Posts for Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Mountaineering Training | Is Your Training Working? Using Benchmarks

Posted by: Pete Van Deventer | October 21, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

The ability to measure your gains throughout a training program is a great way to stay motivated and identify areas that you want to work on more.  In college I raced on the cross-country ski team. On the team, we had several different benchmark sessions throughout our summer and fall training seasons.  These sessions helped measure strength, anaerobic threshold, race speed, and endurance.  While the demands of nordic ski racing are somewhat different than mountaineering, these categories still apply directly to mountaineering.  If you incorporate tests into your training plan early, you’ll have a benchmark to compare each subsequent test to.  With a tool to identify your progress, you’ll be amazed at the progress you will make in getting faster, stronger, and fitter! 
 
As food for thought, a couple of the events that we used were:
 
A Strength Test: The test encompasses three different core exercises that isolate different muscles groups: sit-ups, push-ups, and dips.  Starting with sit-ups, do as many complete sit-ups as possible within a 1-minute span, rest for 30 seconds, and then repeat.  We did the same with both push-ups and dips, keeping track of the numbers.  When repeating the test later in the season, you are able to track your gains in core strength.  
 
3000-meter running test and time trials: Both allowed us to compare times over a consistent course and test aerobic thresholds.  The 3000m is long enough (7.5 laps of a standard track) to attain a good idea of how you can push and maintain over an extended distance.  Time trials are the same, though distance and mechanism can vary (20 kilometers on a bike or a 45 minute uphill run). Longer courses focus on aerobic capacity (endurance), while shorter events move more towards the aerobic threshold (the ability to process lactic acid and maintain aerobic respiration). 
 
Uphill sprint test: Running uphill as hard as I could pushed me into the anaerobic zone and measured maximum performance.  Alpine ski areas, a local uphill grind, or even a long set of stairs are a great place to do this test.  Find a section 2-3 minutes long, duck your head, and give it all you have.  
 
Be creative with creating your own benchmark tests!  Enter a 5k race periodically, use your local stadium stairs as an anaerobic test, and create a strength test that works for you.  The options are pretty limitless, and when you see how much time you’ve dropped on that uphill run, or how many more sit-ups you can do over the period, you’ll be that much more psyched to keep getting after it. As always, be careful, especially at the beginning.  Training only works if it’s making you stronger so train smart and stay injury free!
 
 
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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. Pete is leading an expedition on Mt. McKinley’s West Buttress in May. Also an avid skier, Pete recently sailed and skied through Norway’s Lofoten Islands, read about the adventure on the RMI Blog.

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

Trekkers in the Khumbu Valley beneath Ama Dablam. Photo: Linden Mallory

Mountaineering Training | 3 Training Principles From RMI Guide Eric Frank

Posted by: Eric Frank | October 14, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Three Core Training Principles
By RMI Guide Eric Frank

Designing a training program to prepare for mountaineering is one of the most important decisions aspiring climbers face. Success or failure is often determined by the type and quality of the training done months before the crampon straps are tightened.

By planning particular elements of the training program in order, fitness can be maximized while the chance of burning out is minimized. Each level of activity leads to the next. It is crucial to start training at least six months in advance of the climb to have enough time to work through a full cycle.  While the details will vary between climbers, here are a few core principles to consider:

• First, commit one or two Saturdays each month for long training sessions. This can be difficult in our busy, modern world, but it is important to find the time to go on a five to six hour hike or bike ride. Days in the mountains are rarely less then eight hours, and being accustomed to consistent low-grade output is important. This serves to build base fitness.

• Next, introduce mountaineering specific activities by focusing on the core and legs. Carrying a backpack uphill for hours can be extremely taxing on these muscle groups. Running, core workout and good ol’ hiking with a pack will build them up to the appropriate level. Remember to carry a pack that is similar to the pack weight on the climb. Filling the pack with water is a nice trick. Carry the weight uphill during training, then dump it out before heading downhill to save the knees.

