Basic Mountaineering Course
A Gateway to Mountaineering
Scrambling up a mountain at night, exploring eerie, damp caves and diving into churning waters may sound like thrilling scenes in a survival documentary...
If the prospect excites you, these "scenes" could be part your life after taking this basic mountaineering course.
It all started while studying an undergraduate degree at UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). When I was looking for sports and clubs to join, I found a link that said "UNAM Mountaineering Association." I immediately clicked on it and was swept into a world of possibilities.
These possibilites included climbing a mountain for the first time in my life, learning to rock climb, acquiring survival skills and many more new and thrilling experiences.
It seemed too good to be true.
What is it?
A unique course in Mexico that teaches basic and intermediate outdoors skills.
It’s divided into five modules: orienteering, rock climbing, canyoneering, caving and alpine climbing.
This course is for anyone, even if you have zero outdoor experience.
Headquarters of UNAM’s Mountaineering Association, UNAM campus in Mexico City.
The course lasts five months. Each month is dedicated to one module.
It’s a demanding course because it requires you to commit to outings, theory classes and practices every single weekend for the duration of the course.
Around $2,000 Mexican pesos per person for the entire course. Special discounts for UNAM students and alumni apply.
This cost doesn’t include personal mountaineering equipment nor camping, transportation or food costs.
The Association supplies specialized and previously inspected equipment.
Safety rating: 5
Read more about Bekenyn's safety rating
You know those experiences that split your life in a “before and after” moment? This mountaineering course did that for me.
Yes, I had an anxiety attack brought on by claustrophobia while crawling through caves for 11 straight hours... But I also had a glimpse of what traversing the Mines of Moria would’ve been like.
Yes, I succumbed to mild altitude sickness while going up Iztaccíhuatl (5,220 m / 17,125 ft.). Once I reached the summit all I could think of was, “Ooh, I hope I don’t vomit at everyone’s feet.” But I finally crossed-off “climbing a mountain” from my bucket list.
Battling my weaknesses, refusing to eject all the contents of my stomach at the summit and knowing that I accomplished what I set out to do—to climb mountains, jump off cliffs and crawl through caves—seemed to signify that a new era was dawning.
Is this Mountaineering Course for You?
Unless you have a severe medical condition, I would recommend this course to anyone itching to try adventure sports.
When we enrolled in September 2017, we weren’t sure what to expect. It was surprising to learn that there were no other courses of that nature in the Mexico. Since then, especially after the pandemic, private companies have begun putting together their own version of outdoor and mountaineering courses. I would still turn to UNAM for a first taste of adventure and mountains sports. Here’s why:
It’s very affordable (without considering the cost of personal equipment).
The UNAM Mountaineering Association is led by experienced mountaineers.
The Association is extremely well connected in the “industry” in Mexico. If you want to make this a lifestyle, the contacts you make will be invaluable.
If you love what you learn, the Association has more intermediate and advanced courses for each discipline.
Because nothing is perfect, take into account the following “cons” of this course:
To make the most of it you need to be available every weekend for the duration of the course. There is some flexibility, but it’s on a case-by-case basis.
The cost of the course is just the beginning. You do need to invest in certified security equipment which isn’t cheap, as well as clothing, camping gear, outdoor footwear, etc.
This course takes place in Mexico City and it’s only given in Spanish.
If you want to take the next level courses, your basic mountaineering course certificate is only valid for two years, so you have to take the other courses within those two years.
Individual Equipment, Camping Gear and Tidbits
One thing I really didn’t like about the course is that they didn’t give any details about the gear necessary for the course until AFTER we had enrolled (and paid).
So, if someone was on a budget and didn’t have any of the required gear, there was no way for them to know if they could actually afford to be in the course. In fairness to UNAM, they kept all budgets in mind and always offered very creative and affordable alternatives to some equipment and clothing. However, if you want to know before you enroll, here’s the list of the required equipment for our basic mountaineering course (I doubt it has changed):
Mandatory Individual Equipment
(A list we were given on our first day)
Rock climbing harness
Mountain helmet (not white or blue because they aren’t easily seen outdoors)
Two identical HMS carabiners with lock.
One asymmetrical carabiner without lock
3 meters of 10mm dynamic rope
2 meters of 7mm cordino
2.5 meters of seat belt (like the one used in cars—it served as a sort of vest during caving)
1.5 meters of 1-inch flat, tubular webbing
Hiking boots that cover the ankle, preferably waterproof (Gore-Tex)
(They didn’t list it but it’s still necessary)
Three season tent, maximum weight of 3 kg (it might rain a lot).
Hiking backpack (50-70 liters) with rain cover
First aid kit
Check out a detailed list with prices and images of all the mountaneering gear.
Mountaineering in Numbers
"Your mountain is waiting.
So . . . get on your way!"
"Oh, the Places You'll Go"
As I said at the beginning, this course was indeed a gateway to mountaineering. Everything we have done since we took it wouldn’t have been possible without it. Or maybe it would have but there would’ve been a lot more trial and error.
There is an undeniable self-confidence that comes from knowing, really knowing, that we could do hiking trips without guides. We have begun looking at adventure races that require orienteering skills because there is no set route. We feel more and more eager to expand our outdoor knowledge and try activities that we wouldn’t have considered before...
I’m not sure I would try caving again, but we currently have our eyes on ice-climbing and slacklining! And none of this had been in our wildest dreams before taking this mountaineering course.