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Understanding The Difference Between A Non-Technical & Technical Mountain/Trekking Route?

Updated: Jun 7, 2020

It is important understand and to be able to distinguish between a non-technical route and a technical route because both require different skill sets and different equipment. Most people start on non-technical routes because they are easier and then move onto the more technical routes which tend to be harder and quite frankly, not everyone’s cup of tea.

Knowing whether a route or mountain is a technical or non-technical climb is one of the best ways to know whether that climb is suitable for you or not. For myself personally, I am not yet at the technical skill level that I’d need for Denali, although I’d like to be. I know that I need to find a stepping stone mountain before attempting Denali, such as Mera Peak and Island Peak.

Now that you know why it’s important to understand the differences, lets talk about those differences:

What Is A Non-Technical Mountain or Route

A non-technical climb or route is simply defined as being able to ascend the mountain or route without the use of any specialized high altitude equipment such as a harness, rope, crampons and ice tools.

Non-technical climbs are great because they are a fun and easy starting point, they tend to be less risky and cost less because you don’t need to buy all the expensive equipment.

In some cases, a route or mountain is classified as non-technical but requires the very basics of a traditional technical climb. For example, Mount Elbrus (5,642m) in Russia. From Base Camp to High Camp it is a simple yet over some sections, a steep trek. From High Camp to the summit, you are required to wear at least B2 mountaineering boots and crampons. You are also roped in with a harness as there are some crevasses on the ascent but both those technical features are very basic and therefore often over looked as technical skills making Elbrus the perfect mountain to explore the basics of a technical climb.

Even though a route could be classified as non-technical in the summer, such as the normal route up to the summit of Weissmies (4,017m). It is classified as a non-technical route but that is very, very much weather dependant.

Technical Mountain or Route

A technical mountain or route is defined as the ascent of a mountain or route with the use of specialized equipment such as a belay device, ice tools as well as the use of technical skills, such as ice climbing or rock climbing.

One big difference between an ice tool and an ice axe is that an ice tool not only looks very different but it is also specially designed for vertical ice climbs, whilst an ice axe is used for self arresting and cutting steps into ice and snow while trekking.

Using Stepping Stone Mountains

The best way I explain it to my clients is that there are non-technical routes and mountains such as Kilimanjaro and then there are technical mountains such as Denali. And then there is the stepping stone mountains or routes in between such as Aconcagua. It is classified as a non-technical, trekking mountain but you will need the very, very basics of a technical climb such as being able to trek over ice and snow in crampons and knowing how to self arrest using your ice axe. You can see a mountain like Aconcagua is non-technical but has a certain minimal requirement in terms of technical equipment and skills. In my books, it’s a stepping stone mountain moving from non-technical routes into the realm technical mountains and routes.

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