• Finally, add high intensity, full body workouts to the exercise program. On most routes in the mountains, there are places where increased output is required. Whether it is scrambling up a rock step on the Disappointment Cleaver on Mt. Rainier, ascending a fixed line on the West Buttress of Denali, or just shoveling snow to make a tent platform, physical strength is crucial. These activities will round out the strength in your shoulders and lower back.  A good introductory workout involves body weight calisthenics in a rotation – pushups, crunches, squats, dips, pull-ups and jump rope. Try to do three full cycles with a consistent number of repetitions. The idea is maintain an elevated heart rate and stress different muscle groups in succession. The best part is that is doesn’t require any specialized equipment or facilities.

Finally remember that the best training imitates the route to be climbed. Consider the specific mountain and route to be attempted, research it’s exact difficulties, then tailor a plan which will lead to success.

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Eric Frank is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions. He has climbed and guided all over the world, including the Alaska Range and the Himalaya; read about his recent to trip to Shishapangma on the Eddie Bauer Blog. Eric will be leading an RMI Expedition on Mt. McKinley’s Upper West Rib next spring.

RMI Guide Jake Beren leaves the last break before the summit of Mt. Rainier earlier this summer. Photo: Eric Frank.

Mountaineering Training | Training Suggestions for Aconcagua

Posted by: JJ Justman | October 02, 2013
Categories: *Aconcagua *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

After climbing Mt. Rainier, as our teams are sitting in Ashford at the Bar & Grill, I am often asked, “What is a next best climb?” While that is a great question with many possibilities, my go to answer is typically Aconcagua. Aconcagua is the highest mountain in South America and one of the world’s highest mountains. It is a great introduction to expedition style climbing, it is relatively safe, and it is a ton of fun!
 
Climbing a mountain like Aconcagua is a huge endeavor. It is a mountain that requires an athlete to be in top physical condition. Overall aerobic endurance training is very important and it is important that most climbers come to the mountain fully prepared. In regards to endurance training, I have always been a firm believer that you must do something aerobically that you really enjoy doing…because you must do a lot of it! For me, that activity is road cycling. I can get on the bike and ride for hours upon hours. For others, it may be running or hiking. 
 
I have an additional workout that I incorporate into my training once a week, two months prior to my expedition, in order to prepare. The workout is “crossfit” style, but first I want to explain why I benefit from it.
 
High altitude climbing demands three things. One, you must have a high aerobic threshold. Without getting into too scientific, your body’s aerobic threshold simply means your body is still running on oxygen. Anaerobic system is when you are not getting enough oxygen and lactic acid builds up. This is when you are going so hard you begin to feel that “burn” in your legs and you simply feel you cannot maintain that effort. So your body slows down, you return to your aerobic state and your body begins to flush the lactic acid out. If you do interval training, going all out for a short time followed by a longer period of rest, you in a sense are building a higher aerobic threshold.
 
Two, you must have good overall strength for climbing at high altitudes. On Aconcagua you will carry a heavy pack to move between the three camps we have. So you must have strong shoulders, back, chest, core and legs.  
 
Lastly, you must have a great deal of mental strength. We would all love it if climbing high mountains would be easy, but it is not! Climbing to high altitudes requires a little bit of suffering. How hard are you mentally willing to push it? You must break mental barriers to succeed at high altitude.
 
With all that I personally do a routine that has me crying at the end. Why? Because it requires all three things mentioned above. And here is the workout…but first, always consult a profession trainier before attempting a new workout. 

1. Man Makers
2. 500 meter row
3. 30 – 50 full sit ups
4. Jump rope one minute
5. Kettle bell dead lift
6. Lying Leg raises

I perform these exercises in succession with as little time resting in between. A complete cycle of these exercises is one set. I perform a total of three sets. This workout is torture…but in a good way. It keeps my heart rate elevated very high, especially during the rowing and jump roping. It also incorporates overall muscle strength. And I have to push through a mental barrier because I guarantee you will either want to rest or quit.

