Posts for Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Mountaineering Training | Caring For Your Feet

Posted by: | August 26, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Poor foot care on a climb can make a mountain out of a molehill and even the smallest blisters or foot pains can become a challenge over the course of a trip. Here are a few things to keep in mind about your feet as you head into the hills: 

Fit: It’s all about setting yourself up for success and that starts with choosing the right footwear. In addition to the technical specifications of a boot, make sure that the boot fits your foot well. See Whittaker Mountaineering’s Guide to Mountain Footwear for a helpful guide to picking the right boot.

Even the most carefully chosen boots often require a little adjustment. Take them out and walk around. Sometimes you’ll need to adjust the lacing tightness in certain spots or change the footbed to get that perfect fit for you. 

If you’re renting a boot for the climb take plenty of time to find the right fit. Bring the socks you plan on climbing in to try on with your boots and walk around a bit to make sure they feel comfortable. 

Foot Care & Prevention: The easiest way to deal with blisters on a climb is to never get them in the first place. Use your training hikes to find the best lacing and tightness of your boot and the best sock combination for you. Remember not to lace your boots too tightly - blisters are created by friction and a very tightly laced boot, especially a rigid mountaineering boot, can create extra friction on your feet. 

Keep an eye on your feet and treat hot spots immediately. It’s easy to stop for a few minutes and make quick adjustments or fixes instead of letting them develop into blisters. Stick some moleskin or second skin over the affected area to reduce the friction. Duct tape works pretty well in a pinch too. If possible, try and identify the issue and fix it so it doesn’t reoccur: is your boot laced too tightly? Did a fold develop on your sock? 

When you reach camp, give your feet a break. Change out of your socks and put on a fresh pair. If you have camp shoes, slip those on. Your feet will appreciate it. 

Treatment: If you do develop blisters, treat them as soon as possible so that they do not become worse. This means draining the blister, applying some antibiotic ointment to prevent infection, then covering it with a sterile dressing. Depending on where the blister is on your foot and how big it is, you may need to add a foam “donut” to create some space above the blistered area and give it a better chance of recovering. 

If you are prone to foot problems, be proactive and use your training hikes to identify the best way to take care of your feet. The book Fixing Your Feet is a great resource for climbers and athletes and provides some excellent advice for a range of foot problems. 

Foot care is a subtle art: it’s certainly not the most exciting topic but if you’ve taken the time to address it, it can make a big difference on the climb.

Dave Hahn relaxing at Everest Base Camp. Photo: Jake Norton / First Ascent

Mountaineering Training | Why Stretch?

Posted by: | August 19, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Flexibility and stretching is often overlooked in mountaineering training and climbing. Keeping your muscles loose and relaxed is more efficient: relaxed muscles help you perform better, recover more quickly, and make climbing for multiple days easier. Dedicated stretching may also help you avoid overuse injuries from the volume necessitated by mountaineering training and climbing.

Lower Body
The movement in mountaineering and training can be particularly linear, especially on long approaches to climbs where we hike for several hours with little lateral movements. Stretch the main quadricep, hamstring, and calf muscles, but try to also stretch the smaller muscles, especially in the hips, to keep the joints relaxed from that repetitive motion. Be aware of your footwork during your training and when you are climbing in order to climb efficiently and not strain those small stabilizer muscles.

Upper Body
Although a properly fitted pack shouldn’t carry too heavily on the shoulders, your upper body will likely still feel the burden. Aim to keep the shoulders, back, and core muscles loose and limber. Keep in mind that tightness in the upper body often can be the result of poor climbing technique as climbers stoop or hunch their shoulders to focus attention on foot placements while climbing. In addition to compressing the chest and inhibiting full breaths, this can put unnecessary strain and on the shoulders and back. Focusing on an upright, balanced, and efficient climbing technique can help avoid tension in the upper body.

The Home Stretch”, outlined by John Colver of Adventx, outlines a good series of stretches for mountaineering to add to your standard training routine. If you have a particular area of concern, work with a physical therapist or personal trainer to help you find the best stretches to relax those areas.

Remember that developing a good stretching routine doesn’t begin and end before the climb. It is easy to let go of those routines once in the mountains, right when your body needs it the most! During your training find the stretches that work to relax your muscles and keep doing them during the climb. By loosening your muscles you will recover more quickly, sleep more comfortably, and climb better the following day!

