Mountaineering Training | Climber’s Perspective on Training for Rainier
Categories: Mountaineering Fitness & Training
I climbed Mt. Rainier 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
Robert Mann is an avid skier, hiker, and sailor who lives with his wife and family near Boston, MA.
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