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JJ Justman is a senior guide with RMI Expeditions. He has led 18 expeditions to Aconcagua, and guided and climbed around the world, including three expeditions to Mt. Everest. In addition to climbing and cycling, JJ is a talented Tango dancer. JJ will be leading several Aconcagua expeditions for RMI this coming winter.

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

An RMI Team makes the final approach to Base Camp on Aconcagua. Photo: Linden Mallory
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Mountaineering Training | Climber’s Perspective After The Climb

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

My Favorite Training & What Worked

I recently got to attempt my summit of Mt. Rainier.  Although we were not able to reach the summit because the route was impassable, I was in the best shape of my life and was able to reflect on all of my training, what worked, what didn’t, and what I enjoyed doing to train for the climb.
 
A lot of my training worked quite well to get me ready for my climb.  Here are a few of the exercises that worked best:

Gym

Stairs/Stepmill:  The stepmill became my best friend while at the gym prepping for Mt. Rainier.  It was very functional movement that would let me do interval training, side stepping, and long climbing durations.

Versa climber:  The versa climber is an amazing cardio tool that I discovered at the ProClub in Bellevue. It serves as great cardio combined with functional movement and is very difficult to do for long periods of time.  This was one of my love/hate relationships at the gym given the benefit I took away from it.

Running:  Running is something that I hate in this world… especially on a treadmill. I prefer hiking and getting outdoors.  However, I could not ignore the benefit that running gave me in general conditioning.  I tried to get outside as much as possible, cover distance, and put in hill/stair training while I was out to break up the monotony.

Mountain Conditioning Course:  This was one of my favorite parts of training.  The ProClub in Bellevue offers a class twice a week that is solely focused on conditioning for hiking.  This class offered a social aspect to my training with people who were training for Mt. Rainier, the Enchantments, Everest Base Camp as well as others who had already summited Mt. Rainier.  This class offered circuit training, conditioning, and strength training all combined into functional movement.

Hiking

Hiking was one of the best things that I was able to incorporate into my training.  What better way to train for a hike than hiking itself?  The best part of my hiking training was the confidence in my abilities that some of these bigger hikes gave me once on Mt. Rainier.
• Mailbox Peak: 6mi round trip, 3100’ elevation gain, 4800’ highest point
• Colchuck Lake + Aasgard Pass: 11mi round trip, 4400’ elevation gain, 7841’ highest point

Altitude

Training at altitude was another key to feeling good on my summit attempt.  I traveled to Colorado to bag some 14ers and did Camp Muir once.  Knowing how the altitude would impact me and quickly learning the benefit of pressure breathing were key in my training.

Colorado:  A week before my climb I had the opportunity to go to Denver for work which provided me the chance to hike several peaks over 14,000’ and see what the altitude would do to me.  Additionally, this gave me a chance to do back to back days of serious hikes to see how a climb to Muir followed by a summit day would be like.
• Grays & Torreys: 8.25mi round trip, 3600’ elevation gain, 14270’ highest elevation
• Quandry: 6.75 mi round trip, 3450’ elevation gain, 14265’ highest elevation

Camp Muir: 10mi round trip, 4600’ elevation gain, 10000’ highest elevation
I only climbed Camp Muir once during my training even though it was one of the best training hikes near Seattle.  I did this for several reasons - first, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do that part of the route so that when my trip came I could approach it with confidence.  Second, I did not want that route to turn into what the Tiger Mountain cable line trail had become to be - a dreaded training hike that was no longer fun (I was doing that trail twice a week for training).

Backpacking: Pratt Lake: 11.5mi round trip, 3000’ elevation gain, 4200’ highest elevation
Backpacking was a fun part of my training where I carried over-weight pack for an overnight and I was able to test out my gear and equipment while out in the field.  This was a great opportunity to check out my pack, boots, and clothing to ensure they were the right fit and equipment for the summit attempt.