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

Small pools of snow melt on the slopes of Aconcagua. Photo: Linden Mallory.

Mountaineering Training | 5 Packing Tips From RMI Guide Pete Van Deventer

Posted by: Pete Van Deventer | August 12, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Between training and the climb itself, climbers spend a lot of time with their pack on their back.  Somewhat of a necessary evil, the goal is to make the pack carry comfortably and efficiently so that it doesn’t work against you.  A few tips that will result in a more enjoyable pack to carry:

1. Minimize dead space in the pack
2. Try to fit everything (except the ice ax) inside the pack
3. Keep the mass of the pack close to your body
4. Frequently adjust the straps to carry the load more comfortably
5. Have a system

Minimizing dead space in the pack will help the pack ride in a more balanced way, and allow you to fit everything inside.  A big factor that creates dead space is too many stuff sacks packed together.  Round or barrel shaped stuff sacks don’t nest together well, instead leaving large gaps between them (like a cup full of marbles).  To minimize this effect, try to limit the number of stuff sacks you use.  A compression stuff sack for your sleeping bag is important, as it dramatically reduces the volume of the sleeping bag, but most of the other items can be packed loose, without stuff sacks.  The down parka and spare insulating layers do a great job of packing around the sleeping bag to fill any spaces.  Some guides go so far as to pack their pack partway, and then (taking care not to crush anything breakable) insert their foot into the pack and squish everything down to squeeze out all of the air.  In addition, if climbers have packs with dedicated sleeping bag compartments, I often recommend that they detach the shelf that separates the compartment from the main pack, and treat the pack as one large tube.  Sleeping bag compartments tend to create dead space where we want it least, right near the center of mass of our bodies. 

Minimize the number of items that are attached to the outside of the pack.  The ice ax generally has a dedicated attachment point (the ice ax loops), and is really the only exception to this rule.  The rest of our equipment should fit inside the pack.  With a little bit of thought, items that seem to take up a lot of space can be packed more efficiently.  For example, by stuffing the helmet with extra socks and food before packing it, the volume of the helmet itself becomes very little.  Crampons can be put together so that the tines cover each other, and they too can be placed in the pack.  Items clipped to the outside of the pack tend to swing, get damaged, and make a ruckus.  By minimizing the number of items clipped to the outside of the pack, your pack will carry more comfortably and with less noise!

In general when you are packing, place items that you won’t need or use that stretch to the bottom of the pack, while items that you would like to keep handy (food, sunscreen, etc) stay near the top.  Additionally, place heavier items closer to the back panel of the pack, keeping them nearer your center of mass.

There is no perfect fit for a pack, and comfort and fit of your pack will change throughout the course of a climb or training session.  In general, try to carry the majority of the weight on your hips.  When putting on a pack, hitch the pack up higher on your back than it will ride, and cinch down the waist strap.  Then tighten the shoulder straps until they just make contact with your shoulders.  Next, lightly tighten the load lifter straps on the shoulder straps and waist belt.  This helps to pull the weight of the pack in closer to your back and helps with balance.  Lastly, constantly adjust throughout the day as discomforts arise!

Have a system to your pack so that you have a good idea where each item is.  This will save you time and frustration throughout the climb, if you can reach straight to a warmer pair of gloves for example, rather than unpack most of your pack each time you need an item.  With a well-organized system, you will spend more time at each break resting and recovering, and less time digging for items in your pack. 

With a little bit of time and practice your pack won’t be such a burden and your training sessions, and ultimately the climb, will be more enjoyable!

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Pete Van Deventer is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions. A former collegiate nordic skier, Pete climbs and guides around the world, from the Andes to Alaska. Read about Pete’s recent sailing and ski mountaineering trip to Norway’s Lofoten Islands on the RMI Blog.

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

RMI Guide Robby Young leads a rope team around Mt. McKinley's Windy Corner. Photo: Pete Van Deventer.
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Mountaineering Training | Focus on Footwork

Posted by: Lindsay Mann | August 05, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Footwork and the ability to “read the terrain” to find the best footing is an important element of being able to climb safely and efficiently. During our Mountaineering Day School, our guides focus their efforts on teaching the “rest step”. The rest step is an important efficiency technique where climbers take small steps, pausing between steps with their weight on their back leg. This is a technique that enables climbers to get a “rest” with each step since their bodyweight is resting on their skeletal system instead of their muscles, effectively giving the legs a quick break. 

