Mountaineering Training | Managing Varying Temperatures
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.
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