There is a rather predictable process that most mountaineers go through. It is not always this way but often it is.
- Rock Climbing. Before this phase many mountaineers are simply hikers or backpackers. They probably even go up steep things, but in general before rock climbing everything the climber does could be done in normal flexible average shoes. Rock climbing is somewhat more dangerous than hiking. At least it feels that way. Accidents can happen and people do get seriously hurt and die every year. However, with proper techniques the danger is very low. Strong anchors, safe ropes, and relatively new equipment used properly will prevent most serious injuries.
- Ice Climbing. At this point the climber would like to try something a little more challenging. Instead of shorts and a t-shirt on a sunny day rock climbing the climber will wear expensive clothing, boots, and more exotic gear. The adventure becomes more dangerous. Ice screws, bollards, and v-threads have the ability to melt out or fracture and break the ice. While a chock or bolt used rock climbing may be safe for years ice features can melt in a matter of hours. It is a more committing sport and people are seriously injured and die every year as a result of that increased danger. Fewer people take part in this sport (about 200,000 people in the US versus 4 million rock climbers).
- Alpine Mountaineering. The climber now seeks to obtain a better view from higher peaks on harder and longer routes. Skills of both ice climbing and rock climbing are used as well as backpacking, cooking, and dealing with altitude, often in remote locations. There is more danger on this step than the previous two. Avalanches, altitude related illnesses, exhaustion, environmental conditions that change over the course of several days on a route, and logistical problems can all conspire against a mountaineer. At the greatest heights of mountaineering on 8000 meter (26,300 feet) tall mountains in Asia all of the mountains have summit to death ratios at or above 1%. That is to say for every 100 people that make it to the top at least one dies. On K2 the second highest mountain in the world that ratio is about 25%. For every four mountaineers that make it to the top one dies. This level is dangerous.
- Fishing. Often mountaineers will realize the danger of their sport and proceed to partake in a less dangerous hobby. One that ends with fresh fish eaten in a dry house followed by sleeping in a warm and soft bed. The reasons for this transition are varied. Families, children, old age, close calls, becoming seriously injured, and lack of motivation are all causes for a mountaineer to develop his or her fishing skills. This is also a step where uninitiated mountaineers may be safely brought along on trips. This stage of the process can be shared by the very young and very old alike with almost no danger.