An important aspect to the rest step is paying attention to your footwork and deciding on your foot placement: finding the right place to set your foot so that you have full control while still benefiting from the small, efficient movements of the rest step. We commonly ask people to “climb with their eyes” by scanning the terrain and other climbers foot placements ahead to spot the best places to set their feet. Instead of getting fixated on only the next step, it is important to anticipate future terrain and foot placement. Thinking a few steps ahead allows you to see all of your options in front of you.

This is something that can be practiced before coming to climb Mt. Rainier or taking part in any of our climbs and expeditions. When going out on your training hikes, whether long or short, take the time to focus on your footwork. Ask yourself, “How big are my steps? Can I take a smaller step? Is there a better flat place for me to put my foot?” Constantly challenge yourself to find the easiest and most efficient foot placement with each step. Combining your focus on footwork with improvements to your balance and body awareness will give you an added measure of comfort, stability, and efficiency in the mountains, especially when you begin to tire. Remember that flexibility is an important part of footwork since you need to be comfortable in your foot placements even when the terrain is not perfectly flat or level. 

The more comfortable you can become with foot placement, reading terrain and climbing in balance, the less energy you will exert on longer hikes and climbs. Often times we get fixated on the immediate step in front of us. Instead, look ahead and challenge yourself to take small quick steps. By being aware of these footwork techniques on your training hikes will enable you to dance your way up the mountain on your climb!
 
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Lindsay Mann is a Senior Guide at RMI Expeditions and a NCAA D1 Skiing Champion. She has climbed and guided around the world, from Peru to Alaska. Read about her recent sailing and ski mountaineering trip to Norway’s Lofoten Islands on the here.

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

RMI Climber Frank M. focuses on his footwork, Mt. McKinley, Alaska. Photo: Kel Rossiter.

Mountaineering Training | Anaerobic Threshold & Interval Training

Posted by: | July 29, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Mountaineering is thought of as a “slow and steady” sport. Indeed, the climbing pace when nearing the summit is amazingly slow given the effort required by the high altitude, especially in comparison to moving at the same speed at lower elevations. As a result, climbers often overlook the necessity of incorporating speed and intensity into their training routine and instead focus on long, slow aerobic-oriented workouts. This is a mistake. Interval training is an important component of conditioning for mountaineering as it raises your anaerobic threshold, effectively giving you “more gears” when climbing at altitude. 
 
Aerobic vs. Anaerobic
Generally speaking, aerobic activity is the zone of physical activity where the body is able to provide adequate oxygen to the cells to keep them fueled, reducing the rate of fatigue. Anaerobic exercise is when the physical effort is high enough that the body cannot provide enough oxygen to the cells, causing them to use other energy stores to make up the difference and causing a much higher rate of fatigue. Think of taking a casual walk through the park (aerobic) vs. sprinting up multiple flights of stairs (anaerobic) - which can you sustain for longer? 
 
As athletes and climbers, our goal is to raise our anaerobic threshold - the level of effort where our bodies transition between aerobic and anaerobic activity. A higher anaerobic threshold allows us to climb at increased effort levels (like climbing at altitude) without entering an anaerobic zone and tiring quickly. Some sources say that climbing in your anaerobic zone will deplete your energy stores as much as 16x more quickly than staying within your aerobic zone! Raising your anaerobic threshold provides huge gains to your fitness when you head into the mountains. 
 
