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Mountaineering Training | Pulse Check: Checking In During the Final Weeks Of Training

Editor’s Note: This “pulse check,” adapted from the end of John Colver’s Fit To Climb Program, a sixteen-week Mt. Rainier training program, is a general check-in two weeks before the climb. 

You really can’t build any more fitness less than two weeks before the climb. The other side of that point is there really is the potential to squander the benefits you’ve worked for by doing too much in the coming weeks and arriving to the climb thoroughly exhausted. For some people, the crux of the training is managing the reduced amount of effort and intensity. In a very similar way to being stuck on a mountain waiting for a storm to pass, this reduced workload may test your patience, but you have to recognize that to overdo it now would be akin to stepping out into the storm. There is just no point.

Roughly speaking, the training intensity and volume are reduced by 50% in the coming days. Some ways to manage the additional downtime can be reviewing your gear, reading about the climb, watching a movie or catching up with friends and family. The last few weeks of training are busy and your climb is coming up at the end of next week. It’s time to relax.

Given that your climb is coming up very soon, this week’s and next week’s preparation really blend into each other. As you look ahead at your schedule for the next ten days, bear in mind that it’s perfectly fine to juggle around the days to suit your needs. Another important thing to bear in mind is that it’s certainly okay to skip training days. The goal from now onwards is rest and preparation. The climb is the event that all the training has been leading up to. Most people are going to be a little nervous. If your nerves are getting the best of you, now is a good time to start actively practicing relaxation and anxiety management skills. My frank observation is that no matter what concerns or doubts come up between the start and the end of this week, the right thing to do in almost every case is to relax and focus on the next hour. You will need all of your energy to climb this mountain and you should feel confident that the training you have will afford you the opportunity to reach the summit of Mount Rainier.

There are, however, many things that cannot be controlled, weather and snow conditions being the biggest factors. It is easy to worry about both of these things, but I can promise you as a guide I learned not to worry about those things until the time is actually right. The determination of whether to continue or turn back is always a calculated decision made in the moment, and this is one of the fascinations of the challenge. A climbing team can have a hundred percent perfect weather forecast and if there’s a slight air pressure change two hours from the summit, this can result in white-out conditions and winds so high that turning around is the only reasonable option. It is also true that many successful climbs start out in poor visibility and inclement weather which dissipates as the team climbs higher. No one knows what the conditions will be like on your summit day and this is why the gear list contains clothing and equipment for all conditions. What you can count on is the knowledge that no matter how many times your guide has walked out of Camp Muir in the middle of the night, she or he does not forget what it was it is like the first time. Try and suspend thinking about what is happening above the clouds; I say this with absolute assurance, you will be supported by a world-class guide team.

On this note, many people report that the experience of being part of a team is one of the most memorable aspects of the climb. Being connected by carabiners and a thin nylon rope is certainly a bonding experience. The famous French guide and writer Gaston Rébuffat often spoke of the “Brotherhood of the Rope” to symbolize the connectedness of everyone on the team. It’s an amazing experience to share the mountains with like-minded climbers!

If at the end of next week, you stand on the summit of Mount Rainier, it will be because you put one foot in front of the other, over and over again, and met the challenge of climbing 9,000’ from the alpine meadows of Rainier’s foot to the glacier capped summit. Along the way, you will find synchronicity with your teammates. You will boost them when they are tired and they will do the same for you.

John Colver is a longtime climber, former mountain guide, and certified personal trainer with the American Council of Exercise. Colver introduced outdoor fitness classes to athletic clubs throughout the greater Puget Sound region before creating his adventX brand. Currently, adventX leads training programs in Seattle and Colver presents clinics on outdoor fitness at companies such as Microsoft, Boeing, the American Lung Association, and REI. Colver lives in Seattle.

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