Things I Wish I Had Done More

There were a few things that after attempting my summit I wish I had done more of in my training routine: 

Hike more with full pack weight or an overweight pack: Carrying a 40 pound pack up the mountain and at elevation can start to tire even the most fit people.  Training more with what that weight would feel like and just making it a part of every hike earlier on would have made a big difference.  On each hike I did I would add in a decent amount of weight (25-30lbs) but only hiked at full weight once.  Going back, I would have started with full weight much earlier in my training time and even gone overweight to help my body be stronger when I was at elevation.

Hike at a steady pace for long durations: RMI does a great job at managing energy expenditure if you listen to their advice.  One thing that our guide targeted was that no matter the difficulty of the terrain that our energy expenditure would be the same.  For example, if it was flat we might move a bit faster but that would be the same energy required as slowly going up a steep part.  In my training I found myself hiking for a bit and taking 15-30sec resting periods and continuing vs going for a hour and then breaking.  Although my micro rests were very helpful and made me move very fast, they were not ultimately the slow steady pace I would need for alpine climbing.  Looking back I would have tried to maintain steady paces/energy expenditures for the duration of my training hikes, taking scheduled breaks and pushing myself through the tough points where I traditionally took a micro break. 

All in all, all of my training was beneficial to the climb but there were definitely some things that helped more than others.  I will make some tweaks to my training schedule before my next climb, and start carrying a heavier pack for training earlier.  It is very important to invest in your training and start early because I saw more than one climber struggle with their fitness on the mountain.  On a rope team, you are either an asset or a liability, and at the end of the day, all of your training is putting more fuel into your Mt. Rainier summiting fuel tank.  So train hard and be an asset to your team - it only makes your climb better!


- Jeff Marcoux

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

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

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.
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Mountaineering Training | Training Phases

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

A well crafted training plan is one that comprises multiple phases of training. Commonly called Periodized Training, this is the method of dividing your training program into phases in order to focus on different aspects of your training while effectively incorporating the needed rest and recovery. 
 
Periodized training is effective because it is a strategic approach to training. If you try to focus on every aspects of your training all at once, you’re likely to get injured or burn out. Much like building a house, the foundation must be laid before the walls can be put up and the interior finished. In the same manner, periodized training is focusing on different aspects of your training in a complementary manner, where each phase makes you stronger and more prepared for the next. 
 
Basic Training Phases
 
Phase 1: Building Base Fitness 
Your goal in this phase is to build your overall “base fitness.” This entails improving your aerobic endurance, increasing strength and flexibility, and incorporating occasional interval work. This critical training phase focuses primarily on aerobic fitness. Aerobic training increases the amount of oxygen carried to the muscles, lowers the rate at which lactic acid is created and helps the body remove it more effectively, and increases the overall metabolic rate (1). Put simply, you are getting into good overall shape in order to prepare your body for the stresses of more intense and specific mountaineering training. 
 
Phase 2: Introduce Mountaineering Specific Training 
This phase focuses on maintaining endurance and aerobic fitness while improving speed and strength by introducing more interval training and mountaineering specific training. Begin incorporating interval sessions into your training to increase your aerobic capacity and and broaden your range of comfort at various effort levels. Make your workouts more mountaineering specific with hikes and climbs with moderate weight in your pack. This phase is beginning to hone your fitness to the demands of mountaineering. 
 
Phase 3: Tailor Training Specifically for the Climb Ahead
In the final phase you are training specifically for the climb ahead. Try and train on terrain similar in steepness and difficulty to the mountain in terms of vertical change, weight in your pack, and length of days. Find training hikes with the vertical change that is similar to the amount of vertical change on your climb. Stack long workout days back to back to mimic the challenges of multi-day climbs. Train and with a pack weight mimicking what you will be carrying on the mountain and incorporate interval sessions to boost your anaerobic threshold. 
 
Remember to dramatically dial down your training in the final week or so before the climb. This process, called “tapering”, gives you the needed time to rest and recover from your final training push. The last thing you want to do is show up at the base of a mountain exhausted and worn out. 
 