Interval Training: Raising Your Anaerobic Threshold
Interval Training is one of the most effective way to raise your anaerobic threshold. Interval training consists of short, intense bursts of physical effort. Learn more about general interval training here. The best types of intervals for improving your anaerobic threshold are extended efforts at just below your maximal effort level (or maximum heart rate if you train with a heart rate monitor) repeated several times with an equal amount of rest between intervals. The exact intervals you complete depends on your fitness level and chosen activity. Discuss an appropriate interval plan with a trainer or fitness specialist. General intervals targeting your anaerobic threshold include:

4 x 4 mins with 4 mins rest
• 5 x 3 mins with 3 mins rest
• 4 x 800m with 3 mins rest

You can do intervals while running, hiking, biking, on a rowing machine, or any sort of aerobic exercise equipment. Be sure to properly warm up and cool down before and after every session. Like all training activities, anaerobic interval training is best incorporated into a broader training routine, be sure to continue to include aerobic, strength and core, flexibility, and balance and agility training. It is best to begin your interval training in the early stages of your training plan so that your body is familiar with the exercises, you have the time to recover and improve, and are not exhausting yourself with intense interval training immediately before your climb. 
 
In order to truly go “slow and steady” in the mountains, we need to first go short and fast!

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

Ed Viesturs descends from the Khumbu Icefall, Mt. Everest. Photo: Jake Norton / First Ascent

Mountaineering Training | Body Awareness: Balance & Agility

Posted by: | July 23, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Body awareness is the combination of balance and agility that allows you to move comfortably and confidently through difficult and challenging terrain. 

Balance in mountaineering allows you to climb through challenging conditions - such as uneven and firm snow, steep slopes, or rocky terrain - while keeping your equilibrium and avoiding using excess energy or concentration to stay centered. Simply put, it’s being comfortable on your feet even when you’re traveling through uncomfortable terrain. 

Agility is being able to move quickly and easily - to be nimble and reactive. Agility is the ability to react to the unexpected when in the mountains, catching your own stumble or slip or that of a fellow rope team member, navigating through loose rocks, or stepping over a crevasse. 

The good news is that both balance and agility are motor skills and can be improved over time. 

BALANCE: Practice a combination of static (stationary) and dynamic (moving) balance exercises to develop your balance skills. 

Static exercises can be as simple as standing on one leg. Try it at the gym between strength routines, at home while doing the dishes, or while waiting for the bus or elevator. Too easy? Close your eyes, rock onto your toes or onto your heel and try and hold it. Once you’ve mastered that, try standing on one leg on a small rubber balance disk, then balancing on a your knees on a balance ball. If that is going well, have a friend toss you a tennis ball and catch it without falling off the ball. As you improve, remember that you can always find new ways to challenge and improve your balance. 

Dynamic exercises incorporate a bit of movement. Try to walk heel-to-toe along a straight marked line, such as crease in the carpet or sidewalk crack. Once you’ve mastered that, try it again but with your eyes closed. You can incorporate dynamic balance exercises into everyday life by constantly finding little balance challenges throughout the day: walk along the edge of the curb when strolling through town or pause to balance along a fallen tree or rail when out for a run. 

AGILITY: Agility exercises help you focus and boost your coordination, speed, and power. Examples of agility exercises include skipping rope, high knee skips, plyometric jumps, or laying a rope ladder flat on the ground to run or hop through (much like hopscotch). Many of the drills practiced in team field sports are examples of agility exercises. 

Many avid climbers are also talented at “slacklining”, the feat of walking along a taut piece of webbing strung several inches to feet above the ground (like tightrope walking). This is one of the ultimate challenges of body awareness, requiring a delicate combination of balance, agility, core strength, and composure. Yoga is another great activity to incorporate into your training to develop balance and agility in addition to flexibility, core strength, and focus.

You can begin improving your body awareness at any point in your training process. No matter if your climb is days or months away, every little improvement helps. There is no finish line with these skills. You can always find ways to challenge and increase your balance and agility, regardless of your fitness level or age.  The rewards of good body awareness in mountaineering are subtle yet profound: you are more at ease in challenging terrain or difficult climbing conditions, have confidence in your movements in intimidating situations, move more efficiently, and maintain your energy and focus throughout the day.

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

Descending into the Khumbu Icefall, Mt. Everest (Linden Mallory).

