Mountaineering Team Agreement / Alpine Code of Ethics v0.9.2024

Mountaineering Team Agreement amongst climbers at base camp

My recent experiences on Whitney, both solo summit and more importantly my follow-on Gear Retrieval Mission with Michael, had me thinking a lot about what kind of agreements I might want to have with my team members prior to embarking on an expedition — given that mountaineering can generally encompass serious live-or-die situations. So, in the same spirit as open relationship agreements — which optimally should address uncomfortable corners prior to actually experiencing them — I drafted this Mountaineering Team Agreement.

It attempts to set up a mutual framework of individual responsibility, team ethics, and proper communication ethos amongst all team members. Got ideas of your own? Let me know what you think!



    1. You acknowledge that mountaineering is a high-risk activity. You will very likely encounter actual life-and-death situations during your time on the mountain.
    2. You alone are responsible for your own personal safety, choices, decisions, risk assessments, and actions.
    3. If you die on the mountain, you own it.
    4. You take personal ownership of your own life, risks, and possible death. You and you alone.
    5. This responsibility includes, critically, the selection of your team mates.
    6. You agree to read thoroughly, and abide by, the ideas set forth in this Mountaineering Team Agreement.


    1. Very few sports embody the degree of trust and interdependency that manifest in extreme alpinism, mountaineering, and rock climbing.
    2. This is BOTH a team sport, AND an individual sport.
    3. We go with a team for many reasons: on the mountain, multiple perspectives can often lead to better / safer outcomes. We look out for each others backs, and voice caution where appropriate. We support eachother with encouragement and affirmations. Sometimes, we physically secure one another’s bodies (shared rope, belaying)
    4. Choose your team members very carefully. Your life may very well depend on your team selection. If you have concerns, speak your truth — loudly and clearly — before joining forces and well before departing on the expedition.
    5. All team members, secondary to their own safety, are to support the safety of other team members.  This can be in the form of calling out dangers, belaying, placing protection, and/or being roped to other climbers.
    6. If you are on point / lead climbing, you must do your absolute best to place protection that is clean and sturdy enough to support the team, and to effectively brake a potential fall.
    7. If you are on belay, you must dedicate 100% of your present energy and attention to the climber you are supporting. Distractions are not acceptable, and can be lethal.
    8. If you are next to / below belayer, you are not to interrupt or distract the belayer. You are to respect the fact that they are the guardian of another climbers safety.


    1. Prior to each expedition / mission, the team shall gather, in its entirety, face to face, (not Zoom, not virtual), and do the following:
    2. The team will agree upon a route (with topo / AllTrails)
    3. The team will agree upon a schedule (departure / turnaround cutoff times / planned completion)
    4. The team will perform both individual and collective gear checks (tents, kitchen, food, rope, protection, etc)
    5. Each climber shall list at least one emergency contact in case of life-threatening injury / illness / evac.
    6. Each member of the team will verbally agree to / commit to fellow team members to abide by these principals — the Mountaineering Team Agreement  (or similar) — verbally, explicitly, and while making solid eye contact.
    7. The team shall elect a mission leader.

IV. MISSION LEADER (optional / encouraged)

    1. the vast majority of decisions will be made by unanimous team consensus.
    2. for all mission critical decisions (abort / continue, injuries, gear failures, fuel / water shortages), best efforts will be made to achieve unanimous consensus amongst the entire team.
    3. At certain points on the mountain, time is of the essence, & decision speed can be more important than absolute “correctness” of decision… delays can be fatal. This is where having an action-oriented leader shines.
    4. The role of a leader is to break logjams, and to motivate the team into decisive, executive action.
    5. Prior to departure, the team will elect a mission leader. While decision making is generally consensus on the mountain, the leader is expected to make executive decisions on behalf of the team, and to arbitrate when there are decision deadlocks amongst team members.
    6. If the leader calls abort, the mission is aborted without further debate (it will be agreed in advance whether this authority is granted or not) .


