide
Look for a mountain guide service with experience guides. If you’re planning on climbing Mount Everest, look for a guide who’s climbed Everest himself, and more than once. You want a guide who’s done the climbs, and who can handle any situation you may run into. Keeping these two things in mind, here are a couple of mountain guide services to consider:
International Mountain Guides, founded in 1986, is owned and run by Eric Simonson, George Dunn, and Phil Ershler. The directors have over 1200 climbs on Mt. Rainer, and Phil Ershler is the first American to climb the North Face of Mt. Everest. All are AMGA-certified, and are experienced in climbs, from Mt. Rainer to the Himalayas, and everything in between. These directors plan all the treks, so you are dealing with the people who can address your concerns from the get-go. For climbs and treks not led by the owners, the guides employed by IMG are all highly-qualified professionals.
The Colorado Mountain School is a professional mountain climbing service and is a training school for rock climbing and mountaineering. They lead climbs and treks, and you can hire a guide for a private or group climb. They are AMGA-certified and are also AIARE certified for avalanche training.
Outward Bound is more than a mountain guide service, but you can get climbing experience through the Outward Bound schools. Outward Bound’s philosophy is to challenge the participants to go through the wilderness and learn survival methods at the same time. The Colorado school holds treks in the Rockies, and you can learn climbing techniques there.
There are scads of mountain climbing guides. Pick one that meets your needs; choose a qualified service, one with AMGA certification and experience.
You also should question the service about whether your excess poundage is a problem. Your weight should not be a problem for an experienced guide service; they may have to make some adjustments, to ensure the gear can deal with your size, and to be sure your belay man can handle the situation in case of a slip.
Being overweight is not a reason to miss out on activities you would enjoy. It’s not good for your health long-term, but you can be fit and fat at the same time; any exercise you enjoy is better than not exercising at all. Not doing an activity you want to do because of your weight is a self-fulfilling prophecy – you don’t exercise because of social pressures, or because you think it’s not possible, and you wind up gaining more weight. Get out and go for it – you’re always better off ignoring the naysayers and living life as fully as you can. You may even lose your extra pounds as you work at something you love.
This is not to say you don’t have to be sensible – take your time, build your strength and stamina, learn what gear is best for you, and learn how to belay properly. Following these caveats lets you rock, or mountain climb safely, and your weight doesn’t matter.