Mountaineering Training | Climber’s Perspective on Balancing Work and Training for Mt. Rainier

Posted by: | July 15, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Mt. Rainier, everyday, when it’s not cloudy … I get to see Mt. Rainier. Ever since I moved to the Seattle area 10 years ago, I’ve been looking at that mountain, knowing that I would summit it someday.  This September, with RMI Expeditions, I will be able to attempt the climb and hope that the mountain allows me to summit.   Every day for the past 8 months I have been waking up and heading to the gym at 4 AM to work out.  I have been part of a fitness program getting back into shape, and now, down 80lbs, I have been inspired to make my summit a reality this fall.  The great thing about living in the Pacific Northwest is that I get to look at the mountain almost daily and it serves as a constant reminder of what I am training for.  That training has to be incorporated into a very busy life, balancing my work and family schedules, but as many I have talked with, every bit of training you do is more ‘fuel’ in your tank for when you summit - that is what drives me to get up every morning. As someone who works in marketing for a major software company in Redmond, my days are kept very busy, and 9 - 10hr work days on top of training is at times challenging to keep up with.  The way I keep life balanced is by starting my days early as it helps me get in what I need to at the gym and allows for some quiet time in the office to catch up on email before the busyness of the day begins. My days look like the following:

4 AM: Alarm goes off and I drag myself out of bed.
5 AM: At the gym to get in a 60 - 90 minute workout doing either circuit training, or a mountain conditioning class at the Pro Sports Club.
• Around 7 AM I am into work for a full day.
4 PM: I either head home for the day to relax or I head to Tiger Mountain’s cable line trail for training on Tuesdays & Thursdays.
• Eat dinner when I get home.
8:30-9 PM: Head to bed to rest for another busy day.

Right now I’m doing a combination of circuit training and a mountain conditioning course Monday - Thursday at the gym and on Fridays I workout my bigger muscle groups and do a short 30 min on cardio.  On Monday and Wednesday after work I head to the driving range to mix it up a bit and have some fun.  Tuesday and Thursdays are my big days where I have both mountain conditioning and I head up and do the Tiger Mountain Cable Line Trail (1000 vertical feet in a little over a mile).  I use Fridays to recover and I do major hikes for training over the weekends, and try to include my wife on some of these more “fun” hikes.  

Balancing the heavy training schedule with work and a family is very tricky, but I also remember this is only for a short period of life, and I am constantly reminded of the goal ahead when I catch a glimpse of Mt. Rainier peeking out from the clouds.

- Jeff Marcoux

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Jeff Marcoux is an avid hiker & lover of micro brews who lives with his wife in Seattle, WA.

Mt. Rainier standing above the Seattle skyline. RMI Collection.

Mountaineering Training | Tips for Strong Knees in the Mountains

Posted by: | July 08, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Traveling through the mountains and climbing up and down rough and uneven terrain can take a toll on our knees. Knee pain can be debilitating in the mountains and the best strategy to avoid knee pain is to actively prevent it. Prevention begins early in your training process and continues throughout the climb. 
 
During Training
• Remember that getting up the mountain is only half the climb: you still face the entire descent back to the bottom. Keep this mind during your training and include downhill travel in your training routine in order to prepare your muscles and joints to the stress encountered in a climb. 
• Build general knee strength. See this article for an example of different knee strengthening exercises and discuss the specific areas that you need to improve your knee strength with a physical therapist or trainer.
• Take care of your knees during training: don’t beat them up too much and let small irritations turn into major injuries!  
 
On the Climb  
Be Prepared: 
• Be aware of the weight you are shouldering and avoid carrying extra or unneeded gear. 
• Be strategic when pack your backpack: keep the heavy items towards the back of your pack (close to your body) and centered so that the heaviest weight is closest to your center of gravity and your pack sits comfortably and squarely on your frame, not pulling to one side and throwing you off balance. 
• Bring trekking poles: poles are a great tool in taking a few pounds of weight off of your knees with each step and can help you protect a knee if it is feeling tired. 
 
Climb Smart: 
• Take small steps on the climb up whenever possible to avoid straining the major muscles around the knees. 
• Don’t fight the descent! Take smaller consistent steps coming down and try to avoid the big jarring steps that jolt your body.
• When coming down on moderate snowy terrain and no longer wearing crampons, try keeping the sole of your foot parallel with the slope and sliding a few inches with each step downwards. These little distances add up over the course of a long descent and make the downhill feel just that much easier. 
 