Applying Phased Training
 
Pull out a calendar and mark down the date of your upcoming climb. You have every day between today and the start of your climb to build your fitness. Divide this time into three phases. Your current fitness level and the amount of time between now and your next climb will determine the length and focus of each phase. As you hone in on your different phases, also reflect back on your past climbs and training to determine what areas of focus (flexibility, balance, speed, etc.) to incorporate into the more mountaineering specific training phases. Find out more about specific training routines with RMI’s Mountaineering Fitness and Training resources. We strongly encourage you to work with a trainer or fitness coach to help you map out this process and provided the specific routines and exercises for you. 


(1: “Train Smart This Winter: Base Training Basics”, Active.com)

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

An RMI Team on the upper slopes of Mt. Rainier. Photo: Jon Mancuso

Mountaineering Training | Next Steps: After The Climb

Posted by: Linden Mallory | September 02, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Coming off of a big climb or expedition often leads to the question, “What’s next?” The first priority is to take time to rest and recover. Any adventure in the mountains is a big physical and mental effort, and recovery time is valuable. Some light activity to stretch the legs can be a good idea but it’s not always beneficial to jump back into intense workouts right away. In order to come back stronger, you need to recover first. Recovery time not only helps you physically recuperate but also gives you a mental break. When you do return to your training, you can do so with renewed motivation and excitement. 
 
After a few good nights of sleep, take a moment to reflect on your past training and the climb itself: what worked in your training? What didn’t? What were you surprised about in the climb and how can you prepare better in the future? Take the extra minute to dig into this a bit, identify some key takeaways, and note these down. 
 
For example, a few weeks after coming home with my tail between my legs from my first expedition to a remote peak in the Andes, I realized that while I felt aerobically strong throughout the climb, it took only a slight increase in pace or pack weight to send my exertion level through the roof. Additionally, the loose rocks of the lower mountain, fields of penitentes, and hard ice of the route were challenging to move across in a fluid manner, constantly testing my balance and ultimately wearing me out after a long day. In my training following the expedition, I focused on incorporating more interval training to increase my anaerobic threshold and to give me a larger aerobic capacity. I also incorporated more balance exercises into my gym routines, aimed at improving my ability to climb comfortably and efficiently despite the uncertainties of the terrain. On my next expedition, I was amazed at how much I gained by focusing on my weaknesses in my training. 
 
With these area of focus noted, consider what you want to do next. If you’re eager to get back in the mountains, where do you want to go and what are the appropriate steps to get you there? Maybe it’s to climb Mt. Rainier by way of another route? Are your sights set on 18,000’ or 19,000’ peaks like those in Mexico or Ecuador? Perhaps it’s the goal of climbing one of the Seven Summits like Aconcagua or McKinley
 
After identifying your goal, do a little digging into what that climb looks like and what physical efforts are needed. What are the defining characteristics of the climb in terms of altitude, length, weight of pack, and technical skills? What kind of training do you need to focus on in order to tackle those challenges? Multi-week expeditions like Aconcagua or Denali require different preparation than a climb of several days like the North Cascades, Mexico, or Ecuador.  
 
Take a look at your takeaways from your last climb and compare them with the challenges of your next climb. If it’s a long expedition with heavy packs, maybe you need to build your aerobic strength and endurance to handle the extended exertion of the climb. If it’s a shorter trip, perhaps it’s improving your overall aerobic capacity while also increasing your strength and flexibility to meet the needs of the climb. 
 
Completing these mental exercises helps bring your training path into focus. Continue to be strategic in your training, and it’s not a bad idea to build benchmarks along the way to keep track of your progress. 
 
Most of all, keep having fun. As climbers, it’s not just the summit day that generates the passion and excitement for us (although that’s often the most recognizable aspect to others), it’s the entire process of dreaming of a climb, working hard to plan and prepare for it, realizing it as you set foot on the mountain, and relishing in the memories afterwards. 
 
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Linden Mallory is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions.

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

RMI Climbers descending from the summit of Mt. Rainier. Photo: Jon Mancuso

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!


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 a pack on their backs.  Somewhat of a necessary evil, the goal is to make your 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 axe) 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 axe generally has a dedicated attachment point (the ice axe 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.
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