    1. As previously stated, mountaineering expeditions are high-risk activities where one has a non-zero chance of serious injury or death.
    2. In addition to observable dangers (things that are noted and planned for in advance, such as cruxes and technical segments), mountains are known to present surprises. Namely weather, including gale force winds that might blow one off a rock face or precipice. But also, route conditions. The same segment might one day be a trivial rock scramble, and the next day be a steep sheet of rock-solid slippery ice.
    3. Life is dangerous
    4. All team members will enthusiastically consent to being ready and prepared and willing to face such dangers, surprises, and the related risks and possible consequences. If you cannot give your enthusiastic consent, mountaineering might not be your calling. Think about that, for real.
    5. Shout out to Dr. Drew Lohn for encouraging me to draft this section.


    1. Team members are encouraged / required to be forthright in their communications both before, during, and after expeditions.
    2. This includes self-assessment, and communications to the entire team about physical fitness, limitations, both chronic and active injuries
    3. It is understood that a weak or injured team member joining an expedition could jeopardize the lives and safety of the entire team. Accurate pre-mission self-assessment is mandatory.
    4. During a mission, concerns about individual and/or team safety need to be communicated clearly and calmly. If extreme enough, the mission can be paused for a collective team risk assessment / decision.
    5. If a team member sustains an injury (sprained ankle, fracture / broken limb), or illness (altitude sickness / hallucinations / lightheadedness / edema), they are to communicate the situation *immediately* to the team.


    1. TOPICS: Decision Making, Consensus, Veto Power, Leadership Role.
    2. If any individual team member, for any reason (risk assessment, personal health, family emergency, fear, injury) decides to turn around, they are to inform all members of the team immediately, either in person or via radio comm.
    3. A team member will not go back down the mountain alone. At a minimum, a team of two will descend together (for initial teams of 4 or more climbers).
    4. In general (unless unanimously agreed upon in advance otherwise), only the leader has sole veto / abort command. Other climbers may retreat (with a partner), but only the leader can call for a full mission abort, where everyone heads back down as a team, to try another day.
    5. IN most cases, unanimous consensus will be sought. This is the strongest position, when all climbers agree on a decision. These conversations can take some time. Do your best to remain calm, and do not place ego or emotion into the decision making process.


    1. from time to time, either a team member, or a solo climber or member of another team, will need rescue on the mountain.
    2. It is generally preferred to abort the team mission in order to save another climbers life.
    3. It is not generally acceptable to excessively jeopardize the lives of team members in order to potentially save another climber in need of a rescue situation (as in, using rationed team oxygen / fuel in order to supply oxygen / water to a stranded climber)


    1. Leave No Trace. [LNT]
    2. i.e. “Leave only footprints, Take only memories.” (thanks Mom)
    3. travel fast and light, with minimal impact to the wilderness environment
    4. pack it in, pack it out.
    5. do not place / hammer / drill permanent anchors into the rock.
    6. do not deface the environment.
    7. respect local culture — both indigenous peoples (those who live there), and the local climbing community and its mores / values.
    8. the Wilderness is a Treasure of the Earth — it is our commons, and our collective home. We are all guests here. Treat it as a sacred home.
    9. climb, move, and speak with authenticity, clarity, compassion &  integrity.


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Got your own ideas about what should be included in a Mountaineering Team Agreement?
Think I’m missing some key points?
Want to join our next expedition? Let me know!



Mountaineering Team Agreement: Resources

That Mountaineering Team Agreement, above, was just my cold take after meditating on Mike & my experience for a few days, and thinking hard about how I would want to build and organize a team before leading them into harms way. I am not alone in attempting to articulate such a code. Here’s another, more formalized attempt, from various Alpine Clubs around the world:

A Few More Mountaineering Insights

Just a few stories from the field:

One More Thing++…


G R E G O R Y ‘ S . M O U N T A I N S