 
Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

Peter Whittaker leads a team up Mt. Rainier's Muir Snowfield. Photo: Jon Mancuso.
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Mountaineering Training | Climber’s Perspective on Training for Rainier

Posted by: | June 24, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

I climbed Mt. Rainier last August just before my 57th birthday. I am from Boston and live at sea level, so the idea of climbing to 14,411’ was a bit daunting. Since I was climbing with my daughter, an RMI Guide, the pressure was on for me to bring my A game, if you can have such game at my age.
 
For me, the only way to prepare for Rainier was to go hiking. As I am a 9-to-5-office worker, my options were a bit limited, but in general this was my plan. Eight weeks before my climb, I started my program. I did my best to go hiking at least one day per week. Most of my training was done in the White Mountains since it is a two-hour drive from where I live. I started by hiking Mt. Osceola, a five-mile, 2,100 vertical foot climb while carrying a light pack. From there I quickly moved up to Mt. Moosilauke, a seven and a half mile, 2,600 vertical foot climb. 
 
In between my weekend trips to the White Mountains, I would try and bike between fifteen and twenty miles a few times a week after work. In addition, three times per week I included a core workout. So that you do not get the wrong impression about my interests, I am also an avid sailboat racer. In the weeks leading up to my climb, I was trying to balance my sailing schedule and my work schedule with my training for the Mt. Rainier climb. 
 
After the first few hikes, I started hiking Mt. Lafayette, a beautiful hike located in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire. It is an eight-mile hike that climbs 3,600 feet. The first time I hiked Lafayatte I carried a light pack. The following week, I climbed Lafayette again. This time I filled old orange juice bottles with water and added them to my pack for additional weight.
 
My next move was to add Little Haystack and Mt. Lincoln to my trip. This now created a loop where I could climb 4,400 feet while walking only nine miles. Coincidently, this is comparable to the climb up to Camp Muir. My next step was to add weight to my back and to do this loop two days in a row. Having successfully completed this I felt like I was ready to fly out west to make my final preparations.
 
A few notes on my final preparations. Most of my hikes were in warm weather and having plenty of water was critical. In addition, occasional cramping in my legs and other muscles were an issue for me. In part the cramping was a fatigue issue, however, it was also a hydration and dietary issue. As I ate more salty snacks and drank sports drinks on my hikes, cramping became less of a problem. 
 
My last concern was the altitude. One of the challenges of climbing Mt. Rainier is the inability to acclimate. In my ideal world, I would have spent time doing some light hiking at altitude before my climb; however, that was not an option. Instead I was able to fly to Seattle a few days before my climb. I spent a day at Crystal Mountain, rode the gondola to the top of the mountain at 7,000 feet and did a light hike. The following day I went for great hike in the Tatoosh Range in Mt. Rainier National Park. The goal of these hikes was to get some light exercise, while keeping my legs fresh for the following day.
 
As for my climb up Rainier; it was just Lindsay and me. We left Paradise around nine in the morning and motored up the snowfield, or at least in my mind we did.  Then we ate, hydrated and went to “sleep” in the early evening. We woke up in the dark and started climbing. The weather was perfect and we reached the summit just in time to watch the sunrise. By late afternoon we were back at Paradise. 
 
In the end, I felt like my legs were ready for the challenge of the climb. However, I found the altitude to be the biggest challenge. For me, on summit day it was all about finding the rythmn between my climbing and breathing, being mentally tough, and enjoying the climb with my daughter. 
 
- Robert Mann

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Robert Mann is an avid skier, hiker, and sailor who lives with his wife and family near Boston, MA. 

Robert Mann standing on the summit of Mt. Rainier. Photo Courtesy Robert Mann.
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Mountaineering Training | Managing Varying Temperatures

Posted by: | June 17, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Climbers commonly joke that it’s either “freeze or fry” in the mountains. Some moments of a climb can feel like a winter ascent of Denali while others are more like the afternoon heat of a safari in Tanzania. Rarely do the temperatures in the mountains stay at a comfortable level. Even though we are often traveling on glaciers and permanent snowfields in the summer, the days can be hot - especially on the approaches to climbs. Yet, at higher elevations and in the dark hours of the night when we begin our ascents the temperature drops. Throw in a light breeze at 13,000’ and it’s downright cold.

While the temperature does indeed vary between bone chilling cold and bewildering heat, our goal as climbers is to manage those swings in temperature to keep ourselves at a comfortable, even level. Our bodies are pretty good at managing heat and most of us know how to do so well. Protecting ourselves from the intense sun of higher elevations and staying hydrated and replacing lost fluids is critical. It can be a challenge to carry enough water for an all-day climb and a good trick many climbers and guides use is to “pre-hydrate” beforehand by drinking lots of water while it is readily available and then rationing the water you have at your disposal throughout the day so that it will last. For example, climbing to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier typically takes about 5 hours with 4 breaks on the way. If you’re carrying 2 litres of water then aim to drink a ½ litre at each stop so that you are still hydrated on your last stretch of the day. Afterwards, re-fill your bottle and drink plenty of water to rehydrate and recover for the climb the next day. 

The cold temperatures can have a negative effect on our performance as well by diverting the energy we have for the climb to keeping our bodies warm. Careful, conscious clothing choice is the best strategy to keeping your body at an even temperature level. It’s not uncommon to feel chilly around camp and add an extra layer when you begin climbing only to find yourself overheated in minutes. Then, when you stop for a water break all that perspiration cools and you find yourself shivering. Be strategic in your clothing choices when climbing, wearing the right amount of layers that you need to stay comfortable while climbing and adding layers at breaks to preserve that heat. A hat is great temperature regulator as it is easy to take on and off as needed without having to stop to take off your pack. The cold, dry air of high altitude also dehydrates you, making the need to stay hydrated all the more important.

As you head into the mountains, whether climbing or training, keep these strategies in mind. Begin hydrating before you hit the trail and keep an eye on how much water you have so that it will last throughout the day. Also, try to use the gear you plan to climb with in your training to experiment with different clothing layers and get a feel for the layers that work for you to maintain an even body temperature despite the changes in environment.

RMI Climbers approach High Camp on the Vinson Massif, Antarctica.
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Recent Images From Mountaineering Fitness & Training

  • An RMI Team takes a break at Ingraham Flats (11,200') while descending Mt. Rainier (Jon Mancuso).
  • Ed Viesturs crossing a ladder in Mt. Everest's Khumbu Glacier (Jake Norton / FA).
  • (RMI Collection)
  • An RMI Team climbs Mt. Shuksan's Sulphide Glacier (Courtesy Chris Villar).
  • An RMI Team climbs Mexico's Pico de Orizaba (18,701') at sunrise (Linden Mallory).
  • An RMI Team descending toward Denali Pass after reaching the summit of Mt. McKinley (Linden Mallory).
  • An RMI Team ascends Mt. Rainier's Muir Snowfield (Jon Mancuso).
  • RMI Climbers on the summit of Antarctica's Vinson Massif (Peter Whittaker).
  • Clouds billow over Little Tahoma below an RMI Climbing Team (Katrina Bloemsma).
  • RMI Guide Casey Grom coils his rope on the summit of Antisana, Ecuador (Adam Knoff)
  • An RMI Team climbing Ecuador's Cotopaxi (Mike Walter).
  • RMI Guide Lindsay Mann leads a team up Mt. McKinley's Kahiltna Glacier (Brent Okita).
  • Views of Mt. McKinley from the plane on the way to Kahiltna Base Camp (Linden Mallory).
  • Trekkers in the Khumbu Valley beneath Ama Dablam. Photo: Linden Mallory
  • RMI Guide Jake Beren leaves the last break before the summit of Mt. Rainier earlier this summer. Photo: Eric Frank.
  • An RMI Team makes the final approach to Base Camp on Aconcagua. Photo: Linden Mallory
  • Jeff Marcoux traverses below Mt. Rainier's Disappointment Cleaver at sunrise earlier this year. Photo courtesy Jeff Marcoux.
  • Mailbox Peak and Colchuck Lake and Aasgard Pass. Photo courtesy Jeff Marcoux.
  • Hiking in Colorado: Grays & Torreys (L), Quandry Peak (R). Photo courtesy Jeff Marcoux.
  • An RMI Team on the upper slopes of Mt. Rainier. Photo: Jon Mancuso
  • RMI Climbers descending from the summit of Mt. Rainier. Photo: Jon Mancuso
  • Dave Hahn relaxing at Everest Base Camp. Photo: Jake Norton / First Ascent